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Diversity, By Any Other Name, is Still Sweet
By Lynn Joseph
I am known as a “Caribbean” writer. Is it because I am from Trinidad, where I was born, and where I lived for the first nine years of my life before assuming a bi-country existence; nine months in the United States and three months in Trinidad every summer until I was 21? Or is it because, birthplace aside, the settings for most of my books are on Caribbean islands? But suppose I was born in the U.S. or England, or Thailand, and I wrote books set in the Caribbean, would I still be considered a “Caribbean” writer?
I ask that question because most of my schooling, from the age of nine has been in the United States. I attended a predominately all-White high school, college and law school. Now, I am happily pursuing my craft in a MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts where the majority of students and teachers are White. Why am I considered a “Caribbean” author if I learned to write creatively in all-White establishments? If I grew up reading books about White protagonists (Beverly Cleary’s as a child; the Trixie Belden series as a tween)? Why is it “acceptable” that I write about people of color but another writer fears she might offend someone? And, why did I feel compelled to write two books set in the Dominican Republic, featuring Dominican characters, when I can’t even speak the language there?
The truth is that lately I’ve been hearing so much “concern” about authenticity in diverse literature that even I, a “Caribbean” author, am becoming fearful to write about characters from a background that is not mine! More importantly, if I had immersed myself in this puzzling issue of what it means to write diverse stories, I might have steered away from writing The Color of My Words or Flowers in the Sky knowing I am not Dominican and can not speak Spanish, try as I might. Because if the measuring stick is that we write only about what we know, maybe I would have stuck to writing about the high school friends I knew so well, who are all Caucasian.
So, I am just going out on a limb here and saying it plainly: Please, dear writers of YA fiction, please consider coloring your characters without fear of criticism. Write them with the same conscientious mindset you give to creating any of your characters. Because writing authentically means doing so across the board, not just if you have a diverse character in mind. And if you are writing conscientiously then you can write diversely.
It makes me, a reader, very happy when I discover characters of color doing ordinary things in novels, like the character of Julia in Rebecca Stead’s Newbery winning When You Reach Me. She’s Black! I had no idea. It wasn’t obvious, and in fact, when I discovered her race, I re-read the beginning to see if Stead had mentioned it and she had! With an art project. But it was subtle and technically brilliant.
In Susan Fletcher’s dracling novel, Ancient, Strange, and Lovely, there is an Indian graduate student and a Black professor/scientist who play major roles although the novel is set in Oregon and Alaska. In Sarah Dessen’s novel Just Listen, protagonist Annabel has a Chinese best friend named Clarke who is adopted. I feel a thrill when I see diverse characters in novels, so I can just imagine how children and teenagers like me must feel, too. It’s a recognition, an affirmation, and a empowerment that, oh yeah, we exist, we are worth writing about, and we are strong, individual characters in our own right.
Patricia McCormick, with whom I was in a writers workshop two years ago, plunged headfirst into researching and writing about characters from other cultures; a Nepalese teenager sold into sex slavery in Sold, and a Cambodian kid who survives the horrific genocide of the Khmer Rouge in Never Fall Down. Both are amazing books and no one cares that McCormick is White.
The same is true about my writer friend and neighbor, Peggy Kern. Peg is White and has successfully written two novels for the Bluford High series, The Test and No Way Out, both featuring Black teens in urban settings. Her new novel Little Peach is coming out next year and is about two Black teenagers caught up in the gritty world of teen prostitution. Do we care what Peggy’s race is? Hell no. This is an important topic and Peg has done her research. And since all of Peg’s books are about Black characters dealing with real-life urban issues, can we call her a “Black” writer? Probably not.
The bottom line is, we need books with diverse characters doing ordinary things, and books that address multi-ethnic situations, and books about the complex issues from the margins of society. All of our world’s children benefit from reading books that represent this planet’s multiple points of view. Because ultimately, there is only one human view and we writers need to open our minds and hearts to presenting the views of others who may be less represented so that we can be co-joined. It’s like what the great mythologist Joseph Campbell said, “Beyond the world of opposites is an unseen, but experienced, unity and identity in us all.”
So, with that in mind, here are some suggestions on how to write authentically about other cultures and how to feature ethnic diversity in your books regardless of your race and background.
1. Look at where you live
Most of us live in multi-ethnic communities, even if, from your vantage point as an adult writer, it may seem homogeneous. For instance, my sons attended high school in Long Beach, New York, a predominately all-white enclave. I stayed at home and wrote, and I hardly saw anyone at all unless I ventured to the Mall thirty minutes away. That was until my sons began bringing their friends to our home. Suddenly, I was surrounded by a talented Black artist named Shaakir, an Ecuadorian girl, Poullete, whose second language is English, a half-Puerto Rican football star named Lorenzo, the president of the high school African-American Club named Gavin, who is 100% Irish, a perky cheerleader named Kelly, also Irish, a beautiful videographer named Sarah who is Italian, and a Peruvian guitarist named Mike. My sons are both African-American. My home was a melting pot of racial identities. I didn’t have to go far to experience divergent viewpoints.
However, if your immediate surroundings are less than stellar in terms of diversity, then expand your horizons. Visit museums, restaurants, give talks at high schools, attend documentary film festivals, read magazine articles, join clubs that feature other cultures, because if you’re interested in including some diversity in your work, you will need to open your mind and heart to EVERYTHING!
2. Interview People of Other Cultures
Pat McCormick told of how she was introduced to her neighbor in New York City who turned out to be the source for her story Never Fall Down. It is his story that she fictionalized. But first she interviewed him extensively to bring his life and words alive in print. I do the same thing. I interview everyone! I probably drive people crazy but I ask a million questions whenever I meet someone whose life is different from mine. For The Color of My Words, I met a waiter named Guario in a restaurant in the tourist area in Sosua, Dominican Republic. I began asking so many questions that I ended up going to his home and meeting his family. I went back often talking to them in my awful broken Spanish and just hanging out as an observer and I ended up setting my story right there on their porch.
3. Look for the Similarities
This was the key for writing about Ana Rosa, my main character in The Color of My Words. She’s a girl who longs to be a writer. I know this girl. It doesn’t matter that she lives in a foreign country or speaks a foreign language that I can’t grasp. She’s a twelve-year-old like any other, with a crush on her older brother’s best friend. She feels isolated and different in her neighborhood because she likes to sit in a tree all day and write, and she has dreams that she thinks no one else understands. Worst of all, her major crush is in love with her older sister! Sheesh!
While your character may be a different race or ethnicity, ultimately he or she is human and has the same emotions, desires and dreams as any teenager. Identify your protagonist’s shared humanity before you focus on her culture and differences. Write from inside her heart before you write from outside of it.
4. Read Up on Diversity Issues but Don’t Be Paralyzed By Them
The Children’s Book Council Diversity Committee was recently formed by a group of book editors interested in promoting and increasing diversity in children’s literature. I read their articles regularly and find some that reinforce my beliefs, some that open my eyes to issues of stereotypes such as Diversity 101, and some like Forced Multiculturalism, about the fact that to many kids what adults perceive as “forced multiculturalism” is not forced to kids, so do include minorities in your group of characters. There will always be “issues” to argue over when it comes to how we identify groups of people. Should we capitalize the word Black and White? Should we say African-American instead of Black? Don’t fret too much on the politically correct names. The copyeditors will figure out the appropriate words for the time period of your novel when the time comes.
I wanted to accurately identify the orchids in Flowers in the Sky that Nina grows on her fire escape, but I wrote and left bank spaces and went back later and filled them in. The same is happening with my current work in progress. My male protagonist is a surfer. I am concerned about nailing the surf lingo, but I am not letting that hold me up. I write the story and leave blanks whe I don’t know the exact word for something. Later, I do more research either online or I hang out on the beach and interview surfers or I watch surfing documentaries and read books on surfing, because I want to be authentic. Which brings me to my last point.
5. Be Authentic By Doing Your Research
I cannot stress this enough. You can write about anything at all. Anything. As long as you are committed to doing the necessary research to bring your topic alive for readers. Be real! It may involve traveling, interviewing people, just sitting and observing, but do it! Writers tend to overlook the research because they are so busy focusing on plot and character and structure and outlines. But the craft part of writing is the last thing I worry about. First, I want to know my subject, and my characters, and their world. And I can only do so by living it.
Not for nothing, Rita Williams Garcia acknowledged six different high schools that allowed her to roam their hallways and take a seat in the back of their classrooms so that she could research her National Book Award Finalist novel, Jumped. Now, that’s what I’m talking about! Rita is Black, and her characters in Jumped are mostly all Black or Hispanic, yet Rita was out there in the high schools doing her research before she took pen to paper to portray the truth.
And isn’t that what we writers ultimately are trying to do. Tell the truth. So I urge you to tell it from every viewpoint, from every perspective, and include as many divergent voices as you can. But make it Real! And at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if they call me a “Caribbean” writer because of where I was born or my subject matter. I’m going to write what is dear to my heart. About the Author
Lynn Joseph was born and raised on the island of Trinidad and is the author of books for children and young adults, including The Color of My Words, A Wave in Her Pocket, The Mermaid's Twin Sister and Coconut Kind of Day, all of which take place in the Caribbean. She travels extensively and has lived in the Dominican Republic, and on the Caribbean islands of Carriacou, Anguilla, and Water Island. She is also an attorney and mother of two wonderful sons, Jared and Brandt. Her new Young Adult novel, Flowers in the Sky will be published by HarperCollins Children's Books in Winter 2013.Lynn's WebsiteFollow Lynn on TwitterAbout the Book
Fifteen-year-old Nina Perez is faced with a future she never expected. She must leave her Garden of Eden, her lush island home in Samana, Dominican Republic, when she's sent by her mother to live with her brother, Darrio, in New York, to seek out a better life. As Nina searches for some glimpse of familiarity amid the urban and jarring world of Washington Heights, she learns to uncover her own strength and independence. She finds a way to grow, just like the orchids that blossom on her fire escape. And as she is confronted by ugly secrets about her brother's business, she comes to understand the realities of life in this new place. But then she meets him—that tall, green-eyed boy—one that she can't erase from her thoughts, who just might help her learn to see beauty in spite of tragedy.
