It’s so annoying when your ideas outstrip your talent.

Posted: January 27, 2008 in Fiction

Man have I got a great idea. Really. I mean it’s a great idea. Well, maybe it’s actually more of a great concept then an idea.

I have an idea for a story or series of stories that quite possibly use a standard horror critter in a way that would capture a problem in today’s world perfectly. And the bonus of it (for me at least) is that I can actually say something about life in America today. The thing is, I’m having a hell of a time with it.

See, this is such a perfect fit for this type of monster that it’s almost too hard to not have it be too obvious an allusion or analogy or to seem like the concept is being slammed into the face of the reader in a ham-fisted manner. I’m sure it can be done, but right now my skill as a writer is just running the idea in circles through my head, my notebook and my Word program.

What’s really tripping me up is creating the story in such a manner as to have the reader enjoy it without having the underlying symbolism hit them until some later time after they’ve finished the story. Flipside: I don’t want it to be so buried in the story as to be unnoticeable or irrelevant.

*sigh*

It’s so much easier writing tickets and reports. You never feel like a completely useless moron.

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Comments
  1. Sean says:

    Okay, my interest is piqued. What is it, how can I help, and WHAT IS IT?

    E-mail me if you don’t wanna give up the, er, ghost too early.

  2. Micha says:

    I know exactly how you feel. If I can help don’t hesitate to ask. I find that I am better at helping others then myself in that regard.

  3. Sean says:

    Thinking about this problem, and I’ve sort of come up with something, though lightning’s probably gonna strike me dead for suggesting it. Write it out not worrying about making it obvious or not, or outline it, really flesh it out, and then go back and make it more subtle. But the trouble with allegory is sometimes it can be TOO subtle, and no one picks up on it.

  4. Micha says:

    It seems to me that it’s a recurring problem in writing — controlling the flow of information between the writer and the reader. I don’t know if it’s a skill problem as much as finding the right balance. You might have to write and rewrite a lot, but you’re a good writer and you’ll figure it out.

  5. jjchandler says:

    First, thanks for the ideas and the offers of assistance.

    The biggest issue I’m having, or as much as I can say right now without giving everything away, is that my ability to do this actually alters the storyline and the events in the storyline. How much? Well, I would actually be following completely different lead characters and supporting characters as well as having completely different settings and situations. Yeah, I’ve actually got two different stories banging around in my head for the same “event” and for the same reason. The problem is that, right now, only one should really exist and the one I want to have exist is the one that I’m having difficulty with.

    It’s not even a matter of having two different good stories in my head. The one I most want to tell strikes me as a good story with infinite possibilities to springboard from down the road. The other strikes me as a pretty ok Sci-Fi Saturday Night Original Movie concept. Not knocking all of those films, but I was hoping for a little more with this.

    It’s just the problem of subtly conveying the ideas of the real world in a manner that isn’t immediately picked up on by the reader while also not being so subtle as to be buried and lost under the “monster” story. It might even be near impossible for anyone given the idea, the real world subject matter and the horror skin I’ve decided to give it. If I feel like I’m pulling it off, then I’ve got the story I’m looking for. If I can’t quite pull it off, then there are things that I can do to tip the idea into the direction I want the reader to pick up on. Catch is, they may actually be so obviously presenting what I’m using them for that they scream out “OBVIOUS ANALOGY CLUMSILY DONE!!!!!!” in bright, blinking neon colors.

    I’d forgotten how much writing sucks.

  6. Micha says:

    “I’d forgotten how much writing sucks.”

    My problem is that I don’t think I have the language skills necessary to tell my story well.

  7. jjchandler says:

    Micha, I love yah. You’re a nice guy.

    You’re also completely nuts.

    Micha, you have, in debate after debate after debate, shown that you can convey ideas and concepts masterfully when you want to. That’s half the damned battle. Hell, that’s maybe even two thirds of it. You can convey what matters in an extremely clear, concise and articulate manner.

    You’ve also shown a very well developed creative ability whenever discussions have involved story concepts, story construction, the internal logic of a story and how to tie several story arcs together without creating a train wreck. Short version: You’ve displayed almost all of the tools you need in an extremely consistent manner for a long time now.

