Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Simple Math for Your Novel

Are you writing your first draft?

Revising your second or third draft?

Editing your final version?

Maybe you are in the early phases of getting the story that keeps you up at night down on paper.

It doesn’t matter.  You will soon learn that in order to be good at writing, you need to know a few simple math operations. Specifically, you need to be able to ADD, SUBTRACT, MULTIPLY, AND DIVIDE. You also need to know when to employ these operations to produce the outcome you need.

I know. I am in various stages of writing three different novels.

I am editing Libby’s Cuppa Joe, a short novel about a single mother who owns a coffee shop in Door County, Wisconsin. I am revising Karen’s Story, the novel about a woman who finds herself forever “in the middle.” I am still crafting the second draft of the Edge of Quiet, a romantic suspense novel.

I looked at my list of what I needed to do. “Add this, delete that. Divide the chapter [HERE].” I realized how often I use math terminology.  So today I offer this post as a friendly reminder –a strategy to use to evaluate your work and assess the work that needs to be completed to make it publishable.

When it is good to ADD: Add words, characters or dialogue to strengthen a scene or bump up the tension. For example, while working with my editor on Breathing on Her Own, she encouraged me to add more sightings of the strange white car in Laney’s neighborhood. She wanted me to do this to make my readers curious about who might be stalking Laney. Adding this enhanced the tension in the story.

There are times when ADDING is not preferable. It is not good to “ad to pad.” For instance, you hear a certain agent likes works that fall somewhere between 80,000- 100,000 words. Your story falls short at 65,000 words.  Resist the temptation to add “words” merely to get to what you perceive to be a magical word count. When I taught college classes I would have students ask, “How long does our paper have to be, Dr. Waters?” My response? “Until it is finished. No more. No less.” At first they struggled with my answer, but as they came to know me, they realized the freedom of writing without a word count or page requirement. The size of the papers varied, depending on each student’s writing style.

When it is good to SUBTRACT: You need to delete superfluous verbiage; crazy long, useless descriptions. Cut, edit, and revise details that do not move the story forward. Your story needs to be lean and focused.

However, be careful that when you cut that character from scene one, you don’t refer to him in scene two.  When I make drastic cuts to my manuscript, I keep them in a “dump” document so I can retrieve valuable information later if I need it.

It’s good to offer multiple conflict points or situations for your protagonist. I create a list of the ten worst things that could happen to my main character. Multiplying these tough situations in your characters life will intensify your reader’s desire to see your character pull through to a satisfactory end.

The multiply rule doesn’t apply to some areas of your novel –particularly if you are a new writer. Be careful to not include multiple characters to track with multiple story lines or multiple characters with names that begin with the same letter or are so similar your reader is confused.

Last week, in the post about pacing, I suggested one way to keep your story moving forward and your reader interested is to keep your chapters short. One way to accomplish this is to DIVIDE those longer chapters into more manageable chunks. That is a good use of your division skills.

However, I’ve met new writers who don’t put their best in their first novel, hoping to save choice ideas and scenes for a sequel. Wake up. You don’t need to divide your story up into book 1, 2, and 3. Not yet. Put your best writing forward from the beginning. Make book one great.  

So there you have it. Simple math to help you with your novel.

And here is some more simple math for you. Breathing on Her Own  is currently on sale for your Kindle reader. It was listed at $3.99. Now you can purchase it for $1.99. $3.99-$1.99= $2.00. Yep, you can save $2.00!
If you want a print version, enter the Goodreads Giveaway HERE. I’ll be mailing one lucky winner an autographed copy. Good luck!

Thank you for visiting. I look forward to your comments.

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