by: Keith M.
Still reflecting on the things I wrote in last week’s post.
I guess I’m still reflecting on it for two reasons. First, because I am a glutton for bad fiction and I am trying to finish reading the science-fiction book I was bitching about in my last post. No, it hasn’t gotten any better. The MC still has no clue what the hell is going on, but apparently he’s discovering that he has “supernatural” powers in this new, strange place. Ugh . . . just . . . ugh.
Second, I’m still reflecting on it because despite what I wrote in the last sentence of that post, I am not giving up on that fucking baseball novel. I don’t want to. Because despite the shortcomings I’ve pointed out . . . I like it. I really do. I enjoy thinking about it, I enjoy writing the story down, and I’m just . . . . liking it. It’s unique. I’ve never read anything like it, and I’ve LOOKED for books like this one. I don’t think one exists.
I’ve had a mantra the last few months, and I’ve repeated it to myself and to other writers, too. It’s especially applicable when you start over-thinking yourself, and/or your plot, and/or your characters, and/or your themes, etc., etc. It goes something like this:
JUST WRITE THE FUCKING STORY.
Now, as simple as that sounds, there are actually multiple meanings to this phrase.
First, it means not wasting time, but maybe that’s the most obvious interpretation. A lot of my over-thinking amounts to a huge waste, because really, whatever decisions I feel like I need to make don’t really impact the story that’s waiting to be written. That’s my experience, anyway.
So, in other words: Just write the fucking story. At this stage, more time writing, less time contemplating.
I’ve found success just adding the word “BOOKMARK” in bold letters and then jotting down the question/issue I’m considering, and then I just move on. If it’s that important, it will still be important later when I go back and see that note to myself. And in the editing process, I do a search for the word “bookmark” and see if I’ve missed any. It forces me to go back and consider it before I call the draft “done.” And by then, almost none of the questions matter anymore.
(To be fair, I totally stole this idea from Hugh Howey. Which by this point, I’m sure surprises absolutely no one.)
Second, this mantra also means getting the story written down in a form that is as clear and direct as it can be written. The plot is the map, the characters are the ones following it. First, I want to make sure I understand the path they’re taking from point A to point Z. Just get that much accomplished first, as good as it can be done. One thing at a time.
In other words: Just write the fucking story. Not the whole, finished novel. Don’t try to bite more than you can chew.
I was thinking about this as I was reading that crappy book I keep referring to. It occurred to me that this book reads somewhat like a first draft, in that the author put down in very explicit, complete and clear terms exactly what the characters were doing and where they were going and all that. But what’s missing is the characters, themselves. To his credit, this author wrote the fucking story.
But for me, good stories alone do not a great book make. I need characters. How much more effort would this author need to add to bring his main character to life? Does it mean a full re-write of the whole novel? Perhaps, but I think probably not. Especially if he had been writing this as a draft with the understanding that he would be going back to add in the character pieces that would make these people pop off of the page.
And that’s when I realized: that’s what I’m doing.
I said in an earlier post that I am NEVER going to write backstory in a first draft ever again. Backstory is one of those things where it seems that there are a million ways to do it almost correctly. At the same time, I feel like it’s important to give my character a history to bring importance to his present situation. So, backstory is a necessary evil. And it seems like the best way to avoid a total backstory trainwreck is to add it in where it makes the most sense in the flow of the story. Which is hard to understand until I . . .
wait for it ….
JUST WRITE THE FUCKING STORY.
So, if I’m willing to go back and add backstory, maybe there’s also room to add other details that add color to the character. This author could have easily revised (not rewrote, just simple revisions) to add hints that the MC’s family was enormously important in his life. Then, when he took the action which he knew would mean he would never see them again, I would understand why it hurt him so much.
For me, this is what this blog is supposed to be about: capturing those “AH HA!!” moments when I feel like I’ve figured something out. The joyful (sometimes painful) learning process that an amateur writer goes through. Maybe some authors are so goddamn smooth that they paint a vivid, tear-jerking character on the first draft. Maybe that’s what comes with all the experience that I don’t have. In the meantime, I think I’ve figured a process to avoid the mistakes that this author made.
That makes me feel like I can get better. It makes me feel like maybe I don’t have to be the things I hate.