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Why my story failed

David Gane
David Gane
4 min read

On Wednesday, I sucked badly at telling a story. There was no real narrative drive and no real ending. It was so bad, that I shared my writing notes on it for everyone to read—and not just paid members.

But I wanted to dig a little deeper into what happened by doing a post-mortem on why it failed.

Too many writing assignments on my plate

First, that day had been busy.

I spent most of my morning working on the Counios & Gane newsletter (signup at the bottom). This included editing Angie’s part, writing my own and editing it, then assembling it all through the newsletter app. There’s no real heavy lifting in the work, but it takes time and by the time I was done, I’d lost half a day.

I didn’t have a solid plan going in

The story wasn’t really great to begin with.

The initial idea came to me one morning on my walk. I’d woken up early and left the house ahead of schedule. I kept passing people things I never saw before, and I thought it’d be funny if a story revolved around a woman in a similar predicament.

Except, as I wrote it, I bumped up against a glaring question: is what she’s seeing real or some weird cosmic thing?

As I mentioned in my notes from the day, I had written things into the story that didn’t quite make sense (Why are dogs suddenly allowed in the build? Why was her coffee shop replaced by a dishwashing store?), but I didn’t have an answer.

The story devolved into something supernatural or weird, but I wanted to remain true to the original inspiration and not make it some fantastical solution. To me, the point was that she discovered a whole world that she’d never really knew about because she got up ten minutes earlier.

AI-assisted software didn’t help

A big problem of the day was that I got an invitation to use some AI writing software that morning and I tried it out with this story.

I’m not mentioning what the app was because I’m not here to dump on it, but obviously, it didn’t work for me.

One feature was that I could input my story, and then it would offer suggestions of what the next few paragraphs could be. It also allowed me to generate characters based on existing characters, and build story twists based on your outline.

After I wrote up to Laura stepping out of the elevator, I tested the software, but the suggestions didn’t really suit my tastes.

For some reason, it had a real obsession of introducing family members. It suggested going to her father’s office, or that he owned the building she lived in. There was also the suggestion that the clerk at the store was her mother, or that she went home to have a conversation with a daughter named Dora.

It also was going through something because it kept struggling with Laura’s existence, suggesting she was sleeping, or was in a world called “The Universe” that was full of statues. Moreover, at one point I think it just gave up and wrote “The End” on a person’s face.

All of this is to say it became a distraction from doing the work, and that it has allayed my worries of AI taking my job tomorrow. But by the time I figured all of this out, I had wasted even more time and needed to get to work.

I wasn’t sold on the idea

To figure out the story, I went for a walk with my daughter in the evening. I told her what I had, but as I shared it, I already knew I didn’t like it. There was no central core to it, I didn’t know the ending still, and I wasn’t sure of the tone.

Overall, it felt more like the punchline to a one-note joke than an actual story, which lead to my final issue.

I just ran out of time

When I realized the story sucked, it was already too late. I considered dumping it and starting fresh, but tossed that thought aside quickly. I needed something and I figured something bad was better than nothing at all.

Except, when I got home to write the story, I kept falling asleep (I’m pretty sure I was writing while I was asleep). I remember waking up and forcing myself to end the story where it was because I was exhausted and knew I wouldn’t last any longer.

I added the Writer’s Notes at the end to apologize for the mess and left it at that.

What did I learn?

One thought that’s been going through my head for a while is that I’d like to get a few stories ahead of the daily release. In my mind, I only need to publish a story a day, not write a single story a day. If I had a few waiting in the wings, then I could give them more time to develop before I sent them out. This would give me time to think about the metaphors and images, as well as the themes and language and make them stronger.

First I need to get there.

At the moment, I only have one story in me a day, but I’d like to change that. I’d like to develop some longer form, serialized pieces that I could extend over a few days or weeks, or build a content calendar for themed stories around specific days.

But for now, my attention continues to be about making this a habit. I’m at almost two weeks, and soon hope to make it a month. The more consistent I become, the easier it will be to test new ideas as the writing continues.

David Gane Twitter

Co-writer of the Shepherd and Wolfe young adult mysteries, the internationally award-winning series, and teacher of storytelling and screenwriting.