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Welcome to our monthly Ask a Pub Pro feature where a publishing professional answers readers and writers' questions regarding the stories they love or their work in progress. This month, Andrea Hannah, the critically acclaimed author of Of Scars and Stardust joins us to answer questions on insta-love, incorporating unusual elements, and writing high action.
We'd love to have you send in your questions for next month's column. Please send questions to AYAPLit AT gmail.com and put "Ask a Pub Pro Question" in the subject line. If your question is chosen, you'll get to include a link to your social media and a one to two sentence (think Tweet size) blurb of your WIP.
Come on! Get those questions in!
Author Andrea Hannah Answers Questions on "Ask a Pub Pro"
1) I've known a couple of writer friends who have designed unusual elements into their stories, elements they thought helped make the story fresh and unique. But then reviewers would complain that these elements were weird or poorly researched because they didn't understand it. Is it better to avoid any element that's not commonly known so that you don't throw the reader off? Or is this just a problem with some reviewers and not the general reading public? (asked by Sara from TX)Andrea responds
: You can’t write to avoid criticism. Trying to dodge critique will drive you bonkers and cause you to lose an important piece of yourself within your story. Also, where would we be without Harry Potter
’s Polyjuice potion, or the Hunger Games
’ tracker jackers? Fresh, unique elements are both fun and necessary in story-telling, and world-building would be a lot less fun without them.
That being said, everything in your story needs to have a purpose, one that can’t possibly be replaced by another element. Example: We need
that Polyjuice potion in HP, because without it we lose the scene where Harry and Ron sneak into the Slytherin common room, which is critical to the overall narrative. We need
those lethal tracker jackers in HG, because they are the catalyst that allow Katniss to get some leverage by grabbing the bow and arrow, and demonstrates Rue’s loyalty to her.
When you’re developing your unique elements, make sure to clearly establish the function and rules of those elements (Ex: we knew right off the bat that the Polyjuice potion had an expiration time) and that it’s clear within the narrative why those elements were essential to those characters, and that their choice to use or destroy them is in line with their character. And above all else, stay true to who your character is, the world they inhabit, and who you are as a writer.
2) I've heard writers say that in high intensity/high action scenes that you decrease the level of detail. I've also heard the opposite, that you should show more detail as if things are happening in slow motion. What do you think? (asked by Anonymous)Andrea responds
: I think it’s a combination of both. Firstly, if you’re writing from a first person POV, that means you’re writing every scene as if we’re experiencing in real time, with your character. If your character is in the midst of kicking some butt, they probably aren’t stopping to notice the color of the sky or the flecks in their attacker’s eyes. It’s called mimic writing, and it’s where you mimic the actions of the writing through the length of your prose. High action usually means short, clipped sentences. Think of how you’d talk if you were out of breath.
But what really
brings an action scene to life is the specific details you do choose to incorporate, not the amount. Choose your details carefully to convey as much about the scene as you can in a powerful way. The spots of blood dotting his chin. The crumpled patch of grass where his sword fell. Really be there, and observe the details in your scene. Then bring us with you!
3) I've heard a lot of people complaining about the insta-love in a lot of young adult books. Yet readers seems to really want the romance to heat up quickly. How do you incorporate the romance without making it insta-love? (asked by Renee in NC)Andrea responds
: I don’t think insta-love is the problem, especially since we’re writing about and for teens, and sometimes, this is how they fall in love (and adults, too)! I think readers are generally sick of feeling that insta-love is used as a plot device instead of an actual experience the character is going through. Look, people fall in love in all sorts of ways in all sorts of timeframes, and all are plausible. When you’re writing your characters, just make sure you know who they are, if it would make sense for them to have that kind of reaction to another human being, and stay true to that. Your readers will be able to feel the genuineness of your characters, and they’ll appreciate your writing for it.
About the Author:
Andrea Hannah lives in the Midwest, where there are plenty of dark nights and creepy cornfields as fodder for her next thriller. Her critically-acclaimed debut novel, Of Scars and Stardust
, was published by Flux in October 2014. She graduated from Michigan State University with a B.A. in special education. When she’s not teaching or writing, she spends her time chasing her sweet children and ornery pug, running, and dreaming up her next adventure. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @andeehannah, and at www.andreahannah.comWebsite
About the Book:
After the attack that leaves her little sister, Ella, close to death in a snowy cornfield, Claire Graham is sent to live with her aunt in Manhattan to cope. But the guilt of letting Ella walk home alone that night still torments Claire, and she senses the violence that preyed on her sister hiding around every corner. Her shrink calls it a phobia. Claire calls it the truth.
When Ella vanishes two years later, Claire has no choice but to return to Amble, Ohio, and face her shattered family. Her one comfort is Ella’s diary, left in a place where only Claire could find it. Drawing on a series of cryptic entries, Claire tries to uncover the truth behind Ella’s attack and disappearance. But she soon realizes that not all lost things are meant to be found.Amazon
-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers
I was doing a panel at the fabulous New York City Teen Author Festival last week, and I mentioned that my current writing process includes a short discovery draft rather than a traditional outline. I received several tweets asking about that, so I promised to provide a brief how-to.
My first pass pages (the first read-through of a typeset manuscript) is due today for PERSUASION, so this is going to be very quick and dirty, but that's probably appropriate. The whole point of a discovery draft is to pour the story out.
I'll admit, too, that I used to call the discovery draft an outline. I would start writing it based on the my Plot Complications Worksheet, but I only seem to be able to outline action, so wherever I had to reveal information or have an emotional scene between characters, I had to write the dialogue out to see what would happen.
Long story short (or not, as the case may be) my "outlines" ran thirty to forty thousand words! That sounds crazy, but there are a number of benefits.
- The draft is still short enough to allow for easier analysis after the words have all spilled out.
- I have an opportunity to really discover my characters.
- I don't have to censor myself or worry about editing words as I write.
- I can get the story out in a matter of days or weeks and know whether it is going to work.
- I can easily boil down the discovery draft into a standard synopsis.
- The draft is easy to expand into a full manuscript that's far less messy than a standard first or second draft.
For me, the discovery draft is really the best of both the plotting and pantsing worlds.
Now that I have some experience under my belt, I've also found that I can guide myself through the story with ten simple story plot points:
- Snapshot of BEFORE -- a scene or two that introduces the main character within her current environment, shows us who she is, what she dreams of, what she is up against, and also suggests what she needs to change.
- Jumpstart for Action -- also called the "inciting incident," the jumpstart is the event that will (in the next section) lead to a decision to aim for change. This sets the story goal, and the jumpstart is where you first get to show whether you are going to have a reluctant protagonist or an active one. Is your character the one who discovers that change is necessary and goes after it because she has set a goal for herself? Or is she pushed into change by outside forces or other characters?
