The Writing Bit
Most of my short stories are fairly concrete, and I set out with a good idea of the entire story arc from the very beginning. Even when stories need a lot of editing after the first draft (which is often, as I can be tremendously lazy with my word selection in my first drafts) I usually have a good idea of how far a story will run, what its potential is, and at least the essence of what will happen. Some of the details strike me as I go, of course, but the general shape is there.
But every now and then, there’s something different. A short story that, despite my initial intent, seems determined to grow like a green-deck’s mana supply.
Seriously, though, this is exactly how my current novel began. The short story hit 8.5k words, and I knew then it was too big for its boots, as the story had barely started at that point. There was a lot more there than I expected. The story has changed a lot since then. The lead character has become about thirty-five years younger, less powerful and more competent, and his world has acquired a massive amount of flesh that it didn’t have in the short version. Which is all great. The story’s developed a fair number of side arcs too.
But now I have another one.
This story won’t expand without limits. The current novel I mentioned above has a whole world to fit itself into, but there’s a definite ceiling in this one for how much story there is to tell. The environment is much more restricted — counted in feet, not miles — and the story’s escalation inherently means that the protagonists will either succeed or die (and I don’t know which yet). But what is certainly true is that, from the beginning, I’ve underestimated just how much story is tucked away within the characters and their interactions.
The ongoing novel is a fantasy tale, a mini-epic of irreverent nature; this one is a sci-fi light horror affair that takes itself more seriously. But like the fantasy tale that preceded it, there are conflicts and allegiances. They’re all in small-scale, but all nonetheless creating a story that’s richer and with more potential than I’d anticipated. It may end up as a novella rather than a novel, but I’m already at 12.5k, and there’s a lot more story to be told here. I love writing when it goes like this, as I’m learning more with every story I write; and in particular, every story that goes differently to how I expected teaches me about how to engineer the originally unexpected effect. All these things can only make me a better writer in the long run.
The Non-Writing Bit
So, I watched episode two of Doctor Who. It was better than episode one, but unfortunately not better enough for my wife to have any semblance of interest remaining. Pursuing it from here will be a slow affair, and almost certainly an on-my-own-time affair. That means it’s likely to fall behind the Korean espionage drama Iris that I was already watching, as I don’t want to push finishing that to sit behind the eighty-odd episodes of Doctor Who that I can stream.
That said, I’m still inclined to give it a try. Nonetheless, I’m still bemused by the show’s utter lack of skill in balancing its conflicting elements. It seems to want to be serious and moody while being irreverent at the same time, and doesn’t seem to know how to do both fluidly. The contrast between the two so far is jarring. (Not quite as jarring as Rose, in my opinion, but there we go. Again, only two episodes. Hopefully that’ll evolve too.)
The two can be balanced, if it’s done skilfully; even complete nonsense and drama can be balanced. Fringe did it through the use of a flippant character in the shape of Walter Bishop, set within a world that was itself serious; Eureka, meanwhile, took a world that was at its heart not serious, and put some occasional serious characters in it while ensuring that the others were both well-developed and consistent. And even the nonsense was, while sometimes foolish and funny, consistent within the world as well. Thus, in both cases, they managed to achieve balance. So far, that’s what Doctor Who is lacking for me.
The Doctor’s vacillations make sense, because that’s personality, and it fits past Doctors too. Flippancy, overconfidence (or, at least, just plenty of confidence) and good humour are part of him, masking the darker side to him. But the vacillations of the world are nonsensical, because it robs that interesting character of a consistent home with consistent rules that his story can play out in. And you really can’t expect me to take seriously any tragedy in a storyline where the agents of the enemy are a repeated meme. Because I’m not taking seriously a world where puns-made-flesh can threaten anything. Worse, it’s a pun based in a 21st-century element that I strongly doubt will survive to make it to the 22nd, which means I begin from a standpoint of not believing in this world.
I don’t mind that. If I did, I wouldn’t be able to watch half the shows that I do. But don’t put me in a world that ridiculous and then expect to be able to pull on my heart-strings. And even if you’re going to try that foolish trick, don’t expect to be able to make that transition without — oh, I don’t know — an actual transition between the two.
Nonetheless, I can see why people would love it. I know from having watched it before that there will be a great many ideas and stories, and its strength has always been in its variability. That’s a big part of why I’m sticking with it. I’m hoping that the series finds its feet more effectively as it goes, because if it can do that — if it can find a way to balance the humour and drama in a way that wouldn’t embarrass a novice fan-fiction writer — then I’m sure it really could be good. Separately, the humour and the drama are both fine; but for now, they feel like pieces from two different jigsaws. The writers need to get them to fit into one consistent picture, and I’m optimistic that they figured that out at some point.
If they didn’t, though, my inclination to “give it a try” isn’t likely to be limitless.