Go With The Flow (or “What Happens When Your Plot Turns to Mush”)

You have an outline, be it skeletal or excruciatingly detailed. You have characters, which have taken you hours upon days to name and flesh out until they are truly a person. Finally, you sit down to write. The first couple dozen pages go smoothly, the plot is going exactly where you want it to and your characters are remaining true to form.

Then, it happens.

Option A: A new twist in the plotline presents itself and won’t go away. You want to change it, but when you do it sounds forced. (Most people leave it there anyway).

Option B: Your character offers some surprising new information that was NOT in the original plan! Who is this new person they’re talking about? And why are they suddenly scared of every shadow? No, this is not what we talked about, character!

From this point on, it seems your outline is virtually useless. Since that one scene changed, the whole story has taken a different direction. No! This is not good! Go back! You try to bring it back onto the original railroad tracks, pushing and pulling the whole way.

This is not how writing should feel. Even though it is work to push through writer’s block at certain points of the story, the plotline should flow naturally. You should be having fun! So, how do you have fun when your plotline is no longer your plotline? That’s easy!

Go with the flow.

If your plotline is changing before your eyes, or your character has so nicely provided information you did not know when you began, go with it! Follow the flow of the story. It will naturally pull you along to the climax and resolution.

I know this is really tough for those who have planned this story from start to finish and want it to be exactly the way you put it down on paper. So, I pose a question. Would you rather have it your way and have it sound forced and stiff, or follow the story where it goes and have everyone love it?

Yes, it’s YOUR baby. And yes, if you so choose you can pull it the direction you want it to go. But stories don’t always work like that. Sometimes they’re mischievous and are trying to tell you what would make it ten times better! Point in case, you should listen to your story and take heed what it is telling you. Should that bad guy really be a good guy in the end? What about that character they briefly mentioned earlier? Should they play a bigger role?

On the other hand, there are those stories that have NO plotline. (Or, as I like to call it, “the mush plotline”.) You started it and then never got around to finishing it, and YIKES! does it need help. You have bits and pieces but nothing seems to fit together, and how in the world did they get onto a boat? Wanna know what you do about those? Yep, you guessed it.

Go with the flow.

It never fails, if you start writing somewhere along the line an idea will spark. Those land lovers will suddenly decide to take a cruise and HEY! There’s your boat! Scenes have a way of attaching themselves and explaining themselves if you listen long enough. So listen up, bub.

No matter if you’re having trouble thinking up plotline or have one that’s completely changed now, going with the flow is always better than forcing your story to be something it is not. When you force, it often comes off shallow and stiff. No one wants that. So loosen up and have fun!

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This week, I’d like to hear about a time when your plotline changed without warning you. What did you do?

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

It was good to have you as a visitor today! Please drop by again, or become family by following the Write Knowledge. Thank You.

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The Correction Bug

In my family, we have this beautiful, horrible thing called “the correction bug”. Allow me to explain with an exemplar story.

My brother is talking to me and he says, “you do that really good.”

“Well,” I correct him.

Later, we’re talking about a movie line. “Nobody kissed me, did they?

“Actually, it’s please tell me nobody kissed me.”

There is nothing more annoying than the correction bug when you’re on the receiving end, so we have worked hard to rein it in instead of letting it roam free. When someone gets on a roll correcting someone else, either they or the person they are correcting will slap their wrist/arm/shoulder/leg and say “correction bug” to remind that person that it isn’t always wise to correct other people.

Writers tend to get this way when reading other people’s work. We see a tiny mistake and we pick it apart. This can be both good and destructive. We have to be careful to not harm another writer’s feelings or resolve by picking apart everything they just did. On the other hand, it’s good to know that there is the possibility for you to be able to pick apart your own work and make it better.

Another fun part of the correction bug is that you can read or watch something and pick out what you like and how you would have done it. This is fodder for future works. Write it down. If you find yourself saying, “I would have…” then write down how you would have done it. There’s no telling when it will come in handy.

The correction bug is also good for first draft edits. You sit down, you read your work, and you tear it to pieces to fix it. It’s brutal work, and it hurts, but it is necessary. So, correct correct correct! (Anyone else have a flashback to Charlotte’s web here? “Double T, double E, double R, double I, double F, double I, double C”. I love that goose.)

Unfortunately for us, correction is a part of writing. Grammar, plotline, misspellings. I, for one, hate having to cut up the good work I’ve already done. It’s like tearing out my own heart and soul.

So, how do we deal with this?

Well, my first instinct is to sit down — just me — with a giant bundt cake and a fork. Unfortunately, if I did that every time I had to edit, I would be very, very fat. So I set up a reward program for myself (or, at least, I would like to). Here’s the general idea.

