What Stace had to say on Tuesday, January 12th, 2010
It’s YOUR damn story

I could have sworn that I’ve blogged about this before, but I just did a search and nothing turned up, so I guess I haven’t. Or maybe I’m searching wrong. Anyway. (No, I did sort of discuss this before, in this 2007 post, but not with the same focus, so I don’t feel as though I’m repeating myself.)

Here’s the thing. Writing involves making up stories. Perhaps you’re a plotter, one of those bizarre creatures who knows exactly what’s going to happen in the story before you open a shiny new Document and follows your path as tidily as a ballerina with months of rehearsal. (In which case I seriously envy you, despite my snottiness. It’s fond, admiring snottiness, I promise.)

Or maybe you’re a pantser like me, and start with a character or two and a premise, and toss them into the document and see what happens. Maybe like me you have a few vague ideas of where the story will go; I tend to have some sort of idea of what the climactic battle will be like, and maybe a scene or two sort of lurking in the back of my mind waiting to be used.

But either way, you need to make up the story. It’s down to YOU; it’s your responsibility. Quite frankly, a fiction writer who cannot make up a story is not a fiction writer. If writing fiction is what you want to do, you need to learn and absorb the skill of Making Shit Up. Period.

Which is why it drives me insane when I see writers–or those who want to be or claim to be writers–asking people what they should do with their story. Should the hero and heroine get together now? Should the villain do this or that? How old should the characters be? Should the villain die at the end? Should the father be the bad guy?

Then there are the secondary questions, what I refer to as the “unfamiliar” questions. I call them that because the questioner is seemingly unfamiliar with either the genre in which they are writing, or with books in general. (They could also be called the “Is it okay” questions, since they tend to start that way. These are questions like, “Is it okay if the hero cusses? Is it okay if the heroine isn’t a virgin? Is it okay if the heroine kills the bad guy? Is it okay if the hero gets drunk? Is it okay if the hero has a kid?” etc. etc.

I’d say the latter annoy me more, but honestly, they both annoy me equally.

  • Now, I’m not saying we don’t all have questions from time to time, because of course we do. We all need some brainstorming help from time to time; it’s the nature of the beast. We have a cool character and set-up and plot but we need, say, a scene to get one character to give a specific piece of information, and we want a really dramatic way to do it, so we ask some pals. Or we’re trying to create a world and ask a friend what they think or if they have any ideas how to accomplish X.

    What bugs me about the “Shoulds” and the “unfamiliars” is that there’s a sense behind those questions that a story is only written ONE way, or that ONE formula must be followed, or that there are specific rules which must not be broken. It’s not writing as creative outlet; it’s not writing as art and/or craft; it’s not truthtelling.

    It’s calculated.

    It implies that there’s nothing to this writing thing except following the formula to the letter, and if you do that you’ll Get Published. It removes the joy of creation, the flight of fancy, and replaces them with Following Directions and Fitting In. It encourages blandness.

    I don’t like it. It bothers me. If you want to be a writer of fiction–a storyteller–you need to tell YOUR story. You need to let yourself go and let the story happen. All other things aside, nine times out of ten I’ll bet that the story written by the Shoulder or the Unfamiliar is heavily plot-driven, to the point where the characters do not behave like actual human beings but go through endless mental gymnastics, wild character changes, and silly emotional contortions in order to serve whatever plot contrivances the writer has been Shoulded or Unfamiliared into creating.

    Writing requires a certain kind of bravery. It requires a certain amount of limb-stepping. It requires creativity. It requires an understanding of stories and a love of them, and the kind of wide reading experience which those two things bestow.

    What it does not require is a set of very safe and careful decisions made because the writer in question thinks someone, somewhere, might not like it if her heroine says “Shit.” And more importantly, is afraid of that.

    Do we all want our stories to sell? Of course. Do we want our stories to be liked, enjoyed, even loved? You bet your ass we do. Nobody ever published a book thinking gleefully, “Everyone is going to HATE this shit!” (Okay, sure, maybe somebody did, but I submit that’s rather an odd attitude to have unless you’re Lou Reed making Metal Machine Music in order to get out of a contract you no longer wish to be bound by.) But the vast, vast majority of us don’t write and publish in hopes people will loathe our work and feel sick and shamed after reading it.

    But you cannot write effectively if you let that fear make your decisions. And that’s what those questions are, those Shoulds and Unfamiliars. They’re fear. (Well, some of them are ignorance of the genre, which also pisses me off, because why are you writing a book you don’t want to read? There’s a cynicism there that makes me ill, and there’s an arrogance, too; the idea that you’re so much better than the morons who read this sort of shit that of course you can churn some of it out. It’ll be good enough for the likes of them.)

    If you want to write fiction–and write it well, and effectively, and have people buy it, read it, and like it–you need to lose those things, whichever you may have, in whatever amounts you have them.

    Quit asking other people to do your work for you; writing isn’t something you can delegate. YOU need to do it. You need to think. Come up with your own solutions. Let your characters be the people they want to be. Let the story go where it wants and needs to go. Stop worrying that it won’t work or it won’t be good; writing is a learning process, and there’s always another story, so you need to treat it as a learning process and actually, y’know, LEARN how to create things on your own. Nobody else can do it for you and really, do you want them to?

    Stand on your own feet. Lose the fear, and write your own damn story.

  • 20 comments to “It’s YOUR damn story”

    1. Jackie Morse Kessler
      · January 12th, 2010 at 6:09 pm · Link

      I waited 10 freaking years to write a story. I waited until my agent kicked my ass and told me to WRITE IT ALREADY and don’t worry that no one would want to read it. So I wrote it. HUNGER will be on the shelves in August.

