Realism in Fiction

“The difference between reality and fiction? Fiction has to make sense.” – Tom Clancy.

Or any of the other variants by Lord Byron (Truth is always strange; stranger than fiction) or Mark Twain (Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities, truth isn’t), or any of the other similar attributions. I ended up finding about five or six different attributions for similar quotes, including a couple of unconfirmed attributions.

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Teaching Descriptions

Easing back into this blogging gig with a good old getting-high-and-mighty about writing.

One of the questions I got a lot when I was tutoring was ‘how do I write descriptions’. Description, I feel, falls victim to two problems. First, as always, incomplete and misleading common writing wisdom, and second, overemphasis on certain techniques of description. Continue reading

If it’s Not Fun

Writing is weird. All hobbies are, I think, once you start doing them with the intent to improve your skills. After all, trying to improve means trying new things, and of coruse a keen awareness of your imperfections. Since writing is a creative, solitary and very personal pursuit, there are very few universal yardsticks for progress (perhaps the only one is “I gave this to other people, and the flaws they pointed out weren’t the same ones they pointed out last time”). So writers often end up with a litany of ‘Is this hobby for me?’ ‘Do I have a chance to get good enough at this to meet personal goals (or, if you’re that way inclined, to get published)?’ ‘Am I allowed to consider myself a “real writer”?’ Continue reading

Don’t Join the Suffering

Welcome to the second week of NaNoWriMo. By now, most of us probably have an idea how our Novembers are going to shake out. Maybe you’re still flying high on the first week motivation, maybe you’ve met a few roadblocks along the way. Maybe things have taken a sharp left turn and now you’re scrambling to redo all your outlines before you run out of plot.  Continue reading

Welcome to NaNoWriMo

Hallowe’en is over, and NaNoWriMo has started. We’re a few days in now, and if you’re anything like me, you’re still running on the adrenaline of the first few days. I feel like people tend to fall into three categories at this stage of NaNo.

 

I call them the Bonfires, the Stargazers and the Headlight Rabbits. This may be because I’m not a very nice person.

 

The Bonfires are going great at the moment. They’ve met or exceeded wordcount every day so far this month, and they’re flying high on accomplishment and adrenaline. The first week of NaNo is the best time for these people, when all the motivation from planning all October and getting excited with their friends right up until midnight on November 1st is carrying them forward.
Of course, the danger here is that bonfires require a lot of fuel. You need a lot of time and a lot of motivation to keep that kind of pace up for a whole month, and Bonfires might find themselves running out. Some Bonfires plan for this – they know they’ll be running hot for the first week, so they make sure to get well ahead. This way they have wiggle room, space for a few slow days when they finally burn down and things start to get harder.
If you’re a Bonfire this NaNo, I wish you the best.  Keeping your momentum is hard, but if you can do it, you’re all set.

 

The Stargazers are not doing quite so well at this point in time. They might have had things to do, so they’ve missed a few days, or they might have gotten off to a rocky start. Beginnings might not be their strong suit. But the Stargazer isn’t particularly worried about this. Actually, the Stargazer is confident that they have the whole month left, nearly, so there’s plenty of time to make up the difference.

The obvious pitfall is that a month keeps feeling like a long time right up until the last week, and it’s easy to keep putting off the catch-up until the wordcount you need to make up is huge and daunting. I call this group Stargazers because when you’re looking up at the stars, it’s very easy to accidentally step somewhere you shouldn’t.
If you’re a Stargazer this NaNo, I wish you the best. Remember to schedule in your catch-up early, even if it feels like you have more than enough time. And remember how you managed to feel this calm when it gets to week 4. You might need a little extra calm then.

 

Finally, the Headlight Bunnies. They are also behind on their wordcount, for whatever reason, but they already feel daunted by the amount of catching up they need to do. Maybe their November is pretty busy so they know they don’t have time to schedule a big block of writing time, or maybe they’re writing slower than they thought, and 1,667 words a day is looking completely unattainable. Like a bunny staring in panic at approaching headlights, they’ve frozen up in the face of NaNo’s approaching deadline.

There’s really not much that’s good about this approach. This is mostly pitfall right now. Panicking means freezing up which means you get further behind, which means you panic more.
If you’re a Headlight Bunny this NaNo, I wish you the best. Take some time out, calm down, remind yourself that there are no consequences for failure, and just do what you can. You still have a whole month, and all you need is one really good writing day to make it all feel a bit less daunting.

