Happy Monday, everyone! This week, I'm tying up the last few pointers here and how you can incorporate them into your own writing. Thank you for joining me on this animation journey!
No work is ever wasted. And if it's not working, let go and move on - if it's useful, it'll show up again.
I have at least four drafts of my current story on Google Docs at the moment. I will never encourage clients or friends (or anyone, really) to delete a draft, even if they think they're done with it and it's never going anywhere and it's terrible and they need to start over completely... was that a train of thought running through there? First drafts are where you list the ideas. I mentioned this in my Motivation Monday post earlier today. Any time you're stuck or forgot what your original storyline was, take a look at your first draft. You may not like it, but there could be something in there that sparks another idea or you can think of a way to make it better that fits your new story. It's not bad. It's not wasted just because you didn't fit it into your final draft. Change is good. Change means creativity. I've also kept almost everything I've ever written, including multiple nearly full spiral notebooks of High School Musical & Glee fanfiction I wrote in middle school and high school. I do go back a read them every once in a while, and as cringey as it is, it's fun to see how my writing has grown since then.
You have to know yourself and know the difference between doing your best and being fussy. Story is testing, not refining.
This is so difficult for me as an editor because I want the first draft to be the last draft. But, realistically, of course I know that's not feasible. And it shouldn't be. Over the course of writing my book, I've added new things, figured things out, and realized there were some things I didn't need. And when I'm done with this draft, my full first draft, I'll go back and make sure those things make sense, which could result in something else showing up. As authors, we do this over and over until there's nothing left to be said. Your job as an author is to tell the story. An editor's job is to refine it. That's why I believe the bones of the story are so important - it can't function without good bones, just like a house won't stand up without a good foundation. Once that's in place, the rest will come.
Coincidences that get characters into trouble are great. Coincidences that get them out of trouble are cheating.
The thing that irks me the most in movies and books alike is convenience and circumstance that wouldn't normally be there. For example, a character falls down a hole that was set for him as a trap and covered in leaves. Suddenly, he brings out a portable ladder that he always carries around but it's never been mentioned the rest of the story until this point. Or even if it is, it's never used until this very moment as if that's the whole reason he was carrying it around in the first place. This isn't creative, and it's not believable. It's not fun to read. One fun example of this being done correctly is shows like MacGyver. If you haven't seen it, in almost every episode if not every episode, he creates a tool or gadget to get him out of a situation by taking pieces of materials around him and putting them together to make something entirely new (think bombs out of Legos, a bike chain, and a battery, or something silly like that). I have to admit, this isn't always 100% believable and sometimes does lean toward coincidence, but I think they do a good job of making it seem feasible.
Exercise. Take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How would you arrange them into something you do like?
This is opposite of taking elements of works you like and copying them, but this gives you a chance to rewrite something in your own style, or even with your own characters. I know I talk about fanfiction sometimes (I've already mentioned it in this post!), and I really do love the versatility it gives writers. In some ways, it's easier to be creative, because you already have developed characters you know and love that you're working with. You already know how they would react to conflict, so you can throw them into situations (or, let's be real, relationships) that they didn't get to experience in their own world. Slight changes to existing stories is a very fun writing exercise for me, and this is honestly how some fanfiction stories begin! We didn't like the way they did it, so we'll write it ourselves. And then you end up with Fifty Shades of Grey, and we're in a whole other world.
Identify with your situation/characters. Don't write "cool." What would make you act that way?
I'm actually not entirely sure I agree with this one. Definitely strive to identify with your characters, otherwise readers won't find themselves in them or learn to care about them. However, finding what would make you, the author, act a certain way won't always be true to character. Let's get a little out of touch with reality here. Your main character (MC) was born with an inability to feel pain. MC's love interest thinks it's weird of fun at the beginning, but then on a dark turn, takes advantage of that and begins to intentionally harm MC. Would MC fight back? They've never felt pain in their lives - how would they know how to react? However, if MC turned around and did the same to their love interest, that person would react very differently. I think it's important to gauge your characters' reactions to make sure they're honest to their personalities, but there's no need to put yourself into all of them, especially if there's a character you're trying to write so differently from you, which can be difficult in itself.
Putting it on paper allows you to start fixing it. If a perfect idea stays in your head, you'll never share it with anyone.