From the acclaimed author of the color of my words comes a powerful story of a girl who must make her way in a new world and find her place within it.Buy Flowers in the Sky on AmazonFind Flowers in the Sky on Goodreads
Today, we're so happy to have Anne Cassidy for our Craft of Writing post. Patience is something I think most writers struggle with. Personally, my maximum level of patience is about 3 minutes. (Martina can vouch for this!)
Twenty years ago, when I first decided to write a novel, I felt this whirlwind of impatience inside my chest. I saw the book cover, the blurb, the place on the bookshop shelf where it would sit (the single copy in the window where it would be BOOK OF THE WEEK).
All I had to do was write it. If only I didn’t have a full time job.
I had an idea. I had a plot. I had an audience in mind, teenagers. I had a main character based on me when I was a teenager. I had a grisly murder.
All I had to do was write it. If I ever got any time to myself.
I had a title BIG GIRLS’ SHOES, triggered by the title of an Elvis Costello song, Big Sister’s Clothes
I had to work around my job and develop patience. I agreed a target with myself. I thought it would take a year. I did it in short bursts; early in the mornings, free time in work, in the evenings, at weekends and holidays. I never wrote for longer than about thirty minutes without a break, going and doing other things. This piecemeal way of writing a complex story actually helped rather than hindered. It meant that I never got so attached to a piece of writing that I didn’t mind tearing it apart the next time I looked at it. It also meant that the plot grew as I wrote and as characters developed I began to think of things that they would really do instead of things I wanted them to do. The plot began to twist and turn and I never minded going back and changing things, this process made much easier for when I got my first Amstrad.
I think the fact that I wrote the book while at work meant that for many hours I couldn’t do any actual writing but I had loads of time to THINK about the story. That thinking meant that the plot wasn’t rushed. The story slowly unfolded.
Now I write full time but my piecemeal approach is still there simply because with it, I believe, I write a better novel. So the very things I was forced to do at the beginning, have patience, write little and often, have long periods of time when I couldn’t write, established a template for the way I would write even when I had no full time job to go to. It worked for me.
Developing patience as a writer is probably the best piece of advice I can give. Once your book is written there is then the interminable wait for agents/ publishers/ contracts/ edits/ book covers/ publication dates.
And what should you be doing while this is all going on?
As soon as I sent off my first novel, BIG GIRLS’ SHOES, as soon as I posted it (snail mail,) I started my second novel IN REAL LIFE. I’m currently writing my thirtieth novel.About the Author
Anne Cassidy was born in London in 1952 and was a teacher in London schools for 19 years before she turned to writing full time.
Anne has been writing books for teenagers for many years and concentrates on crime stories and thrillers.
Before she began to write Anne was an avid reader. Her favourite kind of books are those that have a mystery of some sort at their centre. She has a passion for crime books, mystery stories and detective novels. It's not just 'whodunnit' books she likes but why something happened, how a crime was committed, the effects of terrible events on ordinary people's lives. Her favourite crime writers are Ruth Rendell (particularly when she's writing as Barbara Vine), Sue Grafton, John Harvey, Lawrence Block, Scott Trurow and Donna Tartt.
Teenagers inhabit a transitory world between childhood and adulthood. Certainties and expectations are often turned upside down in this period. It seemed therefore an ideal point at which to throw a young adult in the path of crime. To see what happens if a young girl, previously only interested in clothes and records, is late to a meeting with her best friend and when she arrives, finds her murdered. Does she ignore it and get on with her life? Or does she find herself drawn into it?
To Anne there seemed to be a lack of these sorts of books for younger readers so since then she has written a variety of mystery and crime novels for teenagers. Check out Anne’s website Follow Anne on Twitter About the Book
Rose's mother and Joshua's father have disappeared. Police inquiries have gone nowhere and the case, it seems, is closed: Rose and Joshua have been told that the police believe their parents are dead. But Rose and Joshua still hold out hope that they are alive. Joshua is determined to follow up his own inquiries, which includes working out the meaning of the cryptic notebooks - the murder notebooks - they have discovered. Then Rose is distracted by odd, desperate messages she receives from Rachel, a former best friend from her school, followed by the terrible news that Rachel is dead. But perhaps Rachel's death will provide one more piece of the puzzle about what has happened to Rose and Joshua's parents. Buy Killing Rachel on Amazon Buy Killing Rachel on Indiebound Find Killing Rachel on Goodreads
|Our cluttered refrigerator door. |
Photo | Elizabeth K Humphrey
Clutter. Many of us have it. One area of clutter in my house is the refrigerator door. (Yes, to the left.)
Clutter can also appear in our writing.
This week, while editing a couple pieces of writing, I ran across clutter in sentences that made me think of my kids' refrigerator art. The work is all on display and we keep adding to it--proud of all the work and believing that it all
needs to be displayed.
One sentence I ran across was something like this:She walked quickly to a closet full of clothes and pulled a T-shirt from a shelf and a skirt from a wire hanger and dressed slowly then sat in the middle of the couch, laughing.
If I'm in the middle of a story, I want to see action. Isn't this action? There is movement--she's getting dressed, right? Isn't that enough? Well, I don't know about you, but I don't want to wade through all that action to get to the important action of the character's laughter.
Why do we need to work through a long sentence of walking, pulling, dressing, sitting, and laughing?
Often writers sense that the reader needs to "see" all the actions. Just like a parent needs to see all the art on the refrigerator. But when you try to show everything, you cover or avoid other elements that might be important.
Here are some tips to attack the clutter in your work:
I'm spending the weekend clearing out some clutter. How about you?
- Trim excess in your sentences: If you are in love with some of the work, tuck it away for later.
- Determine what actions are essential to the plot: Is the action moving the story forward or is it treading water and not moving?
- Read your work aloud: When you hear your story out loud, it helps you catch clutter in your sentences. You hear what is working and what's not.
- Review how you tell a story to a friend: Which details do you include, which ones do you exclude? (Is the wire hanger really an essential element in the story?)
Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor living in North Carolina. She plans some spring cleaning this weekend, at her keyboard and not in her closet or, ahem, her refrigerator door.
One of our goals as writers is to create stories that keep the reader flipping pages, desperate to see what happens next. And if we’re really good, the reader will be flipping pages well beyond her bedtime. Several different elements (e.g. pacing) are used to create the necessary forward momentum. Along with these elements is The Big Scene.
The ‘big scene’ (or payoff scene) is defined as any scene that contains high drama. The intensity within the scene and the level of importance of the scene are greater than for the majority of your other ones. They are most often the turning points scenes (e.g. the inciting incident, the end of the first act, the climax). While the scene will contain heightened conflict, compared to your other ones, car chases and explosions are not required. In YA, a big scene can be the first kiss, but only if the scene has been properly set up and the first kiss is importance (which is usually the case in YA).
When you write your payoff scenes, you need to go big. And I mean BIG. Wimpy stakes need not apply. The same is true for your internal and external conflict. Paint layers of sensory description, theme, symbolism, subtext, emotion (without crossing into melodrama). Each will add impact to the scene and help it stand out from the crowd. Also, the characters’ actions need to be powerful. The big scene is comparable to the Fourth of July fireworks. It is the difference between a few fire crackers and the spectacular display in New York City. One is memorable; the other isn’t.
In addition to the above, you need to create the appropriate set up. When done correctly, this will guide your reader so they have an idea where the story is headed. If you have a ‘big scene’ without the appropriate set up, the emotional impact wouldn’t even be a blip on the Richter scale. You want more than a blip. You want to aim for at least a ten. You also want to use several techniques to help the payoff scene feel even bigger. One technique is the reversal. The reversal is when an event is headed in one direction and then suddenly takes an abrupt turn. A common example in romances is when the hero and heroine are in a heated discussion one moment, and kissing passionately the next.
Another technique is foreshadowing. An example of this is when the protagonist comments early in the book, when she sees a character, that she wouldn’t be surprised if one day that character’s ass is kicked in a fight. If the information is casually added into the narrative as a simple line, the reader won’t remember it by the time she gets to the ‘big scene,’ but subconsciously she will be waiting for it. The trick to foreshadowing is subtlety. If the reader sees that line and thinks, “Oh, there’s going to be a big fight at some point and the guy is going to get his ass whipped,” then you’ve failed. The reader is going to be waiting for the fight and the element of surprise will be lost. Another thing you want to avoid is heavily foreshadow something that has no relevance to the story. If your protagonist goes on and on about her love of horses in the beginning of the book, horses had better show up later in the book and be important to the plot, or else your reader is going to feel cheated. And a reader who feels cheated is not a happy reader, and will be less likely to read your next story.
Juxtaposition is yet another way to add power to your big scene. Juxtaposition simply refers to elements in opposition (e.g. love/hate, happy/sad, large/small). For example, you could have a big scene occur during Valentine’s Day, when the protagonist is anticipating her first kiss with the guy she’s been crushing on since elementary school. Her emotions are high. And then she witnesses his death. The contrast between the two emotions adds impact to the big scene.
The YA contemporary novel Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry has one of the most powerful payoff scenes that I’ve read. The story is told from two points of view, but the one that leaves most people in tears is Noah’s. (Spoiler Alert) During the story, we learn that eighteen-year-old Noah has been bounced around the foster care system after his parents’ death and has been physically abused. He now lives in the mildew-filled basement of his current foster parents’ house. Before his parents’ death, he had great grades and played varsity basketball. After their death, he was forced to quit basketball, couldn’t be bothered with his grades, and developed a reputation for being a stoner who slept around, a lot.
Noah’s two younger brothers mean the world to him, but because he was wrongly labeled as emotionally unstable, Noah can only see them on supervised visits, which are far and few in between. As a result of his experiences with the system, Noah is positive his brothers are being mistreated. The emotional punch to the gut comes when Noah, after being banned from seeing his brothers, winds up being invited to lunch with the family who wants to adopt his siblings. Katie McGarry brilliantly uses juxtaposition in the scene to heighten the emotions. Unlike the foster families Noah has lived with, the brothers’ foster parents are financially stable and give his brothers the things Noah has been deprived of. The boys get to go to basketball camps and attend a fancy private school. Their foster parents love them. The boys also have something else Noah doesn’t have: a photo of their dead parents. When Noah sees that picture, few readers can make it through the scene without crying. The build up to that moment is worth it—no matter how many times you read the book. Without the build up, the scene wouldn’t have had the same impact. (End of Spoiler Alert)
What books have you read that have moved you because of the powerful payoff scenes? Your homework is to analyze the book and see how the author made those scenes count, and apply what you’ve learned to your own story.
