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C08P17 – What a Puzzle

C08P17 – What a Puzzle published on 25 Comments on C08P17 – What a Puzzle

Oh Dreameater. I love writing for you. If you remember the series of Zhiro drawings I scrapped, this is the scene that was originally from. That version was a little too over-the-top. What you’re seeing in this page is the toned-down version.

I got a great question from a reader today, and I thought I’d share it and my response here, as I’m sure lots of LeyLians have their own tips to add!

Questions: Do you ever get stuck? And if you get stuck, is it pretty universally a darling’s fault, or do you have other ways of getting around it? What should you do when you can’t pin down a good source of tension to keep the story interesting? Do you always need one to justify a scene?

My response: Do I ever get stuck? YES! It happens to me CONSTANTLY. It usually happens because:
1) I’ve gone in a direction that doesn’t work
2) Darling
3) I haven’t yet decided exactly what I want to say or how to say it.

My advice on dealing with being stuck is:
1) Have a biiiiiiig buffer, so there’s less time constraints and you can go back if need-be to tweak.
2) Choose an update schedule where you can consistently produce one more page than the schedule needs a week. Test your ability to do this when building your buffer. Set aside 3-6 months to work on pages, and the total you want at the end. Then see if you can meet it. If not, adjust your schedule accordingly.
3) Always onward and upward! Making a webcomic means being on a deadline all the time. Even with a large buffer, there’s a limit to how much re-work you can afford. There is no perfect script. Sometimes you have to accept that there might be a better way to do something, but you’re not at the level yet to know. Do your best work, but don’t get stuck aiming for perfect work. It will wrap you up in circles forever.

…You probably noticed that none of those are on writing tips to actually fix the stuck thing. The reason is that I don’t have a set way of resolving it. It depends very much on the unique problem, and my personal strengths and weaknesses as a writer. You’ll have your own demons to discover, but the more you write, the more familiar you’ll become with your common pitfalls. Consider: rewriting from another character’s perspective, evaluating if the scene serves your theme, if there’s a more dramatic way to show rather than tell, etc. (I usually refer to Brian McDonald’s book “Invisible Ink” to guide me when I can’t figure out how to move forward)

As for “justifying” a scene, tension is a good tool to keep things interesting and engaging, but it’s never my goal for a scene. It IS a goal for each page, because I believe you can always have it present in every moment. That doesn’t mean it has to be action. There’s more than one way to create tension, and having multiple types is actually key to give the reader a break, but still engaged. I’ve written an article about this for WA but haven’t had a chance to post it yet. You can find the draft version here!

My goal for scenes is about conveying:
A. Character development
B. World-building
C. Plot advancement

Ideal scenes achieve all three. Acceptable scenes achieve two. If a scene only achieves one, I try to cut it, or rework it until it’s at least got two in it.

So, storytellers in the audience, do you have anything to add to help out your fellow LeyLian? What are your tricks for getting un-stuck when you’re writing? How do you create tension? What’s needed to justify a scene?

25 Comments

Children visit this site. Moderate your language accordingly.

Ooooo bad Dreameater, no biscuit! You know, I think he cares for Zhiro a great deal. He just basically gave Mihza free advice! And Zhiro can’t remember what happens when the god takes him. Poot. I think he’d be equal parts vindicated and horrified.

Darlings have been tripping me up for a while now, because most if not all of my Big Stories were things I came up with when I was in high school, and many of the concepts I now see as awkward or childish. For some stories I almost feel it would be easier to start completely from scratch and betray whatever original ideas I had intended than to try and sift through what I get to keep and what’s discarded.
In the webcomic script I’m slooowly pecking out now I wrote up a Table of Contents that outlined all nine chapters and wrote a description of each and a description of everything meant to be conveyed in that chapter. It helps me emotionally because it shows I’m not just toodling along making crap up and that there’s meaning to be had, and encouraging to imagine maybe some people are going to see that and discuss it and draw conclusions from it.

I’ve been learning a lot about scrapping old ideas retooling them lately. Our next OCT has the challenge we want, but the setting has been completely overhauled and thrown out four or five times now, and we’re only just starting to get to an idea that we’re more-or-less happy with. Sometimes it’s shocking how much a story can change from what you first imagined.

I just lllllove the layout and the red behind ‘Zhiro’ and oh my gosh the visual atmosphere and getting up in Mizha’s face like a creeper at a school dance (I’m not pressing the D.E.-hits-on-Mizha I promise) and jabbing her with all the ways she’s hurt Zhiro that he’s kept to himself LIKE I JUST MENTIONED ON THE LAST UPDATE WONDERING IF/HOPING HE’D DO…. *bounces in place*

AAAGH. Curses, I don’t think I’ll be able to do a chapter review this time around either — there’s no way I could possibly stay objective at this point. There’s entirely too much squeeing going on.

Oh oh oh stuckness! I can contribute! [TEXT WALL IMMINENT]

All the causes of “sticking” you’ve already mentioned are big ones, but I’d also like to add a few I’ve run into.

