Sunday, May 12, 2013

Deadline Approaches

Uh oh, another writing post. 

I've been writing a lot lately, and have one just about finished.  It is supposed to be under two thousand words, though, so I may have to hack and slash, and that sort of thing usually takes as long as it would to write a whole new story.  I don't feel too creatively inspired on this one, but I don't know if that matters.

I think I mentioned this the other day, but in the story collection I'm nearly done editing, I discovered that, of the six stories in there, there were really only two stories, told three different ways each.  I thought about what it might have been like to be a writer in the 1930s and 40s, when pulp magazines were scooping up stories left and right, and one of these short story writers might well have a guarantee that every story they penned would be purchased.  I guess I could see why somebody would take one story, and rework the location and character names, and the details and red herrings, and send it out again and again.  I could see doing it myself, I suppose.  But it's still a bummer to discover that every overlong piece I read for this collection is either a variation of Story A or Story B.  Did the editor of the magazine pick up on this?  Did he even care?  Maybe he said, "I want a story just like that last one, that was a humdinger!" so he ended up with a variation on it.  Did he care about that?  How about the readers?  Was the bar lower or higher in those days?*

But I tend to tackle the same topics again and again in my writings, because they are the things that either frighten me or fascinate me.  Does someone who reads my work say, "But the themes of this story are the same as the other two stories I read by him, and the location was practically identical?"  Or am I close to it, so I recognize that stuff when nobody else would?

Imagine if you will, a girl abandoned on a deserted island, say, the only survivor of a shipwreck.  No one else is around, but monkeys and wallabies and turtles, but she lives her life the best she can.  How can this girl know if she is attractive or not?

See, that’s me being a male again.  Sorry.  But I struggle with the question of “Am I a good writer or not” all the time.  And to me, a girl alone on an island can’t really know if she’s attractive unless she’s around other people, who are either attracted to her, or aren’t.  Of course, there are shiny surfaces, and the water’s reflection to show her whether she’s pretty or isn’t, whether she’s appealing to her own perception of beauty.  So, maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about.
But I do struggle with the idea of whether I’m actually a good writer or not, because if I come up with a story that captivates me, or a joke that makes me laugh, well, that could just be me.  And I could well be insane.

Take this latest story I’m working on.  It’s for a contest organized by my own podcast, and I can tell that it’s not a very good story.  Heck, it might not even be a story.  I have a setting, a relationship, and a twist in mind, and though I’m not satisfied with them, I have a deadline looming, and what I’ve got is going to have to do.  Would a real writer—a good one—be able to take this mediocre idea and craft something good (and satisfying) out of it?
I don’t know.  I tend to lean toward saying yes, but that’s because most writers I’ve known are arrogant, sometimes staggeringly so, and perhaps that’s fooled me.

Of course, I’m not on a desert island, and I happen to have known many writers, and find that they are very different in temperament, confidence, and method.  So, I can only do the best I can with the ability I have.  I did quite well in the last Dunesteef contest; if my story doesn’t shine this time around, it’s someone else’s turn.
One of the reasons for this contest was to get a few short stories we could run on the podcast that wouldn't take three weeks each to produce.  Another reason is that contests are fun, and this one seemed like it might be amusing.  The other reason, though, was that writing contests with specific requirements force people to write stories they never would have written otherwise, bending their imaginations outside of their usual arenas, rather than taking well-tread locations and trying to bend them to the contest parameters. 

I've got two more days to finish this story, then whip it into some kind of shape.  I think it's doable.

But first, I'm going to check my Facebook statuses.  And watch "Downton Abbey."  And maybe install Starcraft on this computer.  And what else?

Rish Outfield, Occasional Writer

*Part of me leans toward saying it was lower, since people were "less sophisticated" in those days, but actually, the bar was probably higher.  After all, these were people who were paying money to read stories.  A novel concept nowadays.


Maymunah said...

I wonder the same thing about originality in modern genre fiction. My mother and grandmother had shelves full of mystery and romance novels, and they were pretty much all the same plots and themes with some of the details and set dressing changed, but they kept swapping them with relatives and buying more secondhand. My mother complained that my grandmother's romance novels were all identical, but it didn't bother her in her own preferred genre, and I don't know why. And these books keep getting published.

I've noticed the same thing in folk tales and the Arabian Nights stories. I read them on my phone, because they're free, and even though they all have many of the same elements and I can guess how it will end, I like to watch the pieces fall into place. It's a comforting sort of predictable, knowing that in this case, everything will turn out exactly as I expect it to, according to the rules of that place and time. That's not normally how the world works.

There are modern English fiction authors I read who do touch on the same themes and similar characters in different stories, and as long as it's well done, I don't mind, although I might go away and read someone else for a while. When I come back, their stories are just as I remember them.

Er, I'm rambling and losing the point.

The sff genre of the thirties and forties seems less sophisticated to us now, because it was, we've built so much on those early ideas that they're old hat to modern readers. Readers then were less genre-savvy, but I don't think they were less sophisticated as people (plenty of them may have been better educated than we are, and literary standards were higher in some ways), I think it's just human nature, people respond to predictability. Especially young readers, who a lot of the early scifi mags were aimed at. (Except for the Escape Artists forums, at least half of those comments boil down to 'we've seen this before'! Okay so maybe predictability doesn't work for all audiences, I don't even know, and I've completely lost my point, but I do enjoy your posts.)

Rish Outfield said...

Wow, thanks for the reply. I hesitated in publishing it, since it was just something I started typing instead of writing my story the other night. I often worry about my own perception of reality versus true reality. For example, someone recently referred to my English accent as being really shaky, but I auditioned for an audiobook in February that required an English narrator . . . and got the job. So, I dunno.

I appreciate your words about genre. I guess I had forgotten how much delight I got (and still get) from the tropes of the Horror genre, and how most Haunted House movies are similar, and how nearly all Slasher movies are too. There can be comfort in the familiar, I just didn't appreciate it in the audiobook I narrated, which would've benefited from a sampling of several writers, especially if they all are as derivative as this guy.

You typed more in response than I think I've ever gotten to one of these, or maybe even over on the Dunesteef comments section. I honestly thought only my pal Jeff read my blog. Oh, and Sony Intellectual Property lawyers.