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Hugs and Chocolate

Not the end, but  the possibilities are endless.

Not the end, but the possibilities are endless.

There comes a time in each of our lives when we have to stop and reevaluate our goals and purpose. That time has come for the writers at Hugs and Chocolate. We’re going to take a three month hiatus and decide how we’re going to proceed in the future. We may pick up where we left off, come back with a new direction, or we may decide to continue Hugs and Chocolate in a format other than a blog.

In the year we’ve been blogging, our little community grew from six almost strangers to a large group of people passionate about writing. We’ve celebrated the highs and been there for each other during the lows. It’s been a beautiful year and I don’t think any of us will ever forget it. We’d like to thank each of our readers and let you know how much your friendship and support has meant. We’re excited about the future and hope each and every one of you is there to share it with us. Until then, love, best wishes, and lots of hugs and chocolate!

P.S. The winner of the twenty-five page critique has been chosen and emailed. Keep writing!

 

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rubyblossom/7006036843/sizes/c/in/pool-809956@N25/

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Posted by on February 27, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Headswerving: Storytelling from Multiple Points of View

By Vaughn Roycroft

Multiple faces with textHeadswerver Extraordinaire: What, you’ve never heard the term? I’m guessing you haven’t since I made it up. It’s a riff on the Shakespearian bedswerver, or one who is not faithful to a single bedmate, prone to swerving capriciously from one bed to another; a playful name for one with a voracious sexual appetite and/or an adulterous inclination.

I made it up because I happen to be one. A headswerver, not a bedswerver.

So what’s a headswerver? It’s a fiction writer who is not faithful to a single character’s point of view, prone to swerving capriciously from the viewpoint of one character to another. To deserve the moniker, one should be prone to writing from many characters’ viewpoints. I’m not alone. George RR Martin is a well-known headswerver, as are Joe Abercrombie and Guy Gavriel Kay, to name a few. Robert Jordan and Marion Zimmer Bradley were also eminent headswervers.

My headswerving may not be as outrageous as someone like GRRM, but I’m right up there. Most writing educators advise moderation when it comes to multiple POVs, some saying keep it to two or three, perhaps four at the extreme. I have eight. And that’s just in book one.

All told, in all four of my manuscripts, I have written from the tight third-person perspectives of twenty-two characters. Hello, my name is Vaughn, and I’m a compulsive headswerver.

Scale and Dimension: I didn’t know any better when I started. I had no sense of restraint in my use of multiple POVs. I simply wrote what I like to read, and considered this approach the best way to tell my tale. I write historical fantasy, and the scope of my world is, if I do say so, rather epic. I was interested in seeing my world from a variety of angles. Utilizing the viewpoint of several (okay, in my case, many) characters helps me to give readers a grasp of the scale of the story. Seeing the issues and conflicts from various perspectives adds dimension to what could be as flat as a map when viewed from a lone standpoint.

I’ll give you an example in relation to setting. In book one I have four characters from three ethnicities, hailing from disparate backgrounds, all starting the story from one place—a walled port city on the northern shores of the Black Sea. For one character, the Greek provincial governor, the city is an opulent world, his ancestral home, rightfully back in the control of his family, a wealthy shipping dynasty. For another, the Roman garrison commander, it’s a stinking backwater post, an assignment he deems beneath his noble standing. There are also two Gothic characters who start the story there, and to them the city is a prison, as they are both slaves. The younger of the two, a slave most of his life, escapes with the aid of the other slaves, bidden to bring back an army of his kinfolk. The other, an aging warrior from a wide green land, stays behind, willingly remaining cloistered in a windowless stone room for an oath to a dead king.

A simple port city could’ve been a distant and detached spot on a map for most of my tale, as neither of my MCs have ever been there. I’m hoping that instead, the experience of these four distinctive secondary characters give the place shape and shading, bringing its history to life.

