Wednesday, November 9, 2011

YA Highway Road Trip Wednesday #104: Writing Superpowers

Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival," where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This week's topic: What are your writing and publishing superpowers (drafting? beta-reading? writing queries? plotting? character creation? etc.) -- and what's your kryptonite?

Kinda timely - This week for my WIP, I'm brainstorming magic systems and super powers for my universe. But this isn't about main characters. This is about me!

Not to say that my current research isn't applicable. I've been studying how to develop magic systems. Hilari Bell has three rules of magic that are definitely worth taking a look at. The first rule is that magic should cause more problems than it solves. This definitely applies to strengths and weaknesses, whether it comes to writing or something else. Being a good drafter might mean that revision is slow and painful, or being an excellent plotter might lock you into formulaic thinking, for example.

With this in mind, when I took a look at my writing strengths, I considered an opposite of that skill. This made it painfully easy to see my writing weaknesses:

Strength: Character creation

This is from years and years of roleplaying, and it's one of my favorite parts of writing. That fresh character sheet, just waiting to be filled in with all the little details. Who is she? What does he love? Where does she go for coffee/Slurm/blood?

-- Weakness: World building

Being good at details makes it hard to see the forest, and so much of writing genre fiction involves developing rich, complex worlds. Half the fun of Harry Potter is imagining ourselves in Hogwarts. In the Matrix, there's a stark contrast between the vibrant urban illusion and the dark and dirty reality. It seems like I'm always hemming and hawing over the world. How big a city? What's the population? What's the government structure?

Interestingly, my brother is the complete opposite. He has serious World Building disease but never any plots.

Strength: Planning

"Tomorrow morning, I'm going to wake up at 6 a.m. and flesh out my outline and create a new character sheet and draft the big ending scene and then I'll save some puppies from a burning building!"

-- Weaknesses: Impetus

"Waargh, whatimesit, too sleepy, mustzzzzZZZzzz...."

Once I actually get going, I'm golden and can work for hours. But it's that initial getting started where I sometimes get stalled. This is where planning itself can turn into its own form of procrastination. I'll research and plan and draft, but then when it's crunch time I end up falling into distraction traps (I'm looking at you, Twitter!) or telling myself that I'm "not ready yet," which is really just self-doubt rearing its ugly head.

It can be hard to face your weaknesses, but I think it's a great exercise. Not just in self-discovery, but in growth. Unlike the Kryptonians, who have to wait for a plucky reporter to come along and move the offending piece of Kryptonite before they can save the day, I don't have to wait. I can take a good look at my weaknesses and then work on improving them. To improve my weak areas, I'm working on world building by studying DM guides and world structures that others have developed. I'm also steadily becoming better at getting up early and writing first thing in the morning, which for me really sets a positive tone for the rest of the day.

They might never become as good as my strengths, but they also don't have to impede my writing.


  1. I love your research on magic - that it should cause more problems than it solves. Ironic since we all wish we had a bit of magic (wiggle the nose and have the dishes clean!)

  2. So with you on the world building, or more so the "grounding the reader". I know where everyone is, but when my CP gets a hold of it, confusion strikes.

  3. @Suze Reese: Ah, if only! One great example of this rule that I ran across was from the first Lord of the Rings. To escape the Balrog, the companions have to rely on Gandalf's magic. But since the enemy is so powerful, they have to pay a higher price, which in this case meant losing Gandalf entirely. This leave's the party leaderless and despairing.

    @Sarah B: By the time I get to planning politics and economies, my eyes are crossing and there's a voice in my head, "Forget maffs, more explosions!"

  4. Maybe you and your brother could collaborate on a project? :P

    I love planning, too. It helps everything fall into place so much easier during the drafting process.

  5. @Kathy My brother and I just recently talked about that! I think it's a great idea. The problem is he's in the military and I'm a military spouse, so communication can be intermittent. Still, if we ever manage it, it'll be great to see what we come up with.

  6. I have world building kryptonite issues too! Though mine are less about the actual "world" per se (my stories take place here, not a made up place) but more about the constraints of the paranormal/magic things being relevant to my characters throughout the whole story.

  7. @Sara M.: It's definitely a balancing act when it comes to paranormal/magic things. They're such fun things to work into a story, but it's tough not letting them get too deux ex machina or be there just for the sake of adding extra cool factor.

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