The winners of VW#1 giveaway are:
Winners, please send your full name and ship-to address to LynnViehl@aol.com, and I'll get these goodies out to you. On to the workshop:
I. The Terminal Manuscript
A submission lands on an editor's desk. The manuscript is perfectly formatted, printed, and meticulously proofed. The prose is well-written, the characters fully-fleshed out, the settings precisely detailed, and the plotwork completely logical. Even the title is a fitting choice.
If this submission were a bed, it would be all starched sheets and hospital corners.
The editor reads the first chapter or reviews the synopsis, and then composes a letter to the novel's hard-working author. She might praise the author for their competence, but she does not make an offer. Instead, she rejects the novel and moves on to the next submission.
Why does the editor do this? The author covered all the bases. The writing is at professional level. The story is seamless. All the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed, so what's the problem?
The problem is not the manuscript -- it's the story that it tells. It's bland, unoriginal, muddled or uninteresting. No matter how competently it's packaged as a submission, a story that doesn't have the power to captivate and excite the editor is not going to snag you an offer.
II. What Makes a Story Powerful?
When we read, we want to experience the following:
1. Emotional Connection: a great story affects us emotionally, and the only way it can do that is to resonate with us on some emotional level. A love story taps into how a reader feels about desire, love, and commitment between two people, just as a science fiction story invokes the reader's sense of adventure as well as their fears and hopes for the future.
2. Enchantment: like a treasure chest, a story should reveal things that dazzle the reader. If you're showing the reader nothing new, they're going to yawn through your story.
3. Entertainment: a story has to compete with the other pleasures in our lives, like sex, food, television, computers, video games and long hot bubble baths. If a story doesn't entertain us at least as much as a good flick, most readers will toss the book aside and turn on the TV.
4. Escape: everyone can use a few hours off from the burdens and stresses in life, and a great story will whisk us away from them.
Why are the readers' desires so important? A story is only as powerful as the reader's reaction to it.
Remember that these days, most dedicated readers are as sophisticated (and often as jaded) as publishing editors are. If every story out there has already been told a thousand times, readers have probably read nine hundred and ninety-nine versions of it. To push past all those mediocre memories, you need to think about how your story will be different from everything they've already read.
III. Delivering the Goods
To crank up the power of your story, keep all four aspects of reader expectation in mind as you create or polish the work:
#1 -- Make the emotional connection with the reader early on in the novel, and use tension and conflict to increase the stakes. Avoid the same-old-same-old with your plot; take the reader on a rollercoaster ride instead.
#2 -- You can't enchant someone without magic, so look at the elements of the fantastic in your story. Are they unique and unexpected, or dull and predictable? What will thrill the reader? What will bore them?
#3 -- Humor always entertains, but so do scandals, risks, thrills, irony, poetic justic and twists of fate. Any of those in your story? Think about your book being made into a movie -- as it stands, would it be a box-office smash, or tank on opening night?
#4 -- If you want to whisk me away from doing the laundry for a couple of hours, you've got to give me the vicarious thrill of being a voyeur. Show me new worlds, exciting people, and provocative situations. Don't show me more laundry.
IV. Power Generators
Powerful stories are the ones that start trends, propel their authors to publishing rockstardom, and end up occupying our keeper shelves. Ask Helen Fielding, the perpetrator of chick-lit, or Anne McCaffrey, the grand dame of science fantasy. John Grisham gave us the courtroom thriller; Stephen King has remade horror in his own image. We just lost Kathleen Woodiwiss, whom most of us consider to be the mother of the modern romance.
All of them have the same thing in common: they wrote powerful, original stories that blew away their readers.
It's tough to take risks with your fiction, though, especially when you could be writing a competent knockoff. We all want to feel safe, especially when we're first starting out, because God forbid we get our foot in the door only to blow it. But I think we have to pour as much power as we can get into our stories, because the readers are so bored that they're finding other things to do, and we're losing more of them with each passing year.
Or maybe I'm wrong, and readers will collectively run to the stores to buy up the two hundred very competently written vampire brotherhood series that will be published in the next year.
