1. UberNoodle
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    UberNoodle Senior Member

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    When the usual advice isn't working.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by UberNoodle, Dec 28, 2010.

    Hi,

    Let me preface this by saying that I've read these forums extensively, and really tested Google for what it was designed to for. I wonder if anybody has some time to share their own methods for overcoming whatever it is I have. I also would like to say thank you for the previous help I have received here. It was very helpful.

    So, on to it.

    Well, I think I can write prose well and I have concepts and ideas that are interesting and fun. My problem perhaps, is that I have too many ideas and concepts and not enough instinct for how they would be extrapolated for a story.

    I'm known as a talker by all my friends, and not in that "here he goes again!" kind of way. But I realise that I don't really tell that many stories. I explain and describe things that wow my audience (I think). That's my personality. I reverse engineer things and work out how they function as a whole, but doing it the other way - that's another story. Pun not at all intended.

    What I'm trying to say is that I fear I'm not a story teller by nature but instead a teacher. I am a teacher, actually. I write pretty good essays (I think), but I don't want to be an essayist. Perhaps this is why I can create characters and backstories, and how they got to be the way they are, but I can't piece together what it is that they are supposed to do. And my instinct to disassemble wholes to the smallest components, I apply to these ideas, often tearing them to ribbons in process.

    I have no illusions to write "hard" SF. I have tones of "black box" technologies. My ideas are much softer, like those expensive cushions that mould to your buttocks. However, when it comes to the sociological aspects of an idea, for example, I get right into it. I write more about that than I actually end up writing for the story.

    In the past I used to sketch and paint. My pictures were always scenes of a story never to be told. But then I got clogged there as well. I can barely draw a straight line now. After that, I played heavy metal on a killer axe that any ninja would have been proud of. I had a band. We had a name raided from a thesaurus and wrote epic, rambling tales through music. But then I got clogged up on that as well. Now I can hardly compose anything.

    Yet, sometimes, I find myself in the zone, and something comes out. I lose time. I go into that world and when I return I have something that makes me grin from ear to ear. Yet, it is something I could never evoke voluntarily, at will. It's like my creativity is buried, or at least flailing about in a tar pit full of dead dinosaurs. When it comes, it really delivers; usually it just flails about.

    So, standard advice for this is to map all my ideas out, flesh out the characters and locations more, and so on. This I do, and I have notebooks full of that stuff, but it all becomes so dense as to be impenetrable. Maybe that's the problem - my brain storms are cyclonic. I hear of this "snowflake" method, but I'm pretty sure I utilise that as well. And I think all this is in the "construction" aspect of planning a story. I get that, I just want to press play and see what happens.

    I write pages of scenes but I invariably arrive at the end of the world, look over the precipice and draw a blank as to what to do next. I have read and watched story after story, for which I always write plot breakdowns. I get the anatomy of a story. As always, I'm good at reverse engineering.

    Is it the tendency for SF plots to revolve around specific plot enablers - a deadly disease and a cure, a recipe for the best fission chips and the chefs who would murder for it.

    Help me? My head is so bruised and pulpy from my beating it against a brick wall. As I write this, a Yes/No prompt is asking whether I really want to delete all the dead ends I've been collecting. I know that they can ALL become something, if only I looked at them in the "right" way or had that essential epiphany. Yet I also wish to be free of them, like a mafia hit wishes to discard the concrete around his feet.

    Who's been this way and what did you do about it? What helped you? Is my cure right there in front of me, so close I can't see it? The more I flounder on this, the more despondent I become at writing. That in itself is a dangerous thing.

    (EDIT: I started reading through the writer's block sticky again. Everything there makes sense. But perhaps what I need isn't advice to get ideas out, but advice to throw them away, or focus and filter in such a way that it's all manageable. )
     
  2. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    I'm curious as to answers as well, because I don't know. The natural drive and aptitude to telling a story is often what keeps writers going, but what to do when that is gone?

    What you're describing is vaguely what I've seen with writing students in college. Often, the beginning fiction classes are the most alive and vibrant, because it's all about ideas. At some point, writers start learning so much craft and technical stuff, they get bogged down in it an everything seems like an exercise, not writing or telling stories. Writers at this point will often lament their writing used to be better, and in some cases, in some ways, it was.

