At the latest monthly meeting of the Journey, I participated in the Story Wall exercise. For those who don’t know, the Story Wall is a process that is designed to give feedback and writing advice to authors where their stories need it the most. The general premise is to lay out the plot points of your story, along with the main characters and overall story arc, and present it to a group of your fellow authors. The story that is best suited to the Story Wall is one that has something missing, has a question attached to it, or is causing the author vexation. It’s best to come to the Story Wall with an open mind ready for constructive criticism.
For my Story Wall exercise, I presented my 2013 NaNoWriMo novel — The Other Rhinebeck — for which I had just finished the first draft. Because I had just finished my first draft, and because much of that draft was written during the mad dash of November, I knew that my story was in need of some help. I went into the exercise asking for some plot doctoring in a few places, and to test if my story premise was a viable, interesting one.
To prepare for the Story Wall, I went through my draft, chapter by chapter, and wrote out the main plot points that happen in each section. Then I put those plot points each on a separate page of a Google Doc, in large typeface, so that my group members would be able to read through the bones of the story. In addition to compiling the plot points, I made a list of main characters, a list of supporting characters, a cheat sheet for how my magical world works, and a quick description of the novel’s overall premise.
My experience with the Story Wall was helpful and a very vindicating. My group members had some great advice for me and offered up really exciting plot point alternatives where I thought that I had some holes. The best part of the experience was hearing people get interested in the world and characters that I had been writing about for the past six months. Hearing their feedback made me believe that I have a pretty good first draft of a novel. Now I just need to edit it!
If you’re thinking of doing the Story Wall, or if you’ve already signed up and are wondering how to prepare, I would advise you to simply read through and reacquaint yourself with your novel. Once you know more about the novel and the world you’ve been writing inside, you can better pitch it to your group members. Then write out what your group needs to know, either on note cards or typed out, or even in a PowerPoint presentation. Know where you need help, and emphasize those areas. Your group members will be looking to you for guidance, so point them in the right direction and they’re sure to give you great feedback.
If you’re on the fence, I hope that you choose to try out the Story Wall. I found the experience exciting and helpful (if nervewracking at first), and would definitely recommend it.
— Mary Egan