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The Best Writing Tip I Have For Today - The Watchtower of Destruction: The Ferrett's Journal
July 2nd, 2010
08:03 am

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The Best Writing Tip I Have For Today
Sponsor me at Clarion!I've been writing one of what I call my "hot mess" stories over at clarion_echo - which involves writing a lot of scenes that don't work. And in doing so, I found my biggest danger flag that tells me when a scene is not working.

So I figured I'd share. (And maybe encourage you to donate to my six-week writing experiment for charity.)

Now, a "hot mess" story is one of those tales where I have an interesting start, a fascinating set of characters, and zero idea where it's going to wind up. Some stories slide out of the ol' birth canal fully formed, with a nice solid spine of a character arc and a smooth, baby's butt of an ending. Others, however, arrive only via an unanesthetized Caesarian section, where you have an idea and hack, hack, hack your way to the center. Many are stillborn. The survivors involve a lot of blood, stitching, and other messy things the prospective parents would not rather see.

So what I'm doing is writing a scene as I try to figure out what these characters are doing, asking whether that's the right scene, and just as often as not scrapping what I've done before and trying again. And you know when I can tell that a scene isn't working?

I have to write it.

Most of my writing is stuff that I want to do. For example, in the current story - tentatively titled "Stomach Shack" - I have two ex-club kids trapped in a cabin with a shrivelled black stomach that eats love. Who wouldn't want to write that? I mean, dude, there's a love-eating stomach. I can't wait to get to the damn keyboard.

However, after I wrote the first scene, where the thorn-tentacled monsters with flypaper skin were battering on the screen windows, I realized the next scene? Had to be a flashback that explained how the club kids got trapped there. So I explained how they met the crazy magician in a dumpster, and after 500 words I was like, "Oh my God, I have to explain how they know each other and what kind of club scene they were in so that I can get back to the love-eating stomach."

And there. There is my danger.

Because the minute I have to write something to get to the cool stuff, I'm probably fucking up.

This is not to say that we don't eventually need to know some background detail - but whenever I'm sitting there going, "Once I slog through this information I can start telling the fun stuff," the reader is probably thinking, "Once I slog through this information, I have no guarantee that there's any more fun stuff." And he'll probably get bored and wander away in search of a ham sandwich.

So you know what? Fuck that scene. That scene's getting in the way of the good stuff, and I have to learn to hear the little voice inside of me that goes, "Aw, man, do we hafta?" A story shouldn't be your parents hauling you down to a Florida vacation, where you'll get to enjoy yourself only after enduring eighteen hours in a car with broken air conditioning and a twitchy younger brother. A story should be increasing shots of awesome across the bough, with as few little bits as general.

What'd I do? I wrote a different scene. It had a little back story, but instead I decided that the Big Meeting could wait for another day, and instead chronicled the magic glowsticks fluttering in the rafters of the cabin, like bats, and concentrated on how scared these poor, stupid, and very much in-love club kids were.

And that worked. Because I found the scene that wasn't like eating spinach to make me stronger - instead, I had a delicious slice of moist chocolate cupcake in my fingers, arriving neatly onto the page, and that was what I needed.

For that day. I may rewrite it tomorrow. Wanna see how I'm writing this story, with excessive commentary? Sponsor me in my charity blog-a-thon for Clarion!

(8 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

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From:pentane
Date:July 2nd, 2010 01:16 pm (UTC)
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A story should be increasing shots of awesome across the bough

Bwuh?

Warning shots of awesome?
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From:witchdollie
Date:July 2nd, 2010 04:13 pm (UTC)
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I think all my ideas are "hot mess". Because they never get any further then that. I have actually considered looking on to "selling" my story ideas just so I can see how they will end up.

In my mind there is an Underground library made up of ideas. Stories never written, or written but never finished. The library itself looks as though a tornado went through it, sheets of paper litter the floor and shelves in the dim afternoon light of a high-placed window. It's a place no one sees but everyone drops pieces of dreams.
From:docbrite
Date:July 2nd, 2010 05:19 pm (UTC)
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Sounds to me like you've handled this well. There's nothing wrong with knowing all that background, and writing some of it if you want to. But you don't have to keep it in the story. Distill it down to the essence the story needs.

Also, I <3 love-eating stomachs.
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From:sunscald
Date:July 2nd, 2010 06:44 pm (UTC)
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For my money, your "Stomach Shack" in execution is even more awesome than its concept suggests. I hope it finds a good home once you're through revising it. It's been worth every penny of my donation just getting to read the next installment.
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From:theferrett
Date:July 2nd, 2010 07:20 pm (UTC)
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Awww, thanks!
From:galalefey
Date:July 2nd, 2010 10:17 pm (UTC)
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I think that the story in and of itself explains relationships just as well as giving the backstory - by showing what the characters do, it shows their priorities, assuming that your story gives them ways that challenge what you'd like to reveal about the characters - if you think giving that backstory is important to the story you're telling, there's probably some way you can convey it in your story.
Or that's my take, anyway. But I don't know nothin', really.
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From:lunabird
Date:July 3rd, 2010 02:51 pm (UTC)
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In my mind I can think of a precious few books that are loaded with minute to minute cool stuff (Bridge of Birds, The Drawing of the Three, and The Last Unicorn are the only three that jump rapidly to mind), but a ton of books that involve teeth gritting slogs to mine out the few story-treasures within them (The worst offender I can remember is The Onion Girl by Charles De Lint, followed shortly by about 80% of Robert Jordan's stuff). You know what I do when I really like a book but we hit a sloggy part?

I read ahead. And if it's an abrupt change in characters that created the slog, I just skip over the scene change until I'm back with the characters I actually cared about in the interesting place. If it's just a... sloggy bit, I'll usually read ahead, see if I understand the story without it, and if I can I cheerfully read on ahead, sloggy bit skipped, promising to go back and read it once I feel less impatient and know the entire narrative.

To borrow the analogy from the original post, it's sort of like asking someone to take the 8 hour car trip to get to Florida when they have the power to teleport there.

Thus why the cheap trick of chapterly cliffhangers to keep me "interested in the journey" or whatever just doesn't fly with me. Serials can get away with that because they essentially remove the ability to teleport. Novels and short stories? Not so much.
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From:geoffrey_landis
Date:July 4th, 2010 03:15 pm (UTC)

False insight

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I'm not sure I'm the best person to give writing advice (since I haven't actually been writing much recently), but I think that this may be a false insight.
I have a friend who used to write a weekly column for a big city newspaper. One time I was talking to him and he was mentioning what it's like to have a weekly deadline. He said that sometimes the column is easy, and the words just flow out, I write the column in an hour. And other times it's doesn't, and every single word is like pulling teeth. But, you know, I look over the columns a year later, and I cannot tell the difference. The ones that I agonized over for five days are just exactly as good as the ones that I dashed off in an inspiration. There is no difference at all.
Seems wise to me.
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