“How’d you like my story?” he asked, as I returned his edited manuscript.
We’d built up a good working relationship over the last few months but this was the limit. “C’mon, DH. You copied ‘The Horse Dealer’s Daughter’,” I said. He and I have been through this act before.
“Not really,” he said. “I saw a way to make it better.”
I almost laughed. “There’s no creativity in rewriting someone else’s stories. You copied at least one line verbatim.” He looked sheepish but shrugged it off. “Your lady, Sable Erwin, like Lawrence’s Mabel Pervin, after having been saved from drowning herself in the pond asks, ‘Who undressed me?’”
“I liked that line,” he said.
“You even used the same staircase scene from Lawrence’s story.”
“No, my staircase is on the opposite wall.” He held up his manuscript. “This is my story. All mine. And it’s better.”
“These are not yours. You simply rewrite other people’s stories by wearing out your Thesaurus. You’ve used lines straight from original bodies of work. Like…like that.” I gestured toward his manuscript. I was sickened by what he’d been doing all along. Frustrated, too, because I’d been editing his work and since I’m not as widely read, didn’t catch on right away. “When you submit these around, professional readers spot the similarities.”
“With all the writers around today, no one knows who wrote what anymore.”
“The only thing your rewriting is getting you is a reputation as the person with the most rejections.”
By now, I knew I’d better be careful of what I said. I wasn’t going to convince him of the error of his ways but I, at least, wanted to make a point. “I can’t edit you anymore,” I said. “And you needn’t continue to edit my work.”
“That’s fine with me. Your POVs are always confused anyway.”
“That’s because you read from a man’s point of view. I am woman. If I begin a story with “I” and the antagonist (opposing character) is named Bobby, and the “I” and Bobby is married, then the “I” is female. So you shouldn’t ask me to clarify “I” in the first sentence of the story.”
“Women use “Bobby.”
“Most likely spelled ‘Bobbi.’ You know I don’t write from a male POV.”
“Creativity works in many ways,” he snapped. He evidently thought the conversation on points of view too hot. “I happen to get inspired by the better writers.”
“But you’re not creating your own masterpieces. You’re just reworking theirs. That’s plagiarism any way you distort it.”
His expression told me I had said the dreaded word. “What about you?” he asked from the hot seat. “You read Hemingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ and that’s what inspired you to write ‘Caught in a Rip.’ That’s plagiarism. The Old Man is out at sea alone talking to himself. Your Lilly character is out at sea alone talking. What do you call that?”
“Well, first of all, The Old Man is talking to his marlin and to the sharks. He’s always safe because he’s in a boat and can see the lights of Havana to guide him back to shore.” I suddenly realized I didn’t have to defend myself but it was too late. “My ‘Lillian’ is in the water, out of sight of shore and most likely caught in the North Equatorial Current with nothing to her benefit but snorkel, mask and fins. And since she’s alone, it took practiced writing skills to get the reader to know that the dialog is interior monologue that everyone probably goes through before they die.”
“Same story,” he said. “You copied Hemingway.” Now he was acting like a person who saw the end of something good and meant to have the last say, but I wasn’t through.
“I read Hemingway’s book three or four times over two decades,” I said. “While it inspired my plots, by the time I wrote “The Tropics,” it had been three years since I last read the ‘The Old Man.’ I didn’t pick up Hemingway again until I was into the third draft of my ‘Caught in a Rip’ story.” He said nothing. I couldn’t help but finish making my point. “When did you ever put a book aside and never open it while writing you own story?”
“Don’t have to,” he said. He rolled the manuscript he held into a scroll and tapped it against a palm. “My plots come right from what I’ve read. Gotta catch inspiration when it happens.” He was so in denial.
“DH,” I said. “It’s one thing to be inspired by great writers; another to write your own story without copying.”
“You think I’m not writing my own stuff?” he said, whining.
“When’s the last time you’ve written your own story to final draft without looking at anything that someone else has written?”
He fidgeted, tapped the scroll against his hand again, thinking. He honestly looked like he didn’t understand, a way of acting at which I’ve come to learn he was very good.
I was into this way over my head but I didn’t want to read any more of his copy cat stories. And I didn’t want him reading any more of my stuff. Had anything I’d written inspired him, he’d probably already rewritten it and sent it out, so my stories wouldn’t have a chance if read by a same editor. “DH,” I said. “What about your name? You admit your DH Harvey is a pseudonym. No one knows your real name.”
“You think I care?”
“Well, now that I’ve read this takeoff on ‘The Horse Dealer’s Daughter,’ I think I know from where you derived your pen name.” I smiled pleasantly when I said that. I had wanted to end this conversation shortly but my curiosity prodded me onward.
“Oh, tell me, please.”
“My guess is you fancy yourself a Chekov or a Steinbeck or any of the others you’ve copied. Now that you’ve copied DH Lawrence, you’ve given away the secret of your pseudonym. Lawrence is both a first and last name. So is Harvey. Everyone knows your name is not DH Harvey or DH anything.”
Again he hedged. “One reason people use pseudonyms is that they don’t want their identities known.” So what did he have to hide?
