It can be soooo tempting sometimes! Hehehe, trust me, I know. And there have been quite a few times when I’ve done it myself, and you want to know something? I go back and look at those stories sometimes, and I really regret making some of the decisions that I did to get those stories over and done with. Was I successful in that pursuit? Well, sure. I mean, it worked. But if I mentioned a bunch of those stories or their characters by name...chances are most of you wouldn’t remember them. Hell, I wrote them and I barely remember them! Hehehe! But there were a lot of little pockets where I wish I had added a little bit more of my own personal magic. And those pockets were skipped over because I cheated. And that makes for a story that’s finished, but often not very memorable. At least not in my opinion.
So...I want to help you guys see these potholes in the road ahead and hopefully avoid them before you end up wrecking something really special. Don’t cheat. It’ll only weaken your project in the long run. And a weak project is a forgettable project. Let’s not allow that to happen to all of your hard work, because after all of your hard work and emotional energy...even if you decide it’s not one of your best efforts...there’s ‘gold’ in there somewhere. At least let the good parts of it shine the way you meant them to, right?
I’ll be splitting this article into two parts so I can spend some significant time and focus on eight points that I think need to be looked at and enhanced if you get the chance to go back and check out some of your earlier projects. It’s an exercise that I always recommend for every writer. Just to see how you’ve evolved from those first few big efforts to what you can do now. You get more relaxed, more patient, more adventurous. You may not notice it just reading your new stuff...but if you go back and compare it to stuff you might have written a year or two ago? You may be surprised at how much of a difference a little time and practice makes. It’s like that Mr. Miyagi, ‘Wax on, wax off, paint the fence’ kind of deals from “The Karate Kid”! You’ve learned more than you can imagine, believe me.
So, let’s tackle the first four sins when it comes to being tempted to cheat at your own writing. This is all according to things that I’ve learned from going back to update and create new versions of stories that I really wanted to bring up to standard and make them stand proudly next to the many stories that I’ve written since. And who knows? Maybe one day I’ll go back and see if I can improve on them even more. Who knows?
(It’s doubtful though! Hehehe, some of my stories were better off just being spontaneous and from the heart. But...ever say never.)
Now then...cheating sins...
#1- Leaps And Bounds - When writing a story, it’s natural, and even beneficial to have a plot in mind so that you have a clear path towards whatever ending you have in mind. You’ve got it all plotted out and ready to go, and now all you have to do is write it, right? Ok...so then...write it! The first writer’s sin comes from a rush job where you have all of these great moments swimming around in your head, and you can’t wait to get the words out on the screen. It’s like, “I’ve got the hottest idea for a sex scene! I’ve got this really dramatic moment that I want to grip my readers and pull them into the story! I’ve got this crazy climax planned! Wait until they see this!” I love that enthusiasm, but if you push too hard and race by the small stuff too quickly...all of those fantastic moments that you hav planned will end up going to waste. Don’t forget your sense of structure and storytelling. It’s important! Especially if you want to set up these special moments in your work and have them deliver the appropriate ‘punch’ that you want them to have!
The problem of being impatient with the process needed to take you from one big scene to the next is that it tempts a lot of authors to ‘cheat’, and leap over a ton of the opportunities for character development and plot details that you’ll have to have in place in order for your audience to feel fully invested in what’s going on. The impact of your story doesn’t just come from the big events, nor do they come from the words you use to describe them. It comes from readers’ emotional attachment to the characters, to the world you’ve built for them, and the growth and the steady evolution from what they were at the beginning of the story, and what they are by the end of the story. Otherwise, it’s just a bunch of stuff that happened to a protagonist that seems somewhat familiar. The leaps and bounds you take can cause you to simply use quick shortcuts to hurry the plot along without really giving it a chance to take hold in the hearts and minds of your fanbase. Slow down. Take your time, and make it your goal to pour talent into getting you to your first major plot. JUST the first! Getting the new job, finding the buried artifact, talking to the cute boy at the gym for the first time, or buying their first car. Focus on that. And when you complete that task, focus on the next step. If you look at your story as a whole...you’ll be tempted to skip and race forward from one big deal to the next, and that hurried mindset is going to cause you to use your characters as simple tools to conveniently carry the plot forward with no real connection to your audience. You can only have so many coincidences and lucky breaks before readers begin to get bored with the idea. Remember...your plot should be somewhat ‘invisible’. People should be following the characters and feeling like a part of the journey, not figuring out your formula to see what happens next before they read it. Skipping over tender moments and emotional details can weaken your story’s impact. So don’t cheat. Let your writing flow naturally. Trust your instincts.
