They say that it’s advisable to cut a significant portion of your draft before finalizing, that a lot of it is simply filler, but I have the opposite experience, I write too little. I’m rather lazy by nature so I usually don’t add more scenes than necessary and I focus on the plot as a whole rather than the story. When the plot is done then I go deep and focus on characters, which might not be a good idea because characters tend to change the plot…
On the other hand, working like this almost guarantees that I finish something because I’m not too concerned with the quality yet. I want to finish rather than make something perfect right away. This might be good for short stories, now that I think about it. Novels are a bigger commitment and not doing your best will just end up wasting your time.
In my experience, when I start getting into the meat of the story, I see before me a large pile of puzzle pieces. I got some of them pieced together already but I have to sort them out with trial and error. Sometimes there are other sets of puzzles in the mix which complicates things… There might be an issue with the idea when that happens. The story might be too vague and I have very little to work with so I try to borrow plots from everywhere, haha.
I read this book called, Deeplight. It’s about two orphan boys who just try to survive in a fantasy world where there once existed deep sea monsters, or Gods. The gods are dead and the people collect the parts of the monsters and they are highly valuable. The boys try to steal some of it but one gets caught and they are seperated. One of the boys, Hark, is conflicted, on the one hand he’s loyal to his friend but to the other he likes his new life and he realise the other boy hadn’t been very nice to him. He hopes, secretly that he never sees him. But Harks friend does show up and threatens to expose him if Hark doesn’t help him.
So far so good. I love slice of life stories like this, very grounded and relatable. Nothing too major is happening, it happened! Harks friend is infected with one of the monsters and he grows more and more powerful until he’d become a new sea god if he isn’t stopped. From here, the main character Hark becomes a dull character. It’s almost as if his choices aren’t his own anymore and he’s just pushed along by the author to hit those plot points.
Before, Hark did things because that was his character, later, he did things because that’s what he was supposed to do. That in itself could be interesting to explore but they don’t. I skimmed through the last half of the book and I knew exactly what would happen all along.
I don’t know if I felt this way because I’m a writer, that I think about these things everyday or that regular readers catch on too and that they are just unable to articulate the problem? Or maybe it’s just me. I feel like the characters in our stories have more agency than we realise. I have certainly tried to control their actions before and that is too much trouble than it’s worth.
It’s also not very fun.
(If you find this topic familiar it’s because I redacted the original post. It was embarrassingly bad)
Stephen King on Writing… I’ve read it a few times now and I just want to share my favorite quotes from the book along with some of my own revelations!
(1) When you write the story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your job is taking out all the things that are not the story.
(2) Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.
(3) Stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on even when you don’t feel like it.
(4) Construct your own toolbox and then build up the strength so that you can carry it. Then, instead of looking at a hard job, and getting discourage, you’ll seize the correct tool and get back to work.
(5) Filter out distractions, listen to music. It surrounds me, keeping the mundane world out. Shut the door.
(6) Write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending in your own personal knowledge of life, friendship, relationship, sex and work. Especially work. People love reading about work for some reason.
Some some examples on how to stop using cliche phrases:
“It was darker than a carload of assholes.”
“I lit a cigarette that tasted like a plumbers handkerchief.”
(7) The key to good description begins with clear seeing ends with clear writing, the kind of writing that employs fresh images and simple vocabulary.
(8) I think the best stories always end up being about people rather than the event, which is to say, character driven.
(9) If you write a novel, you owe it to yourself to step back and ask yourself why you bothered? What’s it about?
(10) When you write a book, you spend days and weeks scanning and identifying the trees. When it’s done, you have to step back and look at the forest.
Number 10 especially hit home because I do the opposite. I try to be very broad when I write the first draft and hit those plot points first and then go down to a personal level, which is bad because plot change on the decisions of the characters. it’s very arrogant of me to assume that I know the story before I even wrote it.
(11) After you’ve finished your first draft (or whenever), you step back and let it rest and work on something else. You are not ready to go back to your old project until you’ve gotten so involved in the new one that you’ve forgotten how hard you worked
(12) The most import things about backstory are that everyone has a history and most of it isn’t interesting. Stick to the parts that are and don’t get carried away by the rest.