On the Other Hand: I’ve read my share of stories, particularly historical fantasy stories, where the antagonists are just a distant looming peril. While there’s nothing wrong with looming peril, I believe a story can be enhanced if we get to know the opposition. And I’m not just talking about a scene where the dark lord uses telepathy to strangle a messenger bearing ill tidings, simply to show us he is merciless and arbitrarily cruel. For me it’s all the better that Sauron is a duplicitous fallen demigod, corrupted by a desire to create order from chaos; that the Nazgûl were deceived kings of men, lured to accept corrupting rings by their promise of power; that Darth Vader went to the dark side in a vain attempt to rescue lost love from death’s grip. I want more than simple good versus evil. Give me many shades of gray (no, wait—oh, never mind). I like to know what’s driving my favorite antagonists.

And what better way to get to know a character than to be in their skin, to feel their feelings of betrayal, loss, or injustice? What drove them to the dark side? Is their side even dark to them? Headswerving to your baddies’ viewpoints delivers the answers. Goals can be clarified, motivations strengthened, and conflicts escalated when we are brought deeper into the psyche of the antagonists by seeing the story from their perspectives. For me there’s an added bonus: they’re just plain fun to write.

Options for Optimizing: Headswerving also allows you to optimize the tension and impact for any given scene. It’s not just what’s happening, but who’s experiencing it. For example, say a character slaps another across the face. Who’s going to best sense whether the incident will escalate and how? The slapper or the slappee? Maybe it’s a bystander. Who best knows the depth of shame involved, or the amount of regret for the impulse? Which is greater? Rather than offering the reader just a stinging hand or cheek, you allow them to experience the event from the head that feels the fullest impact and senses the gamut of the potential repercussions.

How about a first kiss? Who is most shocked, or elated, or scandalized? Okay, how about a death? Who’s going to be horrified? Who least expected it? Who will be devastated? You can explore one or all of them—see the incident and delve the ramifications in any variety of ways. But most importantly, you get to choose the perspective that best moves your story forward and will deliver the biggest impact on your readers.

My Rose Colored POV Glasses: By now I’m sure you’ve surmised that I’m unabashed and unrepentant about my headswerving. I may love seeing from the eyes of many, but I’m not completely blind to the pitfalls. I’ve made my share of mistakes with my profusion of POVs, and I may make even more changes to my manuscripts before I’m done. So before you jump on the headswerver bandwagon, take a note of caution from a longtime devotee. Be aware of these potential complicating issues:

* Make them distinctive!  Be sure each character has a unique voice and perspective. Does each character come across differently and offer the reader a fresh outlook? Use of quirks and vocal tics can be helpful, but don’t rely on tricks. Make sure each POV character has a singular personality and set of opinions. Don’t duplicate worldviews.

*Avoid head-hopping. Make sure it’s very clear to the reader whose skin they are in. It can feel disorienting or even creepy when they aren’t sure. Delineate the changes with a scene break or a chapter change, and quickly identify the new POV after the change—within a line or two.

*Don’t fall down the rabbit hole. Secondary character POVs can be a blast to write, and they often aid the pacing. The development of subplots can enhance your story’s themes and keep your novel’s middle from sagging. But beware of being sidetracked! Your readers want to follow your protagonists—after all, they’re the ones you put in the story’s driver’s seat. Get back to him/her/them… Often.

*Offer closure. Don’t allow yourself to leave dangling participants when you get to ‘The End.’ If you’re going to create them, give them an arc. Every POV character should have some clear reason for their departure or the end of their role in the story—for better or worse. (I know some of you brash young headswervers are going to kill a few off, aren’t you? It’s okay, I get it.)

Headswerving’s Head Recruiter: So tell me—are you already a headswerver, or do you enjoy reading them? If you haven’t yet, do you think you’ll ever try a story from multiple POVs? Or are you just annoyed by all this hopping around, wishing I’d join Headswervers Anonymous already?

Vaughn RoycroftMany thanks to Heather Reid for allowing me to fill in for her, and to all the H&C ladies for their hospitality! For those of you who don’t know me, feel free to drop by my other blogging home at vaughnroycroftblog.com anytime, and we can get better acquainted. 

