Tough twinkies, cupcake. I’ll write a story without a damn formula. I don’t care how sensitive you are about your choice of snack cakes.
You’d think cookie-cutter plots and other bad advice could turn trash into gold. Bull. Average characters’ actions cough like timid puffs of smoke, not a bellow of town-burning flames. Or a benign premise revisits a tired idea. The stakes are too far removed from the reader. And other gobs of outdated writing advice make great skid marks on toilet paper.
Have I riled you up? Good. I’m going to have fun with you–or at you–so stick with me. Or run back to some safe paperweight that you call a book.
My own stuff can suck big time. I experiment and I’m still learning this god-awful craft. (Why do I torture myself? I’m stubborn.) But I sometimes really do understand that my work doesn’t always…err…work. Or maybe never works. (Someday, someday.) But you can’t be afraid to take chances. To learn what doesn’t.
Everything is a Garbage Dump
Yup. This is me. I’ve got to stop writing this dark stuff. Honestly, why am I torturing myself?
My shorter experimental stories are framed around a dark theme, building up that idea into a sad pile of someone’s discarded life. And my longer plotted stories of not-so-nice characters fall on their swords at the very end. I am so guilty of so often writing about tragic endings and ne’er-do-wells that I should incarcerate myself.
Try to avoid this. Give your characters something to hope for. Make it come true at the end. Give your readers something to hope for, too. But if a character can’t change himself or the world, at least make the protagonist likable. Give her something good and moral for the reader to admire.
The Story Dominatrix
The workshop’s online front page reads: For X thousand dollars, I promise to whip you until you bleed plot. Your flayed body is my success. These classes are really vacation death camps, and you had better love them. “You write it my way. Or else.” Then the dominatrix pushes her spike-heeled boot into your throat for a week.
You’ll be crushed into a blubbering simpleton with a flaccid writing spirit. Run away.
Write Your Golden Turd in Just a Day
Someone, or some software, guarantees you success. The computer has calculated everything for you, down to the tiniest detail. Just follow these steps and fill in the blanks: This is what a best-selling protagonist looks like; Always use these symbols; With these settings; Relax…
The machine thinks for you. Now, press the “PRINT” key and let it take a crap on your behalf.
Timid Tom and Tina Write a Book
I’m writing an amazing thriller about a cute boy and a tiny and lovable goldfish. But there is also a point of view from a neglected tabby. The cute and fuzzy cat turned into a jealous wreck on the sunny day the boy picked up his cute, water-breathing friend in a cute glass bowl. And so the cat makes nice with a cute doberman with a missing ear. One day, the cat somehow manages to open the door. The dog looms just outside, drooling but cute. Broken glass lies everywhere. The goldfish gasps for life, flopping cutely on the carpet…
Nothing wrong with cute and lovable. But telling us how cute everything should be doesn’t guarantee that we’ll care about the characters. And the stakes may be too small. Just put the fish back in his bowl. Give the dog a treat and pat him on the head.
Deconstruction is Destruction
Stop zooming in on the tiny things. Breaking a story into its fragmented components of plot is pointless if the “whole” sucks. Or the character. You’ve got to see a big picture, not fall down into some dark hole until your face lands on a pile of sharp stones.
But there seems to be a lot of de-constructors out there.
They mistrust you. And they’re angry about a single plot element that didn’t satisfy something. Satisfy what? I’m not sure why one thing always blows up everything else. But still, they “know.” They add up arguments solely on the dislike for a character’s nose hair. They go in reverse and break it all down into fifty categories of “Like/Dislike.” Maybe more are needed. The proselytizer sneers at you because, “You just don’t get it.” Then they flit away on angel wings in search of another writer who must be saved.
Writing good fiction is one part heart, one part practice, and one part taking chances. Oh, and one part good writing technique that is not discussed here.
Best sellers probably approach a story’s premise from many new angles, breathing new life into old ideas. An author’s voice and heart come from the inside, not a formula. Tension burns in every scene. Bigger-than-life characters do interesting things. And a solid story frame surrounds a complex question to be later answered.
There’s more to good fiction, of course. It’s a growth and learning experience, something a simple formula can’t create for you. Good fiction probably requires the wisdom of repeated writings and failures and risk-takings. But generic plot formulas never break a mold. They fester, stagnant and heartless.
I’m still working toward this goal of good fiction, to get something to stick with readers. But I love this suffering. Despite hardships and failures, I write on. Maybe someday, something will stick.
Are you still with me? Was I too hard on you? Here. Have a twinkie.