The backstory… Such an elusive term. What is it? I mean really, when do I use it? I’m not saying this to be cute, by the way, because I have many instances where I’m writing something and the backstory is more interesting than the story itself and I ask myself, was I wrong? Have I been influenced by others to such a degree that I don’t know when my stories begin anymore?
Writing has rules, I try not to learn them, though some are pretty useful, others are more restrictive than helpful.
Some stories doesn’t need a backstory at all! At least not a very comprehensive one while others need more before you can tackle the story itself in a truthful manner; like character motivation and such. It’s all about finding the truth and be honest with yourself when writing.
Sometimes characters do things that makes you confused, you have to find out why he does this rather than have him act unnaturally, because characters sometimes have lives of their own, regardless what you want them to do.
If your backstory is deep, the problem then arise how much you want to show. Generally, you wanna sprinkle it out throughout the story but sometimes you just want to make an entire book about it, like the Silmarillion.
So, again, when does the story start? In my experience, you’re right the first time. The story has a core, the thing that made you want to write the story to begin with. That’s where the interesting part of the story begin so you should probably follow that intuition and go with it. I once wrote a story with three different plots because I didn’t know what I was doing. I knew the main character would end up on a haunted island at some point, but I didn’t have any ideas who he was and how he ended up there. I started the story when he sets foot on the island and the rest should work out from there.
I often wondered why I write. If I write for myself, writing stories become quite easy because you only write for your own curiosity’s sake and most scenes happen in your head. However, for me, writing means change and when I try to write so that somebody else can understand me, the story take strange turns. There are also an inherent pleasure in polishing your work. Editing is fun, writing pretty sentences is exciting. So I guess I write because it is enjoyable.
Furthermore, everything that matters is challenging. Things doesn’t go according to plan and you solve problems. These moments might be stressful at first but they are also fun to overcome. I could never spend all my freetime turning off my brain, watching movies; shows. It has been running at high speed for too long. I’d become mute and docile and then you might as well be dead.
Speaking of media, it is very hard to keep my attention, these days. I suspect writing is much more exciting than watching and playing someone else’s work, although there are the exceptions, of course. Mostly those shows, movies, games and books that manages to spark my own imagination. I always write down ideas whenever I have those moments, good or bad. I dunno if I’ll ever return to those ideas but if I didn’t write them down, they would cease to exist and I like to believe they happen to me for a reason.
I don’t have a particular point with this post, I was just feeling especially happy today.
I never wanted to be a writer. I don’t think I ever wasted a thought on it at all while growing up, so why do I want to now? I never wrote anything substantial on my free time. I just played games and studied. At college I studied political science because I was curious, so I guess I wasn’t totally avert to reading and writing…
Life pushed me to become a writer.
At the last year of my Masters program I started having trouble sleeping. I’d be up all night thinking what I’d do after graduating. I didn’t want to be a teacher or do research, so what other options did I have?
I made a list what I could possibly do and writing was one of them, at least I wanted to give it a shot. After finishing my studies I spent 6 months in Cambodia as a volunteer. I saw this as buying time and I wrote a novel on my spare time. It was so easy, it was a hero’s journey with worldbuilding and everything and I ended up with a 100 000 word manuscript. That seemed to seal the deal; that’s what I was gonna do.
But when things come easy at first you get really disappointed when things get hard, which was the case from here on out. I worked hard to understand my craft and I have a pile of unfinished novels to prove it. I was under the delusion that I could finish them when I got better, but you can’t write a novel unless you try finish one, no matter how bad it end up.
I was way to ambitious too. Writing a novel is not gonna happen when you don’t have the skill to back it up. I don’t know how I managed to write my 100 000 word manuscript when I did. I haven’t returned to it yet, maybe it’s awful but finishing is an accomplishment also. What I had to do was start smaller. Flash fiction was the key, 1k words, and it took many years before I managed to work my way up to a 5-6000 manuscript.
I wasted a lot of time trying to write those novels only to abandon them…
I am now at around 20 000 words and I’m slowly climbing my way higher, grasping the complexity that is writing a novel. I’ll get there eventually and then I can finish my pile of failures and never look back.
