If you’re writing a story, whether it’s a short story or a novel doesn’t matter, try to write everyday or every other day. If you take too much time off from your story, you tend to forget it. Then, when you go back to it, you have to spend much time going back through parts of what you’ve already written to remind yourself where you wanted the story/plot to go.
Sometimes life rears its ugly head and you have no choice but to put your writing down for a while. Instances like this can’t be helped. If this is the case, one thing you can do to keep reminding yourself is to revisit your story if only for a 10 to 15 minutes each day to remind yourself of the story/plot. Writing yourself reminders also helps, so keep journal handy.
I took three days off the last three days and forgot where I was going with what I wrote. I had purposefully stopped my writing session last Friday, July 1st in the middle of a scene that could easily continue on (prevents writer’s block). Today I picked up where I left off and forgot where I was going with the scene. The result? I had to refamiliarize myself with the scene in hopes of remembering. I didn’t remember, but then another idea struck. It all worked out.
It isn’t that you won’t come up with something if you forget. It’s that the time taken to get back into your writing and to get the flow going again can drag on and take up some valuable time.
Let’s say you are writing a novel or something shorter such as a novella. As you’re writing chapter 20, you forget about some details you wrote in chapter 3 or maybe 4. Because you forgot what was in chapters 3 or 4, the information you write in chapter 20 about the same details may be contradictive. Maybe this is happening in different places throughout your book (these are called plot holes or inconsistencies). There are three ways you can fix this.
Keep track of the information in each chapter on note cards and keep them handy as you write.
Don’t worry about fixing them until you finish your first draft, then go back to the beginning and read each chapter, keeping track of the details as you go by writing little notes in the side margins on what information needs to be fixed. Then fix them.
Have another person in addition to yourself read your first draft to look for these issues.
If you don’t fix plot holes, your readers will end up not being very happy with you. You want to make sure the read for them smooth. You don’t want them to have to stop and wonder.
Person vs. Nature This type of conflict would be any story with a plot where a person or people are going up against nature. What immediately comes to mind is a story with a husband and wife who go hiking up into the mountains and an unexpected snow storm hits. They are prepared for cold weather but not for a storm. They try to get back down the mountain to safety before it’s impossible to do so. But they continue to run up against set back after set back…..
Books with Person vs. Nature Conflict: Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer To Build a Fire by Jack London A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson Deliverance by James Dickey
Movies with Person vs. Nature Conflict Cast Away (2000) Life of Pi (2012) Meek’s Cutoff (2010) The Call of the Wild (1972) Grizzly Man (2005)
Have you ever read a short story or a novel and somewhere along the way the story/plot didn’t make any sense? It felt as though information was missing, or there was a lack of consistency. The result of all that is you scratching your head in wonder, putting the book down, or leafing back through previously read parts to see what you missed.
That gets too distracting. So how do you as the writer avoid making those same mistakes as a writer? In your own writing, some of the inconsistencies you may be aware of and some you may not be. For the ones you know of, write them down in a plot holes log. For the ones you are not aware of, you will catch those later in your editing.
To expand on this, here is what I do. In the writing software I use, Scrivener (You can find it at Literatureandlatte.com), I create an extra file labeled Edits. Within that file folder I have various files for the different types of editing I will do later. One of those files is called Plot Holes. When I know of a plot hole that I need to address later, I write it there. When I am finished with my manuscript later, one of the things I do is go to that list and fix those plot holes one by one. THEN I start reading my manuscript from page one and go straight through to the end. Along the way I am searching for any more plot holes I may have missed. I make note of them in the manuscript with my red pen and move on. When I get to the end of the manuscript, I go back to those plot holes I made note of in red pen and fix those. Please note…..when I am reading for plot holes like this, plot holes are the only things I am searching for as I am reading. DO NOT fix anything else or make note of anything else during this process because you will lose track of what you’re doing, and you don’t want to start over. If you have to stop to run an errand or cook dinner or something, mark your spot and go back to it later. Trust me, this is the process I used and it served me well.
