Books Of Change

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When Writing a Story is Hard…

There are times when I rue the day I decided to write a sequel to A Study In Magic. If only I stopped where I did. If only I didn’t make any promises. If only, if only, if only…

Writing A Study in Magic: The Application is hard. Over this past year, I tried to figure out why. I had a master list of required scenes and events. I had an ending. The characters knew the drill and told me what needed to happen, not the other way around. A good sign of character development, I knew. I just had to write it all out. So why so difficult?

Inspiration From Source Material: Nill

I knew part of the problem was that for A Study in Magic: The Application, I’m covering material in books six and seven. I’ve read the Order of the Phoenix, the Half-blood Prince, and the Deathly Hallows once each, and never picked them up again. When I wrote chapters 69 to 82 of A Study In Magic, I just googled the required passages rather than sift through OOTP. Every time I thought about reading the Order of the Phoenix again, I’d remember what was waiting for me and I’d shy away. On my bookshelf of beloved books, the Sorcerer’s Stone, the Chamber of Secrets, the Prisoner of Azkaban and the Goblet of Fire stand proudly next to the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes. The Order of the Phoenix, the Half-blood Prince, and the Deathly Hallows are notable in their absence. They will likely not see the light of day again.

In short, while I enjoyed certain individual elements of the last three Harry Potter books, I have no love for those books as a whole.

But that’s not the main problem. I’ve worked through difficult and unpleasant parts before. The bread and butter of my paying career rely on the fact I can do things others find deeply unpleasant and difficult, and do it well. No, it wasn’t the source material that gave me pause. It was the story itself.

When You Realize You Must Grow As Writer

As of the end of A Study In Magic, I had a sense the story entered the strange border between fanfiction and original story. The safety net I once had is no longer there. A Study In Magic always had the original source I could anchor the plot on. A Study in Magic: The Application had three immovables, which are: the canon characters, the Horcruxes, and the Hallows. Harry Potter is now Harry Watson and all that entails. With some judicious alterations, I could perhaps turn it into a coming-of-age Young Adult novel about a teenaged wizard a modern-day Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson raised as their own.

This terrified me more than I can say. What makes me think I could write something that does justice to the first four Harry Potter books? I have a fraction of JK Rowlings’ resources and talent. I’ve never written a full-blown original novel before. I took the bare minimum necessary writing courses to obtain my computer science degree, and none of them were creative writing. I even used loopholes to skip learning English grammar, for crying out loud! Conceited doesn’t even begin to cover this attempt!

I have a habit of stalling when I think failure is imminent and inevitable. With this kind of dread churning in my subconscious, no wonder I’ve been stalling. Also, whenever I’m dissatisfied with my level of competency, or the lack thereof, I go and study like crazy. This time was no different. I read books on writing. I tried my hand at writing an original novella (52k words; more on it later). I lost many nights of sleep researching the current publishing landscape and readers. I’m eyeing a master’s class on writing by James Patterson. The most shocking of all, I’m teaching myself proper grammar and style. (The things you do to get better…)

I also read books on originality, rapid learning and gaining mastery in a craft. This past Monday night I read “The Dip” by Seth Godin. It talked about the moment when things get difficult; when you’re plagued with the desire to quit. The titular “Dip”. Godin advocated the only way for you to become number one in a world is to push through the Dip when everyone else is quitting. And you have to strive to be number one. We live in a winner-gets-all society. We rarely, if ever, look for average when the number one is easy to find and readily available with six clicks of a mouse.

Well, I’m not too concerned about being number one. But the process of learning, striving against difficulty, and pushing forward when everyone else is cutting loose, that I am interested in. I also learned the hard way I shouldn’t quit just because I’m afraid. Everything about my reluctance to write A Study in Magic: The Application stinks of fear … fear of failure, fear of ridicule, fear of the unknown. It won’t do.

The New Goal

So what now? The challenge still intimidates me. I fear A Study in Magic: The Application will never be as good as A Study In Magic. I’m not sure I have the ingenuity and wherewithal to write something worth anyone’s time, and telling myself I won’t know until I try doesn’t help. But I want to write it. I don’t like leaving things unfinished, and I hate incomplete stories as much as the next person.

So the goal: I going to use everything I’ve learned over these past six months to write A Study in Magic: The Application. If nothing else, I’ll finish the story and share all the awesome things I learned. Speaking of which… 

Some Excellent Resources for Writers and Inspiring Authors

What about you? Do you have a story that just refused to get written? What did you do?

6 Comments

  1. Can I just say that for someone who professes to have skipped english classes at college, your level of grammar and style in ASIM is hugely superior to much of the fanfiction that is available online. Throw in fantastically-crafted original characters and the relationship between two vastly different universes (HP and Sherlock), and we have a winner on our hands. I can’t express my excitement when I saw the email notification that there has been a new ASIM-TA chapter, following which I started re-reading ASIM (for the third time) just to prolong the time before I can finally dive into new material. So please know that, despite the struggles you face when you write ASIM-TA, your stories are highly anticipated and loved.

