Story Editing as You Write Forward
story editing as you write forward, what do you do from here on out? How do you write forward? And the one thing I would say before I get into any of this is if you don't know the answer to something. If you have a character doing something and you don't know why, if you have ah, problem and somebody's out looking for something and you don't know what actually happened or where the body is buried, do not right forward. Go back and figure all of that out first. Never have a character solving a problem that you haven't already completely created. So what do you want to do? Is you go forward? The first thing is, is that as you go forward and you want to do this up until you get to your very last draft, which is you're looking for story, logic, editing, meaning, as I just said, anything that doesn't make sense any time you don't know the answer to why and I mean is we'll talk in a minute. A deep Why not a surface? Why plum until you know it, anything you've got that a character is doing an...
d it feels like it's wonky. Go back and figure it out. I'll give you a very quick example in the book that I wrote story genius Jenny Nash, who, some of you, some of you at home might know Teoh, who is a really great writing coach. She very kindly agreed to Teoh right, her new novel, to begin her new novel within the pages of story genius. And so, at one point we had her main character. She had her main character, Lucy, who is a 47 year old woman who's very successful, has a lot of money, and something has happened where and I won't go toe all the details now because they have enough time. But something has happened, and she is really knocked off base, and her older sister, Nora, is worried that she's going to self harm. She's not going to, but that's what her sister nor thinks it's gonna happen. And so Norris swoops in and says, I am now. You can't stay in your house, which she needs to do for reasons again that I don't want to go into it this because just take too long, she says. I'm gonna come tomorrow, and I'm gonna take you. I'm going. You have to leave your house now. Lucy's 47. She's got lots of money. What could Nora do? How could she have the power to make her leave her house unless she hired some kind of, like, throw in a van and take her away? That is not a thing, that a person, but it sounded good because that's what then kicked the plot into motion. But when we looked at it, we went cap. But that doesn't make any sense. And when when my editor 10 speed, looked at it, she said she had. But that doesn't make any sense. So what? Why what would what would give her that power? So she went back and she thought, Okay, well, how about this? Chardy knew that Lucy and and nor her sister were work sort of. A strange Nora's much older, and they had very cold parents, and she said, Well, here's what what was should the parents were cold. They were really way more invested in Northern and Lucy. And so they had left their house to Nora, figuring she'd be the responsible one. And then, like all parents in novels, apparently they're killed in a plane in a car crash. But it seems to be the way to get rid of parents. It's easy. It's bloodless, or at least mine early, bloodless and quick. And so so. Nora Nora inherited the house, felt really bad about the way Lucy had been treated. Lucy was always lived in and said, Fine, live in the house. It's no problem. So that's solved. So that moment the reason wasn't just because the reason waas Well, because nor actually owns the house. And so now she has the power to threaten to kick her out of the house. It also allowed her, As we're saying all the time, when you dive in and you're looking for story logic and one thing you tend to find even more, you tend to find gold mine. So she was able to plumb a lot more than just how could she make her leave the house? So what you're looking for is story logic editing, not pros. Editing pros. Editing is making it sound lovely and luscious and beautiful, and not only is not like, oh, just don't do it now. Don't take the time. It's like, absolutely don't do it now because what happens is is if you start editing the pros, it's like it's like frosting a cake. You haven't baked jet. What happens is it makes this big mess, but you fall in love with it. So now you've got something you've spent so much time on and it sounds so beautiful and the fact that it doesn't make any sense logically, Yeah, but it sounds so beautiful. In other words, it's really hard to kill your darlings. I'm sure you have heard that if you polish it before it's ready, it will be even harder nigh on impossible. And you keep things in your novel that are really going to be tearing it down that they cannot cannot develop in the way that it needs to develop its not gonna make sense. You're gonna end up with dairy, say it a bunch of things that happened. So don't do that. So when you're riding forward, there's some tests that you can use as you write. And the first and simplest is the eyes wide shut test. And what that means is when you're envisioning something, especially if you're envisioning things that are gonna go forward you want to be sure that you can see it isn't just conceptual Or can you close your eyes and literally see it happening? You want also use what I call the end, so test and the and so test is crucial and it will help you so much. And part of it. This is the most surface in basic part is when you're giving us anything you want to ask yourself and so why does this need to be here? And so why does the reader need to know this right now? What is the point of this? But deeper Because that could lead you into info dump territory, which is the