I have been busy doing everything yet nothing at all. I’ve been working on my WIP for several months now and have even finished the first draft of it, that is until I went to revise it.
You know what happened? I found that my structure was a bit–well, to be honest, more than a bit–off. I missed whole parts and there was a major structural shift somewhere in the middle where I lost focus on my midpoint. Somewhere I went from knowing exactly where I was going to changing in midstream to another idea that suddenly popped into my head. I mean, that happens. I happens all the time, in fact. The problem was that I didn’t adjust my outline accordingly, so when I finished the first draft, everything practically started from that moment.
I’m going to be honest. I was about to just give up. Pack it in. Drop the ball. Whatever metaphor/cliche you can think of. Really. I was so devastated by the overwhelming job of trying to fix it. To top it all off, everything I tried didn’t seem to be good enough.
So what was my problem?
I tried to fit too many plots into my prose. I had three distinct plots going simultaneously. How was I able to finish it, then? Good question. I actually wrote it several years earlier…before I published my first novel, Copper Rain. I wanted it to fit into the story. Since it was already written, I should have only had to add my main character and his companions into it. When ended up happening was that I shoehorned them in instead of letting them get flowed in naturally to the story. At first, I included only my main character and it seemed to have worked, but the original story was also in another character’s point of view. That’s where everything went wrong.
I should have never attempted to rewrite it in the main character’s POV. First and foremost. I ended up basically rewriting everything and nearly started over trying to reuse all the old stuff I could. This led to too many inconsistencies and such.
So why do I call this article “Never Give Up!”?
Because I almost did. I almost pushed back my chair, put up my keyboard and walked away from all of it. Why? What was the point? I asked myself why? Why was it so important that I even started writing in the first place. I couldn’t answer. I didn’t know why I started. I love reading. Why couldn’t I write? There is nothing I wanted than to be a published author. I had actually done it! I published my first novel. Probably the most nerve-wracking thing I had ever done, but I did it. No, it wasn’t traditionally published. I tried many times but after a dozen rejections, I saw that Amazon was offering to published for free.
So now that I’m “published” what now? Where’s my motivation? With only 32 (at the time of this writing) total books sold and only one, count it, one review, I was really beginning to doubt whether my book was good enough for the real world. What would make the next one good? It has to be good, right?
What made me come back into the fold?
I was on Twitter the other day and I saw that someone posted that they had finally given up. I felt like someone punched me in the gut, because that was what I was feeling at the time. Just seeing the actual words on the screen made me see that I really didn’t want to give it all up. I am not writing for fame and fortune. I certainly wouldn’t turn down the opportunity to become rich and famous from writing, but that is not my intent. I have a responsibility to the characters in my head and to those who have actually read and enjoyed my novel. Since I am writing a series, I understand that some people won’t read or even pick up the first one until I have at least two or three in the series already complete.
I get it. I completely understand. I want to finish these novels so I can move on to the ones that aren’t linked to that story but to that world. There are ten worlds I have in my one world, so there are multitudes of stories that I can write.
I’m not done. Not even by a long shot. I have seen the words on Twitter and I did not like them. I don’t want to say them, even if I absolutely must. I am not giving up and, though my motivation is yet to be found, I will find a way.
I hope I’m not alone when I say this, but I used to think of written scenes like scenes in a play. Every time there would be a change of place, the scene would have to change with it. Honestly, I think it stems from my time in the drama club in high school. For as long as I can remember, I have always thought that about scenes. Scenes are far more complex that just a change in scenery. They are mini-stories in and of themselves used to connect the next scene until the entire story is complete.
So then what is a scene? A written scene is the basic building block of a novel or short story. The scene actually has three parts and is vital to making it work. You have the protagonist struggling to get through to his immediate goal, but there is something in the way. It progresses until the struggle is over and there is a disaster. Often, there is actually a change in scenery, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
A scene has a twin called a sequel. It is basically the follow-up to the action in a scene. Its job is to tidy up the loose ends that the scene has left lying about. This is where the main character reacts to the disaster in the scene and has a dilemma to resolve with a decision to make. The decision usually ties into the actions of the next scene.