#2- Drama Bricks - Think about your life as it is, right now. Just take a moment and think about all of the super exciting moments or dramatic interactions that you’ve had within the last two weeks. How many did you come up with? Even if you’re going through a turbulent time in your life right now...if you came up with more than five big moments, I would be surprised. Now, there are folks who live in dangerous neighborhoods, or are dealing with domestic abuse, or a super stressful job...and I get it. Life happens. However, for a lot of stories that I used to read on Nifty many years back when I first started writing, there was some kind of gigantic heartbreaking, mind-blowing, even every single chapter that got posted. Cheat number two? Using action, sex, or drama, to keep your story feeling interesting and exciting at all times. You definitely want to toss in some meaningful events here and there...but for your average person, life isn’t really all THAT exciting. Every chapter can’t be full of life altering events and passionate sexual interludes. This becomes tiresome after a few chapters for some readers. Someone dies in a car crash, and then someone breaks up with their boyfriend of three years, and then they’re getting evicted from their house, and then they find a way to get the money...but they get mugged in an alley, and then their computer gets hacked, then they’re outed to their family...ummmm, ok. Shhhhh! Hehehe! You’re doing just a little too much to hold people’s attention. It really isn’t necessary. As I’ve said before in the past...a good story is all about peaks and valleys. Introduce a problem, maybe it comes to a head and has to be dealt with immediately, and then let it die down a bit before tossing another major conflict at your readers. If every day is a dire emergency with high stakes and severe consequences...after a while they begin to lose their meaning. Thus, once again, weakening your story in the long run. Avoid the urge to make every chapter an epic triumph or an epic failure. Readers will burn out after a while.
That’s not to say that you should write chapters with no real impact or purpose at all, just for the sake of separating one major even from another. I’m just saying that you can find other ways to keep readers invested in your story and your characters without putting them in mortal danger all the time. Even the most violent, on edge, war movies full of soldiers who are constantly under fire have a few quiet moments peppered throughout the story where the writer is given an opportunity to build up their characters. Deliver information. Have more subtle conflicts and rivalries take place. If you’re writing a good story with good characters, then every single chapter won’t have to knock everybody off of their feet and leave them breathless by the end. I know it seems like that might be the way to go, and a lot of people will be into it at first...but it’s a cheat that eventually wears off. Don’t exhaust your readers. Too much drama makes for a weaker read.
#3- Emotional Leapfrog - The thing about writing a story from your heart is that it forces you to deal with and translate some deeper emotions, and that’s not always easy to do. So there can also be a temptation to keep away from that quagmire of intense feelings and try to tell yourself that your readers will just know what you mean. They’ll understand, right? Just tell them your main character is scared, hurt, angry, jealous….whatever, and they can fill in the rest. Nope! SINNER! Hehehe! I know that it can be difficult sometimes, finding the words...but try. Don’t cheat. It will be worth it in the end. Your readers are participating in the emotional impact of the story, but YOU are the one who’s supposed to be taking the lead in this dance, aren’t you? What are you feeling while you’re writing? I’m assuming that you have some knowledge of the emotions that you’re trying to convey in your story, since you’re writing about them. Well, take some time and think about how you plan to express those feelings. If you need a break, take a break. Go for a walk. Listen to some music. Watch a movie or a TV show. Get inspired. If you have a protagonist that is terrified beyond belief that there’s a man with a butcher knife hiding in his closet...then tell us about it!
