Tag Archives: fiction

Drive and Depth: Debating My Least Favorite Writing Rule

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I’m coming to the uncomfortable conclusion that I need to cut a lot from the second in the series I’m writing. I continually waffle back and forth depending on the day, of course. But there is a thread of truth in the idea that I’ve written content in this book that doesn’t drive the plot forward.

Does is portray intriguing characterization? Definitely. Rich emotion and relationships? Oh, yes. Interesting dynamics and world building? You betcha. Forwarding the particular thread of plot for this novel? Well…

It is the second in the series. So some parts of me say, there’s leeway! People will care about these characters now (as it is the second book), so they’ll want to read about these fun interplays that delve deeper into the dynamics of the world and how the characters fit into it (and each other)! Then I’ll bring in the real clincher for this novel, and off we go.

But the more I read, the more I get the feeling I really need to start cutting. Or, somehow, shorten the scenes I’ve written. There seems to be a lot of advice being churned out — or maybe I’m just now paying attention to it — about how every scene needs to drive the plot forward, to build on the scene before it.

I think I’m pretty good on the building from previous scenes. If the difficult of extracting one of my scenes without collapsing part of the story is anything to go on, I’m good at that part. But not all the my scenes necessarily drive the plot forward.

But then part of me wonders — what does that really mean, drive the plot forward? Sure, you’ve got the main storyline of what occurs that hopefully follows a theme, maybe teaches a lesson, hitting upon human moments and concerns. But then there’s this whole nebulous character part of it.

Characters are what drive the story. Characters are what make readers actually care about the story. But to have characters, you have to have characterization, growth, interplays and dynamics. Which I absolutely adore, both as a reader and a writer.

So how much characterization is too much? How much of the book can be character focused, and how much solely plot?

I know the aim is to weave both of these together, so they seamlessly slide into each other and catapult the whole story forward. So maybe my real problem is learning how to do that more effectively.

But that can’t be quite right, because I still have 148k words on this mammoth of a book, and even if I did still start the ‘action’ earlier and weaved everything else in later, that’d still be the word count. So I’m back to — too many scenes that involve just characterization.

Which brings me to my second complaint of the rule that all scenes must move the plot forward.

When I started writing, I was fascinated by making everything real. Real emotions, real interactions, real situations (well, as real as you can get with dragons flying around). While I’m not as obsessed with it now as I was then, there’s still a part of me that yearns for a plot to not be so straightforward.

Real life has dead ends. Clues that aren’t clues. Unfortunate bunny trails. Long walks that turn into long conversations that no one quite remembers fully, but they know what it felt like. Boredom. Confusion. Unclear motives. Self-loss.

I’m not advocating long drawn out scenes about doing dishes or being stuck in traffic for an hour. That’s boring. There’s a difference between relaying boredom and being boring. But at some point, I get bored with scenes that do nothing but drive forward. Life is fuller than that. Life has more mystery and more depth.

I want to stop and savor. Enjoy the world I’m immersed in. Really get to know the characters, and feel what they feel. Pick apart their minds and their motivations, and curl up inside their heads.

But. Too much can mean a story that drags.

So. Where is the line, do you think? Between plot and character; between drive and depth? Where do you draw your line in this tug of war?

Vampires, Werewolves, and Zombies, Oh My!

A few days ago I ended up doing a bunch of research on really old European vampire and werewolf folklore. Did you know that vampires were originally described as “dark, and ruddy,” not pasty white?

It was pretty fascinating. If you go far enough back in time, the vampire/werewolf/zombie myths actually become so similar they’re almost indiscernible. All came from the dead. All wanted blood, or flesh (aka, they wanted a live person’s life force). All carried the stench of death with them. Only as you move forward does the mythology start to take different paths, and generally according to region.

