I Would Make A Terrible Fictional Character

I have hurt myself again. I’m not really sure how – I was just walking along and there was stabbing pain in my ankle again. Hypermobility means that this happens, and I’m mostly used to it.

But it got me thinking, because I narrativize my reality fairly frequently, about how completely unrealistic my life is sometimes, when you define ‘realistic’ as ‘standard’.  I’ve always had a great sympathy for Sailor Moon – her detractors complain about how her klutziness is supposed to be ‘cute’ and isn’t, and it’s always bothered me. When I was younger I loved seeing a character – a heroine, even! – who was just as apocalyptically clumsy as me, and couldn’t walk down a street without falling flat on her face.  And Usagi isn’t just clumsy – she’s gawky and awkward sometimes, has trouble figuring out how to behave like a grownup even as she wants more and more to be one, cries when she’s scared and generally acts like a completely genuine fourteen-year-old girl. I loved her for that, and always will.

I’m relatively fortunate in my search for role-models. I am a white, English-speaking cis-gendered woman, and I have plenty of them to choose from. I’m aware that that makes me relatively lucky, in that I’m actually permitted to exist in popular media. But if I was a fictional character, unless my hypermobility was the subject of a Very Special Episode in which everyone is instructed about my obscure illness via a carefully tailored scenario – maybe by House – I wouldn’t be very plausible. I have trouble convincing people the problem exists even when they can actually talk to me. Add severe anxiety issues and the unrealistically poor memory to the mix, and I’m really quite poorly thought out as a character.

Now I envy the characters in fourth-wall-breaking comics like Real Life, who can complain to their creator about their poor characterization or their story’s internal logic, because I definitely think my narrative could be improved.

Realism in writing isn’t the same thing as ‘like reality’. Reality is all too often dull, repetitive, and sometimes wildly implausible. When I see a novel or a movie lauded for being ‘raw’ and ‘real’, I will automatically pass on it because ‘real’ usually means ‘full of unpleasant people doing stupid things and being just appallingly dull and self-pitying’. A story should be held to a higher standard of narrative plausibility than reality, because reality has no quality control at all, whereas a story should have an editor or a producer or someone whose job it is to say ‘wait, that just makes no sense at all’.

Which isn’t to say that you shouldn’t try to be realistic in writing – realistic characters are the best kind. But consider the suffix. Realistic doesn’t mean real. Wiktionary defines the suffix ‘ic’ as ‘of or pertaining to’. (It kind of startled me that Google had so many suggestions for a search of ‘the suffix ‘ic”, indicating that an awful lot of people had wondered about this) So realistic writing should be ‘of or pertaining to’ that which is real, but not necessarily real real. Reality doesn’t need to make sense, to be logically consistent and plausible. Fiction does. Which is odd, when you think about it, but there it is.

If anyone else has looked at their life or events therein and thought ‘wow, my narrative is really pretty sub-par, I could come up with something way better than this’, I would love to hear about it. Answers guaranteed!

 

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Blocked, Stuck, or Swinging Free

Disclaimer: This is all stuff that I have experienced, that I’ve found works, and so on. As always with any creative enterprise, your mileage will vary. If this is useful to anyone, yay. If not, I’m sorry.

There are people out there who say there is no such thing as writer’s block. These people are as profoundly mistaken as those who say PMS doesn’t exist because they don’t get it. (It does. Oh, it does.) Ignore them. I have been struggling hard lately, which is why I was thinking about this.

Blocked = can’t write, but can’t write doesn’t necessarily = blocked. Can’t-write comes in flavours. These are the three flavours I’ve run into, how I define them, and what I do about them if I can.

Level 1: Swinging free

You’re ready to write, but you don’t know what to write. Your story has run out of oomph, or you’re between projects, and you’ve got plenty of enthusiasm but no clear idea of where to put it. Your wheels are spinning but you’re going nowhere.

I usually go in search of inspiration. Reading new books, watching new movies (or old favourites), debating the fine detail of characterization in comics with like-minded fans… there are lots of things that make my brain go ping. If it doesn’t happen right away, I flick through my Little File of Big Ideas, or take a nap, or just declare the day a brain holiday. It’s frustrating, but it usually goes away if I don’t fret about it.

Level 2: Stuck.

You’re working on something and you bog down. The plot’s gone limp on you, the characters won’t move, or you can’t figure out what to do next.

If I’m stuck on a particular scene, I tend to have the best luck rewriting from a different character’s POV. That often shakes something loose. Relocating the scene can sometimes help, or if you really have to, just skipping it and going on with the story. Hopefully when you come back it’ll be unstuck.  If it’s the story itself, an outline can sometimes help if you have one – refer back not to what you’re supposed to be doing now, but what comes *next*. A reminder of where the scene should be leading can help. If all else fails, sometimes just writing something else for a while can help. Take a break and write something funny, or macabre, or anything that’s a big mood shift from what you were stuck on. A change is as good as a rest, sometimes.

Level 3: Blocked

Blocked is the full Can’t-Write. It’s not just not knowing what to write, or having trouble with what you are writing, it’s sitting down and having *nothing*. Your imagination has gone dormant, you feel as creative as a banana slug, and you can’t shake any words out of your brain at all. That’s where I am now, and it’s happened to me quite a few times in the past. Being sick will usually do it, at least temporarily. For me, it’s often linked with stress and/or depression.  And for good reason! When you’re depressed, brain activity drops quite dramatically. See?

So thinking is hard. And creating is even harder. And for a writer, not being able to write leads straight to a cascade of frustration, self-doubt, and you guessed it, more depression. So the more blocked you are, the more blocked you can get.

The only thing I’ve ever found that helps is accepting that I’m not going to be writing for awhile, and trying not to worry about it while I work out the source of the stress and try to sort it out. If I can keep from beating myself up about not being able to write, and feeling miserable and like a failure because of it, it’s easier to get back to it when my brain’s back online, because I have less self-reproach to slog through. (you never, ever get that stuff out of your shoes).

There are lots of other reasons for blockages, but a surprising number of them tie back to being under some kind of pressure. If it happens, don’t blame yourself! Try to identify what outside pressures are putting strain on you at the moment. If it’s something you can fix, like getting your taxes done, then go ahead. If it’s something that’s just got to pass in its own time, like exams or being sick, let it. But don’t beat yourself up for not being Wonder Woman and able to do everything at once all the time. Sometimes you just have to wait for the bad weather to clear, and that’s okay.

But when it does clear, get your butt back in that seat and write.