Wherein Lies the Problem?

I’m sad to report that I haven’t made any progress since last week. Still busy, still lacking motivation to work on my story. But just because I haven’t been writing doesn’t mean my mind hasn’t been going over the story in my head, trying to figure out where my wrong turn was. At 60,000 words, I’m now five-thousand words further on my rewrite than my first draft and I admit wholeheartedly that the story has made a ton of progress since the first time around but still, I’m stuck in the same general spot. I’ve been comparing it to my first book, wondering how I could finish my first novel yet I can’t seem to bring this one to a close and I remembered…it wasn’t easy last time either.

The hardest part for me is knowing when enough is enough. I’m compulsive about finishing things. If I start something, I’ll finish it whether I want to or not…whether it’s even a good idea or not. But with writing, if you force it, it comes out forced and reads forced. And right now, I feel like I’m forcing it. So I’m thinking, “115,000 words and it’s still not quite working? Maybe it’s time to set it aside for a while.”

But it’s not that easy. You see, even if I do set it aside and start something new, if I don’t figure out what the problem is now, there’s a good chance I could drag the same problems into the next story and the next. So what’s the problem? Good question. My instinct tells me that it has to do with my main character and the fact that she’s more passive than active in the story. Instead of standing up and facing the conflict, she seems to be pushed around by it. I also notice the same pattern with the main character in my last book and I also had a hard time finishing it, and then, when I did finish it, readers weren’t entirely convinced of my characters motivations when she finally turned around in the end. Hell, I don’t know if I was convinced but I wanted to finish the story. Is this my problem? Are my main characters too passive?

Research on the internet tells me yes. Indeed, protagonists should be actively pursuing the story goal and fighting the conflict, not sitting back and letting the story drive them. I also think my characters lack a real motivation for their actions. They do what they do because that’s what makes the story work but if my character was a real person with a real life, why would she do that? I’m not always able to answer that question, or if I can, I don’t portray it well enough to the reader so they would be able to answer that question for themselves.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been thinking about another story I’ve wanted to write and I’m trying to decide if that’s the direction I want to move in. I’m running the story over in my head and trying to see if these problems are going to creep up again based on the information I know about it right now and it seems I’ve chosen another passive protagonist. Frustrating!

How do I break out of this pattern? Why do I keep choosing such passive characters? Am I passive? Is this a reflection of how I handle life that’s getting filtered through my characters?

According to Anne Mini in her blog post, The Passive Protagonist, Part II, ” After many years of reading manuscripts, I have come to suspect that writers identify with passive protagonists much, much more than other people do. There’s good reason for it, of course: we writers spend a lot of time and energy watching the world around us, capturing trenchant observations and seeing relationships in ways nobody ever has before.” Makes sense. That’s actually one of the things I love most about writing. So how do I take that and turn it into active protagonists that keep my readers (and frankly, me) interested?

The best answer I can come up with is to spend more time getting to know my characters before I get started–really get inside her brain and understand her. I tend to pick characters so unlike myself or anyone I’ve ever known well and maybe that’s where the problem starts. If that’s the case, no plot, no supporting characters, no action will make the story work if I start writing without fulling “getting” my character.

I think I’m too burnt out on this story right now to start over yet again but I don’t know if I’m ready to start something new. I want to work on The Slush Pile but my brain is scattered right now, I can’t seem to move in any direction…I just watch the days go by without a single word written. I figure I’ll give myself until next week to make a decision because, frankly, the only thing more painful that writing a story that isn’t working is not writing at all.

I am an author and a writing business teacher. I am also a mother of two, a wife, a businesswoman, a nature-lover, and a wannabe yogi. My debut women's fiction novel, PERFECTLY UNDONE, will be released on October 3, 2017. Here, I blog about my journey in publication in the hopes of inspiring others to follow their own dreams.

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Comments (5)

  1. I love how honest you are being about this struggle — and how willing you are to listen to your instincts. If it feels forced to you, it probably will to the reader.

    I’m going to fade back into passivity, now, but keep up the good work!

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