This little writing craft book is light, only 123 pages, and super easy to read. Unlike a lot of other craft books by writing gurus who spend a lot of time and pages trying to convince you to outline your story (Larry Brooks, especially, Jessica Brody, Shawn Coyne and most of the others do it, too), this one skips a lot of that and cuts right to what you, an author with a story idea and possibly starting on an outline, need to do. I liked that, a lot. It felt like it gelled well with my writing style, but then I've done a ton of reading other craft books, and I didn't need to be convinced. My critique partners know, I'm an outliner. It also offers a concrete strategy (as opposed to amorphous suggestions) for getting there -- the Inside Outline. And THAT I really liked, but you know I'm a planner / plotter, so take that for what it's worth.
However, I picked this one up for revision, not drafting, and so my eye was drawn not to the exercises it asks writers to do to develop their stories in the beginning, although they're great, too. What does your character want, what's her emotional journey, write the query blurb, the logline, etc. A workbook is available for free if you're interested.
But I'd done all those exercises, and I have a darn good idea of what I want to accomplish with my MS. The problem is, it's in my head and not on my pages.
With my writing it's a matter of execution. Prior to this I was just not… accomplishing on the page what I wanted my story to do. I'm on version 6 (six) of my MG Dragon Scales, which I know has issues because in one round of 8 (eight) beta reads only 1 (one) reader cried at the end. Not a full-on ugly cry, more like tearing up, because I really don't want to make anyone ball over my book, that's not my writing goal on this one. But a sort of light heart-string pull is what I want to achieve. In 7/8 readers, the MS didn't do that. Each beta reader had some great suggestions for tightening what was on the page, and I employed most of their suggestions for another version, but even that one, I knew in my gut, there was something still missing.
So I sought advice from beta readers who were published authors. I've read for them, or they're crit partners, etc. They're all authors whose works I've read and admire. Three (3) authors read it, start to finish, and pretty much gave me all the same advice: I've got work to do to bring out the interiority of my MC's emotions (necessary tell don't show, but do it in your character's voice, so it is showing their unique POV and character); I need to tie the two plots, a foiled theft and my MC's emo journey, more tightly together, so one necessarily feeds into the other; and I absolutely have to reveal, early on, character motivations so the reader can empathize with my characters and their predicaments, all of them.
I wasn't doing any of this. I was saving the character motivations, in particular, for the "reveal" at the end. I can say, now, unequivocally: Don't do that!
But I will say, the traditional "show don't tell" advice that litters most craft books was definitely getting in the way of my figuring out what I needed to do, on my own. The Blueprint doesn't engage in any of that. In fact, the emphasis in the Blueprint is on making sure your character's emotional struggles, during and as a result of the external plot struggles, feed into their emotional journeys, every step of the way. And this was something that just wasn't clicking with me, not until recently.
Before this, I was kind of at a loss for how to do it. The bulk of my critique partners were also equally unaware of how to accomplish it, or just hadn't remarked on it, at all.
But I had examples all around me. I had chalked them up to, "Published authors get to do things unpublished and debut authors don't." But that wasn't it, at all. I just wasn't seeing the writing technique, recognizing it for what it is. I've read so much for the audience I write for and I have, at my fingertips, examples of so many great authors doing this. Examples were all around me on library shelves and I was blind to what they were doing, the technique they were employing.
The first author to point out to me, with a concrete revision strategy that resonated with me, was author S.O. Thomas. She read the full MS and had some super suggestions, including identifying and putting a sticky note everywhere in the MS that I hadn't explicitly told the reader in my MC's unique voice what she was feeling. Every. Single. Scene. That adds to her emotional journey. Doing so showed me, starkly, some scenes that didn't add to this. But I was armed with a multi-colored sticky-noted MS and ready to rewrite, when two other things happened:
1) I found Blueprint and the Inside Outline and…
2) Another author and book coach, Kim Long, who was a PW mentor back in 2020 and had requested a version of the MS (like two versions ago), wrote to me and asked if she could use the MS and a critique of it for her coursework at Author Accelerator. She's learning to be a book coach extraordinaire. I think she already is!
I about fell out of my chair when she asked, but of course I said yes! Her two-page edit email, from my 2020 PW submission, had been a ray of light over the last year or so of revisions. It was both encouraging and straight-forward and I felt she really "got" what I was trying to accomplish with Dragon Scales -- a fun romp with a slight tug on the ole' heart strings, nothing that would make a reader sob. I'd already done everything she'd suggested in her PW advice (or so I thought! Hint: I hadn't. I hadn't understood all she was saying.), loved the results and felt they got me that much closer to what I hoped to achieve, but it was obvious after beta-reader feedback the MS was still missing...something.
Before I agreed, I did a bit of research, and lo! Author Accelerator is Jennie Nash's (the author of the Bluebook) brainchild.
It felt like the stars were aligning for draft 6.
Kim generously read the full MS and sent a 6-page edit letter. She critted the first few chapters as well. Her advice was hard to read, and I shed quite a few tears over it, but as I've mentioned in blog posts before, I tend to get stuck in Stage 2 (the "I can't write!" phase) when getting feedback on my work, and she was just encouraging enough that I was able to pick myself up and say, "What's next?"
What's next was a one-hour Zoom call with her, where she went over everything she pointed out in the edit letter, a critique of the first few chapters and more. We really honed my MC's emo journey, in a way I hadn't done before. She pointed out and reaffirmed the scenes I knew (from the sticky notes) didn't contribute to my MC's emo journey, but she had a few suggestions for how to make them serve the MC's emo journey. She encouraged me to do the Inside Outline (available here) and clarified a few points on that.
I didn't take notes during the call because it was recorded. The day after, she provided the recording and I transcribed the interview, word for word.
It's hard to do, listen repeatedly to someone point out how you did something wrong (Kim talks faster than I can type, so I was rewinding a lot!), but I do feel it helped reinforce the need to not go back to excessive showing and not telling, not revealing character motivations, and being kinda brutal with my scenes so that they all feed into my character's emotional journey. She was just encouraging enough that I left the meeting and transcription feeling good about my plan for how to go forward and what I needed to do, using the Inside Outline.
Now I have the transcription printed out and pasted to my cork board. Thomas' wonderful email / edit letter is also printed out and posted to my cork board. I've got the Blueprint book from my library and I'll begin the Inside Outline and let you know how that goes.
Dragon Scales version 6, here I come! Gracie and Zora, you won't know what hit you.