To continue the trend of the last two posts, here’s another word question. As you probably know, English is an enormous language, because it has its roots in several other languages and it’s still happy to accept word immigrants. We writers have a dizzying number of choices for almost anything we want to say. So it always surprises me when I stumble across a word that has no synonyms, like shrug, which I’ve been worrying about overusing, because my characters seem to do it a lot. My question for this post is, What other unique words have you happened across? Or, if you know a one-word synonym for shrug, what is it?
And to all of you working feverishly on your NaNoWriMo projects: Best wishes for smooth sailing and great progress!
Onto the post, which also maybe useful for you heroic NaNoWriMo people. On June 22, 2016, the Florid Sword wrote, How do you stay interested in a story? I have trouble finishing my books because I have a grand idea that works and I write feverishly and then- I get a new idea for the same book, usually involving a new character or a new subplot. And I start over. Either that or I write the first three pages and then lose interest and move on to something else. Needless to say, it’s annoying. Does anyone have any advice about how to stay on a story without changing the plot or losing interest?
Several of you weighed in.
Martina: I would recommend using a motivational sort of tactic to keep yourself on a story without losing interest or changing the plot. There are a lot of good websites out there (Write the World– for young writers– NaNoWriWo, Camp NaNo, etc. A quick Google search will bring up tons of options) that you can use to link in with fellow writers and share your story with them. On many of the websites, they have a deadline for you to complete your project by, and occasional prompts to jumpstart your writing. I find that having other people motivating you and holding you to your word makes it easier to stay on task.
Christie V Powell: I have a box of stories from high school in my closet. Most of them are unfinished (but they are super fun to go back and read). Almost all of the stories that I did finish were ones that I outlined. I had to know where I was going and a couple of steps on the way, so that I desired to get there. Otherwise I lost interest and filed them away. I know it’s not for everyone but that’s what worked for me.
As far as not changing the plot, is that a bad thing? Even we outliners know that our plans are flexible. If we follow where the story wants to go, it’s not going to go exactly according to plan and that’s okay. Instead of starting all the way over, make some notes (in the margins, or a separate document, or in a different text color), about what you’re going to change when you go back and edit. Then keep going.
Ellen: Create a lot of suspense and laughter. That will make it a lot more interesting. I have written a few stories myself, and some are very long. Think of what you would do in the situation. Sometimes I even play a game out of my books. Sometimes I write a story out of a fun game. If you happen to lose your interest, draw some pictures for it. Maybe even draw some pictures for what’s going to happen next. I am sure you are a great writer, you just need to not only catch your reader’s interest, catch your own interest. If you want to change the plot, you can, but don’t erase the rest. Create a new book and maybe even connect the two, like have the different characters meet.
These are terrific!
I love the motivational suggestions. I belong to a poetry critique group that meets every other week, which forces me to come up with a poem. If we’re sharing our work, our fellow writers can help us move forward in our story when they say what interests them, because we may not always be the best judge of where the excitement lies. If they’re fascinated by this character or that event, we may discover a fruitful direction to take our plot, one that interests us, too. Also, as we write, it’s cheering to think, Oh, boy, Megan is going to adore this. Or even, Megan is going to hate this–because we’re anticipating a response. Many of us read to be read. An audience is a great goad.
And Ellen’s ideas are reminders that playfulness is a big part of creativity. When our plot has knotted up, we can act out the problem. Surprises may result. Or we can bring in our other talents. Ellen draws or invents games. How about a computer app game (way beyond my dinosaur capabilities)? Some of you make maps. How about a diorama? In my case, a poem may help. Often, entering another artistic realm can free and reinvigorate us.
And Christie V Powell’s ideas are, as usual, spot on. I agree that abandoned stories are not a tragedy–especially not if we save them. We can enjoy going back to them later and meeting the person and writer we used to be, and they may even suggest new work.
I half wish I’d abandoned Stolen Magic after a year or so. I mean, I’m happy with the way it finally turned out, but I might have written three other books in the time it took me to write the one, so I don’t think it’s terrible to fail to complete a story. And when we’re in the early stages of our lives as writers, we’re trying things out. We can let something go without a backward glance. If we turn out to be writers in the long haul, we’ll start finishing our work when we’re ready.
And, I agree again that it’s fine to change a plot. We can’t know when we start what discoveries we’ll make as we write or what new ideas will crop up. My outlines, as I’ve said here many times, are either minimal or nothing, though often I have a fairy tale in mind that I’m following and filling in with detail, and I, too, find it helpful to have an idea of the end I’m writing toward. So that might be another strategy to use to help stick it out. Before we start writing the actual story, when we’re thinking or outlining or writing notes, we can consider how we’d like it to come out–which may change, as everything else can–but having a sense of the ending can give us something to aim for. When I wrote Ella Enchanted *SPOILER ALERT*, for example, I knew I wanted Ella to end her curse herself, but originally I thought that Hattie, rather than love for Char would provide the solution. So, our idea of the ending doesn’t have to be fleshed out, but it probably should be a little more than wanting it to be happy or sad–although I suppose that can work, too.
Another strategy, which probably won’t work for everyone, to help finish a story is not to jump instantly into the writing. Jot down some notes first. We can let the story roll around in our brains for a few days or a few weeks before we get going. We can let other approaches develop. We can even wonder in this early stage if this is the story we want to write. I usually stick to notes until they bore me and the pressure to write a beginning scene becomes intolerable. Also, even though I haven’t finished Ogre Enchanted yet, I’ve begun to speculate about the next book and to start daydreaming.
Here are five prompts:
∙ In this post, I express doubts about this approach, but try it out anyway. All you know is the ending has to be happy. Put your MC into a miserable situation. Pick a few of these and pile on some of your own: Her family and friends have been wiped out in some horrible, painful way; she’s hated by everyone she knows; she’s imprisoned and has just been sent to solitary confinement; she has a dread disease with little prospect for survival; she is haunted by the ghost of a former dictator. Think of a few more before you start writing. Write the story and–believably–bring it to a happy conclusion.
∙ Now, all you know is that the ending is sad. Your MC is the most fortunate person on the planet. Pick some of these and make up your own: He just won a major award that comes with a big cash prize; his cancer is not merely in remission, it’s cured forever; his family is well and healthy; he lands his dream job or gets into his dream school; everyone loves him. Make it all fall apart. To add to his misery, make some of the trouble be his own fault and make some be caused by betrayal. End it tragically.
∙ If you have abandoned story fragments, go through them. Look for things to admire. Choose four fragments, any four. Jot down ideas that you can use again. Think about how you might cobble together an MC and other major characters. Write a new story that combines elements of the four, but if you wind up using only three or remembering parts of others or bringing in entirely new threads, that’s okay, too.
∙ Pick one of your abandoned stories and think about how it might end. Write the ending as a scene with full detail. Type “the end” under it. Walk away.
∙ Picking up the last prompt. If you want to, wait a week and return to the story and fill in three scenes leading up to the ending. Consider it finished–unless you want to work on it some more, but I think you can declare victory.
Have fun, and save what you write!