Saturday, September 15, 2012

Thoughts on my Writing and Writing What You Know

My sci-fi project has been kicking my butt lately. Normally I can write an episode every week, to week and a half, working for a short time in the evenings. The episode I was having trouble with before (the third) was tricky because I wanted to try some new themes and styles with it.

In trying to craft an episode into a certain mold I found myself struggeling to come up with the actual plot of the epsiode, something that normally doesn't give me trouble. Eventually I found the key was moving the big punch I was saving for the end to the middle. Why fill the episode with filler to get this one moment when we can start with that big moment and see the interesting stuff that comes after?

As I finished this episode I moved onto the fourth and set myself another challenge. I tasked myself with doing a bottle episode. A bottle episode is usually lite on plot and takes place in a single location. For instance the crew would never leave the ship, or the couple never leaves the apartment. These episodes are often regarded as the best or worst in a series, as the writers either phone it in or rise to the challenge. With no explosions or big events, with no outside forces it traps the writer into using character motives alone to drive the plot.

As I was trying to think of how to do this I kept hitting a brick wall. How do you make the uninteresting, interesting? As I thought out different plot elements I realized something about my own writing. I either can't or won't write a happy story. Every single thing I have ever written has been dark in some way. I'm not talking 40k, emo grim-dark here. I mean more of the inner torments.

My sci-fi project is probably the most clear example of this, as every episode in some way has a gut punching moment, either through something bad happening to a character or them struggling with the demons within. Now I'll admit it's a dark universe, not a lot of sunshine and lollipops in the worlds that those characters live in. But I have yet to give them lasting successes. I have yet to give them a triumph they could hold onto. Every single victory has it's price. Every hill, every saved victim, every personal demon slayed is paid in blood.

A week or so ago I started writing a movie. I wanted to play with characters, with writing stories that don't have action sequences or outside threats. It was going to be a sweet romance between a guy who's lost his drive in life, and a blind girl struggling to find her own place. Standard romance stuff. By the second seen the blind girl had been hit by a car and was in a cast. Though she laughed about it, not the nicest thing to do to a character. Two scenes later she was crying, wondering if she'd every be able to raise a family through the difficulties imparted by her disability. The more I plotted out the story and thought of the path to get there, the deeper and darker those tunnels became. While the story has a happy ending, I don't let them get there without their share of angry shouting matches and crying spells. And that was me attempting to do something happy.

Write What You Know?

So what the hell is wrong with me? Why is every story I write so damn depressing at times? Well, the easy answer without going to much into my personal life, is that I've only really felt strongly during the darker times. Pain has always been easier to feel than love. "Happy" has at times felt like a downright lie and at others as a boring retirement, of being set out to pasture.

To me the times that really mattered where the ones when I had to fight. When things were so damn dark I forgot what light looked like, what it was. When I had to close my eyes and look deep down inside myself and push on. When I had to trust my own voice and fight my way through to the other side. The times when I was drifting in a vacuum, only to claw and bite my way back to the surface.

A triumph of happiness, of victory, didn't seem important. It wasn't about reaching the summit, it was about the climb to get there. And there was always a higher peak waiting. Maybe it's wrong of me to put my characters through hell. To allow them only fleeting repreives from the hellish downpour that is their lives. Maybe it's some sadistic part of me wanting to share the scars. Or perhaps it's a voice seeking empathy. Who knows.

In the meantime, I've learned something about my writing and myself, and I can only think that will lead to better stories and characters. And maybe, just maybe, I'll give the character's that easy victory they yearn for.

On second thought, I'll probably shoot their dog. Builds character.

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