Friday, June 12, 2009

A Story for the Telling...

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, lived a little girl who desperately wanted to be a storyteller. Every day she sat at her desk writing the story of her heart. She worked hard at creating a plot that made sense, a mystery the hero would want to keep secret and that would intrigue the heroine. She created secondary characters – a villain to further plague the beautiful heroine and a friend who knew the hero's secret, but had promised to take the truth to his grave. And, of course, she included lots of romance.

The day she finished her story excitement sizzled through her from the tips of her toes to the ends of her fine, golden hair. She clapped her hands and gathered up the sheaves of paper as the printer spit them out. Finding her prettiest binder, she inserted the manuscript and smoothed the title page lovingly pleased with the way her name looked in the position of author. With the masterpiece tucked under her arm, she left her little cottage at the edge of the woods and walked into the City of Tales (not to be confused with the Tale of Two Cities across the River Literature).

She was in luck, for the Master Storyteller was in his palace and taking visitors. She handed the doorman the binder and sat in the chairs with the other wannabe writers. It was a long day; fortunately, she had put her small notebook in her jacket pocket and spent the time scribbling ideas for her second story.

Finally, she was called forward. A smile so wide at the prospect of becoming a storyteller and moving to the City of Tales actually hurt her cheeks, but she didn't care. She sat across from the man all writers revered.

The pretty binder landed with a thud on the desk producing a puff of dust that lingered in the air. The little girl opened the cover, her smile disappearing at the sight of all the red editing marks scrawled over her masterpiece. She blinked back the tears of hurt and looked up at the Master.

"Point of View." And he lifted his arm in dismissal.

The little girl gathered up her binder noticing the dust motes still sparkling in the late afternoon sunlight spilling through the grand window of the office. They had lasted longer than her entire discussion with the Master.

The doorman must have noticed her chagrin for he stopped her before she could leave. "You must come back."

The binder jabbed into the flesh of her stomach, a painful reminder of her pitiful attempt. "He doesn't like it."

"Most are told to leave and never return. You are one of the lucky ones. Fix the point of view issues and return. All is not lost."

His words fought for space amongst the displeasure and sadness the Master's dismissal had created. She clutched the binder tightly to her chest.

For an entire week, the little girl studied point of view and implemented all she had learned. She could see why the master had rejected her work. Her point of view was all over the place with every character giving his perspective in every scene. The term ‘head-hopping’ certainly applied to her work. Carefully, she studied each scene and decided which character had the most to lose, then rewrote in that character’s point of view. At the end of the process, she had renewed faith in her story.

But once again, after waiting almost the entire day for the Master Storyteller to pass judgement, she was disappointed. This time her manuscript had been edited in blue and she expected to be told to go home and never return.

Instead, the divine Orator said, "Passive language," and pointed to the door.

The doorman winked. "I’ll see you next week."

The little girl still felt sorry for herself, but her heart was not as sad as the previous week. She rushed home to begin her rewrite. She studied each sentence and abolished all passive verbs. Her writing became tighter, more concise. ‘Action’ was her new mantra and her characterization became stronger due to her diligence. The week passed quickly and soon it was time to return to the City of Tales.

The palace was busier than usual when she handed the doorman her binder. "Is it a special day today?"

He added her work to the teetering pile of manuscripts already waiting the Master Storyteller’s perusal. "The wannabe story tellers come in waves. We get a big rush just after the Festival of Folklore, and another one after the summer Celebration of Muse. Today’s glut, however, is directly related to the poor economy in the Land of Work."

"Oh." The little girl had no idea so many others wanted to become storytellers, too. She nodded her thanks to the doorman and went to sit with the others anxious to hear news of their storytelling abilities.

But she did not have to wait long and was called to the Master Storyteller’s office well ahead of the others that had been there longer than she. She straightened her skirt and held her head high. She had worked hard and knew that her story was better. This time she was prepared for whatever the Master told her for his wise words had improved her storytelling abilities.

The binder did not get tossed upon the desk. Instead the Master Storyteller drummed his fingers on the sparkly cover. The little girl swallowed. Hard. She clasped her hands in her lap and crossed her fingers. Her heart raced in anticipation. Cliché or not, time stood still as she awaited the verdict.