Typically, in my writing I use the following template to build my scenes:
Date of Scene: Time
The scene actually has three parts and is vital to making it work.
First and foremost, the main character of the scene must have a goal. Without it, the scene is pointless and will make the reader feel like they are wandering aimlessly in the wilderness that is your book. This goal should be something that the main scene character wants to be able to move forward. It doesn’t have to be something that he may be able to get in that scene. In fact, I would think that it would be something that he cannot get in that scene.
Every scene has conflict. Yes, you heard me. Every scene. Conflict can be defined as something getting in the way of the main character obtaining his goal. There is no exception. If you don’t have conflict, you don’t have a scene. Period. Conflict creates tension. Tension keeps the reader engaged so without it, you might lose your reader. It’s as simple as that.
A good scene will end in some kind of disaster. This is something that goes totally wrong for the scene’s main character. Horribly wrong. It must leave the reader wondering how the main character will ever achieve his goal. Talk about ratcheting up the tension. What better way than to have it blow up in his face. That’s not to say that the disaster must be earth shatter or someone has to die or get horribly maimed–although not a bad start. I mean that the outcome is less than desirable. See below for examples of this and more.
A scene has a twin called a sequel. It is basically the follow-up to the action in a scene.
Not every part of a scene–because I think of scene and sequel as part of the overall scene–needs to keep the reader on edge. The reader needs to be able to relax a bit. Even if it’s just a paragraph. That’s where the sequel comes in. It shows the scene’s main character’s reaction to the disaster and how he copes. It also poses a dilemma where there are only bad choices to choose from. From there the scene’s main character must make a decision that propels them into the next scene.
As the name implies, the scene’s main character will have some kind of response to what just happened. There is a multitude of reactions that he could have, but only a specific one that would lead him to the next scene. Does he give up in despair or does he plow through and keep trying? Does he get angry and overdo everything, thus breaking more than he’s trying to fix or does he take a step back, reassess the situation and move forward. Those are the hard decision, you dear writer, are going to have to make. At any rate, this is just how the scene’s main character reacts to the disaster.
Dilemmas are interesting. You, the writer, have to make it to where there is no right answer to how this scene plays out. Only a less wrong one will do. That’s what a dilemma is. The scene’s main character and his companions now have their lives on a teeter and the decisions the main character makes could offset the balance. We cannot, as writers, let our characters get away with anything easily. They must fight for it tooth and nail. Whatever the disaster, the dilemma must be something that is good for not good for everyone, or even no one.
Now a decision needs to be made. Given the choices left by the dilemma, the scene’s main character perhaps along with his cohorts, must make some kind of decision to move the plot forward. It must be something the guides them to the finish, but at the very least they need to get to the next scene. This decision provides the framework for it.
So now that we have the scene parts down, you can now see how each part works in harmony to keep the reader engaged and the pages turning. Earlier I said that scenes do not necessarily have to be set in different places. In fact, some scenes are in the same place as other scenes. It just differs by the disasters and decisions of the others. For example, I have a scene where my protagonist, Kalan Laurelbane, has escaped the inn where he was staying because he was being hunted down by hobgoblins. He runs into the dark forest at night–one fraught with its own dangers–only to run into the legendary Nyar Winterhold, a dangerous man who leaves behind few witnesses. Once the decision is made to not move and see what the man will do, the scene changes because a decision was made. Kalan is still in the forest confronted by the dangerous man, but we have moved on to the next scene.
Notice how I included the dilemma. It was implied, but it is a dilemma, nonetheless. What could happen? He could run, but with dangerous men like Nyar, he might see it as a challenge and give chase. He could stay, but that might provoke him and Kalan could get pulverized. See there are no easy decisions to make here. The point is, Kalan must do something. Nyar is a hulk of a man, easily towering over seven feet tall. Kalan is only 6 feet tall and thin by comparison. Nyar is Veoldian, meaning he is of a warrior clan. He knows how to fight and could probably take Kalan apart without even taking an extra breath. So fighting is completely out. Kalan would lose. So his only two choices is to run or to stay.
Want more examples?