Image credit: rolffimages / 123RF Stock Photo

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2013 in Characters, Point of View, Uncategorized

 

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Perfecting Your Pitch

writers blockWe spend hours, days, months, and sometimes years writing our stories. One idea turns into many and we write them down to create worlds and adventures that allow people to escape and believe anything is possible. After all this work, we’re then asked to shorten our story into a few paragraphs, then one paragraph, and finally, into a single sentence. The one sentence pitch.

Some people find this easy, while for others, this takes a lot of time and thought. I’m one of those for whom it took some time. Instead of telling you how to write yours, I’m going to leave you a map of the sites I utilized to figure out the puzzle.

The first site I found is a blog by Nathan Bransford. He’s a published author and former literary agent. He’s got a great website, full of helpful information: http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2010/05/how-to-write-one-sentence-pitch.html 

The next is a website written by agent, Rachelle Gardner. Her post isn’t very long, but it does give a good overview: http://www.rachellegardner.com/2012/11/writing-a-one-sentence-summary/ 

Querytracker’s blog was another helpful resource: http://querytracker.blogspot.com/2009/02/writing-loglinethe-one-sentence-pitch.html

Here’s another from Writer’s Digest: http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/thrillerfest-2011-pitch

Elana Johnson is an author who wrote a post about this very subject and included several links to help people craft their pitch: http://elanajohnson.blogspot.com/2010/04/one-sentence-pitching.html 

I’ve given five different sites that I used and found helpful. The web is full of information, some of it more useful and true than others. I tend to stick to names I know and recognize when I’m looking for help. I wanted to use links, instead of putting it into my own words, because I can’t give you the magic formula for writing the perfect pitch for your story – only you know your story well enough to narrow it down to a few words.

If you’re feeling up to the challenge, post your one sentence pitch in the comments for critique. Please be sure and identify the genre and myself or one of the other writers will tell you what we think. Good luck and keep writing!

Join us on Wednesday when guest writer, Vaughn Roycroft, will be discussing the technique of using multiple points of view!

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2013 in Craft, Critique, Pitch, Uncategorized, Writing

 

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Use Character Arc To Improve Your Story

Not all characters change for the better...Al Pacino in Scarface

Not all characters change for the better…
Al Pacino in Scarface

“A character arc is the status of the character as it unfolds throughout the story, the storyline, or series of episodes.”

~ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Character_arc

“In real life we each regard ourselves as the main character.”

~ On Writing, Stephen King

As part of our workshop series, I wanted to take a look at the concept of Character Arc, and how it can enable us to write characters that:

                                    * Make the story better

                                    * Are plausible

The Character Arc, explored in Chris Vogler’s book The Writer’s Journey, is a framework. Are there flaws? Yes, I believe so. Characters don’t always need to change to grow. Some grow in their resolve. They remain steadfast in their beliefs.

When I first committed to writing, the only book on craft I’d read was Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s an excellent book, and I referenced it a few times for today’s post. So, I dove into writing my first book. I had great fun, and only a vague vision of where my story would go. But I got stuck. When a girl from mudding and four-wheeler country says she’s stuck, she means mired in muck up to her elbows.

The second book on craft I read was Chris Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey. Here’s what using the framework did for me:

It enabled me to learn to ask the right questions of my characters, and move the story forward. I began to understand how to connect-the-dots. Using the Hero’s Journey, as Vogler suggests, as a guide to creating a realistic Character Arc, helped me create a cohesive beginning (Act 1), middle (Act 2), and end (Act 3). 

I still write the first, even second draft from an organic mindset. One of my great pleasures in writing is the feeling of awe and adventure as I listen to the whisper of my subconscious. I live a safe life with my remarkable husband and children; writing is my great road trip.

It’s awesome to hit the road and words in the spirit of spontaneity and telling the story as honestly as we can, but if we get lost, there’s nothing wrong with referencing a map.

 I encourage you to further research character arcs, the three- act story, archetypes,  as well as  steadfast characters. I’m using my notes taken from The Writer’s Journey. I’ve broken down the Arc into three acts. The words in parentheses reference the Hero’s Journey.

