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According to Merrian-Webster, editing is the process of preparing "(something written) to be published or used : to make changes, correct mistakes, etc., in (something written)."
In other words, it's the process of making your content, manuscript or other writing sparkle. It makes the content publishable.
If you’re a marketer, healthcare professional, or business owner chances are you will
Majoring in English always seemed to be a very puzzling thing for those around me. It took me five and a half years to finish my undergraduate degree, and I probably couldn’t count the number of times this question came up. I also couldn’t count the number of ways I’ve responded. Writer. Editor. Book publicist. Agent. Designer. All noble causes, all professions inhabited by creative and brilliant people. But somewhere, in answering that penetrating question—with all its strength of will in making me feel like my degree would be ultimately useless—I got lost in the possible options and forgot to think about the most important thing: what did I want to do in the first place?
You learn early that being a writer isn’t considered a “realistic” career. Going into editing, that can work. But writing, being an author, not so much. I’m still fairly certain that the Grade 11 Careers class I was forced to take (a Canadian rite of passage) existed just to tell me that my dream jobs (at the time: writer, musical theatre performer, etc.) were impractical, and that I was unreasonable.
I can still see my teacher rolling her eyes.
What they don’t tell you in Careers class is that it’s probably not that much more impossible to become a writer than it is to become an editor in this economic climate. Becoming a writer who creates a six-figure novel? Not so likely. But becoming a writer at all? It’s hard, it takes passion and dedication—but it does happen. And it isn’t really less possible than being an editor. But we’re told it is. We’re told as young writers that the publishing industry is the smarter, easier choice. Not only is that not necessarily true, but it also belittles the work done by the incredible, driven people in the industry. There are publishers who spend their entire lives making sure other peoples’ books do well. People who work in the industry are often ambitious and passionate and…well. Practically superhuman, in some cases.
But still, I really wanted to be an editor; and, admittedly, it wasn’t just because of Careers. I love editing, I love being the person who gets to polish something beautiful into something perfect. At this point I have a little more than year of experience in the Toronto publishing world. Not a lot. I’m a baby, and I know it—but it’s enough to get a peek. I worked as an intern at a small publisher, sorting through submissions and slush. At the same small publisher, I worked as a typesetter and graphic designer. This past summer I have been working as an assistant for the president of a literary agency. These have all been really rewarding experiences and I’ve learned a lot. Publishing is hard. There’s a lot on the line for everyone emotionally, mentally, and financially. Doing design on a fast-paced publishing schedule is one of the most challenging jobs I’ve had so far, and seeing how agents function while they work is awe-inspiring. So many people in this industry work 17-18 hour days with hardly any weekends, just because they love it so much.
As I’m starting to grow into a publishing toddler, this experience has given me a pretty startling realization. I knew going into these internships that I wanted to write, that I always have wanted to write. But somewhere along the way I started letting my Careers teacher’s voice whisper in my ear. I am dedicated to continuing to educate myself on how to edit more thoroughly and how to design more beautifully. I’m just starting to get good enough to freelance reliably. But what I really want to focus on at the moment is my writing.
It’s not to say that some people can’t balance both. I know some wonderful ladies and gents who pull off doing both with style. There is definitely value in being both a writer and involved in the industry, whether it gives you a greater understanding of what’s required of you to get yourself published or whether it lends you empathy towards your clients. But that life is only suited to some very specific people. I’ve met some ex-agents-turned-writers who realized that they loved their own work more than working on other peoples’, even if they ultimately loved doing both. And I know plenty of once-writers who seem to be leaning towards becoming editors.
Me? Somehow, coming out of all of this has ended a five-year novel writing block, and I’m happily typing away at a new project every spare moment I have. My industry experience helped me make some major life decisions, like moving on to grad school instead of going on to a publishing certificate without a single doubt. Doing this work now means I got the experience while I had as many doors open as possible. I’m able to acknowledge that just because I’m interested in industry work doesn’t mean I have to commit to it 100% now when I’m only 23. Even if my career advisor told me I should.
Besides, there are so many other things I can do with my English degree.
(Like getting a PhD!)
Kerrie Byrne McCreadie has dipped her toes/feet/shins/waist into the publishing world in various ways over the past few years, and thinks the whole industry is pretty fascinating. You can follow her on twitter, or find her on her brand new blog. She is currently writing a rather depressing fairy tale contemporary, and will thank anyone for holding her hand as she starts her PhD applications this fall.
I had an exciting start to my week. Not only did I finally get to move back home, but I also got this picture from my amazing agent Sarah Negovetich.
If you're having trouble reading that, it's the deal announcement for Fading Into the Shadows, which will be published by Spencer Hill Press in 2016!
I love my editor at SHP. Trisha just gets me and the way my mind works, so I'm thrilled to work on another book with her. And this book was one that grabbed my attention from the start. It's actually the book that gave me the idea for the Touch of Death series. Yes, I drafted it before Touch of Death. I revised it after I completed the series though.
I can't wait to share more info with you, but for now I'll say it's fantasy and it involves a girl who will do anything to save her best friend after he goes missing. Of course she didn't realize "anything" involved another world of shadows and real life constellations trying to kill her.
Anyone else have good writing news to share this week? Tackle a difficult chapter, finish a revision, get a new book idea? Let's celebrate together.Add a Comment
Things are a little quiet while we all gear up for getting back to school, but here are a couple of things worth spreading the word.