There’s a general consensus that reading is good for you. That reading is boring is also a common held belief. Very contradicting if you think about it, but I guess books are like vegetables, you gotta eat ’em.
Schools doesn’t help literatures case. Forcing you to read a book you don’t like is never fun. But I can’t really hold this against schools because how else do you make children read when there are more readily available options? Parents have the ultimate responsibility, but I digress.
As an adult, there’s a point of pride having read a certain amount of books each year. That you need to read them whether you find them boring or no. I know I’ve fallen into this trap. It’s a task to be completed rather than something to be enjoyed. But does it have to be? Lately, I never slug my way through books if it lost my interest. I skim through it, find the keynotes and sometimes the story draws me back again…
Like any writer, I’m easily bored and I have around five books that I read at the same time. Jumping between them whatever flights my fancy. Sometimes I find stories extremely predictable and sometimes still, my predictions are more entertaining than how it turned out! But I guess that’s the sickness of the writer.
I can do better.
In any case; you have no obligation to finish a story properly if it has lost your interest. You don’t get smarter by reading fiction, you really don’t. Some fictions can be very profound, but for those where reading is a chore, they never got anything out of the story anyhow.
I’ve read Stephen King’s book on writing a few times now. What he says makes a lot of sense, but there’s one thing that he and I are fundamentally different.
He seems to be able to work out a story from the get go and then he cuts it down to make it readable to an audience. To me, it’s more like building the story up, like I slowly reveal my story, like a sketch, maybe?
I guess it depends on the idea. Sometimes it’s so very vague that I have to rewrite and rewrite until I have a foundation to go on. And even then I do a lot of rewrites. I don’t cut, I add, because what I write at the beginning is sparse already.
Well I do cut, but just to replace it with something better. My process is inherently messy, it seems and I do my best to find a way to improve, which is why I look to other writers for inspiration.
Stephen Kings writing speaks to me. His style and wordings are great, but I do dislike his stories, they are god awful! Haha, the plot is so dumb, I swear…
Stephen King liken stories as finding a fossil and developing the tools so that you can uncover it without destroying it. I guess I’m that way too, I find stories and I never plot. I just start writing and see what the characters are up to. The story is there and it’s my job to find it.
I belive you use different parts of your brain (or at least have different mindsets) depending on which phase of the story you’re writing. For instance, the drafting phase seem more open, like watching the landscape from afar… I dunno how to explain it. You are more open to ideas and you think of the story as a whole.
Ideally, you then take your story to the next phase, which is much like the first, only you look a bit deeper into what’s happening. Meaning you don’t skip scenes, add dialogue and descriptions. You zoom in on the landscape, basically.
The plot is still subject to change, but hopefully if you were throughout, there are no major changes.
Afterwards, there’s the editing phase, which is the easiest part if you did everything right. The heavy lifting is done and the foundation is complete, now you can concern yourself with sounding good for the readers, working on one sentence at the time. You zoom in very close.
This is of course if everything goes according to plan, which they never do so there will be bumps on the road, but hopefully you have the tools to handle the changes professionally.
I’ve had a lot of trouble finishing stories and I don’t really knew why. I thought maybe I was inadequate or the story itself was bad. But I think I now know what my problem is. I sometimes forget to make it entraintaing… How’s that possible even? Well, I’m lazy, and when I’ve established the plot I’m very hesitant to make changes because it means extra work, which ironically means more work in the end because I try to work around it the issue instead of trying to solve it.
The solution to this is to make the plot solid from the beginning but it’s very hard to stave away all the ideas that come up while writing, and with more and more scenes without a solid plot the story becomes convoluted. The solution for THAT problem would be to decide what the story is about as early as possible before you write too much.
I don’t know if it’s a good or a bad thing, but I write very little when drafting. I dunno if it’s because I’m lazy as I said before but it might help establish the plot early before I write too far. The first draft is rarely more than a couple thousand words long and the second is often 5 or 6 thousand and it gets longer and longer from there…
I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but writing about it extremely therapeutic, especially when I have to explain it to somebody other than myself. Thanks for reading ❤