Waiting for "The Call"

“Honey, it’s always crap. Every book I write is crap. It’s my job to fix the crap afterwards,” according to Nora Roberts. Well, I've got it half right. Still working on the "fixing it" part. "Trust your characters to be complex enough and to have enough emotional baggage. Force them to make hard choices." Advice from Michelle Styles that might help!

Rewrites and backstory February 5, 2011

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 11:45 pm
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I’m just about ready to start on my rewrites of Cady and Lock’s story. This is the story aimed that SuperRomance that I had a rejection for in December. Megan wrote-

“the plot relies too heavily on external forces and secondary characters to bring Cady and Lock together.
Everything that happens comes about because of actions taken by other people, not from any decision made by the hero and heroine. For this story to be successful, we’d need to see the characters be more proactive in their lives and their relationship instead of simply reacting to the other people around them.”

So I looked at ways to make the characters more goal driven, more proactive, and give them far higher stakes. I’ve spent the past week planning the story, trying to get good strong conflicts and character arcs.

The good news is, I think I have a handle on it. I feel like I really know the characters now. I hope I’ve made their conflict strong and believable. Apart from the inciting incident not externally driven at all. Cady and Lock are the ones making things happen. The structure seems solid. I have a plan that it virtually a synopsis, focused on their emotional growth and change and how this affects the relationship, not just a list of what happens.

The bad news is, there’s very little in the original first draft I can use. It was all discovery draft.

 *sigh* This is going to be a long process.

It feels as if I’m really starting from scratch again, except I’m not. I know the characters well, I know their backstories, I know why and how they hook into each other’s deepest internal issues. I know the things that get in the way of them having a relationship. I just hope I can write it!

Thinking of backstory, I read this excellent article today, especially relevent for me as my first draft is just loaded with backstory in internal monologue. One of the hazards of knowing my characters well, and them having a history together, which I know has to get the chop. I hope I’ll be brave enough to use his method to eradicate any remaining infodump when I edit up the next draft!

Presuppositions

One of the biggest problems I see in fiction manuscripts is a big glop of backstory in the first two or three chapters of the novel.

Every novelist who has ever committed this sin justifies himself by claiming that the backstory is necessary because otherwise the reader won’t know what’s going on.

This isn’t true. Readers don’t read your novel for your marvelous backstory. They read it to get immersed in your main story. Once you get them hooked on the story, they’ll begin to get interested in the backstory and u can start feeding it to them in small doses.

You may be thinking, “That’s great advice for everybody else, but I’m different. My story is different. My readers HAVE to know my backstory.”

The answer is yes, but.

Yes, you’re different. Yes, your story is different.

But your reader really doesn’t care that 35 years ago your main character Luke got beat up every day in kindergarten.

Your reader cares that RIGHT NOW Luke is peering through the sights of a sniper rifle. Which happens to be trained on the head of the state governor. Who happens to be 40 years old. Who happens to be a bully. Who happens to have gone to kindergarten with Luke.

NOW your reader cares just a wee bit about what happened way back when. But your reader still cares a whole lot more about Luke’s trigger finger than about his horrible childhood.

It’s true that your reader is going to need to know a little about your backstory. How do you provide that without losing momentum in your frontstory?

One way to do that is by inserting “presuppositions” into your sentences.

And just what exactly is a “presupposition?”

Loosely speaking, a presupposition is a statement that is implied by a sentence. If the cop asks, “Have you quit beating your wife?” there’s a presupposition that in the past you beat your wife.

A classic example of how presuppositions work in language is the following sentence, which Bertrand Russell analyzed many years ago:

“The present King of France is bald.”

Is the above sentence true or false?

Since France is a republic, there is no present King of France, so the sentence can hardly be true.

But is it false? If it were false, would it be true that the present King of France has a full head of hair?

