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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Filling In Gaps

   
Author Topic: Filling In Gaps
sojoyful
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I think I'm mostly looking for encouragement here, but ideas and discussion are nice too.

a) Do you ever have trouble inventing something to fill a gap in your story?
b) How do you handle this problem?

When the gap is in the middle, you can usually derive events from the characters' motivations. Unfortunately, in my case, I am having trouble inventing the very beginning. (Note that I'm not talking about writing, I'm talking about the "thinking it up" part.) I know exactly where my MC needs to be by the end of the beginning, and what her motivations and goals are at that point. I just can't think of anything to get her there.

For a while I thought this was a clue that I should just start there. When I do that, it keeps devolving into the MC thinking about the un-invented preceding events, so that tells me I need to back up and start earlier.

I feel like my creativity bone is broken, and I am somehow defective. I'm great at inventing forward into the unknown, but going backwards to think up events that lead to a foregone conclusion? Can't do it. Help!


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InarticulateBabbler
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Compile the events she's thinking about and explore them. See if they are viable, or will be better left snippets and memories.

David Farland was talking about one of the possible openings to gain sympathy for your protagonist: Show him petting the dog. This simply means show him (or her) doing something nice that others around her wouldn't. Helping someone with a disfigured face, saying hello to the village outcast or taking a moment to feed a wild dog. You might employ that method.


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Meredith
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Hmm, well, first off, everyone's process is different.

Some people can readily write scenes out of order. If that's you, go ahead and start whereever you DO know what's going on and go back to fill in the beginning later.

I can't say that I've ever been in exactly this situation. I usually know pretty much where the story needs to start, what the climax is, and how it ends before I begin. It's the stuff that gets from the beginning to the climax that sometimes surprises me.

In your place, I think I'd stop fighting it. If you can't continue on this without getting the beginning right, work on something else. Anything else. Take a walk. Do some crits. Whatever it takes to let your mind--your subconscious mind--work in the background. Sooner or later, when you least expect it, the answer will bubble up to the top and astound you. But not if you keep beating yourself up trying to force it.

Pretty much exactly that happened to me with SEVEN STARS earlier this week. I knew where the story started, but what I'd written made my character sound way to confident, competent and, well, a little too old (for what is supposed to be a YA story). Driving between errands, the answer just hit me and I know how to fix it, now. But only because I dropped it and worked on something else until the answer surfaced. Trying to force it does no good at all, IME.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Just try writing (in however manner you can manage) about the preceding events. Write something up for everything you can think of.

Once you've got it written, look at it, and figure out what you really need to actually use for the beginning.

And remember, the beginning can be determined by what kind of story (see OSC's M.I.C.E. categories) you are writing. He talks in his HOW TO WRITE SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY about how each kind of story should end--but you could use the same idea for figuring out the beginning from how you've ended the story.


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Osiris
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Its hard to say without knowing details of the story, but you said you know what the MCs motivations and goals are at the end of your beginning.

It sounds to me like perhaps your MC has made a decision, so maybe your beginning could be a scene that precipitates that decision?

Writers often call the beginning of a story the 'incitement' or 'inciting incident'. So what incites your MC into pursuing the goals and motivations you want her to have? Maybe thinking along those lines will help you come up with beginning.


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philocinemas
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It is interesting to me that I am about to tell you this, mainly because I see myself primarily as an Idea writer, but look deep into your character and try and find out what started him/her in this direction. Whether you write stories about Milieu, Ideas, Characters, or Events, everything is ultimately about the character - whether it is animate or inanimate, physical or immaterial.

What drove your character to start on the journey that brought him/her to your planned ending. This is called the inciting event. Whereever that is, make sure you can get from Point A to Point B within a single story. Drop him/her down into the story at that point and decide what they would do or where they would go. Would they visit a family or friend or would they call someone? Would they go to a bar or to their church? Would they go workout at the gym or would they consider killing themselves? Suddenly, you have other characters to deal with, all with their own agendas. Your MC reacts and makes choices and becomes alive. Now you just have to get them to the end.

