Sunday, November 1, 2009

Oh where, oh where did my story go...

“Oh where, oh where did my story go? Oh where, oh where could it be?” That's the last little ditty any writer wants to sing (to the tune of “Where oh where did my puppy-dog go”) when looking over a half-finished story. Here's what usually happens to make that tune pop into a writer's head...

You have a basic idea of what your story is about. You sort of have a handle on your main characters, and those characters are interacting and talking to each other in your head, convincing you that you're ready to start writing. You're happily writing along until suddenly, at about page 100, you realize the story's taken a sharp left turn, and you don't know where you are or what's supposed to happen next – and your characters are refusing to give you any clues! This happens to many writers, even those who diligently plot or outline their stories ahead of time. There are many reasons for this, the most common being...

1) Sometimes the characters seem to 'take over' the story, running like a child with the loose end of a ball of yarn. The farther the child (your characters) runs, the more unraveled the ball of yarn (your story) becomes. At this point you have two choices: either rein in the characters and backtrack to the point where the yarn started unraveling, or take the story where it stopped and write more to lead it back to a place that makes sense. Either choice involves a lot of work on your part.

2) Sometimes the basic idea of a story seems terrific, enough so that you’re eager to start writing before you’ve thought it through carefully enough to have contingency plans at major turning points in the action. When this happens, you need to go back to the drawing board and readdress the strengths of your story, perhaps by adding a few details and other underpinnings to shore up the story ahead of time, so that it will withstand a good pummeling when the tide of readers washes in. This requires a lot of time and thinking power and effort on your part to tie things together so your story will stand strong under intense scrutiny.

Whatever your reason for stalling on a story, digging in and doing the necessary work to salvage what you have is usually better than just chucking the story altogether and starting off with something else.

Dallas White
author of - Mistress Blackheart: Policeman’s Prerogative

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