Edit first ten pages = piece of chocolate for me.

Edit first half of book = piece of cake/cheesecake or a giant cookie.

Edit all grammar and misspellings = a piece of jewelry for me.

COMPLETELY edit entire manuscript, grammar, spelling, punctuation, and fix all plot holes = BRAND NEW PAIR OF SHOES!!!

I’m not quite there yet, but I do reward myself with varying desserts and it seems to get me over the hump. Editing isn’t quite so menacing anymore. In fact, sometimes I actually (gulp) enjoy it.

So, even though the correction bug can be a bad thing when used too much, it can be a good thing for our writing. Keep it in its container until the time is right to let it out. (Kind of like those caterpillars you used to catch that never actually made it to butterfly stage).

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Need help editing or have questions about how it should be done? Comment or contact me! I’m giving out free advice this week.

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

It was good to have you as a visitor today! Please drop by again, or become family by following the Write Knowledge. Thank You.

“Show, Don’t Tell”… What Does That Mean?

We’ve all heard the term “Show, don’t tell”. It’s in every book, magazine, show, movie, and article about writing. Every. Last. One. Unfortunately, not a lot of them are super good at explaining what that means. They just say “show, don’t tell”, and let us try to figure out the rest. Yeah, right! It’s hard enough to overcome writer’s block, but trying to obsessively-compulsively “show” and not “tell” while you’re doing it is SOOOOOOO frustrating!

Relax, my writer buddies! It’s really not all that complicated, and I’ll give examples. Never fear!

What is telling?

Simple as that. “Telling” is when you’re reading that book and all is going really well (and by “well” I mean it’s all going downhill so we can eventually get to the climax) and then, that dreaded sentence:

“(Insert character name here) was furious.”

Wait, what? How furious was s/he? How did they react?

Don’t lie to yourself, you’ve been there. We all have. Admit it. Come on, say it out loud: “I’ve been there.”

As writer’s we read that and instinctively know that something is off. We’re not sure what all the time, but we go back and do a double-take. We look for that reaction that we crave and we’re more than a little annoyed when it isn’t there. Then we go into the “what I would have done” phase of what I lovingly term “The Correction Bug”. (More on this next week. It’ll be a fun post.)

That’s when we get to the next step.

What is showing?

Showing is actually the most rewarding thing about writing. It’s when you write that perfect sentence, the one where you can see exactly what you saw in your head just by reading through it. A lovely sentence like:

“Black fingernails beat a consistent rhythm on the armrests of a gilded throne, a thin arm moving in motion with them. The porcelain skin trails up to a slender neck, which holds the imposter queen’s head atop its pedestal.”

That one’s mine, I’m really proud of it. Copyright 2014, Megan Fatheree, please do not use.

Anyway, can’t you just see the camera angle as it trails up from her feet to her face, to reveal an evil grin? I can, and I hope that’s what you saw to, or I shouldn’t be writing this post for lack of experience.

So, showing is just that. Make it DRAMATIC!!!

How do I “show” and not “tell”?

I have found that body language is prime in “showing, not telling”. Every time you go to write an emotion (e.g. “he was angry”; “she was sad”, etc.), stop yourself and ask “How would I know that if I can only see the person’s actions?”

Good question, right?

Sad is probably the easiest to show. Tears, quivering lip, frown, slumped posture. All are signs of someone whose very woebegone.

Anger is another easy one. You know how people look when they’re angry.

You can describe how anyone is feeling by their body language. Start people-watching when you’re out and about. Just wait, you’ll see what I mean.

But, “showing” doesn’t have to be relegated strictly to people and how they feel. Oh, no. It’s for settings too.

“The sunset was beautiful.”

Cop-out. Describe it, but don’t go into purple prose.

“The sun sent beams of orange and gold cascading through the sky. It reminded her of how she used to look at the world when she was young.”

Leave it at that. Don’t dish on backstory at this point. (We’ll discuss backstory proportions another time, or you can find my first backstory post here)

Describe things. Make your reader feel what the characters are feeling. One of my favorite statements is that “Sometimes, the scenes that make people cry the most are when characters are trying not to show emotion.”

(I probably didn’t quote it exact, but you get the drift.)

So, find your niche. Explore your best attempts at “show, don’t tell”. NEVER just say what they’re feeling. And stay creative!!!

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Okay, here’s the deal! This week, I want to know what YOU think about “showing, not telling”. Are you obsessive about it? Do you have no clue what you’re doing? I’m answering questions and reading every comment, so I’d love to hear from you!

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

It was good to have you as a visitor today! Please drop by again, or become family by following the Write Knowledge. Thank You.

