In a year of working with veteran developmental editor Alan Rinzler, I’ve had every shortcoming of my storycraft, trade, and profession, laid bare by red ink and development notes. It’s exactly what I needed to take my manuscript, and my craft, to the next level.
But man, it was humbling.
Together we’ve taken a good story, freed it from a rambling and overwrought draft, and completely rewritten it for a mainstream audience. These are the top lessons I’ve learned from the process of working with Alan.
Story: First, Last, and Always
Stories are about struggle, fear, hope, challenge, change…the messy business of growth. Get out of the way of that. Cut out the editorializing. Let the characters speak for themselves, and let their experiences tell the story—not the narrator.
Omniscient third person narration is only one of many options, and rarely the best one. Connect the reader to the story by connecting them with a character, and you start with something intrinsically more engaging than just another oration.
The Power of “I”
The fewer the narrative points of view, the better…but that’s not to say that only one person should have the luxury of telling a story. The world is complicated. People work at cross-purposes, and see the same things differently—fortune as tragedy, opportunity as loss, even grief as a cause for joy. The “I” first person narrator is often the strongest voice for telling a compelling story. As I discovered to my own shock in pulling it off, that “I” can successfully be joined by just the right additional first person voices. At the very least, it’s a very good starting point.
Kill Your Darlings
I appropriated that line from Stephen King, writing about writing, because Alan drove home the point every draft. Just being in love with a phrase, idea, character, or scene, is not sufficient cause to keep it in the manuscript if it doesn’t perfectly serve the story. Even the most eloquent distraction is still a distraction. Delete it. Kill it.
Ignorance is Bliss
When honing a story, and editing a draft, the reader won’t know what you’ve deleted along the way…so they can’t possibly miss it. Not the way the writer might, anyway.
And that’s okay. Without creating plot holes, we aggressively trimmed away what didn’t ideally serve the story. The readers won’t miss it—they didn’t even know it was there.
Face Your Weaknesses
True improvement comes from training to your weaknesses. I’ve found the same in sports, and with my growth as a writer over nineteen years of doing it commercially. It’s not fun, and never comfortable, to face my weaknesses, let alone have them laid bare by someone whose opinion I value…but that’s the best way I’ve found to grow as an artist and professional.
Engaging with that process is the key to getting the most out of opportunities for personal growth, no matter how daunting or humbling.
The hottest fires forge the strongest steel. I haven’t burned up yet, and that gives me hope that I’m strong enough to face even more—there’s a long career ahead of me.