From High School Musical II, Kelsi Nielsen spurs Troy Bolton into action just as he recovers from a catastrophic loss of confidence. This demonstrates a key aspect to Kelsi Nielsen’s character: her emphasis on action and progress. Of course, Troy has this, too. But once he faces pressure, his whole system grinds to a halt and the mounting self-doubt prevents him from taking decisive action. At this point, Kelsi Nielsen steps up and shows him the necessity of action. He doesn’t get this from Gabriella, who has usually abandoned him at crucial moments. The same goes for Chad and the Wildcats, who either don’t fully understand or turn on him when he most needs help. Only Kelsi Nielsen understands that he can’t wallow in misery, that he has the potential to defeat his obstacles, and he needs that guiding hand to show him the way.
I have sworn off self-flagellation posts, because they don’t motivate meaningful action. I have just read an excellent article from the Helping Writers Become Authors site, called The 10-Step Checklist To Writing An Above-Average Novel. Since it has been around 3 months since the last update of my multi-chapter fic, Playmaker, I have to revisit the story, ground myself again in its objectives, and weed out the stale parts. One of the best ways to do this is update this blog regularly, something I plan to do with greater consistency over December and January. I will say it again: procrastination is one of the easiest pitfalls and the hardest to cure. For years I have reneged on ambitions. In fact, just this morning I was clearing out a stack of books that I have never used and have no time to use. This opened me up to the many books that I ought to be reading, one of which confronts procrastination.
Playmaker began as a one-shot idea on Tuesday 3rd January 2017, when I had been considering the incredible and underrated Troy Bolton-Kelsi Nielsen friendship. It eventually sprawled into a multi-chapter fic. I think that the spontaneous nature of this story, along with a lack of thorough story notes at the beginning made it inevitable that I would run out of steam. I often resist an idea until it becomes so apparent that I cannot deny it. So when I eventually accepted the fact that this story would require more than one chapter to do it justice, I had already a bunch of scattered ideas that I tried to cram into a coherent story. Fortunately, I read a good deal on writing technique at the time, so I could pare down the plot. However, that didn’t happen until quite late in the process– once I actually sat down with pen and paper to keep the story within bounds. Before that, I spent months just visualising great scenes. The vast majority of those scenes never made it into print.
Without structure, I was bound to run into dry patches and procrastinate on finishing altogether. But something has fortunately changed this year. Despite releasing only 2 chapters in 2018, down from the 3 I released last year, I have learned a great deal more about how to combat procrastination as a whole, and I have picked up on Art. Being visually creative not only inspires me to write (and vice versa), but it also highlights the importance of capturing scenes full of details that matter. All the visualising I have done is completely useless if it covers the most mundane issues. This is why I rejected the plot timeline idea as a way of recording the plot. The name itself is advertising fraud, since recording minute-by-minute action isn’t the same as having a plot. Instead, this timeline simply obscured the action. I got rid of it, and I don’t miss it, either. The only reason I kept another moodboard for an upcoming Trelsi fanfic, was because I liked the ideas.
How do I then re-vamp the story?
Firstly, I should have a page of contents with a quick overview of each chapter. Deciding that chapters interrupted my flow was foolish: I had no flow. I link once again to Nina Amir’s excellent article on the importance of having a Contents Page before writing nonfiction. The ideas she gives for developing a Contents Page are excellent, helping to develop a focus based on what the reader requires. And this brings me to a core problem with my own work: I am not thinking sufficiently about what the reader requires. I am too stuck inside my own head, churning over possibilities and discarding others. The reader hasn’t entered the equation. It doesn’t help that I post so seldom either, giving the readers so little opportunity to interact with my work. A lot of ideas for good nonfiction writing come from fiction writing, such as tighter sentences and engaging openings.
Likewise, I feel that Nina Amir’s advice can cross over into fiction. She provides the following prompts:
To create a TOC for a nonfiction book, which usually has about 10 to 15 chapters, you can:
- Create a list of 10–15 topics you know you want to cover in the order you want to include them. Write a compelling title for each subject; you can refine it later, but this becomes the chapter title.
- Think of 10–15 common questions you want to answer for your readers. Then write creative chapter titles for each one of those questions; you could leave the titles as questions as well.
- Think of 10–15 most-pressing problems you want to solve for your readers. Then write creative chapter titles for each one of those questions; these could be “how-to” titles.
- List 10–15 benefits you want to offer readers. Write titles that entice readers into those chapters by telling them WIIFM? Factor—the added value that speaks to their interests.
