Thursday, February 18, 2010

Status of Emma's Outlaw

A couple weeks ago, the members of my inspirational group blog, Inkwell Inspirations (Inkies), were talking about the upcoming American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Genesis contest. The Inkies are comprised of talented writers who for the most part are multi-contest finalists and winners. Two of these writers volunteered to critique our Genesis entries. To set the stage further, these writers know what they’re talking about having judged numerous contests for Romance Writers of America (RWA) as well as the ACFW.

After months of working on Emma's Outlaw, I’m at the final stages of revision and ready to send the manuscript (ms) out for critiques. So, I confidently emailed the 2 Inkies and my critique partner my 15 page entry plus synopsis.

Within days, I was reeling. Positively floundering.

I wandered the house in a daze wondering what I was supposed to do now. I mean, I know I haven’t finaled with this entry yet, but everyone seemed to like it. And yes, the Inkies liked it, too. And they said they could tell I did a lot of research. But it really needs work.

Basically, here’s what they said:

- Conflict - Not enough conflict to carry the book to 90,000 words. I thought having Emma as the victim and Dan as the abductor was enough of an external conflict. It  isn’t. As Dan develops feelings for her, he could turn against the gang and let Emma go. Snap conflict over. Well, I knew that but had been naively hoping it would be overlooked. I guess not.

- Pacing – The inkies were divided over where I needed to work on this but they all agreed it needs work. I've explained the biggest problem below.

- Synopsis - in the one page single-spaced synopsis we’re allowed, I’ve explained the complete story, however I haven’t shown the required character or spiritual arcs.

After coddling me for a bit, Gina, Deb and Gwen joined me through emails and chats in several brainstorming sessions. I liked some of their ideas, threw some out, and created others. Here are the results:

- Conflict – I'm giving Dan a legitimate reason for being with the gang other than that he's trying to prove himself. Emma is still an innocent bystander but now she's in the way as her presence and actions create havoc for Dan and his mission. He's trying to lead the gang one way and Emma’s doing everything she can to stop them from going anywhere. Yet helping her escape will blow his cover.

- Pacing – It was suggested I cut down the abduction scene to just a few sentences. I positively bristled. It took me so long to write that action scene to ensure I got it perfect with all the sounds and smells Emma experiences. I decided it was one of those things where subjectivity comes in and I’d leave it alone. But when I went back and re-read the comments, I latched onto the main one… there really wasn’t enough time to experience all what I’d written in the few seconds it would have taken in real time. So, I’m agreeing it was too much however, I’ve decided to put my own spin on it. Instead of writing it in Emma’s Point of View (POV), I’m switching to Dan’s. The reader is going to guess what Emma is going through as they abduct her so I shouldn’t have to state the obvious. But, what is Dan thinking? Dan is a good guy and suddenly, he’s part of something he totally disagrees with. Everything in him is screaming, ‘No!’ and yet if he objects too strongly, he’ll blow his cover. Can I write his POV in a few sentences as they grab the girl and make a run for it? I’m working on it.

- Synopsis – A synopsis isn’t just for the storyline. It’s about the characters, too. (See Jana’s post on Monday) You need to show who the characters are, what they’re faced with, how they dealt with it and what they’ve learned. (Thank you, Gina.) That’s the character arc. And in an inspirational romance, which this is, I need to show a spiritual arc along the same lines. In the process of thinking about rewriting my synopsis, I realized one thing… although I’ve written both character and spiritual arcs for Dan in the story, Emma has neither. She’s a nice, good Christian girl at the start and a nice, good Christian girl at the end. And except for a couple heart-stopping moments, she levels out. But that’s not going to work, is it? Emma must go through trials, doubts and fears, especially spiritually just like the rest of us. I really need to expand Emma’s character.

Of course, I’ve only chosen a few things to bring to your attention, but they have a major bearing on the story. It means another big rewrite is in order. And what would happen if I ignored the suggestions and submitted it as is… then an editor or agent would suggest the changes and I’d have to do it anyway. I think I ‘d rather change it at this level and then submit my very best.

Sigh. Back to the Page 1.

Question for today: What are you reading now and is it affecting you in any way?


