Writing Report May 22, 2017
Still playing around with the new blog software, getting myself familiar with it. I’ll report on that at length in a week or two (I hope!).
Sometime back I mentioned the female barbarian stories I was writing, and how I had hit a slump regarding the second story in the series.
Well, I think I figured out what was wrong with it and know how to fix it.
My problem was in trying to be too original.
Without releasing any spoilers, here’s what I mean: I have a unique setting for my (i.e., I can’t remember any other stories being set in such a location) and a unique twist to a well worn fantasy element, but in trying to set the story really apart from other heroic fantasies, I added yet a third unique element, this one a limitation on the fantasy trope in question that nobody had ever done before.
Without being too specific to the idea at hand, by analogy if the standard werewolf trope is they change into wolves only at a full moon, my variant would have been they turn into wolves only during the dark of the moon.
I thought I was being rilly rilly clever, but once my story became bogged down and I put it aside for a few months to work on something else, it became obvious to me that the limitation was what was slowing the story down to a snail’s pace.
Not only did I have to explain the damned thing and the specifics of how it worked in order for the rest of the story to make sense, but it also required my characters to essentially sit around on their collective tuchis for long periods of time while waiting for the unique limitation to allow the fantasy element its turn on stage.
The solution? Ditch that third element, of course. It’s like taking the brakes off or cutting the anchor free, the story can roll along at a much faster clip now.
Also, I went back and looked at the plotting of the story. For the very first story in this series, I started out with what seemed like an idea for a short story of 2,500 – 3,000 words and much to my surprise wrapped things up well past the 16,000 mark.
I tried the same approach here (basic idea, a few thoughts on specific bits of business) but things just kept getting out of hand.
Remembering what Lester Dent (the “Kenneth Robeson” of Doc Savage fame) and Michael Moorcock wrote about penning adventure stories, I decided to apply their basic techniques but filtered through my own experience.
Dent and Moorcock came from pulp publishing backgrounds and their advice reflects that, but I used the basic three-act story structure of TV animation to plot out my story.
(Now, by “plot out” I don’t mean re-doing the story from scratch but rather just figuring out what the real beats of the story are and see what I can salvage from my previous draft. Quite a lot, it turns out. Yea, me.)
A TV animation script has three acts of identical length due to the commercial breaks. Each act needs to have a minimum of three scenes, with a significant change in location and tone in each so as to keep the story from becoming too monotonous.
Since each act is slightly more than seven minutes in length, and since one page of script equals (roughly) one minute of screen time, each act should be 2 – 3 pages long, with each page having at least one beat that propels the story along.
So…three act times three scenes times three pages times three beats or 3 x 3 x 3 = 27 beats.
Multiply that by 400 words (which I would consider to be the low average word count for my scenes) and we’re talking 11,600 words minimum (I have a feeling the story will run a bit longer than that because of some sub-plots that are running around loose).
As I said, the good news is that big hunks of the incomplete first draft (I bailed at 19,000+ words when I realized I wasn’t getting any closer to the climax) can be trimmed down and fit into the new beat outline, and the story will move at a much faster, more urgent pace.
More on this as it develops.
Meanwhile, I continue to write short stories, I’m putting together the actual final version of Poor Banished Children Of Eve, my “World War Two Lord Of The Flies with Catholic school girls” YA novel, and am girding my loins to plunge in on the final edits for my contemporary YA Western.
So expect to see a lot more posts in the very near future…