Sunday, 19 April 2009

On Writing

I suppose I am now embarking on a new writerly voyage. Undertaking this journey will be somewhat difficult, though, for a number of reasons.

The first is that I have crippling ADHD as far as projects are concerned. I cannot finish them. Until I actually had to start handing in completed stories in high school, I had finished one short story. One. It wound up being seriously truncated. That I finished it at all was an accomplishment. The number of false starts I had... I can't even remember them all. No where near. (I still remember some, though. A Harry Potter rip-off, for one. Another which included an image I still really like--a dragon on a skyscraper. That was cool. The protagonist, who was extremely phobic, had to climb the building in order to save some girl and send the dragon back in time to where it belonged.) And then the project I started for my ISU in Writer's Craft in Gr. 12...never did finish it. And in uni, my efforts have been focused on shorter writing, a la assignments.

This is not to say that I have never tried to write longer, sustained pieces in University. Oh, no. I have begun so many. It's gotten to the point that I can world-build in an afternoon. Well, maybe not, but I can develop elaborate facets of landscapes, cities, interrelationships, etc., over the course of a week. Given that I'm discussing world-building, you can assume it's speculative fiction, but within this we're looking at different varieties: post-apocalyptic, space opera (in the vein of Firefly), urban fantasy, urban fantasy/horror; high fantasy/horror. Actually, the high fantast/horror one I was really stoked on...it was going to take place in a dystopian alternate world (think Narnia-type cosmology) where the forces of darkness had taken much of the world already and were more ghosts, vampires, werewolves, witches, etc. than orcs or trolls. The light of goodness shone on in beleaguered little towns which kept being overwhelmed because they insisted on independence. Each town was typically protected by a "clown"; a shaman-like figure that used disembling, humour, and truth to mystical effect; the town that the protagonists showed up in had lost their clown, and one of the protagonists would be called to replace him, despite the fact that he was just a store clown and not part of the mystic tradition of clowning in this world. The style would include both epic battle and more suspenseful moments. I was really hyped on writing it, but then I decided to incorporate some J-horror elements as well. I researched hopping ghosts and crafted in my head a terrifying scene with one. I couldn't sleep for a week and abandoned the project for fear of my health.

Anyway, I can usually world-build easily, craft some interesting characters, conceive of a romantic side-plot, develop a villian or two, get a rough plot outlined, and discern the symbolic function of assorted elements. And then I write a page and abandon it.

Why the abandonment? There are a number of reasons.

1) Things in my life give me new stories to tell or new messages to convey. I try to encorporate these elements into whatever I'm working on; the attempt fails, and I move on to something else that can deal with the new elements.

2) My disdain for speculative fiction in general kicks in. I feel like the story is derivative. I feel like the story does not lend itself to being written well. I feel like the characters are shallow or that I'm only writing half the plot because I'm really big on something--I'll say vampires because they're vogue at the moment, which has actually made me much less interested in them--and that it's not really a good story. I feel like fantasy in gerenal is stupid and people will think I'm a nerd (though that ship sailed a long time ago, I think) and it won't sell (or wont' sell to the "right" people) and I'll ruin my authorly career.

3) My disdain for academese kicks in. I feel that the story is too intricate, and that to write it well would make it unaccessible. Or, to write it as well as I am able will make it inaccessible. It relies too much on allusion to things the plebes won't have accessed, and so it will be boring to them. For instance, I want to do a re-writing of The Travels of Sir John Mandeville from the pov of people from the islands. Most of you will respond to that statement with, who is Mandeville and what islands do you mean? That is precisely the problem.

4) My fear of censure because of my religion kicks in. I feel that the story is too "religious" for most folks and I won't be taken seriously. The huge popularity of C S Lewis is counterpointed by the disdain many people have for him, and for other works that seem too "Christian" (for those who've read the final Harry Potter, read the negative reviews of it for an example). On the flipside, I'm worried that religious readers will get all uppity because I'll come along and do something like include sexual innuendo or represent characters having polyamorous relationships or suggest that ecumenism is a good idea, that just maybe people were experiencing the Holy Spirit when they felt the Tao, or that being nice to gay people might be exactly what the Church should do right now.

5) I get bored.

And so I abandon a project.

