Thursday, November 12, 2009

"They've Adapted"

Even if you're not a Star Trek fan, you've probably heard of the Borg, a collective-conscious race of half human, half cybernetics drones in the Star Trek universe. And they're incredible at adapting to any weapon fired at them. I've been watching a lot of Star Trek lately. Shhh, I'll blame it on my husband.

One of my favorite lines in all the Borg episodes is: "They've Adapted!", meaning "Oh, crap, we have no defenses against them now that they've adapted to our weapons. We'd better come up with something truly creative and unique to defeat them. Again."

As I write and read more and more, I've done something similar against a race my brain unfortunately likes to think of as the Borg: the collective mass of readers who may one day read my work in published form. I've seen readers follow trends, creative marketing and popular groups, oftentimes seeming as if they have no say in what they choose to read. Probably because if it's not marketed well - if it's not easily accessible or seen - they don't bother finding what else is out there to read.

So what do I do?

I panic, of course. I think I'll never get an agent's attention, a large audience, or any attention at all if my work doesn't stand out over everything else.

And what do I do to fix that?

I think, "Oh, crap, I'd better come up with something truly creative and unique to stand out."

Many times this mean upping the shock factor. Or sometimes it means an idea that's not only creative, but really stupid and makes no sense. Do you see where I'm going with this? I'm not really writing what I want to write; I'm writing what I feel will set me apart. That's not a bad thing altogether. In fact, it often drives me to more creative places than I would go otherwise. But, I have to be careful because more often than not that creative place is nothing more than a ploy.

I was the editor of my university's literary magazine over six years ago. I sat on the reading board many times. What did I see the most in all those entries? Obvious attempts to wow the judges, to come up with something so new and off the wall that we'd be blown away and impressed! I think it worked twice. And guess what? Over the years I've done the same thing with my own work to try and stand out against my peers in the classroom, or in a contest or call for submissions. Hmmm, even blogging.

I think what really sets any writer apart is honesty. I can spot an honest story five hundred miles away. Combined with a fine handle on writing, execution, and character development, honesty goes farther than any other writing device I've encountered. An honest writer can take the most boring, mundane subject in the world and make it exciting. An honest writer can blow the Borg out of the galaxy with one careful aim and fire.

Against honesty, resistance is futile.

Couldn't resist, sorry.

Scott wrote an excellent post awhile ago about honesty. A quick excerpt from his thoughts:

I have long thought that in order for a story to be a good story it must say something true, reveal something about us as a species or our times as they are, or some other truth. There had to be a revelation of some kind. This is of course one of the tropes of the modern short story: the epiphanic moment. I still think that a story has to tell a truth of some kind, but I no longer believe that what I write has to be Big and Important. I am beginning to think that I can approach my stories, my themes, my characters and more importantly my audience, with some humility and address them more quietly. I begin to think that it's possibly just as good to say, "This is interesting" as it is to say, "This is important."

Well said, Scott.

Question For The Day: Come back here next Thursday for my thoughts on what makes writing honest. First I'd like to hear what you think! What makes your writing honest? Don't tell me you "write from the heart." Think more deeply than that if you can. What blows your Borg out of the galaxy?

~MDA (aka Glam)


  1. I don't know how you guys come up with these great ideas to write about every day. Love it, though! Great way to burn 10 minutes! :)

    Writing honestly is one area that I think a lot of new authors have a lot of trouble with. Honest writing has at least three parts from what I can tell:

    1. It comes straight from YOU. In the most literal way, you are not simply using words that you are copying straight from ANNA KARENINA, and instead you are creating something new.

    2. Tied to #1 means that you are using your own unique voice to write. This means that you aren't just trying to copy the style of some famous author you really dig -you are finding your own voice, and trust it enough to tell the story the way it should be told, which feeds us into point 3...

