10,000 wordcount marker checks for story

I lost all last week’s work yesterday. It was, perhaps, the luckiest thing that could have happened. Unless I had gone through what I could remember happening in those 10k did and realized, ultimately, it wasn’t nearly enough to have been worth 10k of the word count. I probably would have had to write the last 20k again as I couldn’t have possibly fit all the story into the ending.

If it had been the 10k between 10k and 20k the pacing would have been fine but as the last 10k of the story it did nothing to escalate the pace. In fact, it slowed it down to show the character just how a pre-existing machine worked near harmoniously.

When really, it should have been 10k of escalating warfare. The reality that peace didn’t need to be brokered if no war was near breaking out wouldn’t have occurred to me if everything had gone smoothly.

Because I hammered away all day, every day on laptops that weren’t meant to be hammered on as they were much more fragile electronics. I once killed a laptop in four hours. I thought that was particularly impressive until I broke the record by three hours and thirty-six minutes.

There was no telling what draft of what version would be the last draft or version that survived. I was constantly screaming into pillows as even new laptopswould eat up weeks’ worth of work. And with each new forced rewritten draft, more happened in far less time and it mattered more to the character with that do over, but just the best bits mentality.

I had a brief discussion with a writer who thinks first drafts shouldn’t ever need radical changes. In fact, he called the craft-based decisions to escalate the conflict to escalate the tension unnecessary”mechanical changes.” If you could build a time machine and go back to pre-2004 and asked me why craft didn’t have to be learned, that’s exactly how I would have phrased it. Adding any structure to work that wasn’t organic to the first draft felt like I was betraying that first draft’s intention.

When organic to the reader is usually quite the opposite. To a reader, an organic story feels like it has a heartbeat where the story ends up greater than the sum of its parts because so much of the experience is felt through the reader. Twilight was a terribly written book. But readers enjoyed them. Any writer should be so lucky to capture the hearts of a reader as much as those books did.

I couldn’t be convinced that “mechanical changes” wouldn’t drive the reader further away from the intentions of the first draft. Not in a million years. I had to realize I was wrong myself before I realized a story without tension was a story without a heartbeat.

No matter what genre, literary fiction included, work without tension must be an exemplar of why tension is so important. Any work that can move a reader in which nothing at all matters or is at stake is a work of literary genius.

The 10k I lost had tension in it already. It didn’t have enough of it given its place in the book and all that still needed to happen. I wouldn’t have had the ability to see the engaged handbrake the 10k had on the whole time when the story’s pace should serve the story. It’s hard to lose work but it was a good reminder that almost any work rewritten is stronger for it.

I’m going to try my 10k trick for a while and see if it works to limit tangents in the first draft stage. It seems the equivalent of packaging clothes in vacuum sealed bags to maximize the clothes to space ratio. The less space that isn’t filled with clothes leaves more room for clothes in a finite space.* The less space in a novel filled with what can be cut leaves more room for story to linger with the reader.

*Unless your my wife, who weighs her clothes down with so many books on vacation that rearranging them into different suitcases to beat the weight restrictions is just a part of air travel.

when institutions refuse to self-regulate they shouldn’t be granted the right to

All three institutions I’ve asked to regulate their officers have seemed shocked I dare I expect professional behaviour from institutions whose officers should have been holding themselves to the standards and procedures that their policies informed me I had every right to expect.

Instead, I had to update the title of statements I was required to swallow without question to remove the UBC reference because it’s not UBC, it’s institutions in BC. The government, the university and the BC Law Society all had no problem putting in writing that no member of the public should expect policies or codes of conduct to be enforced in any way if the employee is the one at fault.

Students are held to policies. Hourly-waged workers too, I’m willing to bet. But positions with titles on their door have been the ultimate pass to do whatever they like regardless of how many policies it violates.

The UBC wasn’t just unable to catch a conflict of interest a mile wide — they all agreed it was fine to make decisions that broke multiple policies to serve Andrew Serzi’s desire not to have to investigate himself.

The government thought as long as it was a Minister’s office, it was acceptable to be unprofessional, discourteous and inefficient.

The BC Law Society sent me a phone number to call if I want to hire a lawyer to tell them that lawyers can’t decide that the only one of the three improper conduct definitions needs to be followed because two of them aren’t technically against the law to break. They were entirely incapable of regulating the actions of one of their own, despite that being one of their duties as an organization.

Breaking policy and advising others to break policy are as much improper conduct as breaking the law. If a policy defines X or Y or Z as improper conduct, improper conduct is X or Y or Z.

