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1. What’s in Your Writer’s Bag of Tricks? Putting the Writing Process in Context


Abayomi Launches in Brazil


Click cover to see the photo gallery.

I’m in the middle of a big revision of the first book of a sff trilogy and I thought I knew what to do. I’ve written several novels now and when I get to this stage, there’s one big problem. I am sick of reading the thing.

How many times do you read a novel before you send it out into the world? 5 times? 20 times? 100 times? I don’t know; I just know that it’s a lot of times and it reaches a point where I’m not re-reading what’s in front of me. My mind wanders off to anything and everything else.

One strategy I’ve used to deal with that is to retype the entire manuscript. Even if it’s 60,000 words, I just dig in and retype. This strategy forces me to see every word anew. It’s a strategy that I know works.

Except, it didn’t this time. I kept putting off the typing. When it was time to start, I’d find something some marketing to do; or I’d read on my Kindle; or I’d do research for a different project. I forced myself to type out about 25,000/60,000 words, but I was making very few changes. I wasn’t confident that this strategy was working.

Finally–with the urging of a friend–I stopped the foolishness. I started copying one chapter at a time into the fresh document and working on just that chapter till all issues were resolved.
Stuck in Revision? Pull out your writer's bag of tricks and try something different.


Wow! I’ve totally revamped a scene: it was static with no tension and needed lots of work. I found a conflict sitting there amidst the rubble, picked it up and ran with it. I cut a scene totally–worthless dialogue that went nowhere. Another scene got an overhaul for emotional impact.

In other words, my process is different for this book than for all previous books. Duh. Of course.
Each book that I write, I find a different way to work.

What doesn’t change are techniques that I have in my writer’s bag of tricks. I just need to remember that I won’t be using them in the same order for each book. Also, I may not use every technique or tip for every novel. And that there are always shiny new ways of working to explore, and that’s OK. Retyping a manuscript is a great technique that I’ll likely use again, even though it was deadly for this one. Focusing on short chapters this time helped me to see the story in a context that allowed for good decision making. That’s what you want: good decision making in your storytelling.

Stuck? Rummage around in your writer’s bag of tricks and try something different!

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2. 4 Revision Goals: Conflict, Emotion, Surprise, Enrich


Abayomi Launches in Brazil


Click cover to see the photo gallery.

For the next month, my writing goals for my work-in-progress novel trilogy are clear: conflict, emotion, surprise, enrich.

The trilogy is tentatively called, The Blue Planets, and is an early-teen or YA science fiction. Book 1, The Blue Marble, has a complete draft; for Books 2 and 3, I have complete outlines. I’m happy with all of it, but I know it needs to go much farther before anyone sees it. For the next month, I’ll work simultaneously on revising Book 1 and the outlines, trying to weave them into a more coherent whole.
4 Revision Goals: from Darcy Pattison's Fiction Notes blog at darcypattison.com

4 Revision Goals

Conflict. The first goal in revising The Blue Planets is to up the conflict.
No conflict = no story, no readers.
Small conflict = small readership.
Big conflict = bigger readership.
Huge, gut-wrenching, moral-decison-making conflict = huge, engaged readership.

I’ll be looking at conflict globally and in each scene. Man v. nature is built into the story in powerful ways already. But I need to look at man v. man, both overall and in each scene. How can I put people at odds in more ways and in more interesting ways?

Emotion. Always my weakest point, I’ll go scene by scene and ask questions:
What emotional things happened just before this scene? What’s the attitude of each character coming in?
What is the worst thing–emotionally–that could happen to the main character? That’s what I must confront him with.
What is the emotional arc of the scene?
What else can I do to deepen the emotional impact?

Surprise. Readers read for entertainment. If they can predict exactly what happens in a story, they’re bored. I’ll go through–especially the outlines–and ask, “What does the reader expect here?” I’ll look for ways to twist that expectation to fulfill it, but with a twist.

Enrich. I’m excited about enriching the stories, because this part gets past the basic plotting and into fun stuff. Where can I add humor? Here are previous posts on 3 humor techniques and then 5 more. I’m hoping for a running gag, at least. I’ll be working to tie the three books together through scene, character, bits of dialogue, running gags, perhaps a bit of clothing, or a mug of triple-shot venti mocha–something. Enrichment might be adding bits of scientific information artfully, without doing an information dump. Making the characters quirkier and more fun to be around. Loosening up on dialogue.

By the middle to end of July, I expect the BLUES to be in shape to send out. I’m excited.
What are your goals for summer writing?

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3. Find Your Novel Opening: Quickly, Efficiently–and with MORE Creativity


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I’ve been fiddling with the opening of the second book of a trilogy, Blue Planets, for several weeks, trying to plot, trying to think of new and exciting ways to tell the story. I KNOW the story. It’s bringing it down to specifics that’s hard.

Part of my problem is that Book 1 in this trilogy opens with a scene that echoes the movie “Jaws.” That book and movie has a powerful, action packed opening image and scene that sets up the stakes clearly. My Book 1 opening echoes the action, and twists the meaning into a new, surprising direction. I like the opening I create there.

But it also set up a problem: How can I echo the “Jaws” opening for Book 2?
I’ve struggled for a couple weeks with this question and finally found the answer.
Don’t. Find another image that works.

Using a Mentor Text or Story

Find Your Novel's Opening: Quickly, Efficiently and with MORE Creativity


Perhaps, though, the process I used in the opening for Book 1 can be repeated for Book 2. I used “Jaws” as a mentor text, echoing its action and setting the stakes very high. What if I found a different mentor text/movie for the next book?

At Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat site, they’ve done a series of analyses of movie plots that are called Beat Sheets under his system. I decided to go through them and write a short summary of how I could or couldn’t echo the different movies for this opening. I knew that I had to approach it as a writing exercise and just go overboard and let the ideas flow.

In an hour, I wrote the summaries for the following twenty possible opening scenes. After, I went back and wrote a sentence of how the closing scene might echo back to the opening scene. That closing scene ideas — only written after all the opening scene summaries were completed — helped me evaluate how well this opening fit my story. Note also that I drew a blank on about three of the movie openings and couldn’t figure out how it would fit my story.

The Grunt Work: Writing 20 Possible Summaries of Opening Scene

Note: You won’t understand what some of this means, since I’m not explaining all the background, setting, characters, etc. That’s OK. The point is to see how I echoed the mentor text/story in some way. The link for each movie title goes to the Save the Cat plot analysis for that movie, where you can read the opening image synopsis and compare it to mine. You may think some of my opening as strangely at odds with the mentor text. That’s fine. I consider the mentor text/story as merely a starting point and go where the story takes me.

  1. A la Ultron.
    The opening image is of a huge conch shell that is blown and echoes throughout the ocean. Jake is swimming and hears it—has to stop up his ears it’s so loud. But no human hears it—at a weird frequency. It’s an emergency call to the Mer, but Jake doesn’t know that yet. The umjaadi plague is spreading and they still don’t know what it is.
    Final Echo: A hospital ward full of sick patients and the doctor telling someone that unless someone finds a cure, they’ll all die. The Mer will be gone.
  2. A la The Conversation .
    The opening image is Edinburgh, Scotland the castle with a full moon overhead. Home of Harry Potter, the setting is almost mythical. But the reality of walking the seven hills, and climbing up the highest pulls Jake back to Earth (so to speak). From the top, he sees the Frith of Forth and the bridge—with the aquarium under it, where they’ll go tomorrow.
    Final echo: back on the hill, Jake now understands what is beneath the waters he sees.
  3. A la Whiplash.
    Jake is swimming laps in a pool—with no one around—when Cy Blevins walks in. You’re not related to the Commander, you’re the Ambassador’s son—we know all about you. OK. So, what? You can’t live here.
    Jake swims, but wants to jump out and beat up Cy.
    Final echo: No. Doesn’t work.
  4. A la Birdman.
    Jake is swimming and keeps asking himself, “How did we wind up here? Am I Earthling or Risonian?” He turns sharks into tour guides, he is thrilled with electric shock from eels, he talks to octopuses.

Final echo: I am Earthling.

  • A la Tommy Boy.
    Jake is a toddler swimming on Rison and when a camouflaged creature (octopus-like) unfurls, he is startled and starts to cry. Turns to Swann for comfort, but Swann turns him around and says, SEE. Watch. Learn to see.
    Final echo: Swimming and points out a camouflaged creature to Swann.
  • A la Ratatouille.
    B/w documentary about octopuses, compared with what we know today. They were once feared as monsters, but we now know they are very intelligent (playing with toys to get crabs). We see what we expect to see, and that changes slowly. (Or: what’s alien comes from what’s in OUR heads, not what we see in front of us.)
    Final echo: B/W Risonain documentary on first contact Earth—from the Risonian POV. We now know Earthlings are much more complicated and intelligent than we thought at first.
  • A la Babadook.
    Go for a memory and emotion. Jake relives a moment with Em where they kiss—or almost kiss. But then shakes himself. No. She didn’t want to be friends.
    Final echo: A final kiss.
  • A la Star Trek (2009).
    The camera moves along an underwater ship and reveals it to be a U-Boat. Follow with the scene of the DCS dive.
    Final echo: Maybe Mom is sick from something on Earth?
  • A la American Sniper.
    (Scene with dramatic first kill – will he shoot a kid?)
    Scene with dramatic first ______?
    Clearly, this one didn’t work.
  • A a Lego Movie.
    From a boat, Dr. Max Bari lowers a figure on a stretcher into the ocean, then dives in after her—without scuba gear. He tugs the stretcher deeper and deeper until there are lights in the distance. . .
    Final echo: Jake lifts off in a rocket ship and watches Earth get smaller and smaller in the distance, and turns his face toward Rison and hopes. . .
  • A la Big Hero 6.
    Setting: Sanfransokyo
    My Setting: Aberforth Hills
  • Final echo: Earth leaders touring Aberforth Hills

  • A la Liar Liar.
    In a classroom, they are going around telling what their fathers do. A young Jake says his father is a test tube. No, it’s the Leader of our People. No, it’s really a test tube.
    Final echo: Jake with Dad.
  • A la Fury.
    (Ambush of triumphant soldier by vanquished.) No ideas. Didn’t work for me.
  • A la Gone Girl.
    (Sharp contrast of emotions: head on shoulder of husband contrasted with his thoughts of killing her. Result: Worry for her safety)
    Contrasting emotions? Invade Earth and just take it! Take the long, slow route to a long-term healthy relationship.
  • Mom is giving a speech to the world leaders about Rison’s needs. Jake is drawing pictures of skulls and wishing he could blast all of Earth so Risonians could take over. How can they ever live together on the same planet and not kill each other?
    Final echo: Fight that ends in a truce.

