1. Ghost in the Shell
    Offline

    Ghost in the Shell New Member

    Joined:
    Jan 11, 2016
    Messages:
    8
    Likes Received:
    3

    Stories Don't Even Read Like Stories: Rewrite or Scrap?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Ghost in the Shell, Jan 14, 2016.

    Hey there!

    I've written 6 short stories of around 2000 words since I got serious about writing. All have the same problem: the concept seemed—still seems—ok, but my characters have the depth of a kiddie pool and the plot is all over the place. Does it happen to anyone else that when you finish a story it's so incoherent that it doesn't even read like a story?

    I always pants my way through my short stories and by the time I finish there are a bunch of random characters popping up only to disappear after a short battle and the plot makes no sense whatsoever. They're beyond bad, they're like what an 8-year-old would write. Where should I start to improve my stories? Should I just put the ones I've got in the rubbish bin and start with a clean slate or try to rework them into something readable?

    Your input would be much appreciated! :)
     
    jannert likes this.
  2. peachalulu
    Offline

    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    May 20, 2012
    Messages:
    3,829
    Likes Received:
    2,382
    Location:
    occasionally Oz , mainly Canada
    Do you ever revise the stories or edit or polish them or just write a new one?
    That could be a problem.
    My first drafts don't look like much sometimes just a lot of characters doing hell knows what for hell knows why - until I start pulling it together in the second draft. I like to think of some of my first drafts as skeletons - all bones. Rather flat and boring. They need some life - some meat.
    I'd try to revise one of your stories first see if you can pull it together.
     
    Ghost in the Shell and Wreybies like this.
  3. Wreybies
    Offline

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    18,880
    Likes Received:
    10,062
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    I'm with @peachalulu. My first draft of a story is often more like a first draft of an idea. Sometimes it's just the characters presenting themselves to me. Sometimes the initial sequence of events gets ditched entirely or gets cut up, reworked, repurposed.

    Maybe your short stories are embryo novels. ;)
     
  4. Robert Musil
    Offline

    Robert Musil Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Sep 23, 2015
    Messages:
    317
    Likes Received:
    222
    Location:
    USA
    I'm generally of the opinion that, in the age of cheap computer memory, there's no reason to ever throw anything you write away. Assuming you're writing on a computer. Sometimes I'll just get a single image in my head--just one paragraph that's not connected to any story--but I'll write it down, occasionally revisit it, and maybe use it somewhere one day. Or maybe not, but it hasn't cost me anything.

    With some editing, as the posters above me have pointed out, I'm sure that whatever you have can be made into a coherent narrative. What I've found to be the hard part is realizing just how much editing can be necessary sometimes--and how much cutting out of extraneous bits. It sounds to me like you're trying to cram too much into these--especially for only 2000 words, you don't have much room to work with so you really need to keep things trimmed. It's super painful and something I'm still not very good at, personally, but "kill your darlings" is some of the best advice out there. I think we all have an impulse to dump every neat-sounding idea or character or whatever into a story, when really a story can only handle one or two of those, max.
     
  5. Cave Troll
    Offline

    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2015
    Messages:
    3,789
    Likes Received:
    2,409
    Location:
    Where cushions are comfy, and straps hold firm.
    @Ghost in the Shell Don't feel bad. I have a 33page story (unfinished and 12 years old now) that has more plot holes and what not, than an extremely old piece of Swiss cheese. So try not cram as much as possible into such a tiny space, the story isn't over until everything comes together and resolves itself. :p
     
    Ghost in the Shell likes this.
  6. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,969
    Likes Received:
    5,491
    My vote would be to keep them but start with a clean slate for now. Choose a restriction--for example, a limited number of characters so that you're forced to use the ones you have to produce action. Write within that restriction to stretch your ingenuity. You'll probably shelve a lot more stories, but that stretching may get you closer to a story.
     
    Ghost in the Shell likes this.
  7. kateamedeo
    Offline

    kateamedeo Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2015
    Messages:
    148
    Likes Received:
    80
    Location:
    Cornwall, UK
    I agree with others, do you revise your stories?

    I write the first 'horrible' draft to meet the characters, to get to know them and their stories and problems. Usually, there are a ton of changes that follow in the next draft.

    Sometimes it is enough to envision just one scene in your head and then you need to sit down and think, brainstorm (that's what I am doing now, trying to work out this guy's problem in a short I want to write). Do you know your protagonists good enough to write about them? Try to take one of your short stories, your favourite one, take one of the protagonists and have a conversation with him/her (write it down on paper). Let them speak. Maybe that way you will discover what is wrong with them in the first place (there is always something wrong with characters, otherwise there would be no stories). And then take the story and look at it from another perspective, knowing your character, what he wants, what he feels, why he feels that way. Maybe you will be able to tweak your story to show the struggles (inner, emotional / outer, physical) of this character. If not, you will be able to change the story but with some 'meat' in it.

