The Dangers of Trying Too Hard #amwriting #atozchallenge

 

There are moments when all of us have tried too hard, one way or another. We have a particular goal, and we’re striving towards it. Despite the fact that our writing isn’t flowing naturally, we keep on, fighting the current and our own writing tendencies (and sometimes, our own characters).

But whenever this happens, we weaken the story by introducing extraneous material, like dross in gold.

So here’s a few forms “Trying Too Hard” can take.

The pen is mightier by PenywiseProse. We’ve all read lines like “the sun broke the edge of the horizon, shattering the still night into morning.” It gives a quick snapshot of the location of the action, sidestepping paragraphs of prose. And sometimes, a short, memorable description like this can work really well, setting up the mood for whatever follows.

However, if the narrator isn’t the sort who’d notice these kinds of things, or isn’t the type to think about them in a lyrical, literary way, then we’re probably trying too hard to sound “artistic.” The best prose is a natural kind that flows, from the narrator or characters to us. We shouldn’t have to consult a dictionary to make it happen.

Side Characters. Frequently, this is where we try to hitch our story onto the latest literary fad. We add gay secondary characters, who never seem to act any differently than the other characters (as in, they don’t seem drawn to the same sex, they never react romantically towards the same sex, and they hardly interact with their partner in any way beyond friendship). Or we add a dash of ethnic diversity by having characters with darker skin–and leave it at that, never hinting at how this affects their lives or how their culture shapes how they see things.

Romances and Religion. A lot of contrived fiction falls into this category, and this can happen, even if “religion” means that the character is devoted to saving the planet, changing humanity’s carbon output, or promoting equality for all. If we’re putting words in a character’s mouth or viewpoints in their head that they wouldn’t naturally say or think, we’re trying way too hard.

Also, if we’re putting the wrong people together–forcing our characters to make wise romantic choices, even though we know they’d be drawn to the wrong ones–we’re still contriving the story, and we’re doing an injustice to the characters. It’s their story, after all; their one chance to live. We need to let them be themselves…not mini-me’s on paper.

What about you? Have you encountered an example of an author “trying too hard”? Or maybe, is there a type you’ve been guilty of yourself? (gasp!) 🙂

Copyright 2016 Andrea Lundgren

Photo by Penywise, Creative Commons

10 thoughts on “The Dangers of Trying Too Hard #amwriting #atozchallenge

  1. Another kind of trying too hard can be following every single suggestion made by every single critique partner or beta reader, which can lead to writing by committee instead of writing your own original story. It’s good to take suggestions to heart if they can improve the story, but sometimes a critiquer might feel s/he needs to tear apart everything just for its own sake, or someone might have a negative reaction to a certain character based on his or her own personality or life experiences.

    I totally agree about unnecessary token characters. It’ll be obvious if a character of a certain race, religion, ethnicity, etc., were just shoehorned in there to try to spice the story up with some diversity, just as it’s obvious when a very political character is nothing but a mouthpiece for the author and not a natural, believable part of who that character is.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I like that: “Writing by committee.” Other people have very different ideas about what a story should look like, and unfortunately, when a story excites or interests them, they’re more likely to want to see the vision they have, which was originally inspired by your literary vision, come to life.
      And so it becomes a question of whether you see clearly into your imaginative world or whether they caught something you missed.
      I agree completely. Thanks for sharing!

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      1. It’s tricky, finding the balance between listening to feedback from others and remaining true to your vision of the story. When in doubt I like to give any suggestion time. I’ll write it down, work on other things, and maybe revisit the suggestion after a few days, maybe a week.
        Getting feedback from multiple people/personality types can help, but in the end we have to make our own decision about what’s best for the story.
        I do think it’s best not to show the same story to the same person multiple times. Even if I follow their feedback I may still end up revising the story in a way that’s different from how they envisioned it.

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      2. I think it really depends on who you’re showing your story to. I have some people who are committed to my stories, and regardless of how I write them, will “read me out.” I show them the stories over and over again, through all the rewrites, because their opinions help me see where the story could go, even if I don’t alter it the way they want. But you’re right. It could be problematic and lead to quarrels or upset feelings.

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  2. I have to remind myself in lots of things to stop trying and just do. It’s usually gets better results. But your list is good and reminds me I should check my characters’ viewpoints a little more.

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  3. A lot of this sounds like some form of forcing the story; either by grafting an attribute onto a character instead of organically integrating it into them, or puppeteering characters.

    I think what really troubles me is when characters are inconsistent. For example, I’ve read stories where characters are really passionately emotional, either with love, fear, or anger, but in the next scene that same passion is gone. The character is calm and collected, as if their passion was little more than a drunken stupor that they had to sleep off.

    In some cases it feels like characters are forced to act “out of character”, for the sake of creating tension, or advancing the plot.

    Of course that’s fine if it’s still a rough draft. Sometimes “writing it wrong” can help me understand how to “write it right” through process of elimination.

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    1. Ooh, I like that: “as if their passion was little more than a drunken stupor that they had to sleep off.” Very true! And I use the process of elimination in my drafts all the time, throwing out ideas until I finally find one that I like.

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