March Story Wall Experience – Jez

I greatly appreciated the input of those who participated in my story wall at the March Journey meeting. I had brought forward a YA science fiction novel that I am in the process of editing, hoping to focus on one chapter/element in particular which has given me significant issues in previous drafts.

I had gone into the exercise with little preparation, other than having known my story inside out from multiple drafts. I began by describing the world in which my story is set, then gave a description of four characters. I then gave a synopsis of the novel as a whole, then went into specifics on the first three chapters, leading up to the area where I was having difficulty. My biggest stumbling block was figuring out a way to get the two main characters into the same place and situation, but still feel natural. The group gave me excellent feedback on the novel and characters and provided me with a few different options for how to change the problem chapter.

My advice for members looking to participate in story walls in the future is to go into it with a good synopsis and know beforehand what your biggest issues are so that the group can better focus on them. I would say that one should not over-prepare or bog the listeners down with too many details, as these could distract from the actual issue. I brought up additional plot points and arcs as necessary in response to questions, but I think what made the exercise work for my particular group was that I needed new ideas and I allowed the group freedom to explore ideas without worrying how they may or may not affect other parts of my novel—that’s for me to work on after the story wall. I think it also helps to have a small, but dedicated group. Too large of a group and the participants can get off-topic or hung up on specific things, too small and there are less ideas to be pitched.

Overall, I think this was a very good exercise for me and my novel (especially at this stage in editing) because it allowed me to receive feedback from other writers on my novel as a whole (with some much-appreciated validation!), but it also allowed me to talk out some issues and receive new ideas on how to approach them. I think the best part for me, however, was receiving questions from the group, which made me focus on certain points, figure out things to explain better in the story, or to simply better explain my premise to the group.

Again, I am very thankful to my group and really appreciated the time they put in trying to help me work through this chapter. Your ideas were great and I can’t wait to play around with them and see which one ends up clicking into the story.

The Writing Journey’s Story Wall Exercise

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