All of these organizations have proven they don’t want hold their own to the standards of their policies when it matters so why do they still have the right to self-govern? They’ve all shown they’re all okay fine with improper conduct that people were so confident they could get away with, they put every step of the process in writing.

It’s not even a he said/they said. It’s a ‘he sent an email dated September XX at XX:XX pm from his work email.’ None of the old excuses for looking the other way because who really knows what was said work when the institutional officers put their actions into writing and hit send.

None of the institutions that require themselves to be self-regulating by their own controlled policies even went through the motions of doing so. Despite being part of a vital appeals process, every single senior officer who said “the provost has already decided” needs serious, intensive retraining.

Good writing can’t (and shouldn’t) be assumed

A friend and I met yesterday to get some work done, but we got into chatting and it filled up the time. (Starved for adult companionship? Me?) She played for me the sample from George Saunders’ A Swim in the Pond in the Rain.

I don’t want to disagree with the man but one thing he said really stuck out to me. He said that in his class made up of six writers out of hundreds of applicants, good writing should be assumed. And with those five words, I saw the problem in a stark light.

Good writing should never be assumed inside an MFA writing program. The work of the 1% of writers who could get into a class that only has six seats for the hundreds of applicants is not indicative of the average ability of the average MFA student, yet my progam was designed to assume all work in first draft form was finished prose to be polished.

You’d think, statistically, that the stories we read over my MFA program would be far superior to On Spec’s slush. The MFA student is a student who can afford to spend tens of thousands of after tax and living expenses dollars and weeks of spare time outside of work, family, sleep and a social life to get the classwork done. They’re even all educated and had been able to navigate the learning environment in their undergraduate degree to completion to fulfill the entry requirements.

From that group of students alone, you think they would have done far more with less than the average story written by a writer who might not even be finished high school or have an undergraduate degree. But the difference between the average story in the slush pile and the average work read in an MFA program did not fall in the MFA’s favour.

The slush pile stories mostly tried to capture a moment in a character’s life that mattered. Their success varied, but the intention was there to move a character through a moment usually existed even in the roughest of drafts submitted.

My MFA work was written by a vast majority of writers who didn’t think stories even needed a source of tension in commercial work. The difference between the few works that told a story that mattered to the protagonist vs. the majority of work that tried to tell a sequence of events the protagonist watched happen was staggering.

And yet, regardless if the author just wrote a story or a sequence of events, any actual discussion of craft was not permitted. This was despite the violation of academic freedom. But Andrew Serzi — the provost and VP of academics at the UBC — believes that if a student was exposed to any element of craft that challenged their preconceived notions of how unnecessary craft actually is, their head will explode like Harry Mudd’s androids when exposed to a contradiction in logic.

Or the learner might leave the program a less than steller evaluation that they actually had to learn something in their masters.

Either way, it was too great a risk.

“Good writing” by my MFA standard was nicely written description. Most of them would have had to go through an extremely tight revision to get up to the 70/30 split between time spent building the world and time spent building the story. Some work had to be rounded up to hit 90/10.

A prestigious MFA program shouldn’t count their success stories in the 1% of hundreds of applicants who can show why good writing should be assumed before they even enrolled in their degree. It should count the success stories in the 99% percent of students who came to the program to learn how to write and walked out being able to produce good writing outside of the strengths they brought with them.

It seems particularly ironic that a program like the University of British Columbia requires its learners to at least attempt several genres outside of their main interest but has no problem with a uniformity of feedback that only allows for appreciating the existing prose and discussing polishing techniques to finish it.

why this matters to me so much

It couldn’t be more obvious through all of this that there would have been no recourse at all to the average student. The instructors could have silenced their attempts to comment in class so that they fell in lock step with “supportive = no opportunity for growth at all” mentality that the UBC program stank with within the first few weeks of class.

I, however, foolishly thought that by “be less craft focused” my instructors actually meant there was a level of craft that could work with their program’s methodology. So naturally, I thought it must work. I thought eventually, I’d find the level that could be discussed without it leading to another “dear barb” letter, which wanted to take even more of my academic freedom to freely comment in class away.

It took three years for it to occur to me that less had meant none all along. Three years of trying to make a program work that had no chance at all of working because it was never designed to work.

But as long as there was *some* level of craft that could be discussed, I thought it could work, too.

But after three years and getting thrown out of class for asking a question any writing program should have had the fortitude to ask if the author’s intention was to share the work, even if it touched on a sensitive subject that was not roped off from the beginning.