  • A la Guardians of the Galaxy.
    Sitting alone, Jake is listening to a cd mix that Em gave him and wishing they hadn’t quarreled. He gets a call from Marisa, who says she wants to meet with him. I hear you’re going to Edinburgh. Mom and Dad aren’t saying much—but I think Em has been kidnapped and they know who did it, but they won’t go after her. I think she’s somewhere near Edinburgh.
    Final echo: Jake gives Em a cd of Risonian operas and says, I’ll be back with the cure.
  • A la How to Train Your Dragon 2.
    Jake is spinning a globe of the world and narrating for his class (OR Swann) back home-videoconference call. He tells of how Earthlings/US once put it’s citizens in jail because they “might” have been traitors. How they questioned the loyalty of citizen merely because of their heritage. How unfair it is and how he’s worried that the Risonians will be even more feared and how suspicion will abound.
    Final echo: Suspicious news reports: There are fears that Jake Quad-di is returning home with intelligence that will allow the Risonians to attack. His mother, Ambassador Dayexi Quad-di assures us that he only returns to bring back a cure for the Phoke. But why would he risk his life for them?
  • A la Twilight Zone.
    The camera pans across oceans, racing across the seas, until it zooms in on a conference room where Mom is talking to world leaders, a clear image of politics/diplomacy.
    Final echo: Not emotional enough to pursue.
  • A la Muppets Most Wanted.
    Start with pan down from The End—the last movie—and sing about how the studio ordered a sequel.
    Final echo: No. Don’t like this metadata stuff.
  • A la Her.
    Jake is writing a letter to the editor, or editorial or something—and we pull back to see that he’s writing it for Mom. He’s her assistant now, and she trusts his knowledge of English and culture. (Not emotional enough. HER is a love story, so the emotions there are about truly falling in love. It’s not going to work in this story.)
  • A la Inside Llewyn Davis.
    The scene opens on a rowdy swimming pool with kids taking bets. Jake lines up with another guy and when the whistle blows, the other boy dives in and races away. When that guy touches the opposite wall, Jake dives in, velcroes his legs and swims. He almost beats the other guy back, but is won out by a touch.
    I win! Says the other swimmer.
    Jake shakes his head. He swam almost twice as fast—and the Earthling says he won? That’s crazy.
    We’re never letting you compete in the Olympics! Says one kid.
  • Final echo: Argument: You think I can do miracles. Sure, I can outswim any human boy, but on Rison, I’m nothing. I’m just a normal kid. How can I find the cure to the umjaadi in time? I can’t. But I have to try.

    Notice that I didn’t hold myself to an impossible standard. If the movie’s opening didn’t spark something almost immediately, I moved on. Further, I didn’t stop at just one try. I persevered, knowing that I needed to fully explore my options.

    Evaluate the Possible Openings

    After writing all of these, I had to evaluate which one fit my story best. First, I went back and added the Final Echo to each, so I’d know if it fit the theme/plot/characters well enough to carry through the whole story. In other words, I double checked my ideas about the story, my intentions.

    Then I asked these questions of each opening:

    • Which sets the tone I want?
    • Which sets the emotional problems?
    • Which sets the themes?
    • Which one sets up the stakes as very high?

    Results of Opening Images Writing Exercise
    I found several good images that took me in new and different directions than I’d previously been trying—and that’s exciting.

    1. Warning conch shell – warning comes true, all Mer sick.
    2. Jake as toddler scared by octopus-like creature un-camouflaging – Watches old Risonian documentary and realizes that Earthlings are complicated.
    3. Dr. Max lowers a patient into the water and goes into a foreign world – Jake lifts off in rocket for a foreign world.
    4. Listens to Em’s cd – gives her a cd when he leaves.
    5. Jake narrates the globe – a news show narrates Jake’s trip to Rison.
    6. Jake outswims Earthlings – but realizes he’s just a normal kid on Rison.

    Which one did I choose? Actually, several. Because I have a main plot and several subplots, I realized that several of these can work in sequence to open the different subplots.

    Sometimes, I approach a story methodically, just doing a writing exercise. This time, I was stuck, and the exercise unstuck me. That was a valuable hour of writing!

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    4. Fowler’s Toad: He Chose Our Pond


    The Aliens Inc, Chapter Book Series

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    One night In May, I noticed a very loud sound from right outside our window. My husband, Dwight, has a fish pond right outside our kitchen door.

    The fish pond is used by our outdoor cat for drinking water. Notice the toads in the lower left corner.
    The fish pond is used by our outdoor cat for drinking water.



    The sound was loud! So, on May 26, I whipped out my iphone and taped the noise.

    You’ll hear the noise at 7 seconds into the tape, and 12 seconds, 18 seconds and 23 seconds. The sounds came from a small frog or toad. After comparing my recording to recordings of frogs/toads of Arkansas, I concluded we had a Fowler Toad, which is common in this area.

    After reading more, I realized that this toad had chosen our pond as a breeding pond. He chose us! He chose our pond!

    As a child, I remember we raised tadpoles once. I was excited about the chance to watch the process again, especially because my grandkids could watch this time.

    The toad sang and sang for several nights. All night long, it seemed.

    Then, on June 11, I took a morning walk and came back to find two Fowler toads in the pond. The girl showed up!

    Fowler Toad with Egg String


    Fowler Toads mate in what’s called amplexus, which means the eggs are externally fertilized. The smaller male is usually on the female’s back for the duration.

    Another view of the couple.
    Another view of the couple.



    After the mating, the female is trying to find a way out of the slippery sides of the pond. I had to put a fish net on the edge for her to get out. The male hopped out easily.
    After the mating, the female is trying to find a way out of the slippery sides of the pond. I had to put a fish net on the edge for her to get out. The male hopped out easily.


    Tadpoles: Day 3

    We watched the pond every day and on Day 3, we found tadpoles! Dozens and dozens. Scientists report that the Fowler Toads may lay 5000-25,000 eggs at a time. But the pond had several goldfish and I knew that many of the eggs would be eaten before they could hatch.

    Now, there are dozens and dozens of tadpoles.

    Dozens of tadpoles hatched. However, they are shy and don't like to be photographed.
    Dozens of tadpoles hatched. However, they are shy and don’t like to be photographed.


    Close-up of the tadpole.
    Close-up of the tadpole.



    The Flamingo's eye view of the pond and the toads.
    The Flamingo’s eye view of the pond and the toads.



    As a person who writes science and nature books for kids, I am always conscious of the possibilities. But this isn’t a book, and may never become one. The story is too common; it’s not ground-breaking science. It’s just fun. And that’s enough.

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    5. Hope: Send Me Your Good News


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    Writers live by hope.

    We hope that the next story will break out.
    We hope that the next submission will sell.
    We hope that the next revision will be amazing.
    We hope that the next royalty check will be double.
    We hope readers will love our stories.

    Hope. It’s how we live. And I love it when Hope comes to live in tangible ways.

    Carla Killough McClafferty, inducted into the Arkansas Writer's Hall of Fame, June, 2015.
    Carla Killough McClafferty, inducted into the Arkansas Writer’s Hall of Fame, June, 2015.


    I went Friday to an awards banquet to honor my friend, Carla McClafferty. She was inducted into the Arkansas Writer’s Hall of Fame for her work in children’s non-fiction.

    That was hope come to life.

    Another Arkansas friend, Cara Brookins had this news reported in today’s Publisher’s Weekly:

    Brookins’s ‘Rise’ Goes to SMP
    In a six-figure North American rights deal, Rose Hilliard at St. Martin’s Press acquired Cara Brookins’s memoir, Rise. The book, which Dystel and Goderich’s Jessica Papin sold at auction, is about Brookins’s experience as a single mother coming out of an abusive relationship, building her own house from the ground up. SMP said the author, a social media marketing expert in Little Rock, Ark., took on the massive DIY project “with only the help of her four children.” Rise is currently set for fall 2016.

    That was hope come to life.

    Another Arkansas friend, Monica Clark-Robinson recently sold her first picture book. Here’s the listing on her agent’s site:

    Children’s: Picture book: Monica Clark-Robinson’s LET THE CHILDREN MARCH, an historical picture book told from a child’s point of view about the Children’s Crusade, a series of civil rights marches that took place in 1963 to protest the Jim Crow Laws, to Christine Krones at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s, for publication in Fall 2017.

    That was hope come to life.
    Each time a friend realizes a small portion of a dream—from the beginning of a career to a career at the top of its game—we need to stop and rejoice with them.

    Why? For many reasons—friendship shares good news.
    But for today’s purpose, rejoicing over someone’s good news builds my reserve of hope. I know the hope isn’t futile; someone else’s hopes came to fruition and that leaves me with a renewed hope that mine may also.

    I often end a speech or a retreat with the words, “Send me your good news.” It’s not hollow words, and it’s not bragging on your part. It’s sharing a joyful event. And really, I’m being selfish: I want my hope recharged.

    I often end a speech with: Send me your good news! It builds my reservoir of HOPE! #publishing
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    Send me your good news! I want to hear and rejoice with you!
    Please add your good news in the comments so we can all rejoice with you.

    Writers Life by Hope

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    6. Checklist for Self-publishing a Children’s Picture Book


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    Assumption. I am assuming here that you’ve written a fantastic children’s picture book and the illustrations you’ve done or hired done are amazing. You’ve also assembled an amazing book using InDesign (recommended) or other software. This checklist takes up the process at the point where you have the files ready to upload. The checklist is useful whether you are producing a print book or an ebook, although some items may not apply in one or the other cases.
    RedCover250x400-72

    Double-Check the Book’s Production

    Front Cover
    Double-check spelling of everything.
    Color reproduction of the art.

    Back cover
    Double-check spelling of everything.
    Blurbs, quote or promo copy – do you have all the marketing material on the back cover that is needed? Any recent review quotes to add?

    Copyright page
    (Assumption: you want to sell this book to school libraries. If you only want to sell it as an ebook, then you only need to check the copyright date, since you probably won’t use an ISBN.)
    Copyright date correct?
    ISBN correct (if used)?
    CIP correct? Are you using Publisher’s Cataloging-in-Publication data, which helps librarians catalog your book?

    Interior
    Check spelling, grammar and punctuation on every page.
    Check position and reproduction of art on every page.
    (Why are there 32 pages listed?)

    • p. 1____Text _____Art
    • p. 2-3____Text _____Art
    • p. 4-5____Text _____Art
    • p. 6-7____Text _____Art
    • p. 8-9____Text _____Art
    • p. 10-11____Text _____Art
    • p. 12-13____Text _____Art
    • p. 14-15____Text _____Art
    • p. 16-17____Text _____Art
    • p. 18-19____Text _____Art
    • p. 20-21____Text _____Art
    • p. 22-23____Text _____Art
    • p. 24-25____Text _____Art
    • p. 26-27____Text _____Art
    • p. 28-29____Text _____Art
    • p. 30-31____Text _____Art
    • p. 32____Text _____Art

    Marketing and Metadata Materials

    Before you upload files, you’ll need your marketing material ready. I usually create a one-page Sell Sheet that includes the following information.

