Saturday, July 2, 2011

Writing Advice - Give A Shit

I've wanted to do this for a while, and reading Stephen King's excellent On Writing memoir/book-of-transformative-writing-advice has pushed me to finally give it a go. I posted two vlogs on this topic a while ago, but I think--as per the title of this blog--I might be better at actually writing said advice than going all John/Hank Green on YouTube. I'm going to steer clear of all the cliches good and bad that seem to encompass most writing books and just tell you what I think will improve your writing. Hell, this is the stuff that I personally struggle with the most, so maybe it'll help the both of us.

Let's go.

Writerly Advice #1

Give a Shit

This seems so simple that you're probably wondering if this post is even worth reading. Let me tell you, though... this little piece of obvious advice might be what I struggle with most as a writer. As I write this, I'm reaching the end of a first draft of a story that I, until a few moments ago, was planning on submitting to a small press anthology for publication. This is, as I'm nearing the end, I'm realizing that the story isn't really about anything. It's true that theme (which is really just meaning) can be added in the second draft, but sometimes it is that meaning, the message of the story, that makes you as a writer care enough to want to finish the story.

Your story doesn't have to be a comment on the state of politics or an examination of human nature. It doesn't have to make an overarching statement that will make academic types stroke their pretentious beards and go "Ah, yes, I see." The only important thing when you're writing is that you care. Unfortunately, sometimes, you'll end up writing something that you don't give a shit about. There are many ways to fix that, and most of them include examining what you have, cutting out the bullshit, and injecting some of yourself into the story. Hell, my story right now is a comedic piece about a group of supernatural who, while trying to be heroes, realize that sometimes they do have to play the part of the monster. I think the central concept is a pretty good idea, and the first few pages poured out of my fingers in a wave of inspiration. But as I'm coming to the end, I realized that while I was in love with the set-up, I didn't take the time to develop the characters enough to care what happens to them or, most importantly, for their realization at the end of the story to matter to me. And hey, if the story doesn't matter to the person who is writing it, you know the reader isn't going to give a shit.

So when you're wondering why you're having such a hard time with your story, ask yourself if you give a shit about where the characters are headed and what has happened with the story. And be honest. If the answer is "no," that's okay. You'll live, and your story might too. In the case of lack of shit giveage, just look at what you've got. Who are your characters? Do you care about them? If so, awesome... give them something to do that will make them make choices that will either shock you or reaffirm your love for them. If not... ask yourself why, and see if you can add something to them that will make you care. Don't get me wrong--you don't have to like them. You just have to care. You have to be interested, because only then can you be interesting.

Why are you writing this story?

I have to go work on this story because right now, I couldn't give the tiniest shit. Let's see if I can fix that.

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