Hive-Mind As Story Doctor

(For those asking, sadly the flash fiction challenge on Friday failed to post! Actually it failed to save and I never noticed — been having some up-and-down website issues since last week and I think this was a result of that. Since I was in Canada with limited access to the web, hard to do much about it. As Canadians would say – sooorry! I’ll get one up later today.)

Here’s where I ask you:

How’s the writing going?

What problems are you hitting?

Not only does this give me stuff for future blog posts but it lets the rest of you fine folks here act as a hive-mind to discuss how you might solve a problem. This is less about me helping you today and more about you helping one another. In a weird way, terribleminds has become a kind of community of penmonkeys these days, right? So, hell, let’s use that.

Need advice on writing or storytelling, ask.

And check out the other comments, see if you can offer advice of your own.

Do this, or you will all get the hose.

And by “hose,” I mean, “upended basket of rabid ferrets.”

224 comments

  • May 12, 2014 at 6:50 AM // Reply

    I’m having a problem tying all my plot threads together. I’ve got three main characters, four supporting characters, each with interwoven plot lines that all need to come together at about the midpoint, and man, is it ever not working out that way. I keep writing a chapter, then thinking to myself “fuck, I forgot, this can’t happen until the other thing happens, and for that thing to happen this person needs to meet up with that other person to do the thing and AARG!” Then I’ve got all these useless chapters that I need to go back to, to edit in the stuff I accidentally left out the first time around, and that gets even more confusing. I just keep tripping myself up.

    Tl;dr: my brain is too squishy for this.

    • I have no memory. I use a very basic spreadsheet, so I can see at a glance what plot points are touched on in which chapters. Also shows holes where I forgot to mention them. I list chapters across the top, then plot points down the side (money problems; husband’s infidelity; infestation of weasels, whatever).

    • This helped me a lot when I was doing revisions (though I had fewer moving pieces, I suspect) – I did this using Scrivener’s outline mode/labels system but you could also do it just as well in a spreadsheet. If you’re up for it, try listing your scenes in one column and the POV character in the next, and then fill in the cells with a different background color for each POV character. That way you can see who’s showing up at a glance, and whether there’s too much or too little of any one character. (That works for POVs, anyway; for other characters who appear, maybe a list in the next cell over?)

    • there is a program called Aeon Timeline that helps out with things like this. it helps your layout your different plot arcs so that you can see them.

    • 2 Methods I’ve found help me with this:

      1. Memento that shit and write backwards: The stories should converge in chapter 14? Write Chapter 20, then Chapter 19, then 18, etc, until you get back to where you want to go.

      2. To turn left, you must turn right: Maybe the stories shouldn’t converge in chapter 14. Maybe just keep letting them go off on their own, and let them converge later. Write away from your goal, and let it flow there later.

    • May 12, 2014 at 12:28 PM // Reply

      I created a basic outline using info I learned on Scenes and Sequels from Jim Butcher’s Livejournal. http://jimbutcher.livejournal.com/ Not everyone likes this format but it makes a nice simple outline for action oriented books. Basically, for each chapter I filled this in –
      Scene
      Point of View Character:
      Goal:
      Conflict (Scene question):
      Setback (Scene answer):
      Sequel
      Emotional Reaction:
      Review, Logic and Reason:
      Anticipation:
      Choice:

      • May 12, 2014 at 9:20 PM // Reply

        I use this structure to first loosely outline my entire book, and then more depth as I’m writing, it’s never steered me wrong.

        • May 13, 2014 at 9:46 AM // Reply

          *shamefacedgrin* I only applied it AFTER I’d basically written most of the novel. It has helped me organize my thoughts and keep moving forward at times. Just having the outline to read through instead of reading through what I’ve actually written saves me time and helps re-inspire me.

    • Scenes, Scenes, Scenes.

      Many of us “Creative Types” hate to plot and plan and organize, but in my opinion, it’s the only road worth riding. I’d much rather have a paved road to drive down than a rocky beaten path, so I say, smooth that shit out with whatever planning method makes sense to you, then write against that. Your confidence levels will always be high when writing because you know what you need to accomplish every time you sit down to punch those keys.

      You have a greater chance of finding treasure if you have a map.

      There’s some great software out there for this, but for me, I like simple. I go with a basic Excel spreadsheet. As I go down, every new cell is a scene. With each scene, I label Location, which character’s POV, Day or Night, then I give a short blurb as to the goal or action of the scene.

      This works for me, hell I actually enjoy it. Bet wishes!

      • May 13, 2014 at 8:59 AM // Reply

        Just out of curiosity, what software is there? I tried googling it, but all I get is a loooong list of sites and downloads that keep promising me that if I buy their overpriced software my novel will outsell the Bible. Does not seem legit.

    • I’m dealing with this right now. Six characters, plots and subplots. Made an outline in Scriv, which was helpful, and a timeline using Aeon Timeline (again, helpful), but what’s helped the most is Excel. I broke my spreadsheet into four sections, one for each act, then created six columns, one for each character. In each column I listed what the character had to do in order to progress to the next act. It wasn’t a list of scenes so much as actions. It’s helping me see what’s missing and giving me ideas for having multiple things happen in a single scene so I’m sure everything is covered.

      Good luck!

    • May 13, 2014 at 1:59 AM // Reply

      Thanks so much everyone! I kept hearing about mind-mapping and how I should just do that, but I never quite figured out what it meant or how to go about it. This is awesome advice!

  • The writing was going fantastically. Yes, I’ll take that adverb.

    Then I had to kill a character. I had to kill the bad guy, which should have been easy, right? But it still prompted one of the worst moral dilemmas I’ve ever faced – worse than when I was having a fat day and was presented with the world’s best cheesecake…

    Tape measure aside, I read up about plot types (not so much about characterisation or motivations) and found that this particular type of plot dilemma could be solved by making the bad guy seem more human rather than to demonise him in order to justify his death. His death would be more effective and more justified if I enhanced readers’ sympathy to his human side. It was a mind-boggling resolution, but the plot possibilities that opened up to me as a result are ENDLESS!

    Yes, I had to kill him… and no, I did not eat the cheesecake. Moral dilemmas solved, but I may have developed a god-complex in the process…

  • Love those angry ferrets. Writing’s going well since your recent kick-up-the-ass blog, so many thanks your Pen of Monkeyness. Laid down a couple of thousand words last week and need to keep exorcising them before they cause an aneurysm.

    Incidentally, just finished Mockingbird and need to know who you’d like to play Miriam in the Starz adaptation, or has that already been decided? (Note: if this has already been covered, I apologise and expect the resulting rodent avalanche in due course).

  • I’ve been having issues with the main character of a WIP because he’s just too darned passive. The story fails to make sense if he’s not reluctant to take charge (and frankly, is a bit of a doormat). But I do need to find a way to make him interesting as well, and compelling as a character. I’m thinking of putting the story more inside his head, giving his internal issues a bit more screen time so the reader can see the choices he doesn’t take, sort of thing. But I’d appreciate any input on the issue.

    • There is a subtle difference between passive and uninvolved: I would start by making sure your protagonist is a doormat who is involved in events rather than just an observer.

      Have some conflicts where he is the critical node, so his doormat-ness causes him to face more severe conflicts later because it is now a rank festering doormat; however, to make it more than one dimensional, have his lack of action sometimes bring benefits. Balance these two depending on which way your ending goes (generally a change of state gets worse before it gets better, so build up the good/bad to create either resistance to change or a big stick).

      Now the reader can see your protagonist has some reasons for staying a doormat rather than just being tediously passive.

        • I have the issue with my current WiP’s protagonist. Right now, I’m rewriting all of my chapters, knowing that I don’t have to make her an ass-kick Rambo, but when she’s involved in an important scene and doesn’t act, I need to at least have her act in the sense of making the decision not to act.

          In my case, my character’s lack of action isn’t going to be what causes doom later down the line; however, I realized I needed to have the other characters act more to make up for her vacuum and the reader needed to know why she wasn’t acting so they felt less frustrated. (Sorry this is a bit rambly.)

    • You don’t actually state this, but I assume from your problem that you’re writing in the 3rd person. Have you tried to see if your story would work in the 1st person? It might give that insight into your protagonist’s reluctance that you’re trying to achieve.

      • It certainly has crossed my mind. It’ll take a bit of wrangling – 1st person has never, ever been my native habitat, and I’m not sure I know how to do a lot of the subtle things that 3rd person is so lovely for. But mostly, I think my brain just doesn’t want to rewrite an entire manuscript…but my brain may have to get over itself.

    • I agree with Dave above, but just wanted to add that if you wanted to do some reading around passive/doormat-like characters then Nate Tucker in Peter Clines’ *14* is a good one. He begins the novel as a nice guy but quite adrift in the world, but then EVENTS mean that he has to start making decisions, people start relying on him etc.

      I really like Dave’s suggestion about giving him benefits of being a doormat too. After all, generally speaking, we don’t continue with unhelpful behaviour unless it benefits us in some way…

    • May 12, 2014 at 12:39 PM // Reply

      Is he passive, so he does whatever people tell him to do, or is he actively trying to avoid takign charge/entanglements/responsibilities? The first could get kind of boring if not handled carefully but the latter could make for a character who is really active even though avoiding responsibility. Could also make for some good humor.

      • A little bit of both, I guess? He’s the type of person who does what people tell him to because it “doesn’t really inconvenience him” and hey, it was a nice thing to do, right? But he also goes out of his way to avoid being made to do things as well, so… yeah. Just a really unmotivated fellow all around. Playing up that second part of it could be really helpful, yeah. Thanks!

    • My main character’s arc is that she starts off quite passive and always looking for other people to take charge and look after her, but she gradually changes and by the end is the driving force. I think this is a very valid character arc, but I am scared that it means she starts off a bit boring and maybe I’m relying too much on exciting plot instead of exciting character. I don’t want people to give up on her (and the story) too early.

      • Yeah … my main character doesn’t really stop being passive, he just gets reunited with the person with whom he’s comfortable enough to speak his mind. For everyone else, he’s just the same. But very similar thing, I expect – I also worry I’m relying too much on side characters and making him too boring.

      • A good way to make a passive character less “boring” is to put them into a situation that is uncomfortable or full of conflict for them right at the start of your story. Start things in media res (in the midst of something) and give the reader a reason to sympathize with them. Show how uncomfortable they are. Show them squirm and avoid and try desperately to avoid the conflict/confrontation/decision. But then, have them show a little backbone. Have them end the conflict in a way that hints at what their arc will be. Perhaps the passive wallflower snaps briefly and barks out a command that takes a bully/antagonist aback. This gives a peek into who they will become later in the story. That whole Chekov’s gun thing at work! :)

  • As usual, I already know the answer to my problems, and it is not to start writing until I know what the hell I’m writing. I’ve got 4000 words in and realised I’ve no clue where I’m going to end up. This can be an exciting place to be, or it can be just like starting from scratch and staring at that dreaded blank page all over again. I’m at the point where I open my document, read the whole thing, stare at the blank bit at the end for an hour or so, then shut the document again. I recognise this as the death throes of my creative process. It’s the bit before I just close the document forever, then create a new one and start the process over again. Desperately need to break this cycle and finish my shit…

    • Pick the first ending that comes into your head; silly/annoying/&c. do not matter, you just need an ending.

      Now write out something that fits between where you are and your instinctive ending.

      Fill in more gaps if this doesn’t get you started.

      Now pick a scene you haven’t written yet, and write it. Don’t try to stay in order, or maintain continuity; just get words on the page. Because once you have a draft you can fix it.

      If you discover the ending doesn’t fit, make a quick note of why you think that. Then consider if the note of why it doesn’t work shows what the ending should be.

      • Thanks, that might just get some more mileage out of this. Going to try after work and see where I get to. I definitely need to come up with a “writing strategy”. I can write scenes, but always struggle at stringing them together into something longer.

    • i finally learned that I can’t do seat of my pants writing. At the same time, I get frustrated with long, complicated outlines because–I can never follow them. The characters start making their own decisions. What works for me is two things. One, I know where I want to start and where I want to end. I may not know how I’m getting to the ending, but I know what happens to the major characters. Two, I outline 2-4 chapters as I go. These are very rough, usually, with only the major plot points filled in. Not so brain numbing. But I find it’s much easier to write when I’ve given myself some direction. And I second what Dave said–just pick one and write it all the way to the end, no matter what. Get stuck? What would you do if one of the characters pulled a gun? (Suprisingly effective question to get your brain going, especially if it does NOT fit your genre/plot/characters.)