    But, the writers that fight through, learn the craft stuff in a way that it becomes passive. So as they're writing, they learn to quit stopping all the time analyzing craft, and instead just write the story and trust the craft stuff will be there. And it usually is. One gets to the point the stories start to 'flow' again, and the ideas are as rich as ever, entertaining and all, and all the craft stuff that had been hammered into their heads (often self-hammering) is thankfully still there lending support to the story, but not becoming the focus.

    It seems you're in a bit of a similar situation, where you've so focused on the structures and techniques and 'what happens' (all stuff that one can analyze and study, so often ends up at the tip of our brains even while trying to write) that the actual stories are being killed.

    My advice is simple and something you're probably heard and even tried: just keep writing and keep in mind it's all practice. No pressure. Eventually you'll learn to trust all the planned and calculated stuff will be there in the background, making your stories stronger, but not taking all the focus. Keep trying to put away the research and plot-planning and character sketches and trust that while you're writing the story, the important things from the work you did will come through.

    If you have to, lock all that crap away and trust your inherent attention to that stuff will still be there and useful, but not stealing focus away.

    And you may just be doing what a lot of writers do and forming a complex system of procrastination and avoidance. Time to do like Dr. Phil as ask how that's working out for you and get real with yourself and writing.

    Unfortunately, I don't think there's any bit of advice that will be your answer. Sure, there may be a bit of advice that for whatever reason lets you let yourself actually write the stories without just building the scaffolding. But in the end I believe you'll be your own answer, and the solution will come not from the outside, but from within you. When you're ready to do what you need to do, you'll do it.

    I know, not very reassuring or simple, I suppose, but perhaps a bit of the truth. Every time I've had 'trouble' with writing, I realized I actually had trouble with myself as a writer, and the only way I got through it was by looking inward to figure things out. What I was afraid of, what I was avoiding, why I was doing what I was and wasn't doing, etc. In the end, it's how I've worked through various levels of writer's block, and as an aside it's not only made me a better writer, but better person.
     
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  3. TokyoVigilante
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    TokyoVigilante Member

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    Give it time. Step back from your notebooks, give your brain some breathing room. I once had folder upon folder of different word documents of ideas that were all great but dead ends. I deleted every single one of them. It was refreshing and freeing, in a way. It sucked deleting all that work, but I could start anew. If an idea I had deleted that I really was latched on to, then it would come back.

    I think it will require some discipline on your part. Being able to catch yourself when you're over-developing something and figuring out how to refocus that energy on other elements of the project.

    Your concerns about being more of a teacher and less of a storyteller can be spun to your advantage. Work that into your style and develop a project that makes that a positive, as opposed to a negative. Sci-Fi (even of the "Social" flavor) is diffidently on the right path, IMO.
     
  4. rainy
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    rainy Senior Member

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    1. Pick a character. Funny as that seems, I find that is often missing from a lot of amateur work I've read. WHO is this story about? I'm sure you have a million characters. Who cares -- we only need one right now.

    2. Pick his or her world (ie setting). Again, from the sounds of things, you have lots of ideas on creating worlds, but all you need is one. Can't pick? No one else can for you either. Pick one. The others are reserved for a later date.

    3. Look back over the character and the world you chose. Ask yourself, is the world needing something or the character needing something? Pick one.

    4. Write some scenes that probably have nothing to do with your central plot. Write your chars morning routine. Write his weekend life. Doesn't matter; the point is to get your char INTO his world. And once he's in his world, so are you. Writing his biography is not the same as living with him.

    5. Now begin your story, not from how it all got to be how it is, but what's happening now.

    And remember, even if you write paragraphs or pages that eventually become irrelevant to the plot (see #3), you can delete those during the revision stages.

    Also, remember that you don't need to include EVERYTHING about EVERYONE. Those long backstories serve one purpose: to mold the action figures before you throw them into war.

