);

Faces of a Fatally Flawed Manuscript

Last time, we talked about the core antagonist or as I like to call it, the Big Boss Troublemaker. The BBT is responsible for creating the core story problem in need of being solved and we will continue our discussion on the BBT and different types of antagonists later.

But before we do that, I want to talk about a symptom of a novel with no BBT. Sort of like a doctor might take blood pressure or check off a list of symptoms before cracking open your chest to diagnose a bum ticker.

As an expert on plot, one clear symptom of a novel with no plot (or the fatally flawed manuscript), is the story will break out in little darlings. The more the severe the outbreak? The sicker the manuscript. Some cases are even fatal. Nothing to do but pull the plug and harvest for clever dialogue.

Why is this?

When we fail to have a core story problem, deep down we sense something is missing and so we put our best work into buttressing weaknesses. We spend hours on scenes of lavish description, or sections of super witty dialogue, or crazy twists and turns and a surprise ending that only makes sense if we use jazz hands and flannelgrams to explain them.

Because there is no simple CORE problem, we must invent contrived backstory, interstellar empires and black magic conspiracies to explain the, frankly, unexplainable. And, since we put a LOT of brainpower into this? Pulling us off these clever bits of our story is like trying to deprogram a family member from a New Mexico cult.

We’ve partaken of our own Kool-Aid and dammit, we like it!

Yet, the problem with a mass outbreak of little darlings is that, if we don’t spot them and then kill them dead? The novel has no chance of being saved because the little darlings are often the very thing keeping it sick.

What’s a Little Darling?

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Niki Sublime

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Niki Sublime

Almost any of us who decided one day to get serious about our writing, read Stephen King’s On Writing. Great book, if you haven’t read it. But one thing King tells us we writers must be willing to do, is that we must be willing to, “Kill the little darlings.”

Now, King was not the first to give this advice. He actually got the idea from Faulkner, but I guess we just took it more seriously when King said it…because now the darlings would die by a hatchet, be buried in a cursed Indian Google Doc where they would come back as really bad novels.

…oops, I digress.

Little darlings are those favorite bits of prose, description, dialogue or even characters that really add nothing to the forward momentum or development of the plot. They can also look like “never before thought of ideas” and “wicked twist endings that put Shyamalan to shame.”

To be great writers, we must learn to look honestly at all little darlings. Why? Because they are usually masking critical flaws in the overall plot. Why are little darlings so dangerous?

Because th-they come back….but *shivers* they are…different.

Let me explain why it is important to let go. Here are three BIG reasons your little darlings need to die.

#1 We Risk Mistaking Melodrama for Drama

Drama is created when a writer has good characterization that meets with good conflict. The characters’ agendas, secrets and insecurities collide.

As my awesome friend and talented author/writing teacher Les Edgerton mentioned a while back in his lesson about dialogue, subtext is vital. It’s more than what’s said. This can only happen when 3-D characters meet with real baggage that gets in the way of solving a CORE STORY PROBLEM.

Since little darlings are often birthed from a flimsy plot (or no plot), the writer is left to manufacture conflict (melodrama). This weakness often manifests in pointless fight scenes, chase scenes, flashbacks or hospital/funeral scenes that seem to go nowhere.

Zzzzzzzzzz.

We are creating bad situations, not authentic dramatic tension.

#2 We Mistake Complexity for Conflict

Complexity is easily mistaken for conflict. I witness this pitfall in most new novels. I teach at a lot of conferences, and in between my sessions, I like to talk new and hopeful writers. I often ask them what their books are about and the conversation generally sounds a bit like this:

Me: What’s your book about?

Writer: Well, it is about a girl and she doesn’t know she has powers and she’s half fairy and she has to find out who she is. And there’s a guy and he’s a demon, but a nice demon because in my world some of the demons actually were half human mage which makes them not evil. Anyway he’s a demon, well half-demon, and actually the son of an arch-mage who slept with a sorceress who put a curse on their world. But she is in high school and there is this boy who she thinks she loves and…

Me: Huh? Okay. Who is the antagonist?

Writer: *blank stare*

Me: What is her goal?

Writer: Um. To find out who she is?

Me: No, what does she need to do? What bad thing must she stop?

Writer: Someone is stalking her.

