28 Dec

Pulling Down the Pedestal – On Dealing with insecurity in writing

Banner - Fountain PenI’m working on a project right now. It’s a spaghetti western in space with magic, and I’ve come to a point where I have no idea where the project should be going.

On one hand, it could end.

There is enough for a cataclysmic showdown with everybody getting gunned down by the hero. That will make it rather short and I like the characters and setting. I’m not quite ready to leave them just yet. There is room for tidying up unfinished business.

But I have no idea how I’m going to do that. I’m pantsing it, writing in to the dark. I don’t know the world, I don’t know the hero, the opposition, the side characters. I’m inventing everything as I write.

It’s scary because I have no idea what will happen next. Especially since there is enough story there that I can start to judge it. And I’m getting the feeling that, hey, this is pretty darn good. It’s fun. It’s got a lot of speed and action and all the things I love from adventure fiction.

But feeling that way about a story means that it now is something big. I have to rise to the challenge of writing it, and giving it the kind of ending that it deserves and the kind of character is that it deserves and, and, and…

And it doesn’t deserve Jack.

Seriously. A story is just a story. You write it. You enjoy it. You leave it behind for someone else to read and enjoy.

Stories on pedestals wither and die. Or else they fall down and shatter. Or you fall down and shatter. Putting a story on a pedestal brings all manner of demands and insecurities.

I’ve done just that. Now I have to get it down.

How?

Well, I’ve got two options that I’m fairly confident in, and have used them before.

Option one: have the character, sit down and think. This is the sequel part of the scene-sequel format.

My characters have been through a lot of scenes, things have happened, stuff have gotten blown up. So they’re all confused. And since they are part of my mind, I’m all confused. Thus I have no idea where to send them next. That’s why I might sit them down and ask the voices in my head to tell me what they’re doing. In a totally-not-nutty way.

Then I let them do whatever it is they come up with.

Yes, my subconscious is smarter than I am. By a mile.

Or I can do the flip side of that, and send in the men with the machine guns. That’s what I did for my magic spaghetti western in space story. I sent in a bunch of bad guys with machine guns to shoot the place up. Suddenly, the hero has to act. I’ll write a post about that sometime soon.

Either way, it gets the hero moving. That’s the important part. As long as the hero keeps moving, I can keep writing. As soon as the hero sits down and wants to give up, the story is over. Not because its finished, but because I start looking at that pedestal again.

Bad place to be, the top of a pedestal. Hard to get down.

The other option is to convince myself that the pedestal isn’t there. It’s just a pile of rocks. In my head. Pressing down on me.

That works great, if I can manage it. Sometimes, I do this by writing when I’m tired. Or writing first thing in the morning, before I have time to wake up. Anything that forces me to focus on the words and not the big, scary pillar I’ve stuck my story on.

I’ve also tried discrediting my story, looking at all the flaws, but that backfired, badly. I got so disgusted with the story that I couldn’t finish it. And it had potential, a lot of potential. The lesson from that is: never, ever trash talk your story. It’s bad for you, and it’s bad for your story.

But I’ve cheated myself down from the pedestal, too. I do this by taking a long walk, and basically talking through my fears. I record everything for later, that way I can convince my brain that yes, this is real and everything is working nicely, and then I don’t have to transcribe the recording or anything. It’s enough that I get the fears out of me and onto something permanent.

I don’t have to share those fears with anyone. I just have to take them out of my mind, and then I can write.

Right now, I still don’t know what to write, because the magic space western is still on a pedestal. But I think I’ll default to option one, and let the hero have a little bit of a think in the bathtub. That’s where I think the best, and my characters are, after all, just images of me.

And if that doesn’t work, there are always the machine guns.

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