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Monday, November 19, 2018

Fantastic Beasts 2: Thoughts from a Fan and Fiction Editor




First, I have to apologize to some of my followers. I met a bunch of lovely people at the LDSPMA conference a couple of weeks ago, and it happens to be that they followed my blog just before I did some atypical posts on it (last week and now this week). But being known for my love of all things Harry Potter, while I tried to resist, I ultimately could not not write about my thoughts and take on the new Fantastic Beasts movie, but don't worry, this post will definitely have some writing insight infused with it, so if you are here just for writing stuff, you'll still get some of that. (Alternatively, you can go to my Writing Tip Index and read a writing tip about the topic of your choice if you prefer.)  

By the way, there are no spoilers stated in this.

Thoughts

I had heard mixed and even disappointed reactions about this movie before I saw it. I had also heard that something somewhat shocking was in it, and I kept getting the vibe that it broke canon. For those unfamiliar with that term, "canon" refers basically to the "bible" of the universe/franchise. For example, if we had a movie where Voldemort actually loved someone, it would break canon, because it has been established that Voldemort is actually literally incapable of love. It goes against rules and boundaries already established.

So I didn't go in with super high expectations. Mind you, I didn't go in with super high expectations for the last one (though I loved it), simply because this series will never be Harry Potter, and they are prequels, and if you've read the books, you already know how the story ends. That's not to say that I didn't go in with tons of excitement. Because I did. Any chance to get more from the Wizarding World is always a mega plus to my muggle mortal existence.

But because of what I'd heard, I kept waiting for something really awful to happen. I kept waiting for really bad writing or a ridiculous rule change that ruined what had come before. Like I mean really ridiculous. If you don't believe me, here are some things that were passing thoughts: Did Dumbledore and Grindelwald somehow magically have a kid? Will someone be brought back from the dead (which would be a huge no-no and would really break canon)? Did Dumbledore make a Horcrux? Is there a fourth Deathly Hallow?

Rest assured that there was nothing as crazy as that! In fact, I really enjoyed the movie. The characterization was on point, and their dialogue exchanges great. One of the insignificant questions I ask myself about characterization, is "Would it be interesting to watch these characters go grocery shopping?" I know that sounds weird, but here's the thing. Grocery shopping is so mundane. So if it would be entertaining to watch that character or characters do that, then they are intriguing enough to watch do anything else. I think our four main characters for Fantastic Beasts meet that. In fact, their characterizations and interactions are one of the best parts of the show, in my opinion. And their acting was great, even all the way to the young actors who played Newt and Leta as Hogwarts students. Man, the one who played Newt--I seriously don't think you could have asked for anyone better. In fact, I found myself wondering how they all got it so right.


Jude Law's interpretation of a younger Dumbledore? Dang, I could watch that guy all day. I loved it. Jacob trying to give advice about girls to Newt? (And then watching Newt try to act on it?) Absolutely adorable! I could see how some people might be upset with Queenie's ultimate direction, but I actually really thought the opening worked well. We got to see another (contrasting) side to her that made what could have become a flat innocent character more complex. (As I've said before, whenever you want to make a character more complex, give them something contrasting or contradictory--the complexity comes from reconciling that within their characterization.) And then there is Grindelwald. When I saw the last Fantastic Beasts movie, everyone laughed when they saw Johnny Depp. Everyone.

Ten minutes into this film, and no one was laughing. In fact, I found myself thinking, "Hedwig, we aren't at Hogwarts anymore!" I mean, we all know Voldemort is really a bad guy, right? But for the majority of the Harry Potter series we don't actually, as an audience, see him being that bad. After all, the epitome of his rule happened prior to the books. It was pretty chilling to see a dark wizard actually do really terrible things--dang there were some really great ways they conveyed that in the opening.

For example (this is a super minor/insignificant thing, but skip the paragraph if you don't want to know) we watch him use a magical creature to escape. After the creature does his work, we see Gindelwald comfort, praise, and care for it--and then throw it out the window. From a writing standpoint: That. Was. Brilliant. The audience's reaction was visceral, to the point that people gasped and cried out in the theater. See, the filmmakers and Johnny Depp handled it just right. They showed us Grindelwald cooing and stroking the beast long enough and convincing enough for us to believe he actually cares it--for me as a writer, I took it as what's called in Hollywood, a "petting the dog" moment, where you show someone petting a dog to make us like the person. "Petting the dog" is usually used for heroes, but sometimes it's used with the villains to convey to us that they aren't 100% evil and have some goodness in them (again, making them complex). So when he so simply threw it out the window, even I was stunned. (Not to mention, it worked as a fantastic foil to Newt.)

The opening was great. The characters and relationships were great. The acting was great. The world was great--I mean, a wizarding circus? Hogwarts in the early 1900s? (With a boggart and the Mirror of Erised?) The Wizarding World in Paris? A glimpse of the Sorcerer's Stone? More fantastic creatures on screen? Baby nifflers?!?! I'm eating it all up. I'm eating up Newt and Tina, Newt and Jacob, Jacob and Queenie, seeing Dumbledore having to deal with the ministry thinking he wants to be minister even clear back then (something alluded to in the books). Seeing Dumbledore cleverly manipulate the pure in heart to do his work, again. Seeing Dumbledore in front of the Mirror of Erised, knowing all the way from book one that he had lied to Harry about what he saw in it. Is this like a dream come true? I'm salivating.


Then there is the plot.

And I think this is where the mixed feelings walk in. Remember, I liked and enjoyed the movie--everyone clear on that?--but I totally see why people are disappointed or have mixed feelings (especially since J.K. Rowling actually wrote this script.) If someone forced me to point to which film of the Wizarding World had the weakest plot, I'd grudgingly be forced to point to this one. *hides face*

Do you remember when after Harry Potter, every other major film series decided they wanted to split their movies into "Part 1" and "Part 2"? (When their story didn't actually need it?) This movie felt like a "Part 1," where the end is really more of a midpoint than an end point. Obviously there are more films in the series, so yeah, I guess that makes sense. But every other Wizarding World film (minus Deathly Hallows because that literally was split in two) can stand on its own plot-wise. This one? Not so much. It either felt like a Part 1, or it felt like one of those middle movies, where it's acting as a bridge to move from the first movie to the next movie.

This might be the part where those who saw the movie go, no, no, it was the reveal! It was the reveal that didn't work for me! --Dude, hold on, I'm getting to that part. Just listen.