More vampire-like mythology clusters around the Slavic/Eastern Europe regions, such as Romania and the Balkans. Apparently, fangs were optional. And if you poked a vampire, blood would just come gushing out as they were often engorged with it after they ate people. They usually haunted their family members and weren’t out in the daytime – though the “dead-like” sleep doesn’t come up until later in mythology. Though some myths had them up wandering around the neighborhood annoying the crap out of people before someone took it upon themselves to re-kill it (this is where zombies seem a bit similar).

Zombie and vampire myth are almost exact – I feel like it’s only in the past few centuries that they’ve actually developed into different creatures. However, the modern day idea of the walking dead virus being passed through bites actually originates in the Carribean/West Africa. The mythology also talks about voodoo creating zombies as well, which is interesting.

More werewolf-like mythology develops in the France/German/Baltic region, and seem to develop in concert with areas associated with the witchcraft hysteria. Werewolves, interestingly, were closely tied with witches, sometimes could be the same thing. Lycanthropy, loup-garou, rougarou, and draugrs, are all alternate names for werewolves and have slightly different variations depending on which region.

Draugrs are interesting: appearing in Old Norse myth, they apparently had magical powers (such as shapeshifting, seeing the future, etc) and you’d go insane if you went near their den. Animals apparently went near their grave sites and would end up going insane all the time (it makes me wonder about the prevalence of mad cow disease and the like… )

But what ties all of these creatures together, at least in the beginning, is that they all rise from the dead. Now, these myths most likely originally rose from our obsession with death and explaining death. Yet why have they developed into the fantastical, even attractive, creatures of now? Are we attempting to make death less scary by taming it? Why do we find the idea of something draining our life force (vampires drinking blood) attractive, even provocative? The original tales can be explained by the love many have for horror, but I would argue that vampires and werewolves have moved on from that genre. Just look up “paranormal romance.”

Anyway. These are thoughts that have been wandering around in my head, and I wanted to share some tidbits I learned while wandering the internet. I think it’s fun to go back to the old myths and see the difference between then and now, particularly with my Jungian bent on interpreting literature (that we’re working out our societal problems through fiction). What do you think about the evolution of these myths?

Timey Wimey, Wibbly Wobbly Stuff

As I distress over the amount of time I’ve been able to dedicate to blogging and writing, I’m surprised by how quickly time flies by. I know, it should be an obvious thing, “how time flies.” But very shortly here, I’ll have been a college graduate for a year. This blog will have been active for a year. Promises made to myself, and memories that seem just yesterday, will have actually been a rather long time ago in consideration to how long I’ve been on this planet.

Perhaps ‘surprised’ is the wrong word. Unconscious in the face of it, perhaps – and suddenly aware as it seems to slip through my fingers like water. Part of it makes me panic. I’m getting old; opportunities will pass me by; I still haven’t figured out what I really want to do with myself. It’s a problem of my generation, I’m told, to be stupefied in the face of so much choice, and left grasping at some sense of security and place in the world.

But I digress. This blog is about writing. And for this post, I wanted to address the issue of time passing.

My first manuscript was written day by day – nearly hour by hour. I plotted out how each day and hour should go, and obsessed over blocks of time that seemed filled with nothing. I felt that every day had to be filled by something, and each day needed to be written. Everything has to be exciting (or at least interesting) in a book, right? So something exciting/interested happening every minute!

Somewhere along the way I realized that I didn’t need to meticulously fill and articulate each passing day. This was probably around the time I realized I was trying to make up for the routine and unchangingness of my days. In reality, many days are filled with the same ol’, same ol’. Life isn’t all wonder and glory, and it’s starkly frightening how quickly time will just zip on by.

Of course,  I’m talking about fiction writing, and no one wants to read about the same thing happening day after day. They can get that in their own life, and it’s boring to read about if you’re not living it (for example – the vast amount of time that we all spend reading. Reading about reading doesn’t sound exactly entertaining for large swaths of passing time, and it might be in danger of straying far too into “meta” territory).

