Tuesday, September 27, 2011

If It's Broken

It's come down to this. I'm questioning whether my most recent mid-grade story is broken. I've had some agent rejections who loved the story idea but still passed. So this makes me wonder, is it the story??

Ah, the eternal conundrum with rejections. And with very little to go by, how can we possibly find enlightenment? So is it the agent's taste? Or is it that the story is lacking in some way? My sample pages were enough to garner some interest, but still no one has wanted to take it on.

And I have to consider something may be broken.

Here are some questions I'm going to ask while I revise, yet again, and these were taken from Blake Snyder's Save the Cat. I can't recommend this book enough.

FIXING WHAT'S BROKEN:

1. Does the hero lead the action? Is he/she proactive at every stage of the game and fired up by a desire or goal?
2. Do characters "talk the plot"? Or am I letting it be seen through action?
3. Is the bad guy bad enough? Does he offer the hero the right kind of challenge?
4. Does the plot move faster and grow more intense after the midpoint? Is more revealed about the hero and bad guy coming into the Act 3 finale?
5. Is the story one-note emotionally? All drama? All sadness? All frustration? Does it feel like it needs, but doesn't offer, emotion breaks?
6. Is the dialog flat? Does everyone talk the same? Can I tell one character from another by the way he speaks?
7. Do minor characters stand out from each other? Are they easy to differentiate by how they look in your mind's eye? Is each unique in speech, manner, and look?
8. Does the hero's journey start as far back as it can go? Am I seeing the entire length of emotional growth of the hero in the story?
9. Is the story primal? Are the characters, at their core, reaching out for a primal desire? To be loved, to survive, to protect, for revenge?

Hopefully, these questions will help you if you're feeling your story may be broken. Over these next couple of weeks I'll be working on mine. I won't be posting during that time, because I want to give it my undivided attention and since that's pretty much impossible, I'm cutting out a huge time-suck, which happens to be blog posts.

Don't get me wrong, I love it and I love you, but something has to give. I'll still be hopping around to visit yours. I hope to finish up some beta reading too, since one of my treasured CPs has been so amazingly patient with me during my house move and inability to finish beta reading for her. Do y'all know Kathryn Sheridan Kupanoff? If not, hope over to Everything Boho and say hello. She's awesome. :)

I'll be back in a couple of weeks, and hopefully with some great pics of my Halloween costume. Two of my book club girls throw a ladies only Witch's Ball every year with a costume theme. This year the theme is black and white. I hope you'll check back to see what black and white costume I came up with. :)

How do you feel about fixing what's broken in your story? Do you find it easy to determine what's broken? Or do you, like me, toil over it and pull out your hair? 

41 comments:

welcome to my world of poetry said...

If I wrote stories I think I'd be like you.

Have a good day,
Yvonne.

Richard said...

It's hard to please literary agents these days. It's so hard to figure out why they don't like your work enough to take it on. That list of questions sounds like something that will help you to evaluate your book. Good luck.

Angela Felsted said...

I'm having the same issues with my MS that you are. Full requests, positive feedback, and ultimately passes with no constructive advice as to how to make things better.

Not sure if the story is broken. I used Blake Snyder's list when I crafted the book. So I think it may have to do with other things. But it's always good to cover all your bases.

Old Kitty said...

GOOD LUCK with getting stuck into your novel!! It sounds like it's going to be pretty intense "fixing what's broken" but I just know your story will be even stronger, shinier and a gazillion times better for it! Take care
x

Barbara Kloss said...

Can't wait to see the Halloween costumes!

And you know, I'm proud of you being able to step back and think about your MG story. That's tough! And, chances are, your story is just fine. But it's always good to try and look at the plotline - hard, but good.

I'll have to check out that book you mentioned. I usually use John Truby's Anatomy of Story (if you haven' read that book, you should, too!..you know, in ALL your spare time, lol) But I have to write the story first before I can figure out how to fix it.

