Disclaimer: I am not perfect and neither are my notes. If you notice anything that needs correction or clarification, please email me at melanie (dot) marttila (at) gmail (dot) com
With this session, I chose a different approach. There was a lot of discussion and insight, with examples from various editing projects, none of which I was able to capture effectively on the page. The editors focused on the three parts of a story, the beginning, middle, and end, and, interestingly enough, they discussed three main problems with each part of a story.
As a result, this is a very point-form summary of the main points of the panel.
So here’s the description of the panel from the program:
Whether it’s easy-to-correct grammatical errors or awkward sentence structure, or more complex issues related to characterization, plot, or research, in this panel you’ll hear real editors share the most common mistakes that they see new or inexperienced writers make and tips on how to avoid them. They’ll tell you the things they encounter that have a simple fix, but also the things they encounter that are warning signs of larger problems.
Problems with beginnings
- Not starting in the right place. Too early (prologues/backstory) or too late (character in danger immediately/no reader investment).
- Not hooking the reader. If the reader puts the book down, you’re done before you’ve even gotten started.
- Not having a distinctive, crisp voice.
Mel’s note: Most of these problems can only be solved by experience, either the author’s own, gained through practice, or by leveraging the experience of others, with the help of good critique partners/beta readers/freelance editor.
Problems with middles
- Solving the character’s problem too early in the narrative. The story ends when the character achieves their goal.
- Not knowing the story you’re telling/theme.
- Presenting event after event to get the character from point A (the beginning) to point B (the end).
Mel’s note: Points two and three are related. If you don’t have a handle on your story and its theme, you’re most often going to end up with a series of unrelated events. My recommendation: read Steven Pressfield’s blog and books, and read to Shawn Coyne’s (Steven’s editor) Story Grid book and blog (and now podcast with Tim Grahl—excellent).
Problems with endings
- Not ending (!).
- Setting up for a series when the novel is a standalone, or failing to set up for another book when it’s a series.
- No payoff for the reader/unsatisfactory ending.
Mel’s note: Begin with the ending in mind, even if you’re a die-hard pantser. Endings are torture if you’ve given them no thought until you get there and you’ll likely finish your draft with a hefty case of post-partum depression. Also, one of your editing exercises should be to ‘reverse engineer’ your story from the ending back to the beginning. You can see where important bits of foreshadowing need to be.
And that is my final entry in Ad Astra 2016 reportage. There were readings and launches and the Guest of Honour Brunch, but I wanted to enjoy those rather than record notes on them 😉
See you on Tipsday!