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Story Can't Seem to Flow Right

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by evolution_rex, Jan 26, 2017.

  1. evolution_rex

    evolution_rex Inkling

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    I've written three drafts of my hopefully-first-novel and about three other incomplete drafts. I love the story and characters I've made, but I've become unsure of the structure and flow of it.

    When I first started writing it, I needed a way to organize the story, a basic structure to then 'fill in' with the plot. My main character lives with his parents but the plot required him to be alone so I made it to where his parents had gone on a vacation, leaving him a temporary amount of days alone. So I came up with the idea of writing everything day by day in a ten day period. So when I wrote it, I didn't section it off in chapters but days. But writing it without chapters caused it to lack the excitement that chapters achieve through cliffhangers and the day by day style gave me little room for backstory, exposition, and breathing room between exciting moments. When I read it, it just doesn't flow right and comes off as unexciting even though extraordinary weird things happen. My horror scenes (as my story is a horror) are paced well within themselves but are just placed in the middle of a story without, I don't know, punch. Normal things happen, scary thing happens, there is a cool off, and then we go back to normal things again, all in a single 'chapter' (which is a whole day in the story.). The day by day structure just doesn't effectively work with the form of horror I'm attempting.

    But I've been working on this story for over a year, I don't know how to tear it apart and make the massive changes I feel I need to make. I'd written out so many of the stuff I felt unnecessary over the drafts I've written, so everything feels so integral.

    So my questions are.
    1. How can I completely restructure my story?
    2. Anyone have any tips on flow when writing a story that goes day by day, if I decide to keep that format? Maybe any books with that sort of format I could take a look at?
    3. Anyone with similar stories and how they dealt with it?
     
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2017
  2. TheCatholicCrow

    TheCatholicCrow Inkling

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    1.You don't "need" chapters but ... it sounds like that's something that'll help. Short chapters is a technique most Mysteries (and I guess Horror too) will use to try to keep the story fast and moving along.
    I'd say ... forget chapters. Break it down into scenes. Start there. If need be, use 1 scene per chapter. Done.

    2. No clue. Not sure what day by day means to you or what length we're talking about or what the content is so hard to say. Also not sure of many books like that ... you could just have it be 10 long chapters & call it a day.

    3. .... ?


    Now that you know it's deeply flawed, you have two choices. 1 - stick with it. Try to salvage what you can. or 2 - learn from this, move on & keep it in mind during you're next book.

    2 years ago I chose #1 and I'm still working on rewrites. Rather wish I chose #2 but that's of course going to be up to you. I've learned tons just in working through rewrites so there's something to be said for that too.
     
  3. evolution_rex

    evolution_rex Inkling

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    What I mean by day by day is that each 'chapter' is a whole day. And I wouldn't mind calling it ten chapters and that be the end of that, but it's the fluidity of these chapters that don't work. It's hard to explain why, but the way chapters end on cliffhangers that entice readers to read more is a good example as to what isn't working. I can't end the day mid-scene, just before something cool happens. But the main point is that it isn't working. But if someone has written a story that's like that, then maybe they could give me some advice.

    Also, I'm definitely not giving up on the story. I've gone too far for that.
     
  4. TheCatholicCrow

    TheCatholicCrow Inkling

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    What I meant was more along the lines of - is Day 1 a few scenes over one day or literally a play by play account of 24 hours? Are they twenty pages or 50 or 100?

    I'm pretty sure Cormac McCarthy's The Road doesn't use chapters (never made it past the first few pages so I could be mistaken).

    Rather than marketing it as a novel, another option would be to break it into a 10 part series of shorts (and bundle it together when all are released).

    Really I'm throwing darts in the dark here, hoping to put out something that sticks ... can you give us a brief example?

    You said you can't end the day mid-scene ... I agree that would probably be weird but I don't think end of chapter hooks are necessarily about mid scene breaks so much as raising a new question or sometimes raising two questions in the first half, resolving one, then reminding us or hinting at the question that remains.

    An example (in your case) might be something like:
    ACT I:
    Day 1: Mildred is isolated from everyone. Is on vacation, has sent away the housekeeper and her sister is abroad.

