Michaeline: Creative Fuel for the Writing Workhorse

Woman with battleaxe on a horse, breaking open barrels of alcohol

I usually start with a protagonist. Then, I’ve got to find a conflict and an anagonist for her. (Published by Currier and Ives, New York, 1874, via Wikimedia Commons)

This blog post was inspired by a conversation over on Jennifer Crusie’s Argh Ink blog about thinking in story. Just where does that creative fuel come from?

I’m still working on becoming a published writer, but I’ve made a few leaps in my development – things that really helped me start to turn my scribblings into story.

The first step was several years ago when I realized that something had to happen – preferably in the first scene. I used to write some lovely sketches where women friends in the far future would talk about their free gyms, and the stationery bikes that helped power the living areas, and about making popcorn on a space station. I had such fun writing the things, but I’m sure they were a chore to read because nothing happened.

This was the beginning of my work with The Goal – instead of diddling around in their idyllic lives, I gave them a goal – such as making root beer from scratch. (Spoiler: there is an explosion at the end, so it’s a little more exciting than it sounds – still, it was a beginning.) My stories stopped petering out around page 10, and managed to come to a conclusion.

The next big breakthrough was thinking about the villain or antagonist. OK, something happens. Let’s make the antagonist a little more organized than carbonating yeasts. Let’s make it a supernatural invasion!! With lots of fancy magic lighting up the inner eye!

That was a huge discovery for me – you need conflict to help push your worthy characters into situations where they can grow and shine. There’s really nothing like a living antagonist with needs, wants and goals of his/her/its own to provide more fodder for the story engine. I think it’s possible to write a one-character story but even then, it only works if the character splits into a lazy, give-up self and a survival self, IMO. Once I had figured out the role of the antagonist, I was able to write longer than I ever had before – although my first long work had about 10 or 15 very loosely related antagonists popping up along the way. Still, overkill is better than fizzling out at page 30. The work I’m dealing with now only has one or maybe two antagonists, so I’m making progress.

What discoveries helped you write longer and more complicated works?

10 thoughts on “Michaeline: Creative Fuel for the Writing Workhorse

  1. The shortest pieces I’ve written have been for 8L. I’ve never written a short story, although I’ve read a few, and I did enter a “in twenty-five words or less” magazine contest years ago (placed 4th).

    My first “real” piece of writing was my first book–which ended up over 1000 pages long (a romance, if you can believe it!). Problem was there was little in the way of conflict and I didn’t know thing one about GMC then.

    I like the idea of writing short stories, or novellas, but not sure if my approach would be the same (as a novel).

    Do you think you’re well suited (because it sounds like you are) to writing shorter pieces because that’s what you prefer to read? Or is it because your story mind leans more toward ideas best conveyed in short, vivid bursts?

    • (-: What a nice question! As a reader, I like long pieces and short pieces about equally — I can point to about three or four all-time-favorites that changed my life and inform my daily living.

      As a writer, I like doing shorter pieces because I can hold all the info in my head about the characters and exactly where they are in this space and time. It’s great when it’s time to revise a piece! OTOH, I have been pushing myself to do longer stuff because 1) that’s where the fame and fortune is (guffaw, guffaw), and 2) I do like finding out more and more about the characters and the world. It’s a bitch to hold it in my head at revision time. A character/world/timeline/magic set of spreadsheets helps, but things change a lot.

      (-: I’m in awe of 1000 pages! It’d be so fun to be so lost in a world that the info kept coming and coming like that! I’ve only hit the NaNo 50,000 once — and I “cheated” with a really bad epilogue. I think that’s fewer than 150 pages . . . .

      • Don’t be in awe. 3/4 of those pages were unnecessary & real crap. It was fun writing it though. No rules then & it was freeing because I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

        • (-: Ah, yes. If motivation and conflict are fuel, craft can sometimes be the brakes on the engine. I think we do need to slow down in the second (or maybe third or possibly fourth draft) and bring all the cogs and wheels together. But it’s so fun to just let ‘er rip and write for the simple joy of it.

  2. So many things, Michaeline, though if I had to choose one, I’d say conflict.

    If anything, I think I might have craft too much on the brain right now. I’m feeling the need to try to forget everything I’ve learned, just write and see what happens. Maybe I’ll do some crazy flash fiction after RWA, or perhaps I’ll save it for NaNoWriMo 🙂

    • Oh, I hope you do a NaNo! You can do both . . . .

      But conflict, yeah. That’s a huge pile of story-fuel. Even a little bit of conflict can propel you out of this scene and into the next one. And, who knows? A writer might find the Big Conflict in that next scene . . . .

  3. The main thing that helped me write a long book was the discovery that I could treat it like a series of term papers. The idea of 100,000 words freaked me out, but the idea of a series of 10-page term papers, each making a point that leads to a conclusion, was perfectly manageable because I’ve done it so many times. I was (still am) weak on writing conflict, but if you’re “making a point,” you sort of do hit the conflict button along the way.

    • That’s a great idea, too. There are so many ways that we can trick ourselves into thinking, “Oh, I haven’t just signed up to clean the Augean Stables.” I bet even Hercules broke the task down into easier bits. 1. Dam the back entrance. 2. Divert river to front entrance. 3. Replace river. 4. Open back entrance. 5. Lather, rinse, repeat. 6. Dry off horses. (There were horses in the Augean stables, weren’t there?)

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