Four Green Squares

the tiny little blog no-one will ever read

Story-shaped Splotches May 20, 2013

Filed under: clarion,writing — FourGreenSquares @ 8:17 am

After finishing in two weeks a draft I’d planned to take a month, I was in a cat waxing mood so I gussied up as work the act of perusing old writing. I excavated very old drafts of a story I’ve been wanting to get back into.


If you’re looking for something to simultaneously please and horrify, look back at writing 2-3 years old. Ouch. So much over-written description and inconsistent characterisation. So much of the plot line drowning in needless over-complication. But also some unexpected jolts of truth in there as well. I wrote those 🙂 (yes, it calls for an emoticon).


I remember abandoning that novel because I couldn’t quite square the circle and looking at it now, poof, the issues jumped out at me (thankyouagainClarionohthankyousomuch).


I’d wanted a romance as the main narrative drive with a castaway/stranger-in-a-strange-land as the overt MacGuffin plot line. But I’d actually over-developed the society in which he found himself to the point where the female lead was too enmeshed in her culture to be free to fall in love.


Falling in love is, as the name slaps you in the face to point out, falling. And in order to fall, you need to be unmoored, to a certain extent at least. Strange to think I’d ended up with too much worldbuilding. Put too much of it in the main plot, where it took over.


I’d also known even then that structure was a personal weakness. I can come up with ideas and develop characters etc., but simple narrative drive remained elusive. In that project, I’d tried sticking to one of the plot lines in “20 master plots and how to build them“. More points for the data set that tools in novice hands can be dangerous and destructive…but that’s how you learn to use them. I think I certainly gained from using an existing story scaffold. My problem–and remember how I said I intended for this to be a romance?–was not using the bloody romance outline but “escape” as the stranded character tried to get home.


While certainly that narrative drive and the conflicting goals of home vs. finding happiness in an unexpected place could work as a compelling story, adding on a quest plot tends to… well, have I mentioned I have a tendency towards over-complication? (No? Hmm, check out my potato soup recipe…) Because I ended up using the escape plus overbuilt society to add in a third plot line, that darned quest, that took them over half the globe. Introduced in Act Three. Totally undermining the atmosphere of being trapped that I’d built up through the first two acts. Yikes!


I still like the central premise and characters. I just wrote a two page outline–much simplified–that, in the immortal words of Holly Black and which I find myself repeating more that I ever would have guessed, lets my protagonists actually protag. Digging deeper instead of piling on more stuff. Making them care more about the stakes and each other.


And kind of heartening to realise that, in the home stretch of my million words of crap, I feel like I’m finally starting to understand what I’m doing instead of slinging words at the page and hoping they make sufficiently story-shaped splotches. So much still to learn, but that’s the great thing about loving what you do–I absolutely cannot wait to learn it.