- New Direction and No Going Back -- this is the first turning point, where the character is now aware that change is necessary because she cannot live in the status quo and she must do whatever is necessary to achieve the goal that was revealed in the jumpstart. This is also where we first see that she understands (or thinks she understands) the stakes and the consequences for failure. In making the decision, she demonstrates that what she has encountered has altered her perception of herself and her world in some way, so that she takes some action that she would not have taken before, and that action is irrevocable.
- Testing the Waters -- Having crossed the point of no-return so that she cannot extricate herself without dire consequences, the protagonist has to keep going. Step by step, she works toward the goal, meeting helpers and mentors who will assist her, meeting antagonists and minions who will work against her, and amassing knowledge that will bring her closer to her goal.
- The Big Twist -- At the midpoint of the story, what the protagonist thought she knew is suddenly turned on its head. The goal proves to have been only part of what is necessary, or it proves to be a false goal, or the situation is far more dire than the protagonist originally thought. But there's no way that she can get out of it now.
- False Hope and Disaster -- Despite the added complications, the protagonist thinks she has a chance to win and wrap things up. Her plan is lining up nicely, she's almost there, but oops. Not so fast. The antagonist or forces working against her prove to be far more powerful and complicated than she expected.
- Overcoming Deep Despair -- Having pretty much ruined everything, the protagonist wallows in despair and sees no way out. Before she can find a real solution, she has to get through the emotional black moment that pushes her into the character change she will need in order to finally achieve success. This is the crucible in which her new (winning) character is forged and she finds the strength within herself to keep on fighting.
- The Battle Royale -- The final battle between the protagonist and the forces allied against her. She must summon everything she has, every internal strength and external weapon. Will she succeed? Partially succeed? Lose but live on to fight another day?
- Cleaning it Up -- What happens after the battle? What are the consequences and the remaining steps to be taken after the big bad has been defeated or your protagonist has failed? Here's where you wrap up all the loose ends and minor plots.
- Snapshot of AFTER -- What does the world look like with the Big Bad gone? What is life like for your protagonist in this new world and how is this a change from the snapshot of BEFORE? This is where you get to show your audience what "happily ever after," "more work to do," or "damn, I've really screwed this up" looks like for your protagonist.
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So that's it. The no-outline outline that leaves plenty of room for the magic of pantsing. It seems to work for me, and I hope you may find it helpful as another option for your writing toolbox. Ultimately, obviously, there's no right or wrong way to write. We all have to do what feels comfortable for us, and sometimes that can change from book to book.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? How do you leave room for magic?
THIS WEEK'S GIVEAWAY
ISLA AND THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER
by Stephanie Perkins
Love ignites in the City That Never Sleeps, but can it last?
Hopeless romantic Isla has had a crush on introspective cartoonist Josh since their first year at the School of America in Paris. And after a chance encounter in Manhattan over the summer, romance might be closer than Isla imagined. But as they begin their senior year back in France, Isla and Josh are forced to confront the challenges every young couple must face, including family drama, uncertainty about their college futures, and the very real possibility of being apart.
Featuring cameos from fan-favorites Anna, Étienne, Lola, and Cricket, this sweet and sexy story of true love—set against the stunning backdrops of New York City, Paris, and Barcelona—is a swoonworthy conclusion to Stephanie Perkins’s beloved series.
I love meaty craft posts, don't you? Especially when the author takes the time to deeply explain a technique that I am struggling with in my own writing. As awareness is rising among many authors for the need to write characters that represent the diversity of reality, I'm sure that I am not alone. Author Christine Kohler joins us today with her fabulous analysis of when and how to incorporate dialect and foreign words into our stories. Thank you, Christine!
Weaving Foreign Words Seamlessly into English Language Text by Christine Kohler
Imagine you open a book and one character's dialogue is in a foreign language that you do not read. What would you do with the book? Probably close it and not read the story. I know I would, because it would frustrate me not to understand one side of the conversation.
Now imagine you open a book and one character's dialogue is peppered with foreign words that you don't understand. You sort of pick up the gist. But you're still not real sure what the character is saying. At best, you're turning to the glossary in the back of the book. At worst, you're looking up the foreign words online. Depending on how heavy the foreign words are, or how confused you get about what the character is saying and what is going on in the story plot, it is very likely you still might give up and put the book down.
Best case scenario, imagine you start reading a book and one character's dialogue is peppered with foreign words that you don't know; however, the foreign words are in context of actions and thoughts (interior monologue) and narrative that give clues and even rephrase the words in English. The story moves you through the foreign words in a way that you understand without having to look them up in an outside source or glossary. That's what I'm going to show writers how to do in this article.Writing Resources
First, though, it is difficult to discuss writing foreign words without talking about voice and dialect. I recommend you read on my blog Read Like a Writer the article "11 Tips on Writing Authentic Dialect."
Writing foreign language dialogue for a character is more than just using foreign words. In Developing a Written Voice
(Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Co., 1993), Dona Hickey, a professor at University of Richmond, names five stylistic features that transfer voice from the air to the page: (Hickey, P. 23)
Dialect based on POV
- Sentence patterns
- Sentence length
- Word choice
- Word placement
Dialect in narrative voice should be very light. It can be heavier in dialogue. In general, the older the character the heavier the dialect and foreign language. This is because the older character is more likely to be a first-generation immigrant to the United States, and may have less education in a US school.
My novel NO SURRENDER SOLDIER is written in two different dialect point-of-views--a 15-year-old Chamorro, Kiko, and a Japanese soldier, Seto, who has been hiding in the jungle for 28 years after WWII ended. The story takes place on Guam in 1972, during the Vietnam War. The Chamorros and Guamanians speak Pidgin English. The Japanese soldier speaks Japanese and very little English.
I made a stylistic decision to put all of Seto's first-person dialogue and interior monologue in italics since he is speaking and thinking in the Japanese language. The narrative in Seto's chapters is in third person and not italicized.Terms of Endearment
One thing I believe writers should do when writing about a specific culture is to use the proper terms of address, especially for family members. I had a little problem in that in Chamorro the word "Nana" means mother, whereas, in the United States mainland "Nana" means grandmother. I got the idea to include a page before the prologue with "Chamorro terms of address" from Linda Sue Park's Korean WWII novel WHEN MY NAME WAS KEOKO. Neither of our historical novels include glossaries in the back of the book, which shows the actual foreign words are not abundant. However, many books do have foreign word glossaries in the back.Example: Words in Context
Let's return to that best case scenario where foreign words are in context of actions and thoughts (interior monologue) and narrative that give clues and even rephrase the words in English.
