I have been taking an online course from David Farland, who has instructed many notable authors, such as Brandon Mull, James Dashner, Stephanie Meyers, J. Scott Savage, and Brandon Sanderson. The class is called Rewriting to Greatness and teaches an an author how to become their own editor. I wanted to pass on some of the things I’ve learned. As a disclaimer, any tips I list, are my interpretation of his teachings. I do not pronounce that the advice I’ve listed below is as brilliant as David Farland’s own words.
Fix to Strengthen.
The first thing I took from the class is that if you’re going to fix something in your writing, fix to strengthen it. Otherwise you’ll have mediocre writing. If a sentence isn’t working, don’t simply fix it to be grammatically correct, but have it add something to your story. And if it doesn’t add something, then get rid of it. As authors,we tend fix what we’ve written to make it work instead of analyzing if we need it in the first place. And if we do need it, how can it make a greater impact.
Know Your Audience.
Make sure you know who your audience is and whether you have a secondary audience. If your audience is young children, you have to make something that parent’s will like and buy for their children.The parent’s, or even grandparents, are a secondary audience.
Different audiences want different things from novels. Young children want to read a book that creates a sense of wonder, makes them laugh and may even frighten them a little. Older children want to read about adventures and more scary things. Girls want to read about romance, beginning around the age of nine. Teenagers like horror, humor, romance and adventure. Women at the age of forty-ish may lean more towards drama and mystery and less about romance. So knowing what your age group wants to read about is important. Put the “emotional beats” in your book that will appeal to your geared audience. If you write a novel geared towards girls, have a girl protagonist and the opposite for males. For young children, they like to read about a protagonist two years older than themselves. For YA books, the protagonist should be between ages sixteen and eighteen.
Make a Pass and focus on one thing.
As you edit your novel, you will need to go through several passes and focus on a specific thing. On a first pass, you may focus on a variety of things or an overall view. But soon, you’ll want to look for specific issues. So for one pass, you may look at your scenes and ask yourself what adds to your story and what doesn’t. Cut out scenes that don’t add a whole lot of content or if they are similar to another scene. Check each scene or subplot for growth. If it’s not growing in some way, make the necessary changes. Make a pass through the novel and look at each character. Does each main character have a purpose, a personality, something that makes them stand out? Make a pass and focus on dialogue. Is the dialogue consistent for a specific character? Does each character have a unique voice where you can tell what character is saying what without dialogue tags? Make a separate pass for grammatical issues.
Create Character Depth.
The reader should understand why each character acts the way that they do. It’s the responsibility of the author to demonstrate in a character’s thoughts, actions, and dialogue who the character is so that when a character does something or says something, it feels natural and consistent. Even if a character does something surprising, it should make sense for who that character is.
I had a class during LDStorymakers Conference, taught by Sarah Eden that made me delve a lot deeper into my characters. She gave the class an exercise where you took one character and asked questions about the motives of that character. I looked at a character and asked myself things like: What is Lexi’s saddest memory? What is her greatest strength? Her biggest weakness? What would she spend money on? How do other character’s view her? How does she view herself?
Questions like these, help an author get to know a character better. If we don’t know the answer to deeper questions like I mentioned, we can create one and possibly add these revelations into the story. I found that I wanted to add a sad memory in my novel about my character Lexi. It will add to her character’s weakness, which is being a very insecure and introverted girl. It will also add depth to her overall personality and allow for greater growth. Ask yourself thought provoking questions for each character in your novel.
Add a time limit to conflict. When the characters feel a sense of impending doom and that it will come quickly, the reader feels the pressure too.
Make sure you have plot twists. Create surprises that throw the reader off and wonder what will come next. Personally, I like to put myself in the reader position and write what I, as the reader, would want to happen next. Even if that means I put the character in a tough situation that will be difficult to ‘write’ the character out of.
Thematic Elements create depth.
Some authors plan what message they want to portray in their novel before they begin. I didn’t do this with my first series. I wrote to create suspense. That was my ultimate goal. But typically, you can write a story and as you pass through the novel, you’ll notice themes that you can delve deeper into. I noticed a couple within my novel after a few read-throughs.
David Farland recommends you add “foils” to your characters as you explore and strengthen the thematic elements of your novel. Portray opposite views and conflicting opinions. David Farland gave the example that if you are exploring the question of when it’s okay to kill someone, perhaps one character is of the opinion that killing someone is okay if they are a scumbag. Maybe another character’s “foil” to this point of view is that they believe every human is a child of God and death should never be the answer. Have these different opinions come into conflict with one another within the story and create a stronger thematic element. You can have many thematic elements to explore in your story. Many readers like a philosophical element. You don’t have to answer with your opinion, but create questions for the reader to ponder about.
A Hook Should Follow Up on a Promise.
Hooks are important to draw a reader in from the beginning of a novel. They should get your attention in a unique way. It could be through action, but doesn’t have to be. It needs to be interesting and create a question within the reader’s mind about the main conflict of the novel.
The hook also creates a subliminal promise to the reader about what is to come in the novel and what kind of story it will be. In the Lord of the Rings movies, when it starts with a battle scene before jumping back to the quiet life of the hobbits, there’s a promise that the hobbits will eventually get caught up in the conflict of the battles raging on. If there weren’t more battle scenes,or the hobbits didn’t get involved in the conflict portrayed in the beginning of the film, then the viewer would be greatly disappointed. Because that promise wasn’t fulfilled.
For a drama or romance story, the promises will be different. I was let down by a drama recently because I noticed a promise wasn’t fulfilled. (Keep in mind that there will be different hooks and promises throughout your story, not just one.) So in this movie I watched, the main character always spiked his drink. At work, school, and play, he had a drink that he’d slip some alcohol into. I waited to see how this would become a problem later. But it didn’t. Not really. He noticed he had a problem and didn’t take a job because of it, but it wasn’t made into a big deal. So the promise wasn’t fulfilled for me as the viewer. I felt like someone else should have pointed out his addiction and his relationships should have been ruined because of it. His driving drunk should have had far reaching consequences like someone being severally injured or killed. But nothing major happened because of his addiction and the story fell flat. So notice what your hooks are, what you are promising, and fulfill those promises so the reader’s expectations are met.