    Exact Title:
    Subtitle:
    Series Name and Volume of this book:
    ISBN, ASIN, and price for each format:

    Description
    The description is the time to hook your reader. The first 50 characters should give enough information to interest a reader in your book. Limited html is allowed on many platforms, so I often prepare two versions, one plain text and one marked up for html. For Kindle, you have 4000 characters–which is a lot. Use a word processor that counts the number of characters and use all of this valuable real estate.

    Categories
    Depending on the platform used, you may be asked to provide two or three categories. You can refer to the BISAC categories as a guidelines, but each platform may have its own quirks for this.

    1.
    2.
    3.

    Keywords
    To help the book buyer find your book, most platforms allow you to insert from 5-7 keywords. You should have these ready; see Amazon’s advice on keywords.

    1.
    2.
    3.
    4.
    5.
    6.
    7.

    Age Levels
    Often a platform will allow you to specify the age range for the book’s audience. Don’t try to cover every age (ages 1-15). Instead, choose a 3-4 year range. Typical ranges are ages 4-8, ages 5-8, ages 6-8, ages 8-12, ages 9-12, ages 12-15, and so on.

    File Size
    If you plan to publish the ebook on Kindle, you should know the file size. Full color children’s picture books are often 4-8 MGs of data. Because Kindle charges a delivery fee of $0.15 in the US, you’ll want to know this to decide on pricing.

    Price for Different Formats
    If you upload to multiple platforms, you’ll likely want to be sure to keep the data the same across them. It helps to write out your prices; be sure to update this data whenever you change it on one platform.

    Cover Files
    While I’m preparing marketing materials, I also like to create multiple versions of my cover files. I label them with the size and the resolution, so it’s easy to find later. Here are typical sizes I create for a square picture book cover, 8.5″ x 8.5″ It’s simple to create multiple files when the Photoshop program is already open, and saves me time later. Usually, I create jpeg files, but sometimes, I’ll repeat for .png files.

    • Cover-2500×2500-300.jpg (This means the cover is 2500 px by 2500 px at 300 dpi.)
    • Cover-2500×2500-150.jpg (This means the cover is 2500 px by 2500 px at 150 dpi. Some like to also prepare files at 96 dpi or 72 dpi for use on the web.)
    • Cover-1000×1000-300.jpg
    • Cover-1000×1000-150.jpg
    • Cover-500×500-300.jpg
    • Cover-500×500-150.jpg
    • Cover-250×250-300.jpg
    • Cover-250×250-150.jpg

    With the Sell Sheet complete, and the books cover and interior files ready to go, it’s time to upload. Good luck with your book!

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    7. Beta Readers: Facts, Grammar, Plot, Character and More


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    Thanks to the computer industry, we no longer have first readers, we have beta readers. Early versions of software that engineers expect to be riddled with problems were called beta versions. Beta is the second letter in the Greek alphabet, so presumably, the alpha versions were kept all in-house. Betas were the first public versions to be released.

    The terminology has come over to writing and we now have beta readers. The analogy holds in some ways: the versions we send to outside readers probably isn’t the “alpha” version; instead, it’s a version that is ready for a public audience—but not ready to be published. We expect problems: typos, grammar slip-ups (Grammar Queens, I Love You!), plot holes, character inconsistencies, factual errors, and so on.

    What do you want from your Beta Readers?

    IMG_9538

    Factual details. My WIP is set on Bainbridge Island, which sits in the middle of Puget Sound near Seattle, WA. I’ve visited a couple times because my brother- and sister-in-law live there. However, I’ve not lived there, and I’m not grounded in everything BI. I’ve asked them to read through for factual details related to the setting.

    To write this story, I drew on my trips to the area, as well as maps, views from Google Earth, historical accounts of the area, writings about the area, information about the local flora and fauna. I’ve done my homework. But there’s nothing to beat living in the locale for years. I would never have dared to set the story in the area except I knew I had these two gracious beta readers.

    Bored. I also asked them to flag places they were bored. Wow! Do I need this one. The overall pacing from chapter-to-chapter, and the local pacing from paragraph-to-paragraph both concern me. I want the story to pull a reader along without a pause. If a beta reader is bored, I need to know. I can fix it, using a variety of tools. I just need to know where to work on it.

    Confused. Likewise, if the flow of the story confuses the reader, I need to know. Of course, there may be places you WANT the reader to be confused. I’m not talking about that. I’m looking for places where the reader has no idea what is happening. Again, I can fix it: I don’t want beta readers to suggest HOW to fix it. I just want to know where to pay attention.

    Consistency. In characterization, I find my biggest problem is consistency in portraying emotions, motivations, reactions and so on. Part of the process of writing is to find these deeper issues within your character, and for me, I often find them late in the story. That means I have to go back and make sure I’ve set up a motivation and expressed it consistently across the story. And sometimes, I miss something.

    While Beta Readers Read

    This time, I’m trying not to work on the story while the beta readers do their thing. That doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about the story. On the contrary, it’s in the background of my thoughts all the way.

    We went to see The Avengers movie last week. If you saw it (SPOILER ALERT), there’s a huge action scene at the end with all the Avengers protecting the explosive device while robots come at them. It’s a great moment because the team has come together and they are working in concert. Besides that character moment, it’s also a huge action scene. And I mean huge. I almost turn away these days at the fast-paced fighting because there is moment after moment of continuous fighting. The last Transformer movie struck me this way, too: when there’s too much action, it deadens the moment for me.

    But it also gave me a new perspective on the ending of my story. The hero doesn’t take a big enough part in the action. He is there (hurrah!). He is active (hurrah!). But his parents get in the way. I need to get rid of them and pit him directly against the villain.

    In other words, I hit the target with the ending, but it’s not a bulls-eye, yet.

    That’s the sort of thing I’m thinking about while the beta readers read. Where have I hit the target, but I’m not hitting the bull’s eye?

    I may not be typing words into a program about the story during this time, but I’m working on it. When I get it back, I’ll have a flurry of revisions to do. Isn’t it great?

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    8. Continuity Goofs: Avengers, Hunger Games and Your Novel


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    When my picturebook, The Journey of Oliver K. Woodman was first published, I lied to my mother-in-law. When she saw this image of Tameka writing a letter to her Uncle Ray, my MIL noticed that Tameka was left-handed. I told her that I asked the illustrator, Joe Cepeda especially to make her left handed like my MIL.
    Oliver-leftie001


    Fast forward to the second book featuring Tameka in search of a wooden woman. Again, Tameka writes a letter, but this time, Cepeda drew her right handed. Because of my lie, I realized immediately that we had a continuity error, and Joe redrew a small portion of the image to make her left-handed again.
    Seraching for Oliver K. Woodman

    Movies Have Continuity Errors

    The Internet Movie Database regularly reports on the errors in movies (look for the “Goofs” link). For instance, for the Hunger Games, the IMDB reports 29 continuity errors. Here are the first three:

    • When Katniss is turning around to show her fire dress, you can see her hair (bun) comes apart. But in the next scene her hair is nicely tucked in.
    • When Peeta throws the metal ball at the spears, the career tributes (Cato, Marvel and Clove) are laughing at Peeta before he throws the ball. After Peeta has thrown it, Clove has gone and Glimmer is in her place.
    • When the 12 chariots are parading to the final stopping spot, the fans are throwing flowers and all kinds of things on the road that they ride in on. When they show the overhead view and the last chariots pull up there is not one item on the roadway.

    None of those is earth-shattering; none of those changes the plot; and most wouldn’t be caught by a casual movie-goer. Obsessive people find these things.

    For Avengers: Age of Ultron, the IMDB reports five continuity errors – so far. Here are the first two.

    • Tony’s watch said that it was 12.10 when he axed the logs outside. Then the watch changes into 11.20 when he talked with Fury inside the barn.
    • After all the Avengers have tried to lift Thor’s hammer, Thor picks it up up with a drink in his hand. In the next shot the drink is on the table.

    You would think that after all the efforts from hundreds of people, that a movie would be a bit of perfection. How can these errors slip in? It’s the complexity, I think. When there are so many moving parts, it’s difficult to make sure that everything is in sync with every other part.

    Prevent Continuity Errors in Your Novel

    One revision I’m doing right now in my novel is for continuity.

    Read Your Whole Novel in a Short Amount of Time. Writing a whole novel can take a long period of time, and in that extended time period, you may forget a detail here or there. Were Alice’s eyes blue or green? Is her middle name Elle or Ellen? Reading rapidly for continuity can help refresh your memory.

    Create a Character Bible, a Plot Bible, and Story Bible. Some writers like to create a “bible” of sorts. To do this, take a page (or a file, or a Scrivener document) and write the character’s name at the top of the page. Under it, write down the details about that character. Name, age, description, background details, etc. Any time you start to write about the character (or when you go back to check continuity) refer to that page/file. If you write it down, it acts as the “word of God” about the character.

    Repeat, as you like for the plot or other story aspects.

    Beta Readers Finally, you can find beta readers or critique partners who are sticklers for details like this. Turn them loose and let them go to town.

    Whatever you decide, it’s a good idea to do a last read-through for continuity before you send it out to editors. But if you DO miss some small items, you’re in good company with Hunger Games and Avengers: Age of Ultron.

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    9. Audiofile Reviews Kell, the Alien Audiobook


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    Totally exciting! Audiofile Magazine has reviewed Kell, the Alien, the first book in The Aliens, Inc. Series!

    Doing alien voices gives narrator Josiah John Bildner a fun challenge. When the Smith family’s spaceship crashes to Earth, they’re forced to live and talk like Earthlings. Bildner skillfully renders the conversations between Kell, now a third-grader, and his new friend, Bree Hendricks, as Kell learns more about his new home. An audition for the choir’s solo, a moving performance of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” stands out. Word misunderstandings between the aliens and Earthlings add chuckles: Is a blow-up spaceship a giant balloon or an explosion? This is a worthy addition to the alien genre for kids. S.G.B. © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine [Published: MAY 2015]

    Aliens1-250x250-300


    Listen to a sample of Kell, the Alien:

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    10. Ban Cliches: How to Stand Out in Today’s Crowded Market


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    The number one rejection I hear is this: “The story doesn’t stand out in today’s crowded market.”

    The SCBWI is creating an opportunity for illustrators to test their art and how it holds up in today’s market. Each month, the “Draw This” monthly art prompt will provide a word for members to illustrate.

    For years I’ve followed a similar type experience at IllustrationFriday.com. They, too, provide an art prompt of a word. In looking through the weekly images, I started to understand the concept of “standing out.” For example, one week, the word was RED. Looking through, I saw the same images: firetrucks, little red wagons, red-headed girls, Little Red Riding Hood, gorgeous cardinals, and so on. Those who illustrated the prompt with such an obvious cliche probably thought they were showcasing their work. Instead, I thought they were showcasing their lack of creativity.

    2009 World Beard and Mustache Competition. Does that beard spell out B-E-A-R-D?

    2009 World Beard and Mustache Competition. Does that beard spell out B-E-A-R-D?




    Here are the images for an Illustration Friday prompt, Beard. Now look through Beard images on Flickr. Or look through the BeardBrand shop and see how their photographers captured the young urban male and his passion for beards. Which is more exciting and fresh? Are these cliched images? No!