What’s he thinking? What’s he feeling? Is he trembling inside? Is he holding his breath to see if he can hear somebody moving? Are his eyes trying to see any shadows move in the dark? Will he reach for the light? Is he too scared to reach for the light? Is his heart pounding in his ears? All of these are physical and emotional brushes that you can use to paint a full picture of what’s going on in your character’s head. Don’t skip that part! Give your audience three hundred and sixty degrees of a frightening experience the whole time. Even if you begin to feel a bit of a block while trying to find ways to get those next few sentences to sound the way you want them to say, it’s better to take an extra day or two to work on getting them right than it will just trying to skip over them in order to save you time and go on with your writing as if it doesn’t matter. If you are REALLY having trouble putting your feelings into words...leave yourself a note on the page somewhere, and finish writing the next scene. But be sure to come back to it later. Sometimes...just writing something else for a little while will help you find the words you were looking for before. But, whatever you do, don’t skip it. I’ve done that before, and it made the rest of my story a lackluster experience. Not to mention that it becomes a nasty habit in your future projects. So don’t do it if you can help it.
#4- Sudden Sob Story - This is a cheat that doesn’t just affect sadness, but all other emotional parts of your characters’ make up as well. You might have a protagonist who just moved to a brand new town from the other side of the country, and he feels completely alone without his friends. You might have someone who’s recently dealing with a massive heartbreak. Or someone who’s experiencing his very first time going to a gay bar on the outskirts of town. Do NOT downplay moments like these for the sake of simply letting your readers in on whatever exposition you need them to know in order to set the stage for future events. I realize that I can sometimes be a little bit ‘wordy’ with my own stories, but there’s a time to cut back on the details for the sake of delivering information...and a time when that information needs to have a much more personal and organic feel to it. You guys can balance that out however you see fit as long as you’re being honest with yourself when it comes to choose which is the best approach. But DON’T cheat! Hehehe, don’t take the ‘tell, don’t show’ approach for laziness sake. Put your nose to the grindstone and put your best foot forward. Each and every time. Take a moment and think about what you can use to bring more color and life to the static information that you’re writing out. “I’m living in a new town now. I miss my friends.” Ok, simple enough. But moved to what new town? Why did you move? Miss what friends? Were you forced to move? Was it for college, or for a job opportunity? How do you feel about what’s ahead of you as opposed to what you’re leaving behind? This might only add up to a few extra sentences here and there, but it works better than simply stating something and skating right past it as if it was a note written on the bathroom wall of your local gas station. Hehehe, you’re creating art here. Give us more.
I remember watching this remake of Stephen King’s “Carrie” a few years ago, and I was thinking that there was NO way that a teenage girl that beautiful could possibly be totally ‘friendless’ in high school. Weirdness and all. Hehehe! I mean, you can’t just say that someone has been bullied for their entire life and just have everyone accept it as being a fact. Show your readers some examples of bullying. Some rejection. Some hard times. If you merely deliver it as a sentence or two in the beginning of your story, and then your protagonist turns out to be smart and funny and extremely cute and can charm his way into another boy’s heart without any real problems...well those two extremes don’t match up, now do they? When I wrote stories like “On The Outside”, “Gone From Daylight”, “A Class By Himself”, or “My Only Escape”...I knew that it wasn’t going to be enough to simply say that these teens were victims to massive abuse and teasing in their lives. I had to show examples of that. Something like that affects the way they interact with other people, with how they see the world, with how they see themselves...and my readers needed to see examples of that in real time so that it made sense, and so they could be a part of the story along with my protagonist’s struggle. It’s important. And it needs to be more than just a bit of info to keep in mind while you’re reading. It has to weave itself into the story as a whole, as well into the personality of my main character himself. So find ways to make choices about what you want to highlight and what you don’t...but don’t cheat! It’s a bad idea. K?
Alright, so this is part one of the whole writing sins thingy! Hehehe, I’ll let you guys meditate on this for a while! And I’ll be back soon with part two! We’ve still got four more to go through! Feel free to let me know what you think down below! These are all mistakes that I’ve made in the past, and might make again in the future if I’m not paying attention. But once you figure out what you’re looking for...your instincts will pick up the pace and make better choices moving forward. Cool?
I hope this helps! Happy writing! And I’ll seezya soon!