Me: *looks for closest bar*

Most new novels don’t have a singular core story problem. As mentioned earlier, it’s my opinion that new writers, deep down, know they’re missing the backbone to their story—A CORE STORY PROBLEM IN NEED OF RESOLUTION. Without a core story problem, conflict is impossible to generate, and the close counterfeit “melodrama” will slither in and take its place.

I believe when we are new writers, we sense our mistake on a subconscious level, and that is why our plots grow more and more and more complicated.

When we fail to have a core story problem, often we resort to trying to fix the structural issue with Bond-o putty and duct tape and then hoping it will fly. How do I know this?

I used to own stock in Plot Bond-o.

“Complicated” is Not Conflict

Little darlings are often birthed from us getting too complicated. We frequently get too complicated when we are trying to BS our way through something we don’t understand and pray no one notices.

Um, they will. Trust me.

Tried it. Just painted myself into a corner. But we add more players trying to hide our errors and then we risk falling so in love with our own cleverness—the subplots, the twist endings, the evil twin—that we can sabotage our entire story.

“Complicated” is the child of confusion, whereas “complexity” is the offspring of simplicity.

I can prove this. Let’s take one of the most complex stories of the 20th century. Yes, yes, you know where I am going. Lord of the Rings. Simple story. I can give it to you in ONE sentence.

A race of naive and innocent homebodies must travel across a dangerous world to drop an evil ring in a specific volcano before a power-hungry necromancer takes over the world and casts all they love in darkness and despair.

The CORE of that complex story is two Hobbits tossing a ring in a volcano. Everything else supports that singular simple idea.

The difference between complex and complicated is this. With a complex plot we can say what the story is about in one sentence. When the story is complicated? Trying to unravel our plot is about as easy as unravelling the Gordian Knot.

#3 We Fail to Spot/Correct Weaknesses

We fall so in love with our fun characters, our witty dialogue, our amazing inter-stellar conspiracy that we never finish. We can’t finish.

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 9.59.35 AM

You’ve rewritten me 14 times. You think I’m going to leave without a fight? Hssssssss.

Since we aren’t being honest about why the book isn’t working, we aren’t doing the hard work that would make the story publishable and we end up making a bad mess even worse.

In the end, be truthful. Are your “flowers” part of a garden or covering a grave? We put our craftiest work into buttressing our errors, so I would highly recommend taking a critical look at the favorite parts of your manuscript and then get real honest about why they’re there. Make the hard decisions, then kill them dead and bury your pets little darlings for real.

So what do you do with your little darlings? What’s been your experience? Do you have any tips, tools or tactics to help us dispose of the bodies? If you need help looking at your own plot with honest eyes, I have never met a plot I couldn’t fix and am an expert at assisted suicide for Little Darlings, so email me at kristen at wana intl dot com if you need help. I would also strongly recommend my Hooked—Your First Five Pages class below because you get me shredding through your novel’s intro. I can spot every problem in a novel in 20 pages or less. So save some time and get my help. There is no shame in needing outside eyes.

I LOVE hearing from you guys!

****The site is new, and I am sorry you have to enter your information all over again to comment, but I am still working out the kinks. Also your comment won’t appear until I approve it, so don’t fret if it doesn’t appear right away.

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Talk to me!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of MARCH, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

February’s winner of the 20 page critique is Dominic Scezki. Congratulations! Please send your 5000 word WORD document (12 point, Times New Roman, one-inch borders, double-spaced) to kristen at wana intl.com.

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  1. Thanks for the shout-out, Kristen. Hey, I’m going to be in San Antonio for WRW for 8 days in May–you gonna be around?

    Blue skies,
    Les

  2. I’ve actually removed whole characters from my novels because they were darlings. Additionally, some darlings got reworked into a better fit for the core story. One fight scene served no story purpose, but remove a character, change the scene antagonist and goal, and suddenly it fit right in, made perfect sense, and I now know WHY that scene exists. I don’t believe it’s a little darling any longer. Still could be. We’ll see.

  3. I think the best tip for killing darlings is to diagnose the problem and fix that, which is something you touched on with having an antagonist that must be defeated. Just like with doctors treating patients, once the illness is diagnosed and treated, the symptoms will be easier to deal with. In the case of books, when the illness is diagnosed and treated, the darlings will start to look like monsters, prompting the author to kill it with fire.

  4. Thanks for another insightful and informative lesson I have run across indie books that were full of these little darlings. I try to weed them out of my own. I think on each of my scenes and ask myself, is this necessary for the plot? Does it add or take away from the story?

