Tag Archives: the story arc

#amwriting: The second draft: effective revisions

My Writing LifeI am in the process of making revisions on Valley of Sorrows, the third book in the Tower of Bones trilogy. I’ve had trouble with this manuscript, not because I fell out of love with it, but because so many great characters have emerged that I lost the thread of the story.

Because I knew I had lost my way, I sent it to a friend, Dave Cantrell, who has done a structural edit and given me the pointers I need to get this back on track.

What happened to derail VOS is this: I lost track of the original story arc.

This is not an uncommon problem–writers tell me all the time how new and intriguing characters pop up and take their tale in a different direction.

Sometime this works out well. Other times, not so much. I have floundered for two years on this novel.

What Dave did at my request was far more intensive than a beta-read. He really went deep, looking at it from the standpoint of a reader and an editor, and asking himself what worked, what didn’t, and analyzing why.

So right now I am taking each chapter on an individual basis and looking at Dave’s comments. Every comment is designed to let me know why a particular plot point did or didn’t work, and where it became confusing. He was able to see where I lost the overall story arc and his comments give me a road-map to guide my efforts in building tension and ending this series with a strong finish.

I’ve said before that making revisions is not editing. Revising the first draft is a necessary part of the process that will get you to the editing stage.

Most authors understand that there is an arc to the overall novel–the Story Arc  which  consists of :

  1. Exposition, where we introduce our characters and their situation.
  2. Rising Action, where we introduce complications for the protagonist
  3. Climax, the high point of the action, the turning point of the narrative
  4. Falling Action, the regrouping and unfolding of events that will lead to the conclusion
  5. Resolution, in which the problems encountered by the protagonist are resolved, providing closure for the reader.

The Story Arc

As I said, most of us understand this arc, but we can easily lose track of it when we are in the throes of writing our first draft.

At the 2014 PNWA Conference, in his seminar on the arc of the scene, author Scott Driscoll explained how the main difference in the arc of the scene vs the overall arc of the novel is this: the end of the scene is the platform from which your next scene launches.

The Novel Meme LIRFSo as I am revising I am keeping in mind:

  1. Each chapter is a scene.
  2. These scenes have an arc to them: action and reaction.
  3. These arcs of action and reaction begin at point A and end at point B.
  4. Each launching point will land on a slightly higher point of the story arc.

I had lost the plot of this novel, so first I had to remind myself just what the series was about:

  1. This series deals with Edwin’s story.
  2. He is separated from his wife and child because of his task on behalf of the Goddess Aeos.
  3. Completion of his task takes us to the 3rd plot point of the novel
  4. Hunting  the acolyte of Tauron and the final battle in Aeoven resolves the story
  5. No conversation can happen unless it advances the plot of this story. EVERYTHING that does not pertain to this story can be cut, saved, and used later.

I have a goal of finishing this by the end of February. When I submit this to my editors, there will be more revisions–that is a given. But because of the work Dave has done, it won’t be the arduous rewrite it would have been.

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Elements of the story: Conversation, gestures, and actions

My Writing LifeCreating memorable characters is the goal of all authors–after all, who would read a book if the characters are bland or uninteresting? But what is it that makes a character interesting? Is it just witty conversation?

That is surely a part of it, but think about the people you know. Picture the ones you like to spend time with. What is it about them that captured your interest in the first place? I’m not talking lovers here, so set the intangible, irresistible chemistry aside, for the moment.

Was it their gestures, their mannerisms that intrigued you before you got to know them? Something about them caught your interest, and you found a kindred spirit.

That is what we want to do for our characters.

And no, I don’t mean for you to inject an excess of flushing, smirking, eye-rolling, or shrugging into your story.

I want you to think natural: People don’t only use their faces to communicate. People’s bodies and faces are in constant motion, and that is how you want your characters to seem. You can do this in small, unobtrusive ways by visualizing your conversations and the character’s who are having them.

Consider this excerpt from one of my works in progress, Billy Ninefingers. These excerpts are from my rough draft and will be tightened up, but I am using them as the examples today.  This tale takes place in the world of Waldeyn, and Huw the Bard figures prominently in it, although not in the opening chapters. This conversation happens just before the first plot point. It is the calm before the storm and reveals some of Billy’s personality and his sidekick, Alan Le Clerk. It shows them as mercenaries and as people, and also shows their environment.

