Are We Overthinking Our Writing?

? + ! = Interrobang. That's how I feel about you overthinking your writing.
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? + ! = Interrobang. That's how I feel about you overthinking your writing.

 

As I write this, a beautiful golden retriever lays at my feet with her duck toy.

Yes, her name is Marnie. And no, she is not my dog.

Golden Retriever, or Why We Overthink Our Writing

Don’t you wish you could hang out with this pooch?

 

I am currently hanging out with her while her family volunteers at Leader Dogs for the Blind this afternoon. After a stroll down the block and a dog bowl feast, she is pooped.

Literally and figuratively.

“I’ll get a few things done before you’re ready to play again,” I said to Marnie.

She exhales through her nose.

But I made one tragic mistake before her family walked out the door: I forgot to ask for the WIFI password.

When it comes to crossing things off my to-do list, it’s amazing how depended I am on the Internet.

That only leaves one thing for me to do: Write this week’s blog post.

Lake + Golf Course, or Why We Overthink Our Writing

Isn’t this the perfect view for writing a blog post?

 

I had a great idea for a blog post, but I wanted to get a grasp on the subject matter before diving in—and that meant relying on the Internet.

(I understand that there are other ways of obtaining information, but I refuse to go to the library if it means leaving my new dog friend alone.)

So that means starting from scratch. How can I come up with an original idea without double-checking the search engines? How do I know that I’m right without fact-checking against other sources?

Once again, I am overthinking my writing. And that stops now.

Am I overthinking my writing?

The simple answer: Of course.

We all do this. We spend too much time worrying about if we conducted enough research to write, if we understand our characters enough to write, if we have imagined the scene or concept far enough to write.

But what’s enough? And what’s just too darn much?

When I was in high school, I always had big ideas for stories. I spent hours diagramming a character’s likes, dislikes, life history, insecurities, proud points, physical features…

…that I never picked up the pen and wrote the story.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s important to understand the depth of your characters just as it’s important to create a complex plot structure.

But if it’s keeping you from writing the story, then you’re overthinking your writing.

Why do we overthink our writing?

It’s usually because we don’t trust ourselves to get it right the first time. You doubt your writing talent to take hold of your vision and execute it.

And your intuition is correct: You will not get it right the first time.

I’m not insulting your writing skills. All writers—even the greatest ones—don’t get their story right the first time.

Because we’re not supposed to write flawlessly. Just because you don’t get all your ideas on paper today doesn’t mean that it will never make it into the story.

When you make time to write, it should be solely dedicated to writing, not editing as you go.

So, how do I stop overthinking my writing?

Just write.

Write down how you see the character right now, how you envision the environment right now, how you observe the dialogue and action right now. Write down how you see it in this moment.

It may change tomorrow or next week. You may need to do some serious editing and rewriting.

But that’s part of the craft and beauty of writing. Think of it as watching the behind-the-scenes extra footage of your story. You get to watch your story unfold and grow in a way your readers never experience.

And that’s just one of the many perks of being a writer.

So, do you overthink your writing? Share your story below.

Writing a Complex Plot: A Soap Opera Study

Writing a Complex Plot: A Soap Opera Study blog post via KLWightman.com
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Here’s my confession: I love watching soap operas.

It’s not what you think.

It started last summer while I was still unemployed. My mom turned it on just to catch up on the whos and whats of her programs, and I happen to be in the room applying for jobs online.

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To me, soap operas are a lot like curling. When I watched curling for the first time, I mocked the sport that called its players sweepers and used brooms to get the stones in the house. But twenty minutes into the game, I was shouting, “Sweep! Sweep!” at the TV.

So I mocked the soap operas for months: the repetitive dialogue, how there was always a reason for the actors to take off their shirts, how the actresses looked terrified before cutting to the next scene.

But by the fall, I was hooked.

I couldn’t put my finger on it at first. I wasn’t losing sleep at night wondering who will end up with who or if the company will survive the latest scandal. I didn’t even find myself living vicariously through their romance novel lives–I was actually more motivated after each episode to get out of the house.

So what makes these soap operas so appealing to me?

After scrutinizing the genre for several more weeks, I figured it out: soap operas have mastered the art of the complex plot.

There are numerous (we’ll say 3 to 5), interwoven complicated plots occurring like a symphony on screen. While one plot piece is blowing up for days with maximum climatic tensions, another plot seed is being planted quietly during a two-minute scene and not revisited for a week.

In other words, the next climatic problem is planned while the current one is taking place.

I give soap opera writers a lot of credit. That’s a lot of storyboarding and outlining to create a complex plot that never loses sight of the big picture.

This isn’t a very common practice in other genres. Short stories and novels focus on completing a full movement. Plays and movies sometimes have several mini-plots that solve themselves out in the end. Some TV dramas even take a shot at it, but usually all the characters are dealing with different complications of the same plot conflict. Serials and book series are the closest, but these genres aren’t quite there because their complicated plot usually continues only one storyline.

So what separates the soap opera from the other genres?

Nothing ever is fully solved. He may be professing his love to her today, but his eye will wander to another stiletto walker next month. The company may have cleared its name today, and profits may skyrocket tomorrow, but there’s another jealous employee plotting revenge in the corner of the screen.

How can we apply this to our writing, especially to genres that aren’t meant to continue on for eternity?

Know the Big Picture

What complex plot points do you want to happen in your story? Where do you want your characters to go and how will you write them there? Freewriting is a useful practice to sort out ideas, but you must know the complicated plot arc in order to have a direction worth writing towards.

Make Your Characters Struggle

This is hard as parents of our characters, but the most intriguing stories are the ones where the characters have a lot to overcome. Make a list of all the ways that will make solving the problem difficult and put your characters out of their comfort zones.

Get Everyone Involved

See how many characters can get caught in the plot web without it getting too crowded. Know everyone’s role in the problem. See the problem from every character’s point of view and personal challenges. Never lose sight of one character or bend a character’s personality/challenges for plot convenience.

Storyboard Your Plot

Create a timeline to keep track of what’s happening when. Draft out each problem for every character cluster side by side and see how the plots can snap together. Toss any unnecessary plot points and replace them with ones that give value to the story and your characters.

Want to try this out in your writing? Here’s your practice round:

Writing Exercise

Who: 6 characters minimum

What: 3 plot problems minimum involving all characters in any sequence and/or overlap

When: Writer’s choice

Where: A house party or dinner party

Why: To master the complex plot

How: Transition from problem to problem smoothly without messing with the chronology of time

In the meanwhile, I’ll be watching today’s soap opera episode…and searching for the next curling broadcast.