By the time I realized “less craft focused” meant no craft focus at all as a deliberate pedagogic choice, I had already finished my thesis for a degree that willingly, if secretively, taught that craft-based discussions aren’t even needed for literary excellence. Literary excellence is agreed on from the start and the only thing left to do is talk about the writing at the prose level.

And for 2-4 of the submissions per class, they’d be right. For everyone else, they learn that no structural edit is needed even in work that just describes scenery and conversations the characters have while they explain to the reader what they knew at the start of the story.

I was lied to. The UBC continues to lie to their future students, even as we speak. They’ll advertise they have craft-based discussions (“for literary excellence” according to their website well after all this had happened) and then stamp out any actual discussion of craft (destroying academic freedom) so the only craft-based discussion allowed is on how craft-based changes aren’t ever needed.

“I liked it” is supposed to end discussion revision might be necessary.

“I liked it too, but I still think the conflict should be at least hinted at in the beginning of a work” is “defending my opinion too much.” (aka: We keep telling you to BE LESS CRAFT FOCUSED. Why can’t you understand that means none.)

If the learner thinks that the construction of a complete thought happens in the first draft, a place of learning is exactly where they ought to be. But if the instructor agrees that peer review is just for polishing the prose, that’s exactly what they’re going to learn.

And learn they did. Because who wants to be told that writing the first draft is the easiest part of the process? That imagining what could happen is a lot more difficult than thinking of a million ways to make what did happen matter more to the character, the plot and the reader. Polish can be done in a single pass.

The rewriting stages drag on until some writers are sick of ever thinking of their characters again, only to sell their work and feel like they’d just submitted a rough draft for all the editorial changes they still need to make — and would have made, had they seen it.

At a Masters level degree, the education provided should be at the forefront of academics and its profession. I can’t think of a working pedagogy that says just draw your student body from a population that can afford to enroll in a degree that has no tangible financial reward at a time where they can invest tens of thousands of dollars into their future career goals.

Most working pedagogies I know have a final step that says “check to see if the way the learner learned what they needed to learn to learn was done the most effective way possible.” They don’t require the average learner to treat hot copy like it’s near-perfect copy, whether it’s near-perfect copy or not.

Learners are harmed. Pedagogic institutions would rather destroy academic freedom than have to listen to how it harms learners. Institutions would turn their back on their policies if it means not having to hear complaints about academic freedom being violated.

The lawyer who advised the officer on how to “get away” with two of the three definitions of improper conduct as defined by the institution’s own policies somehow hasn’t broken any part of chapter three, section two of his professional conduct that says not only to not help officers abuse their authority, but report that the attempted ask.

An MLA and a Minister doesn’t think she has to apologize for lying to a member of the public to their face and hold up the progress for almost a month. And her secretary’s empathy fooled me for about three seconds until I realized there was no way she could possibly actually feel it.

And I was right to call her a liar. But I didn’t. When the minister came out of her office and asked her secretary if I was being disrespectful, the tone the secretary said “No!” which certainly implied she wished I had been.

Officers in BC institutions think policies are optional. Even the Law Society thinks breaking sections of their code doesn’t happen unless a lawyer says it did. Officers are allowed to let themselves not be at fault.

The double standard is disgusting.

opinions, rules, and degrees of learning

My MFA taught me one thing over three years — that things should happen in a story proved nothing ever needs to happen at all.

“‘Things should happen in a story’ is a rule and rules exist to be ignored,” is the new coke of modern creative writing “pedagogy”.

More accurately, the knowledge that only events a character can’t easily overcome for whatever reason are meaningful to that character was definitely the collective opinion most writers shared until about the middle of last decade. After about the middle of last decade, any advice like “things should happen in a story” became just like, a rule, man.

And if it’s just like a rule, man, it means it is not necessary. Most of the authors in my MFA program couldn’t be convinced meaningful events needed to happen in their story.

I keep going back to my example of the child who has one last piece of paper and absolutely doesn’t want to ruin the card they want to make for their parent by making a hard crease down the wrong length of it first.

A scientifically-minded, curious young child might not need to be taught to pre-fold the paper so as to not make a hard crease to know for certain what shape the paper will make when folded down hard. They may give themselves a mnemonic to not forget it — fat like a hamburger, not skinny like a hot dog for the card shape with the most writing room — until they’ve created enough muscle memory to not even need to think as to which direction makes the optimal card for writing the most.

It’s how learning works. Problem –> potential solution attempted–> reliable solution found becomes ingrained –> no more problem.