About the Author
Mother of three. Adoring wife. Photographer. And a fiction writer who's addicted to YA and NA (New Adult) novels, chocolate, and exercise. I'm a member of the RWA and SCBWI, and a contributing member of the Querytracker.net Blog.
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The ability to handle constructive criticism with grace is very important for writers at all stages of the publication process. I had the great luck of having an honest person critique my very first book – my sister. Though family and friends tend to praise our writing for fear of hurting our feelings, she was brutally honest to the point of tearing the book apart and defining every little thing I did wrong, which was pretty much everything!
But she taught me how to accept criticism and use it to my advantage, which is a critical skill in the publishing business. People who have difficulty accepting criticism of their work will have a hard time working with agents and editors who will, undoubtedly, call for some amount of revisions prior to publishing any manuscript.
No writer should be without a critique partner or two and a few good beta readers, especially writers at the start of their careers. The ability to accept and integrate the opinion of other writers, agents, and editors is critical in polishing your manuscript and improving your craft. Critiquing for others is important, too, as it can teach you a lot about your own writing as you comb through a manuscript and learn to find its trouble spots.
I found my live critique group through the SCBWI website and my on line beta readers through the QueryTracker.net forums. Without the help of these wonderful men and women, I would be lost.
Each type of group brings a different experience to the table. With my live group, we meet monthly and submit a set amount of pages to each other via email a week prior to our meeting. That gives us enough time to read through the work, critique it, and then discuss it with the group when we get together. I enjoy this group because we meet at a Barnes and Noble and have the ability to discuss each critique with the other members. It’s also fun because as writers, we tend to spend a lot of time at home in front of our computers, and hanging out with real people in public gives us a chance to socialize while we improve our work.
My beta readers work differently than the critique group. Everything is done via email, and we set no limits on the amount of work we share with each other. We send a chapter or a scene at a time, and usually within twenty-four hours, it is returned to the writer with helpful comments about the plot, theme, character, or dialogue. Some comment on grammar and spelling issues and also suggest great ideas that I’d never thought of!
Having a diverse group of people involved in critiquing your manuscript is helpful as well. Each person brings a different perspective to your story and a different method of critiquing. Whether they go line by line suggesting changes or just comment on the things they see that are—or are not—working, every piece of advice will bring your story one step closer to perfection. Having writers at different stages in writing and publication also helps. Newer writers tend to comment more on broader ideas, such as things they like about the story, characters, and dialogue. People with more experience tend to be pickier, commenting on such things as grammar, style, voice, and consistency. No matter where your partners are in their writing life, they all bring value to the table.
Here are some links and suggestions for valuable sites to find critique partners and beta readers online:
* The Query Tracker forums are where I found all of my beta readers. Query Tracker is one of the most supportive writing sites I have found since I began this journey a few years back. The feedback from the members is excellent and helpful, and the resources on the forum and the main site, QueryTracker.net, are fantastic.
* The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is a great place to find critique groups focusing on writing for children and young adults. I found my critique group there almost two years ago, and the women I meet with are amazing.
* Many authors now have Facebook pages. Social media is a great way to connect with other writers and find people who are willing to critique your work.
* Many authors are also on Twitter, which is another social media site in which to find help.
* author blogs - There are a ton of author blogs out there, all at different stages in the writing and publication process. Many of them look for critique partners and beta readers to swap chapters or manuscripts with for help in their own work. In return, they’ll help you with yours.
* agent and editor blogs and websites – Most, if not all, agents and editors are online. Many of them put up great posts on the craft of writing and offer links to help writers improve their books.
* Goodreads is an amazing place for writers as well as readers. The site has many groups for writers of all genres to connect and help each other out.
* The Writer’s Digest forum has a critique tab where members can read and critique each other’s work, and critique guidelines are offered to help newbies learn the ropes.
There are many other sites on the web that can be found via your favorite search engine.
Other options for finding critique partners and beta readers include networking at writer’s conferences, participating in online and live writing workshops and classes, and just sending out emails to writers you already know, asking to swap your manuscripts for feedback.
When reaching out for the first time, a great idea is to suggest swapping only the first chapter of your manuscript. That way, you and the other writer can get a sense of how you both write and how you both critique. If it’s not a good fit, you can go your separate ways. But if you get lucky like I have, you’ll end up with great help for you book as well as new friends.
Do yourself and your book a favor. If you don’t share your work with anyone, find the courage to get a trusted reader or two who will give you honest feedback. Understand that the feedback is meant to help your manuscript, not criticize you or make you feel bad about your skill as a writer. You won’t regret it, and your work will be much stronger in the end.
About the Author
Kimberly Miller received Bachelor's degrees from Georgian Court University and Rutgers University and a Master's degree from The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. She is an avid reader and particularly enjoys true crime and young adult novels. She grew up in New Jersey and currently resides in Monmouth County with her husband and three cats. When she’s not writing, she loves to travel to sunny islands where she snorkels by day and stargazes by night. She always takes her Nook with her.
Her first book, TRIANGLES, by Spencer Hill Press, is due for release this June.
Find Kimberly online:
About the Book
A cruise ship. A beautiful island. Two sexy guys. What could possibly go wrong?
In the Bermuda Triangle--a lot.
Hoping to leave behind the reminders of her crappy life--her father's death years ago, her mother's medical problems, and the loser who's practically stalking her--seventeen-year-old Autumn Taylor hops on a ship with her sister for a little distraction. When she wakes up in the Bermuda Triangle, she fears she's gone nuts for more than one reason: that loser's suddenly claiming they're a happy couple... a hot guy is wrapping his arms around her and saying "Happy Anniversary"... and suddenly, she's full of bruises, losing her hair, and getting IV medication. Autumn visits the ship's doctor, hoping for a pill or a shot to make the craziness go away. Instead, she's warned that these "alternate realities" could become permanent.
She just has to ask herself one question--how the hell is she going to get out of this mess?
Buy TRIANGLES on Amazon
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I’ve made no secret that writing OVERRIDE, the second book in my trilogy, was crazy tough. I’d heard other writers talk about have to start a book from scratch several times over because it wasn’t working, but I’d think, nah, that will never happen to me!
Ahem. Yeah. Famous last words. I wrote one complete draft of OVERRIDE, then half of it over again, and then I had to scrap all of that and start over AGAIN. The good news is, I’m really, really happy with the final product.
When do you know that you need to do a rewrite?
Usually, you know because of feedback. Also important to note here is that you need critique partners who will be brutally honest with you. Or you need to read between the lines about the critiques you are getting. I recognized I’d need a rewrite when all of my beta partners, my agent, and my editor seemed less than enthusiastic about the draft. Nobody came out and said it was horrible, but there was a lot of beating around the bush about how bad it was. I think I probably scared my editor with that first draft. I imagined her in the office reading it and being like ‘why on earth did I ever buy this trilogy?’
Eventually, though I balked and balked and balked internally, I finally looked at the draft again myself and realized the problem—it had no soul. Which is a flowery way of saying I hadn’t connected to my main character emotionally as I was writing, so she was just like this lifeless puppet I was swinging around through various plot points. The thing is, when you as a writer don’t connect to a character, the reader isn’t going to either. Which you know, is kind of a big problem—the kind of systemic problem that requires you to chuck everything you’ve got and start over. Usually you also need time away from a draft, maybe a month or more while it’s out with critique partners, to be able to have the perspective to see your own work clearly enough to see the problems.
Commence freaking out and screaming, no I don’t WANNA!!! But alas, the bad draft is still sitting there staring at you. Now what?
I’m not one of those crazy people who just starts a new document and begins over at page one. That’s far too daunting and scary. So what I do instead is take some time to outline the book as it is currently. I’ll re-read sections and decide what the big problems areas are. Then I brainstorm possible fixes to the problem. In OVERRIDE one of the biggest problems (in addition to the lack of voice) was the first half. Nothing really happened in it. There was no tension, no cause and effect to keep pulling the reader along from one chapter to the next, just a bunch of people kind of sitting in one place being boring.
A lot of times with a rewrite, I’ll find my favorite part and start working there, to give myself incentive to actually start (usually for me this means working on the romantic storyline and scenes), but because of deadlines with OVERRIDE, I had to dive straight into this problematic first half. Instead of having my characters sit still for a hundred pages, I found ways to make them be on the run. In almost each chapter dramatic things happen to push them from one location to the next. And as I worked on making them move, I tried to also key in on the bigger voice problem. At every step, I kept asking myself, what does Zoe want? What are her motivations and her worst fears? This is key to figuring out voice. It’s the most basic question writers should always be asking themselves: what does my character want and then, what obstacles can I throw in their path to keep them from getting it?
I finally realized that what Zoe wants most is family, a safe place where she can protect the people she loves. This was key to unraveling her character for me so that I finally firmly knew who she was.
After I’d gotten the beginning fixed, then I moved onto the other big problem areas (aka, the middle and the end!), both of which centered around action scenes. As you write more and more, you’ll discover your own strengths and weaknesses. One of my weaknesses is writing action scenes. There’s so many moving parts and people you have to keep shifting around like chess pieces and there’s so much going on at once. For me action scenes can too easily turn into a boring list: this happened, then this and this. And on top of all the moving parts, you also have to weave in emotional stakes in each action scene.
So here’s the key: knowing your weaknesses, you can work around them. Some people are excellent at writing huge tableau battle scenes like Scott Westerfeld did in his Leviathan series. I am not like that. For me, the solution lay in cutting a few characters off from the melee and focusing in on them. I could keep track of two or three important characters at once.
Another trick was to change the nature of the battle. In my first couple drafts there was a huge all-out fight with everyone there at once at the end. In my last rewrite, I made the conflict a lot more intimate—it’s Zoe alone going in to search for something, and the main obstacle I threw in her way forces her to face her worst fears. That way I brought both the action plot and the emotional plot to a climax at the same time, which is the best way to pack an emotional wallop for your readers.