- Research until a structure presents itself or until you find the core idea for your book. Then repeat Steps #1–4.
What stands out to me on a second reading are the following: knowledge, problems, questions, benefits. This applies very much to fiction writing. I know the story. I have to solve problems for the characters. I can do this by posing a series of questions that require answers, or action, to solve. The character is thus motivated to head on his/her journey and watching the internal and external changes around them provides, hopefully, great benefit to the reader. Why should the reader care? I must provide a good reason for this, and I hope that the upcoming journal entries will maintain the core readership that enjoy Trelsi fanfiction and are interested in its propagation. I think that Nina Amir intended for nonfiction writers to choose any one of these approaches to develop their Contents Pages, but I will see whether I can incorporate all 4 into my own planning.
Writing out those giant plot timelines was a waste of time when I could have much clearer outlines from a Contents Page. This would offer me greater freedom within the structure and mean less rewriting at the editing stage. This was something that K. M. Weiland had stated in her podcast from the Helping Writers… site. A stronger outline means less rewriting, and for me, it means less procrastinating in the middle through a lack of ideas. Once I incorporate the Table of Contents, which don’t necessarily have to have numbered chapters so much as sections, I will be better able to judge the pacing and progression of Playmaker. In order to do this, I must assume that none of the scenes I had planned beforehand will happen. Until the train is back on tracks, then I can forget about Troy and Kelsi’s movements. Besides, I have some advice from Weiland’s article that I must discuss, which will definitely impact my future plotting.
Weiland notes several key points that prevent stories from falling into the “average” pile. In romance fiction, she notes that the boy and girl cannot keep randomly meeting. I considered whether I had abused this trope in Playmaker, but I am not the most objective voice here. I will leave that to my readers to decide. As I write this article, I does occur to me that I should critique some chapters on this blog, just as a way of interacting with my work, using my editing brain, and growing from past mistakes. I know that I would change many things about Wondering, Wishing, Longing, which currently requires an update. This story was also a casualty of my one-shot to multi-chapter, accompanied by a spasm of uncontrolled writing that eventually fizzled out after some cutting and snipping. The plot of my story should be present on every single page, which links to her later advice that all characters should be responsible for their own fate. No helplessness, please. That is just an illusion.
The best piece of advice I have taken from Weiland is that characters should do things. This seems like a no-brainer, but if you’re someone who had traditionally written themselves out of genre fiction, preferring the introspection of literary fiction, then it’s a reality check. I had always prided myself on writing good internal dialogue, but in all honesty, I realise that a lot of my work then and even now just consist of my characters thinking and not doing anything. I am ashamed to say that this mirrors my own life. Hence why I am writing this blog update. I may have learned that info-dumps ruin the forward action and are a crutch, rather than an aid. But I had not yet learned until today that characters should not stay stuck in the sequel, or worse, be in sequel without a scene. They should not rehash what has just happened to them internally, or waste time assuming what might happen. Weiland’s helpful trio for the scene (Goal >Conflict> Outcome) and sequel (Reaction >Reaction >Decision) will shape my writing from here on out.
She also highlights the importance of giving characters someone to talk to. If you have read the first 3 chapters of Playmaker, you see that a lot of Troy’s dialogue is internal. It’s important to the story that he cannot tell the truth to Kelsi about how conflicted and disappointed he feels since beginning college. But I have not tapped into the full potential of a conversation between them, even considering his lies. I also have not placed Troy in real danger of having his lies exposed– a problem that could be fixed by having more conversations between Troy and Kelsi. Weiland says not to place your best characters at the four corners of the globe, which is a fair point. Although High School Musical canon dictates that Kelsi be in New York and Troy in California, they must meet in order to propel the growing romance. I will consider this in my Table of Contents. In short, I must propel the dialogue with actions, rather than just Troy reflecting on everything for at least half a chapter.
Most importantly, I need to read. Ever since finishing my last book, The Double, by Dostoyevsky, I have stagnated. Ever since reading James Clear’s incredible system of reading 20 pages a day, I tried this for a couple of days. I allowed endometriosis and subsequent illness to throw me off track, but I must get back into the pattern over this holiday break so that I don’t have to start from scratch in the New Year. Reading more means gaining more access to great ideas, styles, characters, and themes. I have a couple of books in mind for reading, since I also plan on writing nonfiction as well as fiction.
I feel much better prepared to tackle my story once again. Stay tuned for more journal updates on the story notes for Playmaker, meta analysis, chapter critiques, fiction recommendations, writing technique, and more!