    Writers, you can play along, too! Take the illustration prompt as a writing prompt. List your first 10 ideas–and throw them out. Those are the cliched ideas. Now, write 10 more ideas. Choose the strongest and write a story that has a fighting chance of standing out in today’s crowded market.

    I've never seen a Bee-Beard before. Have you?

    I’ve never seen a Bee-Beard before. Have you?




    The SCBWI “Draw This” June prompt: Bounce
    Illustrations due by May 25. See full rules here. While the prompt is only open to SCBWI members, anyone can play along!

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    11. Top 20 YA Agents: 142 Sales in the Last 12 Months


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    What agents are selling young adult (YA) novels? Publishersmarketplace.com does a great job of monitoring the business of selling manuscripts to publishers. If you’re looking for an agent, you’ll want to spend a lot of time there doing research on agents to find the perfect match for you and your stories. Here’s just one way to look at the agents for young adult novels. This list includes information on the agent, links to his/her agency and the number of young adult deals made in the last twelve months. Please note that the agent/agency may have made many other deals in addition to these; these are limited to those self-reported by the agent/agency in the category of middle grade. For more information, go to Publishersmarketplace.com (you must pay to join to see full information).

    This is the last of three articles on current agents for children’s books. See also Picture Book Agents and Middle Grade agents lists.

    Top-agents-2015-YA


    I did a similar report on YA agents in 2013. At that time, I only listed the top 10 YA agents, who represented 72 deals. This time, the top 10 agents report 85 sales. This could be due to a couple reasons: first, Publisher’s Marketplace relies on agents to self-report. This means that the agents are, for the first time, in a sort of competition for rankings. Reporting more sales means they are ranked higher, which gives prestige and possibly brings in more prospective clients. Second, it could mean that sales are up for picture books. We hope the latter is the case, but suspect the first reason has much to do with the increased number of sales.

    1. Sara Crowe (Harvey Klinger), 12 deals. Website
    2. Jim McCarthy (Dystel & Goderich Literary Management), 11 deals. Website
    3. Sarah Davies (Greenhouse Literary Agency), 10 deals. Website
    4. Mollie Glick (Foundry Literary + Media), 10 deals. Website
    5. John Cusick (Greenhouse Literary Agency), 9 deals. Website
    6. Rosemary Stimola (Stimola Literary Studio), 7 deals. Website
    7. Tina Wexler (ICM), 7 deals. Website
    8. Josh Adams (Adams Literary), 7 deals. Website
    9. Victoria Marini (Gelfman Schneider/ICM), 7 deals. Website
    10. Adriann Ranta (Wolf Literary Services), 7 deals. Website
    11. Kerry Sparks (Levine Greenberg Rostan), 7 deals. Website
    12. Jennifer Laughran (Andrea Brown Literary Agency), 6 deals. Website
    13. Kate McKean (Howard Morhaim Literary Agency), 6 deals. Website
    14. Molly Ker Hawn (The Bent Agency), 6 deals. Website
    15. Kevan Lyon (Marsal Lyon Literary Agency), 5 deals. Website
    16. Holly Root (Waxman Leavell Literary Agency), 5 deals. Website
    17. Jill Corcoran (Jill Corcoran Literary Agency), 5 deals. Website
    18. Nicole Resciniti (The Seymour Agency), 5 deals. Website
    19. Kathleen Rushall (Marsal Lyon Literary Agency), 5 deals. Website
    20. Allison Hellegers (Rights People | United Kingdom), 5 deals. Website

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    12. Top 20 Middle Grade Agents: 129 Sales in the Last 12 Months


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    What agents are selling middle grade novels? Publishersmarketplace.com does a great job of monitoring the business of selling manuscripts to publishers. If you’re looking for an agent, you’ll want to spend a lot of time there doing research on agents to find the perfect match for you and your stories. Here’s just one way to look at the agents for middle grade novels. This list includes information on the agent, links to his/her agency and the number of middle grade deals made in the last twelve months. Please note that the agent/agency may have made many other deals in addition to these; these are limited to those self-reported by the agent/agency in the category of middle grade. For more information, go to Publishersmarketplace.com (you must pay to join to see full information).

    This is the second of three articles on current agents for children’s books. See also Picture Book Agents and YA Agents lists (link is live on 4/29).

    Top-Agents-2015-MG


    I did this roundup of middle grade agents in 2013 and you may want to compare the list from then. At that time, I only listed the top 10 agents, who represented 60 sales. This time, the top 10 middle grade agents report 80 sales. There may be two reasons for this. First, Publisher’s Marketplace relies on agents to self-report. This means that the agents are, for the first time, in a sort of competition for rankings. Reporting more sales means they are ranked higher, which gives prestige and possibly brings in more prospective clients. Second, it could mean that sales are up for middle grade novels. We hope the latter is the case, but suspect the first reason has much to do with the increased number of sales.

    1. Sarah Davies (Greenhouse Literary Agency), 15 deals. Website
    2. Jennifer Laughran (Andrea Brown Literary Agency), 14 deals. Website
    3. Ammi-Joan Paquette (Erin Murphy Literary Agency), 10 deals. Website
    4. Erin Murphy (Erin Murphy Literary Agency), 9 deals. Website
    5. Steven Chudney (The Chudney Agency), 9 deals. Website
    6. Holly McGhee (Pippin Properties), 8 deals. Website
    7. Tina Wexler (ICM), 6 deals. Website
    8. Stephen Barbara (Inkwell Management), 6 deals. Website
    9. Kelly Sonnack (Andrea Brown Literary Agency), 6 deals. Website
    10. Rosemary Stimola (Stimola Literary Studio), 5 deals. Website
    11. Daniel Lazar (Writers House), 5 deals. Website
    12. Sara Crowe (Harvey Klinger), 5 deals. Website
    13. Tracey Adams (Adams Literary), 5 deals. Website
    14. Rebecca Sherman (Writers House), 5 deals. Website
    15. Josh Adams (Adams Literary), 5 deals. Website
    16. Jennifer Rofe (Andrea Brown Literary Agency), 5 deals. Website
    17. Brianne Johnson (Writers House), 5 deals. Website
    18. Caryn Wiseman (Andrea Brown Literary Agency), 4 deals. Website
    19. Laura Dail (Laura Dail Literary Agency), 4 deals. Website
    20. Jill Corcoran (Jill Corcoran Literary Agency), 4 deals. Website

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    13. Top 20 Picture Book Agents: 234 Sales in the Last 12 Months


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    What agents are selling picture books? Publishersmarketplace.com does a great job of monitoring the business of selling manuscripts to publishers. If you’re looking for an agent, you’ll want to spend a lot of time there doing research on agents to find the perfect match for you and your stories. Here’s just one way to look at the agents for picture books. This list includes information on the agent, links to his/her agency and the number of picture book deals made in the last twelve months. Please note that the agent/agency may have made many other deals in addition to these; these are limited to those self-reported by the agent/agency in the category of picture books. For more information, go to Publishersmarketplace.com (you must pay to join to see full information).

    This is the first of three articles on current agents for children’s books. See also Middle Grade Agents and YA Agents lists (Links will be live next week).

    Top-Agents-2015-PB

    Interesting, when I did this in 2013, the top 20 picture book agents had reported 171 sales. This time, the top 20 agents are reporting 234 sales. This could be due to a couple reasons: first, Publisher’s Marketplace relies on agents to self-report. This means that the agents are, for the first time, in a sort of competition for rankings. Reporting more sales means they are ranked higher, which gives prestige and possibly brings in more prospective clients. Second, it could mean that sales are up for picture books. We hope the latter is the case, but suspect the first reason has much to do with the increased number of sales.

    1. Kirsten Hall (Catbird Productions), 23 deals. Facebook | PW Article | Twitter
    2. Kelly Sonnack (Andrea Brown Literary Agency), 18 deals. Website
    3. Holly McGhee (Pippin Properties), 16 deals. Website
    4. Ammi-Joan Paquette (Erin Murphy Literary Agency), 16 deals. Website
    5. Erin Murphy (Erin Murphy Literary Agency), 15 deals. Website
    6. Karen Grencik (Red Fox Literary), 14 deals. Website
    7. Teresa Kietlinski (Prospect Agency), 13 deals. Website
    8. Abigail Samoun (Red Fox Literary), 12 deals. Website
    9. Alexandra Penfold (Upstart Crow Literary), 12 deals. Website
    10. Emily van Beek (Folio Literary Management), 11 deals. Website
    11. Rebecca Sherman (Writers House), 11 deals. Website
    12. Rubin Pfeffer (Rubin Pfeffer Content), 10 deals. Website
    13. Lori Kilkelly (Rodeen Literary Management), 9 deals. Website
    14. Kathleen Rushall (Marsal Lyon Literary Agency), 9 deals. Website
    15. Rosemary Stimola (Stimola Literary Studio), 8 deals. Website
    16. Stefanie Von Borstel (Full Circle Literary), 8 deals. Website
    17. Anna Olswanger (Olswanger Literary), 8 deals. Website
    18. Steven Malk (Writers House), 7 deals. Website
    19. Paul Rodeen (Rodeen Literary Management), 7 deals. Website
    20. Caryn Wiseman (Andrea Brown Literary Agency), 7 deals. Website

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    14. Full Life? Take a Class


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    My life is full and overflowing! My son is moving to Denver to go to school. I’m traveling and speaking a lot this month: see the Highlights picture book retreat and the Eastern PA SCBWI conference. In the midst of lots of busyness, how do you keep your focus on writing?

    I’m taking a class.

    Athletes stay in shape with zumba classes. Authors stay in shape with writing classes.

    Athletes stay in shape with zumba classes. Authors stay in shape with writing classes.




    Classes Give Accountability. Especially when I’m busy, I like to take an online class because it gives me structure and makes me stay focused on the writing. Accountability is always a good thing; it’s crucial when days are swamped with non-writing activities.

    Classes Give Thinking Points. Often when life is busy it’s because I’m traveling, which involves lots of down time. Sitting on a plane or in a car, there’s time to think. Some of you may actually be able to work in that situation, but I can’t. I’ll read a book about writing, publishing or general business, but I can’t really produce anything. Thinking, though, is often overlooked when I’m in a really creative mood and pouring out words. I find that thinking is a good use of travel time. Often, a book is enough. But when I can find a challenging class–delivered by email or an online video class–it keeps me learning.

    Classes Give Challenges. Classes also give me a challenge. I look for topics, genres, strategies that challenge me to think in a different way, to try a different process, or even turn everything in my writing world upside down. I want to learn how someone else thinks about story, or how they create characters.

    Sure, I teach classes. At heart, I’m a teacher; whenever I hear new information, my first instinct is to try to make it easier for the next person to comprehend, and most important for me, to apply it in a practical manner.