So after I figured out that I didn’t need to agonize over filling every minute of every day for my character, I began to struggle with the whole skipping time problem. How do I make transitions smooth and easy? What do I say about the time that’s just passed? How do I make it seem like something that’s supposed to happen and not just a convenient way to skip to the next exciting part of the story?

There’s a method that I think a lot of us use that’s like an overview, where so-and-so “did this all week, followed by this, all the time agonizing about this,” etc. It’s a useful tool and I think it works in a lot of circumstances – but I’m also afraid it’s a little sloppy. Or perhaps lazy. Really, it’s easy to use sloppily and lazily.

In my recently finished manuscript I have a time jump of three weeks. It’s mostly to pass time, but also to show the stark difference in the mood and attitude of the character over the course of this time. I originally wrote it with an “overview” piece, but then completely changed it, and instead “dropped” the reader right back into the story three weeks later (with the disclaimer, “Three Weeks Later,” of course). Then, instead of overviewing, I dropped the highlights of what happened the past three weeks into the story as current events were taking place – through discussion, internal thought, and general description, spreading out the use of which medium I used to get the information across.

It was rather a lot of work, really. But it was challenging and entertaining, and it was a good exercise in “showing not telling.”

I think “showing vs. telling” is really the issue I’m struggling with here, specifically having to do with time jumps and how to get pertinent information across without needing to info dump.

What are your thoughts on this issue? How do you write time passing? And am I the only crazy one who thinks that time is passing way too quickly in the real world?

When Reading Crappy Fiction…

… I’m finding that I can actually learn a few things. You probably know that most people recommend that writers consume high-quality literature, thus giving great examples of writing of which to draw upon. There’s a lot of unconscious work that is going on here, as many of us lead by example and pick up good habits this way. ( <– Yet another example of me saying vague things about improving writing that I talk about in this post)

But what about the other side of the story, the, ah, lower quality literature? I’ll admit that I get sucked in by the .99 cent deals (or even 2.99 cent deals) on Amazon (I am on a limited budget here), and often, the phrase “you get what you pay for” applies.

(Of course, this is not true universally. I’ve found some great writers through .99 cent books, traditional published and self-published alike.)

I do need to read more classical literature and fiction that will echo through the ages due to it’s great writing and content. But I’m starting to believe that crappy writers have a lot to teach us, too. I’ve come across a lot of what one of my favorite authors calls “glitter-poo”: novels that look great but end up being part of the problem that gives self-published authors the bad rep of poor writing and bad grammar. (Actually, I’m positive that a lot of these are traditionally published as well, so it’s not just self-published authors.) I have the problem that I have to know how the story ends, so I usually make myself finish the damn thing (especially since I’ve paid for it), even if it makes me cringe. I think I’ve only stopped reading one novel in my entire life. It was that boring.

Anyway, but what about this cringing is bad thing? Doesn’t this mean that I can identify what bad writing looks like? As someone who just “feels” or “knows it when she sees it” but can’t necessarily describe the exact things that are wrong with said novel, I think this is good practice for me. When I come across novels such as these, I’ve recently started studying what could be improved. The dialogue is unrealistic. Nobody would ever react that way in real life. There’s no description. There’s a lot of “telling” when there should be “showing.” Villians are only evil and heros are only good. Details are off. The pacing is choppy, or too fast or too slow.

Details such as these. And I think it’s helping me understand my own writing limitations. All of us have probably found ourselves rewriting a book we were reading in our heads, but now I’m noticing how quickly I’m seeing and pinpointing problems. Somewhere between honing an eye for editing and practice giving me an ability to pinpoint specific faults, it’s easier to see the pieces of my writing. To take feeling odd about something I’ve written and turning it into problems I can fix.

Perhaps I’m a little behind the curve and everyone else is already figuring this out. But hey, what’s your latest realization about your writing? Have you ever found yourself reading a book and rewriting it in your head to make it better? What’s the latest one you’ve learned something from (good writing or bad writing alike)?