Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Recipe for Improving Your Work-In-Progress

A Recipe for Improving Your Work-In-Progress

My friend, Chris, makes the best chocolate chip cookies. It’s all in the recipe, she insists. I have her chocolate chip recipe and I try to duplicate it, but my cookies never turn out like hers. But when we make those cookies together, mine are like hers.
Guess I just need someone to guide me.
Sometimes fiction can be like those chocolate chip cookies. Published authors make the creation of luscious fiction appear effortless.
If you’re like me, you try to draw from the style and techniques of those published authors, but your version falls short. You have a gnawing feeling that something is off. Maybe a critique partner points out a problem or your writing group helps you spot what doesn’t work. Great, you think, now I know what the problem is, but how do I repair it?
You scratch your head, unsure of how to proceed.
Do I have a recipe for you! Actually, it’s a book: “Fiction First Aid” by Raymond Obstfeld.

You don’t even have to read the entire book because it’s organized by ailments and symptoms. For example: What if you sail along in your novel until you get to, let’s say, page 126 and suddenly you don’t have a clue what should happen next. You’re stuck. What to do? Raymond O. recommends three quick fixes:
-- Change the character’s names, or
-- Add a new detail or character trait, or
-- Change the setting
He also talks about what plot is and isn’t. He gives you helpful tips he calls physical therapy so you can get your writing back on track. His suggestions are both easy and creative. Then he gives you a case study where he deconstructs a classic piece of writing so you can follow the recipe of a published master. …

Here are 13 problems for which “Fiction First Aid” offers fixes.

1) “Wallpaper” settings, where the setting overpowers the characters or the setting is so bland readers miss it.
2) Too many happenings in the plot
3) “Connect-the-dot” plots, which seem so predictable the reader feels bored.
4) Cardboard or Flat Characters
5) Clumping -- a form of over-description
6) Un-involving characters
7) Insufficient character motivation
8) One-dimensional antagonists
9) Clichéd style
10) Monotonous style
11) Overwritten and confusing style
12) Melodrama (not good)
13) Unconvincing cross-gender points of view

Of course, there are many more manuscript ailments than these 13, which prompt me to offer a suggestion: Read “Fiction First Aid.” In fact, buy a copy and keep it on your reference shelf. The next time your editor, agent or critique partner notices a flaw in your beloved manuscript, pull out “Fiction First Aid,” turn to the appropriate symptom and apply one of the quick-fix recipes. Your work will be better for it.
Happy Writing.

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone
who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow
Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your
Thirteen in others comments. It's easy and fun! Trackbacks, pings,
comment links accepted!


  1. Great advice. I notice that they authors I enjoy reading avoid those pitfalls.

  2. A quick fix ... sounds like something I definitely need. Several of those on your list made me cringe!

  3. Interesting T13! May have to look into it more :)
    thanks for stopping by.

  4. I can barely write a good letter, never mind a book! I'm amazed by people who can write and write well.

  5. I think I've read books with all those problems--though thank goodness not very often.

  6. Sounds like a reference book I'd want on my shelf. Hmm...

  7. I like to write very short stories,someday they will get longer

  8. Thanks for sharing what you are learning. I'd love to know how you've used this advice. What has it helped with your writing? Has it helped you get unstuck?

    Happy TT! :)

  9. Sounds like a very helpful book. God bless.

  10. I really need to get a copy of that. Thanks for the quick education. :)

  11. Sound ideas. Looks like a good read with practical advice. Thanks for visiting my TT!

  12. Sounds like a great book. I'll have to mention it to my mom who is a writer. Thanks for visiting my page and for all the nice comments.

  13. Cool list! And I LOVE the paranormal :) Happy TT and thanks for stopping by!

  14. It sounds like a helpful book. When you see the problems written in a list like that it's a bit scary!

  15. Sounds like a helpful book. I'll have to check it out.

    Happy TT!

  16. Thanks so much. I definitely would be interested in this book.

    Thanks for stopping by


  17. Sounds like a must-have for any writer!
    Thanks for visiting my 80's TT.

  18. Thanks for the reference. I don't think I've ever heard of this book. Does he have a fix for trimming the fat from your novel? Mine needs to go on a serious diet and lose about 30 pages. Argh!

  19. good advice! Sounds like a good book! thanks!

  20. Brenda - that sounds like a book I need on my 'for dummies' shelf (me being the dummy;)

    Thanks for an informative TT!