There was an inauguration yesterday. The United States of America swore in a new president.
But. This is a writing blog, so let’s talk about writing.
I may have complained some about how my space fantasy story that I started during NaNoWriMo went off the rails and I wasn’t sure where it was going. I might have been getting words in, but I have been struggling to advance the plot.
This weekend, I took a drive, thought about my story, and realized the problem.
When a story is fighting you, the problem just might be that you’re going the wrong direction. Sometimes, you’re writing the wrong story.
Types of Stories
We’re all familiar with the different types of stories, even if we don’t have the lists memorized. While different people split them up differently, let’s go with this subset of six categories of stories.
- “Human versus human” – Someone is standing in your way, blocking you from achieving your goals.
- “Human versus nature” – A survival tale.
- “Human versus machine” – Technology, at whatever level, might be your undoing.
- “Human versus fate” – Can you fight the gods and/or destiny?
- “Human versus society” – Where you’re fighting ‘the man’, the system, the government, the corporation…
- “Human versus self” – When you really are your own worst enemy
What Was Wrong In Morgan’s Story
For me, I typically write “human versus society”, where the problem is social expectations, or a corrupt government, that sort of thing. That’s my – for lack of a better term – comfort zone.
Which is a bit silly, because in my personal life, I’m the sort that is comfortable being a cog in the wheel. I can rationalize a lot, and I typically go along with authority unless I have a clear reason to fight back. Which doesn’t happen often.
With my space fantasy, I was trying to base the story structure on classic fairy tales… while still having the enemy be a nebulous corporation — or at least a debt to them.
But fairytales thrive on conflict. Well, all stories do. But fairytales thrive specifically on interpersonal conflict.
I was driving down that tree-lined highway in the mountains, thinking about my story and how to get it from where it was to the ending I needed, when the solution dawned on me.
I need an enemy, one close at hand, with motivations and reasons all their own. And I knew exactly who it was, who I’d been trying to reform since the very beginning. That was my mistake.
Not all antagonists can be swayed to the side of the main character. Some are just in it for themselves.
I’ve attended panels on writing villains before, but I’ve never written one. Let’s see how this turns out.
Have you ever been writing the wrong story?
Have you ever read a story that you thought was going to be one type, but ended up being another? Did you like the shift?
Since I’m under no time pressure, at least yet, when a story just does not want to tell me where it’s going, I put it aside for a day or a week or six months, and do other things… and then, usually, a different story tells me to write it.
Then, usually, the thought of the first story comes back, and I go to start typing again, and now it’s decided what needs to happen, and the problems are gone.
Btw, Morgan, there are also stories where it’s some combination of the ones you mention. For that matter, I can suggest some themes outside of all of those: my new novel is a multiple ensemble cast. It’s them dealing with things. You, or your protagonist(s), don’t always have to do it by themselves, and in the RW, most folks don’t. It’s teams… consider, in a real life war, they don’t send out one guy, they always have a wingman, or a squad…..
One more thing – about yesterday. That’s not a story? What Charlie Stross called in 2016 Case Nightmare Orange ended, without huge number of dead bodies, but rather with many, many people working to end it.
And it ended in the most romantic ending you can imagine: from behind, an older couple on a balcony, arms around each other, in love, watching the hugest fireworks display I’ve ever seen.