Wednesday, October 2, 2013

How I Returned to My Story Writing

I'll be honest, I hadn't written in my W.I.P since June 2013, it is now October 2013.
It wasn't a case of being distracted with another story, I just stopped writing fiction.

I wrote tons of blog posts and other prose (essays etc.), which I love doing, but I think I always knew that I left my heart in the fiction world. In a way I felt like a bit of a hypocrite because I was writing a blog on writing and books, yet I wasn't really writing. So this week I changed things and returned to my story. In this post, I'm going to tell you how I came back to a story that I loved, and how you can do it too.

Gather Your Tools and Clear Your Writing Area

I've always found that having a clean desk not only gives me space to work, but it makes me feel more productive. Once the surface was clear, I gathered my old plot notes, some fresh paper (I prefer blank for this type of thing)/writer's journal, a pen, a book on writing (102 Ways to Write a Novel by Alex Quick, really, really great resource fyi), and my music. I was ready to go.

My supplies. I always put my iPod through the stereo  (I can't focus with ear-buds in),
so that's what the little black remote is for.  

Read Through Your Notes and Manuscript to Find the Reason Why You Left:

For the first time ever, I read my entire uncompleted first draft. I've never gone back and reread when I'm writing the first draft, but since I had taken such a long break I felt it was necessary. Since I was about 30 000 words in, it took a good hour or two, but it was totally worth it. As I read, I wrote down the main plot points and any plot threads that popped up (foreshadowing I wanted to follow up with later, symbolism etc.) for each little section. I did not edit anything as I read. Don't get stuck on small things at this stage. By the time I was done reading, I had a summary of what was written so far. It refreshed my memories of the plot.

For me (and probably the majority of us who have left stories), the problem was poor plotting and characterization. I didn't exactly know where I was going and who my characters where. As I was reading I found the MC going out of character all over the place. Everything seemed to be about 70% thought out.

This was all I had written down about the story and the characters:
Scroll down to see a better view, or click on the picture to
make it bigger. 
Your problem could be: Boring characters, boring plot, not enough substance, no theme or message, topic not interesting, not enough information (research) and many many more. It's a little bit different for everyone.

Come Up With a Solution for Future Writing

It's important to look to the future and not worry about going back to fix what you've already written. For me, the solution for my future writing was made up of two parts. 

1. Write an in-depth character sketch for my main character. I read a little bit about characterization in 102 Ways to Write a Novel; I learned that my characters need to want something, have hidden depths (in the book Quick used the example of a stern teacher going who goes home after school, gets drunk and then weeps.), and change over the course of the novel. This really helped set me up for making my character sketch.  

Here are all the categories that I included in my brand new character sketch:
-Appearance (height/build, hair type/style, type of dress, eye colour, teeth) and how these features show the character's personality (e.g. the character wears long sleeve shirts because she's self-conscience about her arms)
-Social Class and the character's feelings about it (e.g. desire to move up the social caste)
-Family. List each member and the relationship status (good, estranged etc.)
-Education and attitude towards it
-Other past and present relationships (romantic, friendly etc.) and their current status and how they effect the MC currently
-Politics (You can go really crazy with this if you're writing a fantasy or dystopian novel)
-Hobbies and how they learned/became interested in them
-Food (this might be silly, but I felt like including it since many scenes take place around eating in my novel)
-Wants/desires (these are what will ultimately drive your novel)
-Strengths/Weaknesses in personality
- Fears (include hidden fears/secrets)
-How my MC is going to change throughout the novel

Not all your characters need to be this developed, just the main two or three. 

2. Write an in-depth plot summary. Again, I used Quick's book for advice and decided to use the traditional three act structure to start. It looks something like this:

Act 1-intro to the world/environment, intro to the MC, dramatic event (inciting incident) that gets the MC to discover the ultimate goal which will drive their struggle/journey/quest. 

Act 2- the MC encounters challenges that prevent him/her from reaching his/her goal. The MC will "gather forces" that lead to the showdown.

Act 3- showdown time! MC returns to the place where it all started, conflicts are resolved, loose ends are tied up

After completing that, I went a little bit further and set up plot graphs. I set up separate plot graphs for important relationships/subplots that lined up with the main plot graph, because I find it easier to see everything when the different layers of the story are laid out separately. 
The graphs don't look quite right because I didn't have room.
However, all the pieces to the graph are there.
Here are all the pieces that you'll need:

Introduction and Inciting Incident: This has the same qualities as an act one. We get introduced to everything and then the incident happens that gives the MC a goal.

Rising Events: This has the same qualities as an act 2. These are all the events obstacles that the MC has to deal with to reach their goal. They're called "rising" events because the tension is constantly getting higher and the pressure is building up so it can explode at the...

Climax: The MC has to face the antagonist (e.g. a person, a feeling, a natural disaster etc.) overcome the last struggle to reach their goal. The tensions should explode here, forcing a turning point in the story. Even if the character doesn't get the result they were wishing for, there shouldn't be anything else they can do or overcome after the climax.
For example, in Romeo and Juliet, Romeo takes the sleeping drug and then Juliet kills herself because she thinks that her husband is dead. Their goal of being together forever is resolved in a terrible way, but it can not go any further from this point.

Denouement (Falling Action): Loose ends get tied and the characters see how they are affected by the outcome of the climax. 

Conclusion: The characters' lives are back to normal (or their new normalcy). 

The final results of my plotting work:

There you have it! How I got out of my writing slump. If you've made it this far in the post, I'm impressed! I know that this was a long one. Let me know in the comments where you are with your writing, if this post has helped you, if you have any questions and what your methods of returning to a forgotten story are.

Reading: What Angels Fear by C.S. Harris
Listening: Train
Watching: Chicago Fire
Previously on A Splash of Photography: A Look Through the Water (a series of abstracts shots looking down through the lake water)


  1. This was helpful to me. Thanks. I am still a little confused on your plotlines graphing technique... I always have the great ideas, and then it just never gets off the ground. I have a hard time not getting bored with my own writing... I also can never see how to end a story... i like the character sketch idea though

    1. I'm glad that it helped you out! It can be hard to stay interested in a project and see the end. And, I'm glad that you checked out the other post on plotting:)


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