Category Archives: Story Arc

The Red Pen: Stating the Obvious that Obviously Needs Stating

I’ve been wearing my editor hat again the last couple weeks, working with someone’s raw manuscript that is pending rewrite for resubmission. For confidentiality reasons, I apologize that I can’t be more specific than I am. What follows below are merely some overarching concerns that a rookie can easily overlook (hey, I’m one, too!) and sometimes get the Monkey’s head beating against the trunk of its tree:

1. Research – They say, “Write what you know,” but one doesn’t have to live in a place or serve in a certain profession, for example, to be able to research authentic details relating to such. Writing fiction doesn’t give the liberty to entirely fabricate a place or occupation if it’s one that actually exists. The internet is a beautiful place for research, as are books, site visits, and interviews with people in the applicable locations/fields. Be knowledgeable of your story’s setting and subjects and use common sense to discern what claims need to be fact-checked, then verify them accordingly. (see also “Settingcategory)

2. Narrative – Do NOT “tell” versus “show”! That is Writing 101. Your story shouldn’t read like an extended synopsis that lists events rather than describes them in such a way that immerses the reader. Don’t say that your character is making a facial expression that looks angry, show that his brows are furrowed and lips screwed into a menacing sneer. Don’t say that the room is filled with expensive-looking furniture, show that it’s cluttered with ornately carved oak chairs upholstered in embroidered silk astride side-tables trimmed in gold leaf (I don’t know if that’s “expensive” or just tacky…). And don’t say something in dialogue that you then paraphrase in narrative—communicate the info/insight one way or the other; to do both is redundant.

Also, avoid an abundance of character introspection. Readers really don’t need to know every single thought and motivation of your character. Make them privy, yes, if it’s from a certain character’s POV, but it’s also more interesting and vivid to visualize if you concisely show their body language and actions and let the reader reasonably infer some of what they’re thinking or feeling. Telling all on characters and the labyrinth of questioning they’re wondering their way through is tedious and doesn’t let readers form questions of their own that’ll make them keep reading in search of answers. Leaving something to the imagination not only indulges one of the joys of reading but can heighten a story’s sense of conflict and climax when the reader isn’t already in the know of everything. (see alsoDescriptive LanguageandSensory Detailscategories)

3. Dialogue. In keeping with the above, character conversation can come across as unnatural when too much information is shared by this means. Be subtle when doling out back-story or insight via dialogue, otherwise it’s blunt and awkward: your manipulations of story become too transparent, and the characters don’t sound like real people. (see alsoDialoguecategory)

4. Characterization. The above narration/dialogue factors are just as important to building a strong sense of character. Do your characters sound believable? Are you showing enough description of features, mannerisms, and personality such that your reader can visualize your characters (yet not so much that you’re telling readers everything about them and leaving nothing to the imagination)? And are you giving your reader reason to remotely care about them and whether or not they reach their goals? Without any of this, characters aren’t even two dimensional; they’re stick-straight lines. Boring. Flesh ’em out and make them more interesting with flaws if they seem too goodie-goodie or benign—or with redeeming qualities if they’re otherwise the Devil incarnate. No one likes a purely good hero or a purely evil villain. (see alsoCharactercategory)

5. Story Arc. Tensions need to rise as the story progresses. Not overly telling and giving everything away (as discussed above) will help contribute to this as readers speculate character motivations and future actions and reactions; scan and replace lengthy sections of introspection with concise, external descriptions of character body language/expression and leave readers to their own interpretations. Add complexity by interweaving relevant back-story and subplot(s). Foreshadowing is also a useful device for enhancing curiosity along the way as readers form predictions, but it will blow up in your face if the seeds you plant are too obvious! Don’t lead up to your big reveal only for your reader to go, “Uh, derr!” That reeks of anticlimax.

It’s not to say everything should be a surprise for the reader—it can be just as suspenseful when the reader already knows something the character doesn’t (like in horror movies when you know the killer is lurking right around the corner from the innocent victim), but only when it’s deliberately played to this effect. There’s a craft in pulling that off, so don’t think simply telling your reader everything and leaving your character in the dark is an easy shortcut—be discerning in what you share and withhold.