Obviously not. Russell pointed out that this sentence carries along with it some unspoken presuppositions:
* France has at least one king
* France has no more than one king

When you say that the King of France is bald, you are also implicitly asserting these presuppositions, and the combination of the three statements is false because they aren’t all true.

Some people would say that it’s simply meaningless to say “The present King of France is bald.”

But if you were watching a movie set in 1753 France, and if one of the actors said, “The King of France is bald,” everybody would know exactly what he meant.

Context matters. Presuppositions imply context. And another word for “context” is “backstory.”

Now here’s the point for fiction writers. Many of the sentences you write in your novel carry along with them certain presuppositions. When your reader reads your work, she unconsciously analyzes those presuppositions and makes conclusions about your Storyworld and the backstories of your characters.

When Han Solo brags about his ship in the original STAR WARS movie, for example, he says, “You’ve never heard of the Millennium Falcon? It’s the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs.”

Here are some presuppositions which are implicit in this line:
* The Millennium Falcon is famous
* The Kessel Run is long or treacherous or both
* A parsec is a unit of time
* Twelve parsecs is an excellent time for the Kessel Run

Notice that these presuppositions may be false (parsecs are units of distance) but they still tell us something about Han Solo and the world he lives in. Solo is not only egotistical, but he’s also sloppy in his use of language.

Writers constantly try to explain too much. This is true for the greenest novices and the most advanced experts, and it provides unending employment for editors, who earn their keep by scrawling “Resist the Urge to Explain” in the margins.

How do you fix things when you’re explaining too much?

The first step is to cut out the backstory. (Don’t throw it away. Save it to another document so you’ll have a record of it. Then delete it from your main story. Yes, all of it.)

The second step is to look for those places in your story that are now confusing to your reader because she lacks some essential context — some piece of backstory. Insert ONLY the fragment of backstory that your reader needs in order to make sense of the story.

One way to do that is to imply a chunk of backstory by rewriting a frontstory sentence so that it now contains a few well-chosen presuppositions.

Your reader is smart. When she reads a sentence that carries presuppositions, she immediately assumes these presuppositions are true and are part of your backstory. If she knows or learns that these presuppositions aren’t actually true, then she concludes that your character is unreliable.

We’ve already seen how George Lucas used a few presuppositions to characterize Han Solo. Let’s look at a couple of examples of how other writers have done it.

Here’s the beginning paragraph of a scene in ENDER’S GAME by Orson Scott Card, in which we meet Ender Wiggin:

The monitor lady smiled very nicely and tousled his hair and said, “Andrew, I suppose by now you’re just absolutely sick of that horrid monitor. Well I have good news for you. That monitor is going to come out today. We’re going to take it right out, and it won’t hurt a bit.”
This only makes sense if the following presuppositions are true:
* Ender is a fairly young boy
* He’s had a monitor installed for quite a long time
* The monitor is unpleasant to wear
* Ender has had some painful medical procedures before
* Monitors are managed by a bureaucracy

We can also deduce from all of these that the story is set in the future.

Card could have told us all those things and a whole lot more about the history of monitors and why they’re necessary and thereby slowed down the story. Instead, he let us figure out only what we need to know right now. With presuppositions.
Here’s an example from the opening two paragraphs of THE KEY TO REBECCA, by Ken Follett:

The last camel collapsed at noon.

It was the five-year-old white bull he had bought in Gialo, the youngest and strongest of the three beasts, and the least ill-tempered: he liked the animal as much as a man could like a camel, which is to say that he hated it only a little.
The first paragraph carries with it this presupposition:
* More than one camel has died already

The second paragraph has these presuppositions:
* The owner of the camel is a lone man
* He is no longer in Gialo
* He is familiar with camels

We can also deduce that the owner of the camel is making a long and dangerous journey across the desert. This isn’t a presupposition, but it follows pretty readily from the presuppositions and from the first sentence.

Presuppositions are useful because they let you say more with fewer words. That is a worthy goal for any novelist.
 
