You’re Telling It Wrong (Writing Workshop)

You’re Telling It Wrong (Writing Workshop)

Do you ever find yourself just slogging through a story that, on the surface, you’re really jazzed about? You have a great concept with compelling characters, but for some reason you’re going through the motions, trudging towards an ending that’s somehow lost its luster? I see you over there hands in pocket, staring down at your feet pretending all “Shucks, no not me.”

But you’re lying, and you know what they say about lying. “It’s really fun unless you get caught. So don’t get caught.” Those are words to live by, my friend.

No story problems here.

Yes, yes I do.

Anyways, you’re drifting down the Blue Danube on a story raft that simply doesn’t want to float. You’re taking water on from all sides. The more you struggle, the more you bail the water out, the faster the raft goes down. At the end of it all you’re left with wet britches and the burning question “Why isn’t this story working?”

There are a lot of reasons you’re story might be fizzling. Getting a spot on diagnosis, especially when you’re new to the game and haven’t really developed the editorial gaze of death to discern the fluff from the chuff (Chuff is good. Don’t know what it is, but I needed something to rhyme with fluff, so there ya go. Deal with it. Please) can be difficult.

This is where beta readers, editors, friends, and family members come in handy. The problem is, being only halfway through a story (and struggling towards the ending) is not a good time to dump your word vomit on a friend or enemy.

Self-Diagnosing your story problems is one of the best skills you can develop in your writing. To make it easy, and accelerate your learning curve (or just serve as a reminder to those of you who’ve been in the game for a long while and have simply forgotten ’cause you’re old and stuff), I’m going to lay out some of the most common story problems I see rearing their ugly heads midway through.

1) Wrong Main Character

It’s stupid how often this one crops up. We’ve all been there. You start with a good lead character, but a great sidekick. Part way through the story you realize the sidekick is way more compelling than the main character, which is an issue. Your MC doesn’t have to be the swellest gal around, but preferably she has the most at stake in the story. If not, then you might be crossing your streams.

To catch this, read through your story and figure out who the story is about. Is it really about the MC or is it actually about her best friend Suzy? Sure you might have started off the story thinking it was about the MC, but sometimes these things grow out of our control. You start off telling Story A, digress into the scummy boulevards of Story B, and then find yourself in the cardboard city of hobos that is Story C.

Definite story problems.

It happens.

You can do a couple things at this point. Change to a new MC and start over, or tweak your MC to make her unmistakably the protag. Neither is an easy fix, but if you make the right correction, you’ll find the story flows much better and more naturally. And after all, whether inside the bathroom or out, isn’t better flow what we’re all looking for?

2) Wrong Point of View (POV)

I struggle with this one a lot. It’s my nemesis.

Here’s why: I love writing in First Person. It’s my bag. Ostensibly it plays to a lot of my strengths as a writer.

Here’s the problem: First Person doesn’t really work in a big sprawling story with multiple POV’s. You can maybe maybe maybe have two First Person characters alternating chapters, but you have to work damn hard to distinguish your character voice otherwise they start blending into each other. Most people, unfortunately, don’t have the chops to pull this off (I might be one of them. Shh, don’t tell anyone).

Often what happens is I’ll dive into a story in First Person, because that’s my default. I’ll get a good chunk of the way through and realize I’ve chosen the wrong character to chronicle through First Person. Whoops.

If it’s a big story with diverse cast I’ll usually alternate chapters between characters using 3rd person limited while returning more often than not to that First Person POV MC. If you’ve chosen your characters wisely, and structured the story appropriately, you’ll get to the end of the story and your Gordion knot of interweaving stories will have untangled itself. If not, you’ll get to the end and not only will that knot still be fully intact, but now it’s covered in sticky honey.

gordion knot

Great.

How to fix this?

Uh… There’s not always an obvious solution. It’ll take some fiddling with your story bits to figure out what’ll work best. Also, unfortunately, what worked best to fix your last story might not be worth beans on this story. So there’s always that. Good luck.

3) Wrong POV Character

Most of the time your Main Character (within a scene) will also be your POV character. It’s a good rule of thumb that, regardless of the scene, we want to be in the mind of the character who stands to lose the most. This is a moot point in stories that simply stay behind the lens of a single character throughout the story, but you should be conscientious of how this will limit your storytelling.

