Tag Archives: stories

Earned drama

Over the past couple of days I’ve spent a fair bit of time reading back over some of the stories I have written in the past. One of the things I noticed about what I was writing about 8-10 years ago was that I spent a lot of time dwelling on the big emotional moments and rushed through or outright skipped over the slow building of tensions and the subplots and the character building. The result was that it left the stories I was writing feeling flat, empty, melodramatic.

Coincidentally, today a thread popped up on my twitter feed about this very problem:

Click through and read the whole thread, it’s not very long, but it really hits the nail on the head when it comes to what my problem has been with these particular stories, and crucially, how to fix it:

This is very helpful advice and for me, it’s come at just the right time.

One of the stories I wrote back in about 2009 is one I shared with a friend and fellow writer at the time. He was very diplomatic and supportive, but it was clear he didn’t think much of it. And the problem I had was exactly what Mara Fitzgerald has described: I knew the messy world, but I didn’t put it on the page. The story didn’t engage my friend in 2009, and it hurt to see it because I was emotionally invested in it. But reading back with the distance of time and nine years more experience as a writer, I can see it as he did.

I hadn’t earned the emotion with the story I’d written.

I wrote my article about Zuko’s character arc in Avatar: The Last Airbender nearly 5 years ago. It remains the most popular article on this blog. And I think it’s because Zuko’s arc is such a strong one, and it’s written so well, that people remember it and engage with it. It’s not just because of the popular trope of an enemy becoming a friend, though that may be part of it. It’s about earned emotion. Zuko’s eventual turn away from his upbringing to help Aang works because it is done at the right pace. It isn’t rushed. There’s even a moment where Zuko can join the good guys and doesn’t, because he’s not reached the right place emotionally for it to be the clear choice for him.

I am – I’ll be honest – procrastinating right now by writing this blog post. I’m almost ready to start the next draft of my WIP. I’ve been working on it for months. Making notes, writing scenes as I work though the ideas and themes of it. And yes, I’ve been writing the big emotional scenes without filling in the gaps of the framework, slap my wrist. Knowing I’m not the only one that does that makes me feel better about it. Understanding why I do it, and how to combat it, means I feel far better about facing the blank first page.

I think the way to think about it as a tower. The big emotional moments are the banners flying from the top and over the door, but unless I build the tower itself beam by beam and stone by stone, the banners are just going to drag on the ground. It I want them to flutter majestically in the wind, I’ve got some work to put in.

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September Daily Writing 11

Today has been a difficult one, for a lot of people worldwide. I started the day tired and ran on coffee to meet my deadlines at work, nothing particularly unusual, but throw in what day it is and there’s an extra layer of emotional fatigue. It’s difficult to think of what people went through thirteen years ago today – people on the four planes, in the buildings, in the emergency services and military forces, and the people living and working in New York and the Pentagon. Over two thousand peoples’ stories ended that day, in tragedy, in fear, in bravery and in self-sacrifice. Any heroism or humanity I can paint with my words in my whole writing career pales in comparison to what some people managed in a single day thirteen years ago, saving the lives of strangers at the expense of their own in a situation nobody could have been trained for.

I know it’s not relevant to what I’m writing or to my little daily challenge, but it needs to be remembered, today if on no other.

But back to what I am writing.

Yesterday I finished with Laik asking more about the quarry. Fiarra gave her a convincing lie, and instigated an argument that Laik then walked away from. Fiarra resumed working on her escape plan: to make a hole in the brick wall through to the next alcove, and hopefully escape. Time to make things worse for her again: Laik will reveal she’s spotted Fiarra’s attempts and that the next alcove is a locked cell too, and that it’s all going to get bricked up again and a guard assigned to watch Fiarra to prevent another attempt.

Starting 21:22.

Finishing 21:55. Only 405 words tonight. Fiarra is being moved, the brick hole is going to be repaired, and she’s not getting a trial after all. Not sure what to do tomorrow. I might skip ahead a few days and get to the festival at last.