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  • 12 weeks
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    1 comments · 31 views
  • 13 weeks
    On the End

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    1 comments · 26 views
Feb
11th
2014

Writing balanced stories · 9:04am Feb 11th, 2014

I've noticed I keep putting too much detail into the beginnings of my stories, getting most of the way to a thousand words before I even really get going, and then running out of time and/or patience and rushing the end. "Stranded in the Everfree," "Manehattan's Hoofprint," and the one I'm writing for this week are all horribly front-heavy. Clearly, this is less than ideal. But I don't notice I'm doing it until I'm 800 words in and nothing's happened yet, and by then I've already wasted the time and I can't go back.

Does anybody know how I can stop myself from doing this?

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Comments ( 5 )

Plan your stories before starting. :twistnerd:

I can't say for certain what's going on with you specifically, but from experience and from seeing patterns in other writers, I can try to guess.

The following isn't something officially taught in schools, but it's something that I conceptualized as a formation of a base for really efficient writing that I base my style and stories about.

Know what you want to write and for what purpose. When you know exactly what the message, concept and plot of your story is, you know exactly what information is necessary and what is not. Controlling that information is the juggling act of the writer, and you need to strike a balance between what you want to be in a story based on what is NECESSARY and what is just fun.

The PLOT of your story is the actual story itself. What happens, who does what, who goes where when the why and how. It includes the elements of things like story progression, twists, exciting scenes, and fun things what happens. Adventure stories and mystery stories are governed by this element.

The CONCEPT of your story is the scenario, setting, placing, and other things you want to include in the way of devices. This might sound similar to the plot, but is not really. The plot says, for example, X goes to town Y and eats Z. But WHERE is town Y? Is it set in space in the future? or a desert in a cowboy western? What is Z? Is it a mysterious alien burger? Or is it the goal of the hero? Or is it the thing which causes the initial conflict? Concept changes the feeling of story dramatically, and governs things like genre-specific stories, mystery (for setting and character) and alt-universe/crossover stuff, and intense worldbuilding.

The MESSAGE of your story is the point you are trying to get across and the element that is most easily ignored by more untrained writers. What is your story for? What are you trying to say with your story? This could be anything, but it is important to be extremely clear to yourself what it is you want to write. You can't just write a story without a message, just as you can't have an argument without a point. The message can be anything, really, from sending an ACTUAL message or lesson (Drugs are bad MMkay? Don't murder! Be fair. Don't be racist! Eat cheese daily for good health!) or it could be the purpose of your story (high adventure, to make people laugh, to tell a single joke, to do whatever). They cannot mix, and you can only have one. Knowing this is the key to writing an efficient story.

Usually you can wrap it up in each other, that is, fluffy stuff can be used to mask exposition, but if you find that you are writing only to serve one of the three (message, concept, or plot) you are writing inefficiently. For example, if you write a scene with only plot elements without anything else, you are expodumping. If you write only the message, you are preaching. If you write only concept, you are being longwinded and ultimately boring, because even if things are 'cool' they are ultimately discarded and serve no purpose in the ultimate narrative.

This isn't the end-all of rules, but it's a basic general idea that I find helps to even things out, before you start to put in a bunch of other things that waffle on a bit and and there just for the sake of a joke. But the structure of this relies heavily on the holy trinity once again. For example, if the 'message' of your story is actually to be a light-hearted series of fun scenarios with no depth, then you will probably want MORE of that than less, and you'd WANT to drag on a bit with as many discardable jokes as possible.

The point is, understand your story before you write it. Eventually, you'll start to see what you can write and how everything serves a purpose. Eventually you will be able to see things which don't ultimately serve anything, and those are the things you want to avoid writing or take out. Eventually you will be able to avoid even bothering with things in the first place.

Automatic writing usually is the culprit of writing overly-long scenes. Sometimes one goes on and on (I myself am prey to this often, and I certainly do go on in scenes a lot) and the scene ends up very NICE albeit pointless. At this point, it is a bit of a heartache of a writer to just massively delete a whole bunch of text. But this is what you must learn how to do and not care so much about. A lot of writer friends I know STILL can't delete massive conversations or chunks of text even though they're absolutely terrible. If you can do this, all the better for you, but I'm here to say that it'll have to be something you need to get used to. Wherever you got that brilliant conversation or scene from, you have plenty more where it came from, so don't worry about having to sacrifice a few good words for the cohesion of the whole.

