One’s Own Hype

Red Pen

I’m glad that the writing competition I mentioned yesterday has a deadline in August instead of its original, which would have been tomorrow. I think I have more work to do than I thought.

Creative people in general, and writers in particular, need to take care when it comes to their own hype. It’s one thing to be confident in one’s abilities, but it’s entirely possible to be over-confident and believe you have a project in the bag right up until the point you show it to somebody else. On the flip side, criticism – even at its most constructive – can trip up the flow of one’s planned work schedule to the point of making you want to scrap the whole project and start over.

We (or at least I) do these things because they’re easy.

It’s easy to think that you’re awesome. And it’s just as easy to get down on yourself, toss out the decent baby with the dirty bathwater and begin again. The part in the middle, having the confidence to salvage the best parts of your story and the humility to admit something you might like in said story doesn’t work and needs to make way for more things that do work, is more difficult. Hell, just typing out those few words was hard.

We have to kill our darlings. We have to turn our work over and make sure everything stays put. We have to throw it at the wall and see if it sticks. Or breaks the wall entirely.

Here’s an example. I like my characters deep. I like knowing where a character comes from, what shaped them, what makes them interesting enough to keep a story going. The problem is, when they first come forth from my head onto the page this depth takes the form of exposition, backstory, setup. The thing is, when people come to see a play, the set’s already up and painted. Nobody comes to watch the false walls get nailed in place or the stage crew bicker at each other while the painting’s going on. Writing’s the same way – it’s fine to write out this backstage stuff, but do it someplace the reader doesn’t have to read it if they don’t want to.

Especially in short fiction. Get in, tell the story, get out.

And be very, very careful of how much you buy your own hype.

4 Comments

  1. Yep. The advice as I heard it and give it goes: “Start the story as late as you can.”

  2. @Chuck – And don’t go back unless you have a damn good reason. Flashbacks are bad.

  3. Excellent advice (and good blog post). I’d add one more thing, try not to buy your own hype at all. I don’t do much fiction writing, but I do a lot of non-fiction/informative writing; and in those cases, it’s best to avoid all hype until your done. (Hard to do, I know.) But then, I tend to associate hype with the promotion of your work (even if it’s just to yourself).

    Kind of interesting to think that it might have a slightly larger context.

  4. I love deep characters too. But is is a difficult task to balance storytelling with pointless exposition. I’ve been working really hard not to spill my guts like a prison narc under a heat lamp in the first five chapters.

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