I realize this has been a long time coming, I had to find my inspiration so sue me! Anyway I found it, so here we go. As most of you know I recently wrote 80,000 words of poo. As in my 80,000 word manuscript was lame, had the depth of a puddle and probably could not hold the attention of a super hero whose power was to pay attention to lameness. Fortunately for me, Sara stuck with me and waited for the precise moment to pounce.
Me: I think my story needs more depth.
Sara: Well it couldn’t get much shallower
Me: *Looking shocked then laughing until I fall out of my chair*
This is fairly normal between us. We are best friends so we feel like we can be brutally and I mean brutally honest with each other. The reason we do not mind? Without the brutality, our stories are the ones who suffer. I would rather someone read my book and shred it to pieces than lie to me about it. I need to hear what is not working in order to make it better. The first thing Sara told me, the bones of my story were askew.
So the First Step To Making Your Story Better: Recognize That First Drafts Are Not Master Pieces.
First, second, sometimes even third and fourth drafts are still not that great. So if you suspect your story is lacking depth find your trusty critique buddy and ask them about it. They have probably already noticed and were just waiting for you to be susceptible to hearing about it. They can let you know where the story is lacking.
If You Lack Setting
If what you are lacking is setting you need to take a step back for a moment and go through your scenes with your eyes closed. Really picture the places in your book. Something that helped me was drawing maps and actually sketching the backgrounds. I drew the layout of my main character’s house as well as her bedroom. The little things make a huge difference to the reader. Now you can do what Sara does and literally paint a picture for the reader, or what I do write a little enough for the reader to have something to go on. I mostly do this because I don’t like to read ten pages of description I like a little description and then get to characters. Which was causing part of my problem. My original opening was pretty much “Zeke stood on the balcony of the castle where he grew up.”
Can you see it? Can you? For those of you said “Yes!” Did you know the castle was on a hill above a canyon and next to the ocean which has naturally green waters? Did ya?
Here is the actual opening to chapter one after my massive overhaul(by massive I mean I scrapped pretty much the whole thing): The castle sat almost precariously on the edge of the large canyon carved over the centuries by the Mokar River’s naturally green waters. The river ran south from the Visko Mountain chain, which could be seen on the northern horizon, down towards the Juzni Ocean whose warm waters spanned the entirety of the continents southern border, some one hundred thousand miles. The warm salt breeze rolled off the ocean in misty gusts.
Now you can really see it can’t you? Not just some Disney castle with a dude standing on a balcony, right? I actually use two paragraphs to describe it and I’m not going to lie I’m a little worried the reader will lose interest because it’s kind of long but at the same time I will let my future agent worry about that.
On that note I have a, literally, killer prologue to help get the reader through two paragraphs of necessary description. Of course not everyone reads the prologue. So you need to think about all that while you write an opening. I may have to intermingle the current beginning with some of the excitement that happens a little further down the page but that can be done fairly easily because the bones are now in place and they are good strong bones that in the proper order so I can mess with the meat all I want.
If You Lack Character Depth
If you don’t know your characters, how can you expect to relate them to the reader? Characters are people not two-dimensional pieces of paper. You are the puppet master in that you can decide what situations they are put in but if you really know your characters, they will do what they want regardless of what you want them to do. For example, yeah I used this one before but it was shocking for me. AND it caused me to lose two months of writing trying to sort it out. Zeke at the end of chapter three was supposed to sneak into the castle save the hostages from his father and sneak back out. Instead he got his panties in a twist and picked a fight with his father and got his butt kicked. Leaving me to deal with the after math in Chapter Four. Why did this happen? Simple, I know Zeke so well I know that his temper would get in the way as soon as he saw injustice. His character literally could not walk away. So he didn’t.
The first step is to write a character sketch. You need to separate yourself from your characters. You are not them and they are not you. They are their own distinct little people. It’s your job to know them inside and out. You need to know if they eat around their veggies or would die for a good piece of pie or kill for some chocolate. What is their favorite color? Ice cream flavor? where do they like to buy their clothes? Do they like shopping or do they loath it? Do they have kids? Do they even like kids? Are they promiscuous?
You need to know this person inside and out. It’s up to you to make sure you know them and really show the reader who they are.
The Setting And The Character’s Are The Bones
If you don’t take the time to know your characters and explain the setting you will have a shallow story. I really can’t tell you this is fact because I have yet to sit down with a literary agent and discuss it but, I feel like it’s easier to take things away than it is create new things. When I am ready to look for an agent if they don’t accept manuscripts with more than 105,000 words I may be in trouble but I also think its worth hunting down the agent that does. Some stories, most of the really good ones, take more than 105,000 words. Especially if you are creating an entirely new world. If you have it set here it’s a little easier to keep the word count down because you can say “It was a Victorian that had been there as long as she could remember.” and every reader has a picture of a Victorian style house in their head. Add color and maybe the year it was built, if that matters, and boom, done.
I’m going to leave you with this one last tip. Don’t worry about the word count. Write your story. With any luck I will someday be an Agent and if I like your story I will read it and work on it with you. I am sure there are others out there who are more concerned with the quality of the story than just the word count.
Now get out there and write!