For a chance to win one of today's two Left Behind and Loving It goodie bags, in comments to this post ask a question or share your view on story power, or just throw your name into the hat by midnight EST on Friday, July 13, 2007. I will draw two names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners a tote filled with a signed copy of my novel StarDoc (paperback), as well as unsigned copies of The Writer's Book of Matches ~ 1,001 Prompts to Ignite Your Fiction by the staff of Boiled Peanuts, a literary journal (hardcover), Unbound by Lori Devoti, One Night with You by Gwynne Forster, Raintree: Inferno by Linda Howard (paperback), Tied to the Tracks by Rosina Lippi (trade paperback), Night Echoes by Holly Lisle, the July/August 2007 issue of Poets & Writers magazine, and some surprises. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.
Other sources on story power:
Kim Kay's To Speak or Not to Speak ~ Creating Dazzling Dialogue Part 1 and Part 2
Lost on the Border at Twilight: Finding -- and Using -- Your Life's Essential Strangeness by Holly Lisle
Play It Again, Sam - Redundancy in Writing by Tina Morgan
Rob Parnell's I Can't Put It Down - How to Write Compelling Fiction
Other virtual workshops now in progress:
Joely Sue Burkhart's Do You Know the Secret?
Gabriele Campbell's How to Make a Battle Come Alive on the Page, Part 1
LJ Cohen's Organize your Novel with a WIKI
Rosina Lippi's Workshop Day 1: The Story Machine, Workshop Day 2: Ask Your Characters
Shiloh Walker's Heat with Heart Day 1, finding that missing emotion, Exploring that Backstory (where she briefly grills me)
Thursday, July 12, 2007
VW#3: Turn Up the Wattage ~ Story Power
Posted by the author at 2:41 AM
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Congrats both winners and happy reading!ReplyDelete
Another great post!
Throwing my name into the hat!
I am so glad i found this blog! It is so insightful especially as i am part of Alison Kent's 70 days of sweat at the moment.ReplyDelete
I was wondering, how DO you grip the reader with emotion in the first few pages? I'm told im really good at doing it throught a story, but im never sure how to get that emotion in striaght away. thanks!
(i'm throwing my name in the hat too )
Powerful stories is the reason I became a writer. I want to write the kind of stories that you can't put down and that you tell your friends to buy because you want to keep the book. This post is very inspiring. Thank you.ReplyDelete
Throwing my name in the hat.
junst throwing by name into the hat...ReplyDelete
... and another winning post.ReplyDelete
Just throwing my name in the hat again :-)
I try to make people care about the protagonist.ReplyDelete
Throwing my name in, please.
I don't often buy books, I'm a library rat. To get me to buy a book, the story has to have left a considerable impression. For that, it needs great characters, a plot with highs and lows, and a base story that's well worth the telling.ReplyDelete
For that, I'd pay a fortune.
[Sorry if it double-posts, Blogger's being weird]
I'm loving this series of workshops, PBW> Thanks.ReplyDelete
Bingo. I always feel bad putting down a well-written, competent book. It's like breaking up with a very decent person. There's just no spark, and while you can appreciate the wonderful qualities, you just can't make the commitment.
But your breakdown of how to get past that is fab. I'll definitely be using them - I'm currently writing science fiction, which I've read some of but not recently, so I have this fear that my story is so run-of-the-mill I won't be able to stand it. Only I don't know that yet. I plan to read more sci-fi but not till after the first draft. :)
Throwing my name into the hat. And congrats to both winners!ReplyDelete
I have nothing to say or add, so I'm just throwing my name in the hat.
As for keeping the reader emotionally involved, I think it has a lot to do with your characters. If they are likable, a little crazy, brave to the point of being careless, and have a sense of humor - I believe the reader won't be able to put the book down.ReplyDelete
Throwing my name in the hat!ReplyDelete
I love reading your posts! I always learn something new. Now, with so many new authors popping every month, most of the trends are covered. It's hard to find one in which you can become a "power generator." So, what can you do to become one? How do you find that special niche that hasn't been cornered yet?ReplyDelete
Congrats to both winners.ReplyDelete
You've given me something to think about, thank you.
Throwing name in direction of hat (that's about as close as I get *g*).
Congrats to the winners! :)ReplyDelete
Thanks so much for this post, PBW. I do have a question though -- for you, does a story's power come in the plotting stage, or more in the revision/editing stage? Or in other words, I guess, how closely is power related to plot? Or any other story element (world, character, etc.)?