We all remember that famous scene from Zootopia where Nick takes Judy to the department of motor vehicles to check a license plate number after they interview Mr. Otterton’s Yoga instructor.
Judy’s goal at the beginning of this scene is to find out who owns the car with the license plate she obtained. Notice that there is a single goal. That is the purpose of the scene. Each scene should have one and only one goal. Although Nick has his own goal, trying to get the carrot back so he can go about his business.
Where isn’t there conflict in this scene? Nick wants to give as little information as possible because he really doesn’t want to be caught helping a cop. All the workers in the DMV just happen to be sloths, possibly the worst thing to have around when you’re in a hurry. Nick isn’t making it any easier throughout the entire scene.
What a disaster it is, too. Judy only had 48 hours to figure out who was kidnapping the mammals and Nick just wasted almost half of it with his little stunt. Now she doesn’t have much more time to do what she needs to do.
She is really frustrated and scared that she’s going to lose her job. Talk about ratcheting tension. She’s angry that she had no choice but to go to the DMV. She’s angry at the position she’s been put in to solve a two-week old case that even the best have yet to crack. She’s frustrated that Nick is push against her at every level.
She has some choices. They all suck for her. She can give up and let Nick go. That would be bad since she would lose every possible chance of even coming close to succeeding. The other choice is to keep Nick, but her sense of what is right would get in the way. She promised that if Nick helped her, she would give him the recorder back. She couldn’t go back on her word.
Well, if you watched the movie, then you would know that the scene didn’t end in the same place it started. She hadn’t made the decision that propels her into the next scene until they found the car that belonged to the license plate. What’s more, she didn’t make the decision until the opportunity fell into her lap. When she tossed the recorder over the fence, she made the decision that Nick was still going to help her. It was the least bad of the choices she had, but she turned into something she could live with. Now, Nick still has to help her and she moves into the next scene with the cars.
With the above examples, you can see how each scene is a little story that links to the next little story. With the proper structure, you can make scene pack the punch you want them to and keep the reader wanting to turn those pages.
As always, happy writing. If you have questions, just leave them in the comment section or send me an email. I’d be happy to answer them.
Your opus awaits. Everything you have said and wanted to say is written in that ever-so-imperfect first draft. You are undaunted. You are meticulous, or so you thought. You planned out everything, or maybe you didn’t but just decided to write it out and hash it out later, it doesn’t matter. The end is always the same…even for planners. Your work in progress is an unmitigated mess.
Don’t worry, I feel that’s normal. Unless it was written in a single day with no interruptions, you’re going to have to unravel a stream of differing thought patterns and mood swings. If you’re like me, it took several months to several years to write your objet d’art. That means different season, different schedules, different moods (both good and bad), different everything. Sometimes you feel like it, sometimes you don’t. Again, that is totally normal. There are days when I feel like I could write the entire story in one go, but there simply isn’t enough time in a single day to do it–and I have a day job.
Here’s the crux of the issue. You sit down to read your newest baby and find that it is indeed ugly. You set down to fix that ugly parts and realize that you missed the mark in more ways than one. For me, I found that I missed all the plot points by a mile. What happened there? My theory is that I didn’t have clearly defined marks by the time I started writing.
So what does one do about said action? I thought I had the correct answer at one point. I said to myself, “Self, what would you do in this situation.” I didn’t answer…because I was talking to myself, so…
I didn’t know that answer. If I did, I would surely have done it, right?
Because I was answerless, I flailed at my work trying to come up with some sort of solution that might satisfy my need to complete my novel. What I did was simply restructure it. Put the things where they should have been. That’s good and all, because it really did need to be done. The problem now ended up being that I had gaping holes in the story where I was missing whole scenes, whole chapters even. Actually, I was missing the entire second half of the second act. In a hundred scene outline, that’s twenty-five scene at a thousand words per scene, that 25,000 words! Yep, you guessed, I became overwhelmed. All that hard work, all those many nights spent at the keyboard wasted.
