Monday, June 20, 2016

5 Things I Hate About Being a Writer

I love being a writer. Over the past couple of weeks, I've written about some of the things I love about being a writer.

But as much as I enjoy crafting an entirely new world and all the little details that go into it...

I'm just gonna admit it now: writing can be a real pain in the butt. 'Cause it's harrrrd.

Here's just a few of the things I loathe when it comes to writing (in no particular order).

Reason #1: Killing off Characters


Killing off characters is like asking me to drop-kick a sack of three-legged puppies.

Don't make me do it!

My roleplay buddies used to tease me incessantly because I was the one person of the group who absolutely refused to kill off her characters. I've learned since then that sometimes you've just got to do it, but that doesn't make it any easier on me.

I mean, can you blame me? I spend hours, days, weeks, months, sometimes years developing characters. Why would I want to throw away all that hard work by killing them off?

And just like with people, when you spend that much time with a character, you tend to fall for them. I love a vast majority of my characters. I get to know them just as well as--heck, often even moreso--than most real people I know. My characters are funny or quirky or relatable. But once they're dead, they're dead. No more enjoying their company or laughing at their antics or lamenting their sorrows. How could I possibly let go of that? Why would I?

Well, there's good reasons why I would, but they're few and far-between, so I still only kill characters sparingly. Unless it's a villain. Then I'll murderize them with a vengeance.

I don't have problems, I swear.

Reason #2: Deleting Characters


Killing a character is hard. But at least their death means something. They died to protect another character, or they gave the protagonist the push they needed to become the hero they were meant to be. The dead character was part of the story, if only briefly. The reader got to know (and hopefully love) them.

Deleting a character before the story's even begun is hard in a different way.

I haven't deleted too many characters, but doing so always kills a tiny part of me. Even if it was a character I didn't like, it's sad to know that I'm making the conscious choice to never let them see the light of day. Nobody besides me is ever going to know they even existed. I know it's a necessary evil, but I can't help that even a tiny part of me thinks how cruel that fate would be if this character were a real person.

"Hey, guess what! You've been born into this world to serve a very specific, important purpose--

"Oh, actually, just kidding. You know all that stuff we said only you could do? Yeahhh, we're contracting that to that loser over there, Jerry. You're out. No one is going to remember you. What about your mom? Oh, she's Jerry's mom now. No, you're not her sweet little boy any more. Jerry is. Actually, no one's even going to know you ever existed. ANYWAY HAVE A GREAT DAY BYYYYYE!"


It just feels like a betrayal. It probably doesn't help that this is a recurring theme in one of my favorite game series, Kingdom Hearts, where you experience how painful it is for characters who disappear and are summarily forgotten by their only friends.

I'm a horrible person. I'll just be over here in the corner, curled in the fetal position while rethinking all my life decisions.

Reason #3: Subplots

I have a love-hate relationship with subplots. Subplots can be awesome! ...If done right.

Subplots are there to support a main arc, not take attention away from it. As soon as a subplot begins to take up more time than the main arc, something's gone wrong.

That's not to say I don't like subplots. They're there to add, which means subplots enrich a story--again, if handled correctly. There's little I find more satisfying as a consumer than when a bunch of seemingly unrelated subplots finally weave together to form a tale's dramatic conclusion.

One of my favorite anime, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, does this perfectly. Fullmetal Alchemist has about as many subplots as it does characters (and it has a large cast), but by the end, a logical series of events brings all of these disconnected characters together. The subplots merge together. It gives the characters far more meaning. It brings an end to their arcs. And it's as satisfying as a giant bowl of double fudge brownie ice cream on a hot summer day.

One small example of this (in as spoiler-free terms as I can manage): the once-selfish prince forms an alliance with a former enemy, but loses one of his loyal retainers to the blade of a major villain. Overcome with grief, the prince becomes the selfless leader his kingdom needs him to be. At the same time, the enemy-turned-ally is inspired by the prince, becoming a hero who grants the prince the strength he needs to take on the powerful major villain. They manage to wound the villain, weakening him enough to allow yet another side-character to finish him off later.

And that's not even the main storyline! But the writer masterfully thrusts all these seemingly-unrelated characters together at just the right moments to move the story forward. It's incredibly fun and interesting to watch.

It's also incredibly hard to pull off. Subplots are messy things.

One of the biggest things that makes subplots so messy is that each character has their own story, which is going on at the same time as many other characters' stories. That makes it very difficult for consumer and writer alike to keep keep track of everything.

Adding to that is the fact that many of these things aren't necessarily revealed to the viewer right away or in the correct order. You've got flashbacks, flash-forwards (think prophecies), and characters withholding information that will be revealed later. So as a writer, you have to not only establish 1) when everything happened, but also 2) what you're revealing to the viewer, AND 3) when to reveal what.

And trying to plan all that out, let alone keeping track of it all, is a living nightmare.

