I am tired. I have to say this out loud (or write it on my blog, I guess) but I am exhausted. I don’t know how the old school pulp fiction writers banged out twenty stories and three novels a year. Whiskey? Maybe? I don’t know, but my brain feels like tofu. Okay, I don’t know what that means. Let me try again: my brain is so tired I can’t come up with a valid simile.
I did finish the first volume of the trilogy a few weeks ago and I’m now taking a break from the second volume to do a polish draft on the first. And it’s good. I’m pleased with what I’m seeing. But when I reach into my toolkit for something creative to fill a plot hole or put together a better sentence, all I get is a handful of sopping wet brain. Again, that’s a terrible metaphor but it’s all I can come up with at the moment.
I suspect that this has as much to do with being high summer as with having written so much. I tend to be energetic in the fall and spring but being trapped indoors so much in winter and summer, my energy tends to ebb and I feel tired all of the time. This is when writing time goes minimalistic. A couple hours a day at most and even on my walks, my mind doesn’t wander to story, it’s just blankly hoping the walk will be over soon. At this point, I’m really just walking the dog.
Okay, since I started the last three paragraphs with “I,” I am now starting this paragraph with “Okay.” This need to revert to minimal exertion twice a year is why I keep multiple projects in the works at all times. It’s much easier and much less of a strain on the creative muscle to do a polish draft than it is to write on a blank page.
But what I really wanted to talk about today is how we can slip into writing a very narrow band of human interaction. Plot driven stories tend to have people who make a lot of rational decisions. Since their actions are rational and expected, you don’t get a lot of tension or drama and, therefore, the story requires plot elements to drive the story in new directions.
“Drop the gun, Rocko. We got you surrounded.”
“Okay.” Drops gun.
“You’re coming with us. If you try to run, we’ll plug ya full of holes.”
“Okay.” Raises hands.
See? There’s not a lot going on in that scene. Rocko is doing everything right. He’s being rational. So, to get the story moving, we need a plot point to kick it in the keester.
BOOM! A UFO crashes into the abandoned warehouse and kills all the coppers before speeding off again. Now Rocko is on the lam as a cop killer.
There. That’s better. The story is now propelled forward without Rocko having to make an irrational decision.
The reason this comes to mind is that Alex Rodriguez was suspended from Major League Baseball for 211 games today and the MLB Network has been running old interviews all day in which he straight up lies about everything to everyone. In 2009, he tacitly admitted to “experimenting” with a banned substance, apologized, and asked America to judge him from that day forward. Because, obviously, lesson learned. Unfortunately, that lesson was “don’t get caught.”
Now they have hard evidence that he’s been juicing the whole time, MLB has suspended him for 211 games. AND HE APPEALED. Not because he’s innocent, but because he feels that his punishment isn’t fair. Can you imagine the gall? If I did this, or if you did this, we would slink off to the middle of nowhere and never show our lousy faces again. This would be the kind of humiliation that could literally kill a normal person. But not A-Rod. He appealed. He pushed back.
That’s the kind of character decision that drives the plot instead of vice-versa. You don’t need a UFO to crash into MLB headquarters and take out the Commissioner. A-Rod just turned the plot on a dime by doing something that most of us would find literally unthinkable.
Think about Ryan Braun. Arguably, he is as big a piece of tissue paper stuck to the dress shoes of the world as A-Rod (after all, he’s a millionaire who got a hard working, minimum wage worker fired to cover up his own guilt) but knowing that his sins would be detailed in public if he appealed his sentence, he accepted the suspension and slipped away to hide until no one wants to cover him in kerosene and play, “Who’s got a light?”
The problem with coming up with these kinds of character choices is that they really are literally unthinkable to people with a functioning soul. If you really want to turn your consciousness inside out, read about how Charles Ng, the notorious murderer and torturer, gamed the legal system to keep from paying for his crimes.
And here’s the last thing I’m going to say on this (because, did I mention my brain is tired?): A decision like that has to be organic to the character. You can’t take someone honorable like Hank Aaron and have him suddenly do something douchey because you need to move the plot along. If you’re going to have a character act this way, you have to set him up from the very beginning to be a narcissistic sociopath. You know, like A-Rod.