Your big revelations can likewise be a let-down if your characters’ own responses fall flat. Think about what you’re wanting your readers to anticipate, to get excited about, and make sure you deliver it in a commensurately enthusiastic fashion. If there’s a big secret out there that your reader knows and is dying for your character to find out, is the character finding out in an exciting and unexpected way? Or is, for instance, another character just explaining it in a straight-forward conversation, garnering a reaction as enthralling as, “Oh.” (see alsoStory Arccategory and, more specifically, Pacing Your Pages” Parts I & II)

6. Other: Plot Elements (in general). Map out all the major and minor elements of your plot and subplot(s) alike and make sure every piece of them flows/connects logically. Ensure not a single important question they could raise is left unanswered if it’s vital to understanding and believing in the story. Loose ends that leave something to the imagination or tease for a sequel are one thing, but overlooking major gaps in how a character got from Point A to Point B (just because you want them to get there for the sake of driving the story forward in other ways) undermines a story’s entire credibility. Don’t just say something happened if it’s not entirely logical for it to have happened and assume your readers won’t notice, that they’ll just take your word for it. If something is complicated whether you like it or not, do the work to figure it out; stop writing and start reasoning through it (via outline or time-line, perhaps). Do more research if it’s necessary. And if it’s not working, accept it and change it to something that will.

Readers’ disbelief can only be suspended so far; you have to earn their trust if they’re going to follow the journey you want to take them on. Even the most fantastical of story-worlds need plausibility (working within the rules/parameters the author so designs for those worlds if it’s not the one we actually live in), so the reader must understand how plot events feasibly come to happen and tie together for the story to be realistic and identifiable.

Speaking of “Uh, durr!” and “Oh,” that’s probably your reader-response to all of the above. But you’d be surprised what we writers can’t see in our own writing that we so clearly do in others. As the author, the mental full-picture we see tends to automatically fill the gaps of the written story that our readers otherwise trip into. With that in mind, never underestimate a pair of fresh eyes; it really does pay to have others read your work. So toughen that skin and git ‘er done! Constructive criticism has groomed the Monkey’s own fur into a nice thick and glossy coat. 🙂

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Happy Endings

Friday night: Curled up on the sofa in a state of despondency. So quiet and lackluster that my husband continually asks me what’s wrong. To which I *sigh* and say I’m fine, just wiped out after a few days of steadily revising manuscript #1…yet again. What I don’t proceed to say is that I think my ending continues to suck, and I don’t know how to fix it, and I can’t wrap my brain around it anymore, and I’m so sick of my manuscript, and all I wanna do is lie curled there and sip from my glass of red wine and watch TV to lose myself in other people’s stories until I drift to sleep.

Saturday afternoon: Husband comes into our second bedroom/office to check on me at the computer because, masochist that I am, I couldn’t stay away from dear ms #1 for long. I look at him, smile, and proceed to bounce in my loudly creaking chair over and over and over again in a way that surely makes the neighbors think we’re up to something naughty. They’re not entirely wrong, because I am at  this point climaxing and reveling in a satisfying ending. My manuscript’s ending. The first version of it I’ve ever been happy with as providing decent resolution. My mind was massaged and able to get off in the end…it almost needed to smoke a cigarette afterward.

Sunday morning: I tweak a bit more at the ending and review how it follows after the climax (a bit tricky, this, as working with two narrative threads has kinda resulted in a climax-within-a-climax…I have zero clue if I’m handling it right, but it feels appropriate). And I realize that for all the work I just put into it, the revision of this ending wasn’t even a rewrite at all! Honestly, it was done through mainly structural changes in which I pulled earlier scenes (that worked better as falling versus rising action) and inserted them into the last couple chapters. It’s hard to explain how it works, but O-M-freaking-G it does!

One of my issues with story arc was an overly quick resolution. It wasn’t “satisfying” and failed to clarify what the heck had actually happened during the climax. This was a pure product of me thinking I’d be so clever and not hand-hold my readers through anything, make them work it out themselves and leave it fairly open-ended so the readers can do the work there, too, and form their own conclusions of what happens next…basically, make them do my job because I think I was honestly too tapped (or lazy) to figure it out myself. 🙂

