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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Tres problemos

Author Topic: Tres problemos
Member # 747

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I'm having several problems which keep emerging in my writing and I'd like to get them squashed once and for all. If anyone has any kind of suggestion, I'd appreciate it.

#1. I become so dissatisfied with my work by page 30 or so that I stop that story and start another. I am impatient with its shortcomings, and begin to detest it. Then, months later, I reread it. While there are fixable flaws in it, I find it's much better than I remembered it to be. Unfortunately, I remember the frustration and still don't fix it or continue on with it. How can I overcome this? Does every writer feel so discouraged with his ineffectiveness of bringing a good story to light? Or do good writers overcome it?

#2. I tend to ask really good questions (or at least I think so) but never have any answers. A story needs a conclusion, cause frankly unresolved endings such as The Princess or the Tiger, or whatever it's called, are irritating. When I get to a point where I have to make a decision as to what the answer is, I stop. GRRRR!!!

#3. How many heads is too many for a novel? A short story? My current novel (suffering from both #1 and #2) has five different people into whose heads I jump. I try to do it carefully, so it isn't disjointing, but sometimes I feel I'm neglecting my main character. At the same time, important stuff is happening which she doesn't know about, so...

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JP Carney
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I guess I'll take the first stab at #2.

The very first thing that popped into my head reading this question was: You're the author, so whatever answer you come up with is the right one.

If we're talking about some moral or otherwise weighty issue, then expect to get feedback praising or chastising your solution or answer. Be solid in your conviction that what you said in your story, the answer you gave to your weighty question, is the correct one for you. Smile at the remarks that agree with your conclusion, listen respectfully to those who disagree, and take pride in the fact that your story was solid enough to touch your readers and inspire them to comment. Above all, be clear in your answer. You have to have an opinion on the issue, so go with it, it's what you know and what you believe. You're the author, it's your story. Someone else can write a story with their own opinion if they like (but they shouldn't fault you for stating yours).

If you're honestly uncertain yourself, then explore possibilities in the story. Perhaps have a sub-plot trying to answer the same question in a different way (one of the other conflicting ways), and see where they lead. Make the main plot lead to the answer you think is most right, but show other possibilities in the sub-plot (and speculate on their possible outcomes). You might be surprised at what conclusions you find when you're finished.


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JP Carney
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My swing at #1:

Perhaps this is a pacing issue. Page 30 could be that point where you've set up the sign posts, hinted to your readers where they're headed, given them their first big scene that says, "Wham-o, here we go!" and now you're in transition to the next big scene. But you're having trouble picking up the pace again, or the transition seems flat on your way to scene 2.

Your transition may need to have some substance. Maybe you need to suggest something of the plot down the road (say, in scene 3 or 4) on its way to scene 2. It could be the lull of coming off the "intense" first scene and being bored with the transition to the second because, well, it's boring (and doesn't really move the story anywhere).

[I had an inkling of an idea that what you think is the next scene really shouldn't be, that you need something between scene 1 and 2, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Maybe this will spark something for you since I seemed to have let the thought slip by.]

Another thought is that you began your story with only scene one in mind, a great idea for the beginning of a story that fizzled after you put that first smashing scene on the paper. It was good while it was in your head, good on paper even, but you're at a loss of where to take it (or where you've thought about taking it just doesn't interest you).

In this case, I'd just keep the story snip-it in a file, chalk it up to a burst of creative energy, and let it sit there on the chance that someday you may have a brilliant idea for a story that just needs the perfect beginning, and you've already written it (because your brilliant idea is actually your first idea that sat and stewed on the back burner for a while).

This is all just my writer's gut grasping at "hey, maybe it's..." in hopes that something in there is the spark of a solution for you.



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Member # 823

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Re #1... Lots of writers do that-- i.e. get to page 30 or so and fizzle out. Sometimes that happens because the writer hasn't figured out how the story will end yet. It's all well and good to have a character and a situation, but if you haven't figured out a way for the situation to be resolved at the end of the story, no amount of scenes in the middle will help you. You'll feel like you have nowhere to go with the story.

My .02.

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Member # 185

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This brings to mind the suggestion OSC brings about combining ideas. If a tale bogs down by page 30, perhaps another idea can be spliced in. Perhaps you have a thought regarding another tale on how it resolves, but are clueless on how things got to that point. Tale A that bogged down at page 30 could possibly be melded in with tale B that has a conclusion but too many questions on how it got to that point.


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Member # 390

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Well JP's answer to #2 covered everything, and he said it better than I could, so more power to you and him.

My take at #1.
I don't organize my novel my chapters or pages. I organize it by scenes and sequels, and my note book looks like this:

Chapter 3, Scene 2
Setting : Military Garrison.
Characters : Amolh, 1st Legionaire, 2nd Legionaire

(Basic Summary) Amolh has called a council of his Legiionaire to discuss the recent events surrounding the Kingdom....

For me, this is why makes the novel easy to write. I've never worried about more than a couple of pages at a time, and if a problem comes up I can go back and pinpoint exactly where the story went wrong. I also don't need a crystal clear picture of what happens in the middle and end of story. My method allows me to write what I know, and as i write, things I haven't gotten to tend to become a little clear as I approach them. This isn't planning overkill tho, I make a hundred choices as I'm actually typing about everything, but at all times I got a clear idea of where this once particular scene is moving the story and what the ultimate outcome of it should be..

My take on #3.
There is no rule or answer to this. But, this was my thinking on the matter. This is my first novel, so why not try to keep it as simple and problem free as possible? So i decided to go with one major point of view that dominates the book, and only break to another point of view if it's really necessary.