If you’d like to see some more examples of how presuppositions work, check out the Wikipedia article here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presuppositions

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 24,000 readers, every month. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit http://www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.

Download your free Special Report on Tiger Marketing and get a free 5-Day Course in How To Publish a Novel.

Another blog I’ve been reading  a lot this week is one Janet commented about- Plot to Punctuation. I liked this series on Revising Character in particular, and his stuff on character arc is very good.

 

Post SYTYCW rejection update February 1, 2011

One of my critique partners Chelsea  just got a request for a full from Blaze for her So You Think You Can Write entry! Am squeefully dancing around the room for her!

I got over my poutiness pretty fast over the form rejection for mine. A girl’s gotta grieve, but the trick is to feel it deeply and fully, but not let it go on too long.  Truth is, what I sent in wasn’t very good. But I can console myself that I subbed it to the wrong line, and that’s why it got the R. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it! Well, that and the fact that the story needs to be approached completely differently. I got straight back on the horse, anyway, and if I had to use little mental tricks like that then so be it!

I’ve decided to let that story rest for now,  then come back to it later in the year. I’m currently in chapter 7, and I know some of what I did wrong. I wasn’t letting the story be what it needed to be. I wanted to sub it as a category romance, so I forced events into it that just didn’t fit – like making the hero appear as early as possible in chapter one. The more I write, the more I’m realising this isn’t a romance, it’s women’s fiction with a strong romantic element. It’s the heroine’s journey of self-discovery and emotional growth. Part of this is creating a damn good loving relationship, but she learns a lot of what she needs to allow this to happen from the female friends she makes when she allows herself to stay in one place long enough to be part of a community. Think Fried Green Tomatoes crossed with a hot SuperRomance and that’s kinda the idea! I’m feeling quietly excited about letting that one simmer on the backburner for a while and see what’s cooked up when I come back to it.

For February, I’m going back to the previous story, the one I got the personalised rejection with the two sentence gold nugget from Megan, the editorial assistant with Supers. The story is getting a radical makeover, even the title is new. Oh boy, my heroine has a goal, motivation, and strong stakes now! 95% if not all of my partial goes in the bin. A lot of the first draft of the rest of the book will also need to be scrapped too. It will be a real challenge to write, and the character arcs are still a teensy bit unclear to me, but if I can pull it off, it’s going to be good. I’m doing Shirley Jump’s Revisions can Be Fun workshop this month, so it’s the perfect chance to go back and see what I can do with this story. I’m hoping I’ll have an outline and at least a first draft of the new partial by the end of the month.

How’s everyone else doing in the post-SYTYCW week?

Hopefully there’s more idiot grins and happy dancing going on out there for people who got requests!

For those of us who got the rejection email, some people might be feeling stuck in the inevitable grieving after a rejection. We’re all going to take different lengths of time to process this.  I’ve had some practice this past year! Some things that help- do let yourself feel the anger and sadness. Don’t deny how you feel or pretend it doesn’t hurt- it does! Nurture yourself and be extra gentle with yourself. Remember, it doesn’t mean you suck or your writing sucks, just that there was something that didn’t quite work in your submission. Set yourself a time limit to move on so you don’t get stuck. Be willing to look at what could be changed in your story to strengthen it, or what other publisher it might be a better fit with. Donna Alward did a post on dealing with rejection (even multi-published authors get them) that you might find helpful.

Just don’t let this stop you. Believe in yourself and your writing.

 

Characters- proactive or reactive? November 28, 2010

So, more thoughts on this editorial feedback that my characters need to be more proactive, less reactive, and that my plot relies too heavily on external forces.

I can see just what she means. The characters don’t appear to initiate any action, just react to what is happening. This makes them seem weak, and even worse, like puppets being pushed through the motions.

