Browsing "novel writing"

Do not Revise–Rewrite your Story

There are two sides to writing a story–writing it and editing it.  Writing is exploring your story to get all of what you have imagined out onto the page.  Editing is taking that and polishing it, or for most of my stuff, cutting then replacing.

I often find myself rewriting large parts of my story, and I have decided that, often, this is actually a better way to work.  When I rewrite, I already know the story I am working on.  I know where it is going to go, probably, and I also have a good idea of where the problem points are.  By rewriting it, I can focus on where improvements are needed.

These improvements come down to things that I tend to hurry through in the first draft in my drive to get the story down on the screen.  Things like suspense, background, character traits, and simply drawing connections between things.  I also always find a place where two minor characters can be rolled into one or where a character can play an usual role later on.

You may wonder why rewriting is better than revising.  The reason is simple: ego.  You wrote these wonderful words on the page the first time.  There are certainly some very clever bits.  Can you just cut them out?  It is hard.  It is even harder to rewrite scenes that you spent ages developing, although you know in your gut they need to be completely redone.  That is another kind of writer’s block.  An ego and laziness block.  It is easier and safer for your ego to just tweak them by revising.  Don’t do it though.

You know you could rewrite them better.  Go ahead.  Give it a shot.

Conflict–storytelling’s main ingredient

The One Thing Every Good Story Must Have


Good characters really help a story, as does a good setting, good writing, and good dialogue.  We all know this.  However, we have seen poor examples of all of these.  They are not hard to find.


How can such stories succeed?  These stories can succeed simply because they have the main ingredient, the one thing that no story can be without.  That, of course, is conflict, though perhaps tension is a better word.


Without tension, you have no story.  We could have a wonderful character developed over years of thinking and experimenting, but if he has no problem, than he is just a talking head.  Boring.  These are the stories you read in writers’ workshops or those college writing classes you took, the ones where you said, “Well, George, I like your use of _____, but nothing seems to happen in your story.”


However, even if we have a flat character, in a plain setting, with poor writing, you can have a story if you add tension.  For example, many have said that The DaVinci Code has many weak points, which may or may not be true, but it is filled with tension from start to end.  That carries it through any faults it has.


It is with tension that you need to start.  When we rewrite, we need to add more.  We need to manage it, bring it up or down, decide where, when, and how to resolve it, and how reveal tension.  Neglecting it will cripple or kill a story by boring your reader.  Tension.  This is storytelling’s main ingredient.




Plotting–A Point by Point Journey Through your World

One Plot Point at a Time


Plot and character are the two pillars of storytelling.  But, how do you make a story from two ingredients?


It takes a lot of thought for a story idea to reach a critical mass in your head.  Then, it has to come onto the page; you almost cannot not write it down.


I start with a character in a setting who has a problem.  Once I have an idea of the basic story and characters, I think ahead to the first big plot point–I imagine what will happen a few days down the road as these characters, their setting, and their problems interact.


For example, I have a professor type character in one of my fantasies, who is bent on solving a world-changing puzzle.  He starts off the story as stumped.  He has been stumped for years.  I want him to meet another character that has information which will point him in the right direction.  This is the first plot point, a major scene, for the story.


At the start, my professor is very temperamental.  He is also currently in a state of depression from not being able to solve the puzzle.  How can I get him from there to the plot point?


I begin writing scenes that will bring him from the depths of his depression to the meeting with this character.  First then, I introduce a clue that wakes him from his lethargic gloom with a glimmer of hope and, more importantly for such a motivated character, a path forward where he previously saw none.


It is from here that the story will progress, scene by scene, until we reach the plot point, where he meets the second person and must convince her to supply him the information he needs.

Likewise, each scene connects with that before and after, and once that chain is built, written, and polished, I move on to the next big plot point.  Think of it as climbing a mountain–once you have overcome the steep climb to reach the top, you look ahead to the next mountain and begin that long journey.


Don’t worry–It’s much harder than it looks, but it is a lot of fun.

A long climb up a steep and slippery slope

Way back in a night in 2006, when I was in Australia on business, if you can call baby-sitting a group of Japanese high school students business, I sat down at my computer and started hammering out my novel.

It had been banging around in my head for months now,and I was getting irritated with it, so I had to release it, but after typing for an hour, I really had nothing more than a first scene and a glimpse of where I wanted to go. That meant I needed to find another 80,000 words somewhere.

A few months passed.  I returned to Japan.  I knew what I had–basically a classic story of two foes, with a bit of a romance also. I originally imagined it as a King Arthur/ Lancelot/ Guinevere type love triangle set in a setting that resembled old Rome.  Most of this would later change as the writing progressed, but before that happened, I hit the great void–writer’s blank.

I knew where I wanted to end, but I did not know how to get there.  I spun out a few side plots: the villian, the heroine, the brother, the best friend, and so on.  The story seemed to slow, and it meandered for awhile, but finally, nothing went forward.

Sometime in 2007, I went back to my first scene.  Instead of looking years down the road, literally, to the end, I decided to plan to the next dramatic peak.

I decided what this peak would be.  Then, over the next few months, I wrote the main character to that peak.  I fleshed that out.

Then decided his next peak, and did the same thing. I went through most of the first part of the story like this.

Now, I could see where I was going.  It was like turning on a few streetlights on a dark road.  You could see the curves ahead in the darkness.  I carefully began again, taking the other major characters along with my main character, knitting the story  up to the first plot point that sat in my figurative string of yarn like a knot.

So, I think that I learned that when I write, I should get the main plot line down.  From this, all else will grow outward.

I suppose it is like a road.  Once the road is laid, the avenues and lanes that branch off it can be put in place, but they all depend on that one main road.