Shelly Lowenkopf’s Advice to a Workshop Student

You’re strong on story concept, weak in execution, still writing in the early and mid-twentieth century narrative traditions. How to advance? Thought you’d never ask.

  1. Only one point of view per scene.
  2. Keep yourself out of the narrative. Stay with the POV character’s perception of the story at hand.
  3. Edit out as many stage directions as you can find.
  4. Forget about the reader.
  5. Write for the characters.
  6. You don’t need to explain things to your POV character that the character already knows.
  7. In the current story, remove all traces of you. The narrator is too busy to explain things, should not have time to explain things to himself that he already knows.
  8. Sad to say, because of what Toni calls “head shifting,” or switching from one point of view to another, the first readers of literary agents and book publishers would stop reading after about the first 500 words because of POV shifts and egregious stage directions or “tells.”
  9. Consider, for a moment, your Zoom session mate, Lisa. For all practical purposes, she’s Toni’s first reader. She needs to read your work all the way through because her task in this case is to provide valuable clues and hints of missing or misused technique. If this were not a teaching-learning session, her instructions would be, “Read until you can stop.”
  10. If you were to produce a first novel that sold between 20 and 30 thousand copies, your next title could use the narrative approach you chose here. But not now.
  11. Your choice. Take yourself out of the process. Stop explaining things to the reader and characters. Pick one person to be the driving force of the story, Let him carry the water. Let him pursue his agenda, even to the point of misreading the agendas of the other characters.
  12. In the most direct terms, Antony, good story concepts such as this will get you only so far. To get beyond them you need to get inside your characters to the point where you can see their individual versions of reality.
  13. Another way of saying this: Listen to your characters. Forget about your opinion.
  14. Worth your time to consider these points if you wish to move the total effect of your story beyond description and into the artistic world of drama.
  15. Your choice. Stay here or take the next step.

About Angle on Writing

Lisa Angle of Ninety Degrees Media is the right Angle to help you write and sell your story.
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