But when that child becomes a parent and their child wants to show them how much they love them, telling the kid to “make a hamburger” will make no sense to them unless that child is A) taught by the parent what “make a hamburger” actually means B) has gone through the same learning experience as the parent or C) Is smart enough to figure out what “make a hamburger” means on their own.

Because D) The child then folds the perfect card each time, every time after just being given the in context instruction alone never needed to be told to make a hamburger in the first place.

The adult in this situation has — for as long as they remembered — have always had the contextual knowledge that makes “make a hamburger” make total sense. Their child has a 99.999% chance of not being the child in D).

“A story needs things to happen in it” is the “make a hamburger” for writing. It was a common opinion, once. Stories that allow meaningful conflict to challenge their character’s flaws in a way that challenges them to change their state in a meaningful way create works the reader will remember long after they’ve forgotten what, exactly at the plot level made them change.

Instead of teaching “nice prose” as the ultimate goal of writing, taking the ideal reader on a journey should be. I do not care if popular books are “poorly written”. If anything, it shows how unimportant being well-written is. People read for their enjoyment in their spare time and literary-shaming tends to fall down very gendered lines.

My MFA sold the lie that authors could not care about the reader’s experience in the slightest to want to make a single structural change to their first draft and it would still find an audience in a commercial genre.

You can teach one or the other. Teaching both is a fabricated lie sold to the learner.

The literary market is a commercial genre. The reader’s experience still matters. What should have been treated as the bare minimum of story — having nice prose — is taught as the only thing work needed to have to accomplish commercial success even in the speculative market. To even suggest otherwise is heretical.

“Just fold your cards any way you like” works if children are given infinite pages of paper and all the time in the world to not just find all the possible ways to fold a paper but to find the way that folds the best given the need for the card.

“Fold it any way you like, once, and then take any suggestion on how to improve its form and function as a card to show your mom how much you love them as a direct insult” is also an opinion people can have.

It’s just not a very good ideology to have in a card-folding class. So it seems odd to me to cater a program’s “pedagogy” to serve the learners who just wanted to fold the paper the way they knew how to before they paid for a ‘learn how to make better cards’ degree.

Another “dear Barb” letter…

This one doesn’t think a lawyer ignoring the entire section of the chapter of their Professional Code of Conduct that deals with institutional lawyers breaks their Professional Code of Conduct. I think it does. An institutional lawyer can’t advise an institutional officer how to participate in conduct the institution has defined as improper. It’s black and white obvious unless you want to be obtuse.

The legal counsel was supposed to report his attempt to even ask to abuse his authority. It’s just expectations set out by their professional code of conduct. Why do I keep expecting those to be followed in British Columbia?

The letter advised me to contact the provincial ombudspeople if I thought their decision was in error. It’s already been added to the file. BC, what the hell, man? The government, your public university and your BC Law Society don’t think policies apply to their employees.

No wonder your Ombudspeople are run off their feet. The belief that policies are optional seems provincial. @LawSocietyofBC, shame. You are supposed to be watching the watchers, not looking the other way.

ABCs of UBC — authoritarian, broken, and corrupt

Of all the “reasons” UBC gave as to why they weren’t following their policies in a controlled environment, “nu-uh” was the only argument that worked. “Our lawyers don’t have to follow the Professional Code of Conduct Chapter 3 Section 2” and “Our provost can totally service his own interest over the institution’s and still use his authority to do it” were both total bunk.

“Nu-uh” only works because you can’t literally force your child to clean up their room. They can only stew in it until the room is clean or it’s time to feed them again.

I let the -gogy suffix in “pedagogy” fool me into thinking the program would involve the study of learning. Start to finish, the UBC methodology was telling learners what things are regardless if they are true, accurate or repeatable.

A student at the UBC’s duty is to swallow what they’re told whole and unquestioningly. Not a single student in the student body has had Academic Freedom since September 2021. From that date, only the people a *public* university thinks may criticize them must like them, first.

Not liking a program not having or even thinking it needs a valid pedagogical approach designed to teach the actual students who attend the program is clearly not a good enough reason to criticize anything. So Szeri, as a hypocritical VP of Academics whose office is in charge of protecting Academic freedom decides he has the right to decide how Academic FREEDOM may or may not be used.

Everyone listed in the policy designed to keep Szeri from abusing his power all agreed that if he wanted to use the authority the university gave him to take authority the institution hadn’t given him, they were okay fine with it from the first of them to the last.

