1. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    When your story sucks

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Lea`Brooks, Jun 22, 2015.

    I'm stuck. Way stuck. :(

    I have this high fantasy story I've been working on for... years, unfortunately, and it's become a burden on me. Every time I move a step forward with it, I eventually move two steps backward. I've talked about it on here multiple times, trying to figure out what I'm doing wrong and how to fix it. But no amount of threads have helped me.

    Everything about this story gives me a headache. I've been trying to type this explanation for a half hour, but everything I put down sounds wrong. I can't even talk about it properly, so how am I supposed to write or plan it properly?

    It started off beautifully. I had a good intro and good characters. But around chapter six, I realized I didn't know where I wanted it to go. And everything I wrote just fell flat. It wasn't right. So I scrapped it and reworked the story. Then I reworked it again. And again. And again. Until eventually, I can't even look at it without giving myself a brain freeze. Literally just thinking about where to go from here makes my brain stop.

    I have so many issues with the story. I've referred to it as the "Big Book of Cliches" multiple times, because that's what it is. There's a prophesy predicting the rise of my character. She's the daughter of royalty and a God. But she was raised an orphan. Her magic is stronger than any God/dess. She eventually becomes queen. She defeats the Bad Guy.

    It's been done before. Many times. So I wanted to make the setting and the characters different. I created my own religion, where the Gods are closer to people than Beings in the Sky. I created my own races of magical creatures, where elementals are considered personifications of the Gods themselves and are highly respected. I created my own world map, complete with many different types of terrain and cultures. But that's where it stops.

    I have the basic story. Prophesy about a powerful girl. Girl gets put into hiding. Girl becomes queen. Girl trains to use her power. Girl falls in love with Bad Guy, not realizing he's the Bad Guy. Bad Guy takes over the city. Then girl takes out Bad Guy.

    But trying to figure out the who, what, when, where, and why of it is where I get stuck. Who is the Bad Guy? I have it between the one guy or the one guy with a group of people backing him. I also have Good Guys doing Bad Guy things. Either to protect the country or because they are actually Bad Guy disguised as Good Guys. Who are the characters? I've changed the story so many times, I have a large group of characters, and I can't decide who to include and who to ditch. What is the point of the story? What is the theme? What magic does my character have? What struggles will she go through? When does the drama need to start? When does she realize her background, her heritage? When does she figure out that the guy she's in love with is actually the Bad Guy? Where does my MC live? Does she live close to the castle (hiding in plain sight)? Or does she live far away from the castle (in which case, traveling to the castle to become queen would take a significant amount of time and possibly bore the reader)? Where does she run to when her castle gets overrun? Why does a God go to the mortal world and "mate" with my MC's mother? Why do they hide her? Why don't they go with her? Why does my MC live where she does? Why doesn't her father reveal himself to her when my MC becomes queen? Why doesn't my MC realize the Bad Guy is the Bad Guy? So many whys.

    As you can plainly see, I'm having a constant battle with this story. I haven't looked at it for a long time. I've been working on an urban fantasy that is completely planned, just needs written. But today, I got inspired to work on this one. And as soon as I put the pencil to the notebook, my headache and brain freeze started. All I can write in my notebook now is, "This story sucks," and other obscenities.

    The shitty thing is.. When I actually lay down my plot on paper, without all the characters and details, it doesn't sound bad. It sounds like a solid story. It's everything else that's causing the problem.

    I don't know what to do here. I've tried "just writing," but I can't really just write until I figure out a proper backstory. I've tried putting it away for a while, but it still gives me a headache. Maybe I should put it away for longer? I've tried going back to the basics and writing what I KNOW I want to have, like my MC and her queen mother. But even that doesn't help, because I can't get what I planned previously out of my mind.

    What would you do in this situation? Do you think it's time I just scrap this and call it a loss? Or is there some way I can recover it? Any and all suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks for reading. :)
     
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2015
  2. RachHP
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    RachHP Contributing Member

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    First of all - I get it. I'm in a very similar situation (though my road block was thrown up at chapter 8) and it sucks.
    Commiseration aside, I think you nailed your problem on the head when you said "It wasn't right."
    Sounds to me that you're not really pressed for ideas, you're just worried that the one you choose won't be 'the right one'. To which I would offer three potential solutions:
    1. Commit
    Take a few days, weigh up your options, then pick one. Make a decision and stick to it - throwing caution to the wind and just getting it written because there are million ways you can write your book...But you'll never get the thing written if can't narrow it down to just one.
    2. Be polygomous
    Work out three (more/less) options and write all of them. Then pick your favourite.
    That is obviously a huge workload, but maybe if you give yourself permission to be indecisive you can get past the nerves or whatever else is blocking you. And in the process of writing different versions, you might find one of them occurring more naturally and just see that one to the end.
    3. Get a cowriter
    Sometimes things are better tackled in teams. Although it's your baby, maybe you can audition someone to come in and co parent with you. That brings its own problems, but having someone else to make decisions with might take some of the pressure off.
     
