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If you’re writing a novel, you have something you want–or maybe need–to say. Something that’s important to you. Keep going! Keep writing, listening to your heart and letting the words flow from your heart to your fingertips, and out into your pen or your keyboard.
When you’re writing a first draft (or editing a second or fifth or tenth draft), there’s often a point about mid-way or three-quarters of the way through when you start to feel exhaustion from working so hard, or you may even start doubting your work. But don’t listen to that. You have something you need to say. Something that will matter to other people. So keep writing. Keep letting the words spill out onto the page. Someday, that novel may reach other people and change their lives for the better. Someday, your words may help others know that they’re not alone, or things can get better, or they may just help someone else escape from something painful in their life for a while and gain a little good feeling.
So keep going. Don’t stop now. You can do it!
Love from a fellow book lover and writer.
This was my first year taking part in #NaNoWriMo (though I’ve written and published 6 books), and I LOVED it.
I love writing quickly. I always write first drafts of my books quickly; I think it keeps me firmly in my writing mode, where I’m deeply connected to my creativity, inner voice, and what I need to say, rather than my editor mode, where I’m looking at the language and content and picking it apart to make it stronger and better. I think first drafts are meant to be written quickly, so we stay in the hearts and minds of our characters and the writing. At least, that’s what works best for me.
So whether you normally write quickly or not, #NaNoWriMo may be the perfect time to jump into writing flat-out fast, getting all the words out on the page before the editor in your head chimes in. The perfect time to keep the words flowing forward.
Write what you want, what you need. Enjoy it! And if you reach your 50,000-word goal for #NaNoWriMo this year, take heart in seeing “winner” pop up after you validate your manuscript, or watching the video of other writers cheering and clapping you on. Writing can be such a solitary endeavor; I wish we always had “winner” pop up and a cheering crowd for every new book and every new draft we completed. But we can imagine our own cheerleaders, or let our friends know and celebrate with them.
Keep writing. Enjoy the process. You can do this!
And then take a well-deserved break. I know I am. (smiling)
Where do your ideas come from? This can be a difficult question to answer, since usually, an idea seems to come out of nowhere. One day you’re driving in your car or washing dishes and an idea starts to glow in your mind like the sun coming up, or maybe it glares down on you all at once, as if dark clouds were suddenly blown away and there it is – hot and bright and obvious.
Since ideas seem to come unbidden, it might seem that we writers have no control over our ideas. They come on their own, after all, not when we call to them (no matter how nicely we call…) but when we least expect them. But I would argue that these seemingly random ideas are actually the product of a subconscious mind that has been “trained” to be searching for them at all times.
Maybe this sounds very mystical or pseudo-psychological (because, well, maybe it is…) but if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to share four suggestions to prime your mind to subconsciously formulate story ideas:
Always ask “what if?” You may have heard never to open a query letter with a hypothetical question, but that shouldn’t mean that hypotheticals are useless to writers. Most of us think this way already. If it rains for three days straight, we say, “Imagine if this were snow!” If it starts to storm, we say, “Imagine if you were catching a flight on a day like today!”
Since most of us already think this way, I’m simply suggesting you take your questions a bit further. You may ask yourself, “What if it never stopped raining ever again?” or “What if all this rain were acid and it destroyed everything it touched?” You may think of the flight taking off in a storm and ask, “What if two long separated lovers were seated next to each other in a jet taking off in dangerous weather?” or “What if lightning hit an engine just as a hijacker was storming the cockpit?” Just pushing your “what ifs” a bit further will jump start your imagination.
Never accept that there is only one solution to a problem. If you have to pick up Mary from cheerleading and Rebecca from field hockey, and they are ten minutes apart and you have only five minutes to make the trip, you can probably figure out at least one solution. Maybe Mary catches a ride with another family. There’s a solution, so the problem is solved. But as writers, shouldn’t we train ourselves to come up with a few extra solutions? Rebecca could walk to the local library and wait there. Mary could ride her bike to practice so that you only need to worry about Rebecca. Writing is all about obstacles and overcoming them, so train your mind to look for more solutions than you’ll ever need.
Ask questions like a child. I remember when my son was small he would ask questions all the time. “How does an antenna work?” “Why do fluorescent lights make my skin look blue?” “How does the TV find the right show when you change the channel?” I’m embarrassed to admit how many times I had to answer, “Go ask Dad.” Shouldn’t a grown woman know how an antenna works? And if she doesn’t, shouldn’t she be anxious to find out the answer? Unfortunately, as we get older, we let the day-to-day questions – “How am I ever going to pay the cell phone bill?” – crowd out the questions that lead to much more creative thinking.
Read widely. While it’s important to read in the genre you write, I personally believe writers should read all kinds of fiction, as well as magazine articles, current events, travel stories, and even science journals. A few years ago, when the Chilean miners were trapped, I developed a voracious interest in Chile, and tried to read as much as I could about a country I’d rarely thought about before. Not long after that, a photo on a magazine cover spawned a frenzy of research into Machu Picchu. To date, I’ve never used anything I learned about Chile or Machu Picchu in any of my fiction, but it has helped train my mind to imagine different environments, and the lives of the people who live there.
Do you have unique methods for generating ideas? Do you already practice any of these habits? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
Julie Eshbaugh writes fiction for young adults. She is the author of the upcoming Ivory & Bone (HarperCollins, 2016.) You can add Julie on Goodreads and follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.
It's that time of year when everyone everywhere has a list of gifts for your favorite mom, or golfer, or skier. So here's my list of gifts for writers and readers. Mostly these are things I personally want or like to have, so it's pretty self indulgent. I'm sure you can add items to the list.
I'd like to preface my list with this statement: I am all about gifts of experiences or things that can be used up, consumed. I don't need more stuff in my life, but I do want more life in my life.
1. SCBWI membership for your favorite aspiring/published/nationally known children's author or illustrator. Many of us on this blog are SCBWI members, and I'd just like to throw out a couple of wonderful benefits of this membership. First, it's the world's largest and most respected professional organization for children's publishing. It's important to your career to belong to the professional organization for your industry. We have great programs, great publications, resources of all kinds, networking, critiquing, and conferences. You'll make contacts with editors and agents, fellow authors, and learn from the best.
