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Monday, October 15, 2012

3 Ways to Fix a Story Problem: WSG 26

Writer's Survival Guide 26: 3 Ways to Fix a Story Problem

If you're a writer and you've gotten feedback on your work either from a critique partner, a contest, an agent, an editor, or a freelance editor, you know about story problems.

Bic Pens
Photo by smemon

By story problems, I mean, things that don't work for whomever gives you feedback. These could be a character flaw, inappropriate pace, too much backstory, too little backstory, insufficient conflict, over-the-top conflict, stilted dialogue, unlikable characters, cliche'd writing, undeveloped setting--you name it!

I've been alerted to many story problems in the years I've been writing. It's shocking, I know. I'm not a perfect writer! What?? :)

When I get feedback that resonates with me, I sigh. I berate myself a little bit.

Why can't I get this right? How many revisions and books does it take to write a great book? I'm studying, working hard, and I'm committed to writing at my highest level--so why am I still not getting it right?

When I'm done with the self-loathing, I usually detach myself emotionally. I analyze the main problems identified and spend time analyzing if I agree they really are problems. Once I've done this, I'm ready to tackle them.

Here are three ways to fix a story problem.

1. Get to the heart of the problem by summarizing it in one sentence. Do this for every issue you will be working on.

2. Brainstorm 10 ways to fix the problem. You can always brainstorm more, but do a minimum of 10. You might not use every "fix," but you'll feel better knowing you have plenty of options.

3. Send the new version out for more feedback. Sometimes we do our best to solve a problem, but we only get it about 80% correct. A trusted critique partner, a contest, or a freelance editor will help us shape the book into it's absolute best form.

I've written a lot of books. When I stray from my prescribed revision and feedback routine, my book suffers. I've learned the hard way that for me to put out my best work, I have to be diligent about verifying the key plot points, paying attention to my critique partners' advice, and going through my revision checklist.

How do you fix story problems when you're writing?

Have a fantastic day!

38 comments:

  1. Ah yes, wouldn't it be great if our rough drafts only consisted of misplaced commas? Ugh. Edits. I both loathe and love them, how can that be?? :) I pray before I open my crits, close them, pray again, walk away and mull over what changes I should make, pray again...you get the picture;) I also love my highlighters! I'm such a visual person, I try to go through and highlight the entire thread that has issues so I can visually SEE what I need to change.

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    1. Oh, that would be nice indeed! But it never happens--not in my world! Ha! I like the idea of going through the thread with highlighters. Nifty trick!

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  2. You've nailed exactly what I do. I've even recently entered my first 15 pages in a RWA contest so that I can see if I fixed the problem. Of course, the feedback could have me even more confused in the end.

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    1. Not all the feedback I get from contests makes sense, but I usually get one judge who helps me see my entry in a different light. It's worth it! :)

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  3. These are great tips! I especially like the first one. Makes total sense to summarize each problem in one sentence, but I've never thought of doing that.

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    1. Sometimes it's hard to decipher the feedback. The critiquer/judge might not be sure how to present the problem, which leaves us confused. I've found summarazing to be a huge help!

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  4. Great advice, Jill! I try to read through my story and fix things and then I send it to trusted crit partners for help. :-) I used to love contests. The anonymous feedback is so helpful!

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    1. Fresh eyes always helps--even if they are validating you're on the right track. Love it!

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  5. I love the idea to brainstorm to fix the problem. I'd never thought of that, but I'll bet it makes the solution a little less scary if you have lots of options to choose from.

    Thanks Jill!

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    1. I know! Plus, it's smart to attack the problem from more than one angle. It might take several "fixes" to really get a great book!

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  6. "The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide" by Becky Levine has some EXCELLENT suggestions for how to deal with critiques. Jill's idea to give yourself a bit of time to calm your emotions is a good one. Then, Levine says to read over all of the comments to get an overall impression. Then go through and fix all of the "easy" stuff, highlighting the more complicated issues. Once you've gone through and checked off the easy stuff, you feel better able to tackle the harder stuff. Sometimes, with the more complicated problems, you need to get away and go for a walk or sleep on it before the solution comes to you.

    As I go through this process, it really helps me to keep in mind that this process is necessary if I want to end up with a polished, professional manuscript.

    At the same time, if perfection is your goal, you'll never finish anything. Even your critique partners and beta readers will miss some things. I find errors all the time in books I read, and if they aren't too egregious, I can be forgiving. . . as long as it's a good story.

    I hope my readers feel the same.

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    1. Good stuff here, Barbara! Thanks! I'll hve to check out Becky's guide!

