Every story you consume informs your instincts about plot structure, prose, and characters, and when problems crop up in any one of those areas, an alarm sounds at the back of your mind. Unfortunately, no matter how savvy you are at detecting issues, the solutions won’t be as obvious. The disconnect between your ability to identify and straighten out problems is nerve-wracking because you don’t want to write an entire novel without realizing a huge flaw is undermining everything. You need to learn how to interpret your intuition’s signals through three approaches.
With minimal scrolling through search engine results, you can gather an abundance of information on writing stories, but what about the grueling process that follows it? How do you rearrange your mess into an orderly narrative? For most writers, even plotters, the first draft revolves around discovery. You diverge from your outline, notice that the story is more interesting from a secondary character’s point of view, or an entire subplot ends up being pointless. With so many changes to address, you wonder where to start, or maybe you’re even tempted to scrap your premise.
To me, drafting a manuscript is akin to creating an animal figurine out of a pile of clay. Section by section, you mold, carve, and polish your loosely formed impression into a muscular, spirited stallion. Over the past few years, I’ve had to revise three manuscripts, and during that process, I stumbled across four methods that increased my efficiency. The clay analogy is ideal for conveying each one.
Prose is the undertow that immerses readers, and the deeper they sink, the more truth and beauty they can explore. The transformative power of storytelling resides in the author’s ability to pull readers into an unfamiliar sea and convince them they can taste the salt. Until they believe the waves lapping at their imaginations are real, they won’t set sail—or ever reach the shore of a new perspective.
Every moment in every story makes a promise: the conversation, decision, or setting that the author is focusing on holds significance, whether immediately or in a future chapter. As a reader, you’re conditioned to expect even the tiniest details to connect to and advance the plot.
I have a confession: trying to find the right words takes me ages. I obsess over sentence structure, vocabulary, and descriptions, pouring my time and energy into the black hole of unnecessary edits. It’s a harmful compulsion, and I know it. The more changes I make, the more I hate my work-in-progress, and the less productive I become. I forget the big picture and throttle my motivation. Worst of all, my creativity ebbs. But restraining myself seems impossible. Can chronic over-editors dare to hope for a cure?
A book that’s the clone of hundreds of others won’t capture or keep a reader’s attention. Every sentence—the flesh and muscle of a story—must glisten. The most legendary writers, like Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf, are memorable because they honed their own idiosyncrasies into pleasing forms of expression. If you hope to write evocatively, you need to learn how to capitalize on any sentence length.
A month ago, I had a shocking revelation about my current work-in-progress: my main character lacked a distinguishable personality and clear motives. I’d spent over a year on the story and written almost 100,000 words. How did I manage to screw up one of the most important parts?
In this article, I’m going to give you two lists of outside-the-box strategies to cracking the big-picture puzzle of an engaging story. The more you experiment, the more sides of your story you’ll reveal until you can visualize how every piece fits together and find the jewel at the center. As you consider the possibilities, don’t be too quick to discard any, because sometimes the ideas you’re reluctant to try will help you the most.
Every story consists of tiny, pixel-like decisions that either make the big picture clear and vivid or fuzzy and muted. Whether you’re placing punctuation or determining which character’s voice should narrate a scene, each judgment call will affect readers’ enjoyment. Oftentimes, the difference between clunky and compelling text is a pair of scissors, and the acronym P.R.O.S.E. can help you recognize what to trim.