Category Archives: Writing Advice

Finish him! – Or, A Writer’s Ethical Challenge

There are moments in writing when I picture a scene from that game, Mortal Kombat, which was so popular in the…. Was it really back in the 90’s? Wow. Anyway, the fighters have been fighting, the player mashing and smashing buttons haphazardly, and one of the combatants is struggling to stay standing. The words, “FINISH HIM!” are emblazoned across the screen in gory red letters, and the player is compelled to throw one final blow…

I am currently at one of those moments. Thing is, I’ve had this scene in mind for weeks –– even months –– but even now, I cannot decide whether I will have someone finish off this foe, or if he will be taken away in chains. The pacifist in me says, “Oh, he’s just misled. Let him repent!” but the fighter in me says, “No! FINISH HIM!”

In reality, my protagonist has a history –– a messy history –– but he and his friends justify it by saying, “That had to be done.” How on earth does this relate?

Well, when I first started writing this note,* my protagonist had a choice to make. Kill off his rival, or let him off the hook? When I couldn’t decide, another character stepped in and decided for both of us, finishing off the villain (Thanks, unnamed deciding character…). I’m always conflicted about this.

See, on the one hand, I want to kill off the villain. Seriously. Get him out of the way! Let the good guy take his vengeance and live happily ever after! On the other hand… I am a bit of a softie, and perhaps a bit sentimental. I find myself thinking, “Oh, he can always change his ways.. It won’t be easy, but it can happen…” Or can it? I usually have to bring my villain to his wit’s end before he even considers regretting his evil tendencies, nudging him by reconnecting him with such things as people he misses or taking the blinders off to the awful things he’s gotten into. Not to mention, there is such a thing as an unrepentant villain…

But this whole scenario begs the question: Am I to be held accountable for the way I portray these situations? What does it say about me as a person? On the one hand, yes, this is fiction. On the other hand, how does this effect the way I look at people in real life –– or how my readers look at life? I ask these questions, not to give myself or anyone else a guilt trip, but because they are very real questions. When I write, I am getting into the heads of my characters, and I not only consider what the character would do, but what I would do. Would I be willing to value a person’s life –– and chance at redemption –– less than I value “justice”? How does one even discern whether the person in question is sincerely willing to make the effort to change?

This is where the shady characters step in and save me from my own debate –– the ones who are on the right side, but whose values that aren’t quite the same as those that I hold. I feel absolutely guilt free when they make these decisions, because I don’t feel like I need to agree with them 100% of the time… So that is my solution.

But is that enough?

*Footnote: This goes to prove that one of my many, many ways of procrastinating from writing is not mere business, Facebook, forums, or general procrastination, but writing about the struggles I’m going through with my writing. It’s both helpful and unhelpful, really. Helpful, in that it helps me process. Unhelpful, in that it takes me away from the actual story I’m writing. I started this note when I was in the middle of writing that scene, and finished it after writing several following scenes (and a few to fill in beforehand). It spans a few days…

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Catching My Breath

Sometimes, a writer has to take a break. It may last a few minutes, a few hours, a few weeks… I have discovered this more than once, and each time, it feels like a new revelation. I am learning this yet again.

I’m currently on my third novel set on the imaginary continent of Marda, with a fourth story written out –– a short story, which will probably be an addendum to the third, when it is published (I would say if, but I’m optimistic). Beyond the Owarthan Cordillera is my longest yet, clocking in at just over 90,000 words –– and it may grow longer. I have most of it written, with a few loose ends to tie up and plenty of editing to do. I thought I could jump straight from writing into editing, but it seems like that’s just not happening.

Perhaps writing is like making wine. There’s a part in the process where it needs to sit and ferment for a while so that it can gain different attributes. The author can then come back at a later time with fresh vision and purpose, ready to tackle the beast that is her manuscript. I have never liked this part of the process, because I like to always be creating, always shaping, always churning ideas out onto paper. However, if I don’t allow for it, my final product is a complete and utter mess, and I get burnt out…

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Challenging the Blank/Unfinished Page

At this moment, I am staring back at the blinking line on my word processor. It is not the sole thing on the screen, but it still challenges me –– dares me to change whatever I choose in this mess that is my blood, sweat, and tears.

It’s usually painful for me to work on something that I’ve set aside for several months at a time. Perseverance is no exception. I put it on the back burner towards the end of October to start in on it’s prequel, Bane of Foes, and I have barely glanced at it since then. At last I am giving myself a break from BoF (which still needs tweaking) to take a look at its sister story, and I almost want to cry.

The scenes are too short, the story itself is too short, there are huge gaps in time (a regular issue with my writing), it lacks an ending, there’s endless unanswered questions, I need someone with a red pen to read it all the way through… The list goes on.

How do I ever get out of these editing blues? I’ll tell you. I just get up and do it. There’s no other way. It’s just like paying bills –– you don’t deal with it by expecting someone else to do it, and you certainly can’t ignore it, or it won’t get done. You just have to put on your big kid panties and get going. The first moments are royally painful, but that is the price of anything creative. It’s exactly like the empty page syndrome (as I choose to call it from now on) –– you have to be brave enough to make the first stroke on the white space that is staring at you, daring you to mar its perfect surface with whatever is in your mind at the moment. This brings me to another thought.

In my opinion, waiting for inspiration is one of the worst things for a creative mind. While things do happen spontaneously, such moments are few and far between. To get a constant flow –– whether it’s writing, painting, drawing, or anything else –– the artist must practice her skill on a regular basis. Sure, you’ll produce complete drivel sometimes. It happens. But you will find that as time passes, your work will mature and your mind will be quicker to pass that awkward “waiting” moment. It’s a discipline.

I’ve also come to the conclusion that nothing helps my writing better than deadlines. Mind you, I hate deadlines, but they are the one of the only things that push me to keep going when I don’t feel like it. For example, word count goals do amazing things for my writing.

So… don’t wait for inspiration to hit you on the back of the head and take over. Instead, sneak up on it and take the wheel. You may be happily surprised at what comes out.

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