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Dialects and accents in fiction are a particular source of contention for me. One of the characters in my historical fiction is a Native American girl who speaks English as a second language. Critique partners and my own ears have told me that her speech needs work, so for literally months I've been thinking about the issue of how to write dialects and accents in a believable way. Then, while I was reading Maggie Stiefvater's THE RAVEN BOYS, I discovered some easy techniques to show the reader how the character sounds. First:
The voice was careful, masculine, and local; the vowels had all the edges sanded off.
The simplicity of this just kills me. Steifvater doesn't go into detail describing the individual sounds of the character's speech, the phonetics, how the sentences are put together. She succinctly tells how the words sound, then writes them the normal way, and the reader's brain fills in the rest. In this particular case, the story takes place in Virginia. If you're familiar with the way Virginians talk, then the "local" reference will immediately clue you in to how the speaker sounds. And if you're unfamiliar with the accent, you get a good feel for it with the description she gives of the vowels.
Here's another example of how you can describe someone's speech when you're referencing a known language or accent:
When he was uncertain about something, his Southern accent always made an appearance, and it was in evidence now.
Not only does this clue the reader in as to how the character speaks, but it also reveals his frame of mind. This is an excellent example of description that does more than just describe.
Here's one more sample, this time describing an elderly English gentleman's speech:
Without further preamble, Malory launched into a one-sided conversation about the weather, the historical society's past four meetings, and how frustrating his neighbor with the collie was. Gansey understood about three quarters of the monologue. After living in the UK for nearly a year, Gansey was good with accents, but Malory's was often difficult, due to a combination of slurring, chewing, extreme age, bad breeding, and a poor phone connection.
|Courtesy of Gerry Balding|
The conversation that follows doesn't include any hard-to-read pronunciations or truncated verbs (talkin', eatin', drivin', etc.). Malory's rambly style of speaking, combined with the previous description, are enough to give the reader a feel for how he sounds: like an old British man who slurs his words and eats while he talks.
Descriptions like these tell precisely how the character speaks without putting the reader through mental acrobatics and having to work too hard to figure out what's being said. While some stories succeed with this hyper-focus on unique speech patterns (Forrest Gump, Brer Rabbit), a simpler method like Stiefvater's might work for you. I know I'll be trying it with my WIP.
For another great post on this topic
, check out Janice Hardy's blog.
A few weeks ago I shared a bit of wisdom I learned from Bruce Coville at the Florida SCBWI's winter conference. In that post, I related how important it is for us, as writers, to lengthen the chain
for our readers. Bruce went on to share a few practical ways for us to do this:
1. Take Your Art Seriously, But Also Take Yourself Seriously As A Business Person. Learn to read contracts. Learn to negotiate. Know what's happening in the industry.
This is important because the more secure you are from a business standpoint, the more attention you can give to the writing of your stories. Confidence creates freedom—from indecision, from worrying that you missed something, from stressing over having to do something that you know you suck at (like balancing the checkbook or creating a marketing plan). If we can educate ourselves on the business-y things, we'll become more confident in our abilities, which frees us up to focus on the writing.
2. Take Your Art Seriously But Take Yourself Lightly. Strive to be great, but also try to be good.
Oh my word. How awesome is this? Because good people do good things, right? If we're so tied up in our craft and our ego, how will we have time for the real world and the people in it? Craft is important, but kindness and patience and forgiveness and truth-sharing—these are the gifts that truly help others. If we embrace these good things and practice them ourselves, not only will we be helping others in real life, but the goodness will also come through in our writing.
3. Never Throw Anything Away. Ideas are usually better than your skill level.
He talked about going back years later and rewriting an earlier story idea that he hadn't been able to do justice to at the time. My skill level hasn't evolved quite that far, but I HAVE learned the fine art of cannibalization. That story stinks, but the setting is really unique and interesting. Let me use that in my WIP. This idea is pedantic and elementary, but I love the character. Into my new story he goes. Truly, no idea is without value.
4. Embrace the Unfinished Chord. Leave something for the reader to dream about.
As a musician, I LOVE this analogy. An unfinished chord is...somewhat unsettling. It fills you with this itching desire for something more. This is one of my criteria for a truly great book: reading the final page and thinking about the story...and thinking. Going to bed and waking up...still thinking. As an author, I'd love for each of my stories to leave a little question in the reader's mind. Something to keep them thinking and make them wonder and maybe start them asking questions they wouldn't have asked before.
**photo credit: medically_irrelevant via photopin cc
Good stuff, yes? Thank you, Bruce Coville, for sharing your wisdom and thereby lengthening all of our chains.
And one last bit of good news...
INDIERECON STARTS TODAY!
If you're an author (or want to be), you must make plans to attend the Indie Revolution Conference, or as we like to call it: Indie ReCon - making Indie publishing a mission possible! While the conference focuses on Indie publishing, there will be tons of advice that will benefit writers who utilize all publishing styles. And during the conference, our presenters and partners will be giving out loads of prizes - including new kobo e-readers.
Best of all, you can attend online, for FREE. That means you can stay snuggled in your pajamas, sipping a beverage of your choice, while we deliver the content to you. The conference runs February 19 through the 21st. Sign up now to ensure you don't miss important news and for a chance to win even more prizes. (We promise we don't spam.) So GO. Sign up
now. You won't regret a single minute of this amazing free conference.
*photo credit: visualpanic via photopin cc
I attended the Florida SCBWI's Winter Conference last month—as a speaker, which was major league awesome, and I'll write more about that another time. But frankly, I was so blown away by what headliner Bruce Coville had to say that I wanted to share that first.
The speech he gave was called Lengthening the Chain.
It's from a passage out of John Berger's Here is Where we Meet.
In an exchange between a mother and a son, the mother starts by saying..."One thing repaired changes a thousand others.”
The son replies, “So?”
And out flows a maternal speech: "The dog down there is on too short a chain. Change it, lengthen it. Then he’ll be able to reach the shade, and he’ll lie down and he’ll stop barking. And the silence will remind the mother she wanted a canary in a cage in the kitchen. And when the canary sings, she’ll do more ironing. And the father’s shoulders in a freshly ironed shirt will ache less when he goes to work. And so when he comes home he’ll sometimes joke, like he used to, with his teenage daughter. And the daughter will change her mind and decide, just this once, to bring her lover home one evening. And on another evening, the father will propose to the young man that they go fishing together… Who in the wide world knows? Just lengthen the chain."
Coville went on to discuss how what we do as writers matters. He read a letter he'd received from a man who had read his books as a child. One passage had touched this man in a profound way and stayed with him throughout adolescence, influencing him to eventually join the Peace Corps and work for a number of years in a third-world country. Imagine the number of lives this young man was able to touch and change for the better, because of an idea Coville had written into one of his stories.
Coville then went on to share a story about Alex Flinn, author of Breathing Underwater
. When a fan read this book about a girl in a destructive relationship, it gave her the courage to break things off with her own abusive boyfriend, and then reach out to other girls caught in the spiral of abuse.
Ellen Hopkins, who writes gritty stories in verse about difficult contemporary topics, was another speaker at the conference. She was contacted by a young drug-addicted girl who was disheartened by her many failed attempts to get straight. After reading Ellen's words, this girl gained the courage to try a final time. At their last correspondence, she'd been clean for 7 months.
We hear it all the time: our words have power
. But here's proof, people. Words can be transformative, not only in the life of the reader, but in all the lives the reader touches.Well, sure
, you say, if you happen to write about drug addiction and physical abuse and life-or-death topics like that. What if I don't? How can my stories lengthen the chain and help my readers?