Here is an example in the prologue (P. 6) of NO SURRENDER SOLDIER
(Merit Press, 2014):
… Besides, if things did not go well in battle, Seto knew what his superiors required of him. To die honorably, and go the way of the cherry blossoms. He looked at the bayonet on the end of his rifle and swallowed hard against what felt like a peach pit stuck in his throat. He had pledged to die in battle for Emperor Hiro Hito. But could he commit hara-kiri like a true samurai?
Notice in the paragraph above that I never added a separate sentence or clause that defines hara-kiri
. It's not necessary to even use the word suicide, or to describe in gruesome detail how samurai committed seppuku
, disembowelment. It's enough for the reader to know that hara-kiri
will lead to Seto's death.
Also take note in that paragraph the saying, "To die honorably, and go the way of the cherry blossoms." I use this wording "go the way of the cherry blossoms" quite a few times throughout the story. I made a stylistic decision to make Seto's language poetic more than adhering to how a Japanese speaker might sound. As many Asian languages do not have articles like in the English language, I tried to leave articles out where it enhanced the poetic dialect.Example: Words Requiring Direct Translation
Some foreign words require a direct translation for the reader to understand. Here are two different passages in NO SURRENDER SOLDIER
where I handled the translations in different ways. The first passage (P. 13) in Chapter 1 is Kiko's mother waiting on two Japanese tourists. Grandfather (Tatan) had just offended them:
Nana scurried toward the counter and apologized to the Japanese girls, while bowing her head and shoulders repeatedly. “I am so sorry. Dozo. My apologies. Dozo.” She gave the girl change.
In the passage above it is clear that the Japanese word "dozo" means "sorry" and "my apologies." This passage also reveals that Nana speaks Japanese (at least a little; later the reader learns students were taught the language in school during WWII), and that she knows Japanese customs such as bowing. Earlier in this chapter Nana would not bow, even though it would have been a polite courtesy to her Japanese customers vacationing on Guam.
The reason all of these parts are so important as a whole is because creating a character of a different culture and language is deeper and wider than just giving the character an ethnic or foreign name and throwing in a few foreign words.Example: Direct Translation Set Off by Em Dashes
This next passage (p. 20) in Chapter 2 is from Seto's point of view. I rarely use this technique of a direct translation set off by em dashes, but in this case I did not want to lose the continuity and flow of the action, or the internal monologue showing his emotions and reactions. At the same time, I felt that many readers would not know what kamikaze
means. I would caution against using this em dash technique except in a pinch when it fits. (Like a pinch of pepper! Or, pepper in a pinch.)
Deception and trap, indeed, Seto had thought at the time. Ha! Japan could not lose with its kamikaze—divine wind—Buddha’s blessings, and the divine Emperor himself ordering the war. Time dragged on. Shellfire ceased. Bullet sniping silenced. Seto became disheartened; Japan must have lost the war.Read Widely From Well-Written Novels
As for how heavy or light to make the Pidgin English dialect, Newbery-winning Richard Peck advised me to read Graham Salisbury, who also writes Pacific Islander literature. Peck said, read well-written books in the place and era you are writing and model the masters. I would add, read how dialect is written in books within the past five years. In particular, I found Blue Skin of the Sea
by Salisbury helpful. I've also critiqued with a Hispanic writer and so studied Pam Munoz Ryan's novels.
Besides reading other children's lit books with foreign language peppered within English language text, I recommend reading literature from authors in the language of your characters. For example, to create the tone and cadence of Seto’s voice in NO SURRENDER SOLDIER, I read gothic poetry from Akinari, an 18th century Japanese poet.Finally -- Don't Confuse Your Reader
In conclusion, I leave you with these reminders: Story first. Clarity is imperative. If the reader stumbles over words repeatedly he will throw the book down unfinished. It is better to include no foreign words in your story at all than to frustrate English-only readers.
However, if you can pepper foreign words in skillfully, and make the general meaning understandable within context, then foreign words are one more tool in a writer's arsenal to capture authenticity in voice, dialect, and culture.
About the Author:
Christine Kohler is a graduate of the University of Hawaii, then lived in Japan and Guam, the setting for her debut novel NO SURRENDER SOLDIER, Merit Press (Adams Media/ F+W Media), 2014. She worked as a foreign correspondent for the Pacific Daily News and Gannett Wire Service, covering the West Pacific. She later worked as an editor and copy editor for the San Antonio Express-News, a Hearst daily. Besides being a journalist, Kohler worked as a media specialist in PR and marketing, middle and high school teacher, and writing instructor for the Institute of Children's Literature (ICL). She has 17 children's books published. Kohler now lives in Texas.
The American Library Association nominated NO SURRENDER SOLDIER as a Quick Pick for reluctant readers. NO SURRENDER SOLDIER was also awarded a bronze medal by the Military Writers Society of America.Website
About the Book:
A young man, an old soldier , and a terrible injustice. Should the punishment be death?
Growing up on Guam in 1972, fifteen-year-old Kiko is beset by worries: He’s never kissed a girl, and he thinks it’s possible he never will. The popular guys get all the attention, but the worst part is that Kiko has serious problems at home. His older brother is missing in Vietnam; his grandfather is losing it to dementia; he just learned that his mother was raped in World War II by a Japanese soldier.
It all comes together when he discovers an old man, a Japanese soldier, hiding in the jungle behind his house. It’s not the same man who raped his mother, but, in his rage, Kiko cares only about protecting his family and avenging his mom – no matter what it takes. And so, a shy, peaceable boy begins to plan a murder. But how far will Kiko go to prove to himself that he’s a man?
Based on a historical incident, No Surrender Soldier
is the story of a boy grappling with ancient questions of courage and manhood before he can move on. Amazon
-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers
Today we welcome one of the founding members of #WeNeedDiverseBooks to the blog. Author Stacey Lee shares some great tips for writing delicious dialogue...though I have to disagree with her on one thing: I LOVE plotting! Thank you, Stacey, for making us all hungry for some Ben & Jerry's!
The Word on Dialogue (Read If You Like Ice Cream): A Craft of Writing Post by Stacey Lee
Of all the elements that make up a book, every writer has one that, like a favorite toy, is just more fun to play with. One of my critique partners loves writing internal monologue, while another goes bananas over world building. Everyone has her thing. (Except for plotting. No one really likes plotting.) My thing is dialogue.
Dialogue is to story what peanut butter is to Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby ice cream – the magic ingredient that makes the whole tub disappear in one sitting. Those little bits of peanutty goodness keep you wanting just one more taste, one more delicious chapter. Dialogue breaks up the monotony of what would otherwise be a pint of boring vanilla.
