Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Working the Muddle out of your Middle as Instructed by Cheryl St. John

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No matter if you write westerns or other genres, the pacing of your book is a big issue.  I took a class, given by Cheryl St. John, a multi-published, mainstream author, and with her permission, am using her info for blog fodder to help garner attention for her wonderful book.  Today, I'm looking at the tension checklist in my class handouts and I'm sort of quoting Cheryl, but using my own words.

The middle of your book can become frustrating, both to write and read.  Pay attention to problem areas.  Have you revealed too much about the characters too soon?  Remember, never dump all the back story on the reader at once, nor the conflict.  Spoon feed the back story as it applies, and always keep a few secrets/surprises or two in reserve.

Your reader has to care about your characters before you lay the whole conflict out.  Establish an emotional connection by showing who they are, but don't give  away every thing about them.  Learn from "Shrek" and reveal your characters one layer at a time. 

 If you find you've created a secondary character who has taken on a life of their own or inserted a subplot that's grown to overwhelming proportions...whittle them down to size. Remember who the star is.

Keep the outcomes in doubt, use a time limitation, but give the reader flashes of hope.  It's always a good suspense technique to leave a character's fate hanging by changing to another POV.  You can always add an action scene, but remember your pacing.  

Question every scene.  Is it necessary to move the story forward?  Does it change the flow.  If you say no, then cut it.  Nothing is more annoying than reading information that leaves you shaking your head.  I'm not just an author, I enjoy escaping through reading.

I once edited for a short time.  Boy what a fiasco that was, and our editors deserve our praise.  *Bowing to them*

 A new author I was assigned had written a western story and was determined to describe every tree on the property and every drawer in the kitchen.  I tried to explain it was only important to note a lot of trees but the truly important one was the one outside the heroine's window where he could describe a bird perching there and singing, and what was important in the drawers to him only affected the reader if the heroine moved through the kitchen and selected something from one.  He just didn't get it and accused me of trying to re-write his book.  I really wasn't, but I viewed his story from a reader's perspective and how boring it was to read all the extraneous information.  He also liked to dump back story.  Too much crappola that did nothing to move the story forward.

Yikes...this example explains my short tenure as an editor.  I prefer critique groups now and highly recommend them if you aren't in a rush.

Prologues have become a publisher's choice  While they were once commonly used to display back story to provide the reader with information, the redundancy issue has left most publishing houses preferring using the back story in small portions throughout the book, therefore eliminating the need for a prologue.

End every chapter with a hook to keep the reader turning pages, and check your story time-line and language.  There is nothing more annoying than reading a book with something not yet invented or language that doesn't fit the time-period.

Most importantly to your story believable?  Can the reader identify with your character's reactions and life?  If not, then you're bound to get reviews stating the obvious.

All in all, we aren't born as authors.  While we may have the ability to write, we don't know all the ins and outs that come with writing a novel.  People who've been there, done that are really helpful to know, and Cheryl has been an invaluable asset to me.  I urge you to utilize the info I've provided, and more importantly, get a copy of Cheryl's book.  The handouts I printed from her class are worn and frayed, so I guess that's a great sign.

Would this face steer you wrong? 
Cheryl St. John

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