2. Audio books. Personally, I have never outgrown my love of being read aloud to. My mom hooked me early on, and my fourth grade teacher read to us every day after lunch. My husband reads to me every night before bed. When I was in the hospital once, he read me Beatrix Potter stories. Audio books are perfect for car trips, subway rides, plane travel, or just doing the dishes. I have an app on my phone, so I can take my audio books anywhere I go. And when the hubby is out of town, I let my audio book read to me before bed.
3. This one is sort of obvious. Gift cards to bookstores. One of the highlights of our Christmas celebrations is going to the bookstore after Christmas and using our gift cards. I prefer indie bookstores.
4. Send your favorite author/illustrator to a conference. There are dozens of workshops and events close by, or if you want to splurge, send them somewhere like Highlights workshops or Big Sur. Of course, SCBWI conferences are awesome, and there are many. The big ones in LA and NYC every year, as well as regional conferences all across the U.S. and around the world. Go to http://www.scbwi.org/events-home/ to check out all the possibilities. Conferences are invaluable investments in perfecting one's craft and meeting people in the industry.
5. Pens and paper. Yes, I know it's the age of the computer and other electronics, but I have yet to find an author or illustrator who doesn't use the old-fashioned method once in a while. I keep a notebook with me wherever I go to jot down ideas, images, resources, etc. I used to write out all my first drafts in longhand, and even now that I've trained myself to write at the computer, I still occasionally like to write a chapter on paper. It uses a different portion of the brain. If you don't know what your author friend likes, a gift card to an office supply store is also a good bet.
6. Chocolate. I don't think this needs any explanation, except that I prefer the highest quality dark chocolate available.
7. Coffee. See #6.
8. Time. Writers need time. Life is busy and there are a million other things demanding our attention. Give your writer the gift of time. A weekend at a cabin. A babysitter once a week. An offer to do the dishes every night (or insert appropriate chore here) while he/she writes. A nudge to attend a critique group.
9. Buy your writer/illustrator a critique with an editor/agent through one of the conferences in our area. Learning what professionals see in your writing is so important and valuable.
10. A puppy. So this is personal, but I have to include it. My dogs are always by my side when I'm writing. I have two of them. But I've been asking for a golden retriever for almost a year, and if anyone who loves me wants to buy me one, that would be the best gift. Pets comfort you when the writing isn't going well. They encourage you to get out for a walk when your butt has gone numb from the butt-in-chair work ethic. They are also characters in many children's books. There's a reason for that.
There you have it. A complete guide for gift-giving for the writer. Print it out and give it to your family, or use it to thoughtfully gift your writerly friends. Or hound my hubby about giving me a puppy.
The farther I dive into the world of writing, the busier I become. I have done small amounts of freelance writing for years, but about a year ago, in hopes of gaining experience and honing my craft, I dove deeper into the world of freelance. I wrote for a few online magazines like Honesty For Breakfast (aimed at girls in their 20s), I did some ghost web-copy writing for travel websites and a flower shop, am working on a project with RawSpiceBar.com , and do regular posts for Family Focus Blog with farm fresh recipes and family-friendly projects.
I learned a lot about my writing too. I learned that my instinctively conversational style makes me a natural fit for certain things and not others. I’ve found great success with product description writing and online course curriculum development, because I get to play with different styles of description and ways of engaging an audience. But grant or technical writing for things like computer software manuals… not for me.
So what’s my point? Well, between freelance writing and working on my manuscripts, I am doing hours of writing every single day. And while this has been great in many ways, forcing me to flex my writing and creativity muscles, working with deadlines and not being able to stop because I’m just not “feeling it”, it can also become cumbersome.
Bottom line: Writing is very hard work.
I needed a way to regularly stoke the fire, the furious passion that I’ve always had for the written word. A way to remind myself that writing is fun!
Once a week, I schedule two entire hours, where I sit down and write without a goal, and away from the computer. No deadlines, no projects, no one to tell me what’s wrong with it, just writing. It can be free association writing, prose, anything I want. I can use characters from my manuscripts, but I don’t allow myself to work on actual scenes. I write silly rhymes that follow absolutely no patterns, write sentences with horrible grammar, and break as many rules as I can in 120 minutes.
Sometimes I spend the whole two hours writing what turns into a sort of journal entry, and I am reminded of why I fell in love with writing in the first place… the hidden truths it has always seemed to bring forward.
Basically, I indulge myself.
For me, being away from the computer is an important aspect. I do my work from my computer as a writer and a business owner, so just sitting in the chair has innate associations with obligation. This is playtime not work time.
Curling up with a notebook, a pen and absolutely nothing but chaos to guide me connects with the teenager in me who found refuge in writing as words she was constantly scribbling in the margins seemed to bring her closer to understanding herself and the world around her.
Do I always look forward to it? Nope. Not at all. I’d say a solid 40-50 percent of the time, I’m going into this thinking, ech… this is dumb. I don’t have the time to waste just doing nothing.
But (so far at least!) I have managed to convince myself to do it anyway.
Even when I didn’t FEEL like doing it, when the hours are up, I find myself unbelievably refreshed, both on a personal level, and as a writer. In fact, the times when I’ve wanted to do it the least have frequently been the times it’s had the most effect.
More often than not, I’ve sparked some new ideas for ways to handle scenes I was stuck on, or projects I wasn’t sure of. This means that these two hours actually end up SAVING me time, as I’m able to be more fluid in my work moving on.
And every single time, I renew that secret smile on my face that tells the story of how writing is a profoundly integral part of who I am.
So… do I think this strategy will work for everyone?
Well… sort of. (not exactly a deep meaningful answer there, I know. But bear with me!)
I think finding a way to reconnect with the raw passion of your writing is essential for all of us. Will a two-hour scribble in a notebook once a week do that for you?
It just might. As writers, I’ve found that many of us have similar stories of falling in love with the written word. So I would highly suggest giving it a try. But if after a few times, you find yourself drawn to something else, don’t fight it. Let the wistful, playful side of you run this show, and you may be pleasantly surprised at the outcome.
My two-hour decadent dive into the frivolous side of writing has become a stimulating catalyst for not only my writing but my own spirit and the spirit of my characters. And while I know it’s never always easy to find two hours of your time to put aside, I strongly believe that…
… you, and your manuscripts are worth it.