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  3. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Perhaps what you need isn't so much writing it as rewriting it. And maybe you just need some confidence in your writing skills - it sounds like a long project, and I know well enough how easy it is to become disillusioned. It becomes hard to just keep thinking about it. I can really sympathize.

    Also, I'd think about your characters in a different way - they seem to be something you are worried about, try writing interviews with them? Imagine them living in your house (I know it's a fantasy story, but still) - how are they acting? How do they interact with other people? Doing this might give you a better sense of who your characters should be.

    The writing itself - I think good writing comes from careful rewrites, not careful writes. The thing I'd suggest there is, try to write like you would say it - and then try testing your writing against writers you like and writers you don't. This might help build confidence in your style.
     
  4. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    That's quite the dilemma you have there.

    From the impression I get, you haven't thoroughly planned the story properly. There is also a process that commonly occurs when people dive to quickly into typing their first draft without thoroughly planning, and that's when you start thinking up additional ideals to implement into the story, essentially buckling the plot.

    Cliche is a word thrown around a lot, but at the end of the day, a lot, if not most stories are cliques. Human research vessel explores into deep space and gets attacked by aliens. Family moves into creepy old house and get buggered by bad tempered ghosts. How many times have you heard these before? It's more about giving the clique a fresh coat of paint than thinking up something completely new.

    Anything can be repaired, even if you have to apply a lot of work and sacrifice to it, but it'll come together sooner or later.
    In regard to the characters interfering with the plot, maybe you to work on the whole 'catalyst' side to your planning: what causes character A to attack Character B, and what would be the repercussions of such an action?

    I'm not sure if this has really helped, but I hope it gives you some ideas or inspiration at least. :)
     
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2015
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  5. sashawrites
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    sashawrites Member

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    As someone who writes mainly female main characters and female orientated stories I feel like I could try and help you a bit with that side.

    I realised I couldn't make my character everything I wanted her to be. I wanted her to be the hero, to be loved by the reader and to also be amazingly important. I think you may need to cut down the elements she has to her. You kind of have to be careful not to fall into the Mary Sue trap with this sort of thing.

    So I started to create women who were 'good' protagonists but the reader can also understand them. I cut the cliches and suddenly bam a story of mine did really well online.

    I think you have to give her a fault which isn't just falling in love with the wrong dude but I feel like orphan, god powers and everything might be a bit too much. I realise this is a fantasy novel, I'm writing one too. Your problem might be you have too much stuff to write about. What could resonate with the reader could be is that she is mortal and still goddamn amazing. Having a 'normal' person as a main character can often be affective. The rise from absolutely nothing to something could make for an awesome plot as well.

    I think your world sounds wonderful, but you probably just need to rework the characters. You just need to cut the cliches (even if you don't want to) and create your own... if that makes sense. Start at the bones and flesh her out.

    I think once you've done that the plot will come. At least I know it would for me but we are all different!

    Your story does not suck, not at all.

    Gah I hope I've helped.
     
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  6. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Did you mean cliché?
     
  7. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    Ah, yes. Thanks for pointing that out.

    I must have been thinking of quiche and cliche at the same time. I'm not sure how you do the little fancy 'e,' though. :p
     
  8. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    I started thinking I'd go problem by problem through the above...
    but there are some things.

    1/ I was watching a programme over the weekend about a man who believes he is the secret love-child of Princess Margaret, fostered out to a family as a baby, and then denied his birthright when Margaret's will was, in accordance with royal precedent, sealed so that he couldn't see that he wasn't acknowledged in it.

    Now, the point of this story is: Do you really believe that Princess Margaret, at that time the epitome of royal glamour and paparazzi-witnessed party-going, managed to keep her bump secret for long enough to deposit said sprog into anonymity? So, how does your MCs mother the queen manage to keep it secret? That sort of thing's not TOO difficult for a king to get away with, but the queen? Especially if the king's a jealous type.

