Friday, July 22, 2011

Growing a Story

I’ve struggled with my current work in progress, adding layers to the characters, surprise twists, and, hopefully, foreshadowing just enough to hold the reader’s interest without giving away the farm.

The other day I came across a photograph of mine which represented where I am and where I want to be. You all know “Before” and “After” pictures. Here is one which includes both, side by side.




I view these two potted geraniums as stages in a story. The geranium on the left has bare branches. I call them bones––a rough draft––the spine of the story with incomplete elements.

Shall we hop up the weaker plant with a strong dose of fertilizer? Ah, too much too quick and you may kill it. The same applies to my story. I do not rush revisions. Instead, I put the manuscript aside and leave it for awhile, to later read with fresh eyes. I weight my critique partner’s suggestions and comments.

Don’t fool with word choices until you’ve nailed down any structural weaknesses. Of course, you will correct obvious typos or grammar errors when you spot them. Is every scene necessary? Check for redundant thoughts. Typically, revision means ‘to tighten.’ But make sure you retain your voice. Eliminate clichés. Instead strive for something more unique.

There are a hundred different items to consider from passive voice, using concise language to varying sentence structure. You work diligently, your passion shines, and then, lo and behold, the once bony plant sprouts lush growth, an overabundance of life trails out of the confined space.

Voila, all the time and effort has paid off beautifully. Everyone wants to touch those velvet leaves––savor the texture––embrace your well-crafted story.

Certain areas challenge each of us in growing a story. Mine are nailing down my theme. I start with one and then somehow my characters lurch and strain in another direction, wanting to change my theme. Whether this is a weakness or strength depends on the outcome. If the new theme is more compelling than the original perhaps I need to listen to my characters. After all, it is their story.

What part of growing a story challenges you?

13 comments:

Mona Risk said...

Sheila, I love the analogy of editing with the two plants. Yes, it's better to set the book aside before starting your edits. You'll catch so much with a fresh eye.

Sheila Tenold said...

Hi Mona. I wish I'd known about setting your rough draft aside when I wrote my first manuscript. It would have saved me a lot of wasted effort and time.

Gabriella Hewitt said...

Love the analogy you created. For me the challenge has always been the characters^^bringing them to life, layering them with the life skills and experience that make the unique and memorable in a reader's mind, giving them voice.

I would definitely agree about letting a manuscript sit for a little while before you go back to revise. You will catch a great deal more that way.

Sheila Tenold said...

Hi, Gabriella. Character development is a tough job, isn't it? I liken it to CPR, forcing air into their lungs, pinking their cheeks and finding an eccentricity about each one that makes them stand apart.

Vonnie Davis said...

Great blogpost, Sheila. Loved the plant analogy. This act of setting a manuscript aside is something I need to learn. Can we spell "patience"? I get so eager to finish that to walk away from it for three to four days is like ignoring a crying baby. I can't stand it!!! I have to tweak and edit. I have to stick my fingers in and fiddle with it.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

I have trouble with the beginning, drawing my reader in. Once I get the story off the ground it seems to fly except when my muse stops talking to me. That is the big hint that I am going the wrong way or making them do something they don't like. I also hate being mean to them because I usually love my characters and torturing them is against my nature. I have toughened up and someone told me my current hero is terribly tormented by life. I hadn't realized I overdid on his conflict, but it will be fun pulling him out of it.

I love the photo with the plants. What a great concept you had there.

Sheila Tenold said...

Hi Vonnie. I feel for you wanting to tinker with your manuscript. The only way I can leave it alone for a few months is completely submerge myself in a new story.

When I did this I was shocked when I read that earlier manuscript. It felt new!

Jill James said...

Redundant words. I latch onto a word and wring out every last repetition of it. My editor told me the only way I know how to describe sex is heat. I had like a bazillion of them in one little story.

Sheila Tenold said...

Paisley, I, too, find my beginnings are less than stellar. My personal solution is let the beginning sit until I've written at least Chapter 6, maybe even half the manuscript. Then I go back to the opening. So much has changed that I now "see" the best place to start.

Thanks for stopping in.

Sheila Tenold said...

Jill, I repeat certain words until the cows come home. I now use AutoCrit to track my word overusage. It's a godsent.

Dawn Marie Hamilton said...

Great analogy, Sheila. I write the first draft and then go back and layer. As Paisley mentioned, I struggle with the beginning. Usually rewriting it several times. And as Vonnie said, patience is an issue for me. I want to send my baby out there.

Joan Leacott said...

Nice analogy and very apt photo, Sheila. My problem is settling the plot outline--I refuse to start writing before I've got that done. Otherwise I just waste words.

Josie said...

What part of a growing story challenges me?

The sagging Middle. I read recently that 1 way to instantly improve the middle of the story is to kill off one of the characters. Maybe I'll try it with my current WIP.

Loved, your photos and analogy, BTW.