Here's a fun writing tip that's quite helpful for plotting.
The beginning and ending of your story are often going to be opposites.
What this means is that your main character typically starts out in an ordinary environment, not living life to their fullest for whatever reason. Then an inciting incident comes along. The main character is pushed beyond their previous limits, discovering themselves and a new world along the way--sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively.
By the time the main character has overcome the obstacles in their path, they should also have experienced significant personal growth. The older the audience of your story, the greater the change is likely to be.
At the end of the story, the main character typically has a different outlook on life, a different view of their future, and a changed environment.
Let's take a look at this in action.
In the classic Cinderella, Cinderella is a poor, overworked, underappreciated maid in her own home at the beginning of the movie. She's too meek to stand up for herself. By the end of the movie, she's a beautiful princess, married to the prince, and moving into the castle. And more importantly, she makes the decision to speak up when her stepmother breaks the slipper and lets the prince know that she's the mystery girl. This is the opposite of her beginning.
In The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins is a simple hobbit who doesn't want to go off on an adventure. He knows little of the outside world, and has never encountered anyone capable of true evil in his entire life. Hobbits are peaceful, unnoticed by the outside world. By the time Bilbo's journey is done, he's learned to be brave, traveled farther than many creatures of Middle Earth, fought incredible dangers, and become one of the most significant figures in the battle between good and evil. While Bilbo ends up back home again, he is forever changed and doesn't feel completely at ease until he gives up the ring and leaves again.
If you know where you want your story to begin, but not where it should end, try envisioning how to turn the main character's situation on its head. Then chart a path that will lead them there. This also works if you know your ending but not your beginning.
Whether you're a plotter or a pantser (or even a plantser--a little bit of both), we can all agree that coming up with a revision plan is often hard work. But for my fellow pantsers out there, who discover their stories and their characters as they write their first drafts, revisions can seem particularly intimidating. Today's post will give you some tips on how revise once you've finished that first draft.
1. ALWAYS remember that you can't fix everything at once.
Stories go through many drafts before they even start to look polished enough to query. If you sit down and try to go from rough draft to perfection in one round, you will get overwhelmed, burned out, and feel like giving up. Don't do this to yourself!
2. Pick one or two aspects to focus on during each round of drafting, starting with the larger elements first.
Things like plot, theme, and characterization need to be solid before you focus on minute, line-level revisions. Don't waste hours finding the perfect sentence to describe the glint of sunlight off the love interest's hair if you're not sure that scene will be in the finished product. Start big picture, and work your way down to polishing every word choice last.
3. Use a plot chart.
I can hear all the pantsers out there gasping. Once you've discovered your story, though, you might also discover that you need to do some rearranging and remodeling. Try writing down each key scene and check them against one of the many plotting methods available online. (Seven-point story structure is one I like if you haven't done much plotting before.) Do your scenes fit the flow of action in their current order, or do you need to move things around? Do you have scenes that are distracting from the plot and belong in your backstory file, not the novel? Or are you missing pivot points that change the course of the novel? Checking the plot structure after writing a first draft allows pantsers to enjoy that heady discovery phase they need, while helping to ward off pesky saggy middles.
4. Get to know your characters.
Dig deeper into your characters, beyond their appearances. What are their fears, their goals, their loves? What will they fight for? What will they run from? What hurts are they hiding, and what makes them lash out in pain? Find out what motivates your character to behave the way they do, so their behavior will make sense throughout the story. Characters can make strange choices, but they still should make sense for that character, given their emotional trauma, their desires, and their goals.
5. Find the theme or inner core of your story.
What's your story really about? Most stories have some inner truth underlying the action; something that the main character must learn over the course of the story. The theme often ties in to the character's deepest feelings, so completing #4 will help with this task.
6. Give yourself time in between rounds of revisions.
It's vital to give yourself space between yourself and your first draft (and all the others), so you can look at it more objectively. Often what we think we've put on paper is so strong in our heads that we can't see the details we've left out or haven't communicated clearly until we step back from the story for a little while. Come at the story with fresh eyes, and you'll notice more of your mistakes--and be pleasantly surprised by the things you did well.
When I say rhythm, you probably think of drums and counting beats. Possibly poetry and meter. But all language has rhythm, whether it's spoken or written or signed, and you can use variations in rhythm to keep your reader interested.
Most authors have a "default" sentence length they tend to write. (I tend toward longer sentences with lots of clauses, if you hadn't noticed.) There's no one length that's right or wrong. But if all your sentences are long, you wear your reader out. If they're all short, your reader can feel like you're shooting rapid-fire sentence bullets at them.
Varying your sentence lengths is key to keeping a reader interested and refreshed.
There's a classic example of how this works, written by Gary Provost:
Isn't that amazing?
Provost could have tried to explain sentence rhythm til the cows came home, but this demonstration is so much more effective.
Now, bland rhythm can be a hard thing to catch while editing. But never fear, because we have two tips to help you.
First, READ YOUR WORK ALOUD.
Have you ever read much Dr. Seuss to kids? He did a lot to encourage kids to read, but some of those books can be torture to read, because of the repetitive rhythm. If you find yourself falling into a metered pattern while you read, or you notice that you're always breathing in the same place, you probably should tweak some sentences for length.
Second, there's a cool add-on for Google Chrome called "Highlight the Music." You can run it on any Google doc, and it will color-code your sentences by length. It's free to download, and you can find it here.
*I, assistant editor Bethany, have never had any difficulty with this add-on. However, please do always save and backup your work before using any new word processing type programs.*
Someone already ran Provost's rhythm paragraph through the Highlight the Music add-on. So this is what it looks like in use, for those of you who are visual like me:
I find it helpful in my work to be able to look at it and see where I have massive chunks of one color that I need to break up. Not every page needs to be a rainbow, but if it's all one solid color, you probably want to change things up.
So take a look at the rhythm in your own manuscript, and see what kind of music YOU can make. Happy editing!
Have you ever received the feedback from a critique partner or an agent that they "just didn't connect with the character"? It's something most of us have heard, but it can be hard to understand how to use that feedback to approach revisions.
If agents aren't connecting, try adding emotional depth.
When someone says they didn't connect, it's often a symptom of rushed pacing. You need to let readers into your main character's emotional state if you want them to form a connection. You do that by showing their reaction to what's happening around them, to what is (and isn't) being said. If you rush through all the intense action scenes without giving the MC a chance to show us how they feel, then all the reader gets out of the scene is the action without the emotional connection. The action is vital and fun, but the emotional resonance is what makes it stick. Make sure you have a good balance of both.
Every Wednesday and Saturday we bring you an edit tip of the day. Be sure to check out the archives for our popular summer series of SHOW DON'T TELL workshops!