Erika Wassall is a writer, a farmer and a liver of life. She is a member of SCBWI and a proud Mad Scientist, bringing science experiments right into children’s classrooms, and hearts. She has a small farm in New Jersey with sheep, chickens, pigs and vegetables. Check out her new website at www.TheJerseyFarmScribe.com where as a first generation farmer, she often takes the long way, learning the tricks of the trade on The Farm. On her website is also The Shop page with tips and a free Q/A from her husband’s mechanic shop, and The Writer page where she shares stories, experiences and characters from the heart. Follow her on Twitter at @NJFarmScribe. She’d love to hear from you!
Thank you Erika for another great post. I think everyone looks forward to your posts.
It's no secret I've been doing a lot of author events this fall. I had a book tour for The Monster Within, which wraps up on the 29th with a signing at Moravian Book Shop, and I have two school visits planned for December 1. While I was at an event last month, a fellow writer asked me if I thought doing events was worth it. My answer was absolutely.
Do events promise to sell more books? Not necessarily. Yes, I was fortunate enough to sell well at my events, but let's be honest. Some events wind up being disappointing. But here's the upside. Events are about exposure. If your signing was mentioned in the paper, you've gotten exposure you wouldn't have gotten otherwise. If your author appearance is at a school, there's a huge audience you might not have reached before. I know some authors only book big events that guarantee lots of people and lots of potential sales. Me? I book big events, small events, and even non-selling events. Why? Because it's not always about the in-the-moment sale. Sure, it's great to sell out of the stock the bookstore ordered. Or to have a school district order class sets of your book. But there's more to it than that.
One thing we can't lose sight of after our book is out in the world is that while sales are great, so are connections. In fact, they are more important. Finding a librarian who books you for a school event and then asks if you'd be willing to come back and speak again is priceless. Think of all the students and teachers you'll reach. Booking an event where you can't sell but you can share your love of writing with others is great because there's no pressure AND people are more willing to listen to you if they know they won't have the awkward experience of having to say "not today" to purchasing a signed copy. And what I've found is that those people will then go home and look you up.
So, are author events worth it? Absolutely! For so many different reasons.
Remember a while ago, I mentioned that Julia and I were talking through her ideas for a new story? Well, Julia has put in a lot of work since then. The text has undergone several rewrites and the various drafts have been back and forth to our publisher, but all that work has finally borne fruit - Hodder have given us the go-ahead. Yippee!
The book is another in the series with Class Two at the Zooand Class Three all at Sea. This one is to be Class One Farmyard Fun and involves similar levels of chaos. This time though, the action revolves around a bull on the loose. The teacher is, once again, hopelessly ill-equipped (she ends up getting tossed into a tree) and it's the kids who save the day. This will be our 6th book together. I love working with Julia - we have exactly the same silly sense of humour and her texts are so incredibly visual, the pictures just leap straight into my head!
I'm delighted about this one in particular, as Julia has been trying to get another in the series published for some time. The other two have been so popular and successful, it seemed such a waste not to. I can't start on the artwork until half way through next year, as I have too many other irons in the fire, but will certainly share my sketches with you as soon as I get going.
A cold wind may be whistling outside your window but today, a tropical breeze is coming your way.
Do you have a young, reluctant writer in your home? I do. My fourth-grader freezes over when he’s required to write. He hates it. Which is why I was eager to try out Jan May’s curriculum, Ocean Adventures in Creative Writing. Clearly stated on the front cover is the statement, “Even the reluctant writer will dive in!”
Not only did I plan to get my reluctant writer’s toes in the water, but I also hoped the curriculum would splash enthusiasm into a homeschool co-op class I was teaching.
The students ranged in ages from eight to twelve. Only a third of the class professed to enjoy writing. Here are a few of their comments upon completion of the class:
I liked writing a story about my ocean adventure. I liked being able to choose my own animal instead of being assigned one. – Meredith (10)
I’ve never been able to write this much in one week before. I never wanted to write this much before this class. – Samuel (8)
I loved how fun it was. I liked the ocean theme. [The lessons] were easy to understand. – Zac (10)
What makes this curriculum so likable to students?
Ocean Adventures in Creative Writing
·to research an own ocean animal of their own choosing
·to create their own ocean community setting
·to devise their own characters and plot
·to focus on the story more than grammar and punctuation
·Character, Setting, and Plot
·Writing beginnings, middles, and endings
·Spicing up your story
·Opportunities to interact with friends
·Additional art and craft ideas
·Spotlight presentation at the end
What makes this 53-page curriculum attractive to teachers?
·Easy to follow teacher notes
·Clear and concise worksheets for students
·Printables of twenty ocean animals and handwriting paper with an ocean-themed border
·Easily incorporated into other school subjects
·Written primarily for ages 8-12, it is great for use by students of various ages, within the same setting
·For students at various writing skill levels
The curriculum offers ten lesson plans before students present their final story. Jan May offers additional ideas that could easily stretch this curriculum over several months, if desired.
A “spotlight theatre” is suggested for the culminating project where students present their stories. However, my class opted for a sunlight theatre outside.
The reluctant writers may not be in the deep waters of writing yet, but they sure enjoyed wading out past their knees.
After presenting their stories, several students experienced the exhilaration of riding their first wave. That’s a great feeling and usually it prompts a desire to do it again!
If your students are dreading the winter blahs of writing, consider sending them a fun, tropical breeze with the Ocean Adventures Creative Writing program.
Author, Jan May is a veteran homeschool mom, freelance writer, and book author with a Christian worldview. Connect with her at www.newmillenniumgirls.com.
Jan is graciously offering a free download of the Ocean Adventures Creative Writing curriculum to the one winner Rafflecopter selects on November 25, 2014. There are several ways to increase your chances of winning. Rafflecopter will accept entries between midnight on 11/17/14 and midnight 11/25/14.
I've wanted a treadmill desk since they first started being commercially available. But they were expensive. And it seemed indulgent. So for a couple of hundred dollars I bought a FitDesk, this combo bike-desk, that for me was incredibly uncomfortable. It ended up gathering dust, and this summer I tried to sell it on Craigslist. When that failed, I carted it to GoodWill.
