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Writing the same story over and over

oldegrump

What do you all do when you find you are boiler plating your stories?

I have six or seven that I haven't posted because other then details they are all the same

aubie56

@oldegrump

That's not necessarily bad. It depends on the nature of the details that you are changing.

Ernest Bywater
Updated:

@oldegrump

I've had a few stories where I had the same basic plot but saw different ways of telling the story and / or had a different direction to take it at some point. I'll write the stories and post them all. Some people like the minor differences, some don't - but that's the same for any story.

edit to add: Of course, I'm talking about when you have to actually write a difference into the story - not just global change of names etc. that some people have done.

oldegrump

I may be over thinking this. I'm still new at this game.

I write my stories, then let them sit for at least a week and last night I was reading the ones I have not posted as yet and they just seem the same.

The names are changed, the places are changed, and the circumstances are changed, but they still seem the same.

I will let them set for a while yet. Luckily, I am not afraid to delete a story if it doesn't please me.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
sunkuwan

That's the difference between writing character interaction situations and Worldbuilding.

It is fine sometimes, to write different characters in the same situations. If the characters are fleshed out and have different characteristics. They would/could act differently to the same situations.

Invest more in the worlbduilding id the characters are also too much alike to differentiate between the different stories.

awnlee jawking

@oldegrump

If you look at the most successful authors on SOL, their stories tend to be very similar. When they do try something a bit different, their stories are scored less favourably because it makes their fan base uncomfortable.

In my opinion, if you've gone to the trouble of writing a story, even if it's very similar in plot to a previous story, you should go ahead and share it. What's the worst that can happen? ;)

AJ

Geek of Ages
Updated:

Some people like reading/watching basically the same thing over and over again, with just small changes here and there to spice it up a little.

Crumbly Writer

There are two sides to this. One, which has already been defended, is basically, 'give the readers what they're clamoring for'. On the other hand, you want to grow as an artist, stretching yourself and tackling new challenges, instead of simply coasting and only sticking to what succeeded in the past—essentially a blueprint for failure over the long run.

You need to be a little more detailed in 'they all seem the same'. Are the character's the same? That may just reflect what YOU, as an author are familiar with, in which case you may want to broaden your social circle, or choose a completely different character to write about (say picking a Muslim, Black or Hispanic main character), as a way of interjecting a new perspective into your stories. That would not only get around the 'they're all the same', it should also broaden your other characters, as you're no longer looking at everyone's characters in precisely the same ways you did before. Again, you want to challenge yourself, rather than writing the easy stories that you already know intimately.

Or, are your plots essentially the same. Many of us fall into ruts, writing 'one more' hard-boiled detective, saving the universe sci-fi, or forbidden romance. If that's the case, you might want to consider throwing those same characters into situations where they aren't quite so comfortable. Challenge THEM, and force them to adapt and see how that changes the basic story line. If you write about the hard-boiled detective, give him a case where he needs to learn compassion in order to discover the truth, rather than running in with guns blazing, ignoring any subtle clues. As the character, and you as an author, learn new things about yourself, it'll show in your story as your plots grow both more complex and more personal. Of course, when you throw off the familiar and tackle the unknown, expect your first few attempts to be a bit 'off the mark'. That's expected, as you're essentially tackling something your unfamiliar with. But as you continue, you'll learn more, so hopefully you'll be more familiar with it by the end than you were in the beginning.

I've long gone out of my way to complicate my stories. I come up with a basic plot, then come up with something that completely wrecks the story, and then I sit on it, until I figure out how to 'save' the story again. That adds a complexity which readers often appreciate, rather than simplistic plots which really don't challenge anyone.

It may take some time until you figure out the answer, but if you're noticing that ALL of your stories are sounding the same, chances are, your readers will too. I'll admit, I fall into that situation, often writing the same types of stories, but I try to push myself, choosing to write a mystery instead of yet another sci-fi drama, or a gay romance novel instead of a world-saving crisis novel.

The key is to identify what you're doing the same, and what's becoming tiresome about it. If you keep writing romance, but the characters face different struggles, then they're not all the same. But if the same types of characters continually face the same types of situations, with the same supporting characters with the same resolutions, then yeah, you'll need to change things up a bit.

Switch Blayde

@oldegrump

Did Ian Fleming write the same novel over and over again with James Bond? The stories are different, but the same.

Replies:   REP
robberhands

... the usual disclaimer

Ross at Play

@oldegrump


Full disclosure: my qualifications to answer this question are probably best described as a small catalogue of incompletes.

But FWIW, I read the answer on the thread and, with one exception, they all seemed totally irrelevant to your predicament.

I came back a while later. CW had added a thoughtful post I suggest you study carefully. The rest all still seemed useless to me, except for this by sunkuwan: 'If the characters are fleshed out and have different characteristics. They would/could act differently [in] the same situations.'