      • Thank you. I think your idea of plotting-as-you-go has a lot of merit to it, and you’re right, I need to get the endgame nailed from the start really. That’s something I never do at the moment. I have a vague idea, but I never ever nail it down. I forget who, but someone once suggested that it’s sometimes a good idea to write the ending first, then go back and write the rest. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I definitely need to keep better track of where I’m headed. Food for thought.

        • You could try something like Scapple to work through the possibilities/endings, with each choice reduced to a sentence, working towards creating an ending organically.

          • Ooh… Scapple looks *good*. I’ve used mind-map tools before but they were kind of business-y and put me off a bit. This looks more like it.

    • I find this happens to me when I’m struck by a great idea–something that would be such a cool scene, or a cool setting. You write the one part and realize you don’t have any bones to hang the flesh on.

      What I’ve found that works for me at that point is to focus on the characters. Stop staring at the screen and write a 1-3 page study of your main character. I often find that critical moments from their past will help me clarify their motivations and give me clearly defined waypoints that have to be in the plot. Then just fill in from there.

    • May 12, 2014 at 12:41 PM // Reply

      When I’m trying to do something like that, I often just take a look around me and write something from my environment in. I was free-writing at the coffee shop the other day and a guy started doing bird calls. Really? Inside?! Anyway, I wrote it into the story and kept going.

    • Adam, I write without knowing the ending. If I know what’s going to happen I get bored and stop writing – writing for me is as much about finding out the story as it is when i’m reading. In your situation I say, ‘OK, before I stop today I need to write x words’ (where x is slightly higher than what you think is possible) and then write – write whatever – until I hit that target. It starts out crap but almost always gets better and sometimes even gets great. If I do this day after day, the story starts telling itself. The only way to finish is to keep writing.

      • The one time I really did plan out a story properly (or at least the main points), I didn’t finish it because I already knew how it ended, and having told the story to myself it felt redundant to write it down, so I know what you mean. I knew that was stupid at the time, not actually writing something because you already know the story is probably the king of all stupids, but I never actually got past it. I haven’t planned out endings since because of some romantic notion that I’ll let the characters lead me through the story and find the ending. Well, sometimes those characters are idle little bastards who just want you to leave them alone, and you have to arrange the hoops and make them jump or you get nowhere. Grinding away at wordcount is a way to get past that, I guess. It forces you to think of the hoops. Unfortunately, that leads me on to another of my fears, the dread of writing shit prose. This is dealt with elsewhere in this thread, so I’ll look up some of the answers there. This has been very helpful.

  • I’m having difficulty making my two antagonists’ stories arc. They seem flat/one-note to me. They don’t directly come up against the two protagonists until the conclusion of the story. I think they play too well with each other and ignore all the other kids in the sandbox. Any ideas for enriching the lives of bad guys? Thanks to Chuck and the hive…

    • Can you give them their own POV sections? Not necessarily a story arc as complex as the protags’, but enough to get the reader into their heads for a while, give them some oomph and personality?

    • Are you clear on what they would each like to accomplish – and how they’d like to do it? If they have the same goal but disagree on the how, they can play off each other, which might give them a bit more life.

      Also, if they don’t come in until the end, I assume they are doing something off-screen that affects your protags. Is their a way for your protags to figure out who they are, speculate on them, learn something about them, or even confront them earlier? Dropping in some earlier clues of who your antagonists are might make them seem more present and fleshed out, even if they don’t get serious page-time until the end.

    • I’m going to throw something completely different in here – it may be ridiculous and no help at all, or it may provide a new angle to think about.

      Is it possible that the reason you’re finding it so difficult to integrate the story arcs of these two antagonists – is because they actually AREN’T the real antagonists at all?

      Bear with me… I once began writing a story where I had what I thought was a very clear idea of who the ‘bad guy’ was. I’d mentally stuck that label on his forehead right from the beginning… but as things progressed, I just couldn’t seem to make him bad *enough* to justify his role. It wasn’t until I got to around three-quarters through that I realised how I’d got it all wrong. Not only was he NOT the antagonist at all – but the REAL antagonist wasn’t even a PERSON, it was a THING (in this case, the catastrophic effects of unfiltered and unlimited media propaganda on the minds of innocents.) True, my baddie character could be said to be ‘in league’ with that thing – but that made him just a henchman to it rather than the Big Cheese of Badness himself. Antagonists don’t always have to be living, sentient creatures; they can just as easily be ideas, beliefs, concepts – intangible things.

      Once that lightbulb went off, I was able to rewrite the story with much more clarity – and the ‘bad guy’ character actually morphed into a bit of a hero in disguise in the end as well. And yes, even though I say so myself, the story made much more sense and was better for the changes.

      So my suggestion is: think about the ‘message’ you’re trying to communicate with your story – the Big Question it’s inviting the reader to ask. Is that question embodied by the motivations and actions of your current two antagonists – or are they just ‘assistants’ in a much bigger process?

      As I said, this may help – or it may be a load of old tosh. Feel free to take it whichever way it paints the wall :)

    • May 12, 2014 at 12:45 PM // Reply

      Hmmm, it does sound like, even though they are the “bad guys,” they just might be the main characters of the story. Maybe they are antiheroes?

  • The writing is going great. In the last week I’ve written probably 4000 words, but I’m starting to realize two serious questions that I have yet to answer. 1) What is the ending of the story? 2) Is the Antagonist really the bad guy? I actually have a number of plot lines that all will (hopefully) intertwine at some point. My big concern is that on some very small level both the Antagonist and the Protagonist are working towards the same big picture goal while many of their individual motivations differ completely. My big worry is that there needs to be a way to weave these together to create a nice build up of activity and keep the reader engaged to the end.

    • May 12, 2014 at 12:56 PM // Reply

      Interesting. Not sure what type of story you are writing but I like the idea of them trading blows, be they physical or verbal, dancing around, then… doh! We could have been working together on this! So, your reader gets to see them working toward the same thing, and yell at them the whole way, getting annoyed until they get the catharsis of the characters learning what the reader knew all along. I can see that working.

      • That’s a great way of looking at it. This is one of the reasons I like bouncing ideas off other people. Someone always seems to come up with a different way of looking at something I create. It’s amazing how perspective can really effect forward progress.

    • I’m sort of thinking of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog just from the description. Dr. Horrible wanted to make the world a better place according to his own vision, but he just couldn’t get along with Captain Hammer or trust the system enough to distribute petitions like Penny.

      This might be a good opportunity to show why the protagonist and antagonist could never work together. You could even have them try at some points, but the antagonists methods just counter what the protagonist wants to achieve. Maybe the antagonist is willing to play dirty, rack up a death toll, or lie cheat and steal to get what he wants. Maybe this is a good time to add some good, old-fashioned competition as the characters try to demonstrate the “best way.”

      • What Wendy is saying here is gold; in the words of Clint Eastwood, “you’ve gotta know your limitations.” If you have two characters with similar goals that just aren’t antagonizing each other enough, then make one of them a little more ruthless in his pursuit of them. Your protagonist may never stoop to the level that your antagonist will, and is frankly shocked and bothered that anyone would. This creates conflict, and since you and I already had a long convo about that, you know where that leads bro! ;)

  • I’m having a little trouble with character and – more specifically – their voice and getting them all to sound unique, have different personalities. It’s strange in that I know HOW these characters should look and sound etc, but I they all just seem to fade into the grey compared to my protagonist. Yet at the same time I don’t want to make these characters ‘cartoons’ with obvious quirks.

    Any thoughts?

    • I tend to envision a specific person, and write his/her voice. Could be a celebrity, neighbor, old teacher, relative… whatever. Maybe a combo of two or three? Or a person/character in a different state. Say, Oscar the Grouch after smoking a bong? Jon Stewart if he’d have grown up in Ireland? I find that giving my brain specifics like that helps me zero in on a character. Good luck!

    • I agree with Jeanne. When I’m creating characters I tend to cast them as if I were making a movie. The people you cast don’t necessarily have to be film stars, but it does help to have some sort of “stand in” in mind when you’re visualising your characters.

    • I do the same as well. One of my characters I imagine as looking and sounding like the Dowager Countess from Downton Abbey

    • Don’t forget that how you ‘hear’ a character as the author will be different to how a reader ‘hears’ him/her. I’d get it written and then find out from your beta readers if there is actually a problem, and chances are that there won’t be.

    • Definitely agree with the others here, as I do the same thing (my current w-i-p has several cast members from various Star Trek and original Stargate series…)

      Another suggestion could be to look at each of your supporting characters and ask what their role is in relation to your protagonist. For example: your protagonist is Bert (probably not really, but for the purposes of this example…) and his best friend is Ernie. What sort of friend is Ernie? Is he the stoic best buddy who’s always there for Bert, no matter what? Is he the one who takes Bert to bars so they can both get hammered, and then Ernie carries Bert home when he’s passed out – only to draw a cartoon dick on his forehead and post a photo of it on FaceBook the next day? Or maybe he was happy to be Bert’s friend when they were kids, but now Bert’s done really well for himself and deadbeat-by-comparison Ernie is secretly bitterly jealous of him – but can’t quite summon up the balls to break off the friendship, so instead he just loiters around raining on Bert’s parade all the time?

      Once you can establish a reason WHY these characters are (or alternatively, totally NOT) in ‘Bert’s’ life, it’ll be easier to see their motivations – and, in turn, their personalities.

    • May 12, 2014 at 12:58 PM // Reply

      Some good advice above. I throw my lot in with those who actually “cast” their story, be it with real people, actors or singers, etc. The main character of the book I’m working on right now is actually my idea of who someone I knew 10 years ago was. I won’t say it’s actually him because I’m sure it’s not, just my perception of him.

  • My writing is going really well.

    I’ve been researching Angels and had to buy a book about them; and seeing I couldn’t find a second-hand copy of this book, I had to wait 3 weeks before it arrived, so I just muddled on through for a while and worked on character-building, fleshing out what they were doing, where they were from and exactly what their problems were. And I’m tellin’ ya, Angels really do have a stick up their butts; it’s not just in ‘Supernatural’ this happens, it’s a real thing! From what I’ve read about these guys, they are right into following the rules and not into rebelling too much… unless they want to be killed by their fellow brothers.

    Demons… well, they’re another kettle of fish…. fun to write about as they’re the complete opposite… but totally evil inside and out.

    Fry Nelson: Bounty Hunter is still on its last 3 chapters. I want to get it finished up… but I honestly don’t know how to. I had this problem with ‘Ravenstine Kingdom and the Three Swords’… damn! So, it looks like I have a major problem with it comes to finishing books off… I just don’t know how to. Shit. :(

    • I know this problem all too well, Mozette – my current w-i-p is actually the first one I ever got to a completed draft one stage. TONS of half-finished ones still languishing on my hard drive as I write this… :/

      All I can say, from my own experience is – just keep writing. Write anything that fills in blanks for those last three chapters. Look at where your story is right now and ask yourself “what would/could happen next?” – and brainstorm like Doc Brown from Back to the Future. Try the good ideas, the bad ideas, the downright bloody stupid ideas and the ‘oh my god, that’ll probably get me arrested’ ideas. Pick one and go with it – to (very badly) paraphrase Susan Jeffers: smell the shit and just keep producing it anyway.

      You can totally do that, because nothing’s set in stone until you decide it is. There’s no limit on how many times you can rewrite your work, so you can get it wrong as many times as you like before you get it right. And it’s easier to break apart blocks of crap that already exist and fix them than it is to stare at blank nothingness and wonder what to fill it with.

      For something that sounds so obvious and simple, I know from my own experience it’s the hardest damn mindset to break free from; that all-consuming drive to always produce good-quality writing and never write stuff that sucks. Allow yourself to suck, and don’t be afraid of it. THEN you can fix it. :)

      • Thank you so much Wendy! At least I’m not the only one out there with 95% finished books and nothing to write about them. :P

        I’ll keep swimming along.. don’t worry. It’s just that I’m really stuck right now with Fry Nelson and it shits me off when I’m stuck. It’s like being constipated, you want to go, but can’t. And when you do, it’s a great relief… I don’t get stuck like this often, only at the end of a book. So this happens only every 5 years or so.

        I’ll keep everything very fluid and work on the good crap, bad crap and downright crappy crap…. :D until I find a part which works out well.

  • May 12, 2014 at 8:24 AM // Reply

    I really want to know how to turn a 50,000 word first draft into a second draft of 90+,000; maybe that should be…. CAN I write a second draft?
    I don’t seem able to flesh things out. I move on from one thing to another and feel like I’ve told the story in that overblown outline.
    I think I’ve written too many academic essays in my life to be able to write interesting fiction.

    • Is there a really strong reason why you need to turn it into a 90k+ story? Do you feel like aspects are actually missing, or do you have a complete but lean story?

