Why Journalists Make Great Novelists

Why Journalists Make Great Novelists

why journalists make great novelists

As many of you know, I was a journalist before I became a freelance editor and online course creator. Although I had published a YA book before getting into journalism, my job working for a daily newspaper inspired my first adult novel, Twenty-Five Years Ago Today, about an obit writer and aspiring reporter who becomes obsessed with solving a cold case.

That’s why when Asha Belle Caldwell approached me about a guest post on why journalists make great novelists, I loved the idea. My reporting experience definitely improved my overall fiction-writing and editing skills. I used to handwrite my first drafts until one of my editors caught me writing a School Committee meeting article in a notebook, shook his head vigorously, and said, “There’s no time for that. You have to write on the computer.” That skill quickly transferred to my novels. Journalism also taught me about the importance of hooking the reader with a lead, doing research, meeting deadlines, and much more.

Below, you can read Asha Belle’s article delving into the topic of why journalists make good novelists.   

From the outside, journalists and novelists seem like they belong at the opposite ends of the writing spectrum — one dealing with hard reality and the other with made-up worlds and scenarios. Yet the opposite is true and many of the skills journalists have learned have helped them become novelists. For example, author Sara Goudarzi outlines that her science journalism background helped her cope with the unfamiliar loneliness of writing a novel.

And she is far from being the only journalist- turned author. Some of the most popular authors that we know of today started out as journalists. Mark Twain, the icon of sharp-witted admonishment about racism and slavery, started out as a journalist. Fantasy author Neil Gaiman, whose richly imagined fantasy works have consumed pop culture, also started out as a journalist. Other remarkable novelists belonging to this roster include Joan Didion, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Dickens, and a score of others.

Journalists’ interaction with the real world allows them to scavenge great material for their novels. Here are a couple of reasons why.

Many journalists start with fiction

Writers are often avid readers, and fiction is often the first encounter we have with literature as children. So the most straightforward explanation for why journalists make great novelists is that many of them were already reading or writing fiction. Even renowned fiction authors like Arundhati Roy and Zadie Smith have come to contribute to established publications like The Guardian and The New Yorker to provide critique on culture and current events.

Of course, there is a wide gap between the creative process for journalism and fiction. But working under the pressure of deadlines and having to practice economy of words is sure to enrich journalists’ writing style and discipline, even when applied to writing novels.

Journalists are storytellers

It’s time to break the myth — journalism is never objective. This is because all successful journalists and other formal writing professionals have one common essential communication skill: a commitment to storytelling. Even though the discipline focuses on the facts and upholds truth, at every point in the writing process, journalists will be framing the narrative in a way that gets the readers to empathize with their version of the story.

The Pulitzer Prizes annually award journalists for exceptional reporting. For example, in 2020, Ben Taub of the New Yorker won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing for a deeply perturbing, and yet melodically lyrical, account of a man unjustly kidnapped and detained at the Guantanamo Bay detention center. His works exhibit the skillful crafting of a real-life story to illustrate the emotional depth of what would otherwise be an unheard story.

Journalists have to choose which elements to highlight and whose perspective to prioritize. In a similar manner, these skills of selecting elements and enhancing perspectives are useful in the novel-writing process when writers have to set the scene, drive their theme forward, and get the readers to feel the way they want them to.

Journalists learn about the world

Fiction does not exist in a bubble. It’s important to portray real human emotions and create imaginary settings that are believable to make your story convincing for your readers.

Journalism serves as an incredible resource for learning about the world and acquiring information that can benefit novelists. Journalists are always meeting new people and visiting new places. The late Joan Didion, for instance, wrote about California’s hippie counterculture in the 60s and 70s with unconventional novel-like qualities. She also observed and critiqued Hollywood in all its glamour and horror, and wrote about pivotal events like the Manson murders and the women’s movement.

Ultimately, journalist training offers writers the opportunities to expand their perceptions of reality in ways that can be explored further in fiction.

When it comes to the creative process, writers aren’t that much different from one another. At the heart of telling stories are sensitivity to the world and the impulse to portray it with your words. Journalists-turned-novelists prove that when it comes to the creative process, you can derive endless material from the world around you.

Behind The Rewrite With Justin Doyle: 5 Major Changes To YA Space Opera @JustinD_n_Space

Behind The Rewrite With Justin Doyle: 5 Major Changes To YA Space Opera @JustinD_n_Space

YA space opera

Welcome to Justin Doyle who gave us a sneak peek behind the rewrite of his YA space opera, Embargo on Hope. Here are five areas that Justin focused on while editing his science fiction book.  

Embargo on Hope took me over fifteen years from first words on paper to publish. I worked on it sporadically until the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and I knew it was time to finally meet that lifelong goal of getting published.

I had never had anyone other than friends and family read it and provide feedback, so my line editor had some work to do. The manuscript was greatly improved by the changes below, and even better, now I know to look out for these things in my future novels (like the sequel, Assassination of Hope, coming this summer!)

 

Change #1: Adding Before-the-Chapter Background Blurbs

This change was a major change suggested by my editor, but it made a huge difference. I had some stilted conversations where I was trying to expose details of the world that added depth and foreshadowed conflict. That included some of the “butler-and-maid” dialogue where characters were sharing things they already knew.

I was also limited by my 16-year-old protagonist’s first person perspective. There were simply things he just didn’t know or understand, so there wasn’t an easy way to introduce it into the narrative.

Finally, this allowed me to keep the story moving along. There were places where the main character was in the middle of something, but I spent a paragraph or two detracting from that thing before getting back. It really broke the flow of the novel.

Change #2: Breaking Up Action With Introspection

I had a lot of go-go-go, where one action scene would lead directly into another. My editor encouraged me to add scenes where the POV character reflected on what happened, how it affected him, and how it affected his goals. The introspection scenes not only gave the reader a chance to “take a breath,” but it helped each action scene mean more while adding depth to my character. Without the introspection, the action scenes seemed to be there more just for the sake of action.

 

Change #3: Several Chapters or Chapter Breaks Began With the POV Character Waking Up

When I was first writing, I was getting too hung up on “this happened, then this happened, then this happened,” even if the “this” in the middle wasn’t relevant or interesting. A  great example of this is I had several chapters or chapter breaks where the character would start by waking up. It’s unnecessary and honestly a little boring. Just start your chapters a little later where things started happening. I think it was Dan Brown’s Masterclass where he said “start chapters as late as possible.” He was talking specifically about writing thrillers, but honestly I think it applies to most kinds of modern writing.

 

Change #4: Added Some Light-hearted/Bonding Scenes

Related to #2, I had so many action/fight scenes, which made each a little less meaningful and didn’t allow the characters to build relationships (except in the heat of battle). Adding light-hearted scenes allowed me to show different facets of all of the characters’ personalities while allowing them to build rapport, and even a love interest relationship. I was also able to use these scenes to write different settings and build some depth in the world.

 

Change #5: Making Sure Other Main Characters Had Their Own Goals

I think authors fall into a common trap of the character serving one or more plotlines or just the main character’s interests. My editor encouraged me to make sure not only did the other main characters have their own goals, but that I made them clear in the text. That can be difficult in a first person novel, but it can be used as a growth point for your main character, e.g. realizing the world doesn’t revolve around them. It helps explain their motivations and makes them feel more authentic. It can also help with twists – at first, something may seem “out of character” but when the reader examines their goals more closely, they realize that it made perfect sense.