Dialogue also helps flesh out each character’s personality. We should learn a lot about someone by what they say and how they say it. Last, dialogue moves forward plot. Consider this example from the Princess Bride:
Westley: “Hear this now, I will always come for you.”
Buttercup: “But how can you be sure?”
Westley: “This is true love. You think this happens every day?”
These simple lines tell us a lot about Westley. He’s romantic, heroic, and he has a sense of humor. The plot also progresses. We know that Westley will come for Buttercup, and anticipate that reunion.
Now that I’ve impressed you with the importance of dialogue, here are my five hot tips for working with it.
1. Give information via dialogue
. Because dialogue is such a multi-tasker, better to give information via dialogue than through narration. If you find you have paragraph upon paragraph of text, try transforming it into dialogue. You get bonus points if you break up dialogue with action or internal monologue. Back to that container of Chubby Hubby, no one wants to eat a full tub of only peanut butter. Unless of course you’re on a bad date and need an excuse not to talk. Not that this has ever happened.
Here’s an example of transforming narration to dialogue using the characters from my novel UNDER A PAINTED SKY
, which is narrated by the main character, Samantha.
We study a handsome firearm with a sharp nose, lying on the chair. The grocer Mr. Trask kept one just like it in a cigar box by his register. I never even held one before, but maybe Annamae has. I just hope I won’t shoot myself in the foot.
Transformed to dialogue interspersed with action and internal monologue:
I point to the firearm. “That’s a Colt Dragoon.” Mr. Trask the grocer kept one just like it in a cigar box by his register.
Annamae frowns. “You know how to shoot that?”
“Only how not to shoot my foot.”
Better, right? The story becomes more active with the dialogue, we get a sense of Samantha and Annamae’s personalities, and we are more likely to remember this information than if it came in the middle of a text heavy paragraph.
2. Cut dialogue tags where possible
. Let the action and context show you who is speaking. Dialogue tags can overwhelm a scene, and disrupt the flow of the narrative. In the above example, no dialogue tags are used. The reader knows who is speaking because of where dialogue is placed, or even because of particular speech patterns. Back in the old days, the books we read used dialogue tags, and so that’s how we thought it was done. Thankfully, styles have changed for the better.
3. Give every character his or her own unique way of speaking
. This could be through dialect, word choice, speech length, slang, etc. A common beginner’s writing mistake is when everyone comes out sounding exactly alike. The pattern of speech should reflect the character’s personalities. Are they confident or shy? What is their sense of humor – dry, cheesy? Are they optimists, or pessimists? Idealists? A good writer will be able to convey who is speaking simply by how they speak.
Let’s do a mini exercise. Say a character needs to use the bathroom. How would the following characters express this need? I will do the first two, and you do the last.
Yoda: “A leak, I must take.”
Princess Leia: “I happen to like nice bathrooms.”
4. Make every word count
. It is possible to overdo dialogue. No one likes to listen to long, boring speech. Readers do not need to know every word your character says, just the important ones. SCBWI Executive Director Lin Oliver once said, “Dialogue should be the conversations you would want to eavesdrop on, not the things you tune out.”
5. Sound natural
. The goal is to approximate speech you hear in real life. You don’t have to use full and complete sentences, and sometimes your dialogue may not even be grammatically correct (e.g., see Yoda example in #3). But the more realistic your dialogue sounds, the less you risk your readers being pulled out of the story. If you struggling with dialogue, write for content first, then edit so that it sounds natural.
Stacey puts down her pen. “Now let’s all have some Chubby Hubby together!”
About the Author:
Debut author Stacey Lee
is a fourth generation Chinese-American whose people came to California during the heydays of the cowboys. She believes she still has a bit of cowboy dust in her soul. A native of southern California, she graduated from UCLA then got her law degree at UC Davis King Hall. She plays classical piano, raises children, and writes YA fiction. As a founding member of the grassroots #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement
, Stacey is a highly vocal participant in a discussion that is making waves within the publishing industry. As their legal liaison, she has participated in and/or moderated diversity panels across the country.Website
About the Book:Missouri, 1849
: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician--not an easy thing if you're a girl, and harder still if you're Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush.
Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.An unforgettable story of friendship and sacrifice--perfect for fans of Code Name Verity.Amazon
-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers
An aspiring author who attended one of my panels at the NoVA TEEN Book Festival asked about how to approach character development. Kristen Simmons and Melissa Marr both had great responses, and it turned out that our approaches are somewhat similar. We talked about using tools like Meyers/Briggs personality types and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders for building protagonists, antagonists and other characters.
I've written about some of these tools before and links for resources are in my Character Traits Worksheet, if you want to get into deep and gritty detail to get yourself started. The personality disorders information isn't in there, but you can find online resources at MerckManuals.com, if you're interested. Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi also have a pair of amazing research tools in the POSITIVE TRAITS THESAURUS and the NEGATIVE TRAITS THESAURUS for character traits.
But if you're more of a pantser, and you're looking for a quick jump start as an entry into your story, there are seven key aspects of character that will help you create one that most readers will be able to relate to. (Note the caveat--because there's no such thing as a character who is universally liked.)
Seven Keys To Building Character
- An Internal Wound/Need - At the very least, your main character needs a lesson to learn. If you give one to each of your characters, even better. Your work will be richer for it. This is usually tied to your story question in some way, but the wound or internal need is really the fundamental thing that makes your character react the way she does whenever she's pushed to make a choice. This is what ultimately leads her to disaster. A wound can be anything from feeling alone and lost because you've lost your family, which becomes a driving need to find a new family--as in COMPULSION--to feeling loyal to the friends who rescued you, which becomes a driving need to protect them from harm, as in THE ORPHAN QUEEN.
- An External Goal/Problem to Solve - In most types of novels, the internal goal is only part of the story. There's also something that needs to be fixed externally, which ties in to what is going on with the characters on the inside. In COMPULSION, there are several interrelated mysteries to solve as Barrie arrives at her new home, and following her gift for finding lost things as she investigates these mysteries leads to danger and conflicts with her need for love and acceptance from the new family members with whom she is desperate to connect. In THE ORPHAN QUEEN, Wilhelmina needs to win her kingdom back, and in order to do that, she has to perform certain dangerous tasks set to her by the boy who rescued her when she was a child, until her experiences away from him begin to make her question whether his orders are the best solution.
