Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Guest Blogger Camy Tang-- Win a copy of Only Uni!

I'm pleased to welcome Camy Tang as my guest blogger today! She offers excellent, reasonable critiquing services through Story Sensei , and I asked her to share some of her expertise on how to do a "big picture" critique. If you'd like a chance to win a copy of Only Uni, please leave a comment with your contact information. I'll draw a name Wednesday morning.

Welcome, Camy! So, please share with us how we can look at our own overall story arc.

From Camy...

This is a little hard to explain, but I’ll give it a shot.

I usually start with the characters. Do they have clear external goals? Do those goals carry them through the entire story, or does the goal change or end by the middle? (That’s bad, the goal should carry them through to the climax.)

Are the goals strong enough to carry them through the entire story? Sometimes external goals are weak and don’t have a strong enough purpose or good enough motivations behind them. For example, a heroine wanting to adopt a dog could be a problematic external goal if you don’t have a darn good reason for her to need/want a dog, and if you don’t have enough obstacles or a ticking clock to push the action forward.

For Christian fiction, I also look at the characters’ spiritual conflicts. Each character needs to have some sort of internal flaw—perfect characters are boring. The character should struggle against this spiritual flaw for the entirety of the book, and there should be a realization, epiphany, or change at the climax that reshapes the character.

The spiritual flaw also needs to be both specific and strong enough. “Anger against God” is too vague, but “anger against God for allowing her to be injured and give up her dream of being a dancer” is good and specific. “Worrying about people” is a weak spiritual conflict, but “worrying enough about people to butt in where she’s not wanted” is both specific and a real flaw.

How does the external goal and spiritual conflict shape the climax? Ideally, the external goal and the spiritual conflict should come to a head at the climax of the story, or right before or right after it. Basically, you box the character in until they have to choose between two bad choices or two worthy choices. There’s some sort of sacrifice the character has to make.

Many times, there isn’t a strong enough sacrifice in the climax. Someone has to lose something important for there to be strong enough emotional resonance in the reader.

I also look at the obstacles and conflict of the story points. There should be very specific things that work directly against the character’s external goals and/or their spiritual conflict. General conflict is not enough to drive a story forward—the conflict needs to work directly against what the character is striving for.

Say the character wants to get on the cover of Rolling Stones magazine, because that will mean she’s made it as a rock star. She tries to become friends with a man who’s known to give parties that the Rolling Stones editors go to. She hits an obstacle because the man has a friend who sees that she’s just an ambitious singer trying to take advantage of his friend. Since the heroine hits this obstacle, she tries another option—she tries to become friends with a woman who serves drinks at those parties and might be able to sneak her in. At each step, the heroine is still working toward her external goal, and each obstacle stops her in her path, forcing her to try a different route.

The conflict and obstacles should be raising the stakes at each step, taking away options, boxing the character in. Many stories suffer from a sagging middle because the conflict isn’t directly against the character’s goal, or the stakes aren’t rising with each step forward. Things should be getting worse, or the deadline should be looming closer.

Most people don’t have a problem with the resolution after the climax, it’s the getting to the climax that causes problems in story structure and character arc. After the climax, the characters have reached a new understanding of themselves, the danger is past, the future is bright or at least bearable.

This is a quick and dirty way to analyze your own story, but I hope this has helped!

Thanks so much, Camy! This has been really helpful to me! I'll be analyzing the manuscript I just finished to make sure it's doing all you said.

For those of you following Camy's blog tour, check out this link to see where else she'll be visiting. http://camys-loft.blogspot.com/2008/03/only-uni-blog-tour-schedule.html

Camy Tang is the loud Asian chick who writes loud Asian chick lit. She used to be a biologist, but now she is a staff worker for her church youth group and leads a worship team for Sunday service. She also runs the Story Sensei fiction critique service. On her blog, she gives away Christian novels every Monday and Thursday, and she ponders frivolous things like dumb dogs (namely, hers), coffee-geek husbands (no resemblance to her own...), the writing journey, Asiana, and anything else that comes to mind. Visit her website at http://www.camytang.com/ for a huge website contest going on right now, giving away five boxes of books and 25 copies of her latest release, ONLY UNI.


Patty said...

What great advice. I'll take that into consideration when I get around to writing. It's one of those external goals of mine that has its roadblocks. I would love to win Only Uni.

pleblanc_1 at charter dot net

Carole said...

I appreciated Camy's interview, and would love to win a copy of her second book. Thanks for the opportunity!

cjarvis [at] bellsouth [dot] net

Kathy at Sumballo said...

Camy, I really appreciate your writing ideas. Very helpful. Thanks for posting. sumballo [at] gmail dot com

Stacey said...

"Sushi" was incredible. And "Uni" looks amazing. Please enter me in the drawing. Thanks.


Missy Tippens said...

Didn't she give great advice? I just hope I can get better at seeing the whole picture.

Thanks for entering! I'll be taking names all day.


Karin said...

Please enter me--thanks.

Carolynn W. said...

I visit Camy's blog everyday, and feel like I know her:). I read 'Sushi for One' and loved it so I really want to read 'Only Uni'.
Thanks for the chance to win!

Debby Giusti said...

Hi Camy,
Great comments on creating characters that readers will love! You've hit the nail on the head with conflict and ensuring the stakes are high. Often I read manuscripts that don't satisfy because I don't feel connected with the hero or heroine.

When I was starting out, editors often said my characters weren't compelling. For a long time, I didn't know how to fix the problem. Your post explained it so well! Love your books!

Thanks, Missy, for inviting Camy to your blog!

Camy Tang said...

Thanks so much for having me here, Missy!

bigguysmama said...

Thank you so much for the opportunity to win Only Uni! Camy is so great sharing her knowledge! I enjoy reading all her guest spots! Thanks for having her.



Missy Tippens said...

I appreciate all of you stopping by! I won't draw a name until in the morning in case we have any night owls who stop by. :)


Missy Tippens said...

Carolynn W. you're the winner of Only Uni!! I've emailed you to get your address.

Thanks to everyone who entered!


Donna Moore said...

Thank you for the advice and sharing your knowledge. This is one of the best I have read on doing an overall critique. Please enter me in the drawing.

runninmama at sbcglobal dot net

Belinda Peterson said...

Camy and Missy,
Thanks for the great interview. I have a hard time seeing the big picture. Good advice.