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A Little Writing Advice Appreciated

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Maker of Things Not Kings, Jul 18, 2020.

  1. Hey Scribes,

    I'm finding myself with a problem I can't seem to overcome on my own. If this is in your wheelhouse, some well rounded advice would be appreciated! I'm going to give you as much info as I can, so I apologize here if this run long.

    I'm currently working on three books. All three are fantasy, the first two we'll label adult/epic fantasy and the one I began most recently is on the YA spectrum. The two adult/epic fantasy books I've been working on for the last few years, whereas the idea for the YA book came two months ago and I wrote the first two chapters of it in two or three days.

    I'm lucky to have five well-read (in the genre), brutally honest alpha readers who I count on for early feedback. Recently, I gave them the first four chapters of the YA book and, in each case, heard some variation of this from each of them:

    "I don't know what it is, but that YA book is alive and I want to read more. I want to see what happens to the MC next. To see where her story goes."

    I should add that each of them also stated, " I'm not a fan of YA for the most part, but. . ."

    OK. So here's the dilemma. I KNEW the moment I got their feedback that they were right. The YA story is alive. It feels that way every time I sit down to write. I'm fine with that ( I happen to love YA fantasy, just not the abundance of teen romance and endless angst that have become stock fodder) and I intend to keep writing it forward, to be sure.

    What it's made clear is a problem I've had for some months now with my two books.

    Those two are well plotted and thought out. Worlds have been created beyond what I probably need or could ever use in the books. I'm attached to them. In comparison, I had one, thin little idea for that YA book when I began it. The MC's name. That's it. So when an alpha reader says, "Oh and then the thing with her art teacher and the painting? I can't wait to see where you take that."

    Great, right? Except there is no plan for the art teacher as of yet. There was no outline. No ending. No cast of characters. They've all appeared as needed while I wrote. To be sure, a good deal more has appeared as I wrote those earl chapters but it's all been pantsing since I jotted down the first words, Names are funny things, aren’t they?

    (I'll add here that the YA book is in first person POV where the other two have always been written in limited third)

    I feel like I cannot work on the older books without getting bogged down wanting to be sure everything on the page that is in my head gets included. That I check every box and add every world detail. Setting up later events and mentioning certain backstory or important hints. I find that, when I sit down to write it, I'm over analyzing each paragraph every time. I'm crafting. Not writing. And that seems to deaden everything out of the gate. The more I rework, the worse it gets.

    There's no freedom like I feel with the YA project to just write forward as it comes to me. And I think that's why the YA story has that movement. This is often true of my short stories. For first drafts, I just write and see where it goes. I may have one idea but no real plot or outline. I know I'm a pantser but I have worked really hard to corral some of that and stick to an outline more often, especially for longer projects.

    It feels like I'm trying to skip the free write/first draft on the older books and polish it into something closer to a finished edit as I go whereas, with the YA book, I feel no such need. I simply write. ( I DO make a cursory editing pass before giving it to my readers.)

    So how, fellow Scribes, can I find my way back to that groove of writing without bogging down in details and perfection on a story/world I feel I already know so well? I KNOW it's making things stiff and over-worked! It's become a problem that I want to correct before I go any further. I can't seem to shut off my brain and so much of those two worlds is so ingrained in there that I cannot escape it when I write.

    I suppose the good news is I have one project that feels easy and alive, but it is disheartening to feel these older, more dear-to-me projects have stalled and begun to feel like I'm trying to move them through slow-consuming quicksand.

    I am also wondering about voice and POV. My MC in the YA book had a strong voice from the first paragraph. She's been easy to write. Her school, her mom, the teachers, office workers, art museum curators. All simple to see through her eyes and in her narrative voice. Could it be that I am just not comfortable with a long running, third person narrative voice or that I am trying too hard to constrain it to sound. . .???? Any advice there?

    Thank you for anything you have to offer. :)

  2. FifthView

    FifthView Istar


    I don't know, and I'm probably the last person to have hard-won, valuable advice, so grains of salt.

