Tag Archives: Questions

Why is it fun to write?

Seriously asking here, because:

  • There’s no money in fiction writing. For most of us. And we’re perfectly aware of this fact.
  • There’s some kind of work involved, judging by how the head tends to run hot in a flow.
  • Writing is all over our schedule, crowding out activities considered relevant by less weird people.
  • Our default answers to non-writing action prompts stretches the patience of our next of kin: “Still busy here, darling. Nearly there, honey. As good as done, sweetie. Just a couple more minutes, love. Not just now, as in right now, OK?”

So why the hell do we keep doing this?

Not claiming an actual Eureka moment here. But I’ll ask the kind folks on LinkedIn and in the Fediverse  if I might be up to something, with a thought that crossed my mind today.

It all happened while working on a dialogue for the next episode of my 1KYears series. The scene involves obnoxious client C, as experienced by phone bank operator O.

Anyone familiar with The Guardian series “What I’m really thinking” will recognise the approach. 

  • Client C behaves a real challenge, stretching the limits of polite interaction. A threatening bully with a foul mouth. His part is relayed as it happens.
  • Operator O, pretty new in his role, anxious to build up credentials as a competent service provider, struggles to cope. Besides learning what he actually gets to say, which isn’t that much, the reader is provided with a glimpse into his mind.

Writing, reading and rewriting this dialogue is fun. Nearly making myself LOL when I do it. Why?

Here’s my best guess at an answer: Deep down, one part of me longs to be as rude as client C. That same part would also enjoy telling all those rude people I can’t avoid meeting, over a lifetime, how much of a nuisance they are. Preferably in their own, plain rude terms.

Most people will describe me as a polite person. Being subjected to yearly 360 degree feedback as part of my very international day job, I can even pretend not to brag when I state as much. But some part of me, deep down, might long to shout a couple of truths at a couple of people who are zero fun to interact with. This part of me envies the rude people, for getting it all off their chests, while also wanting to punish them, for not adhering to conventions.

Too much psychology? Up to something? Nonsense, because <please insert better explanation here>?

I’ll ask the kind folks on LinkedIn and in the Fediverse for their explanations. Or I might do a Twitter poll.

Or rather not? Are there any other hidden parts of my personality I might be revealing through my writing? Clearly some more thinking needed here…

Obsession

One more question for the experts on LinkedIn: How bad a sign is it, if you get obsessed with your characters?

This is very much like real life falling in love, only worse.

In real life, past a certain age, you’re familiar with the phenomenon, and know the acute phase won’t last. Either the subject of your desires is within reach, and things will calm down. Or it isn’t, and you’ll face up to this fact, sooner or later.

No such resolution with your characters. As long as they remain active, for the duration of a particular project, they’re here to stay.

And not just the tip of the iceberg the readers will meet.

The writers privilege, or nuisance, is total acquaintance. You’ve got access to the character’s backstory and family history, for the simple reason that you’re the one who came up with it. You have peeked into every nook and cranny. You know them better than they do, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to imagine scenarios where they surprise themselves. In a plausible way.

You check your slides to prepare for a day job meeting, see an arrow and wonder which shade of red colour sensitive character x would have selected. You have a toilet break and stay just that little bit longer because you’re revisiting a pivotal scene involving character x. You ride home on public transport and miss your stop because a fellow passenger stands like character x would.

The longer the project lasts, the worse the obsession gets. And it’s not only character x piling in on you. The whole cast gets ever more prone to showing up outside writing slots.

Such symptoms may suggest a mental health issue.

Nope, wrong guess. With privileged access to professionals this explanation was easy to discard. Especially as the symptoms vanish once the last round of rewriting is completed.

No pathology involved. So far, so good. But what does it mean, for the writer? Is being prone to this kind of obsession, or total plot immersion, a bad sign, signalling lack of distance? Or the contrary?

Genre malaise

Time for my very first call for help to the LinkedIn community.

The more diligently I read, the more confused I get. Very basic basics are under reconsideration. I’m still convinced what I write should be called Science Fiction. Little science and lots of fiction = Science Fiction. Used to feel like a no-brainer.

Looking at conventional and electronic publishers kindly providing genre characterizations on their websites I’m starting to wonder.

I’ll use Smashwords categories to describe my irritation:

Top level category: Fiction. Easy. Check.