More About the Book

 

Embargo on Hope

Buy it on Amazon

5 Stars – This action-packed adventure will fully immerse the reader… any fan of science fiction or action-adventure would enjoy this book.” – Reader’s Favorite
“…a gifted story that is exceptionally compelling.” – D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

Even gods have secrets…

On planet Vastire, worth is set by the sins of one’s ancestors. Good families rise to the elite and the wicked fall into poverty. Unfortunately for sixteen-year-old Darynn Mark, his father incited a revolution. Now, Darynn scrounges his way through life in the slums. When Vastire is surrounded by an embargo, it gets even harder to survive.

That all changes when an alien ship slips through the embargo, seeking Darynn with an offer: finish the revolution and the embargo ends. He might have a chance thanks to mysterious magic powers, and his two companions: clairvoyant crush Fyra and soldierly alien Kaylaa. Cutthroat killers, mystical beasts, Vampires, power-hungry priests and lords, and self-serving spies stand in their way. If the three of them can crack his father’s secret, maybe they can end the embargo and save the poor. If not, another poor orphan will be added to the growing piles of dead.

More About Justin

Justin was born in Galveston, TX and raised in the Houston area. In middle school, he fell in love with two life-long pursuits: space and writing. He knew he wanted to work at NASA and write science fiction/fantasy on the side, and lo and behold, that’s exactly what he ended up doing. He graduated from Texas A&M University with a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering, and an M.S. in Systems Engineering. He now works for Barrios Technology as a project engineer on the Gateway program. He lives in the Houston area with his wife, daughter, and various small mammals.

Check out his website starmarked.mailchimpsites.com for more information on him, bonus material in the Star Marked universe, and upcoming releases.

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Opportunities For Writers

Are you an author interested in writing a Behind the Rewrite guest blog post? Get the guidelines here.

Check out Shortcuts for Writers Freebies including a 5-day line editing course, Facebook group, and resource for naming your characters.

Check out Shortcuts for Writers affordable courses including Book Editing Blueprint: A Step by Step Plan to Making Your Novels Publishable, Time Management Blueprint for Writers, and the Energize Your Writing Toolkit: Cheat Sheets for Character Emotions.

Editing Shortcuts For Writers – Writer’s Tribe Talk Show Interview

Editing Shortcuts For Writers – Writer’s Tribe Talk Show Interview

Writer's Tribe Talk Show

If you could use some editing tips, then I’d love for you to check out my interview on The Writer’s Tribe Talk Show. Host Elsa Kurt asked me lots of insightful questions about my writing journey, how I became an editor and online course creator, and the common mistakes that writers make.

We talked about the ups and downs of the publishing path and why most new authors are flabbergasted when they read their first editorial letter. You’ll hear about the shock I experienced as a teen author receiving editing feedback.

We also shared some helpful advice for busy authors. You can watch the interview on YouTube (see the video below) or listen on your favorite podcast app including Apple Podcasts  and Spotify.

Be sure to check out other episodes of the podcast as well. Elsa talks about all things writing, publishing, and promoting. She has interviewed authors in many genres and has also discussed topics like TikTok for Authors, Imposter Syndrome, your elevator pitch, and roadblocks to writing.

 

 

 

Take On The Grammar Habit With These Simple Steps

Take On The Grammar Habit With These Simple Steps

grammar habit

If grammar is your nemesis as a writer, then let me introduce you to Ellen Sue Feld, the creator/instructor of online grammar refresher courses at grammar-lion.com and the author of Comma Sense: Your Guide to Grammar Victory. Below, Ellen offers valuable advice on building a good grammar habit.

Because I teach grammar, people assume I believe good grammar is the key to good writing. But I don’t believe that, not for one second. Here’s what I do believe: Your creative process is the most important part of your writing. Checking for good grammar comes later. Good grammar doesn’t make good writing, but good writing demands good grammar.

So how do we make good grammar a natural part of our writing process? By developing good grammar habits!

Recently, I listened to a podcast about the new science of habit building. (The good news is that we don’t have to harness anything magical or elusive, like willpower.) We can build good grammar habits using the same strategies that work for building any new habit.

Here’s the current thinking:

  • Desire the habit.
  • Start small.
  • Attach the new habit to an existing habit.
  • Make it fun.
  • Do it with consistency.
  • Create accountability and/or support.

Whew! That may sound like a lot. But don’t worry. While developing good grammar habits, you don’t need to employ all the strategies above. Sometimes just a few will do the trick.

I’m going to add a couple of my own that have proved true in my experience as an instructor and writer:

  • Expand what you know (i.e., remain open to learning).
  • Listen selectively to what others have to say; be discerning in your research.
  • Commit to reviewing your work before sharing or submitting it.

Let’s make this real with some common grammar problems you’ll want to consider:

  • run-on sentences
  • lack of subject-verb agreement and pronoun-antecedent agreement
  • homophones
  • random commas and lack of commas
  • ambiguous pronouns
  • wordiness
  • shifts in person and tense
  • dangling and misplaced modifiers
  • punctuation with quotation marks
  • punctuation with conjunctive adverbs
  • capitalization

We all come to grammar at our own starting place. Cross off what you don’t need to work on, and add more topics as you think of them.

Building Good Grammar Habits

Now let’s use habit building to turn around these grammar problems in our writing. For our example, we’ll use homophones as our target good grammar habit.

  • Desire the habit. If the desire isn’t there, you’re unlikely to develop a good new habit. So what might motivate you as a writer? Consider this: Your writing is a reflection of who you are, and you want the best possible reflection. In other words, you don’t want anything to detract from the overall picture of the wonderful writer you are. Good grammar will enhance your writer’s image.

Resolve: I want my writing to be polished and professional. And I want to have confidence in my writing whenever I share it with someone else.

  • Start small. You don’t have to know everything. Begin with one, two, or three points of grammar to master. You can always challenge yourself later with additional topics.

Resolve: I want to be sure I’m using the right homophone. I’m aware I sometimes mix up their, there, and they’re even though I know the differences. I’ll pay more attention to this.

  • Attach the new habit to an existing habit. You’re already set because you’ve attached the habit of using good grammar to your existing habit of writing and editing. One of the great things about grammar is that you get to practice your skills every time you write. Practice is naturally built in to the process!

Resolve: When I’ve finished writing, I’ll review my work and look for their/there/they’re to make sure I’ve used them correctly. I’m also going to start a list of homophones I mix up. I’ll check my writing against that list.

  • Make it fun. Reward yourself. Use what’s positive for you. Here are a few ideas for adding pleasure to your grammar-check process: Eat a jellybean when you catch an error. Play your own special grammar-check music in the background. Compile a list of the errors you catch so that your pride in recognition will grow as your list grows.

Resolve: I love numbers and puzzles as much as I love words, so I’ll enjoy solving a sudoku after I do a grammar check. 

  • Do it with consistency. This may feel hard. We’re often pressed for time. But try your best to factor in time for a grammar check. It’s a vital part of your writing process.

Resolve: I’ll look for homophone errors in all my writing, including emails and texts.

  • Create accountability. If you thrive on community support, go ahead and tell someone about your new plan to build good grammar habits. Keep them updated on your progress. And if you like to work solo, that’s fine, too. You can be accountable to yourself.

Resolve: This is a pact I’m making with myself.

  • Be open to ongoing learning. You’re learning every time you look up something online, go to a dictionary, take a course, or ask another writer a question. Every little bit you learn and put to use contributes to big changes in your writing.

Resolve: A writer friend just mentioned whet/wet to me in the expression “whet your appetite.” I always thought it was “wet your appetite”! Though I’m aware of a few other homophones I misuse, I’m going to have some fun perusing lists.

  •  Be discerning. There’s a lot of information out there. You know not all of it is legit. Some well-meaning people can inadvertently spread misinformation. Vet your sources. For example, if a grammar information site is connected to a university, it’s more likely than a random site to be trustworthy.