Guess that was more than one question...whoops! =P Thanks again. =)
Heres my name being thrown into the hat..ReplyDelete
Jus began posting a novel in the blog form ->http://ordinary-by-hameed.blogspot.com/
....So what would the editor do after reading this first page?...any pointers...?
Lynn Viel: a story has to compete with the other pleasures in our lives, like sex, food, television, computers, video games and long hot bubble baths.ReplyDelete
And now I have a mental image of a couple going at it in bed, and the woman is reading a book over the guys shoulder.
"Did you like that?"
"Marka and Salajra just admitted their feelings for eachother and had hot moneky sex!"
Story power, you hit the nail on the head with that one. I'm always afraid to take risks in my story because it's my first and it would suck to make it all that way and then have it blow up in my face. Either that, or I'm always terrified that it's been done before and better and then I'll get slapped with a plagerism suit without even knowing what I did. Great article!
Just have to say Lynn that I'm really enjoying this series! You've always got such great stuff on your blog! On the issue of story power, I find it easiest to try and create compelling characters--the story isn't always 100% original and never been scene (girl meets boy is, after all, the oldest classic) but I find if I can snare the reader early into caring about the people I'm writing about--then they will keep reading.ReplyDelete
Great post. Very informative information for inspiring authors.
I think it's just all part of the entertainment factor. Great post today!ReplyDelete
Good advice. Although I'm beginning to think that you probably won't give a quote for my 10,000 page cyborg vampire ninja brotherhood epic ... :)ReplyDelete
Throw my name in the hat please!ReplyDelete
Another great post. Name in hat please :DReplyDelete
Throwing my name into the hat!ReplyDelete
As a reader, I get hooked in with interesting characters that I can dig into. Second is an interesting story. Even if it's been done before in some form, your unique characters are going to do it their way. Make me care, that's all I ask.ReplyDelete
I'd love to throw my name into the hat.ReplyDelete
Very timely post. I'm revising the first few chapters of my latest romance and I can see now why it's dragging. No real tension in these chapters and they aren't feeding the main story arc as well as they should...ReplyDelete
Heh, I love number 3 if for no other reason than it makes me smile because my story is plotted to have all of the things you listed.ReplyDelete
It was always intended to be a "practice book" since it's my first, but I think it may be shaping up to be a little more than that. I'm glad I'm taking my time and learning great things from authors and agents paying it forward, like you. I can see a vast improvement in my work already.
I hope to one day be one of those authors paying it forward myself.
Great post, yet again. Thanks!
Story power is very important. I will always remember the few books that connected with me - those are the ones that made my heart race with "This is EXACTLY what I want to read in a story".ReplyDelete
Throwing my name into the hat!ReplyDelete
I'm with jess...I'm currently trying to anticipate a trend by writing an sf romance (so I'd love a chance to win Stardoc, tee hee!). Of course, in my mind, I believe I'm taking the reader on a rollercoaster ride with all the elements you mentioned...especially the risk taking.
However, i worry about being too risky. Not for the SF part of the book, but for the romance part. I just hope I hit the right balance and get past those jaded agents with a story they can't forget.
Congratulations to the winners! Also I'm throwing my name in the hat.ReplyDelete
Story power... I'm one of those readers who will tolerate almost anything but the worst thing is a moment/error that takes me out of the story. Stephen King did this to me once and I was annoyed at the book for months!ReplyDelete
Congrats to the winners! Would like my name thrown into the hat.ReplyDelete
Throwing my name in the hat.ReplyDelete
Thanks for the VWs!
Great article, I always love to read comments on how to improve one's writing. I love emotional characters, I like to be able to feel the characters in the story so much that I feel whatever they feelReplyDelete
Throwing my name in a hat
Great Series! So helpful.ReplyDelete
I don't think a story has to be tightly plotted or perfect to capture the imagination. The most important thing is that it present an engrossing world with compelling characters.
My favorite example? Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep was a definite power generator. As screenwriters worked to turn the popular book into a movie, they realized they'd no idea which character had killed the Sternwoods' chauffeur. They sent Chandler a telegram asking him to explain.
He later said, "They sent me a wire... asking me, and dammit I didn't know either."
I know that as a reader, I'll tolerate less-than-great writing if the story is interesting enough... but I never manage to get through a weak/old story...ReplyDelete
I feel sick. My novel currently making the agent rounds IS the novel you describe at the top of this post. Clean, well-written, and as exciting as a white bowl full of oatmeal.ReplyDelete
I will memorize those "four Es" of emotional connection, enchantment, entertainment and escape, and I will get my work there. No more oatmeal!