But I've read excellent books that juggle 10 or 11 points of view (I'm not kidding, Mortalis by R.A. Salvatore) and never miss a beat. But you gotta know what your doing, and if your not comfortable doing it, then don't do it. =)

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Member # 922

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Here's my 2 cents worth:
#1. I think everyone at some time, maybe even all the time, feels discouraged by their writing. Few of us ever look at a sentence, a scene, a chapter, a description and say THIS IS PERFECT. THIS IS THE MOST PERFECTLY CRAFTED (fill in the blank). When you can say that, it's the most incredible feeling in the world, and I think those rare moments when we feel that page has perfectly captured what we were thinking is exactly why we keep on writing. BUT, I think one of the key things for you (and me too, 'cuz I feel the same way) is to turn off your internal editor until you write the first draft. Just get the story out... It'll be so much easier for you to edit and apply the polish, then it will be to just get the words out on paper. That's what you need to focus on in the first draft. Just get the words on paper.

#2. Maybe the "decision" is hard because you're not asking the right question? Maybe because you're trying to make the decision, as opposed to seeing what your character would do? Not every answer has to be the best, and not every answer has to work. In fact, most answers have to fail so that they generate continued conflict. But they have to be reasonable answers, even if they're being set up to fail. My suggestion: If you're stumped, take a few days off. Let the question/conflict simmer for awhile... Your subconscious will stew about it for you. You might be surprised at what you discover. (This has invariably worked for me.)

#3. No set rule, I don't think. What's too many? When it gets too confusing. Some novels have only a few main characters from which we see action from their viewpoint (look at OSC books). Others have several (see Gemmell). Still others have A LOT (see George RR Martin). If having 5 works, then 5 is not too many. If having 3 doesn't work, then 3 is too many. I don't think you should do it from a 1 person view... very limiting. I think George RR Martin usually has too large a cast, while 3-5 is just right. I took my lesson from Martin, who titles each chapter simply with the main character's name who we'll be using as the viewpoint character. I have 7 main characters (or "tracks" as I call them, as each character is one piece of the overarching conflict in their own way), and this method has worked for me... I hope that it will similarly work for the reader.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I just got back from the BYU Symposium where Tracy Hickman was a guest of honor. He did a presentation on story foundations, and it was basically a discussion of the characters needed for a novel. (He said this was all based on Dramatica rules--Dramatica is a program designed to help screenwriters develop stories. It shouldn't be hard to find out something about it if you do a search on Dramatica or Dramatica Pro.)

He said that there were eight roles that a writer needs to fill (not necessarily with characters, though that's the most common way to fill them--they can be filled with abstract things, like forces of nature).

1--protagonist (the person the story is about)

2--guardian (a relatively ineffective character who may be the mentor and is the one who gets the protagonist going)

3--contagonist--the temptation (this one can be a love interest, a force of nature or a maguffin, but it has to be something that serves as a distraction or obstacle to the protagonist)

4--antagonist--the main obstacle (can also be a force of nature) confronting the protagonist (often just the Bad Guy)

(The above are all considered "drivers"--the next four are considered "passengers" and are more minor as characters.)

5--skeptic (doesn't believe in the effort or in what's happening--can be as distracting to the protagonist as the temptation)

6--sidekick (tries to help the protagonist)

7--logic (may help the protagonist figure things out, but may also distract the protagonist with too much thinking)

8--emotion (helps or hinders the protagonist on an emotional level)

Hickman says you should not have any more characters than eight, and characters can change roles as the story requires. (Though I wouldn't recommend changing protagonists in mid-story--readers can become very frustrated by that.)

Anyway, I hope that helps.

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Member # 747

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Hey! I was there too, but not at that particular, um, speech? Anyway, thanks. I don't know if many of my characters fit directly into those categories, but I surely don't have more than eight.

Also, I'm having a problem with one character. She drives the story; it revolves around her. Everything happens because she is alive. The story is about people who love her, hate her, envy her, try to kill her, try to save her, etc. The problem is, a lot of the emotional tension in those who are affected by her is lost if I get inside her head. For instance, her husband is one of my main characters, and much of his frustration with the marriage is that he doesn't understand her. Therefore, I feel it would kind of ruin everything if the reader understood her. What do you think? Can a story revolve around a character who is never a POV character? I know it will be hard to write, but I'm finding it harder to write a compelling story the other way around.

Plus, I'm struggling with too many POV's in this story (husband, brother, maybe sister, maybe mother...I'm trying to narrow it down to the first two) without her input. Mmmmm....

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Brinestone, you asked:

"Can a story revolve around a character who is never a POV character?"

Have you ever heard of the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle?

I have a whole discussion I do on point of view and why authors need to think carefully about how they select point of view characters in their stories.

Suffice it to say here that you most certainly can revolve a story around a character into whose point of view you never go.

I think Doyle had Watson for the very good reason that if he had told a Sherlock Holmes story from Holmes' point of view, it would have ruined the mystique. He doesn't want the reader to know how Holmes thinks. And I don't think the readers really want to know either.

Telling the stories from the point of view of an everyman character like Watson just adds to the power and awe we feel for Holmes.

Use point of view very carefully and deliberately. There are very good reasons for not writing from the point of view of your main character. Be sure you realize what they are and then you won't worry about what you're doing.

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Member # 747

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Hey, I'm doing that right now! Does it talk about that later on? I'll take that recommendation as a 'yes.'

[This message has been edited by Brinestone (edited March 07, 2001).]

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