Bare yourself


Wolf DeVoon

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I think it is inevitable that writing fiction strips the author naked (spiritually) and reveals every detail of one's character -- that is: everything voluntarily constructed by conscious choice, plus quite a few unchosen racial and historical characteristics that datestamp all creative work. Literature is a library of snapshots, every title a portrait of somebody's heart and mind. Good stories take a long time to focus and capture in final form unless you're writing to publication deadline. The Good Walk Alone was written at breakneck speed, one chapter each week for 16 weeks. It was intended to be twice as long, 32 chapters in all, but I couldn't keep up the pace.

Technique is something taught, partly by the example of other authors and partly by technology. I was a filmmaker. I think in three acts -- beginning, middle, end -- with George Cohan sitting on my shoulder, saying: "In the first act, get your man up a tree. In the second act, throw stones at him. In the third act, get him down." My reference library was the Golden Age of Hollywood, when Frank Capra and George Stevens and John Ford were bright young things. So I write like a filmmaker, cutting from one situation to another for shock value, compressing events as much as possible.

The Good Walk Alone was polemic, almost instructional in purpose. So was Mars to a certain extent. I wanted to show the meaning of law, how it is and certainly ought to be the perpetual pursuit of exact justice, every lawyer's first duty. Harry happened to stumble into a clear challenge, but it seemed plausible to me that any Martian colony of size would run off the rails within a generation or two. My work has always aimed at describing a plausible future not unlike the present, except that man's range and collective breadth of experience grows over time. My characters know more than we do today, which is quite a feat to pull off.

The bizarre work of writing is surrender. Once launched, a story pulls the author along. New characters pop into life and suddenly insist on taking over. There was no Laura in my outline of Mars Shall Thunder. She walked in from nowhere when Harry was wounded in battle --

Mars, however, was planned very carefully in terms of geography, city streets, landmarks, power and water utilities, economy, demographics, architecture, customs and costumes. There were many sketches and maps. Tycoons were modelled on WWII figures Churchill, Roosevelt, Franco, Smuts. Sympathetic but doomed characters Jimmy Elser and Terry Beane were drawn from real life -- men of my acqaintance whom I admired and pitied.

Harry, Laura, and arch-villain Danny came from me. I didn't want to write Danny, but there wasn't much choice in the matter. I had to show evil as a tangible, credible threat -- the end product of a permissive, stupified gentry of dumbbells. Faced with the duty of writing Danny, I asked a number of colleagues for advice: "What is evil?" John Young challenged me to define it myself. "You'll have to look inside," he concluded. I looked and found Danny, who frightened and revulsed me. That's why I say an author is stripped naked, and it takes courage to write fiction, as much courage as you dare.

(from Wolf DeVoon blog)

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