        • That’s really tricky, because you definitely don’t just want to fill it up with STUFF. You need that stuff to serve the story, so if your story is basically complete, it can be hard to expand without making it all filler.

          A few things I’d try would be to start at your climax and think – how can you make it bigger and more dramatic? What extra element would you have to introduce? And once you know what the element is, reverse engineer – how does this element have to be in place throughout your story to get it to the climax?

          Or you could try doing a very, very basic outline of your story (bullet points, maybe) to see who goes where when and that’s it, and play with those elements. What if Character X never gets to Place Q? What if Characters Y and Z who hate each other are forced to work together? Or they’re partners but are broken up by distance or whatever? See if any of those new thoughts feel fun and exciting to you – you’ll have to find ways to make them work in your story (making sure people have real motivations for all of these new choices) but it could be a good way to find new stuff.

          Orrrr, I don’t know how you feel about semi-rigid story structure, but have you read Blake Snyder’s “Save the Cat”? It’s for screen writers but I’ve found it VERY helpful for novel writing. There’s a blog entry here – http://jamigold.com/for-writers/worksheets-for-writers/ – that links to a spreadsheet where you can enter your word or page count and it’ll tell you about where in your story various elements should hit. It might be worth taking a look at that and seeing if you have any that really don’t align at all (like your midpoint falling super early, or your climax is really late, or whatever) – it might show you where your story is running *too* lean and you really have room to expand.

          • May 13, 2014 at 12:03 PM //

            “That’s really tricky, because you definitely don’t just want to fill it up with STUFF. You need that stuff to serve the story, so if your story is basically complete, it can be hard to expand without making it all filler.”

            You got it in one Allreb. Thanks so much for all your suggestions. I’ll certainly give those beat sheets a look see.
            ps Comments seem to be getting detached from original questions now. So I just hope you see this.

    • Sounds like a good first draft to me. I add word count to every draft without trying to. Actually, I’m usually trying to cut. Fleshing out doesn’t happen to my stuff until the 2nd or 3rd draft. Every draft usually adds an extra 5,000+ words. I don’t think any book is going to be interesting in its first draft.

      Heck yes you can write a second draft. Open that file up and start with page one.

      • Do you start with chapter 1 fiddle with that ,then go on in the same way or do you read it all through and decide ‘this is what it needs’ and then write only the missing elements?

        Coz I try to do it from chapter 1 and get utterly bogged down.

        • I start with chapter 1 and go word by word. Anything vague, I make more specific, more interesting, more filtered through the character. Anything rambling I cut. Anything out of place I either make relevant or cut. Anything not hitting hard enough I rewrite so it hits. Anything awkward I rework. Anything cliche gets rewritten until it’s fresh. I could spend two hours digging out just one fresh phrase.

          You’ve just got to get IN there. Lose yourself in it. Look at every damn word and make each letter shine. One sentence at a time, one scene at a time. Don’t think about that 50,000 words as a whole or you’ll get overwhelmed. Just keep focused on each word and before you know it you’ll have a rich, interesting story and word count won’t matter. It will be awesome.

    • 50K? I have the opposite problem. My novel is finally drawing to a close and edging towards 150k. It has a *lot* of plot and most of it seems necessary to me, during this draft at least. So I’m going to somehow have to take out one word in every three. Setting a word limit will definitely cure me of wordiness.

      • May 12, 2014 at 1:49 PM // Reply

        Hey ! Howz about I take 50,000 of your words and stick them in my effort, then we both have a finished opus. Hmmm?

    • Have you tried giving it to a friend to read? Most of the time, I find that my friends will say things like “I really wanted more information on this event/setting quirk/character”, and finding ways to work that in will help me expand – but I would never have thought it necessary without them.

      Other things to think about – if you’ve got a definite ‘theme’ for your story, can you add a subplot or two that expands other aspects of that theme (to borrow an example from elsewhere, if your theme is “Revenge Causes Pain”, then maybe your main character is out for revenge, but realises after he’s got it that it kind of sucks. If you wanted to expand, you could add subplots like another character wants revenge on the same person, but the protag gets there first, and the other character suffers because they feel like they never got closure, and then perhaps another character feels like they’re being pushed towards revenge by their family or friends, when they really don’t want it – they would tie into theme, lengthen the story and make it feel a bit deeper).
      Fleshing out the lives of secondary (or even tertiary) characters can help, though you’ll have to be careful to avoid it feeling arbitrary or tacked-on.

      That’s what I’d do if you feel, as you mention, that you’re not doing enough with the story. But again, it may well be a perfectly good story at 50,000 words and that’s OK.

      • May 13, 2014 at 3:00 AM // Reply

        That would be great BUT I don’t have any friends. Well none that would waste time reading my stuff.

        I was in a great online SF group some years back where we all gave each other crits and advice but it folded. I’m still looking for a replacement.

        • There are heaps of writers’ forums and online crit groups – maybe a meatspace writer’s group if there’s one close to you? I use CritiqueCircle (though it’s hard to do whole novels there), and AbsoluteWrite.

    • One more suggestion comes to mind… give your draft to someone else to read. They might come up with any number of things that need addressing. Your characters aren’t detailed enough? Woot – spend some more words getting into your characters’ heads, that will help both the story and the word count. Your reader doesn’t understand how the plot got from A to C? Extend the section that includes B. You might not get 40k out of it, but even an extra 10k brings your story a bit closer to full sized. And 10k is really not a lot – I almost do that many words in a single chapter.
      p.s. you wanted some of my words? Start with “argent”, I’m trying to get rid of that. You can have it for free. :-)

      • Edit: I didn’t see Whimsy’s comment above. Great minds and all that…
        Perhaps somebody on this thread could beta read your manuscript for you?

  • I’ve been doing the flash fictions, and it’s going well enough that I’m ready to write a full story. I’m actually planning on using some of the characters who I’ve written for the flash fictions. It’s a pair of detectives. So far I’ve kept things realistic. But I’m conflicted on if I want to involve supernatural elements to it.

    On the one hand, it opens up a new range of possibilities for characters, their cases, etc. On the other hand, not only do I not want to sound too much like the Dresden Files/Supernatural, but it’s almost feels like I’m looking for an excuse to be lazy. By which I mean that if I make things mystical I’ll have an excuse to make my own rules.

    Why research crime scenes if I can just say it was a werewolf? Know what I mean?

    I’m also getting fussy about how long make it. But I know that’s just me making excuses to not get started. I’m getting better at ignoring that particular voice.

    • Making your own rules is fine, As long as you stick to them. Also a good dose of Skepticism helps. Even Supernatural has some times where someone is like “I don’t think that it is “

    • May 12, 2014 at 1:03 PM // Reply

      I guess my question is, what do you love to read? Is it the supernatural or the real world mysteries? If it is one or the other, head in that direction with what you are writing. If you love both equally, what will best serve your story? Going supernatural is not lazy, you have to know the rules of the world you are writing. If you go supernatural, you have to make up the rules and make sure you stick to them. It’s a choice and it’s totally yours.

    • May 12, 2014 at 2:29 PM // Reply

      I agree with Melora…if you love all things supernatural, then go for it. If you feel like you’re doing it just because it’s easier to make up your own rules (and I totally get that, hello Steampunk), then you might be better off just compiling some quick research on real world rules for cops and calling it a day. Most TV shows/crime novels aren’t 100% accurate anyway. That’s not to say that you should phone in the realism, because people will call you on your errors, just that you shouldn’t freak out about knowing every single nuance of the law.

      As for feeling like you’re ripping off other popular series, I’m there. All I can say is that your worldbuilding and characters will make your story unique. Most genres have their tropes, and having a detective solve magical cases is common in UF. If you have a story outside of that, great, but if not, then you’re in good company.

  • Time. TIME. That’s is where I am having the problems. Time.

    I feel like I don’t have enough of it. Lately I’ve been putting in 9-10 hour days at the dayjob, and by the time I get home, not only is it already evening, but I’m exhausted and enervated and frustrated and unable to entirely focus. I’ve been trying to get to sleep earlier to compensate, and hopefully the pace will ease up a bit, but the challenge feels difficult to surmount at this point.

    I’m also preparing for travel and a move across the country, so that’s occupying some of my headspace as well.

    Any suggestions that can be tossed at my face regarding time management, mental compartmentalization, or just generally shutting up and writing are definitely welcome.

    • 20 minutes. Sit down at your computer and commit to writing for a finite amount of time. Set a kitchen timer if you need to. You’d be amazed at how much you can accomplish in just 20 minutes.

    • I had similar issues a while ago. I found that Chuck’s excellent advice, to write 350 words a day for 5 days a week, did the trick for me.
      350 words doesn’t take me long at all. I don’t have to chain myself to the key-board for 2 hours any longer, I just sit and write a bit and then carry on with other boring crap.

      I strongly recommend this method and No I’m not being paid to say this.
      (ps Chuck I’ll give you my bank details later, ok?)

    • Can you get up earlier in the morning and spend 15 minutes jotting down some words? What about during lunch time? Do you have fifteen-minute breaks? Can you write then? Is there any time during your day in which you can steal a few minutes for writing? Even if it’s writing down words that you’ll later scrap, it’s better than nothing, right? I think I read it here: if writing is important enough to you, you’ll find the time (and the mental stamina) to do it.

      Regarding stresses, I totally get that. I can’t seem to do any mental compartmentalization when I’m stressed or my head space is occupied with other STUFF. In that case, though, be patient with yourself. Heck, maybe you can’t write right now. I think that’s okay. You’ll get back to it, right? Maybe not tomorrow, or next week, but eventually. Be kind to yourself and remember: Writing will always be there when you want to come back! <3

    • All I can offer is my empathy. I’m with you. And I bet during those 9-10 hour days at the day job, you’re completely distracted with characters talking in your head and you can’t focus and get your work done because the writing isn’t given enough time to be purged so it builds up and competes with everything else and you’re not able to function as a normal person?

      Well I hear ya. My strategy is the opposite of yours though. I stay up writing as long as I can keep my eyes open, usually ’til 1 AM. The alarm clock goes off at 5:55. It sucks. Don’t do it.

    • My general progression over the last few months has been to set aside an evening for writing. Turns out it’s been Thursdays for me, but which day doesn’t matter. What’s been super-helpful is the schedule. Other tasks and opportunities gets shuffled to other days and Thursday night is all about writing. Work up story ideas or work on the most-recent story. Even if it’s just a couple hours, it’s good to make a little progress on a regular basis.

    • There are lots of little chances in the day to write if you take the time to notice them. Lunch break, commercial breaks, stuck at a train, you’ve got time if you’ve got something to write with. Like others have been saying, set small goals. Write for 15, 20 minutes. Get to 250, 350 words. Make a plan you think is manageable and do your best to stick to it. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, but you have to have some time for you, and you have to have some time for your stories. letting yourself keep procrastinating because “you don’t have time” will just make it easier to keep procrastinating. Trust me, I know that one from experience.

    • We all need food, clothing, and shelter. For most of us, that means we have to work at jobs we don’t necessarily enjoy or get satisfaction from, and that take up huge blocs of our time. We also have to spend another huge bloc of time getting enough sleep to be able to do the job that pays for the food and clothing and shelter. A lot of us also have family or other commitments that take up additional blocs of our time and energy. So you’re not alone in your frustration.

      A few suggestions:

      1) Prioritize what writing you want to work on. The “Story Ideas” list I keep on my smartphone has more than two dozen possible projects at the moment, ranging from simple titles to 100-word story outlines. I try to pick the story I most want to write, or at least the one that’s most fully developed in my head, to use my available time to work on.

      2) Also prioritize the stuff you do besides writing. Is there a television show you don’t REALLY need to watch? A website you don’t REALLY have to visit daily? Try to use that time for writing instead.

      2) If you can’t sit down to write full narrative sections, make brief notes when you have just a moment or two, something to jog your memory and guide you when you DO have the free time to work on longer sections. (Corollary: Never throw any of those notes away. I’ve written several stories about a character inspired by a five-panel comic strip I drew when I was ten years old, half a century ago.)

      3) Exercise will help your energy levels. You don’t need full workouts or a gym membership. Something as simple as hopping in place 100 times, several times a day, will rev your metabolism and increase overall energy levels.

      4) I’ve found my sleep is more effective if I use a Breathe Right nasal strip at bedtime. The strips help increase oxygen flow to your lungs and brain. With the strip, six hours of sleep feels like I’ve had seven.

      • Oh, and I forgot: 5) Take pride in the words you DO manage to write. Almost everyone wants to write (or at least “be a writer”), but not many actually do. I only write about 1,000 words a week, but hey, I wrote a thousand goddamned words! That’s pretty cool. Just write what you can, when you can, the best you can.

