Hello and thanks for your time. I have been trying to write since I
was 8 years old, I am now 32. Ideas fly around in my head all the
time and I never see them through. If I do find the courage to
write after a few pages I get frustrated and just stop for another
week or month. I know, I know, write, write, write. But I
sometimes think I am just not a writer just a reader.
I will try and give you an example of what I mean.
The latest "thought" or "scene" that popped into my head was what I
would suspect to be my main character praying in a makeshift
chapel/temple (makeshift because him and his men just arrived the
previous afternoon unannounced to the citizens of this backwater,
coastal town. And to show respect to their soviergn hastily
constructed a chapel/temple). I want to convey a peacefulness in my
main character, lets call him Jared, praying is the only time he can
take off the "Captain of one of the Empire's elite squads" hat. I
want to describe the inside of the chapel, how it keeps the cool
night air from escaping into the hot and humid coastal air. I want
to lightly touch on Jared's past - just a line or two - before a
scream from the marketplace outside brings him back to his place in
the world - Captain. I want him to jump up from the altar and
sprint out of the temple and step into the hot and hazy morning
weather. The marketplace will be crowded already and a crowd is
gathering around the source of the scream. Jared pushes through the
crowd ignoring the curses and elbows the crowd gives him, Cursing
the empire. In the center of the crowd lays a bloody corpse and the
NOW widow of the corpse. She is wailing. Standing over the two of
them is one of Jared's men, bloody sword in hand. He is a new
recruit fresh out of War School.
Now I spent a week on that scene, opening scene perhaps. Writing a
gazillion different ways. A marble notebook full of garbage. I
will give a quick sampling, I apologize if I bore you. I really
don't want this specific stuff to be critiqued. I am looking for my
weaknesses and if they are correctible.
Captain Jared was finishing his morning prayers when he heard the
scream. He sprang to his feet and ran to the door. The morning sun
was already boiling away the blanket of grey coastal clouds. The
smell of the marketplace reminded Jared of a bad meal his dead wife
THAT'S it. One more a few days later...
Captain Jared started praying before dawn. He relished these rare
moments when he could be a man and not an arm of empire. Stripped
of any imperial sigil, he knelt at the foot of his god in a night
shirt and worn breeches. The cool air trapped in this pile of rock
they call a temple, reminded him of his sleeping quarters back
home. Emea always kept it cool, never letting the fire grow to
strong and always keeping the window open a crack.
THAT'S it. I stop. There are tons more in all shapes and sizes. It
sickens me to reread it. Help!! Do I sit on one scene this long
until I am satisfied? Do I need a better vocabulary? Do I need to
take a class? Is it hopeless? I have no confidence when it comes
May 29th, 2004, 08:17 AM
Do you always stop at this point, or some such similar point in other stories?
The only cure for it I know is to grit your teeth, complete the scene, and the next two or three scenes as well, and then go back and revise. I personally think the time to tinker with language is after a sizable chunk of storytelling is done.
May 29th, 2004, 09:18 AM
Well, one thing I noticed is that when you tried to set the scene for us and described what popped into your head, the images were much more vivid that the "writing" below it. You change some things around, flush it out more, and that seems to me like the bare bones of a good first scene. You see, when I read your "thoughts" I could see what was happening and, to be honest, I was intrigued and wanted to find out more, in a good way.
To cut to the chase, I think you're trying too hard when you sit down and actually "write." Try getting into a mood where you just see the scene in your head and get it on paper. Turn your copy editor off and just write.
Another thing you can try is outlining more. WHen these scenes you really like pop into your head, write them down and try to structure them into a narrative of some sort. Let your imagination do the rest. I know when I have problems with longer works, which I do all the time, I always wish I would have outlined more. It doesn't have to be 300 pages, just a small skeleton of where you want to go, one you don't have to stick with if your story heads down another route. So if I can't take my own advice, maybe you can!
Hope that helps!
