Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Things I Learned From My Kids: How to Build

We had some interesting responses yesterday. I asked that question
(What are you doing to make your story salable?) and then realized I have no idea how I would answer it! There are a few practical answers like I don't write 300,000 word manuscripts, and I don't use adverbs with reckless abandon. But mostly I think I, like you, just try to write a story I love and hope that other people will like it too.

Anyway, thanks for your responses--you are smart people.






Now for today...

Every so often my whole family plays blocks on Sunday afternoons.

When we first got our blocks and started building stuff together I often wanted to make something functional (like a house for my girls' dolls or a stable for their horses), but functionality was not my girls' main concern. They wanted to make tall, beautiful towers and didn't care if their creation was useful.

When I write I often fight a tendency to just tell the story and be done (This is probably why my manuscripts tend to be short). Sometimes I don't pause to flesh out the characters or let my main characters have fun together. My beta reader Marie was wonderful about pointing out places where she wanted to see more interaction between my main characters.

I am learning that building a story is more than just getting it told. It's the little moments that make books worth reading. And, like building with blocks, sometimes I need to enjoy the towers and not focus so much on making something practical.

Does that make sense? I just made Halloween cookies with ten 8-year-old girls and my brain is a little fried.

Do you struggle to include the little stuff that makes stories great? Or do you have to cut because you have too much little stuff?

24 comments:

Jemi Fraser said...

Boy, did I have to cut my latest ms. I had never thought about trying to get any of my writing published - I just wrote because... well because I write.

When I decided to give the whole publishing thing a go, I started learning - a lot! My original ms was over 150k. I'd written all kinds of scenes of descriptions, thoughts, settings... that weren't necessary for the reader, but that I'd enjoyed writing.

After lots and lots of cuts, the ms is about 85k and much, much better. :)

Kristi Faith said...

Yup, I'm a horrible tower building fool. LOL I am thirty thousand words into one of my WIP's and am starting to feel like it's nothing but event after event and no real story/conflict, but great and fabulous little things, tremendous characters (in my humble opinion lol) and so now...well, I digress.

I think I end up having to cut and add!

Tabitha Bird said...

I must admit I get carried away with the tower building. before I know it words must be cut so that the whole thing doesn't crumble.

Love that your whole family plays blocks. what fun!

Lisa and Laura said...

We definitely need more of the small stuff! Our first drafts tend to be pretty short and then they just sort of grow and take on a life of their own when we edit. It's sort of terrifying actually. In our last revision of the book on sub we added 20,000 words. Yikes.

staceyjwarner said...

Interesting...I answered this a bit in my "ask me mondays"...I tend to skip over places that I could go a little deeper into, especially on the first draft. I'm learning.

I just lost a "follower"...I'm a little heart broken...

much love

Susan R. Mills said...

Natalie,
This is a great post. I've learned from my beta readers that the little stuff is what made the story work. (I cut a lot of that to get word count, and their feedback told me that I cut the wrong things!) You are so right. The little things are what make the story unique and unforgettable!

Erica said...

I'm like a lot of the previous posters. My first drafts are short. They tend to be dialogue heavy. I just want the bones there, I can go back and add all the mush... so to speak.

So far, it's working pretty good, but the rewrite takes a lot longer- because that's where the real writing is taking place. I'm also paranoid about telling too much so there is a lot of action, but then I don't want the reader to get lost. It's give and take a lot :)

Interesting post.

Stephanie Thornton said...

My daughter loves building towers too. That's the first thing she asked me for when I came home today- "Mommy, build me a tower!"

I think I include too many little fluff scenes. They mean a lot to me and help me understand my characters more, but they do end up getting cut. I chopped my WIP from 115,000 words to 90,000 to keep the action moving for the reader. And in my mind I like to think those deleted scenes still happen, but they're not necessary. It's like the extended version on a DVD.

Rebecca L Sutton said...

I'm a castle builder! But with my revisions I'm trying to make more of a practical structure with the razzle dazzle of my previous castles. lol

I love when kids inspire ideas like this! And I LOVE that you play with blocks as a family sometimes. So fun!

Thomas Taylor said...

My five-year-old and I build 'em up, and my three-year-old knocks 'em down.

I tend to write too much in the first draft, with a habit of saying the same thing twice in two very different ways, and then only noticing later. Or, worse, having it pointed out to me.

To keep the building block analogy going, I would say (from a MG/Tween point of view) that a story only needs one, great tower of staggering beauty in the centre, with maybe a couple of little ones either side for contrast. Dozens of middle-sized minarets are just too easy to knock down.

Wendy @ All in a Day's Thought said...

I'm scratching my head over some setting issues right now. Not sure that answers your question at all, but thought I'd let you know. I also love that block set. My daughter wants one for Christmas and that one is sharp.
~ Wendy

Janna Qualman said...

Hi, Natalie. I've jaunted over from Megan Rebekah's.

I can entirely relate, not only because I have girls and find lessons in their way of life, but because I'm the same way with my writing. I'm to the point and error on the short side, but am trying to learn to flesh things out more, to bring those little things to life in my longer works.

Great post, great blog!

Jessica said...

Makes sense to me. :-)

I always have to add more details. I need to learn how to flesh characters out more too, I think. Cute pic! I need to get some of those blocks. My kids would LOVE them.

Tamika: said...

Natalie, this post was for me. That is exactly what I do- rush. I want to get there without stopping to let my characters breath.

Thanks for reminding me how necessary this is.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

I cut and I add as I edit. But I loved what you said: "It's the little moments that make books worth reading." I've got to agree whole-heartedly with this. When I think of stories that stick with me, it's really certain scenes that bring me back to their world. Certain scenes just seem so real, that I actually feel them and will relive them over and over again. Love it when that happens.

Patti said...

I struggle with description, setting the scene. Often when I write a first draft I'll put in brackets (write more description - more interaction)

L. T. Host said...

My first drafts always run short. But then it's kind of fun, going back and getting everything fleshed out. The only thing I really have trouble with is getting it ALL fleshed out and not avoiding something important because it's summarized oh-so-nicely.

Terri Tiffany said...

Ym Halloween cookies! Yup, my partners told me the same thing. I cut my interactions off too soon and am really trying hard to work on that.

Jill Kemerer said...

I am really working at adding more description to my books. I think I've got a good handle on adding emotion, but the little descriptive details still slip by me.

Bane of Anubis said...

Natalie, I tend toward your line of writing... less interaction (usually only to point the sword) and hope that the characters are fleshed out through action.

paulgreci said...

I tend to do some of both. Often a first draft has less of the little interactions, the fleshing out.

Then in subsequent drafts I push scenes futher and let characters run with their thoughts and actions. Some of this I cut later but I usually also end up with some little moments, as you called them, that are gems of character development and plot complications.

Elizabeth Lyons refers to this as rif-writing, like a musician doing a solo live; let your characters do some solos and record them. Later, in the studio you can cut what you don't need and keep the few gems that may have been created.

Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

I can sometimes rush things a bit and miss opportunities for my characters to slow down and just have a nice moment. I also breeze through setting description sometimes as well because I'm not a big fan of reading or writing them. I usually go back and layer after I get that first draft written out. Great analogy.

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

I have a problem with trying to combine two books in one. Way too much going on. I'll probably always need to go back in and cut words. Luckily, I have great betas that help me fix the problem areas. ;)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Hi Natalie: I've taken the plunge and signed up for NaNoWriMo. My username is "sleuthwood" and I'd like to buddy you. See you there.