06 June 2008


You know how a recorded voice sounds when the power dies? The words elongate until the sounds becomes one long moan? Well, the writer had not succumb entirely, but her words were hesitant and apologetic.

I had consulted on her murder mystery a year or more ago. Then, we had worked primarily on developing a dramatic action plot line that would challenge her protagonist in a transformative way. We had also toyed around a bit about the underlying meaning of the story --thematic significance.

She had finished her story and received feedback from an editor. Two secondary characters weren't providing depth and meaning -- they needed development.

In the present consultation, we concentrated primarily on the romantic challenge (NOTE: its nice to have a romantic challenge on some level, no matter your story. In middle grade fiction, this might translate a friendship challenge. In a murder mystery, a partnership challenge.) A romantic challenge reveals a personal aspect of the protagonist beyond the dramatic action challenge. (NOTE: I label each of these and all other plot lines as "challenges" in order to keep in the fore the need for conflict, tension, suspense, and curiosity.)

We explored ways in which the investigative detective and the protagonist interactions could be expanded. As written now, the protagonist and detective meet several times over coffee to discuss the case. The relationship goes nowhere, but the protagonist admits early-on that since the murder she has considered owning a hand gun. Her aversion to guns stands in her way.

In the revised version, they meet over coffee once. Because that happens, the detective calls with news of the case and tells the protagonist to meet him at a given address. The rest is about what happens next and then because of that what they do together what happens after that. (NOTE: I leave this vague because I don't want to give away her story). In the process a relationship between the protagonist and detective grows, albeit fraught with conflict, tension, and suspense. In the end, her confidence with the work they do serves as a metaphor for the growth of confidence in herself. (NOTE: With so much emphasis on guns, of course, they have to show up for real in the story. With so much emphasis on the protagonist's use of a gun, her new-found skill will have to be tested in the story. Ups the ante a bit, doesn't it?) (NOTE: For help on guns and all other police and detective stuff, visit Lee Lofland's blog: http://www.leelofland.com/wordpress/)

Since the writer still had the Plot Planner I had developed from the first consultation hanging on the wall of her writing studio, I suggested she plot out each of the two secondary characters' plotlines.

1) Put up color-coded post-it notes (one color for each character) over every scene where the secondary character is present as the story stands now
2) Analyze those appearances -- their frequency and location
3) Plot out a story line for each character in much the same way we had the primary challenge or the protagonist's character emotional development plotline. a) The character goes after a goal (NOTE: the more closely related thematically to the primary plot, the better). b) She / he is thwarted at every turn

These secondary plot lines can be "thin" (NOTE: Term comes from a writer's comment on the last post. Fitting). Secondary characters are there to enhance the primary story and contribute to the meaning of the piece overall.

At the close of the consultation, the writers voice had turned from sluggish and slow to upbeat and energetic. The way for her was clear......

In your writing process, what turns your way from clear to murky? What makes you lose energy for the writing??????

02 June 2008


You finish your rough draft. Now what? How do you write an effective second draft of your story rather than just edit what you've already written or simply move words around?

I have a few tips.

1) Fill out a Scene Tracker for your project. Scenes that fulfill all seven essential elements of plot -- date and setting, character emotional development, is driven by a specific character goal, shows dramatic action, is filled with conflict, tension, suspense or curiosity, shows emotional change within the scene, and carries some thematic significance -- keep. Any scenes that do not fulfill each of these elements may not carry enough weight to belong in your story.

Evaluate your Scene Tracker for your strengths and weaknesses. If you find your Scene Tracker has lots of Dramatic Action filled with conflict, tension, and suspense, but little Character Emotional Development, in your rewrite, concentrate on your weakness.

For those scenes that do not fulfill each of the seven essential elements, see if you can integrate more of them in your rewrite or consider lumping together two or more weak scenes in order to make one powerful scene.

2) Create a new Plot Planner for your story. Locate the three most important scenes -- the End of the Beginning, the Crisis, the Climax. Evaluate how many scenes fall above and below the line. Consider how the energy rises and falls. The visual representation of your project should give you clues as to where to concentrate during the rewrite.

3) Write a brief outline of your story by chapter -- simply one or two sentences per chapter that will gives a feel for pacing, plot, and flow. The process of writing the outline should start to reveal holes and weaknesses throughout.

4) Write a one-page synopsis of your story.

Of course, you can always sign-up for a Plot Consultation. I'll let you know where to concentrate the next time around.

How do you go about preparing for a rewrite? What is your favorite method for "seeing" the whole of your story in order to evaluate what's needed for the rewrite???