Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Clearer Vision Means Throwing Out Hours of Work

I've written before about my devotion to writing to the best of my ability, and how that sometimes means throwing out hours of work for the greater good.

I went through a chunk of time in the middle (more like the beginning) of writing An Offbeat Affair where I didn't write anything. This was partially due to a lack of time, but it was also because I didn't feel comfortable moving forward until I had a better idea of where I was going.
You see, gentle reader, despite having planned out my novel from beginning to end, the process of writing is nothing like making a blueprint for a building. It's much more fluid and dynamic; nothing is set in stone. The story takes on a life of its own and you milk that life for every word its worth - initial planning be damned!

Sometimes, as was true in this case, the story was taking on a life of its own that was quite terrible. I fell into old habits of giving characters traits that were nothing more than gimmicks. It makes sense why I did - I'm used to writing short stories where a character's intentions and psychology don't go nearly as deep as they do in a novel. In a short story I can get away with a character having a gimmick, because the story won't go on long enough for you to realize how shallow a character trait it really is.

I didn't even realize this at first - what I realized was that my story was uninteresting and I had no idea what the characters were really like. I didn't even know what fueled my own main character. Luckily, all I had to do in her case was to go back to the short story I'm basing this novel on and examine her from a new perspective. Her actions could no longer be described simply as "interesting" or "funny," as they had been when all I was concerned with was a short story. I needed to understand why it was interesting or funny. I needed to get into her head and see where she was coming from.

The other characters weren't as easy. In the short story you barely get a glimpse of each one; they hadn't been fleshed out nearly as much as my main character. For her roommate (who actually only appeared in one of my other short stories), who suffered from the most from gimmicks and stereotypes, I had to re-imagine her mental state in a way that was different from her stereotype, and added to the story in a way that the main character did not. I ended up taking a bit of advice from Pixar (yes, the studio that made Toy Story); the best stories come out of forcing two complete opposites to interact with each other (for Toy Story - Buzz and Woody being the new vs. the old).

With a better understanding of who my characters were, I set off to edit what little I'd written of the novel, only to find that there were entire scenes that no longer made sense. As I said earlier, I'm not one to dwell on something I've spent hours working on if it doesn't end up adding to the overall story (a characteristic I surely hope an editor will someday love about me). I've thrown those scenes out, and am going to approach the story from the new understanding of what these characters are like and how they would interact with each other. Throughout this entire process, I've also begun to re-imagine what the ending might be like - again deviating from my initial plan,

So what do I hope you get out of all of this? After all, my blog shouldn't just be me shouting out my struggles and triumphs into a great empty abyss.
If you are a writer: I hope that this inspires you to look at your story with a more critical eye - to realize that parts of your story that you love just may be holding it back from greatness. Realize that your story can be better, but first you need to be willing to let go of what's holding it back.
If you're not a writer: take this example to your own life. Is what you're doing going to be worth it in the end? If you spend hours a day sitting in front of the computer or television, ask yourself if it's worth it. Realize that you can be better, but first you need to be willing to let go of what's holding you back.

If you're an editor: please give me money to write this story for you.

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