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Smash writer’s block and find the ending

Sometimes writing comes easily. When characters are believable, motivated, and fun, they can seem to act on their own. This remarkable phase of writing leads to astronomical daily word counts as your characters navigate the challenges you’ve set up for them.

When things are going well, writing seems easy.

However, what happens when your characters have had a slew of adventures and found themselves tied up in the mess of consequences? They’ve created a bunch of problems, often in fun and unexpected ways, and now it’s on the author to figure out how to build a world that will let them close everything out in a way that’s satisfying for your readers.

Uh oh.

So how do you get through this writer’s block and find an ending that will satisfy everybody? What do you do when the first 90% of the story came quickly but you’re left with the final–and arguably most important–10%?

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plot voice

Starting stories without a bang

Stories should start in the middle of the action, right? You’ve probably heard that advice over and over again, in a number of different forms. Start strong, don’t let your characters dawdle around, give your readers something active to start with, and so on.

So is this always the best approach? Should you ever start your stories slowly, building up to the action later on? Or is it always correct to start trapped in the middle of a gunfight?

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Just like writing, there are no hard rules here, despite what you might have heard. And writing, like life, is full of trade-offs.

Some stories will benefit tremendously from an introduction that’s fast-paced and full of action. Others need a gentle hand, one that guides the characters away from action, but not out of tension.

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character plot

Do stories need villains?

Can you think of a great hero who is made greater because of a villain who counters them perfectly?

Batman is at his most iconic when he’s facing the Joker. When Loki gets out of line, it’s Thor who has to be at the top of his game. And Harry Potter might have lived a relatively normal life without Voldemort causing trouble.

Sherlock Holmes has Moriarty. Ripley has an infestation of aliens. Luke Skywalker versus Darth Vader. Ariel versus Ursula.

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However you choose to define a hero, you can often find an antagonist who has the exact set of qualities needed to make the hero who they are.

So does every story need a villain?

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first draft productivity

Why you shouldn’t worry about first draft formatting

If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.

Margaret Atwood

Starting a new writing project is exciting. Perhaps the idea has been stewing in your brain for weeks or months, or maybe it erupted from your head like Athena.

New writing projects come with lots of unanswered questions. Who should the main character be? What are the world’s rules? Should you write in first person, third person, or should you take a more experimental approach?

What about more subtle concerns, like the font size or the formatting? Should you write this project in a format designed for your agent, whether you have one or not? Is it better to plan for a self-published story and to save time now by setting up your document as close to the final formatted version as possible?

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Most writers should consider the first draft as a place to think more about the story and less about the presentation. Develop your character, your setting, your plot, and give yourself all sorts of room to explore your new world. Forget about page margins and font sizes for now.

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confidence voice

“Don’t worry about repeating ‘they said,'” they said.

Nobody wants to sound like a broken record. In addition, nobody wants to sound like a broken record.

Wait. What?

Okay, two quick questions:

  • Do you own a thesaurus?
  • Have you ever replaced a common word you’ve repeated in your writing with a fancier, lesser-known one?

Here are my answers. Yes, and yes, of course! In fact, the first draft of the second list item above almost started with “Have you ever scrutinized a common word…” Ugh!

As we develop our writing voice, many of us go through a phase where we try to replace quotidian (common) words for ones that are more sophisticated (less common). We want our work to have precision, don’t we? So why would somebody complain when they could caterwaul? Is a situation propitious, or is it simply good?

I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs.

Stephen King, On Writing

Sometimes, a ten-dollar word can spice up your writing. These words are perfectly cromulent, after all. However, you’re making a trade-off. You can drag a reader out of the moment if they have to stop to look up a word, or if the word sticks out like something you’ve–oh, I don’t know–just looked up in a thesaurus.

Take dialogue, for example. In a heated conversation, characters are going to speak with emotion. They’re going to growl, they’ll yell, they might huff and puff, and they might mutter under their breath. Does that mean that they graduate out of simply saying what they’re saying?

In other words, should you bring out the thesaurus and eliminate “he said,” “she said,” “they said,” and the like?

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character editing

Dealing with a boring main character

When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.

Ernest Hemingway

The clouds overhead begin to part as the alien vessel’s hull emerges. Weeks of radio transmissions warned us that this day would come. The scientific community has been rallying behind an elite team of brilliant minds seeking salvation while nations around the world put their disagreements aside in the hope of saving the world. Armies are desperately attempting to finding ways to work together as charismatic leaders try to spread hope among their troubled populations.

Who would you choose for your protagonist here? A genius who’s struggled to find academic success but just might have the one key to saving humanity? What about the prime minister of a global superpower? Do you go with a soldier who has to choose between leading the charge against the invading forces or staying behind with her family?

Or did you accidentally start with Jimmy, the complacent guy who seemed interesting but now just wants to watch the whole thing on TV?

What do you do when your story is compelling but your main character feels like a boring spectator?

Categories
motivation productivity

Writing when you only want to plan

Imagination is a wonderful thing. A major reason that many of us write is to realize the unforgettable characters, gorgeous locations, and killer plots bouncing around in our heads.

The only drawback to having a great imagination is that it’s easier to simply imagine an amazing world than to generate words that evoke the same feelings.

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Have you ever tried to put words on the page that don’t feel right? Do you have a folder full of half-baked ideas that would certainly become best sellers if you could only find the right words? I certainly do.

Why does it feel so easy to imagine a complicated world while feeling so hard to write about that world?

This is a call for all you plotters. You’re not alone in this battle.

A word after a word after a word is power.

Margaret Atwood
Categories
confidence motivation

4 confidence boosting tips for writers

I hate writing, I love having written.

Dorothy Parker

Let’s face it. Writing can be a slog. Being an author doesn’t always make you feel like you’re crafting fantastic worlds out of the air. Sometimes writing sucks.

If you’ve ever felt the pain of an empty page, or found yourself stuck in a knotted plot that won’t unravel into the story you’re looking for, you know the pain. Maybe it comes in the form of fear, where you begin to question whether or not this whole writing thing is for you. Maybe it’s anger, and you’ve got a wastebasket beside your desk full of hastily half-scrawled and crumpled pages. Or maybe you’re just tired.

Whatever you do, don’t give up! Every writer struggles at some point. Some just make it less visible than others.

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Categories
confidence motivation

Regaining confidence by focusing on process

Have you ever heard a story where a hermetic author wanders off to an isolated cabin in the woods for months–or years!–before finally emerging with a flawless manuscript? Have you ever thought about that story and mentally evaluated it against your own draft?

If so, you might have felt the deep fear of failure that can result from comparing our work to others who are farther along their writing journey.

Comparing our own work to an award-winning piece of literature may feel unfair, or even cruel. Our thoughts can be troublesome, leading to worries about whether or not anybody else would enjoy the work in the same way we do.

So what can we do about it?

Categories
productivity revision

My first draft is done, now what?

Congratulations! You’ve completed the first draft of your story. You’ve put in the time by writing, typing, pondering, and plodding on through it all. You’ve sweated, snacked, and maybe even cursed a few times. And after all of that, the first draft is done.

So, uh, what now?

First thing’s first. You’re awesome. Finishing a first draft is a huge task, and by finishing, you’re already way ahead of the field.

Finishing a first draft can be spooky! Should you now write the draft again from scratch and hope the second time works out better than the first? Or should you re-read every chapter again, hunting for flaws? Or does finishing the first draft mean that you’re all done and can start hunting for an agent?

What’s a writer to do?

You’re a lot closer to being done, but there is still some work ahead of you. Fortunately, you can use some objective approaches to get from first draft to the final version.