…And How to Make It Not Suck
In the wake of NaNoWriMo, I’ve had a lot of time to think about my current WIP, JUST BREATHE. This book has been a real struggle for me, and I think it’s because I wrote it in such a rush. Racing against time has certain advantages — especially in the fluency department — but it also leaves a writer with a lot of clean-up to do later.
I plotted out most of the book in a 10K outline before NaNo started. I followed the spirit of my notes, veering off course when the muse pushed me in different directions. I’ve written about 70K words so far.
All of them suck ass.
But I’m not too worried. Having tackled this whole novel thing before, I know I’ll spend at least as much time (if not considerably more) revising as I did writing. If you want to make your story sparkle enough for publication, you’ll do the same. Here’s how:
- Characterization. Characters are at the heart of every good story. No one gives a shit about flat, one-dimensional oaf heroes or stereotypical damsels in distress, so you gotta make your bitches pop. Characters must have flaws readers can identify or empathize with, but too many flaws can make the character unlikeable. Does your hero like to kill people? He’d better have a damn good reason. Most folks don’t respect murderers. Showtime’s Dexter is a freaking serial killer, but he only kills bad dudes. What’s not to like about that?
- Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. This Glorious Triumvirate goes hand-in-hand with characterization. Every scene MUST show a character’s goal (what she wants), motivation (why she wants it), and conflict (why she can’t have it). The character’s goals, motivation, and conflict are not the same at the beginning as they are at the end because as she makes the story journey, she gains knowledge and experience that change her direction. This evolution is an important ingredient for crafting dynamic characters your readers will love.
- Plot. Events need to make logical sense and tie up in a way that leaves the reader feeling that the important story questions were answered. Weave in twists and turns to keep the reader guessing, but also include enough clues so that the ending doesn’t come completely out of the blue.
- Layering. Go through your first draft and layer in details you didn’t have time to put in the first go-round. Show character reactions and inner monologues. Depict clear settings. Add details that enhance the mood. Open each scene with something that grounds the reader in the time and place. Reveal character by placing objects in the setting and showing the protagonist’s reaction to them.
- Hooks. Begin and end every scene with a hook. Open with an interesting change of scenery, a funny character line, or balls-out action. End the scene with something explosive — a sense of foreboding, a lingering question, or finish the scene at a precipitous moment in the story.
- Showing vs. Telling. Don’t tell the reader what the characters see or feel. Show it through their actions, reactions, dialogue, or internal observations. Avoid “telling” words like saw, heard, felt, smelled, tasted, realized, looked. Showing also deepens POV, thereby knocking out two potential problems at once.
- Critique Partners/Beta Readers. There’s plenty more that goes into creating a damn good book, but I’ll end this post by stressing the importance of critical feedback from experienced writers. You need several pairs of objective eyes on your revised manuscript before you send it to beta readers. Choose crit partners who will give honest, positive, constructive feedback.
- NOT useful feedback: “This chapter is great. I loved it!”
- Useful feedback: “You opened this chapter with a strong hook, but then you lost momentum when Johnny Ballsack wigged out over his lost hotdog instead of moving forward on his goal of stopping Gassy McFarterson from tainting the humans’ food supply with deadly methane.”
- If a couple of readers give the same advice, it might be wise to listen. Once you make changes based on your CPs’ feedback, hand the book off to beta readers for some final opinions.
Fynn McKenna, a Fyre Elemental from my upcoming short story, “Lá Breithe” (END: An Apocalyptic Anthology) is doing a four word interview over at Lynn Rush’s blog today. If you have a minute to say hi, it’s way shorter than this post was. Hahahaha! There’s also a giveaway involved. :-)