As most of you reading this know, I'm a HUGE Harry Potter fan. For those that don't know, I did my capstone project on it in college, and I am a panelist every year at FanX (Salt Lake Comic Con) for the Wizarding World panels. One of my FAVORITE things about Harry Potter is that J.K. Rowling is a MASTER at what I call "undercurrents" in stories. To me, the undercurrent is all the plot stuff that's not on the surface of the story. Rowling is a master at undercurrent plotting, both in each volume of Harry Potter, and then in the series overall. I did a whole post about crafting undercurrents in stories, using Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets as an example. (You can read that here.) I personally believe that her ability to craft great undercurrents is one of the reasons the series was so huge.

However, undercurrents are meant to be underneath a surface story. For example, in Goblet of Fire, the undercurrent story is about Barty Crouch Jr. and Peter Pettigrew giving Voldemort a new body and needing Harry's blood to do it. The surface story is that Harry has to compete in the Triwizard Tournament, and he doesn't know who put his name in the Goblet of Fire. Similar thing in Order of the Phoenix. The undercurrent story is about Voldemort needing the prophecy from the Department of Mysteries, but in the surface story, we are largely following Harry dealing with secondary antagonists--particularly Umbridge being at Hogwarts. In Deathly Hallows, the undercurrent story is about the Deathly Hallows, but the surface story is about Horcruxes (which interestingly was the undercurrent story of the Half-blood Prince).

In every Wizarding World installment up to this point, we have had surface stories being paired with undercurrents. Crimes of Grindelwald is the first one that doesn't really do that, which actually automatically causes a few potential problems. Crimes of Grindelwald is only really about the undercurrent. This makes things difficult, because the undercurrent is supposed to be under the surface story--but this installment doesn't really have a clear surface story. Because the undercurrent is the story, we innately can't feel the same degree of tension, because undercurrents don't fully reveal or explain themselves until the end, if even that. And in order to have tension, we need enough context and specificity (not vagueness) to get fully invested in what's happening. We can't feel the same level of tension if we aren't as deeply invested.

Crimes of Grindelwald doesn't have a clear surface story. Instead, every character is chasing after the undercurrent, which we can't fully appreciate because it's underneath what the audience sees.


Let's look at the first film for contrast. What is the undercurrent of the first Fantastic Beasts film? It's that Grindelwald is trying to locate an Obscurus to use to further his political agenda. What is the surface story? It's that Newt has a Thunderbird he wants to release and is studying and traveling to write a book about fantastic creatures, but more than that, it's that he has to catch all his creatures that got loose. He has a tangible (surface) goal that is easy to understand and follow. Because of that, we can experience tension, and progress on the surface story while simultaneously trying to piece together the undercurrent.

But in Crimes of Grindelwald, the surface story isn't there. Sure, Newt wants to be with Tina, but that's not very tangible--it's abstract--nor does it actually take up much of the plot. He's sort of helping Dumbledore, but it's not very concrete (not to mention he's on the fence about it). And everything that relates to the story progressing comes back to people looking for Credence--which is supposed to be the undercurrent. Because no one the audience is close to really knows who Credence is, we just know that he might be someone important, and because no one in the audience really has a clear tangible understanding of what the ramifications or consequences would be if he is said person, we don't get that strong tension of rising action or that payoff of a climatic end. Because it's an undercurrent, we don't know enough about what is going on.

Sure, who he is and what that could mean is touched on several times. But the audience doesn't get to really consider or feel the consequences of said meaning. We don't really get to feel the stakes. In the end, in some ways, no one really wins and no one really loses, and we just get more information. I've heard this is one reason why people didn't like Order of the Phoenix, no one really wins, no one really loses, and we just get more information (though that book is actually my favorite in the series) BUT it's okay because we win the surface story--Harry and Hermione defeat Umbridge and at the end of the overall story, Hogwarts is restored to its glory with Dumbledore as the headmaster. All the members of the D.A. got to help fight off Voldemort's followers--and Harry gains more friends and supporters, which was on of his struggles through the volume.

In fact, the undercurrent in Order of the Phoenix is actually very similar to what's supposed to be the undercurrent in Crimes of Grindelwald--not because of the content itself, but because of the story pieces and structure. In Order of the Phoenix, we know Voldemort wants something, but we really have no other idea as to what that thing is for most of the story, other than it could be a weapon he didn't have last time (and what also helps is that at one point in the book Harry comes to the wrong conclusion that he is the weapon). Similarly, we don't really know what Credence is, other than he could be someone dangerous that Grindelwald could use. We don't get the information until the last scene.

All of the important characters are chasing the same overall goal, and we don't really know what it is until the last scene.


Which is where some people freak out.

Did Rowling change canon? Did she? Didn't she?

I can't speak for everyone, but in my theater, there were at least two different interpretations as to what the last scene actually meant, leaving us with additional questions that are kind of vague. (Don't get me wrong, I love it, but just explaining what happened.)

So naturally I came home and hopped online to see what I could find. From what I can tell, my interpretation is right, and to me, that means the canon wasn't really changed, only added to. I actually think the reveal is even plausible, when you consider the characters that were involved. However, even my interpretation pleads for more information--which I'm assuming I will get in the next installment.

I can easily see how this reveal could upset some fans and people. Personally, I'm okay with it (remember how I told you I was waiting for the ridiculous reveal where Grindelwald and Dumbledore somehow magicked a human child into existence? *facepalm* That's the kind of crazy I was trying to prepare myself for.), I just want to know the other information, because part of even the most sensible interpretation is missing a piece. 

It's easy to pull this story apart and talk about where it's weaker, but until you have actually tried to write a story at a professional level, let me tell you, you have no idea how difficult the process is. After all, we only see the finished result--not all the idea fragments and plot threads and concepts that were scrapped or changed or whatever. Some days I'm more than grateful I'm not J.K. Rowling and having to deal with the pressures of nailing the Wizarding World every time for a MASSIVE worldwide audience. I mean, she's amazing, but she's still human. I also think that sometimes fans forget that the creator doesn't actually owe us anything. Bless you, amazing, wonderful J.K. Rowling.

Originally Fantastic Beasts was meant to be a trilogy, but then it grew into five movies. Maybe like The Hobbit, it really should have stuck with what was intended for it--that might have helped with the feel of the movie. However my (unimportant) opinion is that more than that, the audience needed a stronger surface story--like every other Wizarding World installment has. Even if it was repurposing something already there, like that plot thread about Grindelwald's vial so that it was surface content instead of just more undercurrent tagged on. That could bring some real great tension into the story--knowing what it was, what it meant, and having Newt try to get it--but again, like Credence, we didn't understand what it was until the very end. That's probably what I would have suggested the writer do.


So did I like the film?

Looking at how long it took me to talk about the plot, you might think I didn't. But one thing as an editor that I've learned is that it almost always takes longer to talk about what doesn't work than what does, because you actually have to explain how those pieces function.