The way All Dogs Go to Heaven
comforted a girl grieving the recent loss of her pet
The way a fictional story about a horse
could enlighten an entire world as to the reality of animal cruelty
The way a book about rabbits
astounded a child with the truth that "nice people aren't always nice and evil doesn't always wear a black hat"
The way a great story
can turn a non-reader into a voracious one
The way the familiarity and simple goodness of Little House on the Prairie and Anne of Green Gables could bring comfort and peace to a new mom in the throes of postpartum depression. [Guess who :)]
The fact is, there are a million ways that a story written from your heart can touch someone else's—by giving comfort, revealing a truth, introducing a character that the reader recognizes in him or herself, or simply providing a few hours of joy. So write the story that is yours to write. Be honest and brave and original, and use your gift to lengthen the chain for someone else.Photo Credit: Rev. Xanatos Satanicos Bombasticos (ClintJCL) via photopin cc
Don't go to the car wash when it's 16 degrees outside.
But if you do, don't panic when the doors won't open and you are stuck in the car.
After about 20 minutes in the garage, they should thaw out.
(Keep snacks in the car just in case.)
Blog: The Bookshelf Muse
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I’ll admit my mind is blown knowing there are over 10, 000 Emotion Thesaurus books out there in the world. Becca and I are thrilled, and so appreciative to all the writers and teachers who took a chance on it. As aspiring novelists, we know just how hard it is to write and the perseverance it takes to create a book. Providing a tool to help other writers with emotion is nothing short of an honor (sappy, I know, but true. Writers rule and we love you guys!)
In that same spirit of wanting to contribute, we thought it might be beneficial to share our focus as we sent The Emotion Thesaurus into the world. We realize this is a non-fiction book, not fiction. Novels are a harder sell--instead of dealing primarily with what a audience NEEDS like NF, it is more about what they WANT, and personal reading tastes are unpredictable. However, much of the strategy we used with the ET can be adapted for fiction, so hopefully novelists will find value here regardless.
A Bit of History...
As many of you know, The Emotion Thesaurus started on the blog as a 'set' of lists focusing on how to show a character’s feelings. Becca and I struggled with emotion, and when we could not find a good resource to help us, we created one. As it grew in popularity, readers asked us to turn it into an enhanced book version.
We chose self publishing for a few reasons, the most important being TIME. It can take years for a book to find a publisher and then be available to purchase, and writers and teachers needed it NOW. We also discovered someone pirating our content for profit, so waiting any longer to create the book would be foolhardy. We launched The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression on May 14th, 2012.
What We Had Going For Us
PLATFORM. Becca and I have worked since 2008 to build a place within the Writing Community, providing resources through this blog and forging genuine relationships with our audience. Our attitude has always been to contribute and do what we can to add value. It was our hope that our readers would be willing to help raise awareness for The Emotion Thesaurus book.
NICHE. Our book tackled a topic that writers struggle with, yet few resources were available to help. As writers, we knew exactly what type of tool was needed to help with emotion and body language.
What Stood Against Us
LACK OF CREDIBILITY. Becca and I were not authors (yet), nor accredited editors, and certainly not psychologists or experts on emotion. We had a platform, but no ‘book world’ clout. How could we possibly compete with the biggies in the Writing Resource field, names like Donald Maass, James Scott Bell, James N. Frey, The Plot Whisperer, or the dozens of other incredible, best-selling authors/experts?
SELF PUBLISHING. While the stigma is lessening, we all know bias remains. In some ways, creating a how-to writing resource and then choosing self publishing over traditional acted as a strike against us, meaning we would have to really prove ourselves with readers.
CONFIDENCE. This business is often a murky pool of feeling not worthy, not good enough. Without a book deal in place for our fiction to give us credibility or a degree/subject-specific education to hold up, we felt naked. Putting ourselves out there and donning the hat of authority that comes with writing any sort of how-to guide was terrifying.
The Scale Tipper
PASSION, BELIEF & TEAMWORK. As writers, we knew people needed this book. Heck, we needed it! We decided to create the best brainstorming tool we could and put all our effort into making it discoverable to those who might benefit from it. Working as a team allowed us to play off each others' strengths and aided in decision-making.
READYING FOR LAUNCH
- Set up a business
- Paid for a professional edit
- Hired a cover designer
- Outsourced formatting to a HTML goddess because the book is full of links and redirects
- Test-marketed it with a select group of writers & used feedback to strengthen
MISTAKE: choosing a launch date and under-estimating the time it would take for setting up the business (two authors in different countries is a pain), uploading, formatting challenges, fixing last minute typos (again, our formatter Heather is worth her weight in gold!) This created lots of down-to-the-wire stress. Test marketing the book (while super valuable) also meant enabling changes late in the game.
First Hurdle: Launching A Book Without Feeling Like A Timeshare Salesman
For two writers who hate promoting, this was a massive challenge. Look at me! I have a book! Buy it! <---our personal nightmare. We needed a way to let people know about the ET but not be eye-bulging, book-waving maniacs about it. After many facetimes, we realized that to do this in a way that felt right, we needed to return to our AUTHOR BRAND: writers helping & supporting other writers.
“Random Acts of Kindness for Writers” became our secret plan: instead of making our release date about us, we would do something to celebrate & thank writers. This was risky in the sense that to do it authentically, we had to steer attention AWAY from our book’s release. However, we felt the reward was twofold--traffic to our site, and it allowed us a way to pour our flag-waving passion into celebrating people who really deserve recognition and yet rarely get it. This event aligned perfectly with our pay-it-forward beliefs, driving us to do all we could to make it a success.
For brevity's sake, I won’t get into the nuts and bolts of how we set up the RAOK Blitz (but if enough people wish it, I can expand on this in a future post). Suffice to say it drew thousands of visitors and hundreds of writers participated, becoming a huge ‘feel good’ week for everyone that showcased the generous spirits of our Writing Community. :)
Marketing Boost: Becca and I gave away a free PDF called ‘Emotion Amplifiers’ as our RAOK gift to writers. This PDF booklet is a companion to The Emotion Thesaurus and has a similar layout. Our hope was that if a writer found it helpful, they might check the ET as well. (It’s still in our sidebar if you want a copy and helps with describing conditions like pain, exhaustion, stress, inebriation, etc.)
Second Hurdle: Reviews
A self-published book that is also non-fiction? Rough. Many professional reviewers will not take on SP books, and those that do usually only read fiction. So, instead of seeking out review sites, we put out a call out to Bookshelf Muse readers and asked if any of them were interested in reviewing the book. After all, the ET is BY writers FOR writers. Who better to review it? :)
We could not accommodate all the requests that came in, so we chose some reviewers strategically for their audience reach, and others through a random draw.
MISTAKE: We should have arranged for reviews much sooner. Due to not leaving ourselves enough time to get the book ready to go, we were unable to get a decent version out to reviewers until close to launch or after.
LUCK! Many people, after buying and using the ET, were so happy with it they wrote reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.
MORE LUCK! These reviews swayed even MORE people to take a chance on the book, and they in turn became avid word-of-mouth spreaders, telling writing friends and critique partners all about The Emotion Thesaurus. This led to better sales, top 20 ranking in several (paid) writing categories for print & kindle, a strong Amazon Best Sellers Rank, and placement on the Top Rated, Best Selling & Most Wished For lists (writing).
Marketing Tactics - Swag
We chose to invest in a postcard-sized bookmark that doubles as a Revision Tool. Many bookmarks lie forgotten in a drawer, or they end up being recycled. We wanted ours to stay right beside the computer during revisions, so we printed a ‘Crutch Word List’ on one side--words we commonly overuse and need to weed out. Our hope was that by making our swag useful, writers would hang onto it!
