So, these past three Mondays, I’ve been giving revision tips to help with people’s stories. And this is the last in the series! I know! I know! The horror!
Get ready writers and put your revision hats on. As I write this, we’re in lockdown because of CoVid-19 aka the coronavirus, and I know you all just want to draft and eat, but get dressed and do the hard stuff, too. Revising makes your book so much stronger.
11. GIVE YOUR CHARACTERS A REASON
Do not have your hamster kill your cat without a motivation. The cat’s tormenting? That’s a reason. The cat’s snoring? That’s a motivation.
Every character has to have a want and a motivation, a reason for doing what they do.
In other words: Your characters need to make sense.
12. THINK ABOUT TIME FRAME
Should your story be an hour in the protagonist’s life? A day? A year? Does it really need to end with the prom? Plath says to think of the story as “an image stamped in Silly Putty, until it became distorted and possibly more interesting?”
Pull out that image. Think about how long your story is in the character’s life.
13. ADD SOME TEXTURE
Think about figurative language. Think about symbols and allusions and metaphors. Use the tools of literature and the sounds of poetry to make your story resonate.
But, um, don’t put a simile in every paragraph.
14. MAYBE YOU SHOULD GO UNRELIABLE
Narrators who are reliable are sometimes narrators who are boring. What would happen if yours went to the dark side?
15. BE TRIVIAL. BE DEEP
We want to hear what matters to the character and what trivial parts of his/her existence make him/her real. If she’s a bus driver. Let us know how that impacts her thinking. Let us see her job.
These revision tips this week are all originally from James Plath’s article “Twenty-one Tweaks to a Better Tale,” which was published in THE COMPLETE BOOK OF NOVEL WRITING, Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinatti, Ohio, Edited by Meg Leder, Jack Heffron, and the Editors of Writer’s Digest.
WRITING AND PODCAST NEWS
Over 170,000 people have downloaded episodes of our podcast, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE, you should join them. There will be a new episode tomorrow!
Okay. I know the title of our podcast this week sounds mean, but it’s truth. You want to be a good writer or good liver, right?
Digression: Not a liver like an organ, but a liver like someone who is alive.
Anyway, digression over.
You want to be good. So that means what? You guessed it. It means that you can’t be lazy.
What’s a lazy writer?
It’s someone who babbles and has a lot of words that really say nothing. So here are hot tips about that.
PROBLEM #1: USING WAY TOO MANY TO-BE VERBS.
TIP #1: Don’t.
A to-be verb is: is, are, was, were, has been, had been,
A to-be verb hides the real importance of your sentence in a layer of whatever.
How about an example?
Lazy to-be sentence:
Being thrilled to be snowboarding is such a real feeling.
So the subject up there is so dull. It’s being thrilled.
How about we switch it up to having a real concrete subject:
The yeti is thrilled to be snowboarding today.
Whoa, way better, right? We now know the yeti is thrilled and that’s more concrete, but we still have that ‘to be’ verb with ‘is.’
One more try:
The yeti snowboards, pumping his hairy fist in the air, screaming, “Yee-haw!”
We now have a much better image of the yeti and his joy. Also we just all have an image of a yeti, which is always a bonus.
PROBLEM #2: WRITING LIKE YOU’RE TRYING TO HIT A TEACHER-INSPIRED WORD COUNT ON A U.S. HISTORY PAPER ABOUT THE ANTEBELLUM AND YOU ARE JUST PUTTING IN WORDS TO FILL UP SPACE.
TIP #2: Don’t babble.
You know what we mean, right?
We’re talking about the never-ending sentence. Something like this:
If this economic crisis is able to be adjudicated with both the president and Congress’s approval, there will likely be an increased number of regulatory-relief provisions that will also be passed, which should make a resulting impact on the home-owner’s monetary status.
And all you hear is blah-blah-blah-BLAH-blah.
Don’t do that in your fiction.
Writing Tip of the Pod
Don’t babble. Don’t pad your thoughts down with meaningless words
Dog Tip for Life
Meandering with purpose is the best. Don’t bark for no reason because then people won’t listen to your important growls.
The music we’ve clipped and shortened in this podcast is awesome and is made available through the Creative Commons License. Here’s a link to that and the artist’s website. Who is this artist and what is this song? It’s “Night Owl” by Broke For Free.