I'm not trying to say any of this is necessarily easy, but I don't believe any story ever works until the MC takes on a life (or purpose) of his/her/its own.


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philocinemas
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As Osiris stated this can also be called the "incitement" or "inciting incident" - I didn't see the previous post before I responded.

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MAP
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I have a problem figuring out where the story begins all the time. And I have critiqued so many stories where I think that the story started in the wrong place. So I think trying to figure out where to begin is something that a lot of first time writers have a problem with.

My advice is start wherever you want right now even if it is in the middle of the book or way early. Write to the end of the first draft, and I think once you reach the end, it will be clear where the story begin. At least for me, it isn't until I reach the end that it becomes clear what the story needs at the beginning.

Your creative bone is not broken nor are you defective. Writing is hard and takes a lot of work. But you can do it. Keep at it.


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satate
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I've always found making a list of possiblities is helpful. I like the non-pressure of brainstorming the biggest list possible and even including outrageous things. It really helps to see it all and then I go through and pick the one I like the best or try out two or three.
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rstegman
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What it sounds to me is that you are dealing with transitions. Going from one incident to another. It is sometimes hard to do that without being boring. I have had problems with that before.

I have one coming up in my present WIP where my character will finish the big fight and get home. A few things happen before that but not exactly sure how to accomplish that.

I myself have ending problems. starting is easy for me, but those who have read my story ideas have seen, I have problems bringing things to a satisfactory end.


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KayTi
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Have you tried taking the onus of storytelling off your shoulders and just write what the early parts are about?

You know, really basic - like "first this happened, then that happened, then she finds whatever, and he walks in, and he turns out to be a jerk because he has a whatever, and they go elsewhere, and she wishes she could and then..."

Sometimes I can figure things out if I stop trying to be the WRITER and just write it all down, know what I mean? Once I know what happens, I can easily dramatize it into a story.


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KayTi
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Oh, and when all else fails and the gap that needs to be filled in is not critical to the main event or not keeping you from making other forward progress in the story, handwavium pellets are useful. Dash a few of them on the story <handwavium, handwavium> and come back later to replace them with actual story. Heck, the magical properties of handwavium are such that you might come back and find the story has written itself right through the gap!
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sojoyful
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Thank you all for the encouragement and advice! It is much appreciated.

quote:
Have you tried taking the onus of storytelling off your shoulders and just write what the early parts are about?

You know, really basic - like "first this happened, then that happened, then she finds whatever, and he walks in, and he turns out to be a jerk because he has a whatever, and they go elsewhere, and she wishes she could and then..."


Ah, KayTi, if only. That's exactly the part I'm having trouble with. I've tried so many times, and it always looks like this: "first I have no clue, then she's here doing this, then the rest of the story happens just the way I have it outlined." Le Sigh.

quote:
What it sounds to me is that you are dealing with transitions. Going from one incident to another. It is sometimes hard to do that without being boring.
rstegman, this resonates with me. I think part of my problem is that the beginning doesn't interest me. I know there has to be an inciting incident, but I don't care what it is because the riled up, motivated, post-incident MC is much more interesting to me than she is pre-incident and during. She is a very changed person after the incident, which is where my ability to invent commences.

Tonight I'm trying to write as if the main character is talking to me and telling me what she's just been through. So far, she has amnesia because I can't think of anything for her to have gone through, but maybe if I persevere, it will come.

This is the only story I've ever written where I've had this problem. My other stories usually have very clear starting points. I appreciate you all letting me have a little pity party. I wonder if this is how Tolstoy felt when inventing a story that would end with a woman under a train?


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Robert Nowall
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I'm not sure...usually I know what my characters are doing between the scenes I'm actually writing, but they seem like things I don't have to write down to move the story along.

Things like eating, sleeping, and using the restroom come to mind. Any of the three can be worked in...though with the last-named, one never knows how far to take scatological humor...


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I suspect Tolstoy worked his way backwards by asking questions about what got the woman under the train, and what got her there, and then there, and back and back and back, until he found the beginning.

