Friday, 12 December 2008

Not Just For Christmas 2: Puppy's Revenge

Following on from Brian's post, here's a little bit about the two books that were the direct inspiration behind my first attempt to write something longer than a short story. I ended up with a strange novella called Mean Mode Median that is now not in print, so don't go and look for it in the usual places. Go and read the two things that inspired it instead.

From an early age I was a lover of science fiction and fantasy. Lord of the Rings, obviously, but also writers like Michael Moorcock and Guy Gavriel Kay. David Eddings. Gael Baudino. Orson Scott Card. I loved the long long series, ten books' worth, that only that genre offered at the time. And a little escapism was good too.

The books that had the most effect on me at that tender age were Frank Herbert's Dune saga. Dune (the first book in the series) was about precocious children, and about looking at the bigger patterns of human behaviour, learning how to predict and affect emotions. To a weird child with no friends and a desire to control the universe, it was heady stuff. Plus it even had a character with a name like mine in it. I wanted to dress in black and predict the future and sort out why men were so different. I practically was a Bene Gesserit.

A lot of the themes of Dune ended up in my first novella. But the structure was just too huge and wide-ranging for me to attempt. I still panic when faced with the thought of writing over 100,000 words. So I wanted a handy template for my story. That's when I noticed that King Lear, my favourite play, contained roughly the same amount of similar characters. So I wrote down who appeared in every scene, and then wrote a chapter breakdown for my novella that fitted it exactly. I ended up with one very strange book, but nobody could argue it didn't have a great framework.

After Mean Mode Median I got a bit more confidence and dumped Shakespeare so I could start applying my own character arcs and pacing. I wonder in retrospect if firing the best writer who ever lived was a mistake. But it goes to show I'm still living with the legacy of reading Dune too much - I'm still a bit on the precocious side.


David Isaak said...

Actually, "Mean Mode Median" is a marvelous book, and is still available from Amazon UK (one new one and a half-dozen resales).

Just in time for Xmas! And it's really a 'family' sort of novel.

Ellie said...

'So I wrote down who appeared in every scene, and then wrote a chapter breakdown for my novella that fitted it exactly. I ended up with one very strange book, but nobody could argue it didn't have a great framework.'

I think this must have been a brilliant way of teaching yourself how to build a framework. A bit like artists copying the masters' paintings to build up their own technique.

Brian McGilloway said...

Dune and King Lear? I'd have expected nothing less! Funnily enough, I split Borderlands into the Shakespearean five act structure too in a redraft. Not sure if it survived the final revision, but the intention was there.

Tim Stretton said...

You have good influences, Aliya!

I find myself coming back to Shakespeare again and again. When you're mining something that old, it's not plagiarism, it's homage (as you'll see for yourself if The Last Free City ever makes it into print...)

Alis said...

'I practically was a Bene Gesserit'
Scary thought!

Matt Curran said...

Wow. Spooky. Dune was the first sci-fi novel I picked up when I was in primary school. While others were reading the Hobbit, I took on Herbert's epic, and it took me bloody ages to read it until the whole thing was falling apart in my hands. I didn't understand half of what was going on, but it didn't matter - it started my appreciation of adult fiction, and more importantly - genre fiction.

Your other influences, Aliya, are pretty similar too (though Shakespeare was forced upon me at the beginning, until I discovered a recording of Othello with Ian McKellan as Iago and then his plays became a willing read).