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What Am I Doing, Again?

September 30, 2015

Today, I’m conflicted.

On the one hand, I’ve been writing lots of words on my days off, good words too—an action scene and its aftermath, for starters, and the Side Project That Must Not Be Named that I bashed out in an hour or so the other night. It feels as good as ever to be writing, knowing you’re laying down something quality, and I’m really excited to see what happens to my characters next.

On the other hand, I’ve been paying attention to writing advice again. This time round, it’s advice about dialogue and characterization through dialogue. “People don’t say what they mean,” the advice goes. “Neither should your characters. They should have a secret agenda that they’re pursuing through a scene.” This is pretty good advice and to some extent I’ve been following it all along.

To some extent. Not every conversation I’ve written has subtext. Not every conversation I’ve written needs subtext, I don’t think, especially if there are minor characters involved. Does the neighbour need a motive for talking to the protagonist, or the waiter, or the very sweet librarian? If I give them one beyond “saying hello is polite” or “getting paid to”, they’re liable to blossom into subplots, and the less said about the trunk novel, the better. Is that agenda enough? I’m no longer sure.

I’m also not writing in a genre right now that requires a lot of political machination, a lot of doublespeak, a lot of constrained social structures, the way the advisors are. Urban fantasy can be like that, sure, but I’m aiming for the middle of the fluffier, breezier end of the genre. My characters do feel things out, don’t get me wrong, and they have reasons for speaking, but can’t they just sometimes talk to each other? Fill each other in on the mystery at hand? Am I wrong on that? Is the lack of secondary motive a sign of weak characterization, and my characters should all be trying to, I don’t know, get more money or complain about their childhoods or something?

That’s not even getting into the advice that “every scene needs a beginning, middle, end, aftermath, and a point.” I agree in theory, but when I look at what I’ve written so far (which is admittedly governed by instinct) I don’t see that. At all. Some scenes need work, because this is a first draft we’re talking about, but I’m not unconsciously writing each scene like its own story, which it sounds like I’m supposed to? How do I even go about that?

Guess I’ve just got to keep plugging away with what I’m doing, fix the whole mess in edits, and try not to drive myself crazy in the meantime.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Harold Rhenisch permalink
    September 30, 2015 12:44 pm

    Sounds like you have an excellent plan. I think you could draw a principle out of the advice you’re wrestling with: know why your characters are talking, given that you’re the author and all. The best time to know this is some time before the book goes to print, but sometimes it comes later. Sometimes readers skip over whole chunks of dialogue if the latter is the case. It doesn’t seems to deter many, from what I’ve heard.

    • anassarhenisch permalink*
      September 30, 2015 10:29 pm

      Yeah, I think you’re right. Something to bear in mind during the edits, I think. Suspect I’m on the right track already and just overthinking things out of insecurity. You know how it goes.

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