Meanwhile, my German publisher had come to the end of their term for Shock Point (confusingly titlted Break Out - yes in English - over there), and offered again for it.
So I decided to splurge on a treadmill desk. I looked at all kind of models and thought about making my own. Ultimately I decided to go with LifeSpan. I didn't want to buy from Amazon, but with their crossed out retail prices, they always look like they have the best deal. Only it turns out a local company, Northwest Fitness, offered the treadmill desk I wanted for the exact same price. For a few dollars more, I had them deliver it, set it up, and take away the packing material.
And I started walking while I wrote. Before, my Fitbit would show me taking 10,000-15,000 steps a day. Now it's 20,000-25,000. The extra 10,000 steps are all coming from when I'm working. In other words, it's not taking any more time. I use my treadmill desk about three hours a day.
I've wanted to lose weight forever, but every year it's crept up a little, and the creeping got faster after I hurt my knee last March and had to stop running.
I got my treadmill two months ago and since then I have lost 12 pounds! I have not changed my diet (which is generally pretty healthy with healthy portions) at all.
I cannot tell you happy this makes me. I'm at the lowest weight I've been in nearly a decade. Of course, I'm already doing the kind of inaccurate math that quickly gets you into trouble ("If the stock market rose 1% today, then in 100 days, my money will double!") but even if I don't lose another pound I'll still be really happy.
I’ve been preaching all along that characters need a clear sense of motivation and objective, those twin drivers that are often part of the same coin. Objective is, simply put, what a character wants to do, and motivation is why they want to do it. Each character should have these things in their back story, even if the objectives are smaller (for secondary characters and such). The protagonist of your story should have the clearest objective and motivation of all, with an overarching need/goal for the entire story arc, as well as more tangible objectives and motivations throughout, from chapter to chapter.
When you’re thinking about this, I also want you to think about balancing positive and negative motivation. Let’s start with negative motivation. Maybe you’re someone who hasn’t had the, ahem, pleasure of experiencing a lot of negative motivation in your life, and for that I commend you. But it goes something like this:
Everyone always told me I’d never make anything of myself. Well, I’d prove them wrong. Smoothing my brand new thrift shop suit down to get rid of any last wrinkles (though doing anything about its smell was impossible this late in the game), I headed into the job interview.
I joke that spite is a terrific motivator. And it is. We often react to adversity by stubbornly wanting to best it. But it’s important to note that this is a reaction to something negative in life that we’re inspired to overcome. It’s negative motivation to want to show your bully what’s what, or land a new job because your stupid current boss thinks you’re a bad employee, or want to claw out of poverty because you never had anything growing up. The motivation is valid, but the aspiration had roots in something negative instead of something positive.
On the other hand, positive motivation is more of a proactive goal. Take one example from what I just wrote: growing up in poverty. You could write two very different characters with the same backstory and related-but-distinct motivations, one negative, one positive. Character A wants to claw their way out of poverty, indeed, because they never had anything good growing up and it sure feels crummy. The buck stops, or rather starts now, and they’re going to do something about it. Character B grew up the same way, with the same kind of deprivation. But they’re positively motivated, they see what they want to do and why in a different light. Maybe they aspire to be the only person in their family to go to college, or maybe they’d like to provide a better childhood for their own kids than they ever had.
I bet I conjure very different people in your mind just by describing Character A vs. Character B in terms of motivation. One is negatively motivated, one positively. They’ll do different things to reach their goals, and justify them with different logic.
In your own manuscript, keep an eye on who is negatively motivated and who is positively motivated. If you want to mix it up, get their negative vs. positive motivations in balance, so that there’s a little bit of both in each. They feel adversity but also possibility. That’s where you’ll find complexity.
Related but slightly different are passive and active motivation. Passive motivation is a condition that exists (unfairness in the world, for example) that your character thinks about and wants to solve or overcome. But it’s not something they can affect directly, it’s more part of their general situation. Active motivation, on the other hand, refers to something they have control over and that they can work toward by taking concrete steps. The needle is obvious and they know how to move it.
All of these are shades to the same issue, and it gives you more to think about as you craft your characters.
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:
Horrible Internet Connection My internet has only been working when it feels like it, so getting online has been sporadic at best. If you are waiting to hear from me, I apologize. I'm trying to get this fixed today, but you know how that goes with phone companies. If I'm delayed in responding to comments or commenting on your blog, you know why.
January Feature on Megan McDade's Blog The very awesome Megan McDade is going to feature me on her blog in January and is asking people to comment on her post right now with questions you'd like me to answer. So I'd love it if you dropped by Megan's blog to leave me a question. You can find her blog here.
Editing I finished a revision on my latest Ashelyn Drake manuscript, so I'm back in editing mode and working on client edits this week.
Remodeling We finally finished painting the addition we put on the house. The countertop people are coming Tuesday (after canceling on us last week). Next up is flooring upstairs. We're getting close!
Catching Up on My Reading I'm all caught up on reading the books I promised to review. Yay! Most recently, I finished An Absence of Light by Meradeth Houston and Rite of Rejection by Sarah Negovetich. Both were amazing!
The Use of Literary Devices in Picture Books: Part 1 by Beth Ferry
As parents, we are constantly teaching our children about the world: rules, facts and essential life truths such as: Be kind. Be patient. Bees sting. Eat your vegetables. Don’t eat the sand. Say please and thank you. Don’t step on that ant. As they grow older, teaching can morph into school related lessons: spelling tools, vocabulary words, and math tricks such as Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally. As they grow even older, teaching becomes somehow more life affirming: Don’t drive and text. Be kind. Be true to yourself. Do your best. Hold your head up high. High school only lasts for four years.
In return, our children teach us how to be patient and forgiving. How to be creative and inventive. How to be happy. Watching them grow and learn has taught me a lot about myself, and I am a better person because I am a parent. But it is a rare event that I learn something academically new from my children. There are plenty of instances where I’ll encounter something I absolutely once knew, but have lost on the journey to adulthood, like, you know, the sum of interior alternate angles or how to balance a chemical equation. My college major was English after all. So imagine my surprise when, while reading aloud my new work-in-progress, my teenage son says “That’s anaphora.”
