Paper Trails: Focusing on the Bones of Your Story

Bones of Your Story
Original Photo from Death to Stock Photo


I’ve been chipping away at my work in process, but right around the 37,000 word mark, I had this uneasy feeling that wouldn’t go away. I tried to ignore it, assuming that it’s just my doubts popping up — “Hey, this is terrible. It’ll never be good enough. You should really stop now. Blah blah blah.”


But then I realized how much I didn’t know when it comes to my story. I have the plot line and I know my characters (ish), but I skipped a lot of worldbuilding. This might sound counterintuitive for someone writing fantasy, but in the past I’d get SO BORED if I spent ages planning I’d bail on my idea completely. So this time around, as soon as I figured out the basic plot (or the “bones” of the story, if you watch those house-flipping shows), I decided to jump in.


While I worked on plot and dialogue and character development, the story-world was simmering on the back burner, and it started expanding in huge and unexpected ways. This was both cool and terrifying, because I was planning on a simple fantasy story, and suddenly it became this potentially huge behemoth. I felt way over my head.


Luckily, before I could get really panicked, Chuck Wendig tweeted about learning to write through failure and it was literally exactly what I needed to hear. My favorite tweet was: “Fail fast. Fail with glee. Fail better. Fail upwards. Build a ladder out of trying things and getting shit wrong.” So that’s what I’m trying to do.


At this point, I’m bound and determined to finish my first draft (ignoring the problems I know I’ll have to fix later). Right now I’m trying to look at my story like those house flippers on TV: if a story has good bones, you can tear out all the carpet and knock down some walls, and maybe even gut the bathroom later. And then you’ll be able to focus on making the story “pretty,” instead of trying to hide the tacky paint color the previous owner picked. The only bad thing about this metaphor is that I can’t be too mad at the previous owner since in this case, the previous owner is me muddling things up during the first draft. Oops.


Does the house-flipping metaphor make sense for you? Or is it too much of a stretch?


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