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