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The Writer's Cafe


What's important to keep in mind - writing doesn't need to be perfect in the first draft. You'll rewrite many times anyway. Just get the story down on paper. Before you consider letting an "outside eye" look at your manuscript, there are certain elements you can analyze yourself: Everything depends on the imaginary people who inhabit our novel. Know them well. Not just how they look. What do they think? How do they relate andreact to all the other characters. ***This is important and will help you know each person in your book. This author does not like lists. Talk to yourself on paper. Where are your people going? What are their goals? You must know this about all your characters.***

You never know when a minor character you hadn't thought much about will come to life and make some useful move. Motivation means what-do-they-want-and-why? With strong motivation you'll have strong conflict. Your main character, first of all, should be wrestling with a life- or-death issue. Perhaps literally, perhaps only because happiness is at stake. If there is nothing your main character want passionately, you can be sure you'll have a weak story. At the outset, be sure to check for strong desires and interests in all your characters. These will, of course, clash - no conflict, not story! - and you must let these opposing forces collide.

Psychological conflict can often be stronger than physical kind, and much more interesting. If you reach a place in your story where the main character cannot take action - for good reason - introduce a character who has a special drive that will threaten or oppose you protagonist. You will be surprised at how quickly your main character will discover specific action that must be taken to help him achieve what he wants. Sometimes you don't see the effective touches until you reread and revise.

If you main character's motivation leads her to do dreadful things, then she'd better get her comuppance at the end of the story. If your main characters are sympathetically protrayed, and their struggle is justified so readers want them to succeed, then there will be disappointment if you do a flip and let them down at the end.

The novel that makes us happy usually builds to some satisfying and well-earned truimph in the conclusion - thus bringing readers back for more - something editors like. Nevertheless, we can only write those happy endings we believe in. What we do with our characters must never goagainst what we believe, or we will only turn out pot-boilers.

Emotion is the most important ingredient in any piece of fiction. If your characters feel nothing strongly, neither will your reader. Make the stakes high. The more your characters stand to lose or gain, and the more they care, the more powerful the effect on the reader. **The best way to begin a novel is to make sure the herione is quickly immersed in an emotional situation that she needs to do something about.**

Suspense is another revision check point - to make sure it's present. Any number of devices can help you here. "Secrets" that your characters are hiding are good. Is everything to out-in-the-open, too obvious or predictable? If your characters conceal secrets that take unexpected turns, and are gradually revealed, you have a good chance of holding your reader.

In the final aspects of revision, you'll need that outside eye, a critic whom you can trust. In the beginning you probably won't have access to an editor. Steps you can take to help find an objective critic:

  • Family or friends is not the best choices. You'll get conflicting advice.
  • Join a small writer's group, where manuscripts are read alout and discussed. You can learn to criticize your own work by criticizing others. Be careful, however, since not all the criticism offered will be of equal value. If there is no such group near you, start one.
  • Enroll in a writing class, if one is offered in your area. Make sure the type of writing you do will be covered.
  • Books on writing, bought or borrowed from the library, or writer's magazines are always helpful

  • When it comes to criticism, another factor enters in. All writers begin with a resistance to those who point out faults in their work. Think about what your critic says - you may see wonderful new ways to use these suggestions as you incorporate them into your revision.

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