Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Writing must always be a challenge

There is an old saying among writers that usually goes something like this: "Writing is easy; you just open a vein and bleed." This quote or one similar has been bandied about for decades, with various authors attributed with having said or written at one time. I've seen this quote attributed to Stephen King, Thomas Wolfe, Hemingway and others. Who first said it? Who knows?

But there is some truth in it. Or there can be.

For some writers, writing is hard. For others, sitting down at the keyboard and punching out a few thousand words seems to be a piece of cake. I'll admit there's a small part of me that doesn't quite consider that second group "real" writers. Color me prejudiced, or jealous.

Most times, writing is hard for me. It's emotionally draining, it's tiresome, at times even downright boring. There are some writers who would suggest I'm doing it wrong. That if my writing is tiresome or boring to me, then it also will be to my readers. There might be some truth to that, but it also strikes me as being more than a little snooty. I'm sorry, but, for example, working in exposition into a story is simply not a ball of fun, and any writer who says otherwise is fooling him- or herself. For most writers, it seems rewriting isn't all that enjoyable, either, though I do occasionally hear of one writer or another who enjoys the task of rewriting.

I'm not one of them. But such is life.

All that being said, I don't want writing to be easy. As bored as I might sometimes get, I would be far more bored if writing held no challenges for me.

What kind of challenges?

Well, there are all different types of challenges with writing. For one thing, simply chugging through and finishing a longer work such as a novel can be challenge enough. But even then, once you've got at least a few finished novels under your belt, you can seek out different types of challenges with each new novel you pen.

I know that's what I do. Otherwise I'd go jump off a bridge or something, because writing would bore me to tears, and at this point in my life I don't feel suited to any other kind of work ... hmm, okay, maybe editing or graphic design, but I do plenty of that with my own work.

The challenges I present myself with each of my novels might not be readily evident to the reader, though sometimes it is, and a few readers have pointed out things to me which I recall being one of my writing challenges.

For instance, in my novel Demon Chains I intentionally attempted to keep the point of view away from the protagonists, at least after a brief opening to introduce my pair of villains. It is more common for me to go back and forth between my antagonist(s), the protagonist(s), and various lesser characters (depending upon whom I think can best represent the going-on in any given scene). Some writers and editors will tell you to stick with one point of view only, but again, I don't find that a challenge, and I personally feel that's an old-school viewpoint not so relevant to today's readers. As for Demon Chains, I wanted the villains to be a bit more mysterious, and to be honest, the villains in that novel are more sick and twisted than my usual lot, and I didn't really feel like spending a lot of time in their heads.

Did that experiment with Demon Chains work? I don't know. It's not one of my better-selling works, but then it's also one of my most gory and disturbing works, which turns off a number of readers. So who knows? Sales wasn't the point. The story was the point, and my challenging myself to tell it in a slightly different way.

The challenge is another reason I write in different genres. The same old thing all the time finds me bored. But even when I write within my old tried-and-true genre, adventure fantasy, I try little things different with each novel, even when I'm writing in a familiar world and with familiar characters.

For instance, right now I'm about 14,000 words into my latest novel, to be titled The Company of Seven. It's another of my Ursian Chronicles tales and it features my main protagonist, Kron Darkbow. This novel is set in the city of Bond and somewhat revolves around street-level politics, so it has some basic similarities to my novels City of Rogues and Ghosts of the Asylum. However, I'm trying some things different with this one.

What type of things?

Well, for one, I'm focusing a bit more upon the feelings of certain characters. Once upon a time I wrote with a stronger focus upon characters' emotions, but then I backed off that, focusing more upon the action and the plot. In fact, my first completed novel, City of Rogues, lost about 15,000 words before publication because I chopped away a lot of emotional stuff for the characters.

That might have been a mistake. Or maybe not. I've gone back and forth on this over the years, but I want City of Rogues to stand as it is. I'm not interested in going back and publishing a new version that would include all that emotional baggage, and to be honest, I'm not sure I still have all that text anyway (though it might be squirreled away on an old computer).

So, instead of reworking an older novel, I decided I would make the focus a little more emotional in my next novel. It'll either bore the readers or it'll bring more depth to my storytelling. I'll wait and see my beta readers and possibly the reviews have to say.

Another thing I'm trying differently with The Company of Seven is something I'm having a bit more of a hard time accepting, but I want to try it, at least for the first draft. I'm doing a big no-no for writers. I'm providing a great big info dump near the beginning of the story, in the third chapter. Worse yet, it happens during a dinner feast with a bunch of characters, all of them major players within my story. Sounds boring, right? It probably is. I've finished the scene, which ran about 4,000 words, and it's quite dialogue heavy, so I'm hoping that will help. I think it might work. If my beta readers squawk, I'll adjust and do something different, though that will take a lot of work.

Why would I attempt such a big no-no? Why would I try something so stupid?

To see if I can pull it off.

It's that simple. Writers have a lot of no-no rules, yet I see them broken all the time by "name" authors. Am I good enough to pull this off? Maybe. I'll wait and see. I hope so, because I probably won't enjoy all the rewriting it will take.

But I want to take that chance.

I want to challenge myself.

Without that challenge, why write?

2 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

I do this as well. Challenge myself. It certainly keeps things more interesting for me. Right now I'm working on a short story and I took up the challenge of plotting out every element before I started, to see how the experience was from doing so. SO far, I'm having a hard time making myself write it because I already know exactly what is going to happen. I'll have to see what the quality is after it's done.

Ty Johnston said...

I've tried strict outlining before, too, and I'm in the same boat. Once I know every little detail of what's happening, I lose interest.