So these are the big things to keep in mind when you do a re-write:
Take some time away from the draft. Get feedback and then try to look at it with fresh eyes. And be brutal with yourself—not the self-defeating kind of brutal, aka, ‘I suck and will never be successful at this writing thing!’ Instead, you need the productive kind of brutal, acknowledging that this is a work in progress, that all writers (both published and unpublished) are facing these same problems, and gearing yourself up to dig in to do the work that needs to be done.
What does my character want and what do they fear? Am I crafting the plot to really push these desires and fears to the forefront so I can get a full emotional arc for my characters? Your characters are what stay with a reader, not clever plots. Your character’s emotional arc is what will make readers laugh and cry.
Do I lose tension during any section of the book? Do I keep the stakes high? Usually this ties back into the first point—does the reader genuinely feel like the main character has something important to lose, that their wants and desires are challenged in some way in each chapter? Don’t be afraid to hurt your main character or take them scary places. Being a writer means being willing to gut your main characters and then kick them while they’re down. Conflict is what stories are all about.
What are my strengths and weaknesses as a writer? How can I key in on those weaknesses and what do I need to change to work around them? Often this means figuring out a way to be tricky and use your strengths to hide your weaknesses. Good at writing lively characters but have difficulty with plot? Brainstorm obstacles to your main character’s happiness by having them challenged by another character and let the personality sparks bring on the conflict. Good at plot but weaker on characterization? Craft plots that will threaten your main character’s wants and desires (I realize I’m kind of a broken record on this point, but seriously, it’s the single most important way to create an emotionally powerful story!!!).
And at the end of all that work? A book I’m very proud of, and one that almost across the board has garnered more critical and popular acclaim than GLITCH did. That’s the real magic of the rewrite—you can create something truly special, a book that others will want to read and then think about for weeks after they finish it.
About the Author
Heather Anastasiu recently moved to Minneapolis with her family, and when she's not busy getting lost exploring the new city, she spends most days writing at a café or daydreaming about getting a new tattoo.
She is the author of GLITCH, OVERRIDE, and the forthcoming SHUTDOWN.
Find out more on Heather’s website
Check out her blog
Follow her on Twitter
About the Book
Zoe lives in a world free of pain and war. Like all members of the Community, a small implanted chip protects her from the destructive emotions that destroyed the Old World. Until her hardware starts to glitch.
Zoe begins to develop her own thoughts and feelings, but nothing could be more dangerous in a place where malfunctions can get you killed. And she has another secret she must conceal at all costs: her glitches have given her uncontrollable telekinetic powers.
As she struggles to keep her burgeoning powers hidden, she finds other glitchers with abilities like hers, and together they plot to escape. But the more she learns about beauty, joy, and love, the more Zoe has to lose if they fail. With danger lurking around every corner, she’ll have to decide just how much she’s willing to risk to be free.
Buy GLITCH on Amazon
Buy GLITCH on Indiebound
Find GLITCH on Goodreads
|An article in The Writer's Chronicle got me thinking about |
a teacher. Credit: Elizabeth King Humphrey
Were you born a creative writer or were you taught to be a creative writer? I picked up a copy of the September issue of The Writer’s Chronicle
, a publication for the Association of Writers & Writing Programs. It’s a publication I read often when I was getting my MFA in creative writing. One article immediately drew my attention: “Borges as Self: Toward Teaching Creative Writers” by Eric LeMay.
There is a line in the article, which I will paraphrase, that poses the question about whether creative writing can be taught or can students be taught to be creative writers. The article discusses various programs and what they may offer writers.
But when I read that, I didn’t look back on my master’s program. I didn’t reflect on an undergraduate poetry class with Kenneth Koch or a graduate workshop with Denise Gess (both incredibly passionate writers). I immediately thought of my high school English teachers.
And one in particular: Marilyn Griggs Riley
To my knowledge (okay, to my memory!), she didn’t teach me anything about creative writing. I don’t remember the whys and wherefores of points of view or how to create suspense in a novel.
But Marilyn taught me a lot. She taught me about a love of writing. She opened a world of writing that I had never seen before—she wrote the introduction for poetry collections and, later in life, penned a collection of profiles of spunky Western women. Areas for writing that I hadn't considered before. Her enthusiasm didn’t teach me the craft of writing. Her Carol Channing hairstyle didn’t convince me to become a writer (or even influence my style choices).
Her enthusiasm helped me to discover writers I wanted to identify with—and could. Her passion and laughter and encouragement helped me to feel that writing—and being a writer—is an important skill/job/vocation/life.
We kept in touch even after I graduated and she remained a wonderful cheerleader and a fantastic teacher.
In my mind, writers can be taught. Writers can even be taught to be creative writers. But passion is a lot harder to come by. But when you have a teacher who is passionate and believes in you, you can become anything you want to be.
Including a writer.
I enjoyed LeMay's article because he made me think about those personal connections with teachers and their many influences throughout the years. Do you have a teacher who helped move you to become a writer? Is there someone whose passion set you on the writerly path? Who was he or she?Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor living in Wilmington, NC. Her kids just started back at school, so she is excited for a bit more free writing time. (Ha!)
Hi everyone! I really, really wanted to resurrect the weekly round-up of articles for writers, and Martina graciously said I could. Since this is my first week posting, I'm going to cheat a little and sneak in a few links from earlier in December. Enjoy!
Is Your Manuscript Ready To Submit? - Mary Keeley at Books & Such Literary gives you ten things to address before submitting.
What I Learned From 10 Queries in 10 Tweets - lessons learned from Sara Megibow's #10queriesin10tweets.
Successful Query Letters - Galley Cat links to 23 query letters that worked.
Writing Groups: A Field Guide - Jane Lebak talks about writing groups on the Query Tracker blog.
K.M. Weiland's Structuring Your Story's Scenes:
Part 1 - Mastering the Two Different Types of Scenes
Part 2 - The Three Building Blocks of the Scene
Part 3 - Options for Goals in a Scene
Unleashing the Internal Editor: A Self-Editing Checklist - Jody Hedlund shares the checklist she uses when editing.
How I Fast Draft - Leigh Ann at YAMisfits talks about fast drafting.
Is Hubris Holding You Back? - Lorin Oberweger guest posts on Writer Unboxed about ego.
How an Agent Spends Her Holidays - Stacey Donaghy of Corvisiero Literary Agency tells about her holidays.
Pub Crawl's Best of 2012 - a round-up of the best posts on Publishing Crawl this year.
Read with Purpose - DIYMFA posts their best articles on how to read like a writer.
Underrated YA Books of 2012 - a list of books that didn't get as much attention as they deserved this year.
Other Weekly Round-Ups
Twitterific 12/23/12 by Elizabeth Craig
Cynsational News & Giveaways by Cynthia Leitich Smith
Do you have any great links you want to share? Suggestions for things you would like to see on this weekly post? Let us know in the comments!
“Shallow men believe in luck or in circumstance. Strong men believe in cause and effect.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
I just finished a revision on my last novel and then tackled the bookmap of my new WIP during a wonderful eight-week workshop with Cheryl Klein
. The back-to-back process gave me lots of opportunity to see that the bulk of the places where things didn't quite work in my manuscript pre-revision had to do with either missing goals or a missing exposition of cause and effect. It also made me examine ways to strengthen things for my new work. What I eventually realized is that the problem wasn't necessarily that my character didn't have the goals or that the causal link between events wasn't strong enough. It was more that I hadn't made the causality or the motivation clear and compelling.
Cause and effect is the root of fiction, and it's the flip side of looking at goal and outcome. On the macro level, it links events, and on a micro level, it forms the stimulus and response pairs that form how our characters respond to events. All together, cause and effect, goal and outcome, stimulus and response form the impetus of story by motivating the characters to engage with what is happening to them in believable and interesting ways.
Jack M. Bickham does a great job laying down some guidelines in SCENE AND STRUCTURE
- Stimulus must be external--that is, action or dialogue, something that could be witnessed if the transaction were on a stage.
- Response must also be external in the same way.
- For every stimulus, you must show a response.
- For every desired response, you must provide a stimulus.
- Response usually must follow stimulus at once.
- When response to stimulus is not logical on the surface.
For most of those statements, we could substitute cause and effect and end up with a valid guideline, too. The difference is, I think, that readers are more tolerant of when they find out the cause and effect relationship than they are about seeing the response to a stimulus.
As I was going through my bookmap, I realized that it helped me to examine the scenes in different ways. I found it helped to use three different perspectives: lack, cause, and goal.The Lack of Something
There's an old proverb that Madeleine L'Engle used in The Wind and the Door, the sequel to A WRINKLE IN TIME. It's also used in the movie TOKYO DRIFT. In each case, it illustrates the cascading effect of something seemingly inconsequential.
- For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
- For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
- For want of a horse the rider was lost.
- For want of a rider the message was lost.
- For want of a message the battle was lost.
- For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
- And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
In essence, this same relationship has to exist in the novel, beginning with the inciting incident. Whether you want to phrase it as a "lack" or a goal doesn't matter as much as the fact that there is something that happens that causes something else to happen, and that we understand why.BeCAUSE of Something
To illustrate this, let me rewrite the events in the proverb and turn them into an actual story. Let's say that Fiona is a girl in a castle threatened by an advancing army. The castle protects a critical road. With every able bodied male engaged in fighting the enemy, Fiona's father sends her through enemy lines with information for the King and a plea for help.
Striving for Something
- Because Fiona must stay off the more traveled road, her horse loses a nail from its shoe.
- Because she can't stop on that road, the whole shoe comes off.
- Because she can't find a blacksmith, the horse goes lame.
- Because the horse goes lame, Fiona cannot get out of the way of the rebel army fast enough.
- Because she cannot get out of the way fast enough, she is captured.
- Because she is captured, the message is found by the enemy.
- Because the message reaches the enemy and not the King, help doesn't reach the castle.
- Because the castle falls to the enemy, the enemy can now march down the crucial road and conquer the entire kingdom.
The problem with the story above is that it still leaves too many questions unanswered. As a writer, I still need to understand the motivation and the cause and effect of the story both on a macro and a micro level. It helps me to look at that same scenario as a series of scene goals and complications.
