When You Lose Your Trail

I’m working on a new story, and, at about 15,000 words in I’ve begun to realize it isn’t exactly what I had in mind. This has happened to me before, and I’m sure if you’ve been writing for any length of time it has probably happened to you too. You start a story, full of creative fire and ambition, and then at some point you begin to lose the thread. I haven’t quite lost it yet, but it’s definitely thinning and I see a great big wall looming ahead.

It’s frustrating.

However, I like the characters I’ve created, I just think maybe I’ve got them in the wrong story. There are some new concepts I wanted to dip my toes into, but maybe I don’t understand those concepts enough right now so it’s time to bring these characters into the territory I do know well. I’m going to have to step back and examine the story from all angles and figure out how I can better tackle it. I really want to keep writing, I just think I’m writing the wrong thing.

Why does this happen? Why do we sometimes start a story and then wreck it right into a mountain, or drive it off a cliff? I think there’s a number of reasons:

  • It hasn’t simmered enough. Sometimes we dive in before we’re actually ready to start writing and end up not knowing which way to swim. You haven’t worked out the concept or details enough to know what you need to write about. In this case just waiting until you’ve fleshed the premise out a bit more might help.
  • You haven’t done enough research. Maybe the story focuses on something you need to learn more about and understand better. You might begin and find out you don’t have enough knowledge to write this story with any kind of confidence. Back to Google!
  • The characters are flat. The people you created aren’t carrying the concept you created. They’re not the right fit, or they need to be different in some way in order to bring the story to life. They need a little fine-tuning before you can really use them to pilot the story. Or maybe, as in my case, they belong in a different story altogether, where they can really shine.
  • You’re not actually in love with the idea. I know for me to write something and do it justice, I have to love the concept and be eager to rush to the page and see what happens next. Not every idea that falls out of our brains is a great one, unfortunately. Or at least, it’s not something that will necessarily hold our attention.
  • The idea doesn’t make sense. Sometimes you think something is a solid, coherent idea until you start working with it, then you realize it’s a big old mess and tab A doesn’t fit into slot B. Lots of logistic issues arise that send the concept into unbelievable territory if you try to push it forward. It’s time to reassess.

I think my problem is a mixture of these things, and I’m just going to have to sort it out and figure out what to do next. Have you ever started a story only to lose control of it and have it go careening off into the wilderness?

6 comments

  1. It does take time, for me, for a story to simmer. I play with it in my head for a long time before I start to commit it to paper, and even then, it takes me years to get the right story with the right characters. 🙂

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  2. I’ve had my fair share of ideas that are half baked that I’ve abandoned halfway through. It’s usually because I didn’t plot out enough in my head before starting writing so I stall and can’t figure out what to do next. I’m a panster, so I write that way a lot, but for me to finish a story, I usually have a vague idea of the plot and how it should end.

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    1. Same here! If I know what I’m writing toward, I seem to have a better chance of actually keeping the story alive. Jumping in too early, before I have that ultimate, if distant idea, usually spells disaster.

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