WRITE. YOUR. IDEAS. DOWN. Whether you think they're good or not, write them down. You can't publish a book without starting with that first idea. When I worked at at an animal hospital, I would keep a small notebook in the pocket of my scrubs and every time I thought of something that had to do with my book, anything at all, I would write it down and then come back to it later. And not every idea might make it into your final draft, but it might spark an idea for a sequel or something else. One of my favorite quotes came from this notebook, as have half of a chapter I wrote on my lunch break or scenes that would creep into my head as I was cleaning litter boxes. I think as writers, our brains are always going behind the scenes. We're always thinking about our writing, our characters, the worlds we've created, and sometimes these things don't always come out when we're trying to grab them, but rather, it seems, when we've got nothing to record them with (in the shower, driving, etc). But you won't know if something's a good idea until you try it, until you test it.
Well, that's all, folks! Did you like this series? Did you learn anything? What would you like me to take a look at next?
We're back - and we've made it though the first month of the new year - with part three of Pixar! Have you gotten tired of it yet?
Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is part of you. Recognize it before you use it.
I feel like this one is self-explanatory, but it's true! There's a reason you're interested in some particular part of the story, whether it's a love triangle or a certain sad scene. Why do you like it? What's appealing? What does it say about you as a person? Your personality, your experiences, your own story? If you're going to take an idea from another story, as is what happens with most authors, think about why you're using it. What does it mean to you? Do you like what it did to the characters or how it makes your feel - how you want your readers to feel.
Why must you tell this story in particular? What's the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That's the heart of it.
There's a reason that certain authors have stories to tell, and if someone else were to write your story for you, it wouldn't be the one you wanted, right? This is also the important thing to remember about collaboration itself. We all want help from our friends, and even I love asking for someone else's ideas. But it's necessary to critically think about the advice you're getting and if it will really work in your story as they're telling you, or if it's something that may give you an idea. Taking advice because you don't know what else to write and it sounds like it could work could change the story completely - plot lines erased, characters' visions changed. It's not usually that drastic, but it has that potential, and the potential to become whatever the other person wanted to read instead. But this is your story. Think about why you're so invested in your story and why you had that idea in the first place. What does your story mean to you?
Discount the first thing that comes to mind - and the second, and the third, and the fourth, and the fifth. Get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
This isn't always one you think about, and not necessarily something I always follow myself, but predictability can lead to a boring story. If the reader already knows what's going to happen, what's the point of continuing with the story? Twists, turns, and loops are the most fun part of a story, but make sure to keep things believable, at least to the lore of the story. Just like a roller coaster, if you can see the track, it's not nearly as much fun as if you're in the dark and/or don't know what's coming up. Plus, thinking outside the box gives your mind an opportunity to be creative! Think about scenarios you'd never expect - it may be your next great plot point!
Give your characters opinions. A character being passive or malleable is easy for you as a writer, but it's poison to your audience.
This is so important for a good book, and it kind of goes along with the point above - if your character is predictable, the story can get boring. It reminds me of improvisation that we used to do in my high school drama class. For all the non-theatre kids out there, the first rule of improv is to always say "yes, and..." or "no, but..." . If someone asks if you've ever wrangled a dinosaur, say yes. Think about it: "Hey, do you want to go to the park today?" "No." How boring is that? The story stops before it even begins. And if you're trying to give your character believability, having them go along with everything you need them to because it's convenient isn't going to give them a thrilling personality. It's going to leave readers with a character they care absolutely nothing about with no feelings or emotions of their own. They are not going to be invested in any aspects of their live if they don't have a personality that lends itself to story conflict.
What's the essence of the story? What's the most economical way of telling it? If you know this, you can build out from there.
This particular rule boils it down to the most basic storyline you start out with, the bones of your story. Once you've got that, add the muscles, add the organs, add the nerves, add the skin. Think about the answer you give people when they ask "What's your story about?". For me, I feel like this is such a bad question because my answer (spoiler) is "Two orphans find a dream world and a man stuck in there that they need to help get out," or something along those lines. Sounds boring, right? But the truth is, there's so much more to it than that. There's monsters, romance, multiple dimensions... but that all came from the bones. That's what's going to make your story. Just like a house. If it doesn't have good bones, there's not much you can do with it until you get them.
If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
Back to believability for this one. Your characters are real people, not robots. This may be easier for some than for others, and that's totally okay! Put yourself in your character's shoes and think about how you would handle the emotions your character may be feeling. Then, shift over to the character, especially the parts that are different than you. This may take a little thinking, as you want to make it honest, but "honesty lends credibility" is true here - if it feels real, it becomes real.
What are the stakes? Give us a reason to root for the character. What happens if he doesn't succeed? Stack the odds against him.
This is a basic step in order to 1) build character, but also 2) make sure your character can't just leave the story. There's a reason he/she has to be there, right? If they can walk away, so can a reader. This is one of the most difficult pieces for me as a writer, especially in my own story. "Because he wants to" doesn't always cut it. Stacking the odds against your character and seeing how they react to things is what helps them develop. It's said that humans show their true forms under stress, and your characters are no different. Even if it's something you end up not using in the final draft because it doesn't fit, think about what could happen and try it out. You'll get honesty from them either way, and it makes the plot more exciting if they have to finish it to succeed.