“Let’s just end this, okay?” I tried to soften my words because when he tries he really does do a fine edit of my work. “I don’t want to exchange edits any more.”
“Okay,” he said and shrugged. “That leaves me more time to write. I found an opening chapter that I can rewrite for my next novel.”
I dared ask, “And what are you borrowing now?”
He looked smug. “I’ve just finished reading ‘The Idiot’ by Dostoyevsky,” he said. “And I know I can make it better.”
Tag Archives: Lilly
“How’d you like my story?” he asked, as I returned his edited manuscript.
Understanding a form of writer’s block.
My experience has been that when I write, I must allow the plot and characters to go where they may. We are all told that a story will write itself. I heartily agree, but this only happens when we go deep into our creativity and let things unfold naturally. As writers, we are products of our experiences and that’s the fertile ground from which we create.
The norm for me is that I don’t know where the story will go, which action or direction to take or how the characters will play out their parts. I don’t know this even if I begin a story knowing how it will end.
Our muses will do a lot for us if we allow. Writing is like rearing a child. We discipline and nudge in the right direction, but should never be so controlling that we stifle the natural development of the child and as the child grows, it takes on a life of its own. So it is with writing. All aspects of our stories can write themselves.
One way this will happen is when we allow our characters to play out their parts. When we’ve gotten our protagonist or other character into a situation and don’t know how to get them out, we should not quickly back out of the scene and take another course.
What writing teaches is that the writer should put her or himself into the action of the character. Play like you’re faced with this dilemma and ask yourself what you would do in such a case. This takes you deeper into yourself and your own creativity where you can root out the answers. Allow yourself to face these situations as if you were the character backed into the much-clichéd corner.
If you have your villain in a tight spot and can’t see yourself ever getting into such a place, or being that villain, then you should play-act the gestalt of the situation. Look into a mirror and be the villain who is talking to you. Based on how you’ve created this character, and the action of the plot, you have only so many choices to make and that’s all.
When I wrote many of the scenes in my novel, “The Tropics,” at times I found I didn’t know where to take a character. One example in the first story, “Child of a Storm,” is that when Ciara is trying to keep Rico awake and treat his concussion and near drowning, I didn’t know what to have her do. I couldn’t apply knowledge that I know today to a situation that took place thirty years ago, and that was my key.
In the late 1960s, my limited knowledge is that one had to keep a person with a concussion mostly awake, maybe moving around but not jarring their head. As far as the near drowning, if you got some water out of their lungs and the person is able to walk, they were assumed to be okay. So that’s all I could put into my story—partly because that was not only my knowledge back then but also the general knowledge of most people at that time. I couldn’t say much about respiratory therapy as we know it today because back then it was just being studied as a possible treatment.
So the part of me that went into the story was what I knew during the 1960s and nothing more. It ended up being the truth of the plot action. What my protagonist did to help her fiancé’s condition, albeit limited, helped me to further build my protagonist’s character and resolve. She did as much as she possibly could. So I wasn’t stuck in the plot anymore.
In the second story, “Caught in a Rip,” when Lilly is facing death at sea and suddenly spots a turtle snagged in a drift net, I wondered how I would give Lilly stamina enough to do what she wanted to do. She wanted to photograph that turtle knowing her waterproof camera would float to shore after she died and someone would find it and hopefully develop the photos.
What could I do with Lilly? I had already nearly killed her off and her energy was depleted. It would look awfully contrived having her energetically swim down and take those photos and then die. Then I asked myself, if in that situation what would it take for me to rally my resolve and get those photos? That’s when I was forced deep into my own psyche to compare notes with my muse.
Exactly what would I do? The answer was simple. I slowed the speed of the story in order to show Lilly’s resolve. I did it with her inner thoughts, some momentary flashbacks that made her take a look at her strengths and weaknesses, and showed the reader how she convinced herself to do it. Had I been in that situation that’s how I would have reacted.
I could have written in that a tour boat came along and rescued her, and that the captain photographed the turtle, but that was too easy. She had to do it on her own in order to become this much-admired heroine and only I, the writer alone with my Muse, could think it through.
Truth is, if I knew I was going to die and I wanted to leave something behind to show the plight of that turtle, I would muster everything I had left as one last great gesture to amount to something in my life. You can bet that I would be thinking about my strengths and past successes in order to hype myself before diving down to take that photo.
Finding the character’s motivation was my motivation as the writer that helped the character to decide what to do.
Another writer might look inside themselves and feel a bit of writer’s block and say, There’s no way out of this! Then they might back up in the plot and rewrite it to go in a different direction.
Our characters and plot decisions come from deep within us. Something in us has made us bring the story dilemma to light. Facing and solving our characters’ dilemmas allows us to take a deeper look at ourselves and find inner strengths that have never been challenged in our daily lives.
If we, as writers, allow our Muses free reign and we do not soon back out and change the course of the story simply for an easier way out, we will find more exciting resolutions to the dilemmas we create. We may also come in contact with personal strengths we never knew we had.
At times, my Muse says, “This is the only way to go. You figure it out.” So if we don’t wish to rewrite an entire section of the story, we must dig deeper into ourselves to create the plot remedy.
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