Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Adolescence of a Story

I'm often struck by how stories hit an adolescent period. The story that previously seemed so sweet and full of promise becomes sullen and difficult, forcing me to wrangle it through a lot of uncomfortable changes. This usually happens around the time I hit between ten and twenty thousand on my word count. The first ten thousand words often come relatively easily, and later, particularly once I round the bend of thirty thousand, I often find myself on a roll. When I'm just at the point that a story's getting long, though, I often find myself wondering why I thought this thing was such a good idea in the first place.

I've learned a few tricks, though, for dealing with a recalcitrant adolescent story:

-- Go ahead and slow down.
Part of the difficulty is that the story is truly taking form, expanding to occupy its full vista. It's okay to take time to shape that carefully.

-- Hang on.
Much as I might want to abandon this difficult thing, it's important to have faith that I thought the story was a good idea for a reason.

-- Don't be afraid to make needed changes.
If something isn't working, it often shows itself at about this point in the word count. It's okay to go back and rework--something I resisted for a long time because of writing teachers telling me to just lay down a draft. This is still relatively early in the process, and if whatever it is that's bothering me is going to stick around for the rest of the draft, I might as well go back and fix it.

-- Skip ahead if necessary
If everything is feeling lackluster, I'll go ahead and skip forward to a scene I'm really excited to write. Then I can go back and connect the dots with a bit more sense of excitement.

-- Take it a little at a time
Around the time a story hits adolescence, I start wondering why I've signed up for such a huge undertaking. Things seem a lot more daunting to me post-10K than they do when I'm facing a blank page. At this point, I narrow my focus and just try to make forward progress. The end is too far away to think much about it .

-- Walk away if I need to
If I'm really stuck, I'll write short stories until I get my mojo back. Again, this runs counter to a lot of advice I've seen, which tells you to stick with your project until it's done. There's merit to that advice, and I don't think I'd let myself start a new novel. However, I find short stories fun and inspiring, and sometimes I need that jolt to be able to slog forward with the long, hard work of a novel-length project.

And, yeah, the thing I'm working on is in its teens right now. I'm going to accept that I'll be mired in that for a while, and employ these tips myself.

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