Knowing When to Quit, Part 2

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In my earlier post about how to avoid overworking your story I talked about redundancy. This time around I’ll discuss another way to overwork a story — and that is by creating over the top scenarios or plot lines, which don’t connect well with the earlier story. This can be especially problematic when you’re writing a series. There comes a point when your story, even if it’s a series, has to end. Otherwise it may become absurd or even bizarre.

I’ll give you a good example: Star Trek.

I grew up watching the original Star Trek. The characters, human and alien, were so believable, but by the third season the series just wasn’t that good, and the ridiculous story lines for some of the episodes hurt the integrity of the series as a whole. The network, NBC, then cancelled the show. It went into syndication where its following grew. The movies came along about ten years later. The original characters were back, but they were older and they’d changed over time, which kept them interesting. After that came Star Trek the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager. This created a plethora of interesting new characters and a lot of potential for exciting new stories. Next came a series of movies with the Next Generation cast.

Sadly, it was all lost, at least for me, when they started making movies with younger versions of the original characters. Prequels can also be problematic, but when I saw the first prequel I was very disappointed. It took place in a “parallel universe,” so much of the back-story, established in the original series, was gone. It was too confusing, and it certainly wasn’t the Star Trek I’d known and loved for decades. Other Star Trek movies have since followed, again set in this, “past parallel universe,” but I’ve  decided to save my money and skip them. I won’t even bother watching them on Netflix.

This is what happens when you run out of ideas. You lose the integrity of your story, and you may even lose your following as well. As storytellers, the two hardest words for us to write are, “THE END,” but write them we must. Otherwise, in the words of my college painting professor, you’ll turn your work into mud.




Writing Fiction? How to Keep the Drama Flowing

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Photo by Gayle Martin

As you fiction writers no doubt know, your plot lines revolve around tension and conflict, regardless of the genre. The conflict is what keeps the drama flowing and keeps your readers involved with your story.

I can still recall my old high school drama teacher talking to us about soap operas. She said soap operas were really nothing more than stories about real life–exaggerated. Those soap opera writers must be doing something right, since all of the soaps on the air today have been around for a good thirty-to-forty years, if not longer. The following are but a few examples of real-life exaggerations to keep the drama flowing. They must work, as they’ve been using them on soap operas for decades.

In real life people catch colds or the flu. In a soap opera a character catches a rare, if not unknown disease, resulting in blindness, deafness, coma, paralysis, or memory loss until some doctor, typically a young intern, discovers the miracle cure.

In real life family members have arguments. Someone may end up storming off afterwards, but before long everyone makes up. In a soap opera the person who storms off ends up seriously injured in a car crash and remains in a coma for weeks.

In real life boy meets girl. They’re attracted to one another so they start dating. In a soap opera boy meets girl, they’re attracted to one another, but then another lady, typically his ex, her best friend, or even her sister, is also attracted to the same guy, and she does everything humanly possible to thwart the relationship.

In real life a boy may ask a girl out, but she’s not interested so she says no. He may ask her a few more times before he gets the hint and moves on. In a soap opera he turns into a stalker and kidnaps her. She ends up being held captive for weeks in some remote cabin out in the middle of the woods that no one can ever find.

As these examples demonstrate, fiction writing is all about considering the possibilities outside the normal routine of everyday life, while maintaining enough of that normalcy to make your story believable.