A Story Worth Telling

Blank.  Vacant.  Meaningless.

Those three words describe the current situation with my latest WIP.  This will be the fourth book I’ve written – if I ever get it done.  I felt like this with the last one too, and I did finish it, so yay, consolation there, right?  Meh, sort of.

What’s different is, I’ve run up against a new problem I’ve not encountered before; what is the story?  What am I writing about? I haven’t the faintest idea.  I still love the setting.  I still love the working title.  I just can’t seem to get my act together, and it’s starting to get a little worrisome.

Here’s what I want.  I want to be buried so deep I can’t see anything else but where the storyline is going next.  I want to drift around the house with that perpetual little wrinkle between my eyebrows, as I worry over a particular plot point.  I want my fingers to strike the keyboard fast as they can and still not be able to keep up.  I want to STOP pecking out a few words only to delete them.  I want to stop feeling like the ideas are all a waste of time.  I want to stop thinking I have nothing left.

I’ve sat on quite a few ideas, for days, weeks even.  I started to write, only to trash all within a day or two – usually as soon as I go back and re-read what I have the next day.  Two months ago, I was ten thousand words in on one lame idea, and it just didn’t feel right.  I think what I mean is, I wasn’t excited.  What actually went through my  head was, “God, this is a stupid story.”  If I’m not excited, how could anyone else feel that way?

Since then, I’ve play around with several other beginnings, only to get about two to three thousand words in, and I’m like, “nah.”  I’ve had so many false starts at this point, my folder for the new project has racked up discarded bits and pieces of this and that, just like the donated clothing bin over on Highway 421 with its overflowing trash bags of shoes, sweaters, pants,and coats.  I think I even saw someone’s red negligee fluttering in the wind.  In typical fashion, I think, ah, there’s a story there.  And the brain cells dry up.

I’ve questioned if I’ve pigeon holed myself by choosing this particular place to write about.  I don’t think so.  It’s a swampy area, and the perfect place for something suspenseful to happen.  But what?

Part of my relentless doubt about my new story’s beginning is because recently, I was blown away by a random encounter with an opening line of a story that grabbed me, and held on.  In my mind, it’s one of the best I’ve ever read.

“The boy was on fire.”

This is how THE FIVE STAGES OF ANDREW BRAWLEY by Shaun Hutchinson begins.  The book is not in a genre I would typically read, (LGBT YA), but I found myself absorbed instantly in the story.  Much like the last post, the writing once again only underscored the point that if the story is good enough, if it pulls a reader in and keeps them intrigued, it’s a story worth writing, a story worth telling.  It has heart.  It has tension filled moments.  It has a MC I want to get to know better.  I want to know how he ended up where he was, and what might happen to him.

If I didn’t know it before, I know it now.  This is why I’m still searching.  It’s why I haven’t yet found what I want to write about because until I’ve got something that snags at my heart strings the way the beginning of this story did, it does no good to start and stop.  If I have any confidence at all, it’s in the fact I recognize this and know it’s all part of the process.

It will happen – eventually.

Bottom line, I really just want a story worth telling, don’t you?


COMMENTS

  • Colin

    February 27, 2015

    Reply

    Yes! We all want to tell stories that matter. But who determines the worth of a story? Certainly not the writer, at least it’s not my place to tell you, “Read my story–it’ll matter to you!” The best I can do is write stories I want to write, tales I want to tell. And it might be because they’re fun and I find them entertaining, with characters that are interesting to write, and puzzles that are clever and a challenge to solve. Or it might be because they tug the heartstrings and matter to me on an emotional level, telling a story from my soul to whoever is listening. But again, I am imposing my subjective value judgments on these stories. The bottom line to writing them, though, is whether I care enough to see the story through to the end. Beyond that…? Did J.K. Rowling ever think her quirky story about a boy who finds out he’s a wizard would end up touching the lives of millions, inspiring people to read, to imagine, and be changed?

