0503 – troubleshooting my first story

A: I’ve been thinking.

B: That’s usually a good idea.

A: I’m pretty happy that I’ve done over 500 word vomits. But I don’t want the next 500 vomits to be more of the same thing.

B: That’s probably less likely to happen than you think.

A: Because I’d get bored of doing the same thing over and over again?

B: Possibly.

A: Well… yeah. I’m bored. I don’t want to do the same thing over and over again. I want to do something different. I want to start writing fiction, I want to start writing short stories.

B: Why?

A: I feel like I’ve gotten tired of my first-person voice, talking about my own life, over and over again. I also feel like fiction will allow me to communicate things that I can’t quite communicate by myself. Also I just like the idea of expanding my repertoire as a writer.

B: Fair enough. What’s stopping you?

A: Well, I guess first of all, I haven’t written any good stories. Ever. I haven’t done anything that’s worth talking about.

B: There’s a first time for everything.

A: Right. And the prospect of leaving my comfort zone– the space in which I’ve written the past 500 vomits– is scary.

B: It always is.

A: So I guess I’m wondering if there’s anything I need to do before I can get started.

B: Such as?

A: The silly things would be things like… start reading guides and suggestions from professional writers.

B: Why is that silly?

A: Because it can become a sort of time-sink, where you spend all your time reading about how to do something instead of actually doing something. Also I’ve already more or less internalized everything I need to know, and I can get quick refreshers in a few moments of Googling. I don’t need to do embark on some massive research project. If I’ve learnt anything, it’s that these things have to happen along the way, en route, and that I’m going to have to stumble and slip up and write a few terrible stories before I get to good ones.

B: Sounds about right. So what are you going to do now?

A: Well, right now I’m writing this vomit. I don’t yet know what my first story is going to be. I don’t want to overthink it, but I don’t want to underthink it either.

B: Walk me through it. What’s an appropriate amount of thinking?

A: Well, Emma Coats from Pixar comes to mind. She talks about figuring out what the story is about, but she also says that you don’t really know what the story is about until you’re done with it. That’s when you rewrite it.

B: So if you had to start writing a story right now, what would you start with?

A: That’s a tough one. I suppose I’ll start with a cliche, because cliches exist for a reason. It’ll have to be about a hero that I relate to, since I don’t yet know how to project myself into the mind of somebody that I don’t relate to yet. My main problem is that I tend to write overly perfect characters (and this is me talking about me writing millions of words ago, when I was a young teenager). A character needs to struggle, needs to have difficulties, needs to encounter conflict. It’s conflict that makes a story interesting, and makes a character likeable.

B: Okay. So what’s the conflict that you’d want to write about?

A: Everything and nothing. I don’t know where to begin.

B: What’s the first thing that comes to your mind? Just keep going.

A: Well, I guess… I find myself thinking about the passage of time. About growing up. I guess I still feel like I haven’t fully addressed the problem of growing up, so if I’m going to write a story, it’s going to have to be about growing up.

B: There you go, that’s a start. What’s the next step?

A: Okay, so I have a theme. Growing up. What is growing up, anyway? Well, we’re born solipsistic and clueless, and growing up is about losing that cluelessness in the crossfire of reality.

B: Uhuh.

A: And that crossfire is really painful and uncomfortable and unfair. And the whole time you’re going through it, if you’re even slightly self-aware, you’re going to realize that your problems are minute and trivial compared to everything everybody else in the world is going through, and everything everybody in the history of humanity has gone through. And there’s probably been a lot of crappy stuff written about this already.

B: No, don’t tell me about that. Tell me about growing up.

A: I’m not sure if I’ve done it yet. I think it’s a never-ending process. I don’t think anybody is ever completely, fully grown up. I’m thinking about that CS Lewis quote about how, when he became a man, he put away childish things, such as the fear of appearing childish.

B: What’s the conflict about growing up?

A: I suppose it’s about wanting to hold on to the past, hold on to comfort, hold on to ignorance. Wanting to fix things that are broken, but realizing that they can never truly be “fixed”– you can only dance around them, build around them, incorporate them into your existence.

B: So what does a story about that look like?

A: Well, so there’s a guy. And he’s growing older. And he has to grow up, because of… something. Something is forcing him to grow up. I don’t know what that something ought to be. I don’t want to use something from my personal life, because then it would get tedious and I’d get overly invested in it. But I can’t exactly invent something from scratch, either.

B: What’s the ending?

A: That’s a good question. Endings are hard, you need to know your ending in advance before you can work out the middle. I guess maybe part of my anxiety is that I don’t know what the ending is, and that I need to learn to live with that. I suppose that’s what growing up is about, too. Learning to live with not knowing. But does that actually make for a good ending for a short story?

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