Monday, August 2, 2010

Writing Weaknesses

All of us have weaknesses. In writing these can be especially pernicious, as we may not even recognize them. What has been eating at me, however, is that I do recognize several of my weaknesses, but I have a hard time actually doing something about them.

I think my biggest weakness is 'tension and conflict'. I have a tendency to resolve things too easily when everyone knows we should be piling on the misery for our main characters instead. My story reads a bit too linearly. Why is this so hard to fix? Because this particular weakness cannot be solved simply. I cannot change a sentence here and add a paragraph there to make it all better. I would need to simply rewrite nearly the whole book to fix this problem, and I don't have the willpower to do that right now. I suppose I can put this one away and focus on the next book for now. Perhaps in the future I can return to The Shard with renewed energy and do the necessary hard work.


  1. Too true, adding words and paragraphs won't fix it, whole chapters may be necessary. I find that the more I write, the more insightful I get about writing Craft in books or TV.

  2. I'm sure Hart will have some suggestions for you! It might not require a major overhaul, either.

  3. I hear you. I received feedback on Masquerade in which the beginning needs to be redone and I just don't have it in me right now. Redoing the beginning means going through the whole ms.
    Let it rest now Ted. Work on the next book.

  4. Very important to recognize your weaknesses, and very hard to look at one's work so objectively. I applaud you for knowing where you fall short. Now, correcting those mistakes...not so easy either!

    My weakness is in confusing my styles. I feel I can write just as well in a shortened, hard-nosed fashion as I can in longform literary verse. But which works best in my MS? And which will be best received?

    Glad I found my way here through The Alliterative Allomorph.

    Gothic Lit today at SouthernCityMysteries

  5. Welcome, Michele! I love seeing new people here. I hope you find something to suit you. If you wander through my archives, don't be shy to comment if you like -- I get emails for any comments no matter how old the post.

  6. ted, in my latest bout of edits, it became clear that a rewrite would make the story much better. albeit a PAIN to have to go back and change nearly everything, it is SO rewarding to have a better story. my crit partner said it like this, "it's so so worth it. there's nothing better than actually feeling confident in the pages you send to an agent" hang in there man! spending some time on the other story may give you the motivation to come back and fix this one, but never, ever give up! :) (btw, i'm sure it isn't as bad as you feel it is!)

  7. Well I haven't noticed this yet. I'll get back to you when I've finished it all but for the beginning of The Shard the conflict starts out nicely IMHO.

  8. Oh, Ted, I so hear you.

    I am up against this right now myself- and for awhile I haven't had it in me to face revision and pondered just starting the next thing.

    I'm hoping now though that after a month away from even LOOKING at either of my ms's (and realizing that my novella is meant to be just that even if it's never published- I do NOT have to add 20k words to it because 'they' say it's not a novel. It is the story it is- it doesn't need 20k more words even though I could definitely add them...) I hope will finally be ready to face that binder of pages and red pen again soon.

    Just do what feels right. It's hard sometimes when you've been so close to a project for so long. At the very least I hope it helps a tiny bit to know you're not alone!

    (thanks so much for your comment on my blog too over the weekend- appreciated it more than I can say)


  9. Thanks, bru. I think in a way it does help that we see so many in the same boat with us. I keep wondering if it will be bittersweet to see a blogging friend get a contract while still getting no nibbles myself.

  10. Well, my two cents: rewrite (if you need it). Revision is an immensely valuable process. I think you learn more in revision than anywhere else. It's easier, in a way, to start something new. And if you've picked up some lessons from that first book the second may be easier to write, and better in the end. But nothing, I think, helps you more than revision (even, in the end, failed revisions) - learning how to make something work.