By the way, a lot of us have problems finishing what we're working on. One of things your imagination never tells you when you dream about being a writer is that there is a lot of hard work involved, alot of gritting it and baring it. For example, I've been writing fiction since I was 12 or so, and I remember finishing a 250-page book and thinking how awesome it was. I mean, looking back that book is a load of crap, but I'll be forever proud of it. Now, more than 10 years later, I've finished some short stories, but have been unable to finish any longer projects. Now, I'm trying to work on a mammoth project that will probably be a trilogy, the entire time saying I'm biting off more I can chew. But I'm enjoying writing this in a way I haven't my last few failed attempts. I'm excited beyond belief. But deep down, I know that excitement won't last and I'll have to put my nose to the grindstone.
BTW, I'm new here. Been looking around here, and I think this place is great!
May 29th, 2004, 01:58 PM
Welcome Camrick! It's always nice to see new people around here.
There's nothing wrong with what you've written. It sounds like what you need to do is just let yourself go a little more. Allow your first draft to contain some "crap" that can be edited out later. Sometimes it's hard to see what a story is really about until you have the first draft down.
Let's look at your example. I see a great angle in it, that I'm not sure if you were considering when you first wrote it. You start with Jared praying - assuming the role of the mortal/servant/subject. Suddenly when he is drawn out of the temple, his role is reversed. As a military officer he commands a lot of power, so when faced with a potential murder his role has shifted from mortal to god. Will he execute the man holding the bloody sword? Will he hold a trial? This could be a theme for the rest of the story - or just an angle that will help the chapter move along.
It's dangerous to sit on a scene for too long. It's kind of like painting a house. You can't just work on one corner until it's perfect. You have to put on the first coat as eavenly as you can and then catch your mistakes on the second or third pass.
As Camrick said, this is a pretty common difficulty faced by writers. I'm pretty critical of my own stuff too.
Some other advise that might work.
- Read a lot. Specifically look at how others write the kinds of scenes you want to do. If you need to know where to look - just ask. There's lots of well-read people on this site.
- Write a lot. Not everything has to be "publishable." Write out your ideas. Try some of the writing exercises that get posted up here now and again. Post in the "collaborative stories" section on this site.
- Set a word goal for the day. Try to write at least 200 words per day - then 400. Journaling counts.
- Let people critique your work. This can be hard at first, but it will show you how other people see what you write. And not only will it identify your strengths, but also your weaknesses.
If you've been trying to write for 24 years, I doubt that you were meant to just be a reader.
May 29th, 2004, 03:02 PM
I have good news!
The medical term is Premature Writer's Disfunction and there is now a slew of products on the market that are guaranteed to provide a longer, more sustained, writing experience.
Sorry. I couldn't help it. :o
The real good news is that almost all of us have had this problem at one time or another (usually early on) so you should get plenty of different testimonials. My first effort lasted exactly three chapters - and boy was I embarrassed (okay, that was the last sex joke. promise) I'm glad I cut bait, too. Not long after I read an article on what not to do in sci/fi writing and realized I was guilty of just about everything, especially the "don't write a western in space that has no central sci/fi theme" bit.
Camrick is right, good to meet you, Cam, outlines are very helpful. If your worried about your vocab get a book for it. There's self helps out there for just about every aspect of writing. There are some other tricks you can try as well. You might try reading several pages from an author you like just before writing to get a rhythm going in your head. Some people like to visualize themselves as a 'great writer' before pulling the chair up to the computer. Also, A writers group could provide some accountability.
Like I said, this is one most of us have to tackle sooner or later. Usually sooner. It doesn't mean you can't be a writer.
You're still young by the way. Anybody published under 40 is usually considered a 'young' writer.
May 29th, 2004, 03:40 PM
hehe i must be an infant author then.
Anyway, I believe you certainly are trying too hard. I find that if you use all your skill on perfecting one part, you end up with a decent enough paragraph that took up far too much time. Just let your imagination flow and write whatever comes to you. The skill in writing is not to describe everything but pick up on important points. Look at Robin Hobb's work for examples of that, she writes wonderfully.
May 29th, 2004, 10:13 PM
I don't think you've climbed far enough into the Captain. He's on his knees praying, what is he praying for? What are his desires? His fears? You've said he's been there a while, do his knees hurt? Where has he left his weapons and uniform? How does he feel about hearing the scream when he is not suited up and ready?
I think you're trying to be a writer instead of trying to be a Captain telling his story. You boiled away the clouds like every other writer. You relished a rare moment like every other writer. Is that the language that your Captain uses to describe his world? The same as a writer in 21st C? Why is he looking at clouds when people are screaming?
