Writing Tips

Young Writers and the Never Ending Editing Cycle

The world needs more young writers– preteens, teenagers, and young adults with passion and purpose that they want to share. But being a young writer comes with unique and difficult problems, and one of the biggest struggles of young writers is never ending editing and revision.

The cycle is quite simple. A teenager writes a longer story– perhaps a novel. As they write, they learn more about writing in school or online, and being young, they learn at an exponential rate, and their writing style changes dramatically in only weeks and months. Once they finish the draft, they read over it, wincing and wanting to apply their new knowledge, and so they decide to revise and edit the draft. If they learned a lot, then perhaps they even need to rewrite the entire thing. The problem is that while they are rewriting, they are still learning and growing, and so once that draft is completed, another needs to be written. Thus the Never Ending Editing Cycle.

I understand. I have rewritten my novel so many times that sometimes I wonder if it will ever be publishing quality much less if I will ever be satisfied with it. One round I fixed my main character so that she was not wooden and actually tolerable. I went through another rewrite when I discovered that I did not just want to tell a fun story but needed to say something important. Now I need to fix my plot so that my readers don’t put my novel down at chapter 6. Is my writing getting better? Most definitely! But will I ever be finished, and will my writing ever be a good representation of what I can actually do?

That is the question we all have, and so I want you to know that other young writers are struggling with this, too.

But now that you know that you are not the only one struggling with constant disappointment and never ending edit, let’s look at our options as young writers. The facts remain: we will grow faster than a draft is written. So let’s break down our choices. It is quite simple: either we can stop editing or keep on editing. And if we stop editing, we can either publish or keep our writing to ourselves.

Young Writers and the Never Ending Editing Cycle

Stop Editing: This is a perfectly valid option– even though you know that the piece is not the best you can do. Do you have other story ideas that better reflect your skill? Do your characters and plot need a complete transformation to reflect your current skills? Is there anything that you absolutely love about the story, or are you simply holding onto it because you are afraid to completely start over? If you are only editing because you don’t have any new story ideas or are afraid of starting over, consider being done with your project and holding onto it as a part of your history as a writer.

Stop Editing and Seek Publication: Perhaps your work is not the best representation of what you can do, but this does not mean that it is not publishing quality. It’s not your masterpiece, but it may be good enough for publishing. It may make you wince, but it might not make others wince. Especially if you are an older teen writer consider this. And if you are still worry about it being good enough, then consider marketing it as middle grade or for younger teens.

Stop Editing and Keep the Writing for Yourself: Maybe you’re sure that your work is not publishing material, or perhaps you are sure that you don’t want to see it published. So keep it for yourself. Progress and old works are sentimental, and so enjoy your imperfect work for yourself. Don’t try to fix it, and simply love the piece as a part of your journey. Maybe in several years, once your writing growth slows down a bit, you can completely rewrite it– but keep the old draft as well.

Keep on Editing: So this may not seem like a solution, but perhaps your problem is simply discouragement and not the multitude of edits. Here’s the thing: I love my story. I love my characters. I love my world. And I am holding out hope that one day, I will finish a round of edits and realize that this is something I can be proud of. This mindset is not unreasonable. One day we will all be mature adults who don’t learn quite as fast, and I love this story enough that I am willing to wait until then. Maybe this means that I won’t be published as a teenager, but I love this story enough that I am fine with that. So do you love your story enough to wait and lose the prize of being published as a teen? If this sounds painful, then don’t wait and force yourself through more and more edits. Write something new and be free of the editing cycle! But if you truly love your story, don’t feel guilty for obsessing over rewrites or give into hopelessness because you can’t imagine your story being finished. Know that one day it will be finished. We just have to wait and keep on editing.

So if you have been edited your story over and over again, ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I afraid of completely starting over with a brand new idea and a blank document?
  • Is this work publishable or could it be sentimental and just for me?
  • Do I love this story enough to wait 5-10 years to publish– all the while editing it over and over again?

All three options to the young writer’s editing dilemma are valid; they just depend on you and your story. So what are you going to do?

God bless,

Gabrielle

Writing Tips

3 Tips for Plotting an Action Packed Journey

The plots of most modern novels, especially Young Adult, are centered around action. But the action-centered, fast-paced plot that readers want and publishers demand can be difficult to achieve when the primary goal of your characters is simply to get from point A to point B.

