Last week, my husband and I traveled to the North Georgia Mountains with a group of friends from church. One of our stops was at Mercier Orchards. The orchard and farm covers more than 300 acres and has been owned and operated by the Mercier family since 1943. We ate lunch at their restaurant, shopped in their store and watched truckloads of apples being brought in from the fields, unloaded, sorted, weighed and boxed for delivery.
The relaxing getaway, the picturesque countryside, falling leaves and cool, crisp mountain air as well as the plentiful harvest of apples brought to mind a scripture God placed on my heart soon after I received “The Call.”
“It was not you who chose me, it was I who chose you to go forth and bear fruit.”
Let’s spend today—in this season of Thanksgiving—looking back over the “fruit” we’ve produced during this past year and ponder the steps we’ve taken to improve our writing. Often we talk about success and failure, but today, I’d like to discuss strengths and weaknesses as a way to gauge our progress.
Those of you just starting out might find it difficult to identify the positive aspects of your writing. If you’ve received an especially brutal critique, you may wonder if anything you write has merit. Of course, it does, but sometimes it’s hard to separate what works from what doesn’t.
Strength: Does your story start with action that grabs the reader and makes her want to keep turning the pages? In the suspense genre, your lead character needs to be in danger. In a romance, the danger deals more with the heart rather than physical well-being. Congrats if your story opens with a bang!
Weakness: If your beginning rambles with no hint of how the story will play out, tighten your prose and add something unexpected, like a surprise twist, to engage the reader and jump start the story.
Strength: Good for you if your hero and heroine meet within the first scene or at least by the end of the first chapter.
Weakness: No meeting in the opening chapters? Move the meet to the first few pages to change a weakness into a strength. Tip: The first POV character is usually the protagonist. The first person introduced of the opposite sex is usually the love interest. If that’s not the case, clue in the reader!
Strength: Your hero and heroine must have specific goals at the onset of the story. Whether shared or individual, each goal needs to be concrete, meaning capable of being perceived by the senses and not abstract or imaginary. A valid identifiable goal could be to save a parcel of land from being turned into a shopping mall or renovating grandma’s home to make it wheelchair accessible so she doesn’t have to move to a nursing home. In a suspense, the goal might be to stop a serial killer from striking again. Kudos if you’ve mentioned your protagonist’s goal in the first scene. Extra kudos if the love interest in the story has a conflicting goal.
Weakness: No mention of a concrete goal at the onset leaves the reader floundering as to where the story is headed. State the hero and heroine’s goals clearly and then hint at any conflict that could develop so the reader can anticipate the struggle that will ensue. Tip: Falling in love is not a goal.
Strength: High five if you’ve explained why the goal—even if it seems somewhat trivial—is important to the character. If the reader understands what’s at stake, she’ll buy into the story. Landing an interview with the new governor of the state might not be a life and death issue, but if the reporter’s job depends on her bringing in a lead story, the interview becomes significant, especially if the single mom reporter needs the job to pay for her special needs daughter’s private therapy.
Weakness: A lack of motivation means there’s no reason for the hero to face insurmountable odds to achieve his goal. Give him a reason to do the unthinkable or the impossible or the foolish. Tip: The greater the negative consequences if he doesn’t achieve his goal, the more the reader will want him to succeed.
|Workers pack apples for shipping at Mercier Orchards.|
Could this be the start of a romance?
Strength: What’s keeping your characters from living life to the full? Rejection? A broken heart? A life changing disappointment? A disparaging comment overheard and accepted as truth? Good for you if you’ve nailed that inner wound.
Weakness: Unsure of what holds your hero back? If so, dig more deeply into your character’s past. Come up with a specific incident or moment in time that still causes pain. Tip: Hint at that brokenness early on and reveal more details later in the story.
Strength: Is the pacing of your story in keeping with the genre you’re writing? In this day and age, readers don’t want to linger too long at the beginning or meander too slowly through the middle and they certainly don't want to tip toe toward a less than exciting climax. Congrats if your story moves quickly from start to finish.
Weakness: Extraneous prose can slow your pace. Superfluous scenes and dialogue that goes nowhere can have the same effect. Cut out duplication and pare down introspection to strengthen your pacing. Tip: As tension escalates, such as in a suspense, chapters and scenes often shorten.
|Mercier Orchards, Blue Ridge, GA. Such a picturesque setting!|
Strength: Give yourself a pat on the back if your characters speak in short bursts of dialogue punctuated with action beats. Give yourself another pat if their banter and body language have a deeper meaning.
Weakness: Are your characters too chatty? Too friendly? Too easygoing at the onset of the story? Increase the tension to keep the reader on the edge of her seat and get rid of idle chitchat that doesn’t have bearing on the story. Tip: Cut greetings, such as “hello” and “how are you” as well as unnecessary farewells.
Strength: Take a bow if the reader believes the romance between the hero and heroine is over. You’ve done your job if their differences seem too significant to overcome, and the reader doesn’t see how they’ll ever get together again.
Weakness: Don’t let the split be coincidental or something that could be easily fixed. Rework the black moment until there’s a sense of hopelessness about the relationship. Tip: A well-structured black moment makes the reader fear that a happily ever after isn’t in their future.
|Views from my deck. We've been blessed with a beautiful fall in Georgia.|
Strength: The hero must battle the antagonist, and the antagonist, or villain, must be a strong and savvy adversary. That fight, whether a physical altercation or a battle of wills, needs to be significant, and the hero and/or heroine must triumph in the end. Good for you if the reader fears for the hero and heroine’s well-being.
Weakness: Weak villains are…well, weak. Beef up the bad guy to make the climactic confrontation memorable. Tip: Even villains have a GMC.