A simple story

I tried to make a simple story the other day, with simple language and a simple plot:

It’s about a girl who lives in a castle. She was born with a birthmark that makes people fear her because (as the story goes) people with birthmarks were touched by something evil before they were born. One day, this evil will come and get her…

(Is this stupid? It sounds stupid…)

She’s shunned like the plague and nobody cares for her, even her parents. One day, a distant relative comes and takes her away. She’d wished to leave the castle all her life but never did she imagine it would be like this.

He takes her to an old, mostly abandoned, castle in the mountains. It’s a mystery what he wants with her. He has no family, and most people, who used to live there, have gone away. But he’s nice and now she can walk around as much as she wants without being taunted by others.

There are two other characters, as well, that live in the castle. Their behaviour hints that they might not be what they seem. They are hiding something, for sure and she starts to wonder if the stories about her might be true. Does the uncle have something to do with the evil that will come for her or is he just a simple old man who wants company in his lonely castle?

Trying to summarise it like this the story seems dumb. Maybe if I develop it a bit more it might make more sense and it gets easier to explain.

Neil Gaiman said a thing

I listened to a podcast the other day and Neil Gaiman was the guest.

Lucky me!

One of the thing that stuck out to me was his fondness for fountain pens. According to Neil, the reason sentences were so long, back in the day, was because they had a flow with the fountain pen and couldn’t stop writing unless they blotch the page.

I love anecdotes like this, it makes the world a bit more loveable. 

If you can’t stop at every other word you have to think ahead before putting pen to paper. I never do that. I just write whatever comes to mind, I never think ahead and I’m wondering, is that a bad thing? According to Neil, using a fountain pen you get the kind of sentence you wanted from the start, instead with a computer, you fiddle with it until it become what you wanted.

I’m guilty of editing a lot and I can’t even imagine people who write ‘correctly’ from the beginning. How can you write a story and not edit everything as you go? How can you write and then say the story is done without editing major swaths of it?!

When I write a book, I feel like I write several stories worth because I edit so much. 

They say write as fast as possible on the first draft to get all of the ideas out quickly, and then at the second draft, you basically write the story as it’s supposed to be. The third draft is just the minor editing that doesn’t affect the plot a lot. 

That’s not at all how things go down.

My first draft is short and my second is also short, then I have a third and a 5th and it becomes longer and longer until it becomes a book. 

Maybe my approach to writing is wrong or maybe it’s the stories I choose to develop… Either way, I have a feeling that I’m making it harder for myself. 

You made the right choice

You wanna know what the worst part about being a writer is? You don’t know if you get better…

You can’t honestly tell if you are going in circles or not, making the same mistakes over and over. Only when you get published do you get validation; and even then you can’t be sure. 

You can say that you are good enough to be published, but there’s gotta be more than that. I mean, why do you even write? if you do it for money, congrats, that’s not how most writers are, I hope…

You can only have faith in yourself that you get better. It’s like the belief in god, there is no proof and there never will be. Sure, rereading old stuff and comparing it (or even improving it) might give you some idea where you are at but all it tells you is that you’ve changed, but can you be sure you’ve changed for the better?  

I’m not sure other writers contemplate like I do, maybe that’s what I enjoy doing, more than writing stories, even. Finishing books and publishing them, who cares…

I just need to make something worthwhile, then I can pat myself on the back and say, you did the right choice.

A rant about time

Video games, like alcohol, can be used responsibly but I’m not sure people in the creative profession can…

Honestly, if I didn’t have video games I would probably drink a lot. There are large swaths of the day that I don’t know what to do with and you know what happens when you don’t keep busy, you start to think; unnecessary thinking about things that aren’t healthy… 

That’s why I like to go to bed early because I can unclutter my brain from all those unnecessary thoughts and that’s why I like to write early because my brain is fresh and not cluttered with impressions of the day. 

Granted, I could use that wasted time in other ways than drinking and gaming, but I’m not very social. Perhaps if I had a family that would eat up a lot of time, probably too much time, and when am I supposed to write?! 

We like to keep busy.

But I’m gonna be honest, I’m not very good at managing my time, at least not at home. It is not my writer’s space anymore, it used to be. Now, it’s where gaming happens and watching shows and such… 

At my current job, (which I’ve had for 4 years now) I got the mornings largely to myself and it has become my time to write. But things change and neither of those spaces is my time anymore, at least not consistently.

Where do I go then to get away? Cafes.

I actually don’t mind cafes, that’s how I started writing way back when I was working in Cambodia. I used to get off early from work and beat the traffic and then I’d sit and write at a cafe until the evening because my apartment was a piece of shit and I didn’t want to spend too much time there anyway.

Besides, I didn’t have entertainment readily available to me either, apart from a playstation Vita, which you can only waste so much time on. Now I have movies and shows, MMORPGS and stuff to keep me occupied. 

I can barely write for more than an hour before I want to take a break. It depends on the stage of the story, of course, when it’s new and exciting and can barely get away from it…

So yeah, that’s my rant about time:

Create a writing space 

Always write on the same time

Write and read before you do anything else

And, don’t have a family, I guess…

How can you write truefully?

