Friday, 1 August 2014


Fiction sometimes grows large and unwieldy in the writing, so how can a writer deal with this uncomfortable issue? Here, from an author all too familiar with the problem, are some suggestions:
HIDE YOUR WIP – AND BULGE - AWAY.  Are you too familiar with the way your WIP looks? Maybe you can’t actually see it - your turgid, ill-begotten prose - any more? Hide the bulge away for a while. Get on with other styles of writing: non-fiction blog-posts, ideas for a different age range, study books on structure to sharpen the mind and writing. Do something practical to occupy your hands and let the back of your mind maunder on around the plot.

IMPROVE YOUR DIET  Meanwhile, read writing you don’t usually read, too. Get curious. Get hold of books, magazines, blogs and more, so you taste language that you wouldn’t usually go for. Wake up you palate. Cleanse your dull system. . . (Ooops. Maybe not that. )

ENLIST A BEST, BEST FRIEND. While all the above is going on, find a trusted & informed FRIEND or MENTOR who will agree to read your (copy-edited) but troublesome WIP. 

Choose carefully. Ask them for precise feedback. NB Your Best Best Friend can only read your WIP freshly once, so you may need more than one helper as you progress.

Try, if possible, to retreat to a good SPACE OF TIME for yourself, so that you can give the work your full attention and an unbroken focus. 

Once you lose heart, it’s so easy to keep fiddling with the text in front of your eyes, rather than facing your problem areas and doing something. (Note: plan your home & social demands accordingly.)

SAY IT LOUD & PROUD. I sag, we sag, it sags. Take time to read the printed-out WIP aloud, with a pen and notebook in your hand, making notes of the problems as you go. Maybe start this from the point where you are satisfied? We write onwards, eager to get to the end, but often rush through the scenes in between, which need to be as honed as the start and finale. Do they have starts, middle and ends too?

THE TRIPLE-FOLD MIRROR -  WITH SPOTLIGHTS AND MAGNIFYING LENS. Look and study the WIP’s WHOLE SHAPE! Maybe the middle looks worse because the beginning goes on too long? The reader is tired by the time they get there? Or is the ending itself underwritten, or not stunning enough?

INVEST IN A NEW CORSET. Has your STRUCTURE slumped? You may be an inspired PANTSER, but this might be the time to go through the novel, note and improve your novel’s outline. Or, PLANNERS, this is when your existing Outline needs a bit more thinking, a spark or two of excitement.

DISCOVER THE NEW YOU? Yes, create and save a fresh new WIP document, but do leave the original there in case it is still needed, but make sure you can identify which is which a month or so ahead. 

Don't loose the old you - or discover too late that you've been working on both versions at different times. (Hmmm. Adds to today's To Do list.)

GRAB YOUR ACTIVITY KIT. Hooray! Time for pens, markers and post it notes to mark up printed pages. Find space to lay out your print-out so you can assess the relative sizes of the chapter piles. On screen, use DOCUMENT MAP to show your chapters as headings, to add simple heading notes & characters, to analyse what you actually have. Other devices and gadgets available.
THE DIET NOTEBOOK METHOD. Go deeper. Just what is this WIP about? What are you feeding the reader? WHY does this chapter/each of these scenes exist? What is the PURPOSE of this scene between these characters? Spend time QUESTIONING your characters in order to deepen the plot and themes.

THE 2:1 DIET. Can ONE character do the work of TWO? Examine the work your characters do, the scenes they appear in. Do you use two characters when a single, better developed role could tick the “archetype” box or interest factor more efficiently and dramatically?

GO FOR THE MAX! Are there scenes and encounters that have not fulfilled their EMOTIONAL POTENTIAL whether an active or a reflective scene? Could the scene could be more effective or explicit?  Do you need to shift some telling into showing?

PARK RUN: Has your plot slowed? Does it toddle, taking the reader too much time to get through the scenes? Can you CUT OUT part of the route, the less important scenes? And/or add more hopes and reversals? A scene is where something happens, moves forward. 
Does it?

GI DIET. Is there a Greatly Interesting diversion that you just couldn’t resist that holds up the reading of the story? Can you take it out? Or excise a running story thread? Or is there an attractive walk-on character that takes up too much time? Find and Destroy!
NOT THE L.B.D. AGAIN!  Are there too many “familiar” encounters? Too many slightly SIMILAR scenes? Too many meetings between x & y, or combinations of characters that have the same pace? Maybe what the WIP needs, now and again, is a short summary - and on with the plot.

SLIDE INTO THE SPANX. Ooo-er! Do your descriptions bulge? Do you need to move more cleanly from scene to scene? Do you get in and out of your scenes quickly and neatly? And - pssst! - does every scene have a well-defined beginning, middle and end?

THE TURKISH BATH. Is your novel too TEPID? Too COLD? Even too constantly HOT? Do you need to build stronger contrasts into the emotional TEMPERATURE of your WIP? Can you push the moment and the tension until it’s almost unbearable? Do you have down-time too?

AVOID THE FULL CHOCOLATE BOX. Words, like chocolate, are fattening, and you LOVE WORDS - which makes it so easy to over-write and so hard to cut.  Did your BBF mention any scenes that s/he felt were over-written? Repeated stylistic annoyances?  Over-use of favourite words or expressions? Or are there thickly-written scenes that made you weary when read aloud?

THE TALKING CURE. How goes your DIALOGUE? What is the purpose of each and every conversation, especially in a vague and saggy middle section? Read each section aloud. Are the voices distinctive enough? Is the dialogue just an information dump? Is each stretch as tight and as short as possible? Is there a dramatic subtext, or power play between characters? Does the dialogue progress or stop the story?

Have you remembered the subtle things that PING? 

Have you sharpened the “colours” of scenes or characters? Considered the use of recurring symbols? Significant objects? Strengthened threads? Introduced letters and diaries, variety in the reading, perhaps?

FEEL THE BURN, ALAS! There’s no quick fix. Trimming the middle will be a trudge, so do find ways of rewarding yourself as you make progress. Keep your audience in mind. Keep each and every character in mind. Be bold, keep confident and may your story emerge a leaner, keener and fitter tale.  GOOD LUCK!

Penny Dolan.


Elen C said...

Bookmarked!! Thank you, Penny!

Tamsyn Murray said...

Some great advice here, Penny. My WIP is currently with a trusted reader - first time I've done that. Hoping they don't hate it.

Sue Purkiss said...


Joan Lennon said...

You're a good teacher, Penny!

Sandra Greaves said...

Terrific Penny! Now for sliding into those Spanx....

Becca McCallum said...

This had me giggling into my cup of tea all the way through. It's lovely, and very freeing to remember that everyone goes through this and that this is how books get created. The emphasis on a 'perfect' work first time that is stressed in schools is so damaging to creativity.

Linda Strachan said...

Great advice, Penny. There's no denying that it is hard work but it really can make the difference. Excellent post!