I loved it. Already looking forward to seeing it again. However, I think this film is probably more for the die hards (largely because it lacks a surface story), where you can soak in all the characters, magic, Easter eggs, and connections that Rowling is so great at--with mentions of Lestranges and Mclaggens and Dumbledores and Traverses--and bask in the world you call home.


P.S. Did you notice how well they interlocked Dumbledore's and Leta's characterizations?! I want to go on and talk about it in more depth but don't want to say too much--but notice how they are similar and how that was handled? Five points to the filmmakers on that micro-concept.


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Context, Text, and Subtext: What They Are and How They Help With Storytelling




Hi everyone! As some of you know, four times a year I coach over at WritersHelpingWriters.net, and that's what I'm doing today. So for this week's tip, I'm going to send you over there (hope you don't mind!), where I'm talking about the difference between context, text, and subtext in writing, how each functions and where each fits in storytelling. I've designed this post to give you a clear but quick rundown, because we don't talk about these three terms enough.

But if you are on the fence, here is the opening to help you decide if you want to read further. . . .

***

In writing tips, we talk about text a lot. But I feel like we don’t talk enough about context and subtext in this industry. Both are vital to good storytelling and often misunderstood or even mixed up. So today I wanted to go over and define the differences between context, text, and subtext, and explain how they work.

Context

Often when we think of context, we think of things like the date a work was published, who it was written by, or the climate of the time. But context is very important within your fictive universe as well. Context in this sense is all the grounding and guiding information that the audience needs, such as who the characters are, where they are, what time of day it is, etc. Context can also be any other additional information the audience needs to interpret and accurately understand what is happening in the story.

Here is an example of a passage without context.

Mack shut the Hummer’s hood. “Should be fine now,” he said to John.
 “Great. Thanks, Karl.” John got in the driver’s seat and stuck his key in the ignition. 

Why did John call Mack, Karl? We have no idea. There is nothing in the text to help us interpret and accurately understand what his motives are. Is it an accident? Intentional? A nickname? Is this a typo or mistake the author made?

This passage lacks context.

This can happen when the writer is trying to make their story mysterious, exciting, or engaging by leaving room for readers to come to their own conclusions and interpretations (which is what subtext is for). Sometimes it can happen from trying to follow the “Show, Don’t Tell” rule too religiously.
When the audience lacks context, the story becomes very vague, which is a problem for several reasons. (See my post on vague vs. ambiguous.) If there is no context, there is almost no investment in the story, because if the audience doesn’t have access to any clear meaning, they are unable to care about what happens. The only time where a lack of context works is when writing teasers.


Have a great week!

Monday, November 5, 2018

3 Redemptive Character Types





I love a great redemption story, but not every character who finds redemption is the same. So today I've outline three types of redemptive characters and what to watch for and consider when writing each.

Type 1: Characters Who Think They Are Worse Than They Are



If you are familiar with the story of Les Mis and you are like most people, you were probably thinking that stealing a loaf of bread to save your starving family is really not that bad of a sin. (And certainly having to spend 19 years in prison is waaaay too much, whether or not you tried to escape.)

Yet throughout the story, Jean Valjean consistently feels that he is falling short, even though most of his mistakes and sins are actually rather minor and understandable in comparison to his trials and accomplishments. Time and time again, Valjean sees himself as far worse of a human being than the audience does. In fact, he can't bear Cosette, the one person in his life he can love and who loves him in return, finding out about his sins, and in his death scene, asks her not to read his letter about them until he has passed away.

Valjean is not a terrible person. He's an amazing person! But nonetheless, his story of redemption is perhaps one of the most powerful and moving.

You can write redemptive characters the same way. However, like everything in writing, you need to be balanced. One of the easiest mistakes to make with this character type (or really, in any redemptive story) is to become too sentimental or melodramatic. If you go overboard about how wretched your character feels about herself, it can become annoying. If the gap between what the sin actually was vs. how awful she feels about it, is too big without an explanation, it can become more annoying. To be honest, there is a rather large gap between what Valjean commits vs. how awful he feels about it, but the gap is explained in how his society and other human beings (such as Javert) treat him for it--which further enables him to feel wretched.

A third problem can arise when you render the character's emotion improperly or poorly, particularly by having it all illustrated through the character on the page instead of allowing the audience to feel it first. Unless you are in a denouement where you want to release and validate all that emotion, usually less is more.

Characters of this type tend to have a lot of inner turmoil and conflict, so getting the emotion right is key. (You can find all my tips on rendering emotion in my Writing Tip Index.)

Watch out for: Sentimentality, melodrama, repetitious emotions, too wide of a gap between the sin and the poor self-esteem (without an explanation), and poor rendering of emotion.

Consider: Inner turmoil/conflict and how it is portrayed, how others and society may view the character and how it compares or contrasts with how he views himself and also how that affects his relationships, how shame and guilt and the sin motivate his actions or dam his progression.

Other Examples: In the movie DragonHeart, Draco thinks less of himself and is harder on himself for having given half his heart to save a boy who grew to become an evil king--what was meant to be a noble act, even a holy act, ends up haunting Draco for the rest of his life. In Disney's The Lion King, Simba blames himself (thanks to Scar) for his father's death, which leads to him turning away from his place in society and even his true identity.


Type 2: Characters Who Give into a Moment of Weakness



Before the Reynolds affair even started, Hamilton discloses to the audience that he is in a state of weakness--exhausted, overworked, and lonely. Despite being popular with the ladies, he is not out and about looking to be promiscuous. He's minding his own business, trying to save his job, when a woman seeks him out.

Essentially, the entire song "Say No to This" is about Hamilton literally praying to God that he can resist temptation, and out of weakness, giving in again and again and again, and being mad with himself about it, but . . . giving in again.

Like I talked about at FanX, I think this is a human experience we can all relate to (though ideally ours isn't about an affair). We all have weaknesses, whether it's a brownie, impulsive spending sprees, or even lust.

This type of character needs redemption because she actually did do something pretty bad. She might have gotten caught in the moment, experienced powerful temptation, given in to a weakness, or felt overwhelming desperation. Any of those particular things can be powerful motivators--leading people to do things they would not typically do.

I once had someone tell me that all human beings really have personal boundaries rather than personal standards. We may think we would never do X, but when we get pushed enough--from being stuck in shortsightedness, powerfully tempted, overworked, or desperate--and Y situation happens, we might.

One thing I love about this type of character, is that the experience is so human, and even if we may hate it . . . relateable.

And I think that is key to this type. Even if we completely disagree with what the character does, think they were stupid, or anything else negative, we have to understand it. We have to be able to relate to it on some level, or at least see how it could have happened. If not, it will be annoying, it will be a fail. I would say most of the time, the sin is not going to be something premeditated--exceptions to this are when pressures are ongoing and intense (ongoing exhaustion, ongoing temptation, ongoing desperation). The character will probably feel bad or, like Hamilton, angry with himself ("How could I do this?!")