In the real world we talk everyday, and what we say and talk about at the time could be part of a directed conversation about a topic or you may move from topic to topic. But, generally, what your are saying has nothing to do with moving a story forward, as in a book. Therefore, the dialogue/conversations in a the story you are writing should move the story forward. However, it needs to be done in such a way that it sounds real and everyday. So, how do you do this? Yes, this is a lot to think about, but remember you can go back later and fix it. I’ve said this before, get the words on the page first. Here are some things to keep in mind when writing dialogue.
Remember your dialogue tags. You don’t need a dialogue tag after every line of dialogue. Every now and then put one in to remind the reader of who is speaking.
Small talk is a killer. In real life we make small talk all the time for different reasons. Maybe we’re nervous and don’t know what to talk about, so we end up saying little tidbits of information to try and break the ice. In real life though, we aren’t trying to advance a story/plot. So, leave the small talk out of your dialogue, unless of course it advances your story/plot.
Keep it natural. Make sure your dialogue sounds natural. One good way to tell if it sounds natural or not is to read it out loud.
No same sounding characters. This closely relates to voice. I touched on this in a previous blog post (Voice from September 21, 2021) Make sure your characters sound different when they are speaking. Word choice, dialect, and how they say something all plays a part in this. Maybe one of your characters has a signature word they like to say. Use that.
Using names in dialogue. Normally, one wouldn’t use someone else’s name when speaking to someone else unless one is trying to get the attention of the other or make a point. However, if it DOES work, then use it. But be careful.
Using exposition can bore. When a character explains the story in dialogue it ends up being a form of telling. What happens when you ‘tell’ a story vs. ‘show’? You risk losing the reader. Obviously, you don’t want this. So, stay away from this.
Don’t use ‘said’ all the time. Please refer to my blog post Words to Write By on October 18, 2021.
Be accurate and consistent with punctuation. Some writers like to use double quotation marks (“), and some writers like to use single quotation marks (‘). Pick one and stick with it. Just don’t forget to use them. I knew a writer who, when I asked her what she felt her weakness was as it relates to story writing, said it was remembering to put the quotation marks in.
Conversation that is unimportant doesn’t belong. If a conversation between your characters doesn’t cause some kind of friction, tension, or if it doesn’t advance the story/plot at all, leave it out.
Silence is a good thing. Too much conversation can be detrimental to the story so be careful. Silence can add a lot to a conversation sometimes.
I know this is much to think about, but don’t sweat it too much. If you need someone to check your dialogue, have a writing buddy read it and give you feedback. Also there are some good books out there about dialogue. Here are some suggestions below (You can find any of them on Amazon):
Bridges, websites, people, situations, events. What do all of these things have in common? They all have an opportunity to link. Whether the link is two shores connected to by a bridge, a website that connects us to information, two people having a lot in common, or two or more situations or events having some kind of link/connection between them; they all allow for a connection in some way.
So too are the events, situations, and people within your story. How are they connected? How will you connect them? The answers to these questions only you can answer because it’s your story(s). A good way to check and make sure that the parts of your story connection is to ask yourself why something is happening. If they connect and have something to do with your story, that’s great. That’s what you want. But if they don’t, and they sound disjointed, ask yourself what is it that you can do to bring them together. Otherwise, it sounds like random information that has no place in your story. The result is a confused reader.
On the other hand, some random events shed some light on something else. For example, Let’s say you have Mary who is with her boyfriend Charles. They are in the middle of a heated discussion as they are walking down the street. Charles is speaking to Mary, but a beautiful sunset caught her attention as they are walking by an open area that displays a beach in the distance. Charles could care less about the sunset. He is more focused on the discussion (even though she points out the sunset).
In the above example, the sunset plays no part in the story itself. It’s random. BUT, what it DOES do is give the reader insight into the character of Mary. Thus, making a connection between the character of Mary and the reader. That’s good. You want that. It creates empathy. But that’s a whole other blog post.
What is it about a piece of writing that keeps you glued to the pages? Is it just one particular writing element that does the job, or is it more than one? I’m currently reading a mystery thriller series by Jeff Carson. It’s the David Wolf series. If you haven’t checked out these books, I highly recommend them. In less than a week I’ve finished the first five books and am on book six right now. What is it that keeps me reading them?