Resolve: I just found a comprehensive online grammar resource. It’s a writing lab that’s part of a public university, and it’s available to everyone. It’s easy to use, and I can trust what I learn there.

  • Review your work before submitting. When you’ve finished writing, take a break. Walk away. Distance will help you spot errors when you come back. Then read through your work in an unhurried way. Because we get accustomed to our own words, it’s easy to overlook errors. Reading aloud can help. Another useful technique is reading your work from the bottom up, paragraph by paragraph. If you can, read from a print version instead of on the screen.

Resolve: I’m going to factor in a few minutes of grammar review time for every thousand words. This will allow me be methodical and relaxed.

You may be wondering how long it takes to build a new habit. It depends on how complex the habit is and how often and how much you get to practice. The more consistent you are—as in doing a grammar check and making corrections every time you write—the quicker you’ll develop the habit. But this isn’t a race. Good grammar habits are for the long term, for as long as you are a writer.

Come join us at Grammar Lion of Facebook (@grammarlion). We’re a diverse, international, nonjudgmental group of learners who aim to let no grammar question go unanswered. Everyone is welcome!

(Thank you to Hidden Brain for producing and sharing the podcast “Creatures of Habit.” You can find it here: https://hiddenbrain.org/podcast/creatures-of-habit/ )

 

More About Ellen’s Grammar Book

 

national grammar day

Comma Sense: Your Guide to Grammar VictoryLearn the rules of adverbs, punctuation, abbreviations, prepositions, and much more. Ellen covers topics such as em dashes, parentheticals and parallelism, diction and logic, run-on sentences and sentence fragments, and more. Become a master of capitalization and punctuation, subjects and predicates, and contractions and possessives. After every chapter, take a quiz to practice your new grammatical skills in this great grammar workbook. At the end of the book, a comprehensive test allows you to utilize all you have learned. At 512 pages, there is lots of content in this book! Readers who enjoyed The Elements of StyleActually, the Comma Goes HereThe Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation; or The Perfect English Grammar Workbook will love Comma Sense: A Guide to Grammar Victory

“In her new book, Comma Sense, Ellen Sue Feld demystifies grammar with clarity, conciseness, and empathy.”
—Anu Garg, author and founder of Wordsmith.org

“If you really want to go deep into the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of grammar, then Comma Sense is for you. Ellen covers the basics like a pro and delivers practical examples to help you learn. You’ll never mess up ‘lie’ and ‘lay’ again!”
—Lisa Lepki, CMO at ProWritingAid

Buy it on:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble 

Bookshop 

Mango 

International via Book Depository

Learn more about Ellen here.

About The Grammar Refresher Course

Ellen also offers a self-paced online course, I recommend the course for those who struggle with issues such as:

  • Parts of speech
  • Contractions and possessives
  • Subjects and predicates
  • Sentence fragments
  • Run-on sentences
  • Agreement
  • Shifts in person, tense, and structure
  • Capitalization and punctuation

 Enroll here!

5 Common Mistakes Authors Make When Outlining Novels

5 Common Mistakes Authors Make When Outlining Novels

outlining a novel

I’m sure you’ll enjoy this guest post on outlining from Rose Atkinson-Carter, a writer with Reedsy.

It’s one of the greatest debates in the #amwriting world: should you outline your novel before writing it, or should you pants it?

At the end of the day, the answer is simple: you should do whatever works best for you. That said, if you decide to give outlining a book a shot, stay alert. Outlining isn’t as clear-cut as copyrighting a book there are many ways to go about it. And while it’s a process that works magic for many authors, there are still a number of pitfalls that you can fall into along the way.

So without further ado, here are the top five common mistakes that you should watch out for while outlining your own book.

1. Sticking too much to the outline

Many authors make the mistake of outlining their story, then thinking to themselves, “Well, now I have to follow this word-for-word for the rest of time.” But that couldn’t be further from the truth! As Captain Barbarossa in Pirates of the Caribbean says, “The outline is more like guidelines than actual rules.”

Which is to say, an outline exists to guide you to the end of your story — not to restrict you as you’re writing it. Things are always going to be different when you start writing. Scenes might be longer than you expect. Characters might be the complete opposite of what you expected. Writing is always an act of discovery, and sticking too much to an outline kills that creative process. Let your story breathe when it needs to.

2. Trying only one kind of outline

Like Jolly Ranchers, there are many flavors of outlines in the world — and any one of them could work for you, depending on what kind of a writing mood you’re in. For instance:

Do you have a jumbled mess of ideas in your head that might just come out to a story? You might want to try to mind map it first to organize all of your thoughts.

Do you already have a vague idea of your plot in mind, but don’t know how to flesh that out further? Then a beat sheet might be best for you.

Do you have a few key scenes in mind already? Then you might want to outline your story’s broad sequences —perhaps mapping it on the Three-Act structure — to get a sense of the overall arc of the story.

Trust me: there’s an outline for each writer out there. Just compare J.K. Rowling’s outlines to Joseph Heller’s! Their respective niches might have something to do with it: Harry Potter was, of course, published by YA publishers, meant to be read by a YA audience. As such, it was quite plot-oriented, which her outline reflects.

On the other hand, Joseph Heller’s outline for his literary fiction novel is much more character-focused. So don’t be afraid to branch out, depending on your genre. The most important thing is to keep experimenting to figure out which type of outline best suits your needs.

3. Neglecting the “big picture”

It’s easy to look at a completed outline and think that you have your entire story figured out. After all, you’ve got all of your scenes down on the page in front of you, haven’t you? Does that not a story make?

Not quite.

An outline might give you the skeleton of your book, easily affording you a bird’s eye view of all of your scenes at once. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve unlocked your themes yet—which is the heart of every story.

Themes and motifs most often emerge while you’re actually writing your book — that’s when you’ll start noticing patterns in the symbolism that you’re using and the messages that you’re conveying. Time and again, an author will only figure out what they’re trying to say only once they’ve finished the first draft. But if you’re outlining, never fear. As long as you keep this “big picture” top of mind while you’re constructing your scenes and sequences, then you’re already off to a running start.

4. Thinking of the outline as an extra step

If you ever find yourself thinking about your outline as a chore to get over with, or start to drag your feet whenever you return to your outline, stop. Drop your pencil. Turn to a blank page in your notebook. And just start writing your book.

You should think of the outline as the first step of your book, but the fun part is that it’s over whenever you want it to be over. You don’t necessarily need to plot out your entire story in order to have “officially” finished outlining. Even a broad sketch of your book’s arc is good enough to be your story’s guideposts in the future! After all, nobody’s grading your outline: it’s just a tool for you, so go along with it only as far as you need to.

So don’t feel compelled to outline every single nitty-gritty detail of your story. When you begin to see the outline as an extra step — not just the first — then that’s probably a sign that you’re ready to move on and start writing your book.

5. Spending too much time outlining

Last but not least, remember that an outline is not your be-all-end-all goal. It’s not the pot of gold at the rainbow. That should be your book. Not to mention that a first draft will always be subject to some rewriting anyway!

So don’t make the mistake that many authors make: spending so much time obsessing over their outline that they never get around to writing the actual book. There’s a point when outlining actually becomes counterproductive to your purposes because it’s stalling you from plunging ahead with your book.

Some authors find it difficult to move on from outlining because their outline has become too much of a safety net. Stepping out from that comfort zone to actually confront that blank page might be one scary leap, but take that leap with faith. Who knows? At the end of it, you might just emerge with a fully-formed book that’s ready to submit to publishers in the UK and all over the world — made all the better for the effort that you put into outlining it.