Well, that’s fine and all, but when it comes down to it, I’ve learned we do need to throw readers an occasional bone. In my previous post on marketability, I’d mentioned the strategies I’d try to make my work more commercially viable but had come to realize: “Is that writing commercially exactly or just better?!” Writing in a way readers can understand and enjoy is not commercial. Writing a well-resolved, satisfying ending isn’t selling out. “Satisfying” doesn’t have mean “happily ever after” or that every single loose end is tied up and explained in full. No, we don’t have to dumb everything down so readers are not only hand-held but pushed along in an adult-sized stroller and spoon-fed a purée of the unthinking obvious—and that’s not me being a snob as a writer; that’s me being a snob as a reader who finds stories like that mind-numbingly dull if not insulting. Resolutions should be like “a flick of the wrist,” I’ve been told, so I think it’s left to the writer’s  judgment which matters can be wrapped up concisely, which developed a bit more, and which left to the reader’s imagination. I think a healthy mix of all of the above can be satisfying indeed for any novel.

I’m not saying I’ve written the perfect ending. It might not be satisfying yet to someone else or even to myself in a few days. It might go through dozens more face-lifts. But what I am saying is that the towel has been flicked at my arse, waking me up to the fact that the ending in my head wasn’t on the page, and mind-reading psychics aren’t necessarily my target demographic that would maybe make that okay. This is not only my story; it’s for future readers, so I need to be less selfish with what I share of it. And such is the moral at the end of this story. 🙂

How about YOU? What issues (if any) with your endings need some massaging out?


Pacing Your Pages – Part II

Playing the "Time Lord" is no matter to horse around with.

After surely leaving you in suspense all week with the dramatic hook at the end of my last post, “Pacing Your Pages – Part I,” I bring you the thrilling conclusion of the joke:

A horse walks into a bar, and the bartender says

“WHY THE LONG FACE?”

Boddum-bum. *ching!*

Right. To get back on topic, last time I introduced the first part of author Julie Cohen‘s workshop on Pacing. She’d explained how we’re the “Time Lords” over our readers’ experience with our novel—how engaged they are and how quickly they move through it. We’ve already been over analyzing our use of conflicts, functions, hooks, and variety, so moving onward today…

Keeping secrets is another tool for creating a page-turning novel. As Cohen said:

“Readers are nosy.”

As the writer, we can choose to either keep a secret from the reader or let them in on one that’s kept from a character. However you approach it, try to keep that secret for as long as you can, as wanting to find out what it is (or see the character do so) is what will prompt readers to keep reading. That being said, know when to let it go, even if it’s earlier than you’d want to if it means not distracting or overly teasing the reader. You want them intrigued, not annoyed.

And just when we’ve been talking about how to pick up the pace of your novel, just as important is slowing down. Moments warranting a slow-down are dramatic events, sudden happenings, and emotional high points that we might want to prolong for their significance and to allow the reader to process them. Strategies for expanding on reader time include adding section breaks, changing point-of-view, and leaving an incident for a chapter before returning to it later.

Then there’s the matter of speeding up. If you want to get things rolling a little faster, avoid coffee-drinking scenes and the like with characters just sitting around and gabbing if it’s not moving the story forward, along with description for its own sake. Establishing atmosphere and such can be better achieved through a few concise, well-selected descriptions than rambling on over every detail of everything appearing in a scene—and remember your R.U.E.: Resist the Urge to Explain! Other areas to cut include naturalistic but unneeded dialogue, bits that aren’t hooks at the beginning and end of scenes, and things necessary to real life but not fiction (think going to the bathroom or getting from one side of the room to the other).

Where making these cuts are concerned, Cohen says:

“If you have a sneaking suspicion something shouldn’t be in there, cut it.”

We new writers hear this advice at every turn. That’s because it’s essential, but it doesn’t have to be painful. Looking on the bright side of cutting things out, we can: 1) accept that we’ve learned something from writing it; and, 2) use it again somehow…perhaps in another story, as a “free read” on your website or blog as a means of drawing readership, or, quite possibly, it might even have to be stuck back in the story it originally came from! Cohen herself had this experience—she’d cut a scene out by her own choice, but when her editor later suggested that that part of the story was lacking a certain something, the bit that she’d cut was exactly the solution!

Finally, I’d mentioned her color-coding system before for determining the appearance and interplay of conflict throughout a manuscript. She likewise closed her session with a similar method for outlining other aspects of plot. Basically, however you’d like to slice and dice it, assign each plot element a color (e.g., interaction between hero and heroine, interaction between hero and his mother, etc.) and jot it on a Post-It note. Then go chapter by chapter and apply the Post-Its to a sheet of paper for each to see your story’s development. This isn’t so much for outlining in advance as it is a post-draft diagnostic tool.

