The Second Draft: The Initial Edits

For some reason, I have been completely unmotivated in revising my project. It’s not that I don’t want to get it ready for someone else to read it—I absolutely do. But whether it’s laziness, impatience, fear, intimidation, or simply not knowing exactly what to do, I’ve been stuck. Still am, in some respects.

But I just have to start.

So without knowing exactly how to approach this whole revision thing (as I have never gotten this far before), I’m just going to dive in. First, I’m only looking to revise the first part of the story, the first ‘episode.’ That at least gives me a little bit less to be overwhelmed with.

In rereading the episode, I find that the structure is fairly sound. Because I outlined extensively beforehand, there aren’t any major lapses in plot logic or cause and effect. Most of the scenes can stay where they are, and more or less the same as they are now.

But before I jump into line-by-line language-based revision, what are some of the big stuff that needs work?

For this story, it’s pacing, exposition, and character.

Parts of the story feel rushed, in no small part because I forgot that I could use scene breaks and ended up writing one forty-five page chunk of text. So the first thing I did was figure out where I could insert some scene breaks; I’ll have to finesse the exact endings and beginnings of the scenes, and maybe add in some more breaks, but it’s a start.

Another attempt to work on pacing will mean breaking up some of the big paragraphs of description into shorter nuggets to make them read a little easier. And I might add in some more description of characters and settings elsewhere in order to slow down scenes that feel rushed. I’m not really sure exactly how to fix pacing yet, so I’ll report back on whether that helps at all…

Exposition is a bit of a necessary evil in the start of a story that has a certain amount of worldbuilding to establish. And because I write in ‘episodes,’ that means I have to lay the groundwork in a shorter amount of space than if I had an entire novel to do it. I’ll work to delay any unnecessary exposition as long as possible, but for the most part, some of the clunky info dumping is just going to have to stay. At least for now—hopefully the actual dialogue can be smoothed over to make it a little more interesting.

The last and most important major element to be fixed is the sense of character. I think I need to give each character a little more personality and some better introductions. Part of the disparity between the lifeless characters in this first story, and their far-more-interesting selves later on, is the simple fact that you get to know your characters better as you go. By the end of the project, they have much more life. So now I’ve got to bring that life back to the beginning.

I’ll start there, rewriting as I go. I think part of my hesitation is that changing, deleting, and recreating my words feels a little wrong—not that I think the originals are perfect, but there’s just a bit of an instinct not to change what I’ve already done. That attitude needs to go if this project is ever going to have a chance at life.

So I just have to start.

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Why I Hate the Idea of the Friendzone

Here’s why I hate the whole “men are only friends with women to have sex with them” idea—even if it’s true, which it shouldn’t be:

Because it reduces a woman’s value as a person to sex. You can’t possibly want to be friends with a woman because she’s funny, or she likes the same TV shows, or she gives you good advice about how to deal with your girlfriend, or she’s smart and interesting… No, you can only be interested in her as a sex object or nothing (or a relative, or a friend’s partner, in which you don’t have an option for sex and you can’t be nothing).

And pop culture feeds this narrative. In most movies, the only speaking parts for women are those who are already or will become love interests for one of the men. In TV shows, male and female partnerships are said to have “unresolved sexual tension” because they couldn’t possibly just be friends or colleagues. And nearly all narratives about a woman involve a romance, because a woman can’t exist without wanting to be in love (and yes, this is coming from someone who intends to write romance, because it’s what I like; but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to see some narratives without it, even if I don’t like them as much personally).

This creates in society the expectation that a woman who is not in a relationship must want to be in one. That she can’t possibly exist without desiring love or sex. That being a sexual partner, girlfriend, or wife is her primary purpose (she can have other purposes, but she’ll always be strange for not having that one).

Because, at the deep and unknown core of the above sentiments, is the idea that all a woman is, her primary purpose, is to be a sex object for others (you can romanticize it by saying “romantic partner,” I suppose).

She is a sex object, a potential sexual partner, or she is nothing.

Why else would anyone want to be friends with a woman, right?