Stop the merry-go-round. What is he saying? Is it Latin? Text-talk? A new girl in his class? He explains it is a literary device he is learning about in AP English concerning rhetoric. What? He shows me his list of literary terms and I suddenly morph into a kid in a candy shop, marveling over this plethora of devices that I am unconsciously using and about which I have heard nary a whisper. I scurry off to devour this list, to taste each device and explore my own skill in using such lofty literary language without even knowing it.
There are reasons that these literary devices exist. It is because they work. The use of these devices makes writing stronger, more lyrical, more beautiful. Without even knowing it, I bet you will find your work peppered with polysyndeton, anadiplosis and euphony. Here are some of my favorites:
Alliteration.This one you will know as it is very common in picture books. I love alliteration and I’m sure you are familiar with the repetition of similar sounds in the beginning of successive words. I use them a lot in titles such as Stick and Stone or Pirate’s Perfect Pet.
Anadiplosis.This is the repetition of the last word of the preceding clause in the beginning of the next sentence. So it is almost like a word-segue between sentences. It’s hard to do, but very effective. The most recent and perfect example I can think of comes from the lyrics to the song “Glad You Came” by The Wanted: Turn the lights out now Now I’ll take you by the hand Hand you another drink Drink it if you can
Anaphora. This device is like alliteration but involving words instead of sounds. It is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of every clause or sentence. The opening of A Tale of Two Cities is the perfect example: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness. . . It was the epitome of anaphora.
Anastrophe.Using this device allows the order of the noun and adjective to be reversed – think Yoda. It is also knows as hyperbaton, from the Greek meaning ‘transposition’. Poe uses this device to great effect, “Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing.”
Assonance. Like alliteration, assonance repeats sounds, but the sounds produced by the vowels only, such as “purple curtain”. In the same vein, consonance is the repetitive use of the consonant sounds, usually at the end – stuck, streak, luck. You probably use both of these without even knowing it.
Beth will return with MORE LITERARY DEVICES next month. Rest assured…there are LOTS more!
Beth Ferry lives and writes near the beach. Her debut book, Stick and Stone, will be released on April 7, 2015 by HMH. Land Shark (Chronicle) will be released in Fall 2015 and Pirate’s Perfect Pet (Candlewick) follows in Fall 2016.
I love the posts over at Tara Lazar's site every November during PiBoIdMo! Some inspire me by presenting a new way to look at creativity, and some are reminders of things that I already knew, but seem to forget about when trying to create!
All entries must be postmarked between January 1 and January 31, 2015.
No entry form or fee is required.
Entrants must be at least 16 years old at the time of submission.
We welcome work from both published and unpublished authors. All submissions must be previously unpublished and not found online.
Stories may be any length up to 750 words. Indicate the word count in the upper right-hand corner of the first page of your manuscript.
No crime, violence, or derogatory humor.
Entries not accompanied by a self-addressed, stamped envelope will not be returned.
Manuscripts or envelopes should be clearly marked FICTION CONTEST. Those not marked in this way will be considered as regular submissions to Highlights.
SEND ENTRIES TO:
Highlights for Children
803 Church Street
Honesdale, PA 18431
The three winning entries will be purchased by Highlights and announced on Highlights.com in June 2015. All other entries will be considered for purchase by Highlights. For details about our purchase policies, please see our contributor guidelines: https://www.highlights.com/contributor-guidelines
Highlights for Children Fiction Contest Winners for 2014:
“Harold’s Hat” by Mike Allegra
“Easter with Baba Lena” by Vila Gingerich
“Heart Surprises” by Clare Mishica
There is an art to narrative summary. Ideally the information should be related through the point of view character's lens, not an info dump, like this:
The city was founded in 1779 by tea and sugar plantation owners who commissioned elaborate mansions on top of the hill with a view of the inlet that was large enough to dock their ships. Small villages soon cropped up along the periphery to house the tradesmen needed to service their needs. Over the centuries, the spaces between were filled until it became a crowded, mish-mash of squalor and grandeur.
This passage provides the information, but dully and through the prism of the writer, not the character.
Info dumps are often found in prologues, epilogues, summaries of what happened in previous books, long dialogue passages,as you knowdialogue, long explanations of how things work, and extensive backstory.
Here are a few examples of how to use narrative summary effectively.
1. Narrative summary helps you skip ahead.
Sometimes you have to provide important background, condense time, and relate events that don't deserve a lot of page time through narrative summary.
The call came at five o'clock on a Saturday. Dick never forgot the pitch of the sun through the pines or the way his boots sank in the mud as he arrived at a scene to view his first corpse. After fifteen years, he'd seen so many bodies, in myriad locations,and every season.He no longer got the shakes, or the sicks, or the rapid pulse, but the scent of pine, dirt, and dying heat still filled his nostrils when he received a summons. Funny how some things stuck. He snapped on gloves and booties before ducking under the yellow tape blocking a snow-drenched alleyway in the heart of downtown Chicago. "What've we got?"
Narrative skips over the boring bits. Shift it into real-time when possible, particularly if you find paragraphs of it. Use specific details and strong word choices.
1) Narrative summary can offer new information or recap necessary information.
It should support, extend, or refute the information given through dialogue and action. It can add context in a timely fashion and set up expectation. It uses a few words that work hard and lead into or trail action and dialogue. If narrative runs on for paragraphs or pages, you have some editing to do.
The carpet fibers were a dead end: could have come from any low-rent apartment anywhere in town. The call-ins were a bunch of attention-seeking loonies. No legitimate suspects. No obvious motive. No one seemed to know anything about Jane. That was the problem these days: everyone had bloody telephones and computers and social media but never talked to their neighbors. Jane worked from home and played games with virtual friends. She ordered everything online or shopped at big box stores where everyone was strange and a stranger. There were no angles to grab hold of. Who would kill a girl who never seemed to leave her flat? But girls didn't just drag themselves into the woods, cover themselves with debris, and choke themselves with their own pantyhose. 2. Narrative transitions between scenes. Dick skipped the shower and shave and was at the crime scene by nine thirty. He stood next to the corpse lying on the ground who obviously hadn’t shaved in days either and the bath in the river hadn’t done him any favors.
