When Stories Explode

Not a reprint! An all-new blog post about current stuff!

So a few years back I came up with an idea for a story called “The Dance Lesson.” When I say “an idea,” I do not mean a complete story; I mean an idea, something that could be an element in a story. In this case, I had two characters and a social situation and an ending scene — not a climax, but the closing scene of the story, part of the denouement, a bit that would reveal something about the viewpoint character and leave the reader with a good feeling.

I had very little idea how to get there, but I figured it wouldn’t be hard, just a matter of constructing a simple plot where Character A would solve Character B’s problem. I wrote an opening scene that introduced the characters and set up Character B’s problem, the one A would need to solve.

But I didn’t actually know how he’d solve it, or why he’d want to, and I didn’t have a market in mind for a story like this, so I stopped there.

Then later I came up with an idea to make their initial interaction much more interesting, so I added that, which completed the opening scene, but I still didn’t know what came next, so again I set it aside. Before I set it aside, though, I changed the title to “The Dance Teacher” or “The Dancing Teacher” because the “lesson” part no longer fit.

Then last year I got an anthology invitation, with a June 1, 2017 deadline. It was for a follow-up anthology to one I’d been invited to ages ago, where I’d started a story called “Fearless,” but then got too busy to finish it before the deadline for that earlier volume. So I hauled out “Fearless” (which took awhile, because I’d forgotten the title) and looked it over and discovered I’d forgotten half the plot, and it might not really be all that great a fit with the anthology guidelines anyway, which was annoying.

But then it occurred me that “The Dancing Teacher” might suit the anthology instead, so I went and looked at it, and decided that to fit the guidelines it needed a particular sort of conflict (which I am having second thoughts about even as I type this), so I worked out a plot that could make this happen. I wrote more of the story.

And I realized it was going off the rails. I had Character A doing something boneheaded that could not, by any reasonable means, result in the happy ending I wanted.

So I threw out most of it, back to almost where I’d stopped over a year ago.

Then I started forward again — and almost immediately, I realize I’ve set up A in a situation where he must lie to his employer with fairly little justification. Not just a little lie, either, but a serious deception that could have serious negative consequences. Which makes him a little more morally ambiguous than I’d intended.

Why is this story being so damned uncooperative?

5 thoughts on “When Stories Explode

  1. Frustrating, but we’ve all read stories where the characters do incredibly stupid things, or jump to ridiculous conclusions, obviously just because that’s what’s in the outline and necessary to advance the plot. This usually does not induce good feelings in the reader.

    1. And it’s something I try to avoid.

      Honestly, I don’t know why this particular story is being such a bear; the last short story I wrote before this one took all of two days from concept to completion.

  2. Aha! I’m taking another swat at it, actually going back in some respects to the original premise and vague plot ideas I’d had before I decided to slant it for the specific anthology, but also using an idea I only came up with recently, and this time it all seems to be working.

    I think. We’ll see.

    I’ve removed two chunks of exposition that I decided were completely superfluous, where my protagonist was thinking out exactly what he was going to do, and why, and why he would do A but wouldn’t do B, and so on.

    I removed the totally stupid idea that was at one point the main plot driver, where my supposedly-intelligent protagonist decides to cast an enchantment on someone he really, really shouldn’t mess with. That plot only worked if other characters responded to this idiotic magic by saying, “Sure, go ahead and screw around with our family member’s personality! We’ll just ignore that you did that despite having no right to.”

    I removed one very recent clever idea that would have tied the story in more closely with other Bound Land stories because while it’s all very ingenious and interesting and does some nice world-building, it’s completely unnecessary here and just distracts and confuses the reader.


    Let’s hope I finally have it right.

  3. Well, I’m intrigued at least. I believe the current term-of-art for what you’re describing here is “discovery writing”, yes? You have a fairly vague idea of the story and you write actual prose, as opposed to other projects where you outline first, then write prose to fit the outline?

    1. There’s a term of art?

      I almost never bother to outline short stories; hell, I don’t always bother to outline novels. They aren’t usually this difficult, though.

      The thing is, even when I get it right (assuming I ever do), this isn’t going to be anything all that special as short stories go.

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