About the Author

Rose Atkinson-Carter is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors with the world’s best self-publishing resources and professionals like editors, designers, and ghostwriters. She lives in London.

6 Ways to Truly Get to Know Your Characters @thenovelsmithy

6 Ways to Truly Get to Know Your Characters @thenovelsmithy

 

get to know your characters

Thanks to Lewis Jorstad of the Novel Smithy for this guest post. Be sure to head over to his blog to read my post on 5 Line Editing Tips for Polishing Your Prose. 

When most writers sit down to outline their characters, their first order of business is creating a character profile. These profiles are a lot like dossiers from spy movies. Just like 007’s file might contain details about his appearance, skills, and relationships, so too will your character’s profile.

However, when writing a novel, appearances and relationships aren’t enough.

Unlike the baddies in spy movies, you aren’t just out to kill your characters—at least not right away! Instead, you’re trying to create a vibrant, realistic person for your readers to latch on to, meaning you need to delve deep into what makes them who they are. From their goals and desires, to their darkest fears, history, and inner struggle, these are the elements that will truly bring your characters to life.

With that in mind, let me walk you through six things you should know before writing your novel’s cast!

6 Things to Know for Every Character You Write

#1 – Their Role in Your Novel:

First things first—you need to know what role your character plays in your story.

Are they your protagonist, or are they a villain? Are they a mentor, shadow, shapeshifter, or herald? Regardless of what their role is, knowing it ahead of time will help you better understand who this character is in the context of your story.

This distinction is important. Knowing your character as a person is great, but you also need to understand how they’ll shape your novel itself. After all, your novel’s hero will be very different than a sidekick or minor antagonist—and thus will require a different level of detail.

Example: Luke Skywalker is the protagonist of Star Wars: A New Hope, while Ilsa Lund is an ally and shapeshifter in the movie Casablanca.

#2 – Their Story Goal:

Next, your character’s story goal is the personal goal or motivation that defines their adventure. This is what will push them to get involved in your plot, and it’ll stick with them for the majority of your novel, shaping every decision they make along the way.

Because of this, story goals are a critical piece of the character development puzzle. Conflicting story goals often cause characters to fight, get into trouble, and generally spark the kinds of interesting, complex situations that make for a good story!

Luckily, finding your character’s story goal is fairly simple.

Ask yourself—what do they want to achieve throughout your novel? Why do they get involved with your plot in the first place? What motivates them to take action? Once you answer these questions, you should have a solid idea of what story goal your character is pursuing.

Example: Luke Skywalker’s story goal in Star Wars: A New Hope is to prove himself capable of becoming a Jedi, while Ilsa’s goal is to escape the Nazis with her husband.

#3 – Their Inner Struggle:

Of course, your characters can’t achieve their goals too easily. Alongside plot-related hurdles, they’ll also need to face a major internal challenge or obstacle in order to earn their success. This obstacle is their inner struggle. Also called their lie or wound, this is a harmful belief or inner conflict that holds your character back throughout their journey—meaning overcoming it is the real point of their quest.

Fortunately, much like the story goal, the easiest way to find a character’s inner struggle is by asking a few targeted questions. What does your character believe about themselves or their world? How does this prevent them from achieving their goals? What lesson will they need to learn throughout their journey? Are they successful?

Once you’re considered these questions, you should be able to sum up your character’s inner struggle in a sentence or two.

Example: Luke Skywalker’s inner struggle is the belief that he’s a simple farm boy who’s incapable of greatness. Meanwhile, Ilsa’s inner struggle is her belief that she can ignore her love for Rick.

#4 – Their Backstory:

Moving on, we come to backstory.

Backstory is a tricky subject, because it’s easy to fill whole books with nothing but your character’s history. After all, we all have a list of life experiences that shape who we are, and the same is true for our characters. Every character you write will have some kind of past, and that past will influence their actions.

The question is, do you really need to write pages and pages of backstory?

Well, the short answer is no. Believe it or not, you only need to know one or two key events to understand your characters’ histories. These events are the most impactful experiences of their lives and are often the source of their inner struggle. So, think about the major events that define your characters! While you’re welcome to explore more of their backstory if you choose, these should be more than enough to provide context for who your characters are.

Example: Luke Skywalker was left with his aunt and uncle as a baby, meaning he spent his whole childhood daydreaming about his father’s life as a Jedi. As a result, he desperately wants to live up to his father’s legacy. Likewise, Ilsa’s backstory centers on her time in Paris with Rick, and the difficult decision she made to abandon Rick and return to save her husband when the Nazis invaded.

#5 – Their Character Arc:

Character arcs are a big topic in the writing world, and for good reason. Not only do arcs shape our characters’ personal journeys, but they often determine the kind of story we end up telling, too.

If you aren’t familiar with what a “character arc” is, this is the inner journey your character goes on throughout your novel. This arc can take one of three shapes:

  • A Positive Arc: Here your character learns to overcome their inner struggle and grow as a person, thus triumphing over the main conflict of their story.
  • A Negative Arc: Here your character ends up overwhelmed by their inner struggles, ultimately becoming a worse version of themselves and failing in their quest.
  • A Flat Arc: Here your character isn’t concerned with their own growth, but with guiding and teaching their world. To succeed in their arc, they must heal the inner struggle of the people around them.

Regardless of which arc your character follows, this arc will determine the path they take throughout your story—as well as how the other elements we’ve discussed play out. Do they learn and grow, wither and decay, or teach and heal?

Of course, not every character warrants an arc. Character arcs require a lot of time to develop, meaning they’re usually reserved for major characters like your protagonist, key allies, and your antagonist. Whether other character in your story warrant an arc is ultimately up to you!

Example: Luke Skywalker follows a positive arc, as does Ilsa. Both manage to overcome their inner struggle and succeed during the finale of their stories.

#6 – Their Beginning and End:

Finally, we come to your character’s “plot arc.”

You see, even characters without a character arc will still begin and end your story in different places. For instance, someone who starts your story a coward might eventually gain the courage to chart their own path—or they may fade into obscurity, unable to stand up for themselves. Likewise, a character who begins your novel as the school bully might end it isolated from their peers.

Whatever this journey looks like, identifying both its beginning and end (before you begin writing) will help ensure your characters remain dynamic. Even if their plot arc is subtle, it’ll still lend a sense of impact to your novel. After all, seeing characters change on the page is the best way to show your reader just how much your plot matters!

Example: Luke begins his story unsatisfied with his life as a farm boy and ends it as a hero of the rebellion. Ilsa begins her story running from the Nazis and lying to herself about her loyalties. She ends it having accepted that she can love Rick, while still standing by her husband.

————

In the end, these six elements should go a long way in helping you better understand your cast, and eventually turn that cast into a vibrant part of your novel.

Best of all, this information doesn’t have to take weeks and months to create! Grab a sheet of paper, jot down your character’s name, and then write a single paragraph for each of the components we discussed. By the time you’re done, I’m confident you’ll see your character with a fresh set of eyes.

More About Lewis

know your charactersLewis Jorstad is an author and developmental editor who helps up-and-coming writers hone their writing their craft over at The Novel Smithy. When he isn’t working on the next book in his Writer’s Craft series, you can find him playing old Gameboy games and sailing somewhere around the eastern half of the US. You can also check out his free ebook, The Character Creation Workbook, and grab a copy for yourself.

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Time Blocking Tips And Princess Trivia – A Tale Of 2 Interviews

Time Blocking Tips And Princess Trivia – A Tale Of 2 Interviews

author your dream

I love doing interviews on podcasts and YouTube channels for readers and writers. Below, you can find out more about my two latest conversations and how to listen in.

Could you use some time management tips? Then be sure to check out my interview on the Author Your Dream podcast.