    If you don’t care about the story, I say you’re right to shelve it and move on to something else. But keep writing. Keep trying ideas. You never know–one might take hold.

    And about the clothes in the trash bags. Sure, they may end up in a furnace. Or they may get re-purposed–a quilt, dolls’ clothes, stuffing for a pillow, a homeless man’s shoes. You never know when a useless idea might take on a life of its own. Go back to that ideas folder now and again just in case. 🙂

    • donnaeve

      February 27, 2015

      Reply

      So right…about who determines a story’s worth. That – as most everything else it seems when it comes to writing – is subjective. I should have also said the other thing I learned is to never throw any words out – even if I think they are as worthless as lima beans. 🙂 I’ve harvested stuff from past writing before, feeling like I’d landed on gold when I realized, “Hey, this works right here!”

  • Jen Donohue

    February 27, 2015

    Reply

    Wow, that is a great first line!

    I always feel like I write best when I don’t have a plan, per se, but a general shape of the arc in my mind. But I’ve had a devil of a time writing book 2 of my werewolf trilogy (and no, I don’t know what book 3’s main point is, just who’s going to die and how it’s going to end). I have ideas, and I’ve tried to outline the damn thing like three separate times. I need to just write it, and then crazy quilt the files into the book I want/need it to be instead of worrying so much. I’m not on a timeline.

    But yes, I want a story worth telling. I want a story that grips people, makes them want to know what happens next, how things turn out, if there’s a happily ever after in any kind of way.

    • donnaeve

      February 28, 2015

      Reply

      It is such a powerful line…, I really can’t get it out of my head. And I’m doing what we’ve been told NOT to do. I’m comparing/basing everything I’m writing on that. Silly. But, there you have it.

      I write like you do. Usually. Know the start, know the ending…and need stuff to happen in the middle. This one? None of that yet.

      You know what’s really aggravating? I wrote my second book in five months! I hadn’t read a snippet of it in over two years so I went back to it the other day b/c I thought, how did I do it? How is it I could write a book that fast? I figured I’d re-read some parts b/c they just had to suck, and actually, I still love that story. That is a story with heart, and meaning – at least in my mind. I’ve tried to outline too and honestly, it NEVER works for me.

      Sooo, here I sit. Sometimes ideas come to me when I go on my runs…, but nothing so far. It’s too cold to concentrate on story ideas when I’m out there anyway!

  • Carolynnwith2Ns

    February 28, 2015

    Reply

    Have you ever walked into a room and forgot why the hell you went in there? So you walk out, pivot, do the “I’m -stupid-dance” , walk back in and ah-ha” you remember why you went in, in the first place?

    Sounds to me like you are still in the room wondering why you originally walked in.
    Walk out. I mean go out and about and write something else because whether you know it or not, that you CAN’T come up with the story is the THING stuck in your mind. It’s the tune that’s looping over and over again. It’s the name on the tip of your tongue.

    Donna, the story is there, believe me it’s there. You just have to change the record.

    • donnaeve

      February 28, 2015

      Reply

      I have more times than I”d like to admit. Isn’t odd the way that works? Or, more directly, the way our brains work? Walk back out and it’s like a re-set, and yes, we usually remember.

      Your analogy reminds me of not being able to sleep – which I generally have no problem with. When I do, it seems I wake up at the same time every night, and after a few nights of doing this, it’s more about the focus on the fact I’m waking up that stands out and in turn makes it impossible to get BACK to sleep.

      Funny you mention moving to another story. I’ve been contemplating writing something completely different for the past week or so – think magical realism (i.e. like THE AGE OF MIRACLES sort of thing). I have one idea that’s stuck in my head, and that’s typically when I think I’ve got something to go on.

  • Lisa B

    February 28, 2015

    Reply

    Hi Donna,

    Yes. A story worth telling is my goal too. It feels lofty as I’ve so much to learn but then, as I read blogs and try to train myself, writing is like any other profession. There is never an end to new things to learn.