    It could be that your YA novel is a bender. A wild party that breaks the routine, fun as heck for this reason. Can one live a life that is only bender after bender, party after party, or nothing but vacation? Eh....

    Or possibly you've changed, grown, since you began the other two books, and they need to change with you?

    No advice. But I'd say: isolate what, exactly, is driving you in this YA novel, and see if you can interject that into your other two. This might mean some serious revision or replanning—if, that is, it's not just a bender, heh. You might not need to redo or rethink everything. But it couldn't hurt, right?

    OTOH, my general modus operandi is to go with what feels good and let the other stuff fester in the background. Who knows, maybe they will change before I return to them, and problem will be solved? I'm not saying this is good advice, no I'm not. (y)
  3. That first point has crossed my mind. That I'm, perhaps, trying too hard to keep to a voice that is no longer mine, It's been three years after all since i began working on the first book. I've learned SO much. Written so much and changed so much. I don't think I'd need to scrap it all but I think I might benefit from starting at square one and seeing what happens without all the outline. . . IF I can shut the memory/brain off! :)

    I like the bender comparison. lol I know that the freedom of the YA book is that Im not attached to it's outcome at all. It's fun. Nothing but free writing thus far and even if I take it further, it will have had this time to find the voice first, which is another thing I think may be missing in the others. But then, that's what works best for me in my first drafts. I may have put the whole "cart before the horse" with all the advance world building and such for the others.

    And I do think your final words ARE good advice. It's why I've always kept so many things going at any one time in my creative world. Songs, sculptures, figurines, digital art, miniatures, whatever it has been I usually have multiple projects going. If something is working I stay on it but when it bogs down, I switch it up. I'll see how the weeks ahead play out.

    Thank you for taking the time to respond FifthView! I appreciate it.
  4. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    Don't know if this applies 100% to what you're going through, but maybe there's something you can take from it. With my first novel, for he most part, I pantsed it, all 275k of it. Put my head down and plowed my way through. It was a complete mess. But, I put my nose to the grindstone and edited the crap out of it. AND it was still a mess. But fortunately, I had this opportunity to take a editing class and used that manuscript as the story to edit. As part of the class, I provided the other students my manuscript and any materials I thought would be relevant. I provided the short story I wrote that I had based the novel on. I didn't think much of the writing in the short story. In my eyes I had evolved into a better writer.

    THEN, reality came knocking. I was told by several that they found that the short story was a lot easier to connect with in comparison to the novel. That the prose in the short story was more honest and that I should be writing more like that.

    That gave me serious pause, and I took a step back and started to see all the mistakes I was making. I had built up all this baggage on what I though the story should be and was forcing the story and prose into something they weren't instead of letting them be what they were. I had basically edited the life out of the story.

    Since then, with each additional project, I outlined in more and more detail. With my current project, I outlined down to the scene level. For me, doing this is freeing because I don't have to worry about figuring things out. I can just jump in and play. I basically set up a sandbox in each scene, tossed in the toys I want to play with and just go at it. I set constraints, but allow myself as much freedom to play as I want within those constraints. I also allow myself to break things and toss them out of the sandbox if they don't fit or work. Of course this means reworking the outline, but that's just par for the course now.

    So what's my point? Even with the freedom of pantsing with little to no plan and the "just write" attitude, you can still strangle a story to death. And within the walls of an outline, there can be a lot of freedom to breath.

    For me, it's about figuring out when to let go of the reins and see where things take you and when to give the reins a little tug to put it all back on the road. It's about avoiding the constant course correction and allowing yourself to stumble upon happy accidents.

    I think I maybe rambling a bit, so I'll cut it off now. Hopefully there's something in this that you can use.
  5. Penpilot, thank you SO much for sharing that. Yes, there is a lot there to work with. I'm grateful.

    I feel like I have done this with the two older books because I'm editing too much up front over the time I've been writing. I like clean prose and I'm not fond of the messes sticking around too long. And, as I grow as a writer, i go back and think, can I do this better? But those second or third passes are never as fresh as the first and that's where the don't forget to include a b c d e voice really comes in loud and clear.

