What Can I Do About Uncooperative Characters?

writingpicI have an idea for a story.  Well, more accurately, I have a great character and interesting situation for him and I even have an idea of what he should be doing – a story arc.  So with all that clearly laid out, the writing should be a piece of cake, right?  WRONG!  For some reason this kid is not cooperating with me.  I’ve tried writing from the kid’s point of view and writing from a third-person point of view.  I even aged the kid thirty years and tried it via flashback.  Three times now I’ve written over 1000 words, been dreadfully unhappy, and erased the whole thing.

I’m answering a prompt for a short story contest, but the deadline is three weeks away, so I don’t feel any pressure; that’s not the issue.  I am invested in the character and I’d like to make it work, but I’m not sure how.  This hasn’t happened to me before.  In general when I get an idea, I sit down and write it.  Boom.  Done.  That’s it.  I can write more than 1000 words an hour and finished NaNoWriMo before the deadline.  (This is just a comment on volume, not quality – I need a LOT of editing when I write at that pace)  So you can see why I’m stumped here.

My plan going forward is to sit down with a pen and paper and flesh out more details about the character, the supporting cast, the situation and even some of the action.  Perhaps I’ll take out my computer to do it, but sometimes my best thinking is done when I use my hand effectively.  Research has been done about the strong connection between the hand and the brain and that it does not translate to typing and I follow this pattern: writing in my journal is more effective when I think about a story than when I just type.  Lastly on this topic, my NaNoWriMo was the easiest and the best ever this year and I can pinpoint the one reason why: planning.  While I didn’t write at all in October and tried very hard to follow the rules to the letter, I did do a lot of planning.  I had a sketch of each character and an idea of his or her motivation for every scene in the story.  I am going to apply that principle here.  I’m not going to move forward on writing until I have the ideas fully fleshed out.

If anyone out there has a better method, or other advice, I’m open to it.  Please let me know!

The Writer Edits

Every writer has his or her own process for working.

I’ve met people who write slowly and edit as they go, so each sentence comes out pristine and ready-for-action.  These people labor over the words and how they want to craft their ideas on the page so that the product after an hour of work might be 300 to 500 words, but what incredible words they are.

I am not in that camp.  For me, and hour means 1000 words of ideas, perhaps half of which are usable.  Oh perhaps I am being hard on myself, but I have a tendency to over-use adverbs and complicate my sentences with too many thoughts in one.  I am notorious for leaving out commas, though I avoid passive voice pretty well.   What this means is that I can do the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), where writers produce 50,000 words in a month, without too much pain.  However, after the 50,000 words is where I get stuck.

Editing.  Revising. I hate ‘em.

I know that if I go back and smooth over my work, it all comes out better.  I know that if I tighten up my dialogue, characters walk off the page more clearly.  But I don’t like doing it.  It has been suggested to me that I journal to see what it is I don’t like about the process.  I should force myself to do it and see where my roadblocks lie.  I have another friend who suggested that I like my words and I don’t want to delete them.  I’m not sure either approach is quite right – maybe it’s a combination of ideas on why the thought of it makes me attend to every task known to man before sitting down at the computer to actually do it.

I do know that I had an experience last week where I wrote a short story with a certain contest in mind that I wanted to enter.  The story, which came out pretty well on the first go, was just over 1800 words – very short.  I tried an experiment as I wrote – I wrote VERY SLOWLY.  Like others I know, I crafted the words carefully, and wrote down ideas on a separate piece of paper if they popped into my head as I was drafting.  It worked.  As I forced myself to edit, I realized that the work was better – much better – than any fiction I’ve produced in quite a while.

Then I looked at the contest rules.  The story had to be 750 words or fewer.  I still had to cut half of it out.  It took me almost two hours, but I did it.  I cut cut cut.  I took out adverbs and the word “said” from everywhere.  I completely removed an ancillary character from the story.  There was a small, two paragraph flashback, and it too, hit the bin.  The story is different from the first version in many ways (of course I kept both!).  I like them each for different things, the way one likes her children – for the different things they offer.  (Let me know if you want to see the two stories – I’m happy to send them.)

It was a great experiment for me to do that story.  I feel stronger for it, though I do not like the process any more than I did a week ago.  At least, though, I can appreciate it.  I have a NaNoWriMo novel from a year ago that needs a lot of work.  The bare bones ideas are good and I think the characters are fun.  The book need beefing up and paring down all at the same time.

It seems to me to be a good February and March project.  Editing.  Here we go!

Line Edits

I do NOT like line editing.  There, I said it.  Commas annoy me and coordinating conjunctions that need them, bore me.  Revisions drive me bananas, too, but not like line editing.

My favorite professor in grad school (you know who you are, Dr. Dulce Maria Gray!)  always reminds me that revision and editing are two totally different things.  Revision, comprised of the prefix “re,” which means “again” and “vision” which contains the root “vis,” meaning “to see”, requires  a new look at the piece – a re-seeing, if you will.  Revision means changes to content.  New imagining. Editing if often associated with lower-order concerns, grammar, word-issues and things like that.  It’s methodical work, and above all, it is necessary.

If I send my manuscript to an agent, and it is full of comma splices or lacks commas, then the agent is going to put the manuscript down unread because such errors are distracting to a reader.  That agent is never going to want to represent me then!  If I can’t respect her time enough to perfect the manuscript before I give it to her, then I don’t deserve representation.

See, I know all this, and yet, I still hate line-editing and do whatever I can to avoid it.

But now there’s no more excuses.  I want the manuscript complete.  I want representation from a reputable agent.  The only thing standing in my way is this line-editing.  Then when it’s done, I will be ready to start submitting the manuscript to agents. But not before then.  So this is me, buckling down to work!

Watch out world, here I come!