Act One:

1. Limited awareness of problem (Ordinary World)

2. Increased awareness (Call to Adventure)

3. Reluctance to change (Refusal)

4. Overcoming reluctance (Meeting with the Mentor) 

Act Two:

5. Overcoming reluctance (Crossing the Threshold)

6. Experimenting with first change (Tests, Allies, and Enemies)

7. Preparing for big change (Approach to Inmost Cave)

8. Attempting big change (Ordeal)

9. Consequences of the attempt (Reward)

Act Three:

10. Rededication to change (The Road Back)

11. Final attempt at big change (Resurrection)

12. Final mastery of problem (Return with Elixer)

Here are some examples of questions using this framework can help us ask:

* How does the character become aware of conflict/ problems?

* How will the character initially react to the conflict?

* Can the character turn to anyone for advice and honesty?

* What motivates the character to a.) change or b.) remain true to their belief system?

I would love to hear your thoughts on character arc, the Hero’s Journey, or the three-act story structure. How have they affected your writing and storyline, or have you found another system that works for your manuscript?

Thank you for participating.

 
 

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First Twenty-Five Pages and a Critique!

I’m going to start off with a disclaimer. This post is for writers pursuing publication. If you write for a hobby, that’s awesome. You can do whatever you like. If you’re writing for publication, there are some things you may want to consider in order to enhance your chances of landing that agent and book deal. This isn’t meant to stifle anyone’s creativity; this is strictly guidance. Take it if you think it’s useful, but discard it if you think it’s not. Either way, I hope it gets you thinking about your story, which is always a good thing.

The first twenty-five pages of a story are extremely important. A writer has to hook the reader, introduce the conflict, and move an entire story and plot forward. This is no easy task. Because of the amount of queries agents and editors receive, they are only able to read a sample to see if they’re interested. Maybe they’ll read the first chapter, two chapters, twenty-five pages? It depends. Then based on those pages, they’ll either request more pages or pass. Hopefully the magnitude of the first twenty-five pages has sunk in.

One of my go to books on beginnings is Hooked by Les Edgerton. Edgerton say, “An opening scene has ten core components: (1) the inciting incident; (2) the story-worthy problem; (3) the initial surface problem; (4) the setup; (5) backstory; (6) a stellar opening sentence; (7) body language; (8) character; (9) setting; and (10) foreshadowing,” (page 23).

If you’re newly starting out, and you want to look for some examples, go to the bookstore and look at current releases—I’m talking books released in the last one to three years. Read over the first thirty pages of books in the genre you’re interested in writing. The reason I say to look at current books for reference is because the publishing industry is forever changing. What was acceptable ten (even five) years ago may not be acceptable today. Of course you can take books that are wildly successful that don’t have these things in the first twenty-five, but you can’t always take the exception as an example for the norm.

One of the most important parts of the beginning is the inciting incident. The inciting incident is the action that pushes the story forward. I’ve heard some industry professionals say they’d like for this to happen anywhere from the first seven pages to the first twenty-five. It’s important to understand what the inciting incident of a story is. It doesn’t always have to be a car wreck or a murder (although it very well could be). But it can be subtler than that. I know I said you shouldn’t use exceptions as examples for the norm, but since the wildly successful books are the ones most people are familiar with, I’m going to use two big name books as examples. Harry Potter. The inciting incident in Harry Potter is when the first letter to Hogwarts is delivered to Harry. This happens on page thirty-four. That’s not far off from the first thirty pages. Let’s look at another one. The Hunger Games. The inciting incident of this story is on page twenty, when Primrose Everdeen’s name is chosen during the reaping. It’s important for the reader to care about the characters and to be emotionally invested in them enough to care about what happens to them, so when you introduce the inciting incident, the reader will follow your character on their journey.

I could talk about beginnings for a very long time. This is just skimming the surface. Hopefully it entices you to go research and read more to improve your craft.

In honor of our one year anniversary at Hugs and Chocolate, and for our February workshops, I’m offering a twenty-five page critique to one of the followers. All you have to do is follow the blog and leave a comment and make sure to include your email address. The winner will be chosen using random.org, and they will be notified via email. The critique opportunity is open until Friday, February 15, 2013.

 
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Posted by on February 8, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

JUST DRIVE (Or How To Live With Your Muse)

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In the background plays Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic by The Police . . .