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Character-Driven Stories

They say that stories can be divided into two broad categories: plot-driven and character-driven. Essentially, it’s based on what moves your story forward—car chases and clues and fights, or conversations and decisions and relationships? Now, obviously, this is a broad generalization with a myriad of nuances and exceptions, but there is something there to be explored.

Most literary fiction is character-driven—stories of friendships, families, inner journeys, etc. The only overtly commercial character-driven fiction I can think of off the top of my head are romances, which even at their cheesiest, are based on the choices and emotions of the characters (some have plot-based subplots, and so move a bit away from this).

Occasionally, you’ll have a genre work that’s character-driven, usually with a literary tone. Like The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, a dystopian by way of character exploration. Or the movie Her, a calm sci-fi centered on the life of a single man (and his A.I. lover).

But, overall, most fantasy and sci-fi works (particularly of the mainstream variety) are very much plot-based. Who’s the bad guy, and how do we stop him? I greatly enjoy all of these stories, whether they’re seven-book series or blockbuster movies, but I often can’t get myself to really care about plot. It’s one thing to passively absorb someone else’s plot—you can do so with enjoyment and interest and admiration. But to care enough to create a plot, all of its details and logistics and creativity? I just… fall flat.

In my current project, what I enjoyed writing the most was the character moments, the quiet conversations, the intimate relationships. And often what I enjoy reading/watching the most are the characters and their relationships, romantic and otherwise.

So I’m trying to develop stories that explore these elements more exclusively, without a lot of plot bogging it down. However, I can’t say I’m a fan of literary works, at least not as much as commercial stuff. I always prefer cheesy blockbusters to Oscar pics, and I’ll take a cliché dystopian over an award-winning exploration of the human condition every time.

Can a commercial character-driven story exist? What would it look like? What does a commercial work have that draws me in, and what does a literary work have that keeps me at a distance?

I think there might just be an interesting project waiting at the crux of those questions…

Of course, this is all just a way to procrastinate working on revision, because I have no idea what I’m doing. So let’s focus on this instead! :)

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Procrastination, for me, happens for two reasons: fear and laziness.

Fear, or resistance or doubt, is all about subtle manipulations of thought that convince me not to work on what I know I need to work on. It’s mostly about what I fear will come from actually doing whatever it is that I’m avoiding.

Laziness is just simply not wanting to do the work. It usually comes from preferring to do something else, something non-productive—reading, watching TV or movies, etc. When I get into a habit of doing nothing, spending my time off just lying around, the laziness gets stronger and stronger.

But is laziness ever really there? Or is it just another insidious form of fear?

The way to address fear is to keep pulling apart its reasoning and dig to the source. For example, my current procrastination in revising is probably due to fearing having to show my work, and having to face what my work can actually be (as far as a career goes). It’s also fear that no amount of revision will make my work as good as I’d like it to be, and that as much as I said a first draft didn’t matter, what if it’s the best I can do? And what if that’s not good enough?

So I just have to continually fight off these fears, remind myself that it’s a process, that I can just keep writing and learning if it’s not good enough, etc. It’s not a one-time fix—you have to keep reminding yourself how to fight those fears.

But there’s something more… laziness? Maybe. But my procrastination really started when my attempts to develop another story fell back into the same frustrating patterns as before my first draft. I worry that I’ll never write anything else, or that who knows when I’ll be able to write something else, or what it will be. And I want to have more control than that… I’m afraid of not being in control of my own creativity, especially because I would like to base my livelihood on it.

I think that’s it, or at least closer—fear of my lack of control. It’s why I want to develop a “brand,” so I’ll know the type and ‘formula’ of every work from now on. It’s why I want to put off revising until I have another project developed and solidified… because once I’m done with my current project, I have nothing. And revising while that project is the only thing I have, possibly the only thing I’ll ever have, puts so much pressure on it that I can’t do it. When it’s just one project in a long and prolific career, it doesn’t have to be great—at least, that’s the way it feels.

I hadn’t realized that when I started writing this… but I think that’s the core of my fear—fear of the unknown, fear of having no control over my future creativity, and as such, my potential career. And more than anything else, and more than laziness, that’s why I’m procrastinating.

Will identifying this be enough to push through and actually work? I don’t know yet, because I don’t yet know exactly how to fight it. Identifying the exact fear is the first step—answering that fear in a way that at least temporarily assuages it is the second.