To be continued…

So, People of Blogland, what say you on passive language and point of view? Does rewriting with an eye to these elements make your story stronger? The little girl is very persistent, do you think persistence pays? What do you think the Master Storyteller will say to the little girl?



Yunaleska said...

I'm not sure what the Master will say next, but yes, persistence definitely pays off! Reading about major downfalls in a manuscript, then working on correcting them takes time, but is worth it. That's what I keep telling myself! POV hopping...I'm improving. Passive writing = tricky, but it can be avoided.

Lu said...

I hope "third times the charm" for the little girl. Getting feedback, or critique, is key to improving. Revising is definitely worth it, even if it hurts like the dickens!

Janet C. said...

Keep working, Yuna - like you, I believe that persistence pays off. And if we're constantly improving, then when we do get 'The Call' we'll be prepared to call this a true career.

BTW - I, too, have issues with passive writing.

Hope you come back next week for the continuation of my fairy tale :)

Janet C. said...

You'll have to check back next week, Lu, to see if the third time is the one ;)

And revising does hurt - but it only makes the story better. Having great critique partners really does make a difference, too. Thank goodness I don't have critique partners who throw my work on the desk and give only fragment advice :)

Say "Hi" to the girls for me - crazy busy here right now, but I will check in before I become Internet absent in August :)

Captain Hook said...

I think the Master is going to tell her, "Show, don't tell."

Does persistence pay off? Absolutely (though not for me yet). The saying "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again" was started for a reason, and the reason is that persistence pays.

Janet C. said...

Thanks for reminding me of the saying, Captain :) I've read many agent blogs that talk about persistence (not stalking :). If you work hard, do your homework, be professional, and remember this is a business, I think success is attainable.

Stay tuned to see if your prediction is correct, Sarah. And have a great weekend :)

Karyn Good said...

I'm not sure what the master is going to have the little girl tackle next but I know the little girl, powered by persistence, will do whatever it takes to get her storytelling HEA.

Each rewrite teaches me something, strengthens my writing skills and moves me a little closer to where I want to be.

Helena said...

Well, I hope persistence will pay off, as long as it is persistence in revising. I know submitting is important, but it is the work leading up to it that is important.

Maybe some day I will reach the point where my persistence in sticking with the writing will pay off.

I wouldn't be surprised if the good Capt. has the right take on the next step ... this from someone who struggles with 'show not tell' issues. Then there could be characterisation problems after that. The little girl must have a pretty good story premise and solid plot for the master storyteller to continue encouraging her the way he does.

Love your fairy tale from the Realm of Real Life, Janet.

Silver James said...

"Headhopping? Why what do you mean?" asked the Muse with the big pink gun. She batted her big blue eyes and thought to herself that the Master didn't have a clue.

"You know what she means, Ify," the author sighed patiently. She wondered about what the Master would have the Storyteller do next. Yes, she, too, had fought all of these battles, winning some, losing some, and continuing to get better with each revision.

Great post as always, Janet. Yes, guilty as charged of all of that, including "show, don't tell," if that's next on the list. I don't have too much trouble with passive voice but headhopping? Jiminy Cricket but I do love me some insight into everyone's thoughts! Sometimes, that's not a bad thing. I write the first draft headhopping and then, on the second pass, I determine who has the most to gain or loss in the scene and "see" the scene through their eyes. It gets easier with practice. Believe me, I know. I've had LOTS of practice. LOL :D

Yunaleska said...

Janet, I check my blogger updates every day. I won't miss part 2!

Hayley E. Lavik said...

The writer in me wants to see the girl triumph soon. The reader in me wonders if some heart-wrenching disaster might be fun. I think the best outlook comes from Peter S Beagle's The Last Unicorn, "There is no happily ever after, because nothing ends".

Er, that was neither here nor there I suppose. Head hopping has been getting on my nerves lately, reading these old romances. It's technically all following the heroine, at least they never slip into the hero's pov, but the authors will randomly shift elsewhere to mention looks she doesn't see, visual impressions of her, even strange analogies when a random stranger meets her. That and what seems the obligatory, "Heroine set her bags down as the stepped off the train. She scanned the crowd around her with a sinking heart. She then proceeds to tell three pages of backstory as to how she got off this train and why no one is waiting for her."

