Do You Need to Return to the Basics in Your Writing?

File0001530883609After all the hoopla over the publication of Emma Jean, (which really is ongoing, I'm just still getting used to it being a part of my life) I returned to my WIP with great joy.  Nothing makes me happier than working regularly on fiction.  I may have mentioned this once or twice over the course of this blog's life.

And yet.  When I re-read my WIP, I realized I had some problems.  Like, BIG problems.  Plot and story problems.  Huge holes in the backstory (because, um, I didn't know it).  Characters I didn't get.  And so on.  I had written about 180 pages.  Up to page 70, the work was fairly solid.  But from then on, I was pantsing like crazy, and it showed.

Concurrently, I've been teaching my Get Your Novel Written Now class.One thing I harp on talk about a lot in that class is going back to the basics.  As in, novel writing is a long-haul project, and odds are good you're going to get lost somewhere along the way.  When you do, your best bet is to go back to the basics.

The fundamentals of fiction.

I took my own advice.   Read a book on outlining and thought deep thoughts about plot and story.  Applied those deep thoughts to the loose outline I had partially created.  Watched the story come back to life.  Danced a jig.

All of which reminded me of the benefits of going back to the basics.

Perhaps you need to, also.  Are you stalled in an area of your novel or memoir?  Then turn your attention backwards.  Let's review the fundamentals of fiction and then you can figure out which area you need to return to and focus on.  And, please, bear in mind, mention "fundamentals of fiction" to ten different novelists and you'll get ten different lists of fundamentals.  But, over the years, I've researched and thought and researched some more and boiled them down to these five.  You can quibble if you want.  Go ahead, do it.  I'll be happy to debate it with you.  But these are the five that make sense to me, so I'm going with it.

  • Character
  • Story
  • Setting
  • Theme
  • Style

Let's look at them one by one, and think how paying some more attention to these fundamentals may help boost your WIP.

1.  Character.  The starting point of story, to me, is character, as in characters in conflict.  Characters who have real desires, needs and fears.  There are so many different ways you can get to know your characters through filling out dossiers and histories (a bunch of them are mentioned here.  Do you know your characters?  Did you take time to find out about them in depth before you started writing?  If not, maybe its time to do that now. 

2.  Story.  Story is what happens in your novel.  Plot is how you arrange it for the reader.  Well, anyway, that's one defnition.  There's a ton of others, but for our purposes today, you could do worse than to think about it that way.  Do you know where you're going in your story?  Do you need to? (Some do some don't.) If you're unclear, perhaps you need to do some outlining.

3.  Setting.  Where the novel takes place, duh, and also so much more–weather, time, the things your characters surround themselves with.   Sometimes when I'm writing and something isn't quite right, I look at setting.  It can make an enormous difference if you're in the wrong place. 

4.  Theme.  Broadly, what your story is about.  I'm a fan of the it-will-come-out-as-you-write school of them and premise, because thinking about it makes my head feel like it will explode.  (I find this somewhat hard to believe, but in all the years I've written this blog, I've never written a post about theme.  Can you tell it's not my strong suit?  I think I better put this topic on my future blog post list, just to challenge myself.)

5.  Style.   Breathe a sigh of relief–this fundamental of fiction is not something you need to fuss about too much while you still working on the initial drafts of your novel.  Style is how you put words together on the page, and much of it comes at the end, when you check over you use of commas, choose strong verbs, and so on.  HOWEVER, you can train yourself to make good writing style choices as you write, and this is a good idea.

It is my belief that you have the novel writer's intution and you'll know which fundamental you need to go back to do and ponder if you get stuck.  I know and love my characters well, for instance, but I knew I needed some crucial parts of their backstory that would tie directly to my plot.  It can feel like you're wasting time when you take time to go back to the basics, but it will pay off for you in the end.

I promise.

So, tell me–which basic do you need to focus on ? Or is everything going along swimmingly for you? Either way, please share in the comments.

***Struggling with a writer's block that feels deep and scary and not something that can be dealt with by going back to the basics?  I love helping writers get back on track.  Go here to read about my services. 

Photo by mconnors.