Thursday, December 2, 2010

In Theory

In my other life (the one that's currently eating everything) I test software. The programmers who curse me daily often tell me they're done with whatever they're working for, and, in theory, this is true.

The problem with the strange and mystical land of Theory, is that it's not this world. In Theory, everything works to spec. Plans can be followed, and software is delivered for testing without weird glitches and weirder bugs (I should probably mention that I'm well known at work for finding the weird bugs that do catastrophic things to the system, but need the stars to be aligned and the moon in the correct phase and... well, you get the idea).

As writers, we run into problems with the land of Theory from two directions. Your nicely planned, outlined story changes its mind and twists, or worse, you write stories where everything works the way Character X planned it.

Readers of course immediately know that the latter situation can't ever happen, because every time something like that happens to them, they're looking around suspiciously, searching for the huge disaster that they just know is waiting for them. Because plans never go according to plan. It's a Rule. One of those ineffable ones, the ones writers always seem to end up effing because we just can't help ourselves.

As for stories twisting... Let's put it this way. The last time I tried to write romance, I got the piece with the working title of Evile Elves. Because they're not just evil, they're Eeeevile. The less said about my attempts at fanfic the better. I can't even manage standard epic fantasy. It's just as well I enjoy writing the stuff because editors take one look and start backing away while being very, very nice to the crazy lady.

The land of Theory. Wonderful place, that. Everything does what it should. What writing theories have you run into that don't place nice with reality?


Anonymous said...

That a story being good is enough to sell it.

No, no, no. The stars must align right. You must hit an editor with the right good story at the right time.

She must not have similar stories in stock. She must have the room for it and the money to buy it. She must like the type of good story for sale (editors turn down good stories commonly). I'm sure there are more, but that's what comes to mind right away.

All working writers have been burned by the above.


Chris L said...

In theory I write several different styles and can do both sophisticated spec fic, as well as blunt, funny stuff.

In reality, only my blunt, and sometimes coarse, stuff has been picked up so far, making it look as though I only do the one thing.

Frustrating, but at least they're accepting it now!

Anonymous said...

I'm so with you, Linda. And there are a lot more stars out there than I first realised.

Louise Curtis
"At last, I can start suffering and write my symphony!"

MataPam said...

I don't think I ever read enough of the Rules to know when I've broken them.

Until it thwacks me. Frenquently, lately in the shape of Sarah's pointy boots. But a certain simion started the process years ago when he and Eric Flint tried to steer a runaway online novel writing collaberation.

Now _that_ was a fun novel to write. Definitely a pantser. In theory we did have an end point, a goal. We just sort of lost it, occasionally. Bit hard on the poor teachers.

But, in theory, it is a good story. It's got all the beginning, middle, end stuff. And Characters. And every single one of them was plotting madly away.

Well, it was a learning experience, and they all still are. But they're fast approaching publishablity. Is there ever a point where the end result stops surprising you with it's excellence?

Kate said...


Oh, SO true - in fact, for that's why there are things like this in this world: Thanks OnyxHawke!

(Seriously. Watch the video. Try not to beat head against desk. Sympathize with the non-delusional dude.)

Kate said...

Chris L,

I hear you. You get stuck with a reputation for something and that's all you can ever do...

Although yeah, acceptances are definitely better than rejections

Kate said...


Indeed. And every last one must be in exactly the right position or it just doesn't happen.

Of course, the correct alignment of the stars changes each time. And people wonder why writers get superstitious?

Kate said...


In answer to your last question, no I don't think so. Usually at the same time as you're despairing of ever being that magical "good enough" to get past the gatekeepers.

The thing with the Rules is that they usually aren't written down. They have to be divined by arcane methods, like sacrificing goats to Terry Pratchett (this can be a bit rough on the carpets, and the neighbors object). What's more there seems to be a Rule that says if anyone works out one of the Rules, it must be changed immediately.

All part of the ineffability thing, I guess.

4thguy said...

Greetings fellow software person. I actually can't believe that there's someone else similar to me on the internet.