ONE: My perfectionism may be acting up. If I’m sitting there completely paralyzed because I’m going over phrasing/blocking/other techniques in my head and deeming them too unpolished for the page, THIS is almost always the issue.

TWO: I haven’t really thought through HOW a scene plays out — meaning I’m trying to do the hardest part of writing (i.e. figuring out what happens) at the same time as I’m trying to keep proper staging, pacing, wording, emotion, etc. I’m trying to multitask and sucking at it.

Quick Solution For Both:

Grab a different kind of writing equipment (if writing on the computer, get a notebook and pen, and vise-versa) and walk yourself through the scene. Use bulletpoints and ridiculously plain language. “Bob runs through the woods. Hears tiger. Flips out, hides under rock. View of tiger’s feet as it passes in front of him. He bites back a whimper and goes for his shotgun.” This pokes your brain to work in a different way, both because you’re forced to write at a different speed than usual (slower if using pen, faster if on computer) and also because you’re “not writing the scene,” which tricks your inner critic into relaxing a bit. Once you have the sequence blocked out, go back to writing for-realsies, and use your notes as a roadmap.

THREE: The Scene Is Boring. This is the worst one, because oftentimes a scene that *sounds* fantastic as a one-line note on an index card… actually turns out to be kind of meh. Are you itching to just get-to-the-next-scene-already-because-omg-it’s-going-to-be-awesome? You might be having this problem. Oftentimes I feel like a scene “needs” to exist because it imparts some important information or something — but if I can’t seem to inject conflict, in any form, no matter WHAT I do, it has to go.

Solution: Two steps. One, I try to make it not-boring. I look at the kinds of conflicts I have in the scene. Do I have internal struggles happening? Are they catalyzed by external tension? Are my characters clashing or at least interacting meaningfully? VERY often what I discover is that I don’t actually have conflict — just the POTENTIAL for it. In that case, I figure out what potential-conflicts I’ve got (“she’s trying to ditch him without letting him on, he knows she’s up to something but wants to catch her in the act”) and jot down *One Specific Thing* I can do to manifest each of them (“she fakes forgetting her wallet and runs home; he calls his detective buddy hiding in the bushes and has him tail her” okay that just became a weird example). Abstract tension is intellectual; specifics are engaging.

If that doesn’t work, step two: I scrap the scene entirely, figure out how to work that necessary information into another one (or decide whether it’s necessary at all) and then move on to that candy-bar I’ve been dying to get to. A big recurring bit of advice I’ve gotten from every author I’ve ever spoken to is this: Find the coolest scenes in your story and get from one to the next as quickly as possible.

All three of these problems get easier to handle with sheer practice. I’m better at dealing with them now than I was two months ago, purely because I’ve been writing at least a hundred words a day, usually much more. Keep at it and you’ll find your own system for grappling with them.

OHGAD SO MUCH TEXT.

Dreameater makes some excellent points.

I think having a buffer is also important because time is the only thing that allows you to see darlings and their ilk. Finishing something can give you rose-colored glasses, which is not a good thing.

I’ve always been exceptionally focused on finishing things, but now that Cory and I are working on a project together I’ve had to adapt to his more journey-oriented style…and discovered exactly what you touch on here. Sometimes it’s best to keep something unfinished until you get it right, than get it finished and have a poorer product.

I keep several different projects going at the same time. If I get stuck I go work on something else while my brain tries to wrap itself around the problem and find a solution.

I am lucky in that my scripting is already done (being based off novels). But I get stuck in writing all the time.

Ah, Dreameater, finally saying what Zhiro is too nice to say. Things I’ve yelled at the screen when she acts in her little hissy fits.

My goal for scenes is about conveying:
A. Character development
B. World-building
C. Plot advancement

Ideal scenes achieve all three. Acceptable scenes achieve two. If a scene only achieves one, I try to cut it, or rework it until it’s at least got two in it.

That’s a really great breakdown. I think I’m going to have to adopt that tactic.

I don’t know exactly what the writer’s struggling with, but I know what gets boring for me are “talking heads” scenes. We tend to not want to cut them because they’re delivering good information, yet they get tedious and hard to retain for an audience.
Like Robin and Sorrel said, try to incorporate one more element. If you can show them doing something other than just hiding out in a non-descript place alone reacting to each other – even if it’s not related at all to what they’re talking about – you can develop a little more of their character or the setting and add some conflict.

And if that’s not practical, then the “scene” can probably be reduced to a transitional panel or two and the information can go elsewhere.

I know it’s been a huge help for me whenever I do have to buckle down and deliver exposition…because I HATE most exposition due to how single-purpose it often is. I’m always happier when I can combine it with character development or advancing events.

Ooh, I’ve been way behind on my comments. πŸ˜› Loving the story as usual!

I’m so very stuck right now because I decided to get rid of Darlings in my worldbuilding. This led to a major overhaul and now I don’t have any ideas. Life, of course, is getting in the way of this as well, but something I like to do when I am stuck is focus on a side character and figure them out more fully. It usually helps me flesh out the world around the main characters and gives me a bit more direction than I would have before.

I think something important here is to distiguish between “Darlings” and what other people want to force you into thinking are Darlings.

