For the Sake of Story

Back in November for NaNoWriMo, I put together a sequel for SHADE. (And I won myself a discount on Scrivener. Holla!)

Anyway, I had used most of October to meticulously plan out the novel which is what made it really easy for me to write. Once I have my idea outlined, it’s more or less a paint-by-number, though I do leave room for my muse to take me in other directions should it choose.

December came and looking over my nice little rough draft I realized something that I would fight against for months. Book 2 seemed more and more to be me trying to cram two books worth of story into one.

ALL THE THOUGHTS RUNNING THROUGH MY HEAD AT THIS REALIZATION:

But the plot twists!

Another murky middle to deal with?

Splitting a book in half is too hard!

But then all those other moments get pushed to Book 3!

Can I really make this split work?

What about the children? Is anyone thinking of the children for goodness’s sake?

Thankfully, I’ve faced these hard moments before. When it came to Book 1, after a writing conference in New York I knew I had to make substantial changes, not unlike the changes I’m probably going to make now.

DON’T FEAR THE REVAMP

For some of you rewrites are not any kind of problem. It may be your curse. But for some of you the idea of having to majorly revamp your book scares you like Reevers scare Captain Mal.

For the sake of story, suck it up, and do it anyway.

How do you know if you need to revamp the story? The easiest way to find out is beta readers. And some of the best ways to find beta readers is going to writer’s conferences and networking. Your fellow writers will appreciate a beta read themselves, so offer to exchange chapters or even full novels, get feedback and see what’s working and what isn’t.

Another way is right here on the WordPress community. We’ve got some of the best people on here who have loads of experience who can help.

Hopefully it doesn’t come as news to you that golden ink doesn’t drip from your pen—or keyboard. Think of it as getting the translation of the story in your head right. I’ve often noticed while some things in my stories change substantially, the essence tends to remain the same.

And I’ve probably said this before, but revamping or splitting books can often bring about creative discoveries you might not have stumbled upon otherwise. I created a character from a book split I doubt would have come to me any other way—and he’s one of my faves.

If you really want a story that’s going to be significantly impactful to your readers, it’s going to take some work, and often that work will be uncomfortable and hard. But you owe it to your readers and to your craft to present only the best possible.

It is my own personal goal to make every book I write better than the previous. My hope is that my skill will continue to grow and be illustrated in my writing as it goes forward.

What do you do for the sake of story? Have you had to make substantial edits or changes to a book that you didn’t want to make at first? What are your personal goals for your craft?

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A Writer’s Eyes

You may remember the moment. Plots became more obvious to you. Books, movies, and TV shows had to be among the best to impress you, because mediocre wasn’t cutting it anymore. You had writer’s eyes, and story became fairly obvious to you.

At first I didn’t like being able to figure things out. I wanted to be surprised by the stories I consumed in whatever format I consumed them in. And occasionally I still am, but for the most part it takes a pretty good story to get me impressed. There truly is nothing new under the sun, but I continue searching for those really good stories that make the consumption worthwhile.

Has that happened for you? Are you able to predict the plots of stories because that’s your business? That’s just how your brain works? You’ve spent a lot of time making those plot connections yourself, so most plots of most stories won’t really surprise you.

That’s often how I feel about movies today. Oh, we’re spending a lot of time on this minor character, he must be important later. Hmm, seems like this girl’s only purpose is to get the plot going. Things like that.

Granted, there are a few movies/books/shows that do take me by surprise and tantalize my brain, but that’s generally more the exception than the rule.

And then there are those stories that I know exactly what’s going to happen and yet somehow they still pull me in. (See Korean dramas.) I always try and explore the essence of those stories and figure out what it is that keeps me hooked and how can I harness that draw in my own writing.

Although becoming a writer and understanding story has “ruined” some experiences for me, it’s enlightened me in other ways. I try not to waste my time on mediocrity. Although I have found on occasion the abysmal story can be instructive in its own way.

But I want to hear from you. Do you now have writer’s eyes? Has it ruined certain stories for you, or do you feel it has enhanced your experience? Is it difficult for you to find really impressive stories or do you find value in even the abysmal? Let me know what you think below.

Make It Word Count

If you’re an aspiring author like me, eventually two words are going to cross your path if they haven’t already: word count.

If you’re really new to this biz, you may still be telling people about how many pages your book is. And that probably works better for friends and family. But all that agents, editors, and publishers want to hear about is word count.

Why? Because you might be writing in Courier, Times New Roman, Squiggly Wiggly (please don’t), but the one thing that stays uniform across the board is word count. How many words have you crammed into that Word Document that is your novel? But more importantly, how many should you have crammed in there?

As is with a lot of things in the writing world, the answer is it depends. It depends on your genre, your age range, and whether or not you’re JK Rowling or Plain Tryingtagetpublished Jane. But is there any kind of guide for how many words a novel should be?