Spreading the word about a book can be difficult, so we put out a call (again utilizing our blog readers) and asked if people would be willing to take our bookmarks and hand them out to critique groups, or give them out at conferences and workshops. This allowed us to reach out beyond our own circle and hopefully reach new readers.
MISTAKE (?) This was a bit pricey considering the postage involved (some were sent worldwide), and took time to get addresses and mail out. We had no way to track the effectiveness. And while I have heard from people who said they saw them at conferences or were given one by another writer, we are not sure if the ‘mail out’ idea brought a significant return. But, the postcards are super handy to have at events where Becca and I are presenting, and we can pass them out afterward to keep the ET in people’s minds. So overall, this swag was worth it!
Marketing Tactics - Discoverability
The bulk of our marketing energy went into discoverability. Because we have such an amazingly supportive audience at The Bookshelf Muse, we chose a 'grassroots' approach rather than solicit big bloggers/sites for exposure. In our initial blog post asking for assistance from readers, we utilized a sign up form so the people who wanted to help us could, and in a manner that most appealed to them. The results of this was amazing--so many people offered to help get the word out!
One of our biggest needs was bloggers willing to host us for a visit. We were overwhelmed with gratitude to see how many people were willing to do this (have I mentioned how great you all are?) and we actually had to change how our form was worded to include offering book excerpts and reblogging previous TBM posts to accommodate the response. We ended up with over 115 hosts all told.
Attempting so many guest posts
caused panic attacks, obsessive chocolate binging, feelings of inadequacy *coughs* was daunting. But Becca organized everything (SHE IS AMAZING!) and put us on an aggressive schedule that would allow us to finish them all within a 4 month window. We created a master list of topics, most centered directly on content that would tie into Emotion & Body Language, so that each post was a planned, quality post. The best thank you to those who offered to help us was to write content that would bring them strong traffic, not just exposure for us.
GUEST POST TIP: We did our best to thank personally every person who hosted and helped. We also shared all links on our social networks to bring new people to their blogs. We truly appreciated their time and energy, and their desire to see us succeed.
MISTAKE #1: biting off more than we could chew. This was an enormous amount of guest posts (with more requests coming in as a result of this visibility) and so it meant we were both unable to write anything but blog content for a good 4 months. We managed to get them done and we have no regrets because of the great exposure, but it also meant other things slipped. There were a few blogging relationships and opportunities we were unable to stay on top of because we were so busy posting elsewhere. We also had a tough time commenting on blogs and getting email written. With such a strict timeline to adhere to, I worried about messing up and forgetting something vital, letting a host down.
MISTAKE #2: not thinking enough about how to keep up with our own blog AND everyone else’s. Luckily as we met new people at different blogs, we found folks who wanted to guest post for us. We were able to give them exposure in return and bring some good content to the blog (LUCK!) So while we made a mistake about over committing, it worked out.
MORE LUCK! These ‘seed’ guest posts led to some writing communities and bigger organizations contacting us. This resulted in book reviews and giveaways that were included in newsletters and offered exposure with bigger audiences. The Discoverability Tour worked!
Marketing Tactics: Giveaways
We utilized giveaways to generate interest in our book and bring attention to some of the blogs we visited. We purposefully did not host book giveaways during the month of May to encourage people to buy, not wait to win. We had a few giveaways in June and then more in July, August and September. Some were bigger exposure opportunities like being featured in a banner at the Writer’s Knowledge Base and as a prize at Ink Pageant (thanks guys--you rock!) We tried to go where our readers would be, and took advantage of opportunities that allowed us to reach beyond the Kidlit & YA writer’s network we know best in order to create inroads with Christian and other Adult genres who might not know us or The Bookshelf Muse.
Marketing Tactics: Distribution Channels
Becca and I talked about going KDP Select but neither of us could see the benefit to doing so right out the gate. In our minds, we wanted to ask a fair price for the books and have it available across as many channels as possible to reach readers where they are, not where we ‘chose’ to be. We distributed widely and included a PDF option for those who did not have ereaders or who felt more comfortable with PDF format. For those who like numbers, here’s the breakdown to 10,000 which we hit in September:
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*Prior to September, Kobo sales were bundled with Smashwords. Once Kobo created their own distribution, we uploaded direct. Sony sales are under the Smashwords umbrella.
You will notice that Print is quite strong. We believe this is partly because many writers like 'craft' books in paperback. We also have had feedback that some original digital buyers were so pleased with the ET, they later decided to invest in a print version, too.
Pricing: We chose the 4.99 price point for digital, and 14.99 for print. We have not changed the price nor offered the book for free. In the future we may change our pricing, but for now it works well with Extended Distribution, which we sell enough through to make it important to keep.
MISTAKE: not enabling Extended Distribution right from the start. Originally we didn’t think it would do us much good, until we realized without it, we could not get onto Amazon.ca. Seeing as I live in Canada, it is important that the people I meet at events or at my workshops have a way to get the book. Not doing this before May meant a six week lag of fielding emails from Canadians unable to buy the book.
Marketing Tactics: Paid Advertizing
We opted to not invest in any paid advertising. I think this was the right decision for us, but do see us choosing a few select ads in the future.
Where We Got Extra Lucky
- Winning Top 20 Best Blogs For Writers with Write To Done a few months before The Emotion Thesaurus released. This raised our profile significantly, and at a critical time.
- Once sales started climbing, Amazon would send out mailers to people who purchased writing related books, and sometimes The Emotion Thesaurus was listed as a ‘Those that purchased X might also like’ pick.
- A price war between B & N and Amazon. For the last week of September, the two duked it out, lowering the book’s price daily until the discount put it under 10 bucks. Average sales nearly doubled for print (although sales dipped that week for Kindle).
A Few Extraneous Mistakes
- Not soliciting endorsements. We didn’t do this in advance of publishing the ET because we were worried about being turned down, worried about getting the cold shoulder because we were newcomers and new authors. Now more than ever we are seeing an acceptance of SP, and of Traditional authors making the leap. Endorsements probably would have helped us greatly and so moving forward we’ll be seeking them out.
- Not believing in ourselves enough at the start. I think we wasted a lot of energy on doubt because we hadn’t published before (except in magazines) and we were afraid that while we felt The Emotion Thesaurus added value, others would not. The response to The Emotion Thesaurus has been nothing short of phenomenal and knowing that Illinois State University is using it in their Creative Writing curriculum makes us incredibly proud. A self published book going to University...who would have thought?
Thoughts to Leave You With
Looking back, I believe we did two things right that led to everything else:
First, we created a book that readers are very happy with, and it fulfills a need in a way that they are excited to share it with people they know. (We are so, so, SO grateful to this word-of-mouth. Thank you all for doing this!)
Second, we live our brand: writers who help and support other writers. This is who we are! We love writers and have forged genuine relationships with our readers. When we needed help to spread the word, people responded, and more than that, became our advocates. There are not enough thank yous in the world for me to say what this means to us.
If I can encourage writers planning to publish to do one thing beyond the above, it’s to be authentic in whatever you do. When you build your platform, start in advance and think very hard about what your brand will be. Be yourself, be likable, do what feels right and resonates with who you are. Understand your audience, their likes and dislikes, and search them out. Use keywords to find blogs, forum discussions and hashtags that will help you discover people who might be interested in a book like yours. Interact, be genuine and think about how you can add value, not how you can market to them. Focus on giving, not getting. Trust that the rest will come. :)
Do you have any questions about what we did or why? Becca and I are happy to answer if we are able. And again, the biggest, squishiest, bacon-filled thank you for all your support of us and the ET. Your word-of-mouth has allowed writers and teachers everywhere to discover this book!