    My WIP is fits and starts. I finished a full rough draft last summer. Then reread through it. Found plot holes. Plugged them. Re read again and found my plot holes and the need to swap certain chapters around. Holymoly. What a lotta work. What did I get myself into? But, I love the family in this story and I want to share who they are with the rest of the world (if anyone else wants to read!)

    Magical realism? I’ve read Martina Boone’s COMPULSION and Sarah Addison Allen’s books which I think fall in that category. Fun stories. Not the style I like but enjoyable reads. And I quickly finished Geek Girl by Holly Smale, a YA.

    You’ll get unstuck (unthawed?) and be writing on again!

    • donnaeve

      February 28, 2015

      Reply

      It sounds like you’ve pretty much nailed the process of writing, so your “training” has done the job! I love the old saying anyway, “writing is re-writing.” Boy. Don’t we know.

      The one thing I’ve learned through the process of three finished projects is that I definitely like the re-writing part better. In my mind, the laying down of the initial story is definitely the hardest, but once it’s there, I feel a sense of accomplishment (make that a HUGE sense) even if the story is filled with plot holes, and I know I’ve got a better choice of words for description, etc.

      As to other stories of magical realism, (I actually had a bit of it in the second book) THE LOVELY BONES also comes to mind, and was another one of my faves. Like you, not really in my wheelhouse as far as a typical genre, but I’m willing to read anything GOOD!

      Yes, here’s to “thawing out,” (good one) and as warmer weather creeps in, my brain will hopefully also warm up.

  • Nicole Roder

    February 28, 2015

    Reply

    I’ve had that problem before. I had what I thought was a great idea for a story and setting, but no matter what I did, it wasn’t right. I kept feeling like I was trying to make something fit that just didn’t fit. I hate to say it, but eventually I had to scrap the idea and start from scratch with something completely new.

    Maybe this story will come to you eventually, but it also might help to work on something else for a while. That sounds daunting when you consider that another book will probably take you at least a year to write. But if you can’t make it work right now, perhaps taking a step back will refresh your creativity enough that you’ll be able to do it for your fifth book.

    Just a suggestion. If it were me, I’d probably hate that idea. We writers suffer for our work!

  • donnaeve

    February 28, 2015

    Reply

    I keep thinking that will happen! (it’ll come to me eventually). I have been thinking about writing about something else, but you’re right! It is hard. It’s like I don’t want to move off of this project, b/c it’ll likely nag me the whole way through anything else.

    I’ve heard of other writers unable to wring a plot/storyline out of themselves and do what you did – shelve it for the time being. There are always firsts of something in writing, aren’t there?

  • harryipants

    February 28, 2015

    Reply

    Don’t be afraid to go away and come back to the thing you’ve been writing. Some projects need time.
    The first novel I started, I quickly understood I needed to learn to write better befoe I could write such a story. I’m not back to it yet, years later. But that story keeps growing n my mind.
    The next novel I started, I wrote 5000 words. Shelved it. Bits came to me over time. A year later I had most of it planned. I’m desperately itching to write it. But it can wait. It’s going to be awesome, and better for the waiting.
    The next novel I started, it is a complete first draft, and a story worth telling.
    But I started writing backstory for it, and wrote a whole other novel, set fifteen years before. That’s now a complete 2nd draft, with Scary Editor’s Notes ready to apply.
    My fourth, which was actually begun and completed in a month, during the writing of the third, is the only one published under this Harry Pants name. It’s okay, writing it got me through a hard time. It makes me laugh whenever I read any of it. Just that makes it a story worth telling, for me.
    My fifth to tenth are only 30,000 words or so each, and have all been written and published in the past seven months. Each was a story worth telling, because there are many happy readers who write to me and tell me how much the stories mean to them. No, they’re not really literature, as such. They are poorly written, in many ways. But they are out there, making a difference to people’s lives, and also, they continue to make around 10K dollars a month, on average, between them.