Time management is something that a lot of authors struggle with. Host Kenny MacKay and I discussed a number of topics, including effective strategies, time blocking, and automating tasks to help you be more productive.

Listen in here or in your favorite podcast app.

Bookterviews

I was recently interviewed on Bookterviews – Meet An Author Show with JB Favour.

I had a fun time talking about my sweet and sassy chick lit novel, Fooling Around With Cinderella, and answering five princess-themed trivia questions.

Here is the blurb for the book: When twenty-five-year-old Jaine Andersen proposes a new marketing role to the local amusement park, general manager Dylan Callahan charms her into filling Cinderella’s glass slippers for the summer. Her reign transforms Jaine’s ordinary life into chaos that would bewilder a fairy godmother. Secretly dating her bad boy boss, running wedding errands for her ungrateful sisters, and defending herself from the park’s resident villain means Jaine needs lots more than a comfy pair of shoes to restore order in her kingdom…

If you enjoy fairy tales and trivia, go watch the interview on YouTube.

Editing And Formatting For Authors Free Workshop Replay @AuthorEncounter

Editing And Formatting For Authors Free Workshop Replay @AuthorEncounter

editing and formatting for authors
Last weekend, I was honored to participate in an Editing and Formatting for Authors panel discussion organized by my friends Nan and Bethany at The Author Encounter. This event was part of The Author Encounter’s Indie Author Day. I was joined by freelance editor Deb Ewing and formatter Tamara Cribley of The Deliberate Page. (You can see my editing services here!)

Often the difference between an amateur book and a professional book is in the details. When it comes to publishing, those details are editing and formatting. In this candid discussion, we talked about the different types of editing and formatting and how to use them to produce a professional published book.

Topics included common mistakes that writers make when working with an editor, how editors decide which clients to work with, formatting trends for different genres, and more. Watch the video below for the replay.

The goal of The Author Encounter is to bring together authors and readers in a unique and intimate setting designed to give authors a chance to connect with their fans, and the fans (readers) the opportunity to spend time with their favorite authors, ask questions, and be a part of the stories and worlds created by the authors. You can learn more about their events and how to join here.

 

Behind The Rewrite With Maureen Fisher: 5 Steps To Revising A Mystery Novel @AuthorMaureen

Behind The Rewrite With Maureen Fisher: 5 Steps To Revising A Mystery Novel @AuthorMaureen

rewriting a mystery novel

Hi, my name is Maureen Fisher. As a guest blogger on Behind the Rewrite, I’m delighted to share my editing experience at Stacy Juba’s competent hands.

After reading Stacy’s 10-page edit summary of Deadly Thanksgiving (A Senior Sleuth Mystery – Book 2), I realized I’d committed some unforgivable sins as an author. Aaaaaack! I’m told my wails terrified dogs five blocks away. After the dogs and finally I quit howling, I proceeded to consume my body weight in chocolate accompanied by a vast quantity of red wine. I don’t recommend this combo.

Once I recovered, I re-read Stacy’s comments and—with great reluctance and eye rolling—I admitted that yeah, I had to make changes. Major changes.

All joking aside, Stacy Juba conducted what could have been a devastating edit with remarkable gentleness and compassion. Deadly Thanksgiving is now a stronger book, one I can be proud of.

These are my top five changes, none of which an author wants to hear.

 

Change #1: Unsympathetic Protagonist

As backstory, my main protagonist (Clara, a co-owner of Grizzly Gulch Guest Ranch), had indulged in a short but steamy affair involving Hawk (a Mountie and her love interest in Deadly Thanksgiving) before fleeing home, dumping him in a text message then ghosting him. At the beginning of the book, they re-connect when a group of guests arrives along with a corpse bungeed into a seat of their mini coach.

Stacy pointed out that it would be helpful if we knew earlier in the story why Clara took off on Hawk without saying goodbye. That way, the reader would understand her motivations. As it stood, the explanation of why she’d left came too late, allowing readers to form an unfavorable impression of her. Also, when she first meets him again, she came across as defensive and a bit antagonistic when he’d done nothing wrong. She was the one who just took off. No wonder he was upset.

No author ever wants to create an unsympathetic protagonist. It’s amazing how I hadn’t realized readers would not regard Clara with as much affection as I did. How could they? They’d only just met her.

My Solution: This was a vital, though relatively contained modification. Here is the final version in the scene where Hawk first confronts Clara about the breakup:

“How did you find me?” I asked.

‘I’ll explain later.” He removed his red Calgary Flames baseball cap and ran long fingers through his lovely dark hair threaded with more white strands than I remembered. He jammed his cap back on and took a deep breath. “I didn’t take you for a coward. A phone call warning me you’d dumped me and flown home, would also have been a nice touch.” His expression spoke of anger and something else, perhaps sadness.

Shame brought heat to my cheeks. Hawk had every right to be upset, but how could I admit I’d fallen in love with him and done the only thing I could think of to save myself from more heartache. I’d abandoned the unsettling thrill of romance in favor of safety, something that had been all too lacking during my traumatic childhood and painful marriage. Worse, like the coward I was, I’d broken the news in a polite text message containing an apology along with an assurance the fault was all mine, not his, because I was too damaged to conduct a normal relationship.

Although Hawk didn’t realize it, he was fortunate I’d stepped out of his life.

“How did you get assigned to this particular case?” I asked, side-stepping his very valid accusation of cowardice.

 

Change #2: Faulty Police Procedure

Stacy pointed out that the police procedure in Deadly Thanksgiving didn’t ring true. While it is a cozy mystery, not a police procedural, Hawk came across as unbelievable as a police officer (Mountie) even for a cozy. Although the initial death did not appear to be a murder, procedure would dictate that he interview all of these suspects individually, not just as a group. I couldn’t do that because the book is written in my heroine’s point of view (first person), and I wanted readers to meet the suspects during the questioning. Also, it wouldn’t be realistic for a Mountie to partner with civilians on a case in an undercover investigation, so Clara couldn’t be his accomplice—something, as the author, I wanted her to be. Additionally, he wouldn’t just be able to simply abandon his other law enforcement duties to work 24/7 on this one case.

My Solution: Instead of making Hawk a full-fledged Mountie, he became a retired Mountie and close friend of the officer-in-charge. That way, when several more attempted murders occur at Grizzly Gulch Guest Ranch, Hawk is able to pose as a family friend and move into one of the onsite guest suites to keep an eye on matters, essentially acting as an undercover agent. That way, it’s easy for him to participate in brainstorming sessions about the suspects, offer advice, and use his contacts to help move the investigation along.

 

Change #3: Heroine Needs to Do More Sleuthing, Less Deferring

Stacy gently pointed out that Clara doesn’t do much sleuthing other than talk to Hawk about what he’d found out through background checks and calling in favors. The investigation only moves forward because of his sleuthing. As the main protagonist, Clara should find out these things herself.

My Solution: Since Hawk was no longer the Mountie in charge, I was able to swap Clara in as an informal chief investigator. This was probably the most labor-intensive and complicated part of the rewrite as it affected most of the book. At the same time, I had to find alternative activities to keep both Hawk and the Mountie-in-charge busy while reflecting Clara’s expanded role.

 

Change #4: Sagging Middle

Stacy mentioned that after a crisis during goat yoga, it felt as if a lot of time was spent on appeasing one of the characters, which made the pacing lag. For a few chapters, not much was happening with the mystery.

My Solution: I chopped a couple of chapters, had Clara placate the aggrieved party with gifts and a heartfelt apology, nothing elaborate involving decisions, planning, and a dramatic execution, none of which moved the plot ahead.