    However, I am also a student. If I’m not stretching myself and learning more about my craft and my profession, then I stagnate. This month, when I’m off to teach at the Highlights Foundation, I’m also taking a class. It’s a perfect balance for me.

    Find out more about Darcy’s Online Video Courses.

    I am considering adding new online courses this fall.

    Please answer this one-question survey: Which of these online video course would interest you the most?

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    15. Fight, Chase, Shoot, Battle! Action Scene Checklist


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    Darcy’s Note: In my question to understand action scenes better, I came across Ian’s book and was blown away by how practical it is. To make it even more practical I created an Action Scenes Checklist. To understand it and fully exploit it, you should buy his book and read it cover to cover. Yes, I’m that enthusiastic about it. If you plan ANY action in your story, you need this book. Stay tuned below for a chance to win a copy of this book and Healy’s latest novel.

    Guest post by Ian Thomas Healy

    Like many people, I love movies, and I have a special love for tight action sequences. I have always taken pride in my ability to translate that type of action into my books, and as a writer specializing in superhero fiction, action is an important component of my work. After years of being asked by my writer friends to help them with their own action sequences, it occurred to me that there might be a need for this sort of information across the industry, and so I sat down and analyzed what was it exactly that I did instinctively when I wrote action scenes, and how I might teach that to others. Thus, ACTION! WRITING BETTER ACTION USING CINEMATIC TECHNIQUES (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0055LH0MU ) was born (naturally, during a running firefight with explosions and hair-breadth escapes).

    ActionNewLHP
    A lot of writers dance around action, because writing it is daunting and uncomfortable. By its very nature, action is high-energy, full of motion and intense pacing, and for many writers, it’s a weird change from what they’re used to. At its very root, though, action is a means to resolve conflict, and conflict is the basis of all good storytelling, so it’s not something to run from (crashing through a window, sliding down a rooftop slope, and then dropping into a waiting convertible), but to embrace as an important part of your toolbox.

    castles-healyIn ACTION, I break down what makes an action scene tick, from individual acts, called Stunts, up through Engagements (related series of stunts), to the all-encompassing Sequence, which contains more than one Engagement. Here’s an example of an action scene from my new book CASTLES, which released on April 1:

    Sally rushed into the building. All she knew was in the space of a single breath, her entire squad had been taken out. Who were these guys, and how had they stayed under the radar so long? Parahuman criminals didn’t just appear out of the woodwork at random, especially when they were working as a team. There had to be records on these guys somewhere.

    And then Sally ran across someone who could move nearly as fast as she could, and she was fortunate not to have been gutted like a fish by the barbed quills sprouting from the new combatant’s arms. He slashed at her and she twisted and dodged through the lobby of the building on full defense. Unlike the criminals two floors above, the guy attacking Sally wore less of a jumpsuit and more of a wrestling-style singlet. The quills seemed to grow all over his body and she thought of him as Porcupine Man.

    Super-speed abilities were rare in the world, even more so than psionic powers, and yet this was the second speedster Sally had fought in as many weeks. “Is there a factory churning you guys out or something?”

    Porcupine Man’s perceptions were apparently accelerated like hers, for he understood her despite her rapid speech. “The times, they are a-changin’.” He spread his arms wide and flexed his chest in a peculiar way.

    Sally dropped to the floor as several quills whisked over her head to embed themselves in the reception desk, quivering like arrows. A sharp, burning pain shot down her back and she knew one of them had grazed her. She hoped like hell they weren’t tipped with poison. “That’s a Bob Dylan lyric. My husband loves that song.” She pulled her horseshoes from her belt.

    “Maybe he can play it at your funeral.” Porcupine Man shot more quills at Sally and she threw herself backwards over the reception desk to put something solid between her and her opponent. With his speed, she only had a moment to decide on her next action, and she froze when she saw a terrified woman huddled beneath the desk, eyes wide, a quill poking out of her bloodstained blouse.

    Sally had no time to check to see if the woman was severely hurt. She couldn’t stay hiding where she was and put the civilian in danger. Nor could she risk slowing herself down enough to offer any comfort. She heard the patter of Porcupine Man’s approaching footsteps and forced herself to move. She ran, leaning forward to make herself a smaller target. The slice on her back burned like a paper cut with lemon juice in it. He skidded to a stop and Sally knew she had an advantage over him, being able to stop and start instantly.

    She glanced back and saw him fire another quill at her from his chest. It had gone from a veritable barbed forest to a sparse stand in just a few moments. His quills didn’t replace themselves very quickly. Maybe she could get him to use them up. She dove for the floor again, twisting herself around to land on her shoulder. The quill passed right over her face, close enough that she could see the wicked barbs on its tip. As she slid, she hurled one of her horseshoes at him. Normally, throwing away one’s melee weapons was a poor choice, but Sally had spent thousands of hours at the targeting range, learning how to throw things effectively. When accelerated by her super-speed arms, the most innocent objects could become deadly projectiles.

    Her horseshoes were hardly innocent.

    The iron ring caught Porcupine Man on his sternum, hitting him hard enough to send him flying back into a wall, which cracked with his impact. He fell amid a pile of broken drywall and didn’t move.

    This scene represents a single Engagement in a larger Sequence, which is Mustang Sally’s team of superheroes versus a group of super-powered bad guys. There are several Stunts in this Engagement:

    1. Sally dodges as Porcupine Man attacks her in melee combat.
    2. Sally dodges again as Porcupine Man shoots spines at her in ranged combat.
    3. Sally dodges yet again as he keeps shooting at her (she’s having a rough go of it).
    4. Sally goes on the offensive and throws a horseshoe at Porcupine Man, taking him down.

    In ACTION, I coach you on methods for writing these types of scenes on a step-by-step basis. When Darcy contacted me to say how helpful she’d found my book, it made my day, because any time I hear that I’ve helped someone to become a better writer, it makes the whole process worthwhile. If you find it a valuable tool for yourself, please don’t hesitate to post a review online and to let me know how it helped you!

    Download my Action Scenes Checklist based on Healy’s book.

    Leave a comment and your name will be in a giveaway for a copy of one of Healy’s ebooks (Kindle, epub or pdf). There’s one copy each of ACTION! and CASTLE.

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    16. My 4000 Word Day: Prewriting


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    Last Friday, I wrote 4000 new words on my WIP novel. That’s a great day for me. But it was only possible because Thursday was a planning day.

    When I work with students and teachers, I encourage lots of prewriting. My book, Writing for the Common Core, is essentially a book of prewriting activities. Here’s the thing: as professional writers, we know that our best writing comes with revision. That’s what students need to do, also: revise. However, that often devolves into merely copying a piece and cleaning up handwriting, especially in the lower grades. True revision, a re-envisioning of how to word something or the content to include/exclude, is hard to achieve in a 50-minute class.

    Instead, I ask teachers to provide multiple prewriting activities. By giving students a rich and varied prewriting experience, they come to the first draft more likely to produce something worthwhile.

    That’s what I did last Thursday, lots of prewriting.
    BestNovelist


    Setting. One important thing for me was to locate my story on the slopes of Mt. Rainier. I used Google Earth to track the roads where my characters would be traveling. Using the program’s tools, I measured distances as the crow flies and distances along roads, so I knew how long each drive (and potentially chase scene) would take. I switched to the aerial view to look at the landscape–mostly wooded with some open areas.

    Sensory Details. Once I knew where this section of the story would happen, I concentrated on the sensory details. What would they see, hear, touch, taste and feel? What would the day’s weather be like? Rainy, snowy, sunny, windy? Along with that, I thought about the mood of the events. Would the characters be frantic, excited, hopeful, angry, or bored?

    Scenes. I also took time to sketch out the structure of a couple scenes. Scenes need a beginning, middle, end; add in conflict and a pivot or turning point; stir with some great emotional development. By planning ahead, I knew the general outline of what would happen.

    Flexibility. With all the planning, though, I approached the writing with flexibility and let the moment carry the story forward. I “mostly” knew what I would write, but it always surprises me how much it changes and develops as I write. It’s never exactly what I planned; it’s usually better.

    I’m not really an outliner; but I don’t write by the seat of my pants either. Instead, I need this half-way place, where I do rich prewriting activities and halfway plan, and then see where it all takes me. HOW you say something is everything. It’s not just what the story is or how well you plot. For me, the important thing is how you say it. What word choices do you make and why? What sentence structures and why? What pacing and why? The true writing happens when I write. But I love the prewriting because it enables me to get 4000 words done in a single day. Well, really, that was two days work: one to prewrite and one to write. Either way you count it, that was a couple great chapters to put behind me.

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    17. My UnEasy Relationship with Metaphors


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    There’s an apocryphal story about a writer who worked hard all day. In the morning, he inserted a semi-colon; in the afternoon, he removed a semi-colon.

    This morning, I inserted a metaphor; this afternoon, I removed the metaphor.

    Metaphors continue to be a thorn in my side. I appreciate when I’m reading a story or novel and there’s an apt metaphor. It adds to my enjoyment because it expands the story and creates new connections. Such glimpses into the thought process of another human are one of the joys of reading.

    Yet, when I sit down to write, I’m practically metaphor free. Partly, it’s because I find it tedious to sit down and add metaphors just because someone says my prose would improve with the use of metaphors. But as I’ve thought about it more, I’ve decided my problem is the difference in dominant vs. scattered imagery.
    rhinometaphor

    Dominant vs. Scattered Imagery

    In their work of genius, How Does a Poem Mean, Miller Williams and John Ciardi discuss “The Image and the Poem” in Chapter 6. I refer you to their book for a full discussion of imagery, metaphors, similes and so on. For my purpose, though, let me concentrate on the question of dominant and scattered imagery. Here’s what Williams and Ciardi say:

    “When the images of a given poem, or of a given passage, are related by their denotations, that poem or that passage is said to be constructed on a dominant image. When the images are related by their connotations but range widely in their denotations, that poem or passage is said to make use of scattered imagery.” (p. 247)

    1000Days-HaleHere are some imagery (metaphor/similie) from Shannon Hale’s Book of a Thousand Days

    • P. 1 I feel like a jewel in a treasure box. . .
    • p. 2 Stay until your heart softens like long-boiled potatoes. . .
    • p. 2 . . .skinny as a skinned hare.
    • p. 8 It (the candle flame) tosses and bobs like a spring foal. . .
    • p. 11 My heartache felt like a river, and I was sinking into it, carried away fast in its coldness.
    • p. 12 . . if all they find is a delicate lady and her humble maid shriveled like ginger roots
    • p. 13 I feel like a mucker from the ends of my hair to the mud of my bones.
    • p. 13 It (lord’s house) was near as beautiful as a mountain in autumn. . .
    • p 15 she sat on her bed, alone, straight as a tent pole
    • p. 16. . . they resembled my own deel (clothing)as much as a worm resembles a snake.
    • p. 18 . . . my lips thinner than the edge of a leaf.
    • p. 18 He slapped his daughter’s face. . . like a snake striking.
    • p. 20 She (Lady Saren) reminded me of a lamb just tumbled out, wet all over, unsure of her feet and suspicious of the sun.