    3. Telling a story can be done in a myriad of ways, but the fact remains that it is entirely up to you to write the story that was meant to be told. Going back to yesterday's post on what you will and will not write, this falls directly in line with how honest your writing is. The more open you are with your characters and the different avenues they can explore during the course of your novel, the better shape you will be in for your novel to be seen as an factual representation of a fictional event. (Wrap your head around that one for a bit) Honest writing has living, breathing characters, and if you are using them simply as marionettes, the reader will notice.

    Anyway, so I think that's it for me...

    TLDNR Version: Be sincere in your writing and approach it with confidence. Otherwise, no one will be willing to suspend disbelief to read it.


  2. Excellent point. I think honesty comes from not being afraid to let your readers know what your opinions, thoughts, feelings are through your characters. Putting a piece of yourself out there for the world to see goes a long way.

  3. I'm not sure I know how to get into that place where I'm writing honestly. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't. But, I know when I am doing it, when it's happening. Usually the writing is much faster. It just pours out of me and I don't have to think about it at all. And, usually, it is detail-rich; I'm automatically showing and not telling.

    I think that some stories can succeed without relying on honesty. Many books are written as an escape. But, I think readers can tell when something is written honestly.

  4. Hehe, yeah, I've been watching a lot of Star Trek, too. It's those darn reruns that come on at 11:00 at night when I'm trying to write or make myself go to bed early for once. Sigh. Like you said, resistance if futile. Great post on honest writing.

  5. I think that honesty comes from not backing away from truths. I do not mean "the truth about what we as authors feel," either, so I think I'm disagreeing with Ken's first and second points, and with Susan's comment. I don't think that the secret to honest writing is in us, so much as it's in the way we portray our characters. We need to be honest about THEM, not about US.

    My stories usually are about people who are not like me, and who have value systems that are different from mine. I try to be true to THOSE value systems more than to my own. What I feel about X is less important than what my characters feel about X. If I get in the way of that, I'm not being truthful, because the truth is THEIRS more than it is MINE.

    A conversation Davin and I had months ago was about loving our characters. I love all my characters unconditionally, even the ones who would hate me if they were real people. I love them so that I can write them as they are, not as I wish they were. It's all about the story, the truth of the story, and the truth of the characters who are the story. The most honest I am is when I'm most invisible in the writing, when I'm not editorializing but simply presenting my characters as truthfully and as sincerely as I can. I don't read to find out about the book's author, and I don't write books to talk about myself.

  6. When I reread something I've written I inevitably pick up on stuff that really wasn't "me". I think we're all guilty of trying to write what we think people will want the most, but I am so much happier when I write what I love.

    I think the problem is that some people use the idea of honesty to justify not refining their work. I think the ideal is honest writing combined with education in technique.

  7. Great post, Michelle. Very good points.

    I think that you've touched on one of the major challenges an artist—any kind of artist—faces. I guess the only solution is to be aware and honest with yourself.

  8. Love this post Michelle!

    Writing about what I know. My pain, joy, loss, regrets, all the components that have touched me in so way. Whether directly or indirectly, weaving some thread of my experiences.

    See you next Thursday!

  9. Honest writing is, to me, a lot like naked writing. You have to bare all for the readers.

  10. All I can say is, I wish there was a concrete answer to this ‘Honesty in Writing’ thing. I go through phases of being scared to death that someone will see right through my writing and catch a glimpse of the real me, and then feeling like my writing is a just a big smoke screen.
    Can’t wait to read the rest of the comments here, and how you develop next Thursday’s post.

  11. What makes my writing honest? I suppose its at its most honest when I write the things I truly care about. If I'm writing to impress, to be different, to stand out--I fall flat. If I write the stuff that gets me excited, the stuff that I might be taking a risk with--that's the stuff that turns out. Even in my blog posts. I find that the ones I've worried about the most are the ones that resonate with people--because of the honesty.

  12. Ken: Great thoughts here. I like your word choice of sincere, which takes me back to Davin's post on sincerity a few days ago.

    Being confident with our story and characters is a key element of honesty, I think.

    Susan: Good point. I think courage definitely plays a big part!

