Have you ever written something, thought it was brilliant, then read through the text, only to discover a piece of rambly waffle? I have, although fortunately it doesn’t happen often anymore. These are several of the reasons why my earlier attempts at novel writing often left me feeling drained and frustrated.
1) Failure to understand viewpoint (POV). Initially, I took a cinematic approach looking in on the characters. That’s fine in itself, but I had no real understand of what to recapture, so I often concentrated on the mundane details, like the dust on the telephone handset. It made scene setting a nightmare. I also referred a lot to character movements, such as running a finger through their hair, smiling, frowning, grinning. This gave the text a screen writing feel. I still can’t define viewpoint in a single sentence – I think it’s too elusive for that – but I like to think of a character coming on stage (the page) and announcing “this is my story”. Everything that follows is told from the perspective of that particular character. The character is free to interpret events in any way they like. Great for memory flashbacks or muddled memories.
2) A lack of understanding of structure and plot. Originally, I had no real idea of what I was doing. I was trying to write a psychological thriller, but getting hopelessly lost and no one from the local novelist group was impressed. Stories pass through eight stages, one of which was missing from mine:
The starting point (“stasis”);
An inciting event (“trigger”);
The central character’s search for an answer, an object or a person (“quest”);
A succession of obstacles preventing the character from achieving their aim (“surprise”);
Decisions the character makes (“critical choice”);
The consequences of the choices (“climax”);
Consequences of climax (“reversal”);
Aftermath/New Stasis (“resolution”).
My story fell flat at the critical choice stage because the main character was too passive and failed to decide on decisive action to solve their problems. In the previous post, I mentioned character factors that drive the story. What does the character in question want most? What does the character fear most? I wasn’t able to answer the questions for a long time. Eventually, I had to restructure the story entirely, taking into account the driving character questions, along with basic forensics/procedural and an entirely new viewpoint character. Interestingly, the rewrite was far easier this time round.
3) Hanging on to problematic material. Some creative writing tutors talk about “murdering your darlings” – i.e. getting rid of your favourite parts of the story. This doesn’t always help. In fact, writers should mark the sections that have received praise from others. However, stories develop over time and sometimes the original ideas lose their importance (or perhaps were never credible in the first place). Hanging on to an idea that clearly isn’t working will prevent the story from flourishing. I made some pretty bad mistakes at first, but I’ve murdered most of the darlings since then.