According to Writer’s Digest, this is a typical guide for novel lengths:

Adult: Commercial & Literary ~80,000-89,000 (for you newbies, if you have it double-spaced with Times New Roman, this will be around 300 pgs, depending on your formatting)

Sci-Fi/Fantasy ~100,000-115,000 although lean toward the short end of that figure

Middle Grade ~20,000-50,000 depending on age range

YA (they say the most flexible of ranges) 55,000 – 69,999 although the trend is getting closer to the top of the 80Ks for the max. Again this depends on genre, story, etc.

Picture Books ~500-600

BUT WHAT ABOUT (INSERT BOOK TITLE)? IT WAS WAY LONGER/SHORTER!

The thing is you can’t use other authors to argue the length of your book because 99% of the time your arguments are invalid. Especially if the author in questions is 1) super famous, or 2) wrote something a long, long time ago. When you’re a household name, you can write a 160,000 word book because odds are your name is the money-maker the publishing world sees (although for your reader’s sake, please don’t).

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So You Need to Synopsis

Not nearly as terrifying as the live pitch, nor as frustrating as the query letter is the dreaded synopsis. I say dreaded because it feels like you’re taking delicious farm fresh veggies and freeze-drying them, later to be consumed by someone else who won’t get the farm fresh taste your whole novel has.

via luvimages.com

Plus even though you get a few pages instead of page (a la query) you still must condense all that info into a nice freeze dried package AND still make it appealing.

Look! Just as…appealing… (via hikingcookbook.co.uk)

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The Live Pitch

If you’ve followed the blog for any amount of time, I’m sure you’ve heard me whine about how ridiculously hard the query writing part of the process is. And. It. Is.

But if it’s really true that more people would rather die than speak in public, then a truly terrifying part of this writing process comes in the combination of public speaking your query.

Only you don’t have a nice page to explain your book. You have about a paragraph + answers for questions, some you might have expected, many you haven’t.

WHY DO A LIVE PITCH IN THE FIRST PLACE?

Seriously? Why wouldn’t you? Okay, I know it can be very intimidating if not terrifying, but realize this: a live-pitch is like moving your query from the slush pile to the front of the line. You are guaranteed that agent’s full attention for a few minutes. Your story gets the best possible consideration amidst the hundreds if not thousands of queries they get on a regular basis.

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Valuable Scenes

Several months ago on a blog just around the corner, Alex and I were discussing writing as we usually do, and she mentioned—nay requested—a post on value shifting in scenes because I hit that up every other second when it comes to feedback.

So, my people, I give you my own personal interpretation of Robert McKee’s value shifts. And hopefully this will give you enough reason to go buy this book already and hold it fast like the writing bible it is!

WHAT DO YOU MEAN VALUE?

It doesn’t mean morals, if that’s what you’re thinking, although it could be related to a moral. This is part of the real guts of the scene. Think of it as what the character values most in that moment. It might be freedom, In some cases it will be the stakes of the story. Often it will be just the stakes of that scene.

How does Mr. McKee define it?

Story Values are the universal qualities of human experience that may shift from positive to negative, or negative to positive, from one moment to the next.

I often think of it as the goal of that moment for the character or perhaps something that will create a goal. Take, for example, Ghostbusters. The big goal of the characters is saving New York from utter destruction from a Mesopotamian god (NEGATIVE).

It just popped in there.

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The NaNo Cometh

NaNo begins this week. Okay future participants, now is your cue to start freaking out.

Am I ready for NaNo? -ish. The outline is coming along and I’m solving plot point problems, but let’s face it. I need to get some serious plotting done if I want to be ready for Friday. I guess because it’s the end of the week that seems far enough away. Plus I’m trying to get some other goals accomplished before NaNo consumes everything.

But there’s something I’ve learned in prepping for NaNo, and that’s trust your creative brain. I worried a little about connecting some dots, but I kept that conundrum on the back burner and moved forward and things are starting to work out. I don’t know what it is about the blank page before me that makes me wonder if this is the one. You know, the time where you’ve finally run out of ideas. Where you won’t actually be able to pull a story off. End of the universe kind of stuff.

I think for us creative types, that’s just not going to happen, at least not permanently. Especially if you’re feeding your creativity constantly. (That’s where reading and watching and consuming other forms of media comes in handy. Blogging especially can spark creativity in unexpected ways).

So my small words of advice as NaNo approaches, is to prepare in your own best way, then trust your creativity. Let your muse run amok, send your editor on a cruise, and write. And if you reach November 1st and you’re a plotter and things aren’t quite there yet, don’t worry. Trust yourself. And trust that this is a first draft anyway. Let it be a land free of criticism and full of discovery. Just write. And enjoy it.

Are you ready for NaNo? Still doing last minute prep or waiting for that 12:00 a.m. November 1st moment? If you’re not doing NaNo, what will you be up to this November?