Yet More Ranting About Shitty Writing Advice
I’m sorry for doing more on this theme so soon, but I clicked a link I shouldn’t have clicked, and now I’ve got to vent here or I’m going to go off on an author for a blogpost they made years ago, and that’s majorly not cool. (I was expecting it to be snark-worthy, not infuriating, when I clicked it.)
So, I finally found out what’s behind that “what’s the lie your character believes about themselves?” question that’s suddenly started appearing on character questionnaires in the past few years.
Kurt Vonnegut said, “Every character should want something, even if it’s a glass of water.” For ages lots of authors have quoted this and used it to remind themselves that a good way to write a story is to figure out what a character wants and follow them in their pursuit of it. Well, apparently there’s currently an idea out there that what the main character wants is always something to counteract his inner turmoil. This is what is meant by the “lie they believe about themselves”, that if they get this thing they want, their problem will be solved.
So . . . okay, can’t use Jake for this one because seriously that dude is ridiculously inner turmoil free . . . uhmmm . . . I’ll use Bobby. He’s certainly got issues. Anyway, if I’m understanding this right, the lie he believes would be that if he gets to screw a gorgeous woman without having to pay for it — all he really wants at the beginning of the story, which is where this is established according to this same advice — all his worry and homesickness will go away.
Except I’m not writing a character who’s that fucking stupid. Bobby thinks that screwing a beautiful woman will help him have a nice vacation, that’s it. Yeah, it’ll help him forget about the worry and homesickness, which he does want to do, but he knows better than to think it’ll solve them forever.
So maybe I’m supposed to say it applies to his subconscious desire for stability and peace in his life. Except that’s not a lie. Attaining those really does fix his issues!
And then there’s his temper, but he really doesn’t have the slightest interest in fixing it until Karen tells him she’s tired of his shit. And then, again, not a lie. He thinks if he learns to control himself, he won’t lose her, and what do you know? That’s exactly right!
Now, Bobby does have lies he believes about himself. His tough talk is often to cover up a lot of insecurity. But he has no interest in fixing this, because that would mean admitting to himself that he is insecure, and he is nowhere near that self-aware.
As far as I can tell, to the people who find this sort of advice useful, what would make an interesting story would be Bobby thinking that screwing a beautiful woman would fix his insecurity and pursuing one and then discovering that this didn’t actually make him feel like less of a fuck up. That sounds utterly depressing and terrible.
And this is why I know No More Lies is either destined to be a genre changing success or a total commercial failure! Lit fic fans won’t touch it because not only does it have spaceships and aliens, it’s not all about his inner demons and shit. Romance fans won’t touch it because I gleefully ran from almost every cliché . . . especially the ones for sf romance. Sci-fi adventure fans won’t touch it because I don’t focus enough on the whole “enemy government trying to kill him” bit. And hard sci-fi fans will run from the room screaming as soon as Bobby takes a ship from one star system to another as easily as people can go to another state now. Oh well. I love it, and I’m sure somebody else will too . . . even if it’s just Mom.
Also, lit fic centric advice should come with a goddamned warning. I’m suddenly remembering stories I read during that misguided semester I spent as an English major. ~shudders~ Look, if your writing advice makes people think of horrible literature classes, you’re doing it wrong!
Oh! I also forgot to edit my post from earlier today to add this, so I’ll do it here: I think I figured out how, according to the shitty advice those questions amounted to, Jake Becomes Mithoska should go: I can go ahead and have the bit where he ends up in charge of everything right as everything goes from terrible to “holy shit, how the fuck are we going to win this?!”, but he can’t handle the pressure and makes a terrible decision and the bad guys win and it’s all on his shoulders, and then most of the story is about him watching everything fall apart and angsting over how it’s all his fault. I think he’d get to struggle and fail a few times to prevent things from getting worse, and if I wanted a happy ending — which, as I mentioned, aren’t trendy right now for whatever reason — he’d get to succeed finally, but the ending would be bittersweet because he would’ve lost everyone he cared about. More likely, though, what would make the story best in their eyes would be if kept struggling and failing and ultimately died, because then it would be something deep about the futility of trying to solve problems through violence or some shit like that.
I still think my story is a lot more interesting.
(And my inner Jake would like to smack the shit out of people for thinking Dichidians conquering two or three galaxies and it totally breaking him would make a good story. Good stories are things like the one about his grandpa killing over one hundred heavily armed, armored bad guys with a sword before he finally died himself . . . because he’d sworn an oath to protect a temple to his dying breath, and goddammit, he was going to do it! It’s a sad story, but it’s a good one because it’s about bravery and dedication and honor and all those wonderful things. Jake, amazingly enough, isn’t one of my Proud Warrior Race Guys. He just thinks like one.)