    • booksofchange
      booksofchange

      2016-12-10 at 7:45 am

      Hello Nethra,

      Thank you so much for you kind words! Comments like yours really spurs me to continue 🙂

      I’m slowly chipping alway on chapter nine; Sherlock is flexing his deduction muscles, so it’s promising. Just a tad verbose, ha.

      BOC

  2. I’ve been eagerly waiting for the next instalment. I have kept the tab with your FFN profile open in my browser for over a year now, so I don’t lose it and the story; that’s how invested I’ve become, not in JKR’s Harry Potter (which, to be honest, I almost entirely lost interest in around the time Deathly Hallows was published), but in *your* world. You’ve built a whole coherent story and believable characters of your own that only tangentially intersect with the original story, except for those few anchor points that are built into it. You don’t need to stick to most of the events of the originals. The vast bulk of them don’t concern your characters anymore; they have their own problems to deal with now.

    (The only nitpick I have, is that, it having been so long since I read the originals, when you obliquely mention events that occurred in them that your versions of the characters are no longer present for, I struggle to remember what it might be referring to, and you don’t elaborate on the reference. It’s only a minor niggle though.)

    You don’t need to cling to the original story. The training wheels are off, and you stepped over the edge of the safety net a long time ago; you’re already flying 🙂

    • booksofchange
      booksofchange

      2016-11-28 at 11:48 pm

      Thank you for your kind and encouraging words. I’m amazed that you kept my profile up for a year … that serious. Wow. I hope you enjoyed the latest update, it was very late in coming.
      It’s still scary if exciting to venture into unknown territory for story writing, but it’s proving quite fun! Thank you again.

  3. This post was very well expressed. That takes me to something I’ve said about your work all along: You are fantasic at getting us inside your characters’ heads. I know your post wasn’t for the purpose of soliciting praise, but I wish I could share with you precisely how your writing looks from the perspective of those of us on the other side of ASiM: TA – the pov of we who are your readers.

    OotP was my least favorite of the HP series. Like you, I’ve never re-read it in full. The thought of that veil at the end of the story just rips me up inside. So I understand your thoughts there. What I think you are missing is why it is such a pleasure to read your adaptations of those books.

    Your unique merging of the three universes (Sherlock-original; Sherlock-Moffat/BBC; HP 1-7 by JKR) eliminates that out-of-control horror which the wizarding world became. Instead, you leave me with me with that charming sense of awe and wonder for the magical world, both of which were necessarily missing from JKR’s latter books. In her version, Harry is largely alone and unsupported by any adults as he goes through hell. As a mom, that rips me up inside. I can’t enjoy watching a child suffer as Harry has. But in ASiM, we see how this unbearable burden could have been lessened, just by having adults behave as they ought, rather than dumping everything on a child. It’s a liberating, encouraging, enthusiasm-generating experience for me. Quite honestly, it’s therapeutic for me, given all else in my life.

    I should add, I don’t mean to criticise JKR. Her Harry was following the so-called Hero’s Journey, and thus his lonesome existence was a necessary part of the story she was telling. In your case, you have different goals and are therefore telling a very different tale; one which excites my imagination *because* of how well your original plot & charaters shape the story, not (as I think you may feel) in spite of them.

    I’ve never read the original Sherlock books, though I’m a huge fan of the Laurie R. King adaptations and like the 2008 BBC series. So I only have a vague awareness of what aspects of your work are based on the Conan Doyle canon. What I do know is that I like what you are doing with your series. I love seeing Harry thrive in a stable, affectionate household. I love seeing Harry’s expanded circle of friends. I love your Lestrade/Lestrange back story & Greg’s remarkable family. I love Grand Master Shin and his family. I love your RDJ. I love how you integrate matters of faith so organically in your narrative. So, for my part, it seems that what is driving your story is not based that much on the original Sherlock Holmes books. I therefore think that you are doing far better than you believe, even without one of your three original sources.

    I can’t offer much writing input, as I no longer write. I can say that your research and study are incredible. If all of those who wrote fanfic (or even novels) were concerned with their technical writing skills (grammar, etc.), FF.net would be a ghost town. ;-). But comparing your work solely to that of other fanfic writers is unfair. There is far too much of yourself and your original characters for you to be considered solely a fanfic writer. I hope that you can look at ASiM-TA as your thesis project within your self education and development of skills as a novelist. Give yourself some lattitude, even while acknowledging that this is advanced work you’re doing. I have complete faith in your abilities.

    And if this story is a source of stress for you, with no benefits (such as training your mind or communications skills), then for Heaven’s sake, walk away from it! You’re not under contract. This ought to be an enjoyable hobby. You already have a stressful job. There is no need to punish yourself with a tormenting hobby. Do I need to start calling you “Miss Jackie” and refer to ASiM-TA as your personal MMN cell service? 😉

    • booksofchange
      booksofchange

      2016-11-20 at 9:03 pm

      Thank you so much for your comment 🙂 It’s encouraging to me to know ASIM:TA is worth reading, it really is. And yes, I’m the same camp as you when it comes to Harry being thrown into non-stop horror with hardly any help. While I wasn’t necessarily thinking to give Harry help in my story, I was the happiest when John and Sherlock were there for him. And, haha, I wouldn’t call ASIM:TA my personal MMN nightmare. That was my old job. Which I left (yay!)

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