When I dream of becoming a published author, I see myself as a stand out amongst a large populous of romance authors. My books sit alongside those written by authors I’ve admired and learned from by reading and being absorbed by the characters they’ve created and the stories they continue to roll out year after year. I want people to get thrilled when they see a new release date, from author ,Wendi Knape, and automatically click the to read category on their goodreads.com account, so I keep moving forward. Nonetheless, in my writer’s life, there are days when things weigh me down, a little voice whispering I won’t succeed no matter how many edits. However, I never let myself forget my end goal and always remember that I have a lot of encouragement from writer friends, plus all the resources in books and blogs regarding the writing craft.
With my first manuscript I didn’t stop writing to try to publish, I jumped to the next manuscript, and the next, and so on. In my experience, through writing and wise words from other authors, it’s best to leave a completed manuscript alone and come back to it to see what needs fixing.
When I moved on and was about halfway through writing book two, I went back to my first manuscript and tackled editing it several times so I could enter the RWA Golden Heart contest. All along, I’ve felt there’s been something missing from its pages, even after several edits. That I didn’t place in the contest let me know it still needed work, but now I had scores to lead me in the right direction. But still, it wasn’t a decisive critique it was just numbers relating to content.
I kept asking myself, where’s the spark that encourages the reader to turn the page? The spark was elusive, as if it was a living thing, hiding in the dark, just waiting for me to come to its rescue. I was becoming more and more frustrated each time I sat down to edit, mired in words that had gone blurry, lost in a sea of plot. The characters got what they wanted with little conflict. I couldn’t find my way out of the editing fog. Until reading, Make a Sceneby Jordan E. Rosenfeld, and nearly at the same time, a blog piece titled, The Difference between Idea, Premise and Plot, by Janice Hardy on Janice Hardy’s Fiction University website, things didn’t click. When I combined the two ideas, I got excited. Now I held the flickering spark and watched it dance on my fingertips. Fixing problems wasn’t going to be easy but it also wasn’t going to be like Atlas holding up the celestial sphere.
First, let’s look at The Difference between Idea, Premise and Plot. My idea was a good one, the premise was simple and strong, the plot was tagging along like a good pet, but it wasn’t quite pulling me forward like an excited puppy. When I got to story–which Janice Hardy added after a comment from a reader–the emotional element, the internal conflicts my characters would have to overcome, they easily overcame the problems. When I say easy, my hunky hero quickly decided he wasn’t afraid to take on the vampire protagonist–really an alien that needed to feed off human blood–to his home where he would help her find her mentor. Not only in the beginning did the protagonists acquiesce to circumstance, it was throughout that they jumped in feet first and fell in love in a blink. Usually, the reader is at the halfway point before the first love scene. Three quarters through, the protagonists discover they love each and still are keeping it from each other. The declaration of love is a highlight near the end.
If readers know what happens so soon, why should they turn pages?
What was missing?
Janice Hardy’s article allowed me to see that, though my idea was a good one, it wasn’t a complete story. Her break down from Idea, to Premise, Plot and finally her addition of Story, gave me a clearer vision as each consecutive step built on the other leading me to a stronger story concept. I even went on to develop other story ideas that I want in the series based on characters I love. When I got my hands on Rosenfeld’s book, Janice Hardy’s article only enhanced my start-up thoughts as each story came to life.
Half way through Make a Scene, I can tell you that I’ll re-read this book. It’s that good. I’m not saying this is the only book out there to help improve my writing, but Rosenfeld has a way of telling the reader, through examples and clear explanation, how to take my writing to the next level. Butterflies were flitting around in my stomach, my excitement palpable again. What Rosenfeld reiterates throughout is, “plot and character cannot be separated”. I saw the holes in my story, now I could fill them.
The fixes came to me like magic causing me to write like the Mad Hatter at teatime. Narrative and dialogue I wrote, that included thoughts and actions of my protagonists meeting in opposition, help push the plot forward while still building a crescendo as the two characters come together and fall in love, simultaneously dealing with outside forces pulling them apart. Without tension, the reader will put the book down, and I definitely don’t want that to happen.
In my first draft and up until my latest draft of, A New Life, I was telling the reader some of Miseeka’s, my female protagonist’s, back-story. She already knew she would need to drink human blood. Here is an excerpt.
Her parents were blinded by their need to place her on the throne, to pass down their legacy to her. They thought him a wonderful influence on her and the Liti people. But Miseeka knew what a twisted soul he harbored. He was evil. She wouldn’t be beaten or manipulated by him again. So, her plan to flee Liti had formed and she looked for help from Healer Bacchius and other’s he trusted still on Liti.
The problem with the plan was that she would have to feed on humans. He said that Earth’s atmosphere was made up of oxygen, which the Liti could not breathe. Therefore, to survive, any Liti that resided on Earth would have to consume the blood of humans directly from, based on a human’s anatomy, the carotid artery.