It’s so broken that policies written for the exact situation were completely ignored because people’s gut biome told them it made more sense to support the Provost’s interests over the interests of their own institution. He knows he wrote “our methodology is academic freedom violation” so he had to make sure his program was never investigated for academic freedom violation.

So it wasn’t. And the UBC was so broken, they never questioned his right to not investigate himself or allow himself to be investigated.

Institutions are designed so that one person never has ultimate power. This isn’t to say school boards can never act corruptly if policies and procedures are in place, but the scope of their corruption is limited.

The UBC’s bullshit was limitless. With no check and balance on his power, not even the UBC Senate thought institutional officers’ authority should be limited by their policies. Their poor training led to officers refusing to do vital aspects of their job that they weren’t even trained to do. No one in the entire university understood that not being able to report personal, academic or institutional harassment is a terrible problem to have, not a feature of its broken system.

Even to this day, the UBC thinks they’ve done nothing wrong. If their mistaken lawyers say no one can make them listen to harassment complaints, academic freedom violations, and pedagogically-based criticism of their program, they — to this day — still think they don’t have to.

They think they have the right to advertise how rigorously craft-based program their program is while they crush the academic freedom students need to discuss craft as standing, unwritten precedence. No student will ever even accidentally be exposed to what they need to learn to accomplish their intended outcomes for their work.

Not understanding policies need to be followed, even when the institution is the party in the wrong is a training issue. Taking an adult student’s time and money from their lives and their families and giving them a “degree” that cannot serve their intended goals is corruption. It corrupts the idea of education itself.

The UBC thinks they have the right to take tens of thousands of dollars from their students who trust the UBC as a learning institution. Writers think they’re learning everything they need to in order to succeed in their goals and they’re being sold the idea that they already know it. When the UBC packages, markets, and prints the lie on a degree that says no graduate of their writing program has anything to learn about structure other than a few more nice finishing techniques, any student *is primed* to believe them.

week five of waiting for regulatory services

There’s such a long queue of people holding institutions to account that the Ombudspeople have the Provost’s last day on the job in the file to be done by. The BC Law Society needs another four weeks before “UBC lawyers thought it was possible to advise officers of the institution on how to commit improper conduct ‘the right way'” gets to the top of their queue.

There is no right way to commit improper conduct in a controlled environment.

That’s why it’s controlled.

It might have only taken the Provost five business hours to commit to destroying the concept of academic freedom and it might take five more weeks for someone to do something about it. For all the reasons I’ve seen on error reports, “Our institutional lawyers thought they could advise our institutional officers how to commit what our institutional policies define as ‘improper conduct’ and ‘get away with it'” wins best of the worst.

the delete key is the writer’s best friend

Writer’s block has many causes and just a few solutions but I never found any advice better than what Victoria Nelson says in On Writer’s Block, long since out of print.

First, she suggests making something unexpected happen so that the characters have a new problem to try to survive and then solve. But if that doesn’t work, she also suggests cutting back to the last place you felt passionate about the story and start over from that point.

I’ve only had to go back and cut a section out of my story that actually hurt once. It was 40k that I’d gone down the wrong plotline for. I realized about 20k into what had to be cut that I was just driving the problem I had at 3k deeper into the story but I thought I could pull it out of its nose dive.

I couldn’t. The problem was too fundamental. I’d killed a character to start off the series of events that would lead a character to choosing the dark side as the last real choice he had but no one really liked the dead character. He was important because of who he was, not how the rest of the characters felt about him.

The actions that followed would only make sense if the death was a personal loss, not something someone is sad a friend was going through. Which meant none of the 40k of plot worked because the motivation was all wrong.

I don’t make motivational change in the text. Why a character is doing something changes everything about their actions and their POV, even if the old draft has them doing all the things they ought to be doing. Motivation shows itself in every sentence and grafting a new motivation onto old prose is far more work for me than trying to save the existing prose.

Back when Word was worse at saving corrupted files than it is now (or just eating them entirely) I had a lot of work just vanish. I did a lot of recreating work out of necessity. Each time, every time, even though the exact same things happened and the motivation didn’t need to change at all, the second version of the scene was infinitely better.

I used to write my first drafts blindly. I didn’t even know what happened at the end of the sentence before I started it most time. What major plot event came next was a your guess as good as mine thing. But when I had to rewrite it, I knew exactly what was happening next because I’d already written it.

It was such on obvious difference that when I switching to always knowing what happened next before starting for the day meant I could cruise through a 2000 word quota before noon. All I had to worry about at the time of writing is how do I make this next thing happening matter more.

