Monday, March 12, 2012
Silence your Editor with Substance
When I say to silence your editor with substance, I’m not talking about my flesh and blood editor. The editor I’ll listen to if I hope to see another book in print. The editor who makes my stories better. The editor who approves my checks. She's the greatest!
No, I’m talking about that chirpy little nuisance sitting on my shoulder, whispering negatives in my ear and slowing my productivity to a crawl.
Even as I recognize she can be a pest, I’m freaked at the idea of silencing her. My inner editor and I are best pals. We have a bond. A history. A deal. I’m uncomfortable with the idea of ignoring her. She truly is a fount of wisdom. But then it occurred to me that she isn’t the problem. I'm the problem. I listen to her whispered cautions, her insistence my words were drivel instead of trusting myself. Okay, now that I think about it, I’m irked at her.
What do I do?
It occurred to me that the main reason I didn't trust myself was I'd been known to write pointless scenes. She knew that as well as I did. Perhaps if I gave her the right food, I could shut her up. After all, inner editors were taught, as we all were, not to talk with their mouths full. Food poisoning might seem like an easier alternative to silence her, but really that’s not much fun. Remember this gal is attached to us. Part of us. Harm her and we’re going to pay. We’re going to need her later in revisions.
When we remember to do certain things as we write that first draft, we’ll silence that pest.
She’ll have the assurance we’re not merely typing words, we’re typing story.
So what do I feed her? Nothing elaborate like the midnight buffets on cruise ships. Or rich as the chocolate we serve here in Seekerville. No, the food I’m talking about is simple fare with substance, the meat and potatoes of scenes. Keep the internal editor gnawing on the three meaty bones of substance below and she’ll receive enough nourishment to feel sated. Maybe she’ll nod off, ignoring the lack of vegetables, hot rolls and dessert--the details and descriptions that enrich our stories, things like setting, sexual tension, research and hooks. She'll overlook the abundance of talking heads, errors with pov, spelling and grammar, all easy fixes once we’ve finished our rough draft and are ready to revise.
Get the story on the page while keeping the inner editor snoring on my shoulder.
1. In each scene give the point of view character a well-motivated goal.
Yes, that means planning ahead. Hopefully you did your planning in February but if not, then do it before you sit down to write. Decide what s/he wants in that scene and why. We writers have goals for our scenes but I'm not talking about us. I'm talking about our story people. Make sure what s/he wants feeds into the book-length goal. S/he should be working for his goal all the time, taking action. Type the character scene goal at the top of the screen if that helps. When you give the character a goal, our inner editor will shut up. And we’ll be gratified to discover during revisions that we’ve avoided pointless tea scenes. Writing a bunch of words that don’t forward the plot and will be deleted later does not make for productivity.
2. In each scene give the point of view character conflict. Either conflict from another character or internal conflict from themselves or conflict from outside story events.
In other words, give the character trouble. Conflict is story. If you’re writing along and everything is hunky-dory then you're probably forgetting to add conflict. Make something happen to give your characters trouble. Trouble raises the stakes. Trouble keeps that pest on your shoulder happy. Most importantly, trouble makes your characters grow and change. Story people aren’t going to change by the end of the book just because they should or you want them to. Something has to force them to change. At the end of the scene, make things worse. Use dialogue to add conflict and forward the plot. Remember conflict isn't arguing though it can lead to an argument.
3. In each scene, at the end, give the point of view character a new decision for action.
By scene's end, whether the point of view character gets his goal or not, things should have gotten worse. When things get worse the character fails. This is good. Make your character fail. Force him to make a decision for a new action, a new way to get the goal. That leads to the next scene you’ll write. Isn’t that nifty? Action is key here. If your characters are just talking and doing nothing, you probably not moving the plot forward. The decision and the action s/he decides to take can happen in the next scene or perhaps in a couple of scenes. When we write scenes with goals and with conflicts that result in a new decision for action, we’ll have the sense that we’re marching through the book. We'll have strong pacing.
You may be wondering why I didn’t simply say write using the principles of Scene and Sequel by Jack Bickham. I don't know about you but I've written pointless tea scenes. I'm less apt to fall into that trap if I keep things simple and easy to remember. If you’re a whiz at writing first drafts, this process comes naturally to you. But if you’re like me, you need the briefest reminder before you write of what needs to be in a scene.
The point of SpeedBo is to get the entire story out of our heads and onto paper as fast as we can without that inner editor stifling our creativity. Still, writing fast won’t get us anywhere if our scenes don’t matter, don’t forward the plot, don’t raise the stakes. If they don’t, then our inner editor is going to start harping. Or worse, cackling in our ear like hyperactive hyena on steroids.
Feed her first. Feed her fast. Feed her substance.
I brought a thick stew of meat and potatoes that’s been simmering in the crock pot all night. Just fed my inner editor. She’s yawning.
Hope you aren’t. LOL
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