Be the Captain. Find his voice, his vices, desires, fears, his way of thinking and let him tell his tale. Pretend the writer doesn't exist.
PS. Jared is a modern boyish name here.
May 30th, 2004, 03:55 AM
That's exactly what I do. Once you practise it it gets a lot easier. Once you really get inside the character you can do anything. In the end you will always know what a character would do in a certain situation.
May 30th, 2004, 03:24 PM
We call them hats. There's the poet hat -- that's the one that comes up with images and neat turns of phrase. There's the reader's hat -- that's the one who makes sure you can "see" the characters and places and such, (I suppose we could also call it the visualizer hat.) There's the organizer hat who is in charge of outlining and putting together the research, if you are using research and outlines. If you are doing research, there is the researcher hat, of course. And then there is the editor hat.
The editor hat is a very, very important hat. But the problem is that the editor hat keeps trying to slip onto our heads at the wrong time. The editor hat is the one who wants you to re-write the same scene over and over when you're doing the first draft. The editor hat is the one that tells you, "this is crap" -- (which I have to say, real editors who know their job never do) -- when it is or isn't crap but there's no need to worry about it yet. And when the editor hat pops up when not needed or wanted, we have to be able to tell it: "get off my head, I'll fix it later." I've been working with fiction authors for eighteen years, so you would think I'd be able to tell my editor hat to take a hike pretty easily, but no, the dratted thing pops on all the time. There was this bit of introspection I wanted my pov character to have -- I rewrote it about six times, finally gave up, kicked the editor hat off and moved on. I know what I want there -- I just don't know how I want to say it yet. And that's okay.
All of us here, including a few respected published authors, could tell you that indeed, you are utterly hopeless as a writer and should give up. And all of us could be completely dead wrong. You may, in fact, be the writer of something most brilliant and beloved some day. We can be dead wrong because writers don't stay the same. They change, learn, develop new techniques, have aha experiences, find material or characters that they really love, figure out their own personal writing process and take off flying. And usually this happens after they've written a lot of totally hopeless writing. In fact, I've known very few writers who have loved their writing at any stage of the process.
I agree with Cam, the outline description of what you wanted to do was a lot more interesting than the two bits you showed us, although note that bit two, written the second time, was a bit better than version one. You know what you want, but it's not coming out on the page like the polished versions you read, so you're freaking out. The metaphor I used to use with my classes was of the magician. You're in the audience, you watch the magician do the tricks. You know they're tricks but you don't know how the magician is doing them. When you attempt to become a writer, you are attempting to become a magician and you need to watch the other magicians as a magician would, study the behind the scenes manuevering of the trick and figure out exactly how the magician did it. Then you can do the trick or at least attempt it and practice it. (Not that writing is just tricks, but you get the idea.) And the tricks -- great character presentation and development, good scenes, good dialogue, etc. -- are made of building blocks. You are trying to jump right from the building blocks to the finished trick, and you're also expecting to entertain yourself as if you were both the magician and the audience -- not the easiest thing to pull off.
Let's see what you have as building blocks: makeshift temple (very faithful bunch, imagining branches and rope sort of hut;) arrived unannounced to coastal town, (possibilities of intrigue and conflict;) peace of not having to be Captain leader for a moment, only pentitent (aww, poor guy, we like him already;) cool night air kept in away from heat (ooo, nice;) a scream (uh-oh;) springing back into hot air (tension,) dead villager with young soldier and bloody sword (aw, man.) Good stuff. And not stuff that necessarily needs to be snuck in with a lot of boiled clouds and such. You could try it with just direct, plain description for the first draft and go back and tinker later. Maybe what would work for you would be to imagine that you are telling the story scenes to a friend, and write that down, try the outlining Cam suggested maybe.
And then tell yourself that you aren't allowed to re-write, no matter how awful it sounds. Write lots of really, really bad pieces, put the pieces together, and THEN put on the editor hat. Chocolate helps.
May 30th, 2004, 03:26 PM
Once again, I forgot that putting a semi-colon with a parentheses will produce not a semi-colon with a parentheses but a winking smiley face. My apologies.