  5. Really most new books don’t have a plot?! Is this a plot?:

    Gerr ok let my try simplifying this ..

    Theirs an old dark god imprisoned in an ancient book bound to it by runes, a priestess is under cover as a thief steals it to bring it back to her home city so the Adapts can destroy him. the rune spells break and the god with no physical body attaches to hers. she races back home in the hopes of being freed from it before it takes over her body and mind.

    There how’s that?

    I’ve been working on this sucker for about four years now (most of it learning how to write. the writing and rewriting.)

    1. That’s a bad situation, not a plot. That’s the setup. What is the core problem?

      When a priestess steals an ancient book for her home city, it unleashes a dark god imprisoned in the book. She must do X before super bad thing happens.

      Let me riff with this and show you the difference.

      When a priestess steals an ancient book for her home city, it unleashes a dark god imprisoned in the book, and she must uncover the name of the dark god who’s been stricken from all records in order to vanquish him before he takes over her and uses her magic to open a portal the dark realms where the other gods lie in wait.

        • jorgekafkazar on March 18, 2017 at 4:49 pm
        • Reply

        Right. And when characters do stupid things to get/keep a story moving, that’s called a Hollywood plot. Avoid it! There must be real logic and motivation behind stealing the book or, at a minimum, someone should warn the MC that it’s a bad idea. “What? You’re going to bring a book with a demon in it back HERE?? Whassamatta you!? We live here! Kill it THERE.”

  6. Learning to state my story in one line has made all the difference in the world. As long as I remember to do this. Otherwise I wander all over the page and write scenes twice. Or three times. Or…

      • JGuentherAuthor on March 18, 2017 at 4:54 pm
      • Reply

      If you’re having trouble writing a concise logline for your novel, then maybe it’s problematic at the story or structural level.

  7. I love your blogs and even save them if I can’t read them right away. So are you saying that as an acid test of “little darling clutter” to try to explain the crux of the story in a sentence or two? If the crux is the heroine trying to find out who killed her friend, then anything that distracts from that goal becomes a “little darling”, right? But you have to have setting, minor characters, and red herrings, not to complicate the plot but to increase the challenge to the hero. How do you differentiate clutter from challenges?

    1. If your plot isn’t working and there are all kinds of areas you don’t want to change, the litmus is the log-line. If you can state your story in ONE sentence, do those parts matter any more? If you can’t, then work on getting that sucker into ONE sentence and then see how many little darlings are revealed. If they don’t serve the core problem? They need to go.

    2. My thoughts exactly. I can tell the whole story in a paragraph. I can take out 300 pages and be left with a story, albeit a very boring, dull story. What if the antagonist isn’t a living entity but a place with not only the prize the protagonist wants/needs but is thwarted several times before finally getting on top of it. How many thwarts and challenges are good and how many are excessive? I suppose these are questions of style and experience, but would like to hear people’s thoughts.

  8. This goes well with my year-long motto: Keep it Simple, Stupid. What are my goals? Then the rest falls into place. What does my character want? That helps keep me focused. Those little darlings can be so cute and interesting, though. 🙁 And totally draining.

    • Rachel C. Thompson on March 15, 2017 at 12:54 pm
    • Reply

    Good post. I think this may come from the influence of TV and soap dramas. We write what we know and what most people know is what’s on TV. King and other said it, the first or best step in being a writer is to turn off the TV. I gave up TV years ago and it didn’t hurt one bit–more time to read and write which is what one must do.

  9. I had a novel I finally let go, a sad, tearful moment packed full of as much melodrama as was in the book. I’ve long since taken your advice to heart and now when simplifying doesn’t fix and I find myself complicating, I know what the issue is. That applies to all the novel’s elements. These issues still appear, but I’m getting better at identifying them.

    And then someone asked me to read their WIP and the moment became me thrust into a Stephen King novel with you a voice in my head. Right away I heard you caution: If there are big problems in the first twenty pages it won’t get better. Oh yeah. It got worse. A lot worse. One little darling rubbing shoulders with another until they were building a metropolis together. Yet, for as bad as it was, I sympathized because I’d been there and still must guard against stepping into that bottomless goo. Unfortunately, when I tried to ease towards those sentiments the WIP’s creator turned on me like a rabid werewolf.

    I wished the person well and moved on. Strangely, I feel guilty, not because I was honest, but because—at least thus far—the WIP was a bigger learning experience for me than the other writer (maybe eventually). I saw in it all my past struggles and some of those still in progress. It was a learning tool and we always need those.

