Thursday, February 16, 2012

Writing Guru Hat In Place...Check!

Writing advice may seem out of place from someone whose published absolutely nothing, but in the last few days I've noticed a few related discussions on indie-writing forums that had me thinking about my past efforts.

Quick overview of me as a writer: I can't remember when I started writing, over twenty years now, since I was in junior high at least. So a while now. I've actually written a lot;

Million words of crap - check!

Obligatory "fantasy fiction" about high school kid who, well, does everything - check!

Derivative schlock based on my favorite stuff growing up - triple check! 

Then next thing I know I'm in college majoring in film, so I'm "serious" about my craft now. I'm reading a lot more diverse stuff, watching "real films", and honestly, writing a lot better.

Throughout these years I've read anything I could get my hand on regarding writing. Not saying I read every tome out there, just most of them. But reading books on writing, thinking about your writing and outlining your writing over and over and over again is, guess what, never-actually-writing.

Which is what you actually need to do.

So why should you listen to any advice I have: in short, because I've spent an awful lot of time doing things all wrong.

This last year I've scrapped a pair of still-born novels and an old script that have festered on my old desktop (and consumed what time I put into writing)  for most of the last ten years and started something completely new. Actually, an old short that's completely evolved. 

Why not "power through" those three train-wreck stories like a "real writer" and find ways to make them work perfectly. Why? Because I can now see that they were broken at the core. 

Here's why, we go back to the recent forum talks I've mentioned.

I've seen (read) folks come straight out and ask for ideas on what to write about: What kind of setting? What kind of protagonist, should the antagonist be somewhat likable or purely eeviiil? Should the characters in the future live in a high-tech world or in tent cities killing each other for rusty cans of Alpo?

And I want to say: We don't tell us what you want to write.

What's this fellow aspiring writer completely missing the boat on?   

It's one of those many boring, technical details that guru's have lamented from one end of the "how to write"  cottage industry to the other.

I'm talking about theme. IE: what is yours?

We can discuss a thousand definitions and perceptions of this pivotal element of narrative structure, so for brevity we'll just check with Wiki:

In contemporary literary studies, a theme is the central topic, subject, or concept addressed in a story.

Sounds good to me. And not having one all those years is why I've always written in useless circles.

I've spent more hours than I can (or care) to count on painstakingly describing my settings,
my protagonists characters tragic backgrounds, how cool my weapons, vehicles and future tech is going to be, how bad my bad guys were and, of course, exactly how "hot" all my female characters have been.

But all the individual pieces (that were so brilliant when I wrote them and even more so when revised) never seemed to fit right when finally put together in that hundred yard long scroll of pages or the folder with dozens of individual chapters doomed to never be sequenced in any effective (or entertaining) way.

I all but guarantee you the aspiring writer mentioned above will see the same results.

Did I have problems with plotting as well. Yup. Every newb does. But a plot is like a combination lock, it can start in one place and end in one of a million others. Which end point is right?

What's a clever trick to figure out when to twist your plot knob right or left?

What's your theme?    

Has your brilliant idea gone nowhere despite the 60k words you wrote? Did it have all these awesome ingredients that didn't mix? Are your beta's telling you things you don't want to hear about your plot's believability or scenes seeming "forced" or "contrived".

Then you may have raised a structure that doesn't have a single square inch of solid ground under it.

You may have a theme problem. God knows I have before.

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