Story Question: Can Fiona get the message to the king?
Complication: The enemy is already surrounding most of the city and cutting off the exits.
Scene Goal: Fiona needs to get around the enemy army.
Complication: She takes a road that skirts the marsh and the mud sucks a nail out of her horse's shoe.
Scene Goal: She wants to circle around the ranks of the enemy before rejoining the main road.
Complication: She doesn't stop until the horse's shoe comes off.
Scene Goal: She wants to find a blacksmith.
Complication: The horse goes lame before she can find one.
Scene Goal: She wants to steal a horse.
Complication. She is captured.
Scene Goal: She wants to destroy the message before the enemy finds it.
Complication: Dropping it on the road leads to it being found.
Etcetera etcetera, to quote the King of Siam. But now I am going to digress.A Plea Against Gratuitous and Easy Violence
Obviously, the story I just sketched would be a period piece. It would be very easy to jump in here and say that the enemy finds the message by searching her. If the mc was a boy, I would go there. But she's a girl. They wouldn't necessarily find it right away if she had it hidden in her voluminous skirts. They wouldn't necessarily even suspect her of carrying a message. I have to think of the time and the circumstances, put myself in the shoes of my character and her captors.
A lot of writers, too many, would immediately jump to a rape scene here, or at least a scene where Fiona is stripped or violated and the message is found and the battle is lost. I'm not going to go into this topic deeply, because Maggie Stiefvater did that beautifully in her post last week on Literary Rape
Instead, I'm going to throw out an alternative. As writers, our job is to think of what drives our characters--all of them. We need to consider all
the possibilities and make the most dramatic choice—and that doesn't involve having things happen to
the protag. Rather, it involves having our protagonist drive the action. To do that, we need to consider the dramatic effect of having the character make a choice that leads to her own downfall and then battling back from it.Goal, Outcome, and Change
If I look at goal and complication and combine it with the perspectives I gained into cause and effect by examining lack, outcome, and change, I end up with a more complete story.
Inciting/exciting incident: The enemy at the gates.
Goal: Fiona needs to get out of town.
Motivation: Get the message to the king.
Complication: To avoid the enemy, she has to take the muddy road that skirts the marsh.
Outcome: The mud sucks a nail out of her horse's shoe.
Change: The shoe is loose, slowing her down.
Goal: Take a shortcut back to the main road.
Motivation: To avoid capture and make up the time she has lost.
Complication: The terrain is even worse than on the previous route.
Outcome: The shoe comes off.
Change. The horse is starting to limp.
Goal: Walk a while to rest the horse.
Motivation: She can't make it to the king without a horse.
Complication: She is slowed even further and encounters something—wild animal, human, deserter, something she wouldn't have encountered if she was still on horseback.
Outcome: She has to get back on the horse.
Change: The horse goes lame.
Goal: Find a blacksmith.
Motivation: She can't get to the king on a lame horse.
Complication: There are enemy soldiers in the village.
Outcome: She can't stay while her horse is reshod and she can't let anyone see her.
Change: She decides to steal a horse.
Goal: To steal a horse.
Motivation: To continue on her journey.
Complication: Someone sees her and raises an alarm.
Outcome: She is captured.
Change: She and the message are both in the hands of the enemy.
Goal: To avoid having the enemy read the message.
Motivation: To avoid being killed as a spy and preserve the potential for escape.
Complication: A soldier sees her drop the message and kick it out of the way.
Outcome: The message is read by the enemy.
Change: She and the message are both taken to the enemy commander.
As I originally wrote this, this could have been the beginning of the end. But now, knowing Fiona better, I realize she's nowhere close to done. And the capture of the castle isn't the end of the story either. Because the way I wrote the motivation said she needs to get the message to the king.
What happens after Fiona is captured depends on the type of book I want to write. Mostly, it depends on Fiona though. Who she is internally will dictate how she reacts externally. When her horse lost a shoe, she could have sat down and given up. But that would have been a boring story.
Examining all the different ways that events hinge together gradually reveals more about any protagonist, her surroundings, and the drama of the situation. Knowing how the protag thinks about events and how she responds to them is what brings the story into life and focus, at least for me. It never ceases to amaze me how much there is to discover about a story even after many drafts. Examining the prism of the novel from different angles reveals increasing depths and beautiful possibilities.
What about you? How do you connect the dots? Do you outline events, or do you outline motive and goal? How do you track cause and effect?
Like so many writers before me, I had the goal of becoming a published author one day. Ever since I was 15 years old and wrote my first book, I had dreams to see my novel on the bookstore shelves. And when I began to seriously pursue those dreams, I made sure to do my research on how to make it happen. This is what I was told I had to do to achieve published author status:
--Write an awesome book
--Get an agent to take a chance on an unknown author
--Have that agent pitch my book to editors
--Find an editor who likes the book enough to bring it to their publishing company
--And if I’m lucky, that publishing company will offer a deal
--Become successful author
Thinking this was the only way to reach my goals, I set out to follow all the guidelines given me. I queried dozens of agents and finally found one who liked my book! He brought it around to about 7-8 editors at major publishers, but everyone passed on the project. He tried again with my next book and while we came close to a sale at one publisher, it ultimately didn’t sell. Then, after that, my agent dropped me as a client.
At this point, I wondered if writing books was what I was even meant to do. I didn’t want to be naïve and miss the signs that were all telling me to stop wasting my time with a dream that was never going to happen. So, I took a 6-month hiatus from writing. But I quickly began to get the itch to write again. And that’s when I realized I needed to change the way I was approaching everything.
So I asked myself why I was writing. Was it only to get published and achieve fame and success in a very specific way? Ultimately, no. I write because I love it and I feel compelled to do it. I feel like I have stories to share with the world and I’d like to try my best to do that. And if this is my real goal—writing books because I love it and getting my books out to people who will hopefully enjoy them—then I needed to open my mind to the possibility that it might not happen the way I always assumed it would.
It was around this time that I discovered the online writing community site called Wattpad. Wattpad is like a YouTube for writers, where anyone can join and post short stories, full-length novels, poetry, screenplays….just about any writing you can think of.Up until this point, I’d always been told by traditionally published authors (whom I admire greatly), that you never give anything away for free. But I had a new goal: get my books out to people who might enjoy reading them. If this was true, and here was a platform with which I could do that, then why would I say no simply because I wouldn’t be getting paid for it?
So I began to post something for free on the site. I’d done my research on what the users were reading on there (which happened to be paranormal romance, surprise, surprise) and decided to write an original book in this genre. The result was a YA novel called LIFE'S A WITCH, which was about a teen witch who was a direct descendent of Bridget Bishop, the first person killed in the Salem Witch Trials. It had magic, spells, drama, love and action…and quickly became a huge hit among teens and adults alike.
Within 6 months, I’d finished writing and posting LIFE'S A WITCH on Wattpad and had garnered 6 million reads of it. Nearly a year after beginning to post the book, I had about 19 million reads of it and readers were re-creating scenes from the novel in public and calling themselves Twitches (teen witch). Then, my fans began to ask where they could buy it. So, because there was a demand for it, I decided to publish the book myself.
Soon after that, the press caught wind of my success on the site and decided to write a few articles on me. And once the publishing industry heard about the popularity of LIFE'S A WITCH, they came calling, and within a month of self-publishing, we found ourselves in an auction between four publishing houses. In the end, I went with Simon & Schuster in a 3-book, six-figure deal.
I think what I’ve learned most from my experience is that we live in a really exciting time right now. Whereas 10 years ago, there was really only one way of becoming a successful author, now we have so many opportunities available to us. IF we’re willing to keep an open mind to how it’s supposed to look and happen. Had I insisted on getting my book deal the old-fashioned way, I’m not sure it would have materialized. At least, not at this time and with a built-in fanbase like I have. And even though I’m working with a traditional publisher now, I still plan to continue thinking outside the box when it comes to my writing career.
Do you think there’s only one way to go about getting published? Or are you willing to allow your big break to happen in its own way?
About the Author
Brittany Geragotelis, a former Olympic-bound gymnast and magazine editor, is a self-professed pop culture junkie turned author. Her paranormal action book LIFE'S A WITCH received 19 million reads on the writing site Wattpad, before she sold the series to Simon & Schuster. WHAT THE SPELL? is her first published book in the series. Brittany currently lives in New York City with her fiancé and two cats, Murray and Cohen.Visit Brittany's WebsiteFollow her on TwitterAbout the BookA teenage witch juggles popularity and romance while keeping her powers a secret in this spellbinding debut.
Almost-sixteen-year-old Brooklyn feels invisible, but she desperately wants to be pretty, to be popular, to be adored by a cute guy. Luckily for her, she’s a witch about to come of age—so she’s only a few spells away from making it all happen.
On her milestone birthday, Brooklyn’s conservative parents finally unbind her powers, which include the ability to magically match couples with a love spell. Brooklyn uses her special skills to get a makeover, new friends, and the attention of her crush, Asher. But the popular clique Brooklyn wants to infiltrate puts her in the same precarious position as her Salem ancestors: If she’s found out, she could be vilified—and lose Asher in the process. Can she make the most of her magic, or will she be luckless and loveless? Be careful what you witch for!Buy WHAT THE SPELL? on AmazonFind WHAT THE SPELL? on Goodreads
I've been a fan of Jo Knowles ever since reading Lessons From A Dead Girl and even more so after See You At Harry’s (Candlewick, 2012) plus I love her fun and positive tweets from @JoKnowles on Twitter. I've also heard great things about Jo's Pearl and Jumping Off Swings, so am looking forward to reading those next!
Jo has a master’s degree in children’s literature and taught writing for children in the MFA program at Simmons College for several years. Some of her awards include a New York Times Notable Book of 2012, Amazon's Best Middle Grade Books of 2012, An International Reading Association Favorite 2012 Book, an SCBWI Crystal Kite Award, the PEN New England Children's Book Discovery Award, and YALSA's Best Fiction for Young Adults. Jo lives in Vermont with her husband and son. Her next book, Living With Jackie Chan, a companion to Jumping Off Swings, will be available September 2013.
Q: What's your writing process? What was your writing process for SEE YOU AT HARRY'S?