 

To everyone who’s participating in NaNo, you will always be able to do more than you think you can. If you’ve ever written a whole essay in a last-minute panic before, you know that you can churn out at least 1500 words in the space of 24 hours. It’s physically possible. Now all you need to do is find the way to make it happen without the deadline panic. Remember to breathe, remember to go vent your frustrations on the forum of your choice. My social media is going to be stress relief through sarcasm for the next month, and I’m always happy to commiserate with people in the comments. Sleep is important, so is food.
Now go and keep writing! You’re only just starting, so buckle in and have fun with it!

 

The Pain of Rewriting

In my experience, there are two sentences that will garner instant sympathy from any writer’s group. The first is “My computer died and I lost everything”, which will not only have most writers offering sympathetic baked goods, but also feverishly backing up their own writing to every device they own. The second is “You know, I think I have to start again.”

 

Every author knows what it is to have to go back and rewrite. When it’s just a conversation, or just a scene, it feels OK. It’s a tweak, a little adjustment. It feels like progress.

Rewriting because you lost part of the manuscript feels like drudgery. It’s unnecessary. It’s redoing work just to get back to where you were before the Incident.

But rewriting because you just don’t think the story is working? That straight up feels like failure.

 

There’s a very, very fine line between rewriting and just bottom-drawering the novel. It’s definitely easier to just shelve the work and leave it there. There’s closure in that. Even if you say you’ll come back to it when you have a little more experience and can do a better job of it, it frees you up to work on other things, and it’s permission to stop worrying about all the problems you’ve been puzzling over.

Rewriting, on the other hand, is a little Sisyphean. Back at the bottom, same hill, same boulder, now put your back into it.

 

I’m about to dive into this process myself, which is possibly why I sound a little bitter at the moment. I’ll admit, it wasn’t my favourite decision to make, but it was also oddly refreshing. So for everyone starting a full, from-scratch rewrite, here’s a bit of solidarity, and a few ways to make the whole process easier.

 

The first thing I did was to remind myself that I wasn’t throwing out the entire first version. The story still has mostly the same plot, some of the same Major Plot Events, and all of the same characters (plus a couple). I spent so many hours on the first version, and there are some genuinely good scenes in it. I’d only be making it harder on myself if I threw it out entirely. Keep the document open while you rewrite so you can steal freely from it. You might have to get that boulder up the hill again, but this time you’ve got a paved road. The little lumps and bumps of a first draft are smoothed out. Once you think of it that way, it doesn’t seem quite so daunting.

 

But do start in a whole new document. This is a do-over. Sure, the blank page is daunting, but it’s also sort of exciting. Let yourself feel that first-draft excitement again. Because this is another first draft, with the added benefit of the characters being old friends. Rewriting is in some ways the best of both worlds – you get new twists and turns and things to discover, but you already know that you like the people you’re travelling with, and you’ve been here before so you know some of the lay of the land. You can remember that that one interesting turn is a dead end in a seedy alley, and that main street doesn’t go where you want it to. But you didn’t get to go down that other little side road last time, and that might be fun to explore now!

 

Ultimately, a rewrite is a very different feeling to a first draft, though. When you write a first draft, you’re stepping onto the pitch for your first training session of a sport you’ve always wanted to try. At first, you feel uncoordinated. You feel like everyone else knows more than you about how their own body works, and you can’t seem to make the ball do what you want it to. But over the season you improve until finally you get to the end and you feel like you can confidently handle yourself in this game.
Rewriting is the start of the next season, when some of your teammates have stopped playing and been replaced with new players. You’re better at handling the ball and you know the rules better, but you need to spend a bit of time learning how these new people play, so you can play well as a team, not just as individuals. It’s still awkward to start, but the learning curve is much more comfortable.

 

So, if you’re starting or considering a rewrite, good luck. It doesn’t feel great to have to redo something you’ve spent so many hours on, but approach it as a new, fresh project and remember to use what you’ve already got, and it feels much less daunting.

And if that doesn’t make you feel better, there’s always chocolate and the motivational power of a few well-chosen swearwords before you start writing.