There’s still time to enter the 2014 Houston Writers Guild Fall Contest! Entry fee $35 for fiction/nonfiction. $25 for poetry. Open to all writers, regardless of publishing status. Winners will be announced at the annual Fall Conference. $75 prize awarded to first place in each category. Entering is easy. For more information visit http://houstonwritersguild.org/contests. Deadline is September 1. Stay tuned to their facebook page for information on the Fall Mini Conference on November 8.
Marianne Dyson and Jenny Moss will join fourteen other authors for a day of celebration at the Clear Lake Freeman Library 50th Anniversary Event. Panel discussions and presentations by local authors will cover topics such as, “Finding Your Own Voice”, “What’s new in Publishing/Self-Publishing” and “How I Got Published” just to name a few. Representatives from four of the library’s book groups will be here so you can meet with and learn more about them. Ten percent of the proceeds from book sales will go to the library.
Info-dump. Just the name of this writing misstep telegraphs that it’s something to be avoided. For purposes of this post, “info-dump” refers to a section of narration inserted into a story that explains important backstory essential to understanding the current action. Here’s an example:
“Marie!” Peter held her at arm’s length so he could look into the face he had feared he would never see again. “I can’t believe it’s you! Where have you been?”
Marie told Peter how she had been captured by the Slugs, a society of subterranean warriors. She had stumbled upon their home while spelunking in the abandoned mines north of town. The Slugs had come closer to the surface than they usually dared in search of a missing key that they believed a renegade Slug had carried to the surface. The Slugs had interrogated Marie, and they’d injected her with a drug that altered her perceptions and memories. In the end they’d let her go, but only after she’d agreed to search out the Slug with the stolen key and return it to its rightful place underground. Before they let her go, though, they’d implanted a tracking device in her brain.
“See the scar?” Marie asked, pulling the hair back from behind her left ear.
An info-dump dropped right in the middle of things can hurt your story in many ways:
It stops the forward momentum. When I’m caught up in the midst of a great story, I want to be carried along toward the climax. An info-dump can interrupt that progress and slow things to a crawl.
It removes the reader from the world of the story. In the example above, the reader is pulled from the reunion scene between Marie and Peter, which, without the interruption, has the potential to be an emotionally strong scene.
It’s boring. The narrator takes over and resorts to “telling,” so instead of experiencing what happened to Marie, the reader learns it in a mini history lesson.
What can be done in a situation like this? Sometimes it’s not possible to “show” all the backstory. In this example, Peter may be the POV character, so the reader wouldn’t be able to know what was happening to Marie while she was suffering through her underground captivity. Still, this information is necessary to the story. The writer needs to find a way to share it without an info-dump.
Here are some techniques to consider:
Find ways to show some of the information, either at this point in the story or later. “The Slugs had interrogated Marie, and they’d injected her with a drug that altered her perceptions and memories.” This is the kind of information that could be shown in a multitude of dynamic ways. It could be shown right here through her interactions with Peter, or it could be woven in a bit at a time, until the characters and readers come to understand what has happened to Marie. This would also work with the tracking device in Marie’s brain. A headache could introduce this information, integrating it into the current action.
Dialogue can be used to convey backstory. All the information in the info-dump paragraph above could be shared by Marie through dialogue, while the story continues. Imagine that, just as Peter encountered Marie at the start of this scene, he was hurrying to get to a meeting with a reclusive scientist, who, before his abrupt retirement a year ago, was the country’s foremost expert on subterranean societies. Peter’s need to hear Marie’s story while simultaneously needing to hurry to his meeting would add action to the scene, as he drags her to his car, blurts out a quick explanation of where they’re going, and tries to concentrate on Marie’s harrowing story while speeding through yellow stoplights and weaving through traffic to meet the professor in time.
Tell the backstory in one big chunk, but weave it into the narrative in a way that interests the characters and the reader. In this example, Marie could tell Peter and the other characters her story as they sit around a campfire at night, or as they hike through the woods toward the very same mines where she was captured. With this treatment, the backstory becomes a story-within-the-story, allowing the writer to build suspense and tension so that the backstory maintains the same level of complexity and interest as the current events that surround it. A story-within-a-story can also help with world-building, if the culture of your story has traditions in place for passing down history or sharing myths and legends, such as through sonnets or songs.
What are your thoughts on these techniques? Do you have any other methods for sharing important backstory? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
Julie Eshbaugh writes fiction for young adults. She is represented by Adams Literary. You can add Julie on Goodreads and follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.
I know some of my children’s writer friends have written historical or contemporary romance adult novellas. If you have and it has a 25 -35 year old main character, then this might be a good opportunity for you.
Pelican Book Group has opened submissions to Easter Lilies, an annual book series published under the company’s Harbourlight Books imprint. The series consists of only three stories, based upon a specific scripture, released on each day of the Easter Triduum.
Writers are invited to submit stories, 15K-25K words, with elements of traditional or modern romance. The protagonists should be 25-35 years old.
Deadline for submissions is September 30, 2014.
Nicola Martinez serves as Editor-in-Chief. Payment: royalties.
Please note: These series guidelines are in addition to the general guidelines that apply to whichever imprint your submission fits, so please also familiarize yourself with our general guidelines as well.
2014 Defining Scripture for Easter Lilies is: Solomon 2:14 “Let me see your face, let me hear your voice, For your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.”
Easter Lilies is our annual special release. Each year, one Easter Lilies story will be released on each day of the Easter Triduum. (Yes, only three stories per year.)
Easter Lilies are historical or contemporary romances. In addition to adhering to the guidelines for the White Rose imprint, the following is also necessary:
The defining Scripture for the year must be used as a basis for the story. (This scripture will change each year on October 1st)
Stories should be between 15,000 and 25,000 words.
