Monday, August 31, 2015

Tighten Up Your Story - Keep it simple and powerful

I was working on some proposals with one of my clients last week. She was struggling with this new idea that her editor wanted her to consider. This was going to be a contemporary romantic suspense set in the Mid-East. Some of the first words out of her mouth, when we talked on the phone were, "How am I supposed to stay focused with all of the political backdrop of this region! There's the Nuclear Iran deal, there's ISIS, there's..." I think you can see where she was going with this.

But the thing is, the solution was very easy. Don't talk about it.

I know this sounds like an avoidance issue, but when it comes to romance novels, the focus is simply on the romance. In the case of a romantic suspense, it is A) the romance; and B) the suspense element (in her case it was a kidnapping). But here is where things get even easier and to understand this, we are going to head back into the academic world and talk about thesis writing.

We all remember thesis statements. These were those guiding sentences that told the reader exactly what you were going to write about. It was the target and the purpose for the entire essay. The thesis contained not just what you were going to talk about in a clear, concise and focused statement, it also contained a goal for the reader, a purpose for the essay and a significance factor that told the reader why it was important to read the paper. It was from that thesis that you built the paper. The organization of the essay came from the thesis. In other words, depending on what you were writing about shaped how you would structure the essay. The thesis also shaped the type of evidence you found and the type of evidence you did not include.

If, for example, you were arguing the need for increased study for natural approaches to vaccinations because of the allergic reactions some have to things like eggs that are in some vaccinations. This rough thesis would tell us it is going to be a persuasive essay. But it also tells us what we will not be focusing on. While some might argue there are personal reasons why people would avoid vaccinations, this is information that will not be included in the essay. We will also not talk about people who still believe it leads to autism or birth defects. All that we focus on is the change in ingredients to avoid eggs.

When it comes to your story, the same approach holds true. The "thesis" of your essay will dictate what you need to include. In the case of the romantic suspense author, if the focus was on the kidnapping, she simply had to control where it took place (move it to a location that the political stuff was not a huge issue) and have the kidnappers be people who are not associated with the political stuff. In other words, she keeps her life simple by focusing in on only what is important to achieve the goal of her story.

What I have found, is that a lot of authors simply make their lives difficult when creating their stories. To find the GMC for the characters, they create huge back stories, when they can keep it simple. For example.
  • OLD APPROACH: The heroine doesn't want to get involved with the hero who is her boss because she had an abusive relationship in the past with someone she went to school with and is struggling with the PTSD aspect of relationships.
  • NEW APPROACH: The heroine doesn't want to get involved with the hero who is her boss because she has always believed inter-office relationships are bad. END OF STORY
With the first approach, the author would have to include huge back-story dumps to just to explain all of this. This would probably include scenes with introspection, scenes with her best friend or family saying it was all different, and then scenes with the hero. There is also a chance that the author would then find their writing sliding into wanting to include the prior boyfriend showing up, then a confrontation with the hero, then a scene... you get the idea.

The new approach is simple, clean and requires no extra work.

I think it is important to remember that more is not always better. It is OK to eliminate things from your story and just focus on the basics. This gives you a chance to add depth to those scenes and not get bogged down in trying to work your characters out of holes they didn't need to be in from the beginning.

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