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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

WHY WE WRITE: Your First Novel



    Medium issues occur at the chapter and scene level. These are issues you may have recognized in the first edit. You may need to rewrite a scene, introduce something earlier that appears later as a solution to the MC's problem, or add details / introduce a character better.I love Save The Cat's model, so this often guides me as I seek to lengthen or shorten a scene to fit the book's flow. This is also a good time to read through your manuscript for "Show, Don't Tell," use of passive voice, "head popping" (changing POV), or providing information that your Point of View wouldn't allow (If first person, your MC won't know what his nemesis is thinking). This is also the place - in my opinion... many want to do it before they write. I think this can stall out your work unless it is absolutely critical). 

An example in my current WIP (work in progress). I have a group of convicts working as miners on a space colony under the military watch of NASA. In due course, they drill into an asteroid and out come a bunch of pterodactyls. I know, dinosaurs in space. Love it. One of my Beta Readers mentioned in the section on my world that he thought dinosaurs couldn't fly in space and they certainly couldn't howl as I had them doing. My gut reaction was to say, "In Star Wars the ships' gunfire makes sounds." But I am not George Lucas and this is not Star Wars. Humility. I resolved the flying in space by talking to someone in NASA I knew from my college days. The other I fixed by acknowledging it to my reader but never explaining. Someone asks my MC "How can we even hear them in space?" He replies, "I don't know, man. It's like they are screaming inside my head rather than out here."

There were probably other solutions. Better ones. Hopefully, though, this serves as a good example of a mid-size issue. Another example in Jam Sessions came when one character uses the Duck Song (Wanna buy some lemonade?). I liked the song in the story but it isn't mine to use. I wrote the composer / author and got permission. If I had not, I would've rewritten the section.

Medium fixes should take a... wait for it... a medium amount of time. If you come across anything epic that involves overhaul of a major character, plot point, or story arc then return to step one.

Now, how can you accomplish this?

Do it your self 

    Here you need to do some soul searching. Are you really the right person for this task? I am not. You may be. If so, I would recommend you do a few things in succession. First, identify your tendencies. I tend to write dialogue that is polished rather than slang. I go through my entire work doing nothing but examining dialogue. I have a friend who tells rather than shows a lot. Identify what those issues are for you and do a read through only looking at those corrections. 

Develop a character sheet. There is software out there (Scrivener mentioned before), excel sheet templates, or make your own. Minimally it should contain names of all characters, places, things, unique stuff to your world (In Freckles they played RumpleBottom Ball.). 

Good news, if you had a good Beta Reader or content editor, you now have a Honey-Do list and action plan. Look at their comments, evaluate, and either fix or leave. I should mention, it is YOUR work. Just because a reader doesn't like something doesn't mean you have to change it. However, if three or four readers all tell you something is confusing, disengaging, or wrong you should probably take a look. 

I would also recommend listening to a podcast or reading a book on characters, scene development, etc... during this phase so the ideas in those teaching resources are fresh in your mind. There are also templates out there for how to start and end scenes for varying genres.  Lean on those.

Pay someone to do it.

    I much prefer sites like Upwork and Redsy for this task rather than using them for content edits. It is cheaper because the issues should not be systemic. You also have the option to hire someone to critique a defined set of pages (10, 50, 100). This is great because they may identify something for you that is a small / medium but repeated problem. Now, you can move into "DIY" mode and fix the remaining chapters. There are even conferences you can attend where you are invited to (for a fee) to submit your work to an agent or editor. I've done this several times and found it exceptionally helpful. These are people who make a living discarding books and selecting books for market. They are willing to (hopefully with kindness) speak into your work and help you be a better writer. They may also tell you something that draws you back to the big issues.

 I have a 40,000 book meant to be a series sitting right now after such an event. I paid for two additional consultations. Both told me the same thing. My novel read like a MG (Middle Grade) with lots of action and very little head-dwelling. However, my characters are young adult age. They both suggested I needed to make a choice once I narrowed my target audience. That means I need to do some POV work or change my main characters' age (and thereby some of what they do, say, think, and feel).

Coerce, Bribe, or Beg someone to help.

    Here I would promote the value of a writer's group. By the way, not all groups are the same and you should (1) know you can be in several) and (2) know what each group you've joined does. I was in a very intensive group for a while. It was under my membership to the Society of Children Books Writers and Illustrators (great place to network if that is your genre and fantastic boards to peruse or ask questions). There I found a group of people who read 1500-2000 words per week  (6-8 pages) and everyone edited the pages. We then met by zoom and discussed. You would edit every week until your week and then you would provide a section of your WIP (work in progress). You had to contribute to get the reward, but it was worthwhile if you are in this stage of a project. People come and go from the group and I probably will rejoin here in a bit. Obviously, if only 2,000 words are getting reviewed every month it would take several years to go through your whole manuscript. That is why this is a great resource for Medium Issues. This is a great place to present individual troublesome chapters.

I am in another group where each month two of us submit short sections for review. Again, it is not a place to edit an entire work, but it is nice to get a dozen voices speaking into a problem area. 

Finally, BE CREATIVE! When I wrote Jam Sessions, I asked a good friend of mine who is a child psychiatrist to read it. He did, gave me feedback in the particular area of his expertise, and even agreed to write a brief afterward for the paperback edition. 

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