This is a three-part post today, none of the three parts connected but I wanted all of this out here anyway. We'll see how it goes.
Part 1: Clarity
I've been working on revisions to my novel, which an agent would like to submit for publication if I ever send him back the revised ms. Soon, Jeff, I promise. The biggest piece of advice I can give you about revisions at this point? Put down the pen (or step away from the keyboard) until you can answer the following questions, in one sentence each:
What does my protagonist want?
Why does he want it?
Who is stopping him from having that?
What does that person want?
What are the consequences of the protagonist getting/not getting what he wants?
They seem like simple, obvious questions, but I really think that most of us can't--at first, anyway--give simple, clear answers to these questions. And that means that our stories themselves lack clarity. Oh, heck, let's not say "lack clarity;" let's go ahead and say that our stories tend to be vague when it comes to characters and motivations and theme, because we ourselves are vague about it. If someone tries to pin us down about what our characters are like, we wriggle around and claim that we can't explain our protagonists, because they're complicated, well-rounded characters. Which is just bosh. We can't explain them when we don't know them. So spend as long as you need to figure out who your characters are. When you do know, the story itself (in my experience) becomes crystal clear and you see immediately what parts of your plot or prose work and what parts don't, and you'll be able to tell the story with narrative clarity for which your agent and editor and readers will all thank you.
Part 2: Contest
Barbara Kingsolver, author of "The Poisonwood Bible" among other very good books, is having a contest for unpublished novelists. The Bellwether Prize for fiction consists of a $25,000USD cash payment to the author of the winning manuscript as well as guaranteed publication. The works must address social justice, which does not mean it has to be literary fiction; I believe genre fiction is also allowed. After all, Ursula K. LeGuin has been a past judge for the prize, and we all know about her. So check it out, socially-conscious authors!
Part 3: Concert
This isn't writing-related at all, but accordion virtuoso Maggie Kim has liver cancer and needs a transplant. She also needs the money for the transplant, so some of her friends are having a benefit concert. If you're in Seattle or thereabouts, come down for it: