I'm deep in my revision process for the next book (that isn't called DESTINED anymore so we're just calling it the-book-that-used-to-be-DESTINED) and have 18 more days before this version needs to be turned back into my editor. As I slog through plot lines and character motivations I find myself questioning everything, ready to rip big chunks of the story apart in order to get to the heart of the thing. Rather than try to figure out the plot from start to finish, I tend to ask myself endless questions as I do a complete reading - would she really say 'cool' here? Is this character truly a vegetarian? Does this character play piano? Or is it really the violin?
My editor tends to do this too - a few of my favorite questions from this revision:
Do they have Macy's in the UK?
Can this be better articulated?
Why would she take that advice?
Any way to make this more believable?
Are all of them in on it?
and my favorite - Any better way to say this?
A good question makes you trace the moment all the way back through the story. Why would she take that advice? Hmm. Well, the relationship needs to progress and in order to do that, she needs to trust him here. But the whole point of this part of the story is that she doesn't even trust herself yet. So even though her heart is telling her to believe him, her head needs to override that and remain skeptical. So basically, she wouldn't take that advice and that's why the scene isn't working and why this part of the story feels forced. Dangit.
Don't be afraid to ask the people around you. My fabulous critique partners do it all the time. Last Wednesday, I texted my buddy Daisy a question about the motivation for two character's backstory. In minutes she texted back 'cello competition'. It was brilliant and just the thing I needed to get the story moving again. And after hours of thinking about this one problem, had never occurred to me.
My kids are used to the questions that I direct to them and their friends. My house is usually filled with teens and pre-teens so they are a captive audience to my craziness. They might be downstairs playing Xbox when I shout down: 'Hey guys! If you wanted to kill someone in San Francisco and make it look like an accident, what would you do? ' Or like the question I asked over popcorn last weekend;: 'If you could fix any of the world's problems, what would it be?' The answer was universal and surprised me so much I put it in the book. More often than not, they come up with great stuff that sets me back on the right track.
Sometimes you come upon a question that makes your stomach flip a little bit. Somewhere deep inside you've always had this question, but changing it would mean changing so much of the story that you've chosen to ignore it until it becomes like the big forehead zit on prom night. It must be dealt with before it wrecks everything, no matter how ugly it gets. The questions that make you uncomfortable are usually the ones that need to be addressed the most.