When Nothing Goes Right

You plotted correctly and it the story is wonderful. You drew from deep within and created the perfect characters to carry your story to conclusion. You kicked everyone out of the house or went to your special hiding place to write. And you put the seat of your pants to the seat of your chair and get started.

And nothing comes out as it should. What’s worse, you can’t figure out why not so you don’t know how to do things differently in order to get it right. What to do?

Don’t sweat it. Write a few words or sentences to remind yourself later where you are in the story and what’s happening and then go on to the next part. Or to the end. Or to whatever scene in the story you can wrap your mind around at the moment. And write.

Don’t worry about the part you couldn’t do. Come back to it later when you’re in a better mood. It’ll most likely go right then because you’ll have filled in what happened before and after that particular scene.

Hint:  when this happens to me, I highlight the scene that didn’t work so I can find it easily later. For some reason I can’t figure out, just passing over those highlighted words when I’m on my way to the scene I’m working on at the moment does something. It gets the creative part of my subconscious mind working so when I do return, I find that I know exactly what to do.

Style

Funny, irreverent, somber, scary, sassy, reverent, childlike. I could do on forever with adjectives describing different writing styles. Style is wonderful. It gives stories something extra and distinguishes them from the works of other writers

That is, it’s wonderful as long as the author remembers the huge ‘don’t  that goes with using styl and that is… don’t overdo it because nothing pulls a reader out of a story faster than an identifiable, individual, absolutely wonderful style that’s taken to the max and then beyond.

Think of music, especially hip-hop with it’s driving rhythm and stylized use of language. The words and rhythm that are inherent to the  hip-hop style draw listeners in and focus attention on the story.  But if you had to listen to that rhythm and those words for hour after hour without letup, would you still like it as much? Would you even remember the message in the song? Most people wouldn’t.

So when you find your style… and every writer has one… use it to identify your work but remember that a light touch is enough.

What Wouldn’t Happen?

You have an outline of some sort. Whatever works for you. And you’re following it as faithfully as your characters will let you. You know where you came from and where you’re going.

But no journey is without side trips, problems, unexpected stops and whatever else must be dealt with because things happen. The oops moment. Or the eureka moment that’s so wonderful you can’t leave it out and can’t imagine why you didn’t include it in your story to begin with.

Problem is, when you’ve dealt with whatever needed dealing with and you’re ready to get back to your story as it was plotted, you find you’re lost. Completely, totally lost. You still know where you want to go but you’re no longer are sure how to get there because whatever happened that was so wonderful, changed your original itinerary. What to do?

Novels don’t have maps or Garmins but there is a neat trick to use in such situations. Stop writing and think of what wouldn’t happen next to your characters. What absolutely would not happen.

You might not use any of the ideas that pop into your head but you’ll get the creative side of your brain working once again and the exercise itself will uncover enough new story lines and ideas that you’ll figure out a way to get back on track.

There’s a potential added benefit to this working writer tip. Your new path might improve your story in ways that would never have happened if you’d not spent time in places your characters would never, ever go on their own doing things they’d never do in a million years.

 

Ignore Your First Idea

I remember one workshop I attended on how to write fiction. It was put on by two very knowledgeable women who have given many, many such workshops. The fee wasn’t much but I considered myself fortunate to get a seat because there are long waiting lists to get into their workshops.

I learned a few things. One was that I can’t write their way because it’s too complicated. Lines connecting plot points and outlines and long, detailed descriptions of the characters and plots. Some attendees even mentioned going home and plotting points on a graph to help them write better.

That’s not me. Never in a million years and the women giving the seminar were very careful to advise anyone who doesn’t work well with their method to forget it. So I did. Except for one very salient thing.

Forget your first idea. The idea that caused you to sit up in the middle of the night and know … just know … that you had to write a book about it because it was so right. So perfect. So complete.

It might have been perfect, but I can fairly well guarantee that it wasn’t complete. Because few stories are complete when they first come to you. So don’t begin outlining, plotting or whatever you do when you begin to put your idea down on paper until you’ve stretched your mind and your imagination and gone beyond that first idea.

Think it through … imagine every possible scenario … come up with other similar but different ideas … check out the opposite of your original flash of brilliance … do whatever you have to do to get past that first idea. And the second. And the third. And, possibly, even the fourth. Surprise yourself.

Because when you reach for the stars sometimes you actually catch one. And when  you dig deep inside of yourself and come up with newer, better, fuller and more comprehensive ideas you are creating a newer, fuller, better story than you’d have imagined yourself capable of. Then write it.

Not In The Mood To Write?

Common advice for writers is to put the seat of their pants on the seat of a chair and turn on their computer and start writing. This advice always gets a good laugh because everyone knows writing good fiction is a lot more complex than that.

But it’s good advice nevertheless. Some day when the muses are avoiding you like the plague, try it. Doesn’t matter if you have an idea or not. Just sit there and start writing. The alphabet. Drivel. Anything.

Because the physical act of writing causes something to happen. It’s like those laugh therapy groups. Even if you aren’t in a laughing mood, the physical act of laughing changes your body’s chemistry for the better and, before you know it, good things are happening to your body.

Same principle applies because the physical act of putting words on paper changes your mind’s chemistry and slants it towards writing something viable. What mind wants to scribble dribble forever? Even on the worst days, my mind … and yours … wants to do something worthwhile. So the rest is just a matter of figuring out where  your mind wants to go and going there.

Okay, the first few lines … or paragraphs … or pages … might end up in the waste basket as you and your mind come to agreement as to where you are heading. But the rest could be pure gold.

