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My writing feels passive.

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Roc, Aug 18, 2013.

  1. Roc

    Roc Troubadour

    As I continue to write my story, I can't shake the feeling that it comes off as passive and boring. The only entertaining moments to me are the dialogue.

    Is there any quote/advice/inspiration you can give me to help shake away this feeling? Perhaps personal experiences.

    Thanks guys.
  2. Mara Edgerton

    Mara Edgerton Troubadour

    Does your MC have a goal he cares desperately about? Does he need to solve a mystery? Take revenge? Rescue his brother? Make amends to his sister? Win the heart of the guy he loves? Survive alone in the wilderness? Overthrow the queen?

    That's the first thing I look at when my writing seems flat: what is my main character trying to accomplish? And what obstacles are making his life hell? I've found this helps me out--hope it does the same for you!
    Roc likes this.
  3. Roc

    Roc Troubadour

    That helps me quite a bit, Mara. I think at the moment my mc's goal isn't very pronounced. I'll try and make it more apparent.
  4. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    I think sometimes it's okay to have down times, but if ever your characters seem to be traveling endlessly, or you find yourself filling pages with descriptions about dressing or eating dinner, it's a red flag that you're lost in the goal of the scene. For each scene, mark out your goals. Define them before you begin writing if it helps. When you're done with a scene, go back and make sure you meet those goals. if some parts do not meet the goals, consider cutting them. I'm not saying the goals need to be action-packed. Many of mine aren't.

    Actually, here's one I found that people liked. It's where Cedrick enters a town. In the first draft, he just walked in and found a room for the night. In the second draft, I dressed it up a little. Nothing much, but a little interaction to make the scene mean something: (it's not edited, so please excuse the adverbs :) )

    Almost a full day behind schedule, Cedrick led Maurice by his reins into Toneii, a quaint little town full of tradesmen and farmers. Cedrick kicked his dusty boots against the cobblestones surrounding the town center, outside a small, weather-beaten chapel. An advantageous location, Cedrick thought. The wells outside the church’s walls were teeming with gossiping washerwomen and a group of hunters watering their horses and dogs. Cedrick stopped for Maurice to have a drink from a wooden trough.

    “Move your pony out of the way, boy,” said one of the dark-clad hunters.

    Cedrick hadn’t realized the hunter was addressing him until the stranger grabbed the shoulder of Cedrick’s shirt and said again, “I told you to move your pony out of the way and let Lord Harrington’s horses drink first.”

    Startled by the bold stranger’s rudeness, Cedrick grabbed the man’s wrist and pulled his shirt free. “I’ll only warn you once to take your hands off me. I might be young, but I’m no boy. I’m a trained soldier and don’t tolerate any man’s hands on me.”

    The hunter scowled but stepped back. Through clenched teeth he growled, “Lord Harrington’s horses drink first.”

    Cedrick whistled, two quick even notes, and Maurice’s head snapped up. “Come on, boy,” he said, eyes still on the hunter’s. “Seems we must wait our turn.”

    As Cedrick walked, Maurice followed, stopping when Cedrick took a seat on a stone wall outside the churchyard.

    The dozen hunters talked low while their horses and dogs drank. One feisty mare almost caught a hound with a well-timed kick, and after, even the dogs kept their distance.

    “They’re always like that,” a girl said, setting her wash basket on the ground next to Cedrick.

    “Excuse me?”

    “Edward and his crew,” she said, nodding to the hunters. “They’re always rude, thinking themselves terribly important men, when all they are is a pack of mangy dogs.”

    Cedrick didn’t know what to say. He didn’t particularly care for the hunter’s manners, but as an outsider, was happy enough to follow local etiquette, so long as he wasn’t accosted in the process. “It’s alright, Maurice can wait, can’t you, boy?”

    Maurice nodded his head in a greatly exaggerated way, tossing his white mane.

    The girl giggled and clasped her hands together. “How can he understand?” Her blue eyes studied Maurice.

    Cedrick stroked the velvety, gray muzzle. “This town’s pretty, do you think it’s nicer than Rheinguard, boy?”

    Maurice didn’t move.

    “Well, maybe not,” Cedrick said. “But the girls are prettier, aren’t they, boy?”

    His great white head tossed and nodded.

    The girl squealed in delight and clapped her hands. “How did you make him do that?”

    Cedrick winked. “My secret.”

    Her shoulders sagged, but she smiled anyway. “You mentioned Rheinguard, is that where you’re from?”

    “Born and raised,” Cedrick said, pride swelling his chest. “I’m on my way home from my schooling in Andruain.”

    She crouched to pick up her basket. “I’d better get home, my mother is waiting for the washing.” She put her basket on one hip and patted the horse’s muzzle. “Bye, Maurice, thanks for the laugh.” Then, she gently grabbed Cedrick’s elbow, letting her hand slide down his forearm until she held his hand. “Best wishes, and safe travels.”

