5 Writer Challenges

Have you ever questioned the old proverb “misery loves company”? How in the world do you feel better when someone else feels as poorly as you do?

Because you’re human.

Humans have an innate need for social connection and often seek what is familiar. We seek ways to alleviate our feelings, and the best way to do that is by finding people who understand.

Writing is a lonely business. For the most part, writers spend hours on end by themselves. We seek other writers who understand our challenges relating to our writing process.

All writers have their strengths and weaknesses. Let’s take a look at 5 ways writers struggle with their work, and the solutions.

5 Writer Challenges

  • Plot Development
  • Time Management
  • Characters
  • Dialogue
  • Perfectionism

Plot Development

Photo by You X Ventures

Writers are finding several issues accompanying their plots. Some find their entire books happening in the first few pages. They have no idea how to slow it down enough to fill up the rest of their books. Some struggle with certain parts of the story, such as a dragging middle. Some find their entire book is dragging.

Solution:

If you struggle with Dramatic Structure, pick a structure and get familiar with it. Plot your points and base the rest of your work around those. You don’t have to get detailed with plotting, but even I, a pantser, do minimal plotting. My work is better for it.

If you find episodic narrative in your work, cut it. That means unless the day-to-day small stuff is important to plot, delete it from your story. This usually helps with an entire book dragging. What also helps is looking at how many subplots you have. While there is no exact formula for how many subplots you can have, if it doesn’t enhance your plot, cut it. You’ll find there may be things your characters do that don’t enhance your plot. Cut those, too, no matter how much you love them.

If you find your middle dragging, divide it into two sections, making your 3-act structure a 4-act structure. It’ll help you see things more clearly. This is another place where you can cut what doesn’t enhance the plot.

If you find your entire book happening in a few scenes, consider making it a short story or flash fiction piece. Some work isn’t meant to be a full-length novel. Nothing wrong with that.

Time Management

Photo by NeONBRAND

Perhaps you, like many writers, find yourself surfing the web while it’s product time. Maybe you’re on day 20 of research without having written a single word. Or, maybe you can’t stop editing what you do write, getting you very, very, very slowly to the end of your work. Then, you have straight-up procrastination.

Solution

The best solutions I can offer you for time management comes as a three-fold. One: Limit your distractions. Turn off the internet if you have to.

Two: When you’re supposed to be writing, then write. I know, if it were that easy, time management wouldn’t be a thing. Even if you only can fit in ten minutes, trust that the world won’t (probably) fall apart in that time, and everything else can wait. Tell your brain there is a time and place for all other thoughts, but this isn’t that time. Yes, this takes practice.

Three: Forgive yourself for wasting time. If you’re hard on yourself, you’ll feel guilty. Guilt turns off your creative brain. You literally have no time for guilt. Just get yourself back on track.

As for too much editing and research, know that your story won’t be perfect the first couple drafts. Try to relax and just tell the story you’d tell your friends. Research is super fun, and for me, it lasts the entire writing process. How I navigate seemingly endless research is to use placeholders and leave comments to myself while focused on writing.

Procrastinating…it’s truly an art. It doesn’t make you lazy to procrastinate. It makes you human. Usually, procrastination stems from fear of the thing you’re procrastinating. Dig deep into this and figure out what you’re afraid of. Then #ffear and get writing.

Characters

Photo by GMax Studios

Characters are important to your story, especially if it’s character-driven. Find that you have perfect characters? Flat characters? Too many of the same characters? Not enough of a cast? Too much of a cast?

Solutions:

Give your characters real flaws. These flaws should get in their way constantly. The flaws don’t always have to relate to the lie your character believes, but at least one should. Look back at their childhoods and see what traumatic events could shape a flaw. Then use the hell out of it to create conflict. This goes for both perfect and flat characters. Dig deep into their psyche to figure out who they are. Make a list of possible flaws and choose some.

When you find that you have too many of the same characters, it helps to combine some of them into one or two characters. That also goes for too much cast. Remember that the more characters you have, the more chances you have of confusing a reader. A confused reader is not a good thing. Don’t do it.

If you think you don’t have enough cast, think hard about it. There is no formula for how many characters you need. You can have one character if it means your story gets told. If you think it’s important to add some, think of character types that help advance your plot or main characters. Don’t add random ones.

Check out the posts on character building.

Dialogue

Photo by Toa Heftiba

A lot of writers find they are either really good at dialogue, or pretty bad at it. It’s definitely something easy to get wrong. Dialogue is one of the best tools you have in your writing arsenal, and if not used carefully, it can ruin your work.

Writers find they have flat dialogue or a simple exchange bit. Too realistic dialogue is also a huge problem. Other problems include: being formal all the time, glaring dialogue tags, no dialogue tags, phonetic spelling, too much or no narrative, using names too often, summarizing important dialogue, and the opposite, writing out everything.

Solutions

Use silence to create conflict. If your character asks a difficult question or gives a difficult statement, either have the other character use silence or try to change the subject. This also ties into the simple exchange bit (on the nose). Don’t have characters ask questions and then give an answer right away. People don’t talk like that.