Watch out for: Situations and setups that aren't relatable to the audience--or rather, are not rendered in human, relatable ways, are not properly explained. The sin should probably not be done flippantly; it's done in a moment of weakness not laziness--there is a difference.

Consider: These powerful components--being caught up in the moment, experiencing personal weakness, powerful temptations, desperation, and ongoing trials and hardships and what that does to a person. Think in terms of boundaries rather than set standards. Explore how your character reacts and feels about what she has done, to capitalize on the human experience.

Other Examples: In Lord of the Rings, Boromir as well as a number of other characters experience moments of weakness when confronted with the Ring. These are great examples of individuals dealing with limits--the edge of their boundaries and capacities.


Type 3: Characters Who Discover Wickedness Never was Happiness



Another perhaps particularly powerful redemptive character is Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series. In fact, he was so redemptive that a lot of people seemed to forget what a total jerk he actually was. Snape dabbled in the dark arts when in school and actually even invented lethal spells. While he is a rather gray character, I think we can all agree he was once a "bad guy"--Death Eater and supporter of Voldemort, et al.

. . . until that journey became particularly personal in that Voldemort was going to kill the love of his life.

It may have been all about Lily, but ultimately Snape was true to the Order of the Phoenix, to Dumbledore, and to Harry.

In this type, the character is intentionally doing wrong. It may be that they are a villain or a "bad guy," or it may be that while once goodhearted on page, they went down the wrong road, but whatever the case, they are committing sin left and right and purposefully. If we had the power to grant one person absolution, I think most of us would pick someone of the other two types before we considered this one. In fact, in the story, this type may not even seem like she is going to get a redemptive arc at all.

In some stories this character may be an anti-hero, in which case they will be handled a little differently than a bad guy or villain.

Unlike the other two types, we may not relate to this type as easily, at least not until later--likely when they begin the redemption process, or at least when we get a better understanding of why they are the way they are. Snape, for example, was easily hated by most people for most of the Harry Potter series. A slight exception to this is that in some cases, this type may do things that people privately wish they could do--wouldn't life (seemingly) be easier if we didn't care about doing wrong things? They may also have a cool factor because of it.

However, if they are a redemptive character, at some point they will realize, that in some ways, wickedness was never happiness. In some cases these types embody more of a theme or a lesson than a relatable emotional experience, like the prior two.

An important part of this character type is validation. The audience needs to see--have it validated to them--that this character truly does evil things. Then during, or after the redemption, the audiences needs it validated that they are truly a changed person.

The contrast between how wicked the character is and how much redemption she receives can create a very powerful storytelling effect. Often in highly powerful examples of this trope, the character sacrifices his life--either literally in death or figuratively in how he chooses to live out the rest of his life.

Watch out for: Glorification of wrongdoing in the overall story; failure to validate wickedness and redemption; flat redemption where the redemption isn't "earned," developed, or adequately explained.

Consider: What led the character to choose wickedness, what caused them to change, how that change will affect their circle of relationships and whether the change will be accepted by others (will they be tolerated or forgiven?). Also watch the breadth between their bad deeds and the extent of their redemption. What of their life is sacrificed?

Other Examples: In Star Wars Anakin Skywalker turns to the dark side but ultimately dies saving his son from Emperor Palpatine. In How the Grinch Stole Christmas, after trying to destroy Christmas, the Grinch learns to appreciate it, and his heart grows two sizes.

In the future, I may expound on these three types and talk about writing the story arcs.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Writing by Intuition



I'm a big outliner when it comes to writing. I outline a lot. (Though I still like to leave room for discovering bits and pieces as I go.) I'm also a strong believer that we can learn to write better intentionally and consciously. After all, that's one of my purposes for running this blog: learning to write with intention and control.

But here's the thing.

Not everyone enjoys writing that way.

I argue that learning such things, however, is beneficial even to the discovery writer. (The more you know about storytelling, the more you can discover)

But.

There are instances or even types of people, where writing by intuition is highly effective.

Even for someone who adores outlining scene after scene like me.

So what do I mean by intuition? Do I mean like mother's intuition?

To me, writing by intuition simply means letting your subconscious be your guide.

You see, your subconscious can learn things your conscious mind can't.

Sounds weird?

Don't believe me?

I'll give you an example (assuming you are native English speaker).

What order do these words go in?

1. Five
2. Antique
3. Cars
4. Green
5. Big

Put these words in most correct order. No really, try it. And no peeking until you do ;)

Here are some memes so that there is some scrolling space before the answer.





Okay, did you get:

Five big green antique cars?

Probably most of you did.

But why did you know the most correct order?

Because in the English language, stacked adjectives go in this grammatical order:

1. Quantity or number
2. Quality or opinion
3. Size
4. Age
5. Shape
6. Color
7. Proper adjective (often nationality, other place of origin, or material)
8. Purpose or qualifier

* Note that I didn't include all types of adjectives obviously

Did you know that rule?

Unless you are super into the English language or English is not your first language, probably not, even if you are a writer.

But you could do it because your subconscious (a.k.a. your "intuition") has learned that grammatical rule simply by being immersed in the English language. (For another example of how the subconscious works with language, see this post Grammar Girl did.)

If you want yet another example, look up the poem "Jabberwocky"--you'll notice that you know what parts of speech all the words are, even though they are made up and you don't know what they mean. Most people who don't study the English language can still tell, even if they can't explain why.

In storytelling, this exact same thing happens.

This is why often when working on a story or getting a critique from another writer something may feel off, even if no one can pinpoint why. It's because your subconscious knows something is wrong. In some cases, this leads to a manuscript being misdiagnosed. In the best cases, you are able to dissect what's going on and discover the real problem and fix it appropriately.

This is why I truly believe that we can become better writers by pulling what happens subconsciously into the conscious part of our minds, learning how it works, and using it with intention and control.

But guess what? It's not always that simple or direct.

Let me tell you a story.

I have a character in my one of my manuscripts that has been giving me problems through the entire writing process. I did everything I could think of to get him to work. (I later learned that the type of character I'd chosen for this person is considered one of the most difficult types to write (a.k.a. the "boy scout/good guy"). Ignorance is bliss . . . until you are trying to actually write something good enough to publish and can't figure out why this character is giving you such a headache.) I reread parts of books on characterization, listened to Writing Excuses, and once I realized what kind of character type he was, scoured online writing tips for that particular type.

I really worked at it. I mean really.

Every time I had to write or rewrite a scene in his POV, I did everything I could to get into his head.

And when I went back and read through the story as a whole, he was STILL not working well enough.

