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Tweaking a Story

Written at the farm December 24, 2005

I spent a most enjoyable hour or two yesterday, curled in one of my lounge chairs here at the farm with a printout of the synopsis of a historical that has bugs in it. The original date of the document was 1993, so I’ve been working on it since then, at intervals of five years or so. I travel with a laptop. The first thing we do is set up a work station for me. We have a neat little printer that lives in a cupboard out here.

Bugs? Those are plot points that don’t quite work and dates I’m not sure of: If a character was this old here, how old would he be here? Is the premise unique? Will the plot serve up enough conflict to challenge and motivate the protagonists? Do their moments of truth define them?

I never forget my reader. Will the conflict titillate and impact her/him? Most of all, will that reader worry, actually fear what might happen to these primary characters?
How about the villain? Is this nemesis/obstacle character as strong as the hero? A worthy opponent is important for any protagonist. Overcoming the villain changes the hero/heroine.

The villain doesn’t change, the hero must. Hollywood calls this the hero’s character arc.
Last is not least. Is the ending earned? Does it meet reader expectations and deliver perfect closure?

The checklist varies with each novel. By the time I’ve gone through a synopsis, I usually have several more questions to answer and/or resolve. Decisions, decisions.

People acquainted with me know I’m happiest making a story work. My imagination explodes and once again, I’m thrilled to be a writer. It’s magic. I love it. Writing the synopsis is the time I push and pull and tweak a story into the shape I want, changing whatever seems wrong. And when I finally write the novel, I always remember that nothing in this synopsis is set in stone. When the novel is finished, I bring the synopsis into sync with it.

Students have heard me insist again and again that they make appointments with their brains and think. Personally, I need lots of time to work on a story, to eliminate the bugs. If you are different, that’s okay. Different strokes and all that. Tomaytoes, Tomahtoes.
Flying free doesn’t work for me. Oh, how I wish it would, because I can’t rush, can’t seem to hurry my process. I need a plan, something to guide me as I write the story.
That’s what writing is—our own individual process.

Learn to recognize, know and trust the process that’s best for you. Nobody else is playing your song, so grab a drum and march, baby! Because in the end, we create our own music.

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