I told myself I would post my writing progress every time I write in the hopes to destroy the perfectionist in me and break the taboo of the first draft. This is the unedited version of FairBanks Island (Title Work-in-Progress)
The mist lay heavy on the island. It wasn’t even possible to see if there was an island, only big great blur on the ocean. He was an army man, relatively young officer compared to the other who stood next to him. The older man lighted a pipe and stared listlessly into the mist, as if he hoped for it to part or that he actually saw what was happening, he found that unlikely. After a long while of silence, the old man said. “How long have you been in service, Harry?”
“Sense the war started, sir.”
“Four years then… I heard you were very brave out there.”
“Thank you, sir…”
He recalled the battle that made him limp in one knee. He really wished he was out there on the battlefield again, but he would just be a hindrance at that hurt more than anything. Suddenly, there was a faint shriek that jittered him to the present and made him focus his eyes where the sound came, though it was impossible to know for sure, the mist distort even voices. After a while, he glanced at the old officer who stood motionless. If he felt something, he didn’t show.
“Do you think he got away?” the young officer asked. The old man didn’t bother to answer and stuck his head through the hatch by his feet. “Bring up the other one,” he said.
A man in prison uniform came out. Up until now, they had struggled as they were forced up on deck. Not this one. He was calm, almost content with his fate, he’d say, if it wasn’t for those eyes that told a different story; wide and sharp, picking up anything to his advantage. He didn’t ask questions either, not that they would give him any. They put him on a small rowboat, accompanied by three soldiers, and disappeared into the mist. “How many do you think we need to send, sir?”
“How many as it takes…”
“Is the island really that important?”
“It is… Besides, what self-respecting military man would accept defeat?”
A wise one, he thought to himself. They stood motionless and continued to peer into the mist, hearing only the paddles pierce through the calm water, too calm to be so far out in the ocean. This was a strange place… He’d do anything to be with his comrades on the battlefield again…
Banks was just 18 when he joined the war. Conscriptions were common, but the very young was mostly spared the drafting, unless the war went really bad. So far, the conscription age was 21 but Banks insisted to join the effort. How could he not? Propaganda was everywhere, spewing its patriotic rhetoric on the radio and town meetings, urging the country’s finest to join the cause. Banks father was a veteran: Lt. George Fair, was his name, and he was infamous among his peers to be ruthless to his men, but most of them also came back home alive, which couldn’t be said for most Platoons. George was a revered leader for those that knew him in the army. Those that knew him in civilian life would not say the same. Away from the frontlines, he was quiet and a loving father and husband, patient and not prone to violence even when confronted by it. It was strange how somebody could change that much in a couple of years, but then again, the battlefield was a different world entirely, something that those that had been to war knew all too well.
When Banks learned about his fathers reputation, which was much later in life because George didn’t like telling stories of his time in the trenches, Banks felt the need to prove himself. But to whom? His parents? The last thing they wanted was to see him sent off to war; to his friends? They didn’t want to go anymore than other kids, his age; to himself? Most likely, why? Even his father couldn’t figure that out. He tried to convince him every which way, telling his son in minute details what war was about, but he couldn’t see the horror that awaited him, as any that had lived their lives is the safety of their home. But banks was no fool. He knew the risks involved, as much as anyone that hadn’t been to war could know, but all his life, he has been called a coward, because frankly, he was. He was his father’s son when it came to avoiding conflict but he would run away rather than stand his ground if forced to. He hated that about himself and in his mind, he thought that he would become a man if he faced the dangers ahead. There was no turning back if he did, which was exactly why he joined, to prove that he could be just as brave as his war hero father.