So far for all of my books, I've just started writing and discovered the book as I went. Not surprisingly, my first drafts are big messes. After I clean things up a bit and have a basic rough draft, I create a storyboard to help me get organized and figure out the themes, plot and rhythm of the book.
Storyboard from Jumping Off Swings.
The storyboard process I use I learned at a workshop with Carolyn Coman. Basically, you get a sheet of paper that's large enough to fit enough squares to represent each chapter of the book. Then you follow these steps:
1. Think of a scene with the strongest image that best represents that chapter. Draw it as best you can in the first box.
Part of a storyboard series from READ BETWEEN THE LINES, Jo's newest project.
2. Write a very brief phrase that describes the point of that chapter and write it in the bottom of the box.
3. Think of the strongest emotion conveyed in the chapter and write it at the top of the box.
Repeat for each chapter, one per box.
Part of a storyboard series from READ BETWEEN THE LINES, Jo's newest project.
This leaves you with a big visual that illustrates the movement of the book both actively and emotionally.
Part of a storyboard series from READ BETWEEN THE LINES, Jo's newest project.
Since my books tend to be less action driven and more emotionally driven, seeing the book this way is a big help. I can see the spikes of emotion and how they play out in the text, and where I need to insert more or less action, or emotional peeks.
Seeing the images also helps me to think about how stagnant certain chapters or groups of chapters might be, and helps me pinpoint where I need to move my character around more. (For example, in PEARL, Bean spent way too much time on the roof, which was her place to escape. I don't know that I would have realized this if I hadn't drawn a storyboard and had that visual.)
Q: What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Remember that getting published is not a race. I recently read a blog post by someone who had taken three years to sell her first book, referring to her journey as "The Long Road to Publication." Long road? Three years?? Oh my.
In reality, I think the average time it takes most people going the traditional publishing route is more like ten. I think people tend to measure success on how quickly they can sell their first book. This is a shame because speed has nothing to do with it. I think longevity AFTER you sell your book would be a better marker.
Childhood restaurant that inspired Harry's in SEE YOU AT HARRY'S.If you want to be an author, you need to take time to learn the craft and learn it well. Read a thousand picture books. Study the rhythms of your favorites. Type out the text and close- read it without the pictures. Pay attention to the types of details that are in the text versus the ones that are implied or easily and more effectively shown in the illustrations.
The next step is to learn how to revise. To learn how to listen to feedback and make the best use of it. I can't tell you how many aspiring writers I've met who have told me they didn't want feedback because they felt their work was as polished as it could get. But they hadn't shared it with anyone but family members!
One of the hard lessons I learned when I first started out was that I really didn't understand what revision meant. When an editor suggested a revision without a contract, I happily addressed the changes she proposed, but not to the degree I should have. I tweaked, I didn't revise. There is a very big difference.
Revising is rewriting. Not rearranging. Not fixing typos. Not deleting a sentence here and there. That’s what you do at the copyediting stage. Better to learn this with critique partners guiding you than with an editor who doesn’t have the time or patience to teach you him- or herself.
There is just so much to learn and so many early mistakes to be made when you're first starting out. It's worth it to take your time and get lots of feedback from other writers (and make those mistakes with them, not an agent or editor). Not only that, you will develop some wonderful relationships and create a community–a support network–which will be invaluable when you DO start submitting.
I am as impatient as the next person, but for new writers, I can't emphasize this enough: Please don't treat the time it takes you to get published as a race, or measure your journey against someone else's and use that as a marker for success and failure. Instead, think of your journey to publication as a travel experience to savor. The more you learn, the more people you connect with, the better prepared you will be for your final destination. And the more people you will have to celebrate your success with!
Q. What are you working on now? Any other upcoming events or other info you'd like to share?
I'm currently working on two projects. One is a contemporary YA novel called READ BETWEEN THE LINES. After writing JUMPING OFF SWINGS I swore I'd never write another book with multiple points of view, so naturally this book has ten. It's kind of a "day in the life" sort of story about how each character's actions affect the next. While I wait for my editor's comments on that, I've started a humorous middle grade/tween novel tentatively called FROM THE COMPLAINT BOX, about a boy who goes to a funky independent school and the adventures/mischief he gets into with his two best friends. When I told my agent I was writing something funny he said, "That's how you described SEE YOU AT HARRY'S and it made everyone weep!" So, he's suspicious. We'll see!
Where can find out more about Jo Knowles:
Jo Knowles website - Jo Knowles blog - Twitter (@JoKnowles) - Facebook
SEE YOU AT HARRY'S book page
Also see other Inkygirl Interviews.
This is a common question, and usually what the person asking wants to know is: Do I start with an idea, a character, an image, a plot? Do I start with a setting? A theme? Or perhaps a conflict?
The truth is, while a novel must contain all of these elements, it doesn’t much matter where you start. Perhaps a better question is: How much do I need to know about my story before I start writing it? And the answer is: That depends on what sort of writer you are.
There are four main types of writers:
1) The word builder – doesn’t know where she’s headed but painstainkingly reworks each sentence until it’s perfect. She won’t precede to the second sentence until she’s happy with the first, won’t precede to the third sentence until she’s happy with the second, etc. (This kind of writer is rare indeed, but amazingly, she does exist. Not surprisingly, it can take her a very long time to finish her story.)
2) The intuitive writer – doesn’t know where she’s headed but fully trusts her intuition. She has such a strong, innate sense of storytelling that no planning is required. She begins her novel with no idea of the twists and turns it might take, or where it will end. She constantly surprises herself, and allows her characters to surprise her too. (Ursula Dubosarsky, a wonderful children’s and YA writer, works this way.)
3) The detailed planner – knows exactly where she’s headed for she has planned out every chapter before she begins. This writer will rarely deviate from her well thought-out plan – she knows before she starts that this story works. There are no surprises. (Writers who work this way usually finish their novels quickly. This is the method used by the very accomplished and prolific writer Morris Gleitzman.)
4) The relaxed yet focused traveler – has a strong idea of where she’s headed, but doesn’t know precisely what she’ll encounter on the journey. Somewhere between the intuitive writer and the detailed planner, this writer may know how the story ends, but often discovers twists and turns along the way. (Most writers, myself included, fall into this category.)
While I can’t tell you what you need to know before you begin, I can tell you what I need to know – and this will be true for the majority of writers.
Before I begin, I need a concept – but what is a concept?
I’ll use my own book, Dancing in the Dark, by way of illustration.
I want to write about dance: that’s an idea, it’s not a concept.
I want to write about religion: that too is an idea, it’s not a concept.
I want to write a book about both dance and religion: still an idea – a strong idea, perhaps, but not yet a concept.
I want to write about a girl from a very orthodox Jewish family who longs to take ballet lessons but for religious reasons, her parents don’t let her: we’re getting closer, but it’s still not a concept because I can’t see a story here, not yet. I need to know how her parents’ refusal affects her, how she reacts. If she accepts their refusal, there is no story.
I want to write about a girl from a very orthodox Jewish family who longs to take ballet lessons, and when her parents refuse their permission, the girl begins to dance in secret, and is soon caught up in a web of deception. Now, that’s a concept. I can see the story – I can see the girl sneaking out to class, lying to her parents, wrestling with her conscience.
A strong concept suggests a story. It suggests character, plot and theme.
Once I have my strong concept, what else do I need before I start to write my story?
I need names for my main characters – the sooner I name them, the sooner I can get to know them.
And I need a voice. I need to know who is telling the story. The protagonist? A third person narrator? Someone else? (With Dancing in the Dark, I wasn’t sure whether to tell the story in first person or in third – I had to experiment to find out what worked best for the story.)
If you’re the kind of writer I am, then you too will need, at the very least, a strong concept and a voice before you begin.
But only you can know whether you’re a word builder, an intuitive writer, a detailed planner, or a relaxed yet focused traveller.
Trust yourself, and let your story emerge.
NB: To “unlock the story within you”, I recommend The 90-day Novel by Alan Watt. It contains some great advice, tips and techniques (though I don’t necessarily recommend trying to complete a novel within 90 days). I also highly recommend Story Engineering by Larry Brooks.
About the Author
Robyn Bavati lives in Melbourne, Australia. Dancing in the Dark is her debut novel. Her next novel, Pirouette, will be out in November.
Check Out Robyn's Webpage
Friend Robyn on Facebook
About the Book
When Ditty Cohen first sees a ballet on TV, the beautiful, gravity-defying dancing captivates her.
She’s instantly connected to the graceful performers, realizing her passion is to be a dancer. There’s just one problem: Ditty is from an ultra-orthodox Jewish family and her parents forbid her to take dance lessons.
Refusing to give up on her newfound love, Ditty starts dancing in secret. Her devotion to dance is matched only by her talent, but the longer Ditty pursues her dream, the more she must lie to her family. Caught between her passion and her faith, Ditty starts to question everything she believes in. How long can she keep her two worlds apart? And at what cost?
DANCING IN THE DARK is the dramatic, inspiring story about a girl who discovers the trials and triumphs of pursuing her greatest dream.Buy DANCING IN THE DARK on AmazonFind DANCING IN THE DARK on Goodreads
Leaving Room for Inspiration/Creativity Within an Outline
by Anna Collomore
The question of outlining in novel-writing is generally very polarizing. Some feel strongly that outlining hampers the creative process; otherwise swear it’s the necessary hand that holds ours through the duration of the first draft.
Initially of the former camp, I wrote my first novel according to scenes that popped into my head out of nowhere and voices that felt whispered from some divine source. I paid homage to the writing gods and waiting for emotion and inspiration to drive me. What I did not consider enough, however, is how to drive the novel—and I wound up deleting over one hundred meandering pages.
I have also experienced the opposite extreme. I once took on a work-for hire project that required me to write a novel based on a 40-page (single spaced) outline that someone else created for me. The outline was 1/3 the length of the novel and so detailed that it occasionally provided bits of dialogue. It enumerated everything from characters’ favorite breakfasts to their morning routes to school. It left zero room for creative freedom and perfectly illustrated the way in which an outline doesn’t always translate easily to the page. I deleted 50+ pages of awkward transitions that seemed A-okay in the outline itself but felt off when the characters finally came to life.
