The Process (Part 3 — Structuring and Unity)

And the first day of writing is the fun day, and the second day of writing brings the hate.

This is the toughest day of all, the day when I have to nail down specifics of plot and theme, structuring the story and trying to make it work as a whole. It is always a horrible day and it always brings questions to my mind– is this story worth writing? Am I writing it in the best way possible? Am I doing anything new or good, or even competent? Why do I even bother?

Am I a writer? AM I A WRITER?

The rosy sheen of creation from the day before fades and I am left with the nagging feeling that everything I considered good yesterday has gone rotten overnight, that the clarity I had before has dimmed and that all that my fingers touch is wretched, juvenile awfulness riven with naiveté and immaturity.

In short, the second day is when I break the story, or the story breaks me.

Ladies and Gentlemen; a confession. The story that I was working on, formerly known as THE SHITTING PRINCESS, has been the toughest one in a long time. Perhaps it was a form of performance anxiety since I was going to blog about the process and I was worried that I had chosen a very stupid story to discuss, one that threw a false and slightly shitty light upon the subject matter I like to tackle. To say that these thoughts distracted me is to put things lightly. This meant that the period of structuring stretched into a second day, a rarity for me.

It may be instructive to talk about specific problems I had with this story; it should shed light on the concerns that go through my head on the second day of writing.

I had a number of problems with The Shitting Princess. One of these was tone; parts of the story wanted to be ridiculous, parts wanted to be serious, and there were very bumpy transitions between the two. The story ended up being very disjointed. I strive for a sense of unity of purpose, place and time in my stories, and I think I violated some of my rules in this area. I will try to explain: If all characters perceive the same reality, you can easily switch between the various points-of-view and thus create a composite picture of this reality. However, if the story relies on perceiving different realities; for instance interpreting the same events in wildly different ways (for instance, if one character is mad, or locked into a particular genre) I find it is best to use one character for each and compare and contrast, and explore the tension between the two in this way. What is not clean and unified is the use of many characters, only one of which sees a different reality– something I found myself doing with this story, compounding the awkwardness by breaking chronology and thus making things even more complicated.

My second problem was finding the emotional core of the story. I conceive of all prose as a transaction– you have to accrue enough wealth before you can buy emotional or weighty scenes– they can’t just appear from nowhere but need to be thoroughly seeded throughout– little telling details that establish the depths of relationships, establish dreams and hopes and wishes, and expose the heart of characters — only then will we feel the full impact when these relationships fail, when these dreams are crushed, these hearts are broken. Anything less than this and we verge on cheapness, we move into shock tactics, we move away from rounded characters– those of you who read comics will recognise this as the Mark Millar effect. I feel I did not accrue enough wealth of little details to buy the desired impact at the end of this story.

My third problem was logic. Why are the characters actually doing what they are doing? Why are they in the situations that they are in? I rarely run into the problem of the reader not buying into the motivations of my characters and the logic (be it rational or symbolic) of my stories, but even I was worried that no logic existed that could rationalise the decisions my characters were making, particularly the actions of the crowd.

Fourth problem was structuring. As I have mentioned, one of the characters, the eponymous Princess views reality in a different way then the rest of the characters, seeing it through a veil of faux-Medieval imagery and quasi-fairytale dialogue. My quandary concerned where to place this section, as it contrasted heavily with other sections and required an intuitive leap on the part of the reader to understand what was happening– placing it early delays the plot, while placing it late means it could come out of the blue and completely disrupt the story.

Fifth was ending. The second day is all about finding the ending and working backwards to buy that ending– establishing theme, tone, logic and emotion to get to that culmination of everything. And for the longest time the ending eluded me– eluded me so that I had to go into a second day of second day writing! And even now, with the story done, it is not a great ending. It is a pants ending.

Sixth was squeamishness. Early on I chickened out of using the title The Shitting Princess. Fears that it was juvenile and an ‘easy’ joke that detracted from some of the more harrowing moments in the story meant that I changed the title to Too Sweet for Storms, which is evocative of nothing but will do as a placeholder until I can think of something better. It doesn’t even have a nice rhythm to it! I went through the story and renamed the Shitting Princess as just ‘the Princess.’ The shitting is still there, I just don’t refer to it so explicitly! This is not a problem per se, but it does make me wonder if I should not have brazened it out.

So, I think you can see this period was fraught with failure, but at least such failure helped provide insight into the process that a period of semi-conscious victory could not hope to provide.

Part 4 of the Process does not require a post of its own. Day three is devoted to writing the last few paragraphs and then getting the work down to an agreeable word count, generally 1500 words exactly, though that has crept up to exactly 2000 words at the moment. This is when the greatest amount of editing is done, when I examine sentences word by word– if I can say something in seven words, can I say it in six? Sentence by sentence, word by word, the word count goes down. Three or four passes generally does the job.

And then the story is done, and it’s off to the next one and the three days of work starts all over again!

Gosh, this post went on a bit longer than I thought it would.

Cripes– anyway, take care of yourselves and talk to you soon.


The Process Part 1 — The Idea

The Process Part 2 — Exploration

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