Dawn Field (July 20, 1969 – May 2, 2020)
In late 2015, Dawn Field submitted her first post to the BookBaby Blog, titled “Eleven Ways To Take A New Look At Your Story.” While many unsolicited submissions don’t quite meet the needs (or standards) of our readers, something about Dawn’s writing stood out. I posted the article, and to my grateful amazement that initial contribution flourished into a five-year collaboration resulting in over 100 posts published here. Sadly, on May 2nd, 2020, a voice that was an inspiration to so many of us in the self-publishing community was lost when Dr. Field suddenly and tragically passed away at the age of 50. Over the past few months, we’ve continued to publish the pieces Dr. Field had submitted (she was always months ahead of schedule) in honor of her commitment to teaching and the craft of writing. And while it grieves me to note that this is the last post of Dawn’s we’ll ever publish, it is fitting and poetic that her final contribution is a companion piece to the first.
The process of developing and polishing a complete draft should be one of the most creative times in a project. This is your final chance to hone your story based on the best of your ideas. You are refining your style based on your structure — which is based on the substance of your story. Here are “Eleven Ways To Take A New Look At Your Story,” and here is part two!
Eleven more ways to push your story over the finish line
Sometimes you just need to step back from a draft and consider it as a whole. You can also look at specific parts to see if anything can be further developed.
You can approach these development methods in any order you like — or skip them all if there’s no further work necessary. Each method offers a chance to add a new layer of content to your already well-developed story. You are looking to deepen your impact. Use these ideas to tighten up your story and get it out the door!
Of course, if you are just getting started, you can also use this list to get your story rolling. Get as creative as you can. In the end, the trick is to bring all these diverse layers together and unify your story to make it more than the sum of its parts. That takes wonderful connectivity.
Ask what your cast thinks
Your story has characters. How often do you think of them as a group? What if you collected them all in a room, post-story, and asked each one how everything played out? What does each have to tell you about how things went down? How is each changed from the beginning of the story?
Check your fundamentals
All of your literary elements can be broken down into a big list of your “story fundamentals.” Take a moment to itemize your list. It will include all your characters, any big event, locations in your setting, any props, symbols or other tangibles important to the story. What are the five best defining features for each? How well do your elements and features mesh together so you get lots of linkages? The fundamentals with the best defining features create the juiciest interactions.
Check your “key parts”
All parts of your story are important, but the key parts anchor all the rest. How strong is your concept, scope, synopsis, ending, opening, inciting incident, and the strength of style in your most important scenes? Open your draft and check each of these key locations independently. Could you do better if you re-wrote them now that you know the whole story?
Check your acts and plot points
Structure is substance. How are all your key parts fitting together into your story arc? Is there a clear beginning, middle, and ending? A three-act structure is a staple of traditional storytelling built on nine plot points. Check the entire flow of your manuscript from a bird’s eye level. If any acts or plot points are under-written, you know what to do.
Check your chaptering
The most obvious way to segment your story is through scenes and chapters. How great is this pattern? How long are your chapters? Do they flow well? How do they start and end? Examine the size, shape, and connectivity of your chapters as a whole. Is your chaptering as purposeful as it could be?
Read out your white spaces
Read out the narrative of your white spaces between your chapters. Silence matters – often much more than action. White space gives readers a chance to take a breath. More importantly, it triggers them to summarize. What is said in each break? This is how you highlight what’s most important.
Enrich the eternal and universal
Do you have enough of the eternal and universal topics that readers love to hear about? Death, love, belonging, betrayal – how extreme is your topic vocabulary? Do you give your readers a new take on them? What’s your edge? Could you add more?
Revisit your book synopsis
Compare your book synopsis to your text, or write one if you haven’t yet. How balanced, well-structured, compelling, and complete is your draft? Check for holes or any stretches with too little or too much content. Is your start stronger than your ending? Is your middle holding up? Is the ending the best it can be? Is it all hanging together?
Revisit your scene list synopsis
How strong is your scene list synopsis? Check it, or create one to match your outline to your text. Can you see improvements to make? Any places that your intentions fell short of what you wanted? Or maybe your text doesn’t add up to something bigger? Maybe you’ll get inspired to fill in new happenings that heighten the story.
Can you create more story language?
Review the quantity and quality of your story-specific vocabulary. What’s your equivalent to Quidditch, or the character Scrooge, or the wardrobe that serves as a portal to Narnia? The more story-specific vocabulary you have, the easier you will find it to draw readers in.
Scan your story for weaknesses that result from your weaknesses as a writer. As soon as you do, your story is already better. You know what you need to work on and you are on your way!
Eleven Ways To Take A New Look At Your Story
Develop Your Story By Listening To Your Cast
Building Your Scene-Quality Map
Crafting The Perfect Chapter
Use Expressive Words To Build Your Story World