Mark Terry

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Second Thoughts

August 20, 2009
My oldest son is a writer. I've noted that before. The other day he handed me the first chapter of a novel (or something) he's working on and asked me to read it. I did. I liked it a lot. He's got great ideas. A very distinctive voice (if only he could bottle that for when he's older and in the market). His writing technique is improving (he's still 15, but it's improving), as are his mechanics.

The story in question is about a family of people that are grafted with a device that allows them to turn into dragons, each one a different color. Some prescient uncle gave each of them a tattoo when they were born and they were told the symbols would guide them. The main character's, for instance, is Love. Another's is Loyalty. Another is Leadership. Etc.

Ian told me that one of the characters will betray the family and go work with the bad guy. He was thinking Carl. I said, "Is he the one with the Loyalty tattoo?"

"No. He's loyal."

"You might want to re-think that," I told him. I suggested that a character whose tattoo was loyalty might mean that he has problems with loyalty. Or that loyalty--or lack thereof--may very well be the guiding principle or thing he has to struggle with the most, the thing that most defines him--or screws him up. And I went through some of the other tattoos, spinning the concepts different ways, suggesting that it would make the story more unpredictable and complex, that what you see is not necessarily what you get. I think he was intrigued.

And I thought it was sort of an important lesson. When I'm writing, I'm often hit with a "really cool idea." And a lot of times, thank God, the first idea IS the best one. But not always.

Because sometimes the first idea is the most obvious idea. And sometimes I have to think about "what's next?" If one idea is this, what if...

I think it's very easy to get into a trap of thinking the first idea or approach is the best one. We're inundated by stories. 30-second ads with characters and plotlines. TV shows, movies, videos, online games, videogames with storylines, book, short stories, magazines, etc. And it's really easy to go from A to B to C, when in fact, A to B to C is what we got on the TV show we watched last night.


Mark Terry


Blogger sex scenes at starbucks said...

What a great story and smart kid! How cool for him to have someone like you to guide him, too.

I agree that the first idea's not always the best. I've spent the summer doing a lot more thinking and a lot less writing, and I've realized that the more thought-through my stuff is, the easier it is to write. My first inclination is always to go too easy on the characters, but I remind myself: nope, not the easy road. What's the HARDEST road. And that always takes me more thought.

8:45 AM  
Blogger Erica Orloff said...

Oh, for God's sake Terry, get OUTTA MY BRAIN!

I was just bemoaning to Lurker Monkey that I have an awesome first chapter for a new novel (proposal I need to write by Labor Day supposedly, ha, ha, ha). Except I realize the concept won't work. So it's going to take either trashing it for a new proposal . . . . OR . . . doing precusely what you did with your son. Figuring a way to spin it differently and unexpectedly.


11:25 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

It must be that Vulcan mind-meld thing. Good luck with the proposal.

11:31 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Sex Scenes,
I remember talking a few years ago to a published novelist about the story idea I was turning in and telling him that it was sort of outside my comfort zone. He commented to me that he wasn't that ambitious, he knew where his comfort zone was and he stayed in it.

The book I was writing was The Devil's Pitchfork. I think there's a lot to be said for taking the hardest road and pushing your personal envelope.

11:32 AM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

It is really hard to figure out what is obvious and what's not. Now the fact that the guy with the loyalty tattoo really is loyal might be less obvious. A reader might think, aha, obviously the guy we're told flat out is loyal can't be. On the other hand, one might think, well, isn't it obvious that the writer is trying to mislead us by telling us this guy is loyal, so blatantly that we'll leap to the conclusion that the writer must be misleading us, so we see through the subterfuge and guess he isn't loyal, but, that's because he actually is loyal...well, I mean, you can keep going from level to level, like some kind of chess game.

1:51 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

you're making my head hurt.

2:05 PM  
Blogger Richmond Writer said...

There is an excellent book on Benedict Arnold and George Washington. The most important thing for your son is the character development of Benedict (the writer focused on this) because in the beginning Benedict was extremely loyal to the fledgling colonies. He was never a British Loyalist until he felt that he was betrayed by his country (America).

The point is that you want your reader to believe in this man with the loyal tattoo. Otherwise the betrayal will feel contrived. Benedict was a much lauded hero even having forts and towns named after him because of the risks to his life and property he took and the success he had in defeating the British. He believed in the Revolution.

Oh, and it was written by a man for male audiences so it doesn't have that touchy feely thing that turns off teenaged boys.

3:30 PM  

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