You might want to follow this simple plan:
- Seek out the “hot” story moments worthy of further mining (they will look suspiciously like emotional turning points).
- Apply added word count there.
To make that change believable the reader needs access to the inner torment of the point-of-view character. Real change never results from hasty decisions—the protagonist needs to be wrestling with some big issue that will ultimately reveal her true character.
The Thirteenth Tale, here’s how author Diane Setterfield pulls off a long-awaited moment in which the narrator Margaret, the woman reclusive author Vida Winter has chosen as her biographer, shares her own deep wound. It is a secret that was kept from her most of her youth, and then kept by her, so we know that airing it has the power to change her. The death of a character both Margaret and Vida Winter cared for, on top of an entire book worth of confession from Vida Winter, finally prompts the revelation:
My scar. My half-moon. Pale silver-pink, a nacreous translucence. The line that divides.
“This is where she was. We were joined here. And they separated us. And she died. She couldn’t live without me.”
I felt the flutter of Miss Winter’s fingers tracing the crescent on my skin, saw the tender sympathy on her face. “The thing is—” (the final words, the very last words, after this I need never say anything, ever again) “I don’t think I can live without her.”
“Child.” Miss Winter looked at me. Held me suspended in the compassion of her eyes.
I thought nothing. The surface of my mind was perfectly still. But under the surface there was a shifting and a stirring. I felt the great swell of the undercurrent. For years a wreck had sat in the depths, a rusting vessel with its cargo of bones. Now it shifted. I had disturbed it, and it created a turbulence that lifted clouds of sand from the seabed, motes of grit swirling wildly in the dark and disturbed water.
All the time Miss Winter held me in her long green gaze.Let's look at how this works.
- From a character given to languid structures such as the one in the third paragraph, note the child-like sentences. They evoke stuttering; this is hard for Margaret to tell.
- Note the parenthetical delay set off by an em-dash—(that underscored the importance of her words, should the reader somehow fail to intuit them) before Margaret utters her conclusion.
- Note the amazing one-word dialogue from Miss Winter—every aspect of the book has brought them to this point and this one word says it all. Margaret incurred this wound in toddlerhood and carried it alone to womanhood. She needs mothering, from an old woman who has never been a mother, but who knows what it is like to lose a twin. The one word she utters—“Child”— is just right.
- And note Setterfield’s nod to this technique: her character was kept captive by the long green gaze just as the writer was held by a moment Setterfield wisely refused to turn from.
Try it. Before you broaden your story, make sure you’ve mined its depths for all they’re worth. You may have more story yet to tell!
For more on emotional turning points, see my previous post, The Plot that Swam Away.
Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, an independent manuscript evaluation service. What she believes: 1. Editing forever changed the way she reads. 2. Well-crafted moments of brilliance help her forgive many other problems in a manuscript. 3. All writers have strengths and weaknesses—but why settle for weaknesses? 4. We can learn as much from what other authors do right as we can from what we do wrong. This is her series, "Busted!—An author caught doing something right." Connect with Kathryn at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.