It’s interesting to me that I have this problem – and I surely do, I can see it not just in the rejected stories but in plenty of others! I thought this was something more of an issue for plot oriented writers, who start with a plot then make the characters fit it. But I always start with the characters, or at least one of them. I think the problem might be that I start with the characters all right, but I don’t have a strong enough sense of who they are initially until I have written a few chapters. By then I know them well enough to start over again with (hopefully!) a good grasp of their conflict and relationship issues. This all sounds good, and like it shouldn’t lead to cardboard cut out puppet characters.

In the meantime though, just to get started, I’ve come up with a clunky plot device to bring them together. Which wouldn’t be a problem if I ditched that when I ditched the first few chapters I wrote to get to know the characters, but I get attached to my set-ups and keep them in.

So for this story, I started with the image of Cady, my heroine, a single working mother having a very bad day that gets even worse when she is told her mother is seriously ill so she needs to go back to her small home town, where she’ll need to confront not just her estranged mother but Lock, the father of her son.  That was all I knew when I started writing. Ack, already writing that I can see how she is buffeted by the external issues. Yes, she decides how she will respond to them, but it’s all external, all  “stuff happening”. 

In a way though, thinking about it, that was part of my vision for Cady, that without her anchor of home and family she might be a business success and a good mum, but emotionally she’s adrift. That isn’t necessarily a problem, provided I establish her as a character and her motivations strongly enough that her mix of proactive in some arenas and reactive in others is understandable and sympathetic to the reader.

The main thing that makes a character proactive is a strong goal. I am clear what her goal is, to ensure the best life possible for her son, but obviously that’s not coming out enough. And it’s more of a passive type goal, in that she’s not really actively working towards that goal, though it is what motivates all her decisions.

I do think romances are moving towards stronger heroines generally, kicking back against the stereotype of the weak heroine in the thrall of the hero. Stories where the heroine’s action initiates the inciting incident are possibly more what the editors are looking for. My past stories have tended to the pattern of the hero erupting into the heroine’s life, not vice versa. Thinking of one of my CP Maisey Yates’ first two published stories, in both the heroine had a clearly defined goal and a plan to act on to reach her goal, that led her to seek out the hero. Seems like that (as well as her excellent writing and sizzling sexual tension!) may have helped her initial slushpile submission catch the editor’s eye.

Another problem is that the hero also is not proactive. By sticking with the plot device of her mother’s illness as the thing that brings them back together, neither of them has actively made a decision to make this happen. Lock has decided he’s ready to move on and is taking action towards that, but it’s periferal to what happens with the heroine. Then I add a coincidence on top of that- he finds out Cady has had his son because the boy has an accident and Cady is called about it, which conveniently happens just when he is in her office. So I have two characters will relatively passive goals which pretty much amount to just getting on with life, brought together again by external factors. Ick!

I decided yesterday to cut her mother’s illness, and cut the convenient coincidence of Josh’s accident. The initial plan was to retain both coincidences, but make Lock proactive. Lock sees Cady in a TV interview and decides to seek her out, as he’s ready to move on with his life. Still not good enough, coincidence 1 stays but coincidence 2 goes. Lock sees Cady in a TV interview about high flying career women who are single mothers, realises Josh is his son, and seeks her out, determined to get access to his child. Better. Probably even stronger if the coincidences could be dumped altogether and it starts with Lock seeking Cady out as he’s ready to move on, and in the process finding he has a son.

Now today I’m wondering if it’s even stronger if Cady is the instigator. Cady wants what’s best for her son, so she takes action and takes him home to Haven Bay. Or Cady wants to make amends, and seeks out Lock. It’s kind of less true to her character, as she’s protecting her shameful secret at all costs, and doing that seems a bit risky. She’d need a very powerful motivation to do that. Her son would need to be in trouble, or ill.

I just realised something. Interestingly, I added both those coincidences in the second draft. First draft had Cady finding out about her mother’s illness from someone else and deciding to go home with her son, then meeting Lock. I created the whole coincidence thing as a way to get them together, and still kept the original plot device of her mother’s illness. So now instead of the one I started with, I have three clunky plot devices.  Bang goes the theory about it being because of writing my way in. It was really because I was playing God with my characters!

