Ep. 103: Narrative Identity and Why It Matters in Your Fiction

Narrative Identity and Why It Matters in Your Story www.writership.com

In this episode, Leslie and Clark critique “A Hero Least of All,” a literary short story by Tim LaFave. They discuss narrative identity and why it matters for your writing. As humans, we use story to make sense of our lives, and it’s important to understand the stories we tell about ourselves and the how this impacts our writing. We consider how being aware of our own narrative identity can help us revise, and we can use this emotional energy as fuel for our characters. 

 

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Wise Words on Stories

Stories are the way we make sense out of the events of our lives. Individually and collectively we tell stories in order to understand what has happened to us and to create meaning from those experiences. Storytelling is fundamental to all human cultures, and our shared stories create a connection to others that builds a sense of belonging to a particular community. The stories of a particular culture shape how its members perceive the world. In this way, stories both are created by us and shape who are. For these reasons, stories are central to both individual and collective human experience.
— Daniel Siegel, MD, Parenting from the Inside Out

Additional Notes

Clark’s covers narrative identity in his course Punch Them in the Gut: Writing Fiction with Emotional Impact.

The two books on narrative identity that Clark mentioned are How Our Lives Become Stories, Making Selves and Living Autobiographically, How We Create Identity in Narrative by Paul John Eakin. Remember that Clark said these books are fairly technical. 

We have a Patreon shout-out for E.A. Hennessy, the author of the steampunk novel Grigory's Gadget.  

 

Editorial Mission—What's Your Story?

The more clearly we see and understand our own stories, the more we can use our emotions to fuel our stories, make our characters relatable, and connect with our readers. This week, look at your own life’s journey and where you’re at today. What stories do you tell yourself about your life and why you do what you do? Then consider one of the stories that you’ve written or are working on. Where do your stories show up? How can you bring more of your personal journey to make it more specific and connect with the reader? 

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Editing Advice to Our Author

Dear Tim,

Thanks for your submission to the podcast. “A Hero Least of All” gave us the opportunity to talk about narrative identity, a topic near and dear to our hearts. Like anyone else, writers mull over our concerns and worries, so they naturally find their way into our stories. It’s a great way to process events that are beyond our control and change the course of our own lives.

Michael is a great example of the way we can make sense of life because, given his circumstances, he could have been a very different person. Acknowledging that home isn’t what he would have wished for, but that the letters are his anchor in his present life demonstrates the way we use story to create a helpful narrative and cope with challenges. It’s not that he sees the world through rose-colored glasses, but he sees the world benevolently enough to keep him from falling into despair or lashing out. 

You’ve done a great job helping readers empathize with Michael through the details you shared and the way he navigates a world that is not kind to him. We all know someone who is a bit awkward or sees the world differently, and I think your story helps people understand them better. This is one of the powerful things that stories can do—not only help us make sense of the world, but also to understand others’ experiences and worldviews. I found the story deeply touching, and I can't help but wish that the future holds something better for the Michaels of this world.

Just like any other story, the ones inspired by challenges we face need to work and avoid extra elements that don’t add to the telling. When you write for an audience beyond yourself, I recommend checking that everything included supports the story (the anecdotes, metaphors, descriptions). Not every aspect of what happens in real life will be relevant.

I also think this could be made stronger by showing us an episode or two from his hometown, the mail call episodes (before and after as contrast), and when he walks into camp after wandering around in the woods for three days. The third omniscient POV gives you lots of latitude to reveal powerful details to help the reader experience those scenes.

Generally speaking, when we use aspects of our personal stories in fiction, we need to make them worse or better than ordinary life in a memorable. Just as we wouldn’t include commonplace dialogue, make sure that the emotions and situations we include are larger than life. You’ve captured this well. For example, Michael doesn’t have one annoying nickname, he has many, some of which are humiliating and came to him through no fault of his own. He picks up new ones wherever he goes.

We did a light copyedit of the manuscript, and I’ve pointed out a few picky items in the submission. I suggest omitting scare quotes because they can become like speed bumps to the reader, and I made some other punctuation edits as well.

