Craig here again, I know I’m a little bit out of order, but I didn’t want us to be dark this week.
Today I want to talk about pushing ourselves as writers. My regulars know that I include a personal challenge with everything I write. These can be simple, or complex, but I believe in making myself try new things.
This little toolbox doesn’t have much to offer. I want to defend people who get by like this, because it may hold the sonic screwdriver. We all know the sonic screwdriver can do anything.
Many authors never go beyond the familiar, and they can be quite successful at it. I’m talking about third person, past tense writing here. Maybe they have one story structure and follow it religiously. The Hero’s Journey comes to mind.
I believe in doing things a little bit differently. I know I’m opening myself up to those “Jack of all trades, master of none” comments. If you need to make them, feel free in the comments. I’m not saying I’m right, I’m offering an alternative.
One of the best personal challenges was the one I undertook with Will O’ the Wisp. I’d never written anything in first person before. I also decided not to allow multiple point of view characters. This limited me to what Patty Hall saw, read, smelled, etc. No more, “Meanwhile, back at the ranch” scenes.
Wisp became one my personal favorites. It did something for me that I never expected. My third person writing became tighter after writing it.
When I wrote Wild Concept, the main character was a robot. This was my first novel, and the writing is a bit rough around the edges, but the personal challenge taught me a lot. Lisa the robot had no backstory – none. She booted up, and her adventure began. It taught me how little backstory is needed, and I’ve never forgotten it. All of my prior writing attempts had prequels, and went into epilogs at the end. I don’t do that anymore.
Short fiction is a great place to try things out. Rather than dedicate a year to see how something comes out, you might dedicate a weekend to learning a new skill and making yourself get the challenge right.
While using short fiction to add to my toolbox, I came up with the name Experimental Notebook. I put out two different Experimental Notebooks, and I’m pretty sure there will be more. I’ve used these stories to dabble in such things as:
- Epistolary style stories
- The pulp/noir style
- Twist endings
- Present tense
- Long monologues
- Second person point of view that I call anthem style (Micro-fiction only)
The point is, my toolbox has some useful tools in it. Story structure is another place to challenge yourself. The Cock of the South is a fantasy novel. It seemed like a good place to try out a list of fairy tale skills I’d taken notes on years before. Many of these fairy tale beats appear in TCOS.
Right now, I’m writing a novel using the Major Arcana of the tarot as a form of story structure. My character is The Fool, and he meets others along the way, along with a few situations, that match up with the other cards. I’m finding it a great way to create a character arc for him. He starts off a blank slate, he gains a mentor or two and learns some things. By the time he gets to The Chariot, he is largely in charge of his own destiny.
Today, I am confident to mix and match within reason. If I think my story could benefit from a fairy tale piece, I know how to add it. If it might come across better in first person, I’m confident enough to try it out. I may include one of the mentor characters from the tarot to help my main character along in a future project.
Do you include personal challenges in your work? Would you consider doing it after reading this post? What toolbox theory do you subscribe to? Let me hear from you in the comments.