The Day the Words Stood Still

As anyone who follows me on Twitter can attest, I love writing. For those who haven’t been following recently, I have been posting a series of vague tweets every time the process hasn’t been as smooth as it should be. Which lately, has been a lot. I’m writing this today because I need to stop being vague and start admitting to the problems I’ve been having. With luck, this should help give me the kick I need to get back on track. Before I properly begin, I would like to apologise in advance if this post sounds whiny in any way. I don’t like to be negative, but this is something I need to do.

I am attempting to write a novel. It’s my first real try at it since the NaNoWriMo debacle, and with a less constraining time frame, it should theoretically be going better, but it’s not. The first problem arose when I picked the subject of the story. I was incensed at my own failure, frustrated with various issues in my life, including piling up university work, and I picked a target. I decided that I was mad at Twilight and Stephenie Meyer. How dare she be so successful with a work that I considered so mediocre! How could people be so stupid as to buy into that crap, right? Well, I’d show her. I’d write my own vampire novel, and I’d be singlehandedly responsible for making them awesome again like they should be. None of this sparkling romance bullshit. Balls to the wall horror and action. It would be amazing.

As you can probably imagine, “badass vampires fucking dudes up” isn’t exactly a plot summary geared for success. I started writing but I had no direction, and it fell apart in a series of clichés as I flitted between several genres over the course of 2000 words. It’s a post-apocalyptic cyberpunk world where technology is failing, so people have to go back to using steam, and in this world a hard boiled detective investigates attacks that point to a prophecy concerning the return of the vampire overlord! If reading that sentence gave you a headache, you can only imagine what it was like trying to write something like that without any plan. Needless to say, I scrapped it altogether. I had started writing from a negative place, and it was tainting the idea. Even if I’d managed to write up a plan and get it on some kind of track, the initial roots of the idea would have still been there, and I couldn’t shake that.

I started from scratch on an entirely new idea. In fact, the only thing I’ve kept is the idea of vampires. I’ve been a fan of vampires for years (which is what originally led to my animosity towards Twilight) so writing about them appealed to me. I knew this time that I had to have something concrete. I eventually settled on an idea that I haven’t seen done before, which is why I’m not ready to discuss it yet. Suffice to say, I think it’s a pretty cool idea that takes classic style vampires and puts them in a setting that makes them even more dangerous.

And now we reach the current problem. I reached the scene in the story where the protagonists come face to face with the vampires for the first time, and I did something stupid. I was trying to avoid the cliché of the hero discovering the villain’s true identity, and I did it by having the villain just admit right away to being a vampire. And the heroes just sort of accepted it to move the plot along. Stupid doesn’t even begin to cover it. It was utterly ridiculous, and I knew it, even if I didn’t want to face it. Every day when I sat down to write, I couldn’t get the words out. I’d just sit staring at the flashing cursor for an hour before giving up. And it was all because I knew what I was writing didn’t feel right. It made no sense.

Imagine the final fight in The Empire Strikes Back. Now imagine if Darth Vader had delivered the “I am your father” line at the start. You’ve still got a really cool fight sequence, but all the tension has been sucked from it. As viewers, we still know the twist is coming, but there’s still a tense build up every time because we put ourselves in Luke’s place. While I am very hesitant to compare anything I write to arguably one of the greatest films of all time, it’s the same thing. The reader knows they’re vampires, it’ll probably say in the blurb if this thing ever gets released. But there can still be tension from a character point of view. An extended sequence as things seem more and more out of place, constantly building towards the money shot. The character discovers it, we get to share in her discovery of the truth, we get to watch her character develop over the course of the discovery and in how she reacts to finding out the truth.

So, what have I learned from this? Firstly, it’s okay to embrace cliché if it helps with making the story better. In trying to avoid the cliché, I was underestimating myself and my audience. I’ve also learned that for a longer project like this, I need to outline in more depth. With shorter stories, I’ve found that I can get away with having a vague direction and an idea of how it ends, then I just go until it stops. That’s not working here. I need to outline major plot points, figure out where the events fall, how the story is paced. And that’s exactly what I’ll be doing. Around 4500 words of what I wrote are salvageable, but I won’t be returning to it until I have a solid outline ready to go.
Thank you for reading. I know it was a long one this week, but I hope it was interesting. I leave for Florida on Friday, so there won’t be any updates for at least the next two Mondays. I’ll be taking a writing pad and pens with me, so I’ll hopefully be able to get something written while I’m out there. If all goes well, the next update will be the 17th. If not, it’ll be some time that week, at the very least.

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One thought on “The Day the Words Stood Still

  1. I like to think of novel writing as a series of forks in the road. Each scene is a decision. Each fork is a path, and sometimes (most of the time), we take the wrong prong, the one that leads us to the edge of a cliff.

    My honest and best advice? Don’t stress yourself out about anything during your first 1-3 drafts. No matter how awesome you are, your first draft will be crap, and that’s okay, because once you have a basic map down, then you can really analyze each direction and re-write with purpose.

    Good luck with your book! You can do it, never forget that.

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