      Ten years.

      Don’t wait 10 years.

      • Stace
        · January 12th, 2010 at 10:28 pm · Link

        Exactly. I never thought anyone would want a story like UNHOLY GHOSTS, and so put it off and put it off. Surprise! 😛

    2. Rowan
      · January 12th, 2010 at 6:10 pm · Link

      I love you.

      This is one of my hot buttons. Write the story your characters demand, not the one you think the market wants.

      • Stace
        · January 12th, 2010 at 10:30 pm · Link

        Love you too! 😉

        And yep, that’s it exactly. It’s YOUR story, and YOU need to be in control of it, if you want it to be something real and true.

    3. Crista
      · January 12th, 2010 at 6:18 pm · Link

      Awesome post, Stacia. I needed this kind of “lecture”, especially after today. Thank you!
      Back to writing my unconventional stories… :)

      • Stace
        · January 12th, 2010 at 10:31 pm · Link

        Honestly? I was terrified when writing UG that no one would want it. It was too unconventional, too different, too dark. It stripped me too emotionally bare.

        Unconventional is good. If you’re not being true to yourself, your story, and your characters, what’s the point of writing?

    4. Peach
      · January 12th, 2010 at 6:27 pm · Link

      Well said, Stacia. I agree with Rowan as well – write the story teh characters demand.

      • Stace
        · January 12th, 2010 at 10:32 pm · Link

        Yep, that’s what it’s all about!

    5. Fae Sutherland
      · January 12th, 2010 at 6:40 pm · Link

      Oh I agree. I’ve considered writing ‘to the market’ so to speak, but it just never works. It comes up again from time to time, when I get to feeling a bit emo and low, I start thinking I should choose a more mainstream genre/subgenre. But it just doesn’t work and I know it.

      In the end, I always have to write what I love. because if I don’t love it, it’ll never be written because I clam up anyway. I’m experimenting in a new genre right now, but who knows if it’ll end up working out. If not, I won’t force it. Forcing it = Very Bad Things in my experience.

      • Stace
        · January 12th, 2010 at 10:22 pm · Link

        I still think you have more and bigger things in you, Fae, and that you shouldn’t hold yourself back.

        • Fae Sutherland
          · January 15th, 2010 at 5:29 pm · Link

          You’re so sweet. I don’t disagree, I just have to figure out what those bigger, better things are! :)

    6. Bryn
      · January 12th, 2010 at 6:58 pm · Link

      Great, energetic post!

      I feel a little differently. I usually have multiple stories brewing, and I can see multiple ways each could play out. Sometimes I feel like I may as well get some feedback, since several choices seem OK to me anyway. It’s not fear, it’s being overwhelmed by the possibilities that keep popping into my brain.

      • Stace
        · January 12th, 2010 at 10:27 pm · Link

        Sure, of course there are multiple ways a story could play out. And of course feedback is a good thing to get, and opinions/thoughts from people you trust. But in the end only YOU know your story well enough to make those decisions, and only YOU know exactly what it is you’re hoping to achieve with the story.

        I think there’s a big difference between brainstorming–laying out your options with people you trust and talking through them, absorbing their input but essentially working it out for yourself–and asking the kinds of questions that mean other people are choosing what happens in your story instead of you. This post is about those who let others choose where their stories go. :)

        • Bryn
          · January 13th, 2010 at 10:38 am · Link

          Ahh, yeah, that makes sense! There’s a difference between getting feedback and trying to make other people try to write your story for you.

          And I love what you said about the cynicism and arrogance that goes along with believing there’s a set formula. It really is insulting to the audience.

    7. synde
      · January 12th, 2010 at 9:15 pm · Link

      glad your blogging again ..great topic, excellent pov…

      • Stace
        · January 12th, 2010 at 10:33 pm · Link

        Thanks, hon! This was what I meant yesterday; blogging more often, probably, but not on a set schedule. I’m tired of having a great blog topic on Tuesday but holding off until Thursday when the passion is gone.

    8. BernardL
      · January 13th, 2010 at 8:10 am · Link

      Writing without imagination – a dreary, arduous torture. Writing to the specifications of others – impossible. Great Post!

      • Stace
        · January 14th, 2010 at 8:54 pm · Link

        Exactly. It’s an exercise in word manipulation, not telling a story. At least IMO. :)

    9. writtenwyrdd
      · January 14th, 2010 at 10:20 am · Link

      I agree with much of what you say. If you need permission, you aren’t really writing as best you could. However, playing devil’s advocate a bit (because I do this sometimes and feel it’s okay), if you as “what should you do” questions of other people, much of the time you are more or less just saying it outloud to see if it makes sense, both to yourself and your audience. And whatever they respond isn’t to give you a yes or a no but to help you clarify your own thinking. I think that IS a form of brainstorming, if that’s what you are after…but it sounds like what you’re railing against. :)

      I envy pantsers, too, by the way.

      • Stace
        · January 14th, 2010 at 8:59 pm · Link

        Oh, absolutely. Like I said we all need brainstorming help sometimes, we all want to run things by our friends or think out loud or on paper. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

        It’s a difference in tone and purpose, to me. I can usually tell if it’s a “brainstorming/how does this sound” question or a “Tell me how to write my story” question, you know? I think there’s a big difference between “Is it okay if my hero is poor?” and “What about if my hero is poor, and that leads to more conflict?”

        Do you see what I mean?


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