On Writing: A small thought on maintaining sanity

I think, for me at least, which means at least for one or two others, one of the challenges with writing, in particularly novels is the sense of there being many many “moving parts.”

Cogs in a machine by Ben Mcleish, via Dreamstime

That is to say there are really several (if not dozens) of elements to a novel that have to work together. I’m not just talking about multiple characters and scenes (although that is one major complication) but also ensuring that description grounds the reader, that transitions between scenes are effective, the individual prose is tidy and well balanced, tension is introduced and varies dynamically.

Anyway the point isn’t to raise those elements and stress people out, but just an insight I that it often feels like a writer needs to keep all of those elements in their head all at once. For example I often find myself settling down to write a passage, perhaps a straightforward scene and then find my mind wandering to various other elements the story will need – and before you know it my head is so wound up I can’t even start the easy scene.

I think there are two key parts to countering this sort of thinking. One is to accept that a novel is bigger than one’s own brain. 80-100,000 words of dynamic fiction contains a million different elements that its actually OK to not be on top of every second of writing, it’s OK to write a scene as a piece of a novel without encompassing the whole story in your working memory.

(don’t get me wrong as part of the editing process a writer will be going through their story and making it appear seamless)

And the other part is remembering that novels are not made of “moving parts” even though it can feel that way to the brain. What I mean is that words are static. Once you have scenes written, there they are. Sometimes I think a novel can feel like a festival or group project of some kind, where our brains are filled with all the different things that have to happen alongside each other. Now the experience of reading a novel might make it seems the same, but ultimately the words on the page are set. If you skip to page 200 of a story the same words are there, then if you read properly.

What I’m trying to say in my roundabout odd fashion is that to the writer who is midst story it can feel like the tale is happening in some sort of real-time and thus needs to be corralled, managed and kept in mind like an event. But this isn’t the case, its OK to ‘park’ elements of a story, or to just get what you need on paper (word processor) first without having to juggle all elements in your head.

Well just some thoughts anyway, possibly its only my brain that does this, but I would be interested to know what insights others have about not overwhelming themselves with writing?

On Writing: Is Courage a requirement?

I mean obviously it is for the writer!

Giclee Print: Wizard of Oz, 1939 : 24x18in

But I’m actually talking about Protagonists here. On an interesting Twitter poll in the last couple of days, someone asked about most important traits for an MC. Courage was the clear winner over intelligence, strength and beauty (I think those were the other options can’t find the darn link.)

The poll prompted some thoughts from myself. Not only could I not think of any Protagonists that were not courageous, at least in some way – whether it be socially, physically, emotionally or even internally, the only MCs that lacked courage were of course within stories about them gaining said courage. If This link is anything to go by, cowardice is generally speaking, a much hated character trait, and probably death on a main character.

Why is this trait so important? I mean when it comes to other aspects of people we tend to enjoy a broader range right? We like both heroes and anti-heroes, relate to klutzes, laugh along with doofuses (doofus’s? doofui?).

Yet we don’t tremble along with cowards…

I suspect there are a few elements to this trend:

First from a fictional point of view it ties in with our need for action. Whatever the faults of an MC, its commonly agreed that pro-active characters are a must, people do not like plots that consist only of things happening to a character. Granted this isn’t synonymous with courage or cowardice, however a certain degree of courage is needed for a character to take action, and cowardice stands as a potential barrier to said action.

Secondly, for a more controversial stance, I believe cowardice is in fact too relatable. I know we’re told many times to make characters sympathetic to readers, however I think cowardice, if not presented as a trait to overcome that is promised as part of the book’s progression, is just a little too cosy with our own traits. Let’s be honest, we all suffer fears, and I’m going to go out on a limb here and say most of us have probably either done (or not done) something out of said fear. Now, this sort of commonality, could in theory be gold for fictional relatability, however its an uncomfortable reminder, the very definition of “commiserate.” We might like flawed heroes, but we still need them to be heroes and preferably not remind us of our flaws.

This idea does perhaps add another reason that Horror is a tough genre to write. We want scary content, but brave protagonists – so solve that one writers!

I think its a great tip that Protagonists, whatever they are doing, do so with courage, or on a journey to. Bear in mind as mentioned above courage doesn’t necessarily mean action star physical danger, it could be political, social, even just getting out of bed in the morning.

Ultimately it kind of remind me of a bit of psychological advice, its much healthier to focus on what you want, and try to obtain that, rather than what you don’t want and try to avoid. And it seems that is what we want in our characters too!


What are your thoughts on “courage”? Do you know of any MCs that are not courageous in some way, or do not fit the thesis above?