Posts in Practice

Die, Darlings, Die!

Kill your darlings. It’s one of the pieces of writing advice you hear all the time. But until recently, it never really meant anything to me. I had no problem cutting scenes from a story, or even cutting a whole character. Obviously I was sooo advanced of a writer that I didn’t need the old chestnut of advice.

Nope. Not at all. I just didn’t understand what my darlings were.

I recently wrote a story that I thought had a great first couple of paragraphs. The hook was immediate, the language strong, the pacing great. And most importantly, it had a great voice. That’s very important to me. Every writer (I think) has something that’s in their wheelhouse. One writer friend of mine makes scenery come to life. Another has dialogue so real that you think you’re eavesdropping. I like to think that voice is one of my strengths. And even if it isn’t, it’s something that I always focus on. I’m willing to change a lot of things to make a story work, but messing with the voice? That isn’t really one of them.

But then I wrote the rest of the story and…those first couple of paragraphs no longer really made sense. I tweaked them this way and that, but they still seemed to be in direct contrast with the plot and theme of the story I had written (which, of course, was completely different than the one I thought I was writing).

I sent the story off to an amazing beta reader (the brilliant¬†M. Glyde) and he agreed. My hooks and the questions they raised were great, but they didn’t seem to be answered in the story. And there’s nothing worse than promising your reader that you’re going to zig and then having the rest of the story be a zag. I needed to rework the beginning.

At first, I resisted, making my case to kitty-editor Crumbsnatcher as she reclined on the sofa. But this turn of phrase is so precious! Don’t you see the way this opening line draws people in? This is the part that they’ll be referencing on Twitter when I go to pick up my Nebula!

Then I realized…all of the reasons that I didn’t want to make the changes were about me. How good I thought I sounded, how clever I thought I was being. My darling wasn’t a character or a plot twist…it was in my wordplay, and, more than that, how invested I was in seeming like a brilliant writer because of that wordplay. But writing isn’t supposed to be about the writer. It’s supposed to be about the reader.

So I’ve started killing. My precious adjectives. My great expressions. My clever phrasings. And as they each go into the woodchipper, I’m getting a little closer to the heart of the story and why it should matter to a reader. And that’s worth killing for.


Getting Back on the (Writing) Horse

I celebrated my application to Clarion the only way that made sense – by not writing at all for 2 weeks. I mean, what’s more fun: working on your writing, or Twitter-stalking everyone who applied to Clarion, making calendars in your head about when people heard in previous years and comparing it to this year, reading current works of previous Clarion attendees, and generally making yourself crazy? Obviously, it’s door B.

In my defense, it’s been a busy couple of weeks with work, freelancing, and pretending to prepare for my half-marathon (which I completed yesterday without dying – yay me!), but still, I’ve had plenty of time to watch all of Legend of Korra, which means I had plenty of time to Do The Thing and write. All my fellow Clarion applicants/Twitter-stalkees seem to write a story a day and have 15 submissions out/3 books written/4 short stories published/a statue of themselves waiting to be unveiled during Worldcon. They are seriously impressive – hope I get to meet them one day in Seattle/San Diego.

So it’s time to get back in the game. I’m scared to look at my Clarion submission pieces, which are the ones furthest along in the writing process, lest I find out how horrible they were or find another typo. Which leaves me with the option of either working on my two Island of Misfit Toys stories (aka those which need serious revision/revamping) or starting on one of my many new shiny story ideas like a crazy woman who collects new cats even though she can’t feed the current ones. Either way, I hereby pledge to the zero people who read this blog that I will begin writing again. Tomorrow. For sure.

Idea Farming

I’ve just discovered the Writing Excuses podcast, and I can’t believe it took me so long. Brandon Sanderson, one of the four authors who hosts the podcast, is one of my favorite writers, and I’m always looking for new writing resources.

I’m in extra luck, because this year the podcasts are being structured as a sort of master class. I’m going to play along here, because it’s just more fun that way.

Episode 10.1 covered ideas – the homework assignment was as follows:

Write down five different story ideas in 150 words or less. Generate these ideas from these five sources:

  1. From an interview or conversation you’ve had
  2. From¬†research you’ve done (reading science news, military history, etc)
  3. From observation (go for a walk!)
  4. From a piece of media (watch a movie)
  5. From a piece of music (with or without lyrics)

I’m not sure if it’s cheating to use ideas I’ve kind of had in the back of mind that were inspired this way, but just in case, I’ll go with five completely new ideas.

  1. Conversation – At work, we joked around about having a fake kid to leave work early without the headache of parenthood. I wonder who would have a fake kid, or, more interestingly, who would have a real kid that somehow seemed fake. Idea: A child born on Leap Day who only exists once every four years for 24 hours but ages normally between those times.
  2. Research – I’ve done a lot of reading about people climbing Everest – always been struck by the image of passing the dead body of someone who tried to do the very thing you’re trying to do as you try to do it. I also like the idea of trying to/being able to create pocket universes. Idea: A universe maker who is like a watch maker, trying to create the perfect universe and sacrificing more and more with each failure.
  3. Observation – I rode the train with a dollar bill the other day. It was in the seat next to me and though many people saw it, nobody took it (including me), I assume because they felt someone else needed it more. I thought it was a great testimony to human kindness and positive peer pressure, at least at fairly low stakes. Idea: Someone searches New York City for a lost talisman that collects and transmits the hopes and fears of those who pass it by.
  4. Piece of Media – I skimmed through part of She’s All That, complete with the ridiculous idea that taking off your glasses turns you from ugly to super hot. Idea: Someone dealing with the ability to be beautiful to everyone but at the cost of never truly being seen.
  5. Piece of Music – There’s a line from a Tracy Chapman song, “She’s got her ticket/I think she’s gonna use it/Think she’s gonna fly away” Idea: Building your own fairy wings for a noble purpose, but through some nefarious/evil means.

Funny how much you can think of in a single quick session. Liking this so far.