Now, though, I’m an outline convert. This is because I think I’ve hit on a happy median: a loose—or semi-planned—outline. In the “loose” outline, I give myself just enough direction to write a tight first draft and just enough freedom to play within the borders I’ve established. (This is also, incidentally, how I like to plan my life.)
A very simple model for a loose outline is as follows:
1.) Nail your concept.
2.) Create a 3-Act structure.
3.) Fill in emotional and plot beats.
4.) Jot notes/ideas/inspiration (as they come) within the 3-Act structure.
5.) Optional: create a chapter breakdown.
My most recent book, The Ruining, is a thriller about a nanny who is driven mad by her employer (who harbors a dark secret). I used a five-page outline (including vague chapter breakdown) to write The Ruining. It left me just enough creative freedom but also kept the process streamlined—I was able to write the first draft in two months and took another month to write a second, more solid draft. (During the second draft process I added approximately 75 pages to the first draft.)
The concept line I started with was this: Annie, a live-in nanny for a wealthy San Francisco family, is slowly driven mad by her nefarious employer—who holds a dark secret.
You DO need to know your concept in order to create an initial outline. You DO NOT need to have more than a few vague ideas about your plot. (For example, I did not yet know what the “dark secret” was going to be.) Your concept should clearly summarize the story you want to tell in one specific sentence. There is a very big difference between concept and topic/theme. So, “madness” cannot be a concept. Nor can “nannying” or “manipulation.” It can take some time to nail your concept—but it’s the hardest part. Once you have a concept, you already possess the general framework for a story.
The 3-Act structure:
A simple model for outlining a novel is to break your story into three parts. In Act I, something big happens that sets the novel in motion. Act II is the unfolding action—everything that results from the Big Moment in Act I. At the end of Act II, we have a major revelation or climax that leads into Act III: resolution.
So a very simple 3-act structure for my novel, The Ruining
, would have been this:
-open with Annie (protagonist) in her OLD LIFE (Detroit).
-Annie moves to NEW LIFE (San Francisco)—end on dramatic moment in which she is dazzled by her new “family’s” wealth, i.e. the first time she sees their sprawling mansion.
-Annie starts job
-Annie bonds with Libby, the kids’ mom
-Annie meets love interest
-strange things start happening
-Annie is overworked, overwhelmed, stressed out
-Annie’s sanity starts to falter
-relationship with boy develops
-Annie runs into evidence that something is amiss. Rationalizes evidence.
-Libby finds out that Annie saw evidence.
-Libby becomes aggressively manipulative, controlling
-relationship with boy hits major stumbling block
-Libby acts worse, Annie loses her grip
-Annie fails out of school
-Annie has breakdown
-[SPOILER] Libby puts Annie in hospital
-Annie is trapped
-With love interest’s help, Annie solves mystery behind Libby’s malice
-consequences for Libby
-Annie’s resolution/reconciliation with boyfriend
As you can see, this is virtually unplotted—but it provides a general arc for getting started. As I wrote the first act, which I had envisioned clearly (and is generally very short—no more than 30 pages), ideas for the second act came to mind. (“Annie bonds with Libby,” for example, came to life in the form of Libby giving Annie some designer hand-me-downs and taking an interest in her college major.)
Later, you can add more character and plot details to your outline, which should ultimately serve as a place for structuring your notes and ideas into usable form. So if you have an idea for the way “Annie meets love interest,” write it in. (I.e. Annie wipes out on pool patio and cute next door neighbor rushes to her aid.) It then unfolds into a scene.
Your initial outline may be even less detailed than the above. It may use placeholder terms such as, “big emotional moment” or “clue is revealed.” You may not stumble across the exact nature of that moment or that clue until after you’ve written a chapter or two—but you’ll know exactly when in your draft you should be hitting these points, because you’ll be able to see clearly (via the outline) where the action picks up and slows. And you’ll know to build toward big moments from the beginning. These important structural and emotional “beats” in your novel will keep you from going off on tangents that seems fascinating at the time but stretch for 30 pages and ultimately derail your plot.
You need not know the ending right away. You don’t need to know whether the girl ends up with the boy or whether the con artist gets caught and sent to jail. You only need a very rough idea of what questions ought to be answered—and then you can keep these in mind as you write. For example, a later version of my outline (actually was served as my final version) contained an Act III that looked like this:
What’s going on? Is it possible she imagined the entire thing?
The ending is decidedly ambiguous, leaving readers wondering whether Annie will ever be released and reunited with Owen. What’s more, it’s not clear whether Annie is truly insane. Is the story of Libby’s dark secret the truth? Or is it the wildest of Annie’s delusions?
I clearly did not have these questions answered for myself—and yet I had a point to work toward and questions to address within the text. (Incidentally, loose-outlining is not risk-free! I wound up writing three separate endings before my editor was happy.) A loose outline is like a map: it guides you to the point you eventually want to reach and keeps you from veering off track. But what you’ll discover along the way? That comes later, and that’s the fun of it. About the Author
Anna Collomore--a devotee of dairy products, small mammals, and thrift stores--is a former book editor from New York City. Now she lives, writes, and au pairs in Paris. Find out more about Anna and The Ruining
.About The Ruining
Annie Phillips is thrilled to leave her past behind and begin a shiny new life on Belvedere Island, as a nanny for the picture-perfect Cohen family. In no time at all, she falls in love with the Cohens, especially with Libby, the beautiful young matriarch of the family. Life is better than she ever imagined. She even finds romance with the boy next door.
All too soon cracks appear in Annie's seemingly perfect world. She's blamed for mistakes she doesn't remember making. Her bedroom door comes unhinged, and she feels like she's always being watched. Libby, who once felt like a big sister, is suddenly cold and unforgiving. As she struggles to keep up with the demands of her new life, Annie's fear gives way to frightening hallucinations. Is she tumbling into madness, or is something sinister at play?
The Ruining is a complex ride through first love, chilling manipulation, and the terrifying depths of insanity.Buy The Ruining at AmazonFind The Ruining on Goodreads
Scenes: Cooking at the Right Temperature
Guest Post by Lorin Oberweger
Just as with any element of fiction, the SCENE can be understood in many ways. Foundationally, it’s the building block of the novel, the bricks where elements such as emotional sequels or transitions that move characters from one place to another can be viewed as mortar.
At its core, a scene is a negotiation of some kind, the struggle between one character with a critical desire in the moment and another character or force with an opposing agenda.
Another way to consider scenes, however, comes in the form of emotional TEMPERATURE, the strength with which they grab hold of readers, involve them on a visceral level, keep them anxious, aroused, or invested in some way. The lower the scene temperature, the lower the likely reader investment. HIGH TEMPERATURE SCENES INCLUDE:
CONFLICT between two or more characters--physical, emotional, or psychological. The scene contains a potent source of tension and friction, which can only occur when agendas clash.
OBSERVABLE, INTERESTING behavior on the part of characters, rather than summary or exposition. In other words, something is being enacted fully for our mind’s eye (and ear and heart).
TENSION in the form of unanswered questions—information withheld from the reader and/or from the protagonist.
POWER absent from protagonist upon entering the scene. When a character enters a scene in the position of being humbled or unsure, the scene carries far greater tension than if the character enters the scene with perfect certitude or with obvious physical advantage.
POWER taken away from protagonist during the course of the scene.
SURPRISING revelations, reversals of fortune, the unanticipated moment or response.
EMOTIONAL challenge of the protagonist--heightened feeling, loss of control, self-revelation, reckoning with things previously kept hidden in the emotional realm.LOW TEMPERATURE SCENES INCLUDE:
AGREEMENT between two or more characters—often found in scenes where characters are commiserating with one another or filling one another in, procedurally, on elements of the quest at hand.
Characters in ISOLATION, REFLECTING on their actions, their lives, the decisions they now face.
IMPARTING of information, answering of questions. When characters are simply offered every answer they seek, there’s very little to pique reader interest.
EXPOSITION--summarizing of events, “telling” instead of showing.
POWER being bestowed upon the viewpoint character within the course of the scene—especially if they have not really worked toward achieving this end.
Protagonist entering the scene in the POWER position.
ELEMENTS acting in the protagonist’s favor. (Coincidences, luck, etc.)
Events unfolding just as EXPECTED--by both reader and characters.
Protagonist feeling CALM/COLLECTED/UNFLAPPABLE--entering a scene with full confidence, full knowledge, and an unshakable faith in the scene’s outcome.
While not every scene in a novel can or should unfold at the highest temperature, it’s often the case that readers don’t challenge themselves as fully as they might in this arena. They give us long passages of static exposition or of characters alone in thought. They answer questions for the protagonist before he or she has really had an opportunity to test him/herself in the pursuit of answers. They create scene after scene with characters alone with only their thoughts for company and no source of tension—or “heat”—on the page. The result can be a bit dreary, keeping the reader at an emotional arm’s length.
So challenge yourself to look at the scenes in your novel—either the ones you’ve written or the ones you have planned. What questions do you prompt the reader to ask? What sources of conflict do you throw in the path of your protagonist? How fully do you immerse your characters in a well-realized and sensory world, one in which they are physically and emotionally tested, and then tested some more?
Turn up the heat in your novel to make your reader suffer, dream, and truly LIVE on the page along with your characters. In the end, they’ll love you for it and keep coming back for more. About the Author
LORIN OBERWEGER is a highly sought-after independent book editor and ghostwriter with almost twenty-five years experience in publishing. Her company, Free Expressions, offers writing seminars nationwide with literary agent Donald Maass and others, as well as the acclaimed Novel Crafting Retreats--intensive story development weekends for writers in all genres of fiction. The Your Best Book Workshop she and the company put on last October was hands-down the best workshop I've ever attended! To find out more about workshops, retreats, or editorial services, visit the Free Expressions website
By: Adventures in YA and Children's Publishing,
Blog: Adventures in Children's Publishing
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"If you've a story, make sure it's a whole one, with details close to hand. It's the difference between a good lie and getting caught."
~ Tamora Pierce
Details build your story world, and by sharing with the reader what details a character notices, they also build the reader's perception of that character. In other words, details help build a character's voice. But as with most things in writing, more is often less.
We can easily overwhelm a reader with details. Too much description slows down action, and it isn't just what characters see that is important in a scene. It's how they interact with what they see. How they feel about it. In other words, picking details that your character can relate to, helps our readers relate to our characters.
