Monday, June 18, 2012

The Importance of Hindsight

Rereading your old writing is a great way to see where you've come from. I recently found an old piece of writing called Kitty Ridgeland, a sequel to a terrible story I wrote around 2009 called the Bottomless Bag. In that story, I took the idea of the Bag of Holding from Dungeons and Dragons and put a whole universe into it. Two kids from our universe found their way inside and adventures ensued. One of the things they found was a deposed queen named Kitridge (sigh) whose experiments with staying young had left her aging younger and younger. She'd managed to stop aging around the age of fourteen. As you might imagine, at that age it would be very difficult to be taken seriously, so she left her homeworld and returned with the boys to Earth.

Here's the first important takeaway of learning from your past mistakes: Never assume that anything you've done is amazing or awesome. Even some published authors have terrible habits (or no skill at all). The moment you assume you've become the perfect writer is the moment you stop improving. Conversely, believing everything you've done is complete crap can be just as harmful, as you'll probably just stop writing out of frustation. Even with the awful writings of my twenty-year-old self to look over, I can see the kernel of an interesting idea. One day I might go back and write a short treatment of the Bottomless Bag and actually do a good job this time.

Anyway, the sequel followed the day and the life of queen Kitridge (renamed Kitty to fit in better, ugh) as she found her way in high school (double ugh). Originally I wanted her to exude the qualities of a deposed old queen; she was all bitterness and spite, and this came through in the way she treated other students. To put it bluntly, she was a cold hard bitch. I'm really not interested in reading stories like this anymore; maybe it's because I don't find the idea of difficult people fun like I used to. I'm not who I was when I was nineteen.

She had all of these weird magic skills. But then again, so did everyone else in the school. I was going for this strange Harry Potter-like world where magic was commonplace. Eventually, Kitty got in a (quite violent) fight with another one of the girls at school. There was a fun fight scene (posted below) and then things go very wrong for the girls when their magic sort of runs away with them, leaving them in a time-stuck world. I only got about seven or eight pages in before I ran out of ideas. This might've been because I was tired from forcing the Bottomless Bag story or because the universe wasn't as interesting to me as it had been. Either way, the story is left hanging. After reading it, I realized several things, and wrote them down in the text document immediately afterward. Here's exactly what I wrote:

As I reread through this long-forgotten story, several things surprised me. Kitty's character is quite strongly defined, but there are a few things I'd change:

1: She's kind of a bitch, and I don't enjoy reading stories about terrible people. I need to make her more sympathetic. She doesn't need to become some patron saint, but I can find the line between Nurse Ratchet and Snow White.

2: Although I was once extremely fascinated with fantasy stories, I now find them to be rather overdone. I think I'll change the story to science fiction instead. Instead of being from the previous story (which I'm removing any reference to), she can be a time traveler, an alien or something else I haven't thought of yet.

3: I'm not exactly sure what happens next, but it intrigues me. I vaguely recall the thought of having some kind of agency that exists in the moment between moments, but that seems contrived. Also, the little robot/alien boy who caused the accident seems interesting.

4: Instead of editing this story, it might be easier if I simply rewrote it completely.

5: The whole thing with Kitty being mean to that other girl simply has to go. There's no motivation for a person to be so cruel for no reason. Either give Kitty a reason to dislike the other girl or do something else.

6: How about we rename Kitty? I don't care for that name (thanks to That 70's show and Arrested Development).

There's lots here for me to work with, and it's interesting to see where I was in 2009. I hadn't even read Self Editing for Writers yet. Reading this old story lets me see the soul of my style. Despite the poor word choices and storytelling faux pas, I can see a story I was enthusiastic about. Now I know how to fix it and make better decisions in the way I tell this story. Hopefully in three years I'll look back at that and see that I've improved.

The fight scene between Kitty and Sarah:

Kitty experienced an explosion of white light as Sarah's fist collided with her right eye. Kitty grabbed Sarah by her hair and punched her in the neck. Sarah wheezed and clasped her throat, dropping to her knees. Before Kitty had time to wonder if she had really hurt her, she found herself knocked to the ground by a spell. She got to her feet just in time to see a cloud of X-acto blades emerge from the supply cabinet in the corner of the room and gather in a cloud over Sarah's head. Sarah was on her feet again and was crouching on the ground, holding both arms forward, as if she were directing the way for the blades to fly. Kitty ducked almost too late; the blades whipped over her head and cut several long grooves in her scalp before sticking in the wall behind her. Blood flowed in torrents down her face.
Kitty pushed back as hard as she could; there were suddenly so many spells in her head that she didn't bother sorting them out. She hurled lightning and wind along with Mr. Cropton's office chair at Sarah, who deflected them easily, retaliating with a wall of water and a volley of sharpened pencils, some of which stuck painfully into Kitty's face, arms and legs.
Now she was angry. She dodged around another group of spells and charged at Sarah, intending to punch and kick any part of her that she could get a hold of. Her plan failed when Sarah sent a solid wall of air that slammed into Kitty like a mattress and sent her toppling over backwards. She landed on her stomach, slightly dazed. For the first time in Kitty's life, the thought crossed her mind that she might not win.