Both the hero’s and heroine’s points of view may be incorporated, however, we’d like these stories to be “hero-driven”, so ideally, stories should focus on the hero’s love developing for his heroine. These stories may be historical or contemporary, but they must be set around the Easter holiday.
Heroes and Heroines should be between the ages of 25 and 35.
In addition to using the current year Easter Lilies scripture as the reference, some symbol of the Easter Lily must also be incorporated. Easter lilies have long been a symbol of purity, motherhood, the trumpet herald of the Angel Gabriel as he visited the Virgin Mary, of resurrection, and more. (Feel free to research and use different symbols. These are listed as example only). How you incorporate any of the symbols is up to you. Whether it’s an actual flower that the hero gives to the heroine (or vice-versa), or a piece of jewelry, or a spiritual experience. The use is up to you. Perhaps your hero is a Christian musician who plays the trumpet. Perhaps your heroine has lily earrings that have been passed through her family. Perhaps your hero had a “resurrection” of his faith through some experience past or present, or maybe your heroine is a mother. How you incorporate the Easter lily symbolism is up to you. It can be subtle or overt, but it has to be there.
Submissions for Easter Lilies are accepted August 1st through September 30th each year. Submissions for Easter Lilies that are received outside this time frame will be discarded without response.
The SCBWI put out this alert with writers. Didn’t want you to miss it:
Agents have been writing to us about a new type of “scam” they are seeing: agent middleman services. These are companies that, for a fee, will query agents for you. Agents overwhelming ignore queries from these companies. If you are having trouble getting an agent to represent you, your best plan of attack is to work on your manuscript and research the field. Join a critique group, attend an SCBWI event and make sure you are querying the right agents by searching though the agent directory in The Book. Paying a third party to query for you is not a fast track, it is just a waste of your money. How Not to Seek a Literary Agent: The Perils of “Middleman” Services
Agent Holly McGhee is our Guest Critiquer for August. Holly McGhee opened Pippin Properties in 1998, after being an executive editor at HarperCollins and has built one of the most prestigious Literary Agencies in the Children’s Book Industry.
Holly says, “At Pippin we embrace every artistic endeavor, from picture books to middle-grade novels, nonfiction, young adult, graphic novels. We don’t follow trends—we encourage our clients to follow their hearts. Our philosophy, the world owes you nothing, you owe the world your best work, hasn’t changed, but as an agency we have evolved to keep pace with our clients.”
Among Holly’s celebrated clients are Kate DiCamillo, David Small, Doreen Cronin, Jandy Nelson, Kathi Appelt, Harry Bliss, Peter H. Reynolds, Sujean Rim, Jon Agee, and Holly’s very own big sister, Alison McGhee. Holly lives with her husband and three children fifteen miles west of the Lincoln Tunnel, and she also writes under the pen name Hallie Durand.
Here are the submission guidelines for submitting a First Page in August:
Please “August First Page Critique” in the subject line. Please make sure you include your name, the title of the piece, and whether it is as picture book, middle grade, or young adult, etc. at the top.
Please attach your first page submission using one inch margins and 12 point font – double spaced, no more than 23 lines to an e-mail and send it to: kathy(dot)temean(at)gmail(dot)com. Also cut and paste it into the body of the e-mail and then also attach it in a Word document to the email.
DEADLINE: August 21st.
RESULTS: August 29th.
Use inch margins – double space your text – 12 pt. New Times Roman font – no more than 23 lines – paste into body of the email
You can only send in one first page each month. It can be the same first page each month or a different one, but if you sent it to me last month and it didn’t get chosen, you need to send it again using the August’s directions. Of course, it doesn’t have to be the same submission.
Thelma Lynne Godin is the debut author of The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen, which received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews and Shelf Awareness. She lives with her husband in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In this post, we asked her to share advice on believing in your dreams for those submitting to the New Voices Award and other aspiring authors.
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”― Eleanor Roosevelt
As a child I was an avid dreamer and reader. I lived in the world of books. Sometimes I was the little girl in the Cat in the Hat enjoying the fun, but worrying about the mother coming home and finding out about the chaos. Other times I was Laura Ingalls Wilder, sleeping in a covered wagon with Pa, Ma, and Mary out on the prairie. As I grew older I dreamt of being a writer and creating worlds for kids to lose themselves in. But I let that dream drift as grown-up life became a reality. My careers as a mother, a librarian, and a social worker took up much of my time and energy, even though I continued to read and enjoy books for children. I was working as a school librarian and struggling with both my kids leaving for college when I noticed a picture book writing class being offered at a local art college. And suddenly, I was back in that drifting dream. Taking that class and being with people who shared the same dream was a giant step forward in my twisty road to publication. Sometimes I could glide on effortlessly, and other times I would round a curve to find a huge hill that I had to toil up.
As writers it is sometimes hard to continue to believe in the beauty of your dreams. Daring to get started, actually putting your words on paper and then having the courage to share them with others is hard. And receiving a rejection for all that daring is like a kick in the arse. It is not for the faint hearted. I got, and still receive, my share of rejections.
It was a cold, dreary, sunless day when I received a letter from Lee & Low regarding my submission of HULA HOOPIN’ QUEEN. I was at a low point in my writing path. I was at the bottom of one of those steep hills. I had just come home from a critique group meeting where one of my friends was sharing her newest book. While happy for her, I also felt despair of ever achieving that same dream. Feeling sure it was just another rejection, I tossed the letter from Lee & Low aside without even opening it. Several hours later, I noticed it sitting on the table, and I actually started toward the garbage with it in hand. I was in such a spot that I felt I couldn’t take another rejection. But suddenly, without even thinking it through, I had opened it.
