Did anyone sit down with that Pyramid of Editorial Concerns from last week and get totally overwhelmed about what, exactly, needs to be revised in your story?
You're not alone. In fact, overwhelm is typically my first response when I sit down to revise, especially if I've gotten notes back from readers that suggest my story needs more work than I thought it did (which, let's be honest, is just about every time!).
"I can't possibly do that!" "You don't get what I was trying to do!" "No! No! No!" (stamps foot like disgruntled toddler).
I gave you a lot of tips last week for how to revise deeply. But a couple of you pointed out that sometimes you know a story needs to be revised, but you're not sure what it is that's not working. And all the spreadsheets in the world are not going to help you plan if you can't identify what you're trying to fix.
That's part of the reason that I keep talking to anyone who will listen about learning to identify story problems from your pitch or jacket copy. Because I truly believe learning to self-assess is one of the keys to successful writing.
A good story has just the right blend of plot (external goal), character (internal goal), and stakes (why those goals matter). And no amount of beautiful line-level writing will make up for a deficiency in one of these three key parts of story.
And one of the top issues I see with new writers is trying to come up with plot, character, and stakes without seeing how the three have to be intricately linked to work. The most exciting plot ever, with a literal ticking time bomb to create life or death stakes, will fall flat if all the main character has to do is diffuse the bomb. If, instead, they have to overcome the memory of a past failure under pressure, or choose between their true love and humanity, then those internal stakes elevate the exciting plot points in a way that simply diffusing the bomb would not.
Different genres may lean more heavily toward either plot or character, and that's OK, but both should be there, and should be elevated by the stakes (which can and should be both global and personal, as in the bomb example above).
Think of this as the foundation upon which story is built. And cracks in that foundation are the first thing you should address in revision. Need a little bit more detail to get you started? I've got you covered, in multiple formats even! You can read the transcript of my talk on assessing plot, character, and stakes in your story, listen to it on #AmWriting, or watch the video.
And if you're still stumped after doing this, do not despair--I'm going to be walking twenty writers through my process for deep revision step-by-step beginning April 3.
More details coming soon.
Here are a few updates you might be interested in:
- Earlier this month, I was a guest on the wonderful #AmWriting podcast talking about one of my favorite topics: how to tell if you're ready to pitch.
- Next month, I'll be co-teaching The Writers' Room for Novelists with my friend and colleague Emily Colin. This five-week course is packed full of expert advice, guest lectures, and writing community at a fabulous price. If you need some accountability and support in your writing journey, check it out!
- There are three new videos up on my YouTube channel. Check out my videos on Scrivener tips, writing cross-culturally, and writing environmental and social justice fiction today!
Have a wonderful week!