Now looking back on it, 25,000 words seems like a lot–and it is, really. That represents twenty-five days of work, really. Maybe even less. In the course of a year, that is only one-twelfth of the time it took to write the entire novel from start to finish (actually it only took me two months to write the first draft, so…my goals were much larger back then, I guess.) The point is that it isn’t really that bad. Twenty-five days is much better than, say, two-hundred, right? So what do I do now?
After climbing off the ledge, I decided to go back to the beginning. As some of you already know–or may not, if this is the only part you see of my blog–I use the Snowflake method to begin the project. So, that’s what I did. And guess what, I found the reasons why my first and second drafts missed their mark. More importantly, I got my mojo back for writing. I found that between the first and second drafts, I was so caught up in my first novel getting published, I forgot all the details of the first draft. On the second draft, I just took for granted that I knew my characters and their motivations. What I didn’t realize was that they had all changed. I needed to go back to the beginning and figure out if they still were the same as when I wrote the first draft. They were not, of course. They were vastly different and I struggled through the writing to find out that gruesome fact.
So, now, dear reader, if you are stuck, or simply cannot find your mojo for writing because this current piece has dragged you down. Don’t blame the story as being uninteresting or bland. It probably means that you took a lot for granted and didn’t take the time to really understand the characters and their motivations. Without those, plots don’t make sense. You need motivation to get through the plot. Characters just don’t walk around aimlessly, fighting hoards of goblins, crossing swamps and deserts to go nowhere. They need a reason to be in the story or you don’t have a story. Remember that.
So, I hope you learned a bit of something, if not about yourself, then about your characters and, as always, happy writing.
If you like what you read, there are more articles and posts from T. Lee Messick that can be found here:Welcome to Everspyyre
Here is the link to find T. Lee Messick’s latest novel: Copper Rain by T. Lee Messick
The son of the most famous man in the world, legendary Crown Breaker Ghreggry Laurelbane, Kalan wants to live life in obscurity and try to forget that fateful day when he ended his father’s life. When a tribal woman and a university man come looking for a wizard to help them bring back the rain, he must face his worst nightmares.
Amad-Dûr, the Magistrate of Yuln, runs a clean city and wants to keep it that way to ascend to the throne as Emperor of Aerolia. Kalan’s swindling ways threaten that plan. As Kalan struggles to make enough money to go north in search of his mother, he must elude the city guards and the ire of the Magistrate. Amad-Dûr has another problem, he needs someone with even the simplest of training in the arcane arts to perform a spell to control the chimera that has stolen a harp that calls the rain.
Kalan’s choice is clear, or so he thought. He must help the Magistrate with his spell or his friends will certainly die slowly and painfully. In doing so, he might doom the whole world to an arid death controlled by a tyrannical emperor who commands a chimera.
There are times in writing when you just have to take a step back and start from the beginning. Now, I don’t mean erased the hard drive, hide the notes, and open a new document on the old word processor. That would be counterproductive, I would think. No, what I mean is that sometimes in the excitement of getting your ideas down onto the page, you might have rushed a bit or you might have gotten off on yet another tangent. That’s okay. It can–and usually does–happen. That’s part of the process.
So what do you do now? You gotten the entire first draft done and realize that 1) one of your main characters lied to you about a major plot item and 2) another character didn’t tell you his biggest secret until after everything was said and done. These are major changes, not just some minor spelling error or a rearrangement of a few paragraphs. This is a huge deal. Oh, and by the way, now you missed the plot points by chapters (okay, you might have hit them with the earlier revelations, but now, things have changed). Now, you have to go back, rearrange your plot structure, and stare at a gaping hole in the middle of the entire book.
Not that it happened to me…wink, wink.
You have this hole, not only in your plot, but in your heart. All the work, time, and tears that you spent seems to be wasted. Nothing is useful. You just want to go to the computer and hit the delete button on the file and pick up the pieces of your heart as it lies palpitating on your desktop in a pool of its own blood.
I’m really not bitter.
I look at it as an opportunity to grow. I learned a valuable lesson here. Sometimes, it’s good to go back to the beginning. The difference? You now have many more pieces of your puzzle to start. You have choices. Many of which were not known or available to you at the time you begin your opus. You can change the thing that bothered you the most during the actual writing. You are free to change directions, move things around, and play with your ideas.
