In 2011 I embarked on one of the harshest undertakings; I placed what I thought was the final draft of my novel in a drawer for one year. Why? Because, as I told others in my most knowledgeable author voice, “A writer needs distance from their material before editing and rewriting.” While that’s true, the real reason was, the story didn’t work. I thought it worked, it worked in my head, but based on a few shrewd readers it didn’t work in theirs.
During that year – fighting the wicked temptation to tweak pages, chapters and plots – I turned my attention to books on rewriting, in search of a magic key to unlock my manuscript and turn it into a novel, the kind people wanted to read. I took workshops, and reaped too many tips to list. All that matters is that nothing helped, until one day . . . .
I read yet another craft book, and SHAZAM! You know how it feels when something simple smacks you like a Mack truck of a good idea? Well, chapter 14 in the The Weekend Novelist Re-Writes the Novel by Robert J. Ray, did that for me. The ‘objects lesson’ taught me to utilize my story objects (often called plot-devices) as shorthand for backstory and eliminate a lot of dense narrative.
Finally, that magic key!
“Objects tell your story.” Ray writes. “When you rewrite your novel, you can tighten your story by repeating a single object; car, train, statue, slipper, harpoon, book. There’s a good chance the objects are already there, in your manuscript, waiting to be found, to be selected, to be repeated, to be laid down like neon breadcrumbs in the forest. Readers follow breadcrumbs.”
I began to see the power of storytelling objects everywhere. What’s Lord of the Rings without the ring, Cinderella without glass slippers, The Notebook without the book, or poor little Forest Gump without his box of chocolates?
No glass slippers, no enchanted tale, just a barefoot girl with an unfortunate name who probably does not go from rags to riches and who likely does not find her fella . . . what’s the point?
In Nicholas Spark’s novel The Notebook, that evocative leather bound book literally contains their love story. And that chocolate box on Forest Gump’s lap is a metaphor for the story to come; “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.” And oh-boy does that plot device set up and deliver a story.
Though easily overdone, an object that’s well-crafted, or emerges organically from setting or characters can establish a character’s values and thus inform and enhance the story.
In a Willamette Writers Conference screenwriting/storytelling workshop taught by Clark Kohanek, he too touched on the objects lesson. “Think about Die Hard,” Kohanek said, “when Bruce Willis enters with the teddy bear. We immediately know that object defines what’s important to him; family.”
That fuzzy teddy bear represents Willis’s values and reenters the story burnt and dirty, but safe, like him, ready to reunite with what he values so much he’d kill for. That object represents the driving force, and heart of the story because it’s valued by the protagonist.
Eventually, in rewriting my novel, Return to Sender, the protagonist, a Korean War veteran (timely 😦 ) Theo Riley, now has a toy soldier, a stack of blood-stained returned love letters, and a photograph of Korean Orphans. This trinity of objects define him, inform his moral compass and ultimately chart his destiny. These objects give the reader an understanding of Theo on a deeper level. They are backstory shorthand, and explaining it once eliminated pages of narration, because when the reader sees the tin soldier, letters, or pictures (Neon Breadcrumbs), they remember . . . because objects are a writer’s magic keys.
If you’re a local (Seattle area) writer who is interested in delving into this I will be teaching a 5 week class at Edmonds Community College in September (into October). To sign up click here. Hope to see you in class.
Mindy Halleck is an award-winning author, blogger and writing instructor. In 2015 she won a Writer’s Digest short story contest, an Edmonds Arts Association fiction contest, and her novel, Return To Sender received the ‘Readers’ Choice’ award from Readers Favorites. Halleck blogs at Literary Liaisons and is an active member of the Pacific Northwest writing community. In addition to being a writer, Halleck is a happily married, globe-trotting beachcomber, antiquer, gardener, proud grandma, and three-time cancer survivor. www.MindyHalleck.com @MindyHalleck Mindy’s AMAZON Page
The research aspect of writing historical fiction is a full-time job and often disregarded once the book is done. Add to that reader’s expectations have elevated, so authors are obliged to meet their escalating anticipations with additional information/entertainment. For example, with the sensitive subject matter of the holocaust in my second novel, keeping research organized and verifying facts is vital. For me that’s made easier by using virtual vision boarding on Pinterest to create story-boards, story images, park my research, and SO much more. That way I have the images and links to critical research at my fingertips for referencing later in blogging, tweeting, Facebooking and so on, utilizing my research by turning it into marketing gold. If you’re just beginning your first novel or starting your fifth novel, virtual vision boarding is a great author’s tool – for research, writing and marketing – that’s never too early or too late to utilize.
I’ll be sharing this information and more at Edmonds Community College in July. Click here to sign up for the workshop.
Writers, did you know that having a writing strategy could save you time in marketing? And I’m not talking about the long disputed ‘pantsers vs planners’ kind of story approach, I’m talking about what types of objects and subject matter you select for your story landscape. I’ll be teaching a workshop on that in July… I’ll share more about it later.
Anyway, every published author I know complains about the amount of time they spend marketing once the book is published. So obviously saving time in marketing is vital if you ever want to write again once your book is released into the world, which I learned waaay late in the game, but you can benefit from my hard-learned lessons.
What I didn’t know then was that the best time to start marketing is before it’s published, long before, like when you’re researching your story. In the workshop I’ll share how you can turn that research into marketing gold. I’ll also share time management tips for social media, like;
Did you know the perfect length for a twitter headline is 6 words? Why waste time thinking of more when 6 (or less) will do. KISSmetrics has reported that readers absorb the first 3 words of a headline and the last 3 words, making a six-word headline ideal.
And did you know that the school of thought on headlines (being full of keywords and information rich) is old school? These days instead of being helpful in the traditional sense headlines are now meant to raise curiosity and capture clicks.
Today’s effective social media headlines don’t contain much context and are merely a worm on a hook – it’s the click through that matters. Once they’ve clicked then they can read the article, buy the book or watch your video. But you’ve got to hook them first, so effective marketers rely on shock, emotion, or curiosity factors. Readers don’t know what to expect, and that’s why they click.
Whether you are an aspiring writer, published novelist or short story writer these tips will enhance your writing, social media and marketing time management. In the workshop I’ll share a lot of writing and social media information for example, 8 effective headline strategies backed by psychology – why waste time when you can rely on science….
Join me JULY 15th at Edmond’s Community College for a fast-paced, hands-on 3 hour workshop about using objects in writing and how to transform those objects into marketing gold. How to use your research as promotional fodder and why digital vision boards are a vital tool for writers, artist, and any small business. Click here to sign up
I’ll be teaching a workshop in July at Edmonds Community College…here’s the 911 – or is it the 411? I’m SO not hip. Either way, here’s the info;
|Vision Boards to Enhance Your Writing AND Social Media Presence
Hey, writers, vision boards can transform your storytelling and spin your writing research into marketing gold. Learn how objects and images help tell your story, then convert that story world into social media fodder, and launch or enhance your online presence long before the book deal. This part-storytelling and part-social media hands on workshop is for writers of all levels. Lots of handouts and worksheets. July 15th 9:30- 12:30 $39.00