Friday, May 26, 2017

Don't Over Complicate Your Story

Too often, I find authors who have a great premise to their stories, and yet, completely screw it up by over-complicating things. In most of the cases, the added complication comes from adding far too many additional sub-plots to the story. The result, is, the story completely loses focus from that central theme and story arc that sounded so good at the beginning.

When I explain this to writers, I love to use the Harry Potter series as a great example. Consider that last novel. By the time Rowling got to The Deathly Hollows, she had so many sub-plots going and so many characters that it required two novels just to wrap things up. Everyone in the story needed a conclusion, and in some cases, the conclusions contradicted each other.

For authors doing this in a 75,000 - 100,000 story, the addition of all of these additional elements means that something else is going to be sacrificed. What we see is the story now lacking a depth of character and plot development. In other words, in order to get to all of the plots, the author sacrifices really providing depth for the central story arc.

What I have found is that this issue generally stems from authors getting hung up on the GMC's of their characters. This would be the Goals, Motivations and Conflicts. Authors spend so much time trying to justify behaviors that they end up creating additional plots. For example, a character is overly committed to their work and is a borderline work-a-holic. Instead of simply saying this is how this person has always been their entire life, they create a huge backstory with an abusive father. They may also create a secondary sub-plot with another company that is now run by a friend from college... and then it falls apart with a past relationship of someone stealing the other person's girlfriend... I think you can see where this goes to.

Adding over-the-top conflicts does the same thing. Instead of simply picking a great conflict and working with it, the author now creates multiple conflicts to make the story even more interesting or giving the character more challenges to work with. While this might seem like a great approach at that time, the author forgets that to solve the problems will require a lot of additional work. Again, to meet the word count issue, the main story is sacrificed.

As you are plotting your story, make sure to really pay attention to the main story arc. Think of everything that you are adding and keep asking yourself if those pieces can be done in an easier way. Can a character already in the story provide that information? Can this action or scene be justified with just a personality? The more you do this, the more you will keep that focus you wanted when you started writing the story.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Why Revisions Are So Difficult

So, you sent your story out to your editor or your agent. You love this story. You worked your "you know what" off and it contains all of your blood, sweat and tears. And then, you get that letter back saying something such as. "I really love the things you have done with this story but there are a few things that I think we need to work on." This is then followed up by pages of comments.


But the thing is that revisions are part of the entire writing process. It is the revision phase that really fleshes out that great story that you, your agent and your editor envisioned when you were discussing it at the proposal phase, But still, I get it. Revisions are tough. But why?

The biggest reason is that you, your agent, and your editor were looking at this story while wearing blinders. You know what I mean? Those things the race horse wear. Of course we are talking about this in the metaphorical sense. Each of the players in this story saw it being written one way. They saw the characters one way. They heard the discussions one way. And they saw the resolution of the conflict being played out in their unique way. When you have three sets of eyes looking at it this way, you will often run into things that seem to be impossible to resolve.

But this is not the case. The odds are, you are all looking at the exact same issues in the story. The struggle you are having is how to resolve those issues.

I know with many authors, they see the only way to resolve the story is a complete re-do of the entire story. They panic and see this changes as being something that will mandate time they simply feel they do not have in their life. The editors or the agents may also see it that way. But there is a solution.

As you look at the revisions, simply make a list of the problems and look at these in blocks of issues. What you will often find is that the issues back in Chapter 10 may all be fixed with a small tweak in Chapter 2. In other words, you made a mistake early on and for the next 8 chapters, you just dug your self into the problem deeper and deeper.

Secondly, look for the easy solutions. If you have great dialogue, but you ended up inserting another random character in the story to say those things, and the end result was a chapter that was just slowing the story down. You had to put that person into the story, work them in smoothly, get those lines out, and then work them out of the story. This is too much. Could another character figure this out? Could your protagonist just come to this understanding without bringing in someone else to tell them?

I always tell my authors to not panic when those revisions show up. Let's look at the comments and see what we can do.

Now, with that said, will there be times when the revisions are a pain. Yes. But now you know how to work through the problems.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Are You Thinking Like Your Characters?

I always remind authors to remember where literature falls in the area of education. Literature is part of the humanities division. These are stories that talk about the human experience and give us an insight into who we are as people. Now, why is this important? Because, as an author, you have to create the most realistic portrayal of your characters. And, the problem is, many fail to do so.

Too often, I find myself rejecting projects, not because the premise is not great. It often comes down to the fact that the author has simply written words on the page and not given the reader the depth of character development. We simply see characters talking on the page, but those characters are not really coming to life.

I also find that I end up passing on projects because the characters simply do not sound authentic. Their comments and behaviors are not what normal people would do in those situations. The author, instead, has used the characters' dialogue and actions simply to move the plot forward and not so much to give us a sense of the person.

So, as you work on your stories today, I want you to really listen to your characters. Would a "real" person say those things or act that way? Would a "real" person really have those emotions at that exact time? The more you do this, the easier it will be to draw your reader in.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Gossip and Rumors are Not Facts

The publishing industry is always full of change. Gosh, it seems like I say this a lot, but it is true. Editors change. Lines are created. Lines are eliminated. The list goes on and on. When these changes start happening, it is amazing how fast the stories flow around social media, and with each post, the stories often get tweaked, adjusted, and many times, move further and further away from the truth. As an author, it is important to be aware of these changes, but please also note, that what you might be reading may be an interpretation of what is really going on.

Authors need to understand that when these changes happen, these are BUSINESS decisions. These are not situations where someone is randomly making the change just because he or she wants to. These are not changes because someone who has no idea what they are doing made some executive decision. When these companies make changes, there were likely a lot of meetings and conversations that took place before hand. The goal of a company is to make money. Again, remember, this is business.

Consider some of the recent changes that have happened at Harlequin. Several of the lines have been scheduled for elimination. At this time, we simply know that the decisions were made. All of the conversations and meeting notes are certainly not out there, but know that these decisions were not taken lightly.

We can certainly speculate as to the reasons. In many cases, it might simply come down to sales that were simply not there. Why? The books were simply not being bought. The readers out there have shifted their attention to other interests.

We can also speculate that some of the lines, may simply have transformed over the years into duplicates of other stories out there.

The point is, we can only speculate.

So what can you do as an author? First of all, certainly pay attention to the changes. Make adjustments in your future plans to accommodate those changes. If these changes do not affect you, then just keep on doing what you are doing.

Secondly, if you do want to share your thoughts with your fellow writers, do so with caution. I would also recommend that if you do post something, simply remind people that this is all you know and you cannot read into things.

Just some things to consider as we move closer to the weekend.