I Think My Writing Sucks

If you’re a writer, the thought goes through your head more times than you’d care to count. It’s a tough passion to have. It’s compelling. It’s terrifying. You love it. You hate it. You write screeds of words. You write two words and throw fifty away. It’s perfect. It’s crap.

Some days, it’s harder to get words down on the screen/paper than you want to admit. It’s a creative block, where nothing you want to write comes out. And those words are on the tip of your tongue too. But, you stare at the screen/paper and… it’s just not there, and you think “I cannot word today; I has the dumbz”.

The Write Practice is one of my favourite blogs to follow, because they give you deliberate practice. Practice to help get you out of that rut you’re in, or practice to look at things differently, or practice to move you to the next level.

The post today was on problems with the writing process, and the practice today was to read a piece of writing you’ve struggled with and left unfinished. then, write the experience of leaving this piece. How are you going to change what you’ve done?

My piece was my 2014 NaNoWriMo piece: Tale from the Tokyo Underworld, about a singer in a band and his deal with the yakuza to pay back a debt. There were so many different versions of this story that were all abandoned: the singer (Drystan) was not just a singer, but also a hitman. In another version, he was a vigilante and lived on the streets. In yet another, he was just a go-fer in his aunt’s accounting firm. At various points, he could manipulate souls, create life, shapeshift, was genetically modified, and was trained in black-ops.

I liked my yakuza boss, Saito. Modelled on Asami Ryuuichi from the Viewfinder manga series and Kabu from the Bi no Isu manga, he was suave, sexy, and very dangerous. I really liked my  lead singer, Drystan. He wasn’t modelled on anyone in particular; he’s more of an amalgamation of characters, both in manga and in movies.

But the problem wasn’t with the characters. The problem was the plot. To be frank, there wasn’t one. No concept. No premise. Nothing that would make me as a reader want to pick up the story and read it.

So, this is my deliberate practice today, my love letter to Tale from the Tokyo Underworld:

It hurt to leave you. Really hurt. But it just wasn’t working. It seriously wasn’t you; it was me. It was all me. I didn’t tell you what I wanted or needed from you, and that is my fault. You were one of the first I really fell in love with. I tried so many different ways to imagine you in different situations: in danger, in love, in more danger, laughing, crying, hurting, angry, but I just didn’t understand what I needed or wanted.

You had no premise, no concept, or even high concept- just a bunch of attempted starts and stops, edits, changes, and scraps. I even wrote an ending, but it didn’t work. None of it worked. I had an idea. That’s all I had, an idea.

And I still think it’s a good one, even if it is done to death: a boy with superpowers, a chosen one, the boy messiah that will come and save them all. But from what? From who? A bad guy who wants to start a war? This is beginning to sound familiar.

But you’re NOT Harry Potter. Not even close. You’re you. You’re more than Harry Potter; you’re an erotic dystopian urban fantasy: super powers, a country on the brink of a second civil war, a mafia-backed contract, and an unlikely pairing of two lonely souls. Right now, you’re a mere idea floating in a sea of other ideas that get partially written then forgotten because there is no map. No structure, no story, no theory to help prop you up and give you a second life. Once I figure out the concept and premise, I can return to you. I can come back. I want to make you better, strong, clearer, more thoughtful, and packed with more action and romance. Because I still believe in you. I still believe that this is a good idea. I still believe that I can save you from drowning in a sea of good ideas, but no concept or premise.

Give me time, my darling. Give me time to get those premises and concepts in my head and I promise, one day, I will return to you, ready to sit down, figure out who you are, and finally tell your story.

So, what’s this concept and premise thing I’m talking about? KM Weiland wrote not one but two articles on what concept and premise are.

Concept is simply the barebones of a story. The idea.

Two people fall in love. A woman fights aliens. That’s it.

There’s high concept, which delves a little further, asking what makes your concept unique and interesting to your readers.

  • Two people fall in love? A woman claming to be one man’s fiancee falls in love with his brother (While You Were Sleeping)
  • A woman fights aliens? A genetic clone teams up with mercenaries to survive an alien she gave birth to (Alien: Resurrection)

A premise though, is the flesh of the concept. It’s the specifics. The 6 questions: who (protagonist), what (opponent and his goal), when (the current situation the protagonist is in), where (the protagonist’s reactions to the disaster leads them into conflict), why (does the protagonist want this objective), and how (the disaster destroys the protagonists world).

In paragraph form: The protagonist is in his current situation wanting his objective. But, the opponent flips him into a disaster, which puts the protagonist into a conflict with the opponent.

To stay with the two examples above:

While You Were Sleeping: Orphaned Lucy (protagonist) collects tickets at the train station (situation) and the highlight of her day is seeing the handsome Peter (objective). After claiming to be Peter’s fiancee after he’s hospitalised (disaster), and his brother Jack (opponent) becomes suspicious of Lucy’s lies, Lucy does what she can to hide the real truth (conflict).

Alien Resurrection: Genetic clone (situation) Ellen Ripley (protagonist) has been resurrected by the Company to harvest an alien embryo (objective). But when the alien (opponent) in the ship frees itself (disaster), it’s up to Ripley and a team of mercenaries to stop them before they crashland on Earth and destroy humankind (conflict).

So, there you have it. The difference between a concept and a premise. Whether you’re a pantser or a plotter, it helps to know what direction you want to go in. You want to go from A to B with some progressive complications and conflict along the way. I think for pantsers, this may be as detailed as you want to get. For plotters, this gives you the bones plus the meat for a more detailed outline.

By the way, the Alien franchise is amazing. I can’t really pick any one of the Alien pentology as the best, because I honestly liked them all. Alien 3 had Charles Dance (and who wouldn’t want to snuggle up next to him in that role?). Aliens has Ripley using a powerloader and it’s badass. Prometheus had an awesome scene with the medical surgery pod. Alien:Resurrection had fun, flirty, dangerous Ripley. And nothing really can compare to the original Alien (save the cat; always save the cat). Alien vs Predator… that’s a different ball of wax.


The look of a cat who is eternally grateful for the badassery of Ellen Ripley


One Response to “I Think My Writing Sucks”

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