Thursday, July 06, 2006

pitching stories to writers always strikes out

As a struggling Black writer, I always run into Brothers and Sisters who want to pitch story ideas to me. Some of these people get upset when their ideas strike out with me, but the truth is most story ideas pitched to me are usually:

A) already written by someone else,
B) Already written better by someone else,
C) Already poorly written by someone else,
D) Not viable at all as a story,
E) I’m not qualified to write that type of book,
F) No chance in hell of me selling it even as a POD book,
G)Some of the above or,
H) All of the above.

I don’t get why people think because I write fiction that I’ll be able to just crank out a full-length story from my imagination based on whatever plot they think is in their heads. The creative process doesn’t work that way. One person’s vision of a story might be the polar opposite of mine.

For example, they may pitch a story about working class blacks. That premise itself is very broad and very vague. As a writer I have to sketch in the details of this story; this is where problems will arise. The individual pitching the idea may see three sassy black sistas in a Brooklyn brownstone. I may see three black men in a Harlem apartment building. They may see working class jobs as Teacher, Postal Worker, and hairdresser, I may see working class as a Subway Motorman, Office manager, amd Barber. They may want riotous belly laughs, I may want more irony and satire in my comedy. Tomato, Tamato. What I may imagine may be totally different from the ideas imagined by the person who pitches to me.

On top of it, these same people who pitch their ideas to me think I’ll also be able to write their story ideas into a full-length novel oh, within two months or so. Life doesn’t work that way. Writing doesn’t work that way. No human being can produce an 80,000-100,000 word novel in that time and it be a quality piece of reading. I have a life outside of my computer I’d like to get to.

The creative process is different for each individual. Each writer is an artist who approaches storytelling with their own unique steps towards crafting their ideas into a complete novel. My creative process is weird and it’s really slow. The first stage of it takes a lot of time. I call this the plotting stage. This takes six months to a year. I’m coming up with my plot, premise and theme for the book. Most times while people are pitching ideas for plots to me during this stage I’m pitching premises to myself. I have a million story ideas in my head already and I’m debating whether do I really want to take the time and effort to put these ideas to paper. I don’t need any outside ideas pitched to me from Joe and Sally Q. Public. It’s a lot of extra pressure on me in addition to the pressure I’m putting on myself.

The second stage of this pre-writing process for me after writing up a premise is character creation. Most of my stories are character driven ones written in the first person, and I usually take several months to a year just to create characters and develop their unique personalities. I want them to have a strong enough personality so you hear their “voice” when they tell their portion of the story. To develop that picture of a “voice” I usually:
· Sketch up pictures. This is so descriptions look and feel real when characters describe each other in a paragraph. Sometimes a sketches I do a first time doesn’t capture a character’s “sprit”, so I have to keep trying until I get that picture from my mind on paper. Sometimes I have to sketch up scenes too so I can describe them too. Although most times with scenes I research locales on the Internet, through magazine pictures, or I just go there.
· Run “voices” through my head. Sometimes I want a character to “sound” a certain way. I have to study how people talk to make that “voice” real in the imagination of a reader. Sometimes I watch people on the street or study performances in movies. Watching actors in movies often helps me come up with speech patterns so the dialogue and the narrative sound realistic.
· Working out personality quirks. I have to make sure that the characters work well together and have chemistry with each other.

And this is just the pre-writing work. The hardest part of writing a novel after the pre-writing work is actually starting the writing. Those first ten or twelve pages of a story are usually the deal breaker or the deal maker for me. This is where I debate I want to sacrifice time I could better spend dating, shopping, watching DVDs or just plain doing other stuff for writing. I’d actually love to just spend time enjoying a holiday like Thanksgiving or the 4th of July for once instead of sitting in front of a computer.

Once I dedicate the time to writing the book to the end, I’m not done. There’s the year or so of revisions, drafting up the query letter and more time and money used to submit to agents and publishers. A lot of labor considering I have no income coming in at the time from writing or anything else.

Ideas are great, however, It’s taking the time and effort to put them on paper is the hard part. Before you pitch your million dollar book idea to me or some other writer, try writing it yourself. See how many weekends you lose, how many dates you miss and how many holidays pass by in front of a computer screen. It’ll make you think twice before pitching a premise from the back of your head to me or some a writer or an artist who already has a lot on their plate in addition to trying to find decent paying work so they can eat, and pay bills.


Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed looking at your site, I found it very helpful indeed, keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Interesting site. Useful information. Bookmarked.