This is a Story about YOU: a Documentary

A few weeks ago, I was given an assignment to create an autobiographical piece for my documentary class.

No big deal, I thought. I talk about myself on my blog all the time. Producing a 10 minute video over a subject I know intimately should be no struggle.

It is such a struggle.

I’ve amassed a pretty impressive collection of B-roll (a supplemental or alternative footage intercut with the main shot), but I am completely blanking on what to write for my voice-over narration.

I decided that the scope of the video should be over my writing. However, writing has encompassed so much of my life, it seems nearly impossible to cover the things that have influenced my craft.

Because everything has impacted my writing: relationships, moves, friends, adventures, boredom, books, journals, good days, bad days, age, etc.

There are so many moments, too many to count, that have changed how I view the world. However, I can’t, nor should I try to, address every instance. For one thing it would be too long, for another it would be too boring.

Melodrama is also a factor I am trying to avoid.

Nothing is worse than watching a self-indulgent cheese-fest for 10 minutes while trapped in a classroom for over an hour.

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Nobody cares about your dead parakeet, Judith! No one!

Well, time for screenwriting attempt number 300.

Anyone have a tragic background story they aren’t using?

Word Count Goals

I see tweets all the time about writing goals. Goals are good. Goals help motivate. But I’ve never been good at them.

Deadlines help but I still struggle to meet them. A friend of mine gave me a deadline for two weeks and I think I emailed her the finished project about a month later.

Word goals? Forget about it.

I’ve had enough of those from years and years of being a student, trying desperately to meet the criteria for an essay, that I’m not putting myself though that sort of torture for a creative writing project.

In my mind, it’s time to stop writing when it’s time to stop writing.

A story ends when it’s over.

Usually, I feel that little inkling inside when the story’s events are coming to a close, and I try to listen to that sensation. I’ve never been good with numbers so I don’t take much notice of whether my work is 60k or 20k.

I only care about pacing and giving my plot room to breathe.

Everything else is semantics in my mind.

I’m glad the word count method works for some people, I just don’t think it’s right for me.

Being a Reader in an Unliterary World

Growing up, it was difficult to find people who loved to read as much as I did. Or people who read at all, really.

I’ve always baffled by people who claim reading is boring, and yet spend hours and hours in front of the TV watching reality television.

“How can you read so much?” they ask. “It’s so boring. Now excuse me while I watch a rich woman I’ve never met before have her nails painted following a fifteen minute shopping spree.”

How…how is that more interesting? How? I do not understand.

I defy you to give me a convincing reason why watching Kim Kardashian breaking down over shoes is more interesting than a young boy wizard fighting an evil order with a leader so terrifying that just saying his name sends people into throes of agony.

What also confuses me is how many people seem to take pride in their illiteracy. They’ll gaze at you with a wide grin and tell you  “they don’t read” or “they don’t have time to read.”

Yeah, they don’t have time to read, but they can punch out an entire series on Netflix in two days. You aren’t fooling anyone. 

Besides I can attest to the fact that if you read for maybe 10 minutes a day, you should be able to finish a full-length novel in a month. Bookmarks exist for a reason.

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People often ask me what the point of reading is. Why would you read when you can wait until the movie comes out and see everything rather than having to imagine it?

Well, for one thing, books are longer than movies and therefore have more time for things like character development, setting up atmosphere, and give you the opportunity to be inside peoples’ heads without the use of half-assed voice overs.

It’s also been proven that people who read novels  generally have more empathy than people who don’t. This makes sense to me since most books now are told through first-person. You are constantly viewing things from the perspective of other people.

But reading makes you anti-social, Rachael!

Pop quiz: how long were you on your phone when you went out to dinner with your friends or significant other? Do you talk to people on the bus, or do you just listen to your music? Do you prefer texting as opposed to talking on the phone because it gives you the power to reply later if you don’t want to talk right now?

Pencils down. Ooh. These results are not good.

I apologize for my saltiness.

If I sound bitter, it’s only because I’ve had to defend my hobby countless times. I don’t get why it’s so hard for people to see why I read, or treat it like it’s some sort of ailment  rather than a perfectly healthy leisure activity.

Oh, well. At least Darcy understands.

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Letting My Friend Break My Kneecaps, or Getting Constructive Criticism

I am happy there is someone who is willing to give me their honest opinion of my work. It can be difficult to a) find someone who is willing to read anything, let alone something I wrote and b) find someone who will not pull punches when it comes to problems with plot, story, characters, etc.

