By Aimee L. Salter, @AimeeLSalter
I'd like to welcome Aimee L. Salter to the blog today to share some recent revisions she made and what gave her the inspiration to do that major reworking on her novel. Aimee is one of those social networking success stories for me. I followed a link to her blog, tweeted one of her posts, we started chatting on Twitter and before I knew it, I had another writer pal to gab with online. (and have here on the blog) So, yeah, that Twitter thing does actually work (grin).
Aimee is the author behind Seeking the Write Life, a blog for writers helping writers make their books better. Visit www.aimeelsalter.com for practical tips to improve your manuscript, or follow Aimee on twitter at http://twitter.com/AimeeLSalter
Take it away Aimee...
On the sixth of March this year my book changed.
At the time I was steeped in revisions for a manuscript I’d been working on for a full year. I knew the premise was good, but I’d been slamming my head against the proverbial wall for three months trying to dig out the nugget that would help the book live up to the concept.
Then I read a blogpost by Janice titled: "What's at Stake? How Do You Make Readers Care About Your Story?"
Among other things, she made this statement:
As you create your stakes for your characters, don't just look at the plot side of things. Think about how those stakes affect your protagonist. Do you care about this character and what happens to them, or are you just running them through a gauntlet of problems to illustrate a plot idea? If it doesn't affect you to put them in danger and cause them trouble (either hurt you or make you giggle in glee), then why should a reader feel any more emotion?And asked this question:
What sacrifice does your protagonist have to make for everything to turn out okay?And that’s where I found my nugget.
You see, in my book, that question is what the protagonist battles from page one. If she would just give up on her love for her best friend, then she could probably live a relatively peaceful, successful life. But that’s a sacrifice she isn’t willing to make.
As the author, I know her determination is going to bring her to physical and emotional ruin. But at the time I read this blogpost, that physical and emotional ruin wasn’t apparent until the end of the story.
If I didn’t hook readers in the first few pages, they’d never learn what really happened to Stacy.
So… I read and re-read the blog post, pulling notes out on the points that resonated with the problems I was having. I emailed myself the link (it’s still in my inbox for quick access). And I asked the most basic question:
What could I do with the opening chapter of my book to show the reader what was really at stake for my main character, Stacy?
Answer: Bring the opening pages into the present day. Show the reader what Stacy’s dealing with after all the crud has happened. Show her talking to the psychologist who’s trying to keep her locked up in a secure psyche ward. Show her dealing with the physical injuries she sustained.
Then let the book tell the reader how she got there.
I had to rewrite about a third of the book. Old, transitional and info-dump scenes were replaced by analytical sessions with the doctor. The last fifty pages of the book were re-written in their entirety. The original climax became the crisis leading up to the ultimate climax…the list goes on.
But what I ended up with was a superior book. A book that garnered a 30% hit rate in querying agents.
Only time will tell if the book is superior enough, but I learned some things through that process that are beneficial to anyone currently revising:
1. Trust your gut. If there are scenes in your book that you skim when re-reading, the reader will skim them too. If there are plot points, or passages that you have a hunch aren’t working, they aren’t. Do what it takes to fix them.
2. It can take time to find a solution. We artistic types can be impatient. Our burgeoning creations feel like children: We want them to grow. We want them to succeed. But just like real-life parenting, creation of a great product takes work. Don’t stop looking, asking questions, investigating, trying potential solutions. Keep going.
3. Don’t let your pride get in the way of a good book. I think the hardest thing about writing is that your success is, inevitably, wrapped up in other people’s opinions. Whether you’re looking for an agent to pick it up, or readers to buy it in their online stores, in the end, your product will be measured by eyes other than your own. Acceptance of this fact (and the willingness to listen to others who’ve already traversed that bridge), will make the road easier… and likely, more successful.
Oh, and don’t forget to keep coming back to The Other Side of the Story for the excellent advice offered here. Maybe your nugget is buried in these pages too.