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Every three to six months my writing takes a leap up a level or two. It’s amazing and wonderful to gain new skills and insight. It’s crushing to reread my “finished” manuscript.
During my few months away from my YA and my adult book, I took Margie Lawson’s Deep Editing Packet as a self-study.
I thought I had a handle on cliches and rhetorical devices. Revisiting my adult manuscript, I found almost 1-2 cliches a page in the first two chapters.
I didn’t employ the power of three in rhetorical devices.
I missed opportunities with the stimulus-reaction-recovery process.
*Head in shredder*
And suddenly, advice I thought I had processed and responded to appropriately, I realize I never fully addressed. UGH!
How did I miss all this? How had I gone through multiple drafts and beta readers without catching these things?!
Because you don’t know what you don’t know. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. It just means you can’t fix it yet.
Because everything can be fixed in time.
Still as I prepare my manuscript for the Writer’s Digest Conference in January, I can’t help mumbling, “Dumbass,” to myself and smiling because no matter how smart I think I am, writing provides the opportunity to move from idiot to almost knowledgeable over and over again in a lifetime.
Recently, I picked up a book that had a gorgeous cover, intriguing back cover story, and made the NYT Bestseller list.
I’d heard the author speak and was interested in seeing her work. But I have to confess, I put the book back once before buying it.
Something just didn’t hook me. Still I decided to give it a shot.
And I’ve been paying for it ever since.
I’ve put the book down numerous times. It feels like work to read it. I almost quit a hundred pages into it.
But then I decided to keep reading. To analyze what made it so putdownable for me.
I am now done. And I have a long list of complaints:
- The main character isn’t likable
- I cannot connect with her no matter how hard I try
- There is way too much telling and not enough showing of her inner self
- She comes across as whiny and weak
- She doesn’t do much for the entire book
- The love story is so not believable
- The writer keeps telling me about these feelings they have, but I don’t believe it
- I never really saw this love develop in the book it was just bam there
- The hero is so mysterious I don’t know a damn thing about him
- At first this was tantalizing, but by page 200 I’m just annoyed and bored. And uninvested in the outcome
- I don’t get why things aren’t working and it frustrates me
- The only explanation comes in the last 15 pages and it is just a lead into the next book
- The book is nothing like the back cover
- Don’t promise me a mystery with romantic elements and deliver a stalled romance that goes nowhere and a mystery that no one works to solve
- I’m done and I still have no idea what the story is about
- More to the point, I don’t care
- The pacing is SOOOOO SLOW
- Nothing happens throughout most of the book. Like hundreds of pages wasted.
- Things start to get interesting around page 200. Yup 200! Then they slow to a snail’s pace again
- When I start daydreaming about doing laundry and my next blog post, I know there’s a problem
- The last 25 pages were climatic. But getting there was an act of faith and self flagellation
- The writing is so-so
- Tons of clichés and basic descriptions–feels like lazy writing
- Lots of telling instead of showing
- Many unnecessary scenes
- The sentence structure and word usage are very commonplace
- The voice is severely lacking
- I find myself skipping ahead pages to see when things get interesting and have gone 50+ pages ahead and found nothing
Love or hate Katy Perry, she does one thing amazingly well–cliche twists. Making cliches fresh and engaging the listener. Check out this song…
If you click Watch on Youtube you can also read the lyrics to the song below it.
This song (The One Who Got Away) also had a ton of cliches but it worked for me.
How many cliches do you see? Did they work for you? Why or why not?
I got some feedback from agents who requested the full and charity auctions where agents gave me feedback on the partial. Several mentioned needing to hone my craft more.
Step one–how do I do that?
I had no clue. I already studied NYT bestsellers and author’s first novels. I devoured YA books. I read books on the craft of writing. But somehow I was missing something. Crap.
Then I joined CTRWA and heard about a craft workshop by Margie Lawson. I took down three people in my rush to sign up. (Kidding it was an on-line signup)
During Margie’s session, all the feedback I’d gotten began to make sense. No joke. I heard the words. Read them ten times but couldn’t quite figure out how to fix it.