It all began with my mom freaking out about a feather.
My mom has always been afraid of birds. That fear started long before I existed and was made worse by a visit to a science museum in Boston where an owl swooped near her head and glared at her. Apparently, that powerful owl glare was enough to push her over the edge.
I wasn’t allowed to have bird feeders or stuffed animal birds. If there were robins outside on our lawn, Mom would avert her eyes and draw the shades in the windows.
My mother’s fear of birds grew so big that she screeched when I was four years old and proudly brought a peacock feather home from a nursery school field trip to a wild animal farm. I was so psyched about this feather, which I won by answering a bunch of animal questions correctly.
The feather made me feel super smart for the first time in my little life. It was my prize and my reward and I was the only one in the whole nursery school who received one. It was like a Nobel Prize or a Pulitzer in my four-year-old head. It was such a super big deal and I knew — I just was absolutely positive — that my mom would be psyched and put it on the wall and maybe frame it or something while she announced to all her friends, “My youngest daughter, Carrie? She is so smart. So smart, I tell you! See this feather? It proves it.”
When I presented the coveted prize to my mom, she screamed and made me throw the feather outside.
“Get it out! Get that dirty thing out of our house!” she yelled. Actually, she screeched.
I remember pivoting in our heavily wooded, dark kitchen, running out to the screened-in porch, and into our yard. I took the peacock feather to a giant boulder where I played deserted island and Wizard of Oz and all my lonely made-up games, and I climbed up to the top of the rock.
Once there, I kissed the feather, the dirty thing, goodbye. I cried because it was so beautiful and I won it and then I had to let it go.
I let that beautiful feather go. I didn’t hold onto it the way we tend to hold onto our fears. It is just so hard to let go of our fears. That’s especially true for my poor mom who wouldn’t go to friends’ houses if they had birds in cages. She hated the beach because birds were at the beach. Every year black birds would hang out on our front lawn during their migration. There would be hundreds of them. She’d call in sick to work. Her fear held her back over and over again.
Years after the peacock incident, my mom ran screaming from a park where we were having a picnic with my daughter who was then two. A seagull had come too close. Too close was about a football field away.
When I caught up with my mom, she was standing in the doorway of a local restaurant, shaking.
“Don’t judge me!” she said. She was reapplying her lipstick with a shaking hand.
I grabbed her hand in mine because the lipstick application was not going well.
“I’m not judging you,” I told her, “but I don’t want Em to grow up afraid.”
That’s when I realized that my mom missed out on so much of life even though she was the liveliest, absolutely most alive person I knew. She missed out because she listened to her fear.
My daughter grew up to study Krav Maga in Israel, to apply and get in to Harvard, to become a field artillery officer in the Army. She’s jumped off roofs at stunt camp, log rolled, rock climbed, was the flyer of her cheerleading squad. She is known for picking up birds that she finds in parking lots, shopping centers, and bringing them to safety.
She is bold and unafraid most of the times. She’s not a fan of spiders, but she deals with them. Even when she is afraid, she faces her fears, snarls at them, and tells them to stand down.
She made my poor mom’s heart race and palpitate more than once.
Even for those of us who don’t have phobias like my Mom, the biggest fears that we have are often the ones about not being enough, not smart enough, not loved enough, just not enough. Of failure. Of being imperfect. Of being alone. There are so many fears we punish ourselves with. But we don’t have to listen to those fears. We can face the fears, see them for what they are and ignore the fears’ advice to cower, to yell, to blame, to run away.
My mother was afraid of a feather.
And our fears? The ones we hold inside of us? The ‘not good enough’ moments that feel so dam real? They are even less substantial than that feather.
That’s right. Those fears are not even as heavy as a feather, nowhere near as substantial. Still, we let them hurt us and hold us back.
Here’s the thing: You don’t have to let them hold you back.
Here’s the other thing: You can’t ignore your fear and you can’t give in to it. You have to jump headlong into the scariness and embrace the fear and snarl at it and know what it is. What is it? Fear is that voice that rings so loudly in your brain telling you what to do or what not to do. When you refuse to listen to it? That’s when you win.
You can beat your fears.
What are you afraid of? What makes you shake and cower? Not your phobias. But your fears. Are you afraid of failing so much that you don’t try to succeed? Bankruptcy? Not being loved? Commitment? Being evil? Being good? Being taken advantage of? Taking advantage of others? Face them head on because those fears are keeping you from being your best self.
