Moving the Needle

Last month I put a pause on submitting work unless I was looking for a critique. That decision felt like a step backwards. I realized my work is good- just not great. Something in each story seemed off or not quite there. I couldn’t submit with confidence.

Feeling lost in the woods

In the past my story seemed ready. Well, ready for the moment, the best I could do for now. Invariably, the story had so much further to go but that realization did not happen until after submission.

I am amazed my current queries have been getting a response. I shudder when I find some of my earlier submissions and realize the quality of the writing. Giant holes and poor transitions appear. Honestly, I did not know better. Six months ago I thought 4 stories were ready to submit. I must have been high. Today I feel like nothing is ready.

Maybe I have developed so much as a writer and improved my craft knowledge I am experiencing growth pains. When I return to old manuscripts, I now see where I am falling short. For starters, understanding the difference between story and plot has just happened for me. I know… that difference would seem rather basic to writing. Somehow I missed the lesson.

After watching a number of you tube videos on story versus plot, I made up a word document to analyze each of my stories. I also started analyzing movies from a story/plot perspective.

For example, we watched Shaun of the Dead last night.

Plot: Zombies attack a group of friends hiding out in the Winchester Pub. The friends go through a series of escalating events, including a car crash and a backyard attack, to get to the safe pub, only to be in more danger. (And there’s some really gory scenes which are quite funny.)

Story: Shaun realizes he needs to become more of an adult in order to win back his girlfriend, Liz, who recently broke things off with him. Wanting to prove himself to Liz is what the story is about- it’s Shaun’s motivation to save Liz, his Mum and Dad and best friend. The zombies are just the vehicle to get him there. It’s not a story just about zombies- that would be kind of boring.

Story is about who and their motivation- what’s the main character’s driving force and why do we care.

Plot answers the questions when, where, how and what. It’s the sequence of events, hurdles, and obstacles.

Reviewing my manuscripts, I realized I am all about plot with very little actual story. I have the three conflicts and a beginning, middle and end. But who cares? My stories don’t really feel like they are from the heart. My main characters lacked a clear motivation that the reader might actually care about. I need to balance my story and plot because those two elements need each other to make a great manuscript.

The light bulb went on for me.

Now I am eyeball deep in revision, slogging through my manuscripts and killing off my babies. I am making book dummies and analyzing the story and the plot.

The trick will be to get up the courage to submit after I go through more revisions and re-visioning of my stories. Another growth opportunity.