Tune in next week for the final part! Also, if you haven't subscribed to the newsletter yet, please do! There's a new writing template out each month, plus one just for signing up!
Happy Monday and MLK Day! This week, I'm back with a continuation of Pixar's 22 Rules of Storytelling! Enjoy!
Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You'll feel like you're losing valuable stuff, but it sets you free.
I think everyone struggles with this at some point, again, no matter how much you sit down and outline and plan things out. You spend all this time creating characters and scenes and plot lines and plot twists that removing any of them feels like giving up a part of yourself. But unless you're a very rare breed that can do complicated plots with a lot of characters (looking at you, J.K.), having too many characters or too many side plots will get confusing for readers. Sure your MC might have a TON of friends. But are all of them important to the plot? What would change if they were gone? If they were mentioned in passing but never developed. Would it change the story or does that character really not add anything to the story at all? I like to write by the notion that everything in a story has a purpose. I don't have a mountain just to have a mountain - someone's going to climb it. I don't have characters just to fill in the gaps - they always have a purpose or pose a challenge. Subplots are good; don't get me wrong. But what challenge do they create for the story? Is it a distraction for their main objective or a way for them to meet someone they wouldn't normally?
What is your character good at or comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at him. Challenge him. How does he deal with it?
This one's kind of self-explanatory, but important. It gets back to things changing in order for your characters to grow. We learn through learning, and so do your characters. Most of the time, their personality comes from them going through challenges (just like real life)! I like to explore my characters' personality through this more than just describing - I feel like it's easier and more fun to read when you figure them out as they go!
Come up with your ending before you get to your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard. Get yours working up front.
Again, things are going to change as you write. It's inevitable. Struggling with the ending seriously resonates with me because let me spill a little tea: I don't believe I've finished anything I've written (okay, maybe a fanfiction). My problem is that I never want the story to end. I want to keep going and keep writing, but I know that's not always possible. It has to end eventually, and it's better to figure that out in the beginning so after you get to the middle, you can work your way up to it. That's why outlining can be so helpful with this - you already have the plot and there's less room for distractions on your way there and it won't be a race to the finish to get the perfect ending. Plus, if you know how it's going to end, it's much easier to allude to it through the rest of the book instead of trying to go back in the second draft and realize that nothing matches up.
Finish your story. Let go even if it's not perfect. In an ideal world, you would have both, but move on. Do better next time.
As much as any author hates to hear this, your first story is NOT going to be your best. The first book is like a trial. Especially if you're going through the traditional publishing route, this is where many get discouraged. Not everyone's going to like it, and that's okay. Maybe come back to it in a few years. But the most important thing I feel like needs recognizing is the fact that you finished writing it in the first place. That's definitely an accomplishment that you should be proud of! A lot of people never finish their books, and you did! Just because it may not be your best work doesn't mean it doesn't deserve credit. And if you do decide to start on a second, you'll have all the experience from writing the first under your belt. You'll know what works for you and what doesn't - what comes naturally and what doesn't. Take that knowledge and use it to make your next book even better and then maybe revisit the first and see if there's anything you can tweak!
When you're stuck, make a list of what wouldn't happen next. More often than not, the material that gets you unstuck appears.
This nugget of advice is a little overused in my opinion, but there's definitely some truth to it. This ties right into the practice of challenging your characters. In other words: don't make a predictable plot. Challenge the audience as much as you challenge your characters. What would they least expect? Does that work? Even if the idea doesn't stick around forever, thinking of difference scenarios and how they would fit in can help you get through that block or rut you feel you can't get out of. You can always change it later
Happy Monday! We made it through our first full week of 2021 with little change from 2020 as far as the whole "this one will be better" thing, BUT we still have plenty of time to get work done, so if you're feeling a little overwhelmed and anxious and unmotivated as I was, it's okay. Really.
This week, and for the next three consecutive weeks, I'd like to take a look at a few points that really help me outline or fine tune any plot points I'm working on when I'm struggling. In this month's newsletter, I sent out a Three-Act Plotting template, which can help you create a basic outline for your story and a general order of events. Many stories use this design because it's a clear journey, easy to follow along, and is perfect for coming-of-age stories or other life-changing events that characters will go through, and what better company to look at for a good story than Pixar?
Though some people like to make fun of the predictability of Pixar's hero arcs and storylines, there's no doubt that the method is successful, no matter which characters are created to follow it. Some of their storytelling points can be vague, so I'm going to try to elaborate on them a little bit, at least what they mean to me. Hopefully this will help you as well!
