Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Killing Three Vultures With One Smooth Stone

I’ve been busy. I’ve got editorial suggestions coming out my ears (never use cliches) and I’m wading through them (don’t mix metaphors), trying to decide what to change and how.

Jeff Gerke has given me great suggestions. Some of the problems he’s pointed out are minor and some are major. I’ve fixed most of the minor ones. One or two major ones I don’t know how to fix. But what I’m most satisfied with is the way (I think) I’ve fixed three pretty major problems with one solution.


Jeff said my three problems are that:

1) I’ve started the main story too early in the book. I need to set things up—show Zinovy in his normal life—before I “drop the bomb.” If I don’t, the reader has no reference point for normal, so (s)he won’t be super impressed with how greatly things change. Even more importantly, the reader hasn’t had a chance to develop a connection with Zinovy, so (s)he doesn’t care when the bomb drops.

2) My characters aren’t well developed enough. Jeff says I’m a “plot first” writer. Plot comes easily for me but creating real, differentiated (from each other and from me!), complex characters is not so easy. Zinovy needs to be rounded out more.

3) I have way too much information dumping at the beginning of the book, and much of this is in backstory, and so it’s telling instead of showing. That’s a triple no-no, especially in the first few chapters.

To sum up, Jeff says: So in two senses you’ve given something too early—the main story trigger and all this backstory and explanation. For the former, we can’t comprehend it yet because we don’t know what it’s a change from; and for the latter, we just don’t care enough yet about your story or your character to tolerate any telling without getting bored.

So I decided to start the story earlier, when Zinovy is in Russia before he goes up to the Space Station. I added a long first chapter at the beginning of the book, full of action and dialogue.

When I did this, I was able to give the information I’d previously “told” in backstory by showing it in action, as it happened, in real time. The readers got to know Zinovy better by seeing him in action. The reader also now knows “normal” so the change, when it comes, will be more powerful.


Another amazing thing happened as I wrote the new beginning. Zinovy’s personality changed. It was as if I got to know him better by putting him in Russia on his home turf.

The “aha” moment—when I discovered Zinovy was much rounder, and more interesting than I’d realized—came as I was reading K.M. Weiland’s book, Crafting Unforgettable Characters. (Highly recommended!) She quoted James Scott Bell, who said that an unforgettable character needs to have “at least one of the following characteristics—grit, wit, and “it.”

Zinovy already had grit. I thought he had “it” (star power), but maybe that’s because I’m his mother and mothers always think their children are stars. But what I suddenly realized was that he could also have wit. Instantly he became more interesting. Still independent, secure inside his fortress walls, but outwardly he now became more personable and a little more approachable. More human. I like this Zinovy much better.

I’ve reader-tested my new beginning and am getting positive responses from my critics. It was fun to write. I felt I finally got into my stride, so to speak. Writing is so much more satisfying when it happens this way.