This is not the first time I’ve felt this way. My first novel, Copper Rain, was like this, but instead of acting on my impulse to start from the beginning, I simply grabbed a new document and started over. And over. And over.
Therein, lay the problem.
When I say start from the beginning, I mean grab whatever tools I used to get my ideas down. In this case, I used a program called Snowflake Pro. I started with the germ of the original idea expanding it out until I had a single page of summary. I found the issue that bothered my while I wrote the second draft (I had already written the first draft a while ago). Because I’m still in the middle of this process, I can only go with what I plan on doing to fix what I perceived as being “wrong” with the story.
I put wrong inside of quotations because I really don’t think a regular reader would find anything wrong with the story. It might be perfectly fine for their purposes of entertainment. I certainly would think that the only things that were wrong with it was where I put the midpoint. With the new revelations, though, I have to seriously reconsider where my midpoint was and adjust the other plot points accordingly.
I might be able to salvage at least 75,000 words, maybe even more. That’s not the point. The point is I am not going to fall into a heap of despair and resentment because what I have doesn’t work anymore. I’m beyond that. This story is salvageable, useable and totally fixable.
So, when you think you have a jumbled mess (which is quite possible as a pantser), take it as your first outline (albeit, a really long and detailed outline), use it to rebuild your house of words, and continue on as if you’d never stopped. Soon, you’ll find that your foundation will be much stronger and your supports will hold more weight that it ever would have before.
I hope this helps someone so they don’t despair and give up the dream that all writers have in their hearts. And as always, happy writing!
I know this has probably happened to you. Picture this: You are hard at work solving a complex problem; any problem, it doesn’t matter. You get stuck. Your flow is gone. The river has dried up. Or so you thought. Your brain has simply shut down to the solution because it is trying to come up with something that will work. All you’re doing is pressuring it to come up with something quickly. Bad idea. Why? When you pressure your brain to come up with something, anything, your brain will come up with anything. And they usually aren’t great ideas. They are ideas, but they are forced ideas. Why not take a break, let your subconscious take over?
Where I work, as a computer programmer, we deal with complex problems all the time. When I write, I also have to deal with complex problems and complex situations especially in scene construction and structure. Many times in both, I find myself unable to come up with a good, comprehensive idea. I’m stuck.
When I’m writing, it’s not such a big deal. This is more of a hobby than a living for me, not that it can’t be, it just not is. However, in my day job, it is a huge deal. If I can’t solve these problems, it affects everyone around me. Many times, they rely on me solving my problem before others can use it to solve theirs. That’s the way computer programming works. Often, I spend days trying this or trying that to no avail. That is where time comes in.
As software developers, we are also creative individuals. It should not be surprising, given what I do after I come home from work (AKA, this). We are given freedoms that many other types of work are not. We can stop what we’re doing and go for a walk or just sit next to a coworker and chat it up. We can even play a game of ping-pong. Why are we allowed to do this, you ask? Good question.
It all boils down to time. You have to give your brain some time to process all the variables to your problem. Sometimes talking it over with your coworkers can give you insight, but still your brain needs a few moments to catch up. Let it. Moll it over in your subconscious to the left of your brain where creativity happens. Many times, after doing any or all of these activities, the solution just falls in my lap.
I say this to you because you might have moments in your writing when you seem to have painted yourself into a corner or you’ve run out of situations to keep your character in peril. Many times, I have had this happen: I’m writing my perfect scene and a new branch presents itself. A new direction where I hadn’t made a plan just yet. It’s a better idea making the other pale in comparison, but where do I go from there?
I have to update my outline or my structure to make it fit. Then what? My brain has frozen. My story needs a transition from this new idea to the meld with the original scene that follows. Panic swells in my gut and neck muscles tense up. I can’t concentrate with that sound of the dog licking itself or the music in the background. It is all so loud and distracting and who is that calling me now? Whew!
Take a step back. Find a moment. Your brain is trying to tell you that it’s got everything under control. Don’t force it.
