I Will Do This… I Think [On Writing Confidently]

If you listen closely, a lot of people say “uh” or “um” while they’re talking.  It’s a normal hesitation, born from our tendency to speak before we’ve fully formed what we want to say.  In fact, not only that—but we repeat ourselves a lot.  Not necessarily because we feel the need to reiterate our words, but usually both happen because we’re trying to gather our thoughts together enough to finish what we’re saying.

Hold that thought for a moment.

A while ago, I don’t remember when, exactly, but it probably started around mid 2013-ish, I started having issues with my writing.  Something about my writing style felt off, but I had no idea what it was.  A friend offered to critique my novel to help me out, but that didn’t end up panning out, I think probably because of school and stuff.  (Though, I very much appreciated that friend offering to help, and I hope he realizes that.)  Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I needed to just keep going and not worry about what was off.

After all, does the writing style worry so much in draft one?  At that point in time, I didn’t even have a finished first draft to work on, so my concentration needed to be on finishing something, not micro-editing it, yeah?  So I kept going.

Obviously, it’s been a while since 2013.  My plan worked.  I kept writing, and late last year, I finished a project.  I’m still not at the point where I can micro-edit—I’m still barely past two-thirds of the way through draft two, and I know draft three will still have lots of macro-edits, thanks to random plot twists and disobedient characters that made draft two still not totally coherent (but still better than draft one).  However, since that time, my writing style has changed and I feel more confident about it.

In fact, I daresay, I like my voice.  Not to say I can’t stand for improvements, but I feel like I have a good basis.  What changed?

First of all, I had more experience.  Funny what experience can do and how it can change things, even if it’s just the tiny bit that I had.

But what I want to focus on here is—confidence.

I started sounding more confident.

Now, you remember how we were talking about how people naturally hesitate and repeat themselves?  Somewhere along the lines, I noticed this, and I started to insert it into my writing, thinking that if I did so, then I’d make my characters’ speech sound more realistic.

Simultaneously, I did another thing.  For a writer and an artist, I suck at noticing things. I also am really horrible at picking out people’s intentions.  So many times somebody’s said something, and then I found out they actually meant something different than what they said, and, I honestly had no idea until they told me.  Unless it was sarcasm.  Don’t ask me why, but I can pick up sarcasm, but nothing else of that sort.  (And my family likes to use straight-faced sarcasm.  Not easy to do or to pick up on, believe me.  But I’m not half bad at it.)

As a result of that, when I’d write, I’d sometimes wonder if I would fail to pick up on things in my own writing.  For example, I’d have a character, and I’d be pretty sure she was fierce, but… then I’d wonder, what if I was writing it wrong or misunderstanding my own writing, and she was actually just…cruel?  So what I did was instead of writing “fierce”, instead I’d find a way to not use the word at all, or I’d stick an adverb in front of it, and say something like “kind of fierce”.  Then, if she wasn’t fierce, I wouldn’t really be wrong, because I said “kind of fierce” not “fierce“.

It really doesn’t work that way.  For example:

“It’s kind of hot out here.”

“It is not.  It’s actually really nice.”

“I said ‘kind of’ hot.”

“No, it isn’t hot at all!  Feel this breeze; its really nice.”

I have conversations like this with my younger brothers.  It really doesn’t work the way they intend it to—often, it’s just annoying.  And it makes you sound really hesitant.

Now listen to this:

“She—she isn’t here… I think she’s, uh, back at the hotel.”

Versus this:

“She isn’t here; she’s back at the hotel.”

I did both of these things.  And the result was that my writing sounded very, very hesitant and unsure of itself.  Of course it sounded off!  I might as well have been a six year old talking about astrophysics.  Except that that six year old would have still sounded more confident than me.  (Little kids have this strange way of sounding as if they knew exactly what they’re talking about, even when they clearly don’t.)

Do I still do these things?  Yes.    I can’t say I’m past saying “I think” and “kind of” everywhere, but I’m more aware of it, and I’m fixing it.  And I still have plenty of “uh”s and “um”s in my writing, but only where I want a character to sound hesitant.  The above examples—that top one isn’t wrong.  That could be a perfectly fine piece of dialogue.  But it’d be in a very different scene than the second one, wouldn’t it?