3. Narrative wrinkles time.
Four days sped by in a series of dead leads and dull conversations. Dick tackled the stacks of paperwork he had successfully ignored for a month, drank gallons of coffee, and smoked endless packs of cigarettes. His anxiety grew like a bonfire as he waited for the DNA results.
?Read through your manuscript. Highlight areas that contain narrative. Decide whether you should turn narrative into action and dialogue. If not, is it serving a distinct purpose? Does it support, extend, add to, or refute a proposition? Does it condense time or provide important background?
?Does it involve tertiary characters or actions that are of lesser importance?
?Does it involve clichés?
?Have you told the reader what someone thinks or feels instead of showing it?
For more revision tips on revision and narrative summary check out.
A lot of readers ask me why I write the kinds of books I do.
First of all, I love mysteries and thrillers because they offer the built-in drama of life or death. The stakes can’t get any higher. There’s also crime fiction for every taste. It can be as cozy or as bloody as you like. The mystery can be solved by cats or shape-shifters, amateurs or professionals.
Mysteries and thrillers are also democratic - appealing to most people at some point, if only as a beach or airplane read. It’s one genre that attracts a wide following. Most men won’t read romance. A lot of people won’t read westerns or horror. But almost everyone will read a mystery or a thriller.
Making sense of the senseless All too often, real life often doesn’t make sense. Events happen randomly. You get a great new job, your best friend gets cancer, someone breaks into your car and steals one boot, you go to to the grocery store, you find a five-dollar bill in the bushes. There is no story arc.
It’s not always darkest before the dawn. Sometimes there is no dawn.
Real crimes are usually senseless and stupid. A lot of murders involve, not a criminal mastermind, but rival gang members, people selling drugs, men who can't believe their wife or girlfriend can really be leaving them, or someone who is far too drunk to be driving, let alone handling a gun.The murderer may not be a black-hearted villain and the victim is not always lily white.
The randomness of life is one reason why the more predictable patterns of fiction are so appealing. And in a book, you can usually count on there being a good guy. A good guy who wins at the end. He may be bloody and bruised, but he still wins.
There is something very satisfying about writing or reading those kind of stories.
Using brain, not brawn In a mystery or a thriller the crimes are usually clever, involving layers of deception. Each one is slowly peeled back to reveal yet another layer.
In the real world, killers are not often geniuses. The predator who manages to keep several steps ahead of the cops, or who plays a mean game of cat-and-mouse, is not a staple of real life. How much more satisfying for a reader to mentally match wits with a mastermind, not some mope with a gun.
And as a writer, it’s even more fun to think up a complicated, convoluted crime.
I tell clients all the time that my job is to manage expectations. Part of working with a freelance editor is expecting to be pushed outside of your manuscript comfort zone a little bit. Most writers come to me with the thought, “I am excited by my idea but I know there are several things that aren’t working. I want to learn and grow and make it better.” Maybe that writer has gotten some early feedback from critique partners about things that need tweaking. Or they’ve already done an unsuccessful submission round with agents or editors and they didn’t get the response they expected. Or maybe their manuscript isn’t meeting their own internal expectations and they just don’t know what to do about it. Enter a second pair of eyes: an editor.
A small percentage of writers, however, and I’ve only had this experience twice in my editorial career, are so convinced of the merits of the manuscript that they’re not looking for an editor. They are looking, I’d imagine, to get on the radar of someone even tangentially connected to the industry, and get a booster to the top. Maybe they think I will recommend them personally to agents. Maybe they think I’ll start agenting again myself for the sake of scooping up a hot project. Or maybe they just want the gold star from someone who has made a career of saying, basically, “yes” or “no” to thousands of other writers.
I try very hard to generate constructive, actionable feedback. I’ve never sent a set of notes that says, “This sucks, it’s dead in the water, and you should probably stick with your day job.” One time, at a conference, I met with a writer who told me something shocking. “This,” she said, “is the first manuscript I’ve written in twenty-five years. I had a writing teacher in college tell me I was no good, and it hurt so much that I stopped writing altogether.”
This woman lost twenty-five years of her writing life. She clearly loved doing it, but because one voice (in a presumed position of authority) told her she wasn’t good enough, she gave up on her dream for a quarter of a decade (and almost all of her adult life up until that point). People perceive me as an authority, too. And so I have made it my goal to never wield that power in a way that hurts a writer.
Do I rave about every manuscript unequivocally, then? Absolutely not. Even excellent writers have some blind spots. So whether I’m helping a beginning writer cut fancy “said” synonyms out of their dialogue, or I’m helping an MFA-graduate with beautiful prose work on plot and overall sales hook, I try my best to do it with the dignity and respect that each writer and each manuscript deserves, for where they are in their individual journey.
All that said, I still run into writers who have expectations that perhaps outpace their current manuscripts. Whether those expectations are of the one-in-a-million runaway success, or their shot at being a multimedia mogul, perhaps even in the query letter, I see this happen with writers. They’ve created websites, maybe, or products, or they’ve already self-published. They have a lot to say about various awards they’ve won or endorsements they’ve gotten. There’s little talk about the manuscript, though, as if that was just an afterthought.
This sends a message to me that the writer isn’t as interested in rolling up their sleeves and working on the product itself. To me, everything but the manuscript is just noise. You can send me a t-shirt with your characters on it, or a list of testimonials from school appearances, and all that is fine and good. I’m a driven, type-A personality, too, and I have way more ideas than I have time to make them all a reality. I respect proactive people. But my only concern is the manuscript.
It’s what an agent or editor will respond to. It’s what will stand out among the noise if it’s, indeed, worthwhile. I saw excitement bubbling over for a perfectly lovely client last week, and I wrote to them: “The only way to get someone excited about your work is by presenting good work, and letting it speak for itself.” It’s easy to say but very hard to do. It’s also at the very core of what I do as an editor. Every writer has a different personality, and some are more eager than others. That’s okay. My job, however, is to help put the crucial piece of that manuscript into place, and help writers create good work so that they can then present it. It’s as simple and as difficult as that, but, man, do I love my job.
At the Writer Unboxed Unconference last week—what a treat!—in one of agent Donald Maass’s workshops he talked about how good novel manuscripts fall short. The place they primarily fall short is in the middle. Too often editors report back to him that it just “lost steam.” He had excellent approaches to avoiding that, including engaging the reader with a character starting on the first page.
