So, what am I spending my time on now? I warn you, this is going to be a bit of a selfish post since it’s dedicated to ME! Me, me, me! Well, hopefully that won’t be a bad thing. I’m writing this article to let you into I guess what goes on in my head as I’m working on something. I’d consider this a very brief and hopefully candid version of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Punk.
First of all, what am I writing? That’s simple. I’m finishing a short story, I have another one with the tentative beginning in place, and I have a third that is at the second draft stage. For now, I am struggling with making sense of the story that is at the center of my attention. It’s an odd feeling of… I don’t know if there is a word in the English language to describe it and unfortunately my German friend informed me that the word unheimlich is no longer used in the way that Heidegger used it. But if I could use it, then it would mean “not being home,” or unfamiliarity but in a subtler way than in just coming across someplace new. This is almost a feeling not of a strange place but of being out of place. And I feel this with my most recent story, possibly because of the fact I am way over the word limit most magazines will accept and I have yet to get to the climax and possibly because there is just something slightly amiss. There is a good chance I will rewrite the entire story and try for an entirely different feel, a different texture. One of the worst things you can do is write for publication. I am not joking. I know some say that as soon as you put a word on the page you are writing for publication but if you find you are going down that path, stop yourself. However, sometimes writing with a word limit in mind can be very useful. It helps constrain your story and forces you to choose your words carefully and make every one of them count. The other issue is something you really do need to deal with directly and that I am trying to figure out. The problem is that I can’t really point to one thing in this story and say, “This is the culprit. Take this out and it will all fall into place.”
Then there is the much more insidious possibility that there isn’t anything inherently wrong with it but I am interpreting and making a problem where there is none. This is much more problematic and is more an issue of perspective. A piece of writing can be modified in rather short order but perspective takes a while. It takes time away and usually something novel as a catalyst. I’ve often said one of the best ways of ditching writer’s block is to do, go, or see something new. Is this strategy effective here? I’m not sure. I’ll be finding out soon though. One thing I can be fairly certain of is that I need to make my central character stronger. Perhaps my central character is to blame. He may just not be that interesting. I fear that this may be the case and I suppose that can be attributed to something that I now, as I write this, acknowledge I do. In trying to make my characters seem more realistic, I try to make them like the average person. We all have little quirks and stuff but many of us are nondescript, just trying to go about our business. We worry about our relationships and our future. Will we be able to pay the bills? Are our jobs secure? Does the roof need mending? But in fiction, we want more. I think we want someone who is a bit larger than life. While he doesn’t need to be Achilles or some other demi-god, we do want our characters to be interesting. They need to reflect us just enough for us to identify with them but be grand enough for us to want to follow them.
So with that sorted out for the moment and a new plan to make right this set back, I’ll let you in on what kind of stories these are. Big surprise, they are horror but they are different takes on horror. The completed work is much more of a hybrid that includes science fiction, body horror elements, drama, and tragedy. The one I am working on is a straight Lovecraftian affair with cosmic monstrosities beyond the boundaries of space and time. The third is a psychological horror dealing with murder and guilt. I generally enjoy playing around with these different ways of exploring fear and the human condition. Plus, different ideas and intentions come from the experiences that inspired the stories. For instance, I got the idea for my current story from the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. There was an incredible and very ornate shrine and the story just came from nowhere. The structure and major plot points was born in the blink of an eye. However, as I’ve found out, the construction process can be vicious even when everything seems to be already in place. Sometimes the bolts don’t go into the holes you thought they would or there is board at a bad angle that makes the entire structure unstable. These are things that I’m still learning to deal with. Revising not just your completed first draft but your entire way of going about writing is proving to be a valuable if hard-learned skill. Hopefully reading this will help some of you as much as writing it has helped me.