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Writing Advice from the Bookshelf: Nancy Kress on Taking a Wrong (Story) Turn

Friday, August 14, 2015

Excerpt from Beginnings, Middles & Ends by Nancy Kress:

Beginnings, Middles, and Ends

Characters who overreact indicate that the situation itself isn’t interesting enough, so you’re trying to rev up the excitement level with histrionics. Out-of-character actions indicate either that your plot is wrong for these people or these people are the wrong ones to be inhabiting your plot. Long “this-is-why-I-behaved-like-that” speeches indicate a gap in characterization. If we know these people well enough, their actions should make sense to us without lengthy explanation. It’s only when you haven’t shown what your people are really like that we need after-the-fact explanations of their behavior.

In each of these cases, the solution is the same. Abandon the outline. It doesn’t work. You now have two choices. If your characters are taking off in directions you didn’t anticipate, rejoice and go with them. This means that even if your plot is now dead, your characters are still very much alive. Follow their lead and see if a new plot emerges from the unplanned actions you now prefer to write.

But if abandoning the outline and giving your characters their heads doesn’t get your creative juices flowing again, you’ll have to try something more drastic. Read over the story or novel. Where was the last place you were genuinely interested? Was it the second scene? Chapter three? Wherever that point occurred, discard everything after it. Then sit down and build a new plot on what’s left.

Work Cited:

Kress, Nancy. Beginnings, Middles & Ends (Elements of Fiction Writing). Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 1993. 97. Print.

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