I don’t mean the title to sound as dark as it, well, sounds. But I had some driving to do today (half an hour each way to see my new PCP, and I got to drive Nathan to and from work so I’d have the car) and got to think more than I should be allowed.

Anyway. I first got started writing way back when by writing fanfiction. Sure, some say it’s a waste, it’s total crap, all that rot. In a way, it is. It’s a type of waste, but a waste like brainstorming. But maybe not. It does take work to create a story that works. To use a point of view that doesn’t wander and is true to the narration of the story. To produce consistent characterization. Fundamental parts of writing well. And it needs to be practiced. Another thing that needs to be practiced is the task of writing itself–finding that mental state that’s…right for producing a story or paragraph or what-have-you that works. Being able to recognize a section, paragraph, sentence, word choice that doesn’t work and having the temerity to delete it or scribble it out and start over. Or see when a particular section is boring you to write, which pretty much means it will bore the reader to read.

It’s safe to play with another universe. There’s some sort of freedom in working with a structure that’s already created. Perhaps because in some way, there’s less at stake.

And other times, you come across a story that’s powerful and shows an amazing gift–that of a story that elicits the human emotions you possess because of the depth of your caring for the characters presented in the story. A story so entrenched in truth that it’s remarkable. It grabs you and takes hold and you read it breathlessly, laughing, crying, participating in their lives, suspending your own reality. It’s what I call a great story. Sure, there’s good stories. But they’re books I can set aside and remove from my mind to get on with my life and my own day. Such as Bujold’s Vorkosigan series. A really good set of tales that I enjoy reading. However, I can set them aside to such a degree that I don’t think of it again until I pick up the book.

The last great story I read was The Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. It grabbed me and wouldn’t let go until I’d finished the three books he’s published in it so far. Did I mention that the books are huge? And that the story in its entirety isn’t finish yet? Because they are and it’s not. This reality makes me both happy and sad. Happy that there’s more to read and experience, sad because I want to know how it ends, how the characters I’ve come to care about end up.

I found such a story again this weekend. Yes, it was fanfiction. But the writer did something very hard to achieve in such a framework–created an entirely new character that you end up caring about as much as the characters with whom you’re already familiar. The old characters, the ones you’ve lived with and seen through many adventures, that’s fairly “easy” to characterize. But to throw in an unknown, a stranger into this family of sorts, and make them as compelling as the existing family…it’s a gift, a talent, the signal of a writer. A storyteller.

Another confession. I am a hopeless romatic. It’s a closeted thing. Not many folks know about it, I don’t think. Maybe because it’s one of the issues within myself that I’m not at ease with at ALL, the idea of love and romance and all that jazz. Another safe place to explore writing things with which I’m not comfortable.

So, you have fair warning. It’s a “romance”…but not quite. It feels almost…real. The story, Echoes is by Ke, an author in the newsgroup alt.startrek.creative. It’s gripping. If you watched Star Trek: The Next Generation and can, I suppose, tolerate fanfiction, read it. It’s good. Damn good. However, it’s a work in progress. You were warned.

So…it got me thinking, as I said at first. Realizing the elements of characterization, narration, style, etc. I didn’t pull anything directly from the story itself, but the experience, the experience of what it’s like to read a good story, reminded me of how I write. I mean, how I mold my characters and add elements to them that give them the depth of telling a truth of sorts, some element of what it’s like to be a human being.

I’ve realized that I’ve hit some sort of plateau in the current novel I’m writing. It was missing something, and it was beginning to be boring to write. Now that boringness translates to being boring to read, meaning it certainly isn’t what I want to produce as a writer. Basically, the driving idea behind the story I’m telling wasn’t deep enough. It needs more levels. I think I may have stumbled on them, through my re-entering the silly world of fanfiction and my chances to think and stretch my writing muscle and warm it up.

At the heart of Awaken the Sleeping Gods is the notion of unreachable dreams and how they’re built into society, such as it is. One of the characters wanted the simpe acceptance and love of her mother, but she doesn’t fit society’s ideal of what a person is. This character’s society even goes so far as I cast those undesireables out. This character has held true to that part of her–she spends her life searching for that acceptance, even after she’s been cast out, cast away, unworthy.

But there’s another character, a mirror of sorts to the first character. He’s upset, but I hadn’t quite figured out why. I’d neglected to give him a dream. He’s in the formative period of expressing a mental illness, and is angry, but there reason for his anger was nebulous at best. While people can sympathize with the idea of being generally angry at the onset of a debilitating illness, it won’t quite stick and grip as much as it could.

More thinking made me remember the first dreams I had of childhood. My first book, “The Comet and You,” and another book, National Geographic’s “Our Universe.” These two books are a meaningful part of my life, they’re what inspired me to become an astronaut. Of course, my dreams changed. Thankfully, because illnesses revealed later, not limited to my myopia, would’ve prevented me from ever becoming one. I was relieved of that heartbreak before I could even realize it would happen.

But what if it hadn’t? What if I’d structured my life around this goal, dreaming of being weightless, dreaming of seeing the stars from off the Earth, of being enraptured by the first photos from the Mars rovers, dreaming of stepping onto that red rocky soil of a planet that isn’t ours? All only to be struck by an illness that takes it all away.

Wouldn’t you be mad as hell?

My character will be.