Getting the Groove Back

Okay, so plenty of you figured I probably went too far when I did the last round of edits on my manuscript, and that’s how I took a lot of the humor and vitality out of it. At the same time, the story can’t be bogged down in character development and witty banter about nothing, so I have a lot to consider here in fixing this up.

First, how do you go about putting the pizzazz back IN to a piece? I’m something of an expert at cutting right now; I can remove and minimize stuff in nothing flat. But I have a harder time figuring out what to put back. And more importantly, HOW to put it back in.

Not that I have time for this right now. I still, as of this writing, have not been green-lighted for the new round of non-fiction work. I think I’m in, but don’t know for sure. My agent will hopefully tell me.

But until I do have firm, concrete stuff to work on, I want to figure out how to bring this, my first full-fledged novel from scratch, back to life. I have my story map, and know what needs to happen when, but I don’t know how to put the vitality and vigor back in my characters.

The story itself is pretty straightforward; I’m not sure I’m settled on the difference between “plot” and “story” but that’s another discussion.

For now, what do you recommend? How should I go about bring this back from the dead? IS it dead?

Sound off, y’all, both writers AND readers. I want to hear your thoughts.

-JDT-

Copyright 2011 DarcKnyt, All rights reserved

Is it the Plot or the Story?

My wife said something to me this past weekend which gave me pause. She said I became too interested in moving the PLOT forward and forgot about the STORY.

I’m not sure I know the difference.

For context, we were discussing my first paranormal piece, still titled Ghost Hunters for the moment. As some of you may recall, last year I went on an editing spree, determined to have the story ready for Halloween so I could think about putting it up on Kindle (since I’m almost ready to give up on traditional publishers in favor of self-publishing eBooks a la Joe Konrath). Well, as I dove into the edits for the first time since 2008, I realized I’d grown a lot since I did them the first time through, and I cut a lot deeper than before. To the bone.

What I ended up with was one half of a book, tight and needing some joining scenes. The rest of it was a loose collection of usable scenes, but as they are now, they’re disembodied from the story. I need more than joining scenes to rescue them. I need entire sections of the book re-done. I therefore have two halves of a book. The back half, which it became clear was written strictly in the device of an online serial, didn’t survive the editing process at all.

My wife mentioned the book to me on Sunday. We were discussing whether I’d recovered them from my failed hard drive a few months ago. I told her I had both the final edits – or the bits and parts left over – and the edits which came just prior (much more like copy edits, to be honest, and not very good ones at that).

She told me she felt I went too far. One of the more popular characters (not the apparently unlikable protagonist though) didn’t seem to survive the edits with his vitality and humor intact. I cleaned up his dialog, removed some of his stupidity and thought I made him a less ridiculous character. It appears, however, my loving spouse disagrees. She feels I killed the character and the humor and charm that endeared him to the few readers who followed along.

I argued I’d improved the story. She argued I’d moved the plot forward, but at the expense of the story. Because I cut all the needless scenes, which didn’t contribute to the story, and because I’d cut down the banter and witty repartee they shared with each other, the character toned down so far I could probably do away with him entirely.

Is there a difference between story and plot? What is the difference? Where’s the line?

I never intended to cut the life out of the story, but as a writer, I have to be sure every word, every paragraph, contributes to the story and the progression. If there’s a part which doesn’t seem to do that, no matter how fond we are of it, it  has to be cut out. That’s the saying, right? “Cut your darlings.” Well, I did. I cut the living dog crap out of it. And guess what? It died.

How can  you know when too much is too much? How does a writer know when leaving something apparently useless in will forward the story in the long run? How do you clean up a character’s part in a storyline without removing the things which make the character who it is, the very things which brought it to life?

I thought I was good at this, but apparently, I still have a long, long way to go before I can say I’m good at fiction. (I think non-fiction’s a lot easier at this point. Hm. Maybe I should give up and just stick to that?)

What do you writers think? How can you tell? How can you know when it should stay, when it should go, and when spurious is really spurious?

Sound off and let me know. I’m listenin’.

-JDT-

Copyright 2011 DarcKnyt, All rights reserved

Getting to Know You

How well I could write if I were not here!

All right, writers … let’s chat.

But wait – don’t run off, non-writers.  I want your opinion too.  You read, don’t you?  So you’re as important to writers as words.  More so.  Without you, why do we write?  If we don’t do it for the entertainment of others we are self-entertaining … and self-deluded.  ALL writers want to be read.

So, I’m nurturing ideas for another book.  I have one in edits, one in progress (yeah … right), and a couple of others sitting at a fast simmer on the back of my brain.  One of the things people say about books they love is the characters are real, identifiable, lovable, despicable, and tangible.  And if I want to be successful writer – and I do – that’s a skill I need to hone to the highest degree possible.  Hence this post.

My question to the writers is: How do you create your characters?

And more than this, how do you develop, nurture, get to know, your characters?  Their traits, habits, names, occupations, tendencies … everything?

I know a lot of writers who talk about how their characters create themselves, how they make themselves known to the writer, how the creation guides the creator.  I know that’s a lot of hooey too.  C’mon, let’s be honest.  These are fictional people; we create them.  We name them, give them their characteristics, and their physical appearances.  We give them their jobs, their passions, their goals and obstacles.  No more goofing off here – we’re all writers.

Now, maybe it seems your characters emerge without any effort from you, the writer.  ‘Cause you’re a natural.   Or you’re just great at characterization.  If that’s what you mean, and you articulate it by saying the characters “come alive” – well, more power to you and your incredible imagination.  Mine doesn’t work that way; I have to pour effort into this.  I don’t have characters who spontaneously generate in my head, fully formed and fully developed.  I have to do the work, beat the muse as it were, squeeze the juice out.

Maybe you can’t help me, but maybe you can.  Maybe you’re someone who has a method, a working formula you use for coming up with characters.  How do you connect them to the real world?  What do you do to decide their occupations?  Their interests?  Their tastes?  Their speech patterns, their physical tics, their eccentricities?

How do you go about getting to know their characters?

Readers, what about you?  Most readers will identify with characters who have weaknesses, flaws, problems.   What are some of your favorite characters in literature and why?  What was it you loved about them?  How did the author of the character create a believable and convincing person you can be fond of?

Sound off, y’all … I really need help with this, I think.

-JDT-

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ALL rights reserved.