Although tragic and depressing things sometimes happen in my stories, I try to always find a thread of plausible hope.
However, I sometimes wonder if this conscious effort to work hope into my works of fiction is less than honest. After all, there are many real-life situations that crush hope completely and scatter its ashes to the winds.
Some brilliant writers like Dostoyevsky in The Idiot have written some hope-crushing stories, with main characters dying, being decapitated, or going insane at the end. When I was in high school I tried writing some stories like this myself; it made me feel edgy. It was as if I were saying, “Look, the world is not a rosy place, and I am honest and courageous enough to say it.” Or, “Look at how the hypocrisy of those in power are destroying the world; people are innately evil!”
I used to love reading about how to write more than I liked to write. While I longed to be a writer, writing was scary. It meant unmasking my own mind, delving into the dark complexities of my subconscious, my childhood wounds, my fears of rejection, and other traits I preferred to deny.
Chronically blocked, I was constantly looking for the how-to-write book that would catapult me into creative bliss. My book shelf was packed with inspiring glossy-covered books; however, my inspiration had mostly fizzled by the time I got around to writing.
In my quest I did come across good books I still treasure, such as Characters Make Your Story and Writing Down the Bones. Whenever I found a book I really liked, I wanted to christen the author as my personal mentor, drag her into the next writing session with me and have her tell me everything to do. Yet when I did sit down to write, all I had learned seemed to have abandoned me as I stared at the blank page.
For the first 98 percent of writing a story, it is generally fun. At that stage, anything goes. Possibilities abound. Words are magical. Writing feels like the ultimate freedom. I am the master of my world.
However, the last two percent of editing can become a mangled knotty, tooth grinding torture if I let it. This is because during the final stages, I try to view my work through eyes other than my own. I try to see my work as an imaginary reader might. I try to figure out how someone coming to my story for the first time will perceive it.
This is not necessarily a bad idea. I want to make sure my writing is clear not just to me but to others. I need to be able to see any plot holes, inconsistencies, or flaws in logic that could take readers out of my story. As I edit or revise, I am on the lookout for fuzzy language, missing transitions, faulty pacing, implausibility, or lags in interest that could ruin the narrative flow for a reader.
I have often said I write for myself. What exactly do I mean by this? Is it realistic for me to write for myself, yet still hope others will enjoy it?
When I say I write for myself, I mean I write for enjoyment, catharsis, expression, and discovery, not just to deliver a product that is pleasing to others. Moreover, the spirit, the content, the emotions, and the style have to come from me even if critics oppose my work.
At times my policy of writing for myself is tested and I have to ask myself it I am serious. Whether the challenge comes from editors, trolls, or parents, my promise to myself is to remain uncompromising when I believe strongly in something I have written.
Some action movie heroes bore me to tears. They are too righteous to seem real, too shallow to command my interest. They dash into danger with no fear for their safety. They will give up their life for another without a second thought. They are not characters, but brawny action figures.
Since, as a writer, I am not interested in reading about purely heroic characters, I tend to give my fictional characters flaws. For me, moral complexity creates interest and allows my characters to surprise me in a way that is in sync with their overall personality pattern.
Flaws also create sympathy with my characters and allow me to identify with them. It rounds them out. It makes them believable. But is it possible to go too far? To make them so flawed that readers lose interest? When your fictional hero behaves un-heroically, perhaps even cowardly or cruelly, will readers jump off the ride?
Writing a novel is not just a test of skill; it is psychologically taxing, which means how I talk to myself about it matters. If I tell myself that my writing is awful, I will discourage myself into quitting. If I tell myself that my writing is not awful, just incomplete, I will feel hopeful as I imagine a way forward.
Encouraging myself constantly is essential to finishing a novel. Creating worlds and people no one else can see is a sanity challenge to the most mentally healthy among us. I have bipolar disorder, so I had better be sure that my mind is a hospitable place, that I have cleared it of mental monsters before I settle in; otherwise I can expect the kind if mood crashes that used to make writing too scary to begin and too punishing to continue.
Who are these monsters? They are the internalized critics that shame me for my efforts as I write, the morality police of my childhood who chastise me for not having more discipline, and the dark shadow looking over my shoulder that I call the pseudo-reader, the imaginary incarnation of every troll who ever lived.
have an exciting announcement: I am about to release my fantasy novel Paw within the next couple of weeks, a book that combines my love of the fantasy genre with my well known fondness for cats. The edits are done. My Amazon file exists. It is around 200 pages and it is ready to go.
Publishing Paw is a big change of my original plan to release my other novel The Ghosts of Chimera first, a 600 page manuscript that was accepted by a small publisher over a year ago. I had major creative differences with my editor and I backed out of the deal so I could self-publish it as I saw fit, but I am not totally satisfied with it yet; getting all the kinks out of a 600 page book is going to take more time than I thought, so I am releasing Paw first.
Paw is about a slave who struggles to survive and protect her family as she works to escape a desert mining camp. The slave also happens to be a cat – a highly intelligent one with speech and bipedal locomotion. Actually, she prefers not to describe herself as a cat at all. This is what she has to say. Continue reading
There is no good reason for me to ever be bored. I live on a rock that is hurtling through space at 30 kilometers per second; I am technically on a thrill ride every day of my life, soaring through space and time, a ride that like any roller coaster will someday end.
So why is it so hard to know it at every moment? Why does life ever seem dull? Why do I obsess over trivialities? Why do I grumble when I lose a sock in the dryer? Why do feel angry at life when I am unable to find the lead on a roll of paper towels?
I lose perspective. However, when I write, I try my best to regain it. As a writer I am constantly trying to wake myself up from the illusion that the world is a tedious, permanent, and predictable place; this is partly because I hate being bored, and partly because stories that assume life is inherently dull are unlikely to move anyone, including me. When I write, I want to go where the passion and the awe is.
Both my mind and my eyes routinely deceive me.
Though this sounds like the definition of insanity, it is also an explanation for phenomena like optical illusions, or why we perceive that the sun is sinking below the horizon when actually the Earth is moving. Sometimes my mind is right. Other times my eyes do a better job at getting at the truth.
When I draw, I depend exclusively on my eyes, even when I know they are lying. I recently considered the many ways my eyes deceive me when I am trying to render objects from life. Giant faraway objects like trees appear smaller than tiny objects like an apple that is right in front of me. Distant objects appear bluer than close ones. If I want to create a convincing illusion, I have to go with what my eyes tell me, even if my mind correctly argues.
Every time I begin a new novel, I feel like a beginner again. In a panic I worry I have forgotten everything I have ever learned about the craft. I search my mind for the encyclopedia of writing techniques that are supposed to be stored in my library of knowledge, but the screen of my immediate consciousness has limited space. Instead of finding knowledge, I find thoughts like this:
You don’t know enough about warfare to write traditional fantasy!
Your last book was pretty good but this one won’t be!
You’ll never finish! Continue reading