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Monday, May 14, 2012

Taking Baby to the Story Doctor (SIWC 2011 Notes)

Charlie Cat sits on his hind legs, slouched with his forelegs hanging limp and his tongue sticking out. Photo © Laura Sheana Taylor.

Hindsight is such an excellent teacher. Next year I’ll try to be a bit more on the ball when it comes to posting my notes from SIWC. After all, it *does* seem a little bit silly, still having some notes six months after the conference ended.

That being said, the timing works out pretty well. I’ve got these and one final set of notes to share before I return to ConCarolinas. Between that convention and two conferences I’ll be attending through work, June looks to be interesting. Readers, I shall bring you more notes! 'Cuz, y'know, that's kinda my thing. For now, enjoy what I learned from the class taught by Alyx Dellamonica on fine-tuning the finished manuscript.

Alyx's latest novel Blue Magic, sequel to Indigo Springs, came out last month.

* * *

Taking Baby to the Story Doctor
A.M. (Alyx) Dellamonica
(In other words, what to do with a finished manuscript: the diagnostic tests to make sure it’s alive and healthy)

Alyx's Car Metaphor
1. Does it run?
2. What big parts are missing?
3. Paint job, pretty?
4. Does it run well?
- Pick apart the elements, the pieces, and see how they work

1. The Title:
- When the title is one word (i.e. THE NOUN), it’s tough. A descriptive noun can be useful in this case.
- Title should be evocative.
- What does the title make you think of?
- Don’t change the title until it’s done.
- Sometimes productive overthinking of little details could be helpful. Studying the little details, such as having the right title, can be what helps you get in the door.
- It’s okay to set up expectation with the title.

2. The Plot:
- The law of plot: things get worse as the story goes on.
- SuspenseL does the reader want to keep reading?
- Hook: Have you hooked the reader with the opening lines? Remember, dialogue is a really tricky hook.

3. Backstory
- Usually need to work it in.
- Show the character interacting with the environment.
- Flashbacks can be useful.
- But you can’t bore the readers who’ve been paying attention.
- Each time you refer to what you want the reader to remember, strengthen the reference.

4. Other stuff to work on:
- The beginning of every chapter
- The beginning and ending of every scene
- Scene transitions: entries, exits
- What the main character wants (motivation)
- Is each character necessary? Are they performing – carrying their weight?
- What’s the point of view? Can you tell? Does it work?
- Does the story start and end in the right places? (Look for padding)
- How’s the pacing?
- Give them a sense of what they want, why they want it, and why they can’t have it.
- How does the dialogue work? Try reading it aloud to see if it fits. Read it without the tag words.
- What is the story’s theme?
- Is the setting doing its job? Is it amplifying the conflict, is it interesting, is it a barrier in some way?
- Do the subplots work?

5. Miscellaneous thoughts to consider:
- Interactions on a journey story: what’s important is who are the people on the journey. Make the place more interesting.
- We assume named characters will come back.
- Aside: All science fiction is technically fantasy, because it contains an element of the impossible. It just attempts to explain the impossible, or what could eventually be real.

* * *
So there you have it: a great checklist of things to consider before submitting. Since Mondays seem to be my thing, next week, we'll look at this subject in even more depth, when I share my notes from Donald Maass' master class, Impossible To Put Down.


  1. Great checklist! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks, Spesh! No problem. Hey, I take these notes. Might as well share them. :)

  2. Thanks for the shiny checklist, Laura.