    2/ Why would a god mate with a mere mortal? Simple, lust. Happened all the time in ancient Greece! Especially if the human was a dish.

    3a/ When does she realise her heritage? 3b/ Is she hidden close to the castle, or miles away? Actually, taking my story about Margaret's love-child (MLC) as a model, he realised whose he was when he identified that he DIDN'T identify with the parents who brought him up - kind of like somebody who comes to the realisation that he's a man trapped in a woman's body. So, just an increasing feeling of unease, leading ultimately to conviction. And MLC was deposited with a family in Kenya - miles away. Her voyage to the capital can be a sort of rite of passage, where she learns her powers in steadily-increasing trials against a variety of problems. And these problems may, or may not, turn out to be the bad guy trying to stop her before she gets a chance to stop him.

    The other issues about who's the bad guy can be resolved once you've got under way. My WIP is historical - based on real historical facts that I can't change. One thing I can change is the motivations and individual acts. For instance, a cunning plan carried out by my MC will be suggested by something that his wife says. But was that because she's Lady MacBeth incarnate, or because she's an airhead whose selfish desires unwittingly give him a moment of inspiration? I don't know, and does it matter at this moment? No, I'll work it out as I get closer to that point. I think your bad guys will become clearer as you spend more time in your world.

    Good luck with it, and keep plugging away!
     
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  9. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    On my keyboard (Mac OS 10) I hit alt+e and it gives me the ´ Then I hit the e again (or any letter) and it's placed under the ´. I can do the same with ` (grave accent mark). Alt+` The next letter I hit will be under the 'grave' accent mark.

    Google, "how do I [whatever]" and there's usually an answer to be found.

    Another option is to find the word elsewhere with the accent mark and copy paste it into the sentence.
     
  10. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    This seems to be the core problem with your story. It can make the difference between cliché and a great story.

    I found Lisa Cron's Wired for Story and her blog most useful for this aspect of writing.
     
  11. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Put it away for now, and work on something else. Don't let one piece take over your writing life. Not all pieces are meant to be completed. If it's any comfort, 98% of the writing projects I start never get finished.
     
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  12. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    This could be good advice. One day you could be thinking of something totally different, and suddenly have a Eureka moment.
     
  13. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, I've done this before with several characters, and it always helps me. But when I get stuck with this story, all logic goes out the window and I forget my training. :p I have about twelve characters I'm considering, and I know that's too many. I have two different versions of the story mixing together in my brain, so I can't quite figure out which ones are good characters and which should be discarded. I'll definitely have to go through this using this technique. I'm sure it will help. Thank you!

    Thank you! You actually gave me an idea, though knowing me, I'm not sure I'll actually use it. lol I've always loved stories about "normal" people rising above unbeatable odds and becoming stronger than they're supposed to be.

    This made me wonder if maybe she ISN'T royalty, and she ISN'T the daughter of a God, but just a very magically strong commoner.. She'd live in a small farming town outside of the castle, raised by.. someone. And her powers would still be bound. Because in my story, interracial relationships aren't allowed. Mixing an earth elemental with a night elemental could be disastrous. So when my MC started showing powers of multiple races, her magic was bound so that she wouldn't be exiled or jailed.

    If I make her a commoner, though, with normal parents, then the question would become, "well, why is she so strong? What makes her special?" And that's a whole other boat I've been on and long abandoned... lol

    Originally, I had planned that the Bad Guys were the queen's council. They had somehow managed to get themselves on her team, with the hope of gaining enough power to overthrow her and rule together as a group. So when the queen became pregnant, everyone knew. But then the prophesy happened, indicating her daughter would stop the Bad Guys. And then the queen figured out that the Bad Guys were right there in her own home. So she panicked and, at birth, gave her daughter away to someone she trusted to protect her. The Bad Guys found out and imprisoned her, hoping to torture her until she gave up her daughters location. The Bad Guys then told the world that both the queen and the baby had died during childbirth.

    I thought about that too. In fact, my religion is inspired by Greek mythology. But then the thought came up as, why her? Surely if a God had needs he wanted to satisfy with humans, there would be other demigod children running around. And I don't really have much of a place for those people in my story. I'm sure I could make a place. It would just become a whole other topic I'd have to research and develop, while I can't even develop my central plot.