(And yet by this point he was in the story too deep to completely cut or change either).

I took a long break from the manuscript and picked it up again.

As I went through it, I mentally threw out all of the background information, character profile, files, sheets, or whatever I had on him.

(This is not to be confused with writing him from scratch--mind you, this was still a pretty solid draft.)

And every time I got to one of his scenes, I just started messing around and going through them all intuitively, without trying so hard to make this character work (work dang it! I outlined you so well and spent countless hours, weeks, months, even spent years on you!)


It took a little bit to get myself to loosen up after I'd been trying so hard for so long--every time I got to his scenes, I wrote a note to myself at the top, "playing around version."

But the effects were immediate.

Suddenly this character, who was the toughest character I'd ever written, was working.

I promised myself through the whole edit that when I got to his scenes, I'd let intuition be my guide when it came to tweaking and mending his characterization.

And it totally worked.

What's weird is that it ended up not actually being THAT much work (much less than all the work I put in trying to consciously fix him). The plot was still almost the same. But the tweaks had a huge impact on him.

Even today, months after I finished that draft, I can't consciously tell you why the intuitive choices I made worked so much better than all the million other ways I tried to fix the problem.

As someone who likes to outline and dissect and gain control, this is something that haunts me a little bit.

But it also made the writing process feel magical.

Because I didn't understand why it was working. It just was.

In reality, I saved myself a lot more headaches by letting my intuition FIX this broken character.

Some discovery writers might be reading this and thinking, well, duh! That's what writing is. You let the characters and story tell themselves, and you just transcribe it.

I'm mostly not a discovery writer.

Though I do have characters that do seem to pop up in my mind and all I really need to do is write them down.

The thing was, this was fixing a character that hadn't simply popped up in my mind.

Your subconscious is a powerful thing. It knows things you don't. (That's why it's your "subconscious" of course.) Just like that grammar example above.

For some, all they do is write by intuition. But I think most of us do best by finding our own personal balance between the conscious and subconscious parts.

Surely there is something to be gained from both sides.

So how can we power up our subconscious?

Here are a few tips.


1. Ingest stories


The more we watch, read, and experience stories, the more our subconscious picks up--on our tastes, what works well, what doesn't, and all kinds of other things we aren't fully aware of.

2. Write when you wake up or just before you go to bed


Your subconscious and the creative part of your brain are hard at work when you sleep. Your brain is processing and dealing with problems and issues that are in your subconscious. My personal opinion is that this may be one of the reason we get a little emotional or dramatic or over reactive around this time. Most writers I've asked say they work best when they first wake up or just before bed. It's easier to get your subconscious to be your guide during these times.

3. Meditate before you write


I'm sure my family thinks I'm weird because when I'm struggling to get deep into a particular viewpoint (which has often been THAT character), I turn off the lights in my room when I'm working.

What they don't know is that prior to working, I've lain in bed for maybe 15 minutes with my eyes closed. And prior to that, I was thinking a bit about what I was going to be working on. Lying around in the dark in bed, while inviting that into my subconscious, usually leads me to getting up and suddenly feeling more in tune with whatever I'm about to work on.

It's okay, you guys can think I'm all crazy.

But most people I know who have sincerely tried some type of meditation have noticed real differences. You don't even have to believe in chakras or your third eye or anything else like that.

The thing is, during meditation, your brain waves change.

It can lead you to a state that can be very similar to having just woke up

So if you can't work as soon as you wake up, then meditating just before you write might be a good idea.

4. Let go and allow yourself to play


One common foe to writing by intuition is being too rigid, or worse, a perfectionist. (Not that I would know *wink wink*)

Let go and remember, you can always come back and edit, or if you are editing, you can go back to the earlier draft.

Remember, writing is supposed to be fun!

(Well, at least sometimes!)

If someone like me can benefit that much from writing by intuition, chances are you probably can too, if you don't already. So give it a try.

In the future, I plan on having a discovery writer on here to talk to us about their process. 

Monday, October 22, 2018

Helps for Writing Children




I recently was asked about writing dialogue for young characters, and in the process of answering that, it morphed into this blog post about writing young characters in general.

Keep in mind that this is not a post about how to write middle grade or YA fiction. It's more of an article to help adults write young characters, when they are having trouble. It might help when writing to younger audiences, but please keep in mind that the approaches differ.

So, here are some questions to consider that might help.

How old is the character?

You know, a five-year-old is a lot different than a sixteen-year-old. They have different attitudes, perspectives, interests, and in some ways, feelings.

My recommendation is to see if you can spend time with kids in that age range and listen to 1- what they talk about, and 2- how they talk.

Really young kids are still learning how to talk, so they're going to have simpler words. "Mama," "Dada," "Uh-oh," and such. Then of course we move on to full sentences. For the most part, kids talk in rather simple sentence structures. The younger, the shorter the sentence.

The good thing about the internet is that even if you don't have access to children, preteens, or teens of a particular age, you can easily hop on Youtube and find some to listen to. For really young children, you'll be looking for videos their parents uploaded. Older kids might have their own channel. Keep in mind that talking to a camera is still somewhat different than talking candidly, so ideally, look for videos that are more candid, though into-the-camera videos will provide their own kind of insight.

You can also research online to see how a child's speech changes as they grow. But also look at what their perspective and interests might be for their age. For example, a six-year-old girl may be interested in playing with dolls, but an eleven-year-old is typically no longer interested.

Younger kids typically can't stay still when they are talking, so you'll see them playing with sticks, or shuffling their feet. They generally have fewer inhibitions and haven't yet learned how to censor their thoughts and feelings.

When they get older, like many teens, the opposite may be true. They may have too many inhibitions and lots of thoughts and feelings they don't share, especially with adults. It can sometimes be very difficult to know how they feel about something because they've learned to keep their expressions a blank slate (sometimes this relates to inhibitions, sometimes not). Also, for some, they begin defining themselves based on dislikes, and it's not cool (or "safe") to like certain things. It's way easier to go through life disliking everything.

Teens obviously use more slang. In my opinion, it's usually better to use longstanding slang than the current trends. "Cool" will be around for ages. "Totes cray cray" probably won't.


How well can they communicate and express themselves?

Kids yell. Cry. Throw tantrums. Can you imagine what it would be like if adults did that?

Oh wait, you don't have to. Someone already did something similar.



When we get older, we learn how to communicate better while also learning how to censor our thoughts and manage emotions.

Kids haven't learned those things yet.

If they are mad, they may throw their plate on the floor or go hit the dog. That's how they are communicating and expressing themselves.


What do they hear and see others say and do?

