Writing the Very Failed Story
I didn’t post anything on Friday, despite that being my usual weekly fiction post.
Last week would have seen the final part of Serum, a serialized short story. I’ve broken it down largely into four-hundred word chunks, and I’ve been writing it bit-by-bit. It’s post-apocalyptic and based on a sort of novel zombie apocalypse (airborne virus).
It’s a very failed story. I’m still going to post the last part tomorrow, but it’s not something I’m happy with.
I’m going to break down why I think it failed and what I’m going to do about it in the future.
Approaching Very Failed Story Status
I’m calling Serum very failed because it’s politer than some of the alternatives, and it’s more than just a regular failure.
When you write, there’s a decent chance that what you write doesn’t achieve its original goals. It may still be “good” writing in general, but not match the vision.
A Very Failed story goes further. Not only does it not achieve its original goals, but it’s going to fail generally as a story.
Now, let me just add something real quick: Serum is a Very Failed story, but I’m not judging myself as a writer here. I’ve written stuff I’m proud of, and I’m not letting one bad piece draw me down.
That’s a critical part of becoming a writer. Maybe it’s better than I think and I’m just stressed and anxious about it.
My piece of advice to any writer would be to accept failure. That’s not just in the form of rejection letters. It’s also an idea that you might produce something that is below average for you.
Now, perpetual improvement is theoretically possible. Good practice makes you a better writer. But it does not mean that you never make mistakes.
In fact, when you find mistakes and identify their problems, that’s how you grow most.
And that’s what I’m going to do today.
Problem 1: Revision
When I’ve posted the serials here previously, I’ve written them up front and then cut them into pieces for the blog. Stories you write in entirety before you publish them go through the normal revision process. When they reach Very Failed status it’s a temporary state. Or, in a worst-case scenario, I can scrap them.
Because Serum’s longer and not based really on any prior work, I’ve basically done two or three pieces and then set it aside for a while, repeating as necessary. Because posts have been going up before I finished the story, a lot of issues exist in already published stuff that I will not change.
I would basically have to republish the story to make some changes, and I am unwilling to do that.
Problem 2: Format over Function
I wrote Serum in 400-word blocks, though I’ve strayed away from that as I reach the conclusion.
The problem with 400-word blocks is that they depend on style, voice, and writer method.
I try to experiment a lot in this blog, since it’s a chance for me to try out both genres and technical elements I’m not using elsewhere. The narrator of Serum is recounting a story. He’s not perfectly trustworthy.
However, there is an issue with this. To get into his head and still tell the story doesn’t always fit neatly in 400 word chunks.
If we break down the story into exposition/inciting incident/rising action/twist/climax/resolution, you can probably build 400 word chunks from a couple of those. I think the first piece worked okay, though it probably accelerated tension too quickly.
It’s also worth noting that the 400-word blocks serve as neat speed-bumps. If someone’s waiting a whole week for 400 words, they’re not terribly much by the time you pick up the pieces and move forward. The disruptions directly impede craft processes like raising tension.
Problem 3: The Wrong Angle
Working with arbitrary chunk sizes didn’t work, so I’ve started getting flexible. However, it’s probably too late to fix some problems I missed in my work.
The problem right now is that there is no climax. The narrator isn’t the focal point for action. The two noteworthy things–Gray having a breakdown and the survivors reuniting–happen around him.
And I missed that when they were all in separate parts. On the outline it felt good, but that’s because the protagonist didn’t have to bear the burden of extra weight. He’s trying to tell a believable report, and he’s not a hero (or else things would have ended up better).
According to my plans I should have finished the story in six chunks, but I was already unhappy with it. Switching over to more free-form sections could have saved the text, but I didn’t want to break my own arbitrary rule.
Sometimes a story fails, and sometimes it’s Very Failed.
Hitting that second point requires a champion effort. In my case, it was dogma. Because I wanted to have a particular format for the posts I overlooked the actual point of writing fiction.