My first thought was, “Oh no! Now I’m getting two-page rejection letters!” But then I started to read it. It was two pages of things the editor liked about my story and also things she wanted me to think about working on for the possibility of Lee & Low accepting it. And suddenly my mood and the day became all sunshine and warmth, because that two-page letter was actually the beginning of my dream coming true.
That is what this journey of being a writer is all about. Highs and lows; twists and turns. But through it all, even at the lowest point, you have your words and the magical thing that happens when your words become a story. You have the dream of having those stories touch a child’s heart. So we need to dare to dream, dare to believe in the beauty of our dreams, because those dreams are my future and yours.
The New Voices Award is given each year to an unpublished author of color for a picture book manuscript. Find more information on how to submit here.
Today's topic came by request during this week's Monday Mishmash. The question was how do I stay focused, keep my butt in the chair, and work. The answer is actually pretty simple. If you want to be serious about writing, then you have to treat it like any other job. Sure, I'd love to relax with a good book all day long. Who wouldn't? But I have a job to do. I have deadlines, whether they are self-imposed or given to me by my editors. Writing is a job like any other. Do I ever call in sick? Sure. I'm human. Things happen on occasion that make it impossible for me to write. But most days, I'm at my computer at set times each day. I know that's my work time, and I clock in just like any other job would require me to. I would suggest having a set working area too. Right now I don't have an office, but I write in the same place every day. It conditions my brain to know it's time to work. I think that really helps. And if you do have an office, that's great. Use it, and I'll try not to get too jealous as I wait for my construction to finish so I can have an office. ;) So really that's it. My advice for staying focused is to commit to making writing a job. A really fun job, but a job nonetheless. Add a Comment
The results of the 2014 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for creating the worst opening sentences possible for various categories of novels is here. You owe it to yourself to go for a fun read.
Here’s an example that I particularly liked, and it’s not even a winner (you see runners-up, too):
Hard-boiled private eye Smith Calloway had a sinking feeling as he walked into the chaotic crime scene, for there, as expected, was the body dressed in a monk’s habit; there was the stuffed cream-colored pony next to the crisp apple strudel; there was the doorbell, the set of sleigh bells, and even the schnitzel with noodles – all proclaiming that the Von Trappist Killer had struck again.
Seriously, you students of fiction writing, take a moment for some excellent writing, as awful as it is.
If you’ve read any of Donald Maass’ work, you may be familiar with the idea of “bridging conflict.” It’s a small bit of conflict before the inciting incident (the event that launches the plot) comes along. I want to talk about it in a little bit more detail.
But first, some empathizing. Writers are bombarded with advice (guilty as charged here, I know I’ve definitely contributed to this). Jump right into the action. Don’t just right in. Let’s have the inciting incident within the first 10 pages. You’re rushing into it! We need a physical description of your protagonist on the first page. You’re focusing on details that don’t matter! Don’t tell, show! Don’t show, tell! AAAH! It’s crazymaking.
And I’m seeing the effects of this confusion on writers who are trying to check all the boxes that they may have read about on well-meaning blogs and in helpful books. One symptom of this that I want to discuss today is starting too big. Yes. This is going to be one of those bits of advice that is controversial, because it seems contradictory.
Everywhere you look, you see blogs telling you to start with action, start big, and get readers hooked right away. And there’s a lot of good to this advice. It’s a great kick in the rear for writers who like to begin with twenty pages of chit-chat and backstory before anything actually happens. This is telling upon telling, and it’s likely your readers aren’t sticking around until your first plot point.
So is the natural antidote to this an explosion on page two? That might seem like a good idea. And I’m seeing it more and more. But let me tell you why it’s a well-meaning thought gone awry. I liken this situation to a first date. You meet a guy or gal at a restaurant after chatting online for a bit. In this situation, you’re very much like a fiction reader. You liked the cute cover, you liked the interesting blurb, you want to give this book a shot and devote a few hours of your time to it. You start some small talk, and, if you’re on a date with one of those slow-starting manuscripts, your date is likely to talk for the entire duration of dinner, filling you in on their entire life up until this point. That’s undesirable, right? Well, let’s talk about the flip side. What if your date suddenly has a massive episode and flops to the floor, seizing, before the first round of drinks arrives?
How do you feel (other than, you know, horrified because you’re a nice person)? It’s bizarre to imagine. Why? Because it’s too big. It’s an event but it’s too high stakes, too dangerous, too sudden. You don’t even know the guy. If he were to be hauled off in an ambulance, you wouldn’t know who to call because you just met him!
In opening a novel, it’s all about balance. You don’t want to blab for three hours, but you also don’t want to open with “Hey guess what, there’s a prophecy and you’re the chosen one to save the world. So, you know, get to it, kiddo.” One is too small on plot, one is too big. That’s why smart people like Donald Maass advocate for “bridging conflict” to start. You want to start with some action to get tension brewing. Maybe a conversation with one’s crush, or anxiety about an upcoming test, or a sibling getting in trouble and asking for help. Let that be the focus of the first chapter. And if this conflict is related to the main plot, even better. But it’s not the main plot, not yet. Because we have to care about the character before we’ll follow them through a really rigorous plot full of stakes, ups, and downs. Just like we should probably get to know our unlucky date a bit more before we’ll hop into the ambulance and follow him to the hospital.