Thanks again for sharing your story with us and for trusting us with your words.  

All the best,

Leslie & Clark

 

Line Edits for our Literary Fiction Short Story

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Ep. 102: How to Choose Your Story's Point of View

Ep. 102: How to choose your story's POV by Leslie Watts at writership.com

In this episode, Clark and I discuss point of view in our critique of “The Second Prayer: A Confession for the Dead,” a thriller short story by David L. Storm. Point of view seems like a straightforward choice. It's the filter through which the reader experiences your story: Each option has advantages and disadvantages and can produce vastly different results. If you have to change it in the revision stage, it's a big job, but worth it if you find the right POV for the story you want to tell. 

In our editorial mission this week, we share a list of questions to ask when you choose the story's POV for your first draft and later during revision. Our author has graciously allowed us to include the entire text of his story, and you'll find that below, after the inline critique. 

 

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Wise Words on Point of View

Selecting the best point of view from which to tell a story can be puzzling. Because you originally conceive an idea in first or third person doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. Often it’s good to rewrite the story in another person to see how it changes. Sometimes writers, after a number of drafts, have realized that the real story lies elsewhere—in the mother’s view of the daughter, not the daughter’s view of the mother. Such changes in perspective have resulted in breakthroughs that have astonished their own authors.
— Jerome Stern, Making Shapely Fiction

Additional Notes

Clark mentioned two stories films in which the viewer sees the story from multiple points of view. They are Roshomon and Vantage Point.

 

Editorial Mission—How to choose your story's point of view

When deciding and reviewing point of view, consider the questions listed below. No single factor should necessarily determine your choice. As Clark mentioned, when you’re deciding on a POV, it’s a great to experiment with different options. Try different characters as well as first, third limited, and omniscient to get a feel for how the story feels most natural. 

  • How many perspectives do you need? (The shorter the work, the more likely you’ll want to stick with one person.)
  • Do you need an objective or subjective narrator?
  • Do you need to contrast character’s actions? (As Nick Mamatas noted: “If a character’s thoughts match his or her actions exactly, the thoughts aren’t interesting and are probably not necessary to share.”)
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of each choice? This Writer’s Digest post lists the advantages and disadvantages of each point of view.
  • Whose story is this? Who has the most at stake? Who changes the most as a result of the events of the story?
  • Who has the best vantage point? Whose perspective can best convey the story to convey your controlling idea or theme?
  • Who has the best and most interesting voice?
  • Do you need more distance or intimacy? (You can adjust narrative distance within the POV, but this is accomplished far more easily in third omniscient than third limited and first.)
  • Which character has a secret you want to avoid revealing early in the story?
  • Consider the MICE quotient and who can best reveal the events of the story given the main factor in yours. (Not mentioned in the episode, but check out the advice for our author for a brief discussion.)

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Editing Advice for Our Author

Dear David,

Thanks so much for sharing your story with us! “The Second Prayer: A Confession for the Dead” has a fascinating premise for a psychological thriller with so many great elements. The twist you have set up is spectacular and ambitious for a short story. I love that you’ve taken on this challenge!

Our biggest suggestion is to reconsider the point of view, including the character and possibly the type. Point of view is important in every story, but particularly critical when you want to reveal some facts and hide other facts. It’s hard to hear because this would mean a substantial rewrite, but you have stellar ingredients for a huge twist, and we suspect that a different point of view would make this powerful.

As Clark mentioned, we couldn’t think of any elements that we would cut or add (except that we think you could expand this into a novella or a novel)—our main advice is about how and when you reveal the events of your story.

The key to this can be found in your logline: Two people know why Jimmy stepped off the curb in front of a truck, and one is dead. Since Jimmy knows, he could simply tell us, and from his point of view, there is no mystery about why he did it. (Unless the story were about him waking up in the hospital and having no recollection of the facts of his recent past. But that’s quite a different story.)

The detective, Ben Sanders, doesn’t know why Jimmy acted the way he did, but wants to know so he can build a case against Jimmy in the death of Linda Belle. He’s a great character to guide us through the story and ask the questions we would want to ask.

