I started work on a short high-fantasy story in early December. I had a clear idea of what I wanted to do with it: elf and orc shelter from a snowstorm in the same cave, get to know one another, etc etc. I had a fairly detailed outline written from start to finish.

Then I started thinking: so, what is orcish culture like? Because I refuse to believe it's just about killing things and being evil. So I started fleshing out that culture and got a bit carried away.

Then I thought: so, what does this elf do? And for some reason I thought: what if she was a lawyer? The sort who specialises in finding loopholes for the sort of people who are stupid enough to make deals with devils or fairies. And I started fleshing out the background to that (because one of the big rules of fantasy is: whatever the "rules of magic" are, they need to be self-consistent).

Then I thought: this is really drifting away from the D&D-ish high fantasy that it started out as. Does it really need to be about orcs and elves? Wouldn't these ideas work just as well with different varieties of humans? And where does it go after this chance meeting? So by now the well-sketched-out short story had become a very large and vaguely-conceptualised potential novel.

I'm not anywhere near ready to start writing that; the ideas still need to ferment for a while yet. But I wanted to write something set in that world to help solidify some ideas (and also as a stand-alone teaser for the larger work). So I thought "maybe if I write a short story in that universe..."

It's probably a good thing I'm not writing for an employer who's waiting on me.
In part 1 I discussed how I created characters for Stringed Instrument as a short story. After writing that short story, I decided it would be interesting to develop it into a novella (well, that was the plan; it ended up as a full-length novel).

Funny thing is, even though it was a continuation of the same story with the same characters, the change to a long format caused quite a shift in how I approached plot/character development...

Spoilers for Stringed Instrument. )
Question from a reader: "Your characters are fully fleshed out... Do you mind if I ask about your process for creating characters?"

I'm not sure how accurate an answer I can give to this one. Characterisation is quite an intuitive process for me; I don't usually plan it out consciously, I don't keep notes, and it's hard to reconstruct my thought processes in hindsight. So I'll describe what I think my brain was doing back when I wrote "Stringed Instrument", but take it with a grain of salt.

I get story concepts from many different places. Sometimes it's personal experience, sometimes it's from an incident described to me by a friend, sometimes from dreams. Often they sit around in my head for years because I don't have enough to work with. (Dreams are the most frustrating - they come with a strong feeling of mood and no clues for how to convey that mood or fit it into a plot!)

But sooner or later, a concept gets to the point where I feel like it's time to sit down and start writing. By that stage, the concept will have a couple of character roles attached - at this stage they're still very fuzzy, but it's somewhere to start from. From there, character and plot develop simultaneously, so this discussion covers both.

Spoilers for Stringed Instrument ahead... )

To be continued...
My book "A Stringed Instrument" is now available on Smashwords. Tell a friend!
I've just finished the first draft of a Lovecraftian atmospheric story. That requires some processing.

I have a soft spot for Lovecraftian horror. When he was on form (which isn't always), he wrote some compelling and scary stuff. But it's something that needs to be handled with care, because HPL's personal views were... let's go with "problematic", shall we?

There's an age-old debate about whether we can/should appreciate an author's work on its own merits, when separated from their personal qualities. I don't have a firm position on that; somehow I manage to enjoy Byron's poems despite his record as a misogynist who distrusted intelligent women, but I find it impossible to enjoy Dickens' work after learning about his personal life. (I think part of the difference there is hypocrisy; Byron didn't set himself up as a moralist.)

In HPL's case that debate isn't relevant, because his work can't be separated from his personal qualities. He's not just an author who happened to be flagrantly racist even by the standards of the day; he's an author who channelled his RL hatred and fear of other races into a fictional setting. I find "Shadow over Innsmouth" a compelling and eerie story, but I have no doubt that it draws much of its power from HPL's racism. (For a more explicit but less well-written connection between the two, see "Arthur Jermyn"... or "Medusa's Coils" if you still need convincing.)

But I'm not going to focus on the racism aspect here; it's already been discussed a lot, and I wanted to note something that hasn't had as much coverage. Let me throw out two phrases side by side here:

(1) "That which must not be named"
(2) "The love that dare not speak its name"

The first is a translation of Lovecraft's "Magnum Innominandum". This is something that he alludes to as an evil power, without ever giving a clear explanation of what it is; the whole notion of "so abhorrent that it provokes instinctive revulsion and can only be discussed obliquely" is a stock Lovecraftian trope.

