ABC’s of Fiction Writing: H is for the Holistic Approach

Posted by on Mar 9, 2015 in Uncategorized | 1 comment

JuliaBlake_RedSavinaThe Holistic Approach:Viewing your Manuscript as a System

Whether you are in the beginning stages of planning out a novel or in the thick of writing or revision, taking a step back to view your work in a holistic, comprehensive way can increase the richness and authenticity of the piece.  Since “holistic” means to view something as a system, or as one whole being, instead of disparate parts, what I am about to suggest might initially seem counter-indicated for a holistic approach. To achieve a holistic conceptualization of your manuscript, tease apart the different elements, but do this to see how they each influence the other as a system.

Stop to consider what components would comprise a complete evaluation–characterization, plot and subplot, verbs, structure, setting, a review of the dialogue—and go through the manuscript checking for one aspect at a time (or if you haven’t started writing yet, sketch out something under each category as deeply as you can).  The finished product should ultimately be more cohesive than before by analyzing how each part works (or does not work) together. Are your reducing the tension in the plot and negating the stakes because your characters are flat and hard to sympathize with? Is your language too repetitive or too florid, confusing or annoying the reader, and coloring their perception of the other elements? Think about ways you can improve one factor in your manuscript and how that will affect the entirety of the piece. Make your disparate parts into a working healthy system, so that it all gels together.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • The Miracle Question is my absolute favorite way to dig deeper into my characters. My background is in counseling, and the Miracle Question derived from Solution-Focused Brief Counseling Theory. Essentially, ask your characters this: If you went to bed and a miracle occurred overnight, what signs would you see in the morning that let you know the miracle happened? What goals would have been met for you? Try to realize this question as fully as possible—it could be that your YA protagonist wants more freedom from her parents, or your male character wants to wake up to a day without domestic drudgery. Whatever it is, get in your character’s way as the writer; up the tension by not giving them what they want. This can influence your plot, too, as you can imagine more ways to make the road to the character’s objective more difficult (and ultimately more interesting for the reader).  Consider also how your discoveries about your character’s miracle might influence dialogue as well. What sorts of things might they say at being thwarted or having something unexpected happen?
  • Assess the structure and POV of your novel. Is the format you’ve chosen the best vehicle for the work? Can it support the system for its duration? This macro-level evaluation can have far-reaching impacts on every component, yielding a large influence on the whole piece.
  • Do a setting read-through. How does your setting impact your characters, your plot, your syntax? How can you use the setting more effectively or less obtrusively, depending on the needs of the piece and how you want it to influence your finished manuscript?

When you’re finished going through your disparate parts and have rejoined them into a hopefully more effective system, read your work out loud so that you can connect with the way the words fill the air and how they hit your ears. Remember that the holistic approach can be likened to our solar system—different entities with different purposes, but all gravitating towards one common element, achieving balance and harmony.


Julia Blake lives in Washington, D.C. and is an adjunct faculty member in both an English department and a Mental Health Counseling program. She earned her MFA in Fiction at Spalding University. Her work has been published in Soundings Review and is forthcoming in Red Savina Review.

1 Comment

  1. Julie you are awesome!!!
    Keep up the good work!!!

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