Monday, October 13, 2014

5 Tips for Fleshing it Out

by Jemi Fraser

Last month, my post talked about 5 Tips to Trim Your Writing. This month, I'm tackling the opposite. With my current rewrite, I attempted to plot (kaboom!) and ended up with a shorter story than I expected (15k shorter).

So, now I'm focusing on how to flesh out a story without padding it. Some of the things I've discovered:

Fleshing it Out Tip #1 -- Emotions

This one I'm having a blast with. I write contemporary romance, so it's all about the emotion, but I think that's true for most stories. It's the emotions that pull me in and make me gobble up those pages, no matter what the genre is.

Delving into the character's emotions helps the reader connect and makes the writing much more interesting. For me, plot is obviously important, but it's how the characters respond to the plot that intrigues me. So, show that!

Fleshing it Out Tip #2 -- Show, Don't Tell

Another fun one, and very connected to #1. Telling removes the emotion. Wasn't it Mark Twain who said, "Don't tell me the old lady screamed, bring her on stage and let her scream"? Looking for those telling words/sentences in the draft helps me find places I can strengthen my story and make it longer/more compelling at the same time.

Fleshing it Out Tip #3 -- Dialogue

Connected to #2! I love dialogue and tend to include a lot of it in my writing naturally, but there are still places I find where I can have my characters really telling. Dialogue infuses the story with life and lets the readers hear your characters talking. It also gives the reader a visual--and mental--break from narration, thus increasing the pace of your story.

Fleshing it Out Tip #4 -- Description

Blech. I'm not an especially visual person or writer. My descriptions tend to be focused around the emotions of the characters. And I'm not a fan of reading paragraphs of description either, so I tread very, very carefully when I do this.

For people, I sprinkle in the description. A mention of hair colour by another character here, a comment about height there. Nothing obvious, certainly no looking in the mirror and offering up a self-evaluation. For example, rather than saying my character is short, I'll have her drag a chair over to reach something off a high shelf.

For places, I don't mind stringing a sentence or two together to anchor the reader in the setting, especially when it's a new place. I try to focus on what the character would notice, and only on what is relevant to the story.

I'd rather leave most description up to my readers, but I'm learning I need to include those anchors and let the readers fill in the rest.

Fleshing it Out Tip #5 -- Character Arcs

This one is more complex than the first four. Here, I'm looking for the pace of how my characters are growing. I want them to slowly learn to change, have strategically placed AHA! moments, and obstacles tossed in their paths to have them second guessing their realizations. This is another instance where I find Scrivener invaluable. I can colour code, or use the side bar, or make another file to put side by side in order to track the arcs. Then I can spot where the arc needs some help, tweak a scene here, add a scene there, throw in another obstacle, or three.

There are many more ways to flesh out a story (adding in a subplot and looking for plot holes to fill in come to mind), but these are the 5 I'm working with. Any tips to add? Do you like fleshing it out or do you prefer to trim?

Jemi Fraser is an aspiring author of contemporary romance. She blogs  and tweets while searching for those HEAs.


Beth said...

A really interesting post, Jemi. I find that I usually fall a bit short on the word count and have to enhance it in later edits. I'm like you on description - it doesn't come naturally, and I have to work to get it in.

And although I own Scrivener, I was well into my current WIP when I got it, so I'm not using it yet. I'll definitely use it when I start another manuscript.

Kelly Steel said...

Great points Jemi! Thanks for sharing!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Those are some of the things I have to do, because I always fall short on word count.
Another thing I go back to add are things related to the five senses. Just a little added texture to the scenes.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Dialogue is a great way to show instead of tell.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Such great tips,, Jemi. I like to do revisions mostly focusing on one thing like you mention. Except for the description. Really don't like it.

JeffO said...

Great tips, Jemi. As always, however, the key with show and tell is to do both when appropriate.

To answer your last question, I prefer to have to trim rather than add. Even if it means cutting out things I really like, I tend to find it easier than trying to find space for more.

Jemi Fraser said...

Beth - I love Scrivener! It's helped me in so many ways :)

Thanks Kelly!

Alex - that's a good one! I'll have to try that one out :)

Diane - I love dialogue too!

Natalie - me either - but I'm working on it :)

Jeff - me too! I love that good old slash and burn editing :)

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Great ideas. I'm getting better at trimming and sometimes that leaves my word count too low for the category.

Catherine A. Winn said...

Excellent tips!

Michelle Wallace said...

Great tips!
I love to include the senses...weave it inbetween descriptive writing...but not too much description...
What I really need to work on, is character arc.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Some good practical tips here, Jemi. I do like the point you made of descriptions being thing that the character would notice. It does cut down on the paragraphs of narrative. A good friend of mine said emotion layering is something we always have to go back at flesh out. That's true. The writer *sees all* but sometimes forgets to add in so the reader see's and feels the emotions.

Sia McKye Over Coffee

cleemckenzie said...

Hewing and hacking always leaves me short of my word count, but it's easier to go back and work on a leaner manuscript, so I know you'll benefit from all that self-editing.

You've given some good solid tips for the fleshing out part.

Jemi Fraser said...

Susan - that's exactly what happened with mine! :)

Thanks Catherine!

Michelle - I've really got to work on those descriptions!

Sia - thanks! And emotional layering is something I'll have to check - thanks!

Lee - I find it much easier to slash and burn than flesh it out. Getting there though!

Carol Kilgore said...

Excellent tips. My word count rides a roller coaster. My first draft is usually too low. During the next few passes it rises and rises because I do a lot of what you suggest here. Then I have to cut out what the reader can do without.

Susanne Drazic said...

I over write, but a lot of it is stuff that definitely should be cut out. This was a great post.

Shelley Sly said...

This is very helpful!

I'm terrible at physical description. Especially settings, but sometimes people, too. The best way for me to flesh out my MS is to add in more physical description where it is needed. Like you, I focus more on emotion. ;)

Jemi Fraser said...

Carol - that's what this story has done - it's all over the place!

Susanne - thank you. I was definitely an overwriter too - now I don't have a clue what I am :)

Shelley - and the emotions are all important (to me anyway!) :)

DMS said...

These sound like great tips! I am usually needed to trim, but it is better to be in your position. Now you can add things that are important and fun to write!

Best of luck. :)

Medeia Sharif said...

I used to overwrite, but now I underwrite, so I do all of these. I also add subplots and flesh out secondary characters.

Crystal Collier said...

I love 1-4. For me, descriptions come easy, but I always like to sandwich them between action or dialog, so you only get pieces. There is the occasional "new environment" that requires a paragraph, but I think it's most important to keep the story moving forward.

On character goodness, we could spend a whole month just talking about the intricacies. That's the beast I'm working to conquer now--how to really fashion amazing character arcs.

Jemi Fraser said...

Thanks Jess - I still find it more fun to slash, but I'm learning to like this too :)

Medeia - hadn't thought of the 2ndary characters bit - that would be good too :)

Crystal - I struggle with those arcs too. Scrivener helps, but it's still tough stuff!

LD Masterson said...

Good tips, Jemi. I'd rather trim than add. When adding I do too much second guessing on if I'm just padding the word count and not really adding to the story.

Jemi Fraser said...

Linda - that's it exactly!! I wonder if I'll ever prefer adding to trimming :)