    So, are you worried about how artistically you can convey those ideas and concepts? Is it the worry that your purple pros may be a little too far in the red? Well, that’s what rewrites are for. Build and finish your foundation of your house first and then come back and hammer up the fancy shudders, woodwork and overly expensive patio bricks. If you step back after that and decide that your shudders are a bit uneven, your woodwork doesn’t really blend in well and that your bricks aren’t level… Well, there’s a solution or two out there for that as well. The easy one is just finding a friend you trust who you don’t mind splitting a partial writing credit with. You must have at least a few friends over there who can help you out in the “pretty pros” department. That may be the easiest problem of all to address.

    And from everything you’ve shown us before, that problem, if it’s a problem at all, is the only problem you have.

  8. Sean says:

    Yeah, what he said!
    (I was actually going to post something much the same when I first read this, but it was 12:30 last night and I was really tired and I had to do tower work today and the moon wasn’t in the right phase and the Greys were going to come and probe me later and Brian was asleep(the BIGGEST reason!) and on and on and on….)

  9. jjchandler says:

    Micha, there’s another thing here that should be considered. Right now, as you work on your story, you may not have the writing style you want, but that doesn’t mean that the one you have is necessarily bad. Genre after genre, almost completely across the board, the one thing that some of the top writers in the field have in common is not always a set writing style.

    In Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Horror, Mysteries and Military Fiction, there are top guys in each field who write with very lush styles, very direct styles, very hard, punch to the gut styles and very matter of fact styles. Clive Barker, Stephen King, Shirley Jackson, H. P. Lovecraft, Richard Matheson and fill-in-your-favorite-popular-author are all revered in horror fan circles. Each has a different style of writing. Ray Bradbury writes his Sci-Fi in a completely different style then Isaac Asimov wrote his. Each man is considered a master.

    If you have a good story to tell that draws on your perspective of the world and says things about life as you see it; the best voice to tell the story in will ultimately be your true voice. The “voice” that you’ve displayed on blog after blog and in thread after thread is an extremely good one. If you have a good story to tell, then it’s a voice that’s more then sufficient for the job. Plus, it can only get better and more refined with practice and experience.

  10. Bill Myers says:

    Micha, I’m pressed for time and I don’t know of any way to “cushion” what I’m about to say anyway.

    You either want to write or you don’t. You’re either willing to face your fears or you’re not. It’s a simple, binary, up-or-down choice. Do it or don’t do it.

    I was considering joining Jerry and Sean in trying to offer you support until I realized: ultimately, no one can give you confidence. You have to give it to yourself.

    It’s been said that you have to do 1,000 bad drawings to get to a good one, and to write 1,000 bad pages to get to a good one. The problem with you and I is that we tend to recoil when we do those necessary bad pages.

    Well, I’ve stopped. Just posted a drawing in my blog and already it’s making me cringe. But you know what? It’s one of my 1,000 bad drawings.

    How many pages have you written, Micha? Subtract that number from 1,000. That’s where you’re at.

    How good can you possibly be? You’ll never know if you don’t try. What’s the worst that could happen? Trying and failing? No, I don’t think that’s the worst thing. Not trying and never knowing — that would truly be the worst thing.

    You’re a good, intelligent, and in my estimation, talented person. Do you want to be kind to yourself and give yourself the opportunity to explore how good you can be? Or do you want to be cruel to yourself and deny that to yourself?

    That’s an up-or-down, binary, yes-or-no question. Make your choice. If you choose to try, you’ll soon find your fears will be worn down to a manageable state. If you choose not to try — well, I think that’s the wrong choice but only you can know what’s right for you. And as Neil Peart wrote in the lyrics to “Freewill,” “…if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

    Think about it. If you decide to try, I’ve gotcher back.

  11. Sean says:

    A while back Micha sent me some of his stuff. The ideas are all very good, very original. Coming up with the idea is half the fight.

    I don’t know if I’m understanding something. When you said you didn’t have the language skills, was it that you couldn’t tell your story, or that you couldn’t tell your story in a way completely unique? If it’s the latter, don’t put the editing cart before the writing horse. Get the story out on the page, then once you have all the peices, then tweak it. And don’t sell yourself short.

  12. Bill Myers says:

    Micha, given this outpouring of support, can you not see that you’re worrying unecessarily about a “lack” of talent? Get off the dime and write. The very act of writing regularly will cause you to improve organically.

    I must admit I’ve not yet read your stories and will get off my own dime to do so. I’m sure if there are any flaws in them, they will co-exist with virtues. Keep writing, and the virtues will begin to outweigh the flaws. Eventually, those virtues will overshadow any flaws… and eventually, the flaws will becom overwhelmed.

