Sometimes basic is best. Getting back to basics. Basic black. Basic humanity.
And so it is with writing. Every now and then, often in one of the revision stages of a story, it’s time to get back to the basics – the point, the goal, and the conflict of a story. That means it’s time to reach into the writer’s basic toolbox and pull out some old favorites to identify festering plot holes, shore up weak conflicts, and fix leaky sinks. Okay, maybe not that last one.
This lesson presented itself to me when I recently found my Harrow’s Finest Five book 1 revision slowly circling the drain (what is it with me and sinks today?). I was dissatisfied with the story stakes. As I read the manuscript, they didn’t seem to be escalating, further complicating heroine Emme’s life, and leading her to an inevitable clash with consequences of her own making.
An author has options at such times. Crying. Chocolate. Booze. Cyring into chocolate and booze. But I’ve heard it can actually be more empowering to use TOOLS. Powerful, writerly tools. In this case, I opted for the tools and pulled the conflict box out of my toolbox to see why my revision had gotten stuck and my story felt flat. Continue reading
Why, you might ask, have I taped a scene to my wall? To keep my brain guessing.
Once upon a time, a very nice girl found herself working in a really stressful industry. Okay, you caught me: I’m talking about me. I haven’t qualified as a ‘girl’ for decades. And very nice…well, that depends upon the day and the situation. But I did work in a really stressful industry (US government proposal management, in case you’re desperately curious). Over the years, I developed some mad skills that I brought to bear on high-pressure, deadline-driven, writing-intensive problems.
A few months ago, I left that industry and promptly forgot (or more likely purged) much hard-earned wisdom about writing and revision. And while I’d always believed honing my fiction writing and storytelling skills only improved my performance on those (non-fiction) projects, I didn’t think much about what lessons from my day job could teach me about writing fiction.
For what feels like eons but has only been several weeks, Continue reading
Al and Roey Stickles dancing at the trailer park: Sarasota, Florida 1946. Photo courtesy of State Library and Archives of Florida. www.flickr.com/photos/floridamemory/7157828142/
I’ve started writing a scene that I think will be pivotal in my book. It’s a scene in which my hero and heroine have sex, but the sex will propel them into a new stage of their relationship. My critique partners have emphasized that it’s important that I show why my heroine has been unwilling to move forward quickly with the romance—she won’t move in with the hero—even though she must make a decision soon about whether to return to her old job across the country. If she goes, the relationship dies.
So to write this sex scene with as much sensitivity and weight as it needs, I wrote a scene that sets it up—my heroine tells the hero about her mother, and in so doing, reveals her feelings about family, home, and security. I wrote this scene from the hero’s POV, because I wanted readers to see his reactions to her story, and I wanted him to ask the questions I thought readers would be likely to ask if they’d been in the room with her. I spent some serious time on the scene, and it’s not bad. I’d give it maybe a B-.
This past week, I’ve been struggling with a side project, which is actually yet another revision of an old project, the Women’s Fiction manuscript I wrote during our McDaniel classes. The book is complete. It’s been through beta readers and revisions. It even made the rounds to a few agents and was roundly rejected. There was a lot of positive feedback in those rejections, but some negative comments as well. And the kicker was that story aspects some readers saw as positives and even loved, others saw as negatives.
Over the months of those rejections, I slowly (and painfully) made peace with the possibility that this book just wasn’t going to connect with publishing gatekeepers. Maybe someday I’d self-publish it, maybe not, but either way, other projects and deadlines and career choices called.
While I was finally ready to pack that old story into a drawer, my brain had other plans. I’d be happily immersed in 1870’s London with my new cast of characters when the three modern women from a rural Virginia town would take over my mind’s limited bandwidth. I’d be catching up with writing friends and discussing current projects, and my conversation would drift back to that old manuscript and we’d ponder what its fatal flaw might be.
The final straw came when I dreamed about the book. I spend a lot of time thinking and daydreaming about my characters and plot lines. I also tend to have vivid dreams. But rarely do these two things intertwine. I almost never dream about my writing projects. This story was different. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t quit it.
To end the constant interruptions, I decided to carve out a few hours of each day’s writing time to reread that old story in an attempt to figure out where it went wrong and whether I could rescue it. What better place to start than at the beginning? Continue reading
I’ve been playing around with a contemporary story (inspired by a ski trip to Utah over the holidays) tentatively called The Lesson. I don’t have much to it yet…just two chapters, one of which I hammered out while on the plane flying home. I thought it’d be fun to throw it out there for the world to see, and also to get your comments (critical or otherwise — I can take the heat, so long as you’re polite).
I’m also putting it out in the internet-ether to demonstrate what first drafts can look like…sorta clunky, not-much-making-sense kind of things. There are a few good lines, but as my CPs have pointed out, there’s plenty of stuff that needs work, a few things that are confusing, and some useless stuff.
However, as Nora Roberts once said, Continue reading
Hello Readers! I’m pleased to introduce Tiffany Lawson-Inman to the blog. She’ll be joining us about once a month to talk about all things writing! Welcome, Tiffany!!
Thank you so much to Justine for letting me preach good writing craft today. It is a subject very near and dear to my heart.
As another Thank You to Eight Ladies Writing, I’m going to offer a free online course to one of your lucky readers. If you respond to my question in the comment section, I will put your name in a hat and pull one out for a free online course I am teaching at Lawson Writer’s Academy. See below for more details.
Friends (c) Warner Brothers Television.
Here’s a strange question for you:
What does The Shining have in common with Little Women?
They are both good enough novels to go in the freezer. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, this is a FRIENDS reference. Season 3, episode 13, where Joey is so grippingly scared by what is happening in The Shining, that he puts it in the freezer when he’s not reading it. To somehow stop or “freeze” the events happening in the book. He doesn’t want anything happening while he’s not looking!
Why? Continue reading
At some point, if you are serious about writing and persistent, you will finish the first draft of a story. It may have plot holes you could drive a truck through, or be littered with notes like “something needs to happen here,” but the draft will be done. Whether you’ve ended up with a polished first draft (color me envious if you have) or a hot-mess (that would be me), you’ve taken a story from an idea in your head to actual words on the page. You’ve gone from staring at that blank page in a brand new empty document to typing “The End.”
That is something to celebrate.
*Cue the confetti and balloons*
The world is filled with people who think they will write a book “one day.” With a finished draft, you’ve moved from the “I might” group to the “I have.” That’s a great feeling. Once the “I’ve finished it” happy dance is done and you’ve basked in the glow of “The End” for a while, it’s time to think about what to do next. Continue reading