Story Excerpts

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Triumph in the Midst of Failure

I didn't make the Genesis Contest semi-finals.  And when I received the judges' feedback on my submission, well . . . lets just say that it was a tough pill to swallow.  But you know, sometimes we need to swallow those horse pills and face our weaknesses for what they are.  How else are we going to improve?  I did learn something from the experience -- well, actually a couple of things. This is the one I keep banging my head on the wall about: never split a long manuscript into two separate books, and think you can bring out two separate plots without a lot of re-writing. Yeah. Stupid. And the sad part is, I knew better. Why did I do it? Because I fell in love with some of the scenes I wrote (okay, most of them) and refused to get out the scythe. Learn from my example. Don't fall in love with your writing. Think the banter between hero and heroine is pretty clever? There's more where that came from. :-)

In celebration of losing the Genesis Contest, I went out and bought a couple of books on the writing craft. Can I recommend one?  Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View by Jill Elizabeth Nelson.  The kindle version $2.99. It's short and sweet (you can read it in a few hours), and full of helpful exercises. If your weakness is "telling" vs "showing", then this is the little handbook you need. What's that? You thought the book was about deep POV? That's just it -- by learning deep POV, you will automatically show instead of tell.

In a nutshell: "she saw", "she heard", "she thought", "she dreaded" "she feared" -- get rid of it and describe what she's hearing, seeing, or feeling.  Drop the prepositionary "telling", such as "in amusement", "with relief" and show her physical reaction and thoughts accompanying the relief and amusement.

To demonstrate what I've learned and give you a live example, I'll re-write a scene I'm cutting from TBOB (sniff), and then I'll show the old shallow POV, putting the "telling" phrases in red italics. (I probably missed some, but you get the idea :-)


Pearl sucked in her breath. Was he for real? "What relationship, Trey?" A volcano shook and rumbled inside her, promising words she would regret. "What relationship? There is no relationship!" She pointed her finger at him. "There's you, and then there's me. You know, you are unbelievable!" She whirled and marched back to the hatch. His injured leg wouldn't allow him to follow her down to the rower's deck. She could get away from him there.

"I'm sorry, Pearl! I didn't mean to say it that way. Pearl, wait. I'm not finished."

She descended the ladder and leaned back against the curving hull wall. The darkness, the rhythmic swoosh of water, and the creak of the oars were a soothing balm to her aching heart. Maybe she would stay down here the rest of the journey to Rome.

Tap, step. Tap, step. Tap, step.

No! Trey was coming down the ladder. She was trapped. Closing her eyes, she groaned. "Save your leg and leave me alone!" He continued down, and his long, careful pauses and grunts made her flinch. "Stop! Please!" Her voice shook. "Don't! If you're that desperate to talk, I'll come back up."

Another long pause, then he started back up the ladder.

Pearl watched him climb, on pins and needles. He could fall at any moment. Why did he have to be so infuriatingly stubborn? Her eyes grasped every rung with him, took every step. Should she climb up underneath him in case he needed help? But how could she help him? He had to be a hundred pounds heavier. Finally, he stood on the upper deck. She released her breath and unclenched her fists.

He had better have something good to say. She attacked the ladder, ignoring his extended hand as she stepped onto the deck. "Are you out of your mind?"

His blue eyes flickered in the moonlight, holding hers with raw emotion. "The pain in my leg is nothing compared to the pain I suffered believing I would never see you again. Nothing is going to keep me from you, Pearl. Not my leg. Not your temper. Nothing."

The volcano inside her erupted, spewing sobs and tears she had no control over. She turned her back to him. So much for appearing cool and composed. She should give in and hug him like she'd wanted to do for weeks. What was stopping her? Pride?


Pearl sucked in her breath. Of all the…! "What relationship, Trey? What relationship? There is no relationship! There's you, and then there's me! I can't believe you!" She turned and walked briskly back toward the hatch. He wouldn't follow her down to the rower's deck. She could get away from him there.

Tap. Step. Tap. Step. Tap. Step. "I'm sorry! I didn't mean to . . . say it that way! Pearl, wait! I'm not finished talking to you!"

She ignored him and descended the ladder, but couldn't bring herself to find a bench and sit down. She stood against the hull wall, finding the darkness, the rhythmic swoosh of water and creak of the oars comforting.

Trey was coming down the ladder. She groaned in frustration, feeling like a trapped animal. "Save your leg and leave me alone!" She yelled up at him. He stubbornly continued down the ladder, his long, careful pauses on the rungs torturing her. Finally, she couldn't stand it anymore. "Stop, please! Don't come down here! If you are that desperate to finish our conversation, I'll come back up!"