Because before we have established a connection using some smaller, more manageable conflict, the protagonist is just a kid. The reader hasn’t bonded yet. The intricate relationship between the fictional entity and the audience is still too new, too tenuous. But once we get to know the hero a little bit, we start to invest. Just like if the date goes horribly wrong near the end of the night, it’s not just some guy who’s having an attack, it’s Pete! Who grew up three blocks away from you! And he’s allergic to peanuts! And why, oh why, did you order pad thai for the table?! And you’re that much more likely to care, to feel, to buy in. Keep it manageable at first, then ramp up the stakes and really get rolling on your main conflict.
I’ve been thinking about how much I admire ferrets and how much they’ve taught me about being a writer.
Now, before you think I’ve finally lost my mind, hear me out. Ferrets have some great qualities we can all learn lessons from.
1. Be okay with going the long way around.
One of the funniest things about ferrets is how, rather than make a straight line from one point to another, they will almost always veer off and take the long way around. They’ll go under something, through something, and really make you wait for them to reach you even when you’re just trying to give them a treat. But ferrets like the scenic route, even when it’s less convenient.
Ferrets are not known for their efficiency, and they’re totally cool with that.
Writers are kind of impatient. We want to finish our manuscript now. We want to have the revisions yesterday. And when we send out queries, we hit refresh on our inboxes like no one’s business. We want that full manuscript request now. But things don’t always (haha, ever) happen on our schedule. We get rejections, a revision and resubmit request, or whatever. It feels like the long way around. It’s frustrating, but it builds character. (And, ideally, leads to a better book in the end.)
2. Sometimes you will poop on the floor and your editor will have to help you clean it up. She won’t like it, but she will still like you. Probably.
Poop story: ferrets are sassy little things. Some ferrets (*cough*Todd*cough*) like to, ah, relieve themselves right next to the litter box. What? It’s close! It only takes a moment to clean up! (Todd has no idea how frustrating this habit is for me. Or maybe he does.)
The truth is, we’re not going to write perfect first drafts. Or perfect second drafts. And when we hand something off to our crit partner/agent/editor, it might look pretty bad, even if you didn’t realize that when you finished. Sometimes, it’s going to look like you got it close . . . but didn’t hit the box. Maybe you gave up early, or you just didn’t notice. Either way, your crit partner/agent/editor will see it and help you clean it up. It’s not always the most fun job (my draft = poop comparison is kind of falling apart, because I like doing crits for friends, but I don’t like cleaning poop), but your people will still like you afterwards.
Alternately: sometimes great things will happen to you and you will get all proud and thinking you’re Big Stuff . . . and then someone will come along and poop on the floor just to keep you humble.
3. Accept all treats offered.
Ferrets, like small children, will keep accepting treats until they explode. (I’ve never seen one explode, but I’m sure it could happen.)
As writers, we aren’t given many treats. Most of the time it seems like we get poop on the floor. (See above about humility.) So when you’re offered a treat, take it. And don’t forget about it. (Unlike a ferret, who, having devoured a treat in .3 seconds flat, will look at you like they’ve never had a treat ever, the poor thing.) Whether your treat is a book deal, a fantastic critique or review, or even someone tweeting that they loved your book — don’t forget about it. Those treats are important. Accept all of them.
4. If you’re going to nip at someone, do something ridiculously cute after so they’ll still like you.
We all have bad days. Sometimes we take out our frustration and anger on the people who love us (or love our books). But if you’re going to nip someone, apologize. Maybe do something nice for them.
But really, try not to bite.
5. Don’t be afraid to fall in love with Kippy.
I’ve now had two ferrets fall in love with Kippy . . . who is a cat. You might think this inter-species adoration is odd, but ferrets are totally cool with it. (You might have noticed they’re pretty laid back about weird things.)
Sometimes, writers fall in love with ideas or books other people say we shouldn’t. Maybe the idea isn’t marketable or it’s already been done a thousand times. Maybe the idea is outside of your normal genre. You know what? Go for it. Follow your writerly heart. It may not work out in the end (so far it hasn’t worked out for Todd and Kippy, but I will keep you updated), but go ahead and take the chance. You never know. It might work out perfectly.
6. Don’t give up!
Todd has this trash habit. He looooves old plastic water bottles, pill bottles, bubble envelopes, plastic bags . . . You know what he loves doing with his trash? He loves stashing it. Inside his Big Box, inside the cage, under the cage — wherever he feels is safe. But sometimes his pieces of trash are bigger than he is, or won’t fit when he’s trying to take them up to his cage. Or sometimes he grabs an envelope or something and . . . keeps stepping on it. This, of course, makes taking the envelope somewhere very difficult. Because he’s standing on it. But Todd doesn’t give up. He keeps trying to take his trash where it belongs, no matter how difficult it is. Even if the trash is bigger than he is! Sometimes he fails or needs help, but usually if he keeps trying, he succeeds.
(I really do wish I had a video of this, but I haven’t been able to get a decent one yet. Sorry. You’ll just have to take my word for it: it’s adorable.)
As writers, sometimes we see something we want and it’s just so, so big. Maybe you want to write a story that seems too huge and daunting for you to handle. Maybe you want an agent or publishing contract. Or whatever. Lots of times, the challenge seems too big and writers give up. But if you give up, you’ve already failed. You never know what you might accomplish if you just keep trying.
Yes, I know I said poop and trash like fifty times, but that’s beside the point. Ferrets! There’s a lot to admire there, don’t you think?
