The Yawning Chasms Along the Way

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* The Yawning Chasms Along the Way
* And Then There’s Plottr
* Dean’s In-Person Classes
* Of Interest

Quotes of the Day

“I’ve discovered Plottr. Without going into detail, it is the best tool I’ve used so far. Loving the timeline feature and templates for a variety of genres. It gives me writing prompts in the places I usually flounder, as well as a host of other nice features.” Cecilia Marie Pulliam

“Mama says ‘Stupid is as stupid does’.” Forrest Gump

The Yawning Chasms Along the Way

If you don’t see the value of unvarnished truth, you might want to skip reading this post.

I made the stupid mistake of reading the comments on a Kill Zone blog post this morning. I won’t do that again. Probably 99%+ of the comments are ringing endoresements of the myths, a batting back and forth of the assurances that Stage 1 and 2 writers need to make them feel they’re on the right track.

I took the first Quote of the Day from one of those comments (more on that later), but the most inane one was the one in the following paragraph. I’ve omitted the author’s name because it doesn’t matter:

“[O]utlining can save your sanity. The path upward might not be totally clear, but you have checkpoints to reach and logical steps between them. The yawning chasms along the way should be under the hero’s feet, not yours.”

If you’ve never seen a product description of a safety net, read the second sentence of that quote again, then the first three words of the last sentence. The fear is practically palpable.

I especially like that last sentence, where the person who wrote the quote—the person who so ardently recommends outlining to “save your sanity”—actually tosses a modicum of respect to the character: “The yawning chasms along the way should be under the hero’s feet, not yours.”

Really? So why shouldn’t the entire story be “under the hero’s feet, not yours”? It IS the hero’s story, not yours, right?

But I know exactly what the commenter meant because I’ve heard it so many times before. Once you, the writer, feel safe (from what? carpal tunnel? eye fatigue? papercuts?), you’ll go ahead and let the character live the “yawning chasms” part of the story? That hardly seems fair.

At any rate, you’re only letting the hero live the much-altered story, not the actual, authentic story. The authentic story flew out the window when you decided to use an outline and control any part of the story in the first place.

Do you see how insane that is? You, the writer, are in No Danger At All from whatever happens in the story, so why the need for a safety net? And in the “real world,” if the story fails miserably and everyone hates it, you’re still in zero danger. There are no consequences. None. So why the overpowering need to control the story via an outline?

Why not just take a deep breath, ignore all the danger you, um, Aren’t In, and let the entire story be “under the hero’s [or heroine’s] feet”? How difficult is that to understand?

Well, no, that isn’t the right question, it is? Obviously it’s extremely difficult to understand. If it weren’t, more people would understand it. The real question is WHY it’s so difficult to understand.

 

But whether or not you understand, and whether or not you exert authorial control over any part of the story, you will still be Just You. You are not racing to defuse a ticking time bomb. You are not riding wild on a good horse in a just cause. And you are not screaming through space on a generation ship aimed at the new Earth.

You are only a writer. You are sitting at a keyboard, probably alone, tapping the keys. At least you can help the true adventurers, your characters, get their stories out. As a fiction writer who wants to write an authentic story, your only task is to document the story that the characters, not you, are living.

But if you, like the majority, choose to exert control over the story and the characters, all you will accomplish is wrenching the story away from them. You’ll make it “your” story, your personal fantasy, and end up with two unauthentic stories: yours and your characters. But hey, good luck with that.

And Then There’s Plottr

Re “Plottr,” wow. How insecure and disbelieving of your own abilities as a writer do you have to be to actually WELCOME writing prompts from a program?

That’s like getting input from a critique group without ever having to talk with an actual human. How can some stupid machine know BETTER THAN YOUR CHARACTERS what should come next in your story? For goodness’ sake, trust your characters and Just Write the Next Sentece.

Right this moment, someone out there is thinking, But the program is created by humans, so the prompts are from humans.

Mmm hmm. As if that makes the situation any better. You shouldn’t welcome prompts from humans either. And I’m not talking about prompts to START a new story. I’m talking about prompts in a story that’s already ongoing. No! Have some faith in yourself. Defend Your Work.

I won’t even talk about “templates for a variety of genres.” Why bother with Plottr? Why not just relax, do something you enjoy, and wait for AI to advance to the stage where it can write a complete, “original” story on your behalf? Then all you’ll have to do is click a button, sit back, and rake in the cash.

