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Eleven Sneaky Ways To Rescue A Failed Story

30 September 2016

From Writers’ Village:

So your story ‘doesn’t work’. You’ve worried it to death. You’ve cut stuff out. You’ve put it back in again. Now you’re wondering for the nth time if that comma in line three should really have been a semi-colon or a full stop.

Stop!

Isn’t it time to junk the whole wretched tale and start again?

No. Your story might still be rescued, faults and all. Here are eleven sneaky ways. (‘Sneaky’ because they’re quick fixes and don’t pretend to be complete writing strategies.)

. . . .

3. Your plot has drifted out of sync.

If your character grew up in central Boston, s/he couldn’t have been educated at the same time in Vermont. But you only realize that after you’ve written 10,000 words.

Don’t do a total rewrite. Just go back and add some transitional lines:
‘The family’s move from Boston to Vermont happened like a dream. She remembered only fragments of it. One blink and there were trees. She’d never had a garden before.’
You can use the same ploy to tidy up all kinds of (small) anomalies. Have a character allude to them, agree they’re odd, confess they can’t remember all the details, then move on.

The reader will go along with that. Otherwise, they’ll cry “Hey ho, a plot hole!”

. . . .

6. You have too many named characters.

Your reader can focus their attention on only two or three named characters per chapter. Unlike you, they don’t have the benefit of a cast list to distinguish Jim from Joel and Anne from Alice. They’ll give up.

Two solutions:

A. Give all your named characters names that start with different letters. And…

B. Name only those characters who appear continually in the story or who must otherwise be memorable. Blur out the bit players. Identify them by labels.
So ‘Joe Dale, manager of the deli store’ becomes ‘the deli store manager’.
He can still play a colourful role but, being nameless, he won’t upstage your main players.

. . . .

10. Your dialogue is confusing.

It’s a great idea to draft a scene, initially, as a play script. Just dialogue. With its tit-for-tat exchanges, dialogue has conflict and vitality built in.

But a tit-for-tat exchange is still a playscript. It won’t work as a story. You need to add tags or other descriptors to show us who’s saying what to whom – plus constant reminders of the context.

Otherwise, it’s just voices in a vacuum.

If a single passage of dialogue goes on for more than three lines, it risks turning into a monologue. Break it up. Intersperse it with speaker labels, dialogue beats (inconsequential actions that indicate who’s speaking) or a speakers’ private thoughts, maybe set in italics.
‘She chewed gloomily on a breadstick.’ / The waiter refilled her glass.’ / ‘Not much of a menu, she thought.’
Now we know we’re in a restaurant. And who’s speaking/thinking. The monologue has also acquired life and texture.

Link to the rest at Writers’ Village

Writing Advice

12 Comments to “Eleven Sneaky Ways To Rescue A Failed Story”

  1. Some of these “fixes” are awful suggestions.

    Your plot has drifted out of sync.
    Then it’s time to TRIM, not pad with explanations.

    6. You have too many named characters.
    Then cut out some characters. Merge several. Definitely cut out unnecessary characters.

    I trim the fat for lean prose. I can’t stand extra word padding. Nothing will make me chuck a book faster than extra stuff that doesn’t belong there.

    • The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on. It is never any use to oneself. — Oscar Wilde

      But bad advice is even better if they’re foolish enough to follow it!

      When you speak to others for their own good it’s advice; when they speak to you for your own good it’s interference.

      .

      Women in love consist of a little sighing, a little crying, a little dying — and a good deal of lying. — Ansey

    • If you read the comments, some of the suggestions get even worse. And yet there are people gushing about his wonderful advice.

  2. 4. You have an absurd coincidence.

    Some of the funniest and most enjoyable romances I’ve read have a strange or absurd coincidence as the inciting event. 😛

  3. B. Name only those characters who appear continually in the story or who must otherwise be memorable. Blur out the bit players. Identify them by labels.
    So ‘Joe Dale, manager of the deli store’ becomes ‘the deli store manager’.
    He can still play a colourful role but, being nameless, he won’t upstage your main players.

    *smh*

    It’s not naming the colorful bit player that causes them to upstage the main player. It’s having a lackluster main player.

    I have a low tolerance for repetitions of epitaphs such as “the deli store manager,” especially if the character is colorful or memorable in some way, both in what I’m reading and what I’m writing. I figure if they’re that colorful/memorable, they deserve a name, especially if they’re going to recur at all.

  4. PG, Thanks much for sharing this helpful post from one of the great writing teachers, Dr. John Yeoman, who died shortly after writing this post in July, 2016. He was a generous, wise and helpful writing teacher. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him.

  5. Ungh…if a story or part thereof needs to be rewritten then rewrite it! So what if you end up deleting 10K words? If they’re the wrong words then they have no place in the story.

    I prefer Stephen King’s advice – put the story in a drawer for 3-6 months, take it out, re-read it and then fix what needs to be fixed, even if it means a complete rewrite.

  6. ‘Sneaky’ because they’re quick fixes and don’t pretend to be complete writing strategies.

    I’m not buying this as something “sneaky”, or a quick fix. It’s basic writing 101. If something’s not working, you change it until it does. Or learn not to do it that way to begin with.

    Frankly, I skimmed the comments. Boring. Sorry the guy’s dead, but this is just another one of those click bait titled articles that are just fluff.

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