A few days ago, the realization that I have not had, up to now, had patience with my writing hit me. I have been writing for over twenty years now, five years of school learning (relearning) about writing, and until a few days ago, I did not realize or even understand what skill was missing. Patience is a skill. I have patience in most areas of my life, but I have been impatient with my writing. A combination of being a good and quick writer and a lack of feedback pointing out the errors of my way lead to my impatience. After all, if I can quickly bang out a few hundred words and everyone who reads it says, “looks (insert good, ok, like it, and so on)” why should I develop patience?
How did this realization come about? A day after a friend asked me for some writing advice (I gave my usual advice, below) I realized what had changed with my writing, patience. Instead of ripping off a few hundred words and leaving it be, I have been ripping off drafts (highly recommend this, get the words down), then going back a few days later to work on the draft, then a few days more. Slowly and thoughtfully applying my skills to shape a draft into something more. Along the way, this has expanded the scope and scale of the story I started.
Before I get into patience, here is a bullet point version of the advice:
Compelling Characters, Villains, and Obstacles
- Compelling characters and villains, have their own motivations and worldview.
- Character motivations do not need to directly relate to the main plot. I prefer characters who have to interact with the plot while coping with their own motivations. Example: A detective, whose only motivation is to solve the plot of the week, is less interesting to me than a detective with a drinking problem, a desire to become wealthy and motivational issues who is tossed into the plot of the week.
- Villains need to be as compelling and interesting as the characters, in some ways more so. Well-rounded villains are interesting in their own right and makes for compelling/interesting reading.
- Villains are plot generators. Villains want something or to do something. Villains are not the plot; give villains motivations that are different from the plot. Example: Destruco Bob who only wants to hold the world hostage is less interesting than Destruco Bob who wants to hold the world hostage to impress the woman he loves.
- Nothing wrong with the villain winning because a character moved on, missed something, or life got in the way.
- Obstacles prevent characters from completing tasks, obstacles do not have to be interesting all of the time, but if you are going to place an obstacle in front of a character make the obstacle compelling to the reader.
Locations and/or Environment
- Put your characters in interesting places.
- Interesting does not mean unique; interesting means providing enough details to make the location/environment seem alive and not a backdrop for the characters to act in front of.
Let everything grow
- Characters have a mind of their own. This is a hard concept to grasp, as the writer; I have complete control over the entire story? Yes and no.
- Yes, I put the words down, but there are times when I see a character doing something other than what I was writing.
- No, some of my characters live in my head; they occupy space until I write down their adventures. There are times when I have a scene written out in my head ready to go and a character will come along and do something completely different, in character. This causes me to make a choice, do I a.) write the scene as planned ignore what my character would do or b.) write in the direction the character has indicated?
- Even better, there have been times when a character, living in my head, has gone and done something in character resulting in a worse situation. I try to write those situations out. Does the character know best? Probably not, but it makes the character more relatable, because everyone has those moments.
I forgot one thing and I did not realize I forgot or maybe did not know until a day later while working on another revision, patience. Ripping off a story is easy. Going back and crafting a story into something more is hard. A writer needs to have the patience to let the writing unfold.
Ripping off a story and working on it later that day or the next day is not the same as taking a day or two or even a week before returning to that story. The difference between working on a draft the next day and week is immense. The next day I fill in the blanks, missing words, incomplete ideas, spelling, and other small easy to find things. A few days later, conceptual holes, flaws in organization, clarity issues, more spelling and punctuation, places where I can expand or sections to remove.
A day or two later, the writing is still on the brain, as such the eyes and brain see what they want to see. Three or more days later, the writing may be in the background, but the original process is gone, cleared so to speak, when the eyes and brain look at the writing, new vision. Waiting for that time to pass, takes patience.
Waiting is difficult especially when writing comes in bursts. A burst of writing leads to another and another. Seeing all the words on paper (or screen) leads to thinking, you did something and you did. Now take a few days off from that work. Work on something else or just take a break and read (good writers read a lot). Then come back. All of that work can be better because you will have fresh eyes and thoughts.
Patience is that missing piece.