Dare to Read

Well this is something I never saw coming!

PROM was chosen to be part of Elle magazine’s Dare To Read Bookclub. Somehow, this qualifies me as an Elle girl. (I wonder if I can get that on a tee shirt.) Elle is having a contest, too – free books as the prize, so hop over and take a peek! Fellow LJer and cool YA author tanyaleestone is also on the list. Be sure to check out her book: A Bad Boy Can Be Good For A Girl.

In the comments section on the 15th, Anon wrote: You often talk about story arcs in your novels. Would you please define what a story arc is, and discuss how different arcs relate to each other and pull the story along? Is there conventional wisdom for developing and using story arcs?

I will take a crack at it. (If any of you English teacher think I have messed up this definition, let me know.)

A story arc is the storyline… the path of a character as she works her way through the story. She starts the story, stuff happens, she reacts to the stuff that happens, she changes and grows as a result of the stuff that happens, and by the end of the story, she is a more mature and (one hopes) wiser person for having gone through these experiences. The trick in a novel is that you have a number of story arcs – different characters all on their own paths which cross and intertwine with each other. Every scene has to move someone’s arc ahead a little, or there is no point to the scene being in the book. In TWISTED, one of the secondary character’s arc was unclear. He was acting one way in the beginning of the book and a completely different way towards the end, and I hadn’t made clear why the transition happened. Not only was this bad for his character, but it messed up the interactions he had with the other characters in the book. So for the last couple of days, I’ve been studying every scene this guy is in with a microscope. I’ve changed a couple of the scenes. Today, I’m adding in a few more towards the end to better set up a fairly dramatic resolution to his set of issues with the main character.

That, my friends, is what we call revision.

And to answer Max’s question: the historical WIP is on hold until next week while I take a last pass through TWISTED. I occasionally look at the corner of the office where my notes are heaped on the floor and whimper, but I have to finish this project before I’m allowed out to play with the next.

26 Replies to “Dare to Read”

  1. story arcs

    Good job answering the question about story arcs. I’m struggling with one of my own, of course, but I’m all set to conquer it this weekend–trumpets blare, a horse whinnies, armor clatters. Then the handsome prince rides off and it’s just me and my computer.

    Knowing how today’s authors revise manuscripts, and reading the results, it makes me wonder how history will compare today’s books with the work of Charles Dickens, one of my favorite authors. He published novels in serial installments, and I don’t believe he had them very well plotted and planned beforehand. I’m sure that explains the Dickensian coincidences we fans overlook, or even enjoy, but they sure won’t fly today. I wonder, if Charles Dickens submitted one of his gems to today’s editors, would it be accepted?

  2. story arcs

    Good job answering the question about story arcs. I’m struggling with one of my own, of course, but I’m all set to conquer it this weekend–trumpets blare, a horse whinnies, armor clatters. Then the handsome prince rides off and it’s just me and my computer.

    Knowing how today’s authors revise manuscripts, and reading the results, it makes me wonder how history will compare today’s books with the work of Charles Dickens, one of my favorite authors. He published novels in serial installments, and I don’t believe he had them very well plotted and planned beforehand. I’m sure that explains the Dickensian coincidences we fans overlook, or even enjoy, but they sure won’t fly today. I wonder, if Charles Dickens submitted one of his gems to today’s editors, would it be accepted?

    1. Re: story arcs

      Oh, man. I don’t know. I think his work might be accepted on spec, meaning he would have to revise again before they would offer a contract.

      Does anyone else out there have an opinion?

  3. Story arcs

    Hi Laurie –

    First, I should say that I think it’s very generous of you to share your time giving such clear and helpful advice/explanations. Thank you.

    I’m struggling through the revision process of a novel, and am quite frustrated by trying to flesh out all of the secondary characters in believable ways. And I hadn’t even really considered that they should all be given real story arcs! Before I get all crazy, I’m wondering if you could elaborate on this briefly. Specifically, is it necessary that all of the characters grow/change as a result of the stuff that happens to them? Taking Rev. Malone in Catalyst as an example, when you wrote it, did you see the events as changing his character in a notable way?

    Hope I’ve stated this clearly. Thanks again!
    Marianna

  4. Story arcs

    Hi Laurie –

    First, I should say that I think it’s very generous of you to share your time giving such clear and helpful advice/explanations. Thank you.

    I’m struggling through the revision process of a novel, and am quite frustrated by trying to flesh out all of the secondary characters in believable ways. And I hadn’t even really considered that they should all be given real story arcs! Before I get all crazy, I’m wondering if you could elaborate on this briefly. Specifically, is it necessary that all of the characters grow/change as a result of the stuff that happens to them? Taking Rev. Malone in Catalyst as an example, when you wrote it, did you see the events as changing his character in a notable way?

    Hope I’ve stated this clearly. Thanks again!
    Marianna

  5. Story arcs

    Hi Laurie –

    First, I should say that I think it’s very generous of you to share your time giving such clear and helpful advice/explanations. Thank you.