*wanders off to have more coffee for ferret bouncing practice*
Jodi Meadows lives and writes in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, with her husband, a Kippy*, and an alarming number of ferrets. She is a confessed book addict, and has wanted to be a writer ever since she decided against becoming an astronaut. She is the author of the INCARNATE Trilogy and THE ORPHAN QUEEN duology (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen). *A Kippy is a cat.
Last week my friend and critique partner Kimberley Troutte tagged me as part of a Meet My Character Blog Tour. She posted about the characters from her newly released novel, God Whisperer. I can remember reading a draft of this story years ago, so it was incredibly exciting to see it released to the world […]
Last night while washing dishes in my new kitchen, I was somewhat disappointed to realize that no matter where I go, I still have to wash the dishes. I bet I could land on a desert island and rather than find banana leaves for plates, there would be a set of Royal Doulton just waiting for me to wash. And it's not for lack of a dishwasher. I have a doozey of a new dishwasher. But with only two of us, using the dishwasher for anything other than a feast day seems a tad wasteful. So on go the purple rubber gloves and hello, Groundhog Day. Which got me thinking about patterns again. A few weeks ago I posted about how my art practice had led me to work with pattern as a restful way to stay centered and productive at the same time. Tiled borders, fabric prints, wallpaper motifs; I was exploring them all. I'm still enjoying adding pattern to my pictures of cats, dogs, and Barcelona, but after last night I've been thinking about patterns in written work, too. Using patterns in novels, poetry, or even nonfiction can be an excellent way to take any piece of work to another, and deeper, level. For instance, what about:
The patterns of a serial killer or burglar. Rather than random acts of evil, a distinct and unusual pattern can keep the story focused.
A main character’s daily routine. (I hope it's more interesting that doing the dishes every night. On the other hand, that just might be the motivating incident that leads him or her to a life of crime.)
How characters approach relationships or conflict: fight or flight? Or whipping out the Sunday crossword puzzle to seek out-of-the-box solutions?
The story theme--how many related ways can you symbolize or refer to it without shoving it in your reader's face?
How do you arrange scene, sequel, conflict, scene? Is there a pleasing rhythm that will keep readers engaged, or do you need something more jarring and experimental to wake them up? What about chapter arrangement?
Patterns of misfortune—how does the universe work against (or for) your characters? What do they do (or don't do) to warrant this fate?
Secret codes--whether it's a formal cipher, or one of hidden etiquette and body language, codes can be an exciting way to use pattern.
Esoteric or sacred geometry: lee lines, metaphysical clues in Old Master paintings. architectural secrets, megaliths and circular standing stones--they're all fun to explore.
How about inventing a character who is intrigued or controlled by patterns? It could simply be as a hobby, part of their profession, or perhaps something difficult for them to manage e.g., an obsessive disorder of some kind.
How do your characters make patterns of their living space, social lives, and/or working hours? Is there a routine your antagonist observes that can harm your MC?
Don't forget about music and ear worms; melodies can be either inspiring, annoyingly repetitive, or a signal that something pivotal to your plot is about to happen.
Right now the most important pattern I'm working on besides how to get out of doing the dishes is how to most effectively arrange the chapters in my WIP. I'm telling the story through different points of view and I want to avoid an A, B, C, D kind of pattern, yet I still want the story to make sense. Challenges, challenges.
Tip of the Day: We’re all creatures of habit to some degree. Some of us like to write in the morning, others in the middle of the night. Does your current creative pattern work for you--or do you want to make a change? Do you have a plan? Let me know! Add a Comment
Oh, the hellish question! Dare you use profanity in your writing?
1) It depends on your target audience.
Will they be offended? Do you care? The more explicit terms should be left out of cozy mysteries.
2) Does it fit the context of the plot?
If you are writing about nuns in England in 1300, I doubt they used the F-bomb. You might have a salty old nun who muttered the occasional "bloody hell" but only after the reign of Bloody Mary I (queen regent from 1553 to 1558).
I wrote a series set in 3500 BC. Trying to write without some form of expletive, insult, or curse word was painful. I had to resort to them calling each other names of animals etc. Some form of exclamation is needed, but not every other paragraph. I had to stringently edit it.
3) Is it appropriate for your target audience?
If you write children's picture books or Christian romance, I'd leave it out.
4) Are you using it to define character?
Some characters swear like sailors. Others never would. Do your space aliens have potty mouths? Are your characters living in the ghettos of New York City? If so, drop the F-bomb a few times. Don't use it for shock value. The F-bomb has lost its impact by overuse. It isn't shocking anymore. The F-word is versatile. It is a noun, adjective, and verb, even though it stands for "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge" and did not exist prior to England adopting the acronym in roughly the 1400s. Modern television and film scripts overuse it and it becomes redundant.
5) Are you using it effectively?
A rare profanity inserted for effect is better than twenty in a row. Profanity offends many. They are red words and imply anger, even if the person isn't angry. It may limit your audience. It's important to ask how your agent or editor feels about it. If she hates it, she might insist you take it out. If you stand your ground, you may have to find another agent or editor, or publish it yourself.
If profanity is inserted into every sentence, it feels abusive. No one likes listening to abusive people rant, even in fiction.
6) Can you make up new ones?
This is a serious challenge for fantasy and science fiction writers. Come up with a few, carefully selective, highly descriptive swear words for your characters. We'll love you for it. It may even get included in the English lexicon. For historical fiction writers, make sure the word was used in the era you describe. Make sure the word is something your character would have come into contact with. If you don't do this well, it is a speed bump.