Another way to look at it is through the lens of Orson Scott Card’s MICE quotient story factors: milieu, idea, character, or event. I hadn’t thought about this before we recorded, so we don’t talk about it in the episode. I share a brief explanation here, but if you want to find out more, listen to episodes 6.10 and 8.20 of the Writing Excuses podcast and Karen Woodward’s excellent posts on the topic.

Within that system, you could frame this as an event or character story, but the logline and genre point to an idea story: Jimmy Grant had it all, so why did he step off a curb in front of a truck? And the reason this is important is that this single fact changes how we see everything in the story.

As written this is an idea story, so it begins with a problem to be solved (building the case) or a question to be answered (Ben must know why this happened). If the question were, how am I going to get away with this, then Jimmy might be the best POV character, but again the powerful twist comes from the question of motive, and Ben is the person in this story who wants to know that and with whom the reader is most closely aligned.

You have such a fantastic and inventive twist! Thank you for the opportunity to talk about this and for trusting us with your words.

 

All the best,

Leslie & Clark

 

 

Line Edits for Our Thriller Short Story

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The Full Story

 

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Ep. 101: Check Your Narrative Distance

In this episode, fiction editors Leslie and Clark critique the beginning of Osweyth, an epic fantasy novel inspired by Cornish folklore by JM Hudson. They discuss narrative distance, omniscient point of view, and moving smoothly between vantage points. They also talk about the weather as a character in the story, lush prose, sentence and paragraph length, and commas. The editorial mission asks you to check your narrative distance, that is how close your reader is to the character or narrator.

Check Your Narrative Distance by Leslie Watts at writership.com 

 

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Wise words on narrative distance 

Psychic Distance is a concept which John Gardner explores in his book The Art of Fiction, and I think it’s absolutely crucial, not difficult to understand, and not nearly talked about enough. You’ll also find it called Narrative Distance because, basically, it’s about where the narrative (and therefore the reader) stands, relative to a character. Another way of thinking of it is how far the reader is taken, by the narrator, inside the character’s head.
— Emma Darwin

Additional Resources

The useful article about narrative distance we mentioned can be found on Emma Darwin’s site, This Itch of Writing.

The comic book writer Clark mentioned is Joshua Crowther.

Don't forget to check out Clark’s new course, Advanced Novel Writing with Harry Potter!

 

Editorial mission—check your narrative distance

Narrative distance (also known as psychic distance) is a term to describe how far away the reader is from the character or narrator who’s revealing the story. Even within a single point of view, you can be far away from the character and her experience (the equivalent of watching a scene from the back row of a theater) or actually within the character’s experience and feeling what they feel or knowing their thoughts in their own words.  

This element is also related to showing and telling because the greater the distance between the reader and the character, the more the narrator or character tell us about what’s happening rather than showing us or allowing us to experience it. The distance you need to tell your story effectively will vary across the entire book and within individual scenes.

The examples from John Gardner and Emma Darwin in her post we mentioned in the episode will help you get a better feel for the extremes and the levels in between.  

Once you have a sense of these levels, check a scene of your own. Consider the narrative distance as written then what you think would be ideal for what you need to accomplish and what you want to show the reader. Use the following elements to assess then adjust the narrative distance within the scene.  

  • Word choice and sentence structure. Is the prose in the character’s own voice and using words she would use, or in the voice of an objective, story-telling narrator?  
  • Which details about the setting and characters are revealed? Things only the character would know and notice? Is the reader told about feelings or opinions regarding the details, or are these conveyed through the character’s actions or words? 
  • Are there details the POV character wouldn't normally think about?  
  • Do you hear the character’s direct thoughts or about what she’s thinking? 
  • Including thought verbs (e.g., think, know, believe, understand, realize, want, hate, remember) or tags for observations increases the narrative distance.
  • Explanations about the location and what’s happening do the same.
  • The character’s own facial expressions unless she’s gazing in a mirror or reflective surface increase the distance as well.

