Plot, Story, Story Arc, Structure, Writing Process

How to know when your book is finished?

Even though this will drive you all crazy, I will have to say it anyway: a story should only be as long as it needs to be. That’s it. The end, see you next time…ah but wait! Didn’t I say this post was about how you know when a story is finished? Well, I suppose, every writer sooner or later comes to a point in their story where they have to ask themselves: to end or not to end?…THAT is the question!

And it’s not always obvious…even to the most seasoned of writers! For one, anybody here ever read The Green Mile by Stephen King? No? Then you better get on it! It’s a great book…apart from the lengthy waffle at the end of the book that goes well past where I felt it should have ended. No obligation for anybody here to agree with me, but if you have read it, I would be curious if you came away with the same feeling…that the book could have come to a close much sooner than it did.

So, every time I write a story, I try to start with the end in mind…even if I only have a vague idea. Because at least it will help me not to overshoot my goal. Easy to say if you’re a plotter (which I am). Although, I think that even for the pantsers among us at least a grain of an idea as to where the story should end could be of benefit.

My flash fiction writing (although I only started this recently) is already paying off in this arena. First of all, I am getting to finish a lot more stories which means that I am getting some practice recognising the natural finish point. And secondly, I am learning to fit my story into a specific word count (I try to keep my flash fiction around 300 words). So when I write longer, I can better gauge how many words I need to write to finish the story.

If I reach the word count for my story and my planned ending hasn’t happened yet, I know I have too much waffle and too little action in my story. If my planned ending happens far from the planned word count, I have a good indicator that my story lacks detail and might be too jumpy or sudden and I can go back and insert more scenes to give the reader more information about the characters and the world.

My writing style is very action driven and I sometimes lack the patience to describe much of the world, places, and characters in my story. Writing long is a real challenge for me but getting to a pacey first draft and then revising to make sure I have enough material for the story I want to write is a good strategy for me.

See ya next time ๐Ÿ˜‰

If you recognise any of your own issues in this post, have trouble finishing a story in time for your planned ending, have a good reason not to want to plan the ending of your stories, or are so good at ending your stories perfectly that your books are a shining beacon of hope to the rest of us, please share your views in the comments below.

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Plot, Story Beats, Worthless Waffle, Writing Process

What to do when outlining isn’t enough?

Calling all plotters! Let’s imagine the following: you have established your writing process, worked out your basic structure, completed a description of every scene…but when it gets down to writing, you struggle to come up with the all important details. The narrative doesn’t flow and you inevitably find yourself asking the question what else should I add into this scene?

If this scenario is foreign to you, consider yourself lucky! It’s the number one reason why I have faltered at completing a novel so many times! Following my renewed commitment to actually finishing my first novel during last autumn, I also sparked an obsession on how to force my brain to work it out. I thought NaNoWriMo was going to fix everything. If needs must, your brain can do it!, I thought…I was WRONG!

I had all the same problems but now I was also under unnecessary pressure to hit daily word limits. The more I wanted to win, the more I lost – sleep, productivity, and even the basic joy in writing evaded me. It was horrible.

Halfway through the challenge, I stopped caring about writing my first draft. I just started jotting down some story details that I knew and started elaborating on the things that I noted in my story grid whilst asking: how would it happen? Additionally I added snippets of dialogue that came to mind in relation to the events that were finally starting to flow.

The result: things shifted completely and I started typing furiously into my word processor every day (a shame I only came to this realisation on day 25 of the 30 day challenge).

The good news is that the concept of what I discovered is not new. Sterling and Stone (an incredibly productive fiction writing trio) have termed this ‘story beats’. A detailed outline of their whole story in long prose. Whilst I haven’t studied their method in much detail and can’t say how similar or dissimilar my version of this is from what they are doing, I can attest to the fact that the rough longform outlining of story really works very well.

Here’s a list of my key findings after writing a good chunk of my rough story beats (I didn’t make it all the way to end yet but I am working on it).

  1. Some extra scenes need to be added for the story to flow (even though scenes seemed to follow on fine from each other from the story grid).
  2. Supporting characters weren’t fleshed out enough in the grid outline and it was difficult to imagine how they would react in certain situations.
  3. Not enough worldbuilding had been done – this will be addressed as a priority this year as it might change some aspect of the characters.

I can’t wait to post about how I will be addressing the issues I have identified and share any resources that help me on my journey.

See ya next time ๐Ÿ˜‰

If you are stuck with your own writing, share your issues in the comments below, maybe I can suggest something that helps (I know all about being stuck, after all). And if you have experience with story beats, I would love to hear how it’s worked for you (or not).

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Plot, Scenes, Structure, Writing Process

Is it OK to stray from your outline?

A prime question among writers! If you are a dedicated plotter (like me), you will appreciate the many upsides to having a detailed outline for your novel, short-story, work of non-fiction (or whatever else you are writing). You will know the feeling of sitting down to write with a good idea of what events, characters, scenery, etc. you need to put on the page and therefore be able give the finger (or two) to any #creativeblock that may be waiting in the wings to derail your progress – most days.

Then there are those writers (and if you are one of these, I am profusely jealous) who like to fly by the seat of their pants, discovering the story, characters, events, and scenery as they go. ‘Pantsers’ hate outlining and I get why. If you are not a plotter this post is not for you. This is for the writers who struggle to write without a map – welcome friends!

Eight scenes into my #NaNoWriMo project (Fearful Magic), I am not surprised to find that the scenes I have down so far are not the same eight scenes that fill spaces one to eight on my story grid outline. Creativity just works it’s magic that way. Once my fingers start flying over the keyboard, the unexpected happens and I let it…gladly.

First draft writing is not science. It’s a dark art. It’s perfectly fine to stray from your outline, especially during the writing of the first draft which is really about finding the right tone for the work and building the framework upon which to improve upon later. The only important thing is to make sure that you meet the key milestones of your story. So, a lose following of your outline is absolutely OK. I would say, it’s essential to ensure that you don’t get fed up with your story before it’s written.

There is always more to discover and you will never be able to come up with all the scenes up front. Does this mean outlining is a waste of time. NO! Of course not! The outline is there to get you writing. Once the writing is happening, do as you will. Once you don your editor hat you can amend your outline where necessary, then re-read, revise, re-think all aspects of your first draft…until your vision comes to life.

See ya next time ๐Ÿ˜‰

If you have trouble following your outline, get frustrated with your creativity taking you down unexpected paths and alleys, or haven’t cracked this outlining thing at all, leave a reply in the comments below and share your experience.

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Plot, Structure, Writing Process

Write scenes – not chapters!

Before you bite my head off for the contentious title of this post – let me explain. There is actually a really important distinction between a scene and a chapter which I only recently understood and it changed my outlook on writing.

A scene is a sequence of story actions taken by characters within your story. A chapter is a collection of scenes. How many scenes go into a chapter is mostly an arbitrary decision by the writer/ editor/ publisher.

If you bear this in mind, it becomes easy to see why writing in chapters might cause problems for a writer. How can you divvy up scenes into chapters when you haven’t written those scenes first and don’t know how many words are in each of them? Chapters are there for the reader. But for a writer, scenes are your friends.

Following this logic, I am committed to writing all of my stories in scenes and it’s working wonders for coming up with the right sequence of events as it becomes easy to see where there might be gaps in the plot.

See ya next time ๐Ÿ˜‰

If you are also a fan of writing in scenes rather than chapters or if writing in chapters works better for you, leave a reply in the comments below.

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