In part one of the review, I looked at each story, and gave my thoughts on them, but what of the exercise as a whole, was it worth it?
Even though I work from home and can give as many hours as I like to writing, in amongst the other stuff I do, it was still quite difficult to get the stories written during the day. Instead I’d spend most of the day doing that comfortable pastime of procrastinating under the guise of thinking up ideas. The first few stories were much longer because I’d been thinking of them in the days running up to the start of the month, so was better prepared for them. Around the middle of the month though I’d run out of pre-planned ideas and was spending more of the day trying to think of something to write.
Once I get going with an idea I can write quite quickly, but it’s the getting started that’s difficult. As Calvin & Hobbes once said “You can’t just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood.” They also go on to state that the right mood is last-minute panic, and they’re right. Too many of the short stories I wrote were written later at night, or even cut shorter than I wanted because I was running out of time.
I certainly intend to come back to most of these shorts and spend more time on them, some of the ideas deserve it. And I think this is one of the main reasons why it was good to do this exercise, to force myself to come up with lots more ideas than I normally would. Either expanding out throw-away lines in stuff I’ve already written, testing out ideas for stuff I’m currently writing, or coming up with something completely new. The other main reason why it was good to do is because it has provided you, the reader, with something (hopefully) entertaining to read while I finish the next book.
I think it’s also helped to show what goes on in a writer’s mind, I can’t speak for others, but it’s not all jumbled up in there. It seems that lots of ideas can be dragged out and looked at, and then when we find one that just seems to work, we run with it. This certainly happened with the duality ships idea. I was thinking about writing something different from the No Pandas characters, and the obvious (to me of course) was to write something sci-fi. In part one of this review, and previous ramblings, I’ve touched on the idea that belief can only be stretched so far. I fully believe in that. You can’t just make something completely incredible up and expect readers to go along with it, as soon as you’ve stretched it too far, the bridge into the world that you’ve created for the reader collapses and they’re not likely to come back. I suppose that the best examples of this are in characters themselves. Too many characters just aren’t believable, “heroines” who swoon, “heroes” with bulging biceps and IQs approaching two hundred. If you write and you write about people like this, then please go into any city centre and look around you. The world is populated by normal people, and these normal people are the ones that do extraordinary things.
So I try to make my characters normal, believable people, and when I got the idea to write some sci-fi, I tried to do the same with the universe I was going to be putting them in. There’s a few science fiction stories and television shows I like that seem to have got it right for me. Red Dwarf comes straight to mind, well the earlier episodes. There are no aliens, there’s no shiny white command deck that you can’t see because of all the lens flare. The people aren’t all poster posers for the marines. They’re normal people on a dirty old ship that actually does some work. Another is Enterprise, a lot of Star Trek fans hated it, but I loved it. Okay, it had aliens and that was okay. What it got very right though is my mind, was showing the “here to there” of space travel. The bridge of the ship was laid out in a similar way to a submarine, in fact the whole ship was laid out based on how warships and submarines are. The writers and set designers gave some real thought to how it would look and work, and for me that really made the series. That and the characters made mistakes, they weren’t heroes for being muscular and killing things, they were heroes because they were ordinary (albeit highly trained) people doing great things, and giving others the hope that they could too. The third one that’s worth mentioning is Firefly, this got the ships right, it got the people right, but most of all it got the universe right. The here to there was there, there was a background that was believable, there were worlds that you could associate with, and language and culture progression. Again, thought had been given to it, and it showed, it made the whole thing more realistic.
So after that ramble that will almost certainly get turned into a blog piece of its own, when I got the idea of the duality ships, I spent quite a lot of time thinking of how they would work, how they would be laid out, how they would be piloted, crewed and fuelled. I started looking at characters, what they would be like, why they’d be in the story. And I started thinking about the universe, why it would have these ships and these people, and what they’d be doing in it. And then I started thinking about the short stories that I could write, once the background was there the stories started to come quite easily. Too easily in fact, so after a few days I had to cut them off. I want to do them the justice they deserve, and to do that I’ll be turning them into a full length book, maybe even a series of them.
So as a writer, yes this was a very worthwhile exercise. And in case you’re wondering, the most read short that I wrote was Joan and the Armourer, which I think is possibly the best stand-alone short of the month too.