 

Change #5: Climax is Too Predictable

Stacy said, and I quote, “I liked the twistbut again, we lost the whodunnit/puzzle aspect early in the third act.

My Solution: Sorry, no spoilers. You must read Deadly Thanksgiving to find out how I solved it and kept the villain’s identity a secret until the last possible moment.

 

More About The Book

Deadly thanksgiving


Buy it on Amazon.

“I had a number of laugh-out-loud moments and once actually, truly, spit out some tea.”

So funny I almost had an accident. Laughed and laughed hysterically! Loved it! Absolutely fabulous!”

Hi, I’m Clara Foster, co-owner and event manager of Alberta’s Grizzly Gulch Guest Ranch. My two sisters and I inherited the place at an age when most sensible women contemplate retirement. No one ever called us sensible.

It has been an uphill struggle. Due to extensive damage from a rogue summer tornado, the only way to avoid foreclosure is to win a lucrative hospitality contest, and that requires multiple five-star reviews. Too bad the arrival of a mini-coach full of geriatric guests, one of them a corpse, threatens to derail our gala Thanksgiving event. Worse, the retired Mountie I dumped four months ago shows up seeking closure.

It soon is apparent (though not provable) that the deceased was murdered, and everyone on board the mini-coach has a motive. To compound matters, this is our second murder of the year. Our slogan might as well be, “Try Grizzly Gulch getaways; they’re to die for.” Our guests must never learn of another murder or we might as well kiss the contest goodbye and file for bankruptcy.

The only sensible solution is for me to join forces—and possibly a whole lot more—with my former flame to smoke out a killer while hiding the murder from our guests.

Tensions mount when several near-fatal “accidents” occur.

Action bounces from a perilous nature walk to an unfortunate goat yoga incident, a mechanical bull mishap, a savage cat, an electrical malfunction, and a staff medical crisis, all culminating in a Thanksgiving feast our guests will never forget.

Warning: This book may contain nuggets of naughty boomer humor.

 

More About Maureen

revising a mystery

Among other things, Maureen is an author of funny & furry adventures & misadventures, guaranteed to tickle the funny bone, lift the spirits, & warm the heart! All her books contain characters you can relate to, an animal or two, and always tons of humor. As Charlie Chaplin once said, “A day without humor is a day wasted.”

Transplanted from Scotland to Canada at the tender age of seven, she’s a voracious reader, bridge player, yoga enthusiast, animal lover, seeker of personal and spiritual growth, pickleball enthusiast, and infrequent but avid gourmet cook. Most of all, she and her husband love to travel. She’s swum with sharks in the Galapagos, walked with Bushmen in the Serengeti, sampled lamb criadillas (don’t ask!!!) in Iguazu Falls, snorkeled on the Great Barrier Reef, ridden an elephant in Thailand, watched the sun rise over Machu Picchu, and bounced from Johannesburg to Cape Town for 16 days on a bus called ‘Marula’.

Visit her on the web:

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Opportunities For Writers

Are you an author interested in writing a Behind the Rewrite guest blog post? Get the guidelines here.

Check out Shortcuts for Writers Freebies including a 5-day line editing course, Facebook group, and resource for naming your characters.

Check out Shortcuts for Writers affordable courses including Book Editing Blueprint: A Step by Step Plan to Making Your Novels Publishable, Time Management Blueprint for Writers, and the Energize Your Writing Toolkit: Cheat Sheets for Character Emotions.

Behind The Rewrite With C.E Flores: Revisions Inspired By Free Editing Class

Behind The Rewrite With C.E Flores: Revisions Inspired By Free Editing Class

Free editing course

Today’s Behind the Rewrite meant a lot to me as author C.E. Flores made her revisions after taking my free editing class, Line Editing Made Simple: 5 Days to More Polished Pages. If you haven’t gone through the course, be sure to sign up. And if you took it a long time ago, sign up again as it now has an online classroom component and interactive quiz. But first, read this informative post from C.E. Flores as she gives a behind the scenes glimpse into polishing up her nonfiction book on herbal remedies.

Recently I published Volume 2 in my Mexican Herbal Remedy series. Since I needed to update the back matter to include information about the second book, I decided to use this opportunity to make some changes to Volume 1. Stacy Juba’s free course, Line Editing Made Simple: 5 Days to More Polished Pages, helped my editing processes tremendously.

First, I searched through my writing for crutch words as instructed in Lesson 1. Since my non-fiction book focuses on the medicinal uses of certain herbs, would you be surprised to learn that the word “use” was entirely overused? I found it in various forms (used, use, using, useful), at least five to ten times per chapter. I rewrote almost all of those sentences using synonyms such as remedy, treatment, therapy, and so on.

Then, from Lesson 3, I went through the book again, looking for the five common offenders (some, that, very, as, just). I found entirely too many instances of “some,” “that,” and “just” plus my personal nemesis “so.” Those sentences received a little tightening up. Additionally, I took a leaf out of Lesson 5’s book and checked my prepositions. “In order to” was there almost as many times as “use” had been. Wordy phrases–be gone!

Lesson 4 had me go back through for dangling modifiers that disrupt the meaning of the sentence. I was guilty there as well. Some of the sentences needed complete rewrites. I took this opportunity to reduce passive voice use as well. I most certainly want to say what I mean and mean what I say when writing about these fascinating herbs and be clear about it.

I took to heart Stacy’s comment, “Your job is to finish your manuscript and to make it your best work, a professional book that will stand out from the competition and attract positive attention.”

Since I was on a roll, I made a few additional changes. The herb book was initially designed to record my own experiences with Mexican remedies. After completing Volume 2, I felt like I had a better idea of what I wanted to accomplish and what would appeal more to my readers. So, in my editing process for Volume 1, I took out several personal anecdotes about the herbs and added a bit more history in some cases and scientific support in others.

Then I switched out most of the images with better quality ones. After all, part of learning about the traditional use of these herbs was proper plant identification. A higher resolution image will aid herbalists interested in foraging their own supply. I also changed the cover so that it was more similar to other herb books on the market. With a much-improved manuscript, I republished Exploring Traditional Herbal Remedies in Mexico: An Introduction to Natural Healing. Thanks for your guidance, Stacy!

 

More About The Book

free editing course

Curanderos (healers) in Mexico still practice traditional herbal remedies learned centuries ago. It is only recently that scientists have begun to take these healing practices seriously. Study after study has validated the medicinal use of plants native to North America and those brought by the Spanish after the conquest. It’s time to reexamine the basic healing power in 34 common remedies used by traditional Mexican healers.

In Exploring Traditional Herbal Remedies in Mexico: An Introduction to Natural Healing, you’ll discover:

  • 34 traditional Mexican remedies
  • Effective herbal treatments for common ailments
  • Well-researched scientific support for herbal use
  • Accurate botanical identification of native Mexican plants

Buy it on Amazon.

More About C.E. Flores

C.E. Flores was born in the Eastern United States and currently lives in central Mexico. She received her Bachelor’s in Education at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and picked up her husband while attending there. She writes about her wild and crazy off-grid life in rural Mexico as well as references books for ex-pats, writers, bloggers, preppers, and herbalists.

Website: Surviving Mexico: Adventures and Disasters OR Content Creative 

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Take Stacy’s Free Line Editing Course

Does the thought of editing your book seem overwhelming? If your manuscript could use trimming and polishing, sign up for this free mini email course. It features bite-sized concepts and assignments to help you kick-start your line editing.

  • Lesson 1: The one thing that will jump-start your editing.
  • Lesson 2: Three mistakes you may be making and what to do instead.
  • Lesson 3: Five little words you need to start cutting now.
  • Lesson 4: The truth about editing.
  • Lesson 5: Struggling with wordy sentences? This will help.