* To see a photo of this strategy and read Cohen’s own description of it, see her blog post, “Post-It Plotting“:
http://www.julie-cohen.com/blog/2010/09/17/post-it-plotting/

What pacing strategies have worked for you? Would you give any of these from Part I or II a go?


The Red Pen: Editing Another’s Manuscript – Part II

Hello again! Just accommodating the overspill from yesterday’s post, as I yet wanted to address developmental edits on my first manuscript assignment in this capacity. Again, I can’t share any comments that would give away plot/character specifics, and I’m obviously not including the little microediting minutiae here (like reworking sentence structures), but what I am doing is grabbing the meatier highlights of what I found to be the most prevalent issues in the hope it helps reinforce what to check for in your own manuscript as it did for mine.

So to speak on a macroediting level today, this author’s main focus now as she makes her edits (due back to me later this month) needs to be on her ending. We’ve talked story arc before, and a scene after a critical moment of rising action in a later chapter seemed to drag out too long as the reader nears the story’s climax, for which I noted:

[…] I’m not suggesting cutting these parts out, as they serve a purpose in the story and provide important information. Yet perhaps if they’re condensed a bit the pacing could keep flowing toward that climax. What’s key is to determine what you perceive as this story’s pinnacle and make sure everything is building up and up to that, keeping the reader compelled and not bogged down in too much talk or description that tends to flatten out the story’s trajectory when it should be climbing. Dialogue can be [tightened], limiting it to what keeps moving [the characters] and the reader forward.

And whereas that section seemed to drag on too long, the last chapter forced too much into too short a space in seeking a complete resolution. This is a romance novel, so that resolution naturally involves the two main characters attaining closure on where their relationship stands:

Hm, this sounds like a lot to load onto [him] all of a sudden […] when they’re only just working out whether they’ll stay together. I know in assessing that they may as well get all the big deal-breaker topics out of the way, but it still seems like a lot at once. Could she possibly just reference [her wants] in such a way that’s meant to show [him] she’s in for the long-haul with [him], too, in the spirit of taking it one step at a time?

And with romance novels, there’s always the risk of confusing “romance” with “sex,” so when the latter comes up (“up,” quite literally) right at the end and after a sweet moment of sentiment, I suggested:

Hm, seems to undermine the sincerity of the emotion. Maybe [this] can just be coinciding with his revelations of love for her, helping to unleash these realizations rather than being the way he chooses to show her his love after the fact (it’s a little caveman). Some description of her engagement with it might help as well to show this love as something they share in both the emotional and physical sense.

I expressed this merely as my reader’s POV, and not as a prude or a feminist. There’s a way sex can be written romantically, but this just wasn’t it, and I think the author agrees that the resolution can take a less easy, but higher road out.

Another item on the agenda is character development, and, in this work, I felt the two main characters were developed fully. I genuinely liked them and, from the romance aspect, really wanted them to get together—they made sense as a couple. Most importantly, I believed in them—they felt real, through their dialogue, actions, back-stories, chemistry, etc., and that’s all to the credit of this writer and her keen insights into people and engaging writing style. Where I did encounter some mixed feelings concerned the female protagonist and her ex-lover, a secondary character who is integral to the plot and the protagonist’s growth, yet himself appears very rarely in the story. Even so, his development felt too one-dimensional to me:

He is just so vile, and this makes perfect sense given his animosity toward [her revenge] and that he’s just a bad fit for her. What it leaves me wondering, though, is what it was about him that she used to care for. While I can see her insecurities leading her to choose the wrong men, [she] also has too much substance to go for someone with zero redeeming qualities beyond the materialistic.

Not that this would have to be developed in depth, but consider such opportunities where she’s [already] reflecting on him to somewhere incorporate (even just a sentence or two) the appeal he did once have for her, even if it only ended up being fake or that he changed.

