META: Plot vs. Character

Tom Russell milos_parker at
Sun Sep 3 01:25:14 PDT 2006

Martin Phipps wrote:

> Confession time: I often don't read your stories from beginning to end.
>  Sometimes I skip sections thinking "I already know this".  Actually,
> that's a bit unfair: sometimes you will do flashbacks not to provide
> important plot information but to round out the character, perhaps just
> as much for yourself as much as for the reader.  And if I skip sections
> then I can't fairly criticize them either. :)

Well, at least you're reading-- even if you're skimming.  But I think
the things that I do do well-- the character work, and my
wordplay/turns of phrase/rhythmic quality-- get lost if you skim too

As long as you don't skim through Haiku Gorilla, I'm not complaining.

> > identification with the character.  For example, Nancy Drew is a very
> > sexy girl detective,
> Ew.  You think so?  I assumed she was underaged. :)

Not in Michigan. :-)

> I think that's my fault because I've been more critical of the
> Nostalgics than anything else, including Speak.  I think you could

No, it's not your fault; it's just that I don't find the format
particularly rewarding, and because other things have become more
interesting to me.  I'll finish the Nostalgics, I'm sure.  Hell,
tomorrow I might feel differently and polish off the entire run.  You
never know.

> always skip ahead to the surprise ending:
> "We're out of spaghetti sauce," he said.  That was it.  I couldn't take
> it anymore.  "What are you doing?" he asked as I choked the life out of
> him.
> Then all the seemingly irrelevent information would come together and
> form a cohesive whole. :)


> That being said, I don't skip anything when I read Nostalgics for that
> very reason: I'm assuming that everything the narrator says is somehow
> related to the mystery of why he would want to kill someone.  So that's
> a good thing. :)

Well, every scene is, if not every line.  I think Jason enjoys telling
his story, to some degree.  And certain minor details-- like the
spaghetti sauce thing in # 2-- just pop into his head, they're just
things he remembers really vividly, or struck him as odd.

It's striking the balance between the "irrelevant" information and the
first-person confessional format that I find difficult.  But since his
motive is less something you can pin down and due more to emotional
states, what _isn't_ relevant?

Other things, like the crossover-type story in # 3, set up several
threads, both emotional and physical; that is, in addition to starting
the character in a particular direction, it also sets up the
circumstances of the murder.

The Nostalgics is plotted in much greater detail than other things I
write, which might also account for my diminished enthusiasm; sometimes
I feel like there's nothing for me to explore, and therefore not much

And, to be perfectly frank, I kind of conceived it as RACCie-bait.  My
interest in it didn't come from the same pure streak of passion that
spawned Speak! and the Green Knight, but rather from a conscious effort
to duplicate Speak! and its success.  Which is kind of silly when you
think about it: the awards are extremely validating, on the one hand,
but they're as meaningless as any other award.  The real reward is
being able to pick up a copy of one of my stories a few months down the
line, read it, and enjoy it.  I write for myself first and foremost.

And, really, I think, that's why it's not on par with Speak!, the Green
Knight, or even the House of Fiction: I wasn't writing for myself.
Sure, there's something I want to explore, but I don't really have the
_urge_ to explore, the irrepressible *need* to explore, to find out the
answers, to extrapolate from my life and put it all out there.  It
didn't really come out of myself so much as it came out of my desire to
have other people like it: always a bad motivation.  But when I started
it, I wasn't planning on doing JOLT CITY.  But once I finished the

...well, JOLT CITY's kind of lit a fire under my ass, the same kind of
fire that burned with the Green Knight and Speak!

I dunno, maybe I'm just not ready for a team book yet-- and certainly
not a "hero whose not really a hero" team book.  The basic concept--
the traitor storyline from the traitor's POV-- is a sound concept, but,
in hindsight, I don't think it will sustain a series.

I'm more interested in Joy, and Gaudiness, and Giant Typewriters and
Desperate Plots, in costumes and melodrama-- not in pathetic
ineffectual traitors driven to murder their teammates.  It's the kind
of story I'd yell at Jesse Willey for writing.

I don't think I'm being exactly hypocritical, but I'm not being true to
myself.  Keep on the lookout for JOLT CITY: it's given me endless
pleasure to write it.  I know the first issue isn't as strong as I
hoped it would be, but, trust me, it gets better. :-)

And also be on the look out for the JOURNEY INTO... ANNUAL, which
should be done before the end of the year.  It'll be eighty pages of
the best writing I've ever done, bar none.  And in both these cases,
I'm true to myself.

I'm not saying I won't finish the Nostalgics, just that I don't know

> Martin


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