For instance, Watson (in the Sherlock Holmes’s books) is our POV character, but Sherlock is the Main Character. Everything we see and learn about Sherlock is through Watson’s eyes. This works really well for Sir Doylie, but might not work for you and your tale.

Ask yourself, is my POV character the Main Character? If the answer is no, you better have a darned good reason for it. If you find yourself struggling to come up with even half-assed justifications, then the fix is simple: make your MC your POV character.

4) Wrong Structure

This is the story problem tripping me up on my current work in progress. To give you some background on the project, it’s a collection of three novella’s forming an overarching narrative called Augment. The individual novella’s link together loosely, but it’s not until you reach the end of the last novella that you really see how they all fit together. That last novella, The Watchmaker’s Daughter, is the one giving me fits, and rightfully so. It’s the one that has to neatly wrap up all the loose ends, connect dots that the reader didn’t even know needed to be connected, and offer a satisfying conclusion not only to it’s story, but to the two preceding stories as well.

In short, it’s pulling more than it’s fair share of weight. Which, if done correctly, will be cool. But, if done incorrectly (which is likely what will happen considering how unwieldy a little bitch it is) it will leave the reader incredibly unsatisfied.

I don’t want to leave ya’ll unsatisfied, so I’ve been tooling over this story for a week or so trying to figure out why it’s not quite coming together and finally I realized that I’m telling the story with the wrong structure.

Here’s what I mean by that. I’ve been working so hard to wrap up all the loose strands, that I lost focus on the individual story taking place in The Watchmaker’s Daughter. Instead of being a standalone story about a mother losing her daughter, I sped through the emotional bits from a pulled out bird’s-eye-view, and robbed the story of all its emotional impact.

This is a problem. Fortunately it can be fixed.

Learning that the structure of your story is flawed sucks, but it’s better than wallowing in the muck of “Why?”

How do we fix a broken structure? You go back to the beginning and relay the foundation. For The Watchmaker’s Daughter I’ve reoutlined the story based off what I now know about it. Fitting in the emotional landmarks that the first version lacked and cutting out the parts that skim over the pain.

This is one of my least favorite sorts of fixes to make, because it amounts to a lot of work and throwing away many already written words. But hey, we write until the story is right.

NOTE TO NEW WRITERS!

Listen up. I’ve outlined some of the common story problems threatening to take you off track, but ignore all of this advice until you’ve actually completed your first draft.

As a new writer it is more important to take the editor cap off and simply write to completion. Everybody hits the 1/3 mark in their story and thinks “This is absolutely horrible.”

That’s normal. You have to get comfortable in that zone and learn how to push past it. If you stop mid-way through a first draft to go back and fix it, you’re unlikely ever to actually finish it. So, finish that first draft no matter how horrendous it is, then go back and tweak and revise, but not a moment sooner.

NOTE TO ADVANCED WRITERS!

You should also finish that first draft before going back and implementing the tweaks I’ve laid out. Why? For the same reasons I gave the new writers. Nobody, regardless of skill, is immune to the stalling out point. I don’t care if it’s your first short story or thirtieth novel, finish that first draft before going putting the editor cap back on.

Stop arguing, just do it.

Here’s a picture of a cat to make it all better.

cat

Cheating Your Way To Likable Characters! (Writing Workshop)

Cheating Your Way To Likable Characters! (Writing Workshop)

Some of you may remember that I’ve already talked a bit about writing likable characters. If you don’t remember that post, don’t worry, it’s probably just your early-onset Alzheimers cropping up again.

Here’s a link over to that post, by the way. I’M A LINK! CLICK ME!

Now, in that post, I spend a lot of time talking about writing likable villains. Why? Because if you can make your bad guy both despicable and likable, then writing a likable hero is a cake walk.

*Quick Aside*

What the hell is a cake walk? In my mind I imagine one of two scenarios:

1) Like walking the gauntlet, but instead of getting spanked with leather straps and pelted with beanie babies, the person performing said cake walk is getting cakes of all sizes and flavor Frisbee tossed at his or her face.