Blog: The Bookshelf Muse
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When I found out the awesome and talented Melinda Collins
was headed off to Colorado to attend Margie Lawson's Immersion Master Class
, I absolutely had
to convince her to swing by and tell us about the experience afterward. Of course, Writing Superhero Jami Gold
had the same idea, so rather than stage an EPIC, lightning-sword-and-killer-unicorn
BATTLE TO THE DEATH as to who got Melinda, we decided to share her. Isn't that nice? *beams*
As someone who purchased a Margie Lawson Lesson Packet
on Body Language (thanks for the heads up, Stina Lindenblatt
!) in the past, I can only imagine the value of a ML Intensive. So please, read on dear Musers. It's a long-ish post, but oh-so-worth it. AND, the talented Margie Lawson is going to award a lucky commenter with a FREE Lecture Packet!
Trust me, YOU WANT THIS.
Immersion Master Class with Margie Lawson: The Experience, The Takeaways, The Lessons – Part Two
Thank you, Angela, for inviting me over today to talk about my recent experience in Colorado with the wonderful, talented, writerly genius, Margie Lawson
, and her Immersion Master Class
Because I have so much to share, this is actually a two-part blog post. Which means I’m also over at Jami Gold’s blog
today as well with part one! *grin* And, as an added bonus, Margie Lawson will be over at my blog today, Muse, Rant, Rave
, sharing even more writing technique goodies! *booty dance* Okay, enough dancin’ and let’s get to learnin’, shall we?
Over on Jami’s blog I talked about the kinship and sisterhood that developed in our group. Here I’d like to share with you two additional elements of the class that made this a one-of-a-kind experience.
The first would be location, location, location! We were about two miles above sea level, and being that high meant cell service was practically nonexistent, which in turn meant we got to enjoy the peace and quiet tranquility of the Rocky Mountains. What more inspiration do you need if you look outside the window, or go on a short hike and see this?
|The view from our 1st hiking trip|
Pretty unreal, right? But this is exactly
what every day was like for us. It wasn’t all
work and no play. In fact, we went hiking twice during our time on the mountain. The first short hike gave us the beautiful view in the picture above, and the second, longer hike, gave us this gorgeous view:
|The view from our 2nd hiking trip|
So the experience was deeper than just learning more about yourself and your writing craft. It was about taking the time to enjoy your surroundings and find inspiration in nature.
|The view from Margie's writing loft|
The second element I wanted to share about the experience is the one on one time each of us got to spend with Margie. Every day, with pages in hand, we walked into a quiet, cozy room and worked one on one with Margie – an experience that will stay with me forever. By sitting down with her, one on one, you gain a certain understanding and perspective of your writing. You learn how to channel the genius editing that is her mind, and you see your writing in a whole new light. Every sentence, every word is purposefully chosen to pack a maximum punch for your reader, and during your one on one time, you learn more about how you choose those words and how you organize your sentences.
I can’t begin to imagine how I was editing before this class because now I feel as though I’m walking away with a particular sense of how to attack edits, how to look for the minor nuances, how to portray action scenes in a new and exciting way for the reader, and how to make my prose sing a beautifully cadenced tune.
In part one I talk about what I learned about my style and where I want to be a year from now. Here I’d like to talk about group settings: why it’s important to work within a group where each person has the same purpose in their writing, and why it’s important to encourage and help other writers make their writing the best it can possibly be.
|It's always important to take a break when editing to hike! ;)|
When you’re in a group setting and everyone has the same purpose of making their MS NYT Bestselling-worthy, you’re sitting in a gold mine. This is why it’s so incredibly important to join a writing group where everyone is dedicated and everyone pushes you to strive, work, and think harder. Sure, writing’s a singular experience (unless you’re co-writing), but without that group of writers who share your struggles, your doubts, and your triumphs, you may not get too far. This particular experience brought that fact home for me. When I struggled in making a phrase powerful and pitch-perfect, there were four other writers there tossing ideas back and forth until we got it. I’m sure without them there I might’ve gotten 85% of what I wanted in the phrase, but that’s not enough. I want 100%. I want it to pack a punch. And I want the help of other writers who fill in the gaps of my weaknesses.
This is another reason why it’s important to not only be in a group setting with a common purpose, but also to encourage other writers and their craft. We thrive on the encouragement and the kudos we get from others like us. We hear of another writer who’s just finaled
Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean. -- Ryunosuke Satoro
|I got the honor of silly-stringing Amanda! Sooo much fun!!! :)|
While we were there, one of our Immersion Sisters, Amanda, actually did
find out that she finaled in a writing contest with three scores of 99 out of 100!!!!! WOO HOO! How AWESOME is that?!? So what did we do to celebrate when we found out? We silly-stringed her of course!!!
Without giving away too much, here’s the back half of the top ten lessons I learned while in Colorado (as I said in the first post, there are many, many, many more):1. Description:
Description shouldn’t be on the page simply just to be there. Description should be on the page as it affects the character. When you’re writing description, think of how it affects your character in terms of their attitude and thoughts. If you had a character pull up to their childhood home, don’t just describe it as having paint-chipped shutters and a bright red door. Attach that description to your character. What does she remember about those shutters and that red door? Does she recall the many summers she spent helping her mother repaint the shutters? Does she recall being caught kissing a boy in front of the bright red door? If so, then why don’t you attach that description to those memories and make it a stronger, more powerful read?
I took a breath and walked out to the edge of the street. This house would represent the beginning of the rest of my life. I hadn’t seen the midnight blue, oceanfront home in so long, and it was now my home
Example from my MS:
Because a home is a sense of trust, safety and love for my MC, I attached those feelings to the description of a place that is now her home
. There’s more description of the house that follows this, but this is the one place where I purposefully showed how arriving to this setting affected my character. 2. Breaking Tension:
Margie has an EDITS system that uses different colored highlighters to track story elements. One is tension. When you’re tracking tension and you notice a small – or big – area where you’ve broken the tension, you’d better go back to check the following:
a. Check to ensure you intended to break the tension.
b. Check to ensure the break in tension is not only needed, but that it works
c. Check to ensure it doesn’t entice the reader to skim
I’m willing to bet there may be several areas where you didn’t intend to break the tension, you didn’t intend to invite the reader to skim, you didn’t intend to put a humor hit in the middle of a serious scene that shouldn’t be broken.
So if you break tension, make sure it’s intentional, it works, it flows, and it doesn’t bore the reader in skipping ahead to where the tension picks back up. 3. NO ‘ITs’ or ‘THATs’:
I now have yet another new item to add to my editing toolbox/checklist: NO ‘ITs’ or ‘THATs’!! Okay, so obviously I don’t mean you can’t have ‘it’ or ‘that’ in your MS as at all. But what I do mean is don’t end a sentence with ‘it’ or ‘that.’
Oh yeah, I’d considered that.
See what I mean? When I take this sentence out of context, you have absolutely no clue what the character meant by ‘that.’
Oh yeah, I’d considered Nick to be nothing more than an ant.
Example without ‘that’:
A-ha! So when I removed ‘that,’ I made the sentence stronger
and more powerful!
So the lesson here is: do a find for ‘IT’ and ‘THAT’ and restructure/reword each sentence/phrase that just so happens to end with one of those UNLESS having one of those two words 100%, unequivocally works!
4. Throw-Away Words (Tightening):
Another important item to add to your editing checklist: throw-away words. This goes beyond the usual crutch words such as saw, felt, was, etc. Once of the techniques Margie teaches is taking a printed copy of your MS and reading through, line by line, and checking each line off to ensure it has a strong cadence. This ensures you don’t have any words in there that might trip the reader or the flow of the passage. As we all know, there are many other types of throw-away words that can tongue-tie the reader – which is another reason why it’s incredibly important that we get used to the sound of our voice, read everything
aloud, and tighten, tighten, tighten.
