#102: Writing Sex Negotiations in Polyamory Stories

Hi, Story Nurse!

In a fanfiction I’m writing, I’m working on slowly integrating a polyamorous romance and while your previous polyamory posts have been super helpful, I’m having trouble. I’ll refer to the characters as Z, C and V. C is polyamorous but has no romantic or sexual experience beyond their feelings for Z and V. V and Z don’t strictly identify as either mono or poly but as of now, they’re only in love with C. All three of them are new to the V format of polyamorous relationships. I’m struggling with how to… approach sex within their relationship. I know every relationship is different and communication is key but even with that, the research I’ve done hasn’t typically answered this question of mine. How does a sexually inexperienced person approach or initiate sex with multiple partners? Is there a certain unspoken etiquette I don’t know about? Is it a gradual process with all partners or something that just happens? If it helps, Z is rather possessive but he loves C enough and is fond of V (they’re old friends) and just wants them to be happy. V is very open minded but I think he’d still feel an occasional bout of jealousy. (Which is understandable.) It’s tricky and I’m having trouble balancing it all even with the research I’ve done.

—Apprenty (they/them)

Dear Apprenty,

Thanks for giving me such an easy question to answer! No, there’s no universal polyamory proposition etiquette, any more than there’s universal monogamy proposition etiquette. How it goes depends entirely on the people involved. As with any romance story, your best bet is to put yourself in each character’s shoes as much as possible and write them doing what they’re inclined to do, with commonalities and clashes arising from that.

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#101: Writing Submissions and Competition

Dear Story Nurse,

A really awesome opportunity has come up for a writing submission, but I’m aware that it’s going to involve going up against a friend who is also submitting (and I already have some difficult emotions about due to their comparative success). I don’t know whether it’s better to avoid the chance of direct competition exacerbating my already difficult feelings by not submitting, or to try it knowing that the consequences could be extremely tough to take. At the same time, I’m also aware that if I don’t try for this opportunity, that is still going to have an impact on my mental health. I don’t want to let my bad feelings bully me out of something that I’m really excited about, but I also don’t want to risk my mental wellbeing for one opportunity.

Thank you,

Hopeless Romantic (she/her)

Dear Hopeless Romantic,

I don’t think this is a question someone other than you can answer, so I have some questions in return that might help you clarify what the right choice is for you. Continue reading

#99: Developing a Supporting Cast

This question came from the priority request queue for my Patreon patrons. Thanks for your support, letter writer!

Dear Story Nurse,

How do I figure out which supporting characters need to be in my story? I’ve read oodles of articles about the importance of secondary characters, how they drive the plot and reveal important things about the protagonist, but none about how to figure out who those characters are in the first place.

My protagonist starts out very much alone—recently discharged from the military and estranged from her family of origin. Over the course of the story, she builds a support network for herself. Some of that will be people who are new to her life; others are people who were already there, but she didn’t realize she could rely on them.

There are quite a lot of ideas that I want to explore in the story, though I’m not sure how many will make it to the final draft. Here’s a short list:

  • the control that money exerts over our lives
  • family, community, and accepting support
  • coming to terms with your own weaknesses and those of others
  • trauma and recovery
  • openness and acceptance as the antidote to shame
  • the importance of telling your own story

I have a solid sense of who the protagonist is as a solitary person, but I don’t know who the people around her are. Who are her friends? Her coworkers? It’s such a broad question that I’m not sure where to start.

—Who’s Next? (he/him)

Dear Who’s Next?,

This is a great question! And you’ve already got the beginning of your answer to it. Just as protagonists in some ways embody the Big Idea of your story, supporting characters are often avatars of those themes you mentioned, as well as vehicles for tone. When you’re looking at the push-pull of plot momentum, supporting characters can provide both the push and the pull. And a well-rounded cast will do a lot to fill out your setting.

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#98: How to Write Without Plotting

Dear Story Nurse,

I work in a different creative industry, but books and stories are what that pushed me to pursue it. I want to put something out into the world that resonates with other people the way my influences resonated and shaped me. Something that’s good enough for someone else to care about it. Fantasy worldbuilding and character-making are such joyful exercises of the imagination, and I want to do something exciting with all these fun toys I come up with! But wow, turns out I hate making stories maybe?

