Syncing Your Reader’s Brain With Your Protagonist’s and Other Bits of Helpful Advice

If you’re in the process of writing or editing a novel for the first time, this Writer Unboxed article by Lisa Kron may help you as much as it helped me.

I mean, I know I have a lot to learn. I read writing blogs the way other people watch TV. But I’d gone through five major drafts of my novel: Surely it was close to finished, right?

After reading this article, I realized: Nope. Not even.

Too many parts where the story just went blah. Flat. Forcing a transition between one scene and the other. What was missing? Neurons. The synapses and emotions of my protagonist’s brain.

So what if he’s a cat! That’s no excuse for not diving in there and figuring out what motivates him. So what if cats, technically, suffer from chronic short term memory loss. My main character had to have a back story, and I had to make sure it came out through his eyes, at the right time, as he lived his Adventures. If looking at a piece of bacon reminded him of his first bowl of kibble, gosh darn it, I had to mention it. (Bad example: Kibble rarely moves the plot along, even for Cats of Mystery and Adventure. Although bacon, it turns out, can.)

So that explains Major Rewrite Number Six.

Now for the other miracle: After adding all that back story (finally, the mystery of Near-Death by Bubble Gum, revealed!), my novel is 1,000 words shorter.

Enter: The 10% Solution, by Ken Rand. You could read it in less than an hour, and the take-home point is how to whittle your book down to its beautiful, stream-lined essential. (While I only cut 0.67% of my book, remember this was the sixth major pass. Almost every cut was a prepositional phrase, e.g. during a scene in which the cats were under the couch, I cut every single instance of “under the couch” unless it were mandatory for clarity. If Timber were jumping up, I deleted “up”. I had serious prepositional problems, and I’m not afraid to admit it. Through admitting our problems, they lose power over us.)

For that I have to thank Cat Rambo, who mentioned the book during her First Pages workshop, which I attended (on-line) last month. While it only focused on the first 500 words of my novel, it helped me re-evaluate and set-up the entire book for success. Minor tweaks, I’m happy to say, but dreadfully important ones. The two-hour workshop was professional, fun, and very worthwhile.

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