I stumbled upon this old blog post and felt that it perfectly summed up my my reason for being a writer in a way that I can't currently top. It also gives a little insight into the process of writing a book, starting with no previous experience and the simple need to write.
IT'S HARD TO imagine how you'll feel after finishing a long-term project, especially one that really means something. Will you feel relieved or sad? Elated, or put off the whole experience for life? Well, while plugging away at my first novel, picking it up and playing with it like a cat with a half dead mouse, only to drop it again (rinse and repeat), I never thought that I'd get to the end.
Looking back, it's easy to explain my wavering commitment.
The Wrong Frame of Mind
Crimson Touch began its life many years ago, not as book of any kind, but as a form of therapy. At the time, writing was the only thing that could give me the release I needed. I could take all the negativity in my head and pour it into the page, turning it into something positive in the process. The result of this was an amalgamation of everything I had been through -- converted into the form of a fictional character.
Years later, that same character still buzzed around in my mind. He haunted my daydreams and plagued my thoughts, never too far away. I frequently found myself wondering what his story was. When I finally did commit to taking the character further, it was to get him out of my head.
I had no idea what I was in for.
In it for the Long Haul
I don't know about you, but before I started writing I was a different person. Aimless and bored, I found it hard to be passionate about anything. I was average at most things I put my hand to and had picked up the nasty habit of getting by on minimal effort. This made me lazy.
I wrote half a draft, then gave it up as a bad job.
It's difficult to pinpoint the exact moment I decided to give a damn. But that was the moment when everything changed. Starting from scratch, this time I was in it for the long haul.
From that point on, I became someone I wanted to be. Focused, driven, passionate; I had purpose. I told anyone who would listen that I was writing a book. I got the same reaction from most people -- doubt and, god forbid, sympathy. They didn't believe I could do it. But the more people I told, the harder I was making it for myself to turn back. I read book after book on writing advice, articles on plotting and magazines that talked about style and voice. I read novels through the eyes of a writer, as well as a hungry reader.
Slowly but surely, the words were filling the screen. What I didn't realise, though, that I was still holding back. Emotionally.
'There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed'- Ernest Hemingway
It's natural to want to shield yourself from emotional discomfort. But going to that dark place in your heart and actually living it, feeling it, is necessary if you want it to be real for others. After all, how can you convince anyone that your characters are worth the emotional investment if you're not willing to go there yourself?
Writing the first draft of Crimson Touch has been a journey of self-discovery. I've learned what kind of person I am, as well as how to write a book (and how not to!) and actually finish what I start. Of course, writing a book is only the first step. The next few will be just as hard -- and just as rewarding.
IF YOU want your characters to jump off the page as your readers progress through your story, they must be believable. In fact, there are many key ingredients to creating vivid, life-like characters. I've covered the subject of character development in a previous blog post, (you can check that out here,) but today I'm talking about fatal flaws.
First, let's make sure we're on the same page. What exactly is a fatal flaw?
Fatal Flaws -- a Brief Introduction
Fatal Flaw -- a literary device that can be defined as a trait in a character leading to his downfall. The character is often the hero of the literary piece. This trait could be the lack of self-knowledge, lack of judgement and often it is hubris (pride).
No two characters in your world are alike. They have likes and dislikes, obsessions and fears. Their point of view of the world is unique. Their minds work in different ways. Their past experiences dictate the individual way they respond in any given situation, and it's this that makes a fatal flaw so deeply rooted within your characters.
So, why is this important and how does it fit into my story?
I'm so glad you asked.
The Varying Types of Flawed
Despite its misleading name, fatal flaws don't always have to be fatal -- they can range from minor inconveniences to major impediments. However, whatever degree of flaws your character possesses, they will always interfere with his or her journey.
Your character's fatal flaw (or flaws) will be a part of them, a negative trait or quality that comes as naturally to them as breathing. They may or may not be aware of them. They can like or dislike them, but they can't run away from them. Examples of such flaws are a quick temper, jealousy, pride or cowardice. And they don't always have to be a directly negative trait, either. Sometimes you can take a positive quality and amplify it, until its crippling effects become indirectly negative. For example, selflessness, ambition, perfectionism, and self-preservation.
Despite its origin, though, there will come a time within your story when these fatal flaws become obstacles in your hero or heroine's path, preventing them from succeeding. Your characters will have to overcome their own personal flaws in order to achieve their main goal.
Choosing the Right Flaws
In order to choose the right flaws for your characters and their story, you need to know them intimately. For the most part, writing the first draft of a story is an act of discovery. Whether you outline first then write, or make up the outline as you go, (the age old pantsers vs plotters conundrum, my friends, which is another blog post!), you may not immediately have a good idea of what flaw matches up with who -- especially if you're working with multiple points of view.
But sticking any old flaw on whichever character happens to take your fancy is not the way to go about assigning a tragic flaw. Think about your character's personality, their strengths and weaknesses. The right flaw not only enhances your perfectly imperfect hero, but the story, providing internal and external conflict as a result. Play with different combinations, see how they pan out. You may find that assigning the right flaw to your character unlocks a piece of the plot you didn't even know was missing.
Having imperfect characters with a clear weakness and blind spot also helps your readers identify with them. Think about it -- no one is perfect. Creating the a beautiful, brave hero to fearlessly jump in and save the day in every scenario may look and feel great your head, but why would we cheer him on when we know he can't fail? How can we relate to a character that seems to be perfect in every way? We as human beings don't know how to relate to perfection because we're not perfect. But failure is something that we can all relate to.
Flaws are vital part of any vivid character. They bring us closer to them and allow us to relate, or even sympathise, with that character. Fatal flaws are essential to plot, as well as character. They provide obstacles for our characters to overcome, or not, in order to reach their main goal. They also provide many internal and external conflict opportunities that enhance the overall reading experience.
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SOME PEOPLE suffer from a lack of ideas. Their well of creativity has run dry and so, they must take the time to replenish it before they try to squeeze out any more water.
This blog post is not for them. This post is for those who suffer from the opposite problem -- too many ideas.
But wait, you might say. How is it possible to suffer from too many ideas? Surely, that's a good thing.
Well, picture this. Your ideas are coming thick and fast. You're excited, inspired even. They are all you can think about. At work, going to bed... Buzzing around inside you. Finally, you sit down to work on your many enticing ideas. Where should you start? Which one is most deserving of your attention? As you work on your novel, that short story idea pesters you constantly. A poem sits at the back of your mind. Oh, and don't forget about that self-help book you've been meaning to write for a while now.
You'll need a doppelganger or three to get to get everything you want to do done.
Yes, having too many ideas can be just as crippling as having none. Indecision, that feeling of being overwhelmed by your hefty to-do list, procrastination -- some of the many negative side effects of having too many projects on the go. (Even if you haven't started them yet!)
Are you listening now? Good, because I have some tips for you.
*NB -- Indecision is not a real person. As much as I like to picture a little blue creature with a notepad running from idea to idea in our minds.
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Have a burning question for a future blog post? Post it in the comments below. I'll do my best to answer it.
UPDATE: My journal Get Organised! An Idea Tracker For Writers is now available to buy online. If you've struggled with the above issue, then this may help.
"Get Organised! An Idea Tracker For Writers is the perfect way to keep track of those moments of inspiration, strange dreams, daydreams, creative ‘aha!’ moments and project ideas that you don’t have time for now, but don’t want to forget.
Each idea section contains prompts to guide your thoughts, space to doodle or brainstorm, a simple idea rating system and plenty of lines to expand on those valuable ideas.
With this book, you need never lose an idea again!"
Author of bite-sized stories, with debut novel Crimson Touch out 2019.