Tales From My IWP Writers Workshop – On My Character’s Desire And My Insecurity

I’m now officially three weeks into the University of Iowa’s How Writers Write Fiction 2016: Storied Women course, but I’m a few days behind as I just submitted my second assignment this morning. The focus of week two was desire and point of view. The task was to establish a female character who experiences a strong desire, who acts on said desire, but may or may not get what she wants. The point of view used in the narration should be picked based on which one best articulates the character’s desire, and the things she thinks/feels/experiences in acting on it.

My Desire is to not look like this every time I have to write something. #writersblock
My Desire is to not look like this every time I have to write something. #writersblock

In exploring desire, we could make it a “little d,” meaning something tangible—a thing or a place, but it had to lead to, connect with or focus on a “big D,” which is a psychological or emotional need.

Initially, I thought this would have been much easier than the first week’s assignment which sent me tumbling back into my depressing childhood memories to find something concrete. Well, it was, and it wasn’t. It was easier because I’d decided to continue my first character’s story, since most of the people who commented said they wanted to know what happened next, and I already knew everyone in the cast. But it took me three days to come up with anything, primarily because I couldn’t find a foothold in my memories strong enough to build the story on. I did manage to write a full outline, but in the middle of the night—literally after 12 on Wednesday, another character just overpowered me and started shading in herself on the page. She was the antagonist in my original story, but she wanted to make a case for herself, show why she acted the way she did, so I let her speak. Five pages later, there was her story. Which now brings me to why it was actually harder than week one.

Literally word vomit
Literally word vomit

There’s hardly a more insecure person than a writer, so because this character isn’t based on me, I began to second guess whether her voice was authentic, whether her desire was strong enough to justify her actions, and ohmygawdtwhy was this story so long?! I left it for a day, and when I came back, I still couldn’t get it just right. Her desires—little d and big D—were evident, the conflict was set up, but I just felt it was too rambly and that I’d lost the plot somewhere. Plus, my trusted beta reader Keresa only said it was ‘good.’ I read a tonne of different things into that one word, and panic ensued. I managed to nip and tuck and cut and chop until I got it down to four pages, and under 2,000 words, but the ending was a mess. I finally got fed up this morning and slapped together a “cliffhanger,” copied and pasted it to the course’s assignments page, and hit “submit.” Then I notified my groups that my new work was up, and I sat there hitting refresh for an hour. No comments.

The first two comments rolled in after about 90 minutes (yes, I checked). I read them with one eye closed, because I was sure they had seen all the same gaping holes—and wait, what? They loved it? The character was evil, but they sympathised with her? They could understand why she did what she did, based on her desire, even if it’s still wrong? And that tacked on cliffhanger ending left them wanting more? All the things I had been agonising over was what they liked. I had to take a moment to just flop back into my bed and close my eyes, because phew! 

I don’t know why I’m so hard on myself when I write, especially creative pieces. Everything just always reads like word vomit to me, and it’s almost like I cannot really “see” it until someone else approves. I need that validation. This is normal for writers, right? Right??!

Literally my brain. But donde esta the story idea, huh?

So after it became clear that I wasn’t stinking up the joint with my story, I began to give feedback to a few of my classmates in the course—lots of brilliant writers, trust me—and finally added my two cents to the community discussion boards. You get points for submitting assignments and active participation, and there’s an optional certificate of completion you can get with enough points. Obviously, I’ma need to get that, because validation.

In one discussion, one of the instructors asked what was our preferred POV and why we liked to use it. I tend to write most of my work in first person, as it just feels more honest and connected, somehow. Maybe that’s because I tend to write about things and experiences that I’ve gone through. I’ve done a couple of pieces in third person, one based on a personal experience and one not. It was easier for the former story, not so much for the latter, especially as I had to get into two characters’ heads. I have trouble writing outside of my own experiences, which makes me feel limited and fraudulent in my desire to be an author. I mean, that’s why we have imaginations, right?

It wasn’t always like this, though. When I first started writing stories in second form, I don’t remember ever writing in first person. I don’t even know what triggered this change, and why it’s now so hard for me to get out of my head and allow my mind to inhabit other lives. I really don’t get it, and I want to get over it. That’s why I’m kind of excited about the week three assignment, which will require multiple characters and voices. I already know I’ll be submitting late, because I still don’t have even a whiff of an idea, but by the hook or the crook, it will come. A luta continua, vitória é certa.

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