I say this because you say "I can't go back", and that's not true. You can always go back. I've once deleted 20,000 words just to rewrite an entire part that had the worst progression. There is no such thing as being locked to whatever it is that you have already put to the paper. If it's not working, scrub it and start again from a fresh perspective and a better control of the elements, and you'll have a story like a sandwich that is evenly spread - goodness in every single bite.

EDIT:
And trust me. There's never any waste of time. Ever. Even if you put something down that you're unhappy with and have to scrub, it usually will always alert you to the points that the scene requires. Then all you have to do is take those bits, condense them, and stick them in another scene that works to serve more purposes. Visualization in the mind is something that takes a bit of training to do. Having it done badly on paper is like a conceptual sketch - it helps to focus your thoughts on individual bits that you can take notes about and later help towards your final, elegant design.

1822943 When I say "I've wasted the time and I can't go back," I mean that very literally. Every story I write for a Writers' Training Ground (which is most of them so far) is written on a deadline, and after you take away the time I spend on things like homework that have to be higher priority, I really don't have time for extensive edits if I'm going to finish on time. I'm a slow enough writer even when I don't second-guess myself. And I'm psychologically incapable of allowing myself to finish a WTG story late or edit it after Thursday ends. I just can't violate the deadline. So writing time is a very precious resource, and when I spend it unwisely I can only look back in sadness and try to work with what I have bought.

(This is why I thought Flying for the Other Team was perhaps my best work thus far until I saw its ratings, incidentally. It was written without a deadline, and without any worrying about whether it might come out the wrong length, so there was no need to force pacing at the last minute or anything like that.)

I assume this must be training some useful skill. Writing better under pressure will help me write better in general, right? And surely writing even when I can't come up with an idea that I feel really inspired by must be good practice for my creativity.

So the point is, I would happily tear apart any of my stories as necessary if I felt something was wrong that I knew how to fix—assuming I have the time. But I usually don't, because the WTG deadline triggers my OCD side, and I'm a slow writer, and I have a lot of homework, and all the other excuses.

Really, what I was hoping was that somebody would have some trick to help get the length right the first time around. I often can't afford a second draft.

1833095
There really aren't any tricks, I'm afraid, except for planning ahead, which is part of the writing process anyway. As you keep doing it, you start to be able to do it better and more efficiently, just like every other skill in the world.

There's no getting around the fact that if you want to do anything - be it a story, building a skyscraper, even writing a report for your school, preparation is necessary. With every time you fail, you pick up those relevant skills to make it better. That's really about it.

The purpose of doing this is so that eventually, your first time WILL have the right length. Of course, second drafts never ever hurt.

Writing to constraints, imho, only help with one specific thing - helping you think outside the box and exercise creative muscles. It helps to think of concepts, ideas, and 'ways out'. It is in fact, detrimental to the planning process because you usually spend your focus on other functions of the story rather than laying it out on a line.

But that's just my 2 cents! Good luck with your writing in any case! :twistnerd:

1837173 Yeah, I suspected that was the answer. I could hope otherwise, but I expected there'd be no useful advice beyond "practice, prepare, practice preparing, and prepare practicing."

That said, as of today, I'm afraid I might never learn proper pacing if I just go off what gets a positive response from my readers. Either that, or I'm better at salvaging pacing than I thought. Because people like "Stranded in the Everfree" and "Princess of the Night" far more than I think they ought to. Somebody actually complimented an ended that I tacked on because it was almost midnight and I needed to think of a way to end the story quickly! That can't possibly be encouraging me to favor good writing practices.

1837900
Actually having read your stories, nothing really big about the pacing really jumps out at me. But then again, you do know that I really like good long setups myself, so this is really just personal preference.

That said, though, it's usually only more noticeable for stories of a longer length. Sometimes, a long winded set up can favour certain kinds of story, and so far I haven't really seen any pacing issues with yours because there isn't really the length to worry about pacing issues.

If anything, you don't have to say 'this isn't good for my practices' because there's a lot more beyond just that one aspect of writing. You're being complimented because you did a good job for a certain kind of aspect, for a certain kind of audience. I even remember saying in a PM once I rather liked your stories myself, so you won't see ME complaining either.

Point is, the first step is being aware and acknowledging of the different parts of what goes in. If you feel unhappy, then perhaps it's your subconscious just saying that there's something you need to discover, but there are never any shortcuts to anything in life, unfortunately.

Of course, being a writer, it's also a great deal of your subconscious being paranoid over nothing. In the end, it's about knowing which is which, and that by itself is something that takes training to figure out. Some people never do, in the end. I know I sure haven't yet.

All part and parcel of being a writer. :twistnerd:

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