Darlings (at least the way I’m picking this up) are pieces of bad writing, or a bad scene, or something generally ot good that you’re keeping around because you’ve married your material, you love this little thing, it just… really sucks.

There’s an important difference between that, and something that’s integral to your world but /other people/ might think sucks. New or different things are okay. And, thinking you have to cut Darlings doesn’t mean you have to Joss everything happy and fun in your story or that everything you personally have a thing for is necessarily bad. I think a good comparison is… well, I’m about to get a little tabletop ere, but…

Pet NPCs. The GM’s Personal Avatar Character. They’re the quintessential Darling – the GM loves them so they et all the spotlight and take something away from the other (Player) cahracters, and therefore, enjoyment of the game. But other advice on GMing often cautions GMs never to use a personal NPC at all because it “might be” a Darling – when in some cases it’s perfectly natural. Or say a setting element – it makes no sense to just drop a vampire in the middle of nowhere because you like vampires, but there’s nothing wrong with the same GM who likes vampires creating a vampire setting/adventure to run. Darlins are subjective based on how much sense they make.

And now that I’ve gone thoroughly off-topic, I’ll bring it around to my point – sometimes I get stuck because I cut too /much/. I’ll tell myself, “Oh, man, this device is too overused” or “that piece someone’s going to tell me not to do” or “If I go through with this idea then everyone’s going to hate me”

But the thing is, you’re writing for you. Cutting everything not ‘mainstream’ or even /too/ mainstream just to please a fictional audience/editor in your head is the cause of way more writer’s blocks than you think.

And if the Darling really is a Darling, and not just an element that you love, it’ll show. It’s writing – you can always go back and edit afterwards, so it’s not totally a big deal if something bad slips through. Don’t beat yourself up, that’s another cause of Writer’s Block. If you want to write a story aout a Magical Furry Vampire Princess… go ahead and do it.

Just make sure that the Magical Furry Vampire Princess makes sense for your world, and that there’s checks on her power level and generally all the other Sue-proofing measures, but don’t listen to anyone who tells you that it can’t be done right until you’ve actually tried.

And because my brain just reminded me of a couple other points I wanted to make that got lost in the ramble, I’m adding more.

I got some advice from my Mom when I first started GMing. She told me, “Everything in my world makes sense. There’s reasons for even the silliest stuff to be there and to happen, so that players or readers don’t walk into something and feel, “Well, that was totally random”, at least not without my wanting them to feel that way. Even if they don’t get why something is somewhere, it always has a purpose.”

I think that’s the big thing about writing and Darlings vs. Non-Darlings – it needs to make /sense/. “But, how?” you ask. “We bend the rules of physics and all kinds of things, that doesn’t make true sense”

But when we bend the rules, we have rules for doing it. Generally, that rule is, “The character is considered better/more awesome than the normal everyday average Joe, thus he can get away with things we shouldn’t try at home.” The sense is provided with the expectation of the reader.

Magic makes sense because we create a world that allows it and set down the rules thta it works by. Doesn’t matter how vague those rules are – they exist and they limit what can be done, and the sense is made by us putting those rules in place to keep magic from being a fix-everything that destroys our story.

If we say “Elves live in the forest” and we meet an elf who lives in a concrete high-rise, there should be a reason he’s there that’s not just “Elves are cool”. Even if that reason is, “He likes the weather better”. The more odd something is, the more the reader expects an information. An elf living in the city might require only a couple of lines of information – “He’s an eccentric who likes being with humans”, but if you tell the reader he hates trees, they’re goin to need to know why. If you have something like a warg in the middle of Manhattan, that’s going to require more information.

If the character does a front flip off of a reasonably high incline and lands on his feet, the explanation probably only needs to be, “He’s an acrobat.” If the character walks through fire and falls off a clif and emerges unharmed, there’d better be a darn good explanation.

And the more complicated the explanation needs to be, the more precedent you need to back it up – or the harder you have to work to explain why it is unprecedented.

That’s the reason a lot of ‘Chosen Ones’ get nailed by fandoms as Mary Sues, because not enough work gets put into explaining why they’re chosen, so the character makes less actual sense. The ‘chosen one’ title ends up as an excuse to break all the world’s rules willy-nilly without explanation or balance.

So, in my game that I run, where I have an entire continent populated by furries that had never been discovered because people never invented air travel even in a hi-tech city, there’s a reason for both of those phenomena. So that when people give me Fridge Logic, I can respond with Fridge Brilliance, not just a Handwave.

That’s a really great point, and an excellent distinction to make. I know I’ve written myself into a corner because I didn’t want something to be cliche, because cliche = bad, right? Except it’s not the fact that something’s been done before that makes it bad. It’s bad writing that makes it bad, and people using the same bad writing over and over again because it’s easy. There are no bad ideas. Just poor execution or application.

It occurs to me that yet another one of Mizha’s family members is now on the chopping block — first her mother’s suicide, and now Zhiro’s impending execution for reasons nobody has bothered to explain to her. I wonder if she just hasn’t quite realized this yet, or if she’s doing a killer job of masking her panic.

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