        • May 12, 2014 at 2:41 PM // Reply

          I totally agree with this. Before I had a kid, I could get all the real life stuff done during my work day and then write my butt off for hours on my off days. Now I have a toddler and I have to claw my writing time out with a shiv. It took a long time for me to adjust to what I felt like I should be able to write in a day to what was realistic.

          Also, take those moments that you can. Write during your lunch break. Pledge to write 100 words a day. You can do that in 20 minutes before bed. I’m sure you want MORE time, but it’s better than working for ten hours, getting home, feeling like you should write and but being too tired to do it, stuff your face, watch the boob tube for 30 minutes, and then pass out only to get up at the crack of dawn to do it all over again. If you write while eating dinner and/or right before bed, but set your word count really low, you’ll feel a lot less stressed out. The panic of “OMG I need to write but I have no time to do it OMG I’m going to die a failure” will lessen.

          I know this because this is what I did when my son was an infant. No sleep. Exhausted beyond measure. But three months without writing and I was going crazy. I was depressed from post-partum and also I kept thinking I would never have time to write again. I was doomed. If I didn’t nap while the kid was napping, I was so exhausted by the end of the day I wanted to cry (and often did). As the kid got older it got a lot better in terms of time and sleep but I still have to fight for it, and I learned quick to take my time in snatches of 15-minutes here and there if that’s all I had.

          Definitely prioritize your other activities. Maybe you watch a show with your friend on a regular basis. Make that your TV time, and use other times you might watch something to relax before bed your writing time.

          I know this isn’t easy. Being exhausted sucks. Maybe tell yourself you’ll write three days out of the week. Or two. Or five. Whatever makes you happy. Set your word count low and just get your butt in the chair, crank out your 100 words (or 350, or 500, whatever you can do) and then move on with your evening. It’s not 2K but it’s better than not doing it at all, and it will add up.

          PLUS when your work schedule does improve, you will have an excellent habit of writing already in place. Suddenly when you have two hours to write, it feels like a miracle. ;)

    • I have a similar problem with time. I work a minimum of 9 hrs a day, and some days upwards of 14. When I get home, I have 3-4 kids to take care of (one I only get every other weekend), all of whom are involved in activities like scouting, band, martial arts, and such like things. And then there’s the fact that I have an active social life and people who expect me to show up to every social function ever.

      What I’m doing is two-fold. One, I am making a commitment to myself to write every day. Even when I don’t feel like it. The second is to do that writing during times I normally would have done other things, or to multitask where possible. So now, when I normally would be taking a quick break to stand and stretch or go chat briefly with a coworker? I spend part of that time writing. My lunch breaks I now take at my desk, so I can write in between bites from a bag lunch. And right before bed every night, I try to grab a little time to type something.

      NONE of the writing so far has been on my novel. It’s all been flash fiction or observances or reviews and the like, but all of it is starting to rekindle that creative yearning within me.

    • If (insert name of hot model/actress/actor/performer you find irresistible) offered you fellatio tonight, would you find the time? If so, it’s not time that is the problem it’s motivation/prioritization. It’s OK. Life gets in the way, but we have to push back. Usually when I tell myself i don’t have time to write, I’m l’m not motivated to write. We all go through it. I ask myself, ‘Do I want to get one step closer to making my living as a writer tonight? Or would I rather find out if Sheldon Cooper is going to just be impossible?”

      Sometimes you just got to decompress. But, erm, don’t make it a habit.

    • May 12, 2014 at 1:07 PM // Reply

      You have my sympathy. I work a full day an hour from home and then go home to a 4 year old. Chuck’s 350 words helped me get started again. It takes me 15 minutes to add that much to my story. The biggest trick is staying in the story in some part of my brain so it keeps working on it. The longer you go between writing sessions, the harder it is to add to it. Another friend suggested ending in the middle of a sentence so you always know where you are picking back up. I sometimes have to journal a page to get my frustrations out so I can focus on the fiction. Good luck.

  • Writing’s been tough lately. I just finished a manuscript (sort of), and now have to somehow wade back in and try to make it better. But self-doubt and -loathing have made that somewhat impossible lately. My thoughts? Wow, all of this is garbage, nonsense, who in their right mind would ever want to look at this? It’s kind of paralyzing.

    Advice on how to cope?

    • When self-doubt comes at me with teeth and knives, I tell myself this: “It’s okay. I’ll fix it.” Even if that means rewriting it two, three, fifteen times, it’s okay because, guess what? You’ll fix it. It’s kind of empowering. And once you’ve written enough, and convinced yourself that you can fix it, the self-doubt and self-loathing is easier to deal with. (Note: It’ll never go away, but it gets better with time.)

      Also, when I have those feelings, I find that my writing skills don’t quite meet my expectations (will they ever?). In that case, be kind to yourself and be patient. Know that, while you may not be where you want to be writing-wise, eventually, if you stick with it, you’ll get there. Constantly writing and editing can only improve your skills, and inch-by-inch, you’ll get better and better.

      So, strap on those editing floaties and dive in. The water is warm (and may or may not be full of jellyfish)!

      You can fix it. <3

    • May 12, 2014 at 1:40 PM // Reply

      Woo hoo! Congratulations! You completed a whole, entire, first draft of a book! I hope you did something special to celebrate. This is not to be sneezed at! A whole lot of people never make it this far! Now, as Julia Cameron points out, we have a bad habit of comparing our first drafts to completed works by other writers. It’s not useful. I am nearly done with a third, or so, version of a novel I’ve been working on for about three years. I think this was a mistake. I should have just started editing and re-working. You need to work with what you’ve got and turn it into what you want. There’s a number of books out there on revising fiction. I picked one up at the bookstore. Once you’re ready, I highly recommend a writer’s group. We have a great one at our local library.

    • If you really just finished it – like, finished it less than a month ago – it might need to sit a bit longer. I hate my work with a feverish passion every time I finish a draft, and have to put it away – usually from two weeks at the least, to four months for one I hated particularly much. Work on other stuff for a bit, set a date to look at it again so you won’t forget about it, but you might need some space in order to look at it and decide ‘ok, this part is actually good, this stuff needs fixing’ and so on.

    • I’m very familiar with the self-doubt stuff! I agree about letting it sit for a while (a month, six weeks) then looking at it with fresh eyes. Also, I think it gets a little easier with each edit; I’m currently doing another edit on my book (the fourth edit, I think) and I noticed that the problem areas tend to jump out at me more now…instead of noticing problems everywhere, I’m seeing specific stuff that needs changing. So just wade in and do the first edit, then leave it for a while, do another, etc. and it’ll get easier every time. At least, that seems to be working for me.

  • I don’t seem to be capable of writing a simple story. I set out with my wip to have a relatively straight forward plot. Now my brain is going… Ooh but what if this twist happens? What if we add in this subplot what if we twist this on its head? Leaving me entirely in a knot.

    • I get that all the time. If it makes the story better, go with it! But if you’re getting tangled up and it’s hurting your writing, you might want to dump the extra twists in a separate document and save them for another story.

      And when in doubt, cut characters to simplify. For one story I published my editor made me merge three characters into one guy, which was a lot simpler and made the story (and the surviving character) much better. Plus, less characters, less potential twists/tangling.

      • Thanks for the help, yes, I have quite a lot of characters in this wip, which might be the root of it. I’m trying to make them twist in informer for them to earn their place maybe it is time to consolidate!

    • What helps me is writing down the extras as a list to appease my brain then moving on to what I’m focused on writing at the moment. I give the twists some time to marinate in their own juices, and if I come back to them later and they still seem good and relevant to the story, then I make a short outline and try to get them in during rewrites.

    • May 12, 2014 at 2:11 PM // Reply

      My stories have the opposite problem, they tend to be more simplistic and I have trouble making it twisty. I agree, make a list of options and pick the ones that fit your story line best.

  • My problems all strike me as vague wittering, but here they are.

    1. For an epic fantasy book: My main character is a dumb kid when the book starts, which (I think) I can cope with, but the inciting incident that sets him out on his main quest doesn’t occur until midway through the book, which I think is going to be a problem. (He finds a magical toy, plays with it, toy gets his brother killed, sets out for revenge evolving to overthrow of a REALLY nasty tyranny.)

    2. Following on from that, the “toy” is sentient and undeniably gets Protagonist’s brother killed, but he still needs to view it as an ally, albeit an untrustworthy one, for some time after. I’m finding writing pure-evil-pretending-to-be-nice very challenging, the evil keeps becoming too obvious.

    3. For an urban fantasy book: I want to write “Anita Blake gets loose from every spell afflicting her and murders the shit out of Jean Claude”, but I don’t have a dozen books worth of setup to work with. So the book as-is stars a brainwashed woman in an abusive relationship with a fairy prince who effectively becomes an entirely different character to deliver stabby-murder-violence on her tormentors for the last fifty pages. And it sucks. My solutions have all involved a ballooning cast, backstory and number of books, but for a done-in-one novel what could I do?

    4. In general: Everything I write seems to end up with three main characters. I’m not sure this is actually a problem, but it does coincide with my book ideas becoming series ideas.

    • Re #1, I think the hard question to ask yourself is: is your book starting in the right place? What’s all the stuff that happens between where it starts and where your inciting incident is, and is it all really necessary? You might wind up just cutting that stuff, or starting your book a little later (closer to the inciting incident), or moving some of that “stuff” to after the inciting incident if possible.

    • 1. Ditto. Are you sure you’re starting in the right place? Midway through the book is a long time to go.
      2. Every good antagonist is multi-faceted. If this thing is sentient, then it’s got some motivation somewhere. Perhaps it’s misguided, but what is it’s reason for doing what it does? Trying to protect itself, its kind, its mother? Under a spell to be loyal to an unjust master? Completely black or white, good or evil characters tend to be less interesting and hard to relate to.
      3. We could be back to inciting incident again. Does the story start when she’s ensnared, or when the crack in her facade appears, the thing that makes her want to break free? What makes her want revenge instead of freedom, running away, hiding, breaking the spell, using a counter spell, etc.? I love empowered women who kick butt (name taking optional). But why is that the right answer for this woman in this situation?

      • 1. Thinking on it, I have a pretty big event that happens right at the start to a SECONDARY protagonist to make an exciting opening, then a lot of character development, then the main protagonist finds the toy and starts the main storyline. I’m thinking I should be able to combine the opening incident and the finding and cut out a pretty big lull that comes after the finding. So I guess I’m starting one thing in the right place, but need to bump the other thing forward so EVERYTHING starts at the right place. :-)
        2. It’s a demon trying to awaken an insane god – willing to help the protagonist just to trick him into doing something bad later. Loki at his worst. :-) My problem is I keep slipping him into unambiguous evil when I need to keep him ambiguous, and I suspect the only cure is a lot of drafts.
        3. She’s a professional monster hunter being kept brainwashed by an evil fairy as a pet – which will bite him in the ass. My original draft opens with her hunter self getting “killed” by her brainwashed self in a false memory flashback, then following brainwashed self as the lies unravel until she remembers who she is for the final act. Looking at that again I think the structure’s okay, but if I’m not very careful the twist could kill the entire book (“Wait, the main character hasn’t been real for fifteen chapters? Fuck this guy!”)
        And thanks to both of you, your thoughts and putting on my thinking cap for this response has been very helpful. :-)

    • May 12, 2014 at 9:19 PM // Reply

      I will read the hell out of Number 3. Seriously. Right stat now. That sounds like so much win.

      Some random ideas: I’ve seen several books tackle amnesia/memory loss (Notably ARCHETYPE most recently) and they handle it well. But for me personally, and this is very personal, like how people like their eggs cooked personal, I don’t care for the amnesia thing DURING the story. It’s just confusing. Even when it’s done well, I feel like I’m waiting for the real story to start, because it’s obvious there’s a twist that is about to come up. The only time I didn’t mind was that one Dean Koontz book, where the woman woke up in the hospital from a car accident, blah blah, turns out she had her memories wiped and the entire place was just a stage prop for her.

      So you could set up the very beginning with her and the Fairy Prince living their “life” (the fake life he’s fed her to keep her complacent), and slowly the reality starts to crack. Her mind is too strong to completely repress, she dreams her old life, the personality traits that made her hate him come out in full force.

      Other than that, it also occurs to me that maybe you’re telling this story in the wrong place. Maybe you need to start it before she gets her memory wiped, and she loses a critical fight (the whole while the reader will assume she’s going to win because she’s the main character), and then cut to Book Two, or the next chapter, and she’s the fairy prince’s bride or something, and she has no memories. Maybe one of her friends gets taken to the gallows in front of her and she doesn’t respond so it’s clear that she lost her mind. Then the reader gets that dramatic irony of knowing who she’s supposed to be, watching her fight to remember who she’s supposed to be, and eventually break free and then murder the shit out of her captors.