    Taken together, they don’t create a dominant image; Hale is using scattered imagery in a masterful way. Each image is directly related to the immediate situation. They don’t add up to a bigger image at the end—the collection of images don’t combine to create any symbolism.

    Most of the time, when people mention the need for more metaphors in a piece, they mean this sort of scattered imagery.

    However, when I write, I tend to write for a dominant image, using symbolism more than metaphors. The principle of selection of details for me is a wider scale. I’m looking for imagery that spreads across a whole chapter or even a whole novel.

    Miller and Williams call this an overtone theme. (p. 110) They analyze the themes in a selection from John Milton’s Paradise Lost, concluding that Milton chose words and images based on two themes to describe the Biblical serpent who visited Eve: watery motion and regal splendor. A third category is when the two themes mesh.

    Here’s a catalogue of the language:

    • Watery Motion: indented wave, circular base, rising folds, fold upon fold, surging maze, floated redundant
    • Regal splendor: carbuncled, burnished, gold, circling spires
    • Combination of water and regal: towered, crested aloft

    They say, “Whatever the value of such a tabulation, it cannot fail to make clear, first, that a unified principle of selection is at work in this diction, and second, that the words are being selected from inside their connotations and in answer to one another’s connotations, rather than from inside their denotation.”

    Milton chose words/phrases because when they banged up against another word/phrase, they changed each other slightly. Circling spires weren’t just an architectural delight; instead, they hinted at regal splendor.

    When I write, this is what I’m trying for: connotations speaking to connotations. I hope that I create a cumulative dominant image. I choose words based on certain themes and then work to make them collide.

    Tips on Scattered Imagery

    One reason I’m not fond of scattered imagery is that in the hands of a novice, it jerks me out of the current story. Here’s an example.

    Setting: The principal tells you that you’ve won a scholarship, but to get it, you must accept an exchange student into your home for a year.

    “. . . awesome news tossed into her lap like a grenade.”

    Setting: A girl is thinking about a weird boy.
    “ Thinking about him made her stomach hurt like she’d eaten a dozen McDonalds burgers at one sitting.”

    These similes are easy to understand, contemporary, and not my favorite. In the first situation, a grenade carries the connotation of war, shock, and a shattered body. It’s too much for my taste because it pulls me out of a teen novel and instead, puts me in the Vietnam or Iraqi War.

    In the second situation, I certainly understand that a dozen burgers (from anywhere) eaten in one sitting would give you a tummy ache. But how does this relate to the situation? It didn’t relate for me.

    Hale sticks to imagery related to the immediate scene.

    Setting: The princess and her maid are forced to become scullery maids in order to eat.

    “Stay until your heart softens like long-boiled potatoes. . .”

    In a kitchen setting, this makes sense. It also relates to the character who comes from the country and is familiar with the humble potato.

    When you use scattered imagery, then, especially metaphors and similes, give them deep roots in the setting, not just a reference to a general cultural region.

    And when you critique writing for others, remember the range of possibilities. Certainly, I always need to be challenged to use deeper imagery; but maybe, I don’t need to worry so much about just the one option for imagery called the metaphor.

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    18. 8 Things Writers Do When Life is Crazy: The Crazy Writing Life


    The Aliens Inc, Chapter Book Series

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    Life has been crazy the last two weeks and I’ve struggled to keep up. There’s been a major family crisis, a funeral, major snow storms, and illnesses. In spite of all of that, people get up and go to work. Writers must do the same thing: when life throws us crazy, we spin it into something useful.

    1. Accounting. With April 15 almost upon us, I found the extra time at home useful for doing accounting. Not sexy. Not writing. But necessary stuff. (The fact that I’ve been in accounting hell has more to do with my background and abilities than with the rest of the craziness.) I wish I could give you advice on how to do accounting better, but alas, I can’t. You might want to read, though, Laurie Purdie Salas post on her writing income last year. She’s posted this every year since 2007, so you can see her career over a long period.
    2. Reading other blogs using Alltop.com. Several years ago, I followed blogs by subscribing to RSS feeds. The programs that made that easy are discontinued, and I’ve found myself reading fewer and fewer blogs–which isolates me from the community. Alltop.com is filling that space for me. It’s a service that lists the top blogs in many categories, pulls in headlines/teaser from their five latest posts and displays it in an at-a-glance format. I set it as my browser’s homepage, so I’m reminded to check out the latest conversations. Here’s my personal Alltop page. You can create one for yourself that lists your top blogs by creating an account and following their directions.
    3. Clean up your book’s listings at AuthorCentral.com. This continues to be a catch-all site for anything related to my books on Amazon/Kindle. From here, you can change/correct listings, upload cover images, monitor sales and reviews, and more. The links to Amazon Help here are the most useful. Usually, they’ll call you right away. If you only have 15 minutes to do something in the middle of a hectic situation, clean up your book’s description.
    4. Take pictures. I recently got a hand-me-down Digital SLR camera and I’ve been trying to learn how to use it. By keeping it out and available, I can snap off a shot here or there. These are so useful for blog posts, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and most social media sites. Great photography is a useful skill for communicating in any online venue these days. Basically, online you can provide text, images or audio. That’s it. You might as well practice the image thing, because it’s crucial.
    5. My husband, Dwight, doing a "faceprint" in the snow, while the grandkids watch.

      My husband, Dwight, doing a “faceprint” in the snow, while the grandkids watch.




      Olga, Olaf's special friend. This would be a great image to add text for accompany a blog post.

      Olga, Olaf’s special friend. Putting text on top of this image would make it a good advertisement for a blog post.

    6. Choose a writing prompt. It almost doesn’t matter what prompt. Just choose something that will allow you to write. Even in the midst of Life (with a capital L), you need words flowing out.
    7. Start a blog. Oh, my gosh! Start a blog in the midst of Life? Shrug. Why not. You need one. And there’s no good time to do it. So, just get it done. OK. Then, just work on your author website for five minutes.
    8. Cheer for other writers. A friend recently got an offer for her first contract. While I’m in the doldrums, it’s inspiring to see her joy. She’s worked hard for this and deserves success. Who can you cheer for? Who can you cheer up? Do you know that when I get the occasional email about my blog, it totally makes my day? You could do that for someone else. It’s writing; it’s getting your mind off your own swirl of problems; it’s amazingly uplifting to the person getting the email–and to the person writing it.
    9. Observe. Hey! All this craziness is grist for the mill. The best writers see the world at a slant and can communicate that unique perspective in compelling ways. If you’re in a place where the communication can’t happen, then observe all the more. It’s our basic task: pay attention. Don’t check out. Look, listen, taste, smell, feel–live to tell about the crazy times

    Send me your good news! I’d love to hear it!

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    19. Is My Story Good or Bad? Wrong Question


    PB&J: Picture Books and All That Jazz: A Highlights Foundation Workshop

    Join Leslie Helakoski and Darcy Pattison in Honesdale PA for a spring workshop, April 23-26, 2015. Full info here.
    COMMENTS FROM THE 2014 WORKSHOP:
    • "This conference was great! A perfect mix of learning and practicing our craft."Peggy Campbell-Rush, 2014 attendee, Washington, NJ
    • "Darcy and Leslie were extremely accessible for advice, critique and casual conversation."Perri Hogan, 2014 attendee, Syracuse,NY


    Last year, I did a simple survey on the list and asked writers, “What is your biggest challenge for 2015?”

    The answer blew me away. You want to know, “Is my picture book/novel/short story/piece of writing any good?”
    GoodORBad
    This was expressed in many different ways, of course, but at the core, you want to know what makes one piece of writing good and one piece of writing bad. Is it just a matter of opinion?

    When I taught freshman composition, this was a constant problem, as well. An essay turned into one teacher might receive an A, while the second teacher gave it a C; giving grades is one way to answer the good/bad question. Research showed that the solution was simple: teachers needed to meet and discuss criteria for grading. Once they’d gone through a couple essays together, they were more likely to grade consistently.

    Why the problems? What does make good writing? The answer isn’t about grammar, and only incidentally about the content of the piece. Instead, you must look at the fuzzy concerns of audience, purpose, genre conventions,

    AUDIENCE

    Who are you writing for? Do you take the time to search images till you find a person who is your ideal audience? Writing for a middle grade student is very different than writing for a middle-aged history professor.

    Again, let me demonstrate this with an example I gave to my freshman comp students. Let’s say that an 18-year-old boy has a car wreck. Now, he must tell three people about that wreck: the policeman, his mom, and his best friend. You can easily imagine each conversation. The tone—apologetic to bravado—changes with the audience. Details creep into some accounts (To Best Friend: Mary was tickling me) and are deleted from others (To Mom and Cop: I was under control of the vehicle at all times).

    Which account of the car wreck would be considered “good” and which is “bad”? Is one more truthful than the other; i.e. can you apply the criteria of truthfulness to determine good/bad? You’ll agree that tone, voice, content, style and more depend on the audience.

    PURPOSE

    When you write a novel, do you want your reader to weep or to guffaw? The purpose of any piece of writing should—in a sane world—determine its effectiveness. Did it accomplish what you set out to accomplish?

    In other words, can we use effectiveness of communication as one measure of good/bad?

    GENRE CONVENTIONS

    Think with me of what you expect from a mystery novel. There’s a murderer, a detective and a dead body (victim). Beyond that, though, one common convention in a mystery is to TELL the answer to the mystery. The detective arranges for all the suspects to be present at the same time, and then explains how s/he cleverly solved the problem. When confronted, the murderer tries to run away. That sort of scene would rarely happen in other genres.

    Each genre has its own conventions of characters, events, plot points, settings, and so on. If you break or bend those conventions, you risk angering your readers, who will exclaim loudly, “This is a horrible mystery.”

    Is it good writing or bad writing? Wrong question.
    Is it a good mystery (according to the genre conventions of today)?


    Is My Picture Book Manuscript Any Good?

    Do you need to know if your picture book manuscript fits genre conventions? Darcy Pattison and Leslie Helakoski will be teaching PB&J: Picture Books and All that Jazz, April 23-26, 2015 at the Highlight’s Foundation, Honesdale, PA. Learn more about the workshop.

    If you can’t see this video, click here.


    DOES THE STORY PLEASE YOU?

    Aside from issues of audience, purpose, and genre, there’s one that looms large in my mind. Does the story please you, the author? Are you happy with what you’ve done? It’s very hard to step back from your work and evaluate it. Your worries about what others think consumes you, and you can’t separate THEIR opinion from YOUR opinion.

    I recently re-read my latest novel, LONGING FOR NORMAL, and at a certain point, it made me cry. A friend read it recently, too, and I asked her, “Did you cry at XXX scene?” No, she didn’t. But when I re-read that scene, I always cry. Is it a good scene? It touches me emotionally in a deep way; but it doesn’t affect my friend the same way. Is it good? Or bad?

