Phase 4: Preparing To Pivot
Is it time to publish? Spread the word? Get your story out there?
How do you know when to properly abandon your work and graduate to the publishing stage?
Well, let's see:
You've crafted rising action. There's tension. Doubt. Stakes. Conflict on all three levels.
Your characters are compelling. They are broken. They say interesting things.
Your protagonist's story goal has the staying power to keep the audience riveted.
Your protagonist's flaw - the trait within them at the outset that would have defeated them at the story's climax - has been remedied - thanks to a powerful antagonist and the ultimate decision to embrace their fuller self - and now they are irreversibly, irresistibly something new.
You probably thought you were done.
In my last posting, I sung the accolades of the various stages of the edit, all the way to the welcome polish and syntax review.
Yeah, sorry - the process is simply not that linear.
To get your manuscript truly ready for the marketplace, there are several questions which - brace yourselves - may send you back in for another round before you get to the polish.
But done right, these elements set you up beautifully for the next phase: getting it out there.
Before you get to the later stages of editing, you need to go deeper into the craft if you want your finished product to truly resonate with your audience.
Have you identified and honed your story's theme?
Maybe you saw it early or maybe you spotted it late, but it's in there. Waiting for you.
You need it.
Even after your early drafts, your story was still mostly a slab of text. While refining the plot and characters and structure, you were chipping away to find the lovely statue within.
Theme isn't the shape of the final sculpture, its texture or colour, or even the marble itself. The craft is the craft, and without it the sculpture isn't a sculpture.
It's the pose.
It's what the sculpture is in the act of doing that connects with the viewer.
This is what the artist is saying.
This is why the reader is reading your work, even if they think they just want an adventure.
Have you mined your material for motifs? Recurring visual systems, colours and shapes?
Look closely: your subconscious sprinkled them in there during the initial writing phase.
They likely don't have consistency or proportion yet.
You must identify them and seek them out.
You must deliberately hone them.
These recurring elements prop up the telling on a subconscious level. They act like pillars holding up your symbolism from start to end, and can keep your second act from sagging.
Don't think anyone will notice them? Doubt that they're worth the effort of refining?
Our story-hungry, story-saturated, story-savvy culture will miss them if they're not captured and tamed. They might not know why they don't connect with your story; they simply won't care.
Plants + Payoffs
Did you bend and twist what you needed to make all your plants + payoffs logical and surprising and satisfying?
Your reader will feel betrayed if the solution came out of left field without proper set-up. Remember: work backward. The last person to truly appreciate a deus ex machina resolution died thousands of years ago.
Does your title still work?
You may love it and have carried it this long - but is it still correct?
Did the story shift out from under the original title?
If it no longer appropriately represents the completed work, change it.
If it isn't a grabber, you'll have a tough time snagging an audience.
Think the title is, meh, not that important?
Listen: it's your entire book in a few select words. And online and in bookstores, it's often your one and only chance to get their attention.
Can you hook a listener with your story in a quick elevator ride?
Are you able to compact your story into a single sentence? A single breath?
Getting the whole story down to a single blurb is not easy. It's hard work.
It's essential. I mean it: you need to distill your whole novel down to its essence.
Plot: Someone wants something badly but is having difficulty getting it.
Theme: What you are saying about the world.
Logline: A tease that compels readers to invest time and effort and money in your novel.
Practice pitching it. Use a patient friend or family member.
Watch them carefully. If their interest is not piqued - if they show little to no signs of interest - then best case: you need to shore up your showmanship. Worst case: your story is lacking.
You likely enjoy reading the genre of the novel you just wrote, so you probably have a firm grasp on its tenants - your target audience sure does.
If not, do a bit of homework and map out what the expectations are.
Double-check that your story follows the precepts of the genre it touts itself belonging to.
Make sure you've honoured those traits so as to not betray your audience's hard-wired expectations.
They're love you for it.
I received a note the other day asking about the difference between "art" vs. "product" when it comes to truly being done - i.e. what is being abandoned and what, logically, is next?
Until publication - before it's in print or available to be purchased - it's only ever a manuscript.
And knowing when your art is nearing its perigee - when just one more brush stroke, one more tap of the chisel, one more edit would begin its decline - is something only the artist can ascertain.
Deciding when moment that is - saying you've gone for enough and will go no further - that is akin to abandoning it.
When we move away from the craft of writing into the craft of publishing + marketing, that's when we start to see it as a product.
Once it's in print and up for grabs, only then is it truly classified as a novel.
This is where the whole process pivots.
We shift away from the initial creation + rework necessary to ensure that the story is everything it can be, toward the completed item in search for an audience.
And as with any commodity, pitching and packaging and promoting demand that the product has shape, form, and is complete.
Graduating from the creation phases to the business phases?
Let me just say, these two halves are not as mutually exclusive as they may first seem.
You know your story. You can pitch it in a single breath. Your title and logline attract interest.
Time to get it out there!