Tag Archives: novel writing

Shifting the Plot (drastically)

If you’ve been following Salon Auteur’s blog for the past couple of years (It’s been around that long???), you might remember when I wrote this. Well… Nearly two years later, I have an update.

See, I was originally hesitant to kill off or otherwise nearly destroy the main character. However, I hit a major block later on down the road, and I just couldn’t seem to add to the story. It just didn’t seem… right. So what did I do? I went back into the Outtakes file (yes, there is an Outtakes file on my computer) and read through the rejected scenes… and I found that they were truer to the plot than what I’d added in. After all, to have the villain die so early seemed a little… too convenient (even if it did reveal a lot about his allies). Yes, there were others to take his place, but it totally wrecked the plot. He was the only convincing bad guy in the whole story, aside from the one who already got killed off. So I took the outtakes, tweaked them until I liked them better, and sifted them back in…. then proceeded to rewrite the scenes following them — and leading up to them. I’m still in that process, and I’m having to remind myself of the history of Marda so that I can get it all straightened out… But there’s still problems.

The story feels dry. Seriously. It has its moments of “greatness,” but in general, it’s lacking. The characters don’t have the same camaraderie (friendly or otherwise) as other generations of characters in the Mardan Tales. The settings are vague, at best. The pirates seem a lot more skilled and dangerous than they should — without explanation. I mean, really. The captains all argue over who’s the top guy, yet they manage to overtake the larger part of the kingdom of Ebenswy? What’s unifying them? Why aren’t there more assassinations or attempts? And why is Ebenswy itself so… blah? Why is it so hard to write a story based hundreds of years before the stories you’ve written before? Why do I just want to scrap this whole thing and forget it ever existed — yet at the same time, I want to save every bit of it that I can? Perhaps I’m just complaining and should just write…

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Finish him! – Or, A Writer’s Ethical Challenge

There are moments in writing when I picture a scene from that game, Mortal Kombat, which was so popular in the…. Was it really back in the 90’s? Wow. Anyway, the fighters have been fighting, the player mashing and smashing buttons haphazardly, and one of the combatants is struggling to stay standing. The words, “FINISH HIM!” are emblazoned across the screen in gory red letters, and the player is compelled to throw one final blow…

I am currently at one of those moments. Thing is, I’ve had this scene in mind for weeks –– even months –– but even now, I cannot decide whether I will have someone finish off this foe, or if he will be taken away in chains. The pacifist in me says, “Oh, he’s just misled. Let him repent!” but the fighter in me says, “No! FINISH HIM!”

In reality, my protagonist has a history –– a messy history –– but he and his friends justify it by saying, “That had to be done.” How on earth does this relate?

Well, when I first started writing this note,* my protagonist had a choice to make. Kill off his rival, or let him off the hook? When I couldn’t decide, another character stepped in and decided for both of us, finishing off the villain (Thanks, unnamed deciding character…). I’m always conflicted about this.

See, on the one hand, I want to kill off the villain. Seriously. Get him out of the way! Let the good guy take his vengeance and live happily ever after! On the other hand… I am a bit of a softie, and perhaps a bit sentimental. I find myself thinking, “Oh, he can always change his ways.. It won’t be easy, but it can happen…” Or can it? I usually have to bring my villain to his wit’s end before he even considers regretting his evil tendencies, nudging him by reconnecting him with such things as people he misses or taking the blinders off to the awful things he’s gotten into. Not to mention, there is such a thing as an unrepentant villain…

But this whole scenario begs the question: Am I to be held accountable for the way I portray these situations? What does it say about me as a person? On the one hand, yes, this is fiction. On the other hand, how does this effect the way I look at people in real life –– or how my readers look at life? I ask these questions, not to give myself or anyone else a guilt trip, but because they are very real questions. When I write, I am getting into the heads of my characters, and I not only consider what the character would do, but what I would do. Would I be willing to value a person’s life –– and chance at redemption –– less than I value “justice”? How does one even discern whether the person in question is sincerely willing to make the effort to change?

