If you write enough, you know the feeling. Your latest manuscript has something missing. Maybe something essential. But you don't exactly know what. (Or you may know but hope you're wrong.)
Whether it's a five-thousand-word short or a one-hundred-thousand word novel, the feeling can be discouraging. And it can be hard to figure out what your next move is. To help, I'm beginning my story clinic series, with diagnostics, exercises, and suggestions on solutions. As I outlined this series of posts, I realized something was missing. Just as a journey begins before a single step (with key decisions, planning, packing, etc.), some explanation, assessment, and action must precede this clinic.
My clinic is for commercial fiction. That is, if you have something experimental, avant garde, or intended for academic audiences, these post might cause more harm than good. I respect your courage and I'm cheering you on from the sidelines, but I can't help much.
My clinic is for people with complete stories. If your draft is not finished and you don't really know what you have, save these posts for later. Or see if they tell you something about a story you read that almost worked.
My clinic is not for complete beginners. There's lots of good information for you in classes, books, and even some of my previous posts. I encourage you to explore these and to advance your craft and your experience as a writer. If you can't write a logline, master that. If you don't know the tropes of the genre that interests you, learn them. If your writer's voice is uncertain, keep at it until you can read your work aloud (at least to yourself) with confidence. Keep writing and don't forget to find the fun along the way.
Still with me? Good. By now, you've guessed that you need to have a story that needs work at hand for next week. I'd recommend you carve out some time (probably an hour or two each week) to take full advantage of the upcoming posts. My presumption is you, as an experienced writer, already have the discipline to do this.
Courage will come in handy, too. Most good stories recall embarrassing and painful memories and take the author into uncomfortable places. While joy and other positive emotions should be part of the writer's (and reader's) experience through characters, it is the tough parts that ensure the happy endings are earned.
I also presume you have the tenacity to stick with the work until it's done. Even as newer stories tempt you. Story Clinic isn't a place for promiscuity.
Next week, I'll provide a diagnostic test that will help you identify where you need to begin you efforts in fixing your story. The answers may be tough, so I encourage you to take time now to write down reasons why you love your story and why it deserves the time and effort it will take to make it all that it promises to be.
Write these reasons in full sentences. Post them near where you write. They'll serve two purposes: First, they'll encourage you to stick with the work and not lose hope when problems become more visible. Second, they'll remind you what is working, including what needs to survive revision. The magic of your story might be at odds with expectations and might seem to be part of the problem. The best stuff often breaks the rules, so be prepared to hold onto your treasures through the whole process.
My BIGGER STORIES workshop begins online May 2.
Fire up your readers with twists, turns, shock, and awe. Learn how to
demand more from your characters and to create endings that buzz. Don’t
hold back. Find out how to take you stories from good to great.