Write What You Know

After a marathon, caffeine-and-tobacco-fueled writing session yesterday, I finally finished what I am now considering the final draft of The Days Never Know. Down the road, there may be a few changes necessary, but for all intents and purposes, I am considering it finished. Once I was done, and after finally eating, I began thinking about just how much the story grew and changed in only six months, so I went back to the old drafts to see those changes first-hand.

Those early drafts were exceptionally long-winded, and had far too many characters. So one of the first changes I made was dropping nearly every character, and starting from scratch. I either combined multiple aspects of characters into one, or just removed them altogether. As I began working on a new draft back in November, I noticed a major shift in the overall mood of the story. The earlier drafts were more about the events these characters shared, but this new version was focused more on the aftermath; on how each were was affected by this one event.

However, another important aspect of the story began taking shape as well. I had unintentionally started basing these characters, not on other people as before, but aspects of myself; the certain flaws and defects that I see. That’s not say each character is a thinly-veiled version of me, but that I infused one defining characteristic of myself into each character. As soon as I realized I was doing this, I had to stop and ask myself if this was the way to go; doing so could easily result in cut-and-paste characters that lack any kind of depth or personality. However, I decided to let this new development ride for the time being; I could change it in later drafts if need be.

Now that it’s finished, I’m glad I stuck with it. Because I understood these certain aspects of the characters so well, it was much easier for me to shape their personalities. That said, though, there was one character that wasn’t sitting right with me, or, I should say, one scene with this character that wasn’t sitting right with me.

There is one character who actually is a thinly-veiled version of me: Danny. As I started to shape him in the earlier drafts, I intentionally gave him a similar perspective and bitterness of life that I once held. With each new draft, Danny pretty much became a version of who I used to be, and, in a way, who I still am. That, though, wasn’t what was bothering me. I liked the way I portrayed Danny, because I did my best to do it honestly, as opposed to making him (and, in essence, me) the unappreciated “hero.”

Danny is an embittered, pessimistic twenty-something who gave up trying long ago, and throughout the script, I felt I did a good job of displaying that. However, there was still that one scene where he came off as disingenuous, and it hit me yesterday as to why: there was an aspect of Danny that I had ignored, because it reflected poorly on me. As much as I wanted to keep these characters genuine, Danny too closely resembled me, and I tried to cover that with a poorly thought-out excuse on Danny’s part. And that was what irked me so much.

So I rewrote the scene, and something rather remarkable happened while I did so. The scene itself is a moment of necessary self-realization for Danny, where he finally admits, out loud, to one of his most defining character defects. And as I wrote this dialog, I realized it wasn’t Danny talking anymore:

“…my entire life, I have half-assed everything. School. Work. Relationships. And it’s not because I don’t care, or because I’m lazy, but because caring that much for something scares the shit out of me. And thanks to this complete indifference toward any major decision in my life, I have failed in every sense of the word. And the fucked up part about it, is that I know it’s my own fault. But instead of doing something about it, I just keep perpetuating this cycle of self-sabotage, and blame everything and everyone else around me for my own failures.”

That was the element Danny was missing most, and in a sense, it’s what I’ve been overlooking in myself. I realize this kind of epiphany may not be very important to others, but I thought it incredible that I was able to discover something about myself through this process.

Now, though, the important thing is for me to overcome this problem. I suppose that’s the reason I’m actually displaying this in such a public fashion: accountability.

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