Speaking of how people talk, skip the interrupters. The “um” “ers” and stutters, for the most part. Some exchanges call for them but cut when possible. Try not to have your characters be too formal, though, unless it’s part of that character’s personality. Keep in mind that people also speak differently based on who they are talking to. Talking to a spouse will be different than talking to an officer who has just pulled you over.

Using the tag “said” is best for most cases, though feel free to mix it up from time to time. Readers will skip the word said, and that’s what you want. You don’t want them to be pulled from the story because of an obtrusive dialogue tag.

For instance, don’t say:

“I hate you!” she screamed.

The exclamation point says it all. Even better than ‘said’ is using action tags instead of dialogue tags. Example:

John lit his cigarette, his gaze level on Steph,. “I hate you.”

In most cases, you’d never place an action in the same paragraph as someone else’s dialogue so this wouldn’t confuse the reader.

Phonic spelling gets to be a problem when it draws your reader from your work. Use it sparingly. Use narrative to enhance your dialogue, and dialogue to enhance your narrative. It’s all about balance. Skip characters using other character’s names unless it’s for emphasis.

Check out more dialogue tips.

Perfectionism

Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN

Going back to what I said in the plot section. Your first few drafts won’t be perfect. Train your brain to have a switch. There is a time for editing, and it’s not during your first few drafts.

Save your neurotic tendencies for your last draft, and even then, remember the goal is to move forward, not be stuck.

The Inciting Incident and Key Event

I find a lot of writers aren’t clear on what the inciting incident is, and in those cases, they’ve seldom heard of the Key Event. Both are plot points in the Dramatic Structure, and both usually occur in the first act. It’s possible that the inciting incident occurs before story-time, or at the beginning, but before we get too confused, let’s define exactly what each point is.

Inciting Incident

Photo by John Cameron

The Inciting Incident is plot-related. If you’re a Star Wars nerd, you’ll remember where Princess Leia sends R2-D2 and C3-PO away with plans and a call for help. That’s considered the Inciting Incident. Or when the games are announced on The Hunger Games. The main conflict in your story hasn’t affected the MC yet, but that’s a job for the Key Event.

Key Event

Photo by Markus Spiske

The Key Event is character-related and draws your MC into the plot, oftentimes smacking them in the face. Luke and his uncle’s purchase of R2-D2 and C3-PO draws him into the main conflict, even if he doesn’t know it yet. When Katniss volunteers in her sister’s place is her key event. That one is a bit more in-your-face.

Where do they belong?

Photo by Jacob Miller

As I said, the inciting incident can take place before story-time, such as the setup up the games long before Katniss. This is just a moment where the reader tastes what’s to come. The choice is yours where in the first act you wish to place it, but it often comes before the key event.

The key event takes place half way through the first act, around the 12% mark.

Keep in mind that the Dramatic Structure is more of a guideline than a hard-fast rule. You need to do whatever is best for your story, and if you trust yourself, you’ll often find you put them right where they need to be.

Humans have an innate drive for story-telling, and it’s often only when we overthink it do we mess it up. Also, keep in mind that it all depends where your story starts. If you have no set-up of the ordinary world, you’ll find your two plot points will happen sooner.

My suggestion is to plan them in advance, regardless of where you start. You’ll often go back and change the beginning anyhow. As long as you know what they are, you’re good.

Comment below your favorite inciting incidents and key events!

6 Wishes Beta Readers Want You To Know

6 Wishes Beta Readers Want You to Know

We love our alpha and beta readers. Where would we be without them? I asked a few larger writing groups (Fiction Writing is the size of a city, just over 93,000 members) what the most common problems they saw when they alpha or beta read. I learned a lot from their answers and now I’m going to share them with you.

Believe it or not, a lot of writers often don’t know the difference between what a beta and an alpha reader is, so let’s clarify that one before we begin.

Alpha Reader

An alpha reader (aka the first reader) is usually someone close to you, such as a friend or family member. You would send them your manuscript in the earliest drafts, and long before you would send it to a beta. Their job is to guide further revisions by picking out problems in your draft. They tell you what works and what doesn’t, hopefully in the nicest way possible. They look at big-picture problems, such as plot, character, and structure. You may redraft several times after their feedback.

Beta Reader

After you’ve redrafted the appropriate number of times (until you cannot pick out any problems and have addressed the ones alpha readers pointed out) and self-edited, you send it off to a beta reader. You usually send it to betas right before your final draft, and it’ll be their input that you include in your (hopefully) final draft. They look at the big, polished picture with specific criteria in mind for feedback. They often look for what isn’t going to work for the reader and why it won’t work. Beta readers vary in skill set.

  • Note- the third phase is an ARC. ARC stands for Advanced Review Copy. These readers mainly write a review on it. At this phase, the manuscript is a published book and the writer isn’t looking for feedback to make changes.