In this case, the secondary character’s lack of believability could impact the protagonist’s, so this was a strongly suggested change to preserve consistency in her character—and, even better, it’s a quick, easy fix. Likewise with the following case where the protagonist still seemed to pine over her ex during the final scene with her new love:

From the way you’ve depicted him, I’m highly doubting [her ex-lover] would ever want [what she claims here], so I don’t see this as being the issue with him that would come to light at this point. I’m actually surprised that she’d be talking about him at all right now and getting choked up in residual emotion over it – [there was] sufficient enough closure [earlier]. Plus, she just [made several  grand gestures to win her new lover]—she’s all about [that guy] right now, and it doesn’t seem appropriate for her to bring up old flames in this intimate setting. […] Her not reflecting on him as anything that ever mattered would be a most convincing way of [showing her growth].

But that’s my take on it, which is why I label this as a “suggested” change, albeit a very strongly suggested one because I felt disappointed in [her] when she started saying all this.

And this last comment shows how I do try to approach my edits of another’s work delicately, keeping ultimate stylistic/plot control with the author while also trying to earn trust in my feedback. It’s very easy for all of us to get protective of our writing, but if we really want it to become its best, we need to consider reader response seriously. (Tahlia Newland addresses this fact and several other awesome tips on ms revision in her recent Lethal Inheritance post on how to know when your manuscript is ready.) And as I learned in teaching, the key with feedback is balancing the positive with the constructive so a writer isn’t feeling like there’s nothing of merit in his/her work; be honest, but preserve some pluck for carrying out those revisions effectively!

How about you? Have you ever had to edit someone else’s writing? How did it help you with your own?


The Manuscript Manicure – Part II: Micro-Editing

All-righty, finally back with my next installment on editing a manuscript (refer to Part I if you missed it). Once again, this is all thanks to the ladies at Room to Write for sharing insights that might be new to you or least validating of what you already know. Nothing compares to that face-to-face conversation, but I love the interaction that occurs between writers online via blogs. As they said at the workshop, there is so much to be learned beyond our own work, after all—it’s as important to listen to and learn from the projects and experiences of others.

It also teaches us to peel back our skin and not be overly protective of our work. I had to laugh when author Wendy Robertson spoke on all the emotional loading that goes into the critique when we offer it to others for feedback; she said something to the effect that when we give our work to someone else:

“You’re giving your critiquer the power to upset you.”

Ain’t it the truth. Perhaps this is why when I sent the full edit of my first assigned manuscript to its author this afternoon, I cushioned my email with empathy and compliments of everything that was done well, hoping she’ll receive my suggestions for improvement in stride and be willing to work with me constructively.

Anyway, when it comes editing for ourselves, remember that we must become self-conscious of who we are as a writer and what it is we want to achieve. To do that best, we need to identify our style and describe it in a few words. If you read 50 pages of your own novel, what comes across on the page? Is your style spare, lyrical, conversational, whimsical, direct, abstract (to offer a few), or combination of more than one?

We are now shifting from macro-editingto micro-editing and need to explore our style in relation to our content:

– I mentioned the “shape” of the novel last time, which relates to your story arc. This might continually ascend like a surging wave or start thin (yet interesting) and thicken in density to an explosive climax—Wendy likened this to the body of a whale, with the tail being the interesting opening and the blow-hole the climax. Or maybe your chapters are individual stories unto themselves that link together in some way to provide continuity and relevance, like a chain with a large loop toward the end where this progression culminates into the climax (Blackbird House is an example of this shape).

Shapes can vary, but there should always be conflict (tension), climax (crisis), surprise and revelation. And from a micro-editing standpoint, this needs to apply to each of your individual chapters as well.

– Speaking of chapters, as mentioned last time, ensure there’s continuity between them, yes, but also within them on a paragraph-to-paragraph, sentence-to-sentence level.

– With continuity maintaining our story’s consistency and logical progression, we must also make sure the words and sentences flow. This concerns the musicality of the language itself, and the best way to determine this is to read it aloud so you hear it.

– Your musicality and style will be greatly impacted by your sentence construction, so evaluate your writing on a sentence-by-sentence level. Is the syntax effective? Does it flow? Does it make sense? It’s important to ensure you’re applying correct grammatical conventions through punctuation and arrangement of clauses. Use commas, semicolons, and colons for sentence variety and make sure they’re used correctly.

Of course, creative writing allows for creative departure from conventions as well, but make sure that if you do deviate from the rules, there’s a specific purpose for it that strengthens what you’re trying to say. If it’s not producing the intended effect, revisit it and, all else fails, run with the convention rather than muddle your ideas in unclear writing.

