Passivity

Over the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to make some observations about my writing. In particular, there was a definite change that happened around the time I decided to self-publish. I previously wrote about the background behind my self-publishing project, how I wrote it seven years ago and waited while my agent tried to find a publisher for it. But what was I doing during those seven years?  The answer is that I was being pretty passive. Not that I wasn’t writing, but what I did write was marred by passivity.

When my agent told me that I should slow down sending her new material because changes in the marketplace were making it harder for her to sell things, I decided to embark on a very large project I had been putting off: a historical fantasy novel. I spun my wheels on this for a few years. I won’t go into all the problems I had with it (although it gave me plenty of  material for posts on my previous blog), but the problem that finally killed the project was that I hated my main character. There were several things about her that I didn’t like, but they can be mostly summed up by saying she was passive. She didn’t do much of anything. She mostly reacted to things going on around her. And this went far beyond the ordinary constraints you would expect a female in her time period to experience. She was so boring that it infuriated me.


After putting this project aside, I decided to return to another project: my “cheesy romance novels.” I planned these as a four-book set, and I had written the first two.  I sat down to write the third one. After a few years of not writing anything successfully, it was kind of a teeth-pulling experience.  But looking back at it, I have to admit that it was not just lack of practice that was the problem. My narrator, once again, was irritatingly passive.

I admit that I tend to be slow on the uptake. I might need to be hit over the head three times before I notice what’s going wrong. So I sat down to write a new project, my near-future mystery, and guess what I did?  Once again I wrote a painfully passive narrator. This is a bigger problem than usual when your narrator is supposed to be a detective.

What’s the common theme in all these cases? Me. At the time I was writing these projects, I was feeling extremely passive about my career. I’ve discussed the reasons why I waited to strike out on my own, and I do feel those reasons were justified. But I still put myself in a position of incredible passivity. I felt I couldn’t do anything but wait and respond to others, so I created characters who did nothing but wait and respond to others.

I recently reworked my detective character and re-plotted the story. Having shaken myself out of the inertia, I found it much easier to make her a more active character. Only a few chapters into the rewrite, it’s too soon to judge this new version of the project, but it seems to be moving much better. This goes to show how important frame of mind is to writing.
Stephenie Meyer caught a lot of flak for refusing to finish her last Twilight novel after it was leaked by a beta reader, but she was absolutely right about one thing: “With writing, the way you feel changes everything.”

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