      • jorgekafkazar on March 18, 2017 at 5:54 pm
      • Reply

      I can sure empathize. I keep resolving never to read the m/s of anyone who hasn’t proved he/she can write. And I keep back-sliding. Arrrgh! I’m wondering what to tell a friend whose SciFi book has fatal issues that I warned him about a year ago. He’s in denial, hoping to handle one issue by omitting that plot element from his logline!

      Yes, we need learning tools, but we don’t need to keep learning the same thing over and over.

    • KC on March 15, 2017 at 1:51 pm
    • Reply

    little darlings can be surprisingly difficult to pinpoint. I found that Twitter contests using one-line pitches helpful for narrowing down the premise of my story. However I’ve rewritten it several times and still get stuck every time…probably due to more little darlings I haven’t been able to spot yet.

    • KC on March 15, 2017 at 1:52 pm
    • Reply

    Little darlings can be surprisingly difficult to pinpoint. I found that Twitter contests using one-line pitches helpful for narrowing down the premise of my story. However I’ve rewritten it several times and still get stuck every time…probably due to more little darlings I haven’t been able to spot yet.

    1. Well, toss your try here in the comments and I will riff with it and see if I can help. I need to offer the log-line class again and that might help because I give you a nice formula 🙂 .

  10. You wrote this because of me, right? It’s true. My story is a “little darling”. While I am more than willing to trash and rewrite the 2nd and 3rd acts, I really don’t want to sacrifice a certain antagonist. There are ways to defeat an antagonist without killing them, especially if you intend to redeem them in the future. Besides, my “little darling” story isn’t so little. This is just one story in a series of stories. Perhaps there are writers who can simply make up new characters and new stories without getting attached to them, but I’m not one of them. This epic story is the only reason I took up writing again. So I’m going to prove you wrong and write a great story while still keeping my “little darling”. So there. :p 😉

    Of course, without you I wouldn’t have realized how much my story lagged. I knew there were problems but I couldn’t see them. Thanks to you, I now know the direction I need to go in order to make my story great. Thanks for the fantastic feedback! I can’t even begin to tell you how helpful you’ve been and how overly thankful I am for the service. You’ve given me a lot to think about and my mind is churning with the new possibilities.

    1. LOL, you did inspire me. But in your case your little darling is the neat happy ending. Your antagonist just needs a defeat, not to die 😛 .

  11. I (totally) hate you.
    no–
    I hate you. 🙂
    (You only rewrote your MS 14 times?)
    The MS, re-written a sum total of 14 times? Guess how many times mine have gone through? No? I’ve lost count, so it doesn’t matter.
    PHTTP.
    I rewrote one MS over the course of … 4 years. My characters, so stuck in my head, refused to die. No mercy for my brain.
    The pages bloated into something on the order of 40 to the 100th word count. I cut that back to 104,000. Then 102,000. Now at 92,000.
    Those little darlings–and the characters–are ticked. Sigh. Now I will return to the behemoth and kill/murder/destroy some more.
    Like I said, I hate you.
    Love …
    Claire

    1. Oh Babe, my first manuscript, the 189,000 word TOME? I rewrote that sucker for 5 years. I lost count how many times I rewrote it. That is what propelled me to go learn and become an expert at plot so TRUST ME. I FELL YOUR PAIN!!!! And I am glad you love/hate me. Means I am doing my job 😀 .

      1. LOL

        I think we all feel the same/make the same mistakes unless 1. we are born with a pen in hand 2. are English majors 3. excel in creative writing (even then…)

        I ( very cleverly, I might add) made my protagonist her own worst enemy, and I mean, destructive enemy. I didn’t have to kill off a darling and added a subplot that needed to be resolved as well as her own self-loathing. I hope it works. I’d hate to have to kill off my MC. yet, if it sucks, then in the archives it goes. I might add I have learned tons -as it will continue ’til I die- about the craft.
        may your wise words ever be blessed.

    • Paul W on March 15, 2017 at 3:12 pm
    • Reply

    I have a good one-line synopsis, a strong antagonist, etc.
    But: I *want* a complicated soap-opera-y storyline for the serial I’m working on.

