I've decided to go back to school.
Well, it's a sort of do-it-yourself course. I'm working my way through WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL by Donald Maass. Not that I think it'll mean sudden bestseller-dom, but because I've been a long time away from the computer, and I think I could use a "refresher course".
Maass is very good at telling you what makes a bestseller, although it eventually seems that it's more quotes from novels than actual concrete information. The reviewer on Amazon who mentions "valuable nuggets of advice" is right. However, the exercises are interesting and will, I'm fairly sure, prove to be valuable.
I did find one instance where it was easy to suggest a way to improve a story (more tension!) but no really clear direction on how to do it. For that, I went to my bookcase and pulled out BEYOND STYLE by Gary Provost. There I found not just the "what to do" but "how to do it."
So often an agent, or reviewer, or reader can say what needs to be done to improve a story, but it can take a writer to really tell you how to do it.
I've finished the Maass book, although not all the exercises because I need to write more of the actual novel first. Today, I start going through what I've already written. I suspect much of it is going to wind up "on the cutting room floor." That won't be the first time I've had to toss a lot to wind up with some valuable nuggets of my own.