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
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I'm an editor, yes, but I'm also on a writing journey of my own. In writing about my own struggles, maybe it'll help you out, too.