Monday, September 14, 2009

When Writing Gets Hard

Writing is hard, or so I’ve heard. It seems easy enough. You simply put pen to paper to fingers to keyboard and let your thoughts flow. It’s great when that happens. So what’s so hard about writing?

For me, writing gets hard when I’m writing along and I realize, “this is boring.” When we write, we begin with a theory for the story. When the theory works, the story flows from the fingers. We write scene after scene and it keeps on going. When the theory fails, it is difficult to write. If we’ve diligently outlined our story, we know we need the scene, but it’s boring. The characters aren’t moving the story forward. They’re just sitting around waiting for something to happen, something to respond to or they’re talking about something that they’ve already discussed or no change is taking place. The conflict is minimal. It’s boring.

What’s the Theory?

The theory for a story is all those decisions we make before we begin that we think will present the story in the best way. One of the biggest decisions is point of view. You’ve heard of the blind men and the elephant. Every character has a different version of a story and we have to pick one. For that matter, we have to decide who the characters are. Once we do, we have to decide whether we want that character to tell the story (first person) or have and outside observer tell the character’s story (third person). Also in the theory are the decisions about the format of the story. Many stories are laid out as a play-by-play account where we are able to see events accurately. Some are not. Daddy Longlegs is written in the form of letters of a student to her benefactor. The author had a theory that it would work and stuck with it throughout the book. Some books follow one character. Others follow a couple. Still others hop from one character to another. Those decisions are all part of the theory. The author can’t try every conceivable approach but must develop a theory and stick with it.

When the Theory Fails

The theory doesn’t always work. Suppose the theory called for the whole story to be written from the point of view of a dog. The author has convinced himself that this will create an intriguing story. Things go well for the first few chapters, but then the writer realizes he has a problem. There are long periods of time in which the dog can’t see what is happening in the story. It is becoming tiresome listening to the dog’s owner recount the story during their walks in the park. The theory is busted.

This is where writing gets hard. As authors, we know that we’ve got to make changes, but those changes are going to be extensive. Whole sections will have to be rewritten and there’s no guarantee that the new theory won’t create as many problems as it solves. If we just change the point of view for a few chapters, we risk including references to things that the POV character shouldn’t know about. There are tons of things we have to keep up with as we rip out our original idea and try to hang our story on something new. Yeah, that’s hard.