Here's an example from Once Was Lost
by the incredible Sara Zarr:The picture of Jody comes back up. She's in braids and braces and underneath her smiling face is Amber Alert information, phone numbers, website addresses. This is real. The rift in the world--the edge of which I've been teetering on for months--splits wide open, and I'm falling. "I know her," I say to the TV, then look around the room like there might be someone else to tell it to, but there's only Ralph, on the coffee table cleaning his paw.
I don't know the process the author uses. I don't know if she pictured Jody before she envisioned her on the TV, or if the description came to her in this paragraph. But the braids and braces bring Jody to life for me. I don't need to know what color her hair is. I don't care about her clothes. I know her from the braids and braces, and those two small details make her alive and vulnerable in a way that a precise description of everything she was wearing never could. By the same token, I'm not sure that anything else would have brought the contrast of the rest of the world remaining unrocked on its ordinary moorings as the fact that the cat is insouciant enough to clean its paw on the coffee table. And of course, the fact that the cat is on the coffee table in the first place tells us quite a bit.
Every word in that example speaks a volume. It speaks to character and to setting, speaks to emotional tone as well as story. Indeed, it advances story and connects it to emotion.
Here's another example from Sapphique
by Catherine Fisher:The showmen left the village early, before Lightston. Attia waited for them outside the ramshackle walls, behind a pillar of brick where gigantic shackles still humn, rusting to red powder. When the Prison lights snapped on with their acrid flicker she saw seven wagons were already rumbling down the rams, the bear cage strapped on one, the rest covered by contraptions of starry cloth. As they approached, she saw the bear's small red eyes squint at her. The seven identical jugglers walked alongside, tossing balls to one another in complex patterns.
Consider the details there and what they tell us. We know instantly we are in a different world. We know a lot about that world just from the fact that the shackles are gigantic and rusting. We know there are seven wagons so we can picture them; we don't picture four or six because the author left it ambiguous. We know for certain how many there are, and so we trust that the author knows. We believe
more completely in the story world just because the author gave us a specific number.
Specificity lends credibility.
But notice that the author didn't describe the wagons. She didn't give us every details. She gave us an overview then showed us what was different, what we needed to know to paint the exact picture that she wanted us to see.
The author directed
our eyes in specific directions the same way that a director controls how a movie ultimately unfolds for the viewer.
Here's a final example, the first paragraph of the short story Shannon's Law
There was a movie on USA the other day, THE CONDEMNED (2007) starring Steve Austin, Vinnie Jones, Nathan Jones, Robert Mammone: "A fight to the death against nine other condemned killers from all corners of the world, with freedom going to the sole survivor." Haven't heard of it? That's okay, I hadn't either. But the premise was similar enough to the idea of Suzanne Collins' THE HUNGER GAMES that I tuned in to watch.
It was a great example of the power of perspective and motivation.
Because it was a movie, the POV naturally bounced all over the place. We got to know several characters in the production company making the film. And naturally, we saw the battles between the criminals who all had ankle bracelets laced with explosives that their opponents could detonate. Naturally, this took place on an island that was prepositioned with cameras. Naturally the prisoners all had GPS trackers. Naturally there were a few blindspots on the island. And naturally, the show was about ratings and money. Like in THE HUNGER GAMES, there were drops of weapons and supplies to specific prisoners, and there were alliances between individuals and factions.
I watched while two prisoners died. I was singularly unimpressed. I didn't care if the production company made millions. I didn't really care which of the horrible people killed each other.
And then.... Finally it happened. One of the prisoners chose not
to play by the rules. He showed glimmers of humanity, charity, and morality. Someone in the FBI tuned in and checked who he was. Naturally, it turned out there had to have been some kind of a mistake. Jack Conrad was a retired Delta Force black ops guy who'd been caught while on a mission and imprisoned in Central America with a false identity. His ethical behavior made a woman in the production company begin to question the ethics of the show. That intensified with escalating confrontations between the prisoners, but the others in the production company shut her down. (See the B story and subplots developing?) A super-villain emerged. One of the prisoners engaged in acts of brutality so heinous, he clearly became the guy to beat. The head of the production company became so unethical and money grubbing we had to hate him. Finally, I had a protagonist to root for and a someone to root against, and I knew who would be in the ultimate showdown. Finally, I cared
a little more. But I couldn't help comparing the execution of this story to THE HUNGER GAMES, because it was all very formulaic. And though I cared
, I didn't CARE.
The lesson here? You can have a GREAT idea and still F it up.
To make me care, a great plot has to begin with great characters who themselves care deeply about something. The more unjust the situation is for them the better, but they have to be vulnerable in some way--there has to be a hole inside them. Jack Conrad, the Delta Force guy, was great. Moral. Capable. Cool. But at first, he didn't love anything. Or I wasn't aware that he loved anything. It wasn't until he escaped, got to a phone, and called his girlfriend later in the story that I saw a glimmer of vulnerability, and by then, for me, it was too late to invest my heart.
The action got hotter. The tension ratcheted up. I continued to watch because THE CONDEMNED was a good B-movieish action flick.
It could have been so much more.
I'm eager to see how they handle the screenplay for THE HUNGER GAMES, but I know it will be stronger because the characters we care about are built into the concept. Katniss is vulnerable and admirable from the beginning, no matter how strong and capable she appears to be. She is the underdog. We know
her sister loves her. We know Gayle cares for her
Our job as writers is to keep readers reading. Beyond that, we want to make them forget they are reading so that they feel like they are in the story, that they have a stake in the outcome. That's easiest to do in scenes, which consist primarily of action and dialogue with some internalizations and description sprinkled in. But narrative is often useful or even necessary, despite the bad rap it gets from the oh-so-often-repeated "show don't tell" rule we all throw around.Narrative lets us do some things faster than we can in scene
, in ways we can't do in action or dialogue. We can use it to:
- Create mood and tone
- Describe characters
- Build a setting for the story
- Provide emotional context for the scene or coming scenes
- Fill in necessary background information
- Cue the reader to understand character reaction or decisions
- Foreshadow future events
It's true though, that narrative can add distance between the reader and the story, so it's critical to get in and get out. Narrative has a different rhythm than action, dialogue, or even introspective. It's a slower rhythm, a more leisurely rhythm closer to a lullaby than to the pounding drum of running feet or tense conversation. And the moment the reader's brain gets lulled into a slower rhythm, that's the moment they can start thinking about checking email or deciding what to make for dinner. Making shorter paragraphs can help, but our eyes can skim a paragraph very quickly to see something that ends up looking like blah, blah, blah pretty tree, blah, blah lovely sky, blah blah, went to fifth grade with him, blah, blah most popular boy, blah blah and too blah. Time to close the book.
To keep the reader from getting lulled right out of the story, there's a school of thought that says we should have no more than two paragraphs of narrative before we interrupt it with something more active. But switching from one element of fiction to another is often the most dangerous moment in fiction, the one where we risk jarring the reader out of the story into confusion, or force them to reread something to catch what they missed. The moment they are doing that, they aren't reading forward and we risk losing them to the lure of the refrigerator or the television, or the thousands of other things competing for their time at any given moment. Moving smoothly in and out of the switch requires a good transition.Transitions are bridges that help keep the reader on the path of the story.
They should be short and smooth, and there are many different types that connect different elements of a story:
Transitional words and phrases
- Between times or moments
- Between locations or settings
- Between characters (POV shifts)
- Between stimulus and reaction
- Between scenes and sequels
- Between moods, tones, emotional shifts, or significant changes of pace
describe the shift using references to time passing, location shifting, etc. Common transition phrases include:
- A month later
- After the confrontation
- After dinner
- As the moon came out
- As the rain stopped
- At the same time
- At one o'clock
- At school the next day
- At the appointment
- At the same time
- At the summer solstice
- By noon
- By the time that
- For three days
- In the morning
- In the second year
- It took two weeks to
- Later that afternoon
- On the way to
- On the first day of school
- That night
- The next meeting
- The next morning
- The next week
- Two weeks later
- Weeks passed
- When dinner was over
- When it was time for the date
- When the moon came up
- When the police arrived
- When the rain stopped
- When they got
Today's guest post is by writer Wendy Woudstra: Learn to Write Like Ben FranklinBy Wendy Woudstra
A writer, a publisher, and the founder of America's first circulating library, Benjamin Franklin was one of America's most brilliant influences on the printed word. Franklin's articles in his newspapers and almanacs are still read and quoted today.
But like everyone else, Benjamin Franklin had to take time and effort to learn his craft. He didn't go to Journalism school to learn how to write well. He taught himself to write for publication in a rigorous manner that any aspiring writer can emulate with success today.
Franklin would start by choosing an exceptionally well-written article by a respected writer, and studying its style and subject carefully.
After studying the article thoroughly, he would rewrite the original article, mixing up the order and arrangement of the material. Then, without referencing the original article, he would reconstruct it, trying to make it as good or better than the original.
After he was done, he would compare the original article with the one he had just written to discover where he had failed. If he had omitted an important point, or if the words and phrases he had chosen weakened the meaning of the original, or if he had turned a witty exclamation into flat prose, he would make a note of his errors.
Then he would write the article over again, without reference to his notes or the original, and once again compare it to the original, making notes of any new errors or flaws.
He would continue to rewrite the same article, over and over, until his version was as good or better than the original by his own exacting standards.
If you are an aspiring writer who uses your lack of school credentials as an excuse for failure, use Ben Franklin's method. Pick an article from the magazine you'd most like to get your articles published in, and write, rewrite and rewrite it again until you can produce prose that meets or exceeds the standards of that publication.
~~~~~~~ Wendy Woudstra
has been writing about writing and publishing for more than a decade. Learn more about writing for publication at her website, http://PublishingCentral.comArticle Source: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Wendy_Woudstra
Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/2203788
~~~~~~~Related PostsWhat is Your Story’s Theme?Adding More Dimension to Your CharactersWriting for Children: 10 Basic StepsWriting Nonfiction: Using Quotes
Award Winning Author, Freelance/Ghostwriter, Editor, MarketerFind Karen’s eBooks on writing and marketing at:http://karencioffifreelancewriter.com
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