October 9, 2013

Writing Club Wednesday: Guest Post by YA Author AdriAnne Strickland!

Happy Wednesday, Misfiteers! Now, we don't do this very often, but we've got an upcoming debut author we're very excited about, and she's got some great some writing tips to share on the tricky business of cleaning out the sludgy mess in the middle of your manuscript. So pull up your Writing Club chairs and get to learning from the author of the upcoming YA sci/fi Fantasy, WORDLESS, AdriAnne Strickland!

Bog-Be-Gone (Now in New Labor-Intensive™ Scent!): or, getting sucked into a scene the good way, not the bad way

Have a bog in the middle of your story? A sort of sludgy section that just-so-happens to be a crucial step along the route carefully (or vaguely) depicted by your plot-map, though sometimes you wish you could bend space-time so point A and B became the same? As in, your characters have just discovered their nemesis' evil plan (point A), but they need to come up with one of their own and trudge the long and tedious route to the isolated dark fortress before they excitingly invade it (point B)? (This may even involve a literal bog--think Frodo, Sam and Gollum in the Dead Marshes.) Do your eyes, or the reader's, feel like they're getting stuck in goop every step of the way? Well, unless you want to break the laws of physics—or chop the whole thing out and come up with a way to make it unnecessary, which is another option—here are some tips.

Like dredging a bog, there's no simple solution. You have to spend a lot of time up to your waist in it. And this is some delicate dredging, as in, going over (and over) all that mud with a fine-toothed comb.

Yep, this involves a lot of good old-fashioned hard work. There is no Bog-Be-Gone (unless you break the laws of physics—see above). Not much of a tip, you say? Well, rather than just flail around in the muck, I've discovered a few things to focus on that make the job slightly easier:

Pull: An especially simple way to get someone through a bog is to drag them bodily through one. But, much like carrying someone through a sticky mud, this can be difficult task to accomplish on behalf of your reader. People are heavy! Mud is sticky! The magical key here, no surprise, is tension. As we've already established, this is a necessary bog, otherwise you would just get rid of it. Raise the stakes right before your characters head into this literal-or-figurative bog. Have everything in your story hinge on them getting through to the other side, or your reader may not be interested enough to follow them. Compel your reader! With tension, not Harry Potter-esque mind-control… though that totally works, too.

Cut: A short walk through a bog is the happiest walk through a bog. Get rid of any and all unnecessary words, sentences, paragraphs and even scenes (I just cut an entire scene from my own bog-in-progress!)—and be brutal in your judgment. This isn't just about killing your darlings. Kill your little children, kill the neighbors', heck, kill any child that lives in or around this bog that looks at you sideways. (For those who don't know, I'm not promoting infanticide in any literal sense…) This is about annihilating anything and everything that stands in your way and tries to make the path between point A to B less smooth. Now is not the time for that subplot or geeky tangent. If those things must be in the story, move them.

Polish: Have functional but lackluster language? Gussy it up! Polish each word and make them shine: they'll act like stepping stones to get the reader through your bog. Don't just have necessary words in this necessary bog; have them be good words—no, not just good, which is a totally lame word. Rather: creative, surprising, unique, engaging, scintillating… I've gotten all carried away here, but I'm sure you see what I mean. Pay special, painstaking attention to this section and make sure your writing sparkles through the mud, sort of like those candle lights in the Dead Marshes, but the kind that lead you through the bog, not to your death.

Get a second opinion: Sometimes, after you've worked on a section for a long time, pulling, cutting and polishing, the bog-of-the-past can still haunt your association with it in the present (like those creepy corpse faces in the Dead Marshes, casualties of an ancient battle… yes, I am a geek), even though, with all of the sparking stepping stones and breezy shortness and that person carrying you, it's hardly a bog at all. So have someone else read it and let you know if they're getting stuck… or sucked in. Um, in a good way, not a boggy way.

Hope this helps!
-Adri out

AdriAnne Strickland shares a home base in Alaska with her husband, but has spent two cumulative years living abroad in Africa, Asia, and Europe. While writing occupies most of her time, she commercial fishes every summer in Bristol Bay, because she can’t seem to stop. Her debut YA sci-fi/fantasy, WORDLESS, is coming August 8th, 2014 from Flux Books. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook.


Maggie Hall said...

Ooh, good tips! My favorite is Cut. It's hard, but I find that I love cutting like crazy when a section is feeling bogged down. You feel so much lighter afterwards!

AdriAnne said...

Thank you! And I totally agree. It's hard at first, but then it's almost liberating!

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