1. Sal Boxford
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    Sal Boxford Active Member

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    Caring a little too much?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Sal Boxford, Aug 30, 2016.

    You can go ahead and file this under childish sulk but... the stories I get the most positive comments on (either here or from friends, fellow students, my tutor) seem to be ones that, yes, I've put work into, but that I've not really been that deeply invested in. I work on language and structure and telling the story, but the characters and the theme I don't really care about: I'm not really trying to say anything.

    I'm hoping that because I'm fairly new to writing, eventually I'll be able to do whatever it is I'm doing right in these 'meh' stories in the stories I really love, but I wondered whether anyone else has noticed this in their own writing?

    Are stories that (wankiness alert) come from the very core of you more difficult to write well?
     
  2. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    My first novel is as close to I'll ever get (I think) at having a "baby" novel. You know, when people treat their MS like a baby? And yeah, it's definitely not as good as my others and the negative comments hurt a lot more... but I don't know if that's because it was my first, rather than because it was a baby. Probably a bit of both, but probably more because it was my first. I didn't know how to write a novel when I started, and I didn't know how to take feedback.

    I have much more distance from my subsequent novels. I still care about the characters--I don't think I could write them well if I didn't--but it doesn't feel like a criticism of me when people don't like what I've written. I'm also much more able to evaluate feedback and decide whether it's "fair" or not, and I'm much more confident in accepting or rejecting feedback as appropriate. I think that distance is crucial in being able to produce a good book.

    Maybe it's about motivation? With my first novel, my motivation was just to write because it was fun. I didn't think it would ever be published. With subsequent novels, I started them with commercial success in mind. If I started my first novel now, with everything I've learned, it'd be a very different novel. And probably a better one.
     
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  3. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    If you mean stories in which you really want to "say something", "be brilliant", or any agenda other than simply telling a story, I would say, yes, they are more difficult to write well because you're distracting yourself (and the reader) from the story. Some people write for the joy of writing, or to tell themselves stories, or to convince themselves of their own brilliance, and for them, anything goes. But once you desire a readership other than yourself, you need to consider what will hold a reader's interest. Otherwise, what is the point of it all?
     
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  4. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    One of the most common criticisms I have of novels and MSs comes when they feel self-indulgent. The author has written what the author wants to, rather than what the story (in my opinion) needs.

    In terms of personal experience, though, I haven't noticed much of a correlation between what readers like and how strongly I feel about a book. Maybe that's because I tend to feel the same way about all of my books - obsessed and fanatical while writing, and then totally disinterested once the story's been told. So when readers give me positive feedback, I think, "Huh. Really? I guess so..." and when they give me negative feedback I think, "Yeah, that one's boring. It's this one, the one I'm writing now, that we should all be talking about!"
     
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  5. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've heard that this is because when we write about things that we really care about, we get preachy. For instance, I'd never write anything political (watch this space for a 'famous last words' alert) because there's absolutely nothing about politics that doesn't piss me right off. And when I'm pissed, I'm preachy.
     
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  6. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    On the one hand writing what is as you say 'your baby', is ok to hold a passion and enjoyment of it. And yes harsh criticism can deal a blow to you in an inadvertent way.

    On the other, is to simply write whatever you want, and not put too much emotional investment into it. There are many ways to tell a story, but writing an effective one takes a lot of mistakes to learn from.
     
  7. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    When I was doing post-grad, one of the profs told us the way around this is to research and present both sides of the argument. If done with enough gusto on both sides, balance is maintained, even when the ending reveals the side you're really on.
     
  8. Sal Boxford
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    Sal Boxford Active Member

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    Maybe that's the issue. Maybe some stories are for me and not for anyone else. Perhaps I have to learn to tell the difference. The stories I have in mind tend to be what I think of as 'autobiographical allegories'. I take one aspect of myself/my life that really bothers me and build a character and setting designed to embody that single aspect. Maybe it's all a wee bit too me-specific.

    I don't think I've ever had the 'my baby' problem. And, before I started sharing my writing, I really thought I would: I'm a touchy so-and-so. There's usually something I want the story to do and if it isn't doing it, my God, I want you to tell me!
     
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  9. MarcT
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    MarcT Member

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    My first book was fairly easy to write because it was an account of my life during a particularly turbulent period. When I say easy, I mean everything was there and all that was needed was the written word.
    In retrospect, it was very self indulgent and was either loved or loathed, but I learned a great deal from the experience, primarily the fact that what I may wish to write, isn't necessarily what others would wish to read, at least in nonfiction anyway.
    On the other hand, going back to the OPs question : Are stories that (wankiness alert) come from the very core of you more difficult to write well?
    I would say, difficult to write objectively, especially if it's a nonfiction,such as a life experience episode. If I were to write nonfiction again, I would be much more creative and either write it in third person or even second person, which would allow me to inject myself into the story without being too heavy handed.
     