? Do a search and kill for all swear words, especially the ones you make up. How many times have you used them? Can you minimize them for better effect?
? Have you committed profanity abuse? Should you trim them?
? Does the profanity fit the time and place?
? Does the profanity fit the background and personality of the character uttering it?
For a list of other editing and revision tips, pick up a copy of:
In this series, Tu Books Publisher Stacy Whitman shares advice for aspiring authors, especially those considering submitting to our New Visions Award.
Last week on the blog, I talked about hooking the reader early and ways to write so you have that “zing” that captivates from the very beginning. This week, I wanted to go into more detail about the story and plot itself. When teaching at writing conferences, my first question to the audience is this:
What is the most important thing about a multicultural book?
I let the audience respond for a little while, and many people have really good answers: getting the culture right, authenticity, understanding the character… these are all important things in diverse books.
But I think that the most important part of a diverse novel is the same thing that’s the most important thing about any novel: a good story. All of the other components of getting diversity right won’t matter if you don’t have a good story! And getting those details wrong affects how good the story is for me and for many readers.
So as we continue our series discussing things to keep in mind as you polish your New Visions Award manuscripts, let’s move the discussion on to how to write a good story, beyond just following the directions and getting a good hook in your first few pages. This week, we’ll focus on refining plot.
Here are a few of the kinds of comments readers might make if your plot isn’t quite there yet:
Part of story came out of nowhere (couldn’t see connection)
Plot not set up well enough in first 3 chapters
Confusing plot—jumped around too much
Excessive detail/hard to keep track
Too hard to follow, not sure what world characters are in
We’ll look at pacing issues too, as they’re often related:
Chapters way too long
Pacing too slow (so slow hard to see where story is going)
Nothing gripped me
Getting your plot and pacing right is a complicated matter. Just being able to see whether something is dragging too long or getting too convoluted can be hard when you’re talking about anywhere from fifty to a hundred thousand words, all in one long file. Entire books have been written on how to plot a good science fiction and fantasy book. More books have been written on how to plot a good mystery. If you need more in-depth work on this topic, refer to them (see the list at the end of this post).
So we won’t get too in depth here, but let’s cover a few points.
Know your target audience
When you’re writing for children, especially young children (middle grade, chapter books, and below), your plot should be much more linear than a plot for older readers who can hold several threads in their heads at once.
Teens are developmentally ready for more complications—many of them move up to adult novels during this age, after all—but YA as a category is generally simpler on plot structure than adult novels in the same genre. This is not to say the books are simple-minded. Just not as convoluted… usually. (This varies with the book—and how well the author can pull it off. Can you?)
But the difference between middle grade and YA is there for a reason—kids who are 7 or 8 or 9 years old and newly independent readers need plots that challenge them but don’t confuse them. And even adults get confused if so much is going on at once that we can’t keep things straight. Remember what we talked about last time regarding backstory—sometimes we don’t need to know everything all at once. What is the core of your story?
Note that “too complicated” is one of the main complaints of plot-related comments readers had while reading submissions to the last New Visions Award.
Don’t say, “But Writer Smith wrote The Curly-Eared Bunny’s Revenge for middle graders and it had TEN plot threads going at once!” Writer Smith may have done it successfully, but in general, there shouldn’t be more than one main plot and a small handful of subplots happening in a stand-alone novel for middle-grade readers.
If you intend your book to be the first in a series of seven or ten or a hundred books, you might have seeds in mind you’d like to plant for book seventy-two. Unless you’re contracted to write a hundred books, though, the phrase here to remember is stand-alone with series potential. Even Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was pretty straightforward in its plotting—hinting at backstory, but not dumping backstory on readers in book one; setting the stage for potential conflicts down the road but not introducing them beforetime. Book 1 of Harry Potter really could have just stood on its own and never gone on to book 2. It wouldn’t have been nearly as satisfying as having the full 7-book arc, but note how seamlessly details were woven in, not calling attention to themselves even though they’re setting the stage for something later. Everything serves the linear plot of the main arc of book 1’s story. We only realize later that those details were doing double duty.
Thus, when you’re writing for children and young adults, remember that a linear main plot is your priority, and that anything in the story that is not serving the main plot is up on the chopping block, only to be saved if it proves its service to the main plot is true.Plotting affects pace
In genre fiction for young readers, pacing is always an issue. Pacing can get bogged down by too many subplots—the reader gets annoyed or bored when it takes forever to get back to the main thrust of the story when you’re wandering in the byways of the world you created.
Fantasy readers love worldbuilding (to be covered in another post), but when writing for young readers, make sure that worldbuilding serves as much to move the plot forward as to simply show off some cool worldbuilding. Keep it moving along.
Character affects plot
This was not a complaint from the last New Visions Award, but another thing to keep in mind when plotting is that as your rising action brings your character into new complications, the character’s personality will affect his or her choices—which will affect which direction the plot moves. We’ll discuss characterization more another day, but just keep in mind that the plot is dependent upon the choices of your characters and the people around them (whether antagonists or otherwise). Even in a plot that revolves around a force of nature (tornado stories, for example), who the character is (or is becoming) will determine whether the plot goes in one direction or another.
Find an organizational method that works for you
This is not a craft recommendation so much as a tool. Plotting a novel can get overwhelming. You need a method of keeping track of who is going where when, and why. There are multiple methods for doing this.
Scrivener doesn’t work for all writers, so it might not be your thing, but I recommend trying out its corkboard feature, which allows you to connect summaries of plot points on a virtual corkboard to chapters in your book. If you need to move a plot point, the chapter travels along for the ride.