    Best luck,

    //R
     
  5. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, this is going to be the same old advice:

    It sounds like you're doing a whole lot of planning and analysis, and working your way toward the actual writing step by step by step, and then you get to the actual writing, and you don't like the result, and you shy away and go back to analysis.

    My theory is that writing fiction requires practice, and that it's a different kind of practice from writing nonfiction. I'd argue that you need to get your fiction-writing machine oiled and polished up and warmed up, and that there's no way to do that other than the _writing_.

    Lousy writing. Horrible writing. Writing that leads nowhere. Plots with no conclusion, characters with no character, forty-page transcripts of six characters' really boring dinner conversation. Writing and writing and writing.

    I see it as being like driving. When you learned to drive, you had to _consciously_ remember to turn the wheel for the turn, and release it before the turn was over, and switch feet to the right pedals, and so on. And over time, "anticipate the distance, start braking, turn the wheel, make sure you don't go in the other lane, adjust the wheel, adjust the wheel, adjust the wheel, release the wheel, stop braking, adjust it again before you go in the other lane ack!" turned into "turn the corner".

    When I did my first NaNoWriMo novel (fifty thousand words of fiction in a month), I found that I had to watch my characters talking and interacting in my head, and then frantically try to type it in while I could remember what they did and exactly what they said. Then I could type in the words while watching the movie in my head, as long as I had my eyes closed. Then I could stare straight ahead and type. Then the movie started being played, _sometimes_, in the typed words themselves. I was no longer painfully aware of the translation process to movie-in-head, to words, to fingers, to computer screen.

    Now, the words still lost something--the movie in my head is still much more vibrant than the words. I think I'm just _barely_ at the beginning of getting my fiction-writing machine oiled up. But just writing those fifty thousand words, forcing myself to spit them out in a month no matter how bad they were, took me a few stages toward what I hope will be a competent fiction writing ability. And then I wrote another fifty thousand, and now I'm trying to force myself to write every day, and when I get myself to write every day, I'm going to force myself to write more words every day. And all of that is mostly about spitting out words, getting the machine warmed up. I'm not worrying all that much about quality until I get the discipline and the habit down, until I can turn the corner without thinking about the individual steps.

    So I said all that to go back to the usual advice: Just write. Write lousy, horrible, painful, dreadful, wouldn't be caught dead letting anyone else read it, fiction. Take the NaNoWriMo example, write fifty thousand words of dreadful fiction, and when you're done, see if anything has changed. If it's changed a little, write another fifty thousand.

    ChickenFreak
     
  6. xxkozxx
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    xxkozxx Active Member

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    In your case I would say, don't look at the detail until later. Look at the characters themselves and figure out what their story is. Figure out what their conflict is.

    The best thing to do is instead of study the details first, is to study the theme first. What is the theme that you are portraying and how do your characters mold that theme through a main plot.

    Get away from the inner workings to start with and look at the overall big picture of your story. Focus on that. Once you have that down, then build the details to bring it to life.
     
  7. UberNoodle
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    UberNoodle Senior Member

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    Thanks everybody! There is some great advice and comments here. What I get from it is this: step away and let the ideas gestate, and just write. I write every day but I get caught up in planning far too much. It's a good point about being ruthless. I just have to choose. Sorry Timmy, you don't make the grade. It's off to boarding school with you! I tried some of this today and made some progress. Thank you.
     
  8. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Have you ever tried just writing the story ? Don't be afraid to waffle, put rubbish in - it can come out later - when you are stuck just write something filler to take you to the next big scene. I can lend you my story fairy if you like lol (During first drafts she zaps my characters around when I am stuck).

    I do have to completely rewrite my work after I have completed my first draft mind you.

    Also many great writers have also been teachers - Enid Blyton was perhaps most famous example.
     
  9. UberNoodle
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    UberNoodle Senior Member

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    Yes yes, I have tried that, of course. I've written a couple of hundred pages of story prose on the same core idea. The problem is that at each attempt, I come to a halt at about 30 - 50 pages in. This is because of a lack of preplanning of the story. I can never see the ending, only the set up and beginning. I talk to other writers and they often say that start writing with an end in sight. I've been doing a lot of reflection on this and I realise that so many of my ideas for plot revolve around a "sought after THING" or a "mysterious occurance". I have no real trouble dreaming up tangled and tarnished lives for my characters to play out (I'm so GLAD I never got into The Sims!), but it's that object or mystery that I screech to a halt on. Every thing I come up with, I've seen before, and therefore lacks interest for me.