Or rather, plots and narratives are agony for me. I thought that since I’m delighted by intrigue and puzzleboxes it’d be enjoyable to construct those things myself. Turns out I’m full of it. I hate scrounging around for premises, I don’t care about the whats and hows and whys of events, and everything is just a thin excuse to make my characters have a Point. All I want are for my characters to Feel The Deep Feelings and for things to have been Very Important because of Reasons. I want to be good at this and to do practice stories and sharpen my skills, but the exercise of the craft never seems to give back even a drop of fun. Trying to force the vague shifting silhouettes of a “story” into a concrete narrative shape is a joyless chore. Why pour my very limited time and energy into something that I seem to hate actually doing?

Yet I’m still never able to make peace with the idea of truly giving up and letting go. I keep burning with the desire to actually Make Something. I believe if this desire exists inside of me so strongly then it must be tied to something real. But it feels like I don’t have any stories in me, just the places where they could happen and the people they might happen to, someday.

Can you bash yourself over the head with something you hate enough times until it becomes fun? Is that possible? Is this all really very normal?

—Not a Storyteller? (she/her)

Dear Not a Storyteller?,

I’m sorry that plotting is giving you such a hard time. It sounds like you’re very clear on which parts of writing fiction are fun and satisfying for you, and which ones aren’t. That’s important! And you’re not alone in loving some parts of writing and disliking others. For some people the struggle is with voice; for some it’s character creation; and for some, like you, it’s plotting.

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#97: Blocked on Book Two

Dear Story Nurse,

I’m running into a problem with starting my second novel. I completed my first novel a few months ago after about a year of work and have been brainstorming and writing scenes for future projects since then. However, I haven’t been able to commit to working on the second novel.

I have plenty of notes and a good idea of the story I want to tell. I’ve got characters, setting, a beginning, some plot—but I’m feeling very stuck. I feel like my first novel just… happened, even though I obviously remember struggling with it at times and putting in the work. A part of me feels like maybe that was it, the one story I have to tell, just a fluke that I can’t repeat. Do you have any strategies to help me get unstuck and get to work?

I realize this problem is a bit abstract. Thanks in advance for any advice you can give!

—Aly (she/her)

Dear Aly,

First, let me reassure you that this is really, really common and you are not alone. Second novels are sort of like second children: you think that this time around you’ll go into the project knowing everything, and then the project turns out to be so different from the first project that you’re back at square one in a lot of ways. But don’t worry! There are definitely ways to unstick yourself.

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#96: Ground Rules for Writing Adaptations

This question came from the priority request queue for my Patreon patrons. Thanks for your support, letter writer!

Dear Story Nurse,

When doing a rewrite, adaptation, or fix fic, what are some things to keep in mind when deciding what to keep, what to change, and what to leave out?

I just started a fix fic project—I’m taking a story that’s fine in concept but weak in execution and treating it as a first draft that needs to be rewritten pretty substantially, but the characters and plot should stay more or less the same.

I’ve already planned a few changes:

  • Introducing a supporting character before she becomes immediately relevant to the plot rather than having her show up out of nowhere to drive the action; giving her more development outside her relationship with the leads
  • Taking a background character who piqued my interest but didn’t get much attention in the original and upgrading her to be a supporting character with her own story arc
  • Eliminating a character whose only purpose is providing exposition

I think I’m on the right track with specifics for this project, but what are some things to keep in mind when approaching this kind of writing as a whole?

—Mr. Fixit (he/him)

Today is the fifth Tuesday of the month, which means that my answer to this heartfelt letter is available exclusively to my Patreon patrons. If you’d like to see today’s post—and future fifth Tuesday posts—become a Story Hospital Patreon patron at any level, even just $1/month. If that’s not an option for you, enjoy reading through the archives and salivating with anticipation for next Tuesday’s column. I’ll be back before you know it.

Cheers,

Story Nurse

Got a writing question? Ask the Story Nurse!

#95: The False Competition Between Fanfic and Original Fiction

Dear Story Nurse,

I’ve been writing fanfic for as long as I can remember, since before I even knew fanfic existed. When I got online at age 11, I tumbled into that world and learned so much about writing. I’ve had at least something on the go all the time since then. I’ve now reached the point where I feel I need to be writing something of my own.