    Day 2: Mildred goes about her business (Subplot 1)

    Day 3:Mildred wakes to a letter on the kitchen table. Discovers that A. she has a stalker and B. they broke into the house. (Who is it? How did they get in?) After searching the house from top to bottom, she discovers that the window in the basement was unlocked and there are a pair of men's muddy footprints outside. (She lives alone.) She reinforces the window, locks the doors, and does what she can to ensure her safety. When she goes to bed that night, she ponders over who the person could be. (doesn't raise new question but reminds us of the one already looming overhead)

    Act II
    Day 4: Awakes, goes out to the kitchen half expecting there to be a letter on the table. Relieved that it's empty. Subplot 1 further developed. Question raised and answered. At some point in the day, things are off (furniture rearranged or something like that). She wonders whether she's losing it or if someone broke in again ... if they did ... who could it be? How did they do it? [She becomes more anxious]

    Day 5: blah blah blah ... she suspects the neighbor. Could is be him? Mostly normal day ... Subplot 1 returns. Day ends happily.

    Day 6: Awakes to a letter on her pillow written inscribed "closer than you think" It's the neighbor! It's definitely him! Or so she thinks ... how is she going to remain safe & keep him out of the house?

    Day 7: Neighbor is discovered to be dead. (If not him, who?) And ... there's another letter.

    ACT III (roughly)

    Day 8: She begins to isolate self, wonders who it can be, how will she keep on living? It's all so overwhelming ...

    Day 9: Discovers it's the friend she'd confided in. Confrontation

    Day 10: Resolution - she prevails (or dies)


    Obviously your story will be different but I think Horror (like Mysteries and Psychological Thrillers) will rely largely on emotion manipulation and possibly contemplating facts to compel readers forward rather than gimmicky splices of a scene. It might require some subtle work on your part and you'll have to change it Day by Day so it doesn't become too predictable (it'll also depend on whether the MC is narrating in 1st person or if there's an outside narrator who knows things he doesn't ... in which case you can use the "He laid down his head and fell asleep, comforted by the thought that he was safe. But what he didn't know was that just outside his bedroom window was a clown plotting to take his revenge, waiting for the right moment to strike.") ... which another technique that's hugely important to Mystery writers (that is, creating suspense by revealing information to the reader that the characters don't know).

    Anyway ... breaking mid scene - probably not a good idea, but breaking away before the question is fully answered is what creates suspense. The answer to the question doesn't need to come on the next page. In fact, it probably won't come until Act 3 but the desire to find that answer or pick up another clue and figure it out before the MC (if it's in 3rd person) should be enough to compel us forward.

    I'm sure you already know most of this. But still, hopefully it helps to hear it again.
     
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2017
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  5. evolution_rex

    evolution_rex Inkling

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    It's not that I think chapters are mandatory, but they can be used to pace a story and help with the overall flow.

    Okay, here's an example. I don't know if this makes it anymore clear but I'll give it a try:
    During one of the days, the main character goes to work and has a normal day, then when he goes to deliver a pizza (as that's his occupation), he has a horrifying experience. Then he cools off and the rest of the day deals with the affect the experience has on the character, until the day is over. If this were a chapter, it would include the buildup, the experience, and the cool off. It's not that I don't think If I'd written this in some other format, I would have ended it just before the character escaped from the experience, making the next chapter about his escape, the cool off, and the affect.

    I have other days in which there are many important conversations and subplots before and after the horror moments.

    Another problem too is that I'd written myself into a limited time-span because of the whole vacation element, which caused me to force a lot of plot points in a minimal amount of time, going from one tangent to another. I think I fit it all in cohesively, but it, like I said, gave little breathing room.
     
  6. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    I'm not entirely sure this is answerable, too much missing info that might come down to content and structure being the culprit, not simply whether or not you have chapters. I've written one character POV straight for about 100 pages (I later went through and broke into chapters with fade techniques instead of continuity, and yes, this makes a story flow difference, but did the chapters really effect flow? No, not really. So, while there is absolutely no way I can give my opinion with any certainty, my kneejerk reaction is to suggest looking for deeper issues, rather than the superficial chapter break vs/or incorporated as days issue.
     