A writer at the conference posted the photo below, and it does such a fine job of showing the importance of the middle I just had to share it.
Submissions still needed for flogging. I have just one for this week.
Just as some writers excel at creating believable and intriguing characters and others at creating exciting and meaningful action, some characters are better at opening up and showing emotion in stories while others excel at taking action.
In my work with writers, what I find fascinating is that often character-driven writers who love to delve into the characters' internal landscape often write about characters who before moving on when faced with failure / challenges / obstacles in the middle:
Reflect how they are doing
Evaluate their behavior and reactions
Look at what went wrong from all angles
Learn from their mistakes
While action-driven writers often develop characters who are more impulsive and when faced with failure / challenges / obstacles in the middle:
Don't tend to stop to evaluate what went wrong
Focus on the achieving the goal
In other words, often writers who excel at goal-setting for their characters and love action seem to create characters who move and act quickly and often impulsively to reach the reward at the end.
Writers who excel at creating characters who feel seem to create characters who think and ponder and evaluate on their way to reaching the reward at the end.
This is a repost from my personal blog, and it’s something that I KEEP finding myself pointing writers to this NaNoWriMo.
As such, this has become a personal “disclaimer” of sorts, and I thought the lovely readers of Pub Crawl might enjoy it too.
I get a lot of emails (and tweets, tumblr asks, facebook messages, etc.) asking me about my process–and that’s great! I love sharing what I do, and I love hearing about what YOU do.
But the thing is, no matter what my process is (or her process…or his process), at the end of the day, the writing is all that really matters.
I think it’s easy to get caught up in different “methods” or “outlining plans” or “character creation schemes” because we’re all looking for that Top Secret Foolproof Magic Bullet. I see this most often in new writers–they want that special, insider trick that will make writing a breeze.
Heck, I see it in experienced writers too. They think, If I just follow X-author’s approach step-by-step, then the first draft will basically write itself!
Or, If I just interview my characters like Y-author does, then that first draft will pour out of me!
Or even, If I find my story cookies like Sooz does and write screenplays for every scene, then this book won’t be hard to write!
And I totally understand that attitude, guys! I mean, no one is more guilty of wanting a Magic Bullet than I. Whenever I’m feeling even the slightest resistance in my drafting, I’ll start scouring books on craft 0r author blogs or online workshops. I want anything that will make this writing easier!
But at the end of the day, no matter what method I use–no matter how carefully I prepare or how strictly I follow X-author’s Top Secret Foolproof Magic Bullet–I still have to write the book. All the outlines in the world won’t change that. Knowing my characters as well as I know myself won’t change that either. And even getting pumped up with my cheerleading critique partners won’t change that CRUCIAL step in writing a book.
You know, the part where I actually have to write a book.
Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t explore other methods and techniques. I love trying new approaches to the same “problem.” But you HAVE to realize that no matter what: you’re still going to have to write a book, word by word, page by page, and scene by scene.
You’re going to have put your butt in the chair and your hands on the keyboard. You’re going to have to push through every chapter until you reach, The End. And nothing–absolutely nothing in this entire world (short of hiring someone to do it for you) will change the fact that the writing is all that really matters.
So go forth and write. Even when you feel shaky and unsure.
ESPECIALLY when you feel shaky and unsure.
Sit down (or stand. That’s what I do.) and write one sentence. Then write another sentence. Then write another and another until you have a page.
And then write another page. And another after that.
Don’t stop! Keep going. Maybe not right away, but a wrote little bit as often you can, and eventually you’ll find yourself with a finished book.
If you like what you read here, consider signing up for my newsletter, the Misfits & Daydreamersor swinging by my For Writers page! All subscribers get a free guide to query writing OR a free extra scene from A Darkness Strange & Lovely.
Before she settled down as a full-time novelist and writing instructor, Susan Dennard traveled the world as marine biologist. She is the author of the Something Strange and Deadly series as well as the forthcoming Witchlands series (Tor, 2015), and when not writing, she can be found hiking with her dogs, exploring tidal pools, or practicing her tap dance shuffles. You can learn more about Susan on her blog, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, or Wattpad.
First at workshop I did for the Idaho Writers League conference a month or so ago and then for the Writer Unboxed Writer’s conference, I created a “first-page checklist.” This has grown out of seeing and working with more than 825 submissions to FtQ and the manuscripts I edit. I offer it below for your consideration and use. If you want to download a PDF version, click here. The checklist also appears in my new writing book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling, one of the content additions to the old Flogging a Quill book that is now out of print.
Let me focus for a moment on the first thing a first page should be doing:
It begins connecting the reader with the protagonist.
This notion grew out of a workshop by literary agent and fiction analyst Donald Maass. He reported that, in his agenting business, editors will often reject a novel saying, “It ran out of steam.” The reasons most manuscripts fall short are that not enough is happening in the middle and that the editor is not truly engaged with the protagonist, there has been no strong connection made. Maass suggests, and I agree, that you’re in a stronger position if you begin making that connection on the first page. I went in and revised the first page of my WIP after learning this. I like it better.
A couple of caveats go with this checklist: first, they are not rules, they are guidelines. No writer should feel that their first-page narrative checks off every box—although it can, and if it does it has a better chance of being compelling.
Secondly, I’ve seen where a strong first-person narrative can ignore many of these items and still compel. Part of what the outliers do is have a strong voice, the one ingredient besides story questions that can compel a page turn. Another part is that a first-person narration can raise strong story questions even without action, a scene, etc.
Before I post the list, let me offer once again a FREE ebook copy (Kindle, epub/Nook, PDF) of my new Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling in return for reviews. Just email me and I can send you a copy.
The paperback is now for sale on my website--it's signed, free shipping, and discounted $16.99$15. It's also at Amazon, but not signed. The Kindle edition is available here. And here's a free PDF sample.
And now here’s a first-page checklist, though it wouldn’t hurt to hold all of your pages up to these criteria. The checklist can be a good tool for spotting shortcomings where a narrative sags. PDF here.
A First-page Checklist
It begins connecting the reader with the protagonist
Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
What happens moves the story forward.
What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
The protagonist desires something.