2) The ground has turned into one massive cake, sort of like those games children play where they pretend the ground is hot lava.

Anyways, that was a huge digression. My bad. Let’s get to the reason ya’ll stopped over today. I want to give you five easy-peasy ways to make your characters more likable. Let’s stop beating around the bush and hop right in.

1) Relatable

We enjoy stories because they let us live vicariously through other people as they experience dangerous, novel, embarrassing, awkward situations without ever leaving the comfort of our couch and underwear. Now, with that said, we don’t want to live vicariously through somebody too different from us. There’s a barrier to entry if we can’t pinpoint something in your characters that feels somewhat familiar and relatable. If that happens, we’re likely to put down your story.

Rule of thumb: have a range of traits from really broad/generalized (Suzy is a girl), and some specific ones (Suzy loves soccer).

For instance, Mgroda, the thirty-two thousand year old sentient fart floating around the Oort Cloud with the rest of his gaseous brethren is not even remotely relatable to most humans. Namely because the idea of a sentient fart is just so weird and outlandish, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make him relatable. We just have to work harder at it.

For instance, did you know Mgroda has been living in the stinky shadow of his older brother, a gaseous emission that everybody, Mgroda’s parents included, just think is the coolest flatus (singular of flatulence) around? This is something most people can relate to, even if they don’t have any siblings.

We can go deeper.

How about the fact that Mgroda dreams of someday gaining financial independence from his over-powering father by opening his very own cheese and ice cream parlor? Perhaps you don’t share the same entrepreneurial ambitions of young Mgroda, but you can understand what it’s like to have goals, ambitions, and dreams.

2) Kindness

Nobody is a dick all of the time. Even House, that curmudgeonly irreverent doctor we all love to hate, isn’t always a dick.

There are two ways you can play the kindness card in your story. (Actually, there may be more than two, but these are the first ones that come to mind so I’m going to pretend like they are the end-all-be-all.)

1) Show your character doing something nice early in the story.

Mgroda steps outside and sees young Billy Ryder, so excited by his new ice cream cone, trip on the curb. He falls, skins a knee and loses his ice cream (along with what remained of his pride).

Mgroda’s reaction tells us a lot about his character.

“Ah, Billy,” Mgroda said, offering the boy a hand. “Are you okay?”

Billy snivels something barely intelligible about his ice cream.

“Here,” Mgroda said, flagging down the ice cream truck before it could pull away. “Let’s get you another one.”

“Gee whiz,” Billy pogo-sticked back to his feet like a gopher on Adderol. “That would be great.”

We end up liking Mgroda a bit more than if he’d simply kicked Billy in the face.

That goes for most of us, at least. There are a lot of sick jerks out there.

dog died

See? That’s a jerk nobody likes.

2) Show your character grow

The other way you can use kindness in your story is a bit different. In the above example Mgroda starts the story as a good person–this means we’re likely to root for him as the story progresses–but let’s say he didn’t help Billy. Perhaps he didn’t go so far as to boot him in the face, but maybe he’s so wrapped up in his own issues that he blows right past the crying boy without a backwards glance. Well, that seems pretty heartless, but it gives his character a lot of room to grow.

This is the classic Christmas Carol/Scrooge progression.

Watching characters grow gives us warm and fuzzy feelings because it gives us hope that we too can grow.

3) Real Life Concerns

If Mgroda walks right past Billy because deep down inside he’s a Hitler loving cloud of gas then we’re probably going to hate him. On the other hand, if he walks past Billy because he just got a phone call from the police department saying his Mom was in a car crash and they need him to get to the hospital ASAP, well, then it’s forgivable.

We’ve all been there (perhaps not getting tragic calls from the police), but we have all been so wrapped up in our own thoughts and concerns that we failed to notice the world/people around us.

Let’s go deeper:

Before Mgroda gets the phone call, he just gets off the phone with the bank who denies his small business loan. Oh no, now he’ll never get his very own ice cream and cheese parlor.

TIME OUT!

Let’s take a second and reflect on a couple things.

One: Mgroda is a peculiar character operating in a world I’m too lazy to really sit down and figure out. He’s a sentient fart, but we’re pretty much treating him as though he were human, sort of like Alf, deal with it.