    Davin: I should have mentioned your "Naked" post in my post! I don't know yet how to get to the "honest" place in my writing yet, but I do think some of it is a good balance between imagination and reality, as you say in your post.

    B.J.: Resistance is futile, yes. I've been a little bit addicted my whole life. We own the Borg and Time Travel collectives. Very dangerous!

    Scott: Hmmm, this all makes me think. I've certainly found that many scenes I've written in Monarch that don't turn out because I haven't remained true to the characters. I've gone off in the direction that I wanted to, what I thought they should do, what was more convenient for the plot. Or, even worse, what would show me off more.

    Candice: I've heard that justification before, many times, and I've used it myself, probably more than I should. I've often told myself to stop editing out ME from the story, but sometimes that's the point. It just depends on what I'm after.

    Renee: I often get lost in the story and the characters and feel that I'm not being aware and honest with myself. But then I read what Scott wrote up above and wonder if that's where I want to be. Oh, I don't know. I'll have to mull all of this over.

    Tamika: I'm sure that no matter what we try, weaving ourselves into what we write is inevitable. Hope to see you back here on Thursday!

    Piedmont Writer: You helped me remember Davin's post from a few days ago. Thank you!

    JB: I don't think there's a concrete answer to the question, but I'll certainly try to make it more concrete, at least for me, on Thursday. The comments here so far are great!

    L.T.: Oh, wow, that helps me see that when I'm truly honest that is when I do worry the most. I worry about someone disagreeing with me, which is then much more personal because I was so honest. I think this might also be a reason why many new writers are afraid to share their work. New writers, it seems, are extremely honest in their writing, maybe even to a fault? I don't know. I'm just thinking out loud.

  13. Writing honest. I try to write honest and it all comes out funny and strange. Oh well, I guess that's who I am.

  14. We are taught from an early age to filter what comes out of our mouths. In polite society one doesn't say or do certain things. But a writer is in the head or heads of characters and must be truthful to the messy, ugly, mean thoughts as well as the beautiful and brilliant ones. At least in the context of the story, because not everything that flits through someone's brain is story-worthy.
    And I agree with Scott that it isn't the author's truths but the characters that we must portray. The honesty must be universal--that gut stuff we all experience even if we hide it.

  15. I guess part of honesty in writing, for me, is writing only the stories that come to me (or are given to me). I can't chase what I think people want (as I mentioned in my blog posting today, oddly enough :).

    The strange thing is, I don't think at all, while writing, about whether I'm being honest in my portrayal of X or Y. I just write it. I write the situations, make the characters react in a way that I feel is believable, and see what comes out of it. Is honesty in writing part of what I naturally do? I don't know. I just try to write it like I see it in my mind.

    Maybe that's the point, though: I write what I see, without thought for how people will interpret it. Is that honesty, or pigheadedness? Or both?

  16. Oh Michelle, I agree! I really went through this over the summer. It was to the point where I felt like a dancing chicken...always looking for that next big performance. But you are so right -writing is a performance, but it has to be our own. The only sort of writer that I know how to be is myself. And I've finally reached the point where I'm o.k. with that - published or not.

  17. I simply don't think about what anyone else might think of my story. I have read enough books to know that there are wide varities of readers out there, and if my story is good enough to appeal to some of them and well-written, it will see the light of the day.

    When I write, I write stories that I want to tell. It's the stories that come to me, that mean something to me. At this stage, I don't give a thought to agent, publisher or reader. The only time they will come into calculation is when I am editing it, and making my story presentable. But the story will be mine.

    Honesty comes from writing what you want without worrying about impressing anyone, or without worrying about how it will stand out. If it's well-written and if you have written in your unique way, it will be different than others.

  18. I try to put bits of reality in my stories that are both humorous and sad at the same time...poking fun if you will at the human condition, statements about society itself.

  19. I write from the heart. Sorry, but I do . . . but, that's only the beginning. I write about what I care about, what I believe, and then I take those things (ideals, perhaps) and expand them . . . as far as I can.

    I pour myself into my writing.

