Abandoned – For now

NaNoWriMo notes

This story has many problems. First and foremost is the dislike-ability of the protagonist. Normally when people say they hate author inserts it is because the author insert is a Mary Sue type character, not because they are so dislikeable that people have a hard time reading it. Elie is based off of me. Not me as I am now, thankfully, but how I was for a short period of time around three or four years ago. I was a jerk to many people during that time, then they called me out on it, and I stopped. My view of them didn’t change, it was more that I didn’t want to be mean anymore. I also was a lot less brash and independent than Elie is. I think that adds to her being dislikeable, since she is independent and takes the initiative in some ways but in others relies completely on her friends. After the first time she persuaded them to go stealing I’ve tried to lay off her attitude a little, at least in regards to her friends, so she seems to be getting nicer. At least that is my intent. The characters that I like, that could be abrasive and cocky, are generally both good enough to back up the cockiness and successful with their heart ultimately in the right place. Elie doesn’t have either of these aspects yet, though I am working on growing them.

I am bored of her and the whole story at this point. I’ve written over seventy thousand words of it, which is much more than I’d ever written on one project in my life, and the plot is going nowhere. The lack of direction of the plot is completely my fault, even more than any character flaws of Elie are. She develops somewhat naturally as a character, almost has a mind of her own, but the plot just slouches along, directionless. This is because I had no plot planned when I started. I basically conceived this based on what I thought was cool and wanted to read. Teenage girl with ambiguous sexuality runs a mini thievery ring. They steal stuff from people’s houses. To provide motivation for this, I came up with the quarantine. That was not my best idea. It caused way more problems than it solved in terms of plot and setting. I plan one chapter ahead, and sometimes not even that. I have a general idea of where I want to go in the future in terms of interpersonal relationships and a macro level plot, but once I’m there I have no idea where to go.

That is also why I think the story has taken much longer than it should have to reach this point. I should have maybe thirty thousand less words than I do. That is partially due to the fact that when I write, I put on music with headphones and zone out. Basically, what comes out comes out. Like that thing with the diagram on her fathers’ computer in the last chapter, or Janine intervening then kissing Elie in the locker room, or basically any of their interactions, or anything in class, just comes out. Like I know that I want characters to talk, and if I “see” one of them, I’ll talk to them. The conversations also meander and go off on tangents that aren’t where I wanted them to go.

I think my prose stands well enough on its own. It is not excellent by any means, might not even qualify as above average, but I think if I have an interesting plot and characters, it is good enough. Those other aspects were not present or not developed well enough is this case.

For next time, I need to have a plot sketched out in advance. Specific things I want to happen in each chapter. Foreshadowing, cliffhangers, Chekov Guns, anything. I need to make my characters more likeable. Elie isn’t awesome enough to justify how much of a bitch she is. Know what is going to happen instead of letting the story run. I’m debating whether to continue this story currently. If I do continue, I know I want this break-in, then a shake-up within the group concerning motivation, then another break-in, then a lifting of the quarantine. That shouldn’t take me more than 30k words, which is less than a month writing full-pace. From there, the plot becomes wide open, and I only have vague ideas. I don’t feel like I have a solid enough framework as it is to build a plot after the quarantine is lifted. I don’t want to write this section and then be lost or worse, run out into the rainforest of possibilities and end up drowning in a river.

At this point I think I would rather start something new. I don’t know what, but something. At some point soon. I really don’t like abandoning stuff, but I don’t like my own story well enough to continue writing it. It has too many deep-rooted flaws that would take too much effort to excise. Instead, I shall start with a clean slate. I might resume this story at some point since I like the concept and the characters, but the setting and plot need some major adjustment. Attached are all the story notes I have.

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9 comments on “Abandoned – For now

  1. Hey, congratulations! From what I’ve seen if everyone, the “holy crap, did I seriously write this?” Moment is a pretty significant milestone.

    My spiel: being unsatisfied with your writing is a good sign.
    When you write regularly, the goal, and indeed the result, is often that you improve your writing. Since you’re writing at a steady pace, it allows time to think about what you’re doing and what you’ve done. Because if this, when you write each chapter, you’re a little better at it than you were before. Then when you look back, everything you wrote in the past looks… Just bad. This isn’t because it actually is bad, though. It’s because you’re a different person from who you were when you wrote it. Looking back with your higher standards now means you’re guaranteed to be disappointed. This means that if you’re feeling this way, it means you’ve improved.

    Now for my suggestion: take a break and think. Figure out what each of the character’s motivations is, then figure out what each of the characters’ motivations really are. Give everyone secrets. Map out the town. Do random things to add flesh to your world and I guarantee you it will give you ideas.

    My opinion: Don’t give up. Don’t abandon this because you don’t like that you’ve made mistakes. Proceed and figure out how to fix your mistakes without changing the past. It’s all a rationalization game. Salvaging a piece of writing is a really good exercise.