It’s not that I lack an understanding of how to transition from fanfic to original on the technical levels of building characters and worlds; it’s that I can’t seem to get the same level of enthusiasm for my original worlds as I do for other people’s. It doesn’t help that a lot of what I like doing as a fanfiction writer is playing with the fact of having a shared canon to do weird postmodern things; I’m obsessed with having characters meet alternatively written versions of themselves from variant incarnations of canon, I’ve written a story which allegorised the lackluster sequel interpretations of two video game characters to my own experience of depression, and so on. But what’s most painful is that it’s making me poor. Inspiration for fanfic comes to me effortlessly and with a big ‘let’s do it!’ feeling—original fic ideas never feel so exciting. It doesn’t help that as I’ve become a better writer the effort required to write fic has increased to the point where it is no longer sustainable for me to write fanfic—I have to write it, because the ideas kill me if I don’t, but then I’ve just written something that won’t get me any validation and certainly won’t improve my career prospects, and the guilt is almost as bad as the guilt of not having written the idea in the first place.

You’ve already given ideas to someone looking to graduate from fanfic to original fic, but please can you provide some advice for someone who needs to quit fanfiction to get money and validation, but can’t keep my heart from obsessing over new things I can do with video game characters?

—Naomi (she/her)

Dear Naomi,

The word “guilt” really jumps out at me from your letter. You’ve gotten yourself into a bind because you’re perceiving your energy as a scarce resource that’s depleted by writing, so no matter where you put that resource, you feel like you’re spending it unwisely. But what’s actually depleting you isn’t the act of writing; it’s the shame you feel about how and what you’re writing. I can’t give you advice on how to quit writing fanfic, because I’m skeptical of your assertion that you need to. What I can advise you on is how to stop pouring your energy into the guilt-pit so you have enough for both fanfic and original fiction, with some to spare.

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#94: Unfinished Story Choice Paralysis

Hello! I mostly write realistic/literary type fiction, with some excursions into horror. I have five or six unfinished projects languishing in Google Docs right now, ranging from short stories to novels.

My problem is that every time I sit down to write, I feel paralyzed by all of these options. I can’t decide which project I want to work on. Instead I get distracted by thinking about my aspirations for each story (submit to journals, self publish, whatever) and/or I just sit there with a general sense of panic that I will never get any of this done. Each of my stories has its own mood, so I’ve tried to pick one based on the mood I’m in, but lately my only consistent mood has been “Dammit I need to write something!”

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how to pick one story to focus on when there are so many begging for attention. Thanks for taking the time to read this!

—Emma (they/them)

Dear Emma,

What you have is something called choice paralysis, a well-known psychological phenomenon. It happens a lot to people in grocery stores: faced with seven thousand varieties of ketchup or toilet paper, we feel totally overwhelmed. We know we’re supposed to weigh all the alternatives and pick the one that best meets our needs, but sometimes it’s just too much, and we go with a familiar brand because it’s familiar, choose at random, or flee the store.

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#93: Writing Scenes of Boredom Without Being Boring

Dear Story Nurse,

Advice I have heard: “Skip writing the boring part.”

Scene I’m trying to write: the boring part, for both characters and author—in which much essential information is conveyed that I’m not sure how to show any other way. (In fact the very boring-ness of the scene to the PoV character is one of those essential points!)

Predictable problem: stalled writing.

Glib solution: skip writing the boring part. Come back and fill it in later, if the important bits really can’t be conveyed any other way.

Next problem: I write linearly. My brain stalls ridiculously if I try to write more than a vague outline of anything that’s further ahead than the next scene the reader ought to encounter… and the next scene the reader ought to encounter is the boring part.

Actual solution: ???

Thanks 🙂

—Bored Butterfly (they/them)

Dear Bored Butterfly,

One-size-fits-all writing advice never really does, and this is a classic example. It’s also an example of how generally good advice can become much less good when squeezed into a tweetable sentence or catchy phrase. Skipping the boring parts doesn’t mean you should leave out the information you intended to convey. It means you should look for ways to convey that information that excite and engage you, because that will excite and engage the reader.

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