    The book I'm working on now, well, I started writing it quite a long time ago. And it wasn't working. Style and voice to formulaic, too much of the same old, same old. So I scrapped it and started over, going to an ultra-literary sort of style. This wasn't right either, though it broke me out of formulaic writing. Start over. Write it again in a style somewhere in between. This is good, but too long. Condense the first hundred pages (which I've already written three times) into fifty pages and keep going. Finish the first draft. At 300K words. Ack. Cut 60,000 words. Then cut 20,000 more. Then reshape the story and how I open it, and cut pretty much all of that first 100 pages that I wrote and rewrote. Cut the frame story. Cut 40,000 more words. Take advice of agent and cut more. Split the story in half and write the first half into it's own novel. Cut more, while also adding more. New chapters, new elements, new conclusion. Back to agent. More cutting. Back to agent. Change POV (oh my God the headaches). Add in new POV characters (two), with the necessity of winding two entire new stories through the old one (Expansion: Yay!). Revise for voice and style. Revise new stuff a few more times. Once more through everything just in case. Back to agent.

    I mean, what is this? It's that old saying: writing is rewriting. I've literally done more than twenty drafts on this book. But, let me say, I'm thrilled with where the book is, with how it's changed. And I'm probably not done. I'm sure more edits will probably come back. And what will an editor eventually (hopefully) say? Edit.

    Okay, that was like 3 or 4 cents at least. Maybe even a nickel.

    But, luckily there are lots of ways to increase tension. Condensing is good. A lot of us write scenes and chapters that really only have one small reason for existing. Say, providing a piece of information. Start condensing, start eliminating and combining chapters so that they become more complex, so that each scene serves a multitude of purposes. Pace increases, scenes becoming vivid and full of life - indeed, they reflect life and its complexity. Lots of tricks! I like talking about tricks. Obviously. I'll shut up now.

    A dime. Here's a dime. Whatever's left over will be, like, an advance on a future comment.

  11. Wow, ink! You remind with of Matt with the overwriting. I am the opposite, needing to add description rather than cut. I always heard a MS had to close to publishable to get an agent, yet you seem to have gotten one when there was still a ton of work to do. How did you do that? Did you already have the agent?

  12. It's good to recognize your weaknesses. That's how you fix them. Don't worry, I'm sure you'll be able to get to the hard work and make the story shine!

  13. Well, we're in the working-exclusively-together-to-see-if-we-both-like-the-relationsip stage. My query led to a quick partial request, which led to a quick full request. That, however, led to a rejection, but one with an opportunity to resubmit. It was too long (far too long) and this is what I was told. So a lot of that editing was stuff I had to determine on my own, and find a way through. Eventually I resubmitted, as requested. The manuscript was less than half the length it once was. At this point we entered into more of a working relationship. And it was less about the story needing a ton of work, at this point, and more about simply trying to make it the best it can be. It was a first person story, and by this time quite tight and flowing. The agent, however, was willing to push me, something I appreciate. A switch to third, and with the possibility of new viewpoint characters, could open up the story - and it did. I liked being pushed, especially as it was in the direction I'd always wanted to go but sometimes held myself back from (both in terms of tone and story).

    So, yes, some agents will be happy to work with you if they love what they see. Some are hands on editors. Some aren't. Either way, though, the more polished you can make a story the more likely they are to love it and want to work further with it.

    I think a lot of writers have glimmers of goodness, or even greatness. But how much work will it take for an agent to get a whole manuscript to that level? Will it even be possible? But if it's 90% of the way there, the investment is worth it.

    Say, with my project: the writing was always there. But the story wasn't always in the right shape. And that first part I had to do on my own. The investment wasn't right yet for the agent; it was a big job, and the future uncertain. The next time, though, it was. The investment of time and energy in specific edits must have seemed worthwhile at that point.

    So, really, it's about finding that point, about getting the manuscript to the point where the investment seems worthwhile for the agent. And it should also be noted that the agent gets to see that I'm capable of revisions. Because that's gonna be a big part of the job. Can I make the changes that an agent wants? An editor wants?

    And, yes, I like myself some description. Which is a nice way of saying I'm a wordy SOB. I've come also to like cutting, though. There's a masochistic pleasure in snipping away hundreds of words at a go.