After all, it wasn’t my fault their stories weren’t being told anymore. I looked back at where he stood and touched my cheek.
Examples with Throw-Away Words:
Did I really need all those words? Nope.
It wasn’t my fault their stories weren’t being told anymore.I touched my cheek.
Examples without Throw-Away Words:
See? I didn’t need after all
. Those were just two sentences! And between the two, I cut a total of nine
words! By reading through my MS, line by line by line, and checking each one off once I’ve determined it’s a TEN, I will have a MS that’s tight, tight, tight! *booty dance*5. Backloading:
Ah… this is a fun one! But because there’s so much I could say about it and so little space in today’s post, I’m going to make it short and sweet. Backloading is where you take the most powerful word in a sentence, and you rework the phrase to pack that power at the end
of the sentence so it resonates with the reader.
And when we did see him, we never took a moment for granted, but that was before he abandoned us.
Example before Backloading:
The most powerful word in this particular phrase is abandoned
. When you hear it, you instantly feel for the character because you may know what it’s like to feel abandoned. So why not make it the last word the reader processes before they move to the next paragraph?
And when we did see him, we never took a moment for granted. But that was before we were abandoned.
Example after Backloading:
Not only did I ensure my power word was there to backload the phrase, I also split that large phrase into one semi-big sentence then followed it up with a shorter, powerful sentence.
Backloading forces you to look at the structure of your sentences and paragraph breaks. By examining each sentence with a finely-tuned, analytical eye, you’ll not only catch the instances where backloading will pack a punch, but you’ll also catch the areas where one larger sentence can be broken into two, shorter, more powerful sentences. Ha! I got two lessons into one on that one! *giggle*
Once again, I really, really, really want to encourage everyone to visit Margie’s site
, purchase and read and absorb the lecture packets and/or enroll in an online course
. After you’ve done that, I really recommend attending an Immersion Master Class
yourself to fully learn not only these techniques/lessons, but waaaaay more! In all her courses, you’ll learn ways to add psychological power to your writing and how to write a page-turner that will keep your readers up until their spouse finally says, “Pleeeease come to bed!” *giggle*
Before I go, I just want to say thank you again to Angela for having me over today and allowing me to share a small percentage of what I learned!
If this was your first stop, then before you pop over to either Jami’s site for more on the experience, the takeaways and the lessons
, or stop by my blog for a quick lesson from Margie
, think about the following: Do you have a place you can get away to? One that’s quiet, calm and inspiring? What about a writing group – do you have a group of writers that you can learn from, give kudos to, and share your triumphs with? Do you have areas in your MS that could benefit from tying description to emotion? Or what about areas where you’ve broken the tension unintentionally? Do you run through each of your lines and ensure they work 100% before moving onto the next?
Thank you Melinda
for being so generous and sharing your amazing experience with Margie! I am a life-long learner, and I absolutely love to absorb as much as I can about the writing craft. Margie's lecture packets are packed with great information and I am thrilled
to be able to give one away. So, if you would like to win, just comment below and leave some contact information.
THEN, visit Jami
chance to win a lecture packet
for a crack at an online course
with Margie! This is the BERMUDA TRIANGLE OF WIN
Good luck & happy writing!
I am triple-fudge-sundae excited
to welcome Martha Alderson
(aka The PLOT WHISPERER) to The Bookshelf Muse as she sends The Plot Whisperer Workbook: Step-by-Step Exercises to Help You Create Compelling Stories
off into the world. This workbook is a companion to the incredibly popular The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master
. Martha as you may remember, was featured as a Writing Hero
not too long ago, and in true helping fashion, is generously offering a copy of her new Plot Whisperer Workbook to 3 lucky commenters!
Here's Martha on the Benefits of Plotting in Scenes!
~ ~ ~
Some writers write by the seat of their pants. Others prefer to pre-plot first, write after. Some write and plot, write and plot, write and plot. Eventually, every writer who sticks with her writing achieves a draft or a partial made up of scenes. The leap from the generative stage of writing scenes to the analytical stage of analyzing what you have written often leave writers frozen or in a tangled heap. Analyze Your Plot by Scenes
In a scene a character acts and reacts to people, places, and events. In this respect, scenes are the basic building blocks of your story. But, as with any structure, if you have the wrong scenes or if they’re assembled incorrectly, your story can—unexpectedly—collapse.
Before you can create a visual map for analyzing critical story information, presentation flow, and the overall story sequence, you have to have scenes. Likely, you have heard the writer’s mantra: “Show, don’t tell.” Summary tells. Scenes show.
I use the following partial scene from the middle-grade Newbery Medal-winning novel Holes
by Louis Sachar, an example for analyzing a scene from my workbook.Stanley Yelnats has been unjustly sent to a boys’ detention center where the boys build character by spending all day, every day, digging holes exactly five feet wide and five feet deep.
[Stanley] glanced helplessly at his shovel. It wasn’t defective. He was defective.
He noticed a thin crack in the ground. He placed the point of his shovel on top of it, then jumped on the back of the back with both feet.
The shovel sank a few inches into the packed earth.
He smiled. For once in his life it paid to be overweight.
He leaned on the shaft and pried up his first shovelful of dirt, then dumped it off to the side.
Only ten million more to go, he thought, then placed the shovel back in the crack and jumped on it again.
He unearthed several shovelfuls of dirt in this manner, before it occurred to him that he was dumping his dirt within the perimeter of his hole. He laid his shovel flat on the ground and marked where the edges of his hole would be. Five feet was awfully wide.
He moved the dirt he’d already dug up out past his mark. He took a drink from his canteen. Five feet would be awfully deep, too.
Scenes that Show Emotion
This scene, as do all good scenes, shows moment-to-moment action in real story time. The reader experiences the work as Stanley does it and learns about the protagonist, not because the author tells us but because he shows us through Stanley’s actions. We learn the protagonist is overweight and can laugh at himself. We learn he has staying power because rather than give up and suffer the consequences he finds a way to break the earth open. We learn he is bright in that he quickly realizes his mistake in dumping the dirt within the perimeter of his hole and immediately rectifies the situation.
The details of Stanley jumping on the back of the shovel blade with both feet, leaning on the shaft, measuring the hole, and taking a drink from his canteen draw the reader into the moment of the scene. The reader attaches viscerally to the fleeting happiness Stanley feels at being heavy enough to sink the shovel a few inches into the packed earth, his despondency when he understands how wide five feet actually is, his momentary success in prying up his first shovelful, and his disappointment in counting “only ten million more to go”––not to mention his despair when he acknowledges the full magnitude of the task in front of him.Create a List of Scenes
A partial list of scenes from the beginning of the award-winning middle grade novel Esperanza Rising
by Pam Munoz Ryan is an example used in the companion Plot Whisperer Workbook.
The novel is set during the time of the American Great Depression and is about a young Mexican girl, who’s sense of self is stripped when she and her mother are forced to leave their life of privilege in Mexico for an uncertain future in the United States as farm workers.
In analyzing Esperanza Rising
, create a list of the novel’s scenes (we only went a couple of scenes past the one-quarter mark and into the middle of the story). For your exercise, list your scenes all the way to the end of your story. Shorten scene titles while still capturing the major plot elements of the scene. Each scene title should take up no more than one line of the following scene list.
It’s not necessary for you to have written all (or any) of your scenes. Just list scene ideas in the order in which you envision them landing in your story. If your book is made up of many small chapters, each one encapsulating a scene, list events in the story by chapter.