    Can I ask you for a basic idea of what your scene level constraint might look like? I might be over doing it and not allowing myself enough room to play on the older work, like I have to have it all set out before the words hit the page. That certainly is not the issue in the YA draft and I realize that, even though I've pantsed the first five or so chapters, I DID have an idea, going into all but the first, what might happen. Not an outline on paper really, but a definite starting point and an end/scene goal in mind. I brought in characters as they were needed, aware that they should fit offer some potential thread for later chapters. So far, that's worked fine and a story HAS taken shape in there as well. I just didn't set out with the evolving plot idea in mind when I typed Chapter One.

    I feel I do this pretty well with short stories but, over the long haul of a novel, I struggle to maintain that balance I think. This was also good to read.
  6. Night Gardener

    Night Gardener Inkling

    Maker of Things Not KingsMaker of Things Not Kings ... from what you're describing, I would suggest this: finish your Y/A piece first. Just keep going with it. This is a new voice and a new approach to writing for you. Grow into that, shed your old skin and see if you feel better as this new work progresses. Don't revert to old habits that you have identified as 'something constrictive'.

    You're identifying that something about your previous endeavors feels stagnate or lifeless. That's totally ok. At least you've picked up on the fact that something is just off. Trying to pinpoint what the 'somethings' are, will be the challenging part. But you've already identified a key realization: you have changed as a writer (as a person) since you began writing the other adult/epic fantasies.

    I'm going to suggest you tipped your hand: you are holding yourself to different expectations and standards for different genres. You started the YA on the fly, spontaneously, with no hardcore planning and with, perhaps, relaxed ideas about the genre itself and the story? You made the big switch from 3rd person to 1st person.... why? ( Don't overthink the answer to that question. )

    The obvious suggestion, to me, is to redraft the other two adult fantasy works as 1st person POV for some characters, and see what develops from the darkroom, so to speak. See if it feels more 'alive' to you and your alpha readers.

    My other suggestion is to redraft as a giant memory recall exercise. Read a few chapters of your own work, sleep on it for a few days, then try to re-write/ draft the chapters from memory with any spontaneous new ideas added in. No cheating, no peeking. (It's not an open source exercise). Will the recall exercise be your only draft? No. Of course not. But, you might be oh so pleasantly surprised with what your mind reimagines with a larger, fresh canvas to play on. ( You know the overall vision you think you have... but you don't have to micromanage it to death. This is a painting, you're capturing impressions and being a revisionist, creating ... it's not meant to be a xerox photocopy.)

    All those excruciatingly clever and excellent details and intensive worldbuilding you labored on in your first two works? They're still there to be drawn upon later, if need be. You haven't gotten rid of anything. So, don't panic. However, if you forget something in the recall draft you thought was so critical to the story... ask yourself if it truly is important if the recall draft is just fine without it... if you ommitted something from recall, you can analyze why it was left out, and possibly reincorporate the idea with revisions and improvements.

    When you get the adult works all redrafted from recall... you can then go back and compare the two. Take the absolute best from the first drafts, and edit them into the recall drafts.

    It's a way to disassociate from your (older) Self, without throwing out all of your own best ideas. And when you read your first draft, try to do it as if you are studying for an exam. What are the crucial ideas, themes, and plot points that "need" to be remembered? Don't be self-critical or judgemental, you're already established that 'something' is off.

    And, as you recall scenes, details, dialogue... do allow yourself some creativity and spontaneity to change things around. You're not trying to reproduce your first draft verbatim. Allow yourself to experiment with new dialogue, perspectives, scene changes, etc.

    It's not an easy undertaking, but it is a useful exercise.
  7. Night Gardener, this is all sound advice and helpful to read. Thank you.

    This is true. Story wise, I think the YA has come easier because it's set in the here and now and pulls a good deal from my own experiences. A world I see and dwell in every day, or once did as a teen. It feels lighter, even though my overall concept for it turns fairly dark.

    The switch to 1st person POV was made to allow the main character to really come through and tell her own story. And I wanted a voice that was outside the comfort zone of what I have been writing. I had no idea I would take to that voice so well. It feels natural but then, to a great degree, she is, despite the gender, rooted in my own teen persona.