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  7. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    What is the principal benefit in writing it in a day-by-day manner? Without seeing it, I can't be sure, but it seems to me that you chose that format somewhat arbitrarily and not for any special purpose. It's rather mechanical: He has 10 days alone in the house so...gonna write it in 10 day-by-day sections. I think this may be what's tripping you up.

    I would suggest looking at it to see how you can divide into chapters that don't follow the day-by-day pattern. For instance, two chapters could cover one day, sometimes. Possibly, even three chapters could cover one day. Much would depend on what you have happening on any given day. But if you structured it like this, then you could look at the events for each day and arrange the telling of them in a manner that would be most engaging for a reader. You could also look at how you break between scenes and sequels, so rather than have a buildup to horrific event, then the horrific event, then the reaction to it within one section, maybe you'd end the chapter on that horrific event (and immediate dealing with it) and start the next chapter on the sequel. In short, you'd have a lot more options if you gave up on the day-by-day sectional strategy. The book could still cover a 10-day period, with each day covered in full, but you'd have more flexibility in how you present the story.

    I don't think the "fix" would be a simple breaking into chapters of whatever you already have. Probably, many parts would need to be revised or edited. But deciding to structure differently based on events and the scene/sequel breakdowns could point you in the right direction for any other revisions.
     
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2017
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  8. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Archmage

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    If you break your story into chapters but want to keep the day-to-day structure, you could include the current date and time of day at the beginning of each chapter, like a sub-chapter heading. I've seen that done before, but can't remember the authors or books. Something I'm toying with doing in my WIP is to state the date in a sub-chapter heading on any chapter that starts a new day, to keep the reader reminded of the passage of time and how much time remains before an anticipated event. I'm not really sure this kind of reminder is necessary, though, given that the characters discuss the event occasionally and sometimes remark on how close or far away it is.
     
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  9. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    In my current WIP in edit, I open the first chunk of chapter with headings: X Days to the Eve of Snows as a ticking clock. I actually started it so I could keep track of what chapter and what POV was where in time, and I liked its effect, and then the editor said to keep it. So, it stuck. The weird part comes when the ticking clock is gone after the event.
     
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  10. evolution_rex

    evolution_rex Inkling

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    Right, I don't view the day-by-day structure as required, it's just that I don't know how exactly I can take my story and then completely restructure it. That's where my hang up is, all the specifics about the chapters and the day-by-day was for people to get a better picture on why, but my main question is about how do I do a structural overhaul on a story, if that makes sense. I worded my other two posts poorly, I guess.
    That could work and would massively improve it. However I still think I need other major changes.
     
  11. Letharg

    Letharg Troubadour

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    You say that the horror scenes are well paced and feel good but feels almost arbitrarily dropped into the remaining narrative. If the pacing isn't right for the entire story try to examine why that is. For instance, are all the scenes you've written really necessary, do they contribute to the entire arc of the story? Maybe you need to cut portions, I know I often force "interesting scenes" that have almost no bearing on the story just to make something happen. This often messes up both my pacing and derails the story, making readers focus on the wrong thing.

    Another thought is that possibly you don't let the horrible things that happen effect the characters enough. Now, I have no way of knowing this but it might be a problem. If the character doesn't change this can also mess up pacing and might be something to at least investigate. I've done and do this mistake too, letting my character one second be scared out of their wits and the next thinking almost logically. I mean, why do things need to go back to normal? If you were to experience horrible events each day for several days in a row, would your life go back to anything resembling normal?

    Just some food for thoughts. Hope it helps!
     
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  12. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    So it's really hard to know what is needed because different stories are different. Hard to know where it is lacking, if it is lacking. Hard to know what the exact pacing problems might be.

    Have you ever used beat sheets? Here's a great source: Worksheets for Writers | Jami Gold, Paranormal Author If you scroll down to the middle of the page, you'll find three downloadable beat sheets in Excel formats that might give you some ideas for restructuring your story. (If you don't use Excel, you can use Open Office to open them.) I'm not saying these are exact templates; but I do often use one as a guide.
     
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2017
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