    I see exactly the thing you are saying, and I assure you, some of my stories mean more to me than others. But I want to tell you this — the leaving alone of those stories, the ones that mean so much to me, while I churn out these others, has made them SO much better than they were. I continue to connect the meaningful dots in the “Real Work” BECAUSE my brain is firing on all cylinders while I sprint along the paralell path that is the genre fiction I write for money. And while ever one’s in the foreground and the other in the background, both are being strengthened.

    Step away. Write somethng short and fast, for no other reason than cash. Or just to see how fast you can write. I promise you, while you’re doing it, your brain will take wild new leaps into your other story, and you will find what you need.
    A watched pot never boils, my friend.

    • donnaeve

      March 1, 2015

      Reply

      Wow, you’ve come along at just the right time.

      First and foremost, I’ve missed you! Which is kinda weird to say, I know, in that weird we only know each other b/c of the internet and if I passed you on the street, I’d keep right on trucking, but honestly, I wondered about you the other day. So, I skipped over to your blog – which seems to be on simmer, and that’s b/c you’re writing like those “pants” are on fire! AND, which makes me so appreciative of the time you took to comment here.

      AND, as always, your advice, and what the others have said above, seems on target. I’m pushing too hard on this one. I’m playing the what if game, and find myself asking instead, “what if I’m wasting time on this?”

      One of my other fave pieces of advice is “write like no one’s watching.” Honestly, I think that’s how I wrote the second book. My first was on submission at the time, and I wrote it to 1)prove to myself I could actually write another, and 2) to burn nervous energy. The encouragement (i.e. signing with an agent/going on sub) went a LONG way in driving that story out of me.

      At any rate, my “magical realism” story keeps pecking away at my head with possibilities. I believe I’ve got a unique situation, and I think I can make the MC someone we’d care about. The idea actually came from a Flash Fiction story I wrote this past year, and when I wrote it, I thought at the time it would make a good novel.

      Thanks again for taking the time Mr. ipants! Man, it makes me a bit melancholy that all the blogs where you, me and “Wry Writer” gathered have slowly gone away. The good news is…I know HOW to find all of you! XO

  • Averil Dean

    March 3, 2015

    Reply

    Your process sounds a lot like mine. I have to go through several false starts before I find something that really sticks and has some viable chance for survival over the long haul. This time I’ve started and stopped only three or four times—which seems like progress until I consider that I’ve wasted six months or more with all this monkeying around.

    Still, now I’m in and I’ve got hold of something good and blissfully easy to write. Fifth time’s a charm…

    • donnaeve

      March 3, 2015

      Reply

      Ha! Fifth time is the magic number? Yay! Oh. Hold up. I think I might have already passed that. Le sigh.

      I do have this sort of nagging idea (that’s usually a good sign,right?) but it’s a more literary approach about boundaries, a sense of ownership and the notion of those things being trampled over and disregarded. IDK. Still f’ing fiddling.

  • Craig

    March 6, 2015

    Reply

    Bless your little Lima Bean picking heart.

    Here I stand, head in hands, turned with my face to the wall.

    Perhaps someday I shall be overtaken by a a poignant story that just begs to be told. It hasn’t happened yet today though. Today other wonders have hit me. My frame of reference was widened and I can now perceive things I had previously missed.

    Perhaps those new insights will one day lead me to that special story that begs to be written. It hasn’t blindsided me yet today. Maybe tomorrow.

    In the mean time you strive to see the world better so you will not miss the opportunity when it hits you upside the head. You took a step in the right direction by expanding your reading horizons. Catalog that thought and get back to work. If you can write something that is escapist, that is fine. If you can raise the consciousness of others , even better. But you must write to get where you wish to be. A poignant story cannot be forced and transcends fiction. Wait your turn and then exploit it.

    • donnaeve

      March 12, 2015

      Reply

      I love this “A poignant story cannot be forced and transcends fiction. Wait your turn and then exploit it.”

      Great advice.


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