Alice has been a friend for a long time. She's just had a new reelase.
Interrogate Your Story to Find Your Very Best Work
A Guest Blog Post by Alice Orr
“The proof is in the pudding,” my grandma used to say and she was always right. Guess what. Dessert time is here and the dish you serve had better be as delicious as you can make it.
I'm talking about your story – the one you submit to book editors and literary agents or directly to readers if you’re an Indie Author like I am. Let’s say you’ve just finished a manuscript. You type "The End" and your immediate reward is a huge burst of enthusiasm.
The person who set the spire on top of the Empire State Building could not possibly have experienced a greater sense of accomplishment than you’re experiencing now. You want more than anything to share your shining achievement with the world.
Stop! Stand up from the keyboard and walk away this very instant! You’re not ready to be anywhere near a Send key of any kind. Not yet. You are in a state of euphoria and euphoria is the enemy of objective critical judgement.
You must never submit your work to anybody at this point. Not even somebody who loves you a lot. Especially not to somebody who loves you a lot. They may tell you your story is wonderful – because they love you a lot – and that could blast you back to the Send key too soon again.
Put the manuscript away. Stash it as far out of sight and out of mind as you can stash it. Do something else until the euphoria has passed. Wait a few days at least. Then – and not before then – open up the manuscript and read it all the way through. Preferably at one sitting.
At which point you will most likely experience the opposite of euphoria – POS syndrome. I’ll call it Piece of Slop Syndrome for the sake of delicacy. You’re now as convinced your story is a POS as you were convinced of its glowing perfection a few days ago.
In truth your work lies somewhere between Euphoria and Piece of Slop. What you need now is to discover where your story actually resides along that spectrum. Once you’ve done that you will nudge your story toward the positive and publishable end. In other words you will Rewrite.
Rewrites are as crucial to strong storytelling as your first write has been – maybe more so. Rewrites are where the story deepens and springs to life. Rewrites are where the story becomes marketable. Rewrites are the difference between a story that succeeds and one that doesn’t.
Maintaining a positive attitude is crucial also. Don't think of rewrites as drudgery. Think of rewrites as artistry. Anticipate rewrites with pleasure. Now you get to play in the fields of your story where you can romp and dance while you add depth and delicious details.
Back in the first draft phase of writing you were intent on creating story. Coming up with compelling events. Giving birth to intriguing characters. I hope you did that at white heat speed because a fast-paced first writing is more likely to produce a fast-paced page-turner story.
When an idea came for a change or addition you didn’t stop and rewrite right then. You made a note and set it aside. That’s what sticky notepads are for. At the end of a writing session you printed hard copy and attached your sticky notes to the appropriate pages.
Why bother with a hard copy? Because your work looks too perfect on the computer screen – like it’s shimmering on TV. Who can objectively edit shimmering words? Edit on hard copy with sticky notes flapping. A rough look so you can see where it needs to be made smooth.
Meanwhile your story stews in your imagination preparing for the Rewrite Phase where you’ll spice the mix and fine-tune the flavorings. But first take one more crucial step toward marketability. Ask, "How can I make this story more attractive to agents, editors and readers?"
That’s a big question. Too broad – too incomprehensible – maybe even too scary. Let's boil it down to less intimidating size. Six Critical Questions with a couple of sub-questions for each. Use these to interrogate your story. The answers will tell you what and how you need to rewrite.
1. How can I give my story a stronger narrative hook? In other words how can I make my initial story idea more intriguing? How can I make my story opening more dramatic?
2. How can I make my main character more sympathetic to the reader? In other words how can I make the reader care more about her? How can I make her more admirable and heroic?
3. How can I make my villain more formidable yet still believable? In other words how can I make him a more serious threat to my main character? How can I make him three-dimensional and human? How can I be sure he sees himself not as a villain but as the hero of his own story?
4. How can I make my plot work better? In other words how can I create more problems for my main character? How can I make each downturn lead to another downturn? How can I give every upturn a down side? How can I plant secrets and lies everywhere?
5. How can I keep the middle moving? In other words how can I position story downturns as chapter or scene ending cliffhangers? How can my characters discover secrets and uncover lies? How can I make each revelation create a plot twist and change the direction of the story?
6. How can I make my ending more satisfying? In other words how can I milk every drop of drama from the final confrontation scene? How can I explode out of the story as powerfully as I exploded into it?
Rewrites grow you as a writer. They teach you to find your writing strengths and capitalize on them. They encourage you to discover your writing weaknesses and minimize them. Each book becomes better than your last and the pudding is more delicious with every batch.