The best writing comes when you are yourself, when you don’t have any expectations. That’s why it’s so difficult to write, not because you have high expectations to go big, if that’s the case then you do it for the wrong reason, or you’ve come so far into your career that that’s a whole other struggle, to not let the fame go to your head, but I digress. What is difficult to write is to stay true to yourself, especially when you’ve had a good writing session. What is your true self? you start to wonder, how do I write like this everyday? You try to find the secret formula, but there is none, it’s all in your head.

And honestly, it might not be as good as you think. I’ve had many times when I wrote a piece that I loved get torn apart by others and they were right to do so, because I didn’t convey my ideas well enough. The story is crystal clear to me, but not to others. That’s why I find it difficult to know when a story is ripe and ready to be shown…

I want it to be good, I want it to be finished but there a big gap between my mind and my fingers. It’s such a huge difference writing for yourself and for others and the dream is that they become the same thing.

How can you write truefully if you write for others anyway?

Digging for gold when there are gems in the sand

Stories, I can find them everywhere. In nature, in books, in people, in movies, in shows, in patterns in the sand, in sound, everything is a reminder of a story. Stories aren’t manufactured, I firmly believe, they are out there to be found and some part of me even believe they have existed at one point – in another time, on another dimension, perhaps? That’s the only explanation I have for them existing. Where do these words come from otherwise? Are they mere result of our brains conjuring them up from the impressions we’ve had over our lives? It doesn’t sound as sexy, that’s for sure and I am a romantic ❤

It has become bothersome, really, because I do want to explore all the discoveries that I’ve made but I fear I never will because they’re too many. I do write them down though, for safekeeping. After every finished story comes the impossible decision to choose which of the tales deserves to exist, in our presence anyway, because they do exist already, somewhere else.

It’s probably not smart, but I tend to pick those stories that are the least developed, those that are just mere ideas and concepts. One example is a story about a man being trapped on an island with a witch. That was all. Who is the witch? Who is the man? How did he end up there? What kind of world do they live in? Those are the questions I love to find out.

I’m not good enough to make this sort of work painless, however, but I will someday. The story that felt right from the start.

When the story becomes dull

I’ve talked about this before, but I really need to beat it into my brain so I don’t make the same mistakes again: I cannot separate plot from character, character is plot and they decide what happens. Granted, it’s good to have a general idea what’s going on, but I imagine that is just you pointing down a road that leads to where you want your characters to go. They are the ones deciding, however, if they’ll take a short cut, go back, take a rest; or move in a different direction entirely.

You are forbidden to help them and show the way.

So how do you make this happen in practise? Well, in my latest draft, I did it all wrong. I wrote very sparsely on purpose, meaning I left out a lot of things to add later because I was afraid I’d have to change things later anyway. But ironically, it’s only when I neglect to add things as they come that I end up having to change. No writer knows their characters from the get go. You learn about them as you write, which means you’ll have to put them in situations that force them to act and not have a predetermined result for them because then the characters are blank.

I suppose one could do a character sheet beforehand but who wants to do that? It’s boring and your characters will end up bland anyway.

To keep yourself entrained is a good rule of thumb. If the story becomes dull it’s you that have made the choices for them, you already know what will happen. And if you are bored, the readers are bored.

Characters Rebel

I’m a very, in the now, kind of guy.

I hate to think about the plot, on what has happened and what will happen.

I much rather let the story take me on a ride.

The characters do what they want anyway.

They have no obligation to follow your command.

If you try to force them, they’ll just rebel and ruin the story.

You never know your characters until the end

There’s no point trying.

Make it or die trying

I feel like I’m not putting enough effort into my writing because I have so much free time doing other things… I don’t have much going on in my life. I live alone in a small apartment in a small town working as a personal assistant for mentally handicapped people. I should be able to read and write a lot more than I do.

People say that you have to put your heart and soul into the things you do to get anywhere, that you must have a specific goal in mind and try to get there no matter what. But when can you step back and enjoy what you do? The goal of dancing is to dance, not to finish it, you know what I mean?

Sometimes I wonder if my goal is even to become a famous author. I certainly want to be able to support myself with what I do, but… I dunno. I’d say, go for a goal, but don’t break yourself getting there. Enjoy yourself along the way, that’s how I wanna do it. Although, there certainly are frustrating moments that make you wonder why you keep going, but then you write an awesome chapter and you remember why. It is for the thrill and the experience to create something for yourself, and hopefully, others will want to read it too.

Write too much or too little

They say that it’s advisable to cut a significant portion of your draft before finalizing, that a lot of it is simply filler, but I have the opposite experience, I write too little. I’m rather lazy by nature so I usually don’t add more scenes than necessary and I focus on the plot as a whole rather than the story. When the plot is done then I go deep and focus on characters, which might not be a good idea because characters tend to change the plot…

On the other hand, working like this almost guarantees that I finish something because I’m not too concerned with the quality yet. I want to finish rather than make something perfect right away. This might be good for short stories, now that I think about it. Novels are a bigger commitment and not doing your best will just end up wasting your time.

In my experience, when I start getting into the meat of the story, I see before me a large pile of puzzle pieces. I got some of them pieced together already but I have to sort them out with trial and error. Sometimes there are other sets of puzzles in the mix which complicates things… There might be an issue with the idea when that happens. The story might be too vague and I have very little to work with so I try to borrow plots from everywhere, haha.