Two: Based off what we have so far, we don’t really know what the focal point of Mgroda’s story is. Is it his relationship with his brother? His dreams of owning a business? Is this going to be a tragic drama following the death of his mother?

Nobody knows, least of all me. And that’s okay.

When you start your story, you want to get to the point of it all really quick. Your readers need to have a good idea where you’re taking them, but remember, your story is not happening in a vacuum (unless you’re really basing it in the Oort Cloud in which case…). Your characters did not spontaneously spawn into existence the moment the story began. They were alive yesterday, and the day before that. Presumably, unless you’re writing an apocalyptic tale, that world will keep on spinning tomorrow.

What this means is that the world, and all its problems, do not magically disappear once your story gets going. Maybe Mgroda’s story has nothing to do with any of the things we’ve talked about thus far. That’s fine, but those things we’ve already talked about–his strained relationship with daddy fart, his mom in the hospital, bawling Billy Ryder, and a no-go on the business loan–don’t magically disappear.

Keep those elements playing in the background and you’re character gains a layer of reality.

Readers like real characters.

4) Give Them A Friend

The title of this blog post references the fact that you can cheat your way to a likable character. So far there hasn’t been anything sleazy about the previous tips. This tip (and the next one), however, are sort of like writing an escape hatch into your story. They may feel a bit contrived, but listen: writing, by it’s very nature, is contrived.

As the god of your story world, you are constantly cheating. Conveniently manipulating people to your whims. This is no different.

Give your character a friend. Even if you’re writing a loser loner type, still give him a friend.

Why?

Because everybody out there has at least one friend. If you’re character is absolutely friendless, then you’re reader is probably correct in assuming there is something wrong with your character.

There are three types of friends/relationships (probably more, but again, I’m lazy):

Superior Friend: The friend is way super-cool and it seems like she’s slumming by hanging out with your MC. Your character can have self-doubts about why her friend is there in the first place, but you as the writer need to make it clear she’s there because she sees something in the main character that nobody else does. This gives our MC social proof, an incredibly important concept for our little monkey brains.

Best example of this I can think of is Sherlock Holmes and Watson. The books are told from Watson’s perspective, so he’s our POV but perhaps not our MC. Maybe a better example is Fonzie and everybody else. *shrug*

Oh yeah, the Fonze is way cooler than you!

Oh yeah, the Fonze is way cooler than you!

Equal Friends: This is the idealized friendship we all seek out. A great example of this might be Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Hermoine Granger. They all bring something different to the table. Though the story is ostensibly about Harry, you’d be mistaken to think that Ron and Hermoine aren’t equally as important.

Inferior Friend: This is the sort of relationship where our MC is drastically cooler than his friend. Great examples of this are Jon Snow and Sam Turley from Game of Thrones, or even better might be Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.

Guess which one is the cool one. Hint: it's the one with nicely quaffed hair.

Guess which one is the cool one. Hint: it’s the one with nicely quaffed hair.

Anyways, friends are great because you can learn a ton about a person by watching how they interact with people they trust/like. Do yourself a favor, give your character at least one good friend, it’ll make your job so much easier.

5) Underdog

We love underdogs. It’s the reason Rocky did so damn well. There’s something about the David standing up to Goliath that sets our hairs on end. We root for the little guy because we all see ourselves as that little guy. The world is big and scary and mean and we are small, poor, weak by comparison. When we see a character personifying all these traits, we instinctively relate to them and therefore root for them.

Now, that’s not to say you need to write a story where your MC is fighting impossible odds at every turn (though, personally that’s precisely the sorts of story I like to tell). But you should go out of your way to make us sympathize with your MC. A great way of doing this is by showing us your character in those situations where she is inherently powerless. Whether that is a teenager dealing with her parents, or a middle-aged businesswoman confronting her boss, or even a little old lady going up against the City Council who are trying to evict her from her home of fifty years so that they can build a spiffy new condominium.

Show us your character being powerless. But then show her taking back that power bit by bloody bit.

That’s the sort of character we get behind. That’s the sort of character we like.

Alright, get down to the comments and tell me about some of the characters you like most and why. Then, if you’re feeling really spunky, tell us about the characters you don’t like and why.