– The language you use is the building block for everything, so you need to evaluate your writing on a word-by-word level as well. Make every word count, the strongest choice it could be (English in particular is too word-rich to not take advantage of it!). And obviously don’t allow excessive repetition, incorrect/inappropriate use, or incorrect spelling distract and otherwise undermine your writing.

– The “look” of the page is important as well, so ensure ample inclusion of “white space” now and then to allow your reader’s eyes to “breathe.” This is usually achieved through dialogue that isn’t overly bogged down in paragraphs of description. Section breaks provide white space as well to help accentuate shifts in time/setting.

And if you’re cutting down for word count or tightening, rather than prune on a word/phrase level, they seemed to opt for removing whole chunks, if not lifting an entire chapter to see if the story even misses it. I would suffer some major separation anxiety in that case, but I know some of you have said in your blogs that you’ve done it and lived to tell the tale. And it might not be a matter of ridding of it entirely. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying:

“Don’t throw your babies out with the bathwater.”

Well, they warned us of this as well, and it’s actually why they cautioned not to overly prune on a word/phrase level—making our sentences sparser could deprive the story of some of its joy! And even lifting an entire chapter may just be a structural change by which you drop it into a different place in your manuscript. (Now that I have done, and it works so much better!) At any rate, they said:

“If you kill your darlings, don’t put them in the bin—save them for something else!”

Another novel, a short story, a poem, who knows?!

All right, folks, if I haven’t successfully made your eyeballs roll out with all this reading by now, keep them sucked into those sockets—I’ll be back with a little bit on what they had to say about manuscript formatting, publishers, and self-promotion.

PART I Macro-editing

PART III – Submitting a Manuscript

PART IV – On Publishers & Publicizing


The Manuscript Manicure – Part I: Macro-Editing

Hiya! I’m back to redeem that I.O.U. I gave you last week. See, my word’s good as gold ;)…

As I mentioned, I attended a writing workshop with Room to Write over the weekend that was geared toward prepping a novel manuscript for submission. The full-day conference was divided into two primary parts—Editing and Publication—the first of which I’ll address in part now and break the rest down into separate posts. But, first, I’ll start with some general notes I jotted along the way to get us in the proper mindset:

One thing they stressed is that, above all:

“Editing is a creative process.”

Yes, it involves the nitty-gritty technical stuff, but we’re not merely playing the role of English teacher grading for grammar with red pen in hand—revising our work requires every bit of imagination and innovative thought as writing our initial draft does. For as they said, when the first draft is finished:

“You’re only just beginning.”

Ah yes, it does feel that way doesn’t it…my question is, when the hell does it end???

Anyway, in order to become our own editor, we have to become a “self-conscious” one. No, not as in insecurity-ridden—I think I’ve already mastered that one just fine :). What they mean is to be conscious of the kind of writer we are and the audience we’re writing for. The better aware we are of this, the better  we’ll be able to edit our work with this focus in mind.

Macro-editing is concerned with the overall  novel as a cohesive work. It’s our opportunity to step back from our first draft and contemplate whether it has achieved what we wanted it to and is structured effectively. They encouraged us to print a hardcopy of the manuscript to initiate this stage, as reading your words on the page is truly a different experience from reading them on screen. (I wouldn’t have expected this, but wow. There’s so much more that I catch with that ms in hand.) You will also want to list your themes, summarize your entire book in three sentences, and keep these with you as you journey back through your text to ensure you aren’t straying from any critical elements.

Key aspects your self-conscious-editing self should look for (not only in the novel as a whole, but in every chapter and scene as well) are:

– A compelling beginning, a hook that makes the reader want to continue. The first chapter in particular should be compelling in an action sense, but also in a literary way—it needs to be beautifully written. Subsequent chapters likewise need their own hooks and should be varied in how they start (i.e., beginning with dialogue, beginning in the middle of action, etc.)

– Action, drama, or “trouble,” as they called it.

– Appropriate pacing.

Three-dimensional characters that are brought to life and desire something;

— Characters are “thinly veiled versions of the writer” (sound familiar?), but we must immediately establish distinction between them and from ourselves if they are to appear as separate people; if they’re all clones of us, then they’re clones of each other.
— If you can “see” the character in your mind (consider gathering clippings from magazines and such for reference), then they will come across on the page.
– Provide physical descriptions of your three main characters, enough to help visualize their traits, but not full-bodied detail. Leave something to your readers’ imagination.
— Characters should be consistent from start to finish (i.e., if you reveal or yourself learn something new about them later in the novel, are these traits present at the beginning as well? If not, try to introduce them at least subtly).
— We should see growth in the main character.