    I'll try the redraft/ memory recall exercise too. Thank you for the suggestion! :)
    Night Gardener likes this.
  8. Ned Marcus

    Ned Marcus Sage

    Have you experimented with a different point of view? Sometimes that can change everything. I've had flat, dull-feeling chapters that, when I changed the POV, came alive. Sometimes it's choosing a different 3rd person POV character for the chapter. Sometimes it's changing completely, to 1st person POV, for example.
  9. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    The broad level constraints I start with aren't all that sophisticated. When first I do my broad outline I determine what type of "scene" it's going to be in the big picture using scene or sequel structure, aka action or reaction scenes.

    So for an action scene there's the following

    1 a specific goal
    2 an obstacle preventing the character from achieving that goal
    3 one of 4 possible outcomes

    For a reaction scene there's the following

    1 an emotional reaction to the outcome of of an action scene
    2 an exploration of choices of what to do next
    3 the exploration of consequences for each choice
    4 then the selection of of said choice, which becomes the goal for the next action scene.

    This is what I use for my broad outline. When it's time to actually write the scene I do another outline detailing out that scene by filling out the following headings which I got from a Scrivener scene template.

    1 Role in the story - Simply stating what the role of the scene is. How does it develop the story, character, or world. If I can't answer this, then the scene might not be important at all and can potentially be left out.

    (2-6) is where I play around with the scene. I toy around with where I want things to take place, who will be in the scene, and how I see it unfolding. Often, I'll come up with different point form lists on how things unfold, none of which I like. But then I take elements from each and combine them into something I do like.

    2 Characters/places - Simple list of the characters that I think will be needed in the scene and the places the scene will play out in, each with maybe a short descriptor to remind me about who or what they are. (Mostly used so I don't have to go back through my text to remember character and place names when I'm actually writing things out. A lot of this is just copy paste from one scene outline to the next or out of a master character and place list I keep)

    3 Description - A point form list describing how I see the scene playing out.

    (4-6) are only used if there's something very specific I absolutely want/need to put in
    4 Sights
    5 Sounds
    6 Smells.

    7 Things to remember - simply listing out some of the sub plots I may want to advance if possible in the scene. Usually used as a reminder of what balls I have in the air and where they're supposed to be leading.

    I don't know if any of this will be useful to you, but there it is. :p
  10. Thank you for your time and your suggestion Ned!

    I have tried the switch recently with one of the two stories and am considering a permanent switch since it's focused around one main character. The other is a reluctant party story with four characters, though one is clearly the MC with the main story plot goal. I felt that having four point of views might be a little much since they don't start off together, but I did write first person POV scenes for them as character studies a few years ago. I might give it a try again to see if it frees up my brain a bit. :)
    Ned Marcus likes this.
  11. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    So, it's normal to go through a phase where you start to kind of hate your story. If you're in that phase with the first two books, then you should look at some ways to get past that point. The best one, there should be something about your story that you absolutely love, and taking some time to find that, remember that, build off that.... should help get through the slump.

    But maybe it's not a slump. Maybe it's not a phase. Maybe you really have plotted the life out of your stories. I can't know that for you. Even though writing is work, and even though as I said above there are times you are going to hate it, there should be something that you enjoy about all this. If that's really not there, maybe it's time to move on with a new project.

    But there's a third possibility too. Maybe you've levelled up as a writer. Maybe you've out-levelled the dungeons that are your first two books. If your outlines were written by a less-skilled version of you as a writer, it's easy to feel trapped by that and not realize why.

    You know, "soul" is such a vague term. Let me tell you, I went through a slate of stories that I still feel would have been absolutely incredible before I landed on writing Smughitter. But eventually I would get overwhelmed by the thought of them, even though they played directly into my strengths as a writer. So I took a break from them, and I started to write some fanfiction, and I realized what it is I was missing in my stories. For me, it was the character dynamic. I had the drama, and the awesome world, and I'd planned out all this character agency, and tons of big reveals. And I love all of that. But I wanted to have more fun. I needed it to be less tedious. Writing a silly fanfiction helped me see that super clearly.

