Thursday, October 09, 2014

Confessions of A Sophomore Author, Part X: You just have to have a little...

This Thursday at the Pink Heart Society, columnist Jennifer Hayward brings us the tenth installment of her Confessions of a Sophomore Author series.  She's talking about that little ‘thang’ we all need to finish a book.

It occurred to me recently while finishing that often tricky second half of a book that there is always a moment when I’m writing where I wonder – is this going to work?  Is it going to come together like it needs to? Is it compelling enough? Your mind spirals – is it as good as the last book?

What was I thinking attempting a two-hundred page book where all my plot threads have to come perfectly together at the end? Where my character arcs need to reach a satisfying, emotional conclusion that leaves the story lingering in my reader’s mind? That’s unique from anything else they’ve read? A story with a fast pace that sustains interest throughout?

There are moments, to be sure, it’s intimidating. But one word popped into my head when I thought about what gets me to ‘the end’. And that word was faith.

The Oxford Dictionary defines faith as: Complete trust or confidence in someone or something. It’s what you need to have whether you’re submitting a first manuscript or your seventy-fifth. Every story has its own challenges, every story will be different from the last one. I hear it from writers on the loops I belong to all the time.  No matter how experienced we get – each book is a challenge. We have to have faith in ourselves as writers and faith in the story we create. Or who else will?

So what helps me along the way? When I get to the point where the doubt monsters creep in, I need to know that my framework is sound and that the magic will come if the foundation I build is strong. I’m not a super detailed plotter, but I do put an outline together and I do know my key turning points. I know my character arcs. That way I’m not walking into a manuscript blind, I’m not flailing when I reach the hard parts (usually!) Because I have my planning to fall back on.

To look at a book in totality is a formidable thing. So I break it down into manageable pieces. I build it scene by scene. Everything happens logically. In every scene, my character has a goal. Whether or not they achieve it pushes the story and their characer arc forward. Every scene reveals new information, shows the character growing. And suddenly, you’ve pushed through that challenging middle and are typing ‘the end’. Your faith has paid off.

As Kevin Costner’s character in Field of Dreams philosphizes, “If you build it, they will come.” This quote has never left my head because of how true it is. In this case it’s ‘if you build the story well, the magic will come.’

It will. Barack Obama didn’t become President in a day. He ran for Senate, he ran for Congress and then he ran for the Presidency. He built his politcal career piece by piece, he didn’t just show up one day and say, “Hey I’m here.” . The same goes for a book. You have to lay the foundation to get to your goal.

I know some writers who don’t outline at all. They need the story to reveal itself on the page as they go. But I bet you one thing: they have faith that the story will come – the magic will come. 

So given that faith in the emotional sense is key to finishing a book, here are my other tips for getting to The End:

Have an idea of where you’re going – Even if you’re not a plotter, knowing your key turning points is going to make sure you don’t go way off track. Build a skeleton outline so that when your faith wavers, this is your life raft--you may not follow it to the letter, and that’s fine, but it reduces the anxiety knowing you have it.

Be clear on your Character Arc – In order to build a satisfying story that will convince your readers your characters have truly grown throughout the story and their love is a living breathing entity, you need to know what their journey is. What were they in the beginning and how have they grown? What did they learn along the way?

First Drafts are Exactly That – Ernest Hemingway once said “The first draft of anything is shit.” While I personally like my first drafts to be super solid and I edit along the way because I need to know my foundation is strong, know that putting the manuscript aside for a week after you write it or even a few days will give you perspective and help you to layer in all the things you need to make it the richest, most touching story imaginable. Go back and layer in foreshadowing, pull out characer quirks and ensure they’re consistent throughout the book, look for additional ways to strengthen the emotional connection between your hero and heroine. This is the time.

Buy Jack Bickham’s Scene & Structure – I can’t say enough good things about this book. It taught me so much about how to structure a story, how to build the scenes that propel you through a whole novel. Logical action, reaction sequence.



Creativity is such a fragile thing. It’s so easy to let so many things intrude on the process when what you need to do is nurture the story.  It becomes particularly important when you’re on deadline and you have to finish a story on time. Build a solid foundation, believe in yourself and your instincts when it comes to your work. Faith will get you where you need to go.

Do you struggle to finish your WIPs?  What tips would you give to those struggling to complete their manuscript?


Jennifer Hayward's most recent book is Changing Constantinou’s Game:


Alexios Constantinou is notorious for his lethal charm, so when the  exquisite Isabel Peters is—literally—dropped into his lap during a hellish elevator ride, he doesn't waste the opportunity! With tensions sky-high after their near-death experience, an insatiable desire ignites between them, and all bets are off. 

But when Alex discovers that reporter Isabel's next story is him, he's furious…yet determined to use it to his advantage. He's calling the shots, but the closer Isabel gets, the closer she comes to discovering his carefully concealed secret. Now, with everything at stake, he'll need a whole new game plan….

To find out more about Jennifer and her books, you can visit her website or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

13 comments:

  1. Great advice here Jennifer - my brother has written two books on the trials, tribulations and sometimes whacky world of plumbing and he has gone through similar "toils" on drafts. Started, put down, deleted, start over...and although a work of art takes time seeing the end result in one's head seems to be the driving force amongst you creative types. :) Before "The Divorce Party" I had a hard time reading a book cover to cover...regardless of the storyline the way authors like yourself can captivate the imagination and create the page-turners that you do is something to marvel. So keep on doing what you're doing...not only are you creating fans of your work but are inspiring others to follow in your footsteps. Cheers, Andy

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    1. Thank you Andy! That is so lovely to hear :) Getting to the end certainly is worth it!

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  2. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. :D http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Hkn-LSh7es

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    1. Aww Lisa I love that clip :) And movie. So true. Thanks for stopping by xx

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  3. Thank you for the wonderful post, Jennifer. Having just completed my second ms (the first was my "learning experience" LOL!) I wasn't always sure I was going to make it to the end but I knew where I needed to go so that helped. Although I did do quite a bit of polishing, I'm setting it aside to let it cool off. I didn't make the finals in sytycw so now I have that luxury of gaining perspective with some time away. I will look for Scene & Structure and read that before I come back to it. And since I'm a glutton for punishment, I'm starting my new story. :)

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    1. Hi Carol! I can't rave about Jack's book enough. It helped me so much! Hugs on not making top 25 in SYTYCW. I didn't make it in 2011 in New Voices then along came SYTYCW 2012 and I had the right story. So kudos to you for starting another manuscript! xx

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    2. Meant to also say I have my fingers crossed you get a request for this year's submission!

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  4. So much great advice and good sense here. You are a great motivator Jen, take it from me! Andie

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    1. Aww thank you Andie! that means a ton xx Thanks for coming by!

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  5. Great post Jennifer and guess what. I've bought another book!!

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    1. Thanks Rachael! It's such a great book! You won't be sorry :)

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  6. Great post, Jen. I think having that faith is so important, it's a tough enough journey anyway, if you don't believe that you can get to the end it would be so much harder!

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