      A lot these plot events depend on what sort of story you want to tell. Do you want the slow-build suspense? Or the more action oriented of a revenge book? I also really like the idea that she has to go back to her crew, and they all know the fey broke her once so now she has to reprove her strength to everyone, including herself.

      If you keep the twist that she’s been brainwashed, and the scenes of her fighting have just been her memories this whole time, you can set that up for the very end and still be okay. It’s all in execution. If you slowly reveal that there’s something out of place, then the twist will seem like a punch in the gut. If you give no indication that something is wrong, then people will call you a jerk. I can give you examples, but the problem would be if you’ve seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer and/or various movies.

      Another piece of advice I can give you it cut your cast. Cut it. If it’s ballooning out of control, it usually means you’re trying to solve your plot problems with character roles. I know because I have traveled that road very well. The surest sign is when I add characters and the plot only gets thornier. The only recourse I have then is to break the story down to it’s barest elements and figure out which characters I need to make that happen. At the moment from your premise, you only need two people: Anita Blake and Jean Claude. Build out your core plot from there, and add people as you need them for a role.

  • My problem is simple. I don’t have anyone I can use as a beta reader. Like, nobody. Editing in a vacuum is making me hemorrhage about the eyes and ear holes, because I don’t know if I’m actually improving my shit or simply mixing the same beans in a bowl and calling it a new dish.

    • May 12, 2014 at 11:08 AM // Reply

      Most writing forums have find-a-beta-swap threads. You’ll need to read someone else’s book in exchange and not be afraid of emailing your MS to a stranger, but both of those are useful skills of their own. Look for someone writing the same kind of thing at about the same skill level. Social media is also a good source for betas, and that has its own ancillary benefits as well.

    • Time to hire an editor. :)

      If you’ve self-edited the thing to death and plan to publish, I think hiring an editor is the next step. Maybe I’m crazy but I’ve never received any real help from beta readers. *ducks*

      I love ‘em, and yeah, they’ll catch a few things here and there, but all those things will be caught by the editor and you’ll save a whole bunch of time.

      Of course, if you plan to query agents and publish traditionally… well, most writers don’t want to take on the cost of an editor because that’s kind of someone else’s job.

      Do you plan to query or self-publish?

      • Don’t have any desire to self-publish right now, and I’ve tried doing beta with writing groups. I live a two hour drive from any city large enough to have such writing groups though, so it’s kind of hard to get to know who is there because they want to be a serious writer and who is there because it beats sitting at home on a thrusday night. Hell, it may be something as simple as I’m being too picky about who should be a beta reader.

        I’ve generally heard that hiring an editor is a waste of money, but I’ve been drawn to the idea just to get some feedback, even if that feedback is simply a stained cocktail napkin with, “What, are you serious?!” scribbled on it in lipstick. I really don’t know where I stand skill wise.

        • Ah, then maybe you need a beta reader. I think being picky is a good thing.

          Or, if you have money to spend, you still could hire an editor. I’ve heard of writers going the traditional route who have the ms edited before querying. With all this self-publishing going on there are lots of affordable options.

        • There are a couple of online critique sites; I use Critique Circle. You trade critiques with other writers, so it’s a bit of effort, but you can get some good feedback.

      • I volunteered as a beta reader on Tumblr, so I would recommend you the writing community there. I like beta reading because I can learn a lot from other writers! I can beta read for you, but I’m the slowest reader EVER – it’s fair to always warn people about that.

        Writing groups are also great! And they’re super useful with the outlining process too.

    • May 12, 2014 at 2:13 PM // Reply

      Writer forums and writing groups are great. I love my writer group, we met through the local library but I think you can also connect through Barnes and Noble stores.

  • My 3rd novel was giving me fits, and I decided to retreat back to my 1st novel. “It’s a completed draft,” I said to myself. “I’ll just edit some problematic scenes, and maybe I can do something with it.”

    Ahahaha. Said draft is also a couple of years old now, and it didn’t take me long to recoil on horror at how terrible it all was. My ‘edit’ job is now a nearly-complete re-write.

    I’m working hard on telling myself that it’s not wasted effort. “But first novels are usually garbage!” Yes! They are! And if I finish this it’ll have been completely rewritten TWICE. I don’t think it counts anymore.

    Other than 1) self loathing 2) lack of focus 3) more self loathing 4) utterly rearranging some chapters, the main problem I’m having is smoothly inserting history and lore without it feeling info-dumpy. HOW DO? Augh.

    • Don’t look at it as a rewrite, look at it as a new first draft. I think everyone looks back at their old works and goes, “Oh god, I thought this was good?” Let yourself info dump, let yourself change the story and give it a whole new shiny shine. Let it be a first draft again. First novels are usually bad because of things we don’t know better about. That doesn’t mean they can never be fixed, same as a first draft.

    • Bits and pieces at a time. What is the bare minimum the audience needs to know at any given scene? Tell them that and only that. Let them put the pieces together.

      Dean and Sam are hunting a monster. First plan? Shoot it with silver bullets. Why? because monster X is vulnerable to silver bullets. That plan doesn’t work. Ok, well said monster has ties to ancient irish mythology where copper was the weakness not silver. So now we have a monster tied to the Irish celts that appears like this other monster but is actually weak to copper.

      Not saying Supernatural is the best example all the time, but in the earlier seasons they did a good job of giving only the facts they needed to give for any specific things and any info dumps were then relatively small during a research scene. It could work.

    • I’ve done the same thing with my first novel. Yes, unpublished, but still, I did it and I finished it dammit. I got bogged down in the depression of a rewrite but let myself be motivated by two things. First, every time I improved that novel I improved my writing (as well as putting such a shitty draft out of existence) and second, I found the diamonds in the dung and got really excited. There were some great scenes, some stuff that survived almost word-for-word because when I belched it out the first time it just worked.

      we are in charge of our own motivation as writers. And I think self-loathing is something that draws us to do this in the first place, so just consider it part of the trade-off. We all sometimes spend our time trolling through blogs looking for any excuse we can not to go back to the manuscript that’s giving us fits…

      *looks around with hand in the air, waiting for a high-five from other procrastinators*

      *slinks away hoping nobody notices hanging high five*

    • Oh yea, as far as telling the story of the history just have it come out in several bits of dialogue, like…
      “Morganna, why don’t you want to perform tonight?”
      “Because it’s the third friday after the second full moon of the summer, and you know what happens then!”
      “No, Morganna, I don’t. I just moved here, remember?”
      “Well, the Dread Galoot of Thistletwat is rumored to come out of his slumber on that night, ravenous with bloodlust that can only be satisfied with the blood of Far-Off-Broadway thesbians, There have been several actors that have disappeared from this very theater over the years!”

      Just give the reader a taste, then in another conversation we may learn that the Galoot is 8 foot tall with giant pecs and an extra finger on his right hand and so forth. Slip it in easy, don’t just jam it all up in there

  • I’ve written my oldest WIP so many times over the past three years that just looking at it again makes me want to throw up. I’ve got newer books I also want to rewrite, but this one is the closest I’ve ever gotten to “good” and I think it’d be valuable experience, at the very least, to push out yet another edit. I have a deep trunk of novels that I abandoned after a pass or two, that never cleared that last professional hurdle. But I loathe it.

    I’ve given it to others, let it sit, and written tons of other stuff in the meantime.

    How do I get up the gumption to do another hateful rewrite?

    • You need to remind yourself why you loved it enough to write it and re-write it so many times. You may also need to come to grips with the fact that you don’t love it anymore. just because it is close to good doesn’t mean it deserves your focus and energy. If you are planning on trying to sell it and don’t love the story how can you expect an agent to love it? or an editor? Also, if you are planning to sell you have many more re-writes ahead for both said agent and editor. Find what you love about the story, remember what the story means to you, find why you HAD to write it and why you HAVE to finish it. Otherwise, you’re wasting energy best spent on something you actually do love. A worse product with love is infinitely more sell-able and more appealing than a better product with no love.

  • The story I’m working on has really broken me out of the slump I was in…right up until this point. I’m having issues transitioning from “this is the crazy thing we’re going to do” to the actual doing of the crazy thing. The story is YA SF with teens stealing to feed younger kids on a space station. Food is on heavy rationing which means the ‘downtrodden’ get nothing, and the two MCs have decided to steal from one of the docked ships. They have the supplies they need (including stolen suits for going outside the station into space) but for some reason I’m having issues covering the “they gather what they need from various (abandoned) store houses around the ship” and moving to them going out of the ship for the first time. It’s probably something that is best dealt by just doing it…but can I just cut to an airlock cycling and explain with that how they found the gear? The other way around?

    • I would say yes, you totally can. In fact, it’ll probably even be better that way. It’s very tempting for us writers to want to give the readers the full smorgasbord of story pieces all the time – but readers are actually much better at filling in gaps than we sometimes give them credit for. :)

    • Did you see the new Captain America movie? There’s a great part where Falcon says, “I can help, but I need my suit. It’s guarded in a secure facility with a full detail of Marines. There are laser traps and attack leopards and booby traps that punch you in the balls.”

      Then he passes over a file and Black Widow just nods and says, “Yeah, it’s doable.”

      Then Falcon just shows up in the suit and it’s AWESOME because we get the fun character moment of Black Widow having done this offscreen because, whatever, breaking into a government facility is no big thing. It’s hilarious, shortcuts to the action, and lets us imagine something better than anything the director could’ve put onscreen.

    • Or maybe go through the equipment piece-by-piece as they use it.

      “He flipped the switch, clumsy in the new gloves. The helmet had been easy to swipe — one size fits all — but the gloves, they came in all different shapes and sizes. He had to rifle a room full of crew lockers before he found a pair that fit. They were in the last one, of course, because that’s how it always goes.”

  • Trying to rewrite the last three chapters of a novel whilst suffering from tendonitis in my right arm. The soul is willing but the flesh is weak…

    It’s giving me time to mull things over, but…can anyone recommend a good voice recognition programme for Windows 7 that a complete techno-numpty might be able to manage?

    • Dragon Naturally Speaking works well. The only thing is you need to be prepared to invest the time to make Dragon work for you. The first few hours aren’t “and now I use this to write my story” they are “now I know how to use this program and now to spend 16 hours teaching it how I speak.” The more you use it the better it will get. Just remember it takes time starting off.

  • My issue currently is finding where to submit. My writing runs the gambit from fantasy and SF to magical realism and realist “lit”. First, anyone have any advice for specific publications? 2nd, are Duotrope or Writer’s Relief worth paying the money?

  • My problem is my deadline. It’s stressing me out. There’s still a ton of editing to go, a photographer shooting props for cover art, not to mention the cover art itself and the interior formatting which hasn’t started. Yeah I hire all this out but it takes time to be done. What I don’t hire out is the proofread of all three formats. That’s all me, and talk about taking time…

    Deadline’s coming up fast. I know I’ll make it but dang, my head’s gonna explode.

    Indies aren’t supposed to have deadlines. What gives.

  • Long Live the King!

    Now, that being said, on to your story. A few thoughts for you:
    1. When you talk of the end, are you talking the cclimax and resolution or just resolution. If the climax is troubling you, I would suggest, look over what you’ve already written. What do your angels want? Do they achieve their goal? Write that scene. It doesn’t even have to be a full scene yet, just commit to paper the big fight.
    2. If it’s the resolution that’s troubling you, look at your climax. What are the possible results. What are the good results? The bad? Sometimes thinking about the bad results can show you what the good results can be.
    3. Write out of order. I’m a very logical thinker, a leads to b leads to c, etc. Sometimes thinking outside of those constraints can show me where problems are. It’s uncomfortable, but sometimes that’s what the story needs. The reverse is true too. If you are an all over the map type thinker, try to think about what the next logical steps would be.
    4. I’d be happy to help you brainstorm if you’d like. If you use twitter, you can fine me @MMPrimrose :)
    Hope something there is helpful!
    Melinda

  • My problem is–and always has been–sticking with it. I love NaNoWriMo to help with this and I’ve won eight years running, but I don’t want to only write once a year.
    I frequently succumb to the ‘plot-bunny’ in me as a writer friend says.
    Anybody have any tips on keeping at it until its done?

    • For me, it meant learning to not let myself get distracted by all those darned plot bunnies. I made myself a hard rule that I am *not* allowed to work on another project until this one is done (or in X stage or Y stage or whatever). Any bunnies I have I stick in a document – I’m allowed to open that and add to it so I don’t lose potential projects down the line, but I don’t start seriously working on any of them. This way, by the time I’m finishing something up, getting to pick another project and work on it feels like a reward. :)

      • I like that Idea, but when I try it in the past, I just stop working. I don’t do anything.
        I guess it’s really a problem of motivation, then? I don’t know.

