The L.A. Stories are, I’ll admit, full of fantasy. Not in the sense of orcs and elves, but in the sense of People Doing Fun Things That Relatively Few People Do In Real Life. That said, none of the careers in my novellas are fantasy; they are all real things that real people do, though probably more people do them in L.A. than in other places.
A lot of these fun things are shows. Stage shows, TV shows, dance shows, and pretty soon (work in progress) a movie. My characters are actors, singers, dancers, costume artists. One is a jeweler (Juan, BENCHWORK), one is a photographer (Andy, EXPOSURE), one dresses chandeliers (Lucy, SET DRESSING). These kinds of people make stuff and do stuff. They can’t help it.
When writing about people who make stuff and do stuff, I can’t imagine not including some narrative about that stuff. If a character plays a cop on a TV show, as three of my characters do, I’m not going to spend a lot of time describing that show, but the fact that it exists, as a distinct creative entity, has to be included. (And because these three characters are not all on the same TV show, I had to come up with titles!) There might come a moment when my character describes work they are doing on a TV show, but the L.A. Stories are not really about that work: they’re about the relationships. So all the stuff about the work is just background, but it needs to be there. I get irritated if I’m reading a book and the character is described as an actor but there’s never any clue what exactly the role or the project is. (I also get irritated when a character is described as [artist] and there’s no indication s/he ever does any artistic work. Artists do art. Dancers dance. Chefs cook. /rant])
If a character is a dancer, and her story encompasses time when she’s participating in a show, I can’t write ‘character goes to rehearsal, then goes home and has sexytimes with partner.’ As someone with a deep and abiding interest in performing arts, I want to see that show in my own head. I want to know what music my character is dancing to, in what style. I want to know what her approach is to the choreography, what her costume is, whether she’s using any props or rigging or lighting effects. I might even want to know what position she has in the show: Act I, Act II, opening, closing, before or after a particular other performance that I might have mentioned elsewhere. All of those details may not appear in the story, but for me those details are much more important than, say, what kind of car that character drives. (There are a few exceptions to that. Some people have specific cars for Reasons.)
What this means in practice is that I have compiled a schedule, a calendar of events, for all my characters that currently spans seventeen years of L.A. Stories time. Not every event in every character’s life, but every event that shapes them in the L.A.Stories universe. Every interaction they have with other characters had to be noted down, because otherwise (there are a lot of characters) severe continuity errors could result. Some of the charted events are formative, or even transformative, for my characters or their relationships. Those events get described with more detail.
And as you might expect, I don’t leave out the technical part of it. A dancer might simply go out on the sidewalk with a boombox and dance, but that’s not the kind of show we’re doing here. These are shows that people pay to see. There are lighting effects, there is rigging. There are costumes and props and partners. (Plus, of course, music - discussed elsewhere.) So there are show directors, stage managers, lighting designers, aerial effects technicians.
All of these details, if described in full, would clutter up the narrative of a novella-length love story. I try to put in only what I think is absolutely necessary. Or - I confess - what I absolutely love too much to cut. When a story is very strongly linked to one or more performance projects, that story tends to grow out of the novella format. The conceptualization of the tango show ‘Gaucho,’ for example (FACE THE MUSIC). The notable exception is GREEN MAN WALKING, a novella that exists because of a show, a dance concert in which the hero and his love interest are cast.
When I have more words to work with, it’s different. MILLION DOLLAR DEATH is set in and around an active theater during the production of a play. In order to do that, I didn’t just sketch out a plot and some characters. I wrote the play and the songs, I cast every part, I hired every technical crew member, I even designed the sets. Because the setting is intrinsic to the story, the descriptions of all this are - if not minutely detailed - definitely present. In order to tell the story in an intelligible way, I needed to know what the heckity heck was going on, at pretty much every moment, on the stage. This became even more important during last summer’s series rewrite (stories 1-11) and in the composition of the subsequent 12 published novellas, as this short novel has been positively rifled for characters.
The same thing has happened with a work-in-progress novel that is about characters making a movie in which the movie is about characters putting on a stage play. Oh, and the play is (while not biographically true) based on real things that happened to real people. As if that’s not complexicated enough, the real people were all involved in the birth and growth of Argentine tango, so there’s a ton of musical references. Before I could write (enough of) the play, I had to do research about those real people, and that real music. Then I could write (enough of) the movie that incorporates the play. Only then could I write the novel.
And even that went sideways because the novel went a different direction than expected, spawning another novella (TORCH, coming soon) and becoming a continuation of the love story of two previously-introduced characters (Andy and Victor, EXPOSURE). As the novel grew, that 2018 novella also grew. As I discovered links between the two parts of Andy and Victor’s story, the creative work in both pieces had to be thought through (and described) in more detail. The creative work became intrinsic to their story and their evolution, as distinct characters and as lovers.
This upcoming novel is definitely the most difficult thing I’ve done, in terms of plotting, characterization, and overall complexity. It was fantastically fun to work on and I can’t wait to launch it. THE GHOST OF CARLOS GARDEL, coming soon!