Details Matter (The Writing Lab)

Details Matter (The Writing Lab)

Details are a storytelling spice. If done correctly, they add to the complex flavors of your already scrumptious story. If done incorrectly, well… I’m sure we’ve all accidentally added a bit too much sea-salt to the guacamole at one time or another and can remember how that bastardized concocti–

Ah, crap! Getting a parking ticket as we speak! Be right back!

*Puts on some soothing elevator music*

Sorry, I was gone a bit longer than expected, had to hide the body of the parking enforcement officer.  That’ll teach him to ticket m–oh wait, you’re not reading this in real time, so you have no idea how long I was gone.

Disregard. Back to the spices.

the-sixth-spice

Try and focus, sheesh…

Details add a layer of authenticity to your story (and I’m all for that), but lately I’ve been seeing a lot of stories which are suffering from one of two problems where details are concerned.

1) Superfluous Information.

2) Incorrect Superfluous Information

Let’s tackle that first point.

We all have that one friend. The guy who talks about his work, hobby, sexual fetishes, etc… in excruciating details because to him those things are the bee’s sneeze (different, and way cooler, than the bee’s knees).

Of course everybody is interested in hearing about all the hijinks and foibles your Dungeons and Dragon’s Feather Mage keeps finding himself in. An why wouldn’t I want to hear about your ingrown pubic hairs? How much goat milk do you put in your morning coffee? Please, do tell. Inquiring minds need to know!

wonka

TMI (Translation: Too Much Information for those of us not born in the early 00’s) is one of those surefire ways to make me hate you, or your characters. Now, that’s not to say you should hold back on all inane specifics, but remember, just as with heroine and methamphetamines, a little goes a long way.

If you’re the type of person ladling spoonfuls of cumin into your story, I’m gonna gag and probably stop reading at some point. But hey, I may someday forget that blistering taste of minutiae and try another one of your stories. That is, unless you commit that second mistake.

2) Incorrect Superfluous Information

Sometimes, especially within the context of Science Fiction, we get a bit loosey goosey with physics and reality. Hell, that’s part of the fun. For the most part, this is okay, as long as you are observing certain rules of consistency.

You want to create a world powered by cocoa beans? Cool.

Your planet has less gravity than Earth? Neato.

The beauty of science fiction is that you can do whatever the hell you want, but you better be damned sure your cocoa bean powered economy doesn’t change halfway through the story into solar power or something equally crazy and fictitious.

So, if you set your jet setting space opera in a universe familiar to our own, you need to obey the laws of physics, or give us a really compelling reason to disregard them. Once you do that, you need to stay the course and make sure all those nitty gritty details you’re dropping on us are…actually correct.

I’m guilty of this. Sometimes I get a bit carried away and start granny tossing facts at the reader without applying enough critical thinking to what I’m actually saying. Now, majority of the time, I get away with this crime Scotch-Tape free (pretty sure that’s how the phrase goes). But, but, but…occasionally somebody’s going to catch my sloppiness and if I’m lucky, they’ll call me out in the nicest way possible (behind closed doors with a bottle of Scotch to soften the blow).

rod burgendy

Let me give you an example from a book I read a couple months back. I’m not going to call out the book or the author because I like the author and I enjoyed the book, but throughout the story there were these puzzling details that instead of adding to the overall flavor, made my face pucker as if I’d accidentally chugged a glass of milk when I’d been expecting orange juice.

The detail that really stood out was in reference to temperatures. Which you’d think would be easy to get right, but you’d be wrong.

Rule of Thumb: It’s almost always the really basic things we *all* take for granted, that we most often mess up in our stories. That exotic new chemical compound you made up? We’ll accept it no matter how zany it is. But if you mess up something basic like… declaring air is predominately oxygen, well, you’ll be lucky to escape with only a light ridiculing.

Anyways, back to temperature.

We have a space fairing fella jaunting around a derelicte spacecraft complaining about how hot the internal temperature is. Over and over we’re told that it is quite unpleasant. Absurdly so. All the while, our protag is wearing a space-suit, which given the fact that temperatures in space can fluctuate anywhere from -200 Fahrenheit in the shade to a blistering 250 Fahrenheit in direct sun, means the inside of this spacecraft must well and truly be blistering if our poor astronaut is feeling the effects.