OSC recommends questioning your ideas a lot, especially questions like what could the MC try next? what could go wrong if the MC did that? what else could the MC try? and so on. Since those questions are forward-moving questions, maybe you can try backward questions as Tolstoy probably did (and if your MC has amnesia, what can she remember, and what does she think it means?).

Starting with an amnesiac MC can be a little cliche, so if you can break through to before whatever happened to "cause" the amnesia, it would be better.

Also, you say the MC has really changed. From what? What was she like in the first place? At least you ought to be able to write about that--just a short description.


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sojoyful
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quote:
Starting with an amnesiac MC can be a little cliche
Yikes! I should have picked my words more carefully. My MC doesn't have amnesia in the actual story. I was just being dramatic in trying to say that she can't remember anything to tell me yet, because I can't think of anything for her to remember.

quote:
Also, you say the MC has really changed. From what?
She thinks she's been betrayed by her brother, and she thinks that the same brother is responsible for the murder of her family. (The first is subjective, the other is incorrect.) But I can't think of how, specifically, that happens. Hrm...

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Grayson Morris
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What's her brother like? Is he older, younger? What was/is their relationship like? Is he wild, impulsive, a drug addict, the black sheep of the family, ....? What in her relationship with him would allow her to believe he would be capable of murdering their family?

Has he betrayed her before, as children in little "insignificant" ways (from an adult point of view), or later, as teenagers, and as adults? What were the last three betrayals - did he tell secrets of hers, did he blackmail her for money (or he'd tell Mom and Dad...), did he crash at her place uninvited, then sell off all her books while she was at work, did he get her kid hooked on coke?

Or is he the perfect brother with the perfect life, but she's been confronted with such seemingly incontrovertible evidence (the murder on tape?) she has to believe it?

Just throwing out some ideas to help jump-start your own revelations about the MC and her brother...

[This message has been edited by Grayson Morris (edited November 04, 2010).]


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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You know, we have a "Character Interviews" section where you can post a topic for your character, and let people interview your character and have the character respond in her own words.

The most recent example is here, in case you think you might like to give it a try.


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babooher
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I have found Joseph Campbell's (and then Chris Vogler's) works on archetypes and the stages of a story to be a helpful guide when all else fails.

I have also found taking a bath helps. Might seem odd, but going for a relaxing soak helps me to not think about the story. This often leads to the answer popping into my head. Driving works, too, but is too expensive.


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sojoyful
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You guys rock. Grayson Morris, your questions got me thinking more about the brother, so on a lark I decided to write the first day and a half's worth of story from his perspective. And my goodness, he was able to tell me a lot about the events that took place during that time! Finally, my brain has created events for me to work with - hooray! Of course, now I'm smacking myself in the forehead for not thinking of it sooner. Since the MC's motivation throughout the novel hinges on what she thinks her brother did in the first chapter, doing the exercise of writing that chapter from his perspective would of course show me what he was actually up to. Then I went back and wrote the chapter again from the MC's perspective, this time with the knowledge of what was going on "off-screen." There are still a few holes to be cleaned up in revision, but at least this got me moving. I am thrilled. Thank you, one and all!

babooher, I'm also a fan of Joseph Conrad. Hero with a Thousand Faces is great (if you can read his dense writing style, which I barely can). A relaxing soak would be awesome too...but my apartment only has a stall shower. Now there's a seed for a story: frustrated writer whose only sure-fire method for getting the mental juices flowing is to take a bath must contend with a stall shower. Hehe.

Kathleen, I thought about the character interviews section, but I was afraid that everyone would immediate ask the character what had happened, and I wouldn't be able to tell them. Silly me. I should have just given it a shot anyway! Thanks for the suggestion.

[This message has been edited by sojoyful (edited November 07, 2010).]


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Corky
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Joseph Conrad wrote HEART OF DARKNESS, among other things. You mean Joseph Campbell, right?
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sojoyful
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Oops! Yes, that's what I meant. This will teach me to respond to forum posts on only 4 hours of sleep and NaNo-liquified brains. And this is not the first time that I have substituted Conrad's name for Campbell's accidentally...
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