Alas, this is the problem I am dealing with in my current work-in-progress, and for a Tolkien lover, this is especially difficult to accept. But we have to remember that many Tolkien readers never pick back up The Fellowship of the Ring after reading half way through the visit to Tom Bombadil or end up putting down The Return of the King as Sam and Frodo walk and climb and then walk some more towards Mount Doom. Tight plots demand a specific type of action and peril around every turn, and if Tolkien can barely get away with a lagging plot in today’s readership, then you and I definitely cannot.

3 Tips for Plotting an Action Packed Journey

  1. Remember that journeys are highly dangerous without technology

In a time when we travel a couple hundred miles in a day just for a weekend vacation, it is hard to remember that travel used to be highly dangerous. So research travel conditions for the time period you are writing about. But here are a few, general considerations for a fantasy or an ancient journey:

  • No paved roads: Horses and travelers tire quickly. Wagons and carts struggle over the terrain.
  • No government paid protection (Policemen): There will probably be robbers and other lawless men. Your characters will have to protect themselves. Bigger groups are best.
  • No communication: There is no way to call for help (unless you have a magic owl or something). Situations may have changed—including wars starting or ending! Your characters may walk right into a war zone or show up at their destination and find out that there is a new king and anyone who supports the old king are now considered traitors.
  • No refrigeration: Some food can be dried, but you can only pack so much. So for a long journey, enjoy several hours of hunting and gathering a day.
  • No or few reliable maps: Good luck finding your destination if your paper map isn’t even right.
  1. All the action should point towards the climax, and most conflict should come directly or indirectly from the antagonist

For a tight, unified plot, the rising action should point towards a confrontation with the antagonist. Just because you are writing about a dangerous journey does not mean you can throw this away. If your antagonist is not a person and is an idea or force of nature, you may have an easier time making the journey’s trials come from the antagonist. But you must make sure that most of the action is leading to the climax and related to whoever or whatever your antagonist is.

So maybe your protagonists run out of food, but it need to be paired with a threat from the antagonists. Do not let your reader forget who the real enemy is in the midst of the struggles of surviving the journey because if you do, they will get bored and wonder why they even started reading your book.

  1. Keep your antagonist actively pursuing; don’t give your protagonists a break.

If you find that your antagonist is hanging back and plotting for a great trap at the end of the journey, you probably have a boring plot. It does not matter if he has planted a traitor or if he is following their every step. If your antagonist does not show up until the end of the journey, your plot will either be flat or the conflict will be random and unrelated to the real plot. So don’t rein in your antagonist and don’t worry about your heroes being able to fend him off until the end. You will figure it out, so take your antagonist off his leash.

Are any of you writing a story that centers around a journey? As many of you know, I am, and I just received some beta reader feedback that my plot is pretty flat for most of the story. These were the three solutions that I found. Do you have any other tips?

God bless,

Gabrielle

Writing Tips

Fantasy Cliche: Prophecy

Many fantasy books have some type of prophecy. The Lord of the Rings boasts a prophecy about how the King of Gondor will return with healing in his hands. Harry Potter speaks of the “chosen one.” Star Wars has the one who will balance the Force. Most fantasy (and some science fiction) includes a vague prophecy about a future hero who will help good or evil triumph in the world. But why is this? And are prophecies now clichéd and too old-fashion for modern fantasy?

Fantasy Cliche Prophecy: Its purpose and 6 practical tips

Some History of Fantasy Prophecies

Historically fantasy was wrought with prophecies, and this tradition of prophecies probably translated into the modern cliché. Before Tolkien published The Hobbit and launched the genre into modern times and popular view, he drew from Old Norse and other ancient cultures’ myths. From Anglo-Saxon and Norse myths, such as Beowulf and The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun, to Greek epics like the Odyssey, prophecies have helped drive the plot. Notably, all of these prophecies were directly tied into religion and dealt with the relationship between gods and humans. Later myths such as the Legends of King Arthur drew inspiration from the prophecies of the Judeo-Christian Bible in addition to Anglo-Saxon myths. J. R. R. Tolkien, who truly popularized fantasy in the modern world, also included a many prophecies and the tradition continued as he led the way for modern fantasy.