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Editing advice to our author

Dear J M,
Thank you so much for your submission! You’ve provided us with the perfect opportunity to talk about narrative distance (aka psychic distance) and how it affects point of view in stories.  
You’ve used third person omniscient POV so the reader can observe the action from many vantage points, which is helpful in an epic story like this. The way you employ narrative distance helps us ease into the location and becoming familiar with the characters.  
We have a lovely progression from a tiny figure, to a small girl, to feeling what she feels and realizing she is only four years old. Then we hear her speak and see her interact with Jowan. (By the way, she is a captivating character, and I feel a strong urge to read on to find out who will win the battle of wills between her and her father.)
There is a similar progression with Jowan from soldiers noticing that something is amiss to eventually learning that he has a pet name and no small affection for the feisty four-year-old, who also happens to be of royal blood.
The movement from Byhan to Jowan is smooth, not jarring. You’re training the reader how to read your book. And, I suspect we are seeing very characteristic moments for both these characters: Byhan lying in the mud during a squall and feeling the vibration of the waves crashing against the stone beneath and Jowan fearing for her safety, scolding her (though not harshly), and remembering that the odd things about her in a commoner’s child would probably mean death.
There’s not a lot going on in this scene in terms of action: A young noble girl rushes outside in a violent rain storm and falls in the mud. Soldiers notice her, and one in particular rushes to see that she’s all right. While he scolds, her father arrives and then another person (possibly her mother). But in execution you’ve added so much. This is a great opening scene that reveals way more than simply what happens.
As Clark mentioned in the episode, you’ve avoided presenting a laundry list to describe the characters, and instead, helped us get to know them by showing us who they are in their environment with their actions.
The way you’ve employed the weather as a character in this opening supports the story well. Your lush and poetic prose and word choice are a great fit for an epic fantasy inspired by Cornish folktales.
Our suggestions for you relate to items you’ll want to consider in the later stages of revision. You have a lot of long, complex, and compound sentences, and there’s a lot of information to hold in the mind before the reader reaches the end. In part, the description is forceful (not forced), like the storm. This is great, but we were wondering about sustaining this throughout the 100,000 or more words of the story. (You may have already considered this.) When you start editing at the level of paragraphs and sentences, consider the reader’s experience and make sure the level of detail and the complexity of the sentences are manageable. It’s not that there are no short sentences, it’s that the long and complex ones stand out.
Beta readers, especially those who are close to your ideal reader, should give you some great feedback on this point. Some readers enjoy a challenging read, so it’s more about a good fit than a particular word count per sentence. (Does that make sense? I have a book I’m reading for fun that has long, complex paragraphs with very little white space on the page. I love it, but not everyone will want to read The Sea & Civilization: A Maritime History of the World.)  
Watch for comma usage (again, this is something you shouldn’t wrestle with until later stages of editing). I’ve marked some instances in the submission below. With complex prose, you’ll want to make sure the punctuation aids clear understanding rather than following the rules. Still, readers are used to seeing punctuation show up in a certain way, so I recommend keeping as close to "normal" as possible. Clear as mud?  
The last thing I want to mention is that you handled the Cornish words well in this opening (even though my pronunciation was terrible!). The meaning, or enough of the meaning, was clear from the context in each case.  
Thanks again for your submission!
All the best,
Leslie and Clark

 

Line edits for our epic fantasy story 

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Ep. 100: Answers to Your Burning Questions about Writing and Editing Fiction

In this episode, fiction editors Leslie and Clark celebrate 100 episodes. They depart from the regular format to answer your questions about writing and editing. They discuss passive voice, pantsing vs. plotting, head hopping, how long your story should be, and how to write character thoughts. This week’s editorial mission is about finding your strengths and weaknesses. 

