Pacing, Post-Its, and whose story is it anyway?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a rejection or a critique often highlights the one thing you already suspected you needed to address. I’ve read that so often from other people and before I submitted my MS, I was tempted to do a Post-It plan – but I resisted.

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Come on, I said, I’ve prevaricated enough, I’ll never send this off. Look at my detailed chapter and scene breakdowns, why do I need coloured sticky posts? Well, the genius that is Julie Cohen could probably have told me why, here’s an earlier post where I credited her with the best advice I ever received.

Julie’s post it seminars and tutorials are legend, that’s the one that most often gets linked to,  but I remember this one first with handwritten cards  – that was far more to my taste – is this the point to mention my irrational hatred, almost fear, of sticky paper? I’ve always had it, I detest labels, I used to have slice them off apples rather than peel them off – that sticky residue touching my fingers, urggggh!!! OK, so I’m revealing too much here, and you just try having young children these days who want to put stickers on everything, they get all over the house, is there a pair of socks without a sticker stuck to it? And when they come out of the washing machine all mangled and manky….I’m sorry, where was I?

Ok, my dislike of Post-Its is illogical, and I could have used coloured cards, but I was also at that “please get this story pout of my sight” phase and so I sent it off. And got “uneven pacing” as a rejection point. So I did what I should have done before and wrote out all the most important information that needed to be revealed in the story for each character, and laid them out as they currently chronologically occurred. I filled in other Post-Its with a breakdown of the most important internal and external plot points for my H & h, and then I looked at this mess up above.

It certainly showed I needed newer Post-Its that didn’t curl up so quickly, and a better choice of colours rather than having to use yellow for general plot and pink and blue for my protagonists(forgive me). But more importantly it showed me that I had too many big revelations happening too close together. I should add here that while searching Julie’s archives I had found this post about not holding information back from the reader for too long and this follow up one. I’ll admit that it had made me pause all those months ago but I ignored it – I think I knew even then that I was falling for the old trick of keeping secrets to build suspense and I had too many revelations in the second half. But where else to put them without upsetting the balance of the whole MS?

Yeah, OK, I shied away from what I deep down knew, my pacing was uneven. The post it’s showed me what I feared, a lot of work was needed – no major rewrite, just rejigging the times when information was revealed – no biggie huh? Except of course each move causes a knock on effect of reaction and new action and later revelations are also impacted. I knew the story worked as it stood, it could just work so much better….

So thank you Julie, again, for giving me the tools to improve my work. My messy Post-It work-in-progress isn’t very close to Julie’s at all, but that doesn’t matter; it’s what it’s made me see and think and feel that’s important. For instance, there’s a couple of blue notes stuck to the side – they were big information reveals that turned out to never really featured in the MS, my synopsis and gut feel about the book made me think they must be vital, but in the actual telling and the post it outline, they didn’t feature.

Which tied in to the lack of blue notes in several areas and the revelation that I’d been pitching this book – to me, and to others – as the Hero’s story, well he is the one with all the hooks and tropes after all. But the Post-Its showed me very clearly that it’s my heroine’s story. I don’t mean that it’s woman’s fiction, it’s still very much a category style romance with equal time and importance given to both main characters. But my heroine’s lack of tropes had made me forget how much she was driving the story, it was all there on the paper (ok, screen) and in the synopsis and pitch.

Maybe it’s that #metoo has happened since I finished and sent off the MS. Maybe it’s the state of the world in the years since I started blogging with election and referendum results around the world drowning out marginalised voices. Maybe it’s the many examples of women who even with all of the above, “nether the less, persist.”

Whatever it is, it’s made me look at my whole story afresh. My heroine was always determined to do things her own way, and the hero saw and respected that and only offered help or advice on her terms. Just because he had more frequent rejections to overcome in his life, it didn’t mean their impact was greater than those she revealed. I knew that; the only time I cried when writing was over one of her scenes. This new way of looking at it as her story is just the final impetus to make the story the best it can be. So, yet again Julie; my heroine and I thank you, and we (not too grudgingly) thank the Post-Its too.