Tag Archives: Rewriting

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?

Last stretch urge

Spent months loving, nurturing, developing, refining and generally never getting enough of my cast. Reach chapter 9 out of 10 and  wham, change of mindset. I just want to get it over with. AFAP.

Judging by what happened with the Pluggers, the last stretch of  Think-o-mat will again consist of a fortnight of tedium. Writing fast and under unfavorable conditions, to get it done. Rewriting a lot, because this way of proceeding ruins a style that is pretty bad in the first place. Without managing to maintain more than a semblance of the low standard achieved in the previous chapters. The last stretch is as much fun as sorting bills. Why?

There isn’t much significance to be gleaned from a sample of two, but twice is much better than no repeatability and now is the perfect time* to speculate about what causes the phenomenon:

  1. The actual fun is less in the writing than in the development of the characters. On the last stretch, they are all set in their ways, the story just rolls on to its denouement. This turns the creative process = fun into work = tedium.
  2. Reaching the end there is no longer any escape from the fact that this is all one big pile of rubbish that should never have been written. The plot, the cast, the style, it all doesn’t make one bit of sense. The daily dire doubts on steroids, minus the chance to escape into plotting the next step.
  3. Writing the finale is no worse than the earlier phases, but awareness of the approaching ordeal ruins the experience. Like trying to enjoy a good movie when you’ve got a dentist appointment scheduled right after it.  Synopsis writing and handling publishing questions would be the root canal therapy equivalents in the authoring business.
  4. Knowing that once cherished characters will soon be abandoned to their very well known fates calls for emotional stabilization, which triggers a kind of premature mourning. If it was still fun, how would you manage to stop writing at the target point?

Enough speculation. A bigger sample is needed first. Perfect time* to ask the subject matter experts on LinkedIn if they struggle with some sort of last stretch phenomenon.

*Perfect time is an euphemism for active shirking. You can only write one piece at any given time. Blogging and posting on LinkedIn postpones the drudge. Oh, and it’s a new month, too. Words to go and the Aspiring Writers Short Story Challenge call for action.

 

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.