Every Story is a War

by wjw on March 11, 2019

So I did some writing on the new novel the other night, and I thought it was okay, but when I went back the next night I realized I’d written crap.  Not uninspired, not unfocused, just plain bad writing.  It sucked.

I found this so demoralizing that I didn’t write much the second night, but I did fix up the bad writing and made it less bad.  I won’t say it was great or anything.

(I should point out, for the purposes of this anecdote, that I write late at night.)

The next night I hammered away, but didn’t get very far.  By now I was recognizing the symptoms.

My subconscious tells me when things aren’t working, and the way it tells me is by making it very, very hard for me to actually put words on pages.  So I took a look at what I was doing, and tried to figure out what was wrong.

The first thing to note was that this wasn’t my protagonist’s scene, it belonged to someone else.  I’d known that all along, but I thought that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.  By now, Book VII of the Praxis series, my heroes have all acquired friends and loyal subordinates and in-laws and rivals and so on, and every so often I like to let the reader know that all these characters have lives of their own, and that while my heroes are out having adventures, their friends are living their lives and occasionally doing something of interest.

So this scene belonged not to a protagonist, but to a sidekick, and it was designed to show that the sidekick was competent and interesting and, in his way, necessary to the story.  Just like all the other sidekicks, of which there are dozens by now.

But for some reason the scene wasn’t working.  I thought about cutting it completely, but I finally decided that I’d stuck it in a chapter that already had too much happening in it, and that this extra subplot added a burden that the narrative didn’t want to carry.

So right now the sidekick’s been stuck in Coventry until I can figure out what to do with him.  I think I know now where his substory would more easily inserted into the narrative, but I won’t know for sure till I get there.  And in the meantime the book is more about its protagonists than it was previously.

To be a good writer, you must learn to “kill your darlings,” a phrase that I heard via Kate Wilhelm but that turns out to have been uttered first by someone named Arthur Quiller-Couch.

I haven’t killed my darling, but I’ve stuck him in a closet till he’s needed, so maybe that amounts to the same thing.

And, more importantly, the words are flowing now.

Jane Lindskold March 12, 2019 at 9:38 am

Nicely put, Walter. Been there. The frustration is SO real, but so is the eventual revelation/relief when the words come back.

Ralf T. Dog March 12, 2019 at 2:40 pm

Sounds like a wonderful short story to be released, “In the Universe of Praxis.” (Kind of like Hardwired and Solip:System.)

AlConQueso March 13, 2019 at 6:57 pm

Preach it brother! I recently unstuck a block by doing the exact opposite. I sat down with something I’ve been trying to get back to work on, and instead of picking up where I left off, I skipped to the end of the story to write a chapter. It flowed so easily and thoughtlessly that it was on the page before I knew what was happening. I’ve since gone in, embellished and added, and what do you know? The block is gone… and I’ll be damned if the whole thing isn’t coming together!

Long live the Praxis!

John Appel March 14, 2019 at 8:16 am

As a rookie writer, it’s both relieving and terrifying to know that even vets struggle with some of the same things I do.

Glad the words are flowing again. Trying to get my next project kicked into gear myself.

Stephen C. Ehrmann March 15, 2019 at 9:18 am

Are you working for a 2020 release of the new Praxis novel? I can’t wait. Well I can wait, but I just turned 70 today so I don’t have forever. 😉

wjw March 17, 2019 at 6:18 pm

Al, good on you! I’ve used that technique myself.

Ralf, it isn’t a long enough substory to make a story in itself. (As with “Video Star,” for example. So it’ll either fit into a scene later, or it won’t.

Stephen– yes, the so-far-untitled book should appear in 2020.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post:

Contact Us | Terms of User | Trademarks | Privacy Statement

Copyright © 2010 WJW. All Rights Reserved.