Answers to Your Burning Questions about Writing and Editing Fiction with Fiction Editors Leslie Watts and Clark Chamberlain

 

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Wise Words on Writing

The “rules” can be broken, of course, if the violation isn’t noticeable, or if enough is achieved by doing so; but to break the rules of point of view unwittingly, with nothing accomplished by it, is to harm the story foolishly¬ for the reader is sophisticated, he will see the error and discount the work, and even if he is so innocent of fiction techniques as not to notice it consciously, he will have an uneasy feeling, vague as it might be, that something has gone a bit wrong.
— Rust Hills
Writing talent is probably more common than anybody suspects, and it is less important to a writer’s career than most people believe. I have known highly talented young people who for one reason or another have dropped out of writing and never reappeared, and I’ve known people with very modest talents who by sheer determined effort have become professionals. I can’t pump determination into you, and wouldn’t if I could. What I can do is try to tell you what you’re in for, and help you acquire the skills that make the difference between the amateur writer and the professional.
— Damon Knight

Advanced Novel Writing with Harry Potter

Find out more about Clark's new course: Advanced Novel Writing with Harry Potter.

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Introducing Patreon

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Editorial Mission—Find Your Strengths and Weaknesses

Look at your body of work, published or not, and think about your writing habits. What do you notice? What are your strengths? How can you leverage them to improve your process or results? What are your weaknesses? Find a resource to deepen your knowledge in one area you’ve identified as a weakness. (Need one? Write to us at hello@writership.com for a suggestion.) Through determined effort, apply what you've learned until you gain mastery. Reassess regularly as you practice and receive feedback. Choose new weaknesses to study and master.

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Ep. 99: Have You Revealed Your Character's Essence?

In this episode, Leslie and Clark critique the first chapter of Let’s Go Inwards, a science fiction novel by Jake. They discuss revealing character. Unlike screenwriters, we can’t rely on actors to show the audience who our characters are. But we have access to and can expose our characters’ thoughts and motivations in other ways. This episode also includes suggestions for word choice and figurative language.

Ep. 99: Have You Revealed Your Character's Essence? by Leslie Watts at writership.com.

 

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There is some adult language in this episode.

 

Wise Words on Creating memorable Characters

The creation of character presents special problems for writers of fiction. The playwright or screenwriter can hope for arresting actors whose appearance, presence, mannerisms, and delivery will create memorable characters. As a writer you have only your words on the page. You cannot even rely on illustration, as nineteenth-century writers often did. At the same time, there’s nothing more important to your fiction than your characters.
— Jerome Stern

 

Send Us Your Questions!

Click here to submit your questions on writing and editing, for Leslie and Clark to answer in the 100th episode.

 

Editorial Mission—Revealing Character

When you revise your scenes look for the ways you have revealed character. Look at their actions, what they say, what they think, how they react to people and the setting, how people react to them. Be sure that you’ve revealed your characters’ essence rather than presented what they look like, which though important, is only one way to reveal character.

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Editing Advice to Our Author

Dear Jake,

Thank you for your submission! 

One of the main jobs of a story’s opening is to help the reader get to know the main characters. You’ve done a nice job of revealing who William is through a variety of means, including his thoughts, other people’s reactions to him, the things he notices, and his action (or lack of it since he doesn’t act on the urge to follow the bartender right away). He’s clever, opinionated, and out of his element. We get a clear picture of Julie, Kate, and Mick through William’s eyes as well in what he notices about what they do and say. 

The transition to the bathroom at the end of the submission tripped us up a little. Since there isn’t a big break in time or place, we’re not sure you need the asterisks.

We suggest being mindful of metaphors and similes. Everything you included in this excerpt is great, but there are so many of them that they lose their power. As hard as it is to choose, consider which one is your favorite for this opening and save the others for another time. 

Some picky stuff: 

Watch for pronoun antecedents so that grammatically you are referring to what you mean to. For example, in the second sentence that follows, it refers to his wrist, the closest singular noun to the pronoun.

We found some misplaced modifiers, descriptive phrases that are far away from what they modify, so that they seem to illuminate something else. 

Compound predicates (e.g., I swept and mopped the deck) don’t take a comma before the and, but compound sentences (e.g., I’ll sweep the deck, and you can mop it) generally do take a comma before and

As you revise, be mindful of dialogue punctuation. Here’s Writership’s guide to help you with this.

Thank you for trusting us with your words!