    It’s inspired by (but hopefully not derivative of) Twin Peaks.
    That show’s logline might have been “An FBI agent investigating a young woman’s murder finds she was involved with her strange town’s criminal and supernatural activities.”
    But amidst that throughline, the show looked at the entangled lives of many other characters, some only peripherally involved in that murder investigation.
    All that resulted in a show that was maddeningly frustrating for many viewers, of course — but one that was also loved by devoted fans as well.

    My own serial did become overgrown with multiple plots and villains and convoluted backstory, and I have cut about half that out.
    But removing more, would, I fear, reduce it to a straightforward mystery — and whole that is what many want to produce, it’s not what I’m going for here.

    (I have written a prequel book with one of the characters that is much more uncomplicated victim-villain-heroine story, just to ensure I could do it — and I want to do more of that. It’s just not the *only* storytelling goal.)

  12. This is a non-sequitor but your phrase “bondo plots” reminded me of an older friend of mine. He’s in his 70s now but as a young man was Georgia O’Keefe’s personal assistant/friend. He lived with her for many years in her house in Abiquiu New Mexico. He was a famous artist in his own right, a potter, selling his beautiful pottery for hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars. I saw some of his pots and marveled at how perfectly smooth they were. I’ve never seen any pots so smooth. Finally he told me his secret. He started the pots with normal New Mexico red clay but never worried about bumps, dips or any other sort of imperfections. He simply used (you guessed this by now right?) bondo and #1000 fine sandpaper to make them perfectly smooth before glazing them, bondo and all. None of his buyers ever suspected. Do you think it’s possible to bondo a lumpy story in the same way? Just kidding.

    1. On a serious note, I’ve read SK’s On Writing a few times and I thought his “darlings” (did he ever say “little darlings?”) were actually single words like “that” and “had” that some authors repeat repeatedly (lol) similar to how speakers will say “uh” or “umm” between sentences or phrases to fill the silence while they try to think of what to say next. This quibble is not to say the advice you give is not worthy of heeding. Cutting and hacking at extraneous crap in stories is always a good thing. Stephen also says that.

      1. Not to my knowledge. We don’t feel too attached to filler words. The darlings are the things we hate to part with. He did steal that notion from Faulkner. But in fairness I have slept since I read “On Writing” 😀 .

    2. LOL. I wish. I would have had a lot more finished novels, :). Great story though!

  13. I have murdered a lot of little darlings, but instead of deleting them I put them in a “spare parts” file because they often are great characters or an interesting plot idea, just not the right ones for that story. Early on I made the mistake of just deleting, and that was a shame.

      • jorgekafkazar on March 18, 2017 at 6:13 pm
      • Reply

      Terri, I’m planning to publish mine as a book: “An Author’s Murder Victims.”

    1. Me too! I have a sequel to my novel where those lil’ darlings become the tug of war between a man and woman who work together. And of course, fall in love.

  14. Hi Kristen! Your posts are super helpful. I have a freelance editor who’s amazing – she’s shredded my heart into a million pieces several times over – but I’d love to get your feedback, too. I rewrote the story twice now, I’m rewriting again, but starting with a thorough outline: I need to get my plot set up right. Anyhow, do you read outlines? Or would you rather do the first five pages?

    1. I can do pages first and see what I spot. I also do plot consulting where I would fix your outline and you walk away with a story ready to write.

  15. This is just what a mentor of mine was talking about this week. I signed up for your “Hooking the Reader” class. For the time-zone-challenged, you listed it starting at 3 PM EST. Did you mean EDT? And would that be 12:00 PDT?

    1. New York City time of that makes it clear 🙂 ,

  16. I got bored with my story 30K in and killed off most of the characters, revised the rest, then started again. Three drafts later it’s looking pretty decent, and I only kind of regret one of my slaughtered darlings, who I can always put in something else if I like. Something he belongs in…

  17. I’m trying to wade through King’s ON WRITING, but I haven’t seen anything new or different (and I’m 70% through). Sure, he has a few good one-liners, but I found more helpful content I could apply to my writing from James Scott Bell, Larry Brooks, K.M. Weiland and yes, Les Edgerton.
    But killing darlings is a big one for new writers. Lesson number one: Don’t get too attached to anything in your manuscript. If you do, it will die a painful death (like most of George R. R. Martin’s characters).

  18. Great post, Kristen. Thanks for the great advice. 🙂 I will certainly keep it in mind. I’m working on a new WIP and I’m excited about it. 🙂

  19. My usual test for darlings is: do I love the character, the word, the plot twist… or do I love how it fits into the rest of the story? Anything that only sparkles for its own sake is suspect.