I gave one such friend a manuscript for a short-story/novella I am writing and the response I received went a bit like this:

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My characters:

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Me:

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My friend:

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Okay, in all seriousness, it was for the best. Sure, she wrote a diss track on my story, but none of her critiques stemmed from hatred or toxicity. She even told me she liked the story in spite of its many, many problems. Most of the issues she commented on I had seen for myself and agreed with.

I don’t get writers that won’t take any type of criticism. I’ve had many writing classes and in each there is at least that one person who insists they are the next J.K. Rowling and refuse to believe that anything negative said about their work is be true.

The teacher is just jealous or that editor didn’t “get” the story, etc.

This may be condescending of me, but I have a nagging suspicion most of these writers aren’t going anywhere.

How do you expect to get any better if you don’t even know if you’re doing something wrong? Would it be better if your sky diving instructor didn’t tell you how to properly jump out of a plane?

Having a beta reader is undeniably crucial in my opinion. It’s so much easier to see what elements require further explanation, or which characters need more development.

Everything I type comes from my own head so I have the benefit of all that background information. The reader does not.

That doesn’t mean I’m immune to saltiness when it comes to remarks made against my babies, but I have learned that most thought-out criticisms have merit.

In the end, it’s worth all of the blows to the ego in order for my story to become the best that it can be.

Research, Write, Repeat: Historical Fiction

I love historical fiction.

Especially novels that take place around the Victorian or Regency era.

I realize I’m romanticizing a period of inequality, poor hygiene, and convoluted social rules, but dammit if they didn’t look good in those waistcoats.

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What I don’t love (well, besides everything I listed above) is all of the research that goes into writing historical fiction.

Right now, in between projects, I am writing a story that involves an alien in Victorian England. As such, I’ve taken it upon myself to familiarize myself with the time period. However, it turns out this is far more intricate than I anticipated. You see, the Victorian era had quite a few social rules.

By quite a few I mean there are enough to make War and Peace look like a bit of light reading.

Not to mention I have to know the titles of The Help as well as what they did, how much they were payed, where and what they ate, when their day started, how it ended, etc.

Doesn’t sound too difficult, only there isn’t too much literature when it comes to servitude in the Victorian age Most of the information regarding servants doesn’t start until around the early 1900s, a.k.a Downton Abbey era. Most likely because that’s when a lot of societal shifts took place.

I’ve read quite a few Victorian novels but not a lot of them are told from the staff’s perspective. Most likely because no one gave a $h*t about them. With my story, I was hoping to break that mold. In fact, one of the more pivotal characters is a lady’s maid.

Then come the gentry….oh….oh God. The titles.

The titles.

Of course, there’s also the business of what they ate, what they read, what they did recreationally, what happened at their parties, the dances they danced, their courting rituals, spousal relationships, clothes they wore, their morning rituals, their evening activities–

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That’s not to say it’s all bad. Actually, most of it is really interesting. There’s just sooo much to remember. I could write notes for days and not even scratch the surface. It was a very complicated society with each person working as a cog in the machine.

It was also a revolutionary time that paved the way for modern transportation and business practices, one of the many reasons I wanted my story to take place in this period. I will do my best to portray the societal customs accurately.

Nonetheless, I hope my readers won’t mind too much if one of my characters accidentally introduces themselves first to a higher member of society, or refers to the second child as Miss Soandso instead of Miss Jane or Miss Jane Soandso.

We can’t all be Jane Austen.

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The Third Draft of Redemption

It’s not perfect, but it’s done.

After several long weeks, I finally finished that pesky third draft that has been plaguing my every thought.

Remember how a few posts ago I wrote about how a second draft was like a forest fire? Well, this draft was like trying to put the forest back together after the flames and then attempting to make it look better than it did before getting torched.

I kept rereading my previous draft, wondering how I could possibly repair the damage I had wrought without overdoing.

In some cases, I have been able to fix certain errors in my work, however, the result is that it becomes completely sapped of all personality. Personally, I’d rather have a project that’s zanny and nonsensical than boring.

Luckily, I think this draft is neither A nor B.

It’s adventurous!

It’s full of action!

It’s 68 pages long….!

Crap.

Oh, well. I’ll worry about that later. For now, I will relish in the fact that I have stuck with this project for so long and am planning to see it through to the end. Whatever the fate of my story will be, I will not stop giving it the love and affection it deserves!