Exercise: How Promising

Exercise posts remain free while reality is badly written

We’ve discussed how promises get made and what you can do with them. We’ve tracked a promise over the course of a novel. Now it’s time to turn that analysis onto your own work.

For this exercise, pick one of your completed works. It’s okay if it has been published.  It’s also okay if it’s not yet quite perfect. The key is that it feels complete and “done” to you.  Try to pick something that’s at least 4500 words long. Longer is better, though once you’re over 30k you’re probably not going to get much more out of the exercise from the increased length.

Before you do anything else, including reread the draft, jot down a few notes about what you think the primary promise of the story is, and how you meant for it to work over the course of the story.

Now, open up the draft.  Is the promise you thought was primary there?  If so, track it over the course of the story. Make note of when it’s referenced or recalled.  Jot down how it changes or transforms, and pay careful attention to what other elements of the story have a relationship with that promise.  If that primary promise isn’t in the story, identify a different promise, then do the same tracking.

What did you find?

If the promise was delivered on, what impact does that have on the story overall?  If it wasn’t, was that a choice you made and set up to succeed? How did your recollection of the story line up with what you found when you examined it? What insights do you find from the discrepancies?  What could you tweak in the story to change the promise into something different? Spend some time contemplating this last question, and make sure to entertain answers that might break or weaken the story overall, even if they strengthen this particular element of it.

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