This is where the shady characters step in and save me from my own debate –– the ones who are on the right side, but whose values that aren’t quite the same as those that I hold. I feel absolutely guilt free when they make these decisions, because I don’t feel like I need to agree with them 100% of the time… So that is my solution.

But is that enough?

*Footnote: This goes to prove that one of my many, many ways of procrastinating from writing is not mere business, Facebook, forums, or general procrastination, but writing about the struggles I’m going through with my writing. It’s both helpful and unhelpful, really. Helpful, in that it helps me process. Unhelpful, in that it takes me away from the actual story I’m writing. I started this note when I was in the middle of writing that scene, and finished it after writing several following scenes (and a few to fill in beforehand). It spans a few days…

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Character Mortality and Predictable Writers

I guess you could consider this post a double-whammy… But beware: There is much following of bunny trails…

This is going to sound awful –

Twice, I have tried to kill off a certain character in my current work in progress. I had it [kind of] planned out from the beginning stages. I’d kill her off and make her a martyr, then leave her love interest reeling in agony. Both times, I’ve chickened out or found a way around it.

I partly blame this on my writing buddy. Said buddy has a very odd habit of falling in love with the characters that I eventually plan on killing off or maiming. I don’t know how he does it, but it gives me a guilt trip every time. He also loves cliches, which I try like anything to avoid –– then accidentally toss in when I’m not paying attention. And you know what the strangest thing is? I will either send him a chunk of the latest writings, or I’ll hint at what I’m working on, and he somehow already knows what I’m planning… even if I haven’t said anything.

When I told writing buddy I was not going to have things end perfectly happily, he guessed that I was going to kill off one of two characters –– one of which was the one I had targeted. I, being of a contrary nature at times, started to hesitate about going through with the plan.

But I moved on, wrote the terrible betrayal, read it through several times, then decided, “This doesn’t work.” I marked those scenes in red for later removal and pretended something else had happened. I would postpone the character’s death for a later time, in a less horrible way.

Well, that didn’t happen. I trapped her outside during a seige, handed her over to the villain (sort of), and then… her companion/love interest shot the villain with an arrow and chased the bad guys to rescue her, negotiated a cease-fire, and whisked her away to another location –– because he’s awesome like that…

I’m starting to think that this gal has some sort of magical protection on her. At first, I thought, “She’s doomed!” because I named her for a character I killed in another, semi-related story. Oh, wait… Let me explain the paradox:

  1. I originally wrote her years ago in a scrap of writing that never went anywhere.
  2. I wrote another story last year that had a character based on her with the same name –– with one letter’s difference. I killed off the one in the newer story, after putting her through some pretty rough times, and then said to myself, “What just happened?”
  3. I took the scrap of writing that never went anywhere (referred to in #1), and I expanded my favourite part of it –– the part pertaining to her –– which is what I’m working on now… but it takes place hundreds of years before the story I wrote last year….

Confusing, right? Not confusing enough, apparently.

In short, there’s been a huge conflict in me between wanting to preserve this character and wanting to avoid the “happily ever after” cliche ending… and I think that’s what’s held me back the most with this story. Not time constraints, not writer’s block…. this wrestling match with myself over this character’s mortality…

And now for a bunny trail –– This whole conundrum of deciding who lives and who dies (and how) has me looking at stories very differently. When I [finally] watched the Hunger Games, I was thinking with my writer brain, figuring out who was going to die and how. I won’t toss in any spoilers here, but the author definitely took a route with one character that I would have taken if I were in her situation with a story. I wouldn’t say that it ruins how I look at stories, but it does put them into a different light… And I’m not sure whether it’s awesome or scary when I predict where a writer is going with their story. While I tend to prefer surprises, I want to say, “AHA!” every time I do get it right.

So back to the original topic:

What to do when your writing starts getting out of hand? Mark the parts you don’t want in red, decide what you really want, then just… write. But never throw out the unused parts… You might need them for another project.

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