Advanced Writing Problems, Part II.

Everyone has issues with writing.  However, moving beyond grammar issues, many veteran writers will recognize some of these all-too-common scenarios.  Part I of these problems can be found here.

4. The Drunken Snake – That title may seem odd, but my only other option was “The Woman Driver.” And I don’t want to offend any women more than I do already. The Drunken Snake is the story that has a great beginning, wonderful characters, and a charming, instantly-loveable setting. It’s a great starting place, overall, and really draws in the reader, making them want to learn more.

And then it goes nowhere.

Like (I imagine) a drunken snake, the plotline seems to meander back and forth, never really managing to find a satisfactory conclusion. Maybe it’s a drama? Perhaps a mystery? Ooh, there are some horror elements that could surface! Maybe one of the characters has actually been dead the whole time! Despite these incredible literary breakthroughs and strokes of genius, the story just doesn’t have a plot. It’s a hundred pages of trampsing back and forth, never actually making any progress. And yet, even though you can see the approaching brick wall of worthlessness, you can’t bear to abandon the characters, the setting, all those charming little details. So, you push on with the doomed and hopeless venture, praying that some sort of plot will magically materialize. It won’t.
5. The On-And-On – Much like a coworker’s vacation story, or that nightmare with the spiders that you had last night, this story seemed vaguely interesting at first. There was enough to keep you going, to stop you from hitting the delete key right away. But now, as you continue to write, and write, and write, you realize that you are trapped. This story won’t be a quick piece of flash fiction, over in a thousand words or less. It won’t even be a short story, drawing to a conclusion well before ten thousand words. No, this is a dull and pointless novelette, or maybe even a novel, which you are woefully unprepared to undertake. And yet, because you’ve already started, spent so much time writing the first few thousand words, you can’t quite abandon it yet, and feel dreadfully compelled to see the whole thing through.

Most On-And-Ons tend to creep up on us, and the realization of what we’re caught in doesn’t strike until page ten or fifteen. Here’s my advice: cut your losses. As soon as you realize what monster you’ve got on your hands, drop the whole thing. Squash the project, much like you were trying to do to that spider in your nightmare last night. After a few days, gingerly pick up the pieces, try to see if the plot is salvageable, and squish it down into a condensed version. It may still be crap, but at least this way you’ll be done with it by the end of the day.

6. The Frankenstein – Yes, I’m aware that I used Frankenstein in a previous example. This is something different. Perhaps you write a charming little story. Maybe it’s a science fiction drama, with a few hints of Lovecraftian horror scattered here and there. You like it. You’re quite proud of this little story, and decide to bring it in to your editing group.

Well, they like it too. It’s great! Mostly. Maybe you could lose the horror elements, and instead bring out more of the details of the science in the future. Really hit home, point out the nitty gritty to show that you’ve thought through all the technical details of the little world that you’ve created. So you go home, do some editing, cut out those horror bits, and fill the gaps with technical info.

You think that maybe, before submitting it, you’ll get one more opinion. So you send the edited story off to a family member. He (or she, I don’t discriminate) gives it a read, and likes it! But once again, a couple small suggestions. Perhaps, instead of all the drama, you could lighten the tone slightly? You make so many good jokes; if they could be highlighted just a little more, the piece would be side-splitting. You definitely don’t want to offend this family member, whomever he or she may be, so you go ahead and make the changes. There we go, perfect!

Off the piece goes, out into the vast world of the internet, to a couple of short story publishers. Well, one of them writes back, and they like the piece too! Only, it seems to fit better as a pure comedy, rather than as a science fiction comedy. Could you reduce it back to present day, leave out some of the jetpacks and hoverboards? If so, they might have a spot for it. Sure, you enthusiastically write back, anything for a potential publisher! So the story goes back under the knife once more.

Now, by the end of this, you may have a published story. It might even be good. But when you go back and compare it to the original, you will see that it has been hacked and slashed until it was all but unrecognizable. This is the curse of The Frankenstein. In the perpetual search for improvement, your story has lost all its original qualities that made you appreciate it so much.

On the other hand, it’s being published now. So it isn’t all bad.

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