*sigh* I’m getting the feeling I am doing it again. I’m trying to “make” then proactive.  Again, I’m manufacturing situations for them.

Will I ever get this right?

I need to start with my focus more on the emotional issues. What are their core conflicts? How would those issues drive the characters into action. That needs to be my starting point, not cooking up scenarios to bring them together.

Her goals are to create a good life for her son, and to keep her secret, two goals which are brought into opposition when she has to be around Lock again, for Josh’s sake. Lock’s goal is to move on with his life and forget Cady, which is complicated by him finding out he has a son he’s determined to be a good father to.

At least a third of my story, possibly more, is tied up in the elements I know now need to cut out. The bones of the story should remain the same, their core conflict, the black moment, and the resolution. I just have to find out who sets things in motion!

At least in my current story, the one I hope to sub for SoYou Think You Can Write, it’s the heroine who is actively making things happen, though her goal is a bit wishy-washy, she’s just doing her job, and that impacts on the hero.

I’ve made the same mistakes here, in terms of characters being passive responders to events rather than making things happen. 

Also, I don’t think I’ve nailed the conflict quite right yet- I’m concerned my heroine will seem TSTL for not wanting to stay with the hero, that she seems to have no real character arc until at the end the magic wand of lurve is waved and she changes completely. (And if any of my dirty-minded critique partners are reading this, no, not that magic wand, that one gets waved earlier!) OTOH, if I do it right I can show how she’s struggling with what she wants to do vs what she’s always done and feels she ought to do.

The other problem with this story is that the ending does rely on an external event that possibly puts the hero’s life in danger and makes the heroine rethink things. The answer to that is that the heroine has already changed her mind, decided to go back to him and tell him she will stay, then can’t do it because he is in this dangerous situation. She’s going to really suffer while she’s waiting to hear if he’s okay- because what if he dies thinking she didn’t love him enough to stay? But the external event can’t be what triggers her change, that’s got to be internally driven.

I’m a bit stumped what I should be writing now- do I work on fixing the rejected story, while I’m all fired up to do it, even though the plan I thought I had yesterday is shot to pieces; do I try to fix the story I want to sub to SYTYCW, which is riddled with problems; or do I start that new take on an old story idea that’s kinda Blaze-ish or Modern Heat-ish? The one where I figured out for myself last week that the problem with the original idea was that the heroine was being pushed around by circumstancesand just a victim, instead of her getting out there and being proactive.

Hoo boy. Now I need to be proactive and decide what to write!

Edited to add- or I can use this as an excuse for some internet surfing looking for more info on proactive characters. Here are a couple of links I found interesting- Camy Tang, and Janice Hardy. Also yet another book which I’ve ben thinking about buying and haven’t yet (in the past two weeks I already bought Save the Cat and Story, but they’re gonna be my Christmas present from the MiL, now I have to work out who’s going to buy me this one!)- Fiction Writing for Dummies.

 

Long wait! July 11, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 10:21 pm
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I haven’t posted for a while, mainly because there hasn’t been much happening on the writing front. Lots of Day Job and Real Life getting in the way, sometimes in good ways like the wonderful weekend away in Devon dh and I had last week, but nowhere near  as much writing as I need.

I called the blog “Waiting for the Call”, well it’s going to be a flipping long wait the way I’m going!

I’m plugging on with the rewrite of Lock and Cady’s story, but still don’t have the partial together yet. Chapters One and Two came relatively easily, and I honestly think they are the best things I’ve ever written (that doesn’t mean I’m claiming they are good, but they most certainly are better than what I’ve done before). Chapter Three is like pulling teeth without anaesthetic- slow and painful. Plus it’s not even much good. It should be strong and powerful and emotional, instead it’s just- meh. Cliched body language, no real depth of feeling, it’s depressing me to the point of wanting to give up. I keep slogging on with it, but the slow rate is half the problem- at a couple of hundred words a day I’m not getting into the character enough to get the emotion that’s needed.

