What to do when a story is too skinny

Is your story too skinny

I recently came across a great article about cutting back when the story is too long. And my first thought was that in my current editing I have the opposite problem. I have too many holes and not enough story. So with the help of KM Weiland I am working to make my story grow.

I’m not padding it out – I’m making sure it’s full of all the right stuff.

If you have been following my blog you know that I’m usually working on several writing projects at the same time. The story that is too skinny is the Raven Crown trilogy. I’m still pounding away at the editing of book one. But I have submitted a request to a cover designer and in preparation for that I had to develop the synopsis and back cover copy.

The process did clarify where there are some story aspects missing. Such as character behaviour, for example the queen is frustrated by her younger sister, but I haven’t clarified the why.

The relationship between them isn’t clear. It couldn’t just be because she was asking too many questions. Why was she asking them, what was she asking and what did that show us about the younger sister? Even though Meg is my main character (the younger sister) I didn’t really feel like she came to life for me until the second book. But thinking about what she needs, what she wants and why she behaves as she does in book one has helped clarify who she is as a person, and so only strengthens her for the coming volumes.

This is the first edit of this story. Before I started I read through and marked all the issues, as I do, including where more chapters or scenes were needed.

Using the tips from the articles above, as I work through this edit I am focused on what relationships need building, where people are when we are focused on other characters. And of course, making sure I’m showing what is happening and not telling.

I had a chapter marked with two characters and a note “where are they?”

What I really wanted to know what, at that point in the story, each of them wanted. Would they be able to get that by coming together? But I didn’t really want to introduce them at that point. One character really wanted to meet the other, so I put them in a place where she could learn what she needed and he could meet her, although in a way that she didn’t know who he was.

In doing this I have opened up some more questions, some other aspects that could be explored later and we know him better, than in the previous draft (where he doesn’t really shine til book 2).

There are a few more scenes that can build this way…but I don’t want to give too much away.

I would like to think I’ve been reasonably good at the show don’t tell rule. But there are sections where rather than someone thinking briefly about what went before, it is clearer if I show it happening when it did. I replaced a paragraph of not very useful information with a whole scene that showed far more clearly what happened and the impact that had on the characters involved and will build nicely into more scenes later in the book.

There is far more I could be doing and I’m sure I will repeat some of these processes as the editing process continues. Particularly as this is only the first edit run, I’m trying to work through so many issues at once. But the main focus must remain, is this a good story and am I telling it in a way that is keeping the reader engaged. All of these little things assist in that. By keeping the reader informed of where all the key players are, by allowing them to know the characters by their traits, interactions and relationships with others; and by showing them a whole new world. Appropriate description will help as well, but I don’t want to go overboard. Description is a whole other level but something to keep in mind as well. To ensure the reader sees the world and characters as I do, or at least a little like I do, without ramming the  setting down the reader’s throat, or boring them silly with pages of the stonework of a single wall…

What keeps you engaged as a reader? Or do you only see what isn’t there?

Creating a setting from another culture

Cultural settingAlthough I’m up to my eyeballs with two projects, one of which is well behind, and I’m starting to refine the outlines for the following Iski books, I am thinking about what comes next. I know, I’m crazy. I have two cats to prove it.

And this future project probably won’t even get a draft underway until next year. But I am starting to think about it because the main character is a bit of a pest and she won’t leave me alone.

As well as thinking about her, I’m thinking about her world. In particular, what I can take from other cultures and make them hers. This idea started when I was watching a Chinese TV series set in the late 1700 in the Forbidden City. There was a whole world I didn’t know existed and it captured my attention.

Ok, I kind of knew about it, but not to the extent I discovered watching the series, such as the number of separate homes within the palace; and the fact that a prison was part of it. Or that those protected within the city could walk for miles along walled pathways and roads. The reason it grabbed my attention was that I was looking for somewhere to hide a princess away, so that she was within the palace but only those that needed to, knew where she was.

This is not a Chinese story, and other than the palace and maybe some aspects of the ancient Chinese way of living, I am still planning a medieval style fantasy story (at this point, given that I haven’t started drafting yet).

All of this research into ancient China got me thinking about interesting aspects of other cultures that we don’t usually experience. How could we use that or twist that for our own stories? The first Fiona MacIntosh series that I read had a Turkish feel, with the cities and harams and the way the women lived together. But in the story itself there were other aspects of life that clearly indicated it was a fantasy story, not an historical one.

The way people live (in their setting) is usually tied to culture, beliefs, religion and climate. That is because it is those things that impact on the way they live. Believing that they can have a number of women at their beck and call, means that those women would live together. In the ancient Chinese world the Emperor’s concubines were housed differently. They each had a home of their own and then depending how far they had ascended in the affection of the Emperor determined whether they went to him or he came to them. And as well as these women in his life there was the Empress.

I know this isn’t quite what is usually discussed when writers talk about setting. But it certainly held my interest. What different world sparked and idea in the one you are writing? What would you take from another culture and use differently?

Share your stories.