A lot of what kids say and do is based on something they've heard or seen (even if they don't realize it). If you spend time with kids, you'll know this is true. When I was a kid, I knew some girls who were always gossiping about other people (something I didn't care about), but guess what? Their mom was the exact same way. If an adult tells them something, they might go say something similar to someone younger than them if given the opportunity.

Other influences may come from older kids or fictional role models. (I've heard multiple stories of girls quoting Ariel from Little Mermaid to their parents when mad--"I'm 16 years old. I'm not a child!")

Keep in mind that what they repeat may not be in the exact same words (though if it's short, it might), and what they retell may not be exactly accurate.

Kid History is a great example of this. Here is my favorite episode. Very funny.





How do they view and experience the world?

For one of my nephews, just about everything is like a video game, or relates to a video game (I love that kid). Also, play includes humming epic music for dramatic effect.

So consider how the character sees and experiences the world. Sometimes this is affected by their physical body. A child that is sensitive to sound may view the world differently than one who isn't.

When I was a child, I watched a scary movie (when I wasn't supposed to) and for months I was terrified of mirrors, convinced someone might come out of them.

Children haven't yet experienced enough life be able to clearly discern fiction from fact, and they also have active imaginations, which influences how they perceive the world.

Here is a great (and very fun) video where a dad brought his son's imagination to life using special effects.





Because I love them, here's another.





What are their interests? 

Children tend to have intense interests. They'll listen to "Let it Go" until you want to bang your head against the wall. They'll learn every name of every shark in the ocean, or recite every available fact of a frontman in a band.

Children like repetition more than adults. They'll want you to read the same book every night. I'm not an expert, but I heard this is because they are still developing and learning patterns and enjoy predictability (when they are still trying to figure out so much of the world).

Interests, likes and dislikes, can be very important for kids, to the extent that some define themselves by that.


What are their social skills and interactions like?

I was helping out at a nursery several weeks ago (kids ages 1-3) and within a few minutes one of the girls decided I was her best friend. In fact, she got a little bossy telling me how I had to sit and play with her. Other children are too shy to come up to or even look at strangers. Still others are in their own little world and are simply not interested. One of the boys played cars and barely talked to anyone, and when he did, it was only one word.

As a kid, I usually felt okay interacting with other kids, but I was always afraid of interacting with adult instructors--whether school teachers, dance teachers, gymnastic teachers, whatever. I was just terrified for some reason.

Some people may want to think that kids are the most innocent and non-biased beings in the universe, and in some ways, that is true.

For example, months ago, this story was in the news about how this boy wanted to shave his head so that his teacher couldn't tell him apart from his best friend.

Here is what they look like:



From my experience, most children are rather "color blind." I know I was.

Other times kids can be surprisingly biased. In my fourth grade glass, pretty much everyone hated this one specific kid. Looking back, I'm not sure why we hated him. He wasn't mean or anything. I think it might have been just based on his looks and behaviors. I've known other kids who wouldn't play with a peer because they were "fat." Kids can be incredibly rude to each other. Sure, they can be rude to adults, but they usually don't have much power in comparison to adults, so it's not the same effect.


What is their gender? And how typical are they of it?

This is the part where I get hateful comments. Some people believe gender is a complete social construct. Others believe everything about gender is biological. Personally, I'm somewhere in the middle. I think a lot of our human understanding of gender is based on culture and society. I mean, back in the day, makeup, high heels, and dance was for men. You can also go to other countries and see how men and women act different based on their culture and society. However, there are studies that also suggest it's biological.

When I was helping out in a nursery weeks ago, there were 8-9 children. We got the toys out and immediately ALL the girls were playing with dolls and pretend kitchens and ALL the boys were playing with cars. Studies have been done with apes in the wild that had never seen toys before. Scientists gave them dolls and cars. Guess what? SAME results.

This is not to say girls can't play with cars and boys can't play with kitchens (and eventually two of the kids in the nursery did swap toys for a short amount of time). Heck, I preferred action figures. Robocop and Batman were my favorites. But there are typical behaviors based on gender. How much does the child adhere to those?

Whether it is cultural or biological, the reality is typical differences exist. And whether a child adheres to or is different from that affects their experiences. I'm not saying they can't be different, but again, it affects their experiences of the world.

To me, Disney Princesses were boring. But I was obsessed with Lion King. I showed Lion King once to my niece years ago. She could have cared less, which surprised me at the time.


What is their personality and emotional range?


Beyond gender and age and interests: children aren't the same. Not any more than adults are all the same. Even babies are different!

I know people as adults that I knew as teens and children. Guess what? They still have many of the same qualities. They just manifest differently now that they are older. My friend who loved being the center of attention and performing (even when we played pretend) went on into the entertainment industry.

We all have different emotional ranges and spectrums that we are prone to. Typically, I'm a pretty easygoing person. And my mom tells me I was an easy baby.

Some people have tempers. Some people are very sensitive. Some are cautious. And some never seem to look before they leap.

Sure, some things do change. Someone might overcome their temper by adulthood. But often I wonder--did they really "overcome" it? Or just learn how to manage it?

I could go on, but I hope this helps when it comes to writing children. It might be helpful to base your character on a few specific children to get you started.

One of the most important things, especially if you are writing to children is to not ever write down to them. Don't patronize them. You aren't writing about children. You are writing about people who happen to be young. And I really believe this. Children are people, and should be respected. They just happen to have tendencies and behaviors that relate to their development. Heck, we all do. But for some reason when we are adults, we are off the hook (probably because we don't have a person in higher authority hovering over us constantly).

Now if you are writing to these age groups, you are going to approach this differently, though some of these may still be helpful.

What are your tips for writing children? What have you noticed about kids that may help some writers out? Leave them in the comments.




Monday, October 15, 2018

How to Come up with Great Titles




A follower recently asked me if I had a post about coming up with titles, and since I didn't, I decided to write one.

Coming up with titles is weird sometimes.

For example, I have had stories where the title simply "came to me" before I'd even started writing it.

Other times I couldn't come up with or even consider a title until the story was essentially completed.

You can also throw working titles in there--titles you slap onto a WIP until you get further along and really consider it (or until an editor wants to call it something different).

If a title just "came to you," that's great, but you also might want to double check that it is really the best title for the work.

Other than the cover art, the title is perhaps the most important selling point on the book itself. It might be what gets a reader to pick up the novel to look at. (After that, the back cover copy obviously becomes important.) Unfortunately as writers, most of us have no say in what the cover art is--if we are publishing traditionally. But we do have some say in the title.

Often, the best titles capture an interesting image/concept, promises what kind of story the book is, or both. Genre may also factor in.

It's usually better to be more specific than vague. Remember that whole post I did on vagueness? And also this whole post I did on not picking generic details? As a reminder, if something is too vague, the audience doesn't get enough context, and therefore can't care about the story. If something is too generic, it leaves no impression and is forgettable.

