Older but not wiser

Today (yesterday, if you want to get technical, since it’s after midnight) was my birthday. I’m 23 now. Been out of college for a little over two years. Been out of high school for a little over five. It’s a weird feeling, especially considering I haven’t really done anything with my life so far and am still living with my parents, but I suppose this isn’t the place to complain about my life. It is, however, the place to complain about my writing, so I guess I’ll settle for that right now.

I still don’t have a completed outline for Keep Going yet, but I’m making progress. I understand the characters more, and I know what the overall plot is going to be – I’m just working on the details. It helps that I have two started drafts of this one already. I first attempted to write this novel for NaNo 2008. I hit 10k and stopped writing. Then I tried it again in 2010 as a sort of pre-NaNo exercise. This time I got to 4k and stopped.

So here I am now, trying to figure out which parts of each draft I want to keep and work into the new one, and I can’t help but notice that my writing was a lot better back then. I knew what the characters were doing with their lives. They interacted with other people. Sure, Samantha spent most of her chapter scowling at her boss and thinking of ways to kill him, but she was still out of her apartment. Chloe was at an acting class and then picking up her sister from school. Natalie was complaining about her English teacher (which was so not a passive-aggressive way for me to get back at my incompetent TA, no, not at all). Is it perfect? Of course not. I’ll have to take out Natalie’s whining scene completely and tighten up Chloe’s chapter a bit, but as a whole I still really, really like what I have.

The same goes for the version I started in 2010 (or 2009 – I honestly have no idea anymore). I like the opening chapter so much more for that one and will probably end up keeping that whole thing (except for the line about the Vikings game, as I have no idea what sport they play but I don’t think it’s played in March, when that scene is now taking place). That version opens on election night 2008, and that would really just require a bit of tweaking to fit with my new plot line – or at least the bits of one that I have planned thus far. The characters are amusing and interesting (at least in my opinion), and I think my writing there could actually stand up to some of the books I’ve been reading lately.

And yet the stuff I’ve been writing lately isn’t anything like that. The stuff I’ve been writing lately is pretty horrible. Yes, there are parts of Degeneration and Tilt Your Head and Smile that I like, but for the most part, they need serious work. As in I probably need to rewrite most of them, or at least add another 20k to each so that I can show who the characters are more.

I really just need to figure out what changed between then and now. I was a good writer a few years ago. Now I’m just mediocre, and I don’t really know what changed. I lost it somewhere along the way. Maybe I’m just trying to be too serious. The further I get into this blog post, the more I’m realizing that that’s it. Keep Going is about a group of roommates who get to know each other and confront their problems. There’s serious stuff happening in there, but I still manage to have fun with the characters.

I don’t do that with April and Adelyn. I think I put too much of myself in them to be able to distance myself from the novels and just enjoy myself. I was trying to show how much unemployment sucks with April, and I was trying to show why you shouldn’t automatically respect people just because they’re family with Adelyn, and somewhere along the way I got too caught up in the bad and stopped making the characters interesting. There’s divorce and abuse in Keep Going, too, but that’s not all that the characters are about. They learn about themselves and each other along the way.

April and Adelyn don’t really learn anything. Well, April learns that she could have tried harder and that she’s mostly to blame for her unemployment, but that’s about it, and even that I just sort of ghost over near the end. I rarely show her interacting with people. I just show failed interview after failed interview. I got so bored writing them, and then I wonder why it’s not fun to read.

I keep thinking about those writing classes I took in college. They all focused so much time and energy talking about what you were and weren’t allowed to write about. You couldn’t say that someone was a jerk – you had to show them being a jerk. So for the last two stories, I haven’t summarized anything. I showed everything that happened. My characters don’t just get up from the table and fix themselves a cup of coffee. They get up. They get a cup from above the sink. Then they pour themselves a mug. Then they add the cream and sugar. It’s ridiculous. I know I’ve talked about this before, but apparently I haven’t fixed it yet. It’s like I’m so afraid that someone’s going to read over my shoulder and tell me that there’s not enough detail, so I put in too much, as if that’s better.

It’s like I’ve forgotten that you can also get to know a character by listening to their thoughts. While it’s important to show that one character likes another character better and not just say it, it’s all right to say it sometimes, too. There needs to be a balance. I knew what that balance was in 2008. I just seem to have forgotten it. My boyfriend got me two writing books for my birthday – perhaps one of them can help me get back to where I used to be.