All the best,

Leslie & Clark

 

Line Edits for Our Science fiction Story

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Ep. 98: Storytelling vs. Telling a Story

Description 

In this episode, Leslie and Clark critique “Vermillion Dusk & Crimson Dirt,”an as yet unpublished horror short story by Lane M.M. Whitens. They talk about storytelling vs. telling a story and framing stories. They also discuss -LY adverbs, and facts relevant to the story.

Leslie and Clark are taking questions for the 100th episode of the podcast. If you have a burning question about editing or storytelling, submit it here

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Show Notes 

Our appetite for story is a reflection of the profound human need to grasp the patterns of living, not merely as an intellectual exercise, but within a very personal emotional experience.
— Robert McKee

 

Editorial Mission—Assess Storytelling vs. Telling a Story

The key is that you can’t have emotions through telling the story, only through storytelling. Review the critical moments within your scenes. Check to see that you are "in scene," that is allowing the reader to experience what’s happening and feel the emotions you want to share. Transitions can be told, that is conveyed through exposition.  

 

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Editing Advice to Our Author

Dear Lane,

Thank you so much for your submission! You’ve chosen so many great elements for your horror short story. The narrator who delivers the tale, the other characters, the small-town and isolated woods, and the events of the story are a great setup for this spooky tale. 

Our main recommendations sound like a lot, but mainly it’s revising the framing story and spending more time in scene than summary. These elements are interwoven, so we tackle them together.

In the episode, Clark talks about storytelling versus telling the story. What he’s getting at is that we are hearing about the story through the narrator rather than experiencing it through action, dialogue, and description. The problem with this is that some of the most exciting parts of the story happen offstage. For example, I would love to see the scene when Tammy’s ghost visits the narrator in his bedroom. And how does he explain about knowing where her body is? 

Your framing story has the narrator telling us about how he discovered what happened to Tammy. But it’s not clear what the context is for this, and sometimes it’s not clear from what vantage point in time he’s telling us, which makes it a little confusing. It’s a good thing to keep the reader guessing, but they need one element to hold on to through the story that makes sense, a sort of anchor. So, we suggest giving it a little more structure. One idea was to open with a scene in which the narrator is telling Chuck about what he knows. You could tell this from the current narrator’s POV or try it from Chuck’s POV (consider experimenting with both?). (You can keep it open-ended. You don’t need to show whether Chuck believes him, but you could.) 

If you decided to try this structure, you could open with a scene and use telling or summary to transition between scenes in the present and in the tale. You could experiment with when and how to reveal facts to the reader so that the “other shoe” doesn’t drop until you’re nearing the end of the story. 

We also think you could go longer with this story depending on how you want to develop it. It’s a big story that you could expand if you feel pulled in that direction. We’ve made suggestions for you to consider here and in the episode, but these are only examples of possibilities. 

Consider the use of –LY adverbs to determine are they necessary to convey meaning or contribute something to the character’s voice. Err on the side of cutting them to find verbs that would be stronger. 

Thanks again for your submission and for trusting us with your words!

All the best,

Leslie & Clark

Inline Critique

Episode 97: The Pick Up: LGBT Romance Critique

Description

In this episode, Leslie and Clark critique the first chapter of The Pick Up, a LGBT romance novel by Allison Temple. They discuss genre, obligatory scenes in romance stories, and romantic conflict. 

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Show Notes 

But the Love Story is the long-term mother of all Genres. It’s not just about how to survive today; it’s about how to last a lifetime...and even how to gain a measure of immortality. Good old Marcus Aurelius has a measure of immortality, doesn’t he? His work still resonates today...probably far more than it did in his own lifetime.
Love story is the structure that instructs us on how to discover the meaning of our existence. Both as individuals and as atomic particles that bump into one another in a complex action and reaction that comprises the human collective unconscious. Don’t forget that Marcus Aurelius is still bumping around in that soup today even though he left earth 1,836 years ago...and we think Cal Ripken’s Ironman streak is something...
— Shawn Coyne

Send your questions for the 100th episode! 

