I tend to go through several different versions of an idea as I try to make it work. This past year being what it's been, I've been doing this more than usual; when nothing works, it's easy to try throwing everything away and starting anew. One story I've been trying to do has its origins in the classic Snow White fairy tale, so when I first tried to figure it out and it didn't work, I thought there was one major thing I'd done wrong:
I hadn't included any dwarves.
Looking back, I'm not sure how I ever thought I could tell a Snow White story without dwarves. I mean, they're right there in the name. So when I started to plot a new version of my story, the dwarves were front and center from the beginning. There would, of course, be seven of them, because that's just how it's supposed to be. However, the farther along in development I got, the less I liked what I was working with. It took me months, but I eventually realized that I'd fallen into a trope's trap.
That trope? Our Dwarves Are All the Same.
Much as I hate to say it, this one's really true. I'd bet that, when you read this entry's title, you got a mental image of a dwarf that would be about 90% similar to anyone else's mental image. And I found that, when I tried to develop seven distinct dwarven characters for the story, I had some real trouble getting them to be different from each other.
This is not an issue I've ever had. I've written a bunch of humans, some elves, some dragons, several cat-people, quite a few demons, so on and so forth. STARWIND alone contains wargolems, a gnome, a lamia, and a handful of different species I didn't even give names. Yet somehow it's easier for me to write a small furry creature as the ship's pilot than it is for me to imagine a dwarf who steps outside of the usual dwarven traits.
The weird thing is, this took me out of the story entirely, and I stopped wanting to write it. The idea of having so many characters who just blended together in my mind had me wondering if it was worth working on or not. I genuinely don't get it. What is it about dwarves that makes so many people want to only write them one way? There are always stereotypes about fantasy races, but for every magical, forest-dwelling, utterly stuck-up elf out there, there are dozens of variations on the race. So what was wrong with me that I couldn't get this right?
Eventually, I accepted that it wasn't going to work out - I couldn't find an answer that led to me writing the characters as the individuals they should be, not just plain dwarves. I delved back into my notes for the initial version of the story, and looked up the characters who'd originally played the roles of seven specific people. Then, I put the two plots into a blender and started mixing.
The result has been overwhelmingly positive so far. Part classic fairy tale (I even worked in the evil stepmother), part classic movie plot. I'm starting to think this one's going to work out, and hoping I can get the plot done this year and write it next year.
Because if I'm finally going to do "Snow White and the Seven Samurai", I'm going to get it right.
Wednesday, December 6, 2017
This isn't the entry I was going to write.
I had it planned, I really did. I was going to leave the entire thing blank, except for the IWSG logo, for the length of my usual entry, with a sentence at the end saying the above text consisted of all the writing work I'd gotten done in November. I might have left it up for all of December, if things continued to go so badly. Some part of me called it melodramatic, but I thought it would be a good way to show what it felt like to look back at an entire month and see that I'd done nothing.
It was also kind of a riff on John Cage's 4'33", but that's neither here nor there.
Things didn't seem to be shaping up last week either; I thought I had an idea that would work out, but once I wrote it down, I realized that I didn't want to write it at all. That was Tuesday. On Wednesday, I accepted that I didn't feel like trying to get anything done, and pulled up an old e-mail from a friend. The e-mail is something she copy-pasted and sent to me, titled "falling in love with your story", but that's not really what it's about. It's a writer talking about finding out what's wrong with your story and figuring out how to fix it.
Something about that must have sunk in, because on Thursday, I started thinking about a project I hadn't worked on since August. I remembered what the e-mail said, and came to realize what was wrong with the main character that was keeping me from wanting to write her. I scribbled down notes at work for the first time in I don't know how long. And later that day, when I was out on my second break, I started having ideas.
No, let me rephrase that: I started having IDEAS.
Do you know that moment, when you put something together in your head for the first time, and it sparks a character and setting, a place and a reason for them to be, and you know you've got something worth pursuing? I got that. For the first time in I don't even know how long, I got that.
So, I went home and got to work. And to my great surprise and relief, everything I worked on actually worked. I leaned back from my keyboard, thrilled but exhausted, and felt like I'd just woken up after spending most of this year in one long nightmare.
It's been a busy few days since then. The new idea is still going strong; I've been developing it a little bit at a time and seeing how things play out, letting the actual plot work its way into my head as I develop the world. As for the project I'm getting back to, it still needs work, as I have the entire thing plotted but something about it still doesn't seem right. But I have ways to try to fix that. And even if I can't, then at least I have something that is working.
We'll see where it goes from here. I know it'll only take another story crashing and burning for me to feel like it was all for nothing. But I have a place to start from and one to build on. And it feels good to have hope for my own work again.