    I like Holly Lisle's books, there is one on character creation. She suggests asking questions about your characters, the answers you get will drive the story because it's always about people, the plot is just the sequence of events based on their reaction.
     
    Ghost in the Shell likes this.
  8. Ghost in the Shell
    Offline

    Ghost in the Shell New Member

    Joined:
    Jan 11, 2016
    Messages:
    8
    Likes Received:
    3
    Thank you so much everyone! I wasn’t expecting so many replies. There was some solid advice here that will hopefully help me out of the rut I am in. ^ ^
    I wasn’t editing for plot or characters at all but only at the ‘’word’’ level (style, grammar, etc). You see, I was under this notion that what you wrote the first time was sort of meant to stay on the page—probably due to having watched Robert O. Butler’s Inside Creative Writing.Now it’s clear that my stories need some serious overhaul so thanks for telling me it’s ok to have a first draft that’s only a skeleton and then flesh out the story from there. :) I’ll work on trimming the extra bits and try to have ‘’conversations’’ with my characters. And I think I’ll go with @ChickenFreak’s advice overall: I won’t throw my stories away but I’ll shelve them for now and use a restriction or writing prompt for my next few incursions into fictional territory. Getting a ‘’finished product’’ is going to take a lot more work than I expected but I’m loving the writing process and believe sticking with it will be worth it in the end.

    I’ll also try to post something on the Workshop/enter one of the contests when I see I’m making some improvement, so it’d be awesome if someone could revise one of my stories then :).
     
  9. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,969
    Likes Received:
    5,491
    Ah, I see. For me, it's rare for even one sentence to stay the same, or to stay in the same place, from the first draft to the final draft.
     
  10. kateamedeo
    Offline

    kateamedeo Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2015
    Messages:
    148
    Likes Received:
    80
    Location:
    Cornwall, UK
    The first thing I do when re-reading/editing is look for plot holes and tweaking it. Only when I am finished with that do I pass to the next step - the words.
     
    Ghost in the Shell likes this.
  11. GuardianWynn
    Offline

    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 12, 2014
    Messages:
    2,088
    Likes Received:
    672
    Skimming through I didn't see anyone esle adress this. So I will. 2000 words is really short!

    Editing and trimming the fat and precise word use are all well and fine but sometimes you need more words. Things like characters poping in and out can be due to you not having enough time in 2000 words to develop them.

    Funny enough I once posted a 3000 word story on here. It got pretty negative reviews mostly for not being long enough. I re-wrote it as a 12,000 word story and I think it is 100x better. If you want. I would be happy to show you both versions to illustrate the point.
     
  12. jannert
    Online

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,793
    Likes Received:
    7,313
    Location:
    Scotland
    Are you a reader of short stories? If not, I'd suggest that you get hold of some published ones using the genre or subject that you're creating yourself, and see how these stories work.

    The good thing (REALLY good thing! :)) is that at least you're finishing your stories. But now it's time to look at HOW you've told them, rather than what you've told. If you've just told readers what happened, that might not be enough. You need to create an experience for the reader.

    I wonder if you're maybe just recounting events, rather than creating an experience for the reader. As @GuardianWynn suggested, these 'stories' seem pretty short at 2000 words each. I know some short story contests like this length (largely because they are quick for the judges to whip through) but I am not a fan. I think it takes a bit more space to develop a short story, if you're going to write one with a plot, characters, a story twist, etc. Otherwise you just end up with a vignette or an outline.

    I see you're a new member, and you need to fulfill the New Member requirements before you can post in the workshop. But once you've done this you can maybe post one of your stories in the workshop. Once we see what you're writing, we might be able to offer more targeted feedback.

    In any event, welcome to the forum. And again, congratulations on actually finishing your stories through the first draft stage.
     
  13. Sack-a-Doo!
    Offline

    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 7, 2015
    Messages:
    2,231
    Likes Received:
    1,511
    Location:
    [unspecified]
    You might consider:
    • Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain
    • Save the Cat! (series) by Blake Snyder
    • Character & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card (the section on Viewpoint, at least)
    These will give you a good solid basis in storytelling and how to overcome the problems you're encountering. Yes, it'll take time to get through them and put all that stuff to use, but it'll be worth it.
     
