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.

Character Investment

January 22, 2009

Characters are the vehicles in which a story moves along, right? So it’s not a stretch of our quasi-firing synapses that in order for readers to care about the story, they have to care about the characters. It’s called Character Investment, and I subscribe heavily to this because it’s what helps make a story bankable.

Plots are great; after all, it’s what drives us to turn the pages. But it’s the characters that make the plot come to life. I just rejected a manuscript I really wanted because the subject matter was wonderful, and the perspective was unique and marketable. The problem was that I couldn’t invest in the character because the author never let me know his character’s depth and breadth.

A fabulous plot is a wasted effort if I can’t get a feel for the characters. Who are they? What drives them? How do they react to confrontation or conflict? What thought processes do they encounter when trying to resolve a crisis? Are they hot heads or easy going? Do they tend to be punctual or late? What kind of books would they read? What foods do they like? Are they wine or beer drinkers? Do they have friends? What does their house look like? Their closets?

Obviously not all of these elements will be infused in the story, but I think this is a good writing exercise when developing a character. If they’re real to you, the author, then it’s easier to make them real in your story. And you definitely need to make them real in your query letter. The only flat thing in your manuscript should be the pages.

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