But things rarely turn out the way we imagine. The first weeks on basic training was hard on him. He had trouble following basic directions, his mind had a tendency to wander, but he wasn’t weaker than anyone else and could keep up whenever they trained. He was a decent marksman too, that is, when tragedy struck. They were having a mock battle. They were running in the forest as a unit and they were to find the enemy that was targets shaped like men when one of his friend’s fell and his gun went off. He hadn’t put the safety on and the bullet went right through his other friends head, right in front of him. Blood and brain matter scattered all over him and they gave him pension for a couple of days to calm his nerves, but when he returned to training, he couldn’t, for the life of him, pull the trigger. Seeing the real effect a gun had on a person broke him. It took a fair amount of barking from the captain before he was capable of firing another shot, still, he was apprehensive and he knew he could never do that to another human being. He was a coward, after all.
Banks was at pay phone and was going to call his father to get him home. His father had always told him that if he changed his mind, he could get him out, he still held respect within the military and could pull some strings. It hurt painfully to reach that phone, but what else could he do? At the side of the phone, there was a billboard and as he waited for his father to pick up, a poster caught his eye. It called for people of special talent. It didn’t say specifically what that talent was but it said they would be sent on a special mission off the coast of Gordige, which, incidentally was far from the frontlines.. A top secret mission, it said. Banks hung up the phone, even as he heard his father answer on the other line, and noted down the time and place. He didn’t care what the mission was, if he could serve his country with little risk in seeing actual combat, he’d do anything.
The meeting was held in the office building. Three officers sat across to him and offered him a chair. They got right to it and asked all sorts of questions, mostly concerning his upbringing. One of the officers raised an eyebrow when he saw his father’s name and Banks cheeks flushed. The officer seemed hesitant to continue and Banks prayed he would not end the interview. In the end, he only asked why he wanted to attain this mission and he responded with the usual patriotic drivel that officers like them like to hear. This seemed to settle it as he was clear to join. Banks held in his joy and instead showed it on the remainder of his time in basic training. The improvement was significant, his captain thought, and Banks was sent off with his blessings. He was allowed a couple of days before he was shipped off to the island and he decided to meet his folks and share in the good news.
© Christopher Stamfors
I’m gonna be frank, I’m rather angry at myself… You know as a writer (or an artist) you get excited over a project? You work it in your head, for a little bit, then you write it down in a first draft, all easy, all fun! But somewhere along the way, the story just doesn’t excite you anymore… I don’t know why this happens, why, at a certain point, it gets so hard to finish what I started?
I had a story, written about 4-5 years ago which I finished in 6 months. I had no experience at all about writing and didn’t know what I was doing, but I finished it, and I had fun. Then I showed it to other people and I realized that I couldn’t write for shit. I absorb their critique, I really did, and it helped, to a degree. I wanted to prove that I’ve become better and I wrote a short story. I really liked it, and people liked it too, at certain parts.
They didn’t like the ending, specifically, and even though I thought it ended where it should, I tried to find more of the story when there was nothing there. (I guess it was the best kind of critique, they wanted to know more, after all) but I think it was then doubt started to seep into my mind. I tried so hard to make the story the way that they wanted, but in the end, I could not finish it.
It broke me, I think, because I haven’t been able to finish anything since; nothing longer than a thousand words, anyhow. I honestly began to think that if I worked on a story too much, I’d ruin it, much like I did with my short story. Which is silly, everything you do makes the story better, you are building it, one word at a time. But I cannot shake this doubt. In my head, the story I’m now working on is ruined and is beyond salvageable.
I really want to believe that what I write is better than I think it is, which is why I’m gonna try something.
I don’t care how awful the story turns out, I need to finish something! No matter how awful I think it is. I need to believe that every word is an improvement, or at least one step closer to finding the story, or the fossil, as Stephen King would say – I really recommend his book On Writing.
So here’s the deal: I’ll be posting everything that I write, unedited, on the same day I write it. No matter how little, or how much I end up doing, it’s gonna get posted. I’m effectively gonna spam my own blog with garbage! I hope you’ll bare with me, but I understand if you choose to leave.
The world is not kind to murderers,
is what they want you to think.
In truth, it’s an asset!
They know what you are.
They know you are of use.