BONUS POST: Forgotten Glory

Seeing as how Resurrection Sunday is fast approaching, I thought I’d share with you a short story I recently wrote on the subject. It’s titled Forgotten Glory, and is one of the works I’m very proud of. Please enjoy it, and share it with others this Easter season.

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Forgotten Glory

copyright 2015, by Megan Fatheree

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His sentence was set, and I watched them beat him again and again, stripping the very skin from the body he had chosen. He didn’t cry out, he didn’t try to run away.

They laid a cross on his back and demanded he carry it, though I knew he didn’t deserve it. He was blameless, and always will be. Yet he took it upon his shoulders and started that long walk to the destiny he had crafted with his own hands.

Along the way he faltered, and fell under the weight of his burden. A man stepped forward, chosen from the crowd, and stepped beside my Lord. With much exertion and a cry of a mortal’s pain, this man lifted the load I would have gladly carried. If only He would say something.

The Lord rose from where he had fallen and rested the weight once again on his shoulders. Even like this, his glory poured forth and touched the ones willing to receive.

The people threw words and launched their anger. I couldn’t understand how quickly they had forgotten all the things their Lord had done. How soon they had turned from his love and overflowing compassion to follow their so-called spiritual leaders.

Others joined me on the way to Golgotha, the Place of the Skull that should not belong to the one who made all of Heaven and Earth. Demons taunted, laughed, and those who had fallen long ago looked on without interest.

With each beat of the hammer that drove metal through his precious skin, a pulse propelled all of us forward. A host of heavenly warriors ready to battle. We would take him up, away from this earthly agony. If only he would say the word.

A sign above his head proclaimed his majesty, and still the people did not recognize him. They mocked him. They asked where we were, why he would not call on us to save him. And I didn’t see their beauty then. Instead of the masterpieces he had molded them to be, I saw only the Serpent, ruler of the mortal realms.

The sky turned dark as night, and thunder clapped in the distance. Lucifer himself arrived to see his great accomplishment.

The sin of all those he loved so dearly appeared to us. Each sin a blemish on his skin. One by one, we saw the sin of the past. The present. The future. A mountain of evil so vast, we could hardly bear to look at him.

“Where is your Father now?” Lucifer taunted, and a sneer distorted his beautiful face.

My Lord lifted his head and shouted through his pain, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

I leapt forward, ready to pull him from this cross, but the others held me back. “Why does he not say the word?” I screamed.

The humans below had not understood his agony, and they offered him the worst of their wine. Thunder cracked and lightning split the clouds, a brief reprieve from the opaque blackness surrounding him.

Then, in a moment of splendor, he gave one last shout. “It is finished!” he decreed, and we watched his spirit rip from its mortal confines.

Lucifer laughed and disappeared to his Hell, and the Demons danced with joy. The fallen ones turned and walked away. But they didn’t see what we saw.

For once in forever, all of heaven cried as we watched him release his mortal being. Rocks split open and the earth shook, crying out for the Messiah they knew. Tombs opened, the dead rose again, and those who had killed him fell to their knees. The curtain in the temple split, and we could hear it tear from miles around. His glory spilled from the Holy of Holies and flooded the entire earth. There was no more separation.

I looked on as a stranger laid the form in a borrowed grave, but I knew he wasn’t there. So I turned my eyes down and watched him descend to the very pit of Hell, where the gates swung open willingly.

Without a warrior in sight, he marched in to the place he had created for the fallen ones.

Lucifer cringed and cowered in fear, but my Lord reached out a hand. No argument could have been made. No agreement could have been reached. Even Lucifer recognized the authority of the Blameless One, whose spotless life meant He never deserved to die. An undeserved death that granted Him authority over the one who thought he had caused His demise.

The heavy keys of death and the grave jingled in His hands, and for one moment in time, all of Hell was silent. Every monster and sinner knew that Jesus had won, and they hadn’t even known there was a battle.

The gates slammed as He left them, and locked in finality. No longer would the Earth be without hope.

I watched him ascend, back to the Earth, and I knew the others saw too.

Spirit met flesh in a flash of blinding light, and the human guards couldn’t stand for the weight of His glory. We moved as one to surround the tomb, and I easily pushed the stone away from the entrance.

Not one of us stood as He stepped into the light of His own Majesty. We all knew the love that He had displayed. For a second time, graves split open and those thought dead rose from their slumber. Each one saw him and each one worshipped. No one would ever understand His great love and mercy better than those who had seen it that day.

As we watched Him ascend to greet His Father, all of heaven rejoiced in that love. For we knew He had defeated the chains of bondage and won freedom for all. We knew this wouldn’t be the last time He showed his glory to the humans He loved best. We knew we would see Him forever seated by His Father in Heaven.

And that he would come back again.