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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.

  1. One reason I made up so many Habsburgs in the Powers series is, well, while I am very sympathetic toward Franz Josef and admire some of his characteristics, there is no way I could “improve” him enough to make the story work without the historian side of my brain hitting me over and over with a clue-by-four. Ditto Franz Ferdinand. Better to make up a Rudolph (who is based on two actual archdukes, both of them “that one” in their respective generations) and Josef Karl.

    July 11, 2018
  2. Unsolicited advice ahead. Delete this comment if it is inappropriate…

    My mother nearly died of a bleeding ulcer partly caused by long term allergies to almost everything edible that you can think of. She saved herself by drinking a concoction invented by Adele Davis which contained every single vitamin and mineral known at the time to be important. Since the drink included brewers yeast and kelp, it probably includes a lot that people didn’t know was important. It also tasted so awful that we called it Philboyd Studge. But, Sarah, you should drink it. And if you can’t find a recipe at least take a lot of pantothenic acid which is the B vitamin most involved in preventing allergic reactions. It isn’t easy to get 100 mg a day which is where you should start.

    After about six months my mother was healthier than I had ever known her. Her conclusion was that she was missing something in her diet/general makeup but since no one could figure out what it was she just took everything. After that she only had to drink a little every now and then, when her health went wonky.

    July 11, 2018
    • BobtheRegisterredFool #

      Okay, so letting the pantothenic acid run out for long is a bad idea. Thanks.

      July 11, 2018
    • I’m NOT allergic to everything. Only to myself.

      July 11, 2018
    • You have the name wrong, but anyway, what Adele Davis concocted included molasses. The one thing we know for sure is that carbs make my entire body break out in eczema leading to raw flesh. I’ll pass.

      July 11, 2018
      • Shudder ….. Raw flesh should be avoided.

        July 11, 2018
      • All too many “home remedies” are of the throw the kitchen sink at it – and thus cause more problems than the one thing that they cure.

        It can be helpful to tweak your vitamin and mineral intakes. With a good doctor knowing what you are doing, and advising all along the way. With tests to determine whether something is an actual lack, or is the result of the way your body is using a perfectly normal dosage. If it’s your body being wonky, more of whatever is unlikely to help, and very likely to harm.

        One thing at a time, too, which is possible these days (the local pharmacy has just about everything on its shelves where the only active ingredient is one particular thing).

        Knowledge is also important – especially about what is (mostly) safe to go over the RDA on, and what is actually likely to poison you (like vitamin A, or iodine).

        Sorry, Sarah, this should have been a more general comment, not a reply to the choir that already knows better. But I have to head out the door right now.

        July 11, 2018
        • I have a friend who got scurvy (scurvy!) because her body wasn’t absorbing vitamin C. They megadosed her for a while and then managed to fix the initial issue, but yeah. Sometimes it’s just your body being wonky.

          July 12, 2018
  3. Interesting! This gave me a little push to re-read a bit of my earlier writing. I don’t see the issue you talk about here, but I didn’t expect to since most of my world building is more seat-of-the-pants rather than actually plotted out (20 generations!!! WOW!!!)

    Regardless, it was nice to revisit one particular story that I wrote a year ago in order to get an idea for a book down somewhere before I forgot it. The writing, which my brain had tagged “chapter one!” at the time, is hideous! LOL!! Yea, still love the idea, but seriously going to have to scrap that bit and re-write. I’m still learning the craft. Probably always will be. Hopefully I’ll actually FINISH something that I think is worthy of releasing sometime in the next year though. 🙂

    July 11, 2018
  4. BobtheRegisterredFool #

    I don’t think it was my first world, but I’m no longer as persuaded by some of the social world building in one of my major early worlds.

    July 11, 2018
    • I cut out a lot of clothing and food description from a number of relatively-things. There’s world building and there’s too much wardrobe building.

      July 11, 2018
      • And minimal description of characters – general age, build, coloring, any distinguishing characters or behavioral traits. Three sentences, maybe four, at max. Best way to escape Mary Sue-ism.
        I did spend some time in one book on wardrobe – because the two main characters were an English noblewoman and her ladies maid, and a lot of their lives revolved around the wardrobe.

        July 11, 2018
        • because the two main characters were an English noblewoman and her ladies maid, and a lot of their lives revolved around the wardrobe.

          See, that makes sense, and when stuff like that makes sense, I tend to enjoy it as well.

          July 11, 2018
  5. Christopher M. Chupik #

    I’m still recycling names from my Big Fat Fantasy I planned once upon a time.

    July 11, 2018
  6. A long, long time ago I watched a few Woody Allen movies. It baffled me beyond comprehension that all these women would fall for him in the movies. It wasn’t that he wasn’t physically attractive (which he wasn’t), but that he wasn’t ever portraying an attractive person. He was not Miles Vorkosigan. In prose fiction I seem to see this more with women main characters–why should we believe this whiner is universally appealing?

    One trick, of course, is not to claim that someone is universally appealing. Thinking that should just be a red flag for the writer to pull back.

    July 11, 2018
  7. 23 skidooq

    July 11, 2018
  8. Blake Smith #

    I purposely abandoned the first world I built, because I knew I didn’t have the experience to do it justice. So I shifted gears from this highly-magical world to a more adventure type fantasy series now known as The Garia Cycle. Originally, that was going to consist of one book, and then I’d return to the first world and write that. But, best laid plans, and all that; The Garia Cycle now has at least eight books and a couple of associated short stories, mostly still in my head.

    I don’t know if I’ll ever return to the first world. It feels shadowy and distant, and though I could probably bring it back into focus, I’m not sure I want to. I mean, I made it up when I was a kid/teenager, with all the associated wackiness and angst. Not to mention, the magic system needs some serious work before it’s fit for public consumption. Maybe in my spare time.

    July 11, 2018
  9. Luke #

    I love building settings.
    But by the time I’ve gotten them somewhat fleshed out, they’re not really conducive to coherent plots.
    It also doesn’t help that I’ve got a weakness to shiny, and want to chase butterflies. A setting based upon the interaction of three interesting themes quickly gets drowned in kudzu.

    July 11, 2018
    • I have that issue. So, my therapy prescription FOR YOU:
      a) don’t build the setting. Build it as you write the novel. you can always fix the book later.
      b) you have two weeks to write the novel. GO.
      (this won’t give you time to make it soup.)
      c) you can revise once for world, once for plot, and once for wording. And then you’re done.

      July 12, 2018
  10. May I suggest you DO NOT let your Weird get healthy? Until it’s house-broken.

    July 11, 2018
  11. Mary #

    How much backstory your story needs varies.

    I’m working on one with a timeline of the last century for all events that will influence the story.

    It does kinda influence that one character is giving another the potted history in hopes she will find ways to make herself safe in it.

    July 12, 2018
  12. I can’t say I’ve entirely *abandoned* the world I began building when I was 11…but I revisited it when I was 20, and these days I’m just basically mining it for bits. It wasn’t bad, but it was very ‘standard fantasy trope Tolkien ripoff.’ (Though it did get more interesting when I revisited it in my early 20s.) I don’t entirely know what I’ll do with it going forward, but I definitely still have a soft spot for it.

    July 12, 2018
  13. Possibly relevant to this post, so I’m sharing the video

    July 13, 2018
    • Darn it, video dude, your music is so loud and your mic/recording of your voice is too quiet.

      I can’t hear him over the ‘background’ music. :/

      July 13, 2018

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