Words of Wisdom from editor Kate Sullivan

While decluttering my laptop today, I found an unpublished blog post from last fall that was too valuable not to share, so here it is:


Last fall, I attended a talk with brilliant editor Kate Sullivan (Little Brown) at Southern Breeze’s wik 2010 conference in Birmingham, AL. Ms. Sullivan had the following piece of advice for new authors (paraphrased here):

Think of your plot like building blocks, little LEGOs of story that can be picked up and moved around to best serve the purpose of your story.

Well, there I was sitting in the front row at the conference, nodding as I made a note of her words. But I didn’t believe them.

After all, when you write a novel, one thing leads to the next and then the next. How can you pick up a scene and move it when every action in your plot is supposed to be cause and effect leading to the next scene? The character’s knowledge, experiences, motivations will all be different. In short, I was sure her idea was impossible.

That said though, I also was sure that I had a serious problem with my manuscript. Because  Ms. Sullivan insisted that the inciting moment in any YA novel needed to come by page 20.

I tried reassuring myself that I had an inciting moment in the first 20 pages. But it wasn’t the BIG inciting moment.

When I mentioned this to my writing buddy Laura, she said, “She’s right you know, you need to get that scene earlier.”

But I was sure that certain things had to come first, that the plot was a whole, not a series of parts. So I set about to disprove the lego block theory of plotting.

I rearranged my scenes and combined others. I was confident the idea would fail.

Two days of plot revisions later… and guess what? It worked. I was able to use the scenes in a different order with stronger effect – and all it took was some tweaking of dialogue and motivations.

So now I write, freed from my old dogmatic ideas on choosing the perfect plot sequence, knowing that the scenes aren’t set in stone and can always be rearranged later to strengthen the story.

Thank you, Kate Sullivan.

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