Monday, January 2, 2012

Fiction: Common Story Mistakes by Joy Cagil

Hello Knight Chills readers! Welcome to a new year! We start 2012 with a my first guest blogger, talented author, Joy Cagil.  The veteran author kicks off the year for us with one of her writing articles which I understand can be a huge help to writers of all levels.  Without further ado, here's Joy Cagil.

Fiction: Common Story Mistakes
by Joy Cagil

True writing is revising and rewriting. A writer needs to revise and rewrite to discern the subtle tones inside his story and to offer them to the readers with greater depth. 

         Most of us are excited while writing that first draft, but when it comes to revision, we may lose the enthusiasm. Yet, an experienced story teller finds great satisfaction in rewriting and reconstructing his story, because he knows his finished product can even excel his expectations.

         John Irving, the author of inimitable books such as The World According to Garp, Cider House Rules, and The Fourth Hand, said: "More than a half, maybe as much as two-thirds, of my life as a writer is rewriting. I wouldn't say I have a talent that's special. It strikes me that I have an unusual kind of stamina." 

         The first rewrite should include further story refinement and structural changes than what was included in the first draft. After that, at least two revisions may be needed before the final polishing.

         The biggest mistake a writer usually makes is in not being able to find out the best place or time for the story to begin. If the writer rambles on and on without concentrating on the real beginning, the story becomes a flop right at the start. This happens because the best starting point for a story is difficult to ascertain when the writer is writing the first draft. The second rewrite should give the writer a better idea on this problem.

         Although there are many ways of starting a story, the real story begins with the main character's first defining moment of conflict, which also identifies the story's premise. This moment is called the inciting incident. This moment needs to occur almost immediately or within somewhere in the first few pages of a novel. In a short story, it has to come in the first few paragraphs. 

         State of mind of the character or his inner world is the second beware sign for any writer. The writer has to know the inner world of the character to its finest detail to create insight into the story. When insight happens, the reader gets involved in the story. Even if the story takes place in an exciting and constantly changing outer world, the character's reaction to it will be through his unremitting inner conflict. This continuous inner conflict will be the most important thing for the writer to master.

         Missing an element of a story--such as a moral dilemma or hesitation between two possibilities--will lower the quality of the story, even if the idea is great and the character has a powerful incentive.

         Missing story points is another problem. Major story points reveal the emotional story that makes the reader identify with the character. Story points are established through the central conflict, secondary characters, and subplots. When some of those are missing, the story has to be missing something also.

         Not building toward the climax or crowding out the story is another problem. Unless you are writing a mystery and you want to throw in a red herring, unnecessary scenes and false steps arrest the enjoyment of the reader and do not let the emotional story to make its powerful impact.

         Not developing the antagonist well enough or underwriting him is another problem. A completely original main character is great, but the antagonist should equal him in star quality to create a gripping story.

         A good tip is, when you are blocked but want to work on the story anyhow, you might as well work on its construction. Here are a few suggestions to get a writer back on track:

         1. Work on your main character. Include his needs, motivation, and subconscious. For practice, write side stories including this character. If you already did this, experiment with point of view changes. Changing the point of view may bring a fresh insight into the story.

         2. Do not waver from the most important plot points for the action of the story, once they are set.

         3. Improve upon key story points that reveal what the story's theme is about. 

         4. Develop potential plot points and think of linking them in proper places inside the story. 

         5. Establish the moral dilemma inside the main character. Create or enhance his flaw. Create conflict. Create solutions that are character driven. Also, work on his backstory to give depth to his character.

         6. Check over again the already assembled plot points. Throw out the ones that seem to wander away. See if you can come up with things more unique and original. 

          When asked by an editor or a reviewer to revise or rewrite a story, a serious writer should never take it as an insult. Rewrites and revisions are for making the story stronger and accomplishing the writer's story goals. If writers remember this, their stories will not go wrong.

© Copyright 2012 Joy Cagil. All rights reserved.

Joy Cagil has granted Knight Chills, non-exclusive rights to display this work.

1 comment:

  1. This post is certainly chock full of writing gems. One of the reasons I don't spend a huge amount of time on my first draft is that I'll change it anyway. Revise, revise, revise! Hemingway said the first draft of anything is shit, so don't worry about it. Just make it better.

    Thank you for starting out the New Year so well, Nomar!