Scaling Brick Walls

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Today marks the end of my weekend, and my progress was a little disappointing this week. I finished polishing chapter 12-13 and sent them off to my writing group, and I submitted “Singularity Fringe” to the third market on my list. However, I hit a snag with chapter 14, and didn’t manage to even make a start on chapter 15. Sigh.

The problem with chapter 14 is that it is part of a storyline in the book that is very challenging for me. It’s tough for a lot of reasons, I’m trying to do some stuff that I’ve never done before, but mostly it is the characters I’m working with. In the two other threads, I’ve got a street urchin struggling to keep his street family together and a boy raised in a river culture – no problem. In this thread, I’ve got a “heartless,” damaged mercenary and her naive sidekick. A little more of a problem. Don’t ask my why I can imagine myself in the urchin’s shoes more easily than the damaged mercenary (especially since she’s female…) but I can. Plot comes from character, so drawing a story out of characters that are challenging to write is extra hard.

I came to chapter 14 and realized it wasn’t working, so I had to spend a lot more time on it than usual. This is a pivotal chapter so it’s got to be right. I know what I want to do, I have a plan, and I think that the extra effort will be well worth it in the end. It would be a boring story if I only wrote stuff that came easily, and I wouldn’t learn as much. But I will be leaning heavily on my writing group’s comments to figure out what I managed to pull off and what I didn’t. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure I’m missing the mark more often than not on these chapters. Ah well, there’s always the next rewrite!

So the next market that I sent “Singularity Fringe” to was “Strange Horizons.” And I have to say, they have the most entertaining submissions guidelines I have read yet. Most publication submission guidelines say the same thing, but without the sarcasm or bluntness. I very much appreciate people saying clearly what they want, so I loved it.

One thing they did, which I find extremely helpful, is to include a list of over-used or highly cliched story plots. It is true you should be well-read in a genre before trying to write it, so you can appreciate and avoid what has come before, but other submission guidelines I’ve looked at simply say “be familiar with the genre” or “we’re interested in innovative plots.” It’s nice to see things set out so clearly.

I laughed several times while reading this list, mainly because I remember trying to write some of this stuff when I was 10. But to be fair, until the very end of the list, I was honestly frightened that my current projects were on that list somewhere. Thank goodness they weren’t, but this speaks to the strange “writer’s dichotomy.” I don’t know how this works exactly, but absolutely everything I write is simultaneously the greatest thing ever written AND the worst drivel on the face of the planet. And it’s not just me that feels like this.

I’m pretty well read in all forms of speculative fiction (probably the least familiar with steampunk, ’cause I don’t usually like it much, but I’ve still got lots of it under my belt) so I pretty much know where “Singularity Fringe” belongs. I know that while it has similarities to other cyberpunk (that’s why it is cyberpunk), it also has plenty of differences. It’s my cyberpunk story, not someone else’s.

Originality is one of these brick walls writers try to scale, until they realize there is an unlocked door right there. Put your carabineers and rope away, and walk through the darn door. Seriously. Silly writers.

There is a theory out there that says that every story written, or that will be written, follows one of 7 basic plots. Only 7!!! Is there nothing new under the sun? (I have it on good authority that there isn’t) And how many stories are there out there? How do we possibly avoid doing something someone else has already done?

The answer is you kind of don’t. You write the story you want to write, create strong characters and believable plots, and since you are an individual, it will be different. It helps a lot to know your genre and be aware of what is influencing you. If you’ve read enough sci-fi, you won’t want to write stuff that is overdone, because you’ll be bored of it too. It helps to give your stories lots of thought and care, so you aren’t rushing past cool things you can explore that would let your individuality shine. It also helps to be aware of but not depend on some sort of formula for your story. This is why I think people get into trouble when they start worrying too much about the “market” and what is selling right now. If you are writing it because you think it will sell and not because it is what you want to say, you’re more likely to fall into a stinky, muddy pit of predictability and boringness. Doesn’t sound fun, does it? No, it sounds yucky, so I’ll stay out of there!

Anyway, let’s wrap it up here. I’ve got to get back to trying to think like a suppressed, sociopathic, passive-aggressive mercenary with abandonment issues. Wish me luck!

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