Jun 29, 2010

I need therapy

by Valerie Ipson

(image found at www.bible.ca/marriage/psychiatry-couch.gif)

Let me clarify... I need novel therapy. I need story structure therapy. I need help!

I can't figure out what my story is about. Like down deep.

When people ask I usually reply its about a girl who wants to change her school and get rid of bullying.

Sometimes I say it's about a girl overcoming tragedy and realizing it doesn't have to define her life.

Other times I say other stuff that is rambly and incoherent. (Okay, most times.)

Inside my own head I don't have a defined theme to my novel. This is a problem.

At a semi-recent critique session I gave my first answer about the bullying, but was met with blank stares, so I quickly added "Her boyfriend was killed in an accident because of bullying." Click, click, click all the light bulbs went on above my critique buddies' heads. Suddenly there was a motivation attached to the story of a girl who wants to rid her school of bullying. The satisfaction was fleeting for me, though, because my MC doesn't really know in the beginning what caused the accident. It can't be her motivation. Sadly, I was still without a viable story theme.

I needed help, so...

When I had a little manuscript crisis, I went to lie/lay (??) on Writer Friend Tamara's book psychiatrist's couch (sat on a chair at her dining room table). She got me digging. Digging deep past/passed (??) the layers of surface story to its very core. She asked me about plot points and themes...it was grueling. But I discovered my story is about a girl and forgiveness.

It was a startling revelation. It changed how I look at my story. I still struggle with structure, but I try to always go back to that one truth about my story. Forgiveness.

And to those of you who have received different answers when you've asked what my story is about or you have read parts of my story and now you're saying "Forgiveness? What the, huh?" Just bear with me.

Book therapy. I recommend it.


  1. Hooray for those "aha" moments! and thank heavens for our writer friends who can help us dig out the information. Great post, Valerie. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for passing that aha moment on to us. I need novel thearpy myself.

  3. Valerie - I love your novel. I cannot wait to read it when its finished or any point along the way. One question: do I need new business cards? T. Passey, Book Psychiatrist?

  4. It's interesting, after writing my first novel, I read a post over at Nathan Bransford's blog about the one sentence pitch. I've had that idea in my mind before sitting down to start (or try to finish or further progress) something else. Having that single idea in your head helped me keep to the "theme" of what my book is saying.
    I think it's cool that it only came to you after thinking about it, it's a neat thing to find deeper meaning in what you wrote than you first intended.

  5. I understand this so much!! I need you Tamara :) People keep asking what my book is about and I have about 4 different answers that sound like 4 different books. I think my book has multiple personality disorder.

  6. I appreciate you sharing your insights and the way you acheived them. Tamara should get some new business cards.

  7. I totally relate to the multiple personality disorder, Kaylee. Love that! My poor husband has heard me give other people so many different answers to the question, he is majorly confused and he's even read more of my book than anyone--'cept Tamara!

    I agree with Susan. Tamara get new cards. Charge by the hour.

  8. Okay, so I get how lame it is to comment a second time on your own blog post--maybe once is acceptable, but twice...eek!--anyway, I was just getting a visual...Tamara's couch, an unfinished manuscript leaning back on the pillow, and Tamara sitting nearby with her notebook and pen. "Now let's go back, Manuscript. Take me back to the beginning...to where the problem first started..."

  9. Oh, Thank you. I needed that laugh more than anything else today. I'm getting that visual, too. Me to the manuscript: "Your author left your file closed for how long? And how do you feel about that?" As for what our stories are REALLY about? I think of what I write having layers - it's okay if there is more than one subject or theme - but yeah, sometimes I feel like I'm back in grade school again, working those problems, trying to find the main idea. Its gotta be in here somewhere!!


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