    How many times can we tell you that you have a keen mind and unique insights? I can’t imagine that wouldn’t translate into good stories.

    Again, it’s an up-or-down, yes-or-no, binary choice. You will either write or you won’t.

    You are not of your fears. They are of you. You own them, not the other way around.

  13. Micha says:

    First, thanks for th kind words.

    “You’re also completely nuts.”

    True. That’s probably part of the problem.

    I’ll add more when I find the time tomorrow or the next day.

  14. Bill Mulligan says:

    Yeah, what they all said.

    Most of the really talented people I know seriously underestimate their own talent.

    Conversely, many of the assclowns I’ve run into think that their fecal matter smells like daisies. It’s a conundrum.

  15. Micha says:

    Thanks again for the support. I have no intention of giving up writing as of yet. My problem is this: with ideas, characters, scenarios, interconnections, plots etc. I can draw on my own imagination and instincts and no that there is sufficient wealth there to draw from. It is not always easy, but I usually know that ideas will eventually present themselves, and that I’ll have a reasonably good sense (I hope) that I’m going in a good direction. The problem Jerry has falls into that category for me — figuring out the right balance. But the technical skill of writing: vocabulary, phrases, idioms, expressions, dialect, paragraphs, sentences, commas (those damn commas), I find more difficult because I don’t have the same wealth to draw on as I do with the stories. There are times when I am very satisfied that I got good imagery, good style to my writing. But at other times I am frustrated that I don’t succeed in translating the feel I have in my mind in to words in a satisfying way, or that my sentence structure and such looks clunky. And it’s not even just when I try to get fancy. Sometimes the simplest sentences don’t work. It’s all very annoying. More so because the genre I’m writing is usually characterized by rich language. It’s a little like being a director who knows only how to use some of the technical equipment.

    I’m currently reading a book by Lois McMaster Bujold. She is writing in the same genre I aspire to write. I don’t think her story or characters are significantly better than mine, but she writes very nicely, which is a little discouraging. In a sentence she uses the phrase “weary beyond measure”. I know what the phrase ‘beyond measure’ means. I’ve heard it before many times. It is a good simple phrase. But when I write my mind does not always have direct access to phrases like that when I’m trying to write that a character is very tired, even if, in my mind, I have a very clear idea of exactly what the character feels.

    Oh, and I’m also a nut who is never satisfied.

    But don’t worry, I’ll continue pushing along. It is very easy for me to give up. My natural state is one of in-action. But I do want to see this story written. I have to push myself more. It’s just that it’s extremely frustrating going through sentence after sentence that at times don’t sound just right. That’s the difficult part about writing for me. It’s one thing to look at a map and plan the general route, the sites you want to visit, the gear you’re going to take. It’s another to actually take the journey, pass the bumpy roads, climb the mountains, commit to one small trail over another.

    Oh, I also have a problem similar to Jerry’s of not being sure if I’m being too obvious or too subtle or too something with the general flow of the story. But that’s a problem that can be dealt with by writing and then making adjustments if necessary. The skill here — knowing when to make the adjustments — is one I’m more confident with (relatively).

    Thanks again. And now back to Jerry’s regular programming.

  16. Bill Myers says:

    Micha,

    As you are no doubt aware, Lois McMaster Bujold did not coin the phrase “beyond measure.” I myself have heard and read the phrase countless times over the years. My point? The next time you hear or read a phrase that you like, jot it down in a notebook for future use. Then, when looking for a phrase, you’ll have “direct access” to a bunch of phrases you like. Over time, you’ll probably jot down enough that you’ll never be at a loss for words. 🙂

  17. Sean says:

    “Oh, and I’m also a nut who is never satisfied.”

    Yeah, we don’t have any of THOSE around here, (Best Brian Blessed voice)DO WE?

    Reading through your explanation, Micha, and I hope I’m not being too thick or obvious here, write it, put it down, read it the day after you finish, then mark anything that needs to be changed. Don’t let yourself be strangled by pretty much arbitrary rules of grammar. And don’t worry about the commas.

  18. Micha says:

    “As you are no doubt aware, Lois McMaster Bujold did not coin the phrase “beyond measure.” I myself have heard and read the phrase countless times over the years.”

    Me too. That’s why I’m frustrated that siple phrases like that are not as available to my mind when I’m writing. They add so much.

    “next time you hear or read a phrase that you like, jot it down in a notebook for future use. Then, when looking for a phrase, you’ll have “direct access” to a bunch of phrases you like. Over time, you’ll probably jot down enough that you’ll never be at a loss for words.”

