In the spirit of show don’t tell, I put up one of my stories here on the blog last week with a promise that I would put up both my list of things to work on and a rewritten version of the story. This week I’m presenting my ‘fix it’ list and talking about some things that need to be changed and why.
The story Life, Death, and Mr. Boggs isn’t a complete failure. It succeeded in several ways: I needed to get a story out and I got one, it introduced some players to a role playing campaign I was launching, and it helped me set (and tell about) some history and doings in a part of my world of Midwol. There are things that I like about the story. But there are definitely things that need to be fixed. In particular, I will work on:
- Character motivations
- Point of view
- Choppy flow
- Assuming too much reader knowledge
- Sticking the ending.
The story did some things I wanted it to. But it could be so much more. So, let’s look at my ‘fix it’ list …
The only character in the story whose motivations are really clear is Mr. Bog, and he’s there because somebody paid him to show up and make a ruckus. Elana’s motivations become somewhat clear, she wanted to get out of a bad marriage and hires her cousin as part of her operation, but that’s all shallow stuff. And speaking of the cousin, why’s she involved at all? Elaina tells us an answer, but we never really get to see it.
The first step in the rewrite is thinking about why the characters are doing the things they are and what was behind their previous actions. Much of the rewrite (especially sticking the ending) will come from this.
Point of view
One of my first realizations while rereading the story is that I didn’t really establish point of view until somewhere on page 3. I need to establish point of view on page 1. But that’s not the only issue.
I made another mistake that’s easy to fall into, I wrote the story from the perspective of the character I knew best (Elaina). But, between the cousins, Elaina is really the low stakes character. She knows her story with Mr. Boggs. She’s establishing her own little empire. She’s consolidating her power. Her cousin Maria is much more vulnerable. In many ways her reactions, and her story, can be deeper and more interesting.
Maria’s got the most to lose at the moment. So, I’m going to rework the story from her perspective. That will help bring the action and resolution into the stories present instead of losing it in the story within the story. It will help bring in some needed immediacy to the narrative. More work, yes. Better story, probably. I’m looking forward to finding out.
I was trying to control story flow… I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped. So, since I’m pulling things apart anyway, why not rework things into a smoother form? Chop can be useful, but I have to remind myself to only use it on purpose, and where it’s really needed to make my point or lend to the feel. Too much kills those things and makes the story harder to read. So, time to break out the verbal sandpaper…
Assuming reader knowledge
Part of the point of the story was introducing people to my world. But I’m feeling like I may have done too much too fast. True, the characters would know all the geography and place names involved, but the reader doesn’t. While I want to include some world building and orienting data, I don’t want to be that one teacher (You know, the one who says, “for tonight’s homework read chapters 1-17 and be ready for a quiz tomorrow!”).
So, I need to make sure that there is some world specific information in there. But I need to make sure it’s relevant to the story. Other stuff can come along in other stories and at other times (ya gotta have faith in your readers…).
Sticking the ending
Ok… So… Elaina died, but she didn’t… And then she got remarried… And then what happened? The story within the story resolved, but the immediate story didn’t resolve in a satisfying way. Elaina offered Maria a position in her organization. But did she take it? Why or why not?
Stories with a memorable, impactful, ending work better (remember the series ender for the Sopranos? Or, how about the awards scene after Luke and company blew up the Death Star?). In the rewrite I want my immediate ending (the one for the characters present when the story in the story is told) to pop and be satisfying. In part, I’m doing that with my point of view shift and improved understanding of character motivation. But, even with those fixes, I need to make sure the ending works. It needs its share of the attention too.
So, that’s my planned list of fixes for Life, Death, and Mr. Boggs. Do you have any ideas? Want to disagree with mine? Leave a comment. Constructive criticism is always welcome.
From here the next step is to rework the story. And then, in a couple weeks, I’ll put up the new (revised) edition. And then talk about why I did what I did.
As writers building our craft is necessary for success. Most of the greats never stop (and you can tell when one does…). Thank you for joining me in this foray into improving my craft dear reader. And, I’ll see you next post.