Friday, June 1, 2012

Storyteller's Journey

            Where Is the Magic?

As I near the end of my third revision on my WIP, I have come to a most unfortunate realization: It's missing something - there is no magic! In an attempt to strive for a stellar story, my manuscript reads like something I would receive a C+ grade for - from a high school English teacher!
This past week I have scrutinized the wonderful stories I admire and asked the question: Why are they so special? Obviously, there are as many different reasons as there are Newbery Medal Award winners! However, for my purposes, I have come up with a list of attributes that most award-winning stories have in common. As I begin my fourth revision next week, I'm hoping to take my manuscript from the mundane, to the magical.

These are some points for me to ponder:

1) Character Development - When J. K. Rowling wrote the first book in her Harry Potter series, her own mother had recently passed away. She states that tapping into her own grief allowed her to create believable emotions for Harry. Can I dig deeper, to create stronger characters?

2) Distinct Voices - Developing a distinct voice for each character gives the reader a better insight to each of them, and can be very entertaining. As I've read through my WIP, I have noticed that my characters' voices (with two exceptions) sound too similar.
I have more work to do with voice.

3) Interesting Word Choices - This is something I love in a good book. However, even though it's important to me, I can tell my writing became lazy toward the end of my story. Add this to the list, too.

4) Rhythm in the Text - This goes along with the previous point. I enjoy reading a book that is somewhat poetic in style. (Great example: The Underneath, by Kathi Appelt.) Here, too, my writing became routine. Lots of work to do.

5) Suspense and Surprises - Like most readers, I love a few little (and not so little) surprises that an author weaves into her novel.
Did I hold enough back? The answer is no!

6) Colorful Setting Descriptions - This is one area that I feel I did a decent job. However, it also needs to be reviewed.

7) Humor - This point I failed miserably. Although I love good humor, I'm terrible at it. I'm not sure I can pull this one off!

8) Fatal Flaws in Characters - My protagonist comes off too perfect - with the exception of a slight anger problem. Today's MG readers don't want "sugar, and spice, and everything nice."
All my primary characters need to be more textured.

9) Engaging Hero's Journey - I feel so-so about this point. However, the initial challenge to my main character needs to be emphasized more. Set a better hook!

10) Special Ingredient - This is by far the most important item on my list, and it may be the most difficult to attain. Every winning story includes a bit of the author herself - something that is unique to her personality. It is that one element that comes from you, and you alone. It might be your gift of humor, a painful childhood experience, or your quirky outlook on life. Whatever it is to each one of us, we can't afford to leave it out - it's like breathing life into our words. It is that special ingredient that will set our stories apart. For me, one of my "special ingredients" is my love of nature. It shows up in almost everything I write - including my historical fiction manuscript.
I need to determine that I have integrated the subject of nature into my story, not merely tacked it on.

It may seem like I'm being a bit hard on myself...but being my own toughest critic is the best chance I have of attaining my writing goals.

I'd love for you to share how you add "the magic" to your manuscripts!


  1. These are great points to ponder over, no matter what genre you write.

    I read the entire manuscript out loud as I revise or edit. You can hear the flow, and find the mistakes or typos hidden in the text. You will naturally stop when something doesn't "sound" right, or when you hit an awkwardly written sentence.

    Pulling from your own emotions and experiences gives the story a unique magic.

    Great thoughts here.

    1. Thanks, Loree. Although I have been aware of the importance of reading my work out loud, I totally forgot about that! It will definitely be done this weekend. Take care ~

  2. Great list. I'm getting to the point where I'm looking into querying and I worry whether or not I have Magic in my story. I've read it so many times I can't tell anything anymore.

  3. Don't be hard on yourself, Victoria. The points you brought up are very wise. I have no doubt that you will spruce up your manuscript and it will be better than ever :-)

    Some writers have told me to download my manuscript onto a Kindle and read it from there. It looks like a published book and will allow you to get the feel of how your story translates off a page.

    I'm going to be taking some of your advice, too! Have a great weekend!

  4. This is a great list, Victoria. I hope you don't mind if I print it for future reference.

    On another note, this is what a writer friend once told me when I lamented to her that I thought my writing was lackluster: "You are comparing yourself to giants." She was referring to the Newbery authors whom I frequently read.


    1. Thanks, Linda. You're always so encouraging. You can definitely print the list off. Take care ~

  5. Oh yes...The Fatal Flaws. I need to work on that more. I think I've been so busy trying to make my characters "the hero" I forget they shouldn't be perfect. Great list. Thanks for the reminders.

    1. Thanks, Kriston. We can work on this at our critique group on Tuesday night. See you there!

  6. hahahah. I think you can never be too hard on yourself, who else will?

    I have a Workbook I created. It's this magical checklist that goes with me as I write my books. I go through it, one point at a time.

    This week, I'm working on the bad guys. I thought it would be easy because these bad guys rock, but once I got into the points in the Workbook, I discovered that he had no real reason for being a jerk. So I gave him one. Weaved it into the text and now, I have a real bad guy who makes you freak out.

    For me that extra ingredient is history. I love adding in a historical setting and making it explode into the story.

    Your points are wonderful, and they should all help you deepen your story. HAVE FUN!!!

    1. Tanya - That is so cool. Thanks for the wonderful ideas!