The trick to this exercise is not to see how many scenes you can list. Instead, you want to identify and list scenes that advance the story on a multitude of plot levels.
Remember that it may take you several tries before you get the list in an order that satisfies you. For this reason, I recommend using a pencil instead of a pen, so you can erase parts of your first ordering and move scenes around. Also remember that it’s often a good idea to try out this exercise using scenes from a favorite book. The more you practice this analysis and construction, the better you’ll get at it.
~ ~ ~
Martha Alderson, aka the Plot Whisperer, is the author of The Plot Whisperer Workbook: Step-by-Step Exercises to Help You Create Compelling Stories
– a companion workbook to The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master
(Adams Media, a division of F + W Media). She has also written Blockbuster Plots: Pure & Simple
(Illusion Press) and several ebooks and dvds on plot, including a dvd for writers of children’s and young adult novels. As an international plot consultant for writers, Martha’s clients include best-selling authors, New York editors, and Hollywood movie directors. She teaches plot workshops to novelists, memoirists, and screenwriters privately, at plot retreats, through Learning Annex, RWA, SCBWI, CWC chapter meetings, at writers' conferences and Writers Store where she takes writers beyond the words and into the very heart of a story.
As the founder of Blockbuster Plots for Writers
and December, International Plot Writing Month
, Martha manages an award-winning blog for writers
, awarded by Writers Digest 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012. Her vlog, How Do I Plot a Novel, Memoir, Screenplay
covers 27 steps to plotting your story from beginning to end. Find her on Twitter
, and if you like, add her workbook to your Goodreads list
!Would you like to take your writing to the next level with Martha's intuitive Plot Whisperer Workbook?
This giveaway is open internationally, so just leave a comment with some contact info and share if you plot your scenes already, or if this is a technique you'd like to try. As always, tweets and shares are greatly appreciated. Good luck, everyone!
CONTEST NOW CLOSED! Thanks everyone!
We all know how tough it is to write a query. Condensing thousands upon thousands of words into a teeny-tiny pitch that will evoke such a powerful response that the recipient will request the entire thing? Talk about pressure. But even more so, I think querying is difficult because we understand that once the query is perfected, we must take the next step and actually hit SEND.
Today Luke Reynolds, author of Keep Calm and Query On
, is with us, and why? Because he gets it. Luke understands the pressure writers are under, and the strength they must muster in order to become their book's advocate, so keep reading!
Good Old Fashioned Middle School Courage
In the seventh grade, I had a massive crush on a girl and so I did the noble, sensible, courageous thing: I wrote her a note, folded it into an origami masterpiece, and passed it off to a friend, who passed it off to a friend, who passed it off to a friend who happened to know THE girl.
What did the note say? It was a query, of course. And the substance of the query was nothing less than putting my gooey, vulnerable, passion-filled heart on the line with essentially one solitary question: Will you go out with me?
Now, as a post-thirty-year old writer, I realize that I never stopped asking that question. Now I ask it in different ways, and I ask it to different people. (Thank goodness one young woman finally had the patience to say that amazing word, yes, to me, and I’ve not let her go ever since.) And as a writer, you’re still asking it, too, folding your middle school note in various ways and packing it off to someone who knows someone. Now that someone is an agent or editor, who you hope will write back and to share that miraculous YES that lets you know they’re interested in a long-term, committed relationship.
But the dilemma for us writers hasn’t changed. The essential question is still the same: How do we work up the courage to write the note, send it off, and if we’re rejected, ask someone else?
The answer lies, I think, in two steps:1) Take yourself more seriously
I remember reading that critically acclaimed author John Gardner once got so fed up by the lack of response and rejection to his queries and partials that he eventually walked into Knopf’s New York office with two of his novels in brown paper bags, demanding that someone read the darn things. Gardner took himself and his work seriously: he knew that what he was writing had worth. An act of such confidence bespeaks incredible courage for a writer—the middle school equivalent of asking out the interested party on stage, with a microphone, during a full-school assembly.
Do we take ourselves this seriously? Do we believe in our work, in our words, this deeply? I would hesitate to recommend you show up at an agent’s home with your manuscript in hand—publishing times have certainly changed!—but you and I need to learn to see ourselves as writers who have something to offer the world. We need to say the following refrain: I have stories to share. Without my telling them, the world will be worse off for it; my stories matter. This helps us make that decision to write the dang query note—and get something sent off into the world of possibility.2) Take yourself less seriously
The flip side of # 1, however, is that we also need to take ourselves less seriou
By: Claudette Young
Blog: Claudsy's Blog
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Before I finish out this month’s blog challenge, I’d like to take a few moments to talk about something to which most of us can relate.
When I was growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, my parents and grandparents taught us lessons. Some of those lessons came at the end of a parent’s arm, in the form of a solid hand landing on a padded behind. That was before the days when self-expression was encouraged and corporal punishment was banned as being barbaric and cruel.
I’m just making a point about the differences in society between then and now.
One of the big lessons taught in our household, and in many other homes as well, was that there were places in the world where people went hungry on a daily basis, and that we should be grateful for what was placed before us on the table.
I think everyone between the ages of 45 and 100 has echoing voices in your heads right now that testify to that piece of instruction.
My family was considered slightly poor by the standards of children raised in town, whose folks worked in a shop, for IBM, or the university. My dad was blue-collar, and we lived in the country. Those were big considerations back then, too. I didn’t know any of that until high school.
We didn’t go without food, clothing, shelter, fun, a good car, or the rest of the material things that “mattered.” Most of those living in the country had as many or, in come cases, more of their needs taken care of, than those in town, without our mothers having to work outside the home.
We knew we had it good. It was understood. We learned by example when Mom took the time and effort to feed those who came to the door and asked for food and something to drink. Hobos were common in those days.
Our country culture demanded that we provide sustenance to those in need. It never occurred to her to turn someone away without at least a meal and clean, cold water to drink. Usually she gave them iced tea and whatever was leftover from dinner the evening before.
All of which brings us back to the question of that hunger lesson. I know that there are thousands of children all over the U.S. who go to bed knowing real hunger. I was never one of them, thank God, but I’ve known my share of them over the years.
I got to thinking about that this afternoon, and the admonition drilled into children to this day at the dinner table. Children cannot relate to something they’ve never experienced or seen first-hand. Unless the child who lives in the well-kept house, with all the toys scattered unthinkingly throughout, actually sees the consequences of hunger, it’s impossible to get the lesson across.
I’m tempted to wager that the majority middle-class and upper-lower-class citizens have never known hunger in this country. They haven’t gone a few days without something to eat and decent water to drink. If they had experienced real hunger on a regular basis, I doubt it would not exist in the country for long.
The realization of this difference between my generation and those coming up blazed
By: Claudette Young
Blog: Claudsy's Blog
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, Bow and arrow
, Midwestern United States
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Growing up in the Midwest during the 50’s and 60’s took less effort than it does today, or that’s how it seems from my perspective.
I wouldn’t be a teen today for any amount of money. My friends and I had greater freedoms then; greater responsibilities as well, I suppose, especially those of us who lived in the country. I can only speak from that perspective since I didn’t have the “townie” frame of reference.
We country kids grew up with a different sense of the world. Take hunting and fishing, for example. Most of our dads did both. Sometimes Moms helped out in that hunter-gatherer pursuit. I know mine did.
When I was in elementary school, it seemed that Dad went fishing every weekend. There are family photos that show some of his catches; catfish, bass, crappie, and others. Much of the time his preference was catfish. He and a few of his friends would spend the weekends at the river or large creeks in the county and they’d fish. We had a freezer full of fish at all times.
