(Disclaimer: Probably only useful to me right now. This is an analysis of a draft I wrote, but in extremely vague terms.)
I want to look at a first draft of a story I wrote and take some notes on what is there. There are a bunch of places where the text is unclear and I could usefully make line edits, but I am going to try to focus on story, scene, and beat things for the moment, because it probably makes sense to address those first.
Some high-level things I notice and thoughts I had:
- The setting is abstract. Usually the reader gets just one generic piece of room-specific furniture to work from: A coffee table, a washing machine. Other locations we pass through don't even get that much. It seems worth considering if this level of detail is right for the story. Maybe the story could use more scene-setting beats.
- The protagonist could be a little better developed. He has a few traits but they roughly match a type. The character isn't just the type, there are aspects of this character that don't match the type so well. Still, those details could stand to be drawn out more.
- The choice at the end makes for a clear ending.
- The choice could be better defined. There are certainly beats setting up for the choice, but it's just "one line of thought" leading there and two "orientations." I am ~2200 words short of the lower end of some "short story" word count ranges (1300 words vs. 3500), so I have room to add such things. Maybe it makes sense to develop other factors going into the final choice.
- I have a feeling that I could be getting more mileage out of my obstacles. The protagonist does run into obstacles, and things just keep getting harder until the ending. However, each individual obstacle rarely lasts long. One is introduced and dispatched in the same paragraph: 4 short sentences of here's why you can't solve the problem the way you wanted to do, 1 sentence of OK I guess I'll do something else. This whole thing is resolved in 105 words. The next one is resolved in 171. then 275. Then it's 128. Then it's 38. Then 58.
So, five things to look into. It probably makes sense to reference the short stories I've read and see how they compare on these points. I want to get a better sense for scene number and length, obstacles, and how things build toward the ending. It's probably also worth looking at setting and character stuff, though I'm prioritizing that less. These are things I'll probably look at more during the weeks to come.
Two "outtake" bullets
- Maybe I need more obstacles? That doesn't seem right, though. I think it would just give the reader whiplash and a vague sense of dissatisfaction with the vagueness with which each obstacle is addressed. Besides, those six obstacles were dispatched on average once every 129 words. At this rate I'd need about 17 more obstacles of the same length. That sounds both (1) tedious, and (2) boring to read. As I reader I would say "we get it, move on!" So I don't think it needs any more obstacles.
- It's somewhat plausible to me that there are entire scenes missing from this story. However, it's probably worth looking at these from the perspective of supporting/defining the choice better and the perspective of beats could be expanded.
Blow by blow
I went through the draft from the top and wrote down some bullets on consecutive bits of text that partly informed the summary bullets. The notes:
- The first three paragraphs are almost entirely thoughts. They total about 203 words.
- There's this dated feeling reference to Tiger King.
- After that there's some more mixed dialog, action, description, and thought, totalling about 162 words.
- This opening scene feels a little disembodied. It's set in the protagonist's living room, but the first draft doesn't says so. The most description we get is that there is a coffee table.
- There is a hard scene break.
- The next section starts with this charming description of a crab crawling through a dryer full of clothes. That's 52 words.
- Again no setting description.
- There's this brief summary of what the protagonist has done to try to address the problem since last scene (the first approach), the way that their actions failed to solve the problem. There's a complaint. This is 49 words.
- There's a short transition sentence.
- Next paragraph, the protagonist plans and tries this second approach. This involves changing setting – again, not described. The protagnist runs into another obstacle that prevents them from solving things that way. They think about this briefly, then move on. This takes about 105 words.
- This beat could probably be expanded. Maybe into a proper scene, who knows.
- Next there's another new approach (the third approach). There are a few short paragraphs and some dialog showing the way that it doesn't work.
- As part of this there's a fleeting reference to a specific person he called (the protagonist's aunt). This isn't developed further – it's just a one-line summary.
- The dialog is entertaining. I enjoy it.
- Overall this third approach is done inside about 171 words.
- There's a bit more thought and a new plan, the fourth approach so far. This comes with more thought. There's a tiny bit of description and some more thought. Some more planning. Then there's some action. Some description. Some more action, description, then the protagonist realizes this approach doesn't work either. That's it for the fourth approach – it's done in about 275 words.
- This one setting does get a lot of detail. It makes sense because the setting illustrates a point about another character and why the protagonist might go to them for help.
- There's a fifth approach described and dispatched quickly. It's done in about 128 words over three paragraphs – one long, one short, plus one more sentence in another paragraph. This section is almost entirely thought – there is just one line that is more action/description-like that is more like a memory.
- There's a thought in between.
- There's a sixth approach developed and dispatched in just 38 words. This is again just pure thought.
- Finally there is the seventh and final approach which represents the choice that ends the story. This is introduced and executed in 58 words.