    On foreshadowing: Fake it ’till you make it (making it optional). The schematic on her dad’s computer was a perfect example of that I’m talking about. No, you don’t have any plans for it now, but if you’re running low ideas, that schematic will pop into your head and suddenly you have something to get the plot going. Since you don’t have to explain it until later, I’d doesn’t even have to have an explanation at all until you need it again. When you suddenly pull a few of those together in a clever way, it will feel to the audience that you’d planned that way far back. So go ahead and throw in random things like the schematic. It’s easier to fire a checkov’s gun if you have ammunition you can use lying all over the place.

    On development: the most natural way to develop a character is to do it backwards. Figure out who they are based on what’s happened to them in the past. Then you can take that person and change them by adding events to their past via the present. Kinda weird way to think about it, but food for thought (mmm).

    Anyway, my real point, the unlikability should be a plot point- have it noticed in-universe and have the character make a concerted effort to change when she realizes she’s driving her friends away. Or have her reject them when they tell her, say she can do it on her own, then try to do it on her own, fail, realize she needs her friends, then reconcile and grow her into a nicer person because of it.

    On plot: in serial writing, oftentimes plot is driven exclusively by the characters, so here’s my tip: plan out more characters than the reader ever sees. The active cast of Sins of the Fathers is actually maybe twice the dice of the cast the reader actually sees, with a number of characters pulling strings behind the scenes. When I want to have something to happen for the visible characters to react to, I think about what the “invisible” characters are doing- “what is Lilith doing right now? What is Lumen doing? What is Myriad doing? What is Honnete doing? Underhand? Metatron?” This gives me an idea of what’s really going on, gives me a stock of characters I can introduce (but don’t necessisarily have to) at a moment’s notice, and means I know more than the reader knows, which is perfect for dramatic reveals and such. If you want to have an antagonist, add a character, set their goals opposite to the protagonist’s and go. Here’s two examples you could use which would spice up the plot:
    1) Danny McCorrigan is the local police chief. He’s a reformed alcoholic, and is very hard in alcohol-related crimes. He likes order and dislikes criminals, is tough, but fair. During the quarantine, his goal is to stop the town from dissolving into chaos. When he heard about these looters, he took it as a personal affront to the peace and order he built, and makes it his goal to track them down.
    2) Eliza Chalmers was training to be a nurse, but failed her final exam because of her dyslexia/panic attack/something like that. When the quarentine hit, it was the final straw. She received a strange letter asking her to steal things, and she quit her job somewhere sucky to make a living doing something that actually makes an impact. When she hears about the other looters, she is quick to see her opportunity, and starts stealing things too, but disguising herself to match reports of their appearance so the trail won’t lead back to her.

    These characters would not be visible to the reader, but the impact of their actions would definitely be felt, and it gives a method for driving the plot along. The reason, I think, for your plot stagnation is that your characters became stagnant when they walked off screen. Remember, just because we can’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t doing something. Figure out what characters are doing when off-screen and then use cause-and-effect to figure out how it affects the visible characters.
    Also, this story has a whole lot of background, figure out what’s going on in it. Make the town a living place, with people that react to the news. Have people tighten security, hide valuables, etc. Even those little things can add up.

    I hope I’ve given you some ideas, and I hope you at least try to salvage this one before moving on. I think if you set your mind to fixing what’s wrong and try some of the things I suggested, you’ll find that there’s more to this story than you’d thought. Whatever you decide to do, you at least now have the motivation not to make those mistakes again and the knowledge and skill you’ve gained from this.
    Keep writing!

    • Oh, and any and all of my suggestions could be applied to whatever else you decide to write as well.

    • flame7926 says:

      Thanks for the suggestions. It’s really awesome to have someone care enough in general to write out all of this advice.

      I explained why I decided to stop this for now. I decided to do that instead of trying to just expand in the future is because I would rather clear up what I have so far before going any further. I like the idea and the characters, but they need enough tweaks that I think it might be easier to just start over from the beginning. I don’t know if I’ll start planning out that universe immediately, in three months, or not at all, but I sincerely hope I do someday.

      Again, thanks for all you feedback, both throughout the story and now.

      • I totally understand. I think everyone has a few false starts before they hit on something they want to stick with, and writing a serial you don’t have the liberty of extensive drafting.

        Anyway, if and when you get something new up, I’d be happy to check it out. Feel free to bounce ideas around in the Lair too- it’s feeling a bit empty these days, though me, Syphax and Psycho Gecko are still around and would be happy to help.

        • flame7926 says:

          I also don’t like the concept of a serial, for me personally, writing. I like a big overarching plot, not a lot of small ones. Knowing where it will start, where it will end, and the one path they will take to get there. This story was the most serial-ish thing I’ve conceived, which was probably another reason I had a problem with lack of direction and things taking too long to happen.

          If I get a concept planned, I’ll take it to the lair. I haven’t been there much because a) I used it as a procrastination tool, and b) Google Docs doesn’t work barely at all on my primary computer (Windows RT tablet/laptop combo).

  2. Also, wow, you have a lot more notes than I do. Maybe I should start doing that… The chapter summaries seem like they’d be useful.

  3. Ha. The lack of planning and direction was why I had an issue with TANH too.

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