Puzzling over paragraphs, and other story woes

By Kathryn Lilley

I set a personal record for myself last weekend: I spent the entire weekend–the entire weekend–working on one paragraph. I must have constructed and deconstructed that paragraph a thousand times. By Sunday night I’d whittled and rewritten that sucker until all that remained of it was a grand total of one sentence. One!

At this glacial pace of one sentence every two days, I will not cross the finish line of my manuscript anytime soon. Not good. But I feel like I’m stuck in the mud: I keep developing different ways into the story, then getting unhappy with it, then tearing it up. Hence the endlessly-reworked, bottomless paragraphs. And chapters.

My wheel-spinning is not a total waste–I have tons of pages that will work their way into the story eventually, but right now I feel like I’m playing with a Rubik’s Story-Cube. And I haven’t solved the puzzle yet.

When I described my problem to another writer, her suggestion was to keep going forward with the story without rewriting, and then go back and fix things later.

It’s a good idea, but here’s my problem with that approach: When I’m not happy with my writing, it’s because the elements in the story are wrong. If I write a chapter composed of the wrong elements, it’s like cooking with the wrong ingredients. I would end up with a spoiled dish–a dish that has to be thrown out, not merely reworked.

Maybe it’s time for me to do what I hate the most–write a comprehensive, detailed outline of the entire story. Then all I’d have to worry about is writing the prose itself, not the basic story components.

I heard some sage on the radio the other day–he described a “genius” as someone who persistently examines and reworks a problem until a creative solution is found. If that guy’s correct, I should be getting my Mensa card in the mail any day now.

Have you ever run into this problem, that finding the best path into the story has been unusually difficult? Other than outlining, do you have any good ideas for breaking through this kind of logjam?

Tool Guy wants to know: What writing software do you use?

After Clare’s lovely dreamweaver post yesterday, I thought I’d slam us down to earth with some Tool-Guy talk (okay, so I’m a Tool Gal, but honestly. who bothers to check under the belt?).

In my own writing, up until now I have been a fan of a little program called ProsePro. It’s cheap, it plugs into Word, and best of all, it auto-formats my chapter headings, page and chapter numbers so that I don’t have to deal with them. ProsePro has few bells and whistles other than that, but I never cared.

But then in one of my Yahoo groups, someone happened to mention a program called Liquid Story Binder.

Oh. My. God.

I’ve been playing around with this new program, and I’ve discovered so many new bells and whistles that I’ve become a veritable one-woman marching band. Liquid Story Binder has got timelines. It’s got planners. And outline makers. And…and things I haven’t even discovered yet.

Yes folks, I’m in writing Nirvana.

But here’s the thing. My new infatuation with Liquid Story Binder has given me a Hugh Hefner-type roving eye for other software programs that might be out there, waiting to help me plumb the depths of the next great American Thriller Bestseller.

So I’m wondering: What writing software do you use? What is the one feature in that software that you cannot–would not–live without?