But are prophecies now cliché?

Most bloggers, authors, agents, and publishing companies certainly think so, and in most cases, I have to agree. There are countless fantasy novels that contain mediocre to bad poetry that tells some vague and useless prophecy which either we see right through or it makes no sense and is completely useless. When a bland and boring prophecy is used to move the plot along, many readers don’t even notice the lazy writing. But now, readers and publishers are getting more picky. Do we really need a doomsday prophecy to motivate our hero?

But are we just misunderstanding of the purpose of prophecies?

Historically in fantasy and religiously, prophecy has a very specific purpose. In the Bible, the prophets were neither primarily focused on the future nor sent to perform miraculous signs. The prophets were sent to reveal sin and encourage repentance at the present time. Threats of judgement (prophecy) and demonstrations of divine authority (miracles) were the methods to bring about repentance. The biblical purpose of prophecy is to call the people to repentance or to make the way for the Savior.

Interestingly enough, most fantasy throughout history has the same purpose for prophecy. The prophecies in Homer’s Odyssey warn of dire consequences to Odysseus’ actions and set the path for Odysseus to take back his home. The prophecies in the legends of King Arthur make the path for Arthur to become king and warn of the consequences of sin. Lewis’ prophecy in The Silver Chair deals with warning against disobedience, and his prophecy in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe tells of the coming of Aslan. Tolkien’s prophecies in The Silmarillion are simple: don’t do that or you will die/suffer something much worse. In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien uses prophecies to encourage the people of Middle Earth to support Aragorn and Frodo.

So Here are Six Rules for Writing Proper Prophecy:

1. Your prophecy must primarily serve as a call to repentance or as a way of preparing the people for a savior

As covered before, this is the purpose of prophecy. If you want to write a “prophecy” that does neither of these two things, then you have the wrong narrative technique. You may be looking for foreshadowing instead….

2. Don’t use prophecy as foreshadowing

Foreshadowing is a fantastic literary technique, but it does not belong in prophecies. Prophecies are supposed to serve a purpose. If your prophecy does not clearly call the people to repentance and clearly warn of the consequences, then it is useless. If the prophecy does not clearly identify and pave the way for the savior, then it is also useless (Note: Not all may recognize the savior, but it must be clear to at least some of the characters and your rational readers.) Prophecy is just too obvious and crude for foreshadowing– try symbols or dialogue if you want to foreshadow.

3. The initial prophecy should not be vague and hard to understand

Note how I used the word “initial.” If a prophecy has be distorted over thousands of years, then it might be hard to understand (especially if a god has not intervened to preserve the prophecy.) But since prophecy is given for a reason to communicate something to your characters, then rational, educated characters need to understand the message. And above all, the reader should understand the message. Characters may be blinded by emotions, but you don’t want to insult your readers by tricking them with something impossible to understand until afterward.

4. Prophecies can have hidden meaning but should have immediate value for the characters

Again, prophecies are communication. It is great to have prophecies with hidden meanings that are discovered afterwards, in fact, many of the best do, but have there be a practical and understandable message as well.

5. Prophecies should involve the divine

Biblical prophecy and prophecy in historical fantasy has always come from God or gods as communication to man. If you don’t make this explicit, then the prophecy will feel like a cheap plot motivator. Now, this doesn’t mean that only religious fantasy can have prophecies. A lot of fantasy deals with gods without messing (much) with religion: think The Odyssey and The Lord of the Rings. You can even just barely mention the god that inspired the prophecy and leave it there. Though, I mean, why not address some fun questions about divine and human relationships? But that is up to you.

6. If you are not a master of poetry, then write your prophecy in a different format

Not much is worse than a having bad poetry shoved down your throat. It doesn’t matter the purpose of your prophecy if you put it in a terrible poem. There is no shame in having a prophecy written without meter and rhyme. If it seems to dull, then carve it in stone or put it in a sealed scroll. But if you can’t write poetry, then please don’t. Spare us all.

So what do you think about fictional prophecies? What did I get wrong? Any revisions that you are thinking about for your fictional prophecy? I know that I will be rewriting mine in the next few months. Also do you have any other cliches you would like me to tackle?

God bless,

Gabrielle