    Another thing I thought of. The idea behind the story was that she would be queen first and find out her heritage second. But if I flopped it, then the majority of the story would be her on the road, and she wouldn't be crowned until the very end, whereas I had it the other way. She becomes crowned very early, chapter three or so, then the rest of the book is her training in the castle to learn her abilities, with the Bad Guy trying to stop her the whole time. I just worry that traveling first would limit how much information I can reveal... though I guess I could change it...


    I've already put it away for a year. :cry: I keep coming back to it sporadically when I have an idea, and it always ends this way. "This sucks." Notebook closed.

    I suppose I'll try the character interviews first. I think once I have them down, it'll be easier to focus on the story. I have two completely different paths I'm bouncing in between, and neither is better than the other. Just when I start to like one, I think about the other and switch. But like I said, I think the characters are the biggest problem. I'm normally very character-driven, letting them write the story and not me. And since I have two different casts of characters, I can't decide which way it's going. This group is going one way, and that group is going the other. Maybe my confusion on my characters is what's holding up my progress. Or maybe that's just another excuse, and I need to accept that it's over. :cry:


    Thanks for the advice. I'll try some of your suggestions soon.
     
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  14. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    By the sounds of it, it might also be worth writing the other way. Writing the last scene first, and the first scene last - or something like that, and figure out the characters based on the things they do and what they 'feel' like, if you know what I mean.
     
  15. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I agree with Regent.

    It seems you haven't sat down and planned your story out, and considering what you are writing sounds like a huge endeavor, it needs planning. Build the world from the ground up. Here, this is a link to how another fantasy writer builds her world: http://hollylisle.com/questions-about-worldbuilding/ . She's got a whole bunch of solid tips on her site, so check it out.

    Also, there has to come a time where you need to tell your brain to just decide what's what. I could sit here all day thinking about what hair color my MC should have, but at the end of the day, I have to make a decision so the story can progress, know what I mean? You can always go back and tweak it if it doesn't work, but for the first draft, just pick something and go with it.

    You might also need to take some things out, or alter what's already in there for the story to make sense. In my fantasy, for example, I had to age my main character up because I didn't think it'd be that realistic that a thirteen-year-old blind girl could possibly be part of her government's super secret intelligence force, even in a fantasy realm. In my historical mystery, I had to move the setting back a few decades so the theme could make more sense. Sometimes the blockage could be your characters/subconscious saying, "This makes zero sense!" and demanding that you look at it more closely.
     
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2015
  16. Lea`Brooks
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    The worldbuilding is done. lol That aspect of the book is covered. The Gods are made and named, the races are (generally) made and named. The country map is drawn, and all the towns, rivers, mountains, deserts, and forests are named. I even used the Sims to build my MC's house at the start of the book AND the castle she'll live in so that I can properly describe them when I'm writing.

    It's everything else that sucks. :p

    I did basically start over, though. I pretended it was a new book that I was just starting, save for the world building, and tried to rewrite the story and the characters. But I ended up (somehow) with exactly what I had before. I don't know if it's my brain working against me or if that's really the way the story should go. But somehow, when I go from 1) commoner MC to 2) becomes Queen to 3) defeats bad guy, it always takes the same path.

    Maybe that's my problem. Maybe it's not actually a bad or incorrect way to go. Maybe I just think it's the wrong way to go because it's so cliched or expected. Maybe I'm just fighting the natural progression of the story because it isn't the way I expected it to be... Maybe. lol

    So many maybes! I know I need to make a decision. But I'm keep switching between thinking like a writer, thinking like a character, thinking like a reader that I don't know which way of thinking is the right way of thinking. Thinking like a writer, the original plot progression makes sense. Thinking like a character, that's how I would act and handle it if I were her. But thinking like a reader, it's boring.

    And readers are my target audience.. So if I, as a reader, find my own story boring, there's no point in writing it, right?
     
  17. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Hey, when I look at my own stories as a reader, I think. "Who writes this crap?" :p We're usually the harshest critics of our own work, methinks.

    I did add a little bit more in my previous post as you were posting, so you might have missed it. :D Here it is again just in case: "You might also need to take some things out, or alter what's already in there for the story to make sense. In my fantasy, for example, I had to age my main character up because I didn't think it'd be that realistic that a thirteen-year-old blind girl could possibly be part of her government's super secret intelligence force, even in a fantasy realm. In my historical mystery, I had to move the setting back a few decades so the theme could make more sense. Sometimes the blockage could be your characters/subconscious saying, 'This makes zero sense!' and demanding that you look at it more closely."

