Keeping Love in Its Place
Note this is not a marital advice column.
You’ve heard the saying that you should kill your darlings. Honestly, it depends on who your darlings are and what. I don’t subscribe to absolutes in terms of writing advice. However I know there is a type of love that will harm your writing, something that falls under “killing your darlings.”
Your first dangerous form of love is falling in love with a world. This is usually the first world you created. it might be okay, if you created it say after the age of 20, but if you created it in your teens, I beg you to reconsider, or at least take a vacation from it.
I created my first world at fourteen. I had twenty generations of genealogy for the important families. I worked out words commonly used in their language, and name derivations over the centuries.
The problem was writing a coherent story that didn’t pull in a 100 other substories I knew. Besides the world had a fatal flaw that made it almost impossible to sell. (Yes, it was Libertarian, but it was more than that. Let’s say it was years ahead of its time. Since I reserve the right to write it under deep cover, now that I know how having been away from it for 20 years, I will reveal no more.)
Mind you I’m grateful for that first world. Because I couldn’t see the major non-marketable flaw, I spent 8 years writing these books and studying everything I could in search of the magic spell. On the way I learned more craft than most people ever even contemplate.
And no, I didn’t even realize it was unsaleable, I just wanted a break from it, and so created a pre-Minoan parallel world. (That too needs rewriting badly. It will eventually happen.) That one, the very first novel got me interest from an agent, and a second place in the contest administered by the Pikes Peak Writing Conference.
I still had no clue why the first world was unsaleable, but meanwhile I had other ideas, space opera ideas (Darkship Thieves was written shortly after) and parallel history ideas (there’s a novel with the Red Baron and Aliens that I’d like to publish this year, since it’s the 100th anniversary of his death. I wish my health would stop going weird on me.)
It wasn’t until I had ten novels out that I realized why that first world was unsaleable, and partly it’s the theme, but also my manner of approaching it, because I couldn’t tell “Saleable” from a hole in the ground.
Speaking of the Red Baron, I always fall a little in love with my male characters. But it’s not romantic love (thank heavens.)
It’s pretty easy though to become obsessed with an historical personage, particularly one widely believed to be a villain and become the female equivalent of a white knight, trying to make everything okay for him in retrospect.
I was reminded of this recently because while looking for historical mysteries I fell into a niche of Ricardians writing alternate histories of Richard III. Which is fine. Kind of.
One of the series I read, is a time travel romance (though there’s no sex till book two) and honestly, she had several saving graces, such as understanding he would be very religious and religious in a way moderns aren’t. And respecting that. She also didn’t make hiim the white knight sans peur et sans reproche. He’s a man of his time, and she realizes he’d totally order the princes in the tower killed if that saved more civil war. But then she can’t let go. As always in this type of obsession, she makes him the paragon of everything, who can do no wrong and brings enlightened governance to the middle ages. She has her character marry him. She eventually has them settle in the 21st century (inexplicably in Norway.) She has another book that’s supposedly her diaries through this, and I’m starting to think she’ll write about him for the rest of her days.
The problem is that … well… that when you fall in love with a character and try to make everything right for him you’re going to do several things that leave writers not similarly enthralled cold. This is the origin of The Man With The Golden Rod/The Glittery Whoo-Ah syndrome.
What I mean is, if anyone sees this character they want him/her, but we’re never given a reason why, there is no build up to make the reader as much in love with the character as the writer is. The writer feels it self obvious. The reader is likely to get nauseated.
I once had a beginning writer write about an entire city throwing a parade for this wounded character who had been back in time for 2 weeks. Yeah, no.
It’s not quite Mary Sue, I call it “love and comfort.” You want to love and comfort this character, and you forget to, you know, make him lovable. or believable.
So, there are darlings you ought to kill.
If you’ve only written in ONE world, and have written more than three books with no marked success, consider that perhaps you don’t have the clear vision to figure out why it’s not selling, yet. Take a break, create another world. Write a couple of books in it.
And if you’re obsessed with a character, particularly an historical character you want to “love and comfort” or compensate for his/her ills? For the love of heaven, walk away. Just walk away. Write soemthing else for a good long while. Analyse your fascination and see how it transfers to other work.
But just because you love a world or a character, it doesn’t mean readers will, particularly if you doin’t give them enough onw hich to love the character, because it’s so obvious to you.
Your writing is more than one world, more than one character. presumably the stories you have to tell compass entire worlds.
Don’t sell yourself short, and don’t remain stuck.