- Relatable Motivations - At every step of the way as characters follow their goals, and at both the internal and the external portions of the story, the reader needs to understand why the characters make their decisions. Moreover, those decisions have to be relatable in context with their characters and background. Based on her internal needs, my Barrie, who has always desperately wanted a sister, can't help wanting to befriend her cousin and give her the benefit of the doubt even when everyone around her warns her that her cousin is not what she appears to be. Based on her external goals, Barrie has to investigate what's going on at Watson's Landing because various supernatural elements grow more insistent to push her into doing what they want. For Jodi Meadows' Wilhelmina, she needs to protect the ragtag Osprey orphans because she is one of them and they're the only family she knows. But her loyalty conflicts as she begins to realize that what their leader wants won't necessarily be the best for the people of her kingdom, whose queen she needs to become because that is her birthright and her responsibility.
- Strengths that Help Solve the Problem - This is your character's toolbox. And once you know what your character needs to do, it's easy to determine what characteristics will help her get there. Barrie has inherited a family gift for finding lost things. This leads her to some of the clues, but she still has to have the intelligence to interpret the clues, the compassion to care about them, and the courage to follow them. Wilhelmina has taught herself to become a master forger, and she can forge virtually any handwriting she needs to copy. She has also become adept at all forms of thievery and spying, which help her when she needs to infiltrate the palace of the enemy king.
- Weaknesses that Interfere - These are the chains and anchors that your character wears around her neck. Barrie is too trusting and unwilling to hurt others, too determined to exert her right to an independence she has never had before, and too eager to prove herself. Wilhelmina is blinded by her loyalty and what she thinks she knows so that her prejudice keeps her from seeing the truth of what's going on beneath her nose.
- Complete Backstory That Shows How the Wound Occurred - This is the how of why the characters are the way they are. In addition to the basic facts of their lives, this must include a reasonable explanation of how they received their wound as well as the story of how their strengths and weaknesses have served them in the past. In Barrie's case, her backstory all ties to an ancient spirit who gave her ancestor a wish, which became the gift of finding lost things. And everything that has happened to her and her parents stems from that gift and the curse that the is inherited by members of the other half of her family. In the case of THE ORPHAN QUEEN, there's a history of the kingdoms and the wars between them, which connects to the background of the terrible thing that threatens to destroy all the kingdoms and everyone in them.
- True Change in the Character as a Result of the Story - This is how the story resolves the character's interior need, which often ties into the character's external goal. The character must end up in a different place both mentally and in her physical circumstances. Barrie, for example, finds that blood doesn't necessarily constitute the best family you can have, and she simultaneously resolves the mysteries that surround two of the founding families on the island. Wilhelmina finally sees through her prejudice and takes a risk to protect her people, only to discover that this costs her love, half her friends, and the certainty in the rightness of her cause and methods, which has always been her armor. Physically, she is no longer the unknown orphan she was when the book began.
Hopefully, these quick sketches show you how tightly internal needs and external goals can work together to create the engine for a story a reader will understand. How you choose to balance and prioritize internal needs and external goals in a story will determine whether your manuscript is more character driven (internal) or plot driven (external). There are an infinite number of possibilities.
How do you like your fiction? Which do you prefer to read: character driven or plot driven stories?
THIS WEEK'S GIVEAWAY
I loved that a reviewer said that COMPULSION was like BEAUTIFUL CREATURES meets Lauren Oliver's ROOMS, so I'll giveaway a copy of ROOMS to one lucky winner.
The New York Times bestselling author of Before I Fall and the Deliriumtrilogy makes her brilliant adult debut with this mesmerizing story in the tradition of The Lovely Bones, Her Fearful Symmetry, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane—a tale of family, ghosts, secrets, and mystery, in which the lives of the living and the dead intersect in shocking, surprising, and moving ways
Wealthy Richard Walker has just died, leaving behind his country house full of rooms packed with the detritus of a lifetime. His estranged family—bitter ex-wife Caroline, troubled teenage son Trenton, and unforgiving daughter Minna—have arrived for their inheritance.
But the Walkers are not alone. Prim Alice and the cynical Sandra, long dead former residents bound to the house, linger within its claustrophobic walls. Jostling for space, memory, and supremacy, they observe the family, trading barbs and reminiscences about their past lives. Though their voices cannot be heard, Alice and Sandra speak through the house itself—in the hiss of the radiator, a creak in the stairs, the dimming of a light bulb.
The living and dead are each haunted by painful truths that will soon surface with explosive force. When a new ghost appears, and Trenton begins to communicate with her, the spirit and human worlds collide—with cataclysmic results.
Elegantly constructed and brilliantly paced, Rooms is an enticing and imaginative ghost story and a searing family drama that is as haunting as it is resonant.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Today we welcome to the blog debut author Latifah Salom, whose novel The Cake House recently released from Vintage. I love how she has twisted Shakespeare's Hamlet into a modern YA set in Los Angeles with a diverse cast! Latifah is bravely here to share her "bad" habits with us. Thank you, Latifah!
“Bad” Writing Habits by Latifah Salom
I wonder what advice I can give on the craft of writing. The truth is I have a lot of bad habits that it might be wiser to do the opposite of what I do.
So many writers, past and present, have written countless words on the subject of the craft of writing, it seems well-trodden ground. A quick search on Google will pop up hundreds of web articles listing many different habits you should avoid when writing or habits you should adopt. There is no shortage of writing advice, anywhere from plot structure to paragraph length. When you should write, what time of day you should write, word choice, write what you know, show not tell, avoid adverbs, and the list goes on.
Most of what’s out there is excellent advice, whether it works for you or not – it worked for someone, and therefore is valuable. I too enjoy reading about my favorite novelist’s writing process. Do they prefer to write in isolation? Or in a café? What is their ritual? Where do they go for inspiration?
When it comes to advice of any kind, let alone writing advice, I’m not a fan of words like “should” or “should not.” This might seem a tad hypocritical since I very much enjoyed taking writing workshops and literature classes that had no shortage of rules and advice. I remember a tense moment in a workshop where, after reading a student’s work, the instructor said one should avoid using first person present tense. I happened to agree that first person present tense should be used sparingly, but this piece of advice was not particularly well received by a good portion of the students in that class. The lesson I learned from that experience was: a person is going to write however they want to write, and that’s okay.
Here are a few of my “bad” habits as a writer:
1. I edit as I write
Almost the first piece of advice on writing I remember hearing was never edit as you write. Write first, get it all out on paper (or in a word document) and then after you’ve finished your draft, you can go back and beginning editing. The point of the advice is to avoid disrupting the creative flow or energy of your work on a first draft. Good advice! And not one I ever follow. Going back and reading and editing what I’ve written often helps clarify where I’m going with the story and how to get there. Especially if I’m blocked on the next part, editing helps me figure out what I need to change to make the story go forward. I have always edited as I write, and the habit is now so deeply ingrained, it is very much a part of my process. In fact, I have been editing this piece as I write.
