Writing Hacks: Change the Unexpected

I spent about 4 years writing my first novel, a young adult historical romance (Faithful, Penguin/Puffin, 2010). When I landed an agent based on an SCBWI critique pitch, I was thrilled. This was my big break, the thing I’d been hoping for, wishing for, desperate for. (I’ll post on this next time.) I thought I was on my way.

But she had only read the first 15 pages. I had no idea how hard I’d find the next step.

The Approach to Failure

She signed me in early December. I had to deliver the rest of the manuscript – which I was still revising – by mid-January. There went the holiday, but to a very happy cause.

And I’m a hard worker, and work I did, and I delivered as promised.

cover of book Faithful

She got in touch in February and said something to the effect of “this isn’t working.”

I revised again. And again. She gave me notes; I wrote to them. She came back and said, “not yet”, and I revised again. I couldn’t figure my way through this story any longer. Her notes were fine, but I couldn’t interpret them correctly. I didn’t know which way to turn.

Worse, I could sense that she was getting frustrated and I worried that she would drop me, and if she did, I was sure my attempt at a career in writing was finished.

The Approach to a Win

In June – I still remember where I was and what I was doing – in an act of desperation, I went back to page one, and began to rewrite the story by changing one thing only: I switched the story-telling from my main character’s third person point of view into first.

By the time I finished rewriting that first chapter I knew I had nailed it. By switching into first person, I had driven myself deeply inside the mind of my character, and the emotions she was experiencing were suddenly fresh and alive. I sent the chapter to my agent who came back with a single line in all caps: THIS IS IT.

Change Something Big

If you are struggling with a story, feeling that something isn’t working and you’ve tried all the usual tricks and revision thinking and plot planning, try something big. 

  • Change the point of view
  • Change the tense (it’s amazing how different something can feel when switched from past to present tense)
  • If you are good with voice, try using multiple points of view (caveat – there can be only one main character)
  • Change the setting
  • Change the structure (caveat – this is tricky upper-level stuff)

When you change something big, you may fail, so only apply it to a small passage. But it may help you see the entire story new.

Want More Instruction?

I have now opened my courses to everyone, and if you are struggling with your writing, I’d love to help. Here’s what available:

My Six Day Story System. One user said: “I loved the course! So many nuggets of wonderful tools and information! I took a boat load of notes…” Read all about the course here. (Note that the cost increases on June 20, so don’t wait.)

Take me to Six Day Story System!

My Query Letter Clinic. If you are ready to query, this course walks you through the whole process, plus links to current helpful databases.

My Accountability Journal: Time to Write. This journal will guide you through the ups and downs of making creative space. It’s based on my years of research into learning and organization skills.

And of course there’s always one-on-one coaching with me.

Coming soon – a new course for advanced writers on crafting fiction with emotion. Join my list to stay informed!

2 Responses to “Writing Hacks: Change the Unexpected”

  1. Linda W.

    Janet, thank you for being honest about the process for FAITHFUL. This post gives me a lot to think about. I had been wondering how to change a middle grade novel, which I wrote in first person past tense. I noticed that many middle grade novels are written in first person present tense and wondered if I should do the same. Still not sure.

    • Janet Fox

      Just play with it, Linda – you’ll know pretty quickly whether it feels right or not. If it feels awkward, let it sit a day, come back and read it out loud, and you’ll probably know right away.