#116: When a Pantser Becomes a Plotter

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

Hi Story Nurse,

(This is my third time writing to you! I love the website so much! You have helped me a lot with figuring out my writing, both when answering my qs, and when answering other people’s qs! Thank you!)

I have a pretty banal question — since graduating college and becoming a Human with a Job, my mental illness has gone from Severe to Manageable. Most of that has been my good work — I went to therapy intensely, I carefully figured out what my best and most healthy coping mechanisms were, I started avoiding obvious stressors etc. This has lead to a variety of realizations about myself — without depression and anxiety, I’m actually a tidy person! I really love baking! etc.

From other mentally ill people I have learned that this is actually pretty common, but it has caused one small snag. I used to be a pantser — I would come up with a plot question, Stephen King-style, and then write a novel based on that. But now, I can’t do that anymore! I need an outline! I need an incredibly detailed outline. But I don’t know how! Especially since sitting with characters and learning their personality through writing was an important part of my process I still seem to need… Help?!

Thank you!!!!!!!

—Space Lesbian (she/her)

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!

#115: Getting Started Writing Original Fiction

Dear Story Nurse,

A friend and I are co-authors, and we’ve been telling mutual stories forever and a day (long before we learned what fanfic was, or that other people did what we were doing but actually wrote it down and shared it with other people). And now we’re trying to transition into writing original fiction for publication. But we keep getting stuck; partly just the two of us not being the best at motivation, but also because we can’t seem to decide what we want to write or who our audience is (things that are kind of built-in with fanfic).

Do you have any recommendations for getting started on our own (probably fantasy, maybe sci-fi, maybe urban fantasy, yes, indecisiveness is a problem) writing? Recommendations for how to think differently about audience so we don’t fall in the same old rut?

—I guess it can’t be AAAAAAIUGH (she/her)

Dear AAAAAAIUGH,

This is a big change, and it’s no surprise that you’re feeling a little ambivalent and uncertain about it. You’re asking me about how, but my questions back to you are about why. If you can grab hold of why you’re focusing on writing original fiction and confirm that you really do want to be doing it, a lot of these pieces will fall into place.

Continue reading

Ask me questions! Subscribe to Story Hospital! Become a patron!

Dear friends,

My question queues are running dry. If you’ve ever wanted to ask the Story Nurse something, now is a great time. If you’ve written in before, write in again! (Patreon patrons, don’t forget to use the patrons-only link to jump to the head of the line.)

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Mid-month progress on the patron drive: we’re at 107 patrons (goal is 120) and $270/month (goal is $300). Please encourage the writers you know to become Patreon patrons so I can make this year’s NaNoWriMo posts happen! If you’re already a patron, you can also increase your pledge. Just 30 people upping their pledges by $1/month would get us there.

Some of my past NaNo posts:

If you’re doing NaNo (in any form) and you think posts like these would be helpful, help me reach my pledge drive goals so I can write four brand new NaNoWriMo posts for you (and all the other NaNoers) in November.

Thank you so much for reading and supporting Story Hospital. I was astonished to see that over 1,000 people have already subscribed through WordPress or email—I never imagined having an audience like that. I’m here for all of you and hope you will all send me 1,000 questions to answer!

Cheers,

Story Nurse

#114: Exploring Third-Person Point of View

Dear Story Nurse,

I need some help loosening my grip on tight third person point of view. I write mostly fanfic, and tight third works well for shorter works, but I find that it breaks down in longer works. Most of the time, I work around it by occasionally changing POV at scene transitions or chapter breaks.

This leads to confusion for some readers because tight third, at least the way I use it, almost axiomatically creates narrators as unreliable (just in different ways) as first person POV does. First person is culturally coded as unreliable, so readers tend to question what the narrator is omitting or being misleading about. Third person, on the other hand, carries the implication that there isn’t a person withholding information or not understanding what they’re experiencing/observing.

When I write tight third, different POV characters have very different ideas about what the things they see and do mean and make assumptions about what other people think, feel, and intend. Any particular character’s section may contain major conflicts with other characters’ sections.

I like writing this way and enjoy reading things written this way, but the comments I’ve gotten have made me think about the fact that I can write tight third and first but not omniscient third or even a more distant third. I would like to figure out how to approach those.

Thanks!

