Finding my edges

Finding my edges

I have been struggling with my current work in progress, the third novella in my Promise House series, for several weeks. I knew roughly where I was going, but as my target 25,000 words bloomed into 30,000, and then bloated into 40,000 with no end in sight, I had the sneaking suspicion something had gone awry. The story felt squishy to me, as if it had lost its edges and its snap.

There were some good scenes in there, cohesive and meaningful, but they weren’t driving to an inevitable conclusion. The scenes circled around a hard ethical dilemma like turkey vultures, but I kept throwing up my hands, having no idea whatsoever what decision my protagonist would eventually make.

Worst of all, the black moment — which I had intended to reflect a lose-lose decision and its resulting consequences — had become more of a win-win-but-feel-guilty-about-it-because-it-was-going-to-turn-out-fine-anyway light gray moment.

Then last weekend, I attended the fantastic Starfish Conference hosted by my local RWA chapter, Houston Bay Area. Our conference speaker was urban fantasy author Jaye Wells, who brought a wealth of craft wonkiness to us.

And boy, was she good!

As she presented, little lights began to dawn in my thick skull. I caught glimpses of insights that flickered like distant fireflies, and as Jaye continued to talk through her POPs and Payoffs session (POP = Promise of the Premise), those tiny sparks finally landed in the dry tinder of my WIP and I got it.

Evelyn would have been perfectly serviceable written as it was thus far. But I discovered that with a few tweaks and a lot of trimming, I could sharpen the edges of the squishy to do things like:

  • Create stronger motivation, in two areas, for the protagonist.
  • Deepen the conflict between the protagonist and her love interest.
  • Transform her dark moment from that awful win-win back into a truly awful lose-lose — just like I like it!

And all of that from filling out just the first page of Jaye’s 4-page worksheet.

So I sat down and outlined how some story elements would have to change in order to make all of this work. When I presented my Before Jaye and After Jaye chart of story elements to my critique partners, they provided tons of great feedback that helped clarify my understanding of what they feel is important and compelling in the story. Dear Him, who is also a writer, differs on some counts, so I’m considering his input as well.

Being a fan of ambiguity, I’ve discovered the trick is going to be maintaining the edges and the protagonist’s doubt at the same time. It turns out Evelyn is a good training ground for me because I’ve plotted Barbara, and I know her story resides even more deeply in these troublesome gray areas.

Now I’m in full-blown revision of the first two acts of my three-act story, because I need those pieces cleaned up in order to write the third act. I usually write pretty tight, but I’ve been able to see where the story could be tightened even more — at the sentence level, in dialogue, and in characterization — so I hope to compress Evelyn into something closer to Caroline and Ruth, which clocked in at 22,000 and 25,000, respectively.

Given that I have only 34 days left to whip Evelyn into shape for publication (actually only 20 if I want my beta reader’s feedback), I’m pedal to the metal at the moment.

But even if I miss my goal and get dunked again, this time it will be for all the right reasons.

Sandra K. Moore

Sandra K. Moore has been writing one thing or another since she could scribble on a Big Chief tablet. A former Silhouette Bombshell author, Sandra has given up (temporarily) the kickass heroine and is now writing from her softer side for the self-published Promise House series. This novella quartet explores the journeys of four young women finding their way — and remaining true to themselves — through the social expectations and turmoil of 1950’s Houston.

11 thoughts on “Finding my edges

    1. Jaye, thanks for stopping by the blog!

      And thanks for that terrific set of workshops. The Write or Consequences group has been talking about our learnings pretty much non-stop since the Sunday after the Starfish Conference, and I’m sure we aren’t the only ones!

  1. So, this post and your picture put me in mind of the cliff divers – those brave (or insane) people who jump from cliffs with only skill and luck saving them from certain death. I’m thinking most of these guys are not ‘pantsers’ – I’ll bet they have plotted and practiced and trained long before they make that first perfect arc and hurl their bodies over the edge. Ever since listening to Jaye Wells and fantastic workshop, I’ve been rethinking my ‘pantser’ approach to writing. What would happen if I plotted? With intention! Years ago -lets not think about how many years ago- I did plot a novel. And then could find no joy in the writing. Today as I open the w-i-p … I’ve decided some structure and plotting would be a good thing. Maybe not to the level I did the first time – that was a scene-by-scene document that was about 80 ms pages. I’m thinking maybe a much broader ‘outline’ – turning points, dark moment – maybe not to the point of knowing how it will end – I still like to follow where the story leads – but definitely, some structure. So, thanks Sandra (and Jaye) for helping me chart a new direction.

    1. As writers, we’re always learning, aren’t we? I suspect we never really nail down our process, but instead feel our way forward with each new project. But the great thing is that we internalize our learnings as we go, so we’re constantly honing how we do things. Good stuff, but challenging!

      Hang in there, Terri! You’ve got this.

  2. One page, Terri. Try that much and see!

    I’m so glad you’ve found your story under the squish, Sandra!

    I really wish I had been able to stay. But just the morning’s session has motivated me to pull things out and look at them. And maybe empty a few boxes in the office…

    1. I have a box or two that could use some emptying!

      I’m glad you got to see the POPs and Payoffs session. I’ve been eyeing the Payoffs pages of Jaye’s worksheet and thinking about proactively filling those out to what they should be, and then writing to that. As I get closer to that point after my editing, I can use that as a guide to make sure I’m hitting the points I should be hitting.

      Onward!

  3. POP and Payoffs. POP and Payoffs. I’m dreaming that shit now. Maybe after a few months of torment, I will incorporate those elements in my WIP’s without even thinking about it. HEY! DON’T LAUGH! It could happen!

    For real Sandra, great thoughts. As I mentioned, I think I’m going to have to pull out Jaye’s worksheet, and pretend I’m the plotter I want to be when I grow up.

    In the meanwhile, I’ve reworked chapter two – the scenes that take place at Sa Mala – to have Nuno chatting it up with Paujet (rather than with Mega), as was suggested. It reads better (at least to me). I’ve also removed some of the backstory – damn you all to hell.

    Now I have to pull it all together, and have it ready for our next crit meeting. One of the three chapters I must deliver by October;s end.

    And here’s hoping I’ve delivered on all my POP’s

  4. The reason you were so successful in identifying and outlining your POPs is because you’re a goddess when it comes to standing back from your work and looking at it analytically. That’s your schooling/training paying off. I get so muddled in the story — particularly in this one where I’ve been writing these people for years.

    I’m looking forward to getting home and filing out not only Jaye’s worksheet but the one you did on writing to the black moment.

    Please, everyone pray for warm weather on Halloween weekend. I’m seeing an ice bath in my future!

    1. No, no – say it ain’t so! If Sandra is the analytical goddess, then you’re the queen of pulling through at the last moment. Don’t give up until the fat lady sings – and I ain’t singing yet!

    2. You are too sweet! We’ll see how it all turns out — and whether I can get it shaped up in time for publication (gulp!) in 31 days.

      I’ll bring extra towels. I have a feeling I’m gonna need’em!

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