    I’m actually ahead of you.I’m already going around with pieces o paper i the books I read, on which I write words I don’t know or I’m not sure of. The idea is to then go to the Merriam0Webster dictionary online (who knew it could be used that way?), find the words and copt tem to a word file. But I’ve written down many more words than I’ve checked. But I din’t think of writing down phrases, but you’re right, I’ll do that too. I’m somewhat frustrated by the fact that words and phrases I’ve read haven’t clinged to my mind strongly enough for me to use them when I need them.

    Sean, you’re right. I tend to highlight parts of my document I’m not sure of (grammer or style), so I can move on.. Unfortunatly, since I’m rarely sure, that’s a lot of highlighting and it draggs on my mind. But you’re point is taken. I shouldn’t let myself be dragged down.

    Anyway, thanks for all the help. It is appreciated and it does increase my motivation to write.

    Anyway,now that we’ve solved my confidence problems, what about you Jerry? Did you decide what to do?

  19. jjchandler says:

    Yeah, rip my hair out.

    Seriously, I’m not as worried about it as it may have come across. It’s frustrating, but it’s not stopping me from working on other ideas whenever I hit a roadblock on it. Plus, the roadblocks are causing the thing to mutate into another animal all together. Rather then being a single, ongoing, novel length story, it’s looking more like a series of shorts. That could actually work better then what I was trying to do before since I can then discard the notion of having to shoehorn one set of main characters into every event needed for the ideas I had.

    Oh, what program are you using to write with? I’ve found that the basic version of Microsoft Word catches spelling, grammar and punctuation errors quite nicely. And if it gets maddening in how it keeps tripping up over a story specific word, say Zarloganian, you can always add it to the dictionary. It stops tripping over the word and it helps you spell Zarloganian right every time.

  20. Bill Mulligan says:

    Kinda off topic…ok, TOTALLY off topic…but I knew you’d like this–http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoid=24033837

    It’s a fan made trailer for MARVEL ZOMBIES-THE MOVIE!!!

  21. jjchandler says:

    Nice. And less off topic then you might think. 🙂

    I love Kirkman’s Walking Dead series, but I’ve never picked up the Marvel Zombies books. Keep meaning to get around to it. $$$$ just ends up elsewhere whenever I’m about to be standing next to a copy.

    So Cap really isn’t dead. He’s just undead.

  22. Micha says:

    “Kinda off topic…ok”

    By now it is clear that zombies have a bearing on every issue imaginable.

    I’m not sure if my word is different from yours. It doesn’t like my writing very much: long sentences, passive voice, fragments. Less about punctuation though. Some.

  23. Sean says:

    Try doing a Trek screenplay in Word and watch it hyperventilate. Fun for the whole family.

    I was playing with cleaning my living room when I came across the green notebook that The Movie is in. Thumbed through a couple pages, then, in the midst of sideways-slamming myself because I can’t draw while looking at my storyboard pages, it hit me.

    Jerry and Micha could both do storyboards first. This way the ideas are out, you can play with them, and then either fill in the blanks or let someone edit up you grammar. It doesn’t matter if you can’t draw, as my boards prove. Just get the idea on paper.

  24. jjchandler says:

    And thus, as the Bar & Grill has served its purpose of helping others and bettering mankind, my job is done. I can fold up my tent, retire from blogging and pass the stewardship of the place over to my son…

    Ian. 🙂

    Ian… Ian! Stop drooling on the keyboard. Don’t jhftajh pound on jhditqw those lsdgfkfiuy keys! No, Ian! Take the trackball mouse out of your mouth… *sniff* Did you just blow your diaper? No! Take your hand out of that!

    So, as I was saying, who has time to retire these days?

  25. Sean says:

    Y’know, if I was in a more vindictive mood, I could REALLY go somewhere with that last post. Keyboard, Ian’s tail section, full circle-ish kinda thing. But I won’t.

    By the way, how’s the cat react to Ian? We were just talking about how for the six months after Brian was born the look that the smart cat used to give us when we were playing with the kid. The dumb cat never seemed to notice Brian.

  26. Jennifer Chandler says:

    Micha,

    As a foreign language major I read something completely different in your comment:
    “My problem is that I don’t think I have the language skills necessary to tell my story well.”

