Posted in Exercises, writing

The Middle Bit

When it comes to a story, there’s three main parts to the plot: The beginning, the middle and the end. If you want to get technical, there’s an exposition, rising action, climax and  resolution. Regardless of what you call them, there’s one part that causes numerous headaches.

The middle. Writers everywhere struggle with getting from the opening to the ending.

The Saggy Middle is a common complaint among writers. We’ve all been there. The opening is great! The climax is dramatic. The resolution is perfect.

It’s that bit between the opening and the climax that’s not holding a lot of tension, causing it to feel lackluster and flabby. There’s a couple of reasons that might be, most of them structural in nature.

If you’re a pantser like me, beware of having too many detours in your middle. While it’s easy to wander through a lot of different scenes, make sure you’re taking a look at what each scene is doing for your plot. Do you really need it? If the answer is no, remove it. If it does add something, ask yourself if it’s in the right place: does it make sense in context with only the two nearest scenes? If not, move it to a more appropriate place.

If you’re more of a plotter and you’ve done an outline, then take at the tension in your scenes. If your characters aren’t facing obstacles, then it can seem like you’ve driven them into the climax with no real motivation to change. Take a look at whether or not you’ve got enough obstacles in the way of your characters. If you don’t, look at where obstacles would make sense and consider reworking the specific scenes.

No Idea What Happens Next is another problem with the middle, but it occurs most often in the actual writing process of an early or rough draft. You might know how to start the story, and you might know where it ends. What happens in between can be a bit fuzzier.

In this case, try making a list of things that could happen. They don’t need to be an outline, or even logical–just start listing things your characters could do. Let your inspiration wander freely down this list. Remember you can come back later and take out anything that doesn’t fit.

Once you have a list of at least five things, set a timer for fifteen minutes and write a scene as if each of those things is what happens next. Which ones are you more inclined to keep writing on?

 

Posted in General, writing

Deciding On a Rewrite

Writing a first draft is well-known to be rough. That’s one of the reasons why it’s also called the rough draft. Doing an entire rewrite is only moderately easier. If you’re a panster/discovery writer, doing a rewrite can completely spark an all new interest in the story. But, how do you decide on doing a complete rewrite?

For me, that start with the intent to polish a very rough draft. As with everything else I edit, I started by making a list of things that needed attention. This only covered the big arcs of character and plot, and scene-level issues like placement problems and incorrect facts. That ended up being a two-page list of large issues.

From there, I started looking at the major structural problems I was having. The big one was plot. Although it’s got a good base on it, it’s rushed and there are parts of it that feel a little contrived. That was a good note however, I know in my early drafts the plot can be a little wobbly, but the fact I had a decent base meant I also had a good chance of salvaging something.

Characters were also another really big problem. Their motivations either weren’t clear or were utterly nonexistent. The three biggest characters also only differed from each other in very small ways: none of them stood out as a character on their own.  I also had some problems with side characters, who I admit, only seemed to exist to fill in a role in the story.

My setting was good, though it can still use some fleshing out. It offered plenty of place for conflict and both resources and obstacles for my characters. The problem was my plot almost completely ignored those opportunities. Between that and the glaring problems with my characters, the structure of the story itself wasn’t sound.

It was pretty obvious right away that there wasn’t much hope for polish. As it was, the story needed too much structural work. Although there’s a few lines I’m hoping will survive, a handful of sentences out of some fifty-thousand words isn’t a lot.

Starting the rewrite however, first requires going back and building a little more groundwork. To that extent I’m doing some worldbuilding and a few character-development exercises.

Posted in Exercises

Characterization

There are three fundamental aspects that every single story has, regardless of good, bad, popular or unknown. Without those three pieces, you don’t have a story. They include plot, setting and characters. Those three elements are impossible to escape. Your characters are who the story is about, your plot is what happens during the story and your setting is where the story happens.

While I could delve into why it’s impossible to write a story without all three of those present, today I want to focus on characters. They’re often the main and central focus of the story for your readers. Making characters distinct for one another relies heavily on characterization.

Characterization itself is the distinct features each character has. This goes beyond just physical features and into personality traits and habitual quirks. These are your defining features that help your characters stand out from one another.

Speech is a huge place for characterization to come through. The way people talk often reflects the environment they’re most often surrounded by and were raised in. As an exercise, you can write down a list of common words with multiple synonyms (think car, soda, mother, etc) and determine which ones your characters would use. Would one of them use Mom while another uses Momma, or even Mother? Is it a vehicle or an auto?

Phrasing is important in speech as well. If you have someone who’s learned a second language, how they learned it will impact how they speak it. Someone who learned organically through immersion would have picked up more slang words and may still have some chunks missing from their vocabulary. Someone who learned through traditional schooling may have a more formal structure, but struggle with idioms and expressions.

As an exercise for phrasing, think about any idioms, expressions or sayings that might crop up. Think about how each character might use a variation of that central expression.

Habits are often linked to subconscious things that can tell us a lot about personalities. Someone who chews their nails might be very nervous or they can be bored. Similarly, someone who shuffles their feet a when walking might be less inclined to rush about to do things.

Even in the foods we dislike, some characters will try to mask the taste by mixing that food in, while others prefer to eat it first and get the worst over with. Still other characters will separate it from the other foods and try to avoid more than a few bites of it at all.

As an exercise, consider three subconscious habits your character might have. These are things they probably do without thinking. Does he wipe his feet before coming through a door? Does she do certain chores or tasks in a specific order? Do they have a specific reaction to being reprimanded? Will they only do certain things when they’re tired/hungry/scared?

Self-Expression covers how characters portray themselves. Someone who takes pride in their appearance might be vain, or they could be masking self-esteem problems. Similarly, someone who speaks their mind freely might be confident, or they may feel as if they have to constantly explain their thoughts and actions to avoid being judged.

Because self-expression is so easily varied, it might help for you to consider how your characters express themselves and why they do in a particular way. Examine things like how they dress, how much work they put into keeping their spaces (include housing, vehicles and work areas) tidy, how often they speak up and what sort of hobbies they enjoy outside of their work or job.

Posted in General

January Recap

It feels a bit like January has taken forever to move by. Just a couple of weeks ago I was writing a launch post for Crimson and Gold. I was also looking at my projects and trying to decide what to work on next.

A lot has happened this month, both in writing and in other life matters. I’ve sadly, had to start looking at getting a new computer as my current one is showing its age. Along with some slowness, it’s no longer handling some of the programs I use regularly thanks to reduced memory and updates to those programs. I’ve also noted that my keyboard is having some trouble with one side of my space bar and the n key. In some ways I’m looking forward to that as it gives me a chance to clean out my desk when I replace my computer (I’m also looking for ways I can recycle it.)

Alongside the launch, I also built a tracker to see how much I’m actually writing throughout the year. For January, that ended up being just over seventy-thousand. I’m really surprised at how much I ended up writing even without a focused project.

Building the tracker lead me to digging through my project list. That ultimately lead me to digging out a very old story for a complete rework. I’ve spent the last couple of days doing some exercises to help flesh out and build on the existing idea and will be working on the rewrite throughout February.

CRIMSONANDGOLDREVEALCOVERThe biggest thing for January was of course, the launch for Crimson and Gold. It’s exciting to be able to say it’s available on Amazon for $0.99 (USD). There was a huge learning curve involved getting ready for launch, and I’m looking forward to what comes next.

What happened in your January?