When Things Go Wrong

Another idea from TheFutureofHope (I can’t tell you how much I adore her lately, this is the second post in a row she’s saved my booty) was to write about times when things went wrong.

First of all, let’s settle one thing.  I’m an optimist.  Now, if I’m having one of those days when things are just going completely wrong and stuff that should works and always works has ceased to work (big weakness there) I get pessimisty, but in general I’m a happy ‘well something good can come out of this’ type of person.  So there haven’t so much things that went wrong as stuff that I put down and said “Yeah, we’re going to chock this up as a learning experience.”

Like that. Yeah. Just like that.

And of those there have been many.  I’m gonna outline two.  Because most of my ‘mistakes’ have actually been recycled around as refined ideas for later.  Heck, it might happen with one of these, but I’m banned from the second.  Don’t worry, you’ll see why.

The first one was a broken plot.  I was trying to fashion a love story in which a boy and a girl were born for each other.  In this world, everyone was born with a mark which pretty much defined their existence.  Long story short, girl, who is to be boy’s wife, is born with the wrong mark, things go horribly wrong, boy and girl still fall in love and in the end everyone learns something.

Ok, even I’m thinking that’s salvageable now, but my trouble with it is that it’s just too straight forward.  I tried valiantly to write it, but the simple truth was that my own story bothered me with it’s linearity, and I couldn’t seem to fix it.  I tried zooming out in the world, I tried narrowing the story to something short, I tried changing up some of the general ideas about the world and the magic to add another element into the story.

But I just didn’t know how to handle it.  Now I suspect it might have been a straight romance lurking in my brain (not knocking it! A reasonably straight forward happy ending love wins all story just says Romance to me…)  At the time I was writing it, I had no idea how to handle that kind of story, and I think if I tried tackling it again, I might have better luck.

Trouble is, some of the elements have been worked into other stories.  They were sparkly and pretty and so I sort of pilfered them.  Maybe that’s good.  It’ll force me to think about it in a different way.

Shiny thing? Yoink.

The second is… oh, it’s kind of painful to admit.  But I have a weakness for this genre…well, if it can be called a genre.  And hey, I admit it really helped sharpen my writing claws.  I suspect every author ever writes one of these, whether as an original or a fanfiction.

Yes, gentle readers, I’m talking about the self-insertion story.

Believe me, I was the queen of these for awhile.  Every story I wrote from elementary through about half of high school was self-insertion of some flavor.  A few were ok as much as a sixth grader’s story could be.   One I’m particularly proud of showcases how my writing evolved simply because it was so long and written over the course of three years.  Writing a self-insertion was the first time I ever utilized a writing partner (Hi Sarah!) and it was the first time I sat at the computer and wrote like an obsessed madwoman.

I was a late bloomer to writing.  It was sophomore year of high school before I realized that the reason I’d never liked English was that I was reading Jurassic Park while the fourth grade was still on ‘Fourth Grade Reader’.  Because we were now reading The Scarlet Letter, and The Count of Monte Cristo I found that I actually kind of adored it.  Unlike some of my writer friends, who’ve been crafting and honing this skill for pretty much ever and are flat out amazing at it (Hi Jennifer!) it took a reason like a self-insertion story with my besties to make me love writing.  Whatever it takes, right?

The reason I’m not hiding this in shame is two fold.  Number one: I don’t believe any writer doesn’t have that awkward self-insertion/Mary-sue stage.  Number two: I’m freaking proud of that monstrosity!  Ok, it’s bad in many, many senses of the word, but it was fun.  I learned a lot.  And yes, a few of the elements from that story have found their way into my other stories.

The take away lesson here is that none of your stories are useless, failures, pointless or otherwise bad.  They’re learning.  They’re refining.  They’re practice.  Yes, practice that’s never going to see the light of day and will never, ever stop making you twitch when you unexpectedly run across it, but practice none-the-less.  I never would have fallen in love with writing without those darn self-insertions.  And without that wonky attempted fantasy-that-refused-to-get-complicated I wouldn’t have some of those characters still kicking around in my head, nor a few romantic elements in a few other stories.

What about you?  What are your writing things that just didn’t work?  Did you dismantle them and use them for parts?  Are you saving them for later?  Or do you just put them down and walk away?