2. I waste time on the Internet
I waste a lot
of time. Typically, if I sit down to write, I will waste about 2 hours on average before I finally begin writing. Of course, writers are masters at all sorts of delaying tactics. I’ve made it routine, and even call it my “warm up” as if that might make wasting time necessary. And perhaps it is. I’ve come to realize that I need that wind down after a long day before I can inhabit the right headspace for creative writing. I also take many breaks – remaining at the computer but doing something else such as answering email or fooling around on social media. Whatever my mental process, I’ve learned to let it go. If I need to waste hours, so be it. The important part is to actually start writing, however I get there.
3. I use an outline but never stick to it.
I like to call outlines “road maps.” That way when I veer completely off course it seems more like I’m taking a quick detour rather than driving the story in an entirely different direction. Sometimes I can even hear that disembodied GPS voice recalculating the route to my destination. I also edit my outline as I write. And, if I need to change the destination, that’s okay too but that rarely happens. My destination remains the same, but how I get there often goes through several changes. When writing THE CAKE HOUSE, I went off course quite a bit, sometimes drastically. I can usually find myself back to the story. Nothing will shut my writing down faster than attempting to rigidly keep to an outline that may have worked when I began but is no longer where the story wants to go.
Whatever advice you chose to follow or not follow, the key is to keep moving forward. Keep putting words down on paper.
About the Book:
Part mystery, part compelling coming-of-age tale, The Cake House
is a riveting debut novel that re-imagines the classic story of Hamlet amidst the hills of suburban Los Angeles.
Rosaura Douglas's father shot himself when her mother left him... or at least that's the story everyone is telling. Now her mother has remarried and Rosie is trapped in a new home she calls "The Cake House," a garish pink edifice that's a far cry from the cramped apartment where she grew up. It's also the house where her father died—a fact that everyone else who lives there, including her mother, Dahlia, and her mysteriously wealthy stepfather, Claude, want to forget.
Soon, however, her father's ghost begins to appear; first as a momentary reflection in a window, then in the dark of night, and finally, in the lush garden behind the house where Rosie spends most of her days. After he warns her that Claude is not to be trusted, Rosie begins to notice cracks in her new family's carefully constructed facade. Dahlia is clearly uncomfortable in her marriage; her stepbrother, Alex, is friendly one second, distant the next, and haunted by troubles of his own; and Claude's business is drawing questions from the police. And as the ghost becomes increasingly violent--and the secrets of The Cake House and her family’s past come to light--Rosie must finally face the truth behind the losses and lies that have torn her life apart.Amazon
About the Author:
Latifah Salom was born in Hollywood, California to parents of Peruvian and Mexican descent. As a teenager she attended the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, and she holds degrees from Emerson College, Hunter College, and from the University of Southern California’s Masters of Professional Writing program. The Cake House
is her first novel. She currently lives in Los Angeles.Website
-- posted by Susan Sipal @HP4Writers
Last week we posted the first part of our look back over our 2014 craft posts and highlighted some of the best tips that we found to be fresh and useful. The quotes below come from the second half of 2014 and cover aspects from Pacing and Plot to Voice to Editing Tips. We hope you'll find a snippet that speaks to you and then click the link to read the full article.
Also -- don't forget our new monthly Ask a Pub Pro column
where you can ask a specific craft question and have it answered by an industry professional. So, get those questions in
! Or, if you're a published author, agent, or editor and would be willing to answer some questions, shoot us an email as well!
Craft of Writing: Best Craft Tips from 2014, part B
Pacing and Plot:
Pacing and plot are two entirely different things, and a common problem is when a writer plots a novel with plenty of surprises and cliffhangers and threads that all lead to a crescendo in the denouement and thinks this means that the novel will thus avoid pacing problems.
Remember, pacing is all about reader perception. If your plot demands a secret conference between all the rival kings to get to a key plot point, and the only relevant piece is that key plot point, then all the give and take and discussion in the scene may bog your story down until you get to the big “reveal.” This leads to skimming and comments like, “Get to the point already!”
(from Dealing with Pacing Problems by Jake Kerr
...But I also think those kinds of stories can be really valuable, particularly at a time when “strong” still seems to mean “masculine” or “physically badass” to many. Being strong isn’t about wielding knives or a witty barb; it’s about how your characters respond to the challenges life throws at them. A girl in a wheelchair, overcoming discrimination and dismissal is damn strong. A woman moving past bullying or rape, a girl defying stereotypes to become a scientist in a male-dominated industry – these characters are no less strong for not wielding a sword or a gun.
(from What Does Strong Mean to You? by Tracy Banghart
What is it that makes a character likable? Some of the common denominators in likable characters include making sure that she (or he):
- has something she loves.
- has something she fights for.
- is willing to sacrifice for something.
- has some special skill or ability.
- has some handicap or hardship that makes her an underdog.
- has a flaw that readers can relate to and forgive.
- operates from motivation the readers can see and understand.
- has wit, spunk, or a sense of humor.
(from Unlikeable Characters and Mary Sues: Do We Give More Leeway to Male Characters than Female Characters? by Martina Boone
|source: harrypotter.wikia.com |
On Important Objects/Mechanics
For example, in Lord of the Rings, there is the one ring and the lesser rings, the Wizard’s staffs, etc. Harry Potter has many as well: the sorcerer’s stone, the sorting hat, the Sword of Gryffindor, etc. If you have these objects, try to have them serve another purpose besides a plot device. Rae Carson does an excellent job of this in The Girl of Fire and Thorns. The Godstone is crucial to the plot, it connects history to the present and informs the reader about the people. These objects should not be a crutch, but should add richness to the novel.
(from World Building Tips by Erin Cashman
1. Make your manuscript’s font small and single-spaced so you can see the big picture of the book for pacing and repeated scenes; lay out the pages on the living room floor so you can see it all at once instead of trying to scroll through hundreds of pages on a computer screen.
2. Change the font and formatting by moving margins and using a different font that mirrors a published book. The story will suddenly look and read differently. You’ll find yourself tightening and editing in a whole new way.
3. To get the *big* picture of the entire novel, write down each chapter in 1-2 lines and watch for the story’s plot ARC and the character’s individual ARCs.
4. READ your manuscript aloud. You’ll catch clunky sentences and rhythm and repeated words, too!
(from Micro Level Revision – AKA “Line-Editing” by Kimberley Griffiths Little
Learning from Positive Reading:
...The advice this professor gave me was to forget “good.” It wasn’t my job to determine whether or not a book, poem, story, etc. was worth reading. Other people with far better credentials had, in fact, already determined the work was “good.” It had made its way into the literary canon. It was a classic. My job, as a literature student, was to figure out why. What separated this work from its contemporaries? Why did it survive while others produced in the same vein were forgotten?
