I finished the first draft of my novel at the end of August, put it aside for a couple of weeks, then read through it. I knew it wasn’t working; I wasn’t compelled to keep reading, so I knew my readers wouldn’t be.
Then, I found a great resource that has given me a little glimmer of the light at the end of the long dark tunnel of plotting: It’s Storyfix, by Larry Brooks.
I paid $150 and received an outline with questions from Larry about the specific elements of my plot and characters, the protagonist and antagonist, the premise and dramatic concept. I also submitted a step-by-step outline of the book. Larry replied with detailed comments about what was good about the elements of my plot (not much) and what wasn’t going to work. He did this in the context of what would get readers invested in my story and rooting for my hero. I agreed with his analysis; I knew there were major problems with my plot but I couldn’t see them.
Now I’m in the process of working on my second draft, making my book more intense, making my protagonist more heroic, making the reader not want to put the book down. Sure I have a lot more issues to work through, but I can see a glimmer of light at the end of the plot tunnel and I know that there will be more light as I move forward.
You will probably say that I could have received this advice free, from a writing group, but I don’t believe that. First, I am sure that you get what you pay for. Larry is a professional. He does this all the time, and I paid him, so I expect something good. He delivered.
Second, other writers have an agenda, hidden or obvious, and they have personal reactions, not professional ones. They also don’t have the experience with plotting (maybe it’s why they haven’t been published yet!). I would rather pay one professional for advice than get it from a bunch of amateurs who may or may not know what they’re doing. Would you get a bunch of your friends together and ask for their advice on your psychological or medical problems?
If this sounds like a recommendation for Storyfix, it is, but only in part. My larger purpose in writing this is to encourage new fiction writers to get some professional advice, particularly on plotting. If you are serious about getting published, you must get advice in the developmental stage of your book.
This isn’t an editor I’m talking about; an editor looks at your book as it is closer to being completed, to help you tweak it. At this stage, you are so invested in the plot that it will be difficult for you to start from scratch or to take criticism about major plot elements. (I may be misunderstanding the role of an editor; if so, I’m sure I’ll hear from some of them to set me straight.)
At the developmental stage, you could get feedback from a professional writing coach, or a writing class, or paying a professional to give you feedback, as I did. If you want help with plotting, I would suggest getting one-on-one time with a professional, not just a quick read at a conference. Conference reads are good for other things, but they are not in-depth enough to analyze plot.
I also received excellent information on story structure and other elements of the novel from reading Larry’s two books: Story Engineering and Story Physics. If you are the type of writer who needs to work on structure first before you write, you might find these books helpful. (If you are a “seat of the pants” organic writer, you might be frustrated by this type of advice.)
I would be interested to know your thoughts on the subject of professional advice: what helped you, what didn’t? Do you use a writer’s group? If so, how helpful are they?