Stepping Back For The Big Picture

Clickety-click clickety-click clickety-click…

“Daddy!”

“Yes, Sweet Pea?”

“When you put up decorations?”

Ah, the strident call of fatherhood…

“Right after I get done writing, I promise!”

Sheesh, Halloween seemed more fun when I didn’t have to decorate everything!

A Little Stinger!

It is that time of year again, and this year I promised to make our entryway a scary treat for the trick-or-treaters. While my evening will be spent watching copious amounts of Ghost Hunters Live, I will be doling out sweets to neighborhood children in the hopes that the annual bribe will spare my house any nasty tricks!

I do actually love Halloween, it kind of gives us permission to let our darker side out, if only for a day. But the constant need to decorate everything for every holiday is not exactly a positive side to parenthood. I love my kids and want to give them those great childhood experiences, but I can’t help but think the executives at Wal-mart and Party Time are laughing their butts off. Sigh.

This month, I want to step back and urge you to do the same thing. We often get so caught up in our efforts that we forget the forest for the trees. The forest in this case is our story. While we could easily talk ad nauseam about good story and character development, I want us to step back from the mechanics and really look at our story as a reader not a writer.

I have written and published four novels in my Onyalum Series and love every book. Yes, I still read my own series over and over again for both enjoyment and to keep the overall storyline fresh in my mind as I continue on the next book in the series. The funny thing is, I still love these stories even after five years and multiple readings. And that matters!

I am currently re-reading book three, Red Star Conspiracy, my favorite one so far. Not only is my writing at its sharpest in this novel, but the characters and adventures they go on are the types of adventures I wish I could go on. A reviewer commented that this story was reminiscent of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in its high adventure, but it readily includes science, both real and fictional, to satisfy most SciFi fans.

I am a SciFi fan as well! In fact, I am very well read in many of the old classics despite eschewing many of the current stories. I try to keep my work pure without tainting from current trends in SciFi. Probably not a great marketing move, but a wonderful writing tool. My stories are mine and mine alone, although I would be naive in thinking they are not influenced somewhat by past stories.

But this takes us away from the matter at hand. Stepping back and looking at the forest, your story. If you cannot read your own work and be as excited after the fourth or fifth reading as you were the day you wrote it, then what does that say about your story. Now, I have read and heard the buzz from authors who claim to never re-read their work after it is published. My question is why not?

If you are writing stories that you love, then why not read those same stories yourself? In other words, if the story is not enough to jazz you, then why should you expect your readers to be jazzed? Didn’t almost all authors start out as readers? I did!

When I re-read a story I have written, I forget about editing, I forget about story development, and I forget about character and narrative. I simply read as though I am that reader of my distant past. When I am done, I see the forest. I see the things that made the story a good yarn! And that is the gold we must never lose as a writer.

Now, in terms of process, you want to edit your current novel before you publish it, and I have outlined a good process for doing that in my blog. So, you may now be wondering what value stepping back and re-reading your published works will have on your future works.

Inspiration, evolution, continuity, focus, modeling, and enjoyment come to mind. It reminds me of building a house for yourself. Is the process of building what makes the experience enjoyable or is living in it afterwards what counts? For me, the process of creation is a catharsis, but reading the final product is the true prize.

It is the fruit of my labors, and I relish every bite. If you cannot say that about what you have written, then maybe it isn’t worth reading? I am re-energized when I read my past novels. The sense of accomplishment and pride in producing something the world has not seen is worthy unto itself, but now I’ll always have something I can come back to and read over and over again, like those old novels you have always enjoyed. I still love reading Frank Herbert decades since I read my first Dune novel.

Don’t forget why you are writing, it is to produce a story you and your readers will love. But if you cannot say you love your novels, then what does that say about your story? Always take a moment to step back and look for your forest. In the long run, you will improve your writing when you remember what you are writing for. Lord knows it is not for the money! Step back from the mechanics and be a good storyteller.

One of my favorite criticisms from a proof reader for my last novel was his disgust with how short the story was. At one hundred and seven thousand words, I chuckled at his comment. Mission accomplished.

Now, where did I put those decorations? Pumpkins, spider webs, bats, lights, … Sheesh, what have I gotten myself into?

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