One thing is true: Writers need other writers. Aside from the obvious benefits of companionship and mutual understanding, one of the reasons we need each other is that sometimes, if we’re very lucky and listen carefully, a fellow writer will offer a bit of advice that makes all the difference to our work.
I had one of these moments at the 2012 OryCon, attending a panel hosted by writer and life coach Steven Barnes, when he said something that made all the difference to my writing. The advice was this:
You approach a story via either story or character. If approaching via story, ask yourself this: What is the problem and who is the worst person to give the problem to? If approaching via character, ask yourself: What is the worst thing that can happen to my character? And better yet, how can I make them do it to themselves?
At the time I was struggling to draft a historical fantasy set in Versailles in 1738. Steven Barnes’ advice made me realize that I had given the central problem of my story to the wrong character. I couldn’t make the story work because there was no good reason that character couldn’t have solved the problem on about page six.
I threw the entire draft out the window and started fresh in April 2013. By November Waters of Versailles had turned into an 18,000 word novella. And in October of this year Ellen Datlow bought it for Tor.com. It’ll appear there on June 3, 2015. And over the past year I’ve finished four other (much shorter) stories, and sold three of them.
Now, I’m hardly starved for the company of writers. I’m married to a very talented, award-winning writer and writing teacher. Alyx and I talk about writing all the time, but I honestly don’t think any of these writing victories would have happened without Steven Barnes’ advice. He said the right words at the right time. Thank you, Steven!
Steven and Tananarive Due, by the way, are offering an online screenwriting Writer’s Bootcamp this January. I bet it will be superb.