I think one of my biggies is exposition, which can wind up borderline overwriting, depending whether I'm letting my character ramble in her head, or letting her make some sweeping, summarizing statement she shouldn't be making. I'm good about spotting passives, to the point of reminding myself it's okay to have was in a sentence if it's correct, but sometimes I overlook those subtler passives that just don't have as much punch as their better-phrased cousins. Daggers pulling out of their own sheathes, while active, lack an actual sense of who's doing the pulling.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Janet,
I wanna know what happens to the little girl right now!

Okay, I guess I'll have to wait until next week.

Does persistence pay off? You betcha! There's no way I would have sold anything, especially my novella to The Wild Rose Press, without it. Revision hurts, it's hard work, it's a pain in the butt, but it's worth it. FYI, I now have a cover for "Burning Love". Check out my website at to see it. (Just a little shameless self-promotion!)

p.s. I am guilty of every writing sin there is. Thank goodness I get to fix them in the revision process!

Anita Mae Draper said...

Okay, you wanna know what I really think?

My first thought was that you were using this post as an analogy of what happened to you and at the end you were going to spring a 'they want revisions!' on us, re: Lady Bells.

My 2nd thought was you were showing us the E.D.I.T.S. system but your colors don't match up with Margie's.

My 3rd thought - as the Master drummed his fingers - was that this is where you'd spring your good news on us.

That was followed by a 'What the heck! She's not going to tell us?!

Do you know what I think? I think you, Janet, are a Master storyteller with a high degree in Suspense. And you're probably gleefully packing your boxes with a smug expression on your face while 'I have a secret' loops in your brilliant mind. That's what I think.


Janet C. said...

Hey, Karyn - sorry I'm not timely on my responses. I'm training my replacement and can't use my computer for personal stuff (insert whiney noise here :)

I have seen what rewrites have done to Common Ground. You DO get stronger with every re-write. And I think that diligence will speak volumes to an agent and editor once we get one. Yes, we're willing to put in the work needed to make our story better. Who wouldn't want to work with us?

And persistence - I don't think I've met a more persistence bunch than those that hang out on The Prairies :)

Janet C. said...

Thanks for your kind words, Helena. Yes, the little girl has a good story. And maybe it will be a 'Show, not tell' issue - but then again, maybe not. You'll have to tune in next week.

I feel the need for a TV Voice Over:
"Tune in next week when the Master Storyteller gives the little girl his third piece of advice. Will it be the words she so desperately wants to hear, or will she be forever doomed to sit with the wannabes?

I think the effort and dedication you are giving to writing will pay off, Helena. And your pronouncement of cancelling all non-writing related activities is a step in the right direction. Dancers practice for hours on end for one chance at an audition, why shouldn't writers also practice their craft and treat it like a profession?

Janet C. said...

Wow, I don't know how Ify got past the doorman with that big, pink gun. I believe if I were the Master Storyteller faced with her 'persistence', I just may proclaim the manuscript as the best I had ever seen. Hmmm, perhaps a plan...

I'm with you on 'head-hopping', Silver. I love to know what everyone is thinking (it's my inner snoop). Do you find with all your practice that you now write more from one perspective in first draft (knowing that it's something that will have to be fixed later, so better do it now)?

Hmm, show versus tell - seems to be a sticking point with those visiting today.

Janet C. said...

Yeah, Yuna :)

Janet C. said...

I just knew you would be anxious for a little mayhem in this story, Hayley. You never know, you just might get that :)

Head hopping has become an issue with me when I read - the only craft problem that I immediately look for and pick up on. Going along all smoothly and then a comment about emotion the POV character is displaying upon her face and I'm shaking my head, tut-tutting. Good thing I don't read with a red or blue pencil in my hand.

Passive - yeah, all over that in my own writing. It usually takes someone else to point out where I've been meek, then I can fix no problem.

Overwriting - yikes, you should have seen my first draft. I was on a soapbox for many, many pages. And flowery language. Oh, and don't forget my constant overdescription of food - you'd think I was always hungry (even in Gillian and Mac's story - the pages of describing the pastries she brings home from the local bakery).