Perhaps this explains why the smell of catfish makes me wretch; over-exposure at an early age.
Hunting worked much the same way. Dad took me squirrel hunting when I was about six. He gave up that idea because I couldn’t see well enough to avoid pit-falls, small twigs in my path, and other noise-makers. I also could never see the prey in the trees. My participation, therefore, was pointless. I would never be Diana on the hunt.
Bless his heart; he just couldn’t give up hope for me. When I was about eight, he stood me outside, facing the door to the shed, on which was tacked a homemade target. In his hands was a .22 caliber short-stock rifle. Thus began my instruction in the use of firearms. I practiced until he was satisfied that I could consistently hit the target and then the bulls-eye. As soon as I accomplished that, I didn’t have to do it anymore.
Of course, he wasn’t serious about me using a rifle to go hunting. I don’t have a memory of his taking me rabbit hunting, for instance. I would succeed with that only when the prey stood still, giving me a clear field for a heart shot. I doubt that would have ever happened.
At age thirteen, I received my introduction to archery. By my own reckoning, I did well enough. I don’t remember losing too many arrows. My brother took his training with me. He’d completed and passed his other trials with flying colors and went on to hunt very successfully with his own bow and arrows. I never hunted that kind of prey.
During those early years Dad taught me all sorts of skills, most of which I can’t remember now unless conditions are absolutely perfect. He delivered regular dissertations on local flora identification with explanations of purpose, leaves, bark (if any), resident fauna, and other lessons.
Along the way, brother and I learned how the climate affected our small part o
Today we're hosting editor and author C. S. Lakin on the importance of plotting in layers, and how these layers work together to enhance your character's struggles and challenges.
Creating plots and subplots is one of my favorite parts of writing. I love to think about how everything ties in together, adding to the whole. I know that many people struggle with plotting, especially creating meaningful subplots that add to the story. So read on and get C. S. Lakin's take on this critical part of any story or novel!
Novelists focus heavily on plot, and rightly they should. Your novel needs a well-crafted and believable plot. A great story will have many plot layers
. You could call them subplots, but I find it helps to think of them as layers
because of the way they work in your story. Plot layers come in all thicknesses of importance, and if they are designed carefully, they will make your story a rich one with unique and lasting flavors that will linger long after your reader finishes your book.
One way that may help you
in developing and deepening your plot layers is to think about your own life
. You have some big goals—long-term, long-range goals, or maybe even just one—on the horizon at the moment. Maybe it’s to finish college and get that degree. Maybe it’s to start a family and create your dream life with your spouse. In a novel, that might be your main plot, which features the visible goal your protagonist is trying to reach.
This is the overarching plot
that all the other plot layers will sit under. But just as with a multilayer cake, when you take that bite, the different flavors of the layers should complement each other and create a delightful overall taste.
Life as Layers
As that “plot” plays out in your life, other things encroach or dovetail that goal.
You may be dealing with some personal issue—like a recurring health problem or a former boyfriend who keeps showing up against your wishes. You may also be dealing with trivial things like trying to decide what color to paint your bedroom, and the paint store guy, who’s completely incompetent, can’t get the color right. Life is made up of layers.
I picture them by their size and scope. You have the big, fat layer of the main plot on top, then different layers underneath of different thicknesses and flavors. All this creates a very rich cake. If life were just one sole “plot” (“I gotta get that college degree”), it would be boring and so would you.
And so are novels that only have one plot layer. Life is complex. It’s messy. We’re told to complicate our characters’ lives.
Well, this is the best way to do it
—by introducing many layers of plot
, and not just for your protagonist but for your secondary characters as well.
Vary the Intensity of Each Layer
If you can create three layers
at least, think of them as plots A, B, and C.
You know your A plot—it’s the main one driving your story
. But now you need B and C. You want B to be an important layer that will help the main plot along
—either something that enhances Plot A or runs headlong into conflict with it. Plot C will be thinner and more trivial, and may even add that comic relief in y
If you have no sense of smell, pay close attention to expiration dates.
I am THRILLED to feature writing guru K.M. Weiland
on the blog today to discuss Outlining
. As a reformed panser, I have seen my writing evolve by embracing outlining techniques.
And while I'm not a full outliner yet, it is a tool that helps me at certain stages during the writing process to form stronger story structure and character development.
Katie's book, Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success
guides writers with a step-by-step approach to developing and writing a novel
. One of the story mapping techniques is Reverse Outlining
, a creative approach to help writers build a strong, cohesive timeline in their novels. Read on for an excerpt
straight from the book!
When you think of outlines, you generally think about organization, right? The whole point of outlining, versus the seat-of-the-pants method, is to give the writer a road map, a set of guidelines, a plan. An outline should be simple, streamlined, and linear. An outline should put things in order. So you’re probably going to think I’m crazy when I tell you one of the most effective ways to make certain every scene matters is to outline backwards.
During the outlining process, we have to create a plausible series of events
, a chain reaction that will cause each scene to domino into the one following. But linking scenes isn’t always easy to do if you don’t know what it’s supposed to be linking to. As any mystery writer can tell you, you can’t set the clues up perfectly until you know whodunit. Often, it’s easier and more productive to start with the last scene in a series and work your way backwards.For example,
in my outline of a historical story, I knew one of my POV characters was going to be injured so badly he would be unable to communicate
with another character for almost a month. However, I didn’t yet know how or why he was injured.
I could work my way toward this point in a logical, linear fashion, starting at the last known scene (a dinner party), and building one scene upon another, until I reached my next known point (the injury). But because my chain of events was based on what was already behind me (the dinner party), more than what was away off in the future (the injury), my attempts to bridge the two were less than cohesive.Had I outlined these scenes in a linear fashion, squeezing in the injury might have become a gymnastic effort instead of a natural flowing of plot.
Plus, the fact that I had no idea what was supposed to happen between the dinner party and the injury meant I was likely to invent random and inconsequential events to fill the space.My solution?
You got it: work backwards.Starting at the end of the plot progression
—the injury—I began asking questions
that would help me discover the plot development immediately preceding. How was the character hurt? Where was he hurt? Why did the bad guys choose to do this to him? Why was he only injured, instead of killed? How is he going to escape?
Once I knew these things, I knew how I needed to set up the scene, and once I knew how to set up the scene, I knew what to put in the previous slot in the outline. Eventually, I was able to work myself all the way back to the dinner party. Voilà! I now had a complete sequence of events
, all of w
It’s drilled into us by the Publishing Powers That Be
: platform, platform, platform.
Embrace Social Media. Blog. Get on twitter. Engage. Network. Connect. Start early, think ahead, get a platform in place before
the deal.And because we want to give ourselves the best chance of being noticed, we do it.
Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Tumblr and more. We participate in blog hops, help promo new books, run contests, join writing list-serves and organizations, post on forums, interact through writing support circles and groups. We host giveaways, we retweet, we #FF & #MM, we review books and we critique. We learn about SEO and back-linking and stress about Klout scores. We Follow. We Like. We+1. After all, this is what we were told to do, right?For writers, putting time and energy into an online presence is the new norm.
Time, hard work and luck all factor in on how successful a platform becomes. And some writers are very successful at building their platform. That's good...right? Yes, absolutely. Well, you know, except for the but.Hold it...there's a BUT in this scenario?
Yes, and here it is:
Sometimes instead driving your platform, your platform drives you.
A great platform is every writer’s end game...but the cold, hard fact is that it comes at a price: TIME. It takes a lot of time to manage a successful online presence.
When it starts to chew up too much, we get hit with a fish-slap of reality: there's no time to read. The research we need to do for our WIP is always on the back burner. Our family rarely sees us without a laptop or wireless device in our hand. And, the death blow? We're spending all our time blogging and networking instead of writing.