I feel like I've tried just about every method to keep track of subplots. I've filled out characters' actions on index cards and strung them across a wall (yes, it took up an entire wall). That took up way too much space, so I then moved it over to an Excel spreadsheet. But even that couldn't give me a good idea of what was happening at what time. Currently, I have:

1. A timeline of major events
2. An Excel sheet with all plans or ideas
3. A Word document with more detailed notes on all those ideas
4. A detailed outline of what will be revealed when
5. A less-detailed outline to see what the detailed outline says at a glance, and
6. A Word document listing every event pertinent to the book, listed in chronological order.

So, yes. Subplots are a bear.

Reason #4: Missing a Plot Hole

You probably already know how much I hate dealing with plot holes. They're hard to fix. They're a lot of work. But since I've already written your ear off about that, I'll tell you the one thing I might hate most about plot holes:

When I miss one.

One of the big reasons why I dread plot holes is a paralyzing fear I have...

Picture this: I've finally published The Victor's Blade. I have a copy of the hardcover on my bookshelf. It's shipping to all the bookstores. Things seem to be going well... until the first reviews hit. People are tearing it to shreds. They're laughing at it. No one can take it seriously because the entire series of events hinges on a a plot hole I never even noticed. And now it's too late to change it.

AHHHH!

Kind of like those dreams where you keep falling and falling and falling...

Ridiculous hyperbole aside, I really am scared of accidentally writing in a plot hole I never detected. I'm a fallible human being. I'm not going to see every issue with my story. But it seems completely unfair (not to mention terrifying) to think that the book's reputation (and mine) could hinge on something that I don't even have control over: something I didn't notice.

Reason #5: Dialogue

Dialogue sucks.

I love watching characters banter. But writing that banter is really hard.

Each character needs to have their own distinctive "voice": a reader should be able to recognize which character is talking just by the way they talk. After all, readers don't have the luxury of sound.

But you can't just slap a different accent on each character. Not only is that lazy (and unrealistic), the reader's going to get tired of it real quick. Reading dialect is much harder than normal English, because a lot of times a reader will have to "interpret" a character's dialect. There's a lot of missing or changed letters--it's just a bit messy.

No, no. Each character's word choice and turn of phrase should be different. They need to sound unique but still sound like normal people. (Unless their schtick is that they don't talk like a normal person, in which case, they need to not talk like a normal person, which can be just as tricky to pull off convincingly without your reader going "Nobody would ever talk like that.")

My problem is that many of my characters sound alike. They sound like me. But I don't want my characters sounding like me. I'm boring! And having a million clones is boring, not to mention confusing.

I saw a perfect example of this in a series I read a few years ago. There were points where I had no idea what character was talking unless there was a dialogue tag ("Roland said..."). To make matters worse, the characters didn't even seem to stay in character when they talked. Character personalities all seemed to sort of meld together.

In the most heinous offense, the grizzled ranger, renowned for his dry wit and snarky humor, seemed to seep into all of the other characters. Maybe the idea was that he was rubbing off on his companions, but when his chipper young knight companion (a bit of an innocent meathead, but with a heart in the right place) began to use the exact same dry wit and humor--with no comment from the author that he was teasing the ranger or accidentally becoming more like him--it felt very unrealistic. That's because it's not realistic. Nobody talks exactly like you. Nobody, not even your friends, makes all the exact same kinds of jokes that you do.

It's extremely difficult to make characters talk differently from me, since that's the only way I know how to talk. I have to either pull things out of the air or study how other people talk. Writing different kinds of dialogue just doesn't come naturally.

Still, I can't deny that the result is well worth it. If only it weren't so hard to keep Jaranin from sounding just like Isalaina.

Ugh. Writing is harrrrd.

---
Photos (in order of appearance):

From Him, To Him

7 comments:

  1. Writing really is hard. Deleting characters is a tough one since I want to give everyone some kind of purpose.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've often found I can get around most of the pain of deleting characters by merging that character idea with another. That way I'm not totally throwing out that idea. Still, I'm learning more and more how careful I need to be in crafting my characters. They need to be adding to the story by challenging the protagonist in some way. Otherwise, they're not moving the plot forward and they just aren't a good fit for this tale. It's been a struggle to examine my TVB cast under that kind of microscope! I'm not sure whether many of them are "worthy" to stay or not!

      Delete
    2. Very good point. Some of my villains from that deconstructed fantasy series we know about were deleted including some analogs. I have made composite characters if they had similar personalities or goals.

      Delete
    3. It's nice to know those characters still got a time to shine.

      Delete
    4. Yeah. It was tough, but I needed to streamline the story a bit more.

      Delete
    5. I guess that's the consolation even after you have to make tough calls--you know that the story will be stronger for it!

      Delete
    6. Definitely. Some of the characters would've tarnished parts of the story at large.

      Delete