    Your analysis gives me a lot to think about. Of course darlings pop up more when there’s a weakness in the story– there’s less real conflict to anchor something to, so we create out of thin air instead. Like you said: “Are your “flowers” part of a garden or covering a grave?”

    (Now, if I could just keep the metaphors from mixing…)

  20. ‘“Complicated” is the child of confusion, whereas “complexity” is the offspring of simplicity.’ I need to print that out and post it everywhere. Thanks for another great post!

  21. Great suggestions! My problem is I need help discerning whether a story I wrote and never submitted anywhere is strong enough for a novel-length work.

    1. That is why I offer the Hooking the Reader class. You of course get the benefit of the class but then you get a discounted rate of me going through your pages giving critique on where you need work, what you do well, etc. Most story ideas can be developed into a full work, we just have to know how to test the idea first which I will probably be talking about later in this series 🙂 .

    • Kevin Colbran on March 16, 2017 at 4:27 pm
    • Reply

    Have lots of little darlings that I can’t bear to kill. Must be ruthless, otherwise, my stories fade into Gee Whizz Boy’s Own travelogues.

  22. Whenever I encounter a darling, it always takes me a little to recognize it. I recognize something isn’t working, something’s really off, and then slowly identify the darling, and then get upset because I don’t want to have to change it because I LIKE it and it would be so much WORK to fix it and-
    And then I see what’s happening, and think to myself, “Kill your darlings.” And any time I think, “but-” I just remind myself again, “Kill your darlings.”
    Because it was special to me, I will allow myself to mourn, be angry, pitch a fuss – as long as I then kill the dang thing and fix it.

    It kind of helps that I can think of all the times I drew a really, really awesome leg or hand or face, and then realized that I had to cover the leg with a garment or that the arm’s angle was all wrong and I’d have to erase the hand or the expression isn’t expressing what I wanted. Erasing that thing that was so hard for me to get so perfect sucks super hard too…but it’s easier how to see a darling in that sense is ruining the whole entire picture because I can see the whole thing at once. I remember all the times I had to erase something and it physically hurt inside to do so, and think, “This is just like that, but writing. It always turns out better in the picture. It will turn out better here.” And then it’s…just as bad but more feasible, haha.

  23. Great article, Kristen. I have a question. What about novels with an internal conflict? Where the main character has to make a hard choice and all the conflicts with the “bad guys” in the story are really just manifestations of the MC’s own character flaws coming to light as she works out the solution? Is there a BBT in this situation?

    1. Yep. Otherwise you have 80,000 words of annoying navel-gazing.

        • jorgekafkazar on March 18, 2017 at 6:07 pm
        • Reply

        Too true, Kristen. I should, however, point out that navel-gazing is standard fare for post-modern and “literary” novels. (Which I find annoying, yes.)

        1. Sigh yes, but there is a reason that literary generally doesn’t do well if the interest is in selling copies and making money. The exceptions are those literary works that blend in commercial elements, I.e. “The Road.”

  24. Wonderful, straightforward advice. Thank you.

  25. I found your article very interesting and informative. Thanks for sharing.

    • Kate on March 18, 2017 at 3:57 pm
    • Reply

    I’ve been having trouble with creating a logline, and I’m honestly not sure if it’s a story issue or a ‘spicing up the logline’ issue. I completely get why you’d want to have a simple explanation (and not just for sales pitches), but I have trouble introducing the world and my protagonist at the same time:

    “A group of slacker superheroes on a struggling reality show hold a contest for a new sidekick, but the young woman who becomes their new sidekick might do the opposite of what they want: make them actually save the world.”

    Is that enough? My magic eight ball says: Probably not.

    So you might be sitting there saying: save the world from what? Where’s the story?

    Well, there’s the day to day ‘real life’ crime – robberies, domestic violence, etc… But overall, our powerless protagonist needs to motivate this group of powerful heroes to actually help others, when they have their own inner demons to battle.

    They need to save the world from a self-proclaimed hero (a mind-reading supervillain) who’s bent on exterminating all the ‘bad’ folk. The ‘thought police’ if you will. The story is basically about what makes a hero – superpowers (these slackers have powers)? Doing the right thing (does that always do the most good and who defines that)? Or getting the right results (our supervillain takes this route – grand results at the expense of many lost lives)?

    I can’t seem to get this together in a logline, though… And no one else has been particularly helpful, unfortunately.

