Monday, October 13, 2014

Take Every Phrase Captive by Jo Wanmer

I was pleased with the story. It met the criteria! It was different, unexpected. All I had to do was make sure it adhered to the 750 word limit. If not, I was confident I could cut a few words.
Wait! 1250 words! How did that happen? Last time I'd checked it was 350.

The first edit knocked out 150, the second another 50. There was still three hundred words to be eliminated. Sentences, assessed as essential in previous edits, disappeared. Even whole paragraphs. What was the criteria for deletion? 'Does the plot survive without this information?' When I submitted the story, it won a place in a book titled 'Mixed Blessings.' Forty percent of the words had been deemed unnecessary. In truth, the exercise had sharpened the entry.

The next day, I scanned the finalist list of the Caleb unpublished manuscript awards. My book, El Shaddai, was not listed. Firmly I reminded myself, 'You entered to get the feedback. You knew it wasn't in good enough shape to win.' A report,ten pages long, had arrived some weeks earlier. Excited, I had looked for critical feedback, any comment that would help to raise the standard of my manuscript.

What I found stunned me. The work, in the reviewer's opinion, needed a major structural edit as the climax was not near the end of the book. I grappled with the comment. Due to previous edits I knew there were very few pages after the climax. Flicking through the report I discovered the problem. The reader had missed the entire plot.

It took a week to interpret the learning I'd paid an entry fee to acquire. The plot, albeit unusual, was not written clearly enough. One of the subplots had jumped up and usurped the position. This work doesn't need a structural edit, but a strengthening of the story line. Yes, I received my money's worth and my pride will recover!

A week later I discussed this problem with my co-author, otherwise known as the Holy Spirit. I was driving at the time. It is one of those occasions when the particular roundabout will forever be burned into my memory.

'Just as you did with the short piece, take every scene, every sentence, every phrase captive and make it obey.'

Obey what? Scripture calls me to make my thoughts obey Christ, but what must this manuscript obey?

Then the penny dropped. I hadn't really defined the aim of this book. It had begun with a vague idea and developed into a great story.

Belatedly, I wrote a synopsis. It summarised the plot, but there was still something missing.

Why does this book exist? That was the question. What right does it have to find a place in the mountain of writings and novels flooding our bookstores, ipads and airwaves? Why should anyone choose to read this story?

I'm reminded I write to bring a message. At a 'Purpose Driven Life' seminar many years ago, my life was reduced to five words. 'I exist to inspire greatness.' It may sound arrogant, but I love to encourage people to higher levels of faith, love, achievement and joy. This phrase has become a yardstick in my life. My writing must be consistent with my purpose.

Likewise, my book needed a purpose statement. How does it inspire my readers to grow? Every scene, every sentence, every phrase must be taken captive and made obey that criteria.

Now I have the aim and the plot clear, it's time to start work. I'm excited. The 'Delete' box may need to be emptied a few times, but the manuscript will be sharper.

How do you sharpen your work? Any tips for this 'L' plate author?

Jo Wanmer loves the beach, but writes from a messy desk, looking over her backyard in the outskirts of Brisbane. Often her fingers are much slower than the ideas, rendering the manuscript a mess of red squiggles. Other times the fingers hang over the keys begging the right words to drop onto the page. To her delight her first book, Though the Bud be Bruised, is still bring healing and inspiration into lives. 'El Shaddai', and 'In the Shadow of El Shaddai' are still being forced to conform to publishable standards.



15 comments:

  1. What a great post Jo. I'd never thought of editing as taking every word captive to obey the theme or main aim. I'm going to copy your post to remind myself. It's hard when you've written something you like and then the critique requires a more major rewrite than you thought it would. But if we can take that advice and pray over it, the Holy Spirit can lead us in honing our manuscript. Good on you for being teachable. I'll look forward to hearing how the novel shapes up.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Nola. Don't you love those times of revelation! I'd never thought of it before either, but it is very helpful to me. Glad His word will help you, too.

      Delete
  2. I empathise, Jo, as I am doing the same exercise with my current memoir, ensuring each chapter sticks to the theme of that chapter and also builds into the overall theme of the book. But, as you say, it's kind of exciting to do this paring down and tightening up of our writing. I love your attitude in it all though--so important for writers to be humble and teachable.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I guess every artist has to do the same, Jo-Anne. Chisel, chisel, polish, polish. All the best with your current memoir.

      Delete
  3. I'm sorry to hear about 'El Shaddai' but congratulate you for the spirit in which you're taking it. Sounds like another of those twists and turns along the writing road we can all share about.
    My son has had to write some creative stories in which he wasn't allowed to exceed a particular word limit. He would get to the stage of being certain there was nothing more he could remove, and it was fun to sit down with him and decide which words and phrases could still be pruned to get it down to its limit. It's always amazing to see, so I like your attitude of letting every word count too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Paula. I'm grateful for a friend who edits and ruthlessly cuts extraneous words I don't see. This exercise with El Shaddai is more are the words pointing the right direction? Looking forward to seeing you at conference.

      Delete
  4. Great post Jo! And I loved it how you listened to the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Well done on your teachable attitude and all you are doing to "take every word captive." Sounds the best plan possible. A good one to emulate.

    Wonderful life goal too of inspiring others to greatness. May your novels continue to blossom and grow - I have no doubt both will be used by God to bless many people one day. Keep writing! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Anusha. Surely your life purpose is to encourage! You are a master at lifting others up. Thank you.

      Delete
  5. Great post, Jo. I especially identified with your subplot taking over the story! Oh my, sometimes our supposedly secondary characters have strong personalities and demand to be in control. It's good you recognised that. Isn't that human nature and often akin to personalities in the local church scene? Right now I am also in the process of 'putting those pesky characters in their place'.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Rita. Interesting analogy. I've thought before that a writer is like a god, except our characters are only given limited free will! But in this case I can't blame the characters. As creator, I haven't done the plot justice. Asking for more wisdom yet!

      Delete
  6. Great post Jo - congratulations on winning the contest after pruning your story to what counted. It's a good reminder to remain focused on the story's theme. Your experience with the Caleb prized reminded me of someone saying that often a critical friend knows when something is not working but doesn't always know how to fix it. It can be tough receiving criticism, especially when the critic doesn't seem to understand, but good to learn from it. All the best with El Shaddai and your future works :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Jeanette. Critical reviews are the most helpful, even if i have trouble swallowing them!

      Delete
  7. Thanks Jo for sharing your journey. Having feedback from the CALEB team is a real blessing and it's great it's given you the chance to rework your manuscript. Your first book was a great read and I look forward to this next one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Susanne. I'm glad you enjoyed my book. I'm looking forward to bringing you the next one!

      Delete
  8. Some good wisdom here about making sure our book has a clearly defined purpose and that each word advances that purpose.

    ReplyDelete