Admire characters for attempting more than their successes have been.This might be one of the hardest things to do as a writer, but I think it's important to treat your characters like you would a friend. If they go after something with a sudden renewed passion and excitement, of course you're going to be excited for them. Characters will get boring if they stay static - the whole point of characters in a book is making them grow. They're something different in the end than they are in the beginning, and that's usually a result of doing something very out of their comfort zones. And there's also the magic word in here: attempting. They're not always going to succeed, which is fair for realism. BUT that doesn't mean they shouldn't try. Let them try to figure out what happens next. Let them try to help.
Keep in mind what's interesting to you as an audience, not what's fun as a writer. They can be very different. I can't stress this enough. This is so important for a successful story. There's going to be a near-constant struggle between what's easy and what's good (hasn't that been said somewhere before?), but when you're writing, and when you're reading your own writing, try to think objectively about if you, as a stranger, were reading it. Would you like it? Why? Why not? Killing a villain by throwing him off a building might be the easy way if you don't want to write a drawn-out fight scene at the end. But is anyone going to want to read it? You might want to avoid trying to figure out seemingly insignificant plot holes by saying it was all a dream... but will anyone be happy with that? On the other hand, killing off a character you don't like might be fun before he causes too much trouble. But is that what's right for your story? Is that what will keep readers hooked? In the end, you're not writing this for you. Unless you are, then you can forget everything I just said. Most of the time, you're trying to write it for an audience that's full of different people with different lives and different opinions that aren't always going to like the same things you do.
Trying for theme is important, however, you won't see what the story is about until you're at the end of that story. Got it? Now revise.
This is why revision is so good. This is why first drafts don't work (most of the time). I started my latest draft of my book from scratch because I got stuck and didn't know what was holding me back. But I'd learned things since I started before, so when I was doing the rewrites, I could tweak stuff that didn't make sense or would be important later. Even if you do heavy outlining, once you get on your own with your book, I think it's inevitable that something will change by the time you get to the end. And as I've said before, that's not a bad thing. Embrace it. It's probably better than your original idea anyway!
Once upon a time, there was ______. Every day, ______. One day, ________. Because of that, __________. Because of that, ________. Until finally, ___________.
Here's the predictability we all know and love. It's the ordinary life of an ordinary boy/girl/dog/rat/etc. until something changes to make their life suddenly different. From there, events snowball until we end up with the character at the end. It seems too simple, but when elaborated, it works. Think about it: if you lived your life the exact same way, would you grow as a person if you never took chances or did anything new? The way to grow characters is to force them into something they wouldn't normally do. Give them something to figure out and see how they do it. More on that later!
Well, y'all, we made it through 2020. I know it doesn't mean anything, really, but I always like to think of the new year as a new start, whether it's setting intentions for yourself or continuing your goals from last year with a renewed energy.
I started NaNoWriMo last year with the intention of finishing my book. However, I was also working a full time job and editing for clients, so deadlines for my clients took priority over finishing my own projects. I took the last few months of the year to focus on myself and prepare for this new year with a new outlook on life and what I want, and I feel like I achieved that for the most part. But in doing that, my goal of finishing my book in November was pushed to the end of last year, and now I'm shooting for January.
That's the beautiful thing about goals to me: they adapt. They don't stay the same, and that's okay. If you start off with wanting to write 1,000 words a day and you can't after you've tried for a week, dial it back to 500. Is that more attainable? Just because there's a "magic internet number" of 1,000 words, that doesn't mean it's feasible for you, especially if you're not just writing all day. Every day is different - there's the potential for new inspiration as well as new challenges.
If you create a goal and don't stick to it, don't feel bad. You probably have a very good and valid reason you didn't meet your goal for that day. Try again tomorrow, and try to keep your head up.
Also an important piece of creating and keeping goals, especially with creative work like we do, is not to force creativity if that's not something you're good at. For me personally, if I force myself to write when I'm not feeling inspired or creative in any way, I'll have to take more time in revisions trying to figure out what my intentions were and fixing it so that it's decent, that I may as well have just waited for the spark of creativity to hit before it started. Now that's not to say that you should go days and days waiting if you have a goal in mind - but try to work on something else for a while if you can: perfect your outline, work on character sheets, draw something pertaining to your book, do some worldbuilding that isn't necessarily key to the plot, but might be interesting to think about.
But don't give up if you have a lapse in success. It doesn't have to be perfect; it just has to get done.
There's always room for improvement if you look hard enough, so it's very unproductive to dwell on it. Do your best!