My gut instinct is sunkuwan has identified the underlying cause of your problem: inadequate efforts to define your main characters in your mind before beginning to write. It seems very common among unsuccessful authors that they start writing as soon as they think through a new plot twist and inevitably end up with all characters being versions of themselves in various costumes.

I will not comment on sunkuwan's suggested remedy: 'Invest more in the worldbuilding.' I do not dispute his suggestion; I'm simply not sure what he meant by that.

I will risk a torrent of sarcastic comments with my suggestion ... things like, "Every How to Write Fiction blog is written by a failed author," written by a failed author.

I suggest you need to do some planning before you'll start producing original stories. I doubt it needs to be much, but I really think it does need to be written down.

There may only be about a handful of basic questions you should ask yourself about every plot in every story, things like the conflict, crisis, and resolution. Then perhaps there's another handful that you should ask yourself about every main character in every plot, things like what they have to gain or lose, their strongest desires and fears.

I really don't know what those questions are ... did I mention my list of incompletes?

Does anyone have any simple checklists newer writers might use, at least as a starting point to assess their plot and main characters of a proposed new story?

I think that's the kind of thing CW was describing above - except he's going through that entire process for several different subplots and then somehow fitting all of those into one coherent whole.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
REP

@Switch Blayde

Yep!

James was handed a situation. Ran around world being shot at and killing people with no repercussions from the police. In the process he bedded the woman and resolved the situation.

robberhands

You need to know a story before you can write a story. If you only know one story, you only can write one story. If you know many stories, you can write many stories. It sounds simple because it is simple.

While I agree, there are a few authors who wrote the same story several times, I don't think it's a widespread problem.

awnlee jawking wrote:

If you look at the most successful authors on SOL, their stories tend to be very similar. When they do try something a bit different, their stories are scored less favourably because it makes their fan base uncomfortable.

I don't know what measurements you use to define 'success' and so I disagree mainly out of principle.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
REP

I don't recall where my recollection came from and it may have been from a story I read in the 60s, but wasn't there was a major concern regarding the possibility of there being no future writers.

The thought was computers could do the writing. All we had to do was enter a known writer's name to define the writing style, the basic plot points, and the computer would produce a new book/story. There would be no need for a human to create the stories.

awnlee jawking

@robberhands

I don't know what measurements you use to define 'success' and so I disagree mainly out of principle.


Ooh, that sounds like the cue for a discussion on the relevance of story scores ;)

AJ

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands
Updated:

@awnlee jawking

Ooh, that sounds like the cue for a discussion on the relevance of story scores ;)

"A French, an English man, and Mr. Average came into an empty bar to discuss the meaning of success."

How does it sound now?

Replies:   awnlee jawking
awnlee jawking

@robberhands

How should I know - you left out the punchline ;)

AJ

Crumbly Writer

@robberhands

My gut instinct is sunkuwan has identified the underlying cause of your problem: inadequate efforts to define your main characters in your mind before beginning to write. It seems very common among unsuccessful authors that they start writing as soon as they think through a new plot twist and inevitably end up with all characters being versions of themselves in various costumes.

That's a good point, and slightly different than my initial diatribe. We discussed that in another thread recently (Things Not Said in a Story), about some techniques to explore and get to know your character before you start writing your story, and I think it might be useful for oldegrump to consider.

Try focusing on each character's motivations, rather than their actions. If you understand where each character is coming from, and why they might disagree on their approach to the same problem, it helps you create richer, more nuanced character whose responses will feel more natural and who's voice will therefore become more compelling.

The flip side of that, are the characters who aren't fully fleshed out, and who act like manikins, merely marking a place in a scene and saying the necessary lines without really feeling like they're a part of the story.

Now, I'm not claiming that is your problem, but if you're feeling that your Characters aren't fully developed enough (as opposed to your plots being the problem), then it's a sensible place to start.

Instead of just diving into the next story as soon as you get a new idea, stop and consider the characters, especially the inter-character conflicts. That's not the conflict between the main protagonist and the antagonist, but is instead the emotions which propel the secondary characters, and both brings them together with the MC and which drives them apart. Again, this intercharacter conflict helps add a constant tension—which is most apparent during the slower 'discussion' scenes following action scenes. By giving the secondary characters, they'll often stand up to the MC, keeping the summary chapters hopping, but also giving the characters more life than they'd already have.

If your characters are essentially hollow, fleshing them out like that should allow them to take over their part of the story, standing up for themselves rather than merely acting as token figures.

But again, your main point, oldegrump, is to identify what your main problem is. Is it your plots, your characters, your pacing or something else which is making you feel they're 'all the same'.

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