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  7. I love the idea of paring it down to one sentence. Helps focus it. And of course I love the brainstorming part as well. I make puppets and have them role play. Okay, I so don't do that, but I'm in an odd mood this morning and thought I'd have fun writing that.
    ~ Wendy

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    1. Puppets? Ha, ha! You ARE in a playful mood, aren't you! :)

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  8. Really great thoughts, Jill! I hate it when I know there's a problem, when I can feel it, but not pinpoint it. Thank you, Lord, for an awesome crit partner and writing mentors who help diagnose the problems. :) This may sound silly, but something that helps me is going back to other scenes in which I DID fix the problem...reading it again and reminding myself it IS possible to fix things and that I'll feel oh-so-much better once I just sit down and do the necessary work. :)

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    1. Ooo, smart! I hear you. With my last project, my instincts told me the last 2/3 of the book was spot-on, but I just wasn't 100% about the first 1/3. Reviewing what was working DID help! You're right!

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  9. Love your tips, Jill! For me, my CP is absolutely essential. She helps me figure out what's wrong, and then from there, I fix it. THEN, like you said, I send it back to make sure I got it right. Sometimes it takes several tries, but it's so worth it in the end.

    I think something that's necessary in all of this is flexibility and willingness to try something new. Sometimes I think a scene really works as it is, but if someone suggests something different, I really consider it. I may even draft a new scene--doesn't mean I have to use it if I like the old one better, but at least I can see which works better. Oftentimes, the new one does.

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    1. Definitely--flexibility and openness are huge! I've drafted new scenes too. Even if I don't use them, they've helped clarify the right direction!

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  10. I'm right in the midst of this now. I think brainstorming is such an important part because once the story is real in our minds, it's tough to change it. Brainstorming new ideas is a great tool for thinking outside of the box.

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    1. I agree. It's hard to shift directions when we've already settled on "our" way. Brainstorming really helps with that! Good luck!

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  11. Good tips! I definitely ask trusted critique partners because they have more perspective than I do. I realize (though I still sometimes beat myself up over it) that I can't catch everything, and I'm too close to my manuscript to see it all anyway. It's sooo helpful to have someone else who can see the bigger picture.

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    1. You, of all people, know I'm similar! I'm so blessed by your critiques, Cindy. Thank you!

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  12. I do love your idea of brainstorming at least 10 ways to fix the problem. As a list lover, this would allow me to list 10 ways, try them all, check them off, then rate which one seems to work the best. Thank you!

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    1. Yes! Why not? It might produce something really fresh!

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  13. I love making lists of possible fixes! Really helps to find the best option for the story.

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    1. I feel the same way! And sometimes it's gives options that never occurred to me. Love that!

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  14. I had a story that didn't start in the right place. I chewed on it for a few days then did the brainstorming. I found the right answer and fix.

    Great advice, Jill.

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    1. Oh yeah! I've been there! The opening is so important--it's smart to take the time to get it right!

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  15. When I have a story problem, I whine to my critique partner for help. Her insight helps me narrow in on the story problem, then I can focus on fixing it.

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    1. Whining always solves story problems! That...and chocolate. ;)

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  16. I have never gotten as far as feedback on a story from an editor. I did get advice about marketing which I followed. I love the ten ways to fix the problem. You could use this on your own self rewrite. You are bound to get something better, as you say.

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    1. It's true, Nancy. If you have a gut-feeling something isn't right, it's smart to brainstorm ways to get it on track. :)

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  17. Right now I'm taking an editorial letter and I got and am working it point by point then I'll look at the whole again. Hopefully, in the end my editor will like it and I won't have made a mess of the story.

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    1. Smart! Some books I naturally have less issues, and others I want to smack myself for not seeing major problems! Feedback is soooo important. Good luck!!

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  18. Let's hear it for CPs! There seems to be consensus here that CPs are some of the best tools for helping a writer improve. I know that's true for me.

    These tips are great. I never thought of summarizing the problem into one sentence and brainstorming 10 solutions. That's a great idea! Thanks, Jill.

    This was my first trip to your blog. I will definitely be back!

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    1. Jessi, thanks so much for the encouragement! I'm thrilled you stopped by!

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  19. Great post. Having plans to fall back on comforts me, so I really like the idea of having a sort of response system for story problems.

    I found your blog via Jody Hedlund. Glad I did. :)

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    1. Susan, thank you so much for coming over! I'm the same as you--I need plenty of contingency plans for story problems! It's reassuring to know we can fix what needs to be fixed and ignore what doesn't. :)

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