When I graduated and was up to my eyeballs in rejections, I returned to that lesson. I checked out piles and piles of contemporary juvenile literature from my local library and attacked each book in the same way I’d once attacked the works I’d read for my literature professor. I went at it thinking, “Okay, somebody—an agent, an editor, a publishing house—has already decided this book is good. Why? What does this book have that made it a work to be acquired? What are this author’s strengths?”...
...Then challenge yourself. Figure out how to incorporate other authors’ admirable qualities into your work in your own way. I contend it’s far more useful to try to emulate something positive than it is to avoid something negative
(from Positive Reading Challenge by Holly Schindler
For me, voice is telling. To be true and genuine, voice has to take us by the hand and lead us into the magical world of the character, or the narrator. But beyond the facts or emotion that the words convey, voice is about the selection of the words themselves. It's that indefinable quality of rhythm and sentence structure and elegance of expression that elevates writing above the ordinary.
(from What Is Voice In Fiction? by Martina Boone
On Writing Dialogue:
Read play scripts. Remember, plays are almost all dialogue. Not film scripts, watching and reading those are totally different experiences, there’s nothing but stage direction in a film script and very little dialogue, despite my film examples. The plays the thing. Heh. If you’ve never read a play and Shakespeare or Marlowe aren’t your jam (though you may love it and no one writes better dialogue than those guys) there are a million amazing contemporary playwrights (Mary Zimmerman or Sam Shepard, Tom Stoppard, Edward Albee, Wendy Wasserstein, Paula Vogel, John Patrick Shanley to name just the big ones) who all write dialogue that will set your brain on fire. Feel the rhythms, feel how the conversations make the story unwind and let tension grow, feel the quiet moments and the fighting, it’s a really unique experience. Full-length plays, when read straight through, can be consumed in like, an hour.
(from A Diatribe on Dialogue by Jennifer Longo
On Outlining a Novel:
An outline helps you to summarize the story in your own mind. It sounds like an obvious point, but knowing exactly what your story is about -- in as few words as possible -- helps you to write it better. An outline helps crystallize your themes, your characters' goals, attributes and shortcomings, and the obstacles standing in their way. Being able to easily put a finger on these things lets you write your first draft much more efficiently.
(from The Craft of Outlining by Kiki Sullivan
-- Posted by Susan Sipal
Today we welcome to the blog Madeleine Kuderick, who has written a beautiful book in verse on an important and emotional subject. By the numerous reviews praising KISS OF BROKEN GLASS, she handled it with skill and sensitivity. Her post for us today is equally as insightful.
The Infamous Arc. How much do characters really have to change? by Madeleine Kuderick
“If there is no possibility for change in a character, we have no interest in him.”
That’s what Flannery O’Connor said, and it almost seems too simple, right? But it’s true. Without change, there’s no arc. And without an arc, there’s no reason to follow a character anywhere, and certainly not all the way to the end of a book. Readers want to see characters that overcome inner demons, wrestle against external obstacles, and ultimately experience change. They want something cathartic to happen. That’s what creates a satisfying ending. That’s what burns the character into reader’s hearts.
But what if a dramatic change is unrealistic for the character? What if a tidal wave kind of transformation is not authentic? Should the writer force the big metamorphosis anyway or allow the change to be just a tiny ripple instead?
I faced this dilemma when I wrote KISS OF BROKEN GLASS, a YA novel in verse that deals with self harm. KISS opens with Kenna, the protagonist, being committed to a psych ward after she’s caught cutting in the high school bathroom. The entire novel takes place during her mandatory psych hold. That means it all happens in just seventy-two hours. I knew that in such a brief span of time, a transformative change would not be realistic for my character. In fact, it would be an absolute untruth to promise the reader that self-harm could be magically cured with a three day stint at the hospital. But as a writer I worried. Would a subtle change be enough? Would readers accept the more honest outcome or would they be disappointed that I didn’t deliver a shiny new protagonist at the end?
I’m happy to report that reader response has been strongly in favor of the realistic ending I wrote. They appreciate the honesty of it. Many readers comment that it’s refreshing to see a genuine story outcome. They say they’re tired of reading the saccharin sweet, bows and ribbon endings that bare no resemblance to reality.
I recently participated on an author panel doing a Twitter chat for the Guardian where we discussed this topic even further. “There’s a general problem in YA of tying endings up too neatly,” one participant wrote. “The problem with books is they have to end. Mental illness doesn’t.” I found this comment especially insightful and it’s very relevant to what we are talking about here. Yes, our characters need to change. But they should only change to the extent that it’s believable, honest and real. At least I believe that’s appropriate in contemporary realistic fiction, which is what I write.
So in the end, I agree with Flannery O’Connor. It’s the change that makes the character interesting. But, the change doesn’t have to be a tsunami of events played out unrealistically across the page. It can be just a drop. A hint. A ripple. Enough to let the reader know that transformation is possible. That your character actually wants to change. That’s enough. In fact, that’s everything
. And the reader will follow your character to the very last page.
About the Book:
In the next 72 hours, Kenna may lose everything—her friends, her freedom, and maybe even herself. One kiss of the blade was all it took to get her sent to the psych ward for 72 hours. There she will face her addiction to cutting, though the outcome is far from certain.
When fifteen-year-old Kenna is found cutting herself in the school bathroom, she is sent to a facility for a mandatory psychiatric watch. There Kenna meets other kids like her—her roommate, Donya, who's there for her fifth time; the birdlike Skylar; and Jag, a boy cute enough to make her forget her problems . . . for a moment.
Madeleine Kuderick's gripping debut is a darkly beautiful and lyrical novel in verse, perfect for fans of Sonya Sones and Laurie Halse Anderson. Kiss of Broken Glass pulses with emotion and lingers long after the last page.Amazon
"Readers will devour this . . .
" -- Kirkus Reviews
"Vivid and descriptive . . . a moving story about a serious issue.
" -- School Library Journal
“Kuderick's keen diction and free-verse technique shine.
” – Kirkus Reviews
"A fresh, honest, and ultimately hopeful story.