The protagonist does something.
There’s enough of a setting to orient the reader as to where things are happening.
It happens in the NOW of the story.
Backstory? What backstory? We’re in the NOW of the story.
Set-up? What set-up? We’re in the NOW of the story.
What happens raises a story question—what happens next? or why did that happen?
For me, writing is so many things. I've experienced an array of emotions because of my crazy need to write. So today, I'm sharing what writing is to me.
an outlet for creativity
demanding and at times all-consuming
fun and totally inspiring
lonely at times
an emotional roller coaster
as natural and necessary to me as breathing
part of who I am
Yes, my list has positives and negatives. There are days when I wonder why I torture myself by being an author. Publishing is crazy and extremely hard. I've cried so many tears over the years, yet I keep writing. As much as writing takes out of me, it continues to give me so much more. I couldn't imagine doing anything else (except for editing, but that's part of writing, too). So I'll continue to take the bad with the good and hope the good wins out in the end, because I've discovered that putting words on paper is something I have to do. It's a part of me.
This month I polled Twitter for a topic and one that intrigued me was “author expectations vs. author reality.” I’m going to limit it to my top three (because wow, that got long quickly), and add how I cope with these differences, but I want to know what you guys think too!
Expectation: Publication Day is life-changing. Suddenly everyone is reading your book. Bookstore rankings are shining gold.
Reality: Nothing really changes on publication day. I mean, it’s really cool! But it’s also a little anticlimactic. There’s all this build up to the day of the book release, and then the day arrives and it’s just another day, albeit a day that people can now purchase the book you’ve spent so long writing and slaving over.
The day, while it feels like it should be all about you, isn’t really. Not totally. Other books are coming out too. Some of them might have more hype and promotion and therefore feel like they’re getting more attention. It’s a bummer. It’s really humbling. And it’s so easy to just sit at home and wonder why this life-changing event (your book is coming out!!!) feels like a let-down.
How I’ve learned to deal: The day my first book came out, I stayed at home and watched the numbers on That Retailer Site. (I was disappointed.) I answered lots of tweets! (That was great.) I went to a bookstore to find they’d lost two copies of my book and hadn’t put the other two out. (I wanted to shrivel up and die.)
The next two books, I decided to travel. And I will likely be traveling on release day for all the rest of my books if I can help it. Traveling gave me a sense of control, like I was doing something useful. When the airport small talk happened, I told people I was heading to my book launch party and I gave them my card (with my book cover on it). Traveling also keeps me from checking numbers or comparing myself to others. I don’t have time to look at those things! And, as self-centered as it may sound, it gives me the feeling that the day is all about me and my book.
And while I’ve learned to accept a slight anticlimactic feeling, I’ve also started reminding myself that things have changed. My books are out. People can buy them. People I don’t know, even. And that’s pretty great.
Expectation: I can totally write several books a year.
Reality: I’ve always been what a lot of people view as a “fast” writer. Before I was published, I often wrote two or three books a year, occasionally more. I thought a book-a-year schedule was nothing — maybe even too slow. But now that I’m on the book-a-year schedule, I realize just how difficult it actually is.
There’s not just writing the book, but editing and more editing and more editing. Crit partners get a crack at the book. So does the agent. And the editor. And just when you think you’ve spent more than seven months revising a book to death and you can’t look at it again, copyedits arrive and the book must be read yet again. And no, that isn’t all! Pass pages!
As if that wasn’t enough, while you’re getting those pass pages and copyedits, often you’re already writing a new book, so you must tear yourself from the new book, stick your head back in the first book for a week or so, and then jump into the new book again.
And then, you must promote the first book while you’re editing the new book and planning (or possibly already writing) a new new book.
And boy, if you want to write novellas or collaborate on another project in there, just forget about sleep or answering those emails piling up in the inbox.
How I’ve learned to deal: Planning and schedules has become very important to me. Also, communication. I give my agent an idea of what I have coming up, how long I think it will take me, and she doesn’t so much keep me on track (I’m an adult, after all) as check in every now and then to make sure I’m still good. That way, if I need more time on something, or I’m struggling with a book, she can help me out. I do the same thing with my editor, though that’s more limited to what is actually under contract, with harder dates for when I’d like to turn something in.
And any time I start feeling like the book-a-year schedule is too slow, I force myself to think about how busy I am this time of the year, when I’m editing a book, promoting a book, planning a new book (and in this year’s special case, writing four novellas and co-writing another book). Remembering that there insanely busy times keeps me from getting out of control.
Expectation: I can just write all day. In my pajamas. And eat cookies. It’s great.
Reality: Well, it is great, but it’s not all just writing in my pajamas and eating cookies. Sometimes people ask what a typical writing day looks like, but the truth is there is no typical day besides trying desperately to make sure you get enough writing done that you don’t feel like a failure.
There’s the never-ending emails to answer, social media accounts that like to be maintained, and all the non-book writing you do (like this blog post!) that doesn’t pay but is still useful. There’s traveling, school visits (and preparation for), bookstore visits, and festivals to attend.
While it’s true that a lot of that is fun (maybe too much fun sometimes!), it’s all time that’s spent not writing. And if you’re not careful, it can really pile up and end up with missed deadlines. After all, that stuff is work too. And writing can sometimes feel like a reward (other times punishment) that you do after all the hard work is done.
How I’ve learned to deal: I remind myself that writing is my job. Not tweeting (though how cool would that be!) or any of those other things.
When I get invited to places, or requests to do school visits/interviews/blog posts, I ask myself honestly: do I have time for this? Can I do all of this stuff around writing my book? If I feel like maybe I can’t meet my deadline and attend the fun book festival all my friends are going to . . . then I stay home and write.
For the day-to-day stuff that can make writing vanish, again, I make writing the priority. If I’m feeling distracty, I close everything else that wants my attention. And I just write. Then, after I’ve accomplished my goal for the day, I go in and take care of some of the stuff I missed.
And then I go do something fun and relaxing, because I am the kind of person who will easily overwork herself and by golly sometimes I just need to knit.
So, those are my top three expectation vs. reality. What about you guys? Any others up there? How do you deal with reality?
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 forth coming ORPHAN QUEEN Duology (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen). *A Kippy is a cat.