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!
I've never been good at finishing stories. Ask the tens of notebooks lying around my house with 3/4 of a fanfiction in them. Please don't ask me to write a short story, because more than likely, it will turn into a novel. I've been successful with some of my fanfictions, but that's probably because I have an idea in my head and the characters written for me, so it's a little easier for me to break things off when the story comes to a finishing point.
But with my own characters, it's like I don't want their story to end. And yes, I know that's what sequels are for. But part of me is worried that it will take me as long for a sequel as it did/is taking for this one. Which, for the record, I know is ridiculous, because I'm not having to create these characters again. I do keep telling myself that, but I digress.
My writing style is... different.. from other writers I've talked to. I let my characters write their own stories, and my fingers are just the vessels through which they speak. I step back and let them take over. I don't force them to speak when they don't want to/can't, and I think that's why dialogue is one of my strong suits. Plotting, however, is a different story.
Over the eight years of me trying to get this novel finished, it's changed main characters, plots, names, etc. so many times, it's a completely different story than I started out with. At first, I was upset with myself at that, but it's part of the creative process, right? What you start out with doesn't always become what you end up with, and I think that's true no matter the medium, whether it's drawing, painting, writing, music, or journaling, even. Inspiration changes and ideas change. The longer you work with certain aspects of creativity, they have more time to say different things to you.
Only last week, I knew how my story was going to end. It came at a time when I was having writer's block at pushing forward with the current scene, so I took my own advice that I give to writers all the time: start somewhere else. And I started from the end. I picked a spot close to the end, or what I thought might be the end, and the words started flowing like a river. Now, I'm sure some things will change when I get back to that point and do a little more scene-building, but I did it. I wrote the end of my book, something I wasn't sure would even happen, considering my track record. And now I have something to work towards.
I've got about 15,000 words to fill in to reach my goal, so the next few weeks will most likely be a combination of starting from the point I left off and moving forwards and starting from the end and working backwards until they meet in the middle. I'm actually very excited to try writing backwards, as that's something totally new and challenging, and I love the concept of it.
When they do meet in the middle, I will have my first full draft of my first novel, and the feeling of just typing that brings in such a sense of accomplishment and a goal reached. I will still have a long way to go, but I'll be over that first hurdle, which has been the hardest for me so far.
I'll keep you updated, but keep an eye out in the coming weeks for that HOORAY post!