Book contests / Born in a Treacherous Time

How’s My Story Going?

Fine, thank you for asking. Well, my story’s going as fine as it can be, considering I just had two weeks off from my day job to work on it. I got it through

wwriting tools

the Excel draft phase, into the Word draft phase. It came out monstrously long and disjointed, so I spent most of the last three months working on pacing, flow, character development, plotting. I’m not talking about wordsmithing. I just wanted to be sure transitions were in place, that characters and time didn’t jump around–stuff like that. In the process, I cut out 60,000 unnecessary words. Who’d know I was so wordy? (haha)

Now, I’ve started on the wordsmithing. I do that by checking the big problems first, then I read through the mss five or ten times to see if it flows. Here’s what I call ‘big’ problems:

  • the use of had. I use far too many of them when I write. Who knows why, but they are sprinkled generously throughout my novel. Had takes the passion out of the story. Think about it: Everything’s in the past, so the trauma is vastly mitigated. There’s no mystery that my character survived–he’s telling about the past. It’s like a constant flashback and becomes annoying even to me.
  • the use of was. This is another energy-sucker. It makes all action passive, slow, deliberative. My story drags when I have more than about two per page. That’s my goal. It’s amazingly easy to de-was a story. I find it fun.
  • the use of words like were, is, very, that, fairly, bit, mostly, appeared to, seemed to (in short, all mitigators), began, started, then, would,
  • the use of adverbs. I find them by searching for -ly using Word’s Find function. I check each one, decide which should stay, which need revision
  • the use of adjectives. The rule is two per noun. Sometimes for stylistic reasons, I break that rule.
  • the use of the negative. As a general rule, writing should use few not, n’t,–negatives. It makes the reader depressed rather than uplifted. I do a Word search for not and n’t to find them, then pass judgment on each, based on value. (Of course I know you must have them in a story. Just don’t over do it.)
  • the use of -ing. Not She was singing. Instead, write She sang. I do a Word search for -ing and pass judgment on each occurrence
  • the use of autonomous body parts, i.e., her eyes fell to the book. Eyes don’t fall, her gaze falls.

Once I’ve combed these out, I’ll read the mss, over and over.

The problem is, I have a deadline. I want to enter the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) so I have to be finished by Jan. 24th. I also am attending the Southern California Writers Conference in February. I had hoped to have several agents read my baby there. Rule of thumb is, don’t submit work to agents that isn’t completed. Since I know they’re going to love this action-thriller, I want it ready for them.

How do you get your writing finished up? Maybe I can add something to my list.


6 thoughts on “How’s My Story Going?

  1. Pingback: 10 Hits and Misses for 2012 | WordDreams...

  2. Pingback: 10 Hits and Misses for 2012 « Jacqui Murray's WordDreams…

  3. Thanks Jacqui, as usual you have given me a new perspective on how to tackle this old and re-occuring issue.

    Also, just to add to this thread.

    I was attending our, Write Friends, group in, Albury, today and Barry (one of the members) gave me a nice bit of encouragement too, in only a few words. He simply said and I roughly translate here.

    “Assume everything has been done and write in your own way. It’s your voice and the way you tell the story that makes it interesting”.

    Simple, hey?

    Sometimes I wonder why I find everything so darn hard.



    • I think your friend Barry is right on. That’s excellent advice we all could heed. As for why everything’s so darn hard, that’s the nature of the beast I’m afraid. Life is hard and there’s no way around it.


  4. Here’s something I use to get over rough spots. I bury myself in my character’s POV. I sit back, close my eyes, and force myself into Kali’s shoes (she’s one of my main characters). What would she do? How would she react? It sounds simplistic, but often, Kali takes me a direction I hadn’t thought to go. Or reminds me she wouldn’t be fixing dinner because she’s distraught over Zeke (her boyfriend) lying to her. How could I forget that? From that perspective, if Kale goes a direction that’s been done before, it doesn’t matter, because it’s her. More likely, though, she’ll pick her own path because she’s no follower. She drives most people away with her independent thinking, so I doubt she’d do anything commonplace.

    On the other hand, maybe you’re showing how boring this particular character is–predictable, dependable, usual. Who knows? that would be a great way to get that idea across–have him do what’s been done ad nauseum.

    Good comment, Zak. You got me thinking as usual.


  5. Really interesting post, Jacqui.

    One thing that comes to mind about what you said in regards to your use (or overuse) of the word, “had”. It shows me you must be pretty well able to use, stream of consciousness, when you’re writing. I always find myself correcting, asking questions as I go along, and self-editing which really slows the whole process of writing down and gets frustrating and annoying.

    Another thing I have trouble with, and this is probably why I never finish my stories. I always say, what happens next (which is fine) but then once I get the answer it’s never good enough. My internal dialogue says, “That’s been done before”, “I’ve seen that in a movie – you can’t use that”, “He/she wouldn’t really do that”, “It doesn’t sound convincing” and “I don’t believe that”.

    So in the end I stop writing, put the piece on hold and often don’t go back and finish the story.

    I’m sure others have similar issues when writing. I’d like to know how to get around this problem. I know Nano Wri Mo certainly helps but even though that process may have lessened the, “it’s not good enough voice” I still didn’t actually write a complete story.

    Any ideas?



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