Witches Bell Book One by Odette C Bell

Product Details

Review of Witches Bell Book One by Odette C Bell

I liked the way this book was written, the breezy, casual conversations and descriptions. I didn’t like that the entire book was written in that same style. I like a bit of change now and then. But that’s a personal choice, other people might feel differently.

The concept was great. The heroine, a witch, has a contract with the town to handle paranormal problems that happen because the town is situated on a fault line that connects the normal with an alternate, not-so-nice universe. The hero is a new cop who has a hard time accepting that fact. Oh, and he’s hunky and nice and a great guy if somewhat dense in the paranormal department.

The plot follows the two of them as they learn to work together through a paranormal crime or two or three or four. I believe it’s one of a series of books based on this same premise.

I liked it. I didn’t love it for the aforementioned reason but I enjoyed reading it. Great, light summer read and everything paranormal in the book fit. Nothing was stuffed or shoehorned in to give it a paranormal feel and even though there were many, many paranormal elements in this typical, small town, every one of them belonged because of the wonderful premise the author set up right at the beginning. I like that. Hats off to Odette Belle for knowing her stuff.

The End Is Here

Endings are the most important part of any story. It’s what the beginning hints at and the middle reaches after slogging through a lot of muck. In a way, they are the exact opposite of theme because the ending is the one thing that the writer must not wait to figure out. It must be firmly in place before the first sentence is written.

Because the ending must be behind every sentence that’s written. The writer must know where the story is going in order to write words and sentences and paragraphs that will get the reader there without throwing the book against the wall in frustration because that wasn’t what they expected.

There are exceptions. Some great writers don’t know where they are going until they get there. Hans Christian Anderson is the writer I’m thinking of. He said he wrote stories to find out how they ended. But I firmly believe that his subconscious knew all along what the ending would be and he just followed its lead until it emerged into his conscience.

So unless you trust your subconscience to know more than you do and to lead you in the right direction, write the ending before the beginning. Most writers do. Some write the entire ending scene before starting their story. Most of us at least jot down a sentence or two on a slip of paper and tape it to the wall above our computers. Or, as in my case, on the computer.

Doing this one simple thing will make writing a story a lot easier and will get you to the end a lot faster and might prevent some future reader from throwing your book against the wall.

Messing Up Your Characters

Once, at a writers’ meeting, a fellow writer said he was quitting the group. His explanation? He’d had a happy childhood. We all understood. Some of the best writers out there grew up in unhappy homes. Not all, but a lot. Those unhappy childhoods gave them both content and incentive to write great stories.

I had a happy, normal, well-adjusted childhood. As a beginning writer, I started out writing what I knew about and that was happy, well-adjusted … and boring.

I realized I’d have to learn how to create characters that don’t put my readers to sleep or go to work at Walmart. I did so by creating characters who have difficulty with adversity because, like me, they’ve never known it and so, don’t know how to deal with it when it hits them over the head. It worked and I started selling.

I still struggle with the process.

As a writer, you must do whatever works for you to create great characters. You can throw problems you are familiar with at them or you can throw problems at them that you … and they … know nothing about. Doesn’t matter which as long as they end up with problems they can’t handle.

Your characters will grow, your story will be better and, most of all, your characters will be more interesting.

The Right Theme

Theme is important. It’s deeper than plot. It’s what makes the story come alive. And it’s very, very general. Love overcomes bigotry. Hope springs eternal. Life is good. Nothing specific.

Problem is, the general nature of theme makes it illusive, amorphous and easy to lose track of even though the theme is what makes the story unforgettable. Like the times you set out to write a love story and ended up with a family saga. You had a techno- thriller clearly in mind but you wrote a romance. So the question is … how can you know your theme before you begin writing if it might change during the course of the story?

The answer is, you don’t. And that’s okay. Because theme chooses you, not the other way around, and that’s why very often it shouldn’t be decided until after the story is finished.

What you wrote when you thought you were writing whatever you set out to write was the story your subconscious was directing you to write. You just didn’t know it until you wrote The End at the bottom of the last page with that elegant flourish all writers learn early on.

At that moment, and not a second before, go back and decipher the underlying theme of your masterpiece. It might surprise you. It may be totally different from what you expected. It usually is.

Don’t worry about it. Run with whatever theme you uncovered that you didn’t know existed until your story was written. Then pretend that theme was what you set out to write all along and accept all compliments gracefully.

Simplify

In my wip (that’s work-in-progress to non-writers) I need a character to introduce Elle to the spaceship, another to figure out that she’s a stow-away and still another to give her fake papers so she’ll appear to be legitimate. That’s three characters who aren’t essential to the story and all must appear in the first two chapters.

There are two ways to handle such a situation. The first involves creating what some writers call throw-away characters, those people who appear briefly in a story and then disappear, never to be seen again. It’s fun to create such characters and describe them in a sentence or two that implants them so firmly in the readers’ minds that they stay there forever. But too many minor characters can clutter up a story.

So I chose the second way. I simplified and combined. I created one single character who will be semi-important to the story and who does all three jobs. He meets Elle as they board the spaceship, he finds her living hand-to-mouth and he makes fake papers for her. And since he’s also the father of a small girl who helps Ells survive and since he’s also the Mayor of the village she lives near, he’s available to accomplish all sorts of other things in the story that I haven’t yet figured out I’ll need done. And he’s just one character.

A simple story will be remembered long after a complex one has been long forgotten and one character who becomes part of the story will be fuller and more rounded than several throw-away characters, no matter how well they have been described.

The decision as to which way to go is up to the writer. Long stories usually need simplification because they are complex enough without adding to the mix. Shorter stories often benefit from one or two well-defiined throw-away characters.