Thursday, March 13, 2014

Story Nag

Well, I didn't make the USA Today top 150 list, but that was a long shot, considering it covers all books, including children's picture books. I was surprised how many self-published-looking 50 Shades clone-type books were on the list. I guess if you want to be a bestseller, write a book about a naive college student hooking up with a hot, kinky billionaire. Not my thing at all (where are these college students meeting all these billionaires?), but it looks like there's a market for that sort of thing.

Still, I gained a lot of new readers, which was the point. The "bestseller" thing was purely for ego and marketing purposes. I hope the new readers find the rest of the series and then follow me to new books.

That is, if I ever get this book I'm working on written. I was in a weird fog all day. I tried to sit down and work but kept spacing out. Usually, that means there's either something in my brain I need to get out or the thing I need to write next isn't clear in my head. I think both may be the case here. The next scene isn't that clear -- I know what needs to happen, but I'm not seeing the mental movie -- and I think that's because there's something else in there. Unfortunately, that something else isn't really clear enough to get out because it's simply a case of what I think of as "story nag." That's when I have a nagging sense of a kind of story I want to write, but there's nothing concrete. It's all just out of reach other than a vague sense of dissatisfaction, and it's close enough to the imagery of what I'm working on to interfere.

I have this strange kind of longing to do something with fairy tales, a retelling or mash-up. I started getting this nag while reading one of the Mercedes Lackey 500 Kingdoms books earlier this year. Something in me kept going "This! I need to write this!" Then there was the ice dance routine of the gold-medal couple, set to Scheherazade, and that got me thinking about the story behind it, that idea of desperately telling stories as a life-saving measure. That added to the story nag. And then last weekend there was a catch-up special on the series Once Upon a Time, and the story nag intensified as the writers and actors talked about the appeal of the series in taking these timeless characters and delving into their pasts and doing different things with them.

I just have no idea what to do with the general concept, especially not how to make it unique, since it's being done all over the place now. I like the idea of blending the stories so that they all take place in the same world, and usually there's a new story that serves to tie them together, like in the musical Into the Woods. In the Mercedes Lackey books, she's playing with the idea of the tropes that people are aware of because the magic in that world comes from the traditions and tries to turn everything into stories. So we do get stories with things like girls who need to be awakened with a kiss, but they're not exactly the Snow White or Sleeping Beauty story we know. Once Upon a Time really mashes things up by making everyone related, then throws the characters into the modern world, but with flashbacks into the fairy tale land to give us their backstories.

But I'm not sure what out of all those thing the story nag is drawn to. I get the same response from the Patricia McKillip books, which don't use recognizable fairy tale stories but that still have the same feeling.

I started playing with the fairy tale concept last summer when I tried writing a short story that will probably have to become a novel that was about the behind-the-scenes stuff going on in Cinderella, but it didn't satisfy the story nag. I don't know if I want to throw these characters into a modern world, have a modern person thrown into their world, if I want to do a series with each book focusing on a single story, all set in the same world, or if I want it to be a sweeping epic with all these things going on at the same time.

Whatever it is, it's using valuable brainpower that needs to be focused elsewhere. The problem with a bad case of story nag is that, unlike the Shiny New Idea, writing down everything I know about it doesn't make it get quiet for a while since I don't know enough to write down. It just results in more trying to catch something just out of reach. It's like having a word on the tip of your tongue that you can't quite think of, and that takes over your brain until it pops up at three in the morning.

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