Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Funny, Because I Feel Like I've Read My WIP 500 Times

Over the weekend I decided to reread Donald Maass's Writing the Breakout Novel. I'd hit a bit of a slump with my editing, plus I have a friend reading through my current draft and she brought up several things I'd overlooked. Big theme-type things that I really can't ignore any longer. I've put a few things aside through my various drafts, telling myself that I'll deal with it the next time around. Well, now's that time.

I've come to the realization that Mr. Maass is my muse. Or if not my muse, he's the portal to my muse. I took over three pages of notes while reading, resolved the big theme issues, and came up with a couple ideas I'd never even considered. I spent Saturday and Sunday working these little snippets into my wip and I'm really happy with the improvements.

Ibis has been a good sport, letting me babble at him about different writing bits -- something I try not to do too often -- and when I explained my big breakthrough I nearly smacked myself in the head. It sounded so ... simple. So obvious, in fact, that I couldn't believe I hadn't thought of it sooner. Oh well, at least it's in there now.

Now for some bits I marked while reading that really got my wheels turning:

- Are the stakes in your current manuscript as high as they can possibly be? Can you define the stakes right now? Can you point to the exact pages in which the stakes escalate...? (pg. 59)

- Trials and tests are the stuff of character building, of conflict. Ask yourself, who is the one ally your protagonist cannot afford to lose? Kill that character. What is your protagonist's greatest physical asset? Take it away. What is the one article of faith that for your protagonist is sacred? Undermine it. How much time does your protagonist have to solve his main problem? Shorten it. (pg. 78)

- I would like to suggest that if you do not have a moment of unexpected tragedy or grace in your novel, you consider where you might put it. Shatter your protagonist with a tragedy, or give her an unexpected gift. These things happen in real life, and in a novel they lend an enlarged perspective, a sense that the universe is paying attention. (pg. 96)

- Does the protagonist in your current manuscript have a strong inner conflict, or perhaps conflicting sides? If not, why not? Adding aspects of character that cannot easily be reconciled will ensure that your character cannot easily be dismissed. Inner conflict will keep your grip on your reader firm. (pg. 110)

- It is worth remembering that even when deepening some aspect of story, rather than moving the plot forward, it is essential that tension be present on every page. If your heroine and her sidekick are standing still, it ought to be because they disagree. (pg. 192)

- A breakout novelist needs courage, too: the courage to say something passionately. A breakout novelist believes that what she has to say is not just worth saying, but is something that must be said. It is a truth that the world needs to hear, an insight without which we would find ourselves diminished. (pg. 231)



I'm noticing that these excerpts all deal with the larger issues I'm facing right now. Funny how that works. I realize this last one may not apply to most stories, but it definitely applies to mine. I didn't plan for The Other Side to be a message book, but with each successive draft I've realized that's what it is. I don't really know how I feel about that -- I often tell people I never set out to be "the immigration girl" -- but I'm willing to see it through.

I've talked about this book so much over the weekend that one person went out and bought it and another is going to look for it at the library. If you haven't already read it, you should. I'll try to calm down now, but I just love this feeling of it all coming together.

This is also my 500th post -- how fitting it's marking what feels like a milestone in my writing!

24 comments:

Pink Ink said...

Happy 500th!

And I love Donald Maass' book. Thanks for sharing those snippets.

I especially like the second tip. Will try that next time. Plus the thought of having something passionate to say...

Aimless Writer said...

I think I may have to buy this book, too.
I've actually almost bought it a few times but never followed through. Maybe it's time.

Janna Qualman said...

Whoo, 500!

It is a great, great book. I should pull mine out again. Good luck to you!

Melanie Avila said...

Pink, it really amazes me this his advice is so straightforward and logical, yet it still hits me over the head like a hammer every time.

When going through the book to find excerpts for this post I realized that some things I marked during my first read have become ingrained in me and I've recently been spouting that very same advice to other writers. I guess it's sinking in!

Melanie Avila said...

Aimless, you should!

Melanie Avila said...

Thanks Janna. :) My how time flies, eh?

spyscribbler said...

Donald Maass rocks. I'm less impressed with The Fire in Fiction than Writing the Breakout Novel, but WBN is hard to follow up. The workbook is actually worth a read; it's not just a workbook. I even owned it and read it several times without actually doing the exercises, LOL. (I never do exercises. I'm pitiful.)

My brain is simmering on my vampire story, so you mentioning all this stuff is perfect timing!

Turkey Lurkey said...

Ok ok! I will get the book! ;) Glad you are on the right track!

Nadine said...

Congrats on 500!!!

The book has been ordered!! (they didn't have it at a library on the island, so it is coming from another one). I'm excited!

Melanie Avila said...

Spy, I hate doing exercises. It just feels like busywork to me, which I always resented in school.

I'm glad this helped!

Melanie Avila said...

Turkey, let me know what you think. :)

Melanie Avila said...

Nadine, you're getting an island-hopper!

Travis Erwin said...

Here's to the next 500!

Robin said...

I tried to download it on my Kindle, but it's not formatted for the Kindle. :(

I refuse to buy normal books anymore. Could you just summarize it for me?

Melanie Avila said...

*waves at Travis*

Melanie Avila said...

Robin, that's strange.

I'll get right on that summary thing for you...

Amy Sue Nathan said...

I have the Fire in Fiction book and love it. Very easy to read and follow -- has gotten me thinking about many pieces of my book. Always a good thing!

Melanie Avila said...

Amy, that's great! That one's definitely on my list for the next time I'm within 50 miles of a bookstore. :)

Benjamin Solah said...

Wow, it seems we both have a partner to babble to. Margo's constantly putting up with my endless ramblings about fascist zombies and Vampire Bosses.

Melanie Avila said...

LOL, facist zombies...

Ibis is getting better about tolerating my rambles about writing. He's used to it with every other topic so I don't know why this would be any different. :P

EMC07 said...

Congrats on 500, that's awesome. It's so crazy you have this post, great one BTW, cause I just finished reading your first 4 excerpts of the book yesterday!

I'm about halfway through the book. I love it! I've already changed the plot in my book and contemplated killing someone off. I'm still not sure who. Maybe I'll maim them instead.

I too babble to my hubby about my story. I'm sure he gets sick of it.

Great Post!

Melanie Avila said...

Erin, I'm so glad it's helping you! I know I go on and on about it, but not everyone thinks the same way so it might not be as helpful for someone else as it is for me.

Inspiring, isn't he?

EMC07 said...

Very inspiring. Makes me think even if it's just for a brief second, that I can do this :)

Your posts are always so interesting! Thanks for that.

Er

Melanie Avila said...

Well I'm glad someone thinks they're interesting! I never know...

And you can do it!!