    Ohh.... and some of the comments on my fanfiction claimed that my action scene was incredible, and then I had people say they were sobbing within six chapters, so having fun certainly didn't mean I had to give up the action or drama.

    So I guess my advice is, figure out what story has most of the thing you love in your writing, and do what you can to add all the stuff you're good at and learned from your other books... to the best of your skills.
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2020
  12. I'm so appreciative of the time you took to share this and yes, it WILL help. It's a fresh (for me) way to approach a scene outline and I could use an update there as well I think.
  13. Devor, thank you so much for taking the time in your Sunday to respond. I wanted to single out these little gems.

    Yes, there are so many aspects of the stories/worlds I love. I've never lost THAT feeling and I still sit down every day and write first thing in the morning. Even after three years, the first novel is still exciting but the lack of forward movement makes me thing that I think I should tear it down to those strongest studs and start building over in some ways.

    They were. And I do. But I've also seen change/growth in how I understand character and the clockworks of a story and I think I should revisit those outlines from the ground up. Those original outlines were, because of my newness to it all, patchwork at best and not exactly well structured.

    I'm finding the YA book to be like that. Some of it is the freedom I gave myself to not build such a vast world at the start. I'm taking a simple idea and writing my way into it, chapter by chapter. Need a friend for the MC in chapter 2? Named her on the spot. Described her on the spot. Made it up as i go. Yet the early readers LOVE those characters and I'm thinking part of that may be because they are more of a blur/sketch and less of a fully defined character which gives the reader more room to identify and form that character in their own minds. (?) I also realize that I have a lot more notes per scene and chapter; possible additions, story lines to explore etc, but the on-the-page wiring is definitely more alive and feels true.

    Yes, that's been my feeling too.

    How (if this applies )did you transfer that same feeling back to your other work when you returned to it?

    Thank again!
  14. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    I didn't. :unsure:

    The fanfiction that I write in (still sometimes) is Miraculous Ladybug, which is about two superheroes. Marinette is really Ladybug, and she's in love with her friend Adrien. Adrien is really the hero Chat Noir, and he's in love with his partner.... Ladybug. Their dumb costumes keep getting in the way. I know it's a silly kids show, but there's so much to play with in that dynamic, especially because the readers/viewers know things that the characters don't.

    So I wanted to get a dynamic that was on this level, and I couldn't do that in my other works. So I turned to an old idea that I had in my spark file, a fairy who steals people's pride kind of like a hitman: Haifen Smughitter. Then I created a character, also a sprite, whose job it is to stop him, like a cop: Aliffe Vengekeeper. But to get a good dynamic, I had a big challenge: Get the two characters fighting, while both feeling like heroes, so that readers really, really, really want them to be on the same side. So instead of targetting paid contracts for gold, Haifen has the ability to turn pride into magic, and he needs a big noble goal: trying to raise enough magic to restore their sprite homeland and rescue sprites who were lost when their home fell, including Aliffe's family. But she knows it's hopeless, and if she doesn't stop his crimes, they risk starting a war that will wipe out the last of the sprites all together. Now they have fun interactions. She wishes he could succeed. He is trying to convince her. They are both fighting for the survival of their species. I get to humiliate some ridiculous characters. And by the end of book one there are several biiiig reveals from each of them that will turn everything on its head.

    It's got all the things my other stories had, plus humor, and for me as a writer, of course there's still work, and info dumps to figure out, and scenes that are really challenging to work with, but there's also frequent places that are just delightful to write, and I love it.
  15. S J Lee

    S J Lee Sage

    I'm guessing that all you guys have finished books out already, so I won't say much except that I agree with NG. Finish the YA first, unless you MUST do the others within a deadline? It seems to be flowing easier? Maybe you are creating more than you need to with the "adult" stuff?