 

Editorial Mission—Lovers Meet 

Review the scene in your story where your lovers first meet. Even if your main genre isn’t romance, you can still use the lovers meet scene to set up a love story subplot or to set up the relationship of the co-founders of a business, partners in crime, or best buddies. Write the scene where they meet even if you don’t include it in your story. It will provide insight into how the characters relate to one another.  

Consider characteristic moments for both lovers (friends, colleagues); tension created by awkwardness or hostility; how to set up conflict in the relationship given their strengths, flaws, and roles they play; and how to make it memorable for both. Get stuck? Find a model to use: Pride and Prejudice is fantastic.

 

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Inline Critique 

Episode 96: Forgotten December: Steampunk Critique

Description

In this episode, Leslie and guest host Jody T. Morse critique the prologue of Forgotten December, an as yet unpublished steampunk novel by Noah Deuker. They discuss the elements of an effective prologue and description of characters and setting.

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Show Notes

Prologues are often filled with set up, backstory, and infodumping because we’re still processing information in our heads. We know we need that information at some point, but most of the time we don’t need to let readers know that information before the story even starts. Using what we learn from the prologue enables us to craft a better story and lay the hints and groundwork that will hook a reader and make them ready for us to spill the beans.
— Janice Hardy

 

Editorial Mission—Prologues

Subject your prologue to the PUNCH BAR:

  • P is for Purpose: Do you have a specific, story-related purpose for including a prologue?
  • U is for Urgent: Does the reader need the information right away? (Or can it wait?)
  • N is for Necessary: Can this be presented some other way to greater effect? (For example, could you include this in a flashback? A found letter? A character sharing information?)
  • C is for Consistent: Is it consistent with the rest of the story? 
  • H is for Hook: Have you grabbed the reader? (Compelling element, breadcrumbs, and promise of conflict?)
     
  • B is for Brief: Is it as brief as possible to achieve your purpose?
  • A is for Avoided: Have you avoided excessive backstory?
  • R is for Related: Is it directly related to the main story?

PUNCH BAR is a mnemonic device I created (quickly!) to describe the elements of a prologue that works. If you have a better suggestion, I’d love to hear it!

 

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Inline Critique

Episode 95: Wingless Bird: Science Fiction Critique

Description

In this episode, Leslie and Clark critique the first chapter of Wingless Bird, an as yet unpublished science fiction novel by Tori. They discuss the elements of a strong beginning hook. This week’s mission will help you revise your opening to pull the reader in right away.

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Show notes

The commonalities, though, are simple: Grab the reader and never let go. Whether you grab them with a major outburst of action or plot, an utterly compelling character or even just a dazzling display of lyrical writing, you must absolutely seize the reader’s head by the end of page one. That opener has to be intensely interesting in some way: I need to know what’s going on, or I need to know this odd person, or how this dream ends, or why this beautifully wrought description of a beehive is so important.



I need to know. That’s the key to your opening. Create that need, and you’ve hooked ‘em.
— Michael J. Martinez

 

Editorial Mission—Hook 'em

Check your first lines and opening paragraph. Have you raised a question in the reader’s mind with an intriguing character possessing a strong voice, strange circumstances, an interesting image or setting, or immediate stakes? Have you created a trail of clues for the reader to follow to a bigger hook, have you promised conflict?

 

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Inline Critique

Episode 94: Edge of the Future: Science Fiction Critique

Description

In this episode, Leslie and Clark critique the first chapter of Edge of the Future, a science fiction novel by Andria Stone. They discuss ways to reveal character, including thoughts, reactions to events, and reactions from other characters. One thing to consider (especially in science fiction or fantasy) is how to convey what’s normal for the wider culture and within particular groups. This week’s editorial mission will help you make your characters unique.

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Show notes

The secret of standout characters is their uniqueness. It can be developed in any number of ways, from their appearance to their opinions. Principles, perplexing quirks, and inner puzzles all can help but too often are shortcuts and substitutes for the harder work of building a standout character from the ground up.
— Donald Maass

Birthday giveaway winner

The winner of our birthday giveaway is Ayesha Depay. The four books she won are The Story Grid, Story Genius, Writing the Breakout Novel, and Making Shapely Fiction. Thanks to everyone who left a review! They help people find the podcast, and we appreciate the feedback. 

