Today I’m delighted to welcome Beth Revis, the best-selling author of Across the Universe, who is talking about her new writing craft book, Paper Hearts.
DON’T MISS OUT ON THE GIVEAWAY AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS POST! And remember all orders of Paper Hearts made before November 15 from Malaprops will come with a special gift–more details below!
|You can win a journal with this cover!|
I wrote Paper Hearts for the writer I used to be. The questions I used to have plagued me when I was starting this career path. How do I get to the end? What’s the proper way to structure a novel–is there even a proper way? How do I make my book stand out from all the other ones on sub?
Now, fifteen years, eleven unpublished books, three New York Times bestsellers, one self published book, and countless hours working on craft and working with other professionals, I think I finally have the answers that I needed way back then.
Unfortunately, I can’t travel back in time.
But what I can do is try to help others. I’ve been compiling articles on the things I’ve learned about writing, publishing, and marketing for years, first informally on blog posts, then more collectively on Wattpad. After hitting 100000 reads, I realized that I should take Paper Hearts more seriously…and that I had not one book, but three.
Fully revised and expanded, the Paper Hearts series will feature three volumes, one each on writing, publishing, and marketing. Paper Hearts, Volume 1: Some Writing Advice will be out on November 1, with the other two following in December and January.
Your enemy is the blank page. When it comes to writing, there’s no wrong way to get words on paper. But it’s not always easy to make the ink flow. Paper Hearts: Some Writing Advice won’t make writing any simpler, but it may help spark your imagination and get your hands back on the keyboard.
- How to Develop Character, Plot, and World
- What Common Advice You Should Ignore
- What Advice Actually Helps
- How to Develop a Novel
- The Basics of Grammar, Style, and Tone
- Four Practical Methods of Charting Story Structure
- How to Get Critiques and Revise Your Novel
- How to Deal with Failure
- And much more!
I’m fond of joking that when I get stuck in writing, I’ll kill a character or blow something up (in the novel…usually). But the truth of the matter is, I most often get stuck in the middle of the novel, and when that happens, the best solution is to shake things up considerably. Here are my go-to strategies for getting past what I call the “murky middle.”
ESTABLISH THE CHARACTER’S MAIN DESIRE…AND DESTROY IT This can work in a few ways. The first is to make it impossible for the main character to get her heart’s desire; the second is to give it to her and then make her regret it.
For example, let’s say you have a character who wants nothing more than to compete in a marathon. You have her training, and it’s difficult, but she’s doing it. But honestly? A story of a runner training for a marathon can be boring.
Break her leg.
Now it’s impossible for your character to achieve her goal…maybe. Your story can divert in two ways—she can overcome the obstacle or she can fail at running a marathon and instead find something else she wants to accomplish.
Another alternative is to give her her goal, but twist it. Let’s say this character runs the marathon—and she wins! But after crossing the finish line, she realizes that she spent so much time training for the marathon that she neglected her relationship with her best friend and must now work to repair that relationship.
Any way you go about it, don’t make life easy for your main character. Never show them mercy…at least not until the end (and maybe not then!).
REFER TO STORY STRUCTURE TROPES Later on in the book, I talk a lot about story structure, which is basically a specific style of outlining. While I don’t think following classic tropes works for every situation, if you find yourself stuck, particularly in the middle of the novel which is often the hardest thing for a writer to get through, refer to structure models. They will usually prompt you with scenarios or possible directions for the story to take.
BALANCE THE INTERNAL AND THE EXTERNAL ARC Often, when I get stuck in the middle it’s because I’m too heavily focused on either the external or the internal arc, and I need to switch it up. The internal arc is the emotional story of the character (the why of how she acts; her heart’s desire and the reasoning behind it). The external arc is the plot, the series of events.
If you’re writing a thriller and are bogged down with fight scenes and car chases in the middle of the novel, balance that out with some introspection by your heroine. If you’re writing a romance and all you have is the emotional side, balance it with some action.
SWITCH IT UP By the time you get to the middle of the novel, you’re probably a little comfortable. You’ve developed your characters and their world, you know the plot’s basic direction, you understand the world.
This is where my “blow things up” statement comes from. When you’re too comfortable as a writer, you’re not taking it far enough. Don’t settle. Switch things up. Turn things around.
This may require drastic rewriting—switching to a different point of view character, changing the direction of the plot, and so on—but it’s almost always worth it. Because what you definitely don’t want is to be boring.
DON’T BE BORING If the reason why you’re struggling through the novel is because you’re bored, then what you’re writing is boring and your reader will be bored too.
This is the death knell for writing. Readers will forgive a lot, but they never forgive being bored. Whatever it takes to rekindle your passion for writing—do that. Take a break and refill your creative well. Change the story. Go back to the roots that drove you to write the story in the first place. Do whatever it takes to not write a boring story.