  14. And I suppose it should be noted that even if, for some reason, I didn't end up signing with this agent, I still think the relationship a hugely beneficial one. It's all about the story, and I love where that is right now. That's a key thing, too. Not just finding an agent who has some interest, but also shares your vision for the story. I mean, what if I had an agent who was interested, but wanted me to dumb it down a lot? Pushing away from what I want, rather than toward? That would be a hard situation with difficult choices ahead.

  15. Ted--you can do it... I am on page 400 now, and your trek through the mountain--PERFECTION with the tension, torturing characters--you did it all. I think the beauty of it was the dangers weren't where they were expected, but they were there--the things that it SEEMED would be awful, weren't as bad, but there were bad things you never saw coming... If you applied that all book, you'd have not just a book sale, but a movie sale (and I think you can get there from here)

  16. I have the same weakness! Getting the tension right has been a major challenge for me. Last summer I actually did rewrite a whole book to address issues with conflict (I probably couldn't do the same thing now, at the time I was motivated by several agents who said they'd look at it again if I upped the tension). It was worth it in the end, but it was a lot of work!

  17. Thanks everyone! Bryan, you are very lucky to have found such an agent. My issue with this first book is that agents have no real chance to see the originality in my story arc; they see only the derivative stuff and don't realize that there is a point to it. Since a query letter is supposed to be short and focused, I have no means of explaining the complexities of the story arc and what makes it original.

    Hart, I am glad you liked the mountain part, but extending tension to the introductions is hard. I introduce 6 different main characters, so somehow I need to find a way of improving that part of the book.

  18. I think I let my characters get too emotional within the conflict. Then it ends up all tell and no show - or way too much show, and I'm lousy at descriptive prose.

    But ugh, do I ever put the energy into crafting those scenes; and so its hard to rework them. I know where you're coming from. I put mine on the shelf after about the billionith time of revising - and noting I may be putting some things back the way they were.

    Great discussion between you and Bryan. I've done a lot of revisions, cuts, rewrites, splits - all on my own. I'd love to have an agent pushing me. :)

    I like both of your ideas. I'm infected with indecision.


  19. You may need to work on a new project or maybe you need to let this one sit while you focus on ways to change it. Get a small notebook and jot down ideas. Carry it with you.

    If you decide to move on to a new book, brainstorm tension ideas before you begin to write. Come up with possible plot twists, so that in your mind you have these ideas of how to make your protagonist work to survive and live for another book.

    Don't repeat your same mistakes. If you were the protagonist of your book, that would be boring.

  20. Thanks, Ted--will do! I have the same setup on mine so I don't miss those old comments. Looking forward to future reading!

    And that Helen always has good advice.

    Romanticism today at SouthernCityMysteries

  21. It sounds like you sort of know what you have to do, what with your questions about conflict and tension, and about the originality of the story arc (later in the story). It sounds like you know some changes are in order, but you aren't ready to embrace them yet. Which is fine; it often takes awhile. And sometimes you need a push. What's more, sometimes you know a change needs to be made... but the specific form of the necessary change is difficult to discern.

    I know it's been like that for me.

    Is your story starting in the right place? I ended up cutting a short frame story, and I ended up changing my opening a number of times, moving the opening point along a timeline. In the end I cut most of 150 pages and opened the story much farther along than I originally intended. And it wasn't easy. I'd totally scrapped and started from the beginning with that material three times, and then revised it a number of times more. Cutting it wasn't easy, after all that. But in the end it was the best for the story. It wasn't just backstory, either. It was story, and there were some very good parts... but it was all lead in, and it was simply too far from the main narrative arc of the story. A 200 page lead-in before the plot really starts... it simply wasn't going to work - at least not as effectively as was needed.

    So whether you need to change where the story starts, or simply work from within the narrative to add more tension and conflict, take some time and let a few ideas percolate. No need to jump in. And this draft won't be going anywhere. If you try something new and don't like it, well, you can always move back to this draft.

    I've been in your spot, and it isn't always easy. But, trust me, the view from the other side of the decision is pretty nice indeed.

  22. I tend to be too kind to my main characters as well :/ Things will get harsher in the next two books though.