Eventually, a writer in this situation will become fed up, especially if they aren't seeing dividends as a result of platform building (an agent's attention, the editor's interest, the deal to celebrate). They begin to resent their blogs, or twitter, or whatever else is murdering their writing time. They also may resent those who preach that writers ‘must have’ a platform. Social Media Fatigue sets in, and as the pressure to keep everything going builds, a writer flirts with the idea of just...walking...away.
Running yourself ragged is not
the solution. Quitting a platform you worked so hard to build is not
the solution. Change is.
So if you are finding all your time is spent trying to gain online visibility instead of writing, you need a SOCIAL MEDIA INTERVENTION
Consider this your therapy session.
Experiencing Social Media Fatigue?
Look at what you’re doing for platform and what is draining your passion and time. What avenues can you cut back on? What can you do more efficiently? Here are some common TIME EATERS and POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS:
SYMPTOM: Blogging Burn Out
Blogging can be a big chore if you aren't into it. Do you struggle to come up with topics? Are you always writing posts? Do you like blogging but it takes up too much of your time?
CURE: --Blog less.
Cut back on your blogging schedule. --J
Do not learn how to drive a motorcycle going downhill with parked cars in front of you.
When your car registration renewal comes in the mail, don't throw away the envelope before taking that little license plate sticker out.
Don't do it once....
...but definitely don't do it TWICE!
When teaching a class of fourth graders how to speak Pig Latin, do not use the word "grass" as an example.
Don't plant shrubs that attract bees along the sidewalk leading to your door.
Recently my blogging chum Shannon O'donnell posted about how important certain virtues are for people on the writing path. We must have the courage to write and put ourselves out there, we must find the fortitude needed to persevere. The one virtue she mentioned struggling with is having enough patience to stave off discouragement, depression, frustration and doubt.Patience
. Boy, that is a tough one some days, isn't it? I bet you can all relate to Shannon. I know I can.
Writing is a long journey. Most of you are probably involved in writing sites, forums, critique groups and the like, connecting with others on the writing path. You read blogs, encourage others, keep tabs on those striving just as you are. This is what it means to be a community
. But there can be a dark side
to belonging to this community, something that can cause us to have a crisis of faith: staying patient and upbeat when other succeed where we have not (yet)
Don't get me wrong, we cheer for every sale and piece of good news that comes to our writer friends! But, sometimes a sliver inside us feels something else: Frustration. Envy. Worry. Doubt.
These emotions lead to a plague of questions: Why haven't I succeeded? Why isn't it my turn for good news? Why can't this be me? Am I kidding myself for even trying?
It's very easy to let these negative questions send us on a downward spiral, sucking away our energy, our creativity and our strength to continue. Like Shannon mentioned in her post, it is impatience that leads us down this dark road.
So how do we fight it? How do we build up our resistance and stay upbeat?
I find for me, the best way to conquer impatience is to take it out of the equation.
Once my book is in an editor's hands, is there anything I can do writing-wise to make them say yes? No, there isn't. Can I make them read faster, get back to me faster? No. So, why stress and get all impatient about it? These are things I have no control over.
Instead, I put my energy into what I CAN do: --I can make myself attractive to an editor who may look me up online.
So, I put time and energy into my online presence and platform. --I can continue to write & polish in case they want to see something else from me
. I let go of the book that's on submission and turn to the next project. --I can continue to learn, which will help me make sure a cleaner product reaches their desk.
None of us know everything--we can always improve. Learning is growing.
These are the things within my control
, so I do them. :)
Here's one solid fact, no matter where you're at on the publishing trail: if you keep moving forward, you'll get there.
I believe this. I live it. So, the next time impatience & negativity clouds your head space, TAKE CONTROL. Fight by putting your energy into things that will lead to your success!
Because this blog is all about flexing our descriptive skills, I wanted to touch on something I see from time to time when I critique: too much emotional showing.
Emotions can be the most difficult to convey (this is why Becca and I built the Emotion Thesaurus!) Not only do we need to express without telling, we have to show the emotion in a fresh way, make sure it feels genuine and have it match the character's expressive range. Add that to highlighting action and minimizing internal sensations and thoughts? It's a lot to juggle. Common ways to show emotion:Physical action (beats):
gestures, movement, ticks & tells that express emotionInternal sensations:
bodily reaction known only to the POV character Thoughts:
reactive & emotionally charged thoughts caused by stimulusDialogue:
revealing emotion verbally (and sometimes showing by what is not said!) POV Narrative:
internal musings/reflection delivered by a POV character toward a situation or setting
A balance of these elements creates a satisfying window into the character's emotional state, but too much causes an overload of sensory information
. It slows the pace, creates melodrama and disrupts the reader's belief in both the character and the events unfolding.Over-expressing occurs when we try too hard to reinforce an emotional state to the reader.
Here's an example of how this can happen. First, we need an emotion. Let's go with GUILT
Mrs Henderson lifted her day planner and rifled through the papers on her desk. "I don't understand--the stapler was here right before lunch. Did someone use it and forget to put it back?"
Amanda slid down in her seat, heat burning through her. Stupid! Why did I take it?
A very simple situation--not a lot is needed to get into Amanda's emotional state, right? Internal and external cues work together.So what if I did this:
Amanda fumbled her library book open and shoved her nose deep into the pages so she wouldn't have to look at the teacher.
Okay, again, this works.One more:
Amanda shifted in her seat, grazing her knee on the bottom of her desk. What if the teacher knew? What if she asked everyone to pull out their desk trays?
Yep, still showing guilt, blending external cues and thoughts, which give her guilt a paranoid edge. Now...what if we put it all together?
Amanda fumbled her library book open and shoved her nose deep into the pages so she wouldn't have to look at the teacher. Shifting about, she slid down in her seat and her knee grazed the bottom of her desk where she'd hid the stapler. Heat burned through her. What if the teacher knew? What if she asked everyone to pull out their desk trays? Stupid! Why did I take it?
WAAAY too much showing for this simple scenario and a medium level emotion, isn't it? Can you imagine if I'd chosen a situation rife with stronger emotions, like a character running for their life or witnessing a murder? The trick
This is the first of some new posts featuring things I've learned through experience and am passing along to anyone who might find them useful. (Btw, "Blondie" is one of my nicknames.)
Do not cook a porkloin with the meat thermometer set on Celsius and wait for it to reach 160.
By: Margot Finke
Blog: HOOK KIDS on READING
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Today I Have the Pleasure of Hosting Author
Welcome to day three of Renee Hand’s 6-day NWFCC
April Author Showcase tour, as she discusses how
Mineral Mischief can be used in the classroom.
Case#2 Mineral Mischief
Tradebook Tips for Teachers from
Award-Winning Author Renee Hand
Teachers can use Mineral Mischief
in so many ways. In the back of the book I’ve included lots of educational information that teachers can use in the classroom to further understanding of rocks and minerals. I also add a diagram of the rock cycle, which can be referred to at anytime.
I’ve created various experiments where students can make predictions by using various charts. Terminology is included in the back as well as a ‘Did You Know’ section. I also incorporate a discussion about bullying, which one of the characters is involved with. The character also finds a solution to this problem which all children can benefit from. The information that I have in the book can be used to fill the National Standards requirement for this topic.
Download My FREE e-BOOKSecrets of Writing for Children.
This e-Book offers you one stop guidance for Writing and Self -editing
children's books. These helpful hints come from my many years of
writing for children and doing manuscript critiques.
When teaching a class of fourth graders how to speak Pig Latin, do not use the word "grass" as an example.
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Close the door of the hatchback before you back out of the garage.