Computer charged? Check. Writing program updated? Check. Note pads, pens, warm body in chair? Check. Muse?  . . . Muse?  . . . Ah, hell. Where is the Muse?

Though I’ve tried before to (write it)

Of the feelings I have  . . . in my heart

Every time that I come near . . .

I just lose my nerve as I’ve done from the start”  

The day yawns ahead, hours to write words—new words, not revisions—that will finally forward my work-in-progress. Today, time is literally on my side, but ah, erm, the Muse isn’t.

Okay, well, fine. Shoulders back, deep breath. I can do this. I reposition my keyboard, swipe an imaginary speck from the monitor, refrain from checking emails, then straighten my collection of note pads and pick up my pen. Clickit-clickit-clickit. I fidget with the plunger, watching the ballpoint tip thrust and retract, then sigh and write a shopping list for dinner.

There. I draw a box around the list to remind me this is a real life note. Burdens are lifted. Time to push through. The mind is now open (for business). I’m ready! I look to my screen; the curser winks from the blank page. I frown. Is it . . . taunting me? I write three sentences and reject them all. I rewrite the same first sentence and spin it five different ways. Blech. 2 hours wasted. I move the keyboard aside and bang my head on the desk. I can’t do this alone. I need my muse.

But my silent fears have gripped 

Long before I reach the (pen)

Long before my tongue has tripped me

Must I always be alone?

For most writers, summoning the muse on demand is an act of futility. Mine manifests in several versions, my favorite is an elusive purple dragon named Zebedee. Zeb (for short) is a willful, easily distracted, adventure seeking, magical being. On his spiny back, my imagination soars.

And today he’s a no show. #LazyMuse. I grab my shopping list and head for the car. May as well get something productive done. As I travel across town, my consciousness is occupied with the drive, a mundane task I settle into with ease. The road rolls out before me, the traffic hums, and my tangled spirit unwinds. I sigh, exhaling the morning’s angst, then inhale the sugary/tart scent of grape Koolaid that is Zeb’s particular aroma.

“I like the way the snow drifts,” he says from the passenger seat. His eyes whirl like multi-colored pinwheels on a summer day. “You know that scene you were working on? I think you should try this . . .” he says, then spouts the most perfect opening line—and that is the beauty of the muse. Because even though we think they aren’t listening while we struggle for solutions or perfect phrasing, they are. (See Lara Schiffbauer’s incredible post on How Your Intuition Works.)

Every little thing (Zeb) does is magic. 

The intuition process is magic—even if it isn’t always timely. The muse has absolutely no appropriate sense of time.

“Now? You show up now when I can’t write anything down?” I pray for a red light and begin multi-tasking—one hand grips the wheel while the other gropes blindly in my purse. His golden words become a mantra on my tongue, and my inner voice frets—Don’t forget. Don’t forget. Where the hell is that mini-recorder? Don’t forget. 

“It was too crowded before,” Zeb complains. “When you weren’t thinking about house chores, you were trying to tell me what to do again. You know I don’t like that. Besides, I always enjoy an open road.” He dug in the center console between the seats. “I’m hungry. You got any cat treats in here?”

“Um, a half-eaten a protein bar—maybe.” I stop at a red light, locate my recorder, and begin chattering at it like a cop on a blown stake-out.

Zeb’s spikes droop. The magic of sudden inspiration slips sideways. I hit pause and set the recorder down. You never, never upset/ignore the muse, or they go away—besides I like Zeb.

“Fine. I’ll take you for . . .” I look around for ideas for which to bribe a petulant dragon.

“Culver’s flavor of the day is Kit Kat Swirl,” he offers, perking up.

An inelegant snort escapes my lips. “Forget it—that was a disaster last time. You melted all of the ice cream in the store, and the little kids cried until you gave them rides.” Who can be sad over ice cream when you’re sailing on the back of a dragon?