—Anne (she/her)

Dear Anne,

Learning new writing skills is usually valuable (unless you’re doing it to procrastinate), but I want to caution you against thinking that you have to change the way you write because it doesn’t work for a few readers. If you’re happy writing tight third and you’re reaching at least some readers who seem to really get what you’re doing with it, it may make more sense to work on setting reader expectations around reliability of narrators in that context. For example, you can switch POV more frequently so that the differences between two people’s experiences of a situation show up earlier and establish that this is a thing that can and will happen in your stories, or have side characters argue with your POV characters about how they’re interpreting events, so as to remind readers that the POV character is not infallible. And remember that nothing you write will reach or please every single person who reads it, so you’re best off continuing to write what makes you happy.

But that’s not what you asked! So for general tips on writing looser third-person fiction, read on.

Continue reading

#113: Getting Beyond the Beginning

Dear Story Nurse,

Lately, I keep coming up with setups for stories – complete with hooks and challenges I think will be really fun! – and then I look at all this space afterwards and have no idea what to put there. I guess I give the characters problems, but I get stuck trying to find the actual solutions. I keep trying to plot and getting really tied up in knots, and then writing scenes just to get into the story and losing interest quickly because I realize I’m just building a path as I go and it’s going nowhere in particular.

Any tips for getting unstuck and figuring out middles and ends?

—But to What End (she/her)

Dear But to What End,

That sounds very frustrating. You’re certainly not alone in having trouble getting past the beginning of your stories. On the life and mindset side, I’ve answered similar questions from people who are recovering from stressful events, getting back to writing after a long time away, stuck on “should”, and having trouble staying focused. On the craft side, I’ve helped writers who get carried away with big ideas, can’t choose among several possible endingsdon’t know how to make endings feel smooth, and have protagonists who aren’t active enough to push the story to a conclusion. If any of those sound similar to your situation, those posts may be helpful.

Continue reading

#112: How to Get Characters out of Bed

Dear Story Nurse,

How do I write plot that isn’t porn??? Sometimes the characters have got to get out of bed, or they’ll chafe!!!

—angelsaves (she/her)

Dear angelsaves,

This is a delightful dilemma. My immediate question is, what do the characters want that isn’t sex? I don’t mean instead of, but in addition to. Because even when someone really, really, really wants sex, they want other things too, related or unrelated to the sexual desire.

Continue reading

It’s October Patron Drive Time!

Dear friends,

It’s October, and that means it’s time for the third annual Story Hospital patron drive!* As always, if we meet the patron goal, I will make four extra posts in November for NaNoWriMo. I love writing these posts and am already pondering topics, so I hope you will help me out by spreading the word.

* Last year I seriously considered leaving Patreon, but I have not yet found another good way to make Story Hospital self-supporting. I do love the Patreon idea and ideal, and I love being part of the ecosystem of small creators supporting one another. So, for the nonce, I’m sticking with it.

As some of you may have noticed, I’m no longer on Twitter, and I have never used Facebook. These choices are what’s best for me personally, but they do make it challenging to spread the word about Story Hospital. Therefore, I’m counting on all of you.

My October pledge drive goals are 120 patrons or $300/month. (We’re currently at 102 and $256.) I think these goals entirely attainable. But for a handful of new people to pledge support, many more than that need to visit Story Hospital’s Patreon page.

Between now and the end of October, please share that link with at least one writer you know who you think would benefit from Story Hospital’s advice. Don’t spam anyone; make the connection personal. Share some specific posts, on storyhospital.com or on Patreon, that you think this writer would find useful. And if you’re a patron, tell your friend why you think Story Hospital is worth supporting.

If you do use social media or hang out on writing forums, feel free to post Story Hospital links there too. But sharing directly with a writer you know is the best way for you to support the site.

Here are some popular craft posts to share:

And some about the emotional and psychological side of writing:

Thanks as always to the letter writers and others who inspired these posts. (While I’m here asking for favors, ask me questions! Your letters are vital to keeping Story Hospital going.)

Writing my weekly Story Hospital posts is one of the great joys of my life, and your contributions make it possible for me to keep doing it. If you’re a patron, thank you so much! If you aren’t already a patron, please consider making a pledge of just $1/month. If patronage is not for you for whatever reason, thank you for reading, linking, and commenting. Even if all you do is make my hit counter go up, I see that and appreciate it.

120 patrons. $300 a month. I think we can do this. Let’s go!

Gratefully,

Story Nurse