One time in my writing group years ago, we decided to go through the bookshelf (near where we met in a library) and find the worst title we could. To this day, some of us still remember that meeting because of that. The worst?

The Land

That was a title. (And the cover art was equally boring.) This is a horrible title, in part because of the points I just made. "The Land" is very vague and very generic. I have no clue what land we are talking about or why I should care about it--I have zero interest in this book (other than the fact the title is so awful). I have no idea what genre it is. Is this something geographical? A Land Before Time wannabe? Who knows.

Now, because I know people are going to go search that title on Amazon, I want you to know that this book did not have a subtitle. It did not have a cover image that conveyed a story. It was just The Land.

aka, THE WORST.

So lets talk about some examples that fit into the two categories I named.

1. Captures an interesting (and specific) image or concept.

2. Promises an interesting or specific kind of story

Also, probably worth mentioning is that just because I refer to the title as an example, it does not necessarily mean I have read or watched it--just grabbing examples, some I know, some came up in searches.

Interesting (and Specific) Image or Concept



Mistborn is a good example of this. It takes two images or concepts we are familiar with and smashes them together. We know what mist is. And we know what it means to be born. These are concepts and images that are specific. However, we don't know what it means to be or act Mistborn, so it's intriguing. Maybe this is why we pick up the book. Because we understand enough about those two concepts, but we want to know what this concept means.

Well, next thing you know, you are reading the back cover (which is equally interesting) and then opening the book.

Notice too, that the word mist is something that is associated with mystery and maybe even eeriness. In thick mist, we can't clearly see what's in front of us. It's also a word that has some association with the otherworldly, whether it's from Stephen King's The Mist, or someone in Middle-earth talking about The Misty Mountains.

"Mist" creates a sort of buzz because of its associations and connotations--like those "buzzwords" I talked about in my post, 5 Tricks that Help with Hooks.

Here are some other examples that use this technique:

The Runelords
Lord of the Rings
Night Circus
Jurassic Park
The Raven Boys
The Book Thief
The Hunger Games 
Ghost in the Shell
Legally Blonde
Phantom of the Opera 
Death Note 


Other times, the title may capture a more specific image:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Day the Earth Stood Still
A Princess in Theory
Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus
The Time Traveler's Wife 
Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
To Kill a Mockingbird

Remember, it is not required that you are highly specific, you just need to be specific enough.


Promises an Interesting or Specific Kind of Story


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, this is a title that promises that this story is about Harry. I know that sounds obvious, but it's more than that. This story isn't just about some amazing plot. It's about the daily life of Harry Potter, too. What it's like going to a magical school. It's not always about fighting dark wizards or saving the world. Sometimes it's about dealing with your awful aunt, friends, and schoolwork.

I believe the title was changed to Sorcerer's Stone here in the U.S. because that's better for marketing. A philosopher may be interesting to kids. But from a marketing standpoint, a sorcerer is more interesting, because it implies there will be magic in the book, not philosophy.

So we know that this is a series about a person, but also has fantastical elements or some adventure to it: Sorcerer's Stone, Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban (again, notice specific images).

Likewise, Diary of a Wimpy Kid immediately conveys what kind of story this is. Like Harry Potter, it's about a person. "Wimpy kid" is interesting because no kids would typically describe themselves as that. "Diary" tells us this is a slice-of-life story, but it's also interesting, because what boy would say they own a "diary"?

Here are some others.

The Kiss Quotient (Romance)
Austenland (this will be about Jane Austen--also, notice the unique concept)
Sherlock Holmes (this is a series about following the intelligent detective, the character)
The President is Missing (pretty obvious, but immediately tells you what kind of story it is)
The Da Vinci Code
National Treasure
Hamilton
War of the Worlds
Sixth Sense
Cowboys and Aliens
Lost in Space
A Series of Unfortunate Events 
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Little House on the Prairie 
The Little Mermaid
Goosebumps
Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

These all make promises, about the genre, story structure, emotional appeals, plot, or whatever else. If I'm a huge Jane Austen fan, I might be immediately drawn to picking up a book called Austenland, out of curiosity, at least. This title helps you find the right audience.

Notice, though, that if The Kiss Quotient was a political thriller, then that's going to be a bit trickier to market, because the title has "kiss" in it. (However, in some cases, if you handle it right, that makes it more interesting).

Images and concepts can make promises too. Jurassic Park because of what those words are associated with, promises dinosaurs and theme parks. I immediately get an idea for what kind of story this is.

Worth noting, is this sort of thing is also why people advise in the industry that you use a different pen name for each genre you write in. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton is a different story than Jurassic Park by Roald Dahl. Same topic. But completely different stories. And Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Stephen King would be something totally different.

Daniel Handler writes both under his real name and his pen name Lemony Snicket for two different storytelling approaches.

Some titles use a play on words or a familiar phrase to make a promise.

The Fault in Our Stars - This title comes from a line in Shakespeare's play, Julius Caesar (notice how that title tells us what it's about too) where Cassius and Brutus are speaking about how their problems and faults come from within, and not from without--fate or the universe. The Fault in Our Stars implies this is a story about characters dealing with problems and fates that are largely what the universe/fate gave them (in this case, cancer), and not problems from within or brought upon themselves.

There are some benefits for doing this sort of thing. For John Green, using a title that references Shakespeare instantly elevates his persona and his novel. It becomes more important. It sounds scholarly and educated. If you are going to invoke Shakespeare, you must be one of those two things or you must be a pretty good writer (at least that's the impression you give). You know what you are talking about. It still tells us what kind of story this is.

I've seen some people actually take titles of famous works and try to do this sort of thing. It's that association. There are some pros and cons to this. For one, your book might show up in search results for that title, which gives it more exposure, and probably exposure to the right audience. However, it can cause problems because it is the exact same title, sometimes because you are right next to the famous text. How does yours compare? Are people looking for new reading material when they are searching the famous text? Or do they just want the famous text? Also, it can be confusing when people talk about your book.

The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells, a science fiction novel, is very different than Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, which is about social issues concerning African Americans. Both are famous, so you almost always have to specify by author.

Here are some (less highbrow) examples of using a play on words or phrase:

Ready Player One
My Little Brony
See No Evil
Dead Men Tell No Tales

There is also,
Hidden Figures

Almost always the title gains significance and more meaning as the audiences reads or watches the story, whether it's because they learn what a Mistborn is or they appreciate more the issues that can come from letting a pigeon drive the bus. Some titles work on multiple levels in this way.

Let's look at M. Night Shyamalan's Signs as an example (I can already hear the booing, but I totally love that movie and many of his others).

"Signs" is one of those buzzwords, because it's associated with a hidden meaning.