    “Thanks,” Cedrick muttered, his stomach fluttering from her touch. He watched her go and then took his seat on the wall again, forgetting Maurice’s thirst even after the hunters had cleared out.

    So, I could have done a "nothing" scene, where a character is literally entering a town without anything happening. The addition of a little action (without resorting ot a fight or attack or something extreme), is often enough to push it from ho-hum into intersting, by just letting the character play. I'll add that this scene is in chapter 2, and therefore, my reader is still getting to know Cedrick.

    So what were my goals? I wanted the reader to get an idea how Cedrick conducts himself. How he's not a pushover, but he's not hot-headed either. I wanted to show how girls made him nervous, but he doesn't hit on just anything in a skirt.

    I just wanted his entrance to the town to do more work than just get him there. Okay, another post coming right up...
    Roc likes this.
  5. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    I'll post a scene I've posted here more than once. It's two men fishing. They just met, the hunter, Kael, pointing a bolt in Cedrick's face and telling him to get lost. After Kael realizes Cedrick's companion is wounded, he lowers his bow and allows them to stay the night. The next morning, the two men go fishing, Cedrick reluctantly, because he's no fisher. The scene is what I call "down time". Its goal is not to be action, but two characters getting to know each other, and my crit partners have responded very positively to it.

    I wanted Kael to reach out a hand in friendship and ask Cedrick about a conversation they had the night before, where he had nothing to say. It foreshadows Kael's asking to join them in traveling, to discover more about the hideous creatures found in the swamp. That was it. But if I can make it do double duty... that's even better.

    Okay, here's the fishing scene: (again, not edited, please accept my apology for messiness)

    A voice interrupted his holy communion. “What are you doing?” Kael stood before Cedrick, two spools of string in his hands. “I thought we might test our luck with a line or two. I haven’t much to eat, and some fish for breakfast would be a good start.”

    “Bless this day,” Cedrick whispered, kissing the soft earth. He rose off the ground and wiped the dirt from his face. “Good morning, Kael,” he said. “I haven’t fished in a long time. I’m not sure how helpful I’ll be.”

    “That’s okay,” said Kael, “She’s still asleep, anyway.”

    The morning air was already warm as the two barefoot men stood on the bank and cast their lines. Kael reclined against a tree, his bare back seemingly unbothered by the rough bark.

    He really was a beast of a man, Cedrick thought as he gently fed out his fishing line. Next to Kael, with his massive barrel chest and muscles visible through his shirt, Cedrick felt like a boy.

    Kael pulled in his line, one hand over the other, until his catch cleared the water. Cedrick’s stomach growled, watching the hunter at work.

    While Kael caught five big fish, Cedrick had two nibbles on his hook, lost three worms, and caught a crayfish with his big toe. Not his best showing.

    Kael wound in his line and said, “What do you say? Enough for breakfast?”

    “I guess so,” Cedrick muttered, shrugging.

    “Let’s get these back to the well and clean them.”

    Cedrick grabbed two of the fish and followed. Kael set a bowl down and pumped water into it. He pulled a thick sawed log over on which to sit. He offered Cedrick the seat on the step by the pump. Taking out two knives, Kael handed one to Cedrick.

    While he worked, Cedrick stole a glance at Kael. In the daylight, he didn’t look half as terrifying, and watching him expertly scaling fish, Cedrick considered the hunter’s demeanor might just be a side-effect of living alone, so far from a town.

    “Cedrick,” Kael said, already finished with his first fish, “did you mean those things that you said about lycanthropy?”

    “Of course I did,” Cedrick said, dropping his fish on the ground for the second time. “Damn slippery things.” He put his fish in the bowl of water.

    “Don’t forget to gut it.”


    Kael took the fish out of the bowl and stuck the knife into its belly. He carefully slit the fish open and with his thumb and index finger, pulled the creatures innards out, and tossed them into the bowl at his feet. He smiled, handing the fish back to Cedrick. “There you are. And, see to the rest of those scales, or you’ll be eating that one.”

    Cedrick picked up the fish and scraped the remaining scales off, most of them sticking to his hands and arms.

    “I’ve never met anyone else who knows anything about the disease. Would you teach me?”

    “I don’t think I can.”

    Kael furrowed his brow, frowning. “Zedrina is going to need a few days to rest her ankle. It wouldn’t be an imposition for you to remain until she was well enough to walk again.”

    “I only meant there’s not much you could learn from me, I’m afraid. Everything I know, I already told you.”

    Kael finished the last of the five fish about the same time Cedrick finished his first. He stood and took the bowl of guts down to the river, leaving Cedrick to wash the cleaned fish.

    “Zedrina,” said Kael returning from dumping the waste, “how long has she been blind?”

    Cedrick shrugged. “I told you before, I only met her yesterday. I don’t know anything about her.”

    “Are you two heading in the same direction, that you’ve ended up traveling together?”

    “I met her in the swamp, where we ran for our lives. When I mentioned I was heading to my friends’ house in Mist, she asked if I minded her traveling with me, and I told her I didn’t mind.”