        • You and me have the same problem. It isn’t motivation so much as it is discipline. You start writing and you get other ideas. Than what you are working on becomes hard to work on. You start to think it is stupid, and this other idea so much better. A taste couldn’t hurt? Could it? Just like…a short story or scene to see if it has merit. It’s the most amazing idea in the world. You drop everything to work onit…but then, new ideas.

          The trick, and it is something you have to learn, is discipline. You have to force yourself to do whatever it is you put your mind to. Remind yourself that your first draft is supposed to suck, but that you love the idea. Force yourself to keep at it. Make yourself write at least 1000 words a day (or 500, or 300, the point is daily forward progress.) Reward yourself for milestones. “Today I hit 35k so I’m totally splurging on the way home and grabbing a small cake for dessert to share with my housemates because I am le awesome.” (make sure you say “le” when you call yourself awesome. French compliments are the best compliments.)

          Trick yourself into keeping going forward with treats and just dragging yourself through the mud until you are there. Then, when it is done, slam it in a box and bury it for a few months. Cry if you have to. Rejoice in your freedom. Find a new prison to slog through.

          Oh, and if you find an easier way please let me know. I haven’t tasted freedom in a long time…lots of new jails though.

          • I agree with this, but hmm. Maybe an approach that might work would be something like, for every 1000 words you write of your main project, you get to write 500 words of something else? But you can’t work on that something else UNTIL you’ve done your 1k. (Or you can write as much of your other project as you want, but again, not until you’ve written your 1k, or 500 words, or 350 words a day, etc, of the project you’re trying to stick with.)

  • I just finished the first draft of my first novel (hooray!) and now I’m getting read to edit. I’m letting the story marinate for a bit while I outline a new project which is a piece of advice I’ve read here and other places. Once that’s done and I’m ready to tackle it, what should I do first? I have so much to do but I’m interested to hear what other people’s methods are when it comes to the first big-time edit. Thanks in advance!

    • Definitely print it out; for some reason, errors and typos are easier to spot on the printed page than they are on a computer screen. And then… well, the following is what I do, so it’s not gospel or anything, but it worked for me.

      Grab yourself a blank notebook. Grab yourself some different coloured pens and highlighters for the different ‘types’ of notes you’re going to make; for example, I use red pen and pink highlighter for character notes, blue pen and blue highlighter for Plot notes and green pen and yellow highlighter for description/world notes. Typos and spelling/grammar stuff can just be ordinary black pen.

      Now go through your draft. Each time you hit a yucky bit, decide what category the problem fits within (Character, Plot, Description or just generic Error.) If your observation is short enough to fit in the page margin next to the problem, highlight it with the appropriate highlighter and write the note in the matching pen. If, however, you want to write in more detail than will fit in the margin, highlight with the highlighter as before, but write a NUMBER next to it with the matching pen and then write that number in the notebook, in the matching pen colour and detailing the problem. Makes it SO much easier to trace back later!

      Oh yes – and you are TOTALLY allowed to be sarcastic to yourself during this process. I have lots of notes in my books saying things like “Oh come on – seriously? She’s crying AGAIN??!” and “Durr, no, you dummy – livin’ in a post-Peak Oil Crisis society, remember?” Hey, if you’re gonna be beating yourself up you might as well make yourself laugh while you’re doing it :)

      Best of luck – the ‘fun’ is just beginning!

  • The problems I am struggling with are long-term follow through and self-doubt. It seems I can pound out decent flash fiction all day. I have been told I have a good grasp of dialogue, of showing and not telling, of establishing mood and keeping what I write interesting to read. The problem comes up when I try to write anything longer than a short story. I’ve started numerous novels, and I always get to the point where things start to gum up. The story stops flowing, my brain stops finding the threads that pull the plot together. I start wondering where it went wrong. I go back, reread, start editing. Start second guessing what I wrote before, changing it to make what comes later work better. This inevitably breaks something else, and then I get to the point where I am just done and tired and quit.

    I suspect part of this is that I try to hard to write linearly. I’ve just gotten Scrivener, and I hear good things about it and using it to build scenes into plot lines. Right now, though, it’s hard to find time to learn how to use it, let alone use it to write with.

    And I have a fairly crippling level of self-doubt. It doesn’t matter how often people tell me they think I have talent, I still worry and obsess and get nothing done. I have no idea why. I probably need therapy. :P

    • Scrivener has some pretty good video tutorials. That should give you a quick intro, enough to get you started with the program.

      Scrivener’s best feature for you may be that you can write scenes, and the software will compile them into a document. So really, if you have problems writing longer fiction, you can make an outline of short stories (scenes) that tie in together to make a novel.

      • I saw a lot of Mac vids, but not many for the PC – are they basically the same? I feel a little ridiculous with this. My day job is as a Og-forsaken systems admin/network tech, but I can’t seem to find the time/inclination to sit down and learn the software. Ugh!

    • May 12, 2014 at 1:56 PM // Reply

      If you need therapy then so do I. We’ll go together.

      I’ve had similar comments on shorts I’ve written, I do a decent line in mildly comic SF, but novels are well Aaaaarrggh.
      I keep trying and I guess you do too. This probably means we’re Masochists as well as mentally incompetent.

    • You probably don’t need therapy. What you need is to give yourself permission to suck at writing. And I mean really, truly, horribly suck.

      You’re a good writer – you must be if you’re already getting good feedback. All of us writers want to be good at our craft. And it would seem the most logical way to get better and better at writing is to make sure we always strive to write well, and to the best of our ability. So it hurts when what we write doesn’t measure up to how good we want to be.

      Writing a novel is a whole different baby to writing a short story. The opportunities to suck are way, waaay more plentiful, and start much earlier in the process. But here’s the thing: it happens to EVERYONE who writes a novel. EVERY first draft of every novel is a steaming pile of monkey-vomit – whether it’s written by me, or you, or Stephen King, or Charles Dickens… they all blow giant chunks of awfulness, and that is an inescapable law of nature.

      But that’s okay. It’s SUPPOSED to suck. That’s why draft twos and threes and rewrites and polishes were invented. There’s no limits to how many times you can rewrite something until it’s just right. But it’s much easier to break apart an existing pile of crap and mould it into something better (sorry for the slightly icky metaphor there) than it is to build something great out of nothing at all – which is what you’re doing with draft one and therefore *why* it’s so damn hard.

      And the hardest barrier for the novelist to overcome is the one where you know what you’re writing is awful – but you force yourself to keep on writing anyway. You’re writing dogshit, and you know you’re writing dogshit, but you keep churning that dogshit out, word by smelly word, until you get to the end of the scene. And then the end of the chapter. And then the end of the novel.

      It goes against every natural instinct of the writer who takes pride in his work – but it’s gotta be done. So resist the urge to consistently ‘do your best work’ while you’re writing and just allow yourself to be freely, unashamedly terrible. Even if that means being terrible for two, three, ten or more drafts. It’s done when you decide it is – and you can have as many goes at that as you want. No-one’s keeping score. :)

    • Maybe take a Ray Bradbury tack — don’t think of it as a novel, but as a series of interconnected short stories. Make every scene 1,000 words long or less, like they’re episodes starring the same characters. Have an outline of where it’s all going, but mostly focus on telling the scene you’re writing right now. That’s what I’m trying now and it helps a lot to find the dramatic tension in each scene.

      • May 13, 2014 at 2:54 AM // Reply

        I’ve been mulling over that idea of each scene or chapter as a short story, seeing as I feel comfortable writing short stories, but I wasn’t aware that Ray Bradbury did it. So that’s a good enough recommendation for me.

        • That’s basically “The Martian Chronicles” in a nutshell, but if I recall from his “Zen and the Art of Writing” he saw all his novels this way, even ones with a more traditional through line like “Something Wicked This Way Comes” and “Fahrenheit 451.”

          He wasn’t comfortable writing novels so he just wrote short stories. Mindhack!

  • As everyone else, I have trouble finding time to write. Uni and work are fighting for pieces of my soul and poor novel was left behind in the battlefield.

    With the novel itself, I kinda decided to change the plot, since I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the old one. The problem is: I have characters that I love, I have almost all I need regarding worldbuilding, but I’m struggling to find a good antagonist (I have several ‘meh’ ones) and Mr. Plot hasn’t come back yet. Should I put this project in the fridge for a while or do you guys have another suggestion?

    • Maybe you could take one of your “meh” antagonists and punch him (or her) up a bit…make them more exciting, give them a bigger role in the story.

      Also, if you can figure out your main character’s wants/needs, maybe you can have the antagonist as an impediment to those wants/needs (or vice versa…have the hero stand in the way of the antagonist’s goals); that creates conflict and conflict makes for an interesting story.

  • My issue is always the same; I don’t have an antagonist. I know how to make individual characters act as temporary antagonists to each other, but my plot never has a central bad guy. I can do internal conflict all day, but in order to have a plot I need something for the main character to fight.

    • Not every “bad guy” sees himself as a bad guy. A lot of them have good intentions who have gone wrong and may not even realize that they have gone wrong. Maybe your protagonist and the antagonist want the same thing, but have really different ways of achieving their goals. Or your protagonist ends as the bad guy without him / her realizing it.

    • I actually wrote something up today for my blog that addresses this very issue, as I had just finished talking to an old friend about this very subject. The link is here, but the short of it is this: conflict is more important than antagonists, and antagonists are simply characters with conflicting goals to the protagonist. Read here if you are interested: http://wp.me/p4AFse-2L

  • May 12, 2014 at 2:51 PM // Reply

    Fear. I’ve seen lots of comments on self-doubt and I have read the very helpful comments. But I feel like I should purge my demons here…

    I’m always worried that what I am writing is nothing but a cliche mess. The latest idea gives me shivers and is literally keeping me awake at night with ideas, but there’s a nasty part of my mind that insists that people are just going to think it’s a rip off of Supernatural.

    Since I write urban fantasy, there’s A LOT of ideas that can be summed as thus: main character fights supernatural creatures. I know ALL stories seem cliche when you break them down that much, but still. It’s not like I need someone to stroke my ego, but I run into a bad cycle of loving the idea, and then feeling like no one will ever like it ever, and it gets harder to move forward.

    I know I should be able to ignore the voice and just write for me, and sometimes I can. But sometimes it feels impossible, and it’s very frustrating.

    • There’s no such thing as a completely original idea. Star Wars is basically Lord of The Rings in Space. Harry Potter is arguably Lord of The Rings at Boarding School. Even Lord of The Rings begs, borrows and steals from a myriad of much older myths, cultures and legends. Pretty much every story ever told is a recycling of stories already told – the trick is to tell it your way, from your heart and through your eyes. No-one sees and feels things quite the same way as you do – and that’s what’s make it fresh and original all over again.

      But apart from that… feeling the way you do now about your own story is – according to many writers I’ve spoken to, read and heard in interviews – one of the Recognized Stages of Writing a Story. They all say it generally hits you somewhere between the one-third and halfway stage (that’s when it hits me too) and it’s the voice of your Inner Grinch. He needs to be drop-kicked in the ‘nads, so you can use his howls of agony as gentle background music while you carry on writing. Over time, you may collect enough to make an entire album :)

      Keep going, and you will get through it and out the other side. Believe in yourself!

      • May 12, 2014 at 8:36 PM // Reply

        Thank you for reminding me it’s all been done before. I KNOW this…in my brain, where the logic lives. It’s just during the brainstorming and sometimes the writing phase that the doubt takes the form of the Inner Grinch telling me it’s all a steaming pile of cliche.

        I also love the image of drop-kicking him in the ‘nads and listening to his howls of agony for gentle background music. :D That’s staying with me.

    • Ok, I’m going to be the big man here and let you in on a universal truth. It’s going to hurt. Why? Because your fears are correct. Everything you’ve ever written is cliche because everything is cliche. EVERYTHING IS CLICHE. How you tell it. How you relate it. How you express it. That is what makes it not cliche.

      Let’s look at Mr. Wendig’s stories here. Oh look, an injured bitchy person with a gift thinks it is a curse and then some people wanting to control that power show up to cause a mess. Oh wow, could that be like every story about powered people ever? Read a comic book! Not a fan of Miriam Black? Ok, how about Blue Blazes, that’s my favorite work he’s done. Oh goodie, a working class dad who can’t touch base with his emotions needs to reconnect with his daughter before bad things happen. Yawn. I’ll take Father/Daughter movies for $500 Alex. Answer? What’s the plot to every movie in this genre ever.

      But now look at how Mr. Wendig executes those stories. How he adds a piece of his soul, a bit of his life, and a quirk of his imagination. Look how he grabs two cliches (Mafia Power Coup + Father/Daughter Drama) and mashes them together to form a story. How you tell the cliche is what matters.