So take a siesta. Go eat. Take your significant other out for the night. DO SOMETHING ELSE. Me? I usually take a shower and get ready for bed (I usually write from 6:30 pm to 8-ish depending on the scene I’m writing–sometimes 9 pm). There has been times when I’m in the throes of doing these other things that my brain says, “Ding, ding, ding! Your idea is ready, sir.” You know what?
IT IS BRIILIANT! Much better than what I could have ever hoped for. Those are the moments I realize that this is why I write (also, when programming solutions fall into place, it’s why I program). The euphoria that comes off is intoxicating and exciting.
That’s why we do anything, right? To get that feeling of accomplishment.
Don’t lose sight of your dream of becoming a writer because your brain is locked up. Take a break, let it roll the possible solutions around a bit. It just might come up with a better one on its own. Many of my favorite moments and sections of my own writing are results of my brain getting time to process a possible solution.
I hope that this brings you all peace knowing that you are not the only ones who suffer through this. It happens to everyone, regardless of whether they are a writer, computer programmer, a civil engineer, an electrician, or whatever. We all have problems we have to solve. Letting our left brains come up with some solutions will allow the right side of our brains to work on the logical stuff.
As always, happy writing.
I’m okay! That’s what I feel like saying after what I would call a panic attack. It wasn’t truly one, but I did feel overwhelmed for a bit when I thought that my story was broken and irreparable. I just had to take a step back and start from the beginning. By that I mean starting from the end and piecing together the story in reverse.
Do this helps me figure out what I need to have in order for the story to make sense and still flow correctly. Since I already know exactly how the story ends after the first draft, now I could start from the end and work backwards. Doing this helps me remember what things the protagonist needed to figure out or have in order to solve the story’s problem.
For me, this resolved several problems at once. The first was that I hoped to find exactly what seemed to be missing. I really didn’t find anything out of the ordinary. Nothing tangible, I admit, but what that did for me was give me confidence that my story is flowing the way I want it. The second thing that it did for me was help me to realize that I misjudged scene placement within the 3-Act structure.
I found that a whole section was in the wrong act altogether. Once I saw that glaring issue, I realized that everything else was falling in line neatly. Where I thought I was weak in Act 3, I found I was weak in the second half of Act 2. What’s cool about that is I thought I had to rush to get some scenes through before the end of Act 2, but I found that I still have more time to build up toward the end. Before I figured that out, I felt rushed and that I didn’t have enough story time to blaze the trail for the climax.
Now that I have more Act 2 to play with, I can add some scenes that I originally wrote and fit them in where I need more words. Of course, I can’t just make them to make them. That would be useless filler. I need to make all my scenes count for something, if I can’t then I should throw them out.
So now I feel much better about everything. I guess all it took was just a few days to mull it over and realize that I might know what I am talking about. I just have to stop second guessing myself and keep on keeping on.
So, here’s to getting myself back on the right track to the finish line.
Sometimes life can imitate the very structure that many writers choose to use for their own novels. Each event that happens to us, good or bad, has to end eventually. So those are the little stories that happen in our lives. That’s what makes storytelling easier for most of us. The structure we tend to use is already baked in, so to speak. Perhaps that’s even why so many of us choose to write. Instinctively, we use it to set up the story and keep it progressing until the end. Here’s the catch…we do it subconsciously.
There’s a problem with that. When we begin writing, we start on day one, right? I mean we have to start somewhere. Day two, we’re still on the same path and day three and so on and so forth. Here’s where it gets a bit troublesome. Say you’re on day thirty, maybe even day one hundred thirty, we still live our lives, watch movies or television, hear personal stories from our friends, and dream. No matter what you think or how many times you want to say it, your story will invariably change.
So will our structure.
The nice, neat, organized story we had in our heads has changed. Usually for the better, I would hope. It’s not bad, it happens to everyone including the Planner who meticulously gathers his/her story together and plans for every scene (I am one of those). Many times what we originally planned doesn’t really work like we originally thought. Things change. They always do. Just like the structure of our story, you, the hero/heroine must combat the forces of evil to finish your novel.
