We all intend to write the best we possibly can. In fact, we probably intend a lot of things with our stories.
Maybe we want to create the most nuanced yet relatable of characters or an innovative twist on x plot or a unique structure/voice/premise that will blow readers away. And yet once we finally finish our masterpiece we realize what we actually have is a two-dimensional protagonist, a plot that closely resembles two other books that came out this year alone, and a structure/voice/premise that leaves readers scratching their heads at best.
How did our stories fall so short of our intentions?
Sure we all want to be that author who writes the Great American Novel right out the gate. It’s normal to want to succeed so fantastically at something you work hard at. But what’s more realistic is that you tinker with a few story ideas, even write out some of them, and realize you have so much to learn. In this case, your skills as a writer are keeping you from writing the way you intend to.
Maybe you are still mastering ways to incorporate description without derailing story action. Maybe you are still trying to figure out how to go deeper into your character so they feel like real people. Maybe you have all these grand ideas for plot points, but you struggle to make them come about in a natural way in your story. If you keep writing, keep practicing, keep honing your craft, you’ll gradually see the gulf between your intentions and your writing ability narrow.
Competing Story Elements
This one is harder to generalize since it really depends on the individual story. However, maybe the reason your story falls short of your intentions is because some other aspect of your story got in the way. Perhaps this competing element distracted you from what you were trying to accomplish or perhaps it simply made it impossible.
If your story is derailed from what you intended, you must decide if that is a problem or not. Maybe you had the good fortune that your story actually improved. If not, you must ferret out where things started to go haywire and work your way back out. This is not easy work. But it is a useful process to go through, even if you don’t succeed.
I’m a firm believer that some stories simply need more time to develop. I know that can be a discouraging thing to hear when you want that book deal/agent/career now now now. But some stories simply take longer to create and shape, so that they fulfill your intentions in writing it in the first place.
If you have a story that has disappointed you in how it has turned out, set it aside for a little while. Time away can show you flaws you couldn’t see before. It could also be you rushed into writing the story without thinking it through adequately enough before putting pen to paper. Story ideas need time to gel, coalesce, mature before they’re ready to be written. Knowing whether or not your story falls into this category comes with time and experience.
Along these lines, I’ve included part three (four in total) of Ira Glass’s talk On Storytelling, which is totally worth watching if you haven’t seen it already.