    Do you start to see that the question is the wrong one? Or that there are really two questions here:

    1. Did I write the story I wanted to write?
    2. How will others respond to that story?

    And the terminology that you use should NOT be good/bad.
    Instead, try these criteria: useful, effective, matches genre expectations, pleases me.

    Then, you need to ask a final question: Do I want this to be published?
    If so, you forget the good/bad question and find a publisher whose purposes, audiences and genre fits what you’ve written. And send it in. Period.

    Stop those pestering questions about good/bad. Send it in. You’ll soon find out if it will fly in the marketplace you’ve chosen. If it doesn’t, go back and ask the right questions again: useful, effective, matches genre expectations, pleases me? If you’re sure you’re on target, send it out again. And again and again. Repeat until you find the right market for your work!

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    20. I Want a Dog by Darcy Pattison


    PB&J: Picture Books and All That Jazz: A Highlights Foundation Workshop

    Join Leslie Helakoski and Darcy Pattison in Honesdale PA for a spring workshop, April 23-26, 2015. Full info here.
    COMMENTS FROM THE 2014 WORKSHOP:
    • "This conference was great! A perfect mix of learning and practicing our craft."Peggy Campbell-Rush, 2014 attendee, Washington, NJ
    • "Darcy and Leslie were extremely accessible for advice, critique and casual conversation."Perri Hogan, 2014 attendee, Syracuse,NY


    Today launches two new books for me.

    9781629440118-ColorPF-alt.indd 9781629440323-Case.indd

    How the Stories Started. For years, I’ve taught writing. I teach everything from kindergarteners to advanced novelist, gifted-and-talented kids to reluctant writers. I’ve developed techniques for helping people write stronger and they usually involve either revising or prewriting. In schools, it’s hard to get kids to revise; they see it as torture to copy out a perfectly good essay again. Too often, it’s an exercise in handwriting instead of real revision. So, I started flipping the process and putting more emphasis on prewriting. A rich prewriting environment gives a student a better chance at a good first draft (which is often the only draft). A single prewriting activity isn’t enough; instead, you want a rich environment with multiple ways of thinking, discussing and drafting about a topic.

    Everything I’ve learned about teaching writing an opinion essay to kids is instilled in these two books in just 500 words (Dog) and 750 words (Cat). Cousins discuss the type of dog/cat they want for their family. They use about ten criteria (and another 5-6 criteria are suggested in the back matter) to decide what breed of dog/cat is best. Then, they write an opinion essay. And because all writing should have a real world effect and be successful, they get the dog/cat of their dreams.

    Characters. I knew that I wanted to write something helpful to teachers about writing essay; however, first and foremost (as always) I wanted to write a fun STORY. The relationship between cousins Dennis and Mellie was important to develop. Each has a different family life, so their priorities on a pet differed drastically. Creating interesting characters helped ground the information in a story.

    Research. Do you research topics for a fictional story? It was crucial for these two stories that I had the facts right about the dogs and cats. The American Kennel Club (AKC) regularly publishes information on the most popular breeds of dogs for a particular year. I used the latest data from 2013 and decided to feature the top 20 breeds of dogs: in order of popularity – Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherd Dogs, Golden Retrievers, Beagles, Bulldogs, Yorkshire Terriers, Boxers, Poodles, Rottweilers, Dachshunds, French Bulldogs, Doberman Pinschers, German Shorthaired Pointers, Siberian Huskies, Shih Tzu, Great Danes, Miniature Schnauzers, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Pomeranians, Australian Shepherds.

    Then, it was a juggling act to slot each breed into a criteria for deciding for/against a breed. I used the Animal Planet’s Dog Breed Selector Tool as a beginning point, and filled in with research on each breed. Many dogs are friendly; some dogs are better at being a guard dog than others. Each criteria needed a matched pair, one dog included by the criteria and one breed excluded by the criteria. It was impossible to satisfy every breed enthusiast, but the AKC went through the manuscript and approved the way the breeds were described.


    10BreedPoster500x500x150


    For the Cat Lovers. I was pleased with the story and sent it around to a couple editors. One was very interested, but eventually rejected the story, saying, “A dog story just isn’t for me. I’m just a cat lover.” That weekend, I wrote the companion book, I WANT A CAT: My Opinion Essay. It went through a similar process using the Animal Planet Cat Breed Selector Tool, and generous input from Joan Miller, Chair of the Cat Fancier’s Association Outreach & Education efforts.

    The CFA statistics say these are the top 20 cat breeds, in order of popularity: Persian, Exotic, Maine Coon Cat. Ragdoll, British Shorthair, Abyssinian, American Shorthair, Sphynx, Siamese, Devon Rex, Norwegian Forest Cat, Oriental, Scottish Fold, Cornish Rex, Birman, Burmese, Tonkinese, Siberian, Russian Blue, Egyptian Mau

    I was unfamiliar with some of the breeds, so Miller’s input was invaluable–thanks, Joan!

    Illustrator: Ewa O’Neill

    These are debut picture books by European illustrator, Ewa O’Neill. She’s got an eye for color and design! A dog-lover, she studied the twenty dog breeds and twenty cat breeds to create active, interesting collection of pets.

    Free on Kindle for 5 Days

    Amazon allows certain promotional events and I’m happy to say that I WANT A DOG: My Opinion Essay will be a free Kindle book from February 8-12. Get it during these five days and spread the word to your friends.

    Free on KOBO and Apple: I WANT A DOG and I WANT A CAT will be free for your iPad or Kobo reader on February 13-17. Check the iBookstore and KoboStore then. Sorry, a Nook version is not available. You can also find ebook copies at MimsHouse.com – Dog and MimsHouse.com – Cat.
    Both books are available in paperback and hardcover.

    Coming Fall, 2015: My Crazy Dog: My Narrative Essay

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    21. Pacing: Space out the Tense Moments


    PB&J: Picture Books and All That Jazz: A Highlights Foundation Workshop

    Join Leslie Helakoski and Darcy Pattison in Honesdale PA for a spring workshop, April 23-26, 2015. Full info here.
    COMMENTS FROM THE 2014 WORKSHOP:
    • "This conference was great! A perfect mix of learning and practicing our craft."Peggy Campbell-Rush, 2014 attendee, Washington, NJ
    • "Darcy and Leslie were extremely accessible for advice, critique and casual conversation."Perri Hogan, 2014 attendee, Syracuse,NY


    Tension on every page is the mantra for fiction writers. But what if your tension is spread unevenly throughout the story? That may be fine, because stories need a natural rhythm, an ebb and flow of action, thoughts, dialogue and reflection (inner dialogue). Some scenes may be crammed with small actions, while others pace steadily through the setting. Sometimes, though, I find that I’ve packed a scene with too many MAJOR revelations or actions, creating a top-heavy scene; that scene is usually matched by another scene that lacks enough tension.

    My current WIP was in that position this week. One scene had two major confrontations. So, I decided to see if I could lift one Major Complication and put it elsewhere. The actual text, a revelation that someone was searching for the main character, took about 20 lines of text. Not so bad to move elsewhere, I thought.

    But every part of a story is intertwined with every other part.
    Puzzle
    Timeline. First, there’s timeline issues. EventA happens before EventB. The RevelationEvent was originally the EventA, but I moved it to an EventC position, which meant that I had to go back and clean up the time line. There could be no mention of the RevelationEvent before Event B, of course. This is tedious work. You have to reread chapters thinking about what a reader should know at this point in the story, and make sure there’s no hint of the RevelationEvent that will spoil the surprise. Of course, I can hint at it; that’s called foreshadowing. Foreshadowing’s role, though, is to make the reader slap his/her forehead and say, “Duh! That’s exactly what should happen. Why didn’t I see it coming?” The reader should still be surprised, but the surprise is believable. Cleaning up the timeline is hard work, and if you slip up with even one half-sentence, you’ll be nailed on it by some alert reader.

    Fitting it in. Unfortunately, you can’t just pick up the 20 lines and insert them where Event C occurs. Much of it may be salvaged verbatim, but much of it needs to be worded differently at the new place of the story. Keep the core of it, the meaning, but be willing to rewrite to make it seamless. The goal is to make it seem that the story was originally written this way.

    As a revision exercise, I required my freshman composition students to write eight different openings for their essay. Often, the third or fifth or eighth opening was dynamite, and the writer chose to start his/her essay with it. Too often, though, it was stuck on the front and had no relationship to the rest of the story. I modified the assignment: students still wrote the eight openings. But then, in class to make sure they did it, they had to start writing the essay again from that starting point and keep writing for a timed period. I made sure the writing time was long enough to carry them into the body of the essay. That resulted in strong openings that were integrated into the whole essay. That’s what you want here, too.

    One caution: keep a copy of the original version, because you may not like moving the event to a new place. In Scrivener, take a snapshot. In word processors, make a backup copy or a versioned copy; or use track changes to make the preliminary changes and then decide if you want to make them permanent.

    The strategy of moving events is easy on the imagination. I don’t have to think up new events or complications; instead, I just need to use what I’ve already written in a stronger way.

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    22. Author v. Them: When to Revise for Critiquers


    PB&J: Picture Books and All That Jazz: A Highlights Foundation Workshop

    Join Leslie Helakoski and Darcy Pattison in Honesdale PA for a spring workshop, April 23-26, 2015. Full info here.
    COMMENTS FROM THE 2014 WORKSHOP:
    • "This conference was great! A perfect mix of learning and practicing our craft."Peggy Campbell-Rush, 2014 attendee, Washington, NJ
    • "Darcy and Leslie were extremely accessible for advice, critique and casual conversation."Perri Hogan, 2014 attendee, Syracuse,NY


    I am scared to work on my WIP story right now.
    Why?
    Because someone I respect read the story and said that it’s working well, but I think I need to make one change–a pretty big one–to make it even stronger. But Critiquer said it was great, as is. If I mess with it, will it – well, mess it up? Or will messing with it make it stronger like I suspect?

    The Role of Critiques: Clearing up Confusion

    This leaves me with a major question about the role of critiques. Basically, I get critiques to check how well I’m communicating. I don’t get critiques to see if my writing is any good (see this post on the good/bad question)

    Good feedback includes a reader pointing out where they are confuse or where they lost interest.

    Confusion, in early drafts, is often because my vision for the story isn’t solidified, which results in inconsistent portrayal of a character, or contradictory information.

    “On page 11, you said Martha was mad, but when she meets Horace in page 15, she runs up and hugs him. Which is it? Mad or glad to see him?

    Often, I want to say, “Both.”
    But that doesn’t work, does it? If she is livid on page 11, she’d better show that fury on page 15. Else, why have her so mad on page 11?

