I want to highlight some typical blind spots I’ve noticed that writers have when they begin. We all have at least a couple of these, because we’re all living through the context of our own lens and cognition styles. There are simply some elements of writing that will take us a lot more work to adapt, because nobody is perfect. Usually these weaknesses are ironed over in the editing process, since many writers like to churn out their first draft very quickly. Still, it would make the editing process even easier if you had rough understanding of your weaknesses ahead of time.
There are different kinds of writers, but if you can gain an understanding of your weaknesses and strengths, you can transcend yourself as an artist. I’m not saying we have to be perfectly balanced and representative of every element, because that would definitely lead our stories to reading…. Pretty much the same. I don’t believe in formulaic writing, as it’s the uniqueness of our voices that makes art…. Beautiful. Still, you might want to know where you could add a little more.
- Some writers are stuck on world building and the big picture.
Their imagination is out of this world, with unique concepts that strike you with wonder. They continually polish the essence and backstory, as if it’s a series of musical notes. They’re the writers that have a thousand ideas, but can’t get the story written. They have no believable characters or drama to begin revealing all this amazing backstory to the audience. People may enjoy epics like the Odyssey for its grandiose imagination…but they also need substantiated characters through whom to view and experience these awe-inspiring worlds.
- Some writers have a hard time adding emotional color to their stories.
Maybe they’re overly technical and their word choice is purely functional. In this case, you might not be expressive by default and you’re stretching to find the abstractions so you can write artistically. You’re the one I’ll have the most trouble coaching. It’s a matter of thinking in terms of the essence, implications, and the layers of something, rather than the surface level. Try to look at something from more than one angle, write several sentences about it until you find a parallel truth that hits home, or strikes an emotional chord deep within.
Or maybe, they’re writers who won’t allow their characters struggle with weakness. To them, characters are supposed to be perfectly rational and badass. Anything less than that is obviously annoying and whiny, right? Not necessarily… It’s probably even more annoying to read about a character that always triumphs; who is always seen in a good light; who always outsmarts everyone around them. If you have a character that is perfectly rational and badass, make that their weakness which takes them down hard. Humble them. Throw something at them that makes them feel human. Otherwise, you don’t have a relatable story. You have a Mary Sue or a robot. Dive deep into your emotional bank and think about your most vulnerable moments, especially the ones where there were conflicting elements. Values vs. desire. Ego vs. compassion. Self-preservation vs. needs of others. Cognitive dissonance is a special enemy we all have to deal with.
- Some writers can’t write about characters that aren’t like them.
What you’re writing is not literary if you can’t step out of your own shoes. Sure, it’s still creative writing, but it’s not literary. You will be limited as a writer and creator, and you’ll probably face a lot of harsh criticism. If you want to know what it’s like to be inside the mind of a 60 year old professor, go and talk to one. Interview them. Pay attention to the way they express themselves. Don’t just detail their opinions, also pay respects to the experiences behind those opinions: their background, their context, the ones who mentored them. Read journals and diaries of people who have been through things. All characters exist within context of their own experiences, and then they in the context of your character’s experience.
- Some writers follow stereotyped relationships too closely.
Depending on the age group you’re writing for, these can be especially corny in parent-child or best friend relationships, like in Disney movies with overly tender friendships and filial relationships that are romanticized in an unrealistic, idealistic way. Live-action Cinderella, anyone? (Cringe). That was a movie written for children, of course, so if your dialogue has a similar feel though intended to target the “New Adults” age group, this advice is especially for you.
The reason people of all ages loved even a children’s story like Harry Potter was because the characters were real. So were their relationships. Harry, Ron, and Hermione weren’t overly gooey with sentiment with each other. They had beef and called each other out often. They annoyed each other. But they valued each other for what each person added to their pack, and depth of relationship grew over time.
Established social roles matter to certain types of people, but then don’t matter to others. Hierarchy of age or social class (or even gender for some cultures). Do they matter to your characters? Then, take this a step further by looking at socionics too. How do social roles affect the socionics relationship? Does it make it awkward? Strained? Hostile? Smooth? Chemical? Deep? Telepathic? Friendly? THIS is where the drama comes between people and characters.
- Some writers talk to themselves, they’re so good at dialogue, but ignore the big picture.
These writers are funny. They build electric chemistry between their characters. Their dialogue sounds like something you may have heard on your bus commute, it’s so real. But what makes this dramatic moment particularly special in the big picture? What are the consequences of all these character interactions? How does what they do impact the world around them? How does the larger world around them impact the characters? Moments suspended in time with no outcome will frustrate readers. Writers who focus only on relationships with no big-world message will be confined to a particular genre and audience, such as romance, family, or comedy. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that sticking to one genre, if you’re comfortable with that and enjoy it. But genres such as fantasy, sci-fi, adventure, period, mystery, or war will need loads more consequence than character moments to make your story resonate.
- Some writers have worked out everything except plotting.
There’s a lot of layered meaning, interesting details, and emotional drama. But the pacing of the story drags because nothing is happening. The story doesn’t move. It’s inundated by talented prose, which becomes the master of the story. This renders planning very difficult. Once you’ve written some beautiful bits of prose, you find it hard to move them around. They’re anchored to a particular moment, which… isn’t tied to a plot point. These are the types of stories that end up as saved files on a computer that go nowhere. However, these can be wonderful later, once you’ve drawn up a story plan. If the moments do add something to the plot, they can easily be added back in, even trimmed and tweaked to match the context. Free-writing can still be a great thing. Plots need goals, methods, conflicts, twists, disasters, and resolutions. The moments we write are in response to these events.
- Some writers fail to keep their stories logically consistent.
Fiction isn’t real. Especially in fantasy, it’s okay to break some of the rules of established science if you’re using some sort of magic system. But if you aren’t keeping the logic within your story consistent throughout, the readers can’t come to find a sequence of patterns that helps them work out where your story is headed. Stories that leave trails of clues and follow a logical, consistent progression are addicting because they are satisfying when a reader figures something out and then sees it fulfilled. This is a matter of logical integrity. If you don’t have this, you end up with a story like LOST, which didn’t tie up nicely or satisfyingly. It felt like cheating. **This is more important with plot and systems than it is with human will and relationships, which are all dramatic and unpredictable by nature. It’s 100% necessary to throw a wrench in a reader’s expectations when it deals with human nature . For instance, the reveal about Rey from Star Wars being the child of junk traders instead of someone important. This was an example of drama; therefore, it does not fit into this category (side note: I found this reveal to be so much more moving than finding out she belonged to another dynasty, which would have been melodramatic).
- Some writers have a hard time rooting the story into a place and time, because they don’t add fine details or subtlety.
Stuff is really moving in the story with smooth pacing. The characters have zinger dialogue. But where are small, contextual details that draw you into the moment, engaging the five senses? References to the past? Tangible objects that draw an image of the room around you? Spatial patterns? All of these things are engrossing, lifting your story from a reading to an experience.
Now that we’ve discussed eight blind spots in storytelling, we should keep in mind that there are more than that in writing: prose, voice, vocabulary, humor, irony, consistent narrating, pacing, formatting… Most of these, though, can be ironed out during the second draft and editing. Let me know in the comments what else might constitute a blind spot in storytelling.