Your Story Isn’t About You Even Though It’s a Story About You

Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.—Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

So who is your personal story about? It’s about the reader and his/her reading experience. 

If you’re writing a story based on your personal experience, be careful to avoid the following four pitfalls.

Image by Joe from Pixabay

Giving Unnecessary Backstory

A personal story is meant to be based on a small slice of a writer’s considerable lifelong material. So, writers must refrain from slowing the forward motion of their particular story by telling side anecdotes or going off on tangents.

Sometimes writers stick these extras in odd places in the story as if they thought of a side story while writing page eight and place it there when it had a small connection to what they wrote on page two. 

Novelist Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch’s advice is good: “Murder your darlings.”

Explaining

The story is about an interesting event that happened in the writer’s life. But instead of building the story tension, the writer explains why he took such and such action. Or instead of giving the flavor of the setting the writer details the setting as if he’s writing a travel book. Or tells the reader the differences between the technology of that time and the current day.

Who’d want to read historical fiction if the writer interrupts the story to tell the reader only rotary phones existed at the time, instead of simply showing the character entering a telephone number one digit at a time on the black telephone’s dial.

Adding Unnecessary Information

Here the writer peppers the real story with their likes and dislikes, their preferences, and their judgments that have little or no bearing on the event. Sometimes the writer reminds the reader of information the writer already revealed, forcing the reader to read repetitious information instead of getting on with the story.

Telling the General Story and Impact Up Front

The writer thinks mentioning the bad or good event in general terms and how it affected their perspective on life before they begin the story is a teaser. No. It needs a spoiler alert. It removes the thrill of reading the actual event when and if they ever get to it. Sometimes the writer does this multiple times in the story before another secondary event.

Example: Revealed early in the writer’s marriage. If I’d known Jerry was going to divorce me in two years, I’d have opened a bank account and put half our money in my account.

What else ruins a person’s personal account of an event?

BUY NOW

I finished reading Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days. I have AND will highly recommend it to anyone who dabbles in fiction. It’s one of the best “how to” books I’ve ever read.

—Marsha Hubler, Director Montrose Christian Writers Conference

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  

—Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Should I Pay to Attend a Writers Conference?

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.—Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The easy answer is sure if you have the time and money. But if time and money is a factor, here are some suggestions for the level of writer you are.

I Want to Write but I Know Little about the Craft or Business.

Yes. Make sure the conference has classes that address the type of writing you wish to write, e.g., fiction, articles, children’s books, nonfiction. If you attend a reputable conference:

  • You will receive a good picture of what it takes to write.
  • Many authors are instructors, so you’ll view successful authors. An author instructing a class I attended at my first writer’s conference in 2003 is now an award-winning author, a conference director, and president of an international writers group. In 2019, she endorsed my book on writing. 
  • At some conferences you can sign up with authors or agents for mentor appointments.
  • Conferences usually offer time slots for attendees to pitch an idea to an agent or editor Often, these professionals are happy to answer questions if you don’t have a book yet. At that first conference in 2003, I courageously signed up for fifteen minutes with an agent. I pitched a book (which never gained a contract) and presented the two books of short stories I’d self-published. She signed me on.
  • You will meet others like yourself. All those successful authors at the conference that are buddies started out just like you. If you’re like me, you’ll make some friends and see them again at other conferences. Friendships will grow. I still have friends from those first conferences. We promote each other’s books in our newsletters. 
  • You may find the perfect critique partner or partners.

I Have Limited Success and Have Attended a Conference or Two

Image by Steve Cliff from Pixabay

Yes. Usually, conferences have different levels of stand-alone and multiple-day classes. It’s difficult to take in every wisdom for improving writing techniques in one conference. Now, intermediate classes may be for you.

  • You will continue to make and renew friendships.
  • You’ll improve your all-around writing as well as writing for a specific genre.
  • If you’ve attended the same conference more than once, it may be time to try a different one. I flew to a large fiction conference for several years. Then I discovered a conference within driving distance that offered more days of instruction and multiple types of writing for a lower fee. Many of the instructors from the large fiction conference taught at that venue.
  • You may want to add classes on marketing, social media, and writing tools to your schedule.

I’m Multi-Published with One or More Publishers and/or I’ve Moved to Self-Publishing, and I Find Little New at Conferences

Answer: Maybe not. I came to this point. By far, I hadn’t learned everything, but few classes appealed to me for the cost of the conferences, travel, and hotels. However, I still need to learn my craft.

  • Like me, you may get more out of writer retreats or small intensive seminars led by one or two successful instructors/authors—ones that help you go deeper. 
  • It may be time for you to pay forward what you’ve learned and teach those entering a writing career. I’ve taught at small and midsized writer’s conference, but what I truly enjoy is presenting what I’ve learned to writers groups, in person or on zoom where I can travel around the country from inside my home.

What is your experience with writers conferences?

BUY NOW

I finished reading Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days. I have AND will highly recommend it to anyone who dabbles in fiction. It’s one of the best “how to” books I’ve ever read.

—Marsha Hubler, Director Montrose Christian Writers Conference

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  

—Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Poll Results: What About a Story Creates a Great Read?

Image by Tumisu

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is chock-full of practical techniques. Numerous examples clarify problem areas and provide workable solutions. The action steps and blah busters McCarthy suggests will help you improve every sentence, every paragraph of your novel. If you follow her advice and implement her strategies, a publisher will be much more likely to issue you a contract.—Denise K. Loock, freelance editor, lightningeditingservices.com

Learn more at the end of the post.

I’ve studied various writing methods, such as the Hero’s Journey, a three-act structure, and seat-of-the-pants methods focusing on certain story elements. These methods were written by authors. What they think is from their experience, which is good, but I wanted to find out what readers think. So I decided to ask the readers subscribing to my newsletter—mostly women who enjoy clean stories.

Considering the methods I’ve studied, I asked them to peruse sixteen opinions readers might have about what makes a great story. All sixteen help a story, but how many are important to these readers? Then I limited the participants to choose the top three thoughts that made a story great for them.

The three-choice limit was hard for many of the women, but it forced them to think about what really mattered to them. I wasn’t shocked at the runner-up, but I was surprised by the winner that edged ahead. These women love plot twists. They want to be surprised.

Image by Tumisu

Poll Results

Rank Opinion% of Total
#1The plot Includes twists14.9%
#2I leave the story satisfied14.4%
#3A character I identify with10.8%
#4An engaging setting10.3%
#5The characters’ journeys show they’ve been challenged7.7%
#6The dialogue is real, and engaging7.7%
#7Whatever genre, story contains a romance element6.7%
#8My hope is increased or renewed5.1%
#9The dialogue includes clever banter4.6%
#10A character I feel like I’m inside4.1%
#11The characters’ journeys show they’ve changed4.1%
#12The plot is full of struggles3.6%
#13I learn something I didn’t know3.1%
#14Secondary characters add to the protagonist’s journey.2.6%
#15The setting contributes to the character’s pursuit.0.5%
#16A truth is confirmed.0.0%

More Reflections

I thought it interesting that almost twice as many women thought it was more important to them that the characters’ journeys challenged them than changed them. Many more women thought it was important that they identify with the character than feel like they were inside the character. Enjoying banter ranked better than almost half of the choices pleased me. I love to include banter in dialogue. I was surprised how low “The plot is full of struggles” ranked.

Which result(s) surprised you and why? What else about a story do you consider essential for a great read?

BUY NOW

Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.

—Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

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American Christian Fiction Writers

American Christian Fiction Writers

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