The evils that can invade your creativity are varied and many. Video games, blogs, social media, movies, books, other people, and procrastination are but a few. Your job as a writer is to figure out how to combat these evil entities. And just like your novel’s structure, there comes a point when everything falls apart (That’s the Second Plot Point, if you subscribe to the Three Act structure).
Take heart, fearless writer! That’s beginning of the third act. You’re on your way to the finish. You just have to pick up the pieces, gather your forces–if you will–and fight the big battle. You have all the information to finish. You’ve written most of our already. Now just put them in the right order and give it your best.
Many of my coworkers have accused me of leaving some of my characters stranded in mid-air waiting for me to finish their story. That keeps me motivated to finish, I think. I can just see them in my head standing around bored out of their minds or worse frozen in time until I make them move. Poor characters. So I like to finish their stories.
I hope this helps someone who, like me, is struggling to finish, have hit that point in the second act when everything falls apart moving me into the third act waiting for me to pick up the pieces and finish.
Thanks again for reading and, as always, happy writing!
Characters are horrible liars. It’s not that they’re not good at it, it’s because they are. I spent almost two years writing their stories only to find out that they were not being at all truthful.
One of them, I wrote about yesterday. Today, I would like to write about another one who is even worse. I just have to do it without giving away too much, because it will matter. Unfortunately, it’s huge and changes the story in a fundamental way.
You see, characters will do that to you. They will behave in such a way as to make you, the writer, believe what they have to say. Many times that is what we want. Beware fellow writers, some of them are lying to you. Like Orin from yesterday’s post, they might be hiding something they think is embarrassing and, therefore, not too important. Others hide major issues that turn out to be game changers.
In fact, this character that I caught lying to me has committed the gravest of sins. Now I’m not going to name this character or give the gender… You’ll just have to read it when the story is complete. But I will say this, though, this character had me totally fooled. So maybe I live in the Kingdom of Happy Fools.
Thanks for reading and, as always, happy writing.
Epiphanies. We’ve had them at one time or another in our lives. They’re the wee moments of clarity in the dimmest, murkiest times when we are trying to find the right answer to our biggest quandaries. Some people simply call them flashes of brilliance or genius. Some might even call it providence. Whatever you may call them, they possess power and magic. They not only have the power to answer your most difficult questions but they also can provide the greatest joy at that time that you could really use a helping hand. As a computer programmer, it comes when you that feature you have been wracking your brain trying to make work finally works. It is the euphoria that comes from finally, after years of research and disappointment for a scientist trying to make that important discovery. The one that makes you get out of your seat and do your celebratory dance. It’s also the one that makes you want to yell out to the world “Eureka!”. It is what we all love about our jobs (for those lucky few like me, who absolutely loves what they do for a living) or hobbies and the reason we keep doing what we do.
Let’s face it, that feeling is addictive. I know when I’m banging my head against the wall trying to solve a plot problem or even trying to figure out exactly what is wrong with my story but not quite understanding it, I want the answer to fall down from the heavens and land in my lap. That happens rarely, but it does! Those are the moments that drive me forward and keep me writing. Just when I think that my brain is tapped out, my subconscious just comes up with the answers I have been seeking. In most cases, it’s usually about the moment when I want to give up everything, put away the stories, and erase my hard drive so there is no trace of any of my ideas anywhere. Though I’m always looking for them, they seem to come right out of the blue and almost always come as a surprise. Like that moment when David Levison (Jeff Goldblum) from Independence Day discovers the way to destroy the aliens. He puts his hand on his head upon the discovery and thinks “Why didn’t I think of that earlier!”. That is what it is like for me when I discover that a character has been lying to me.
Yes, characters lie. They give you their story. They speak it in your mind, and you, the writer, must listen to what they are saying at the moment. But how can a character lie, you ask? How would you know? Epiphanies. That’s how. When you reassess their situation, they let slip their true secrets and you realize that they may have been lying to you the whole time–or maybe part of the time. Then you question that rascal a bit more and find out the truth. That truth, in turn, drives your story forward in a way that you never expected, but always hoped. Sometimes it takes whole drafts to find it. If they’re lying to you, you will find out. They will always let their secrets come out and it will be up to you to distinguish fact from fiction (even though it’s all fiction).