    The greatest writing I have ever done so far, is when I wrote solely for me, without thinking about audience, what my mother might think, or what anyone might think. I wrote with passion, with ambition, with a driving need to inform and enlighten, to break past the steroetypes that exist in our lovely society. I threw rocks at glass houses and shattered the glass into a million different pieces.

    Yes, I wrote a fictional story with a firm basis in reality. I jumped from the edge of the cliff, no parachute, just a blind faith that what I was doing was right . . . and that I would land safely.

    I think I did.

    I think the most honest writing of all comes from deep inside ourselves, when we dare to move beyond what is expected, to the unexpected, and when, no matter the story, we forget the rest of the world for just a bit.

    Yeah, perhaps that sounds a bit hokey. I just truly feel that the one project where I dared all that, and possibly, a bit more, is some of the most honest writing I had ever done up to that point . . . and, trust me, I did a lot of writing up to that point.

    Great post.


  20. Clever analogy!
    Your post sort of ties in to Nathan's post today (sorry, too lazy to link to it) about "moving the needle." Basically, the publishing industry isn't very good anymore at predicting what will be hot and make a lot of money.
    So, write what you want! It's sure to be honest then.

  21. Don't ever write from the heart. The heart will mislead you, have you question the emotions. Write from the ear. Listen to what your characters have to say and put it to paper. Don't put words in their mouths either or try to jazz up their speech. Write it how you hear it, not how you'd like to see it. Honestly, that's how I write.

  22. Carolyn: Lol! Well, funny and strange suits me. It means your unique and worth reading!

    Tricia: Interesting! Yeah, getting into our character's heads definitely requires courage and honesty if it's going to come across as real.

    Simon: Ah yes. I'm like you. I don't think about this at ALL when I'm writing. I do think about it as I revise and edit, though. That's when it makes a difference, I think.

    You are not pigheaded, silly. You're honest. :)

    Amy: Heheh, a dancing chicken! That sounds like fun, although I know it's not. I've done it too many times. I'm glad you've reached a good point!

    Lost Wanderer: I like your point about writing what you want and knowing it will be unique. There is only one you. We could all tell the same story but none of them would be the same story.

    Laura: That's a specific thing to do! Thank you for providing this insight. I like the idea of the little bits of reality. I'm not sure how to do that, although it might just happen in my writing. I'm not sure.

    Scott: Forgetting about the rest of the world is definitely a starter for me with this. It is so much easier said than done for me. I've got a long way to go, I think. And I think blogging has ruined me a bit - with constantly knowing people are reading what I write.

    Annie: Thanks for the heads up on that post! I'll have to go look at it.

  23. Angel: Wow! That's different advice. It kind of ties into Scott B.'s comment above about being honest for the characters, not us. So much for me to chew on this week!

  24. One of my favorite literary quotes is Hem's, "Write one true sentence," which I'm probably paraphrasing, but you get the idea. Dig deep and write it true.

  25. Angie: That's a great quote! I strive for this every day.

  26. When characters and/or narrator make external moral observations I think writing looses its honesty. Not only does it sound preachy, but it's also dishonest because the writer has an ulterior motive:to sway it's readers to believe as they do.


    A woman on the corner handed Kacey a pamphlet: Baby Murders. It brought to her mind Roe vs. Wade, and all the it's implications. Kasey believed that she had a right to her body. She tossed the pamphlet into the trash and went into the hair salon. She wanted to look ravishing for Bob.

    A woman on the corner handed Kacey a pamphlet: Baby Murders. Unconsciously her free hand touched her stomach. What about Bob? He gave her the money. Didn't that make him a murderer too? She dropped the pamphlet on the ground and stepped into the clinic.

    It's easy to forget that the character's and your views aren't the same.

  27. I'm late to the party and have nothing useful to add. I just wanted to say:

    "Damage report, Mr. Worf!"

  28. Lady Glamis - blogging has ruined you? Surely not?

    My blogging is different than my everyday writing. Yes, I know people are reading my blog. In many ways, that applies more pressure to what I put on my blog.