Good luck with your 'historical' romance reading :)

Janet C. said...

Jana - when it comes to persistence, you are my hero. And having had the priviledge of going through some revisions on Burning Love with you, I now have a deeper understanding and reverence to the writing process (not to mention the hard work and diligence needed to make it to having a cover).

And no apologies for self-promotion.


Janet C. said...

Ha, Anita! Glad to hear I got you thinking/wondering :) Thank you for your praise. If you don't know already, I love a good cliffhanger (probably because I work like that - nothing gets done until the back's against the wall - deadline crunch). And, yeah, I am walking around going "I've got a secret. I've got a secret."

BTW - I used blue and red because red is the color of editing we teachers use in school (don't worry, I never did - traumatized as a young adult) and blue I understand is the color of pencil editors use on manuscripts - thus the "Blue Pencil Cafe" being held at the Surrey International Writers Conference which some of Chicks and friends are attending this fall.

Oh, for what it's worth, I'm not packing gleefully. I hate packing!

Suse said...

Hey Janet,

I agree with Antia; you are a master storyteller. I love these posts. And I'm like Jana. I want to know right now!! what's going to happen next. (Jana, your cover for Burning Love looks great, btw.)

I say don't worry about passive voice until you do your rewrites. The important thing to do is get your story down and then fix it in the rewrites.

In regards to pov, I'm probably old school. I prefer to have only one pov per scene. I guess this old brain can't keep everything straight otherwise. I do however, like to know what's going on in people's head - but mostly the main characters' heads.

I think the Master storyteller will tell the little girl that he likes her characters but he wants to see them developed more.

I'll have to make sure I stop by next Friday to see the finale.


Janet C. said...

Kidnapping a computer at work to respond - sent my trainee to the mail and bank (the babies must leave the nest).

Glad to see you here, Suse (you're missed, BTW). And thanks for the compliments - sometimes my brain stutters on Thursday night when I get ready to post, balking at the less than serious blog entries I seem to come up with :)

Your advice is sound - get that first draft on paper first or you'll have nothing to rewrite! If I stopped to examine every sentence for passive language, every scene for total immersion in one character's POV, or a thesaurus check for more colorful words, I'd never get the story finished.

Hope to see you next week for the finale of this somewhat fairy tale :)

Captain Hook said...

I know this has absolutely nothing to do with your post, Janet, but since all of you Chicks and your readers have been very supportive of me, I wanted to let you know. Today I went for an interview. I walked out 45 minutes later with a job!

*dances with joy*

Janet C. said...

Woo Hoo, Sarah. This is fabulous news and I'm so glad you shared it with us.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Captain/Sarah,
I'm so happy for you! I hope you love,love,love this job!

All the best,

Captain Hook said...

Thanks, Janet and Jana (say that 5 times fast!). I think I will love it. It's a hotel job that I've done before (for a different company) and I loved it then. Not to mention in my 8 hour shift, I'll only have about 2-3 hours of work and the rest will be writing/reading time.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Sarah, that's wonderful!

Way to go, girlfriend!

Karyn Good said...

Wonderful news, Captain. Congrats!

Silver James said...

Oh, Cap'n! Good for you! *Snoopy Dances(tm) around the room with you* I hope things ease off for you now and you will have many happy hours of writing and a steady paycheck!

Janet, I think it's Ify's pretty blue wings. They disarm people so she can sneak that big pink gun in. I know she doesn't have a concealed carry permit.

As for POV in first draft...I'm not really sure. I'm probably better about keeping it in one POV now. You've read that first 1000 words of WALTZING MATILDA. I think once I get back to it and check the later writing, done after I started the revision/edit process of FAERIE FATE, I will likely be closer to one POV in a scene. Right now, though, I've got to get through revisions on FAERIE FIRE. Knowing now what I know, I hope it goes through the process much faster once I have the contract.

Have a great weekend, Chicks!

Janet C. said...

Let us know how the POV thing plays out as you revise Faerie Fire (so excited for you and this next stage in your career).

I do know that I'm more conscious of the POV as I write a first draft and I wonder if it stalls my writing somewhat. But I don't know if I could go back to everyone's perspective. Hmmm...

Have a great weekend, yourself :)