    But maybe this is what your story wants? Commoner MC discovers her destiny, becomes Queen, and kills the bad guys. Maybe you're fighting it too much, imposing rules on it when it doesn't want them? I mean, at its core, my fantasy is about a bunch of kingdoms engaging in a world war (imagine WWI with magic.) Not really the pinnacle of uniqueness there, but that's what it wants to do. Don't fight your story in the first draft. Let it go where it wants.

    And personally, I'd think as a writer/character.
     
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2015
  18. Stacy C
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    Stacy C Banned

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    I wonder if the whole 'high fantasy' thing, in all its incarnations, hasn't become itself a cliché? It may be that nobody can write a story like that anymore which isn't tired and trite.

    (As far as I know, if you're using Windows, you have to activate the numerical keypad (Num Lock), then do Alt 0233 to insert the é.)
     
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  19. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Hmm.

    Okay, how much are you willing to change what you've written? One sure-fire way to change stuff is to change it.

    Take a major element of your story and turn it on its head. Do the exact opposite of what you've done. You can do this in your head, of course, but see where it leads you.

    Just an example. You can get your female main character to fall in love with somebody else entirely, instead of the bad guy. You can make her decide to give up her power instead of train for it. She could inadvertently lose her power AFTER she's trained for it. In other words, break the chain of events in some way. Do something radical to your story, while keeping the characters you've created. Your story itself sounds as if it's running a bit too smoothly. Make it rough. Make some big change that will totally alter the chain of events. I just suggested a few, but you might be able to try something else. Even resort to coin flipping. Which main character's circumstances totally change? Flip a coin, throw dice, whatever it takes to get your thinking going along different lines. See what happens.

    I love that Joe Abercrombie seemed to do this in his First Law trilogy. The main hero-type turned out to be a bit of a prat. The heroine was so untypical as to be nearly unrecognisable for most of the story. More of a liability than an asset. The most unlikely character actually got the girl in the end ...but SO satisfying. The big mage in charged turned out to be a fraud. Etc. Abercrombie really turned the tropes on their heads, and it worked beautifully.

    You could maybe try this approach. Wreck your story with something unexpected, and see how all your characters cope.
     
  20. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    That's also an unfortunate truth, but I don't think you should necessarily stop, Brooks.

    I'd go with what Jannert said. Take some of the big elements of your story and turn them on their heads, switch them around and see what happens. You might be very surprised by what you can come up with.

    Maybe your MC isn't a queen at all, but a lady-in-waiting for a queen and she finds herself, perplexedly, in a position of authority when the bad guys poison the queen. How is she going to cope then? Maybe the bad guys killed the wrong person (They were really going after the prince) and now they have a real mess on their hands.

    Play around with the elements; see what you get.
     
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  21. sashawrites
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    Ah this is what I was getting at, something drastic may have to change for your story to work! I enjoy doing unexpected things to my heroes and villains because it gives me something interesting to write about. You may not like the events and you may not want to see your characters 'damaged' (this is so hard for me) but hey, if it makes a good book and easy to write why not?

    Also jannert I just bought the first book in Abercrombie's Shattered Sea series, can't wait!
     
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  22. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    How much fantasy can really be made with the same old elements?
     
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  23. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    The great thing about fantasy is you have full carte blanche in the creative process; however, creativity in fantasy is usually corrupted and influenced by outside sources.

    Would it be a fair argument to say that sci-fi is technically futuristic fantasy? Each genre needs specific elements to be categorised, but adding fresh elements to that category is the difficult part I feel.
     
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  24. Stacy C
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    Technically, maybe, but the way I define them, fantasy may involve magic but science fiction, never. (I'm familiar with Clarke's Third Law, but that's not what we're talking about here, I don't think.)
     
  25. jen_writer
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    jen_writer Member

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    I've been in this situation recently and I am still stuck with my novel so I've left it for a while. But I haven't written a novel outside nanowrimo before so this is new and hard for me. I'm sticking to short stories until I figure it all out.
    I think that regent has it right, I didn't plan much and got stuck. I'm not a planner but I nned to have an idea of where it's going, or sit with the story a while maybe. I'm not sure it's something I need to figure out. Maybe you just need to figure out what will work.
    Try to get inspired and creative maybe instead of worrying about the nuts and bolts. I read something somewhere this person was just writing for them self and that's great because if you think that way you won't worry so much about it. Write what you'd want to read.
    s
     

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