Friday, May 25, 2012

Four Weeks Into It - Writing Issues

Dear Diary,

I'm drowning. It's been four weeks since I've been laboring over a YA that I started ages back. And I want to throw something or someone from a bridge. Okay, not literally. Not a diary person.

Bye Diary

Anyway, I've been working on my first novel for the last month and I'm neck deep in a boat of trouble. All I've got so far is a prologue and four chapters (about 21K words) of a fantasy YA. And I'm stuck. Because I don't have a plan. That's right, I don't and I'm reading up on stuff and doing some research so I can save the damn story.

Because the idea of dumping it and moving on to Story Idea No. 2 (not a YA, but still fantasy with an element of mystery) is sounding more and more tempting, according to my shoulder demon. Of course, the shoulder angel is telling me to give it a go and finish it even if it's crap because at least it's good practice. So, before dumping a month's worth of work, let me look at the issues:

Problem No.1: I don't have a plot outline. Yet. This can be both good and bad, depending on the writer. Some writers write by the seat of their pants (or alternately "pantsers") and prefer little or no planning, making things up as they go along, and then go back to correct inconsistencies after they're done. Then we've got the middlemen, those who prefer to have some kind of plot skeleton to guide them throughout the writing. Finally we've got the hardcore plotters, who prefer to have a detailed plot to prevent them from getting stuck during the writing.

This is highly subjective and there's no right way to do this. For some people, plotting works, for others it doesn't. I'm trying to find a balance and I'm thinking I might try being a middleman and not a pantser because believe me I've read stories which have great ideas and great dialogue (and are even NYT bestsellers), but read like a bad dream.

Problem No.2: A story that's moving at a snail's pace (a by-product of not having a plot outline of some kind). I think some parts of it, though coherent with the story, are extraneous. I'm thinking I'll need to take a knife to it and cut all the unnecessary fat after I'm finished. That is, provided I even make it to the finish line.

Problem No.3: Dialogue that's on the run - literally. This is where I want to bang my head on the wall or something. When I start writing dialogue, I don't know where to stop. It just keeps dragging on. But then, I realize I have a limited word count and that it might be a good idea to keep it short and to the point. As long as the dialogue is helping the story move, it's on. But if it's not really helping, then I'm afraid it has to go, no matter how sparkly it seems to me...(gulp).

Problem No.4: Characterization issues. I cannot get a proper handle on some of my secondary characters, but I think if I keep writing, then maybe I'll get a better handle on them, so I can go back and breathe some more life into them in the beginning scenes.

Problem No. 5: My writing is clunky in some places. When you know your writing is clunky, you rewrite. It sounds simple, but it's not. However with practice, you get there.

When I look at the big picture, because I don't have a fixed plot outline in my head, I'm not sure I like where my story is currently heading. Does this mean my story's screwed? Maybe, maybe not.

The day you realize your story sucks, you do some research and some thinking and you go ahead and fix it. Easy, isn't it? Maybe not so much. You have to think deep and hard about it - if the story premise doesn't engage your attention enough, then maybe it's time to chuck it to the bin. But, you see it's not so easy to throw it because you've spent time with it, getting to know the characters and you have an emotional investment in it. It's a hard decision to make.

I guess it's time for me to take a good hard look at my story and decide whether to carry on with it or not. Anyway, since I've never finished a novel before, maybe I should follow the advice of my shoulder angel :)

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