Friday, August 10, 2012

Hamstringing My Story

by Lucy Marsden

I don't know exactly how it happens, but the cycle goes something like this:

1) I get an idea for an approach to a story that I spend a lot of time developing, and that I become very invested in. Once this happens, I no longer see the approach as one among many possible choices for the given story dynamic; it just is.

2) I attempt to implement the approach, but either a) the approach is inherently broken, or b) I personally don't have the chops to pull it off. In any case, the end result is that I completely gum up the action or character development, bogging the entire story down.

3) I don't question the chosen approach, because it has become invisible to me. Instead, I just continue to do whatever I've been doing harder, becoming increasingly frustrated and demoralized.

4) I lather, rinse, repeat.

5) Eventually, by the grace of the gods (or some kind but pointed remarks from my critique partner, who is fatigued by all the wailing and gnashing of teeth), I realize—to take an instance at random—"Wow, if I stop insisting that this book is the first in a series about four roommates, all of whom will use this first scene as the jumping off point for their own stories, and I allow the book to about a particular heroine whose story crosses paths with the others in the series in a fun, but non-strangling fashion, this could totally work!"

6) I call my writing buddies to discuss, once again, the warning signs of early-onset dementia, but decide that, given my baseline, it's going to be a tough call.

Am I alone in this bone-headedness? Please drop in with tales of how you, too, practically beat your story to death by insisting on a certain approach to it. (If you've never had this experience before, kindly have the common courtesy to make something up. Thank you.)

Lucy Marsden is a romance writer living in New England. When she’s not backstage at a magic show or crashing a physics picnic, she can be found knee-deep in the occult collection of some old library, or arguing hotly about Story.


Jemi Fraser said...

You are not alone! I tried really, really hard to make one story more of a thriller with hard edged suspense. It stunk. When I lightened up and let the characters dictate more it became a much stronger story. I'm learning to listen to them more :)

Luce said...

Hey, Jemi--

I think what's embarrassing for me is that the fix is usually so simple, you know?

Well, actually, maybe that's not a fair assessment; with the current MS, I had to change a major assumption about how the series would be connected. But once I did that, it freed up this book to begin in whatever way it needed to begin, and the relief was STUPENDOUS.

*Sigh* I think (as you've suggested) character-driven stories are the way to go; plotting kills me every time...

Calista Taylor said...

Plotting? What's plotting? I think I take things to the other extreme. I let my characters and story meander where they want to go, and as a result we end up wandering around aimlessly. *sigh* I guess that's what edits are for.

petemorin said...

My problems were more mundane. First, the old lady who was supposed to tell me what the ending was went off on extended holiday. When she finally got back, all fo the characters got into an extended, high volume dispute over their respective fates.

Whitney Soup said...

yup - that's more or less how the creative process goes

Luce said...

Pete, I envy you; I'd love it if my characters would take the driver's seat. The grass is always greener, I guess!

Whitney: I know, I know. It still leaves me feeling like a fruitcake, though.

Christine Rains said...

You're not alone! I like to start stories on a high note and take it fast from there, but sometimes a story needs a different beginning and it's difficult for me to let that go.

Jean Oram said...

Yep. I've had my characters do some things that have turned the story on me. Or realized I made great leaps and now have holes to fill. Yep. Yep. Yeeeeep.