© Christopher Stamfors
Perhaps that’s just how some stories are? Some are more demanding than others. They demand rewrites and the plot doesn’t come out as smoothly as you want. Perhaps the process is the mistakes? Finding the story can be difficult but that doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from your mistakes. Letting go of our wishes and desire, our egos and all the other things that make us hurry is the hard part. You must trust your instincts and let the story guide you to where it wants to take you, without ever getting attached to what you’ve already written.
But a story can’t just be anything, the idea sprung from something, the core, if you will. There must be a core where everything else grows from? You can’t change the core because that would mean it’s an entirely different story and there’s nothing to guide you along the way. If you don’t have this ‘core’ in mind, your tale can be anything, and that’s when it starts to get messy and unfocused. Basically, it means you’re writing all stories, and no story, at the same time…
I’m not sure myself if this is the case. I’ve only just come to this realisation and I’m certain that I will find the truth, sooner or later. But take my story, for instance: the core idea is that a boy finds a magical pen, nothing more, nothing less. The story revolves around this. Now, what the boy does with that pen, where the pen comes from and who the boy is, is up to the author to find out. Everything is fair game. But my hopes are that if I keep the core in mind and put my trust in the tale and don’t ignore anything, writing will be so much easier.
I’ll keep you posted how it turns out.
Yep, it’s the beginning that was flawed, I see that now. In my Last Post, I talked about my stories never ending neatly and I figured out that if the beginning isn’t good, the ending won’t be either.
So, how can I be certain that the beginning is flawed? Because I cheated again…
Again, check This Post if you want to know more, but, I have done this before, I skipped essential parts of the story because I wanted to finish quickly; meaning I neglected to explore all the characters. There’s one character, for instance, that’s part of the backstory and is a complete mystery to me. His only purpose is to instigate conflict, and because he was a minor character in the backstory I didn’t think he was essential, turns out, every character is essential… In my vision, he was inconsequential, but considering how hard I’m struggling with the ending, perhaps he has a bigger part to play than I first imagined?
He would turn out to be…
But, I couldn’t face reality… going back and changing parts of the backstory would means I would have to make major changes to the main story as well. In fact, I was so deep in denial that I convinced myself that all I had to do to fix things was to make the story longer… It will fix itself, right?
I even went so far as to make an epilogue or a prologue just to make sense; without having to put any effort into working it in organically into the tale. That’s cheating. The job of an author is to convey the necessary information within the format of the story, if I can’t do that, I should quit writing.
I think a good point of measure if something is missing in your story is when the purpose of the main character is simply to reveal the backstory and be the eyes of the reader. My main character had no stakes in what’s happening, he doesn’t change as the story progress. The plot doesn’t affect him and he doesn’t affect the plot. A pointless story.
I have to seriously review how I come up with my tales…
When I write a story, the important thing isn’t in what order I place the scenes or to create a structure, the most important thing is to find the characters and their motivations. This means you’ll write very generally at first, for instance: When John came to his foster parents he was very sad.
This is a general sentence which can be explored more deeply, but right now, this is enough. But at a certain point, when you’ve come far enough into your story, you’ll need to know more about your characters to make sense of their actions later. This means you are forced to explore your characters’ feelings, for instance: It was quite in the car. Trees swooshed past them as he stared out the window, trying to make sense of everything that had happened to him. He wondered if his parents had always hated each other, or if it was just when he was born. His teacher had once told him that children came about from parents’ act of love… Did that apply to him?
(Of course this paragraph can be further refined but that is not our purpose at this point. Editing sentence to sound beautiful you should do last.)
With this, you learn so much more about the character which means his motivations become more apparent later on. This is the stage I often fail to go back to, thinking I don’t need to and just want to carry on with my story. But this is cheating, and the only one you cheat is yourself.
Hopefully, I’ll be better at catching those mistakes early and swallow my pride. My aim is to write as many stories as I can in my lifetime, but not at the cost of quality, or rather, the truthfulness of the tale.
I don’t want to lie.
It is comforting when I come to these realisations because it means I’m improving and is one step closer in becoming the writer I want to be.