In other news, I got a huge ice cream maker for my birthday, so that’s pretty exciting. What’s not so exciting is the fact that Script Frenzy has been canceled. Most people probably already know that (I think I got at least three emails telling me that, not including the one they sent out to the MLs), but I figured I’d mention it. I decided to get a Script Frenzy shirt and keychain now, while they still have them. They came in today, which was a nice little birthday surprise. I’m sad to see it go, but it’s not really much of a surprise.

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Posted on June 30, 2012, in Degeneration, Keep Going, Planning, Screnzy, Tilt Your Head and Smile, Writing. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Okay, somehow this post got lost in my feed and now I feel terrible. Bad WP, missing a great post like this.

    First, a belated happy birthday! Don’t stress too much over not having accomplished much. I’m still working on accomplishing something post college/university and I’m older than you are. Just keep working toward the things you want. It comes with time and effort.

    Second, for the rest of the post. You’re so right about balance. There shouldn’t be an absolute where you NEVER tell, because that gets tiresome quickly. My rule is show the important things, tell the littler things. That helps your reader keep track of the important stuff while still having the information they need. Also, I’m not a big fan of going overboard with the how-to stuff. I have maybe a half-dozen books on writing and the truth is I’ve never gotten around to reading any of them. I just write and then analyze what worked and what didn’t as I edit. I find I learn better that way, if I work it out for myself. Better internalization of the lesson, I guess. Maybe that approach won’t work well for everyone, I don’t know, but it’s what works for me. It also allows me to be more creative, I find, to cut loose and just find what works for the story, rather than sitting there with a bunch of rules sitting on my shoulder, stunting my ability to write until nothing comes out. I refuse to let that happen.

    So I guess my advice is to just go out there and write. Cut loose and push aside all the musts and have to’s. Yes, have your characters learn, definitely have them interact. As an example, with all those failed interviews, have her frustration with the process/lack of progress break loose after one more failed interview and then she needs to talk it out with someone. That someone might even be able to help lead her toward learning something and improving herself. Just a suggestion, mostly based on where I’d be likely to take that if I wanted her to grow and change (also from my experience of the painful process of finding a new job). That kind of thing can let us sympathize and connect with a character while allowing them a chance to grow, which should always be part of the story.

    • Show the important and tell the little. That’s a really good rule of thumb. I should try to keep that in mind while I’m writing. I’m currently in the outlining stage of my next project, and I think I have a better idea of how to make that work with this novel. Of course, it also helps that I’m feeling better about my writing now than I was when I wrote that blog. 🙂

      And you’re right about not taking how-to books too seriously. I wouldn’t have asked for the books, but since I have them, I figured I’d read them. Really, I just like them because I like seeing different ways people write. It’s like reading the “how do you edit” thread on the NaNo forums or reading blogs – I like to see what works for other people, and then I pick and choose what works for me. More than anything, though, reading about writing helps get me motivated to write. It’s part of why I reread “No Plot? No Problem!” each year before NaNo – it just sort of gets me in the spirit to write. Perhaps I’m weird like that, though.

      And having her talk to someone is a great idea. I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of that before, especially when her father is also unemployed and struggling. I wanted to show two different types of people who are unemployed (the kid with no experience versus the old guy with too much experience), but then I never really explored that relationship. Thanks! You’ve definitely just helped me figure out how to solve at least two of the major problems with that novel! 😀

      • Glad to hear you’re feeling better about writing. As for the writing books, if that gets you writing, then go for it (no wonder you keep reading my blog, since I don’t really talk about anything else). From the sound of things, you’re coming at it with the right perspective, to take from it what you can and ignore the things that don’t work for you. It’s not weird, it’s what works for you. Nothing wrong with that.

        And I’m glad I could help. Just remember, no situation or event occurs in a vacuum, that people constantly interact with those around them because people are social creatures. As a general rule, we seek the comfort of others when things go poorly. I find it’s a great plotting/relationship exploration tool. 🙂

      • You’re right about the vacuum thing. I just spend so much time either alone or with just one other person that I think I’ve forgotten how to be social, and my characters are suffering because of it.

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