When the story bogs down.

My current work in progress was a mess. A “let’s call the whole thing off” swamp.

It’s the fourth book in my fantasy trilogy. Maybe that’s the problem right there. I can’t count.

As most of you know, I’m what’s called a pantser. I write without an outline. Before I begin I have a solid idea of the beginning, the middle and the end. And I do a broad free write which identifies the main story goals along the way.

And then I write.

On this project, however, things bogged down.

In the previous volumes in the series, I alternated between a first person and third person point of view. The two characters had parallel plot lines but didn’t physically come together until book three.

Book four, however starts with the first person character and stays there. One of the other issues I ran into is the story world in book four is much narrower. It is set in one country and the hero is trying to assume the throne that is rightfully his. So the focus is very tight as I move from a macro story world to a micro.

The problem I quickly discovered was I went into way too much detail describing the society and the physical structure of the country. I had reverted back to my early writing days and included way too much backstory and detail. I was boring myself.

I had also lost the thread of the third person character. Partly because she didn’t have as much to do early in book four as she did in the previous stories. Or so it seemed.

Another problem I created for myself was adding another third person narrator—the villain. And she was demanding more story space even though it wasn’t time for her chronologically.

The solution?

First, I gave myself permission to write crap. That’s what first drafts are for right? And sometimes the second and third drafts as well.

Second, I renewed the decision to follow my characters. Spent time with the villain and wrote several chapters in her point of view. I’ll insert them as the story needs them.

Third, I went back to my original third person character, and gave her more and deeper challenges. She’s separated from her husband, she’s trying to help his children deal with the death of their mother and separation from their father. She’s helping her mentor manage her grief. And she’s trying to build a relationship with a sister she didn’t know existed until the end of book three.

Fourth, I gutted my first person character’s chapters to reduce the amount of mind-numbing backstory. I went back to the principle of my character already knows this stuff. My job as the writer is to reveal it to the reader in ways that are relevant and pertinent to the action. Sometimes this is through flash backs, but I also use dialogue and action to show the social and political landscape.

What have you found successful is revitalizing your story when it bogs down?


2 Responses to When the story bogs down.

  1. Janice C. Johnson September 28, 2017 at 9:08 pm #

    Thanks for these helpful suggestions.

    RE: your third point… I’m working on Book 2 of a humor series. I, too, worry about losing track of characters who had a more prominent role in Book 1.

    And RE: your fourth point, I struggle against “info dump.” I’m learning that hints of backstory, bits and pieces at a time, whet the reader’s curiosity. The snippets serve as a promise that more will be revealed as they go.

  2. Henry September 29, 2017 at 2:44 pm #

    Thank you, Janice. I appreciate your comment. I’m still working through these things which is what inspired the blog.

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