Epiphanies are your friend. They are the reason why you do what you do and keep doing it. It’s a drug that is highly addictive and highly satisfying. It doesn’t happen often but when it does, you know it because it hits you so hard that you just can’t help yourself. You have to dance it out, shout it out, tell the world, and most importantly continue writing.
For those who really want to know, I had an epiphany today about one of my characters in my new novel. I have written two full drafts of this novel and I was in the finishing stages of this novel. Something was always wrong with this character’s main problem. He is not my main character, that is Kalan Laurelbane. No, he is an important character (so important I am going to make him one of the stars) that drives the story. He and Kalan will cross paths and Kalan will end up helping him to resolve his problem. The issue was, though, Orin lied to me. He lied badly and I even knew it. What I didn’t know, though, was how to catch him in the lie. I wrote the first draft of this book back in 2014, well before I published Copper Rain, so this story has been around for more than four years. It wasn’t until this past March that I picked it up and started writing the second draft. So Orin’s story always seemed kind of lame to me and it always bothered me, but because this story was Kalan’s story, it really didn’t matter a whole lot as far as the story went. Kalan still gets what he needs from the story and eventually so does Orin, but now with this epiphany, it means more.
In the original, Orin was accused by the Queen’s new advisor of stealing the recently deceased King’s signet ring. He didn’t do it, of course, but he was banished from the kingdom. So his story was trying to restore his good name. A lofty goal, but weak, in my opinion. It worked well enough to finish the story, but on the second go-around, something always bothered me about it. Today, as I was investigating the scenes to find any potential flaws in the scenes themselves, Orin let slip that it wasn’t the ring that got him in trouble. In fact, the ring was nowhere in the picture. He was accused of either killing the King outright while on a hunting expedition while in a drunken rage or his negligence to protect the King while on his hunting expedition from the murderer because he was drunk accidentally came out. What an epiphany that was. Orin, who was the Captain of the Guard in Merrydote City, is accused of doing something that he doesn’t remember and has absolutely no recollection of having even been on the detail to protect the King. That was exactly what I was looking for. Now, I have the full story.
Now here is the problem, dear reader. I will have to extend the release of the second book to cover this new discovery. I am fine with that. You know why? Most of the first draft actually splits its time between three characters: Kalan, Orin, and an Apothecary-turned-wannabe-adventurer named Ren. The second draft was going to focus on just Kalan and his friends once again, but now I need to show Orin in his plight and how he gets his life back in order once again. The good news is, I wrote the first draft in multiple points of view, and the second in Kalan’s point of view, so I have a lot of material to work with. Hopefully, I can put it together rather quickly and shoot for a release date sooner rather than later.
Anyway, I felt so elated as to write down my excitement and share it with anyone who is listening. Thanks for taking the time to read this and, as always, happy writing.
I know what helped me, but it may or may not help you. It was many years that I had some sort of writer’s block. I tried writing every day at the same time. I read about writing to see if it would make me more interested (which it succeeded in just that). I read about structure and it was when I was learning about writing scenes that I found what finally worked.
I came across a website that showed me how to plan a novel in small bits then work off those bits to make a page of a story description. Eventually, I made for pages that turned into a rudimentary outline which turned into a full 80+ scene outline. After all of that, I was able to write my first novel.
The point is, I didn’t have a focus. What I realized is that, like many things, If you don’t have a goal or vision, you’re not going to have motivation to keep going.
Once I had my outline, my goal became to write what I had envisioned in my outline. I had a place to start with a clear ending. While I fleshed out the story, I found that I wanted my world and characters to live and breathe.
I now write every day with some sort of purpose in mind, whether I am writing (actually editing, now) my latest novel or updating my blog or adding an article to my website.
Would you learn how to cut wood for the sake of cutting wood? No. Most people learn to cut wood for a specific reason. If you are like me, you learn by doing, but if you have no real reason to do it, you feel that you have no place to start and you simply stand around hoping for inspiration to suddenly strike you on the head. It won’t happen. Believe me.
Like I said, this or what got me unstuck and keeps me unstuck.