Hesitation is a tool, to be used like any other emotion.  But it can be used wrongly or in the wrong situations.  Or just plain overused. And what’s the result of sounding hesitant all the time?

Well, apparently, your writing will sound off.

But you’ll also feel less confident.  Are you sure you know what you’re talking about?  Are you sure that’s what happened?  Are you sure it wasn’t this, instead?

You are the writer.  You are putting the words on the page.  You know what happened for sure.  Even if you feel like your characters are in control of you, you still know what’s going on.  Your job is to communicate this story from the lives of your characters’, and into the imaginations of your readers.  How can you do that if you sound hesitant?

No.  Be confident.  She is at the hotel.  The weather is pleasant.  There is a nice breeze.

Your readers will believe you when you tell them this.  They will not believe you when you tack an “I think” onto the end.

 

Short Story: Tears of Waiting

I’ve been wanting to write an all-dialogue short story ever since I read Brandon Sanderson’s I Hate Dragons” short story (and if you haven’t read that, you need to right now), but I’ve never gotten around to actually doing it.  Until now.  This is rather short, and I’m not sure if it’s really all that good (I mean, even if I don’t compare it to Sanderson’s work), but…well.  Here it is.

“I told him not to come back.”

“The boy never listened.”

“I know, but I’d hoped he might this time…”

“You mean, you hoped he would have made it this time, unlike all the others.”

“Yes.”

“You are so sentimental.”

“You blame me for growing attached?”

“Growing attached is what causes the problems.  You know that!  We can’t grow attached.  It only makes losing them that much harder.”

“If I’m sentimental, you’re cyncical.  Do you ever believe that one of them might make it?”

“After so many years, no.  I don’t believe any of them ever will make it.  I believe that we’ll be stuck here, as we are, for decades more to come, waiting in vain.  We might even have to wait centuries before we’re finally given up on.”

“That’s what your waiting for?  For it to give up on us?  We have to hope that one of them will make it!”

“Why?  None of the ones we actually liked made it!  What’s the point anymore?  I’m struggling to see why we don’t just send them away when they come, before we start to like them, and before they get hurt, and before they have any opportunity to fail.”

“If we do that, we’ll only guarantee that we’ll never leave.  You can’t win if you don’t fail.”

“What is that supposed to mean?  When they fail, they die!  Unless they’re supposed to come back from the dead, I don’t see how them failing the first time will help them win in the future!”

“That’s not what I mean.”

“What do you mean, then?”

“I mean that many of them will have to fail before there will be one that will succeed.”

“How do you know there will be one to succeed?”

“There are over seven billion people on the planet.  We’ve only had two dozen come…there are more, and there’ll be at least one who will be strong enough.”

“But that one person may very well be the last person left.  The seven billionth.”

“Perhaps.”

“Then we’ll be waiting no matter what.”

“Probably.”

“So why don’t we just send them away?  If we have to wait, we might as well wait without watching them get hurt.”

“Look, I hate watching them die as much as you do.  But we can’t truly get out of this without their help.  Waiting for it to…go away?  It will only come back again.  We have to be freed.”

“I don’t like it.  I don’t want to cry again.  You know I hate crying.”

“May our tears lead the right one to us.”

“That still requires waiting, and, oh…”

“Are you crying?”

“Yes.  Another one is coming, don’t you see him?”

“I do.  He looks strong.  Stronger than the others.”

“Probably not strong enough.”

“Why are you so skeptical?”

“If I make myself not believe, maybe it’ll be easier when he fails.  Maybe I won’t cry so much.”

“You’re already crying.”

“And so are you!  How is hoping any better, if it only makes you cry more?”

“I will not let myself stop hoping.  Life isn’t worth living if you don’t hope in something.”

“We aren’t even living, not like this.  This is torture.”

“Maybe it’s practice for when we get our lives back.  If we hope now, then it’ll be easier then.”

“Do you really believe in that?”

“I guess so.”

“Do you see him?  He’s almost made it to the end.”

“Maybe he’ll be the one, then.”

“Maybe.”

