I remember writing a paper for my high school creative writing class which should have been the best thing I wrote all year. I don't even remember the specific subject, but I recall being extremely familiar with the material and instantly had an outline of what I wanted to write spring into my head.
Only..this assignment had a particular format we were required to use and I had far more information than would fit. Not that it stopped me from trying. I wrote and wrote and wrote until my paper was more than twice the length my teacher had requested. Most of the time, when I overshot like that, my grade improved. It was, after all, a creative writing course and if I wrote more than the minimum requirement, that tended to be a good thing.
That was not the case with this particular paper. I remember even being vaguely aware that what I was writing was kind of lousy while I was writing it, but I just had so much to say that I couldn't stop myself. In the end, it was probably the worst thing I wrote during my senior year and, while I received a passing grade, it was a richly deserved "C."
This is a long way of saying that I'm not especially happy with Texoma by Torchlight. The assignment was to mash up two randomly-selected pop culture properties and I wound up with "Snow Crash" and "American Gods." I know and love both of these books and feel like I have a pretty good handle on the core ideas contained within them. So, I had an unusually good handle on what the assignment required, but my end product isn't as good as it should have been. Where did I go wrong?
1) The gimmick of trying to write in third person present didn't suit the story. It might have been a good ploy for one of the two story lines, but it was confusing and awkward the way I wrote it. So, while it was a good exercise, I'd change it if this were work product.
2) The story leans way too much on dialog. I can hear the conversations in my head, and I know who is saying what. I am not reading my own work for the first time, and while there's some nice dialog in there, there's too much of it and it's confusing.
3) This is a constant problem of mine: Stop trying to shoehorn a 10,000 word idea into a 2,000 word story. I'm very pleased with the ideas behind the story. However, the execution was a compromise between what was asked in the assignment and what the ideas really needed to be fleshed out properly. The story may have had an ideal length, but 3,500 words most definitely was not it.
4) Make sure the idea actually involves a story. I love writers like Warren Ellis and Larry Niven who can take one exceedingly weird idea and spin a story out of it. Simply having a good idea isn't enough. Again, I am very pleased with the way I combined the ideas of "Snow Crash" and "American Gods," but I'm not sure I actually wound up with a story.
5) Finally, this is supposed to be flash fiction. It might be a good idea to treat it as such rather than agonize over it all week. Writing quickly and instinctively rather than working it all out in advance is an opportunity to work on a different skill set and it's one I'm going to need in a few months.
I know these assignments (and really, there's not assignments, but it helps me to think of them that way) are really just suggestions to get my creative juices pumping. I'm not required to follow the rules and I don't mind going way over my word count if the story requires it. I'm writing these for myself as practice, and if the story requires more space, then I'm going to give it more space. What I don't want to do, though, is to stretch or truncate something to make it fit. That's the biggest problem I see with "Texoma by Torchlight." Let's see if I can do better, or at least avoid this particular pitfalls, next time.