Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Constructing a Story Part 1: Frankenstein

Charlotte Firbank-King

Like any journey one undertakes, planning is needed. Writing a book is no different. It’s a journey, a long one that will have you excited, frustrated and, at times, exhausted. Most writers have a story budding in their heads. If you’re like me, the stories rattling around in your brain can drive you nuts. I often just write these ideas and relegate them to a file where they may never see the light of day. Others won’t go away and I’m compelled to start. 

See your story as a body.

You are God in the story. You say which characters do what, how they look, how they act, what they love or hate, you control them all—not. Believe me, characters love to take control.

Back to the story. 

First you have a skeleton or even just a partial skeleton. Once you start writing, other ideas grow, then we add some of the organs, veins and arteries. At last we create a heart and brain, then cover it in skin. Well pleased with our efforts, we step back and decide it’s time for the first edit. However, some writers are so confident they decide it’s great as it is—well, maybe one quick edit—and then rush it off to a publisher they just know awaits their brilliant novel. 

You’re confident this is a bestseller. You pop the champagne and relax while you wait for the letter telling you that you are the world’s next great author. You’ve even spent the millions that will roll in. And what about the movie rights? Have to pick a suitable big star for the leading roll. Actually, throw in a few big names. Life is good while you think of a sequel.

Shock and horror, a rejection letter. 

Now you’re in denial. They’re nuts! Right? No problem, another publisher will recognize your brilliance. A hundred rejections later you realize they can’t all be wrong. Maybe an editor will tell you what the answer is—the publishers all tell you to get an editor. 

Not entirely flattened, you send it to some editors. They each send a quote and blow your socks off—what? The editors tell you there are plot flaws—actually the plot is horrific, non-existent—the story doesn’t flow—then you’re telling instead of showing—your characters lack soul—your story has no heart and there are too many back flashes—there’s not enough atmosphere or you aren’t grounding the reader—the grammar sucks—too many adjectives and adverbs—the list is endless. Now you definitely feel demoralized and demolished—brutalized, actually.

Read the story through the eyes of the publisher and editor—read it aloud.

Oh, my God, you have a Frankenstein! The brain is where the bowels should be, the heart is lurking in the anus—the eyes are misplaced and the mouth dominates the face. The nose is in the back of the head, and the feet are where the hands should be, in fact, a hand is missing. The bladder is gone, along with the stomach. Even you can see this thing is a horror story.

What went wrong?

You didn’t plan your body before you started creating it! Then you didn’t edit, edit, edit and edit more. The less you edit the higher the editor’s quote.

I don’t say you mustn’t just jump in and write like demon, but at least be aware that there will be problems, and your first body (draft) will need a major operation.

The first draft always sucks. Give yourself a break, a couple of weeks to lick your wounds, then dust yourself off and jump in.

Take on board every criticism you get—don’t listen too closely to family and friends unless they’re hard-core editors that love you enough to be honest. 

Next week’s blog will be on how to construct the “body.”


  1. Great post. You made me laugh. There are some people who think writing is that easy and that anyone can write. Yes, anyone can write, but do they have the courage and knowledge to edit. In addition to putting the skin on our finished product, the author also needs to have a thick skin.

    1. It seems many people underestimate just what it takes to write the way writers do. It really does take a special resolve and determination. And a thick skin!