Jill Campbell said...

Thanks for the questions. Kind of wondering the same thing--although I'm not as far in the process as you--if my mg is going anywhere. Should I keep plugging away, or start something new. . . I think the questions will help.

Thanks

KatieO said...

I'm in the same boat with my MG MS. Lots of initial interest, no takers. I took the summer off completely from writing and realized I needed to tweak some things to make it "whole." SOmetimes you need to take a few steps back, or put it away and look with fresh eyes.

Good luck!!! See you after Halloween ;-)

magpiewrites said...

I'm in a similar boat - but I don't know it's broken, I just fear it is. I've had some partial requests and two have returned form rejections. That's not a lot, I know, but I keep having the creeping feeling that it's not the idea of the story but the writing inside. If that's the case, the good news is hat it's fixable. The bad news is that I have to fix it - and I don't know how. I've just embarked on a final round of beta readers so I will hold off until I hear back from them. In the mean time I will pick up "Save the Cat" thanks for recommending.
And good luck with the revising!

DEMETRA BRODSKY said...

Hi hon,

I've received similar feedback. It stinks, but keep going. There's still room at the Big Sur Writing Workshop in December if you can make it. I'll be there with a couple of other YA sisterhood writers.

Hang in there. It will happen.

Nicole Zoltack said...

Normally I pull out my hair, but after I decided to switch from YA fantasy to MG fantasy, something just clicked. I knew it was the right choice. Sometimes when you know it's right, it's easier to make the necessary changes. But only sometimes. Why can't this writing thing be easier?

Cynthia Lee said...

I write it all out and then decide what I need to fix. There is always so much to fix.

Kathryn said...

Thanks for the shout out! Please don't worry about it--I know how busy you are, and I'm in no rush! :)

I hear you on how "something's gotta give." I think it's great you're taking the time to take a look at your ms. Those are some fine bits of advice, by the way. I keep hearing about that book--I should really check it out!

Let me know if you need some more feedback on your ms. I can take another look. And since it's been several months since I read it last, my eyes are probably fresh enough again. :)

Jess said...

I'm in a similar spot (middle grade as well), so I definitely sympathize. Good luck with your revisions, and thanks so much for posting those question prompts!

GigglesandGuns said...

Maybe with fewer distractions you'll solve the puzzle. Or you'll discover the story isn't broken and maybe the agents are overwhelmed because of all the publishing changes -- looking more for the blockbuster than a real story.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Take some time out to fix what is broken. I'm well aware of the time-suck of blogging. And Save the Cat is a great book - I really got a lot out of that one.

Rachel Pudelek said...

I toil over it. :)

I'm sorry you're down about the rejections. Those stink.

I especially like #6. Something else to consider, does your character have depth? One of the rejections I got, the agent actually told me she liked the manuscript, but my character lacked depth. She also told me that that mistake is VERY common among new writers.

And I see you have critique partners to help if there is an issue that needs fixing. Critique partners are just so valuable. :)

Misha said...

That's a great checklist. Good luck with your edits and revisions.

Hope you find where the story's broken.

:-)

KarenG said...

Excellent questions to ask and to answer. You might want to set your current one aside and write something new, then come back much later to this one and make a decision about it. Fix it or consider it practice. Because we writers need LOTS of practice.

Michael Di Gesu said...

First, PK,

Thanks for posting these amazing questions. They will definitely help me fix my first novel, because it is somehow broken.

Glad to say my second passed with flying colors.

I think we all pull out tufts of hair during revision. I surprised any of have hair left. I guess certain projects will have some troublesome spots.

Good luck with the revisions. I am looking forward to see what you come up with for your costume.... It sounds like fun!

William Kendall said...

Thanks for posting the questions, PK. I haven't gotten to revisions yet, but it's coming.

Concentrate on the manuscript, take your time getting back to this sort of thing. We know you're about.

McKenzie McCann said...

Those are all good questions to keep in mind. I found every single one thought-provoking.