An old-fashioned corkboard where you can note plot points and move them around might be just as easy as entering them in Scrivener, if you like the more tactile approach.
Another handy tool is Cheryl Klein’s Plot Checklist, which has a similar purpose: it makes the writer think about the reason each plot point is in the story, and whether those points serve the greater story.
Whether you use a physical corkboard, a white board, Scrivener, or a form of outlining, getting the plot points into a form where you can see everything happening at once can help you to see where things are getting gummed up.
This post is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to plotting a book. Here are some books and essays that will be of use to the writer seeking to fix his or her plot problems. (Note that some of these resources will be more useful to some writers than others, and vice versa. Find what works for you.)
“Muddles, Morals, and Making It Through: Or Plots and Popularity,” by Cheryl Klein in her book of essays on writing and revising, Second Sight.
In the same book by Cheryl Klein, “Quartet: Plot” and her plot checklist.
As well as using my own work to demonstrate techniques for drawing and painting people, my book will be showcasing other sketchers whose work I admire.
Once we get the go-ahead (crossing fingers) after the Frankfurt International Book Fair, I will be working with my publisher to select possible contributors and we will then approach individuals, to ask if they would be interested in having sketches in the book.
It's a bit premature to contact most people yet though as, at this stage, all I need is 4 or 5 pieces for the presentation, to make it clear that other sketchers will be featured. I am using the 'colour before line' section to do this. There is one spread featuring examples of my work and my step-by-step demo, but a second spread which features other people's work.
I used Urban Sketchers on Flickr and the main Urban Sketchers blog to source sketches where I thought people had probably used the colour-first technique and collected them in a Pinterest folder. From there I selected a handful that demonstrated different things of note and sent them to my art director. She created a lovely layout and I then wrote copy for each image.
The images I'm showing here are not ones I've chosen, just examples, although I hope to be able to use both these artists, if they are up for it. The top two sketches are by one of my all-time fave sketchers, Marina Grechanik, who lives in Israel. The one above is by the fantastic Rolf Schroeter from Berlin. In the next day or two, my art director and I will be getting in touch with all the contributors I have chosen so far, to ask their permission to present their work in the sample spreads for my book, at Frankfurt. Crossing fingers they want to be a part of the project!
Happy Monday! Monday Mishmash is a weekly meme dedicated to sharing what's on your mind. Feel free to grab the button and post your own Mishmash.
Here's what's on my mind today:
Two Blog Tours Since I have two Ashelyn Drake titles releasing on September 9th (Into the Fire and Perfect For You), I've been busy with blog tour posts. They're almost ready to send to my publicists.
My Dream Office Even though I won't be able to settle into my new office for a while yet, I'm dreaming of my oversized chair to work and read in, my large desk with bookshelves, and the cheery daisy paint color I picked out. I can also finally frame the giant posters of my book covers my husband had made for me. It's going to be epic. Now I have to work on that pesky thing called patience.
Painting and Flooring Last week the construction at my house, which had involved gutting the entire first floor, progressed to painting. This week I'm hoping to have the painting finished and flooring going in so I can go home before the summer is over.
Editing I'm editing for clients this week, and I already have clients booking me for next month too.
The Monster Within Book Blitz Fandom Monthly Magazine is hosting a book blitz for The Monster Within August 15-18th. I'm looking forward to it.
In the international bestseller, And Then I Met Margaret, real estate entrepreneur and founder of Mind Adventure, Inc. Rob White recounts 21 stories of personal transformation brought about by his encounters with everyday, ordinary, unassuming gurus who crossed his path over seven decades of living. These stories chronicle how “everyday, ordinary gurus” surround us and come into our lives when we need them most. The overwhelming response from readers who were eager to share their own stories and personal shift of perspective for “guru spotting” inspired Rob to found the “Ordinary Guru Project.” Now Rob invites you to share your own story of personal transformation with a chance to win $5,000 and become a published author in a book tentatively titled The Ordinary Guru Project.
We’re looking for short stories, essays, memoirs, photo essays, graphic stories, cartoons, and poems about ordinary gurus. Ordinary gurus teach us what we need to know in order to expand our view of ourselves and the world. These gurus aren’t just people— they can also be anything in nature that offers you an insight or life-lesson, perhaps a pet, a wild animal, or even a tree that helps you see yourself or life differently.
Whomever/whatever the ordinary guru, your story must embody a personal experience. Entries must be previously unpublished, no longer than 1,200 words, and can be as short as a few sentences. Your story must be an original creation. It can detail a recent encounter or it may be related to an ordinary guru from your past. Additionally, we will need a 50-100 word bio. If your entry is selected for inclusion in The Ordinary Guru Project, your bio will be positioned directly after your story, so as to allow for maximize exposure of your blog, website, or previous publications and works.
We welcome and look forward to reading your tales of transformation!
First Prize: $5,000
Second Prize: $2,500
Third Prize: $1,500.
SUBMISSION FEE: There is NO fee to enter.
TIMING: The contest will run from 12:00 AM Eastern Time (“ET”) on April 1, 2014 to 11:59 p.m. ET on August 31, 2014.
JUDGING: The contest will be judged by the team members of Mind Adventure, Inc. Winners and finalists will be announced on or about October 1, 2014. All contest entrants who enter will be notified by email of the judges’ decisions, which are final. (See the Official Rules for details of judging and other aspects of the contest.)
Submissions will be judged on the following criteria: