I had a completely different post planned for today, but due to an intense realization on Friday which led to a subsequent rethinking of my entire approach to writing, this is the post you’re getting today:
I know nothing.
*cue the Jon Snow jokes*
Okay, see you next week!
No, no. Just kidding.
So, what happened was this: I read “Red Rising” and “Golden Son” by Pierce Brown.
By the end of “Red Rising,” I knew I needed to become a better writer. I had experienced something far bigger and better than anything I had ever dreamed of. I needed to grasp it, catch it for myself somehow.
On Friday, I finished “Golden Son.” It completely shattered my world. Everything I thought I knew about being a “good” writer was gone. Everything I thought I understood about how to write a compelling story was ground into the dirt and shit on. A new bar had been set, and I was woefully short of reaching it. Suddenly, every critique I had ever gotten from an editor on my submissions made perfect sense. Compared to these masterpieces, my books are like slimy baby birds who have just managed to crack out of their shells. Gangly, gross, not even in the REALM of what a bird should look like. You can see that it’s on the WAY to being a bird, but dude…it’s gonna take some TIME.
I spent all day yesterday reading writing blog-posts about character development, because I realized that I have made the gravest mistake of all: I have put Plot over Character.
See, I *thought* I knew what I was doing. I *thought* I had good characters who made their own decisions and influenced the story. I *thought* my characters had agency. But it was an illusion. I had tricked myself into believing that the characters were the ones calling the shots and not me. But what was really happening is that I was forcing characters to make decisions based on what “needed” to happen for the plot to work.
The most important lesson for me is the fact that in Pierce Brown’s books, the characters hijack the plot CONSTANTLY. One character will say, “we need X to happen in order to achieve Y.” In MY books, X wouldn’t happen, but through some struggles Y will eventually be achieved anyway. In Pierce Brown’s books, characters obliterate all chance of X or Y ever occurring and ALSO cause an entirely new set of horrible, horrible problems. And it feels REAL. Because people fuck shit up for each other ALL THE TIME. It feels like Brown’s characters were the ones that decided to do those things, and he (as the writer) was like “Yeah, okay. I’ll try to make that work.”
I’ve been playing it too safe. I’ve been too heavy-handed as a plotter, without allowing my characters to be REAL.
It’s such a fine line, and one that has been incredibly difficult for me to grasp. On the one hand, you have your plot, and yeah…certain things need to happen for that plot to work. But on the other hand, you have a cast of people that are hopefully all very unique and want different things, and maybe those people just want to fuck your shit up.
What I’m beginning to realize is that perhaps an intricate plot is a detriment, because characters DO need to behave in a certain way for all of the pieces to fall into place.
At it’s core, Red Rising is a revenge tale. The main character (and there are no spoilers because this is like…in the description of the book) wants to take down the people who killed his wife. Simple. One of the oldest tales. Been told a thousand times. Where the COMPLEXITY occurs is in how the other characters’ decisions either help or hurt the main character’s chances at achieving his goal. And I know this sounds like Writing 101 shit, but where it tricked me is that I was basing my characters’ decisions on how the plot needed to pan out, and the plot was FAR too detailed for there to be any room for fuckery. Red Rising, having a much simpler plot, has way more room for those decisions to completely change everything about the plot. Does that even make sense?? It doesn’t feel like it explains what I’m thinking, but my mind is such a mess right now that I’m not surprised.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’m going to begin embracing simpler plots. I’m going to try and make my characters more real. I’m so close, but I’m complicating things too much. Characters ARE the plot, and their decisions have to be organic to who they are. Some characters can want order, some characters can be like “Oh? You want me to go on this quest? Sure, I will do that, even though I totally didn’t WANT to do that before, and I will do everything in my power to do what is Right and Good and Achieve Your Goal.” But some characters are like, “Nah. Fuck you.” I have been putting too much emphasis on the former, but even giving them fears and doubts and moments of weakness does not make them feel as real as the latter characters.
What I’m also trying to say is, you think you know what you’re doing, and then you stumble across a writer who is just so much BETTER than you that it’s like seeing one of Lovecraft’s Elder Gods. I’m teetering between true growth and just spiraling down into madness over the futility of trying to achieve anything when such amazing work exists in the world.
This post is more of a way for me to grasp the thoughts floating around in my muddled brain, rather than anything to help YOU. My apologies! I’ll write something inspirational next week, I promise. Unless I’ve gone the “spiral into madness” route. We’ll see.