    Another inconsistency that escapes me in early drafts is points of fact or logic. In my WIP, the villain will use a drone to deliver something remotely. My idea about drones was that they are sort of airplane shaped, but the reviewer quickly sent me to YouTube to discover that they are more helicopter-like, but instead of one big blade on top, they have multiple rotating blades on top. Or at least, one current popular model looks like that. I could, of course, invent my own drone design for this story, but why? That would take valuable time away from the creation of characters and plot. My story isn’t ABOUT drones, so it’s not worth the effort. Instead, I’ll look at videos of several different models and synthesize something more factual than the current description.
    Revise

    The Role of Critiques: Reader Reaction

    Again, I don’t care if you call my story good or bad. But I do want to know where a typical reader loses interest. WHERE is the key question. Not WHY? As the author, I should be able to pinpoint the why. I just need to know WHERE. When you tell me where you lose interest, I’ll look and go through a mental list of things that could be happening: the prose is awful, nothing is happening, the characters are boring, etc.

    I can revise to keep your attention by using better prose, pumping up the action, writing more active character descriptions, putting more at risk in the main character’s life and so on.

    The Trap of Critiques

    The biggest problem for me today, though, is the trap of critiques; or perhaps to sat it differently, the problem is that someone said my story is Good. Good is the enemy of Best, goes the old proverb. But it’s good. Someone–a reader I respect–said it’s good. Do I trust that, or do I listen to the itch in my storyteller’s sense that I need to tweak this one spot, which will improve pacing later, and create BETTER?

    I’m scared of messing it up badly. Of course, I can keep a copy of BEFORE; but the revision will take a lot of small changes and it will be hard to get back to the original. Will I take a chance or not? And if I make these changes, but then realize that it didn’t turn out for the best, will I be willing to do the work to undo everything? Commit or not? Today, I’m scared to work.

    It’s a typical day for an author.

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    23. 5 Amazingly Simple Ways to Transform Quiet Scenes into Exciting Scenes


    PB&J: Picture Books and All That Jazz: A Highlights Foundation Workshop

    Join Leslie Helakoski and Darcy Pattison in Honesdale PA for a spring workshop, April 23-26, 2015. Full info here.
    COMMENTS FROM THE 2014 WORKSHOP:
    • "This conference was great! A perfect mix of learning and practicing our craft."Peggy Campbell-Rush, 2014 attendee, Washington, NJ
    • "Darcy and Leslie were extremely accessible for advice, critique and casual conversation."Perri Hogan, 2014 attendee, Syracuse,NY


    Today, I worked on a difficult scene. It wasn’t a big action-packed scene; those are easy. Instead, it was a transition scene that moved the story along a week and had the potential to lose the reader with it’s lack of tension.

    Donald Maass, in his Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, repeats this signature mantra, “Tension on every page.”
    He points out three types of scenes that can be a trap for the lazy writer: Tea time or any time people eat together; transporting characters from one spot to another; and dialogue. Maass recommends that you cut these scenes:

    The most controversial part of my Writing the Blockbuster Novel workshop pis this exercise, in which I direct authors to cut scenes set in kitchens or living rooms or cars driving from one place to another, or that involve drinking tea or coffee or taking showers or baths, particularly in a novel’s first fifty pages. Participants look dismayed when they hear this directive, and in writer’s chat rooms on the Web it is debated in tones of alarm. No one wants to cut such material.

    Unless you give these scenes careful attention, they can wind up as BORING!

    Strategies for Dealing with Low Tension Scenes

    5 Amazingly Simple Ways to Transform Quiet Scenes into Exciting Scenes

    In working through my scene, I focused on a couple strategies for approaching such Bore-Traps.

    The moment before. What happened right before this scene? Characters don’t go into a scene neutral. Sometimes, just thinking about the moment before will help you get a handle on what tensions or conflicts could be built into the scene. For example, if Jillian and Dad step out of the car at a used-car dealership and talk to a salesman about the 2012 Toyota Camry, it could be boring: How much is it? Do you finance? Want to take a test drive?

    If, however, you take a moment to explore the moment before, you might find some interesting points of tension:
    Our salesman, William, has just learned that his brother was in a motorcycle wreck and while he lived, William is now obsessing about car safety. Jillian has been trying to convince her Dad to get her a new car and is angry that he’s stopping at the used car shop, while Dad is worried because Mom just told him she’s filing for divorce and Dad doesn’t know how he can afford to buy Jillian any kind of car, what with the upcoming lawyer bills. Try writing that scene again, after all of THAT!

    Character’s attitudes going into a scene. Similar, but slightly different is an emphasis on character attitudes going into a discussion. For William, we could choose from several attitudes: obsessing over safety, anxious to get done and get to the hospital so he speeds through everything, angry with brother because William just convince his wife to get a motorcycle and his blockhead brother just messed up that deal. Jillian could be pleading, sarcastic, grateful, or even indifferent. Dad could be generous, angry, stingy, resentful and more. Decide on the character’s attitudes, making sure that they are coming into the discussion at tangents.

    Small moments of tension. This may seem obvious, but what I mean by this is to look for things or situations within the scene that could go wrong. For example, in my current story, the kids are in a cafeteria, and when the boy opens his coke, the carbonation explodes all over. It’s a small thing, a common thing. But it’s conflict. What is present in your situation/scene that could spill over with some small conflict?

    Foreshadow something that is coming – look forward. Another reason the coke explosion worked for me is that the story involves volcanoes! It’s a minor foreshadowing of what’s coming. Look ahead in your story to see if you can provide even a minor foreshadowing.

    Refer back to something – look backward. Don’t just look forward. Also look back to previous chapters and try to echo something. Can you echo it with some kind of progression? Make it faster, higher, bigger, etc? And plan another time to use that element and make it the fastest, biggest, highest, etc.?

    My scene, which started as a bore, is much tighter and has more tension. It’s a collection of small moments of tension that adds up to an important transition scene that keeps the reader turning the pages.

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    24. A Big Storytelling DON’T: Messing with Timelines


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    Writers should respect timelines.

    TimeWords


    Ten years ago, I taught writing at a university and the world-wide-web was just coming online and theories of hypertext fiction were bouncing around. One popular theme of these stories was that the timeline didn’t matter. Imagine a central event and going out from that, like spokes in a wheel were the other story events. The theories said that non-linear stories were possible; translated, that means a story’s timeline didn’t matter.

    Since then, we’ve seen stories that mess with the timeline with varying degrees of success. For example, Paul Fleischman’s book, Whirligig, explores the results of an action. In doing that, some sections jump 25 years into the future, while others explore the results of actions closer in time to it happening. The story has a reason to mess with the timeline and does so effectively.

    But most of the time, writers should respect timelines. We live linear lives; we can’t skip ahead a year and then skip back. The act of reading is a linear act: we start at one point and read forward. Sure, some of you read the ending last. But even then, you go to five pages before the end and read forward. Humans are hard-wired to understand time lines, and when you mess with the timeline of a story you risk reader confusion.

    On a micro-level, I think this is especially important. Let’s say that you have three events that happen in this order: A, B, and C. Event A happens first, Event B is second, and Event C is third.

    It’s crucial that the author clearly know the event order; however, the storyteller often writes the events out of order. Here’s some strategies that I see.

    Event C is the most interesting. In an attempt to keep the reader’s interest, authors sometimes cut straight to C but then circle back to pick up A and B. The question here is why come back to A and B? Why not just make this a big scene cut and leap ahead to C?

    Events A, B, and C are episodic and there’s no cause-effect relationship. Here the events have no relationship except perhaps the time of day or season of the year. In this case, I wonder why these events belong in the same story. Episodic stories do work, but they are hard to hang together without the cause-effect relationship. Perhaps, you really need A caused D, which caused F. Maybe that story would be a more satisfying read.

    A, B, and C are presented in order, but the relationship is vague. In this case, the writer needs better transitions that make the relationships clear. Sometimes, the transitions will short and sometimes prolonged. However, you can’t leave these out or the reader is lost.

    In a current WIP, I found myself getting things out of order even within a paragraph. Jake falls into the water and in an attempt to keep hypothermia at bay, others offer an odd collection of clothing for him to wear. He changes inside a school bus.

    My first draft had him putting on clothes from a variety of people, and then getting on the bus to—well to change clothes. That didn’t work! Instead, he had to climb up the bus steps, someone hands him clothes, one piece doesn’t fit and he trades it for another, and so on.

    Did it make sense out of order? Sorta. But it’s much easier to understand when I took the time to straighten out the time order. Time words are your friends: use them to help keep things straight. Whether it’s on a micro or macro level, respect the timeline of your story—unless you have a really good reason to tell things out of order, don’t do it!

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    25. Advice to Academy Award Winners: Trust Your Art


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    As I watched the Academy Awards last week, I was struck by how little the winners trusted their works of art. The ceremony was peppered with political statements for one cause or another. (Don’t misread: I have sympathies for these causes, but not for taking over the ceremony to smash us over the head with the cause.) There were pleas for women’s rights, civil rights, gay rights, and disability rights. Really? Their work of art, the film that was being recognized, had already said what needed to be said in poignant, touching, and life-changing ways. Why didn’t they trust their art?

    In the 1970s, children’s book publishers put out a lot of “problem novels,” which addressed social issues. The backlash against them was huge and still has echoes today in how easily some manuscripts are rejected. Since then, though, we’ve learned how to include our passions in our stories in ways that shine as art. We don’t stick it in our reader’s faces.

    Bringing a Cause to Life

    Morality. If you’re passionate about a cause, though, what should you do? First set up a moral dilemma around the cause because that will allow you to explore multiple perspectives. Moral dilemmas force characters to make a choice, which allows your readers to feel the weight of the issues and either agree or disagree with the character’s choices. You almost have to include someone making wrong choices–usually as the villain.

    S&B COVER3-CS.inddEmotions. For example, in my book, Saucy and Bubba: A Hansel and Gretel Tale, Saucy runs away from an alcoholic step-mother. She must decide whether to live with an aunt or go home to live with her father and the step-mother. It’s a moral choice, but also an emotional choice, complicated by the question of where will her little brother go.


    Sometimes you have to help yourself before you can help someone else, but if you mark your trail, you can always find your way home. That’s what the spunky main character of Darcy Pattison’s Saucy and Bubba learns in this modern day Hansel and Gretel tale. Saucy is a real character dealing with real stuff—hard stuff that doesn’t have easy answers, not in real life and not in fairy tales, either. This is a really compelling and ultimately hopeful story. Highly recommended.
    — Debby Dahl Edwardson, National Book Award finalist
    and author of My Name is Not Easy


    Plurality. We live in a pluralistic culture; that is, many different cultures co-exist peacefully, and our work should respect that variety of cultures. Your ideas must compete in the marketplace of ideas and as time passes, certain ideas will gain popularity and others will fade. Yes, there are some things that are right and some things that are wrong; I believe in some absolutes (Thou shalt not kill!). But some things DO depend. As you write, recognize the variety of ideas possible and work to include characters who bring those ideas to enrich the story you are telling.

    Trust your art. In the end, I choose to trust my art. Growing up, I had an alcoholic step-father; today, about 11 million children live with a caregiver who is an alcoholic. I could rant; instead, let me tell you a story. Read a sample chapter or listen to the audio of Chapter 1 of Saucy and Bubba.

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