An Excellent Question, and an Epiphany

In today’s Journal

* An Excellent Question
* Update, and an Epiphany
* Of Interest

An Excellent Question

In response to my post “Mostly Dean Koontz,” Peggy K. asked an absolutely excellent question. It felt so important and maybe necessary that I was going to reprint her question and my response as today’s Journal post.

However, I also experienced an epiphany yesterday shortly after I replied to Peggy. So today’s post is about that eiphany. I feel as if it’s one I’ve been straining to find ever since I started writing again.

So please read Peggy’s comment and my response at https://hestanbrough.com/mostly-dean-koontz/#comments. Then come back here and read this

Update, and an Epiphany

Yesterday, I re-read the last paragraph from my response to Peggy, and a realization hit me like a sledgehammer. In that paragraph, I wrote, “I’m fighting my way back to the authentic story” and “It isn’t easy.”

Wow.

1. I should never have strayed from the authentic (characters’) story in the first place.

2. Writing fiction should never be something you have to “fight” your way through. It should always be easy, and fun.

And this is me, folks, the guy who routinely writes a novel in 2 weeks. The guy who’s been WITD and loving it since early 2014. See how easily this critical-mind stuff can sneak up? You have to be on your guard all the time.

Frankly, it’s a little embarrassing to admit all of this, but if you can learn from my mistakes and avoid some of this lost time, I’m good with that. Small price to pay.

I finally figured it out. My big problem with this novel is that I’ve made it “important.” And of course, the instant you start to think a story is important for any reason, you’ll start second-guessing your characters and yourself, and that’s a story killer. Every single time.

Even back when I first thought about writing this novel, for some reason I actively wanted it to be the only sequel to The 13-Month Turn. I don’t know why; I really enjoy the characters and the situations. But that “only sequel” stuff made this book important without me even noticing.

The book being “important” caused three things to happen:

1. The characters were restricted before I’d even written the first chapter. (And I take great pride in NEVER restricting my characters. It’s their story.)

2. My critical mind started thinking of (critical mind) ways to wrap the whole story in this one book, and

3. ways to wrap this particular book quickly.

(Remember, I wanted to finish this one, my 69th, in October so I could finish my 70th on or before my 70th birthday. How’s that for a truly meaningless fake deadline and unnecessary pressure?)

The only way to wrap the whole story in this book (and wrap this book quickly) was for the citizens on Earth to come up with a way to repel the aliens. That’s when I tried to work-in that device from a novel I edited long ago. (I’m not talking about plagiarism here, just using a device, a trope.)

That was just a stupid thing to do. Think about it. That’s about as far as you can get from trusting your characters and conveying the story that they, not you, are living.

As I wrote above in my response to Peggy, “the characters are pure. They’re just living the story. They don’t think about where it’s going or what will happen next. They’re actually living it and whatever happens, happens.”

You know. Just like your life, or mine.

In fiction writing, recognizing a problem is 99% of solving it. A few days ago I nuked the story, ripping out everything that had to do with my critical-mind intrusion. (That 7000 word cut.) And yesterday afternoon, I hit the story again with a slightly lower-yield weapon.

I read over my reverse outline to get a quick, uncluttered glimpse of the story (so yet another use for the reverse outline) and highlighted anything I wrote after the story stopped being fun to write.

Then I scrolled through the manuscript (not reading anything) and deleted anything I’d highlighted in the reverse outline. It wasn’t much. A little over 2000 words.

But why did I do that?

Because as hard as I was trying to “resolve” the story quickly, I don’t need to resolve the story, quickly or any other time. Even the characters don’t resolve the story. They just keep living it until the story resolves itself. Again, just like your life or mine.

(As an aside, we can make decisions that help our own stories resolve in our own lives, and the characters can do that in their lives too. But we shouldn’t attempt to resolve our characters’ story anymore than we would want someone else to come in and resolve ours.)

Now all I have to do is follow the characters around, write down what happens and what they say and do, then come back the next day and the next and keep doing that until the story resolves itself. Now I feel as if I’ve had a wonderful, hot shower on the first day of the rest of my life. (grin)

By the way, I wrote most of this yesterday, not this morning. So today, once I post this edition of the Journal, I’ll read over a few paragraphs of the crisp, clean manuscript with a relaxed smile on my mind, and when I get to the white space, I’ll keep writing. And the novel will be fun again.

And frankly, I don’t care how long (or how many novels) this story takes to resolve. I’m just going to enjoy the journey. Finally.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “Clue — Analyzing the Board Game’s Murder Weapons” at https://killzoneblog.com/2022/11/clue-analyzing-the-board-games-murder-weapons.html.

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 970 words

Writing of The Stirchians (novel, tentative title)

Day 19… 0982 words. Total words to date…… 40660
Day 20… 0860 words. Total words to date…… 41520
CUTS……… 2009 words. Total words to date…… 39551

Total fiction words for November……… 134466
Total fiction words for the year………… 174971
Total nonfiction words for November… 12500
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 188130
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 363101

Calendar Year 2022 Novels to Date…………………… 2
Calendar Year 2022 Novellas to Date……………… 0
Calendar Year 2022 Short Stories to Date… 0
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 68
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

Disclaimer: Because It Makes Sense, I preach trusting your characters to tell the story that they, not you, are living. Duh. This practice greatly increases your productivity and provides a rapid ascension along the learning curve of Craft because you get a great deal more practice at actually writing. This is not opinion. It is all numbers and facts.

6 thoughts on “An Excellent Question, and an Epiphany”

  1. Who cannot follow the leader or teacher who leaves such distinctive and deep footprints on the path… only those who choose not to see the clearly marked way.

    You constantly amaze with your selfless, self analysis that translates writing-life problems/issues into easily understood solutions for the less self-aware.

    Reply
  2. Harvey, I can’t tell you how helpful this post was. It’s so encouraging to know that the creeping in of critical voice is something that can affect even highly successful writers such as yourself, who have spent years and hundreds of stories practicing WITD. It makes me feel less alone when I know I haven’t been on my guard and have let in some of those intrusive negative thoughts. It’s also extremely refreshing that you’re not like “I’m a successful writer, I never hear critical voice let alone listen to it”. It’s just nice to know that these thoughts can affect us all, at any point in our writing careers, if we’re not on guard.

    I feel incredibly relieved and excited to get back to my novel and short story today after reading this. As always, thanks, Harvey!

    Reply
    • Thanks, Chynna. Glad it resonated with you. The more you trust your characters and push down that critical voice, the easier the writing is.

      Reply

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