    My personal writing . . . well, for now, it's just about me, and the beta readers. I don't have an audience (or fan base) . . . yet. So, when I write whatever ficitonal work I am writing, I write it for me. Now, when it gets down to the final draft, right before I'm going to query . . . I look at the writing with a more critical eye, but don't always change that much?

    Why? Well, an agent somewhere once wrote something to the effect . . . no matter how much you revise, how much you delete, you're agent and/or editor is going to ask you to revise/delete even more.

    So, with that advice in mind, isn't it better to write from the heart (sorry) and honestly, solely for you, for the story you want to tell, and try not to worry about anything else? I truly believe that when we start to worry about audience, our mother, and everything else, then our writing will begin to falter, and possibly fail. Then again, that's just my personal opinion.


  29. Zuccini: I love your examples! I'm going to try and provide examples in my next post. Mind if I use yours as part of it?

    Becca: "It's coming in, Captain!"

    Scott: In a way, yeah, blogging has ruined me. Now that I'm constantly publishing things for people to read here on my blogs, I'm hyper-aware of how I sound, phrase things, etc. It carries over into my writing. It can be good and bad, but lately it's been damaging my ability to just shut out every other voice and opinion as I edit my book. It's getting a little better now that I've gone dark on my other blog. I have a ways to go.

  30. What true-blooded nerd could NOT get instantly drawn in by your fabulous Borg analogy? :-)

    Writing honestly, I'm finding, means pushing past the comfort zone. Letting your characters' inner contradictions and conflicts express themselves. It means mining the absolutely worst moments of your own experience that shape you.

    My spiritual tradition shapes my understanding here: the human connection we desire happens in moments of exposure, and sharing in the sufferings of others also allows one to share in their comfort.

  31. Laurel: I'm constantly looking to write past the comfort zone, as you say. It helps so much with finding that good place where I let my characters speak and act for themselves. Glad you're a true-blooded nerd like me! Hehe. :)

  32. Michelle, I think that writing honestly takes courage. I've seen a lot of writers, who I could tell, tried to mask who they were in their words. It doesn't work, for me anyway.

    Writing honestly to me means showing who your characters are through and through. Even their bad qualities must come across believably. And admitting that they probably share some of your same values. Because isn't it impossible to not have any of you in your characters?

  33. Tremendous post, Glam. This is just what I needed to hear. Honesty evades me too often. As I try to be clever or funny or creative, honesty flees. I just had an idea. Thanks for inspiring me. Good grief. What took me so long to read this?

  34. Robyn: That's a good question about whether or not it's impossible to not have any of yourself in your characters. I'm not sure. I would think that it is impossible since you are the one creating them. But I don't know. Post topic!

    Lois: Oh, yes yes! Trying to be CLEVER. I do that all the time in my book, and it never works. I just have to let it come out on its own. Same with poetic prose, symbols, any of it. It's all buried in my subconscious somewhere.

  35. Love the Star Trek reference! I think you're right and too many writers do what you've described in "upping" their works, to their detriment usually. As I often say, some stories are dead on arrival. Increasing their gratuity would be like animating a corpse. Stories are probably inherently limited by the parameters of their ideas. If a carefully executed story still doesn't have enough ooomph, a new one probably should be created from the ground up.

    My writing is extremely honest, so much so that lately I want to cultivate dishonesty. Technically, honest writing is easy for me; emotionally, honest writing winds up being very hard writing and very painful writing. And I'm tired of being in pain. I wish I could lie more. That may be why I increasingly write speculative fiction. Because of the unreal fantasy aspect, this is the most fake I can comfortably get. That's something to consider trying for writers who depress themselves with their own words!

  36. Does writing from my character's heart count? What I mean by that, is if I am "at one" with my main character, seeing her world through her eyes, then my writing will be honest. That takes a lot of discipline for me, because I so often pull away from my character's POV, rising "above" her and writing what I would like her to say and do. There's a world of difference in the quality.


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