A Recipe for Disaster

Toni-Morrison-Quote-book-you-want-to-readThere have been many variations of this quote: “Write the book you want to read.” Toni Morrison. Carol Shields. John Gardner. To name a few.

And we should. We should write what we like. Write what is interesting to us. Write what we find insanely exciting. However, to drop a cliche – this does not mean throw “everything and the kitchen sink” in your story.

You know what I mean. You like aliens and doomed romance and butterflies and magic wands and angels and lime green, so you write a story about wand-wielding winged aliens who have companion lime green butterflies and they fall in love with their captain’s daughter who they can’t have because she’s betrothed to the prince of Ra-horath-sat and if she doesn’t marry him his entire planet will implode because the sickly prince won’t have love to fill the mushy center anymore. (Yay 70+ word sentence!)

Yeah, please don’t.

How many of you want to read that story? I mean, okay, it sounds interesting. (Haha!) But think about it, winged aliens with butterfly companions who have wands?

You will write other stories. You don’t have to include absolutely everything you love in one story like it’s the last story you’re ever going to write, because if there’s one absolute truth about writing, it’s that you only get the ONE chance. cough

That story would be a right hot mess and we all know it.

Earlier this year, like February, I think, I pulled my stories apart (the entire history of them), and wrote down everything I wrote that I liked and didn’t like and everything I wrote that I was good at and bad at. I pulled all the likes and strengths out of the list and set them aside. Those are the things I should focus on when I write. Maximize my strengths and likes, and work on, but de-emphasize my weaker likes.

This is how you improve those writerly skills. You have a base of something you’re good at and love, with a topping of something you love (or at least really like), but you’re not so good at. And everything else? Trash it! Come on, if you don’t love it, why are you writing it?

Write what you love, yes?

So…I couldn’t help myself. I tried to imagine what a story would be like that had the entire gambit of everything I loved in it. I didn’t make it. I felt overwhelmed less than halfway through the list.

I wanted to mention this because when people think about story disasters, sometimes they forget about this side of it. They think of forcing elements into their stories that they don’t like because they think that’s why the public wants. They think of writing stories before they’re ready. They think of so many other things.

But less often do we realize that we can run into just as many problems when we’re writing something we ARE crazy about.

Like, really, don’t be so in love with your work that you can no longer see it clearly.

Sometimes things just really don’t go together. Can you make the winged aliens work with the wands and butterflies? Sure, with some tweaks. After all, people say oil and water don’t mix, but they do with emulsifying agents.

However,Β more often than not, it’s just messy. You have too many intersecting parts, and in trying to explain all of it, the story suffers. Why do the aliens have wings? What’s with the wands? What’s up with those butterflies? Why the princess? Why not a nice humanoid? Why is lime green the power color?

Can you really explain all that without exploding your brain or boring someone into a coma? Maybe (said with no confidence whatsoever), but probably not.

It really is okay to save some of this for another story. πŸ™‚

18 Responses to A Recipe for Disaster

  1. Yes. You don’t have to do everything at once. Make the elements relevant. If I was to write a book of everything I love, it would part romance, part bittersweet love story, part literary, part commercial, little bit of travel, strong female character, strong male character,steampunk and historical and don’t ask me to choose a specific time period because I want it to do all of that and go through time AND the power color is purple.

    That sounds exhausting.

    • LOL! It really does sound exhausting! Very epic 12 book series at least. (Cue more exhaustion just thinking about it.) And the power color really MUST be purple though, like really. ^_^

  2. Good lord, need to ax that story about a vampire princess from the planet Horus I guess. All joking aside, I couldn’t agree more. Too much of a good thing just turns the good thing bad. Like how bananas rippen and gradually become so ripe they start to rot.

    • Ooh, I love that! It’s makes a lot of sense because I start off doing this when I write sometimes. Then the pain (and stress and horrible mess) sets in and everything I let go of is for the better. πŸ™‚

  3. This was my exact problem with the Mortal Instruments series. I hate saying it because I know so many people love that book, but for me, it was overwhelming. The intrigue in the beginning was awesome, but eventually I reached a point where there were demons/angels, werewolves, vampires, etc., etc., and I felt like the author was trying to squeeze in every paranormal being under the sun. I ended up stopping at book 2 because the book felt too crowded to me, and the plot seemed convoluted.

    Great points, Krystal. It is really tempting as writers to try to stuff all of our loves into one book.

    • Really! You know, I’m only familiar with the first book, but I can see what you’re talking about. That’s part of why I set this book down that I’ve been trying to read. She has vampires and werewolves and elves and dwarves and fairies and warlocks, all in the first 20 pages, and it was just starting to get really stupid. They don’t all need to be there. It’s touted as NA and honestly, I felt like I was reading a book for babies.

    • And in this viene, I love all the creature mentioned. But as you said, she included way too many of my beloved supernatural creatures. Not that I don’t think you should mention other creatures if they exist but the problem is she made them all a plot point and didn’t mention them in passing. For example:

      Sandy collapsed against the wall panting and glaring at Erica, “tell me we did not just almost get eaten by a dragon!”

      Erica rolled her eyes and sighed as she settled in next to the other girl, “Ok, I won’t.”

      “We nearly got eaten by a dragon in the middle of the damn Boston commons.”


      She groaned, shutting her eyes against the dissyness and oncoming headache. “And the woman who had snakes for hair that we literally ran into?”


      “I suppose fairys, trolls, dwarves, and all those other things that go bump in the night are real too?”

      “Yup,” said Erica.

      ****end scenelette****

        • Actually that was supposed to be an extra extra rough sketch of how you can add other things as flavoring without letting them take over. It was something off the top of my head. For a tiny scenelette it’s over the top I agree. Not so for in the context of a novel unless the writer then incorperates them all and more. The problem with mortal instraments isn’t that she mentioned these things exists, but that she made them important parts of the story. If she had stuck to one or two and simply mentioned the rest we wouldn’t really care either way I think. For example JK Rowling mentions a fair few magical creatures, but mostly does so in passing. We know Fluer is part veela, we know vampires exist, Hagrid is half-giant, and werewolves are real too. And that is without things like dementors.

          It is the way she did as supposed to Clairs which is the reason we don’t cringe at her name.

          • Oh, I see. I was thinking it was addition to having already mentioned vampires, werewolves, angels, and demons! I was thinking, “I don’t want to read a story about demons and hunters and vampires and werewolves and in the same story they get chased by a dragon!” My head was about to explode. Lol!

            I really like what Rowling did because she explained enough about veelas without going over the top and making them a HUGE part of the story. (Still an aspect I wish they could have squeezed into the movie somehow!)

  4. I have a big, fat, red pen πŸ˜‰ My current MS had that problem…not so much in butterfly and wand issues, but the plot was jammed full to the point of bursting. It hurts to slice a big chunk out, but I’ve shelved that section away for a possible book 2. As they say, sometimes less is more!

    • I had this problem a couple of times where the problem wasn’t too much going on insomuch as the different elements in the story not meshing well together. Though I have had too much going on a few times as well and have had to gut things. Always fun. ^_^

Hi! ^_^