Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Table Talk - Looking Forward Through The Rear View Mirror

Welcome back to Table Talk, where three writer- umm, authors, discuss the ins and outs of creating fiction for prose, comics and other outlets. This week, Barry Reese, Bobby Nash and Mike Bullock chat about how far ahead they plot and how far back they work when building their characters.

Question (Bobby): When you're writing, how far ahead do you plan? Are you already thinking about and planting seeds for potential follow up books, or do you just worry about the story at hand and work out the rest later? Or is it different from book to book?

Mike: I liken it to looking off into the distance: the further away something is, the less detail I see. It has varied in the level of detail from story to story, but I usually have a vague plan for future installments, at the very least. I figure it's more fun to think I'm going to be doing something that's so successful I'll never have to stop telling the stories than make the assumptions it's a one and done deal.

Barry: Even if it’s a project that I intended as a one-off, I still have in mind what I might do if I chose to continue it. I can’t help but set up potential storylines. My main focus is on the story at hand but there have been times when I held off on doing something – or introduced a plot element – simply because I knew that if I returned to those characters, I’d want to deal with that. It does vary to some degree from project to project, though. With The Damned Thing, I mainly wanted to tell a compelling story and future storylines were secondary but when I wrote the first Lazarus Gray story, I sensed immediately the potential for future tales and wrote accordingly.

Bobby: I always have the sense that the character’s lives will go on after the story concludes. Well, the ones I don’t kill off, at any rate. Sometimes, the idea of another story comes later. As I was finishing up Evil Ways, I came up with an idea for another story for FBI Agent Harold Palmer, my protagonist, so I decided to start setting that story up in Evil Ways. As a result, events in the opening chapter in Evil Ways helps to set up the sequel. It was also the last section I wrote for the book. With Lance Star: Sky Ranger, I planned out a series of short stories that I knew would tie together.

Some characters demand I think ahead. Others, not so much.

Mike: I know that with several of my books I've planted tons of seeds in the early stages for things I hope to address later on. Sometimes, like with Phantom: Ghost Who Walks, I plant very heavily. In that series, I was setting things up in the first issue that I'd planned to carry out over the next 75 issues. In other stories, it's more a vague sense of "If I do this here, maybe later on I can build it to that…"

Bobby: Exactly. I’m always planting little seeds, some of which never pay off, unfortunately, but when you can go back and touch on one of those it’s great.

Barry: I usually have a vague sense of what happens to the characters in the future, even if I don’t plan to ever go back to them. You can’t help but have a basic idea about where their lives will lead… even with throwaway characters. Part of understanding who that character is forces me to think “Where would this person go if left to their own devices.”

Bobby: Exactly, Barry. I know what happens with Lance Star after WWII ends. We may not tell that story, but I foresee him having adventures in the 50s, 60s, etc. I’ve even thought about his children and grandchildren, though nothing too specific.

Mike: That brings me to a question of how much back-story do you create for your characters?

Barry: For major characters, I sketch out a decent amount – enough for me to answer the major questions about who they are and why they do what they do. For minor ones, it’s more along the lines of “This is so-and-so. He’s this kind of person and wants to achieve this.” But for folks like the Rook or Lazarus Gray, I can tell you what happened to their parents and/or siblings, where they went to school, what their childhoods were like, etc. Even if I never write that down, I know it.

Bobby: I’m the same way. I know the big stuff, but leave smaller details open to add later if needed. The real trick is remembering those things I create for back story in later stories so keeping track of those back story plot points is just as important to me as what back story I started with.

Mike: Sounds like we're all in the same camp here. I create ridiculous amounts of stuff for my major characters, like favorite foods, hobbies, etc. With the minor ones, it's often merely just a character type that I flesh out as need be in the story. It's fun getting to know certain characters as I'm around them more, kind of like getting to know new friends… or in some cases, enemies.

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