Enroll here.

 

 

Behind The Rewrite With Amber Lambda: 5 Fiction Editing Techniques

Behind The Rewrite With Amber Lambda: 5 Fiction Editing Techniques

fiction editing technique
It’s always fascinating to see what goes into the rewrite process. I’m delighted to welcome Amber Lambda, who shares five changes she made to her YA fantasy novel, Halos. Below, Amber, describes the fiction editing techniques she used when revising her book.
***

Rewriting and revising a novel takes a lot of patience and willpower—especially to change and cut away from your beloved, original ideas! But once you get past that bittersweet feeling, it’s so worth it to see your story grow into something you love even better. Here are five of the biggest changes I made to Halos and can’t imagine it without those changes now!

First Chapter Rewrites

As I’m sure most authors would agree, one of the hardest parts of writing a book is getting the first chapter to work right. I started with the list of things that a first chapter needed and checked it all off. I included the story’s theme about chasing dreams, my main character, her goals, conflict with her best friend that helped set up the stakes, and a strong hook at the end to pique the reader’s interest and start the story… but something just wasn’t clicking. After several readers, and just as many rewrites, I realized I had the answer all along. The elements were all there—but they indeed weren’t clicking. Instead of being parts of a complete story coming together, they seemed unrelated. With that magical realization, I rewrote it once more, pulling everything together to fit the overall story and genre, and it did the trick. My beta readers loved it, and so did I!

Added POV

When drafting Halos the first time, I wrote from the limited POV of my protagonist, Faye. During my read-through to start revisions, however, part of the story appeared to be missing. I could fill in the details as the author, but it hadn’t made it to the page for readers to experience. This inspired me to include the love interest’s POV on the next draft. Adding Icarus’s side of the story not only gave insight into the world and plot where Faye’s POV didn’t cover, but it made Icarus’s character arc much richer, paralleling Faye’s arc in a way that wasn’t shown before.

Expanding A Character’s Role

Another element that I changed to make more sense for the reader was bringing Faye’s friend Andrew back into the story at an earlier stage than intended. After relating to Faye’s main internal conflict in the first chapter, he didn’t come up again in person until closer to the end of the story. At first, I brought him back earlier because he reappeared without enough foreshadowing. But his presence also acted as a catalyst for tension throughout the middle of the story, making for a better plot and character motivations.

Removing Characters Who Didn’t Serve The Story

On an opposite note, I cut two characters out from the original story. They added drama and complexity—but that isn’t always what’s best. I found it difficult to layer them into the plot naturally, and they took away from the themes and effect I was aiming for. It was a tough choice, but once I took them out, the message of the story became much clearer and gave more room to emphasize the pieces that highlighted it instead.

Added Connecting Scenes

Have you ever read a book where it almost seemed like you missed something, so you went back to look, and you hadn’t? My early drafts had a few places like that, where readers needed a little more shown about what happened between scenes. In some areas, it worked better to summarize instead of adding an entire scene that would feel like filler. But in most places, I fleshed out new scenes to show what happened, while simultaneously showing character interaction and growth, especially for side characters.

In the end, between the added POV, deeper themes, and the extra connecting scenes, my 36-chapter outline turned into a 43-chapter novel, at just the recommended word count for my genre. And my story transformed into a creation I loved more than ever!

More About Halos

fiction editing techniques

Daydreamer Faye Wallace believes her recurring dreams of flying ships have a purpose beyond fantasy. And when Icarus—her swoon-worthy dream boy—knocks on the door, reality is swept away with her heart. Charged with saving the sky world of Halos from a destiny of prophesied doom, Faye embarks on a journey to relive her whimsical visions. Except for one problem: nothing about Halos matches what she remembers. Including Icarus.

Faye must sift truth from imagination and become the girl who saves her dreams—before they create a nightmare she can’t return from.

Buy it on Amazon.

More About Amber Lambda

Amber Lambda is a YA romance, fantasy, and soft sci-fi author from the dreamy Midwest plains. Her mission is to write stories clean enough for the younger range of the YA crowd, but laced with themes and ideas that older teens (and adults!) will relate to and love just the same.

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Opportunities For Writers

Are you an author interested in writing a Behind the Rewrite guest blog post? Get the guidelines here.

Check out Shortcuts for Writers Freebies including a 5-day line editing course, Facebook group, and resource for naming your characters.

Check out Shortcuts for Writers affordable courses including Book Editing Blueprint: A Step by Step Plan to Making Your Novels Publishable, Time Management Blueprint for Writers, and the Energize Your Writing Toolkit: Cheat Sheets for Character Emotions.

Behind the Rewrite With Stacy Juba: Rewriting An Old Manuscript

Behind the Rewrite With Stacy Juba: Rewriting An Old Manuscript

As a freelance developmental editor, I often send long editorial letters and suggest major rewrites. When clients are discouraged, I remind them that I’m an author, too, and can relate to difficult rewrites. However, I’m not entirely sure they believe me! So, I’m going to prove it in two Behind the Rewrite posts, starting with this one focusing on rewriting an old manuscript—my young adult ice hockey novel, Offsides. Watch for another post on rewriting my chick lit novel, Fooling Around With Cinderella.These books are about as opposite as you can get, but they share one thing in common.

Heavy rewrites!

Rewriting an old manuscript

I wrote the original version of Offsides, the sequel to my YA hockey novel Face-Off, back in 1992 when I was a teenager. Although Face-Off had been published with great success when I was eighteen, garnering positive reviews in Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, and School Library Journal, Offsides was rejected by my publisher. There had been a lot of turnover at the company, and all the editors I knew had left. Even though I was receiving fan mail from kids begging for a sequel, the book got rejected with a form letter. At the time, I was incredibly disappointed.

In hindsight, I’m relieved as that story wasn’t ready to be told back then. Twenty-five years later, I rewrote my original draft and published it. The hard copy had been buried in a drawer and I paid someone to scan it so that I could work with it digitally. The published version of Offsides is so much better than the manuscript penned by my 19-year-old self. Part of Face-Off‘s charm is that it was written by a teenager for teenagers. The characters grow quite a bit in the sequel, and I’m glad that I was able to bring a different level of maturity to the story, a maturity that I wasn’t capable of conveying as a teenager. It was also fun updating the book with references to texting and social media.

But more importantly, over the decades, I’ve grown as a writer and editor. My self-editing skills in 1992 and my self-editing skills now aren’t even comparable. Below is an unedited scene from my original draft of Offsides. I’ll let you read it, and then I’ll give you my editorial assessment before sharing the published version. The scene is between two of “my McKendrick boys,” twin hockey players Brad and T.J., the protagonists. They tell the story in alternating viewpoints for each chapter.

Unedited Version From 1992

That night, Brad turned on his side, the moonlight pouring through the window. In the bottom bunk, T.J. shifted.
“You awake?” T.J. asked.
“Yep.”
“Can I tell you something?”
“What?”
“I’m going to BC”
“Even if you get accepted at Harvard?”
“I’m not gonna get accepted,” T.J. said.“How do you know?”
“I didn’t apply.”
It was quiet except for a car passing outside. Its lights flickered against the wall.
“What do you mean? You told everyone you did.”
”I didn’t want Dad to find out.”
“But he keeps asking you about it. What are you gonna do?”
“Say I didn’t.”
“And let him think you weren’t good enough? T.J., you should tell him the truth,” Brad said.
“Do you know how ticked off he’ll be?”
“So let him be. It’s your decision, T.J. You’ve got to take a stand.”
“I guess you’re right.”
Brad rolled over.
“How come you’re still awake?” T.J. asked.
“I’ve been thinking about college, and if I’d still be going if I didn’t have hockey.”
“Sure you would. I told you, your grades have improved a lot.”
“I wouldn’t have a chance at BU.”
“You don’t know that,” T.J. replied. “It doesn’t matter how you get there, Brad, just as long as you get there.”
”I guess. Now do me a favor and shut up. I’m exhausted.”
“If you’d tell Dad about Harvard for me I could get to sleep.”
“Forget it. I want to reach my eighteenth birthday,” Brad said, and T.J. pushed up on his bunk.