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About Kaitlin

Kaitlin and Michael are co-authors of The Athele Series. They met in summer of 2006 and married in fall of 2009. They both teach English in South Korea. In his free time, Michael writes, plays video games, plays DnD, and idly contemplates world domination. In her free time, Kaitlin writes, runs, dances, and feeds her 'oo-shiny!' complex.

13 thoughts on “When Things Go Wrong

  1. Beth says:

    The first full-length story I ever wrote (at 15) was about a girl and a boy arranged to be married and was 31 chapters of useless drivel. I tried to create drama by introducing political intrigue which allowed for the boy to be dragged off for a hanging right after his wedding. Then the king showed up and saved the day. It was a wild ride of nonsense and if it didn’t make me cringe so much I’d find it really funny, I’m sure. :P

    I’m using a lot of the themes and ideas for that same story and turning it from a romance to a fantasy. It’s amazing to see the difference in my writing style from six years ago to now, but I’m excited that I can rework such a silly story into something I can be proud of.

    • Kaitlin says:

      I’m a week and some late in commenting back on this and I apologize for that! That is a fabulous story! I think I’m actually going to go back and try my hand at writing that romance story. Thinking of it made me really consider it, and now I’m all “waaah, it sounds like fun!”

      Cheers to reworking things!

      • Beth says:

        Oh, no worries! You see how late my reply to your reply is? Life happens. :)

        It’s slow, slow going, but I’m really proud of how it’s turning out. :D

        That’s the important thing! Having fun! Well, it’s certainly one of the important things. :) The stories I have the most fun writing and editing are the ones that turn out best. I think an author’s fondness for his/her creation definitely shows.

  2. Aww! Two posts! Anyway, I do what is necessary. I never delete or erase stuff unless it is in last editing stages. Otherwise I tend to start another story or poem with it.
    I have been writing poetry since I was very young and have plenty of crash and burn journals to prove it! But, you’re right. They all have the purpose of growth!
    Thanks for the post!

    • Kaitlin says:

      You’re so welcome, and thank you for all your support! I’m sorry I didn’t properly link you in this one, it must have broken and I didn’t notice. *Hugs!*

  3. Karen Rought says:

    I have so many unfinished stories that I cringe to look at now. They’re really, really bad…but I’m proud of them, too. They got me on the right track as far as writing goes and made me realize that this is truly what I want to do with my life. They’re not failures, they’re just stepping stones.

    Thanks for sharing, and I just wanted to say the story about the marks sounds fabulous, and I would probably read it. :)

    • Kaitlin says:

      You’ll be happy to know I’m reworking it as a fantasy romance then! …as soon as I’m done editing. I have so many shiny apples on the end of the string for this project!

      It was like clock work, I thought about it, I wrote it down, and now I’m all like “Omg I could totally make it work!”

      Bah!

  4. epbeaumont says:

    My first NaNo novel (2008) discovered its own plot about three-quarters of the way through November. I did the “pure” NaNo experience (one week of plotting/planning and thirty days of writing). Unfortunately plotting and writing in parallel produced something of a lopsided monster. I learned that I wanted to hang out with the characters, and that part of the work got moved back to October.

    As for the plot itself: it’s based on the theater superstition about “The Scottish Play,” that the incantations in Macbeth are real magic and that the performance is a sacrificial arena if the conditions are right (or wrong!). I learned that the germ of a novel doesn’t have to be “original.”

    The problems in the execution: not knowing my characters well enough, not having enough of a plot skeleton, and not knowing the ending. All of those are related to process rather than the merits of the idea.

    Definitely will be recycling this one.

    • Kaitlin says:

      Oh yes, sounds like it could be a winner, you just have to know everyone first!

      As a funny sidenote, my mother played Lady Macbeth in her high school play. There’s still pictures of her reciting the out out damned spot, out I say bit. ^^

  5. ceciliag says:

    Morning Kaitlin, Loved this post and also how you stole the sparkly bits out of a faltering story and popped them into another.. good thnking.. c

  6. msloftis says:

    I have written or started writing three different stories in which I can’t get passed the first few chapters. so frustrating, I have a story in my head but can’t get it on the page even with an outline.

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