So, I’m going along with this and simply imagining that this place is H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks hot,. Until, that is, two things occur within the span of a couple pages.

1) The character takes off his gloves because they are…uncomfortable or something, I don’t know what his actual motivations for stripping were because all I could think was:

“What the hell? At temperatures in excess of 250 degrees that poor sap is going to sizzle! And not in the “I’m going to the discotheque to get my razzle-dazzle, sizzle-wizzle on!” <–Pretty sure this is a thing people said back in the fifties, or whenever the Disco age was.

disco

Now, not to worry for the story shed some light on this peculiar situation shortly therafter in the followng paragraphs. The problem is… the explanation given left me scratching my bald spot even harder. Why is that?

Well…

2) We’re told it is 311.5 Kelvin.

Huh? First, raise your hand if you know Kelvin conversions off the top of your head? That’s what I thought. Most people don’t, which is probably why nobody really commented on this in the reviews of said book, but I’m a stickler for weird details and this one t-boned me.

So what’s the big deal? Well, besides being an incredibly specific number on a scale most people aren’t familiar with, it’s actually not very…warm.

Well, okay, let me rephrase that: It’s not very warm if you’ve ever experienced summer in Minnesota. How warm is 311.5 Kelvin?

It’s roughly 100 degrees Fahrenheit, or 37 Celsius, give or take. Sure, that’s shorts and tank top weather, but nothing you would feel through an insulated space suit.

This an incredibly small detail, right? I’m being a stickler and a bit of a dick to boot, right?

you're a dick

Can’t argue with that.

But here’s the thing, when you throw in incredibly specific details, and they don’t quite line up with our expectations of reality, well, they completely take the reader out of the story. From that point on you become a suspect storyteller. The human condition dictates that “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Nobody wants to be fooled twice, so we read everything else from that point on with an ultra-critical eye.

The inherent bummer of this scenario is that if we search hard enough in a story of fiction to find something ‘off’, we’ll almost always succeed. Case in point from the above mentioned story: the gloves magically reappear on the characters hands when they jump into an airlock.

Would I have caught that if the temperature thing hadn’t thrown me so hard? Probably not. But if I had, chances are I wouldn’t have cared. I would’ve chalked it up to the fact that I had missed a line somewhere along the way where the author said, “Billy stuffed his sweaty hands back into his gloves”, and been done with it. Instead, because my internal alarm was going off I had to thumb thru the preceding pages to verify my “magic gloves” suspicion.

Okay, okay, I get it. This all toes the line of hyper-critical, I agree. So here’s the takeaway from what was an otherwise great story, you’ve got to nail the details. Not too much, not too little, and for god’s sake, don’t throw cinnamon in there when you meant for salt.

Get down to the comments and tell me about some of your favorite missed deet’s (details as per how the cool kids say it) from popular television shows, movies, books.

Ambition

Here’s a nifty little video starring Littlefinger from Game of Thrones for your viewing pleasure. The CGI is top notch, the story is…uhm…*shrug* I don’t really know what to make of the story actually. It could be the kickoff of a really interesting story world, but this particular vignette seemed “dramatically forced”. Still entertaining from a visual effects stand point, however.

Writing Is Sort Of Depresssing

Writing Is Sort Of Depresssing

This has been a week of highs and lows for me. And as is often the case when my mood starts flailing about like an enraged hobo high on bath salts, I can’t really put my finger on why. Which is surprising ’cause I don’t consider myself to be an emotionally complex individual. Overall I’m pretty simple.

What you see is what you get is what I feel. My emotional barometer doesn’t fluctuate all that much, usually. But this week has been a little different and since I’ve spent a goodly amount of time digging through my internal ichor in search of why that is, I figured I might as well share the results with ya’ll because none of this is unique to me. Au contraire mi amigo (

I said it in an interview a couple weeks back, but in case you missed it, I’l repeat it here: Writers (which extends to any creative type) need to have Han Solo’esque self-confidence alongside some C3PO crippling self-doubt. The tension between those two states of mind is where the best art is created.

Unfortunately, it also gives rise to some wicked internal dissonance which can lead to heavy drinking and heavy self-flagellation (and not the good kind).

