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river rafting1

I’m in the midst of rewriting a YA novel and was explaining how I was doing this to a friend of mine.

“I’m adding a new character to the first chapter, moving the last scene to the fourth chapter, ratcheting up my main character’s angst another notch or two and shifting the focus more solidly onto her throughout the story.”

My friend said she’d never realized what a fluid medium fiction writing is, which is very true.  Plotting a story is all about keeping the right flow going.  Just like taking a trip on a river raft, what readers want when they sit down to read a story is a memorable ride.

Here are four “River Writing” rules I use to improve my writing:

  • Start at the right place. A story starts when the raft slides into the water, not when the characters are home packing their wet sacks.  All good stories have a point-of-no-return, if not at the very beginning, then very near to it.  Start there.
  • Vary the scenes. A river ride is boring if it’s all placid water and exhausting  if it’s all rapids.  Both rafters and readers need a chance to catch their breath every so often and go “Wow, that was really something!” before the next stretch of white water hits them.
  • Avoid whirlpools. Learn to recognize and avoid those points in a story where the plot is going around and around and getting nowhere fast.  The way to handle a whirlpool is to get rid of the scene or chapter, hard as that may be to do.  If trashing it feels too harsh, save it in a folder.
  • End at the right place. This is as soon as the ride is over after many close calls.  A few pats on the back are fine, but don’t drag out the goodbyes.  If there are plans for a sequel, stop when a temporary dock has been reached but make sure there are ominous rumblings of more whitewater–or perhaps even a waterfall–ahead.

Happy river writing!

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