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C11P30 – Theories

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Always a little unnerving when you’re really focused on something and a stranger steps into your personal space…Deep breaths, Pakku! You can handle this.

I did two back-to-back presentations for a local elementary school last week, which was a lot of fun. I particularly enjoy answering questions of kids, because often they ask questions from unusual perspectives. I think one of the most challenging questions was “What’s the part you like the least about writing?”

I had to think about it for a moment, but eventually I concluded that it was getting rid of good, but not great, material. Often stories know what they’re about better than I do, and I have to get into the meat of writing it before it occurs to me that the theme I thought I had was not in fact the theme that the story was enforcing. Whenever that happens, it often means scrapping all that I’d written and re-writing the same story with a different emphasis.

This happened to me recently with the Trickster Tale I’m working on for Kickstarter Backers. It started out as a story about defying fate, and I had several scenes completed when I realized that the story was actually about the difference between surviving and thriving. Had to scrap most of the scenes and characters. The current result is better, and my outline of events much clearer, but it’s hard to look at something I invested many hours into and know that it was merely the first idea.

Tempting to hold onto the pieces anyway, to shove them in and try to make them work in the new story structure. To do so is to create haunted fiction. Stories that can’t move on with their own lives, because the ghosts of plot-lines past keep intruding. Better to kill them quickly, gently, and lay them to rest in the graveyard of first ideas.

Have you ever got stuck on a first idea for something? Not just for writing, but for how to solve a problem, or the best way to do something? What helped you let go?

15 Comments

Children visit this site. Moderate your language accordingly.

Oh man, I never really thought about them as “haunted fiction”, but that’s a great term.

In my graphic design classes, you were expected to do 10 or 20 sketches and only choose a few to iterate to a final version, so that’s how I try and think of my story iterations. You’re encouraged to work small and loose so you can generate lots of ideas in a short amount of time. I also find that scripting on scrap paper psychologically prepares me for the idea that it’s okay to throw it away. Still, there’s a lot of “ideas I’m saving for later” that only time will let me go back and scrap.

I’m still trying to teach myself how to do more loose sketches and brainstorming before I launch into a full illustration. It’s hard for me to change my mindset on those sketches, because for so long I viewed that kind of process as a waste of time. I’m slowly learning that it not only saves me time in the long run (less scrapped and/or reworked finished drawings) but it also results in a superior final product.

I think the only time that I really got ‘stuck’ on an idea was when I wrote myself into a place where I had lost all sense of where the story was going in the book (series) that I’m trying to get written. The original version was set real world and was going to try to be urban fantasy (a term that I would go without hearing for…. about 5 or 6 years). Even though I put myself in a corner, I tried to keep pushing on. It wasn’t until a song gave me an amazingly better starting point that I was able to scratch the original properly and press the reset button. Now the first book is on the second round of edits, and waiting only for me to find my disciplined place for me to blast through another few edits before thinking about sending it out.

Pakkuuuuuuu

All of my projects are like that. No matter how much work I do ahead of time, the end product always changes drastically from my original vision. I’ve turned out some drafts that I am very proud of but that just don’t work by the end, which is disappointing but just what I am used to by now.

Love that last panel with Pakku! I feel the claustrophobia!

I don’t have as much of an issue with this as most writers/artists but that could be because of how I work. I’m very much a “dig through until the idea surfaces” writer/artist and I’ve kind of accepted that my first few iterations are garbage that I have to pick through to find the good stuff. I can and do plan, but the actual act of doing- whether it be drawing, writing, painting, whatever, is where I work out all the kinks of the story so I always have the mindset of “I can scrap this”. I do take out whole paragraphs/sketches and keep them elsewhere to look at them from time to time, especially if I like the writing/art but know it’s not useful for the work.

Personally, I always feel that I work twice as hard to do half the work anyone else does and I envy anyone who can just create whole visions out of their head and has a clear focus once they start. Even when I do have a focus, half the time it changes as I work anyway.

Writing to a clear theme comes and goes for me. I think I do a lot of writing in my head before I ever start writing on the page. That can often make it much easier for me to sort through things and find the theme in advance. It doesn’t always work, but I do think it helps me do a lot of preventative work.

I always start with characters rather than plot, for me. Sometimes it means that as I write I have to flail around a bit with a scene to figure out where things are going, and sometimes that ends up being cut, but my best writing usually happens when I’m just the medium and the story is determining it’s own twists. I’ve always seen my writing as me being a sort of referee, enforcing rules and consistency but letting the characters (as the players) determine their own moves and plays. They’re not allowed to do just whatever but their motivations and personalities decide the story’s theme.

It can get a little annoying though when a character’s vision of what a story should be and the overall theme of the story conflict. In the novel that I’m writing, the main character is gay and draws a lot of parallels between one of the overall elements of the book (that all fantastic creatures are hiding their identities and pretending to be human) and the fact that he’s been in the closet for a long time. Which makes it a little annoying when I try to tell people about the book and they’re like “Everything in your book is a metaphor for being gay” and I’m like, “No. No it’s not.” Because the overall theme that they’re missing is about being yourself and that hiding who you rreally are to be ‘accepted’ is painful. Just the main character has a really very specific version of it.

it’s something I’m going to have to tighten up in the second draft once my first draft is done, but right now it does cause some issues with peeople who want to pick nits.

The most frustrating part about writing is often separating a reader’s bias from one’s own inability to effectively convey the intended message. Communication is hard! That’s why we draft. (And draft…and draft…)

Oh isn’t that the truth. It’s why I stopped using a certain person as my sole critic. He’s really great at the grammar stuff and getting the gists of plots but he’s not the most forward-thinking of people and his critique of some of the social-issues overtones borders just short of ignorant.

Like telling me that my 16-yo main character knowing and being mostly comfortable with his own sexuality was unrealistic and that his love interest should serve as his Closet Key to make sure that my (heterosexual) readers could identify with the character, because nobody would ever be able to relate to a homosexual character who was comfortable in his own skin. -eyeroll-

or that because my main villains were cultists that I should change the book because people would think it was anti-Christian because the main character is gay.

I think one of the things I learned from that is having a “sole critic” is bad because everyone has different views and opinions, and also that people you like can be flawed and that that’s okay, even if they’re flawed in ways that mean something to you.

Also that there’s a difference between ignorance and hate.

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