But once you see the cover or trailer, you realize it's referring to crop circles. Those are signs left by aliens. We know what the story is about.

But once you watch the movie, you realize that signs also (and actually) refers more to spiritual signs of a higher power, and despite being an alien movie, the protagonist's character arc (and by relation, theme) relates to moving from believing in no meaning of life and no God to believing there are no coincidences and there is a higher power. Mel Gibson's character realizes that what he thought was totally meaningless in one context is actually a sign in a higher, bigger context.

This is a great example of how a title relates to a plot, character arc, and theme.

There are some cases where a book has a title that does not seem to capture an interesting image or concept, nor does it make a clear promise for what kind of story it will be, so you do not have to follow these guidelines, however, I would argue that following them results in more effective titles.

A Word on Working Titles

As I mentioned at the starting, working titles are temporary titles for a project, placeholders for something better. In some situations, you could argue that every title is a working title until it gets published. Editors may decide to change your title.

Working titles can have their own side effects. For one, you might start writing toward it. For example, if your story has "Monkey" in it, you might start incorporating more monkeys. That may or may not be a good thing.

In His Dark Materials, the title of the first book (in the U.S.), The Golden Compass, was actually the novel's working title. The real title became Northern Lights. However, when still writing the novel, Philip Pullman was working with his U.S. editor. When he put the real title on, Northern Lights, his U.S. editor felt cheated in a sense. To him it was The Golden Compass--what it had been through all their communications. This is why the first book has two different titles, depending on where you live. (And while I love the northern lights, honestly, the compass seems to fit the rest of the titles of the trilogy, which reference concepts of magical objects: The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass.)

So that's a unique story of how an editor chose the working title over what became the real title.


In Poetry

Other than the other ways I've mentioned titles can be used, in poetry in particular, titles may work to give additional context--whether it's telling us where the poem takes place, what is concretely happening in the poem, or how to interpret it.

Here is a short one from poet Jack Gilbert as an example.

Divorce
Woke up suddenly thinking I heard crying.
Rushed through the dark house.
Stopped, remembering. Stood looking
out at the bright moonlight concrete.

Without the title "Divorce," we don't get a lot of context for what this poem is really about. But with the title, we understand that Gilbert is capturing an image, a moment, a concept, of what it's like being recently divorced. Notice how the speaker ultimately looks outside at the concrete, touching on the idea of someone having left.

So titles can also give you context too, though most novel titles probably don't pull off context in this same way.

And there you have it! Probably way more than you wanted to know about titles, but hopefully that helps you guys come up with some good ones!

Monday, October 8, 2018

Help! I'm Stuck on a Story, and I Can't Move on!




A while ago, I got a question from a follower, saying that they had finished a story but yet couldn't move on from it.

"It's finished. Problem is, it is stuck in my head. I want to move forward, develop a new story, which is completely my own. But everything I think about is this old story. Every day I add new details, new scenes. I want to make a cut, but my brain just keeps imagining. Do you know how to handle that?"


Well, I don't think this is a particularly rare problem. George Lucas once said:

"A movie is never finished, only abandoned."

Meaning that people simply keep working on a movie until it hits its deadline.

His quote is borrowed from Leonardo da Vinci who said 500 years earlier:

"Art is never finished, only abandoned."


As for writers, when J. K. Rowling finished the Harry Potter series, she said she kept having more information come to her. She knew what the characters were doing post-Potter, who married whom, names of their children. She even had whole descendants mapped out.

Not all of us have or can have a Pottermore to upload our notes to. And even if we did, frankly, most of our readers don't care as much about the "extras" in our stories as we do.

While I don't think this is a problem with all writers and artists, it's apparently a real thing for multiple of them.

"Abandoned" seems like kind of a harsh word to me. I guess I feel like it has a similar connotation as "giving up." When in reality, what you and others are referring to is trying to "move on."

There are always changes you could make to a manuscript. Rowling has also talked about things she'd wished she'd done differently or could fix.

And perhaps some people never really fully "move on"--it just grows. Star Wars will have 19+ movies total in the next decade. The Wizarding World now has Fantastic Beasts.

Is there a point where you need to stop? I want to say (hesitantly) yes. Hesitant because I wonder who really has the right TO tell these people to stop. I mean, do they have their own rights to make more? Is it really fans' and audiences' place to demand that?

Anyway, I'm getting on a tangent.

But my point is, what you are struggling with is real, and I'm not sure there is a clear way to ax it completely.

After all the time you spend on a story, it's going to be natural to reflect back on it and reconsider it on occasion (especially if you love it and its dear to your heart).

However, if you really do want to move on, here is what I'd suggest trying (and please, if anyone reading this has advice, please leave it in the comments).

1. Stop Messing with It


It might be hard at first, but try to stop going back to it. Don't open the document. Don't look at the words. The more you do this, the longer it's going to take for you to move on. You said the story was completed. So let it be completed. It's likely the more you play around with it, the more it will stay stuck in your head.

You might get thoughts and ideas you want to write down, but if you truly want to stop thinking about the story and move on to something else, then perhaps it's best to not write down those ideas.

Eventually your subconscious will move on to something else, at least to some degree. But if you keep feeding it, it will be harder.


2. Start Working on Something New


You said you wanted to develop a new story. Great! Sometimes inspiration for a story magically strikes you. Other times we are not so lucky. In the latter case, it's simply a matter of seeking and working on coming up with a new story regardless. It might be hard at first, but eventually, you'll probably start getting flashes of inspiration for it. Hopefully, your mind will start turning to it. Or at least will find the new story more interesting.

If you want, you can try giving yourself a deadline to get something new on paper. That might help put on the kind of pressure you need to do that.


3. Be Willing to Work Hard


One reason we can get stuck on old work is because the hard stuff is already done. The plot is figured out. The characters handled. When we "work" on an old story, it's usually the easy stuff. We might feel like we are getting a lot done (because we are cruising through pages), but in reality, we aren't actually doing that much writing. We're just enjoying what we have written.

There is a saying in the industry, and there are different renditions from different writers, so I'm not sure who said the original, but here it is:

I don't like writing. I love having written.

Most writers love having written. I think this can be a reason why we are drawn to go back over old work. We enjoy that we have written this, more than we enjoy the actually writing process, which can be hard and ambiguous at times.

Do the hard stuff. Work on something new.



Is it Truly Completed?

I've focused this article on dealing with and getting over the problem, but I also want to acknowledge that for others, this might not actually be a problem, but a sign. Maybe there is a sequel that needs to be told. Maybe the story isn't really completed. Maybe it can be made better.

There are so many different approaches to writing and they can be so individualized that for others this may actually be a sign that they do need to add and change more of the story. 

Ultimately it takes a level of discernment.

I hope this helps!