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  10. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    I think your problem is probably (lack of) distance. It IS harder to write something when you're invested, because you can't be as objective about it. And truth is often stranger than fiction, so real life events don't always come off plausibly.
     
  11. CrusherBrooks
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    CrusherBrooks Member Supporter

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    I think perhaps when your heart is into it, it's much harder to keep from digressing from the main points, you may want to say too much. If you're not that invested, you just want to tell an interesting story, have coherent characters which interact properly with one another and the environment/story. You may also not feel too attached to certain of your 'babies' and be more willing to adopt a better plot development, a more believable dialog rather than a brilliant narration, etc. It's entirely possible that the end result of a story you're heavily invested in is something you really like, but if you're not that invested it will be something your target audience loves.

    If you're unwilling to make improvements because you feel like you got it perfectly the first time and you're really proud of it, I doubt it will be as good as when you examine it critically and make some proper adjustments.
     
  12. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    I think I am confused. This is not something I see a lot or ever in the fiction I read. What would the argument be? What are the two sides? I don't think a story has to make an argument, and if it does, surely, it doesn't have to argue both sides. I don't know if this approach would work with many fiction stories. It sounds more like preparation for a debate. Am I missing something?
     
  13. MarcT
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    MarcT Member

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    Damn, you've got me thinking about this a little too much now, when I should really be writing.
    In my current book, I really care about the principal characters, particularly my main character whom I associate with as my alter ego.
    I find it difficult to paint them if I don't care about them.
     
  14. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    If you, as the writer, don't care about your characters, chances are other people won't either. Positive comments are great and you say you are just starting out, but it's a whole different game when you try to sell and publish your stories. I'm assuming you are writing short stories because it seems like you have quite a few of them. That's great. I love short stories. But to publish anywhere good is really, really hard. I think you are on the right track, thinking it's time to work a little more and a little harder on the stories you do care about.

    I feel like I keep repeating myself lately when it comes to character and story, but I like to think of the two as one. Try not separating character from story. Treating them as one will most likely mean you have a developed character that you care about and others should too because readers will have gone through a story with this character that feels uniquely a part of who this character is. When I think of story and character as one, there seems to be more of a sense of honesty in my writing.

    I don't think theme is really important enough to stress over at all. I never think about theme when I'm writing. I think those things just sort of come out when you're writing. Trying to push in a theme... Well, that's just another agenda, and I think you're only agenda needs to be to tell a good story.

    I think it's interesting the way you put it about stories coming from our core. Some stories are very mentally and emotionally draining to write. Are those my core stories? Are they my best stories? I don't know. And I mean I honestly don't know. I have some stories that were fun and a breeze to write. In my opinion, some of those easier-to-write stories I really do see as some of my best work. Also included in my best are some of those stories that were harder to write, that I really had to dig deep inside myself and spend time in dark places. Even though it's all fiction, the goal is to create writing that feels honest. I would like to think all my stories have that whether writing them was soul wrenching or not.

    I do think we end up writing our fare share of practice stories or stories that are just for us, especially if we are talking about short stories. I would suggest trying to be a little more creative and a little less autobiographical. I would drop the whole goal of trying to have hidden meaning. And then I would start writing fiction. I think the more you are writing about yourself, the less likely you are to gage how good it is or isn't
     
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  15. Sack-a-Doo!
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    You're right; it's not common. But when only one side of an argument is explored/presented, that's propaganda. Because what the writer is really trying to say (whether he's aware of it or not) is 'my world view is the only one worth considering.'

    That's for you to decide.

    Is crime always wrong? Or does it depend on the crime... or the person committing the crime and their specific motivations?

    Is war a good thing or a bad thing? Depends on who's waging war and why, doesn't it?

    Or if it's a more personal story, is a woman right to abandon her children or does it depend on the circumstances she finds herself in?

    Only you can decide what the argument is, how to present both sides and which side you'll ultimately come down on... because in the end, you (the author) will come down on one side or the other... unless you show your protagonist and antagonist reaching a compromise (which can also be a satisfying ending).

    Playing with both points of view can be a lot of fun when you're writing and yes, technically it's a debate, but if it's presented well enough, it doesn't come across like one.

    Theme (as defined by Lajos Egri in his book, The Art of Dramatic Writing).

    Of course, all this is moot if you don't believe in theme. And since there have already been knock-down-drag-out debates on this site about exactly what theme is, I leave it to you to either read or not read Egri's book and decide for yourself.
     
  16. Sal Boxford
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    Sal Boxford Active Member

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    That sounds fun. I'm a theme-ophile. Where be they?
     
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  17. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't remember exactly, but I'm sure if you did a site-search for 'theme' they'll all pop up. :)
     

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