In an earlier post about how I sometimes do multiple simultaneous drafts of the same manuscript, I mentioned how a critiquer had suggested trying to rewrite my picture book biography of piano inventor Bartolomeo Cristofori in present tense. PRESENT TENSE? A biography from 1700s, late Renaissance Italy, in PRESENT TENSE? Sounds crazy. I balked, as did the rest of my fellow critiquers.
But I have a little rule for myself to at least give most suggestions, even the ones I don’t agree with, a try. Especially if its something I can do easily or test out with a small section. So I did it. I rewrote the whole thing in present tense.
I didn’t really look at the manuscript again until reading the two versions aloud at a critique group meeting. Wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles, the present tense version of the story came to life. It jumped off the page. It sang. I knew it as I read it and the comments were unanimous: “I didn’t think the present tense would work, but I love it.”
So there you have it. Two lessons for me from this experience: Even if you don’t agree with a suggestion, consider giving it a try. And play around with tense. You never what how it could transform your manuscript.
Go to an action adventure movie, and you’ll see cars flying, buildings exploding, and more pyrotechnics than during wild fire season in a California summer. Spend a few months reading the daily book deals from Publisher’s Marketplace like I do, and you’ll be overrun by Chosen Ones who have to save the world. Every story meant to entertain us is faster, bigger, stronger, more explosive.
Let’s face it. Our stories are doping.
And just like I’m tired of Lance Armstrong and EPO, I’m exhausted by books and book pitches on steroids. I love Harry Potter as much as the next geek girl, but not every character we write is destined to stop history’s darkest wizard.
If I could wave my magic wand and restore balance to the universe, I’d start by banning some vocabulary. Let’s shut down chosen ones and destiny. Forget saviors who must question everything they ever knew. No more magic portals and quests to save the world.
Good stories don’t require steroids. They require characters we are intrigued by facing challenges that will force them to grow.
Let’s face it folks—not everyone is the Mockingjay.
You know those ads in writing magazines that say, “Writers wanted?” In fact, we all want stories, even need stories, but what is a successful one?
Going through my file of valuable writing advice, I came across an interview with Lisa Cron, author of Wired for Story, that ScrivaAmber shared months ago. I liked what I read so much that I went out and bought Cron’s book.
I continue to refer to Wired for Story and to Lisa Cron’s definition of story.
“A story is how what happens (the plot) affects someone (the protagonist) in pursuit of a difficult goal (the story question) and how he or she changes as a result (which is what the story is actually about).”
Read the whole interview here. And happy crafting of satisfying stories to share with the world.
-Sabina I. Rascol