The reader needs to know this now, So I'm just gonna kind of dump it in. And now they'll know with and so test really is, is. And so and you can do it after every sentence, which might be a bit much, but still after every paragraph, after every page, every chapter, and so what is the point? And so what conclusion is my protagonist or point of view character drawing from what just happened? Because the point isn't what happens. The point isn't what they see. The point is how they are making strategic sense out of it. Given what their agenda is, you want them to draw a conclusion. For instance, an example I often give I'm gonna pair faces. It's from Elmore Leonard's Freaky Deaky and and it's, Ah, character. She's a big character of the book so long ago. I know this is a big character, and I think she's about to get killed, actually, right after this scene and it's a woman, Robyn and she's in a bar with a guy and this the sentence begins. Robin reached out and touched his arm, and writer might just leave it at that. I told you what you did. She reached out and touched his arm, and But then he goes a bit further. Robin reached out and touched his arm and felt it stiffen. Okay, something happened there, and we could leave it at that. But that's the last thing you ever want to do. Robin reached out, touched his arm, felt it stiffen and took. That is a good sign. Ah ha. Thats the end. So she drew a conclusion. Strategic meaning, which is? I recall she was really wrong. It's not a good sign at all, but she read meaning into it. And that's what that and so is. And so what's the point? The point is always the strategic meaning that your character is going to read into what's happening in the moment as they're trying to make sense of what the hell is going on. And what the hell should I do about it Now again, I can't say it strongly enough. Nothing's ever one off. This is all part of that trajectory, that one problem that's growing, escalating and complicating the external plot problem. And how that is, then exacerbating enforcing your protagonist to deal with that inner issue that they've got. The next thing that you want to think of is you want to ask why of everything that that that why and how you want to ask why, and you want to ask it relentlessly because the first answer you're gonna get or that you'll give yourself is going to be a surface general. Answer. I remember reading a column. The New York Times wasn't the Sunday business section. You have this great column. It was called the corner office, and they interview CEOs and how they started and like how the interviewed people and what they were looking for. And this one woman CEO as she was talking about how she interviewed. And she said a mentor told her at one point, When you're interviewing people, she said, you ask, he said, You ask why and you leave it at that. Never do that. No one will ever admit anything with the first why you have to continue to ask why six or seven times before you dig down to the actual vulnerable reason that is what you want to do in your story. Ask yourself why of everything? Why did the character do that? What would make them do it? How was it? How was it landing on them? How did they get into that situation? Why, what sense did they make of it? Go all the way down until you can't ask another why. If you don't know the answer, don't write forward. Go backwards until you do and again. As I said before, be sure it's not a simple declared of sentence. Be sure you could go all the way down and dig to that moment where that came into being whatever it ISS. Now we come to something that will really help you going forward. This is really going to help you. And this is the notion of keeping track of who knows what when this is where stories go wonky, because here is the thing we've been saying from the beginning that your protagonist has an agenda that they step onto the page with, and then in every scene they are trying to move that agenda forward. Well, guess what? That is not only true of your protagonist, that is true of every single character in your novel. They are all going to step onto the page with agendas, and they are all going to be trying to bring that agenda to fruition in every scene. There in what tends to happen is that writers will let go of that, though the focus if they focused, they'll focus on what the protagonist is doing and why the protagonist is doing it. And what's happening on the plot and what's going on with the secondary characters kind of starts to go wonky and loose and starts to to be there solely to help the protagonists get what they want. So only to make the scene go in the direction that they need for to go. And I was working with a writer at one point who had her main character was night. It was from 1969. It was It was the sixties it was during the war. She was very young. She was in college. She was married. Her husband was a soldier in the war. She had a very good friend whose name was was when Julia was the main character. And now suddenly Julia Angwin or in a scene together. And Gwen is being really mean to Julia. And she's poking at her and saying really kind of mean things. And that makes Julia have this realization. And he said to her, I don't understand Why is why is when doing that, they have some fight somewhere, like when it's supposed to be, Why would she do that? I said, I think the reason that Gwen is doing it is because you needed Julia have that realization, and she went It's exactly what I did. It's like Okay, now you got to go back and figure out really on a deeper level, going forward, what their relationship is you got to find another way to get that onto the page. So what you wanted