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?


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

To Rewrite

I’m struggling with rewriting a story.

Editing I can do. Revising I can do (after all, revising is a lot like editing, right?)

But rewriting is a whole different game.

I’ve spent a couple months with some health issues which meant I didn’t get any work done on the new story. I know it’s going to be easy to pick that thread up again but right now the energy I have for writing isn’t streaming toward creating. So I pulled out an old story I wrote almost twenty years ago.

I love that story but there are serious structural issues with it. Not enough characters, so that the antagonist is glaringly obvious. Not enough conflict. And not enough subplots. Well, let’s be honest. There’s basically one subplot and that’s it. Which, as any writer of fiction knows, won’t support a novel-length story.

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Symbolic of structural issues, wouldn’t you agree?

So I decided to use this time of healing to rewrite that story. And I’ve discovered it’s actually hard. I’ve been trying to come up with something to compare the process to. And the closest I can get is baking.

Have you ever baked a cake, finished the batter, poured it into the pan, and then realized that you forgot something vital, like the eggs? So you dump it back into the mixing bowl and try to add what you forgot, but it just doesn’t mix up quite the same. And doesn’t bake quite right.

Rewriting is like trying to add those darn eggs after the cake is baked.

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Guess this is the only photo I have of a cake. Obviously not one I baked!

So much energy is invested in creating and editing and polishing. And then there’s the process of letting go so the story can go out into the world. Rewriting is also like trying to pick up that energy after it’s long dissipated. Trying to find the mood that story was written in.

It’s challenging to find spots to slip in new characters or new dialog. That seems much harder than adding in bits of internalizations. Then there’s trying to figure out conflicts and subplots for secondary characters that I’ve now realized I never knew.

There’s too much in the story that’s good to just toss and start all over. I’m not even sure I could start over and end up with the same spirit that’s in this version. I definitely don’t want to lose this version.

So I’m plugging along – literally – plugging in bits and pieces as I go. I still like this old story. But my writing has changed since back then.

The process of rewriting is more challenging than I expected. Luckily I like a challenge when it comes to writing.

We’ll see what happens.

Editing Yourself

Okay, let’s break down, honestly, the editing process when you are getting your stuff ready for the real world. Others have said similar things before, but I’m saying it again as I am right at step #7.

1. The first draft is finally finished after lots of angst and hard work. I think it stinks, the plot sucks, the characters are even worse, and it’s time to go back to the day job.

2. I leave it alone for a few weeks, then sneak back very tentatively and peak at the first page. It doesn’t suck as bad as I thought so I read on and realize, well it’s okay at least.

3. I revise and get it to the point where I think, hey, this is actually the best one I’ve written so far.

4. It gets sent off to the beta readers with high hopes that comments will flood in on how perfect and wonderful the story is.

5. Days pass. Doubts creep in.

6. Comments come back. In this case, one of my favorites included this: 2, 4, 13, 26, 53, etc. for a long list of numbers which translate to pages with typos I somehow missed. Some comments ask basic plot questions that I can’t answer because I never thought of that – why does the protagonist come home? A lot of comments show structure issues.

7. I regress to step #1, with the added drama that it’s going to take so much work to revise I might as well toss the whole thing, give up, and move on to something else. (this is where I’m at today)

8. Eventually I laugh at myself (this always happens so these following steps are listed as coming from past experience), take the easiest comments to deal with first (probably will be the list of page numbers) and start editing.

9. The realization sinks in that, wow, these changes are making the story much stronger.

10. The edits are done, there’s a final beta reader review, and hey, this is the best one I’ve written yet!

11. The book goes out to the world and I start on the next one, and then…

12. I find typos after publication.

I imagine there are a few of you out there that can relate.