Trey started back up the ladder.

Pearl watched him on pins and needles, feeling every rung he grasped and stepped onto. After several agonizing minutes, he was back on the upper deck. Furious, Pearl ascended the ladder and ignored his extended hand as she stepped back onto the deck. "Are you out of your mind?" She asked, her voice shaking.

"The pain in my leg isn't worth comparing to the pain I experienced believing that I would never see you again. Nothing is going to keep me away from you, Pearl. Not my leg. Not your temper. Nothing."

Pearl tried in vain to control her sobs. She turned her back to him, embarrassed and angry to be falling apart in front of him after working so hard to keep her composure, and longing just to give in and hug him, like she'd wanted to do for weeks.


Loree Huebner said...

I'm glad you swallowed that pill!

It's not always easy, but you went out and learned from it. I'm sending you a big hug! You didn't let it defeat are a real writer!

You go girl!

Heidi Leanne said...

I really need to get this e-book! This is something that I need to work on too. On the critiques I got back last night I dinged for using 'weasel words' like feel and knew, etc. At first I didn't know what they meant, the judge didn't say anything about deep POV, or really expand on the comment much at all. But I need to dig deeper into the character, and it looks like this is the ticket! Thanks for sharing your process. You can really see how much more the same seen shines with your re-write. Great job!

Gwendolyn Gage said...

Thanks for the hug, Loree! I would be lying if I said discouragement hasn't tempted me to give up and quit. But more and more I'm becoming like one of those punching bag stands. I may get knocked down, but I get right back up and keep writing. :-)

Gwendolyn Gage said...

Heidi, what a bummer that your feeback wasn't very specific. I guess I was lucky in that way -- if you would call it luck, lol! Yes, spend the $3.00 on "Rivet Your Readers With Deep Point of View". It was extremely helpful. Bless you friend!

Helen W said...

Just keep on getting up and attacking that manuscript Gwen :) I know you can do it!

It's amazing how your edits to that scene in TBOB brought me so much closer to Pearl's feelings. When I read the revised version with the deep POV, what Trey said to Pearl ("The pain in my leg is nothing...") came across more powerfully - more like he was saying it to me personally. For a moment I thought you changed what he said, but no ... it was just that I was more in Pearl's head & heart :)

Gwendolyn Gage said...

Helen, thanks for letting me know how deep POV is helping me connect my characters with a reader in a more powerful way. I'm very excited over what I'm learning. In fact, I'm glad I didn't semi-final in the contest. If I had, I wouldn't have been motivated to tackle my weaknesses. :-)

Gabrielle Meyer said...

Gwendolyn, I've been thinking about you since the semi-finalist's list came out. Thank you for being open and vulnerable about the results, it takes a lot of courage and humility.

I LOVED your rewrite! I'm amazed at the difference. I will be checking out that deep POV book - it sounds like a book I need to read.

Keep believing in yourself and, more importantly, in God's anointing in your life and your writing. He chose for you to have this gift and desire, you didn't. Trust that He didn't make a mistake and keep growing in knowledge and understanding of the craft and the industry. He has great things in store for you! Keep believing and don't give up.

Gwendolyn Gage said...

Thanks for your encouragement, Gabrielle! Yes, I am constantly reminding myself that God has a plan. His thoughts and ways may be very different from mine, but He definately has a plan to use my writing, and He will guide my steps. :-)

Michelle Griep said...

Nice work, Gwen! I'm so happy to see you're picking yourself up and dusting off your britches. You're a true writer, my girl. It's a freakin' tough journey, but you'll make it...I just know it.

Gwendolyn Gage said...

Thanks, Michelle! You're confidence is heartening. I've heard it takes rhinosaurus skin and nerves of steel to reach the gates of publishing and survive as an author, so I'm whipping myself and my writing into shape for the challenge. :-)

Jenn said...

Aww, I'm sorry you didn't win the Genesis contest, but you go girl for not letting it get you down for too long. That book sounds awesome, I'm going to have to download and read that stat. Thanks for sharing your heart and a snippet of your story using what you just learned!

Gwendolyn Gage said...

Thanks Jenn, I'm totally fine with getting the boot. :-) The humility of failure was a blessing in disguise, giving me the motivation to tackle my weaknesses. Definately check out Jill Elizabeth Nelson's book, it's a goldmine!

Heather Day Gilbert said...

Great post, Gwen--reading this a year later when you SEMI-FINALED! Thanks for sharing this. Yes, we can definitely grow from these experiences! Love your before and after example!

Gwendolyn Gage said...

Thanks Heather! I did read this again this year and had to laugh and praise God. How far He's taken me in just one year! Losing was a blessing in disguise. :-)