      In all seriousness there are by some theories only 36 unique plots in the world. And yet, every story comes down to one plot “Who am I?” how you answer it is what makes it worth reading.

      And people are always going to compare your stuff to other people’s stuff. Do you like Supernatural? Take it as a compliment that people make the comparison. One of my beta readers for a story compared the entire story to Naruto just because it has a female Japanese character named Sakura who happens to be a shinobi. Doesn’t matter that everything else is different, that one name and it was just Naruto references galore.

      • Oh,and Mr. Wendig, I do love your writing. no offense is meant in the derisive tone I use for the most basic rendition of core plot/theme in your stuff. Just showing how a great story, when stripped down to its basics, still has those wonderful cliche bits to them.

      • May 12, 2014 at 8:44 PM // Reply

        Thank you for putting it that way! It didn’t seem like you were ranking on Chuck at all either, in case you were worried about that. I guess it’s a version of comparing yourself to something that’s already written and published. No one sees the long, drawn out process a writer goes through to hone their idea and make it their own. “Blackbirds is a brilliant new look on psychic gifts, I’m sure Chuck had the complete idea straight away.” When in reality it was a long process of back and forth.

        I know that I have my own flair and spin on things…and sometimes I feel myself consciously doing it, like when I watch a movie I think “No, I wouldn’t have made the trolls a Patriarchy, they would be a Matriarchy all the way.” But I guess since I’m inside my own head, I don’t see it as my creative spin, just my own personal thoughts.

        LOL that’s funny about Naruto. I guess there will always be people who compare your work to stuff that you never even watch. I know an author who is constantly accused of ripping off Supernatural and the only similarity is there’s two brothers in the book. She doesn’t even watch the TV.

    • May 12, 2014 at 4:05 PM // Reply

      Wendy must be right, because I’ve also gone through this phase (and still stumble back into it on occasion) and so has pretty much every writer I’ve ever talked to. You’re not alone in this. For me personally, it’s just something I needed to struggle through. Maybe it’s been done before, but it’s never been done by YOU. That’s what it comes down to. Your individual plot points may not be unique, but you are. Your insight into your characters and story and the themes it touches on are all unique, and they all combine to form something that just hasn’t been seen before. Stories are more than the sum of their parts. You can’t help but put a little bit of you in every element you create, and when they all combine into a story, you get something that’s totally and completely new.

      On a more practical level, what helped me with that is consuming fiction from completely different genres. I’m writing sci-fi right now and it’s easy to become trapped in the sci-fi bubble and feel like holy shit, everyone else is better at this than me. So watching and reading a lot of children’s literature, fantasy, classic literature, non-fiction, everything that ISN’T sci-fi is a huge palette cleanser for me. Your mileage may vary of course, but for me, it keeps my brain from getting too eager to jump to the tropes of a certain genre.

      And again, this may just be me, but another thing that helped me was reading about WHY storytellers use archetypes and tropes, why characters and plot elements become archetypes and tropes, the history of it and what other people had to say about it. Goethe and Plato have some very interesting (and weird, like, super weird) stuff to say about these things. If you’re anything like me, it may help to look into the nitty-gritty of things like the Hero’s Journey, character archetypes according to writers and philosophers, trope, cliche and so on. It’s won’t address the problem directly, but it can give you some stable ground to work from. Understanding why a problem is a problem is… half the battle? Yeah, let’s go with that.

      But do keep writing. Always be writing. Coffee is for closers. Because writing is fun and worthwhile and amazing and fun. So keep doing that.

      • May 12, 2014 at 8:49 PM // Reply

        Oh, I like the idea of reading outside the genre. I mean, I read a ton of different genres anyway, but usually just based on my mood. I like the idea of picking something completely different for a palate cleanser.

        I have studied a little about about the different archetypes. Not just “Hero with a Thousand Faces” but also Jung, and loads of mythology. It’s been a few years though, so it might be fun to brush up on theory. I do like the “taking apart the refrigerator to see how it works” aspect of it, and it’s how I usually manage to put a fresh spin on the tired tropes.

        Thanks for the pep talk. Coffee IS for closers, and I should always be closing. ;)

    • May 12, 2014 at 9:12 PM // Reply

      No one has ever existed, nor ever will again, with your exact combination of experiences, knowledge, traits, etc., therefore, no one could or would ever write something just the way you will. You have something unique to offer. Go forth and write it.

    • The key, I’m finding, is to just know the tropes and go the other way. If you know these similar stories, you know what they do and where they go, so you also know what they DON’T do and where they DON’T go.

      Maybe chart out how your story is different by literally writing down, “In Supernatural, the characters do this,” then below it write, “In my novel, the characters wouldn’t do that, they’d do this instead.”

      Like I recently wrote an urban fantasy short story that I hope to make a novel after I’m done with the one I’m writing now. It is, indeed, a “teenage girl fights supernatural creatures” short story, so it’s a little like Buffy.

      But wait, it takes place in Hong Kong, is based off Chinese ghost lore, and she’s a spirit-seer. So while the main conceit of “teenage girl fights monsters” is still there, pretty much everything about it is different — instead of a blonde California Cheerleader who’s popular, she’s a working-class English-Chinese girl who’s out of place at a fancy international school. So while the action is the same, the main dramatic tension is totally different (girl accepting adult responsibilities vs. girl caught between two cultures).

      So what I’d say is don’t focus on what’s similar, focus on what’s different and make that where your story excels.

      • Don’t always go the other way, though. One of the biggest issues I face with my stories is that the people who have read them consistently have begun to expect what I consider unexpected. They are waiting for me to throw the trope for a loop, and are thus less surprised when I do so. Maybe the solution, then, is to realize the cliches, find the tropes, and then pick and choose which ones you will completely subvert and which ones you’ll play straight as an arrow. This will keep your readers guessing, and usually, a guessing reader is an intrigued reader. Usually. ;)

        • May 13, 2014 at 2:23 PM // Reply

          This is a very good point. I *do* read certain genres expecting certain things, and if a book fails to deliver any of these tropes, I am usually a little disappointed. The happy place, I guess, is twisting enough that it’s fresh and new but not so much that you fail to give people what they want from the book.

      • May 13, 2014 at 2:21 PM // Reply

        First, your story sounds amazing! It’s weird, because I hear about other stories and instead of thinking it’s a bad thing it’s similar to Supernatural or Buffy or something else I love, I perk up. “Oh this is like Buffy! Only there’s cool Chinese ghost stuff!” And then I mentally high five the author and pick up the book.

        I should remember that for myself, but I can only seem to think about how everyone is going to call me a hack. I like the idea of make a list of differences and similarities, so like Mark suggested, I can keep track of what tropes I’m following and what tropes I’m twisting. Thanks!

  • I’m currently working on the fourth (I think it’s #4, I’ve been tinkering with it for a couple years now) draft of my novel. I’ve noticed that rewriting seems easier the more I do it; instead of finding a ton of small problems, I noticed a handful of bigger things that stood out. Once I fix those, I’ll let it sit for a while, give it another pass, and then try to find some beta-readers :)

  • I’m at a crossroads with my novel. I had a plan laid out by outline — character makes it back home. Sees her murdered father, talks to her mother, sees her community all riled up to go get revenge but is skeptical at who they’re pointing to and goes out to investigate herself, eventually teaming up with the accused.

    BUT THEN I realized that the character who’s falsely accused, the Watson to her Sherlock, only comes in halfway through the book that way. So I thought, “Hey, maybe she sees this guy getting chased and [i]takes him down[/i] in front of everyone. Ninja justice! But then realizes after he’s captured that he’s not the guy and she needs his help. That way she can remain a revenge-driven machine until she confronts him face-to-face (which was the original plan anyway) and he plants doubts in her mind — and then has to make sure they escape together to go get the REAL killer.”

    But that throws some other problems into the mix — namely that she’s Native American and he’s white, and I don’t want this turning into some Pocahontas BS, which I’m actively trying to avoid. Part of what I liked about the original plan was that she was going off, alone, to go take this guy by stealth because she wasn’t sure if he was guilty or not. That seems more driven and active to me than escaping with him in the night. But then again, throwing story-driven family tension into the mix raises the stakes and gives her a harder choice. Now she risks losing her whole family by seeking justice.

    I could see it going either way, but the former path seems to dither a little more and the latter has parallels to the racially constructed story I’m trying to go the opposite direction from. Maybe split the difference and subvert the Pocahontas story? That’s my instinct after writing it all out here. Hmmmm…

    • May 13, 2014 at 2:14 AM // Reply

      I know I’m being Captain Obvious here, but I have to ask: is there a specific reason he has to be white? I don’t know what kind of setting you’re working with, but a whole town jumping on this specific person even though he’s innocent reeks of some kind of bias to me, although not necessarily a racial bias. What is it about this guy that makes everyone so eager to accuse him? Maybe if he is lacking (white) privilege in some major way, that could be a way of avoiding any Pocahontas shenanigans.

      • Without going into details (I’m superstitious about discussing unfinished novels online) yes, him being white is pretty much set in stone. He’s a U.S. Naval officer in 1911 when non-whites couldn’t serve in that position. (Though actually he’s not white as such — he’s from a New Orleans creole family but is “passing as” white in the Navy, an extremely paranoid that his fellow officers will find out and take away his stripes.) But at that point in the book that hasn’t come out yet.

        Everyone thinks he’s guilty because, to be fair, he’s framed pretty convincingly (it’s his USN dagger was used to kill the heroine’s father) and had some bad incidents with the village previously. Though a few in the village — including the heroine — think that her father’s successor is pushing the case a little too zealously.

        I think I found a way around it, which is for her to capture him and when he brings it up as a joke, she disabuses him of the standard version of the story. On second thought, the main element in that BS story is that Pocahontas saves Smith because she loves him, but that isn’t the case here — at first the heroine only sees him as an asset toward her revenge, though he eventually morphs into an ally. Rather than rescuing him from captivity in the village, I’ve decided, she effectively kidnaps him.

  • I feel like I have too many ideas in my novel, there is a small (6 peoples plus two merchants they here hired to guard) group of mercenaries, who are the last of a really in-setting famous mercenary group/country-thing. They are in a city where one as slave-assassin was key in starting a semi-failed revolution based on liberal ideals, so part of the plot is them being attacked by the people who suffered through it, including two former-nobles, and a middle class police woman. But the larger plot is the 6 people only survived the massacre of their mercenary group (a couple years before the book starts) is because they were artificiality created chosen ones of various ethnic group’s gods who made them (and others, but they don’t play in the plot at this point) to battle against a couple groups of demons\aliens the routinely pillage that part of universes. The various gods are to scared to directly fight because of one of the groups of aliens that attack are the embodiment of stillness before the creation of even the gods and fed on stillness so they are highly motivated to destroy life, and basically anything that isn’t the void. And that’s just the plot.

    I try to inject the current six POV with both a character arc and thematic arc. Vieuxsoir Dernvolie (I tried to give a flashy name to give him a regal sense, one that is highly contrasted by his inner voice) for instant, the de facto villain of the book, is a former noble whose character arc is basically him never changing cognitively or emotionally but constantly changing allies when it best suits his needs and how this eventually costs him his life. He is a examination of motives (it’s a bit meta in a sense) but also how being born into power and being told you have the right to that power can warp a human to be fully and utterly self-interested. He was also a pretty good vehicle to tackle a theme I’ve been wanting to tackle in response to the more popular cynical works of modern fantasy; he is a nihilist in the worse sense of the word, he believes in nothing but himself, and thus does not believe in redemption. For him everyone is born to be used because reality is inherently meaningless. I try to give each of my POV characters as much detail as that, with non-POVs a tad bit less.

    All in all I’m starting to feel a bit crowded, the meta plot (or history of the world, specific characters, and even the future afterward) of the planned 4 book series in fleshed out by about 26 abstracts for imaginary books than may or may not ever be a thing. I’m mostly afraid that readers won’t respond well to having so much thrown at you without that prior knowledge (I’m definitely writing in the mode of the Malazan Book of the Fallen by starting in medias res as I also like the idea of the novel being an in-world artifact, thus the reader of the book would have the knowledge of the previous events just like how the Greeks would know of the other parts of Iliad epic cycle…but my readers are not within the book so I am not sure if this is a good idea). So should I cut a bit of the meat off or leave it as is?