So that’s what I’ll work on… instead of working. :)

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My Thoughts on the True Blood Finale


Continue reading

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When Does an Idea Become a Story?

I’ve got a theme for the week, and I’m going with it.

Several of my posts this week have been about getting ideas—from what you read, from what you think as you read, from a branding idea—but how do you know when an idea is right for a story?

I talked about this before in “Three Ways to Evaluate an Idea,” but I wanted to add a few more brief thoughts.

See, for me personally, I can come up with an idea, and think about it and start developing it. But at some point, I realize I’m thinking of it mostly in a vague, abstract sense—a series of static images, trailer-like visuals devoid of context, snatches of random nonspecific dialogue, etc. I’m thinking about having written it, not about actually writing it. It never gets beyond the summary or outline stage, because it doesn’t have that spark of life that a story needs.

But in some sense every idea goes through this stage, where it’s vague and undeveloped—so how do you know if an idea is going to get stuck there, or if it will go all the way?

I suppose everyone is probably different in this, but I’ll talk about what I’m working through at the moment. I’ve got an idea (probably the hundredth this week), and it has potential in a lot of ways. But do I actually want to write it, or just think vaguely about it?

The first step is to dig into the details. Test out plot points, even write scenes in your head, interrogate the characters and see if they come to life. If my mind keeps sliding away from specifics and back to pretty images or vague summary, then I’m probably not in a place where I can write that right now. The point here is that the specific details you come up with may or may not ever make it into the story—but just the ability to come up with them and be interested in the possibilities is the right start.

The second step for me is to try and start a detailed outline. As I’m coming up with cause and effect plot points, burrowing deeper into the details, I can start to feel whether my interest is engaged or slipping away. At some point in the outline, I realize I’d rather be doing anything else and that I definitely do not want to write this story out… Except with my one successful project, where the outline increased my interest and I was able to stay committed to it.

The third step (though it sometimes comes a bit earlier) is to start hearing the text itself. Can I start to hear the narrative voice? Dialogue? The shape of scenes and transitions? When it’s no longer just silent visuals or thoughts of the overarching elements, but specific words, I know it’s ready.

At least, theoretically ready. I can still talk myself out of it because that appears to be my one true talent, but if I make it that far, the idea at least has the potential to become a story for me. If it ‘dies’ before that, then it’s not over completely—but I’m just not there yet.

The one project I actually finished? I started and stopped at least a dozen times over a period of years, and each time I thought it was never going to work. Then one week, randomly, a new perspective on it opened up the story and it flared to life—and made it all the way. So never give up on an idea completely, because you never know when it might just click. :)

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Analyzing for Ideas

If you can’t tell, I’m still on a bit of a kick about what I’ll write next. I’m still sure I’ll work on revising my current project, but I have undoubtedly relapsed into my old ways of idea-development-doubt-collapse. I’m not happy about that. I had hoped my sudden triumph signaled a change, but it didn’t. But it did show me I can do this, so I’m not giving up.

Coming up with random ideas isn’t that much of a challenge for me—but coming up with the right ideas of things that I will actually write is nearly impossible. So I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what I like to write.

You’d think I could just look at what I already wrote, but all that tells me is that I liked writing that one thing. And I don’t know how to write something similar without writing the exact same thing.

So… I’m still trying to figure out what I want to write. And every time I read a book, I can’t help but analyze it not just as a reader or even as a writer, but for what it tells me about ideas.

I look at what I liked about the book—which parts or characters were my favorites, and which fell flat. What parts were I looking forward to as I read (for example, the answer to who was the murderer? Waiting for the main couple to get together? In other words, what was I reading to find out?)? What parts bored me, disappointed me? What would I have done differently? What was I expecting when I picked up the book? What did I want to read?

Answering these questions won’t give you a story—but it might give you a sense of what you like about stories. Do you like the romance subplots? The murder mysteries? The bits of comedy? The sad literary exploration of humanity? The realism?

At the very least, you can come away with some broad patterns to look into—common settings, or character types, or plot structures that might be what you like best. Whether or not you actually want to write those depends on a lot of factors, but I think it’s a good place to start.

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