What makes a story? Obviously, the plot has to be there, but if the characters that have to convey this aren’t compelling, then it is all for naught. What makes a good character? Am I the right person to be telling you? Well, if you don’t know what makes a “good” character, go away and read and think and read and think, because I’m not going to tell you that here. In fact, I’m not going to tell you how to do anything. I’m going to share an approach, which I find both obvious and useful. In that sense it is not particularly novel, so think of it more as a reminder, or an endorsement.
The problem with many ideas, not just for writing stories, is that they are in flux, they’re fluid, until they’re written down. There is something about writing down your thoughts that makes them solid and coherent. It is not enough to write bullet point lists, you need to construct proper sentences before the idea can be forced into being something coherent. If you are like me, still learning to write (who isn’t, really), then this approach also helps in that respect – because to be a better writer, you need to write. So we’re told.
I’ve never been one for making New Year resolutions, but the end of the year, and a few days holiday, do give one the time to reflect. So reflecting I am. This year I complained a lot about time, specifically, the lack of it. Sorry. In the interests of full disclosure, I have been reliably informed that 2016 will not be coming with more time. Nor will time expander packs be available. More’s the pity.
It would appear that the only solution is to do fewer things. Which is exactly NOT what I am going to do. Seriously, I don’t respond well to “slow down”, “take it easy” or “don’t do so much” and similar expletives.
Put one word in front of the other and keep on going until you get to the end.
Of course, some people walk better than others. And really, that is probably where the analogy finishes. Actually, I probably should have stopped before this whole thing got out of hand.
But I won’t.
Something I learnt as a scientist is knowing when to stop. At some point you need to admit to yourself that this is as far, or as good, as it is going to get. Maybe you won’t win the Nobel prize. Maybe you won’t write some literary masterpiece. This is the perfectionist’s dilemma. On the other end of the scale, there is the danger that you stop too soon. In science you can see this in a paper that lacks perspective and presents what is often referred to as an “epsilon” paper. Espilon being the greek letter usually used for an extremely small quantity in maths. Therefore, the paper is seen as a making a very small step forward. They stopped too soon in having the vision to do something really important; big. They also stopped too early in terms of writing and the lack of depth in the writer’s perspective gives them away.
After the last cathartic post on why I’m not doing NaNoWriMo, not to mention the constant whining about not writing, I have actually been writing a lot.
I currently have three novels on the go, and as of last week another new story; so new it doesn’t even have a working title. I’m only at the beginning, 1000 words down and some planning, but it feels like it could be the start of a series, maybe shorts, not sure yet, it’s a bit of a new style for me… And that’s the thing. After not writing for a while, I’m having an absolutely wondrous time, experimenting. Experimenting with different formats and lengths, with stories spanning hard core space opera, dystopian earth-like civilisations, earth- and space-based, human- and alien-like characters, imagining technologies of the future, their evolution and impact on “humanity”. It is brilliant!
I started this month well, trying out a new time management idea – writing every morning; I had been getting too tired to write in the evenings. It worked well for a week or so, but the real world (work) interrupted, so I have reverted to writing wherever and whenever I can. I’d like to try this morning regime again if/when my day job calms down a little. It was an excellent way to start the day. Whilst I complain a bit (ok, maybe a lot) about the day job, I am writing a lot there and really trying to up the quality. I’ve written at least 10000 words this month, not counting emails… on some cool science and technology (I’m trying to avoid counting but it was a good month). I think that the fiction and non-fiction writing are helping one another – after all, it’s all writing.
Alt: Why I am not doing nanowrimo.
I know you’re sick of hearing writers complain about not having the time to write. I would say that it is not so much that they are not writing, in most cases, but that they want to write more. My writing word count is all over the place from one week to the next. For sure I’d like to increase the overall amount that I write, but mostly I want to have more of a rhythm.
I’ve been thinking about doing nanowrimo this year but that is a 50k target in a month – more than 1k a day. I cannot guarantee that I can do that so it would be nothing but an exercise in frustration. Frustration is not what you want at the end of a writing exercise/competition. I don’t want to get to December and be more concerned with only having written 10-20k words, than just being happy that I wrote 10k words.
So, in the interests of getting to know me and given that LifeHacker are probably not going to ask me how I work, directly, I’ll just borrow the questions they typically ask – How I Work.
Location: Geneva, Switzerland
Current Gig: Scientist and Writer – mostly more science fact than science fiction recently but I’m trying to fix the balance.
One word that best describes how you work: Chaotically
Current mobile device: iPhone 6
Current computer: Macbook pro – getting a little old now but it’s running light and without distractions – for writing. The science gets a newer macbook air and there’s an ipad in there as well to replace paper.
Be very afraid.
Is your writing scaring you? I’m not calling out all horror writers but people looking to push themselves, find the limits of their writing comfort zone, and push through it. It is hard to do this because we are such creatures of self-preservation, but it is typically here/there, in unchartered waters, that we find that something special. As a writer, hell, as a person, I am always looking to stand out, to be different, to look at the world in a different way. What is the point of everyone being the same? If you’re starting to worry that this is some rant from a newly-enraged teenager, then you’ll be happy to know that I’ve been enraged for nearly half a century.
The other primary … primal?… thing that holds us back, makes us hesitate, is that we are also creatures of vanity – who wants to be seen to fail? Well, for a start, as a writer, you can fail a lot in private first, so no one can see you. Eventually though, you’re going to have to step out, stand up, and declare yourself.
This is me, this is what I write, and this is how I write.