    • Six POV is a lot. It’s a lot for you to keep track of, a lot of different character arcs and motivations and conflicts all at once, all needing to come to a head at the same time. And it’s a lot for the reader to keep clear. I’m not saying it can’t be done well, but it might help to consider reducing the POVs.
      In my current WIP I was (still am) struggling just to keep the plot of book 1 in a manageable length, but it helped to drop back to three POVs. It gives each main character more time to develop, leaves a bit of mystery to the characters whose POV I took out, and helps the story to keep moving. Obviously as the author you need to understand each character’s arc, and you can still have your non-POVs develop, but I don’t think it’s always necessary to spell them out.
      As for ideas, I’ve learned the hard way that even if you have a dozen fantastic themes and ideas, a complete alien world to describe, a different social system for your characters to inhabit, you can’t put it all in. For me, ideas serve the plot and the dialog. I’ve had to let the themes come through organically; e.g. I’ve never specifically talked, through plot, dialog or internal monologue, about family and parental protection, but the theme comes through in the actions and behaviours of the characters.
      Of course, this is just my experience. YMMV.

  • Hmm. It does sound like you have a lot going on. It’s definitely good to have your characters so fleshed out, it feels like you really know a TON about them, but my question would be: with all of the themes and meta involved, does each character really have a motivation and a goal? If you can list each character, and what they’re trying to accomplish (and why they can’t get it easily) then you’re on the right track. If some of that is up in the air, it might be worth spending some time to nail down – that’s the stuff that’s going to give you a clear, engaging story.

    Another way to look at it might be to ask yourself, what is the number one thing about this story that excites you? The theme or the failed revolution or the aliens-vs-gods, etc? If you can isolate what it is that, for you, makes you want to sit down and get to work on this piece, then that’s what your story is REALLY about. Then you can go through your other elements and all of your characters and ask – does this serve THAT story? If yes, you’re golden; if not, can you MAKE it serve that story? Or more importantly, do you REALLY need it? Letting go of some of the elements that don’t serve the core of your story may help you streamline and get down to what you really need — and you can dump the cut ideas of those elements in a file somewhere and let them marinate, see if any of them become a story in and of themselves that you’re excited about down the line.

    (I did this with the project I’m currently querying – my first two versions involved a magic system where two characters needed to have some kind of soulmate-style link and work together to do anything magical. It just…wasn’t right for the story. Plus having the two protagonists be instant soulmates meant they didn’t have to really develop their relationship and meant I wasn’t doing the heavy lifting I needed to develop them. So I cut it out, but I still think it’s a rad idea. Now I’m working on something else, but I’ve still got that stewing in the back of my mind. I suspect I’ll eventually pull out that concept and shape something AROUND it. But I digress.)

    Good luck!

  • How does one find an editor? (called a Beta???) I have great willing friends who say they would love to read my writing and edit for me but few of them have any skills to do such and none of them have the time. I want to post my stuff to get my name out there and everything but I don’t want to post crap, I need a second opinion, a helpful voice.

  • Sorry for this late post. Thank you to ALL of The Hive for insight, ideas, and kind support. Fantastic stuff. I learned more than I could’ve imagined.YOU ROCK HARD, HIVE!

  • I’m wondering if I’m doing too much internal in my beginning. I’m trying to establish the world, it’s vastly different than ours. How do you know when you’ve gone too far in? I don’t want to bore the reader.

    • May 13, 2014 at 11:40 PM // Reply

      I’m thinking about a lot of fantasy that I’ve read, most of which jumps right in with the story and fills in the world as we go. Hunt up some similar types of books to yours and see how they deal with it.

    • May 14, 2014 at 1:25 AM // Reply

      I have the same problem: lots to introduce, no time to do it. And like Rebecca said, it’s best to jump into the narrative and fill in the world as the story goes along. You don’t have to frontload your information, as in, you don’t need to pull a Tolkien and halt the narrative for ten pages to wax poetic about the tensile strength of elf rope. If you have an everyman character, you can get away with some dialogue exposition. If not, your characters going about their day and doing their plot things will already show a lot of your world by necessity. Weave the information into the ongoing story and that’s a lot taken care of.

      Also, you can trust readers to fill in a lot of gaps on their own. I know I appreciate it when writers don’t give me every last bit of information there is about the world they’ve built and instead let me use my imagination to fill in some blanks. No matter how amazing and unique the world is, it’s never going to compare to what every individual reader imagines for themselves. So as long as elements of world-building that are crucial to the plot are introduced in a timely manner, you can leave some gaps here and there. And no matter what genre you’re working with, you can always rely on established tropes of the genre to do some of the heavy lifting for you. Every now and then you have to take a leap of faith and trust your readers to figure things out on their own. If that doesn’t work out, your beta-readers will let you know.

      And I personally make a mental note on whether information is crucial to the plot or just color. It sounds a bit duh (give the important information before you give the less important information!) but it can help to mentally classify everything you want to get across to the reader like that. Is it relevant? No? Scrap it for now.

      And kill your darlings. I could go on for days about how just one type of building in my sci-fi city works and how it fits into the larger civic structure of the city, but nix that shit. Save it for the twenty-fifth appendix. If it doesn’t help flesh out the story or characters, out it goes, at least in the first draft. Helps keeps things chugging along. You can always add things back in for color later on. Unless you’re doing a Brave New World type of thing, where the setting and theme are arguably more important than the characters and the plot, you’re better off keeping plot and characters front and center and trimming everything that doesn’t further those. I have a whole folder full of information about my setting that I’m probably not going to use. The important thing isn’t that the reader knows all of it, the important thing is that I know all of it. It’s a little hard to quantify, but if you know your world through and through, you can afford to hold back non-crucial information but still keep your tone even and consistent. Comes down to letting the reader fill in some information themselves again.

      And then a lot of it is just Fingerspitzengefühl. If you get the feeling that maybe your scene is turning into an exposition dump, you’re probably not wrong.

  • A problem I’m struggling with is that I’m having a hard time making my protagonist livable. When the story starts, she’s been ostracized from her friends because she accused one of them of attacking another and putting them in a coma. When her theory is proven wrong (or so it publicly seems) she’s ostracized from pretty much everyone in her community. Understandably, she’s out of sorts because of this. The main problem is that–as the sixth season of Buffy showed us–it’s really hard to make a depressed character interesting to watch (She won’t stay that way, but it’s making my beginning drag).

    My two solutions I considered were A) introduce upbeat foil; or B) make upbeat foil main protagonist and relegate original one to secondary or dual protagonist status. Do y’all think that would be the way to go, or do you have a better idea?

    • I would add that there are many and varied ways to make a protagonist exhibit depression. There are also stages of depression that aren’t just defined by being mopey all the time (like Buffy). And good Lord is Buffy an annoying protagonist period, so I wouldn’t use her as a litmus test unless you’re specifically trying to re-create that character. What I think season 6 had wrong with it was not that watching a depressed character can’t be interesting (look at Harry Potter, for crying out loud) but that nothing else going on in the plot was all that interesting either. So, is yours a plot or a character problem? Perhaps the real problem is that you need to mix up some plot things in the beginning.

      Also, how does the character show depression? Does she display anger? Does she try to cover it up by overcompensating with peppiness? Does she try to act like she doesn’t care or that nothing is wrong? Who does she tell about it, if anyone?

      • I could probably start the story a little later in it’s own chronology to get it to a more interesting part of the plot. Or do some major restructuring for the first act, seeing as there’s not a whole lot to mix up.

        As for the character, I think the problem is that I didn’t want her to seem weak, so I got attached to depicting her as really sullen and bitter, and had her pursue an unhealthy degree of self-reliance. So far my execution has either made her express her emotions by acting mopey, or by withdrawing and becoming a loner–often they amounted to the same thing. She doesn’t really have anyone left to talk to, so she talks about it with a newcomer to the community when said newcomer drags it out of her (this was where I was considering inserting the foil).

        And I agree with you about Buffy, she was just the first example that popped into my head.

        • Some people find friends and activity online. If you were a pretty social person before all your friends ditched you, typically you find some way to make up for that. Either with new friends, spending more time with family/others, doing other stuff, or hanging out on the Internet. Perhaps an ironic positive to all this would be that she spends more time on homework (if it’s YA; I don’t know) to escape and her grades start to improve. Then it’s like, well f/ing great, I got an A, but not for the reasons I was always trying to get an A. It’d be even worse if her parents praised her for improving her grades now that she’s gotten rid of her “bad influence” friends. In high school, I always just studied a lot when things sucked, because it gave me an amazing, legitimate, ready-made excuse to avoid people. I would lie about having a ton of homework even when I didn’t.

          The opposite would be if your character is a person whose grades suffer for all this. If she’d thought of herself as really smart before, she will now have something else to be depressed about.

    • Maybe a dual POV might work. So you can switch between the upbeat and the ‘in development’ and maybe pull a switch-a-roo in terms of mood of each of the characters as the tale goes on?

  • May 13, 2014 at 11:39 PM // Reply

    My only real problem right now is that I’m sleep-deprived and over-extended and my brain is full of stuff and so I can’t get any traction as I move from my latest release to the next project. I may need to send Chuck a plane ticket to come out and personally kick me in the keister.

    • First of all: Get some sleep. Think of it as marinating your ideas/restoring your sanity/whatever. I personally can’t get much done when I am that run down.

      Maybe make a list of priorities? I know that sometimes what I do is tell myself that rather than get a reward of writing when I finish something, writing is the task I have to do in order to get to the other stuff on my list that HAS to be done. It’s like directed procrastination.

    • Sounds like you need a break away from writing, even if only a short one. Catch up on sleep. Do something else. Then come back to your writing refreshed.

  • I’ve got one. The drive to write is just…gone.

    Poof.

    I look at my fiction and just can’t be bothered to care. I used to post flash fiction all the time, but now it’s just…eh…

    I’ve studied countless tomes, theories, subscribed to writing blogs, and just absorbed everything I could to write the best that I could.

    And now…zerp.

    Thoughts? Ideas? Recommendations for medical treatment?

    • I suppose you need to figure out whether you want to write anymore? If you do, then maybe it’s time to change tack and find out what exactly you want to write. Or take some time away from it all and see if that helps.

  • I’m rewriting my fantasy novel, changing it from adult to children readership. This means not only re-aging the two main characters but also changing the plot as well. As such I’m using some of the chapters I already had but adding new ones too. My main problems lie in organising it all and motivating myself to keep going.

    • Why are you having trouble with motivation? Who told you to change it from Adult to children? It sounds like if you’re having trouble with the change over some part of you doesn’t think it’s right for the story.

      • Hi Emily, thanks for the comment. I was having problems writing it as an adult novel so I thought I would try to write it as a children’s novel with child (14 and 11) protagonists. It’s working much better this way. I think the lack of motivation is moving from the writing to editing. It’s hard work. Maybe I just need to knuckle down.

  • I’m having trouble figuring out where I lose people in my YA fantasy novel. I’ve had several beta readers go through it now, who all talk about it starting great, and ending great but the middle lagging meaning they don’t ‘fall in love with it’. But whenever I suggest changing certain things to help pick up the lag they say, “Oh no, you can’t do that, that thing needs to be there, it’s an important part of the story.”

    What I need is articulation, but I’m not sure how to goad that out of the betas. Any suggestions?

    • Be more blunt about it, maybe? “What specifically lost you in the middle section?” or even, “What as a reader would you like to see happen here?” or “If you were writing this, what would you do in this section to make things more interesting/connect with readers more?” Personally, I never quite understand what people mean when they say “fall in love with it” because different personalities look for very different things in a novel. My beta reader who loves YA contemporary and romance and really loves characters above all else is not going to “fall in love with” my dark fantasy novel, but she’ll have some good things to say about it. Perhaps the problem is genre-related. Do you have a good mix of betas with different personalities, reading habits, likes/dislikes, and things they focus on in books? Some people love action; others love characters. Also, do any of them read YOUR genre? I think this is incredibly important. They don’t all have to be YA fantasy readers, but if they don’t much care for fantasy anyway, they will help you but probably not “fall in love with it.” Of course, if they are ALL YA fantasy readers, you may want to ask someone with a different taste or perspective. I’m not saying that the problem is due to the beta readers’ tastes in reading, but it’s something to consider.

      Also, what kinds of things are they saying? Are they expressing dissatisfaction with plot, pacing, characters, a theme, a specific scene or even a line, something inconsistent, or something else? Ask them to articulate specifically what bugs them about that section and go from there. Also, you as the writer could put your brain into reader mode and read said section: if you had bought this book, would you like this section? Why or why not? What would bug you about it? If you take that angle, don’t hunt for a specific problem; look at everything more generally/with a wider scope, like a reader would. See if anything stands out to you. Just don’t edit as you read along (because then you’re in writer mode, not reader mode).

      I hope that that is helpful. :) (If you would like to have another beta or anything, beta reading is my favorite form of procrastination, and my contact info is on my blog.) Best wishes!

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