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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment 223

Updated on October 1, 2018

Finding Balance

I’ve had this week marked on my calendar for at least six months now; it is the week I can return to creative writing, and I’ve been pretty excited about it.

And then one of my best freelance customers waved a new contract in front of my face . . . literally two days ago . . . meaning more money for Bev and I . . . meaning more time spent on those soul-sucking articles rather than on creative writing.

And so I debate!

I’ll spend this weekend debating. And by the time I publish this on October 1st, the decision will have been made.

On the grand scale of life, this is not terribly important. It has no effect on victims’ rights or sexual predation; it certainly has no effect on those still suffering in the Carolinas from the last hurricane. It’s just one of those struggles we all go through in life, and no matter what I choose to do, life will go on.

And you know what? My life is damned good! I mean seriously, my life is fantastic. I am healthy, I am loved, and I have found the path of least resistance upon which I can flourish. So I’ll make a decision, move on, and smile my ass off in the process.

Let’s do this thing called the Mailbag!

Welcome to the Mail Room!
Welcome to the Mail Room! | Source

Should Writers Read a Lot?

From Shannon: “Here's a mailbag question for you. I'm not sure if you've been asked this before, though, but here goes. You know how many writers say it's necessary to read a lot? Well, I love to read and do so quite often. I just find that sometimes it cramps me more than it helps. I was wondering what your personal experience has been?”

Shannon, I’m a voracious reader, and I’m convinced that has helped my writing, so there you go.

Having said that, I know a writer here in Olympia who rarely reads, and she has no problem writing despite that character defect. Lol

So here’s the bottom line, and we all love bottom lines in black and white, right? The bottom line is whatever works for you is the plan you should follow. Writing is a personal quest. Being a writer only requires one thing: a willingness to write. How you get to the end of a story or novel is not terribly important; what is important is actually writing.

In the words of a former mentor, me thinks you think too much!

Preparation by Depression

From Eric: “Yesterday I found myself getting pumped down to write. I mean I was writing about a bummer and so I found myself getting prepped by getting depressed. Really weird I think. What do you think?”

Eric, if that’s weird, then you have company in the Looney Cell, because I’m right there beside you.

As some of you know, I’ve written a series of novels called The Shadow Series. These novels are about serial killers. They are not for the squeamish or mild-hearted. I do not tip-toe around gore in those novels. And to prepare for writing one of those novels, I read about former serial killers like Ted Bundy and the Green River Killer.

Talk about a bummer!

I think I mentioned last week that I call this method writing, piggybacking on method acting in film and stage. I have to get inside the head of a monster in order to achieve realism in my novels so yes, I get it completely.

Now there may be another way to prepare for that undertaking, but this method works for me and that’s all that’s important. So continue pumping down to write, if necessary.

Preparation by depression for most of these books of mine
Preparation by depression for most of these books of mine | Source

Protagonist Vs Antagonist

From Bruce: “Hey, Bill, I was wondering, can a protagonist be his/her own antagonist in a novel? Do you need to have two separate entities, or can they both be in one person? Does that make sense?”

It makes perfect sense, Bruce. I’ve heard it called “man against himself,” and it can be a very powerful character study/novel. I read one writer describe it as the antagonistic force within the protagonist and yes, the struggle can be very powerful and compelling. Think of a novel where the protagonist suffers from clinical depression, and continually does things which torpedo his chances of success . . . or a story about an alcoholic or a drug addict . . . there you definitely see the struggle alive within one person.

Every character potentially has an internal struggle going on.
Every character potentially has an internal struggle going on. | Source

Too Much Backstory

From Alice: “Bill, is it possible to have too much backstory? I know backstory is necessary for a reader to understand what is going on with characters, but it also seems to me to be possible to overdo that. I know I would have a tendency to overdo it for fear that I wasn’t explaining it all in an adequate manner, you know?”

Oh my goodness yes, Alice, it is possible to have too much backstory. I’m reminded of a manuscript I proofread for a friend. I hesitated to do it because this woman had worked so hard on it, and it was so important to her. The thing was something like 1,000 pages, a sprawling historical fiction spanning a couple hundred years; it was her first attempt at writing a novel; and my proofreading it did not go well. She had included so much backstory that I became seriously bored and eventually annoyed with the story. It turns out the storyline was pretty good . . . compelling as a matter of fact . . . but one had to be pretty damned dedicated to find that storyline.

So I told her all that, and I trimmed something like 200 pages from the manuscript, and we are no longer friends.

Such is life!

The best storyline is told in a series of hints until it is absolutely necessary to share the main backstory in order for the reader to understand. Remember that the purpose of backstory is to help the plot to progress smoothly and to allow clarity for the reader, so it’s a balancing act to find that perfect amount of backstory.

Crystal clear . . . crystal blue . . . crystal blue persuasion . . . Tommy James, thank you very much!!!

And Now I Must Go

It’s time for me to shut it down for the day, put on my farmer’s hat, and go feed the chickens. While I’m out at the farm I’ll ask the birds what they think I should do regarding the writing dilemma I mentioned earlier. Chances are they will be non-committal about it, but in their own way they will be helpful as well.

Chickens are like that. I can’t really explain it. It’s kind of like crystal blue persuasion. I have no clue what that song title really means, but it makes me feel peaceful when I hear the song.

Go figure that one out and get back to me . . . it’s like the song Louie Louie…does anyone really know what the lyrics are to that song? And yet it is an anthem, of sorts, for the entire rock n roll movement.

Very strange!

Did you see that Marty Balin, one of the founding members of The Jefferson Airplane, died? He was not as well-known as lead singer Grace Slick, but if you ever get the chance, check out his lead (look under Jefferson Airplane on YouTube) on a song called “Today.” It is beautiful . . . as are you . . . thank you for being you, all of you!

Have a great week, my friends. Thank you for the questions, thank you for the comments, and thank you for the sense of community you bring to the Mail Room.

2018 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”


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