“An uprooted cedar tree spears itself through my stomach, all of the leaves tickling my insides.”
You’re probably thinking, “What are you talking about?” That’s exactly what my friend/editor said when he read this line in my novel-in-progress. To make matters worse, this analogy is meant figuratively, and it takes place during an emotional climax. Since I couldn’t put my finger on the correct word, I just created this—something describing both pain and excitement.
We determined that it would have been more appropriate to say, “There’s a wacky, waving, inflatable, arm flailing tube man trapped inside my stomach, and he’s going nuts.”
As writers, I think explosions happen randomly inside our heads like any Michael Bay movie. Those explosions are what we believe to be our greatest lines. And we get stuck on them, because we’ve never heard anyone else describe a tree, specifically a cedar, impaling a man, making him feel ecstatic.
What happens when you keep all of those explosions? I think Bad Boys 2 happens. And Revenge of the Fallen. And Dark of the Moon. I’ll let the first Transformers movie off the hook since it was actually pretty decent.
Going through the edits suggested to me, I’ve noticed I went Michael Bay with my analogies. I think this is a result of trying to be too creative. The bottom line is, it’s tough out there. I can’t tell you how many gimmicky stories I’ve read published as of late. It’s almost as if the industry is saying good writing isn’t good enough anymore. You need something else to elevate you over the masses.
I think we just need to tell the story. Is there really a need to describe everything with poetic words? How about diving deep into symbolism? And jumping all over the place to make something straightforward more complex?
Even when we’re working on a WIP, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves, because we’re thinking ahead. How can’t we? It’s the writer’s way. But when we think ahead, we’re not just thinking about the story at hand—we’re thinking about the readers who are most likely to read our stories, and the authors we’ll most likely be competing against, and these things begin to affect our writing.
For instance, when I was writing my novel, I tried to get a bit too fancy with the main character stepping inside a bathroom, and this is what happened (another Bay explosion):
“Not even three minutes inside the miniature porcelain remake of the interior of St. Paul’s Cathedral next to Westminster Abbey, I pop the door open to find Miss Tulip coiled and snoring.”
I believe my thinking here was, “Wow, readers are gonna be impressed.” My reader laughed, and I think we’ll joke about this one and the tree analogy for some time to come.
It’s hard to approach any work with the attitude of just write in fear of churning out something generic. We get these amazing ideas, these explosions, and we think each one has to be bigger and better than the last.
Yes, writing is a creative field, and we’re supposed to allow our minds to wander, but thinking too far ahead can force the issue.
Explosion! Think about a family going on vacation. They planned ahead and have all of these places they simply must see. They rush around from site to site, shave time from here and there, maybe even argue. The trip turns out to be more of a hassle than anything, and in the end, no one’s happy. Why not just go on vacation and let whatever happens happen? (This explosion is going to make the jump to the next paragraph seem awkward. Sorry.)
As I’m going through the trouble spots in my novel, I’m finding that I often need to just state the obvious. He’s sick. He steps inside the bathroom. There, how hard was that? If I really need to throw some creative flair in there, I should sit on it. If it doesn’t come naturally, keep it simple. It’s better to make sense than to come off as trying too hard.
It happens often in music—a band will have a unique sound (comparable to an author’s voice), but it’s still not enough. They end up needing a certain look or a sad backstory. They wear masks—they were homeless—they were told they’d never make it.
It’s hard to see what’s genuine anymore. How much of what we’re told is original actually is? How many hands behind the scenes mold these successful icons into money pumps?
I think it’s imperative to just be yourself. Yeah, that sounds corny, but I’d rather an artist create a work from the heart and put it out there for my interpretation opposed to crafting something based on what they thought I wanted to hear.
Someone’s going to form a relationship with your work, so do you really want to be lying from the start?
Don’t try to get into the reader’s pants. Don’t be that guy who goes around bragging about how many “chicks” he “banged”. Be yourself and hope that’s good enough.