I’m setting up unrealistic expectations for what is really more first draft, of course, and that’s what’s wrecking my motivation to write. I need to give myself permission to write the dreckiest chapter ever,  as long as I get the story moving again. It can always be fixed.

Not that I’m completely unmotivated, but my motivation tends to be strongest when it’s hardest to write. Like one day last week coming home from work on the train. Yet again there were problems with the trains and as the earlier train was cancelled, my train had twice as many people on it was usual. Which meant standing up all the way, in my curved sole exercise shoes, trying to stay upright as the train swayed and I rocked crazily, unable to hold on because I was balancing my netbook in one hand while I typed with the other! Other days when I had a seat and could easily have typed, I read the paper instead.

Today, when I had time to write, I found other things far more urgent, like clearing out my wardrobe. No words written, though I do have some space in my wardrobe and a pile of clothes to sell on ebay. This was the toughest round of decluttering- the quality clothes or things I loved that just aren’t right for me any more. All the easy to let go of stuff went to the charity shop weeks ago. It’s good space clearing, but that’s not helping the story any.

Maybe the declutter will be good feng shui or something. Sure hope so. And I sure hope I don’t come up with more excuses and delaying tactics next day off work when I could write. The actual act of subbing is getting too close and too real and far too scary, so I’m procrastinating. Anything to avoid that long painful wait with the rejection at the end.

I think I named the blog well. I will always be waiting, until I find the guts to sub.

 

Productive procrastination May 31, 2010

Filed under: What I'm reading,Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 10:19 pm
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Well, that’s what I hope I’ve been doing!

Still no actual work on the rewrite, but I’ve gone through all of the first draft looking at what needs changing and what works. The bad news is- nearly everything needs changing, there’s a lot of work involved. The good news is- the love scenes worked, the black moment made me cry, and the happy ending made me smile. Please God the final version will do that for it’s readers too!

I’ve spent the last two days going right through Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook: Hands-on Help for Making Your Novel Stand Out and Succeed, workshopping the story. Twenty pages of notes later I have a deeper knowledge of the characters and their conflicts, and a load of ideas to power the rewrite.  (And a fifty work pitch too!) I know how I want the completely new first three chapters to go, and I know the ending I have will work, with some tweaking. There’s a swampy middle bit I have not much idea about yet, so I’m hoping that will work out once I get the rewrite started…

I’ve also been reading as many stories as I can from different lines with similarities in the situation and the conflict, whether that’s the secret child, old lovers reuniting, or heroines who’ve been raped in the past. Not to copy other writers, but to see if how they handled it can spark any ideas, show me what I need to make sure I do to make it work.

Liz Fielding’s “Five Year Baby Secret” reminded me that the hero is not just going to be a little annoyed, he’s going to be angry as hell, majorly pissed off when he finds she’s kept his child from him. Donna Alward’s “One Dance With the Cowboy” showed me how reunited lovers will have that same sweet yearning for each other, despite what has come between them. Both those stories showed that the same issues that drove the couple apart in the past will remain unresolved now- and they can only reach their HEA by both dealing with the past issues, as well as their feelings about their separation.

No similarity to my current characters in any way, but a deeply emotional (three tissues needed!) and very hot Superromance- Sarah Mayberry’s “Home for the Holidays”. What was interesting there is that she has the same double BM/HEA I gave my characters- where it looks like things are resolving and they can be happy, then bang, something even bigger comes between them to push them apart. For her heroine it was something totally unexpected, while I hope mine still works even though the reader will know it’s coming.

