Julie's Quest

Hello, and welcome to my blog. My blog is about the trials and tribulations of writing, where we celebrate successes and commiserate our near misses. We tell it like it is here and will do our very best to help you on the road to being published and pick you up after the rejections (they will come!) Whether you are a professional or amateur writer you will find something useful here.

I hope you enjoy reading my posts and will visit again soon.

Happy Writing

Julie Phillips - freelance writer - member of the Association of Freelance Writers - member of the Society of Authors

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Lost In Translation

Ping! I've just had a brilliant idea for a fantastic short story. I can hardly contain myself. I just have to get it all down on paper before I forget the plot.Every fibre in my body is screaming Yes, yes, YES! I feel as though I have been hit by 200,000 volts of creative lightening; my hair is standing on end and there are hot blue sparks emenating from my tinging fingertips - it lives!! My brain is buzzing, rendering me incapable of thinking of, or going anything else.

I have every juicy detail mapped out in my head but I can't get my pen to move fast enough across the page. I'm in danger of setting my notebook on fire and there's already smoke coming from the nib of my pen. Why, oh why can't I write faster that the speed of my legs when I spy a bar of cadbury's finest? My eyes are wide with anticipation and my hands are trembling with excitement. This is definately THE ONE that is going to get published.

I've started the story slap bang in the middle of the action using a snippet of tense dialogue to start the ball rolling. There's a sniff of mystery in the crisp Autumn air - a question - to bait the reader and make them bite so I have hooked them and I'm slowly reeling them in. Oh joy!

I am now reading the story back to myself. Oh yes, this is sooooo good. I can hardly believe that I've wrote it myself! Oh, hang on. I've just read the same sentence twice. Never mind. I was momentarily distracted by a moth flying around the light bulb in my front room. The hook is absolutely there alright and it's guarenteed to make the reader want to read on. Ho! I'm pleased as punch I am. Oooh I just can't seem to keep still tonight; I've got a right old fidget on - please do excuse me while I just whip my shoes off and scratch this itch on the sole of my foot (don't you just hate that?) Looks like my toe nails need clipping too. I'll just do that too while I have a minute.

There, now where was I? Oh yes. I bet the reader will wonder what's going on between John and Jane - it's that classic will they/won't they senario. Oh, but hang on a cotton pickin' minute, who's Paul? And why do Paul and John hate each other so much? Oh yes, this story is sooooo exciting! Oh please excuse me but I'm so tired today. I know it's rude to yawn in polite company but I just couldn't help myself! I'm sure I'll wake up in a - zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Oh no. What just happened? I didn't fall asleep did I? I don't want to worry anyone bit did I just bore myself to death with my own short story? How the hell did that happen? I don't understand it. I had a gripping, killer opening paragraph; my characters were fascinating and fully rounded; I had a fresh slant on a less than original theme. So what went wrong? Why, oh why did it all go pear shaped? There I was, happily writing and reading away when I slowly began to get the feeling that something wasn't quite right, something was missing. I couldn't quite put my finger on it but my heart started to proceed in a Southerly direction towards my boots. I clamped my hands over my eyes, peeking in disbelief through my fingers. My head shook from side to side and the words no,no,NO! escaped from my trembling lips. The story just simply doesn't work. Sound familiar?

The super duper, all singing and all dancing editor's dream of a story you thought you'd written just doesn't do as it says on the tin. It's a writer's nightmare. We are distraught and considering jacking this whole, stupid writing lark in. We are terrible writers and the story wot we wrote is a crime against good writing and should be put through the shredder immediately!

But wait. Is there nothing that can be done to rectify the situation and restore our faith in our ability to write good short stories? To show editors that we can write the kind of short stories they want? YES! Thankfully there is! So if this situation has ever happened to you, here are my top tips on how to dig yourself out of the deep hole of boring stories you have dug with your own spade:

1. Rethink your themes: what is your story actually about? Look back through the notes you wrote when planning your story - what are you trying to say? Why isn't that message getting across to the reader? Is your theme too well worn? Maybe you should find a new slant to spice up your story - use the same characters in a different situation/setting and see if it makes a difference.

