BEACH SEASON IS AROUND THE CORNER
TIME TO GET (YOUR NOVEL) IN SHAPE!
by Jayne Ormerod
posted March 18, 2017
TONE AND FIRM YOUR SAGGING MIDDLE, SOME WRITING ADVICE
Absolutely Fabulous Abs! The Abdominizer! Abs of Steel! Quick fix gimmicks to tone and firm America’s sagging middles abound. They look good on TV, but the only surefire way to squeeze into that gold lamé bikini is by laying off the Krispy Kremes and hauling your body out of the La-Z-Boy for some exercise. Trimming your waistline involves hard work and self-discipline.
Sagging middles are not limited to human flesh: your novel may also suffer the same affliction. Here the results can be more than an unsightly bulge. You can actually cause your reader to lose interest and toss your novel into the nearest library donation box. Again, the solution involves hard work and self-discipline. Anyone who has ever waged the battle of the bulge can apply the same dieting techniques to their literary masterpiece.
Cut the Fat: Everyone knows a person who cannot tell a “short” story. When sharing an experience, said person includes too much irrelevant information, down to the color and texture of the new underwear he received from his Aunt Martha six Christmases ago. Often, when this raconteur sees his audience nodding off he says, “Well, to make a long story short…” Too late! Too much story-fat has buried the original point of the story so that the listener not only doesn’t know, but neither does he care, about the ending.
Nothing slows a novel down faster than too much story fat. In the writing sense, fat includes: backstory (everything that happened before your tale begins); travelogue (nobody wants to see those vacation videos); and repetition (great for a songwriter, not for a novelist.) Show some willpower and cut anything and everything that does not directly impact the outcome of the story.
Aerobic Exercise: Anyone who has ever “Sweated to the Oldies” knows that Richard Simmons slowly increases the level of intensity of the workout until your heart is hammering in your ears and sweat is cascading down your limbs. Just when you feel you can’t do another can-can kick, the activity slows down until you are once again breathing normally.
Your novel should follow the same path. It’s not uncommon for the beginning novelist to rush to build intense conflict in the first ten pages in order to HOOK the reader. The conflict is not resolved for another 150 pages. That leaves the reader with 140 pages of the equivalent of finger-wiggles for the remainder of the workout: it may be physical activity, but it’s not going to raise your heart rate and burn many calories. Follow Richard Simmons’ example by slowly increasing the intensity of the story until its climatic peak, then offer a gradual cool down.
Your novel needs a revving metabolism so that readers continue to be engrossed in your story even when it is not a high-action, car-chase scene. By increasing conflict, you can effectively increase the energy level in your story, and keep your reader engaged. To do this, ask yourself if the conflict you have created is strong enough to sustain interested for hundreds of pages. Don’t base an entire novel on Sigourney not speaking to Lazarus because he did not call her one night. If she were to ask, she would discover that he had been helping his elderly neighbor whom he had discovered face-down in her petunias. This conflict could be cleared up quickly with a simple conversation, and will never sustain a reader’s interest for 75,000 words. The story’s conflict must be seemingly insurmountable. It must be emotional. It must be intense. By boosting your metabolic conflict, you are giving your reader a reason to continue reading.
In the case of the novel, you need to Character-Load. Create such compelling characters that your reader connects with them, and is rooting for them to succeed right down to the last page. In order to do this, begin with detailed character worksheet, examples of which are included in just about every book ever written about writing. Spend time getting to know your characters by interviewing them or sitting down and chatting with them (preferably when you are alone—you don’t want your family members seeing you talking to yourself or they may call the men in white coats to come and get you…). True characterization goes way beyond physical attributes. You need to know what makes characters do what they do, why they react to certain situations. Find out what they would do if they won the lottery; what their most embarrassing moment was; what their most painful memory is; what they dream about; what frightens them; what pushes them; what drives them to drink. I know one writer who complies ten pages of details for each main character. The information may not be relevant to the plot (in which case, never include just for the sake of showing how well you know your character), but it is vital to the development of your story. Strong characters make compelling novels. ‘Nuf said about that.
Build Muscle: Any veteran dieter knows that muscle weighs more than fat. And looks better in a bikini.
In the novel sense, the muscle of the story is the plot. A plot is a sequence of events that unfold over the course of a story. It is how your characters get from Point A to Point B, and all of the obstacles they overcome on the journey. Foreshadowing, or hinting at something that will happen later in the book, is a great plotting tool. If Mable Mulligan never steps outside of her house without yellow galoshes on her feet—even on the sunniest of days—then the reader is compelled to keep reading in order to find out why she does that. Main plots can then be intertwined with subplots, or little stories that seem to have nothing to do with the main story. Ah, but they do, and the successful author will weave all of these side stories into one skimpy bikini—I mean satisfying ending.
Education: If your goal for BEACH SEASON is to get into better shape, the first thing you should do is educate yourself. Join Weight Watchers or buy a book on the topic…gawd knows there are enough of them out there. You have to understand the food in/energy out equation in order to get those six-pack abs.
A visit to your local brick-and-mortar bookstore or on-line retailer will reveal a HUGE selection of helpful books on writing. But also take advantage of advice gleaned through seminars, classes, websites and support groups (yes, writing is an addiction!) You can also learn a great deal by reading a successful novel by one of your favorite authors. Don’t just read it, but study it by sitting down with a notebook, pen and highlighter and noting how the plot unfolds, how the characters develop, how the conflict builds, and how each and every judiciously chosen detail advances the story. Most importantly, try to determine why you sigh as you read the last page, wishing the story could go on forever.
The Abdominizer may work for your abdomen, but only hard work and self-discipline can tone and firm your novel’s sagging middle.
Write on, my friends!