    I've been reading that "tropes" site, TVtropes? It's made me feel a bit better in that even the highly regarded stories around are filled with well worn tropes.

    Oh and I remember you talking about your story fairy in another thread. Perhaps I'll need something more like that little floaty thing in Tron that said yes or no.
     
  10. JeffS65
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    JeffS65 Contributing Member

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    That is your key. What is they end goal of the story? In a way, know the end of the story and construct a path to get there.
     
  11. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    when you hit the wall at 30-50 pages what would happen if you waffled a bit - kept writing ? just threw in a fun scene like your characters ice skating or swimming or playing ball? Maybe they go to the cinema or sit and have a conversation you have always wanted them to have?

    With my current WIP (well my main one have been playing with a children one for Christmas), I started out with two threads or ideas, the lover of my MC was going to die. Only he didn't die his spirit, mind and body were split - because of who he was this caused massive rips in time and space between Earth and where my story is set. The second thread was that my MC ran a school for teenagers. Overtime those teenagers turned into historical characters - their spirit and mind split in two when the lover was split.

    Both element right up until 50K in were making for two fun stories - my MC had a new lover, then he started cheating on him (didn't know he was a tart), the children have made for some fun comedy. It was only at over 50K seriously waffling etc I got the element that tied those two together. When you start not knowing where you are going you need to be prepared to be blind for a bit until you see where you want to go.

    It maybe planning is the way for you but right now it doesn't sound like it is working either.
     
  12. UberNoodle
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    UberNoodle Senior Member

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    That's a good idea and that's what I hope will happen - the various strands that fit eventually coming together. My problem is that having all these strands narrows my vision to the point that I am bound by them. Just putting them away doesn't work for me. I still know they are there. My mind is a stubborn one, y'see.

    Anyway, what I did was (and perhaps this will draw many a tut my way) delete all those strands. I didn't just delete them. I defragmented twice to make sure I could never retreive them. Crazy? Perhaps, but I still have those ideas in my head and the ones that stay will be the ones worth keeping. Having examples of them written down was too cloying and suffocating. After deleting them, I felt free again.
     
  13. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree entirely - I am pernickity about how the story works and fits together. What works in terms of imagery etc. I will delete upto 40,000 words and rewrite just to get the pieces to work better. What I am learning though is every so often there is a scene I have just completely nailed in the first draft and it can never be written better. What I now do is leave that draft alone and start again.

    But I agree as an author my very best tool is the delete key. It allows me to feel free. But then I write fast when I am in full throttle that 40K can be replaced in a week. My husband writes as well and he hates it when I just delete nearly a whole work to fit in an element for example I decided my falcon should be white and not brown. I needed to change what the town and beach looked like so I lost 20K words to make that happen.
     
  14. UberNoodle
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    UberNoodle Senior Member

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    Perhaps one way to find a middle ground is to print out the drafts and then delete the files. I wonder if the pressure on our creativity isn't so much from the existence of that draft but from the ingrained dependence on cutting and pasting. At least if the previous draft is on paper somewhere, it isn't lost, but you still have the freedom to completely rewrite.
     
  15. J_Jammer
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    J_Jammer Banned

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    I have many story ideas. Sometimes they are short stories and I can write them out and I'm done. Sometimes they are longer and I realize that before I start...so I write down the idea and save it.

    I cannot write down anything until I'm finished with the trilogy I'm writing now. I focus and finish the one I already started. If you jump from project to project and never finish then you set your mind with a way out. Oh this became too boring or I'm stuck...I'm done. I'm going to do something else. It's an easy way out. You have to discipline yourself.

    I go to a writing group once a week. I get ideas from that to keep me going. I also send my work to friends and they read it and give me great suggestions. Continue to inspire myself and look for those that can inspire me.
     
  16. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I just save mine under a new filename in a different location.
     

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