(oh, and I'm also throwing my name into the hat. :)
Throwing my name in the hat!ReplyDelete
Great post, Sheila, I hope I can find the superglue that keeps people stuck to my books like good little flies, lol.ReplyDelete
The second part of my workshop is up here.
Wow. I can't believe how much I learned from just this one post. Thank you!!!ReplyDelete
I just read a book that grabbed me from page one - "Remember to Forget" by Deborah Raney. In this book it's the conflict that pulled me in right away.
My question: If the conflict is as dramatic as this book (woman running away from abusive boyfriend), how do you give that emotional pull? Dialogue? The character's description?
Congrats to the winners and throwing my name in the hat.ReplyDelete
More great points to ponder. The comment about vampire brotherhoods made me laugh. I work in a bookstore, and it seems that we get nothing in romance and scifi/fantasy except the undead lately.ReplyDelete
Speaking of which, how did you decide on romace as the genre for the Darkyn series? It seems like it would have worked as fantasy just as easily. Was it a matter of marketing?
Throwing my name in, too!
Great post Lynn.ReplyDelete
When a book becomes powerful when it takes on a life beyond the words themselves. I start actually seeing what is happening in extreme detail. When I stop reading, I feel like I leave behind another world.
Ouch. I'm by inclination a safe person, not one who takes big risks. On the other hand, I'm already taking a giant risk by my standards in putting my story out there - so what's a little more pain in putting it out there raw, right?ReplyDelete
If I can make myself stay close to my protagonist and write her struggle and pain rather than backing away from it, the book will be that much stronger.
I want to echo those who have commented on how much they're enjoying this series. It's really given me some great food for thought. Thanks!
Thanks for another captivating post. I stopped writing short stories (at least for now) earlier this year because my latest didn't seem to have any "soul"--nothing that would grab a reader. I'm not ready to go back to the shorts yet, but you've given me even more to keep in mind as I work at novels.ReplyDelete
Once you've created great characters, I think story power comes from taking risks with your characters.ReplyDelete
And putting them in danger. And then making bad things happen to them. A lot of the stories I see as a college writing teacher (yes, my day job!) fail because the writer is too scared to hurt their characters and make things truly awful for them.
I love your comment about "Don't show me more laundry." So true!
(Name into hat too.)
Your comments about story reminded me of a movie actually, "The Matrix." The first time I saw that movie I was blown away because the story was that good. Upon repeated viewings I realized that almost all of the story elements: hero, savior, quest, magical world, I had seen time and time again. But the way the story was told still blew me away.ReplyDelete
Great post. I think that if what you're writing isn't getting to you, then it's not going to get to a reader. After all, we are the readers. So, if I'm in the middle of writing a scene, and I'm getting bored, I stop and reassess. Not so much letting the internal editor out (she's way too scary) but just trying to figure out what I'm doing wrong.ReplyDelete
Usually it's blasting in too much backstory.
Name = hat.
Thank you for the inspiring post. I'm enjoying all the online workshops very much. It's always great characters that grab my interest first. Stephanie Plum or JR Ward's vampire heroes are great examples. From page one they're real people and I want to make sure things end up all right for them.ReplyDelete
Ok, sorry if this double posts. For some reason when I submitted the comment a minute ago, it didn't show up.ReplyDelete
This is a great post. Thanks for all the work you're putting into it :)
I think that if whatever you're writing isn't getting to you in some way, then it's not going to get to a reader. After all, we are the readers. If I'm in the middle of a scene, and I'm getting bored, then I stop and reassess.
I don't let the internal editor out (oh no, way too scary) but I look to see what I'm missing. Usually, it's that I'm putting in way too much backstory that doesn't need to be there.
Good luck everyone!
Throwing my name in the hat.ReplyDelete
It's still today for me, but I'll understand if I've missed the cut.ReplyDelete
Regardless, I wanted to say that this is a great post. I like how you categorize different types of power. I seem to have managed the dark and forboding, but I'd love to figure out the humorous. Just finished reading Angel with Attitude by Michelle Rowen, and she has humor down so nicely :). It's chicklit without the shoes...
