Egotism, Storytelling Geekery

IWSG: Keeping up Forward Momentum

This is an entry for the Insecure Writers’ Support Group, which cross-posts on each others’ blogs on the first Wednesday of each month.

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge 2016

Being a perfectionist, ambitious, and having flickering self-confidence is not a great combination.
At times I feel that I’ve stumbled across a great idea, an idea for a novel or other form of fiction which no-one else is writing, and turning it into a major hit is just a matter of putting it down on paper. Unfortunately, turning a vague idea into a practical reality is a little trickier than that.

I’m currently working on a high fantasy short story, returning to a world that I began creating back in 2013. I have a central idea and enough twists to give this what feels to me to be a fresh approach to a popular genre. And importantly, I have a lot of fun writing it. Unfortunately, the feedback I’ve received (a lot of which is positive) includes being told that my attempt to mix different forms of mythology feels jarring rather than organic, and Eldiron (the name of the setting) sounds quite a bit like Princess Leia’s home planet. These kind of practical problems don’t pop up when a story is just a vague idea.

I’m not the kind of person who can leave a problem behind with the intent to ‘come back to it later’, so the flaws really nag at me. If a story has clear problems, I feel compelled to work on fixing them rather than spending time with the characters and action scenes that I really enjoy writing.

durian_-_sintel-wallpaper-dragon-by-david-revoy
He seems nice. / By David Revoy Taken from Wikimedia Commons

I’m a little fascinated by the idea of writers who can write flawed but coherent and compelling fiction quickly. I’ve been reading a bit of Victorian fiction recently, including some stories that are trashy, slightly offensive, don’t make sense in places but are  compelling reads. Fergus Hume’s Hagar at the Pawnshop opens with the line “Jacob Dix was a pawnbroker, but not a Jew”. Presumably this was a kind of disclaimer against the character otherwise being a strong and pretty lazy Jewish stereotype.
Another story in that collection has an ends with an explosion which kills several passers-by. I’m unsure whether it’s meant to be a weird happy ending, a tragic ending or something else, given how weirdly constructed it is.
To me as a writer, a story has to have a meaning, whether that’s ‘justice will prevail in the end’, ‘the world is harsh and amoral’ or a thousand other possibilities. So when a story has a bizarre and contradictory message, it really throws me. Nitpicking aside, the Hagar stories are entertaining and compelling, and clearly have much more value than the half-finished stories that exist partially on my computer and half in my head. Still, that kind of thing throws me.

Working through the flaws and keeping the focus necessary for forward momentum is the key skill I need to work at. I’ve found it useful to narrow the scale of my ambition. When I first began developing this idea back in 2013 it was as a novel, which involved a number of interweaving plots and different styles of telling the story. As a result, a lot of this was very vague in my head.
But by working on a specific story set earlier in the history of the same world, I’ve been able to narrow my focus, force myself to justify characters’ place in the story and get rid of or combine unnecessary scenes. It’s also enabled me to look more deeply at the moral implications and the message of the story I’m telling.
I have written short stories before, of course, but it’s only in the last year that I’ve stumbled across the idea of writing seperate, supporting stories as a form of world-building.

16 thoughts on “IWSG: Keeping up Forward Momentum”

  1. I can’t just “come back to it later” either. I can’t write confidently about what happens next if I feel uncertain about what happened before. The best solution for me is to just deal with the problem asap. The sooner I fix the problem, the sooner I can start moving forward with my story.

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  2. The devil’s in the details. For me, I love to read long complex novels where small, seemingly insignificant details slowly weave together into a beautiful a-ha! revelation. Fun to read, very difficult to execute. Few authors seem to bother with symbolism these days, or maybe I’m not reading the right stuff.

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    1. Symbolism is one of those things I generally don’t notice when it’s absent – sometimes a writer just prefers to concentrate on the plot and characters. Can’t really comment on whether it’s become less common though.

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  3. My writing process is slow and I sometimes envy those who can dash off compelling stories in a few hours. However, my process is what it is, and I can live with it. 🙂

    Extending an existing novel-world into short stories is something I wish more authors did.

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    1. I think there are writers who do that, but mainly for promotional purpose, as far as I can tell. I think Lee Child wrote a short Jack Reacher story for one of the papers fairly recently, for example.

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    1. I’d love to even be able to get a first draft finished that quickly – I’m much more comfortable rewriting than writing. The book I’ve jut finished reading – It Can’t Happen Here – was written from inception to rewrite in about four months. And it’s a quite dense political thriller as well.

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  4. Flaws bug me, too…I just always feel like the manuscript is a total loss because of them, which isn’t true at all. Going in and fixing those flaws is what makes our stories stronger.

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  5. Hi David! I’m making the IWSG rounds today. I’m in awe of writers who can write “flawed but coherent and compelling fiction quickly.” That has never happened for me. You have to trust that what works for you works for you and ignore how easy it seems for others. Happy writing in March!

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  6. Writing short stories to help build the main one – smart idea.
    I can’t keep writing knowing something major is wrong either. (Probably why I outline to death so I don’t have to.) Just throw everything thought you have out there as to how those elements could be more natural.
    Sorry so late, but welcome to the IWSG! You are in the right place. And dig the name of your blog.

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  7. I actually like the idea of mixing mythologies. But I write contemporary, so I may not be the best person to judge. I feel like it would be fresh. Have you tried asking beta readers to highlight specifically what is jarring for them? It might help to clarify things for you.

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    1. The second I was given that feedback on was just the opening paragraph – about a hundred words or so. I think the specific feedback that I was given was that the superficial references to the two mythologies (I think it was a one-word reference to dragons and kraken) made it feel like they didn’t fit together smoothly.
      I’m going to try and integrate them, but perhaps I’ll need to integrate them a little more smoothly.

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