COMMON MISTAKES: The Big Picture Edition

I don’t love framing posts about writing in a negative light, but honestly, this is the easiest way to talk about the things I see SO often, that I’ll never be able to do them in my own writing again (at least I’d like to think so, but probably that’s wishful thinking). I’d also like to clarify that when I say “Big Picture” what I’m talking about is plot, character, arcs of both plot and character… This would be round #1 of edits, otherwise known as a content or developmental edit. In a traditional publishing house, this would be the first round you’d do with your acquisitions editor. If you’re publishing independently, this is the first round you do with solid crit partners, or an editor.

FIRST: TOO MANY SCENES AND NOT ENOUGH DEPTH IN EACH SCENE

So often, when reading something from a newer writer (This was TOTES my first book) there are SO MANY SCENES and SO MANY THINGS happening in the MS, but we’re not deep enough in the character to feel the emotion in each scene. Often, we don’t learn anything new, or find any new sources of tension in a large portion of the scenes. This is okay when you’re learning! I’ve said it before, and I will stand by this forever: There’s no such thing as wasted words. We learn something from everything we write. I even blogged about that HERE.

HOW TO PREVENT THIS?

  1. You can put a first draft into a plot helper! (I mean, you can plot before you write, but this is what I do, and I know it works for more than just me) Make sure that we’re not learning the same thing again and again. Make sure that tension is coming from more than one place! (I talk about Learn and Propel, a way of sorting what NEEDS to stay in the MS, HERE)
  2. Dig deep enough into character that we’re fully immersed. Ground your reader in the scene by nailing your setting and emotional intensity. My three favorite articles on this ARE: THOUGHT VERBS by Chuck Palahniuk, Writing with Emotion: The Objective Correlative, How to Make Your Setting a Character.

SECOND: NOT USING ALL THE POSSIBLE SOURCES OF TENSION

You’ve set a character up to be afraid of something, you’d BETTER use that against them.

Their worst fear? That needs to come up.

Their biggest insecurity? That better be poked and prodded at.

But very often, I read manuscripts where the author is too nice to their characters. Don’t be too nice.

HOW TO PREVENT THIS?

  1. Make a list of fears, and make sure you touch on them. Ask yourself: What would be the worst thing that could happen to this being that I have created? And then do that thing.
  2. If you have more than one POV, they’d better work against each other. One POV having information that heightens tension for the other, and vice versa.

THIRD: MAKE SURE THAT YOUR PLOT POINTS/TWISTS HAPPEN FOR REASONS THAT MAKE SENSE WITH WHAT YOU HAVE SET UP

Very often I read and wonder – WHY did this character do X? It doesn’t quite make sense? And then the other character ends up being affected by X, and I realize why it was done, but it doesn’t mean that the particular action makes sense at the time it happens.

HOW TO PREVENT THIS:

  1. Make sure your characters behave in ways that are true to who you’ve set up, rather than what’s convenient to your plot. They WILL frustrate your plans. Embrace that. Embrace the fact that they’ve grown a voice of their own.
  2. You get ONE coincidence. ONE. Use it wisely.

AND FINALLY: KEEP THE PROMISES YOU MAKE IN THE BEGINNING

This has a lot to do with tone, etc.

I’ll be honest, I loved LaLa Land, but like SO many people, I was a bit bummed at the end. And it made sense, and I was mostly okay with it until I took Lisa Mangum’s class on endings, and realized why the ending didn’t sit quite right with me: The promise made to the watcher was that we were seeing a romance, the promise made to the person enjoying a romance is that YES, they will get together. A James Bond movie always begins with an action scene, making a promise to the reader, that James Bond will have more adventures and that he will survive them, b/c he survived the first death-defying act in the opening.

Happy Writing Everyone

~ Jo

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