I had two contest entries I had been wanting to finish, both with due dates of May 5th. You’ll note, that day was two days ago, and no, I did not make my deadlines. Mostly, the reasons for missing them were unavoidable (certain other obligations cropped up during the months of March and April, and I deemed those to be more important than the contests) but still, I thought I’d be able to fit some story-crafting in somewhere.
And, I did.
It all started with an ending. I had this ending which was so alluring, so psychotic, so dramatic. It constitutes a total breakdown of the main character, and she takes absolutely everyone down with her. I had the whole maniacal thing in my head.
Unfortunately, that was the only thing I had in my head. The rest had to be written up to that point. What makes a person have a total, utterly destructive, completely insane breakdown – but in this specific way? I mean, it’s not just any old breakdown. There’s a very specific setting, and some extremely unusual props. (I wish I could share it but I can’t right now.)
I found my main character’s motivation after some time. I wrote the outline and the story, and because she’s experiencing a kind of emptiness, I purposely wrote it a little flat. The main character doesn’t have a lot of dialogue until near the end, when she finds “purpose”. The effect was interesting, but as you might imagine, no one wants to read a flat story, even if that’s the point. Upon revising, though, I decided that not only was her personality a problem, I also didn’t like the motivation for the character anymore. And, I had somehow included an unintended moral message, which I hated. I may choose to preach in future stories, but this one was strictly about madness.
So, I scrapped it. It hurt, but I did it. Back to the drawing board, with just one item: my ending. I started to outline the story for the second time.
This time, the character was completely different: a beleaguered middle manager. She had authority, she had a family, she had stability. I decided that this was even more interesting, because I could take “Everywoman” and completely destroy her. People would relate to her, and look deep into their dark, dark souls as she slowly destabilized. Her downfall would be glorious. (Look, I write horror. I can’t help appreciating the black stuff. Sorry! Really!)
My problem here was that she didn’t really start out dark enough. First, it’s a short story with a word limit, and taking someone from stability to insanity should happen over more than 3,000 words. Second, once you put her family in there, you almost have to kill them or explain why they suddenly don’t matter. Again, a little tough to do in 3,000 words. It was a nice outline, though, and I may save it for later, but for the purposes of this particular story…nope. Completely scrapped. Again.
At this point, I started wondering if I should just put the thing on a shelf. Many of my stories have benefited from benign neglect, and sometimes the perfect solution arrives in a 7am shower. Nothing wrong with that, except a looming deadline. True, it’s not that I didn’t have other stories in the hopper that I could have dusted off and cleaned up. But I kind of had an inkling where I would go next with this one. And my damn ending.
At 550 words in, my main character is almost the same one that I started with in the first outline, but she’s much more talkative. She says things that are a little off, and she displays a kind of naïveté that I had wanted for her initially, but she’s much more vocal about it now. I’ve also given her a relationship that she didn’t have before, which will underline and properly voice some of her deeper initial problems. I changed the inciting event a little. And I decided, after chatting with a fellow writer, that I don’t care so much about the unintended allegory. As long as the story focuses on the madness and absurdity, who really cares? (“Who cares?” is a good go-to solution when you begin to sense you’re over-thinking things. Another one is to write it all out, and see if you care. Probably, after all that work, you really won’t.)
This time, the story is really coming together, though I’ve used a sixth of the word limit and she’s still only slightly crazy. I’m not worried that much, though; I think I can figure it out in the edit. Meanwhile, I saw about an hour ago that one of my May 5th deadlines was actually an early deadline, and the actual deadline is June 7th. Blessed reprieve.
So, I have two lessons from this:
- I’m not good at starting with the end. It seems like a logical course, and I’m sure plenty of people do it. But right now, for me, either I don’t have the skill for it, or it’s just not my thing.
- Heartbreaking as it is, sometimes you just have to throw your work out. Burn it. Start over.
I still have other obligations, since the project I was working on in March and April concluded in a decisive, gigantic, flaming failure last Monday. As they say, “If at first you don’t succeed…”. Of course, I am starting exactly at Point A again because the project itself has fundamentally changed. But surely, I can get some story-crafting in between things, right? And still hit my June 7th deadline? This all sounds eerily familiar…