By Tiffany Colter
Today, I’m going to dig in to craft a bit. National Novel Writing Month [NaNoWriMo] begins in about 2 weeks and when we’ve completed our 50,000 words we’ll need to revise it. I want to talk about some revision strategies, but first, I want to share a short story with you.
This past weekend, I was teaching at a writer’s conference and I had an interesting conversation with someone. She pulled me aside at my table and started by telling me that more than a year ago she had hired me to do a content edit on a portion of her manuscript. She said that when she saw the mark-ups she’d been discouraged and had put her writing away. It wasn’t until I shared in my workshop that I’d had a teacher give me a D- on a story 2 previous lit teachers had RAVED about. Despite the encouragement from two people I highly respected, that ONE grade [which I received when I was 16 years old] stopped my pen until I was 27 years old. I never wrote another word. I’d dreamed of being an author since I was 6 years old—and in a single moment I let it go.
She continued to tell me that she realized as I shared MY story of writing again that I didn’t hate her writing. She realized that I was trying to help her.
And it was true. When I work with clients I always tell them that I make extensive comments. This is because I want to point out EVERY SINGLE issue in the writing, from the most minor (maybe a name or pet phrase) to the most critical (speaking directly to the reader in a 3rd person past novel). I never know which issue will be the ONE that really revolutionizes a person’s writing and it’s not my place to decide how they’d like to rework their story. That is why I show them everything and they can rewrite.
So, what do you DO when you’re faced with a page full of mark ups? Dig in. See, at that same conference I met with another client. He scheduled coaching time with me and we worked for more than 2 hours on the first 8 pages of his story. We looked at revisions and questions. We talked about what he was trying to communicate and ways we could do that with more impact. We discussed character motivation and subtexting. In those 2 hours, I saw a curious scribbler transform in to an enthusiastic writer.
Let me be clear, this person was already writing—and very serious about his craft—but there is something that happens when that light bulb goes off and you jump to a higher level of understanding of the writing process. That is where you need to go. So, pull out something that needs revised and let’s go through a couple of questions together.
- What is the character FEELING? Remember, our feelings could be wrong. I can assume that my husband is mad at me when he is really irritated about an email he just read. MY wrong assumptions can lead to conflict. Integrate this in your story. The reader is in the point-of-view character’s mind. Don’t always let the character be right.
- Along those same lines, set up mental red herrings. The same comment can mean two different things. Create a situation where the reader is led to assume something falsely.
- Don’t be afraid to hurt your character or your reader. This ties in to #2.
- Look at an entire scene [or at least a page or two]. How can you use dialog, subtexting and subtle gestures to explain instead of internal dialog? Instead of He was a handsome man and even after 18 years together she still found him attractive. You could write, Eighteen years of memories they’d created together were created in the lines that now etched his face. His voice still soothed her and his glance made her insides go to Jell-O. Okay, I write suspense, not love stories, but hopefully you see the point. You get to see a bit more of the character. Play with it.
- What are you setting up for later in the story? Remember, the reader doesn’t know what will happen, but you need to plant seeds from even the first few lines that indicate who the characters are NOW, where they’re headed, and how they might change during the course of the plot. It seems like a tall order, but if you read any great books you’ll find they built at least two of these elements in the first chapter—maybe even the first line. In a movie from the 1980s—Flatliners—Kiefer Sutherland starts the first line of the movie, “It’s a good day to die”. That sets the tone of the movie and introduces a question that will carry the entire way through. Edgar Allen Poe’s classic, “The Tell-Tale Heart” immediately sets the scene “True—nervous—very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?” The answer comes throughout the entirety of the book. Don’t say, “Well, Poe was brilliant.” Or “Well, Poe was a nutcase.” Those are excuses. The writing was effective.
- Don’t take criticism personally. This is the most important thing to remember in revisions. Try to communicate with the reader. Recognize that the critique is simply an indication that you are not getting your full impact through to the reader. It is no different than having only 1 bar on your cell phone reception. You don’t decide the phone doesn’t work. You move to an area where there was reception. Move to a better area in your writing.
And I’m REALLY excited to make an announcement here. Writing Career Coach has just created On-Demand Coaching!! These series will include products, webinars and audios. The 3 or 6 months programs will help you improve in Fiction, Non-Fiction and the Business side of your writing. We also have Time Management, Blogging, and Working Mom seminars in the works. The coaching will be VERY affordable—only $35/month if you’d like the printed version or $16/month for an all digital version. Now money doesn’t have to stop you from improving your writing. This will go live on October 21. Watch for information and links. I hope you’ll sign up and be a part of our AMBASSADORS. AMBASSADORS tell others about these webinars. We will also have AFFILIATES who will help promote our programs and will earn a fee for enrollments. More information on both of these in the coming weeks.
Have a great week and happy revising.
Your Coach for the Journey, Tiffany Colter, The Writing Career Coach
Don’t miss a single posting! Subscribe here to receive these postings by e-mail. Tiffany Colter is a writer, speaker and writing career coach who works with beginner to published writers. She can be reached through her website at writingcareercoach.com.