Monday, February 17, 2014

Handcuff Your Inner Editor to the Radiator

There's this thing in storytelling called the inciting incident. If by some chance you're not familiar, that would be the initial trouble that starts the real action in the story. It's the Terminator showing up nude in a bubble of energy. It's Gandalf knocking on Bilbo Baggins's door. It's whatever in the heck was happening in Suckerpunch.

I don't know what this is about, but I like it.

It's the things that starts the story off, and it is generally good practice to have this stuff as close to the beginning of the story as possible. This is especially true in a short story. That is what I'm writing currently, and I have still not reached my inciting incident. 

A short story is generally 3,500 to 5,000 words. They could be longer or shorter, but most online magazines, or "EZINES" as the kids are calling them, are asking for somewhere between those numbers. That is not a lot of space for character development. Most inciting incidents in short stories tend to happen right away, or maybe even have already happened before the first sentence is read. These type of stories start "in medias res" which is latin for "Yo, it already happened, we're doing it now, get with the program."

Or something like that.

In my current story, I am 1,300 words in, and my main characters are still bantering back and forth and not doing much of anything. They are still kind of feeling each other out. I'm still figuring out who they are. Now, on the one hand, I'm screaming "AGHAD 1300 WORDS AND NOTHING IS HAPPENING THIS IS THE WORST STORY EVAR!" But, on the other hand, I know that this is a first draft. This can be eleventy billion words long if I want it to, so long as I take the best four or five thousand and distill them down into a nice, tight story. My inner editor wants to hack away all the non-essential stuff (read: all of it) before I've even gotten to the inciting incident. I've got to tell him, woah, slow down buddy. This is a process. I've got to figure these characters out. This isn't being live-streamed. Put that down. No... NO. BACK OFF! OW! MY ARM!

Did I mention my inner editor is Toshiro Mifune?

You can't write and edit at the same time, or you'll go insane. You'll keep going back and re-writing stuff that doesn't matter, or you'll lose things you might need later. You gotta keep that inner editor at bay. Tie him up. Duct tape him to the ceiling. Just write. Write everything. Write all of the words. Don't be afraid to write crap. You're not carving a story in ivory, it can be taken out and fixed later. It's better to have more than you need and cut the crap then to have not enough and stretch it to fit crap and all. This may seem obvious to anyone who's been doing this for any length of time, but this is as much for me as anyone. I don't want to be a hypocrite in not following my own advice.

So, I keep writing. I'm 1,300 words in and I don't have a story yet, but that's ok. I just have to keep going and not look back. 

He's... he's right behind me, isn't he?


  1. I love that your inner editor is Toshiro Mifune. Also, your definition of in medias res...yeah, you nailed it.

    That said, I facet his problem all the time. ALL the time. It slows the writing process to January molasses or worse, hurr durrhhh BLUE SCREEN OF DEATH. It's hard to shut down the editor, the perfectionist, whatever makes that assery happen in my brain.

    Good post, dude. It was good to read this reminder.

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