Tangled!

For the word nerds among us, I was wondering if lightbulb/light bulb is one word or two: https://sfwriter.com/2009/02/how-many-dictionaries-does-it-take-to.html#:~:text=The%20American%20Heritage%20English%20Dictionary,one%20word%3A%20%22lightbulb.%22

On December 30, 2019, Writing Ballerina wrote, Do you ever go to write, but find you can’t untangle the jumble in your head that is ideas and things you need to fix and character arcs and subplots and everything else? So then you either can’t write without getting lost and confused or you try to write and get overwhelmed and can’t go on too far because you can’t figure out what’s supposed to happen next?

An exchange followed with Melissa Mead.

Melissa Mead: Oh yes. In fact, I’m doing it now! I may have to backtrack.

Writing Ballerina: I suppose I should tack on to this: what do you do to get past it?

Melissa Mead: I wish I had a consistent solution. Mostly, I keep thinking about it and either writing around it or working on other things until things come together.

I wish I had a consistent solution too.

This is a hard question to answer, because once I get myself out of this kind of mess, a merciful amnesia falls over me, and I don’t remember how I solved it. Sadly, what I do recall is thinking repeatedly that I’d found my way, writing twenty-plus pages and then falling into a ditch.

Also, the medicine for one story may not cure another. Every project presents different challenges.

I’ve never abandoned a book, but twice I’ve written different tales than the one I set out to tell. The books were Stolen Magic and The Two Princesses of Bamarre. For both, I regret never being able to figure my original plots out because they interested me and I’d still like to discover what would have happened. In the end, though, I wrote the book I could write and let go of the one I couldn’t.

I remember with both books that I changed POV more than once. Two Princesses wound up in first person, and Stolen Magic switches among three third-person perspectives. Finding the POV helped, so that can be one strategy, to change POV and see the effect.

In Stolen Magic, I simplified and simplified to find my story. That can be another strategy. We can ask if we’ve taken too much on and complicated our plot with too many twists and turns and subplots. What can we strip away? What’s essential? Greed was at the heart of my original version, and I kept that.

We can ask ourselves lots of questions and answer them:

• What is the central problem of the story? If there is more than one, our lives will be easier if we decide which is paramount.

• Who is our MC?

• Is there more than one MC? How many? Too many? (Not that there’s a magic number. We’re asking this only because things aren’t going well.)

• Are the MCs’ goals related to each other (belong in the same story)?

• Is the time span as compressed as it can be? The plot will tighten if we can compress, and compressing may help us simplify.

• Is this world too complex? Do we have to juggle so many eggs that a few go splat?

We can make a timeline and ponder it. This may help us see what’s going on and what we need to do.

Same for chapters. We can summarize them. As I write, sometimes (often) I forget what went before. Being reminded keeps me on track.

I don’t believe that every character has to have an arc. If a character is beckoning to us, we can answer the call in another story.

Even in a late stage we can write the kind of outline I, mostly a pantser, write, a few paragraphs or a page, the broadest guide to the symphony that is our story, just the major movements.

As for things we need to fix, I think we should leave them unfixed if at all possible until we have a complete first draft, because the task will be easier then. We’ll know everything, and we’ll know what isn’t working and what is. What I do with this, is I note at the very top of my manuscript the things I want to keep in mind when I go through it later.

Let’s roll some fairytales together in these prompts:

• Your MC, a princess, is despised by her stepmother who owns a magic mirror, and she’s going to prick her finger and sleep for a hundred years. Write the story.

• Your MC loves the sultan’s daughter and is in danger from an evil magician posing as his uncle, and his sister is stuck in the castle of a Beast. Write the story.

• For extra credit, smush the two above prompts into one, combining “Snow White,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Aladdin,” and “Beauty and the Beast.” Turn it into a coherent story, I dare you!

Have fun, and save what your write!

    • How about just the first one for now?

      Stepmother having one magic mirror was bad enough. Now she’d multiplied the thing, and identical magic mirrors hung all over the palace, berating Dormia when Stepmother couldn’t be there to do it herself.
      In her bedroom: “Up, you slugabed! You can’t read in bed all day!”
      In the kitchen: “No cream buns for you! You’re getting plump!”
      There was even one in the privy. Dormia shuddered just thinking about it.
      But despite the snide remarks about her weight, Dormia actually had a stronger constitution than Stepmother. Stepmother, for instance, hated climbing stairs. So Dormia climbed up, up, up to the snug little room at the top of the highest tower, hearing the rantings fade behind her. She made herself a cozy nest of pillows, savored her last cream bun for a long, long, while, drew the spindle from her pocket, and pricked her finger.
      As she drifted off to sleep, she heard the glassy tinkle of dozens of thwarted mirrors shattering in frustration, and smiled.

  1. I have a series on my idea list that takes seven different fairy tales with lots of siblings, and puts them all together in the same family (the Little Mermaid is the youngest, the Seven Swans sister is next… They’re all the seven dwarves at some point…) Each one gets their own book though, so hopefully it’s not too cluttered.

  2. The prompt combining all four will work well in a WIP that is already combining some fairy tales. I’ll have to think on it as to how it would play out. At the moment I already have Sleeping Beauty and a genderbent Cinderella in the same story world, with a hint of The Goose Girl showing up. Thanks for the idea! 😀

  3. RedTrumpetWriter says:

    Does anyone have any advice for creating folk songs/poems/rhymes. I want to write a rewrite of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Tinderbox” and I want there to be a folk song/poem thing that the MC can sing at the beginning as a sort of legend about the princess in the copper tower. Something similar to a mother goose rhyme or a jump rope song. Any tips or links to videos/blog posts would be greatly appreciated!

  4. Wow, it’s been literally years since I’ve been active on here! I finally got that book self-published that I was working on (and its sequel), but now I’m having trouble with a short story I wrote.
    It’s a humorous story I wrote for a creative writing contest months ago. It didn’t win, so I took a long break to improve my writing before going back to edit it again. My problem is that I have no idea what to do with it now that I feel like it’s ready for something. It doesn’t seem to be a good fit for any of the (many) short story magazines or contests I’ve looked into, and I don’t have a blog (or the skills/patience/time to start one yet) to put it on. Advice?

  5. Oh boy, the “I dare you” card was pulled:
    The prince’s stepmother (actually quite nice) came across a lamp on her quest to learn of magic. She rubbed it and the genie inside took the form of a mirror she could talk to, pretending to just be an enchanted object. He, bent on escaping his prison, uses his magic to slowly warp her mind. The prince, desperate to save his kingdom, locks her in a castle in the middle of the woods and sets a spell on it. Once her mind is free from whatever is twisting it, she’ll be able to come out. On accident, the daughter of a merchant finds her way to the castle and gets stuck with the now evil stepmother. The prince comes in to get her out, but the genie manages to trap him in as well. They must find out what is poisoning the stepmother and destroy the mirror and lamp in order to set themselves free.

  6. I put this on the last post right before this one came up, so I’ll post it again. What’s the difference between a cup and a glass (in the context of containers that you drink from), and under what circumstances, if any, can you use them as synonyms?

    • Gail Carson Levine says:

      I don’t think the two are synonyms, chiefly because a cup has a handle and a glass doesn’t. Some cups are made of glass, but I think they’d still be referred to as cups. Why is this important, if I may ask?

    • The way I tell the difference is that a cup is usually made out of plastic, with or without a handle, and is built to hold mostly anything. A glass is made out of glass and is usually nicer than a cup, often made for fancier drinks. A mug is built to be sturdy, usually out of ceramic, and is made for warm drinks, so it has a handle.

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