Making the Story Work

By Charles Haigh-Wood (1856-1927) ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This post is sparked from an ongoing discussion with another author friend of mine.  There’s a few things that will come up which make us vastly different authors, yet somehow I am seen as the more experienced.  (Don’t ask me.  I’m still extremely wet behind the ears.)

I have made no bones about the fact that I am an extreme panster.  I’ve tried the plotting idea, and it didn’t work.  I wound up with a pile of words that made no sense, had no plot, and resembled something that even a garden bed would toss out.  I’ve tried the idea of just working for a general concept to center the story around.  That wound up with something that sort of made sense, but with a final result of a story without any punch, and died about halfway through.  The story proliferated the cast in retribution of my cutting back to where things were going as I wanted them to, and trying to rebuild.  That explosive cast growth caused an extremely cliche’ death scene, and left such a foul taste in my mouth I could not continue to even try to write it.  I may eventually go back, and see if I can resuscitate that story again.  If I do, it will be many, many years into the future.

It was not until after I decided not to write that I was able to actually finish my first novel.  I’m still working on the story, so cannot say I have finished that… yet.  As I do not have a catalog of titles a mile long, or even one that would required more than one page, I do my best not to write anything about HOW to write.  However, what I am saying here is something I think many new, up-and-coming, and even more experienced writers have run into:  How to make the story work.


For me, I do this by staying out of the way of my story.  When I try to add any type of guidance or leadership, the story retaliates.  If I am lucky, it’s just a bad idea jam that stalls progress for a few months.  In the worst case scenario, it is a complete literary explosion that results in such destruction the story must be declared dead on scene.  Yet, others have found their own way of making a story work while intimately plotting every twist, turn, and idea that goes into their plot.  There has to be a common theme in there, right?

Yes, there is.  And, it is one I think that is so super simple it is difficult to master.  Trust.  Trust that the story will work out, and trust that your characters are strong enough to do what needs to be done.  Without this trust, the doubt, distraction, and lack of surety about the end will creep up to ambush the writer and make it very, very hard for the story to be completed.

This is not to say you will never feel doubt.  Nor do I mean that you will never experience a sense of dread that what you have just finished is something the garden would reject.  What I am saying is that when you trust your story and characters, you are able to forge ahead.  It may only be a word or two for months at a time.  It may be a gully washer of a word added day, but there will be progress.

I am not going to get into details about what this trust entails, because that is between the writer and their story.  I could give a few anecdotes about what I have encountered – but I am not.  What works for me, may not work for you.

There are a few techniques, as a pantster that I am watching work to a lesser degree for my plotter friend.  These I will share, because they seem to be useful to both sides of the great planning divide.  And, this was advice given to me when I found myself staring at a log jam of ideas so big I hadn’t even managed to chisel a single word out of the mess in over a month.

In terms of interacting with people, when you think of trust, what comes to mind?  You ask them to help with something, and you trust them to respond one way or another from past experiences.  You ask them a question, and because you know that person, you know if you can trust what they tell you (or at least how far you can trust it to be truthful.)  Do the same for your characters.  Get to know them, learn who they are and how they think.  For those comfortable working with character sheets – write one up.  For those who prefer something that feels a little more like “visiting in person” find an interview questionnaire you enjoy reading and interview your character.  For those, like me, who prefer to just know the character, then write a flash ficition piece (or two or three) from that character’s point of view.  All of these will help you get to know who (or what) that person is you are writing about.

Will it generate a bucket load of extra information about that one character?  You bet!  Will you want to include all of that extra information?  Umm… probably not.  Will getting to know the character in such depth make it easier to write about them?  Probably.  Will having this type of intimate detail about the character get you through the log jam of ideas you’re facing down?  I cannot answer that.  But, if you trust that it can, the chances are – it will.

So, what do you do when the story turns into a balky, sulky toddler that is throwing a tantrum?  In part, it will depend on what type of general writer you are.  Pansters – give the poor thing room to breathe.  Plotters – perhaps if you eased up on how strictly you were plotting the story it could help.  Otherwise, go back to the flash fiction idea.  It doesn’t matter if your story is told from first, second, or third person.  Pull out each of the key characters and write a flash fiction piece targeted at solving all, or part, of the problem from that character’s own abilities and the material on hand.  Write it from a first person point of view.  In doing so, you are able to evaluate what is driving the characters to solve the problem.

Is this a guaranteed solution?  Nope.  Have I found it useful?  Yuppers.  Have I seen it work for others?  Uh-huh, I sure have.

So, how do you build your trust in your story?  Comment below, as I’m always interested in learning other ways.  (Not to mention, what you say may just be what someone else needs to hear.)


Comments and questions welcome.

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