Deep breath—

I need to get myself started up again, so here’s what I’m going to do. Starting a week from today, I’m going to post a message every Friday with that week’s word count. My goal is modest and should be easy to achieve: 1,500 words. Seriously, that should take maybe a day or two, right? But if I promise myself that I have to post my weekly total on Friday, maybe it will get me unstuck and then I can beat that goal. Maybe by a lot. Let’s hope.

 

Story Promise

I just watched How to Train Your Dragon – 2 (yes, I’m behind the curve on this, but better late than never). I enjoyed it enormously. There was drama, excitement, humor, emotion, and truly amazing animation. I highly recommend it if you’re into the DreamWorks line of movies. However, I confess that the ending left me, not disappointed exactly, but just a little unsatisfied. Why? Because the story didn’t quite match up to its promise. WARNING: This discussion has spoilers for those who haven’t seen the movie.

In one of the early scenes, as we’re (re)introduced to Hiccup, the protagonist, we find his major concern: that his father, the chief of his village, is grooming Hiccup to take over as chief. Hiccup doesn’t want to do it and doesn’t think he’s able. The rest of the movie shows his journey to becoming the person who can and will take over to lead his people effectively. This is an important story promise that is completely fulfilled in the movie.

But there’s another story promise that happens just a little later. Hiccup is arguing with his father about how to deal with the newly-discovered threat from his old nemesis, Drago. Hiccup wants to go find Drago to talk to him, convincing him to stop capturing dragons to build a relentless dragon army to conquer the world. His father insists that there is no talking to someone like Drago, and all we can do is hunker down and try to protect our own. Hiccup insists that he can be very persuasive: “If I can change your mind, I can change anyone’s mind.” He then takes off on Toothless to find Drago and talk him down.

So what happens? He and Toothless defeat Drago in the end, saving everyone, and it’s very heroic, with good triumphing over evil and all. Still, Hiccup never¬†changes Drago’s mind.¬†I kept waiting for this to happen, though it seemed less and less likely as things went on. In the end, that promise was unfulfilled, and it left me unsatisfied.

This is one of the rules of storytelling that I’m trying to hold to in my current work. What does my protagonist really want? How does the whole story document her struggle to get it, overcoming long odds on the way, growing and changing into the kind of person that can have this one, crucial thing?

Listening to Leonard

“When you write, try to leave out all the parts readers skip.” ~~Elmore Leonard, author of Get Shorty and Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing.

I’ve been bogged down lately. Yes, life is busy, but come on – I couldn’t find time to even sit down and write 100 words? What’s up with that? I think I’ve figured it out – I’m in the middle of writing the part that people will skip.

I had a scene planned where the whole gang gets together and fills in the protagonist about what’s going on. In this contemporary fantasy they have to explain to this poor woman about magic powers, faerie, and Evil From Another Dimension. Yes, this has to happen. Yes, I managed to get all the way to Chapter 3, with cool stuff happening and crises to deal with and character development and so on, but now I had to start dropping the background. I played with that for a long time, starting it over again 4 or 5 times, and I finally got a version I’m happy with (it involved narrowing it down to just two people, the main character and one who is in some ways her nemesis, setting aside the Evil thing).

But now I have a couple of scenes planned that, as I try to work on them, feel like filler. The real action is going to start up again soon, but not yet. In the meantime, I was going to develop some more character background and set the stage for some stuff that’s coming up. But seriously, I think I’m in the middle of the part that readers skip.

So – listening to Leonard – I’m stepping back to re-think. Can I just jump ahead to the next action moment? Can I make something more important happen now, so this stage-setting and character-building can feel less dumpy?

We’ll see.