Monday, May 16, 2011

Lessons From Marion: Story is Paramount, Everything Else is Negotiable

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

The devil is in the details -- Anon.

One of the joys and frustrations of writing in the Darkover universe is the fluidity of the landscape (and sometimes the time line and the genealogy as well!) Although others have attempted to create maps of Darkover, Marion herself refused to do so. She wanted to make each Darkover novel complete in itself and not dependent on knowledge of any other. Geography and chronology, therefore, changed to serve the integrity and emotional completeness of each story. The wonder is not that there are inconsistencies, but that there are so few.

Marion wrote in "A Note From The Author" prefacing Sharra's Exile (which was a completely new version of the very early Darkover novel, The Sword of Aldones):

One result of writing novels as they occurred to me, instead of following strict chronological order, was that I began with an attempt to solve the final problems of the society; each novel thus suggested one laid in an earlier time, in an attempt to explain how the society had reached that point. Unfortunately, that meant that relatively mature novels, early in the chronology of Darkover, were followed by books written when I was much younger and relatively less skilled at storytelling . . . In 1975 I made a landmark decision . . . I would not be locked into the basically immature concepts set forth in Sword, even at the sacrifice of consistency in the series.

I've been writing in Marion's world for over a decade now, since she and I began work together designing the "Clingfire" trilogy (and even before that, with stories in the various Darkover anthologies). I'm constantly struck by the richness and inventiveness of her work. Readers ask what it's like to carry on her world, and mostly, it's like writing historical fiction. I draw not only on the published novels and her own Darkover short stories, but her articles and story fragments in the old Friends of Darkover publications, our written correspondence, and the many discussions we had over the years of our friendship. I'll often consult other people who knew her (her secretary, her Literary Trustee, her editor, other family members, dedicated fans). Much as I appreciate their expertise in the minutiae of Darkoveriana, there comes a point where I realize I'm at risk of distorting the heart of the story trying to organize what is inherently chaotic.

It's at this point that I set aside my notes. I shift my focus to the emotional and moral shape of the story. That's where the true consistency arises. I don't think I could write in any other way than from my own heart, and the way this ongoing collaboration works is that I delve into those areas where Marion's passionate views and my own are in unity. Our shared values cover a wide range. As I'm searching for what the story needs to be and where it needs to go, I bump into details I can't resolve either with each other or with the natural unfolding of the story.

But Marion, I say, in order to do that, I have to change the distance between point A and point B.

She nods encouragingly. Since when have I ever let previously published details interfere with a good story?


  1. I would've loved to have met her. She's my kind of writer!

  2. I think she would have enjoyed meeting you, as well.

  3. Christiana WaldrumMay 16, 2011 at 9:05 PM

    I hope the stories aren't over! There are so many characters unexplored, so many stories untold, and you're doing Marion (and yourself) proud!

  4. Christina -- I'm hard at work on the next one, THE CHILDREN OF KINGS. The queue of characters and stories demanding their turn is getting out of hand!