After three intense sessions with independent editor (and character therapist) Lisa Rector-Maass, I’ve realized a few things.
Some of my scenes, a few, are pretty decent. The rest suck. Not suck bigtime – well, maybe some. More like suck, with potential. Which is better than suck without any redeeming qualities. So, I have hope. And no, Lisa did not imply said suckage in any way. It’s more of a personal realization. She’s been nothing but encouraging and positive, which is really quite wonderful.
You can always push your characters more than you have. Raise the stakes – both internal and external, turn the conflict and the tension up to high, push them to their breaking point. Sometimes, it’s more interesting to see what happens if they actually break.
You don’t know your characters as well as you think you do. Lisa asks questions about their motivations, history, goals, desires, fears – and even though I have answers for most of her questions (though not for all of my characters), I learn something new each time we discuss my novel. I’m struggling with my antagonist. I can’t seem to get a handle on her past, which makes it difficult to know her motivations. Lisa offered up this challenge: Look at the first fifty or one hundred pages from the antagonist’s point of view. My first novel is in first person, so that was something I never considered (or would have). She provided several questions and things to consider while I tackle this challenge – which I’m working on over the next several days.
When you revise, it can help to do so in layers. Read your scene and/or chapter several times – each time looking for or working on specific things. Tension, pacing, inner conflict, story development – whatever needs attention. Everything’s connected, but if you try to tackle it all at once – you’ll get overwhelmed. Or maybe you won’t, but I did.
When you find someone who gets your writing – an editor, a writing buddy, someone from a crit group – it may help to work only with that person for some time. Otherwise, if you get feedback from several different people at once – it can make it hard to know what you should or shouldn’t change. I’m not saying getting input from several readers is a bad idea – it’s not. But there’s a point when you’re either doing deep revision or even polishing a scene – and if there’s too much feedback or suggestions coming from all different directions, you don’t know who to listen to. Too much noise, and you can’t hear the one person you really need to – yourself. Yes, get feedback and be open to it – but it’s okay to go with your own instinct. Oh, but you can listen to your characters. They usually know best.
One other thing I’ve realized – what matters is writing the best damn story you can. Being true to your characters, to their story. Heck yes, I hope to have an agent some day soon. And to see my book(s) at Borders But right now – I’ve put those things out of my mind (as much as possible) and I’m focusing on my writing. There’s a freedom in that. And that freedom seems to…well, free me up to improve my craft.
And so the revisions continue. More on working with Lisa after the next session (I’ve got several more to go)!