And even with that as my goal of every scene in the writing the first draft, I still cut another almost 40k from the work in revision yesterday. It means I’ll have to write another 30k of hot copy before I can start any meaningful editing.

Cutting that 40k over a decade ago had felt like holding my work down on the sawbones’ table. Today, I was actually quite happy that the only thing that could be salvaged from the 3/4 mark to the epilogue was the epilogue. There wasn’t a scene in the cut bit I hadn’t enjoyed writing but the rewrite had meant I was telling a different story and what I’d written to support that idea wasn’t needed any more.

I always thought the foundational structures of fiction were the scaffolding that helped by build a taller, stronger, longer-lasting story. But they’re needed for a strong foundation. The scaffolding is actually the first draft.

It’s why critique groups have stopped working. People have stopped sitting down trying to learn how to build a better story, they want some quick tips as to what they can do in the immediate sense to sell this story in particular.

My worst exchange with an instructor was in my third year. I’d received yet another Dear Barb letter and I was trying to nail down with this instructor what, exactly, did they want from me. Summing up her vageuly worded email, I asked her point blank if she really only wanted me to discuss aspects of the story that were in the story.

She agreed that would be lovely. All summer long, I’d wanted to quit even though I had SSHRC funding waiting for me in September after losing my job to COVID. I had one course left and my puppet show I was super excited to experiment with as a medium.

My instructor had just told me the goal of the entire program was to make this two individual stories polished while changing as little about it as possible. She probably didn’t understand that was what she was saying when she said if the story doesn’t have conflict, don’t mention the lack of it, but that was what she was spelling out.

It was the same instructor who had been so shocked at my explanation to another student as to how to escalate tension. She’d never seen it explained so clearly before. She teaches in a genre that stories live and die by how it escalates tension, and didn’t know how to teach it herself.

I’d go back and change the gender to neutral but I only had one male instructor and we had a whole host of other issues that at least never touched on being too craft-focused.

My first pro-edit job was with a novel that I put through the ringer and the mangler three times. In the third complete rewrite, I advised the author that while the past 40k of the new version was a huge improvement to the past two rewrites, it still didn’t do enough for the story and I thought it should be cut.

He agreed. And the 30k he replaced it with were even better than the 60k of the third rewrite I didn’t ask him to cut. The book that went to market was non-hyperbolically speaking, a million times better for every part of those 3.4 total rewrites.

If I had said in class that a draft had some lovely writing in it but without stakes, conflict, or a sense of urgency, the draft still needed a rewrite to touch on something a reader could respond to, I’d probably have gotten thrown out of class again.

retconning the unexpected (aka “foreshadowing”)

I wanted to show a character being comfortable enough around another that they’d let themselves into the space and make themselves at home even without permission asked or granted. At this point in the character’s development, that is the most significant thing he could have done — assume he’d be welcomed unannounced.

And because you should never give your characters anything they want unless they’ve earned it, my poor little ADHD character was going to have to WAIT while someone he CARED ABOUT needed SLEEP even though he’s ON TIME for their departure. But then, I thought, well, why was this otherwise punctual character sleeping in in the first place? I had to go back and knit three different scenes to make that initial conflict of “he wants to leave but travel companion is asleep” significant.

And that scene I would have missed out on would have been a major plot reveal not even I saw coming. All because I needed the unexpected to make sense, plot-wise. It took almost an hour to make all the changes necessary.

People will take money from underpublished writers and tell them their first draft only needs polishing. It should be treated like a hazy outline until the work crafts the experience the author desires for their readers and then polished to the nth degree. Instead, the author’s desire to “break the rules” by excluding structures of fiction like conflict and tension comes at the cost of the reader’s ability to be emotionally invested in the plight of a character that they care enough to read about.

I asked Intern Ben when he gave us his first story what was the first moment on the page that something unexpected happened. He saw that there wasn’t one. The greatest thing you can give your reader is something that needs hindsight to be obvious.

Foreshadowing is just retconning the unexpected and its easiest to do with a finished first draft. Most of my foreshadowing work in my first draft looks done with a two-by-four until I know exactly what happens the first time around.

Adding foreshadow to give the unexpected just a tiny hint of familiarity is a breeze once the events have already been established. But the writer needs to learn to write for unexpected moments first. Events the reader expects should only be doled out as needed and doesn’t need any foreshadowing.

If it’s supper time, the characters should be hungry. If they’re not hungry, foreshadowing why they’re not hungry will give the reader a sense of unease before a single character needs to sit down and not eat.