    “How... romantic,” Kael said, lifting a brow.

    “It was nothing of the sort!”

    “Easy, there,” Kael said, chuckling. “I only meant that she’s a pretty girl. I’d have been happy to travel with her, too.”

    “I’m a man in service to the gods.”

    “Men of god can’t see pretty girls?”

    “Of course we can see them,” Cedrick said, wondering whether Kael was toying with him on purpose. “But, my motives were pure in accepting her as my travel companion. You make it sound like some sort of lustful pursuit, which it most certainly is not. Those sorts of thoughts would earn me penance and more duties, and my plate is rather full right now.”

    Kael laughed. “Penance and duties? That doesn’t sound like much fun. I’d better keep my thoughts to myself before you have to pray for my daed soul as well.”
    Cedrick sniffed. “Laugh if you’d like, but the rewards of a holy life outweigh earthly pleasures.”

    Kael grunted, but said nothing more on the matter. He started a fire with his flint and prepared a pan to cook the fish.

    Okay, I'm going to finish up my thoughts in another post...
  6. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    Okay, so there's two examples from one of my books. I guess my point is this:

    If you look at a scene (and I usually don't tear it apart until the book is written), you're looking for two things. One, is the scene strong. Well, what makes a strong scene? I judge by asking myself whether it fulfills three criteria. Does it advance the plot? Does it help us know the MC in a meaningful way? Does it help draw us into the world or situation?

    The second point is in analyzing what to do with it after I figure out which criteria it meets. If it advances the plot, but doesn't do the other two, I have to make a choice. Can I strengthen it to meet all three? At least two?

    If it is a cute character interaction that only meets the character criteria, what do I do? Do I somehow jam some plot into it? Keep it and turn it up a notch to make it more poignant? Cut it because it's not doing the job I need it to?

    These are all good questions, and only you can answer them. I'm terribly guilt of writing scenes with people eating dinner and talking about uninteresting things. Then, when I go back and edit, I take a look at them all. Some I keep, after I've ramped them up. Some I cut and never miss.

    I would say if you have scenes you think are boring, you need to ask why. Why are they boring? What is the goal of the scene? Did you meet your goal? Did you meet the criteria for keeping it? If not, how could you strengthen the scene to make it do more work for your story? I'd be happy to take a look at them and see whether I have any suggestions for you. It seems that if something is missing, getting a second opinion is probably a good idea.

    Best wishes.
  7. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    The obvious answer is that you need more tension. As Mara advised, give your character a goal and create opposition to that goal. This advice applies to the book as a whole (the character needs to rescue the princess, but the evil queen stepmother is throwing obstacles at him) and to each scene (the character needs to get the Sword of Awesomeness in order to break the princess from the dungeon, but a dragon guards the relic). Goals don't have to be action-oreinted. They can be as simple as he wants a girl to like him or wants to avoid having his dad find out he "borrowed" the family car last night.

    Another item: You say that you like the dialogue. Dialogue tends to speed the pace. Perhaps part of your problem is the pacing. Do you have too many long paragraphs of description?

    Hope this helps!

    Roc likes this.
  8. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

    Excellent points, people, that I think are really the same point different ways. Goal, goal, goal.

    I think everything in a story can be called a part of the tension (ahh that word; also Conflict), and occasionally the cooperation, between a character's goal(s) and the world (or other parts of himself). For instance:

    Of those three, the second shows us the character's goal; the third is the world ready to help or hinder it; and the first (along with parts of the other two) is moving their interaction forward and learning more of how they work. In Caged's scene, Maurice wants to travel along peacefully, but he also wants a bit of respect, which the hunter threatens-- and we see he's willing to back down some, also important about it. And then there's that girl.

    This is at least as important. You decide if this part of character or world is important; is your Maurice going to be meeting more snooty nobles' staff (or tests of his temper) and this is good introduction to that? Then again, are those other scenes too much like this one and you only need one, because one doesn't clearly take the other further? Is there a more general need for it, say if Maurice has had a lot of isolated or passive scenes and a moment of him standing up for himself rounds him out better? Is the idea of him entering a town and leaving the road (with all the possibilities these end and start) important enough that it's nice to have a scene to amplify the transition, whatever else it does?

    And of course, some writers like to use a page or more for every small point, which is fine if it holds together; others could reduce this to a line and move on. The more your style starts to go one way, the more awkward shifting to the other looks.

    I think it's all a continuum, of how closely you want to look at an "ordinary moment" to find tiny goals that say something about the story to come, and how much value showing how much of that scene can be. My usual example is a morning at work, that could be the satisfaction of him knowing his job, or playing up little nuisances, or the decision he's making while going through routine; you just look closer at what his goal is at the moment.

    But when you don't know if the scene's focused or not, ask the characters the same question you do when a terrorist points a gun at you: "What do you want?"
    Roc likes this.
  9. Roc

    Roc Troubadour

    Thanks everyone who posted. You all get a thanks because every post helped me out and provided insight that is tough for a writer on their own work to see.

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