Jana Richards said...

Hi Anita,
I guess right about now you're feeling like Karyn did yesterday: "This book is going to take FOREVER!"

I know it's disheartening after all the work you've done and all the rewrites you've already completed to have to think about ripping the book apart and (almost)starting over. I have been in this position and it's not fun.

But the thing is that if an editor or agent felt the same way as your friends at Inkwell, they might politely decline without really telling you why. End of story.

So take a deep breath, maybe go throw a few snowballs against the barn or something, and then go back to work.

Good luck and hang in there. I know you'll persevere and get your story to be the best it can be.


Anita Mae Draper said...

Jana, there's so much more to being a storyteller than just telling the stories, isn't there.

Thank you, I appreciate your experienced insight. Taking a deep breath here and diving in for another look. :)

Silver James said...

Anita Mae, the important thing to remember is that this is a good story. And now you are going to make it a great story!

I do feel your pain. I have to shred the eight beginning chapters of a book and completely revise them, all the while still managing to tie into the following 2/3's of the book.

It sounds like you have some great CPs and have discovered the path you should be on to make EMMA'S OUTLAW the absolute best. Good luck and get to revising. :D

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Silver - 8 chapters? Yowza! Tying them in to the rest of the book would be difficult to do, too.

Yes, I'm blessed to have these CP's who know what to look out for and aren't scared to tell me what I need.

I can't wait for the day I'm able to look at someone else's ms and be able to see what they're missing - not for the pleasure of telling them, but to have the experience to actually know what's missing. Does that make sense?

Thanks for sharing, silver. I'll make a post-it note that you're slugging away, too for those times I need a boost. :)

Helena said...

It's amazing how someone else's perspective on a wip can come at the drop of a hat (so it seems), when we have been slaving over our ms, busily wordsmithing, working the research into the narrative, etc. etc. without noticing things that are obvious to others. Sometimes I think it may be a case of not seeing the forest for the trees.

I took an excerpt of a novel to a workshop last summer, and when I met with the instructor she told me it was a story she would be keen to read. Then she went through it in detail, and kept saying, "This would make a really good scene." At each point she would say why: "I'd like to see how her parents reacted to that," for example. She is in a long line of people who have been telling me to write more action, more dialogue, and that's why my drafts now look like screenplays waiting for some transitions and descriptions! (And yes, Karyn, my novel is going to take FOREVER!)

Anita, I really appreciate your blow-by-blow on what's happening with Emma's Outlaw because it is a real learning experience for me to hear about your process.

As for what I am reading, you are going to have to wait, because I think I'm going to write about it on Monday next.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Ah Helena, you've read between the lines and saw my insecurity, eh? I wasn't sure if I should clutter up the blog by writing about my wip - again - but in all honesty, I couldn't sit here and dish out advise on how to write a story when mine had been found lacking.

I've never hidden my problem with pacing. However, I thought I had my conflict down. Now that I'm looking at it through their eyes, though, I'm beginning to wonder why I hadn't seen it before. This is where plotters vs pantsers have a leg up, I'm sure.

That workshop you took last summer seems to be a valid one for seeing through other's eyes. Good for you for signing up for it.

Janet said...

I feel your pain, Anita. As I struggle with a decision on Lady Bells, I know exactly how you feel about going back to the 'drawing board'. But it sounds like you got some wonderful advice, and definitely some fabulous shoulders to lean on. Not to mention some great mentors who've 'been there, done that'.

To make the decision to start again speaks to your determination and faith in Emma's Outlaw. And we all know that determination, persistance, and faith will get you far in this business.

Good luck with the revisions. I'll be thinking of you as I struggle with my own decisions and faith :)

Anita Mae Draper said...

Janet, glad to hear you're still working with Lady Bells. I know you've struggled with it, wondering whether to shelve it for awhile. I don't know if that's what your current decision is about, but after all the work you've put into it, I know it just needs to find the right home.

This is such a funny business, eh? We think we have something good and then someone tells us yes, it's good but it could be better. In my case, it's not simple tweaking, either. But how can we not change it for the better if we want to be taken as serious writers.

Good luck, Janet. I'll send a word or two for you upstairs along with my own. :)