Conversation 1 Billy and Alan

 

Billy and Alan are clearly friends. It’s a sunny day and they are obviously wearing armor. Their conversation tells us they’re concerned about the trail they are on. Through that, we learn that world they live in is dangerous and people must hire guards to protect them from more than just highwaymen if they choose to travel. The three paragraphs of that conversation are all the reader needs to know about the work they do and the trail they are riding. That scene ends and the next scene  takes them and the merchant they are guarding to their destination, the dark, dirty town of Somber Flats.

That is where we come to the lead-up to the inciting action. This is where we meet Bastard John, and it is one of the few times he will be in such a place that we can see who he is. The second plot point makes no sense unless the reader knows that the Bastard is an obnoxious bastard, and proud to be so-named.

Conversation 2 Billy and Bastard John

 

We know the Bastard is a bastard when he is drunk. We know he is capable of acting on any thought that passes through his alcohol-soaked mind. We also see that Billy has a sense of fair-play.

Picture your conversations as if your were there with them. People miss a few beats when they are speaking. They gather their thoughts and  speak in short bursts. They shift in their chair, or stand up, or wave a hand to emphasize a point. They turn, and they sometimes mumble.

And it is important to remember that every character’s mannerisms are individual, uniquely theirs. You, as the author visualize them this way, but it is your task to commit their personalities to paper, and that is where many authors fail.

Through physical actions and conversational interactions we make our characters knowable and likable (or not, as the case may be). Their actions also help to show the environment they exist in. Within the scene of the conversation, you have the opportunity to convey the setting and the mood of your characters.

Claude Monet Painting in his Garden, by Pierre-Auguste Renoir [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Claude Monet Painting in his Garden, by Pierre-Auguste Renoir [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

We use our words sparingly and with intention, painting the setting as if we were artists in the style of the  impressionists. With color and small hints a good author gives the impression of detail, offering the reader a framework for  to hang his imagination on.

When characters act and speak naturally within a clearly visualized impression of a setting, we as readers,  suspend our disbelief and become immersed in the story.

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Dazed and confused

my sisters grave robert dugoniI am a a bit dazed and confused right now. I have been intensely preparing to give a seminar on writing dialogue at conference next weekend, but now the convention has been cancelled. Apparently not enough people pre registered. And I was all prepped to hear an announcement from Robert Dugoni!  Now I won’t know what it is until he tweets it. And his book, My Sister’s Grave was just named one of the top five thrillers of 2014.  I love it when an Indie goes viral!

But on the positive side, I am now free to focus on editing for clients, prepping for NaNoWriMo 2014 and several other things that demand my attention. Also, I don’t have to hope and pray I can find a vegan-friendly restaurant near the hotel (which I also cancelled.)

I had planned to talk about talking–at least about how your characters might talk, if they were talking to you in real life.

So how do we convey a sense of naturalness and avoid the pitfalls of the dreaded info dump and stilted dialogue? First, we must consider how the conversation fits into the arc of the scene.

It begins, rises to a peak, and ebbs, an integral part of the scene, propelling the story forward to the next scene. A good conversation is about something and builds toward something. J.R.R. Tolkien said dialogue has a premise or premises and moves toward a conclusion of some sort. If nothing comes of it, the dialogue is a waste of the reader’s time.

First we must identify what must be conveyed in our conversation.

  1. Who needs to know what?
  2. Why must they know it?
  3. And how many paragraphs do you intend to devote to it?

My rule of thumb is, keep the conversations short and intersperse them with scenes of actions that advance the plot. Walls of conversation don’t keep the action moving and will lose readers, so make the conversations important—and intriguing.

Author James Scott Bell says dialogue has five functions:

  1. To reveal story information
  2. To reveal character
  3. To set the tone
  4. To set the scene
  5. To reveal theme

So now that we know what must be conveyed and why, we arrive in the minefield of the manuscript. That will be the subject of my next blogpost.

The Arc of the Conversation

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