Editorial Notes To Myself

First, the scene is a bit choppy. There’s a lot of dialogue and not much description or internal thought to balance it out. By just reading this passage, it’s not clear whose head we’re supposed to be in. Probably Brad’s, since he is mentioned first, but we never get in his thoughts. Dialogue was always one of my strengths, but I didn’t master deep point of view until my thirties.

Another issue is that the boys, who are high school seniors, are talking about going straight to college to play Division 1 ice hockey. Nowadays, that’s not the typical route. Before joining a D1 men’s hockey team, most players need to delay college and spend time developing their skills in a high-level junior league. I’m not sure how it worked in 1992—whether thing have changed since then, or whether I just didn’t research it enough and got it all wrong. There was no Internet back then, so research wasn’t as easy as it is today.

The scene also lacks conflict and tension. Below is my final version. I’ll put some notes in bold so you can see why I made these changes.

Final Version 

That night, Brad lay awake in the top bunk, staring at the ceiling. A night light glimmered in the corner and shadows bathed the small television, TV stand, and student desk. All the discussion about junior and college reminded him how drastically his life was changing. His parents splitting up last December with no reconciliation in sight. Playing his final season of high school hockey with friends he’d known for years. And even though Brad believed he had a chance of making the NHL, the long winding road ahead scared the hell out of him. (Note the setting details and internal thought. These additions help us to visualize the room better and clearly establish that Brad is the viewpoint character of this scene.)

What if he didn’t like his host family? Even though they got on his nerves, Brad would miss his own boisterous family. What if he didn’t click with his new coaches or had a difficult time adjusting to a higher level of play? Then there was Sherry. His friends thought their relationship was a high school thing. Brad thought it was more. If he joined a junior team in the Northeast rather than the Midwest, could he talk her out of Florida? (Note that there is even more internal thought here to help us get deep into Brad’s head. The host family and junior team references were rewrites to reflect a more believable path to D1 hockey.)

In the bottom bunk, T.J. shifted, and the mattress creaked. “You awake?”

“Yeah,” Brad said.

“Thanks for trying with Dad. I’m so sick of him pushing me about college. It’s probably better I’m not going next fall. I’d have no clue what to major in.”

“What happened to management and leadership?”

“That’s just what I’ve been telling scouts. You’re lucky to have your major picked out.”

Having an interest in broadcasting didn’t mean Brad would excel at it. As their father stated, academics wasn’t his strength, and college was harder than high school. Brad sighed, his stomach clenching in a knot. (More internal thought to keep the scene in Brad’s POV.)

“What’s wrong?” T.J. asked.

It was quiet except for a car driving into the resident parking lot. Brad didn’t know how much to admit. What was he supposed to say? That he feared getting homesick and not fitting in? That despite his big talk, he worried that he wouldn’t be good enough? (More internal thought. I have gotten much better at deep POV since writing the original draft as a teen.)

“Is it Sherry and the Florida thing?”

“Yeah. It’s Sherry.” Might as well confess that much since T.J. suspected it was bothering him. “I’m wondering whether she’d stay if I played junior locally.”

“You mean in the NCDC?”

The National Collegiate Development Conference was a tuition-free junior league in the Northeast, making it an attractive opportunity for players throughout the region. Brad rolled onto his side and peered over the edge of his bed though he couldn’t see T.J.’s face in the darkness. (Here I added some more authenticity about junior hockey and a little description.)

“It’s a good league. A lot of their guys are getting commitments. Trey wants to get on one of those teams.”

“Yeah, but I thought we were both going for the USHL,” T.J. said.

They’d selected the more established USHL as a first choice because so many D1 players and NHL draft picks had ties to the league. Brad and T.J. met some scouts at camp and had been corresponding with several over email. They might not get on the same team, but they’d agreed this was their ideal steppingstone. (Note how the dialogue in the rewrite has more tension than the original and hints at more problems.)

“What, I can’t change my mind?” Brad leaned up on his elbow, glaring down at the lower bunk.

“Because of a girl?” T.J. asked sharply. “You’re seventeen.”

“Sherry’s not just some girl. You have a new girlfriend every other week, so don’t go giving me relationship advice.” Brad and Sherry disagreed over how long it would take his brother to dump Kayla. Sherry expected them to attend Prom together. Brad gave it till mid-January before T.J. claimed she was too clingy and moved on to someone else. (This gets us into Brad’s head and also gives insight into T.J.)

Swearing under his breath, T.J. got up and crossed the room. He switched on the light, and Brad winced. “Damn it, T.J.”

T.J. paced in his Bayview T-shirt and sweatpants. They both wore exercise clothes to bed and worked out when they woke up. “Even if you two stayed in New England, how often do you think you’d see her? Your life will revolve around hockey. You’ll have games on weekends, a lot of them away games. She’ll be busy with school. I don’t get the logic here.”

“I’d see her a lot more than if she’s in Florida and I’m in freakin’ Nebraska,” Brad growled. (This dialogue is more interesting than in the original as it shows conflict between them.)

“All I’m saying is you’ll be wrapped up in the team. Do you really think it’s fair to pressure her to give up Florida? I get that you’ll miss her. But you’ll both come home sometimes. In between, you can FaceTime and text.” (I added the FaceTiming and texting to make it more current for today’s readers.)

Brad flopped onto his back, the fight seeping out of him. “You think I’m being selfish?”

“You’re just not thinking this through.”

“But long-distance is hard. It might not work.”

“Dude, it’s your high school girlfriend. Stop stressing over this. Who knows if you’ll even be together next year?” T.J. flicked off the light. (This is a much stronger ending for the scene.)

Want To Read The Book?

hockey novel

Face-Off’s McKendrick brothers return in this explosive sequel, an action-packed hockey book for teens and tweens.

Twin hockey stars T.J. and Brad have finally resolved their differences and forged a friendship on and off the ice. Now high school seniors, they focus on landing a commitment to a D1 school.

What should have been the best year ever takes a nasty hit when the boys’ parents announce their divorce, and Brad makes a mistake that could impact his game eligibility. Meanwhile, T.J. faces off against their father, who opposes his decision to delay college and pursue junior hockey.

Adding to the tension are a rebellious kid brother, girlfriend trouble, and recruiting pressure. The turmoil threatens to drive the twins apart just when they need to work together the most. With a championship title and their futures at stake, T.J. and Brad must fight to keep from going offsides.

Buy it on Amazon

Visit the Hockey Rivals website

Listen to a sample of the Audible audiobook below.

 
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More About Me

I hope you enjoyed this sneak peek into my writing and editing process! Maybe it will inspire some of you to rewrite an old manuscript. There are some manuscripts in my drawer that will remain there, but Offsides was one that I knew had potential.

You’re probably aware that I’m a freelance editor and creator of online courses for writers. (If you don’t know that, then feel free to explore my website!)

I’ve also written books about theme park princesses, teen psychics, U.S. flag etiquette for kids, and determined women sleuths. I’ve had novels ranked as #5 and #11 in the Nook Store and #30 on the Amazon Kindle Paid List. You can learn more about my books on my other websites.

Main author website

Hockey website and blog

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