The second is Lord Alfred Douglas' euphemism for homosexual love, as made famous by Oscar Wilde's trial for "sodomy and gross indecency". And if you read coverage of the time, you'll find that this sort of stuff was commonly treated as, well, something so abhorrent that it provokes instinctive revulsion and can only be discussed obliquely.

It goes a little further than that, though. Lovecraft mentions the Magnum Innominandum in combination with Hastur, Hali, and the Yellow Sign. All three of those are drawn from Robert Chambers' "The King In Yellow", a series of short stories that refer to a much-suppressed play of the same name which does Bad Things to those who read it. That play seems to be at least partly based on Wilde's "Salomé"... and the first story in the collection features a Mr. Wilde as an agent of ruin.

Hmm.
I put together an 8tracks.com playlist of music to go with "Stringed Instrument", one track per chapter with a bonus final track.


Stringed Instrument from spikymusic on 8tracks Radio.



NB: the mix is ordered by chapter, but this will only work for the first play-through. If you replay the mix, tracks will be shuffled; this is a legal requirement imposed by the DMCA. For the same reason, I can't give a track listing here.
Some of the things that motivate me to write erotica:

Exploring how people work.

I have difficulty with empathy. It's not something that comes instinctively to me; I can do it, but I have to make a conscious effort, and it drains my batteries. Doing it in real-time is especially hard, and often I slip up because I don't even realise when I need to be doing it.

Writing lets me explore human behaviour and motivations at my own pace. I'm not sure whether it helps me make sense of other real-life people, but it certainly helps me make sense of my own motivations. Quite often, after writing something that's supposed to be fiction, I'll look back at it and realise "hey, that's pretty much what's going on in my own life, and I've even come up with some thoughts for how to solve it". Somehow it's easier to do this through fiction than through more direct approaches.

Facing my demons.

I tend to be a bit of a worrywart at the best of times, and some time back I went through the death of a close family member, followed by a messy break-up that left me with a certain amount of emotional baggage. I'm a lot better now, but those insecurities still surface occasionally and leave me feeling wibbly. Exploring them in a fictional context helps me drag them out somewhere that I can look at them, make sense of them, and - most important part - NOT have them sabotage the relationships that I'm in now.

Connecting with others.

I write for myself, but I also write for other people - in particular, for my partner and my sweetie. The latter is a long-distance relationship and we don't get much time together, so writing erotica for her is one way to maintain that connection.

Posting on Literotica also allows me to make a connection with complete strangers. There's something wonderful about the idea that somebody who's never met me, on the other side of the world, stumbled across one of my stories and came away from it happier.

Speaking of which: I love feedback.

Writing the stories I wanted to read.

For me, sex is most interesting when it's depicted in a broader context - like a conversation, it should advance plot or character development or both. A lot of erotica misses that context; it puts the sex first and foremost, with just enough plot to carry it from one shag to another. I've got no issue with other people enjoying that (I try very hard to avoid policing anybody else's consensual fun) but it just isn't my thing.

I had difficulty finding stories that scratch this particular itch, so I had a go at it myself. I was pleasantly surprised to learn from the feedback that a lot of other readers are crying out for the same thing.

Another thing I don't see enough of in erotica is ethics and consent. I don't mean that every fictional piece has to showcase ethical behaviour, but it's an important consideration in RL and I'd be interested in seeing more fiction where people negotiate consent and boundaries. (This is a big point in chapters 3 and 4 of "Stringed Instrument", where Yvonne has to deal with conflicts between her libido and her ethics.)

Explore human frailty.

Classical tragedy is based on the idea of a hero who's ultimately destroyed by some flaw (often taking a lot of other people with them).

These stories can be interesting, but they're depressing. One of the things I love about Maugham's writing is that he's fascinated by human frailties but approaches them with compassion, and they're not necessarily doomed by their flaws. Every relationship I've ever had IRL has involved two flawed people - yet most of them managed to be rewarding and worthwhile all the same. I've tried to show something of that in "Stringed Instrument".

Explore ambiguities.

Real life is full of "it's complicated". Ambiguous semi-relationships. Love between gay and straight people. Complicated poly relationships. These things aren't supposed to happen, but they do. I find it interesting to read and write about those, especially when the story doesn't feel the need to settle that ambiguity. (Again, big theme in "Stringed Instrument".)

Sadism.

Because I'm a sadist, but an ethical sadist, and this is one of the very few morally-acceptable ways in which I can make strangers cry and then have them thank me for it!

To make the stories go away.

Because sometimes they just rattle round and around in my head, and the only way to make them leave me in peace is to write them down... until another one comes along.
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