    If your worry is from the fact that English isn’t your native language (Jerry said he thought it was your 2nd)…you have nothing to worry about. You write better with better English skills than have the “great” writers out there. Remember the last step before publishing is getting it past editors (be they friends or professionals). An editor’s sole job is to correct any problems with grammar, punctuation and vocabulary.

    Good luck,
    Jennifer aka “Wife of the Proprietor”

  27. jjchandler says:

    Sean,

    With Nio it’s ok. He lets Ian pet him and then walks off when Ian gets a little too grabby.

    Rikki?
    “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god!!! What is it?!? Keep it awawy from me! Keep me away from it! Let me go! I wanna hide under the bed!

    AAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

  28. Sean says:

    Funny, Stace has the same reaction when I get home…..

  29. Micha says:

    I see you let Ian start his writing career early.

    Sean, the idea of storyboarding is interesting. I’m ot sure if it’s right for me though. I’ll have to think about it.

    Jennifer, it would be more accurate to say that English is my 2nd first language. My mother and grandmother are American. I speak a mixture of English and Hebrew at home. I read mostly english except newspapers. Luckily TV and movies are not dubbed but subtitled (except for some of the cartoons, but less so when I was a little kid). And most importantly I think straight in English and not translate as I think. But still, there is a difference between the way I understand English and the way people who grew up and lived in an English speaking environment do. That’s part of my problem. Writing involves more than just words, there are way to say things nicely, vocabulary, phrases, things you can’t get from a thesaurus, that enrich writing and give it flavor.

    For example, I wanted to write that a horse was startled and the rider fell. I knew that there were words and phrases that described that the way I wanted, that would be appropriate for a society where people kno how to talk about horses (unlike my own) but couldn’t remember them, or be sure that what I remembered was actually right. Another problem is structuring sentences. Part of this problem might be because my strange relatinship with English, part of it is just that I find it difficult to retain and access the phrases and vocabulary that I read and like. Since I’m writing medieval style fantasy I tried to be infuenced by the style of the medieval sources I’ve read (in English translation). But I’m not sure I’ve succeeded very well or just got something lame down. Time and editng wil tell (sometimes expressions do remain with me, but not always when I really need them). Also, Sean might be right that I should storyboard, since, let’s face it, I am very influenced by visual media — I try to describe what I see in my mind as pictures and sounds. On te other hand I do love language.

    In any case, all your support has encouraged me to continue dspite the difficulties, and I’ve made a little more progress enriching the scene I’ve been working for. As frustrating as it is to be stuck on the same scene for so long, there is somethng rewarding in seeing it improve. So thanks everybody.

  30. Sean says:

    Well, if it helps, I’ve been working for six years around horses and I’d STILL have problems doing either good descriptions or good dialogue about them. Reviewing everything I’ve heard over the years, the most common is “There’s a rider down,” but race announcers generally aren’t going artistic, they’re just updating the audience. If you’re going medieval, though, I wonder if that might work to your advantage. What point of view is this being told in? If you were doing it in first person, you could maybe do it in first and a half person kind of, have someone translating either something being told or something in a book that they’re actually not too sure of themselves. I’m thinking something like the guy in Close Encounters, the cartographer they recruited just so he could translate for Lancome, or whatever Francis Truffaut’s character’s name was. Could that work?

  31. jjchandler says:

    “Well, if it helps, I’ve been working for six years around horses and I’d STILL have problems doing either good descriptions or good dialogue about them.”

    Sean, I got two words for yah…

    Dick Francis

  32. Micha says:

    Thanks Sean. It’s not that complicated. It was just a batle scene. I just couldn’t find the right words. The scene is in the the chapter I sent you.

    “Pulling, almost climbing with savage desperation on the left side of his cloak was a thin, wild-eyed adolescent with skin the color of grime, a dagger thrust between his predatory teeth. Jorn struggled against the weight, desperately trying to keep hold of the stallion’s reins, but could not. His mount reared on its hind legs, and he lost his grip and came tumbling out of his saddle, crashing into the cold, damp earth, his breath knocked from his chest. ”

    It still sounds iffy to me.

    ———————-
    I just watched the second half of Electra on cable. It wan’t as bad as I was led to expect, alhough my perspective may be skewed. Still, I’ve seen worse. I wonder wha makes certain movies seem good to one and bad to another.

  33. Sean says:

    So, Jerry, has this helped YOUR writing any?

  34. Sean says:

    Dude, nobody’s ever gonna buy that sword story.

  35. jjchandler says:

    What? It’s the truth.

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