 

Editorial Mission—Unique Characters

Make a list of all the major characters in your story. Then identify the qualities that make them unique. How are you showing this in the story? How could you show it? Do you provide contrast so the difference is clear to the reader?

 

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Inline critique

Episode 93: The Writer's Internal Genre

Description

In this episode, Leslie and Clark talk about the internal genre for your journey as a writer. As writers, we face resistance in different forms (we hit a snag in our project, life throws us a curve ball). These unexpected events are opportunities to become derailed or renew our commitment to our work. Leslie and Clark explore what you can do to stay on track.

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Show notes

Resistance’s goal is not to wound or disable. Resistance aims to kill. Its target is the epicenter of our being: our genius, our soul, the unique and priceless gift we were put on earth to give and that no one else has but us. Resistance means business. When we fight it, we are in a war to the death.
— Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
Like a magnetized needle floating on a surface of oil, Resistance will unfailingly point to true North—meaning that calling or action it most wants to stop us from doing.

We can use this. We can use it as a compass. We can navigate by Resistance, letting it guide us to that calling or action that we must follow before all others.
Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we feel toward pursuing it.
— Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

 

Additional resources

Leslie attended The Story Grid Workshop last weekend. The tagline for Shawn Coyne’s book of the same name is What Good Editors Know, but the book, podcast, and blog cover more than editing. It’s about story: the one you're writing as well as the one you’re living. You’ll find lots of supportive resources here.

Steven Pressfield is the author of Gates of Fire, The War of Art, Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t, and The Knowledge. He understands the daily struggle with resistance and urges us to Do the Work! You can find out more about him and his writing here.

 

Editorial Mission—What Do You Really Want?

Today we want you to explore what you really want for your life. This is a difficult exercise for many because they feel they don’t have real control over their lives. Maybe they’ve made too many commitments and compromises, and it is too late to change direction.

It is never too late! This is your life and you deserve to live the one you want. But you have to make some choices. 

The first thing I want you to do is imagine that you are alone in the world. You have no commitments, no family, no friends, no bills, no job, no boss, in short nothing. What you have is a blank canvas and a fresh start to create your ideal life. What do you look like in that blank space? Take a look at what you want for your body, your mind, emotionally or spiritually. 

What in your life is actually stopping you from doing that? 

Commit to change or accept that this is the way it is. What do you need to make that change? Take one step every day in pursuit of that goal. No matter what.

 

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Episode 92: Day 115: Science Fiction Critique

Description

In this episode, Leslie and Clark critique the first chapter of Day 115, a science fiction novel by J. M. Bedard. They discuss pacing, providing enough detail to make clear the setting and characters’ vantage point, and questions that pull the reader into your story.

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Show Notes

Pacing is the speed at which the reader perceives things to happen in a story.

What’s the difference? Speed is objective, but your reader’s perception of speed isn’t. As the writer, you can make a fleeting moment last a week or a year go by in the blink of an eye.
— Robert Wood

 

Editorial Mission—PACING

To get a feel for the pacing in your story and what will work best in individual scenes, it helps to experiment with the pace, different speeds and different ways of increasing and decreasing the rate at which the reader receives information. Take a scene from your story and use the methods below to increase and decrease the pace. Keep tweaking until you find what feels like the optimal speed.

Be aware of the needs of the story, but also consider what you tend to write, what’s easiest for you because you may be choosing that by default. 

Increase the Pace 

  • Stick with the main story
  • Balance of Dialogue/action/exposition—more of the former two
  • Change scene and POV character often
  • Choose showing over telling, choose direct experience rather than reflection
  • Cut words
  • Zoom lens
  • Shorter sentences/paragraphs/chapters
  • Word choice: strong verbs with hard consonant sounds, avoid adjectives and adverbs

Decrease the Pace

  • Wander into subplot
  • Longer sentences/paragraphs/chapters
  • Increase exposition in balance between action/dialogue
  • Linger in describing/introducing characters, places
  • More showing, reflection
  • Zoom out, wider view

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Inline Critique