Hey, listen, look up Plottr and use it if you want—every writer is different—but I guarantee it will take you farther from the actual story and probably farther from actually writing (putting new words on the page).

I have a superpower: I can say things that make perfectly rational sense all day and never get through to a single person. I’ll just add, there’s more to writing (and life) than staying in step with everyone else and focusing on the back of the head of the writer in front of you. When the ground drops away and he and his writing disappears into the abyss of the slush pile with all the other manuscripts that sound exactly like each other, it might well be too late to jump out of line.

Dean’s In-Person Classes

Most of you reading this know I have a great deal of respect for Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch as writers. Why? Because you can’t (reasonably) argue with success. Now DWS and ostensibly KKR are teaching a series of in-person classes in Vegas through 2023. You can find them listed in the second item in “Of Interest.”

If you’re that well-heeled and want to go, I’m sure you’ll get something of value out of the experience. I’ve learned (actually, realized) a great deal from Dean over the years, mostly from reading his blog—reading his blog is what actually made me want to start the Journal—and from his Heinlein’s Rules lecture and from maybe three or four of the twenty-two online workshops I’ve taken.

The main thing I learned from him is this: The best way to learn how to write fiction is to sit down at your keyboard, put your fingers on the keys, and put new words on the page. That’s what real writers do. They write. Do the best you can the first time through, and when you’re finished, spell check it and publish it.

You don’t need an outline. You don’t need to revise or rewrite. You don’t need Plottr or Grammarly or any other machine, and you DON’T need input from some critique group. You really don’t even need anyone, including me, to instruct you.

All you need is the confidence and belief in yourself to trust your characters, type the first sentence of the story, then type the next and the next and the next until the characters lead you through to the end of the story.

Then, if you honestly try to adhere to Heinlein’s Rules, as a fiction writer you’ll be golden.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “Will Mars Colonists Evolve Into This New Kind of Human?” at https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/the-big-questions/mars-colonists-might-evolve-entirely-new-type-human-n708636.

See “In-Person Workshops” at https://deanwesleysmith.com/in-person-workshops-2/.

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 1390 words

Writing of The Stirchians (novel, tentative title)

Day 11… 2337 words. Total words to date…… 30836
Day 12… 2115 words. Total words to date…… 32951
Day 13… 2242 words. Total words to date…… 35193
Day 14… 1325 words. Total words to date…… 36518
Day 15… 1006 words. Total words to date…… 37524
Day 16… 2532 words. Total words to date…… 40056
Day 17… 2759 words. Total words to date…… 42815
Day 18… 1740 words. Total words to date…… 44555

Total fiction words for November……… 11604
Total fiction words for the year………… 173129
Total nonfiction words for November… 9850
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 185480
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 358609

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.

4 thoughts on “The Yawning Chasms Along the Way”

  1. Learning to feel what’s Critical Voice stopping me and what’s Creative Voice saying, um, we made a wrong turn here, has been challenging. I admit that, at times during the process and even now, I have wished for the safety of someone (or some program) to tell me what to do. (I was a high achiever in school; I follow directions *really well*. ROLLEYES)

    But there’s nobody to tell me what to do with regard to my own story, so I keep coming back to the title of a book by Susan Jeffers: Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. That’s the motto of all who WITD at some point, I suspect, and for some of us, it’s a motto we live by.

    Reply
    • Peggy, great comment. And let me help. You wrote

      “Learning to feel what’s Critical Voice stopping me and what’s Creative Voice saying, um, we made a wrong turn here, has been challenging.”

      Remember, creative voice looks forward, always. Your characters don’t care about POV or pacing or any of those other writerly things. They’re just living their story. Critical voice is ALWAYS NEGATIVE. So “we took a wrong turn here” is critical voice. Every time. Creative voice is either silent—like when you write past the end of a scene, chapter or story and the characters are sitting around waiting for you to catch up and start the next scene or chapter or write The End—or it’s positive. Always.

      Reply
  2. I can’t remember the famous Irish writer who was scheduled to speak to college students about writing. The auditorium was packed. He was late (and not a little drunk), walked up to the podium to a hushed and expectant crowd.
    “So you want to be writers?”
    Cheers, clapping.
    “Then why the hell aren’t you home writing?” He storms offstage.

    Reply
    • If I remember right, that was the famous poet, William Butler Yeats. I don’t know whether he was drunk or just his typically bothered, grouchy self. But I will endeavor to find out because this is a particularly appropriate comment for an upcoming post.

      Reply

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