Or a long-winded explanation of why I’ve never finished writing a story.
1. If the main character of your story is actually just an idealized version of you
Your character is JUST like you. She has the same color hair, she enjoys the same weird things, her name even rhymes with yours, but she didn’t freak out at the family reunion when a giant moth landed on her arm, accidentally burp in the face of a job interviewer, or singlehandedly cause the collapse of diplomatic relations between all world powers, resulting in an information and communication deficit that would unexpectedly cause all people of the world to revert back to living in feudal societies, only to interact with one another occasionally for pillaging purposes. Little mishaps like these caused by small imperfections reveal your cute personality quirks, so don’t be afraid to create characters, who– like you–aren’t perfect, but are at least interesting. As for you though, “interesting” won’t keep my village from pillaging yours next week, jerk.
2. If your “story” is actually just a long monologue rife with dialogue that was unintentionally paraphrased from a B-list romantic comedy
Things like documenting the last time you “felt whole”, or listing the traits of your ideal guy/girl are fine when they remain safely filed in a word document (on a computer that has backfired), or between the front and back covers of a diary (that you refer to as a “journal”, and with all its pages glued together), and according to the internet they’re also fine plastered across an endless array of public writing forums. In all seriousness, I have no right to criticize what you choose to write about (especially when I’ve chosen to write about writing itself for lack of a better idea), but I can attest to the fact that when I look back, my most cringe-worthy writings are those in which I dramatized my own life events for the sake of creating something “interesting” and produced classic lines such as, “I can feel that he’s the one” and “my heart feels like it’s flying”…Okay so maybe I never actually wrote those specific lines, but it doesn’t matter, because I wouldn’t tell you, an internet stranger, even if I did. But I totally didn’t. Shut up.
3. If your entire story can be summed up by the title of a shitty rap song
My personal playlist includes tracks such as “Whoomp (There It Is)” (an attempt at a dramatic opening scene which is actually just an uncomfortable reveal of a plot secret that the reader can’t possible care about yet), “Back dat A$$ (and the rest those body paragraphs) Up” (a trip down an irrelevant tangent that makes the reader second guess the quote “it’s the journey, not the destination” and want to return to the sense-making part of the story), and “Ice Ice Baby” (a story about an infant caught between two beloved blocks of ice that threaten to crush him if he can’t choose just one).
4. If you wrote your story while you were in a fugue state
If you weren’t actually self-conscious while writing, I think it’s safe to say that you should scrap your creation and start over when mentally aware of your surroundings. If you were self-conscious, maybe you should stop caring so much about what other people think and just be yourself and own it, girl, or boy (was that inspirational?). I guess the ideal is to be aware of your audience but not so aware that your efforts to please everyone stifle your creativity. And definitely not so unaware that you are discovered naked in a convenience store after having gone missing for several days, and must then attend regular meetings with a psychologist, only to eventually confide that you were self-conscious the whole time and made up the story to avoid telling your wife that you are involved with the manufacture and distribution of blue crystal meth. Whew. That escalated quickly.
5. If your story resembles the style of writing showcased in this list
Seriously, if your story employs any of the writing “techniques” that I employed to create this strange list, just save yourself the embarrassment and throw that thing in the trash before it sees the light of day, or worse, the light of another computer screen. Whatever you do, do NOT submit it to Thought Catalog to try to get it published, unless you want to look back with scorn and shame for years to come, dying a little inside every time it gets a new view, crumbling at the core if (God-forbid) somebody shares it. Honestly, if you have even a shred of self-respect left in your body or soul, obliterate that accursed thing before it possesses you to do the exact thing you swore you’d never do, the thing that was mentioned earlier in this paragraph and that I dare not repeat for fear of falling victim to its—oh God! It’s happening! Must…not…submit…
If you’re reading this, my reverse psychology worked.
But if you read that, it probably didn’t, because whoever read that would know that I tried to use reverse psychology and thus would not be influenced by the reverse psychology.
Is the reverse of reverse psychology just psychology?
Now the word “psychology” is starting to sound strange to me.
This list really shouldn’t see the light of day.