back story

More Articles; More Revisions

After I finished my scientific article revisions, I decided to write an article for Cosmo. This article is a short piece (about 800 words) on the subject of body image issues. I submitted the article to them last Tuesday, so keep your fingers crossed for me! Hopefully it will appear in a future issue 🙂

Once I was done with the Cosmo article, I started working again on polishing up my novel. I am still fixing up the middle section of it so that it’s less flat when written from the first-person perspective. Another thing that I’m doing is organizing the whole section so that it has improved flow and clarity. This is proving to be more difficult than I realized.

Much of the difficulty lies in the fact that there’s a lot of flashbacks necessary for the middle section to make sense to the reader. I had been incorporating the flashbacks as I went, as the info became pertinent to the story. The result was a layering effect in which the narrative delved deeper and deeper into the emotions of the main character. This is exactly what I was going for. This sort of emotional layering is very powerful for readers, as it provides them with an extra level of rawness and intensity that really helps them to identify with the main character.

For instance, imagine that you are telling a story to your best friend. In the middle of your story, he or she interrupts you and asks you to clarify something. You tell the back-story to your best friend, which helps him or her to understand your current story and helps him or her to understand your feelings. This is exactly the effect I have in my novel.

While this is a cool effect to have in a narrative, one drawback of it is that the time travel with the flashbacks can seem kind of jumbled and confusing to the reader. I had contemplated changing the organization of the middle section so that it would be chronological; this would eliminate the confusion from the time-traveling flashbacks. That being said, doing so would totally kill the layering effect that I have created. Also, making it chronological might actually be more confusing to the reader, because the reader wouldn’t understand why those details are even being discussed in the first place.

The other thing that I had considered doing was taking the info out and putting it into prequel(s). However, doing so would also eliminate the layering effect. In addition, it would drastically reduce my word count, which I can’t afford to do.

At 41,000 words, my novel is currently too short to be published. I need to add more to it to make it longer (a novel is typically no less than 50,000 words). It is actually kind of funny that I have this problem, because I have literally always had the opposite problem. My work has always been too long, which means that I have had to spend time streamlining it so that it becomes shorter. For instance, my Cosmo article started out being 1800 words; then I had to cut it down to just 800 words to meet the word limit. I’m really not used to adding material because my piece is too short to meet the requirements.

But, I will see what I can do. Maybe by adding more information here and there, I can simultaneously  increase the flow/transition of the novel to make the flashbacking more clear and natural to the reader.

Advertisements

Be Master Of Your Query

As some of you already know, I am currently seeking a literary agent to represent me and my work. Once I land an agent, he or she is then going to pitch my novel to the Big Six (Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Random House, Macmillan, The Penguin Group, Hachette) and negotiate a deal for publication. Most authors– myself included– dream that one day, their work will be published among the Big Six. I figured that now is the time for me to turn this dream of mine into a reality, so I say bring it!!

Before querying literary agents, it is essential to do your research. This includes finding out 1) the attributes that agents generally look for in their clients, 2) the places that you can find an agent whose goals are similar to your own, 3) the points that you should include in your query letter, and 4) the qualities that will make your sample pages captivating.

For anyone who is just beginning this process like I am, it can be very daunting. What I would recommend is that you check out all the tools available to you online to find out as much about the process as you can.

I would also recommend checking out Writer’s Digest, because they have already helped me out a lot with this process. I just completed a WD boot camp about finding literary agents that was filled with a lot of invaluable information. Similarly, I just bought some WD books about literary agents, which I can only imagine are going to be filled with lots of informative and helpful information.

Equally important to doing your research is to read your work again with fresh eyes. You need to be able to self-identify your own weaknesses so that you can improve yourself as a writer. Before this boot camp, I had let my manuscript sit for 8 months or so without even looking at it or playing with it once. When I then went back and read it again with clear eyes, a few things jumped out at me as being my weaknesses:

  1. Weak overall story structure,
  2. Overly-detailed back story, and
  3. Telling instead of showing.

My novel has a kind of a unique story structure called “the frame.” Essentially what this means is that there is a story within a story, similar to the movie Titanic or The Princess Bride. The majority of the novel occurs within the inner story of the past, but it is “framed” by the aftermath in the present time.

Because the “frame” is not very common, it needs to be pulled off with grace and confidence. It needs to work very well, by really adding validity to the inner story. In my case, that would involve clearly depicting the change in the protagonist’s character, to create a “before and after” effect that resulted from the past events.

Another thing that I noticed was that my transition from the start of the “end frame” into the actual ending of the novel is not believable. I need to somehow think of a more believable way to shift gears at the end so that I can still achieve my surprise ending.

Getting into the overly-detailed back story bit, I clearly have too much back story inside the novel for it to just be one novel. Because of this, right now I’m in the process of cutting some of it out and turning it into a prequel (or 2, or 3…)! As I’m doing this, I need to make sure to leave in some parts of the back story that are absolutely essential for enhancing the plot of the current novel. I’m also trying to leave in some of the parts that will give the reader a little bit of a taste of the prequel(s).

For those of you who don’t already know, it is generally not a good idea to have a lot of detailed back story in your novel. If you have too much back story in your novel, then your reader can easily become annoyed that the plot is not advancing quickly enough and can soon become bored. So therefore, it is best to avoid this as much as possible.

Lastly, there is the problem of telling instead of showing. I remember struggling with this concept of “show, don’t tell” that my teachers would always stress in English class growing up. Along the way, I have learned to “show” by using very active, personifying language as well as by using other literary devices like similes and metaphors. Furthermore, I have learned to “show” by describing the characters’ appearances or by describing the landscape setting.

However, there is always room for improvement! What I just discovered is that it actually works extremely well to describe the character’s body language! For instance, instead of just saying that a character lied, you can show that the character lied by describing how his eyes shifted and how his feet shuffled while he spoke. You can also show that a character is anxious and insecure by describing how she is trembling and how she has her hands stuffed all the way inside of her pants pockets. Ingenious!

Anyway, it is really important to identify your own flaws as a writer. I know that doing so will not only help me land a literary agent, but that it will also help me become that 1% better at writing.