    I’m struggling through the revision process of a novel, and am quite frustrated by trying to flesh out all of the secondary characters in believable ways. And I hadn’t even really considered that they should all be given real story arcs! Before I get all crazy, I’m wondering if you could elaborate on this briefly. Specifically, is it necessary that all of the characters grow/change as a result of the stuff that happens to them? Taking Rev. Malone in Catalyst as an example, when you wrote it, did you see the events as changing his character in a notable way?

    Hope I’ve stated this clearly. Thanks again!
    Marianna

  6. Story arcs

    Hi Laurie –

    First, I should say that I think it’s very generous of you to share your time giving such clear and helpful advice/explanations. Thank you.

    I’m struggling through the revision process of a novel, and am quite frustrated by trying to flesh out all of the secondary characters in believable ways. And I hadn’t even really considered that they should all be given real story arcs! Before I get all crazy, I’m wondering if you could elaborate on this briefly. Specifically, is it necessary that all of the characters grow/change as a result of the stuff that happens to them? Taking Rev. Malone in Catalyst as an example, when you wrote it, did you see the events as changing his character in a notable way?

    Hope I’ve stated this clearly. Thanks again!
    Marianna

    1. Re: Story arcs

      You could drive yourself crazy if you tried to develop a full-fledged story arc for every single character, plus it would take away from the main character’s story.

      Yes, I think Rev. Malone grows. We see it the most when Kate talks to him after he has helped with the funeral planning. More importantly, Kate see it – she can see the love he has for his parishoners, and how much it costs him (emotionally) to love and care for them.

  7. too many characters!

    You said: “Every scene has to move someone’s arc ahead a little, or there is no point to the scene being in the book.”

    Do you ever do that with characters? Decide that even though a secondary character may have their own storyline, since they’re not essential to the MC’s arc, they have to get cut? Obviously, there are going to be characters who are just there to have minor roles, but it’s not good to overwhelm the reader with too many characters, right?

    That’s cool that you got recognized by Elle. Too bad you’re on a list with gossip girls, though. That’s lame 😉

  8. too many characters!

    You said: “Every scene has to move someone’s arc ahead a little, or there is no point to the scene being in the book.”

    Do you ever do that with characters? Decide that even though a secondary character may have their own storyline, since they’re not essential to the MC’s arc, they have to get cut? Obviously, there are going to be characters who are just there to have minor roles, but it’s not good to overwhelm the reader with too many characters, right?

    That’s cool that you got recognized by Elle. Too bad you’re on a list with gossip girls, though. That’s lame 😉

    1. Re: too many characters!

      I have a very bad habit of creating too many characters. I always wind up cutting several of them out while I am revising.

      If a character does not further the plot or help us better understand the world of the book, or if a character duplicates the function of another character, they have to go.

      IMHO.

  9. so if…..

    So if a character is there more for the benefit of the main character how do you make sure that character moves on and matures as well? I mean like Natalia’s grandmother when she makes Ashley the dress and stuff she was there to have an impact on Ashley but yet she wound up having to go to the home how do you make sure those characters mature in a way that’s right for them?

  10. so if…..

    So if a character is there more for the benefit of the main character how do you make sure that character moves on and matures as well? I mean like Natalia’s grandmother when she makes Ashley the dress and stuff she was there to have an impact on Ashley but yet she wound up having to go to the home how do you make sure those characters mature in a way that’s right for them?

    1. Re: so if…..

      Don’t you think it is right and good for Grandma to go into the nursing home? She’s getting to the point where she is becoming a danger to herself. So she has change in the book… maybe not so much growth.

      The main character, and those that have the most to do with the main character are generally the ones you’ll see go through their own arc.

  11. Re: so if…..

    Don’t you think it is right and good for Grandma to go into the nursing home? She’s getting to the point where she is becoming a danger to herself. So she has change in the book… maybe not so much growth.

    The main character, and those that have the most to do with the main character are generally the ones you’ll see go through their own arc.

  12. Re: too many characters!

    I have a very bad habit of creating too many characters. I always wind up cutting several of them out while I am revising.

    If a character does not further the plot or help us better understand the world of the book, or if a character duplicates the function of another character, they have to go.

    IMHO.

  13. Re: Story arcs

    You could drive yourself crazy if you tried to develop a full-fledged story arc for every single character, plus it would take away from the main character’s story.

    Yes, I think Rev. Malone grows. We see it the most when Kate talks to him after he has helped with the funeral planning. More importantly, Kate see it – she can see the love he has for his parishoners, and how much it costs him (emotionally) to love and care for them.

  14. Re: story arcs

    Oh, man. I don’t know. I think his work might be accepted on spec, meaning he would have to revise again before they would offer a contract.

    Does anyone else out there have an opinion?

  15. Hey

    This is casey from Tully highschool. You will be here in about 2 weeks, well thats what Mrs.Middleton said. Im so glad to have you comming to our school. I really am a fan of yours. I dont really like reading but when i started to read speak, it got me really intrested. It pulled me into a book. I loved it. And its hard for me to love a book. But i did cry i do believe. I dont no why but i just did. Thats how much it touched me. I connected with it some way. I still dont know how but i did. And you are a great writer. I cant wait untill u arrive at our shcool. You are the best writer that i have ever herd of.
    Your Friend,
    Casey Austin

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