The moment you’ve been waiting for…

6 Wishes from your betas.

Photo by Steven Williams

Self-Edits

I cannot stress the importance of self-edits enough, and as one of the top answers, neither can your betas. Now, we’ve all heard the adage “you’re too close to your writing”, but some writers take this to mean they don’t have to self-edit. As lovely as having a magic elf do the boring parts (and free at that), it doesn’t work that way. In our current world, it’s important now more than ever to self-edit.

  • Check out The Writer and their awesome tips for self-editing.

Under self-edits, here are the common problems:

  1. Dialogue punctuation
  2. Run on sentences
  3. Shifting verb tenses
  4. Passive voice
  5. Grammar
  6. Prose
  7. Too many adverbs

The author wanting Beta readers after they have finished 1 chapter or less.
They need to understand no one can properly Beta read an unfinished manuscript.
Also, the first draft is not a finished novel. It is the author telling themselves the story. No novel is finshed until it had been rewritten rewritten, rewritten ect, ect, ect over and over again until the author has the novel they started to write. When they can no longer change a word, then, maybe, its ready for Beta readers. But usually not.
I suggest all authors put the novel away while they write another novel. When that novel is as perfect as the author can make it, then the author can go back to first novel and reread it. If they still can’t change a word, then they ask for Beta readers.

-Bernadette C.

Characters

Going back to another set of posts I wrote, it’s important to know your characters. Go back to the beginning and write biographies for each of your main characters. Figure out their personality and make their pasts the reason for their flaws and strengths. Each of them will be different based on where they came from and what their childhoods were like.

Under characters, here are the main problems:

  1. Unrealistic character behavior
  2. Perfect characters
  3. Identical characters

I beta read a lot of romance, or at least stories with a romance sub. One thing I see too much are lovers who really need to have it out over something major, but instead the author decides to let them have a peaceful and loving bonding session or date. Like, no, that needs to come AFTER you’ve cleared the air, if you manage to clear the air without hating each other. Basically, any unrealistic behavior makes me twitch. There was at least one time I mentioned this to the author and they shrugged it off. deep sigh

-Fatima S.

POV

There are several points of views you can choose from, and you don’t have to stick to just one. What you should do is avoid head-hopping. Never, ever, ever switch POV in the middle of a scene. This means your characters won’t know what other characters think. They could make an educated guess, but unless they’re mind readers, stick to your initial character. Always use a scene break or chapter break when changing POV.

Dialogue

Photo by 수안 최

Have you heard of talking head syndrome? This is what your betas mean when referencing dialogue problems (aside from dialogue punctuation). You have a whole lot of dialogue and very few movements. This is a good time to show character quirks. That being said, avoid stage direction dialogue. Find your balance. Check out my post on dialogue and body language.

Story Issues

This is a broad category, but so important, as each of these will make or break your story.

In most of beta reading I did, the problem was that the action started too early or too late. We can get the personality of a mc in few pages, no need to write 3 chapter of introduction. On the other hand, too much action without context seem pointless, and it can be very confusing especially when many characters are evolved 

– Laurence Beaudry. Visit her at her blog.
  1. Pacing (big one. Refer to my Dramatic Structure post for help)
  2. Plot manipulation
  3. Structure (Dramatic Structure post again)
  4. Over-explaining (not trusting your readers)
  5. Cliches
  6. Lack of creativity (there may not be a whole lot of original ideas out there, but you can certainly add your own flavor)
  7. Not doing enough research on the topic (this was a BIG one)

{A problem is} action that happens because the writer needs it to happen for the plot and not because it is the logical progression of the character’s motivation.

-Vanessa W. Connect with her at Storm Dance Publication

Last But Not Least…

Arguing With Your Beta

I know we know our stories. We’ve worked hard on them. They’re our babies, and for someone to just not get them…it’s enough to close down the feedback department and go on the defensive. You don’t have to take every piece of advice your beta, or even alpha, reader gives to you, but you’d be smart to at least consider all of it.

While it’s possible that your beta missed the point you were trying to make, it’s also possible you, as the writer, weren’t clear. Or overly clear. Or it just doesn’t fit the rest of the story. There are a million reasons you could argue with your beta, but they didn’t read your entire piece just to argue with you. They honestly want to see you and your book do well. It helps to evaluate your level of skill compared to theirs. Maybe you have more. Maybe they have more.

Either way, thank them and move on. You have a book to finish.

Almost all of these should be fixed before it reaches the beta reader. They wish to give you the best feedback they possibly can, but can only do that if the piece has a nice, shiny finish on it. They want to make sure you can give your work one last coat before sending it out to the world.

  • With all that said, it’s important for beta or alphas readers to let a writer know if they are unable to finish a manuscript. A note saying “I think you wanted an alpha reader” should suffice. I think if writers self-edit and follow the rest of the tips, they will see a decline in beta readers who do not finish.

Comment down below if you enjoyed this little study and want to see more of them. Happy reading and writing!

K. L. Reeder is an aspiring author. She studies Creative Writing at SNHU, with a minor in Psychology. She resides in central PA with her toddler son and little dog.