Earlier this week I announced that I would be writing a time-traveling story for The Future Chronicles (which represents the apex of this weeks rollercoaster). But then it came time to dig in and get my fingers dirty with ink and story guts (this is the steep drop). Then came all the twists and turns that naturally arise when you write a story. The warm euphoria drizzling down on you like a Golden Shower from God when you realize, “Hey, this is an actual thing,” counterbalanced by the Devil’s wet-willy when you find that, “Hey, this isn’t any good.”

Which is nothing new; I always go through this phase upon swan diving into a second draft. After writing so many stories you’d think I’d be ready for the whiplash hairpin juke that comes after completing a first draft, but you’d be wrong. For some reason, I never see the damn thing coming.

Now, I’m not writing this because I want ya’ll’s self-pity (well, not entirely), but because at some point in the creative process you’re going to hit this wall like a crash-test dummy in a Pinto. It’s about this time that you want to throw your finger paints across the room and start giving serious thought to becoming a professional vagrant. The last thing you want to do is sit back down and get to work.

The shit of it is, that’s precisely what you’ve got to do. There’s no way around it. People say you can’t polish a turd, but you know what? Those people are absolutely wrong.

But here’s the other thing to remember: It’s probably not as bad as you think it is. Though, don’t get me wrong, sometimes it totally is. When that happens I recommend some margaritas and quesadillas to soothe the pain.

Overall I’m really happy with how this story is shaping up for the Time Travel Chronicles, by the way. There are some unique characters set within an interesting story world, but as usually happens at this point in my process I start second guessing myself and wondering, “Can I do this better?”

The truth is… yes, yes I probably can do better. Given more time, more practice, more skill, more more more..more things I don’t really have. I might as well wish for Patrick Rothfuss’s writing chops or the storytelling gene that Stephen King was so obviously born with (and totally never earned, he’s a cheater), for all the good it’ll do.

Ira Glass summarizes it perfectly in the video below. Especially if you’re a creative type who’s C3PO crippling self-doubt has become a bit too crippling.

THE GAP by Ira Glass from Daniel Sax on Vimeo.

If I could change anything about that video it would be to point out that this feeling of mediocrity is not reserved for beginners. I’d say regardless of where you are on the path, you’re gonna hit this at some point. Even those guys I listed above, Rothfuss and King, suffer from that same nagging voice in the back of their head that says, “Ehh…. this is sort of shite.”

There’s power in that realization. Writing (and art in general) is solitary by nature, and often you have no way of knowing if you’re doing it right. If those feelings of inadequacy are unique to you or indicative of something much more wide-spread.

Well, dear reader, take solace. You’re not alone,.

We all think we suck.

I think that was the point I was trying to make in all of this. Can’t be sure, though. Too many margaritas and quesadillas.

Joining The Future Chronicles!

Joining The Future Chronicles!

Here’s some news: I’m writing a Time Travel short story for The Future Chronicles, and if I were any more excited I’d need to take a potty training refresher course.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Chronicles, they are curated by none other than Samuel Peralta himself, and explore the truly mind bogglingly (Yes, bogglingly is now a word. As a bonus, it’s also super fun to say, give it a try) vast spectrum of sci-fi themes in a short-story format. Past editions have explored the ideas of AI, robots, telepaths, aliens, dragons. You name it and they’ve probably either already done it, or will soon do it.

I got tapped on the shoulder yesterday to fill a spot left vacant for the upcoming Time Travel anthology. I’ve only got 13 days to get this story up and running so I’ve put a couple other projects on the back burner for now, but I’m pretty darn excited to share this one with ya’ll. I’ve only ever done one other time travel story (Which was about a time-traveling vampire, and oddly enough one of my dad’s favorite stories. But he’s not biased, he just really likes sparkly vampires), so this particular theme is wide open to me creativity wise. Trust that I’m running rampant like a rabid rabbit high on alliteration (Is that a good thing? Hopefully?)

If you haven’t read anything of The Future Chronicles I recommend checking out the links below and giving them a shot. Each edition has a truly impressive stable of high caliber writers, you won’t be disappointed.

telepath the alien chronicles ai chronicles

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