The number of worlds and characters and plots I have written on my computer and in notebooks is huge. I couldn't tabulate them if I tried.
And that all makes my current predicament all the more interesting. My current predicament is that I have not just a plot but a whole narrative structure, including how I'm going to handle chapters, how I'm going to use plot devices to deliver certain life lessons, and the exact phrasing of a riddle, and yet do not have a clear sense of character or, in fact, what genre I'll be using.

Yes, that's right. I've given it some thought, and my narrative could fit in all sorts of different generic categories. It could be space opera (or planet opera). It could be high fantasy. It could (maybe) be urban fantasy. It could be romance tradition (which means Arthur or Jack the Giant Killer legends). It could be fairy tale-esque. It could be Arabian (though I want to avoid Orientalism as much as I can (actually, that's a lie; I love Orientalism so much, but know it's "wrong")). It could be about pirates. It could take place in the Old West. Actually, the Old West would work very well if I knew how to write about the old west. It could be a sword-and-sandal. It could be post-apocalypse.

It could be any genre which can easily embody the "quest" device. Modernism wouldn't work so well, but pretty much anything else would.
And so, for the first time ever, my problem is that I seem unable to world-build. I don't know what world to set it in. I'm thinking possibly a hybrid genre.

However, as I write this, something in the back of my mind screams "GEEKGEEKGEEKGEEKGEEK...!" (Say that enough times and you sound like an angry tropical bird.) I really really do not want to become a total basement nerd, here. And I'm aware that hybrid-genres can do quite well--look at the critical and popular success of Wicked and The His Dark Materials Trilogy; look at the popularity of King's The Dark Tower series or the rise of the steampunk. These can do well and be taken seriously. I'm just afraid that mine will not.
I have other things to worry about, too. I don't have a clear sense of my main character (and really can't until I get a genre). I have two or so romantic side-plots that I could use. My concern is that I don't know if the plot I have will afford the time I would like to give one of these side-plots (there are at least two romantic trajectories that I want to write about; my concern is that I want to use them in the right place). These are legitimate problems, I think.

And then my other problem is that I want to include a lot of things simply because they're "cool" or "intriguing" or "sexy," and not because they work. Hopefully that won't have too much influence over my genre selection...

6 comments:

Jon Wong said...

I have 2 reasons:

1. I am lazy
2. I am a perfectionist

Conflate the two and it's a recipe for disaster for any artistic endeavor.

You should do what you told me to do! Just write!!!!!!!!

Or, I found that it helps if you write the beginning and the end first. In fact, you could try writing forwards and backwards at the same time. I feel like writing the last 2 chapters of my thing first has actually forced me to not quit.

Also, you know that it's impossible to please everyone. Avril Lavigne once said that it seems like for every person who likes your work, there are 10 people who hate it. Such is life.

Just remember: SAUSTERR!!!!!!

(That's my word verification)

Kay said...

i love that you're both so thoroughly logical, but i find that it's going to be the death of your creative writing process.

Christian, you may also be trying to do too much at once.

what is the point of your story? what is the backbone? get that straightened out first, and then add the fluff.

besides, you're just starting your first long piece of writing - it's not going to be perfect. write it, grind it out, then edit the daylights out of it.

and yes. JUST WRITE. SPONTANEOUSLY.

Christian H said...

Spontaneity! Hah! No successful--or good--book was ever written truly spontaneously. Not even the Romantics pulled it off. They planned and plotted and edited as much as anyone.

The backbone exists. (Some of) the characters are developing. The genre still bugs me, and there isn't much I can do without that.

Soon though. Very soon.

Jon Wong said...

Of course not.

All good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling recollected in tranquility.

Kay said...

What I mean by spontaneity isn't to simply write and let be. It was just to let your ideas come out, then edit edit edit edit.

Maybe the writing doesn't feel right because the stories themselves don't speak to you in any profound way..? Maybe you're making your messages too convoluted and they end up lost in your fictional world..?

Maybe you need to start more simply..? It still seems like you're trying to pack too much into your first piece when maybe you're not quite at the level where you're able to handle it yet. Which is okay too. Writing well, as you know, takes much practice.

I don't know. Just throwing things out there that might help give you another direction to try. You may have already considered all of the above, so I'm probably being redundant.

All in good time!

Christian H said...

That (complexity) has most certainly been a problem in the past. This one's pretty simple, though; the only real complexity is how character development is embedded in the structure of the narrative, but that's not altogether too complex, either. Not complex at all, really.

I should really be studying, though. Stupid life, getting in the way of things.

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