to is when you go into any scene, make a list before you write the scene, Who's gonna be in that scene? And in what way in that scene are they going to try to move their story specific agenda forward just in that scene, because it's gonna add up. It's gonna be you know what they want. You know what that agenda is here in that scene. How are they trying to move it forward? Because you will see how characters air cross purposes. This is where the beauty of story comes in and I'll tell you, it's interesting. Um, this is what makes writers writers. I read ah, paper several years ago. In fact, I think I mentioned it in Wired for Story, and it was written by I'm gonna read his. I'm gonna redo it is because I could never memorize this. It's written by a guy named Robin Dunbar, and he is on anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist. He heads the Social and Evolutionary Neuroscience Research Group in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford and that is Oxford in the UK, not Oxford, Mississippi, which I'm sure is a great school. But it's still not Oxford, and and he wrote a paper that was basically, if if all of us are wired for story, if all of us know what of stories from the beginning, why are there so few good right? Hers like, wouldn't we all be great writers? And what he came up with is what he calls levels or layers of intentionality, another $50 word. And what he meant by that was the ability to hold in your head what different people know and believe in the same moment, he said. Most of us and Pinch can do 54 is more likely. People like Shakespeare could do 56 or seven, and he gave. He gave an example. He's the fourth level of off of intentionality would be, I believe that he AGOA intends that a fellow supposes that Desdemona wants to love someone else. All of those people have a different reality in their head in the same scene, and they believe different things about each other. You need to be able to hold all of that in your head at one time, and it is hard. Which is why, if you've decided, OK, here's what each character's agenda is. And again, your secondary characters agendas are going to be there to move your protagonist story forward. Always there created to move your protagonist story forward doesn't mean they're not really great characters and doesn't mean that they couldn't have a novel of their own and doesn't mean that in the novel you're writing, they don't think that they're the protagonists, because every character does. But you know they're not, and you know you've created them to move your protagonist story forward. So you want to not only keep track of what they're doing scene by scene by scene by scene, as each character burns their way to the next scene. But you might also try to keep in mind, especially if you're writing anything that is like a thriller or anything that has a lot of nefarious stuff going off on off the page. What are they doing in scenes that are not in the novel? If they're not gonna show for a while, cause writers will often have a character in the scene, and then it's like they press the pause button, and now we got 10 scenes later. Now here they are, one positive, like nothing's happened to in all of that time, but things would. So you really want to keep track of that as much as possible. And, yeah, it's hard and it takes a long time, but it's really worth it. Do not worry. As I said about polishing before I once worked with a lawyer, it was a writer. And he said, the bigger the words I learned this early in my law career. The bigger the word, the less emotion it conveys. All stories, emotion based. If we can immediately get it and feel it, we're not reading so as opposed to using the pros to polish. What you need to know is the story polishes the pros. The deeper you dive into what we're talking about, what someone's really thinking, what they're really feeling, what they're going through that raging mess on the inside that we talked about in that first or second lesson. The deeper you dive into that, the more you're pros are going to shine. You don't need big words to make it shine. You need meaning and that's what you're going to be diving into. But again, it's heard, and so it's amazing that you do it. I love this quote. I totally agree with it, e. B. White, who said I admire anyone who has the guts to write anything at all. You are incredibly brave. I tend to agree with Dorothy Parker, who once said, I hate writing, but I love having written, and that is really true and the last I know the results and leaving you with with all sorts of mottoes. But but the other one I really love. And this some military motto, actually, and it's you gotta love the suck, and that is true. This is going to be hard. And there were those times that might go. We talked about in an earlier lesson. You know, the dark night of the soul that might go one for months, embrace it. That's not there to make you stop. That's part of the process that's there. It's hard because it makes you dig deep, and it's hard to dig deep but really do it. Rating is hard. Writing isn't is messy, but writing is also probably the most empowering thing that you will ever do. You will change the lives of the people out there that you don't even know you will change the world. Writers change the world story is the most powerful tool in the world. Every story is a call to action. That's the power that you have. You can change the world and you have the tools now to do it. So the only thing I would ask of you from this point out is take that power and use it wisely. And that is the end. We are done. We have reached the end of this course. So congratulations, all of you. You're still here.