Friday, July 20, 2012

False Starts

One aspect of writing that does not get a lot of attention is the number of times it takes to get a story right.  When I was learning my craft back in college I had always assumed that the great writers spit out their stories and novels complete, correct, and fully-formed the first time.

Then one instructor showed the class the revisions on a Mark Twain story.  There were cross-outs and revisions; insertions and rearrangements.  And another writing myth died for me.

This made me feel better and it something I remember when I struggle to get a story right.  Generally these days, with all the stories pouring out of my head like blood from a bad gash, I usually get close to the mark but there's always a revision or two because I almost always leave out something I wanted to include or I realize at the end what I really need in the middle of the piece.

But when I really struggle I will go down rat holes looking for a way out.  That doesn't happen often.  I'm a careful enough writer that I usually know what I'm doing and where I'm going before I sit down to compose.  And I write a lot of material in my head to save time.

But just the other day I started a story about stealing content that went off the rails after the first page or two.  It became a love story.  Whoa!  Not where I wanted to go.  So I thought about what I was trying to say and then it hit me.  Stealing content from the internet creates bad karma -- not a good thing -- destroys any personal happiness you might otherwise have because you are cloistered in a room and not with other people.

Once I knew this, the rest was easy.  The main character has a dream on these exact points (arguing with himself you might say) and decides to start to make amends.  He goes to a video store to buy a movie, meets a girl, and viola!  Now I have a love story.  Oh, the beginnings of a love story.  But in typical fairy tale fashion, the protagonist made a deal with himself  to delete all the stolen content should he find the happiness he had been missing.  When he doesn't, the girl is in a bad car accident and ends up in a coma.  Our hero deletes the illegal content the next morning and the girl comes out of the coma -- a happy ending.

And my moral: if your story is going nowhere, don't despair.  Instead try thinking about where the story is going and is there a more interesting way of getting there.  If there is, take it.  If there isn't maybe you need another character to help the story along.  Or perhaps you are not telling the story you intend.  Thinking about all that but above all, keep writing.

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