Houston, We Have a Problem.

I’m baaack! I had a wonderful time at the 2011 Pennwriters Conference, and I’m going to do a more complete post about it later this week. This morning, I’m going to talk about one of the revelations I had at one particular workshop, and what I’m going to do about it.

First, a quick reminder that today is the last day to enter my contest for the “best” revision metaphor. Leave a comment at last week’s post and join in the fun.

So..there were plenty of wonderful workshops at the conference, and I had time to drop in on a few. One was Ramona DeFelice Long’s “Four Truths of Character.” Ramona’s talk was great, and it got me thinking–as all the good classes do–about my own projects. Specifically, about Caro’s story. One of the things Ramona talked about was the character’s mission–another word for her goal. THE THING SHE WANTS. And I realized that I’ve been drifting around that question, not honing in on what it is that Caro is going after.

Now, I have some excuse, I know. There was that crazy first draft, at the end of which I realized I had two stories to write, not one. If I wasn’t clear, while I was drafting, what story I was supposed to be putting Caro in, it’s no wonder I wasn’t clear on what she wanted. So I’m not flagellating myself. Too much.

BUT…here’s the thing. I have this book-in-a-drawer. It’s a book I still love, and a book I have hopes of revising at some point down the line. And the longer I stay away from it, the longer I realize that perhaps the biggest revision point will be…wait for it: what the hero in that book really wants.

Light-bulb moment.

I wrote six drafts of that book, all without tightening the story enough around the hero’s goal/needs. And the result has been, I think, that I have a nice, well-written, funny book, with a big flaw that is now–because of that polishing–harder to revise away.

In other words, I don’t want to wait that long on Caro’s story to figure it out.  (Okay, and this is very possibly true for the picture book, too!)

So what am I going to do about it? Well, my first thought was that I needed some brainstorming time with my critique group. So I brought it up at yesterday’s meeting, thinking I’d just schedule 20 minutes or so at our next meeting. But, of course, because they are so amazing, that wasn’t good enough for them. One brilliant critique partner suggested that I could let them know about some missions/goals that I’ve seen in other YA books.

Another light bulb.

So here’s the plan. In the next couple of weeks, I will:

  • Pick a half-dozen of my favorite YA novels and reread at least the first chapter, but most likely up to the point where the inciting incident hits, since I think that incident is a microcosm of the story’s BIG PROBLEM.
  • Figure out what the hero wants at that moment, and see if I can come up with how that specific goal plays into the big story goal (which, I think, the hero doesn’t always know until later in the story).
  • See if, in the process, any more light bulbs go off.
  • Bring those goals and my own questions about Caro to my critique group for brainstorming

I’m also, I think, going to read Donald Maass’ The Breakout Novelist. I think Maass’ writing books may be the best I’ve found, for pushing me to actually think about character, instead of just typing away and seeing what comes.

Between Ramona, my critique partners, Donald, and me, I’m guessing Caro and I will get our mission. Or at least get a heck of a lot closer to it!


Why Does IT Matter?

Whatever IT may be, in any given scene.

As my brilliant critique group reminded me yesterday, goals and obstacles are not enough. Yes, they can give our readers a purpose to follow and perhaps a feeling that they’re dodging bullets with us as they turn pages, but…there’s one more element for real tensions.


No, not this kind.

The why-does-it-matter kind. The what-will-happen-if-she-doesn’t-get-that-goal kind. The how-much-worse-will-things-get-if-she-fails kind.

I knew this. If I looked through my book, I’d probably find I talked about it some. And still, I managed to plot through my draft without thinking too much/enough about it. Because why? Oh, because there’s just so darned much to remember with this writing thing!

It’s never boring, that’s for sure. 🙂

Don’t worry. I am not stopping the forward movement on this draft to go through and add stakes (of either kind) to every scene in my plot. I am not stopping the forward movement to go back and revise the scenes my critique group returned to me yesterday. (It was actually a very happy critique session, anyway!)

I am, though, going to take a few minutes today and put a sticky note on each of those scenes about the stakes I want to add. I’m hoping that getting a bit closer to those will help me on the current scene, which is being–to put it mildly–a pain in the posterior. I am going to open up one more slot in my brain and, as I keep writing, take a little of that extra time to look at the stakes for each scene. To figure out why Caro’s immediate goal matters and what will go wrong, get worse, turn into a complete mess, when (rather than “if”) she doesn’t get that goal.

To up the tension.

And, once again, big thanks to my critique group for bringing out the Nerf baseball bat and giving me the perfect bonk on the head.