Cliches–wow. Now I saw them all. Imagine 200 ugly cheap ornaments on your tree.
Then body language, I used simple things like she smiled/grinned/frowned. Never trying to take it to the next level. Oopsy. That’s like stringing lights where each strand has a couple broken lights. Sometimes simple works but not all the time.
Passive language? Guilty. I had several variations of to be that could be removed. Think of grouping ten balls in the same section of the tree. BORING.
Huge chunks of unnecessary narrative/exposition? *Hangs head in shame* The entire top of the tree is covered in Care Bear ornaments. Nothing but Care Bear ornaments.
On the upside all feedback points to the premise being good. So I’m going to download Margie’s lecture packet on Body Language and Dialogue Cues and learn more on craft. I can’t believe what a giant leap my manuscript took in the past few weeks since her talk.
This is probably the only profession where you get continually better over time. I’m excited to see how much more I can improve the manuscript.
Are you struggling to see what people tell you in feedback? Have you had an “A-HA” moment where you suddenly saw what needed fixing in your manuscript?
On November 20th, I attended the all day Margie Lawson Workshop sponsored by CTRWA. The topic was Empowering Characters’ Emotions. The training was intensive and well worth the cost.
Margie is a psychologist and helps individuals to write the story to where the reader gets to experience what the character experiences.
She can teach writers how to stretch the brain and have readers crawl inside the POV character’s skin and reside there. She has other online courses as well as lecture notes available for purchase from her website: http://www.margielawson.com
Here are some of the key points from her workshop:
- In order to make your work a page turner, it has to be viscerally empowering: character’s heart races and reader grabs their chest
- Visceral is what happens to the body
- Involuntary physical responses
- Shortness of breath, flush or blush of face, pupils dilate, stomach clenching, heart pounding, sweating palms, dry mouth
- Disbelief is a cognitive response not a visceral response
- Characters’ visceral responses hook the reader viscerally
- Visceral is what happens to the body
- Editing speaks to the reader’s subconscious
- FLOW TRUMPS EVERYTHING
- Be careful about sequencing problems: She turned her head at the knock at the door (Knock happened prior to turning head)
- People are victims of patterns
- When you identify the stimulus and the response make sure they are in the correct order
- She employs a color coding methodology that shows the patterns and voids on the page. It also shows what isn’t there.
- Nonverbal communication–body language is very important
- Cliche busting–either eradicate cliché or rewrite to specificity by adding a twist on a cliché
- Steer clear of trite
- Example: Quirking an eyebrow
- When we read clichés we know what the next words are. Our minds take a cognitive break and pull out of the story. We think about chores and may put book down
- Be careful that dialogue isn’t loaded with clichés
- Play with a cliché, amplify it and give it punch
- Example: “Drinking was a mad dog on a chain, when it got loose, it chewed through our lives”
- Steer clear of trite
- Power Words
- Depends on context–can be a power word in 0ne sentence and not in another. They add psychological power for story
- Never power words: it, them, they, that some
- Love, lust, rage, rape, dead, throb–usually power words
- Power words should be backloaded
- At the end of the chapter there is an important thing to share–the last word carried power
- Put power words at the end of sentences to boost reader into the next sentence
- Power words can be anywhere in sentence
- Not required on every page
- FLOW TRUMPS EVERYTHING
- Anadiplosis is a rhetorical device involving the repetition of power words
- Example: She was jealous. Jealous of her job. Jealous of her hair. Jealous of her life
- White space on the page is important
- Ping pong rapid dialogue
- Increases pace
- Readers devour it like cotton candy
- Readers need it to fully experience am emotional reaction
- Cadence is important and you can develop an ear for it
- A pause that adds meaning
- Rhetorical devices often use cadence to improve a line
- Facial expressions carry emotion but are not a visceral reaction
- Backstory must be managed
- What is critical/imperative to reader
- Make a list, then break it into tiny pieces to insert in an active way
- Avoid clumps of backstory that invites reader to skim or put down the book
- Writer needs to build the world, readers do not need to know all that
- Mini flashbacks are okay 4-6 lines if desperate to show something