    1. What you have is a concept (and an excellent one, btw) but my first thought is WHO is the protagonist? Let’s start there with WHOSE STORY IS IT? All stories will have ONE protagonist. This doesn’t mean the others won’t have large supporting roles, but it really must rest on one person. As I mentioned in the comments earlier, if we look at Lord of the Rings, it is really Frodo’s story. This doesn’t mean Aragorn’s story is not vital to Frodo’s but ultimately Frodo must throw the ring in the volcano. We could argue that Frodo AND Samwise are the protagonist, but this is called the “buddy love” structure and even then the two are viewed almost as a singular.

      So I ask…WHOSE STORY IS IT?

        • Kate on March 18, 2017 at 7:11 pm
        • Reply

        Thank you for your reply! 🙂

        The main character is the young woman who joins the team as their sidekick: Tracey. The only one who really wants to help people (at least initially).

        1. Okay, so describe her qualitatively then what does she need to do? What is the threat? The problem to be solved? Tell me more than the setup.

          In a world where the real villains have been vanquished and superpowers are just good television, a crusading blogger applies to become the next sidekick for Earth’s most famous four supers, but rather than saving the world, she finds that fame has made them into lazy, jaded prima donnas. When she uncovers secret footage of a jilted physicist with plans to detonate a singularity in Times Square, the supers refuse to take her seriously. Can she help them see that this time the world will really end? Can she do it in time?

          With this idea we get: A crusading blogger turned superhero sidekick must convince her team of jaded spoiled supers that evil is still real and alive in order to stop a jilted physicist from seeking his revenge by plunging the world into a singularity.

          I am just riffing with this. I have no idea what your story problem is. But in my made up version, the supers are jaded because they believe they have vanquished all the evil. They have a personal extinction because instead of being needed, they now are a sideshow. Her job is to convince them all the evil is NOT gone (Russia is our FRIEND) and that it has really just been dormant. If they don’t bring their A-Game there will be hell to pay for ALL.

  26. Bless your heart, this post is right on time for me. I have a short story that I know sucks, and I’m plotting a new book and I’m already seeing that it’s lame as hell. Time to go back to finding my BBT and what the real conflict is in both stories. Many thanks.

  27. Love this! It’s always valuable to see something as seemingly complex as an antagonist (or BBT) reduced to manageable elements.

    If I can put in a request: protagonists! I struggle with the balance between fitting my main character to the story versus fitting the story to the character.

  28. I’m still figuring out what those little darlings are, even after rewriting four times. The comparison to drama helps me understand better. Thanks for the informative post.

    • Rosanna on March 24, 2017 at 7:46 am
    • Reply

    I have reread this post several times to try to learn how to ID little darlings in my writing and I still can’t figure out if a flashback scene in my novel qualifies. I can make myself give it a haircut or even cut off a limb, but I can’t seem to kill it. Any advice on how to decide whether this flashback belongs?

  29. I needed this. Thanks!

    • claire on March 28, 2017 at 2:36 pm
    • Reply

    I keep the darlings on other works so my work/research isn’t lost. I’ve removed tons of scenes, kept it to major plot with subplot. Definite genre cross… Have to check out the Where Genres Collide 🙂

    • robintvale (Jessica) on April 16, 2019 at 11:47 pm
    • Reply

    I can’t wait until I catch up to your 2019 postings. *Squee* why yes, I am reading every last one. No, I don’t have a problem. >_>

    I believe when we are new writers, we sense our mistake on a subconscious level, and that is why our plots grow more and more and more complicated. Get out of my head! o.o

    The difference between complex and complicated is this. With a complex plot, we can say what the story is about in one sentence.

    hum.

    Merryn needs to bring the now released god back home to the dentree to destroy the weakened god released from the book of Pordicion.

    Okay, that’s not the problem.

    So what do you do with your little darlings? They are saved as a word pad file, as sometimes it’s whole chapters that get cut out once I’m able to see that the only thing going on is her just runing around and getting hurt. Like nine chapters of that so far.

    I’m finally at one I think can be saved where she has to talk with the antagonist, and it reveals a little bit more of what’s going on. (Err… if he’s the antagonist anymore. I’ll just say he is for now.)

    This article has really helped, thank you I’m going to go edit things a bit while I try to figure out just exactly what side Merryn is on. She’s a good person that has messed up.

    Sorry if this is long I’m working things out a bit.

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