Avoiding the Dusk ’til Dawn Problem
Interesting question about the work so far.
So I’m at 20-25k on the project. A good bit of it is handwritten, which has been a surprisingly productive way for me to work. I’ve written a pretty good essay about why this works for me called A Defense of Writing Longhand if you haven’t read it, I recommend.
But there’s another reason why longhand is working well for me now. This is an exceptionally busy time of year for me for corporate projects. And at the end of the day, I just don’t have any more time to sit in front of computer in me. So, what I’ve been doing is propping myself up in bed with a steno pad and a nice fountain pen and writing about 1200 words a night before I go to bed. Then, when I have time during the next day, I type/rewrite the words.
This is how Hemingway wrote. He drafted everything by hand then typed it. And he said “typing it gave him another pass to get it right.”
Also, and this of primary importance, the process is so ENJOYABLE for me, even though it takes more time, it feels like less work. So, I’m more productive. Can I explain this paradox? No. But I certainly can exploit it.
I have a friend who’s written an astounding number of novels. And he says he doesn’t know what he’s doing with a book until he’s hit 20,000 words on it. What I think that means is that there’s a point where you discover problems and opportunities with the work that you were unable to see before you were in the thick of it. That has definitely happened on this project. And it’s so interesting, I thought I would share some of my insights
The “From Dusk ’Til Dawn” Problem
If you haven’t seen the movie “From Dusk ’Til Dawn” you should go watch it. I mean, maybe not as a holiday movie with the family gathered around, but more of a grindhouse guilty pleasure. Quentin Tarantino, wrote it, Robert Rodriguez directed it. It’s pretty great. BUT…
There’s a problem with the film for many people. It totally changes genres 20 minutes in. It a gritty, scary crime movie with nothing fanciful about it. It’s a Western, sure. Like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, two brothers are on the run from the law.
They kidnap a Preacher and his children so they can elude the authorities. And on the way to Mexico (El Rey) they stop off in a particularly over the top night club that’s “For Truckers Only”. Turns out the nightclub is a vampire-filled trap and they have to fight their way out against a horde of vampires.
In an instant, you’re in a fun, shlocky horror movie. But that’s not at all the genre you started off in. This shift can be very jarring for some people. The film has set up expectation of how reality works and then you get the “Holy Shit Vampires are REAL!!!!” All the rules change in midstream.
I’m worried about this with A Town Called Nowhere. See, I’ve got to establish the town, but the more time I spend in the West of the late 1800’s the more the reader will become grounded in that world. But when the town jumps, there’s a whole new set of rules.
Potential solution #1 — explain the magic
One way to resolve this is to delve into why the town jumps in time. I don’t like starting here, because explaining magic is never a good idea. It’s usually just boring exposition, and, unless it breeds further conflict later on, who cares? The problem is the town is in a pre-historic setting. Just like if you have a story about people who survive a plane crash, you don’t have to start with an alcoholic who works at a Boeing plant and installed a valve upside down because he was hung over.
Sometimes planes just crash. On with the story.
Potential Solution #2 — flashbacks
I could just jump right into the story and build depth of character and place after the jump.
The trade-off here is that flashbacks serve to slow down the narrative. And what I’d like is a crazy breathless quality about the beginning of this story. A WHATTHEHELLHAPPENED! and WHATTHEHELLISGOINGTOHAPPENNEXT! vibe. Like the first three episodes of Battlestar Galactica.
The Language Problem
In Speculative Fiction Novels there’s often the problem of getting everybody on the same page linguistically. Because the minutiae of translation and grammar are not dramatic. I think I have a dramatic way to resolve this — but does anybody really care? Wave hands, language problem is gone, story proceeds, entertainment ensues, everybody is happier.
One of the best solutions to this problem is in the movie the 13th Warrior, where the process of deciphering a foreign language is represented in a great montage that Warren Lewis and Michael Crichton were able to actually make dramatic.
Paying off the Promise
As I work with this idea, I’m thinking of what Robert Kirkland said about why he wrote the Walking Dead. He said he didn’t want the Zombie Movie to end. He wanted to know what happened as things went on and on and on in that universe.
I very much want to know what happens to this town AND the surrounding world around it because this town has appeared. And I want this to go on for a while. So, what would happen if you dropped an advanced technology like rifles into the dark ages?
I mean, maybe all the gunpowder would be used up, and the rifles would rust away and that would be it. But I don’t think so. There’s a lot of thinking and conceptual heavy lifting to be done to make the change in this world real due to cultural and technological exchange.
Think of it as a Star Trek episode where nobody cares about the Prime Directive.
Handling the History, Warts and All
I love the movie Django Unchained. But there’s one part that really bothered me; when Django rides into town with King Schultz and the townspeople are amazed to see a black man on a horse. For the film, I understand why this works in the context of the film, but the fact is something like a third of all cowboys were black.
And also, there’s Bass Reeves. An absolute badass of a man whose handlebar mustache was tougher than anybody alive today. He also appears to have been the inspiration for the Lone Ranger.
So that black-guy-on-a-horse bit of Django Unchained feels like a thoughtless choice for a one-off, not-that-funny beat.
Someone could also take exception to portraying the KKK as bumbling idiots in the film. Because lynching was a very brutal, real and horrible practice that shouldn’t be downplayed or made light of.
But if you go too far down this rabbit hole, everything is a reason for someobody to be upset. Especially in this settling. For people who like to use the world problematic a lot, this entire period in history is PROB-LE-MA-TIC.
I’m okay with upsetting people. (I don’t think I could write if I wasn’t.) What I’m not okay with is being thoughtless.
And I should add, what I like the best about the idea of transporting a slice of the old West to a foreign and hostile environment, is that, in the face of outside threats, everybody has a powerful incentive to pull together regardless of internal divisions. That’s one of the stories I’m looking forward to telling.
What do I do with Indians?
I’ve got to have badass Indians in this story. They are cool as villains. They are cool as heroes. As a culture as character — just awesome. But there’s no way to write any of that without pissing somebody off. Again, the best I can do is not be thoughtless.
And this point dovetails nicely into what I think is one of the most important realizations about historical novels (or stories of any kind). Historical novels are never about history They are about using elements of history to tell a story about what’s going on right now.
That’s my latest update. Other things I’ve been thinking about are:
Hosting a hangout to play with characters and story ideas
Setting up rules to play some kind of slow moving RPG to play with the story
Setting up a way for you guys suggest names (paying subscribers get first pick)
Let me know if any of those things are of interest. But for now, MOAR WORDS FOAR THE DRAFT!