I’ve just finished an old Presents- Jane Porter’s excellent “The Sheikh’s Virgin”, recommended by my crit group when I asked for stories with a heroine who had been raped. From this I’m getting the shame and yet paradoxical fierce courage of the survivor. My heroine has the shame and guilt, but she needs to show more of the tenacity, fight, and will for life that helped her get through something  so devastating and soul destroying.

Now I have to say- enough of the procrastination. I still have more books to read, but it’s enough.

Tomorrow I start the rewrite. For real. No excuses.

 

More on scenes and sequels May 16, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 3:07 pm
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Still reading my first draft and analysing the scenes, but the tool I’m using to record what I find isn’t good enough yet. I’m filling in the boxes, and I know what is wrong with my scenes, but I’m not seeing strongly enough how to fix them. (Part of the problem is I’m still using the old tool and not the new one I thought of last week!)

I read this excellent blog post on scene and sequel by Les Edgerton yesterday.

He talks about what is needed(and what writers do wrong!) in detail, but in briefly he says a scene is-

A. Goal
B. Conflict
C. Disaster.

Then the following sequel is-

1. Reaction
2. Dilemma
3. Decision (which becomes the goal for another scene).

My old questions for considering scenes- Who? Where? Action, Reaction, Decision- compressed things too much. It’s too simplified, and it totally omits the goal.

The new questions I made up are better (and why it took me all weekend to realise I wasn’t using them, I don’t know!)-

What does the POV character want?

What is he/she doing to get it?

What stops him/her getting it?

What does he/she decide to do about it next?

This leaves out a step  too, I think.  The reaction. I need to add in another question before the character decides what to do next- how do they feel about it?

LOL, maybe I’m making things too complicated!  But I want to go into the editathon with a solid robust plan for the rewrite. I only want to have to do one major rewrite, then just tweaks on the other passes through.

I think I’ll keep going analysing the first draft with the current questions (I don’t want to start totally over!) but will add a question about scene goal. 

Then when I’m planning the rewrite I’ll use the new questions to pinpoint just what needs to be in each section.

Fingers crossed it works!

Edited to add- Having added the question asking what is the character’s goal for each scene, it’s clear that a major problem is lack of clear goals. Things happen, but the characters, especially my heroine, aren’t proactive, they don’t go out there intending to change something. Cady seems especially passive, her only aim to to get through this and get back to her old life. Not good enough. This really needs work.

 

Looking at scenes May 11, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 10:28 pm
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I have too many nice scenes where nothing really happens! Or stuff does happen, but the characters don’t seen to be driving it, they’re reactive all the time, rather than active. I wrote stuff that I hoped would move the story forward and keep the focus on the central relationship, but there’s no sense of the characters having goals, and the conflict is weak.

I haven’t really done any editing or rewriting yet, there are too many scenes that needs to be cut and replaced, or extensively rewritten. This is not a bad thing! My new plan is to spend the next few weeks digging into the first draft, and coming up with a roadmap to fix what’s wrong with it and keep what’s good about it. Then I have five days off to spend intensely rewriting. The write-a-thon worked so well, it’s time for an edit-a-thon!

I’ve been working through the story, scene by scene, making notes, trying to get a handle on what I’ve got and how I can make it better. I’ve been using a simple scene checklist I modified from ideas in a workshop I’ve done (can’t remember which now!) to keep me focused on making things happen in every scene.

It goes

Who?

Where?

Action-

Reaction-

Decision-

Edit notes-

 
Simple and to the point.


I was in the bath, thinking about this afternoon’s work on the story, and I wondered if I should make it even simpler for a conflict thicko like me to understand. Like this-

What does the POV character want?

What is he/she doing to get it?

What stops him/her getting it?

What does he/she decide to do about it next?

Which is just Action-Reaction-Decision, but in a form that I can grasp easier. Also reminds me that escalating conflict and tension mean that things keep getting worse no matter that the main characters do to try to fix things. I need to be able to answer those questions for every scene.

I’m going to give it a try when I’m planning what I want to do for the rewrite.