Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tuesday Tip: Find the Right Frame

A story is more than a string of events. Yes, plot is crucial, but another crucial aspect of good story-telling is how you frame the story.

The frame involves a lot of things, but to me the three most important are point-of-view, voice, and starting point. You may have an idea of what the plot is, but without the right frame the story will not take. Sometimes finding the right frame is the hardest part of getting started.

As an example, take my story "The Power That Dreams Have." This is the sequel to my story "Empusa," which was written specifically for Torquere Press's Bite Me anthology (m/m/f ménage with biting). Torquere already had the lesbian anthology Vamps on the schedule, and I wrote "Empusa" with a lead-in to a lesbian story between her and another character, Sophia. When Torquere agreed to publish "Empusa" (my first sale!), I started work on the sequel.

Now, Empusa is one of my favorite characters to write. She's just tons of fun for me. "Empusa" was written in first person from Empusa's point of view, and I had assumed that the sequel would work the same way. I'd set the first story a few years before Xerxes invaded Greece so that I could use the invasion in the sequel. Here, I thought, would be a fairly simple but hot story of abduction and rescue.

I'd been playing around with several angles. First I figured Sophia would be kidnapped or captured. Then, as I was reading some books on ancient Athens and the various cults, I had ideas of it being Sophia's daughter instead. Sophia gets Empusa to help rescue the girl, but at a price (of course!). I liked this idea. It had more meat than my original simple plot.

To my surprise, when I sat down to try and write it, I couldn't get the story to work. It stalled out before I'd finished the second page. I took a break and mulled over what had gone wrong.

First, the plot was more complex than it needed to be. I realized half the reason I wanted to use the daughter plot device was to use the research I'd been doing. Bad motive. That research could be part of a future story, certainly, but it had no place in this story.

Second, I needed a reason for Empusa to get involved. She really had little interest in Sophia's daughter, and getting summoned kinda made her cranky and disinclined to be helpful. This had to be a somewhat romantic story, and Empusa is not a romantic character. She actually has very little attachment to Sophia or Kleon or Bennu, although it's certainly more attachment than she has to any other humans at that point. They're sort of a novelty, but at most she is playfully possessive of them, and maybe distantly fond of them.

I realized if I needed an emotional tie for this story--which I did--the emotions were going to have to come from Sophia. Sophia needed to be the point of view character. And since the action was going to be centered on the abduction/rescue, I needed to scrap the daughter storyline and go back to my original idea.

Great! So I had the point of view. I knew I wanted the story to start at the point where Xerxes had already started the invasion of Attica and the residents of Athens were getting ready to abandon the city. But how to introduce the characters and the backstory without going into a huge infodump? Just what was Sophia and Empusa's relationship at this point? Had they had any contact in the two years between the first story and the second? It was in answering those questions that the rest of the frame fell into place. I started off with an encounter between the two women, but one that left more questions than answers. The answers got sprinkled in amongst the action. It was the relationship, extremely unhealthy as it was, that was the real story, not the abduction/rescue; and with the relationship being so unhealthy (obsession versus predation, really) using first person would give the most intimacy, allow it to make the most sense.

With the new frame the piece came together quite nicely. Since I love writing and reading about just those kinds of relationships, it's still one of my favorites.

You can read the beginning of the first draft with the original frame over at my website.

Have any of you run into this problem in your writing? How did you solve it? Have you read stories that would have benefited from different framing? Leave a comment and discuss!

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