Every little thing (Zeb) does

Zeb began drooping again. “I’ll buy you popcorn kernels at the store,”  I decide, and resolve to keep cat treats in the car—though, watching him eat the kernels is fun. They pop on his tongue and he giggles (a dragon’s palate is very ticklish.) Have you ever heard a muse giggle? Close your eyes and imagine the chiming of silvered raindrops on a crystal xylophone. My muse’s laughter evokes the music in my soul. Want to find the coveted writing zone? Have fun with your muse.

Every little thing (Zeb) does

Zeb counter-negotiates. “Can I roll the window down?”

“It’s seven degrees!”

He opens his mouth and huffs. The car becomes an instant sauna.

Every little thing (Zeb) does

“Fine! Fine. But you are going to give me some good stuff to write after all this.”

“Of course. All you had to do was ask,” he replies.

The car behind us honks and I jump. The light is green and the other lanes have already begun moving ahead. Zeb chuckles and I give him a disapproving glare.

“Just drive,” he snickers, and sticks his head into the wind. I focus on the road.

Open road. Open mind. I am at peace and, with that, ideas flow like an open tap. I sneak a look at Zeb, his eyes are half-mast, his long, pink tongue dangles from his wide, crocodilian smile. My muse is happiest with simple pleasures. And if he’s happy, so am I.

Every little thing, every little thing,

Every little thing (Zeb) does

Magic, magic, magic, magic, magic

What are the roadblocks to your creativity? How do you overcome them?

A big thank you to the wonderful writers here at Hugs & Chocolate! The opportunity to guest post while Heather works on her upcoming release for Pretty Dark Nothing is both an honor and a privilege. I love all of your wisdom and look forward to getting to know you better. <hugs> D.

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D. D. Falvo resides in the Midwestern United States, inhabiting a 100-year-old house with her best friend/husband, two daughters, a sassy cat, and the ghost of a stubborn Irish setter. She was captured and released by faeries as child and is still seeking a way back. Currently, she spends her time writing the fantasy epic StarDust and adopting stray dragons. You can connect with D through TwitterFacebook, Goodreads, or on her website.

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Posted by on February 6, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Focusing on Major Plot Points

2013-01-25 08.20.29How often do you read a book’s jacket copy? Probably every time before purchasing one.  The idea is fresh, original. The main plot point sounds like something you could devour in one sitting. But then you get home and start reading it. You’re waiting for the author to deliver, but … you keep waiting. While the book may be good, the story is not what you thought it would be about. The plot point you were so looking forward to reading is glossed over. It happens so quickly you’re left wondering if you missed something.

The jacket copy is pretty much the query letter. Sure, it’s tweaked some, but oftentimes it’s the same. When I’m editing, and I ask for the query (or the summary), I expect the main conflict in the query/summary to play a big part of the story.

Example (and this is a completely made up, terrible example): Jane Doe leaves home to follow her dream of becoming a circus performer, only it’s much more dangerous than she could have ever imagined. When one of the trapeze artists is brutally murdered, Jane must decide if she should stay and live her dream, or go home where it’s safe.

If you were to read that, you’d expect there to be a lot of tension since “it’s much more dangerous than she could have ever imagined,” and then there’s the murder. We would see all these dangers, and Jane struggling to decide what she should do. But what if when you started reading it, there aren’t really any dangers. Jane meets a cute clown-boy she falls in love with. Sure she may fall off the tightrope every now and again, but it’s nothing so dangerous you, as the reader, would think she’d consider giving up on her dream. And then there’s the murder, which doesn’t happen until almost the end of the book, and Jane doesn’t really struggle with her decision. She decides it’s what she loves, so she stays. You’d be disappointed, right?

While this may be a grossly exaggerated example, this is something I often see. The query will focus on something that is glossed over or not really touched on in the manuscript.

You have a certain responsibility as a writer to hold reader’s expectations. If one of your critique partners, or someone who has read your query/summary and your story tells you it’s not what they expected based on the query, your plot may lack focus. Take a good look at your query and decide if you need to rework your query or your story.

Chances are, the real conflict lies in the big issue you’ve pulled out in the query, it’s just not pulled out in the story. When you pull out the main plot point, your story will be much stronger, cohesive.

Have you ran into this before?

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2013 in Uncategorized