Novels and Scotch

My son came up for dinner this evening, and wandered around with me afterwards while I watered roses.

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He talked about a short story he wrote, that he would like to turn into a novel. But he doesn’t think there’s enough to make a novel-length story, even though he has a fully developed world, lots of characters, and an extensive plot outline.

We talked about what he doesn’t have, to flesh out something that would translate to a novel.

First, there’s not enough sub-plots. The major plot line, like I said, is done well. But without sub-plots to hold it up, the main plot will sag, most likely about mid-way through. The lack of sub-plots is almost always the reason a first draft dies about halfway in.

Second, there’s no conflicts between the characters. Either external, or internal. He realized that these characters all get along too well.

And third, in a short story it’s okay for the good guys to win the battle. In a novel, it won’t work to have the good guys winning every single battle as they make their way forward to the final scenes. So they need to lose, and there has to be reasons for them to lose, and ways for them to learn and continue.

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A boy and his dog, many years ago.

While we talked, I remembered one of my favorite mysteries, that I never did anything with. I loved the premise, loved the characters, really loved the setting. I finished it, beta readers loved it. But there were lots of problems.

Not enough characters, so the antagonist was obvious. Not enough sub-plots to carry the novel. Predictable battles. Sound familiar? Sure did to me, even if the genres were completely different.

I’d like to go back and edit that story, but it needs more than just editing. It needs serious revision work. I’ve tried that a couple times but wow, what a task. It might be simpler to just take the premise, hang on to a few characters, and rewrite the whole thing.

Thinking about that story also reminds me of a funny conversation. The foundation of that mystery is a cask of Highland Park single malt scotch. I’m partial to Highland Park even though I don’t like scotch, because the distillery is on the Orkney Islands and I have friends in northern Scotland. That’s the main reason I chose that scotch.

My husband collects single malt scotch. So as I wrote the mystery, I would go to him and say, ‘I need a whisky with a peat flavor’ or ‘I need something that’s fruity’ and he would supply me with way more information on scotch then what ended up in the story. Plus he’d have to extensively sample, to find just the right one to meet my needs.

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Also from several years ago.

When it came time to do our taxes that year, our accountant told me we could write off the scotch my husband bought as research for the story. I thought that was a bit farfetched and didn’t believe the CPA.

My husband, on the other hand, decided the mystery needed to become a series. Set in different distilleries that we would have to visit for research.

I guess one of these days I’ll have to rewrite that mystery and create that series. Just to keep the scotch flowing and the husband happy.

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Sunshine On My Shoulders

I try very hard to not ‘market’ on this blog post because selling isn’t the purpose of writing here. So please understand that this is a post of excitement rather than pushing a product.

Sunshine On My Shoulders is now live on Amazon! You writers out there understand the excitement because you know the long process from creation through revision, through editing, through more revision to the final point where you just have to let go.

So I’ve managed to let go. Though I want to go back for one more read-through because there’s always that one last typo you missed.

But for today, I’ve tossed the child to the world.

 

Goals, Motivations, and Action

I’m using Janice Hardy’s wonderful Editorial Map for revising the first draft of book four, found in her equally wonderful book Revising Your Novel. But I got hung up on a few things.

The map asks specific questions for each scene or chapter. By answering, you see where you’ve gone astray. After mapping out the whole draft, you have a snapshot of where the story needs work.

One question has you list out the goals and motivations for each scene, and one question asks what the point of view character is doing in the scene.

How are they different? Isn’t what the character does, her goal?

So I did what I always do when I have a writing question. Went out to dinner with my friend, author and editor Susan Schreyer. (It’s our excuse to eat out.)

What I realized while talking to her is that the ‘goal’ question relates to the over-reaching goals and motivation. The internal goal, so to speak, which ties to the theme or premise. What the character is doing relates more to the physical, immediate goals and motivations attached to a specific scene.

Of course I knew that.

Right, Susan?

I then talked to Susan about a couple of scenes I found that didn’t have any goal or motivation, whether out there in the ozone or right in the character’s lap. I knew the scene had a purpose but it wasn’t quite fleshed out enough to make that purpose clear.

Susan, of course, had a great suggestion. She said to go back to the previous scene and see what the decision was. This doesn’t mean a physical decision made by the character like deciding to get tea instead of coffee. It means the conclusion of the scene.

Not to confuse that conclusion with the ‘sequel’ which should follow each scene. In other words, the scene is me finding an earwig in my hair, and the sequel is lots of yelling and thrashing about. You can’t have a scene without a sequel. Think ‘action/reaction’. The decision is what the character does after the sequel. Like washing hair for three hours.

That decision should always tie to the next scene. The decision causes the next step in the plot or the character arc to happen.

And in the scenes I struggled with, I realized they didn’t tie to the previous scene or decision. They were just kind of hanging out there on their own. No place in the story arc.

It’s going to be a fairly simple thing to revise them to find their place in the story. Right at the moment, I love this revision process. We’ll see if I feel the same later.

And I already knew that about scene/sequel/decision.

Right, Susan?

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Dahlias (aka earwig flowers) from By Dinkum – Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21343403