    Ghost in the Shell likes this.
  14. BayView
    Offline

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2014
    Messages:
    5,646
    Likes Received:
    5,124
    I agree with those saying that 2K words is really, really short.

    I think there's an idea with some people that short stories are easier to write than novels. This might be true for some writers (especially those who have trouble with structure, or those who struggle to finish projects) but the thing with short stories is that every single word has to work really hard in order to make an impression. Trying to have an impact on readers in 2K words, trying to have a good plot and deep characters - that's master level stuff.

    And you've written about 12K words total. I don't really believe the one-million-words-til-you're-competent myth, but there's no doubt that you need to put in some time before you're writing well. Most people who write 80K word first novels turn around and realize that most of what they wrote needs to go, so don't expect too much from yourself, having written so much less!
     
  15. Wreybies
    Offline

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    18,880
    Likes Received:
    10,062
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    Yeah, I've heard this sentiment before. When I hear it, I cannot help but hear eerie Vienna Boy's Choir music (in Latin, of course) in the background. It's there to add impact and make us know that The Original Idea is holy and sacrosanct.

    Prepare to genuflect in the manner appropriate to your culture or religion. [​IMG]

    No, no, that was sloppy. Try again. :ohno::bigwink:

    Maybe this works for some people. Maybe it answers a particular school of artistic thought. Maybe someone will come along and explain to us the name of that school. Frankly, I'm not interested. The idea that Robert Butler proposes does not work for me and I think it's intuitive that it would not work for everyone. There are a shit-tonne of threads in our forum alone where people stake their flag high above their Camp of Writing Process and the camps are varied, many, and hotly at one another's throats within a scant 5 or 6 posts. The argument over which is best or right or whatever only serves to prove that the question is what's broken. We are all individuals. We are different. Why would just one way make sense for the lot of us?

    If nothing else, perhaps your thread here is pointing out an epiphany that you've not really tacked down your process yet. That's perfectly fine, btw. Finding your process and finding your voice go hand in hand. ;)
     
    Ghost in the Shell likes this.
  16. Ghost in the Shell
    Offline

    Ghost in the Shell New Member

    Joined:
    Jan 11, 2016
    Messages:
    8
    Likes Received:
    3
    Thank you all again! :)
    Sounds like what I should be doing!
    @jannert: Thanks :)! For the most part I guess I'm just recounting events, so that's another thing to work on. As for your first point, I've read tons of short stories in the past and these days I'm reading some Bradbury, Asimov, Poe and Hemingway. But maybe I'm not reading with a ''writer's eye''? I did grab some published short stories, picked them apart and tried to sort of mould my stories after them, but it felt too constraining. Though maybe I just need to get a lot more ''templates'' to choose from?

    I don't necessarily think short stories are easier than novels, but they're better suited to the stage I'm at because they give variety and I need to experiment with different genres and styles to find my narrative voice. Also, I need readers' feedback in order to improve and feel a lot less bad about asking people to read a crappy short story than I would about wasting 5 hours of their time with a crappy novel lol. Of course, this is just me and probably a lot of writers would prefer to start with a novel.
    That being said, I agree with what some of your are telling me that a 2K-word story is very difficult to pull off. While I'll still try to keep them under 10K words or so, I'm definitely going to give myself more leeway with the word count.

    I think you've hit the nail on the head. Butler's approach resonated with me at first because it seemed simple, but now I see it clearly doesn't work for me. Perhaps the reason the prospect of revising a short story seems daunting is that I don't know where to start or what my process should be like. I'll try out the ideas everyone's given me and hopefully get one step closer to finding my creative process!

    I would be more than happy to read them! :)

    @Sack-a-Doo! You're not the first person to recommend Character & Viewpoint so I'll make sure to get a copy. I've also recently ordered The Making of a Story by LaPlante on Amazon, so I'll have a lot of material to entertain myself with lol.
     
    Sack-a-Doo! likes this.
  17. jannert
    Online

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,793
    Likes Received:
    7,313
    Location:
    Scotland
    Why didn't I think of this before? We have a short-story contest on this forum, which I think is now bi-weekly. There is a theme to each one which is chosen by the previous winner, so there is a lot of variety. Why not read some of the entries and vote on them? They'll give you an idea of what people on the forum are doing with short stories.

    Also, go to the Workshop and check out the short story excerpts in the categories you prefer. As a new member, you must do two critiques of other people's work before posting any of your own, so dive in. Read the entries and see what you can do to help the writers make them better, or say what you think the writers are doing well. You'll find you become aware of issues you might not have thought about before. Have fun!
     
    Ghost in the Shell likes this.

Share This Page