    Maybe the YA stuff is like a game of Twenty Questions, but you have not decided in advance what the answer is. Surely there is nothing wrong with this approach, as long as the results are good? I'll say no more about writing, since you guys are more experienced than me. BUT I would remind you that (I remember a "Draw Comics the Marvel Way" book...) there are TWO ways of drawing human figures (the most important part of art in comic books)

    You usually BEGIN as a comic book artist by drawing "geometric shapes" with precise rules etc (eg, make your heroes eight heads high, draw the head as a circle within a square, etc) drawing human figure as geometric shapes - Bing images

    then tweak it to make it organic -looking


    You can just "scribble" the figure into existence... which usually takes a more advanced artist, and LOOKS effortless (and like cheating!) to the beginning artist following precise rules... but the results are what matters

    The Art of Scribbling | by Greg Albert

    maybe you have got good enough at your craft to start "scribbling"?
  16. The Dark One

    The Dark One Auror

    Others have (kinda) said this already but you definitely grow as a writer. (You do if you're any good...)

    I suspect your natural voice is able to come out more easily in an unformed new project than between the strict lines of an old project . I'm guessing that's why the story feels alive.

    You've found your voice.

    It's quite exhilarating when that happens and progress is much quicker.
  17. Vicki27

    Vicki27 Minstrel

    Maker, I wish I could come up with an instant answer, but in truth I don't think there is one. I think the exercise NG suggested will give you a fresh perspective. I was going to suggest you write a short (completely different) story with the world and characters you know so well. Put them in different situations and 'out of character' scenarios.

    I feel like I have done this with the two older books because I'm editing too much up front over the time I've been writing. I like clean prose and I'm not fond of the messes sticking around too long. And, as I grow as a writer, i go back and think, can I do this better? But those second or third passes are never as fresh as the first and that's where the don't forget to include a b c d e voice really comes in loud and clear.

    Sometimes I think you can edit the guts out of the story. The more you go back and tinker with previous chapters, the harder it is to keep it pure and fresh.

    I feel like I cannot work on the older books without getting bogged down wanting to be sure everything on the page that is in my head gets included. That I check every box and add every world detail. Setting up later events and mentioning certain backstory or important hints. I find that, when I sit down to write it, I'm over analyzing each paragraph every time. I'm crafting. Not writing. And that seems to deaden everything out of the gate. The more I rework, the worse it gets.

    This sounds like because to you, your characters and world is real and you really like what you have created, you are trying to force the reader to feel the same way right from the get go, rather than letting them discover the world for themselves. Set yourself goals not to edit or re-visit previous chapters perhaps until you have completed 2, 3, 4, 5 (?) new chapters without checking every box and adding every world detail and see how it goes. Write them from different PoV and in different styles (as people have already suggested). Embellish a little on the story line, add stuff as you're going along - mix it up a bit.

    I really hope you find a way through this problem as I'm sure it comes to us all. I'm not experienced enough to know, but am guessing it could be a common thing among writers.
  18. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    I’m not too good for this sort of advice, I will never finish a story I have plotted out, heh heh.

    There is always the temptation of something new. While trying to finish Eve of Snows I wrote a chapter for another book, and oohhh the temptation to go there called like a siren, but I plugged my ears and steered my ship clear. I’m just now starting in on writing that book 3-4 years and a couple other books later. In this instance I’d be wary of not just the change of story but POV because that could be a double temptation.

    BUT all of this depends on your goals and what works for you. Some folks can work multiple projects back and forth to keep fresh.
  19. The Dark One

    The Dark One Auror

    I work on multiple projects all the time until one of them suddenly demands to be finished. Even then I typically to get to about the 85% pointand then have to put it aside for a while - usually a couple of months - to think about how best to tie off all the story threads.

    I'm very proud of my endings - they're always strong.
  20. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    I think about multiple projects, but tend to spend keyboard time on one. When writing a series I don’t know how to do something else or you end up like GRRM with readers griping, LOL. One of my favorite comments a reader made (paraphrasing) was “I’m not saying he’s the next GRRM, but that’s a good thing, because he’s actually writing books!” Even writing the next book I’m planning is aslightly risky, as it stands beside the others without jumping into the next major series that follows the trail of the first. But, I think my readers will enjoy it and forgive the slight diversion from the path.


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