I’ve been reading over all the comments I’ve ever gotten on my writing. Between the MFA classes, the editor comments on rejections, and the two con workshops I’ve done (not to mention the great help my friends give as well), that’s actually a ton of feedback. And I see a pattern, a very annoying pattern.
I think I’m weak at plot. Not that I don’t grasp what plot is, or that my stories exactly lack it, but the kinds of comments I often get involve the structure of how and why things are happening, or my personal favorite (heh) comment that recurs a lot which is “this would make a great chapter of a novel”. When my plots are strongest, they reach too far and involve too much for the short story frame. When they aren’t, well, readers are confused by what’s happening or don’t feel that the ending was satisfying or inevitable.
This means I gotta roll up my proverbial sleeves and work on this. I don’t think it’s necessarily an issue in my novels since the longer form lends itself to plot development (plus I outline constantly with novels). My short stories need work. I’m not going to worry too much about the ones already written. They are what they are and if I can patch them up I will, but going forward with the next few shorts, I’m going to work damn hard on making the structure sound. There are plenty of formulas for plot out there. I don’t tend to follow them, instead letting the story develop on its own. Maybe I’ve strayed too far, however. Clearly something isn’t working because my stories are getting the “close but no” response. The comments from others hint that it might be plotting issues.
The good news is that this is something I think will be reasonably easy to fix. It’s just going to take me staying mindful of where a story is going. I think the next few short stories I’m going to do mini-outlines for, same as I do for my novels just on a smaller scale. I’ll probably outline scene by scene and see what results. I may also try to fit some of my ideas to plot structures (likable hero overcomes seemingly insurmountable odds, or hero tries, makes it worse, tries and fails even worse, then finally succeeds, or one of those formulas that abound out there for story structure).
It’s weird. I used to hate writing dialogue and I felt like every character I had sounded the same. I started working hard to build characters up and get my dialogue to sound normal. Soon enough, I started getting comments on stories that my dialogue and characterization were great. Then it was that my beginnings were always rough. So I started working on beginnings (still am, I think beginnings will always be rough for me since I tend to write my way into the story). Sometimes I feel like my writing is this monstrous creation. I poke at the weaker parts and build them up, then realize that other parts are now weaker and my monster is lopsided again. So I poke at those parts, rinse, repeat. It looks like plotting is the next weak limb that needs beefing up.
The novel is progressing. I reread a few chapters (and ended up doing some line editing since eeks I’m wordy in my rough drafts) and am part way into the next chapter. I’m guessing I’ll finish somewhere close to 100k words, maybe a little over since I’ve got some scenes to add to help weave it all together. I’m rebuilding my writing momentum and optimistically hope that I can get back up to a chapter a day by the end of the week. I need to sit down with the outline tomorrow and update it with the new scenes I’m imagining for the end of each of the upcoming chapters. It’s tough to split the main characters up since the main plot right now only pertains to one of them, but I think as a reader I’d want to know what’s going on with the other two during this time, plus I need to show the passage of time since three years are about to pass but for the main character it’s going to seem more like a few weeks. I can do this. I’ve passed the half-way point, deep into the murky middle of the story. It’s a linear story, no real twists or turns here, just a horrible climax to build to and a bittersweet ending. Head down, keep writing.