– Clear sense of when and where each scene partakes.

– Long sections of description/exposition that could be cut.

Changing up the writing between exposition, narrative, and dialogue.

– A sense of atmosphere and appeal to the senses that lends texture.

– Something in each chapter that surprises the reader.

Continuity between scenes and chapters; ensure nothing is missing.

– Evaluate the “shape” of your novel/chapter in terms of story arc. Shapes can vary, but there should in general be a rising sense of action/conflict until the climax, then a dip toward resolution (so check for any sagging in the middle).

– Evaluate the ending and ensure a sense of resolution. They advised us to look at six novels we personally enjoy and look at their endings as a guide for managing this successfully. They also admitted that, in the interest of keeping your ending brief (the resolution should just be a “flick” after the climax) as well as ensuring your reader understands what has happened, the resolution may indeed warrant more telling than showing.

Throughout your macro-editing assessment, then, you will want to sit back and assess whether this is the story you wanted to write in the first place. I suppose it doesn’t hurt if ends up morphing into something even cooler than you thought it could be, but if it seems to fall short in some way, pinpoint where it diverges and contemplate how to get it back on track. Another very important point to consider outside of yourself is if it is the story your reader will want to read—how will they experience it?

I’d better cut this off here until my next installment. Many thanks to author Avril Joy for guiding us through this session of the workshop! More to come…

PART II Micro-editing

PART III – Submitting a Manuscript

PART IV – On Publishers & Publicizing


The Soundscape of a Novel

“The making of a good compilation tape is a very subtle art…First of all, you’re using someone else’s poetry to express how you feel.  This is a delicate thing.” —High Fidelity


*sigh*…the Mix Tape.  How I remember practicing that delicate art in high school and college…mostly, I made tapes for myself (hey, you have to love yourself before you can love someone else :)), but I can think of at least one I made for a boy…*blush*. I didn’t need to read or see High Fidelity first to innately understand the delicacy in balancing out those tracks—it’s a lot like writing, really, in that you need to start out with an attention-getter and then try to avoid redundancy in carefully pacing yourself through the highs and lows of fast and slow. The words should carry meaning, and you need to establish mood and tone.

But I didn’t necessarily adhere to all those rules this time.

You see, as I try to hold my anxiety at bay while the last 15,000 words of my manuscript rest in my trusted Reader’s hands for review and feedback, I’ve been playing around with giving my novel a soundtrack, as inspired by the Milk Fever Blog post, “The Soundtrack.” The preliminary playlist that I’ve compiled is in order of story progression, not the sacred aesthetic rules of the Mix Tape as referenced above. Basically, I thought through the themes and atmosphere of my key scenes, as well as any songs specifically referenced in the text, and have listed the songs as these elements appear.  Though humor keeps some of my scenes relatively light, needless to say my protagonist undergoes some pretty crazy stuff that just doesn’t warrant many feel-good tunes.

At any rate, I bring you “Monkey Manuscript: The Musical”—ta da!  You can access this first-pass playlist for my as-yet-untitled manuscript online by clicking the image (a painting I only just stumbled on today that is strikingly in keeping with my tale’s motifs, so would make ideal cover art). Titles and artists are also listed below:

 

"Ophelia," by Leah Piken Kolidas (www.bluetreeartgallery.com)

 

The “Untitled” Soundtrack:

The Ghost in You – Pscychedelic Furs

We Are All Made of Stars – Moby

Charlotte Sometimes – The Cure

Dreams Never End – New Order

The Fear – Lily Allen

Goody Two Shoes – Adam Ant

10:15 Saturday Night – The Cure

Cemetry Gates – The Smiths

Peace and Hate – The Submarines

Sexy Boy – Air

Dead Souls – Joy Division

Shiver – Coldplay

Start to Melt – Peter Bjorn and John

She’s Lost Control – Joy Division

Where is My Mind? – The Pixies

All Cats Are Grey – The Cure

Black Mirror – Arcade Fire

Cold Hands (Warm Heart) – Brendan Benson

Quick, Painless and Easy – Ivy

Last Goodbye – Jeff Buckley

Slow Life – Grizzly Bear

Edge of the Ocean – Ivy


Fraying at the End

Ah, yes, that Family Guy clip makes me laugh and want to cry at the same time…little Stewie may as well be prodding me over how it’s been over a year and a half since I started my manuscript.  And that’s when I actually started writing it; the idea had come to me a couple years before that, in the form of random scribblings on the pages of my journal or Starbucks napkins and envelopes…and the more I read about other writers’ processes, the more universal that mode of transcription appears to be—I see us all just dwelling in these rooms with Post-Its and index cards and newspaper scraps thumb-tacked to the wall and strung together with yarn, the map room in the midst of a warzone where our batty, “Beautiful Minds” strategize…

That digression aside, I’m seriously having issues pulling it all together right now.  I haven’t even been able to follow the advice I shared in “The Beginning of the End,” back in March…yeesh.  And why, when the journey has already been so long and is so close to its end destination?

Because there is very good reason for that initial voyage to require some time.  Unlike what many tend to perceive, writing is a lot of work, not merely something one just dashes off in a burst of inspiration as one’s Muse sings softly in one ear as Her sister strokes a harp into the other, with the brooding writer sequestered in a candlelit garret, feverishly scribbling with ink-stained fingers—films like Becoming Jane or Shakespeare in Love would have you believe even a masterpiece can be penned overnight.  Not that I’m remotely considering myself in the ranks of Jane Austen or William Shakespeare simply by virtue of taking a stab at this writing thang, but I can’t keep psyching myself out with how much I’m not them either, or I’ll utterly paralyze myself.

You know what helps with that, though?  Empathy.  Lua Fowles, for instance, shares her experience grappling with “The Fear of the First Draft” in her Like a Bowl of Oranges blog.  And if it isn’t the fear that can slow you down, it’s the procrastination—Eva, author of the Write in Berlin blog, shares a few surefire tips on how to do so in “The Art of Avoiding to Write.”  Even when you do find your groove, there is a process to it, a method underlying all that madness that ensures the narrative is structured and worded effectively—I love author Wendy Robertson’s take on her own process in “The Joys of Cranking the Engine of a Novel” in her A Life Twice Tasted Blog (she’s one of the gracious and encouraging facilitators of the Room to Write workshop I attended in Spring).

And even when a writer does finish that first draft, the pilgrimage is far from over.  Never mind the elusive quest of getting published, the revision alone is going to be another prolonging factor.  Some revise as they go along, others leave the bulk of it for the end; regardless, it’s yet more process to undertake, and that requires some time, people.  Again, empathy to the rescue!—see Lua once more in “Editing 1 (oh no) 1” and Agatha’s appropriate analogy in “Digging in the Dirt” from her Here Be Dragons blog.  I personally am one of those who revises along the way, so my constant backtracking is another reason for delay.

Whatever excuses I can arguably throw out there to defend why it’s taking me so long to finish writing this book, the brutally honest truth about it is that the story has gone quiet in my head.  I’ve sat, and I’ve written.  But whereas before I was satisfied and moved forward, now I only go back and delete and rewrite and delete and think and re-envision and write and delete…never seeming to get it right.  What I write these days feels artificially imposed on my characters, you see, because I don’t seem to see them or hear them anymore.  No kidding, I almost feel abandoned…and melancholy, as I didn’t get the proper chance to say goodbye.  So what sort of cerebral seance could I conduct to summon their spirits back to my consciousness?  How can I get them back?

Maybe it’s because the story really is ready to end, and this is its way of telling me.

Or, egad!  Maybe the story already ended within its alternative universe, and I failed to write it down in time!

Maybe it’s only because I’ve been tending to it lately in fits and starts and need to more fully immerse myself back into its world.

Maybe it’s because after stringing those varying colors of yarn all around the walls, I now sincerely have no idea where to take those loose ends, which to tie up neatly in bows and which to continue on out the window and into the sunset on their own happy trails unbenownst to any of us.  Seriously, maybe I’ve over-thought myself into a rut and simply don’t know how to end it.

Maybe the Muses have stopped singing for me.

Or maybe, just maybe, I’m not ready for it to end…

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“I’m a novelist; I’m never going to finish the book.”  – James, Sliding Doors


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