story structure

Submissions

Hello everyone! It has been a crazy few months, but let me fill you in on all the exciting things I’ve been up to.

First, I completed a second round of revisions for my scientific article. I just finished these last week. I’m not sure how many rounds of revisions there will be before my article gets published, but IJES is very prestigious and thus there might be more revisions to complete in the future.

That being said, the revisions I made in this last round resulted in a very cohesive piece. The article now reads very well, being both concise and informative. So hopefully this set of revisions will be the last before publication, but we will see!

After I submitted my article revisions, I started working again on polishing up my novel. I actually found a new place to submit my novel unsolicited! From my preliminary research, the publisher seems to offer good contracts to their authors, so I figure it’s worth a shot!

Before I submit, I am going through the novel again to make sure that everything is on-point. I have to say, I am really digging this intro with the prologue! It’s funny how when you put something away for a few months and then work on it again, you can see it more clearly with fresh eyes for what it is. This opening works very well!

Last night I polished up the introductory frame, so now I’m working more on the middle section. From the part I read last night, the work I had done a few months ago really paid off! You would never have guessed that the main character had sounded flat at one point. Now she has a really strong voice and a lot of attitude (lol).

Anyway, with the long weekend ahead I am going to work on my novel as much as possible. I will submit very soon! I foresee lots of coffee in my future as I prepare my manuscript. 😀

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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.

Opening Scene

After many revisions, I have finally settled on an opening scene for my novel that works. Yay!!!

The first thing I did was to answer all of the agent’s questions in the very first page. This was very difficult; it took me a long time to figure out how to do this correctly. It was very difficult because I liked the way that I had presented the answers to these questions in my earlier draft (meaning, I had become attached to the language and the phrasing that I had used in my earlier draft). When I subsequently moved up these sections to occur earlier in the story, the language and phrasing no longer worked and I needed to change most of it. This was a bummer, but I finally got the revision to work with new language and phrasing that I like.

After I reworked the content of the opening scene, I had some guinea pigs read it and give me feedback. Even though I had answered all of the agent’s pertinent questions upfront, my guinea pigs still thought that the main character was a nutcase. Geez, this problem was a tough nut to crack! (lol)

It turns out, a large part of the problem was that I had used the wrong syntax for indicating that the main character was thinking to herself. Because I had used quotation marks instead of italics, my readers thought incorrectly that my character was talking to herself out loud. No wonder everyone thought that she was a nutcase! She was seemingly talking to herself out loud and yelling at herself out loud in every other paragraph…

That part was an easy fix, but it did not solve the problem entirely. There was also a line at the end that set the wrong tone for the rest of the novel. People read it and thought that my novel would be like a slasher/revenge sort of novel, which is not what I had intended at all.

I revised that section and had people reread it until it gave off the correct tone. What I ended up doing was having the narrator talk about something that the main character did not yet understand, telling the reader about the problem vaguely without actually giving any concrete details. My goal for this part was to be mysterious in a good way, to intrigue the reader so that he or she wants to read more and wants to find out what happens next.

Finally, what really helped to fix the opening was adding a prologue. The prologue I added is short, sweet, and in all italics. It is a flashback to the middle section of the novel, detailing an abusive scene. The prologue really helped set an ominous tone for the rest of the novel, as well as provided more sympathy toward the main character.

So that’s it for the opening scene! Up next: fixing the middle section.

When I referenced the middle section to write the prologue, I realized that my middle section is very flat. The reason for this is that I have a tense change into the first person. In order to properly engage the reader while writing in the first person, the writing must be extra dramatic and over the top. So, this is what I will be tackling next.

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.