I'm not completely sure what makes a story powerful for me, just yet, but I have a really good handle on powerful moments in movies. So offtopicness will abound, for now.ReplyDelete
For instance: my favorite moment in Shrek the Third (yes, I went to see it as soon as it was out) was when Charming had the knife on Arthur, and Shrek had to bail him out, more or less. It combined several of my favorite elements: the bond between older and younger characters, life-or-death situations, times at which the villain is pretty much in control, and, a split second later, the crashdown of a major (perceived) betrayal.
For a moment, or a whole story, I suppose, to have power, it has to not only have something special--it has to weave several special somethings together in a way that I won't forget.
Congrats to Jaye and Calenhíril!
Gah... I'm just starting the initial work on another novel and this is probably the worst time to read all this.ReplyDelete
There's so much to think about. I live in hope, though. Since I'm an organic writer, I plan to learn through osmosis...
The editor reads the first chapter or reviews the synopsis, and then composes a letter to the novel's hard-working author. She might praise the author for their competence, but she does not make an offer.ReplyDelete
Okay, you had lunch with the last editor I subbed with, right? ;-)
I'm late, but not here for the prize anyway. Just thanks for all the good advice in this article.
I remember getting a rejection way back when that told me my presentation was fine. Umm. Well, that's something to be thankful for! lollReplyDelete
*throws name towards hat, then closes eyes in case it's a miss*
Often it's hard for the writer to judge these things, too. I've read many a dull story that was clearly meant to be very exciting. And I thought my latest WIP would be incredibly boring to anyone but me - I was just writing it for fun, and didn't really expect to go anywhere with it - but so far I've only had one bored reader; the rest couldn't put it down. (They've told me I've got the first 3 elements, but am completely missing #4 :P ). So I guess my question is: How does a writer start seeing her story from the perspective of her readers? What's the best way to cultivate that viewpoint?ReplyDelete
(I apologize if this comment shows up twice; Blogger isn't working quite right.)
I really appreciate the structure of this advice. It makes *sense*, at a gut level. Hopefully translating it to the page is also something I can learn at the gut level when I've got it right or not.ReplyDelete
(throwing my hat in the ring)
Enchanting stories are the ones that stay on my keeper shelf! Great article today!ReplyDelete
Enchanting stories are the ones that stay on my keeper shelf! Great article today!ReplyDelete
The beautiful thing about the Shrek moment was he was really saying how he had felt too. He admitted his own flaw even as he realized it was now moot. It was a great moment.
I'm still trying to absorb all this wonderful info. Thanks for the workshops!ReplyDelete
This is an incredibly informative post. Thanks so much for the information. :)ReplyDelete
Great workshop. Throwing my name in the hat.ReplyDelete
Putting my name in the hat. :)ReplyDelete
Ayla wrote: I was wondering, how DO you grip the reader with emotion in the first few pages? I'm told im really good at doing it throught a story, but im never sure how to get that emotion in striaght away. thanks!ReplyDelete
I love to play with hook lines (see post here for more on that subject) as a way to instantly draw the reader into the story. They're effective maybe half of the time, but there are some readers who simply aren't that easy to hook. For them, you have to make the first five pages as engrossing as possible.
I don't like set-up prose or weather reports, so I gravitate toward using the conflict catalyst as an opener. In Blade Dancer, I start with Jory taking her mother's body out into the desert, and being caught with it by a future version of the INS. The mother's death (and the particulars of her Speaking before her death), combined with Jory's half-alien genes being exposed are the conflict catalyst, which sets the plot into motion.
Tempest Knight wrote: Now, with so many new authors popping every month, most of the trends are covered. It's hard to find one in which you can become a "power generator." So, what can you do to become one? How do you find that special niche that hasn't been cornered yet?ReplyDelete
Being contrary has gotten me into nothing but trouble all my life, except when it comes to writing. I watch what everyone else is doing, and then I deliberately go the other way. Back when I first pitched Darkyn, all the vampire fiction depicted vampires as the monsters, and the humans as the victims (as it has for centuries.) I didn't buy most of vampire mythology anyway, and I have seen more monsters among humanity than you'll ever find in fiction, so it was easy for me to write the humans as the monsters and the vampires as the victims.
Often there are trend gaps that become more obvious as a trend swells into a tsunami, as paranormal romance has done. The classic vampire has been done to death (pardon the pun) so using a vampiric creature who feeds on something other than blood would give you a fresh place to worldbuild from and help your story stand out.
