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Archive for October 22nd, 2007

Progress Report, in which I manage to be outrageous

It is said that one learns more from failures than successes.  I firmly believe this.  (And I think I should be just about the smartest person in the world by now.)

However, I think it is also true that there are some things one can only learn from success.  You need to “learn how to win.”  Case in point:  this year’s Halloween contest over on Codex.  My story, “Right Before Your Very Eyes,” took third place.

In four years of trying, this is the first time I’ve placed in the contest.  I’m quite tickled.  But readers of these progress reports will know that I had a hell of time writing the story.  At one point, I hated it so much that I considered abandoning it.  But I persevered, finished it, and entered it in the contest, with low expectations.

Lo and behold, it took third place, garnering much more praise than any of my previous entries.  Writers truly are the worst judges of their own work.

I got to thinking about how and why this happened.  Perhaps a bit of analysis of this success was in order.  What did I do right with this story?  Here are my thoughts:

  1. Structure.  The story had a pretty clear three-act structure.  Not all of them do, you know.  But this one did.  And I can’t help concluding that it made the story more readable.
  2. The Opening.  As you may recall from previous progress reports, I wrote 500 words of this one and stopped.  I realized that I despised it, to the point that I dreaded going back to it.  But then I figured out why I didn’t like the opening:  it bored me.  So I scrapped it and started again, at the point where I started getting interested in the story.  It’s still not ideal, this opening, but it was damn sight better than that first one, let me tell you.
  3. Shocker in Act Two.  When I started the piece, I wasn’t sure about the middle.  Then I got an idea I simultaneously loved and balked at.  It was outrageous.  It was horrifying.  It came out of nowhere.  But it seemed to fit, so I went with it.  I ended up with one of the most disturbing scenes I have ever written.  It literally nauseated me.  I was amazed at my own reaction.  I figured if it was having that kind of effect on me, I must have done something right.  It was not only shocking, but it also raised the stakes on my protagonist considerably higher.  My boy was in a very tight spot.  I’m convinced that if I hadn’t stumbled across this scene, the story would not have been anywhere near as successful.  The third act was simply a matter of following through what I had already established.

Perhaps the most important lesson I take from this little exercise:  don’t be afraid of the outrageous.  In fact, cultivate it.  Seek it out.  Too much of my work plays it safe, I think.  I wind up with well crafted stories that are utterly lifeless, and doomed to collect complimentary rejection slips.

In Petra news, I began the rewrite in earnest, but the new scene I’m working on is currently kicking my ass.  I can’t go full bore, as I did in the first draft.  Now I have to be careful I’m not contradicting anything that comes later in the story.  I’m also introducing some of the characters considerably earlier than in the first draft, so I have to dig out the physical descriptions of those characters.  Plus, I had to create an entirely new setting, in a part of this world I had not yet explored.

And my schedule lately has been shot to hell, to boot.  Last weekend, I spent more time away from home than at it.  And that includes sleep time.

This week’s schedule doesn’t look any better.  I’m leaving for Portland on Friday, and won’t be back until the following Thursday.  Fortunately, I have recently acquired a laptop (thanks to my dear friend

), so I am planning to put it to good use on this trip.  I will need to get creative and break some tendencies in order to maximize my time.  Wish me luck on that score.

Really looking forward to the Portland trip, by the way.  It’s actually a conference for my day job that brings me there, but I’ll also get a chance to wine and dine with

,

, and numerous other Northwest Notables.

No updates for Write Club.

Right.  Gotta get to bed.