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.

When Fiction Imitated Life

I think this post is about writing.  Maybe not.  You be the judge….

I find that, unbidden, animals creep into my work.  Recently they have become psychic because it works for the story but also because psychic animals are fun.  Wolf Legend has a psychic wolf.   Wanted Sharpshooter has a rogue psycho cougar.  But I never thought of psychic animals as being anything other than clever additions to fictional stories.

Until now.  What follows was my life last week:

First I should mention that we have a cat named Smoke.  He’s our first cat ever and we have him because our daughter got him as a kitten to become another barn cat to keep their barn free of mice.   Smoke, however, didn’t want to be a barn cat.  He kept coming to the house and meowing very politely to let her know that he’s a house cat, not a barn cat.

Since our daughter already had three house cats and didn’t need any more, she decided her parents needed a cat.  So we got Smoke.  As soon as he came to our house he knew this was where he wanted to be.  He walked around and inspected his new kingdom and informed us that it was acceptable and climbed onto my lap and started purring and has pretty much been there ever since.  Even though we aren’t cat people.  Or, to be honest, we weren’t cat people until Smoke came into our lives.

Anyway, to get back to what happened in the last few days:

My DH Dick started feeling sick Thursday night. So did Smoke. Didn’t come to get us for bed as usual and was quiet.

Dick got worse Thursday night. So did Smoke. Stayed in one spot on the bed all night. Didn’t move. Didn’t do anything.

Dick was really sick Friday morning. So was Smoke. Managed to crawl onto a shirt that Dick had dropped onto the floor and he stayed on that shirt.  Didn’t move, didn’t do anything.  Was really sick and puking and refused to get off that shirt even though Smoke generally prefers me to Dick.  But that day when I offered him one of my shirts, he refused it and went back to Dick’s shirt, where he stayed.  So I left him there while I took Dick to the ER.

It was acute appendicitis.  Dick had surgery and, as happens after surgery, he felt generally awful for the rest of Friday and all day Saturday.  He came home Saturday evening. Smoke also felt awful during that time, couldn’t even climb onto the bed and, when I lifted him there and touched his stomach, he cried out in pain. So I put him back on Dick’s shirt on the floor, which was where he wanted to be. He lay there without moving.

Sunday both Dick and Smoke felt awful. Both lay around and did nothing, Dick in bed, Smoke on the shirt that he refused to give up.

Monday, Dick felt awful until afternoon, when he began feeling better. Same with Smoke. Didn’t move, stayed on Dick’s shirt and felt awful Monday morning, but Monday afternoon he, too, started feeling better.

Tuesday morning, Smoke felt better still.  He came into the kitchen and let me know that he wanted his morning treat and, when I only gave him half a treat because he’d been sick, he meowed until he got the whole treat. Same with Dick. He wanted a full breakfast and is now feeling pretty good.

Oh yes, when I went into the bedroom later that day to put that shirt in the hamper, Smoke watched me pick it up, accompanied me to the laundry, and watched me drop it in the hamper without interest.  Because whatever had happened during those last few days was over.  Both cat and man were okay.

Coincidence?  Probably.  But maybe not.

Anyway, in the future if I can’t get those psychic or empathetic animals out of my work, instead of mentally excusing their existence because it’s only fiction, I’ll accept the reality that art imitates life more than I’d ever realized until we got a cat named Smoke.

TONE

There’s been a discussion lately among some writers I know about ‘tone.’  Specifically, the tone required by confession stories.  The discussion didn’t progress very far before I felt completely overwhelmed.  Because when I write, I just write.  I think about how to best tell the story and how best to convey that to the reader.  And that’s about it.  Maybe I’ve been lucky that I hit it enough of the time that people read what I wrote.

But tone is important, I know that.  Furthermore, I also know that it differs from one genre to another.  Read a couple high fantasy stories and you’ll know what I’m talking about.  If you didn’t understand the tone of high fantasy, you might think you were reading something by one of Chaucer’s contemporaries.  Which is completely different from the tone of a hard-boiled private eye novel.  Or a Regency romance.  Or a confession story.

So what is tone?

After the discussion, I did some thinking and realized that I’ve always known subconsciously what it was.  It’s what’s between the words of every well-written story.  It’s not actual description but it lets the reader know what the setting and characters are like.  It’s not dialogue but it can and often does dictate how the characters speak.  It doesn’t tell the story, but it’s in every scene, often unnoticed, complementing and explaining and interpreting but not interfering. with the actual story-telling

Its importance cannot be overstated.  Without it, readers will turn away in droves because, as much as the story… sometimes even more… tone is what readers want.  Why they really read.  What they are looking for.  Because it’s the feeling they will take with them after the story is finished.

Let me give an example.  Is a ghost story best told during a Sunday picnic in the middle of the day in the midst of a few hundred laughing guests… or around a campfire in a remote forest with no moon and dark clouds scudding across the sky tossing treetops awry?  If you choose that night-time setting and put it together with the creepy, softly scary voice in which campfire tales are best told, you have tone.  It’s the thing listeners will remember long after they’ve forgotten the story itself.

So that’s what tone really is.  Not the story.  Not the characters.  Not the description.  Not the dialogue.  It’s the way the writer puts all of those things together in way that makes the reader feel the story.  And isn’t that what we as writers hope will happen every time we write?

WORKING WRITER TIP… MIDDLES

First, a bit of housekeeping.  I have the feeling I’ve not got a lot more working writer tips in me. At least, not for the time being.  I admit I’m amazed how many tips I remember when I sit down and try to think what has helped me over the years.  Still…. not so many have popped into my mind lately so, if I’m not nearing the end, I am at least slowing down a bit.  With that in mind, I have decided to drop back to posting twice a month.  On or about the beginning and the middle of each month.

 But for now there’s a lot to be said for middles.  You know, that part of every story that writers hate because middles often end up boring readers.  Great beginnings and wonderful endings.  Middles, not so glorious.

 I must admit that I skip a lot when I read.  The boring stuff.  Description.  Telling not showing.  And middles if they are boring and don’t seem to add to the story.  Which often, they don’t.

 There’s a way to deal with those boring, saggy middles that I kind of figured out for myself.  It happened during a ‘eureka’ moment after I read a definition of a story.  Now, there are lots of definitions but, for the purpose of interesting middles, this is the one that led to that eureka moment and remains the one I prefer:  A story follows a group of characters through a situation to a conclusion and, during the trip, at least one character changes.

 It’s the part about one or more character changing that has to do with middles because that change takes place during the middle of the story.  So the key to middles that are not boring and can be riveting is to show the change.  You, the writer, are in charge of whatever it is that changes your characters and it’s that change that makes the middle worth reading.

 This isn’t a writing technique in the sense that it tells you how to fiddle with words.  Instead it’s a head thing, a way of thinking that you mentally assume whenever you sit down and begin writing. As you write, keep in mind what change must happen to each character before the end of the story.  And think about how that change can best be wrought.  Because if you are thinking about that change, then it will show up in each and every scene.  And that will make your middles interesting and your stories page-turners.