Or you can read some world mythology books and see if you can find a supernatural creature who hasn't yet been written into the ground (Lori Devoti did a great job with this by using men who shapeshift into hellhounds in Unbound, btw.)
If you'd rather stick with the basic trend foundation -- the classic vampire -- mix up the mythology and invent your own. We have so many vampires who can't go out during the day because sunlight turns them into ash, right? How about a vampire who can't go out during the night, because moonlight is lethal? Or, what if for some reason a vampire needs humans to drink his blood? That's the kind of myth-flip that makes your vampire fiction fall in with the trend but still stand out in the crowd.
Bridget Medora wrote: Thanks so much for this post, PBW. I do have a question though -- for you, does a story's power come in the plotting stage, or more in the revision/editing stage? Or in other words, I guess, how closely is power related to plot? Or any other story element (world, character, etc.)?ReplyDelete
If the plot is weak, the power won't be there for me, and I won't be interested in writing it. But all of my plots are character-driven, so I think for me it's in how I build the characters in the planning stage.
There are strong influences over the plot, like the novel premise, the main conflict, the story tone and pacing, which can also affect the power of the story. But if you write like I do, and put together cardboard characters, they become the poisoned tree from which everything else grows like tainted fruit.
I think the trick is to determine what drives your story in the planning stages, and make sure that's as powerful as you can make it. Everything should fall into line from there.
-by Hameeduddin wrote: ....So what would the editor do after reading this first page?...any pointers...?ReplyDelete
Since I'm not a publisher's editor, I can't predict their reaction to your story. But just to offer a writerly opinion, I would try not to use so much narrative, and get into showing the action sooner versus telling the reader so much about it.
Tech wrote: Although I'm beginning to think that you probably won't give a quote for my 10,000 page cyborg vampire ninja brotherhood epic ... :)ReplyDelete
Um, didn't I mention I'm out of the quote business? Lol.
Rowan wrote: As a reader, I get hooked in with interesting characters that I can dig into. Second is an interesting story. Even if it's been done before in some form, your unique characters are going to do it their way. Make me care, that's all I ask.ReplyDelete
There you go. Beautifully said, Rowan.
cwahm wrote: My question: If the conflict is as dramatic as this book (woman running away from abusive boyfriend), how do you give that emotional pull? Dialogue? The character's description?ReplyDelete
This is a powerful conflict, so I would put the reader in the character's shoes as much as possible. Skip the narrative, backstory or introspection -- hit the reader with action and dialogue that sends them on the run with this character.
fionaphoenix wrote: Speaking of which, how did you decide on romace as the genre for the Darkyn series? It seems like it would have worked as fantasy just as easily. Was it a matter of marketing?ReplyDelete
I wrote the books as dark fantasy, which is how I wanted them published. The way I understand it, the publisher sent the manuscript to one of their senior editors, who decided the novel was a romance. They used that as the reason to market them as romances, I believe. I fought against it because I didn't write them as romances, but it came down to if I wanted them published, I had to accept their decision.
I'd still like to move the series out of romance, but that's not going to happen now. And guess who gets blamed by everyone for the marketing? Me. :)
Shannon wrote: When a book becomes powerful when it takes on a life beyond the words themselves. I start actually seeing what is happening in extreme detail. When I stop reading, I feel like I leave behind another world.ReplyDelete
I think that might be the quintessential definition of story power -- thanks, Shannon.
Zoe wrote: How does a writer start seeing her story from the perspective of her readers? What's the best way to cultivate that viewpoint?ReplyDelete
Good question. Over the years I've developed a couple of different reading modes: reading for pleasure, when I just immerse myself in the story and don't worry about the technical aspects, reading to learn, where I read to spot and understand what the author is doing with the prose to achieve the story effects, and reading for market analysis, when I basically skim through the prose to get the main points of the story.
I try to combine all three modes when I'm reading to edit. I try to see the story on the surface as an enjoyable experience, and I check the technical aspects to make sure I've covered all the nuts and bolts, and I check off the main points to see that I've stayed true to the outline. Sometimes I have to read the daily new material more than once to see it from all three angles, too, so it's not as if you have to do it all in one shot.
Another method is to read the work out loud. If you stumble over reading a sentence, your reader will likely do the same, or get halfway through and skip the rest.