Anne B. Walsh - Do you believe in magic?

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Anne's Randomness

Getting it wrong

No, that's not a warning sign of emo to come. I'm actually in an awfully good mood, especially considering what a blah day it was yesterday. No, what I want to discuss today is getting things wrong in writing -- how you can tell, what you can do afterwards, and why getting things wrong is really very right.
As Ms. Frizzle says, it's time to take chances! Make mistakes! Get messy! That's as true for a writer as it is for any experimenter, only our experiments don't tend to explode. At least, not physically. Verbal explosions are definitely possible, which is why it's helpful for a writer to have people who don't mind being screamed at a little.
My example today is a novel I've had somewhere in my head, bouncing around among all the other stuff, for about seven years. (No titles yet, but if you've been around the fandom a while you might be able to name it.) In my very, VERY earliest drafts, I had one of the couples set up so that the woman knew a secret and the man was clueless.
But as I kept developing, kept thinking, kept working through, I decided that setup wouldn't work. Certain parts of the plot moved better if the woman was the one who didn't know. She's responsible for a child, after all, and she tells him stories about the secret, but convinces him they're only stories. How could she, if she knows better?
And so I changed that part of the plot around, and got a complete draft or two out of it, but somehow it never quite satisfied me. So I put it away and worked on other things for a few years. Fast forward to the other day, when I was sitting in a movie theater munching on some chips and suddenly it hit me. I was right the first time.
Sometimes stories sneak up and smack you over the head with revelations. You can't predict when it's going to happen, or if it's going to happen -- sadly some tales never come together, and you just have to resign yourself to reusing the bits and pieces that were good in other things. And at other times, you have to go hunting.
Going hunting for story-bits is a tricky thing. You can't just put a hat on your head, grab a story gun, and sneak out into the countryside saying, "Be vewy vewy quiet, I'm hunting stowies." If only it were that easy! Story-bits, the recalcitrant ones, need to be lured, stalked, and pounced upon, and even then, you might get the wrong one.
What do you use for a lure? Well, that's as individual as an author. Myself, I prefer one of two setups. Either music, a snack and a mug of tea, and an array of games, or a lot of other work that really should get done but of course if I'm writing... by which you can conclude that I have approximately the mentality of a five-year-old.
The first set of "lures" brings the story-bits out of hiding with comfort. Come play with me, little stories -- this is a nice place to be! I will put you on paper and you will give joy to others! It's fun, and it won't hurt a bit... aaaand GOTCHA! Now hold still and let me look at you, no, stop wiggling, I have to get you down on paper, ARGH!
As you can see, this approach can cause some difficulty. So I use it sparingly, concentrating a bit more on the other setup, in which my story-ideas come out and play when they believe that they are distracting me from other things I ought to be doing. Popular items are dishes, laundry, floor-sweeping, and cleaning my room.
And what happens when I get the wrong end of the story-bit, or even the wrong bit altogether? Well, first I have to figure it out, and that can take a long time. Usually, though, when I've got it wrong, the story grinds to a halt somewhere down the road, and I track it back to find out where and when the difficulties started.
After that, it's all about deciding if and how I should change it. Sometimes, as sad as I find it, the best thing for everyone is to let this story go. But other times, even when I think that's what I've done, the story stays with me, calling out for another chance. And in this case, the seven-year story, that's what is happening now.
So I'm going back to my very, VERY earliest ideas about this particular story. The young lady involved is now the knowledgeable one, and the young man hasn't got a clue. Which is going to be hard lines on him, given what that not-a-clue-ness will lead to. But, I think, in the end this will work best, both in-story and out.
As for what story this is... nope, still not telling. If and when it gets finished this time around, then I'll let you know. But this one is going to be somewhat of a secret until that blessed hour. (Though you might get a clue if you look at what day it is today.) Until Thursday, then, thanks for reading and hope you have a good week!

6 Comments to Getting it wrong:

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NotACat on Wednesday, December 18, 2013 2:35 AM
Could it possibly be that we might catch a distant glimpse of the elusive Dangerous Truths (if I have recalled the title correctly)? I remember seeing an outline which looked most promising—indeed I referred to it in one of my own stories (as you know ;-)—and it would be most exciting to see how it has evolved and grown since then!
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Anne on Thursday, December 19, 2013 3:58 PM
Well, as it happens, I got both sets of relationships backwards, so there's some fun. But a lot of the rest of it is staying the same.

Scott on Wednesday, December 18, 2013 3:30 PM
I was going to say something not all that subtle like "secrets can be Dangerous" in an attempt to be clever, but it looks like Phil beat me to it. ;-)
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Anne on Thursday, December 19, 2013 3:58 PM
Why are all my long-time readers smart alecks? Or did I just answer my own question?

Geoffrey on Thursday, December 19, 2013 4:30 AM
I find myself getting it wrong a lot. But it’s better to be wrong then not to try at all. Sometimes I find I went wrong so badly so early that there is nothing to do but to scrap the whole thing. Its frustrating, but essential. Not everyone understands that, and I sometimes wish they did.

I suppose, though, I usually get it right more often than not, so there is that. And when things go right, everyone’s happy. Which makes me happy.

But, I’m so glad you understand!

I fell asleep last night thinking about this idea: what if instead of hunting stories, stories hunted authors. Little story-memes that wander amongst the links between people until they find someone who can write them down. I think that’s one of my preferred ways of developing stories; I ask questions of that sort, and then figure out what would be necessary for it to make sense, and what sort of conflict it might lead to. This particular idea was interesting to me because of the bits of truth inherent within the idea.

Anyways, good luck with the story Anne, and I hope Thursday is more like Tuesday than Monday and Wednesday.

Oh, and a question! Who are your favorite authors? I mean among the living and active authors, who are your favorites?
Reply to comment
Anne on Thursday, December 19, 2013 3:59 PM
Generally that's how I feel, that my stories came and found me. At least the really, really strong ones. As for authors... I tend not to mention names because I'm fairly sure people will judge me by it, because most of the reading I do is to relax and escape, not to challenge myself, and I feel guilty about that.

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