I am an unrepentant Pollyanna, so even when I’m super crazy behind I know that I’ll catch up at the very end, just like back in high school when I’d start writing a paper two days before it was due even though I’d known about the assignment for weeks. Okay, so maybe starting earlier would have been a little less stressful – and just thinking about this is giving me flashbacks to madly printing out some assignment on a dot matrix printer, which is a little disturbing because it’s raising my blood pressure even though I finished high school, um, a while ago. 🙂 But I know I’m very, very lucky because I’m unusually good at keeping calm and working under pressure.This is a very fortunate fact, since I once again procrastinated and failed to work on my latest story – which is due pretty much right now. However, since I am me, there is – of course! – a silver lining! A few days ago I realized that the reason I was having a hard time with this story is because it doesn’t fit the anthology I was writing it for. Huzzah! I still love the story, and I will totally finish it at some point (when I don’t have five gajillion looming deadlines…).
One might ask: why did it take me so long to figure this out? I don’t know, although I do know that once I had my epiphany it was ridiculously obvious. A while back I made a checklist of things to remember when I’m stuck on a story. I need to add “does the story fit the collection/series/whatever I’m writing it for?” to the list.
Once I had this (now very obvious) realization, I knew I needed to set aside the original story and come up with something new – but what? It had to fit the theme of the anthology and be something I could write quickly. I turned to The Lester Dent Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot. This is a formula that Lester Dent, a prolific and very successful fiction writer during the 1930s-ish pulp years, used. The TL;DR is: assume your story is about 6,000 words long, and break it up into four chunks of 1,500 words each. In each section add suspense, menace, a physical conflict, and a surprise plot twist. Get your hero deeper and deeper into trouble until all appears lost, and then he/she/they save the day.
This was exactly what I needed for my story. Here’s a snippet of the opening – this is from the first draft, so it may change a little before publication.
Lester hated his job.
He liked the work itself – and really, who wouldn’t enjoy spending their days in a laboratory analyzing the properties of different organic materials and experimenting with incorporating them into robots? But the job itself was a different story. His boss, Dr. E. E. Humphreys, was a slave-driver, a micro-manager, and, to make matters worse, he insisted on wearing a cologne of patchouli and spruce that tickled Lester’s nose. It was difficult to look at things in a microscope when you kept having to sneeze.
At least it was a Saturday, so the fragrant doctor wouldn’t be in the office. Lester shouldn’t be either, but he’d left his phone on his desk the day before and was getting behind on Candy Crush.
I made an outline to think through the Lester Dent formula ahead of time, and that was really fun and helpful because I had to think about the different components (the surprise twists, etc.). The story is practically writing itself!
I am still behind where I’d like to be, but figuring out why I was holding myself back on this story undid the logjam, so I should be back on top of everything very soon.
Although I am, of course, a Pollyanna… 🙂