Monday, January 18, 2016

10 Ways to Do Over Your Story or Novel (Alissa Grosso)

Sometimes we have these books and stories that are just begging to be written, but when we actually sit down to start composing them we get stuck. Maybe we make it through the whole manuscript only to learn that something is seriously wrong with our creation.

Rest assured that very few (if any) first drafts are not in need of serious work. Some, though, are in worse shape than others. Before you throw in the towel on a project, here are some tips for giving your manuscript a makeover, one that just might turn your flop into a masterpiece.

These tips have also been known to come to the rescue when you find yourself stuck on a project.

1. Tell it from a different character's point of view. I had this short story, and I really liked the concept, but something just wasn't right. Then I had an epiphany, what if instead of telling it from the perspective of that guy I told in from the perspective of the teenage girl. Turns out she had a lot to say. The story turned into my third novel, Shallow Pond.

2. Switch to first person/third person narration. It doesn't seem like it would change much, but it can change the whole mood of a story to go from telling it in the first person (the "I did this" style) to the third person (the "she did this" style). Sometimes it can be freeing to release yourself from the confines of the first person and other times you might find yourself able to better express your character by switching from third to first person.

3. Switch the tense. I do this a lot, often in the middle of writing, which leads to a lot more work when I go back to proofread and have to settle on a tense that I like. A lot of fiction is written in the past tense, but present tense can add a heightened sense of drama and action to a story. It works very well for fast-paced and action-filled stories and books.

4. Start the story earlier. If you find yourself relying on a lot of flashbacks to tell your story, and you feel like they are slowing down the story's pace or making things too confusing, the solution could be to start your story a little earlier. Another strategy is to jump around a bit in time with your chapters, perhaps even weaving two different timelines together, alternating chapters that take place in the novel's past and chapters that take place in the novel's present.

5. Start the story later. Of course, the other problem is sometimes we start our story too early, before anything is happening and the first few chapters are BORING. Solution: get rid of them. Start your story where things start to get interesting. Toss in some flashbacks or some chapters that are set in the past if you need to get some backstory out there.

6. Raise the stakes. Speaking of boring, sometimes the problem is that the stakes simply aren't high enough. Not every thing needs to be a life and death situation, though those do make for lots of drama. Still, if the biggest issue facing your character is that she may not get an A in history class or he needs money to afford a pair of stylish sneakers, you run the risk of losing the interest of readers. Don't forget to give your characters deadlines. When your character only has to the end of the week to do this very important thing it will add to the tension in your narrative.

7. Switch up the genders. Stereotypes are lame, but we use them all the time without even realizing it. Ask yourself how your story would be different if he was a she or vice versa. You might find that a somewhat ho-hum story becomes more dramatic, and that somewhat boring boy becomes a pretty interesting girl. This can work for main characters, but can also be a great way of making your other characters more interesting and memorable.

8. Start with the ending. Okay, you can write your whole story backwards like Memento, but that wasn't what I had in mind. Instead sometimes it helps to know exactly how your story's going to end. Beginnings are the easy part, but endings are tougher. When you have a pretty firm idea of how your book's going to end, then it can be easier to find a path to get you there.

9. Add a cliffhanger or two. Charles Dickens is credited with being the creator of the cliffhanger, a device he used when he was writing serialized fiction to force readers to buy the next installment. (The name comes from the fact that he would literally leave characters hanging from a cliff at the end of an installment.) You'll find lots of television shows following in Dickens's footsteps. Serialized fiction isn't much of a thing anymore, but you can still use a cliffhanger or two at the ends of your chapters to keep readers reading and spice things up.

10. Surprise yourself. This trick works well if you tend to be a plotter who has your whole story mapped out ahead of time. It can be messy to throw a monkey wrench into the works, but sometimes what a stagnant story needs is a new twist or to take things in an entirely different direction.

6 comments:

  1. This is great! I just finished a first draft, and I needed some do-over pointers!

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  2. This is a fantastic post. Such great tips! I always know the ending before I start. Am about to revise my YA again and these are really helpful.

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  3. #3 is ESPECIALLY (and surprisingly) powerful.

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  4. These are great, Alissa, thank you! I'm printing these out and keeping them on my desk.

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  5. Great list and one I'm saving.

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  6. This is crazy helpful! I'm about to dive into a do-over of a novel I *thought* was finished a year and a half ago. I haven't looked at it in a year, so I'm sure I'll be trying out some of these.

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