Characters–The characters are unique and lifelike. Each of them have their own set of problems, likes/dislikes, habits and quirks, etc. You don’t end up liking or disliking them because you’re supposed to. You do that because these characters are very three dimensional. They jump off the page. They are real. You want to be ‘around’ them.
Description–The setting is richly described and also jumps off the page. The reader is able to see the environment and be a part of the story. The author does this though without being too descriptive. It doesn’t take away from the story. If you read these books, you’ll find that the descriptions add to the story and provides clues.
The Story–YES, the story itself is extremely compelling. You’re eyes/brain will be glued to the pages. The cause and effect of the plot structure is expertly done. Everything happens for a reason, whether you the reader thinks so or not.
So, you see, drawing a reader into your story is done with various tools, not just one. But, essentially, how you do that is up to you. After all, it’s your story.
I like to think of writing a novel much like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. There are so many pieces and there is so much to think about. Placement of each piece/part is key if it’s going to fit with the rest of the ‘picture’. One wrong placement can make the rest of the story appear out of place. So, where do you start? Better yet, what do you start with? That really is up to you. As long as all the pieces fit together and the ‘picture’ at the end fits together, how you get there doesn’t matter. After all, we’re all different.
Still, there is so much to think about. Please see the list below.
Point of View
Generally speaking, these are the biggest elements that go into the creation of a novel. It’s quite a bit to keep track of while you’re writing. For the first time author writing their first book it can be daunting. One might ask, “How do you work with all of them as you’re writing?” It’s simple. You don’t. Yup, I said it. You don’t. What you do instead is this:
Write the first draft to get your story down. Start from the beginning and work toward the end. Start from the middle and work your way to the end then write the beginning. Write the end then the beginning and then the end. Whichever way you go about getting that first draft done is up to you. Just get that done first without worrying about the particulars listed above. Put if away for a few weeks when you finish the first draft. This will keep your mind fresh when you go back to write draft two.
In draft two look at the story structure. Make sure make sure each Act has the appropriate information in it (Please see my post from July 17, 2020 entitled Story Structure in Three Acts). Story Engineering by Larry Brooks is a wealth of information. I highly recommend it.
Go through each scene. Is the structure of each what it should be? There are two types: 1. Action 2. Reaction (Please stay tuned for a later post on this topic).
Here is where I would go through and look at the character development of your Main Character. There must be character growth from the beginning to the end. Here is where their character flaw comes into play. Remember, by the end of the book they will overcome their flaw. How they do that is part of their growth.
Setting is huge. Readers need to get a good idea/picture of where your story takes place, what it looks like, and how it’s connected.
Point of View is a huge one. You don’t want to confuse your readers by accidentally moving from first to third person or vice versa. So, choose a point of view and stick with it. Go back and make sure it’s consistent throughout.
Voice encompasses more than one thing. It incudes diction, detail, imagery (through description or use of simile or metaphor), dialogue, tone, and syntax (the way words are arranged). As you read through your manuscript looking for these elements as it relates to voice, you might find you need to add something here or there or change the way a character said something.
Theme goes along with the main message you are trying to convey to your reader. What is it you want them to learn by the end of the book? Do you accomplish this?
PLOT HOLES. This is huge. After all is said and done, please read through your whole manuscript and look for those pesky inconsistencies. Readers will find them and you don’t want them to. Keep a style sheet where you keep track of details you need to remember throughout your story. Your 31 year old MC can NOT be 42 in the last half of the book (unless they’ve been lied to and that’s part of the story). Her/his birthday you had mentioned on page 20 as being January 8, 1972 can’t be mentioned later on page 245 as being March 23, 1974. I just won’t work.
The editing is the very last thing that’s done. Grammar, spelling, sentence structure, etc. This comes last before publishing.
As you can tell, these tasks are not done in one swoop. They are done one at a time (generally). Hey, if you are able to focus on one or more at once that’s fine too. The point is take your time. Focus, do not rush. The story won’t grow legs and walk away. It’s yours, so take your time and make it the best YOU you can make it. By doing this, all of the pieces will fit together, so that when someone else looks at it (reads it), they will be looking at something that will stay with them and make them come back for more.