Friday, July 09, 2010

writing update

So, I was working on my rebellious teenage girl learns small town secret yesterday, and I got to the point where either a) she meets an unspeakable end (as originally planned), or b) something else happens. It was my intention for the girl to think that her cousins (and farm folk in general) are naive idiots, and would pay the price for it when she ignored their warnings. But when it came time for pushing and shoving, I didn't want her to suffer and die.

Now, either that means that I'm such a good writer that I started to sympathize with a character I had intended to be unlikable, or more likely, I lacked the gonads to do what Bigglesby Anklevich does at the end of his stories all the time. The man is merciless, and has killed himself, the world, and his children off in stories in the past.

The first time I hit this particular wall was in 1991, when I wrote a story called "The Secret Society," and decided the main character (loosely based on my friend Rhett) should get away at the end, rather than join the soulless, skinless minions of the titular society. I guess I liked the character too much, or had invested so much in it that I didn't want the ending to be unhappy, and wussed out by having him turn his back on the organization, and the society simply lets him go. My friends liked the story (especially Rhett), and it never bothered me much that I betrayed my initial intentions for it.

But that stuff happens all the time now. It's really rare that I'll have a truly unhappy ending for my stories, and that may be because I've grown so weak and miserable in my old age, that I can't bear to let the fictional people I've created suffer and/or die (or become the underage bride of a leprous boogeyman).

That could be a good thing (after all, how many professional writers have you heard say that one of their characters "surprised them" by doing or saying something unplanned, seemingly of the characters' own volition?

Conversely, I could have become like those Stephen Sommers movies, where there's never even the slightest chance that the good guys are in any serious danger, and despite the outlandish setpieces, the danger is totally gone from every situation. I'd hate to be one of those.

I don't want to get in one of those "Writing is hard"/"No, it isn't!" arguments, but it is really difficult sometimes to know what to do on a story, when a fork appears in the road (or, a spork, in my case). In my experience, I often don't know which is the right choice until I just write it through to "The End" (or to a dead end). Only then can I look back and say, "Yup, this was the way to go," or "Whoops, this didn't work at all."

With screenwriting it's a different animal, because things can change with different drafts, and you can always go back to an earlier draft if a change was a mistake, and most important, you're SUPPOSED to have several drafts in screenwriting. In short story writing, I've found that either the story works or it doesn't, and there's not much point in trying to write it over again and fix it. Often, I'd just be better off taking the road untraveled and going down it in a future story.

Anklevich talks about this all the time (in fact, we talked about it quite a bit on the episode of the show we just recorded), and sometimes I've disagreed with him (in fact, I probably argue quite a bit on the episode, even though I think he's right in this case). Maybe in art there is no simple right or wrong. Maybe a good enough writer could make either one of my endings work, and have the reader think, "Wow, that's how it had to end from the start."

At this point, I've decided to let Allyson (my main character) live. Perhaps that's weak on my part, but it's the path I'm taking. I can always kill the next rebellious teenager that comes along.

Rish "Serial Killer In The Making" Outfield

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