Front Page, Musings

Weekly Musing: Strengths and Weaknesses

Every writer, no matter their level of experience and success, has their strengths and weaknesses. Some write such realistic dialogue the reader can hear the characters as if they were sitting next to them having a conversation. Others are able to weave incredibly tight, complex plots. Still others are able to juggle multiple points of view. While others excel at creating unique, compelling characters. But for every writer with a strength or two or three, they also have a weakness or two or three.

And that’s okay. In theory anyway. There is a ton of information about how to improve every aspect of your writing. For someone like me, a born perfectionist who overthinks pretty much everything (thanks anxiety), getting bombarded with such makes me feel that in order to get anything published I must excel in all areas. On an intellectual level I understand this simply isn’t possible. How many of my favorite books and authors could I point out the strengths and weaknesses?

So below are what I consider my strengths and weaknesses at this point. Admittedly there will probably be more weaknesses since I tend to focus more on the negative and how to improve. Anyway, typical massive writer insecurities aside, here we go!

Strengths

Dialogue: One of the things I always appreciate in any story is dialogue. Dialogue for me is not only what gives me a sense of who a character but the story as well. I’m also fascinating by how people talk. Their choice of words, regional slang and dialect, accents, cadence, it’s all interesting.

Since characters are usually the first things that pop into my head I often find I hear their voices before I see them. So when I’m writing I try my best to capture their voice as much as I can. I think in some small way I’ve been successful at this so far. It does take me a lot of effort to really listen in a scene and make sure each person in a scene sounds like himself or herself.

One Point of View: This year I came to the realization trying to juggle more than one person’s point of view isn’t my thing. Recognizing all of the stories I’ve written have always been from one point of view, one character’s point of view is what I’m much better at. My brain concentrates better on just one task and in this case, one person’s story. I can stay inside that person’s world and mind better and it’s easier for me to see things as they do.

Oddly enough, while I don’t particularly care for first person, I noticed a fair amount of the stories I’ve had published have been the ones written in first person. Maybe because this point of view allows more freedom in truly getting deep into the emotion of the person something third person can restrict.

Weaknesses

Setting: I’ve been trying to make more of an effort to bring settings out more. After all it’s what helps ground readers into the world. It’s a struggle for me because in my head I can see it perfectly but it’s difficult to figure out how to translate that visual onto the page. Stories I’ve written of late I think I’ve done a better job but more often than not I worry if I don’t have enough information. What confuses as I study what I read are authors who have the ability to use very few words to give the reader the setting while others go into beautiful, lengthy descriptions. As a reader I respond to both so as a writer I’m unclear as to which route to take.

Descriptions: In a similar vein to setting, descriptions trip me up. Mainly in regards to what characters look like and how best to introduce this when the reader first meets them. There are two schools of thought as to what is the “best” approach. Does one do a quick paragraph description or does one sprinkle details throughout? Personally I like getting the description all at once. I tend to forget what people look like unless there is some kind of memorable feature or if the author beats me over the head with reminders.

As I writer I struggle with seeing the characters in my head yet can’t seem to find a creative way to describe them beyond generic things like blue eyes, curly blonde hair, short, tall, has a limp, etc. This struggle filters over to what people are wearing. Since I tend to write sci-fi, fantasy, and historical fiction, what people wear and look like tend to be kinda important because it gives a visual cue to the reader as to what kind of person these people are.

Endings: I struggle mightily with endings. Beginnings I’ve gotten better at seeing where the appropriate place is to start the story and middles are easy. But endings, yikes. My spouse was the first, and still only person, to point out I seem to have a tendency to kill off characters as a way to end a story. This reeks of lazy writing to me.

Since I do some form of outlining, I’ve concentrated more on endings. I’m also listening to the most common feedback I get that my endings are weak. Honestly getting suggestions for what might work helps spurn my creativity. At least I can take some comfort in I’m not the only person who struggles with endings as many, many books, TV shows, and movies leave many of us unsatisfied.

Crowd Control: This is a term I use to refer to whenever a scene has more than two characters. I find managing two people easy enough. Anything more, oh dear. I have a tendency to forget people until rereading the scene. And heaven forbid there be anything else in the scene like weapons or animals to consider. I’ve started to take up diagraming on a piece of paper where people are physical at in relation to others to have a visual.

Emotion: This one could be in my head. Probably is. But I think I have yet to truly be comfortable allowing a character to be 100% honest in a story.

While I do well writing from a character’s point of view, I feel myself pulling back. I’m scared to dig deeper at times to let some kind of uncomfortable emotion come out for fear of offending. It’s not unusual for an author to be blamed for something a fictional character does. A fictional character is not a reflection of the author. Yet fear of judgment and possible hate email holds me back from allowing any kind of raw, pure emotion aside from what is socially acceptable from coming out.

This is something I view as pretty detrimental to my characters and ultimately my career and probably the one weakness which worries me the most. It’s also the one I think there is no amount of advice which can be given other than my own internal work to get over it.

 

So there you have it. My strengths and weaknesses as I see them right now. It is my hope I can turn some of these weaknesses into strengths. But I must keep in mind, and every other writer must keep in mind as well, that you cannot excel in all areas. Play to your strengths and work on your weaknesses.

Musings

Weekly Musing: Difficult Characters to Write

I admit I’ve been playing it incredibly safe in my writing up to this point. Safe subject matters. Safe emotions. Safe storylines. Safe characters. The problem lies in my risk adverse nature and the desire to please people. I don’t want anyone to be upset with me and I don’t need people to psychoanalyze my work debating if it is saying more about me as a person rather than paying attention to the story itself.

The stakes are high for a writer. You take an incredible risk when putting a story out for public consumption. And as someone as risk adverse as I am, this can increase the level of anxiety I already cart around. This is why over the past couple of years I have been so safe with my work. A lot of it is because I’m learning, or at least that’s what I’ve been telling myself. That excuse can last only for so long which is why I have been giving a lot of thought as to what I’m afraid to write.

I determined what scares me the most are not difficult subject matters, other cultures, or characters from a different background but difficult characters. I’m talking those low-life, soul-sucking, evil dredges of life. Straight up I’m-here-to-blow-up-the-world baddies. The unrepentant bitches of the world. Villains that do terrible things but for reasons we can relate to even if they are still criminals.

I fear THE DARKNESS associated with these types of characters. Getting into the mind of someone I find morally reprehensible to tell his or her story. Let’s face it, people don’t really care to see the human side of a bad person. I fear a reader’s dislike of an evil character will somehow come back to me and the reader won’t like me as a person. It’s really stupid logic. Idiotic thinking for a writer, too. If a reader gets emotionally invested in a character, that isn’t always a bad thing. Perhaps the writer’s doing something right.

A good villain taps into the darker side of all of us. That secret spot filled with thoughts we would be unwilling to admit to anyone of its existence. That there are those times we would love to be able to say nasty things to people, do hurtful things to people, to just unleash the primal form from within.

For all my reservations about going to the Dark Side, sometimes the most memorable and delicious of characters isn’t the good guy. I think about the characters of Augusta Pilaster and Micky Miranda in Ken Follett’s A Dangerous Fortune . Both are villains cut from the same cloth: power hungry, greedy, successful, liars, and ambitious. What intrigues me about these two is that throughout most of the novel, they get away with every lie, deceit, and falsehood. As the reader, I’m waiting with bated breath for them to get their comeuppance in the end while secretly enjoying a lot of the horrible things they do. It’s not that I dislike the good guys in the book, I root for them to have things work out for them, but those two antagonists are just so much fun. I do wonder if Mr. Follett had as much writing their scenes as I did reading them.