Susan Oloier said...

Oooh, those are great questions. They remind me of my screenwriting classes of long ago.
Keep your chin up, Pk. It sounds like you have the tools to find out what extra oomph your ms needs (if any).

Kris Yankee said...

What great questions to ask about a story. Very insightful and useful. I'm at the point you are in regards to time-suckage (if that's even a word!) I love trolling the internet and writing blog posts, but I have got to get my own writing done. Nice to know it happens to the best of us!

Carol Riggs said...

Wow, GREAT questions. I gotta get me that book! Looking forward to seeing your black and white costume!! :) Enjoy your bloggy break.

Medeia Sharif said...

I need a lot of time to ponder what's broken. It doesn't come to me right away. But once I figure it out, I get excited about my manuscript all over again.

Good luck with your project.

Hannah Kincade said...

I have the same problem with my novel. I'm stopping revisions for now and working on a couple new projects. Frustrations abound. Good luck!

Crystal Collier said...

Oh boy, I'm right there with you--that's why I cut back blogging to once a week. Thanks for the list.

I know several writers who say when a work isn't working to move on to the next. As much as I've tried, I can't. I've got one book that's 9 years old and been rewritten ten different ways, edited, smoothed, torn apart, and rewritten. Thankfully that's not the one I'm working on now.

If you want an unbiased set of eyes, I'd be happy to take a look.

Oh, and I'm awarding you the Versatile Blogger award. =)
http://crystalcollier.blogspot.com/2011/09/goalget-out-and-live.html

LTM said...

That's a fantastic checklist for revisions! And no worries about being missing for a little while--we're here first b/c we're writers. Do what you've got to do, and GOOD LUCK!!! <3

Stacy Henrie said...

I love Save the Cat - such a great guide to writing fiction.

It is sometimes hard to determine when something's not working. If there's a common thread between agent feedback that can sometimes be a place to start. For me, I recently got a rejection that said something I'd kind of known in the back of my head needed fixing, so now I know for sure that it does. :)

Good luck with the writing and the fun Halloween party!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Awesome list. I love Save the Cat. I'm going to use it to see what's wrong with the ms I shelved earlier this year (even though I had an offer of representation on it). Thanks to comments from two agents, I think I now know what's wrong. :D

Kittie Howard said...

This is a great list, PK. No. 8 really provided food for thought! I wish you a peaceful and productive time with your MS. I had (and still have, to some extent) a major time-suck (love your term) and took time off. There are times when it just has to be done.

Good luck!!

Michael Di Gesu said...

Hi, PK,


I have an award for you....

Shari said...

Excellent questions from the book. Good luck with your ms. If it is broken, you can fix it.

kmckendry said...

I have the same thoughts when I get rejections. Great questions. Good luck with all your revisions.

Lisa Gail Green said...

Well that's the trick isn't it? Once we know what to do, no matter how hard it is, we can do it. It's figuring it out in the first place that's the hardest. Great post btw! And good luck with your revisions!

Krista said...

Wow what a great list of questions.... bookmarking...

Jess said...

Great advice! Thanks so much! I always know that SOMETHING is wrong (or broken) but I can never figure out what it is!

Cally Jackson said...

Best of luck with your revision. But please remember: it's a difficult market right now. If your MS doesn't fit the exact niche particular agents are Looking for, they can't take it on even if they really like it. So don't lament too much if you can't find something 'wrong' with it. :-)

DM said...

I've seen your writing, PK. I say it comes down to agent's taste and interest. What you written about is good info to have, but this makes it the agent's decision if the story has all the elements.

christicorbett said...

I love the book Save the Cat too, and refer to it often when I'm stuck.

Great post!

Christi Corbett

Medeia Sharif said...

I'm revising a wip and I know it's broken, but because I took a break from it--almost half a year--I have a better sense of how to fix it. I need that separation. Now I figured out that I need more plot complications and I have to develop the characters more.