“Two more steps left.”

“He fell.”

“He—oh, I don’t believe it!  He seemed so promising…”

“They always let us down in the end.  I told you that.”

“We’re just waiting for the right one.”

“I suppose so.  But oh, I hate crying…”

Dialogue, Word-count Goals, and Unimaginative Blog Post Titles

So. Like my last post said, I’m doing quite nicely with my writing/editing. My cousins have been over for the past week, and you’d think that’d mean I wouldn’t have time for writing, but to be frank, I used it as an excuse to write more. Those particular cousins are very noisy and I have a tendency to get stressed out when there’s a lot of noise indoors. In other words, I spent most of the week cuddled up in a corner with my headphones and just wrote.

It was quite productive and an excellent escape of noise and stress.

The best part is, I finally figured out what my issue is with my dialogue. If you were to read any of my writing—at least, the recent stuff—you’d probably notice that there’s a lot of dialogue and not as much else as there could be. I always thought it was that I had too much dialogue. Something was wrong, something didn’t flow quite right, and I thought it was the dialogue. My mother told me that it was fine, but I couldn’t figure out what the problem was.

The problem is that I’m not having things with the dialogue. As soon as a character starts talking, I forget to mention what they’re doing. As far as my dialogue goes, a character could be strolling along the sidewalk, about to go shopping, but as soon as he opens his mouth, he’s not walking or doing anything. He might be frowning a bit or smiling or something, but otherwise he’s rather impassive.

Now that I’ve noticed this problem, it’s so obvious, and I’m wondering how I ever managed to make the mistake. At least I can fix it though, right? I’m sure there are other little quirks and things that I need to correct still, but I think this was major issue and was really bringing my confidence in writing down.

Meanwhile, I’m really starting to get anxious for NaNoWriMo this up and coming month. I can’t remember if I mentioned it before, but I’ll be writing a sequel for November, which is a completely new thing for me. I’ve never written sequels before.

I went through the Word-Count Goal Calculator and it set me a goal of ~73k. That…seems a like a lot, but it’s possible I can make it. I wrote roughly 60k in a month before, so if I try a little harder, I think I might be able to make it to at least 70. I know at the beginning of the year, I was hoping to try for 75, then wasn’t so sure when the school year started.

I’ve noticed, after timing myself and going through several different Word Wars, that I write, on average, about 100-150 words every five minutes. If I could figure out how much time per day, approximately, I have to write, then I could figure out a goal myself (though, that’s probably how that calculator works), but the problem is that I honestly have no clue how much free time I’ll have in November. I estimated about an hour and a half from the amount of time I had in September, but who knows if that’ll stay up until the end of next month.

So the moral of this post is: don’t forget to pay attention while you’re talking.

Or something like that.

Critique and Feedback

I realized I am missing one of the important things with my writing: critique and feedback.  In my last post, I mentioned that I’m starting to look into publishing.  It turns out, though, that I’m not quite ready for that stage.

As of yet, I haven’t had anyone read my novels (at least, all the way through) for the point of criticizing.  A few people have read it for fun and told me they liked it, but…whereas that makes me feel better, it’s not constructive.

I’ve known that I need some outside feedback for a while, but I only recently realized how much I needed it.  I’m at the point, right now, in my writing, where I’m trying to improve my skill by looking at the problems I make, and attempting to fix them.  The problem is, I’m finding problems everywhere.  Dialogue, structure, description, sentence-structure, everything.  Yet, I have no clue if these issues I’m finding are real, or if they’re all in my head.  I know most of them are probably imaginary, but I don’t know which ones and how much.

So, yesterday, I had a big three-hour-or-longer-discussion with my mother.  (You know how writers often say, don’t go to your mom for criticism because she’s going to love everything you write, even if it’s terrible?  Well, my mom’s cooler than that.  She loves it and helps me out.)  It turned out that I had some loopholes, plot holes, and other holes that I wasn’t even aware of.  It all made perfect sense in my head, but it didn’t actually make much sense at all.

Hmm.  I now have a decently sized list of things I have to think about and then fix in this draft.  It’s going to be more eventful than I realized.

I guess publishing might still be a ways off…