Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Forward Motion

Hello, this is your amazing cabin girl, and unlike some of you might have thought, I am not dead.

In fact, I've written a second novel-length manuscript. It's much better than my first one. It's also about ten-thousand words longer, but we're trying not to obsess about word count, right?

I brought my new manuscript to school to show all my writing friends in my writing club.

You didn't know about that either? I really haven't posted for a long time.

Anyway, I gave it to a friend before school. She read several pages, occasionally chuckling or gleefully repeating a phrase. She gave it back to me, telling me it was really good, and I went away feeling happy.

At lunch, another friend asked me if they could read it. I gave it to them. The friend who'd read the first ten pages that morning, who was sitting right there, didn't even seem to notice.

In fact, neither person asked me for it a second time, though both of them said it was good. And at least one of them is the type who would tell me if it wasn't. But there had to be something wrong with it if they didn't have a desperate need to keep reading.

Fellow writers, I have just had a major breakthrough.

A few days later I was at my voice lesson, singing "Simple Gifts" which is an amazing song. My voice teacher stopped me at the end of it and said it was good, but it felt like I was sitting on it. I needed it to be light and alive.

That made me think. I've always known that my artwork is very still. There's no life in it. I'm accurate, but the page doesn't come to life and start growing like it should. It's the same way when I sing, and it's the same way when I write, and it's all because I think about the moment and don't look at what's coming. There's no forward motion.

I've found that if I think about the note at the end of the phrase when I'm singing, I sing more in tune and it suddenly comes alive. I wrote the prologue for a story in a notebook. Then, later, as I typed it out, I thought about where the scene was headed. When I read it over, there was life in it.

Now that I know what I'm doing wrong, I can find a way to fix it.

Forward motion is very important in a story. If the reader doesn't feel the need to know what happens next, will they pick up the book again? No!

It's not blind curiosity that makes us keep reading, it's the hints about the future. Things we recognize about stories we've read before and our guesses that want to be proved or disproved. I'm a discovery writer, which means I have no idea what my characters are going to be doing at the end of the scene, much less at the end of the story. So, I need to go back and revise my stories after I've finished them, making sure I give hints about other things that will happen in the future.

Forward motion is what keeps the reader going. Without it, books may be readable. But with it, they're un-put-down-able.


  1. This was a great discovery. It is amazing that our understanding of writing doesn't always come from a writing class or book. I have to say, I like to know the ending of the book and have an idea about what should be achieved in each chapter the road.

  2. Awesome! I love that you have a writing club at school! Very cool. And I like how all the arts (and really life) can bring lessons to your writing. But only if you're looking! Which you are (also awesome). :)

  3. So cool that you figured this out! Congrats! And double congrats on finishing your second manuscript. Woot! Woot!

  4. Wow, a second novel already? Way to go! You have wonderful insight into the world of writing - and the world in general. That will bring a lot into your story as you revise it. Keep up the good work! It's good to hear from you.

  5. wonderfully put, Amber. So true.


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