Your Narrative – Is Your Ignition Switch in the ON Position?

May 19, 2014


Lots of stories – fiction and nonfiction – have characters who undergo some sort of change. Like in real life, characters don’t normally experience something and punch through on the other side completely unaffected. Those experiences (basically the plot of your story) is what alters their way of looking at themselves and the world around them.


In a writer’s perfect world, the character’s evolution and plot resolution come together like the Rescue Beagles and margaritas. But there are times when stories become unbalanced, and one overtakes the other. When this happens, it’s because the literary ignition switch is in the OFF position.

Sure sure, I see you scratching your head and cursing me for being confusing – so let me offer an example. I recently read a story about a man who lost his father and decides to go on a surfing Walkabout. Totally get that…when something horrible happens, escaping the confines of the everyday can be an attractive solution. The problem was that the author spent most of his time in his own head with long lyrical and esoteric passages of talking to nature and the waves, asking for answers – but he never fully developed the relationship between him and his father – his humor, his wisdom, his love for his son, and sadness knowing he was dying. The result was that I couldn’t appreciate the author’s sense of loss; the achingly long narratives; or the journey itself. In fact, there was very little attention paid to the actual physicality of the surf Walkabout, so he could have easily stayed home and knit toilet paper doilies,  replacing the surf and sand for knitting needles.

In this case, the key wasn’t even in the ignition, and the action was AWOL.

If you’re going to take some sort of action (walkabout, live on a boat, join the Hari Krishnas/join a group of space trash collectors) due to an igniting experience (divorce/death/threat to world peace/alien invasion), then it’s vital readers understand how influential the ignition and action are in altering you/your character’s life.

When writers strike a perfect balance between cause and effect/affect – ignition/action, then I can happily follow them into the depths of hell because I get it. I feel what they’re going through, so I’m silently sobbing/cheering them on to find their happy place, and I appreciate the lengths they went through (walkabout, live on a boat, join the Hari Krishnas/join a group of space trash collectors) to find equanimity. It’s impossible to have one without the other. Write without the ignition in the ON position, and your readers will toss your book against a wall.

How about your story? Is your literary ignition is on? If so, how? Is your character’s inner journey in balance with the plot?



What Do Your Cerebral File Cabinets Look Like?

December 7, 2012


If someone took a tour through my cerebral cortex, they’d find open cabinets with my Vickie Secrets flung far and wide, some errant wisps of paper that need filing, and endless manuscripts awaiting my attention. In short, the inside of my brain is a disaster…but it’s a far sight better than the beagle’s, whose cabinets are filled with empty tequila bottles. But as disorganized as my cerebral files are, I somehow manage to paint a sentient thought or two when it comes to writing. But that doesn’t necessarily extend to everyone.

There are times during the editing process when I see a shortcut between what’s in the author’s head and what actually made it to cyber paper. This takes the form of an incomplete scene that’s crying out for more explanation. For example, you can’t have a scene about being arrested and not tell the reader what the infraction is, or having a surgery without explaining what kind of surgery and why it’s needed.

The result of these shortcuts is that the reader will begin asking questions…which takes them out of your story. If you shortcut too much, they’ll toss your book (or manuscript) across the room.

Your scenes need to be developed enough in order to satisfy your reader and keep them from asking basic questions. Of course, many stories are meant to confound and confuse because it’s the nature of the plot. But you can’t leave basics out. If your character is crossing the room, and in the next breath is pulling weeds in the garden, then your readers won’t be very happy. Neither will your editor.

The problem is that authors know their stories so well, that they don’t realize they haven’t connected all the dots. So think about cleaning up your cerebral file cabinets so you can arrange your thoughts in a logical, organized manner that won’t leave your readers scratching their heads, wondering where the lady with three belly buttons fits into your story.

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