2.Note down your characters and take a close look at them. Are they too similar, too stereotypical, flat and bland. Are they absolutely essential to the story or can you kill them off, tweak them and use them in another story? Can you replace them with another character more suitable to your story? A new character often brings a new and more exciting conflict with them - make them put the wind up your other characters and stir that spoon!

3. Bullet point the main events in your story. List them chronologically and note where you can introduce a bit of excitement to add some oooomph to the plot line. Note areas of the story which slow the story down too much and are superfluous and can be cut. Try moving events around and experiment with adding new scenes to see if this perks things up a bit.

4. Are you writing the story from the right character's viewpoint and in the right tense. Using first person in the present tense can give your story a sense of immediacy and take the reader straight in by encouraging them to become part of the story.

5. Turn it on it's head: put it in a bag and shake it up. Keep your original theme but introduce new characters and experiment with each of these characters taking the lead role - see which fits the best. It's often a case of 'suck it and see' in short story creation. Would your classic girl-meets-boy romance story be better reincarnated as a murder/mystery? Anything is worth a try and you may find that you get another couple of better short stories out of your original one.

6. Ask a friend or, if you belong to a writers' group, someome from the group or a neighbouring group to read your story and tell you what they think works and what doesn't. The more frank and brutally constructive they are with their critique the better - you don't want them to stroke your ego, you want them to help you get your story right so you can sell it!

6. Put your story away for a few weeks and give it time to mature and your brain time to process it. This will allow you see your story with fresh eyes and you may suddenly see a solution to the story's problems that you couldn't see before as you were too close and emotionally attached to the story.

If all else fails you could always consider bringing in a man with a gun!

Julie xx


Carole Anne Carr said...

Yes, Julie, been there, had the grubby tee-shirt! You have the ideas then you see the faults. DO DO DO read Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain....BEG, BORROW, OR STEAL a copy!!! I promise you, you won't have those same problems so often again. Its probably out of print but many copies second hand - Abe Books, of the Book Depository who charge no postage. I saved £50 pounds buying course books from them rather than Amazon. Go for it! Those problems will disappear if you are prepared to work with him. Get on the easy track. Hugs....xx

Simon Whaley said...

The mark of a true writer is one who lets the euphoria of the idea write the story and then lets common sense dictate that the story should be put aside to a time when the euphoria has gone away.

Only then, can a writer truly assess an idea's potential.

(Verification word = Anspri - sounds like a painkiller)

Suzanne Jones said...

I think we've all had the experience you described so vividly - been so pleased we've created a wonderful story only to find, on later reading, that it just aint so. Great advice here for what to do when that happens, Julie. Thank you.

PS fustsili

Julie P said...

Thanks, Carole. That book sounds intriging but I'm not sure I can fit any more books on to my already groaning shelves!!
I'll have to cull a few I think.

Julie xx

Julie P said...

Mmmmm Anspri! Yup definitately a pain killer! Works fast to kill that headache - dead!

Time is great for writers - helps to calm the creative side and let the analytical side do its job.

Julie xx

Julie P said...

Fustsili. For a moment there I thought it was a type of pasta!

Yes, Suzanne, we've all been there and sometimes, when a story just isn't working, for whatever reason, we have to concede defeat and put it away while we start something new. Sometimes pulling the characters out and placing them in a different environment will kick start a new and better story. You can always go back to the old story at a later date and look at it with fresh eyes.Sometimes that will help. Otherwise it's a case of consigning it to the great short story folder in the sky.

Julie xx

Olivia Ryan said...

Glad I'm not the only one this happens to! As I think I've said before - I learnt (the hard way) not to dash off a story and submit it whilst still in that euphoric state! When I did that occasionally, and they were duly rejected, I was mortified at how terrible they actually were! x

PS - ychespzz. Sounds like the noise a squeaky shoe makes!

Julie P said...

Hi, Olivia! I love the sound the word ychespzz makes! I think it has to be my favourite word so far.

It is so tempting to send out a story you've written with passion out before allowing time for the dust to settle isn't it?!

Julie xx