I’m trying to be my best self. I fail a lot! So much! But I hope you’ll grab my hand even when it’s shaking and try with me. I think we can do this. Together.
Email or comment if you want to say hi and talk about it, okay?
There are certain things in the editor/author relationship that you just are not supposed to do.
I have consistently screwed that up.
Fortunately, I have a very, very tolerant editor.
I am only telling you so that you don’t do this too. And I’m putting it in tips form because it’s easier for me to deal with the nasty truth of it, that way …
TIPS ON NOT MAKING YOUR EDITOR THINK YOU ARE A LITTLE TOO WEIRD
Do not answer the phone while you are in the shower. No. Really. Even if you think it’s your little girl calling from school to say she forgot her lunch. Even if you think it’s a neighbor calling because they found your dog humping their light-up reindeer in their front yard. Do not answer the phone.
Remember the person on the other end may be your editor.
Remember you do not want your editor to realize that you are naked. Because the truth is, people take showers naked. You do NOT want people imagining you naked.
4. If, for some insane, inane reason you do answer the phone, do not, DO NOT, bring the phone in the shower with you.
5. Do not do this even if you still have conditioner in your hair.
6. Do not do this even if you have to be somewhere in 20 minutes.
7. Just don’t do this. The shower makes a lot of noise, and it’s probably dangerous to have the cordless phone in the shower with you, like you could electrocute yourself or something.
8. If you do, do this, which you shouldn’t, please make sure to rinse the conditioner out of both sides of your hair, keep your head tilted and the phone OUT OF THE RUNNING WATER.
9. Remember it is hard to have an intelligent conversation with your editor while getting conditioner out of your hair and worrying about being late and worrying about being electrocuted and worrying about whether he knows you are in the shower or not.
10. Shut off the water. Ignore your editor when he says, “Oh. I can suddenly hear you better.”
11. Act all innocent. Say, “Really?”
12. Dry off. Comb hair. Be thankful Mr. Editor Guy does not have a camera phone.
14. Spend the entire day with crunchy hair, because you forgot to rinse the conditioner off the top of your hair, just the sides.
15. Realize that crunchy hair is not worth it and VOW never to answer the phone while in the shower again.
16. Forget the vow the next day and try to say in a nice non-panicked voice when you answer the phone and the warm water is streaming down, “Oh. Hi, Mr. Nice Editor Guy. It’s you.”
Sparty’s Wednesday Wisdom
Notice everything, humans.
Usually the things we see, the stories we hear and don’t hear? There’s deeper stuff going on there.
Notice the deeper stuff. Then roll around in the grass, sniff weird objects and ask for snacks. That all makes a good Wednesday.
I’m about to publish a super cool adult novel. Gasp! I know! Adult! That’s so …. grown-up?
Rosie Jones, small town reporter and single mom, is looking forward to her first quiet Maine winter with her young daughter, Lily. After a disastrous first marriage, she’s made a whole new life and new identities for her and her little girl. Rosie is more than ready for a winter of cookies, sledding, stories about planning board meetings, and trying not to fall in like with the local police sergeant, Seamus Kelley.
But after her car is tampered with and crashes into Sgt. Kelley’s cruiser during a blizzard, her quiet new world spirals out of control and back into the danger she thought she’d left behind. One of her new friends is murdered. She herself has been poisoned and she finds a list of anagrams on her dead friend’s floor.
As the killer strikes again, it’s obvious that the women of Bar Harbor aren’t safe. Despite the blizzard and her struggle to keep her new identity a secret, Rosie sets out to make sure no more women die. With the help of the handsome but injured Sgt. Kelley and the town’s firefighters, it’s up to Rosie to stop the murderer before he strikes again.
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“Carrie just happens to be one of those rare cases of extreme talent and excellent coaching.”
It’s with Steve Wedel. It’s scary and one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Buzz Books for Summer 2019. There’s an excerpt of it there and everything! But even cooler (for me) they’ve deemed it buzz worthy! Buzz worthy seems like an awesome thing to be deemed!
Order this bad boy, which might make it have a sequel. The sequel would be amazing. Believe me, I know. It features caves and monsters and love. Because doesn’t every story?