It repulsed Miseeka to think she would have to feed off humans. She feared consuming all the human’s life blood. Would she have to kill to survive? She had to contact Bacchius as soon as she landed, if she survived. There were few canisters of Liti air, and it wouldn’t last for long.
While Miseeka dreamed, she could barely get her lungs to work as the escape pod, programmed for Earth, moved through the vast silence of space.
Being a first draft, this is a mess. I use passive voice, I’m telling instead of showing and the tension is nonexistent.
Now look at my latest draft, the one I wrote after reading Make a Scene. I’ll let the section of manuscript speak for itself. Just know that Miseeka has crashed on Earth and realizes she’s no longer near her ship.
Miseeka came awake, blinking and confused.
She slowly got up, swaying in the darkness, as if she was drunk. Looking down to take stock of her form, she saw a sticky wetness smeared over her hibernation suit. What happened?
More aware of her surroundings, she noticed her lungs working efficiently. Miseeka took another breath and suddenly the most delicious aroma filled her renewed lungs and her hands automatically lifted to her mouth as her nose followed the scent to meet them. She swiped at her chin and mouth, and began to lick the unfamiliar treat from her fingers without conscious thought. At one point, she groaned aloud. There was an instant reaction to the liquid she consumed, making her heart pump faster and her desire for more reach a new high. What was this ambrosia, she wondered? She moved to find the source, stumbling, losing her balance toppling onto something.
Miseeka’s mind screamed at the horror of what she had fallen upon. Dear goddess! A human. She scrambled off the male, caught in his limbs, kicking out to get away. “Let me go, let me go?” She screamed, falling over on her belly. She clawed at the undergrowth, the pine needles pricking her hands, digging into her knees, the earth turning over to reveal it’s pungent smell, when she proceeded to vomit onto the forest floor everything she had stolen, until she felt hallow and her breaths became labored once again. Her stomach cramped with the emptiness.
What is happing to me?
Her mouth gapped and sucked in the atmosphere as she tried to remain on her hands and knees, but her lungs continued to burn and her surroundings started to darken as she became lightheaded. Why couldn’t she breathe?
She fell to her side and rolled to her back. Miseeka turned her head toward the human. The man was dead. I am a killer. Her mind went wild with the repercussions; the line of thinking that suddenly came upon her caused the shakes to start riddling her body deep within. She had torn the man’s neck out and fed on him. She was a monster.
Miseeka wanted to laugh. She was now the monster she was trying to escape. She lifted her red hands blackened by the night and realized the only source for her survival, human blood.
With that painful truth, she gave in to the darkness and passed out.
Can you see the difference? By withholding information that I had given Miseeka in the first draft–she would need to feed on human blood–I’ve added a slice of heart pounding tension that ups her internal and external conflicts. Now Miseeka is worried about killing the next human she encounters plus becoming a monster, adding complications. This also bumps up Miseeka’s character development letting the reader know that she has good morals and doesn’t want to hurt anyone. I want the reader to care about her so they’ll keep reading. To complicate her life even further, Kyle, my leading man, comes upon Miseeka just as she stirs from unconsciousness needing to feed. That adds even more tension. What will she do next? The reader will have to turn the page.
Between my first draft and the latest one, a lot had to change. I still want to change more. The lesson? Staring at my own work can leave me hitting my head against a brick wall with an impression of said wall on my forehead. We as writers’ sometimes need to take a step back and reevaluate, so we can get our book on bookstore shelves next to our favorite authors. If we need to find help to see how, the good, the bad, and the downright ugly really look in our manuscripts, a book about writing might do the trick. All writers’ occasionally need is a refresher course in their writing life. So why not find it in one of your favorite books on writing.
What’s your favorite go-to book on writing?
Jordan E. Rosenfeld, MAKE A SCENE Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time, (Writer’s Digest Books 2008) 106.
 Jordan E. Rosenfeld, MAKE A SCENE Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time, (Writer’s Digest Books 2008)21-28,63
I really enjoyed reading your article. I gave me a number of ideas on how I could look at a piece.
Sometimes I’ll actively read the type of book I want to write. By that, I mean that I look at the way an author approaches point of view, tense, organization, etc. While that helps me, I’m certain that a how-to book would be even more enlightening. Your article convinces me that I need to find the right one. Thanks Wendi.
Enlighten, is a good word. Make a Scene did that for me. I don’t even know where to start to find something about non-fiction; memoir oriented. God luck! Pun intended.
Thanks for a look into how you are developing your craft. It’s courageous of you to expose the weak spots and helpful to see how you have strengthened things.
It was interesting, to say the least. I laughed at my earlier work when I read it, and took pride in what I’ve accomplished in the years since I started writing.
What an interesting journey you’re traveling. Having read some of your stories, I expect them to be widely enjoyed by a large readership.
Thanks John, I hope so.