First level subcategory: Science Fiction. Easy. Check.

Oops, so many second level subcategories for Science Fiction:

  1. adventure
  2. apocalyptic
  3. cyberpunk
  4. general
  5. hard sci-fi
  6. high tech
  7. military
  8. space opera
  9. steampunk & retropunk
  10. utopias  & dystopias

According to my badly informed gut feeling, Plugger stuff ticks boxes 1, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 10. I can safely exclude 2 and 8. Less sure for 3 and 9. Phew, really now? And I’m supposed to select just one?

Anyone willing to provide me with a content percentage estimate, with any straightforward criteria to facilitate genre attribution?

As if this wasn’t messy enough, I should probably at least mention some of the other first level subcategories, to help readers avoid uncomfortable encounters: Cultural & ethnic themes, gay & lesbian fiction, humor & comedy (it’s a bit of a farce, really, but there’s no satire category, so comedy will have to stand in), and…

Wonder if there is anyone else out there struggling with these boundaries.  Feeling ultra-niche. Third language author with acute genre dysphoria, a foolproof recipe for success, hurrah?

Narrative beats

Amazing, the amount of terminology one needs to master to discuss book quality issues. Newest addition, courtesy of Ally Machate, owner of The Writer’s Ally via LinkedIn: ‘Beat’, as in narrative beats.

Repetitive beats as one major cause of boredom, makes loads of sense. Even novice me experiences occasional rewriting urges associated with a feeling of ‘We’ve been there, haven’t we?’. The plot needs to progress, or the character to reveal one more trait, stalling is no good. But where to stop the pruning and condensing?

Can’t there be some fun in discovering how a previously revealed attitude becomes manifest in a novel situation? The personality-savvy reader enjoying to be able to guess how a certain character will struggle through a particular adversity?

I do wonder and won’t ask yet. One more future question. In the meantime, lets pay attention to the beats. This weekend will see one more back to beginnings rewriting round for Think-o-mat anyway.

 

Target audience?

One more LinkedIn learning, and I once again lost track of the advice, meaning I can’t thank the author personally. Bad Troim.

Anyway, I do recall the advice: “Know your target audience. ”

Well, this is either very easy or borderline impossible.

At first glance it’s a no-brainer: I’m the target audience. I’m first and foremost entertaining myself. Know this sounds like the admission of a bad neurosis. Bad luck. I’m having fun writing stupid stories in bad English. I need to practice my third language for day job purposes, and this is even more fun than reading The Guardian and The Economist, listening to npr and watching CNN or BBC World.

The author of the advice assumes that any writer longs for as large an audience as possible. For purse and/or pride reasons. Let’s pretend for a second to be affected by this particular delusion.

If what is supposed to be my target audience shares traits with me, the following preferences prevail:

  • Escapism through entertainment: Laugh and puzzle good. Deep thoughts bad, unless they come in light doses and funny wraps.
  • Linguistic simplicity: Fine to occasionally need Google translate  and reread some sentences. ‘Occasionally’. ‘Some’.
  • Race, gender and class stereotypes as well as gross violence, especially torture, are no entertainment, they are plain yuck. 

Simple preferences.  But how to find people sharing them? This list doesn’t easily translate into conventional sociological categories. I’ll settle for knowing my audience’s preferences without having the slightest clue how to reach it.

 

Obsessed with visuals

In principle, Think-o-mat doesn’t progress too badly, on the plot and character side of issues. Chapter 6 will be available by the end of the week. But style remains a huge concern…

The third language issue is solved by having been declared a feature.

Rewriting after a gap of at least one day is both a must and fine. At least half of the first version of any scene is found guilty of verbosity and goes trash while the rest is subjected to mood stress tests and has to survive a couple of permutations. So far, so fine. Long live the memory of Saint Steve, inventor of the tablet without all this wouldn’t be possible.

What really sucks is my obsession with optical balance. No writer should worry about a single small word ending up all alone in a new line. This is irrelevant. In todays eWorld, line breaks vary according to gadgets. I know it. I tell myself to ignore optical balance. And end up spending time on dreaming up constructions that don’t sound too bad while looking more balanced. Bad Troim! Probably correlated to my Duck-on-Wall tick. Or trick.

Wonder if other writers, especially real, professional ones, experience similar kinds of bias. Don’t dare raise the question in one of the LinkedIn groups. Yet.