" -- Horn Book
About the Author:
Madeleine Kuderick grew up in Oak Park, Illinois, a community with rich literary tradition, where she was editor-in-chief of the same high school newspaper that Ernest Hemingway wrote for as a teen. She studied journalism at Indiana University before transferring to the School of Hard Knocks where she earned plenty of bumps and bruises and eventually an MBA. Today, Madeleine likes writing about underdogs and giving a voice to those who are struggling to be heard. Website
-- posted by S.P. Sipal, @HP4Writers
I love children's book author Samantha Berger's enthusiasm and creativity. Have you seen her #ePUNymousPortraitSeries? In addition to writing wonderful picture books like CRANKENSTEIN (illustrated by Dan Santat) and A CRANKENSTEIN VALENTINE (sequel). Samantha has written cartoons and promos for Nickelodeon, comic books and commercials, movie trailers, theme songs, poetry, magazine articles. Not only that, but she's also a voiceover artist!
Samantha's newest picture book is SNOOZEFEST, a hilarious and endearing bedtime story written by Samantha and illustrated by Kristyna Litten, just out from Dial Books For Young Readers. It's perfect for anyone who loves sloths, music festivals and/or the joy of SLEEPING. If you're on FB, check out her hilarious #Snoozefest Countdown pics.
You can find Samantha at her website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Q: Could you please take a photo of a random object in her office and tell us about it?
Yes indeed I can. I took a picture of this lovely grapefruit, that grew right in the back yard! I am working in a California office for a few weeks, and the owner of the house where I'm staying gave it to me. The idea of fruit growing on trees has always been MAAAAGICAL to me, and I may have missed my calling as a migrant worker. And I really want to eat this one, but I have one reservation.
The yard where it grew contains five dogs, using that tree as a bathroom. This grapefruit reminds me to ask the important question: Am I such a germ phobe I won't eat this grapefruit? Or is that grapefruit some kind of dog poo/citrus hybrid. A "pisstrus" fruit, if you will. Stay tuned.
Q: What advice do you have for young writers?
*I would say, if you wanna write, WRITE. WRITE ALL THE TIME, EVERY DAY. WRITE like a passionate discipline, like something you HAVE to do. No excuses. Write.
*Blather, blurt, and blab. Just keep writing. Do not write and edit at the same time. Write, write, write, then go back and read/edit, at a completely different time.
*Make your decisions, all of them, for a REASON. Make no choices arbitrarily. From dedication to author photo, every choice must be made with intent. That is what separates great writing from mediocre. Be prepared to defend every single word.
*Find your best way (pantomime wall building, pretending to erase, meditation) to block out any negators and nay-sayers. There will always be critics, opinions you don't agree with, and close minded haters. Don't engage, always ignore, keep being you, move on.
*Always find time to PLAY and HAVE FUN when you write. Pretend you're not writing for an audience, a paycheck, a critic, a career, a review, an award, an assignment, or whatever, just WRITING FOR THE SAKE OF WRITING, and go create. For the joy of it!
*Own your truth, speak your truth, and become brave enough to write about the things that terrify you the most to talk about.
*Don't dumb down words or ideas. Respect language. It's incredible.
*All writers, whether it's your first manuscript ever, or you're Judy "Prolifika" Blume, go through a perpetual pendulum swing, between excitedly exclaiming I CAN'T BELIEVE THIS CAME OUT OF MY BRAIN and a depressed disappointed "i can't believe this came out of my brain." There are days where we all feel like untalented hacks. All of us. And it's really important to remember this. If you didn't, you probably wouldn't be a writer. So cut yourself a break, go do something that makes you happy, such as a hot tub, a hot sake, or hot stones.
Photo credit: Leo MoretonQ: What are you excited about these days?
I'm excited for these spectacular Pacific Ocean sunsets every single night! I'm excited to read Kay Yeh's book THE TRUTH ABOUT TWINKIE PIE! I'm excited to be writing on two new preschool animated originals. I'm excited for karaoke, wigs and sunglasses, glitter-toes, oysters, using the word "smidge" more, and sea-frolicking with my dog Polly Pocket.
I'm excited my book Snoozefest came out this week, and that it has an anthem performed by Chubb Rock, and for the Pajama Party Snoozefest Boozefest I intend on throwing to celebrate. I'm excited about a new 2 book co-author deal with the amazing Martha Brockenbrough and the legendary Arthur Levine. I'm excited to see/conference with/laugh with/write with/ and dance with all my beloved book people and SCBWI-ers again, and for all the incredible books everyone has coming out right now (including YOU, Debbie! Cannot wait for WHERE ARE MY BOOKS!).
Thanks so much for asking me these questions 3 on inkygirl.
Book birthday doodle I did in celebration of the Snoozefest launch
For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.
If you're writing contemporary, you've got it easy regarding setting, right? No need to research for historical accuracy or imagine and detail a whole new world. Ah-hem. Jaye Robin Brown, author of No Place to Fall, is here today to share with us how we all -- especially those writing contemporary -- can use setting to great effect in our novels. Thank you, Jaye!
Using Setting for Tone in Contemporary YA: A Craft of Writing Post by Jaye Robin Brown
Sometimes I feel a bit like a cheater for writing contemporary young adult fiction. I don’t have to make up elaborate structures of law, or create lands, or mythical animals. There’s no need for mechanical knowledge of space ships or the why’s and how’s of a black hole. It’s just what it is. The here and now.
Writing contemporary comes with its own set of challenges, though. The biggest being that your readers, though they may not know the setting exactly, will know the rules of the land. So what are some of the tricks to sink them so deeply into your story they forget to look for familiar landmarks? There are many—your characterization, a zipping good plot, a smoking love interest—but perhaps the quietest and most subtle of the tools available is your setting.
In my debut, No Place To Fall
, I wanted to show Amber Vaughn’s small mountain town as both suffocating and freeing. She desperately wants to leave but it’s also a bit of a cocoon for her. The scenes where she feels the freest, she’s out hiking looking at vistas. The scenes where she’s fretting, she’s down low, surrounded by small minds with no view out. Simple, yes, but it might not have been a conscious choice in the early stages of my writing.
Here’s a trick. Take a really generic setting. Let’s say, your neighborhood grocery story. Now take a few different genres, contemporary romance, contemporary suspense, contemporary horror. What would be the things in each setting you would choose to write about? What would your MC notice?
For example, in a contemporary romance, maybe she’s picking up two oranges at chest level when her love interest walks by (there’s a meet cute of awkward!). Or she sees an elderly couple giving each other a sweet peck on the lips, the love light still in their eyes. It’s sunny outside, the light is good in the store, and everything is clean, glistening, and smells great (the bakery!).
In your contemporary suspense, maybe the fluorescents are flickering, maybe the lines are too long and too slow, maybe the one item she needs isn’t available or is expired. Maybe she barely misses slipping on the just mopped floor and the guy with the wet floor sign leers at her. For horror, you’d take the same sorts of things as suspense but amp up the fear factor, beady-eyed live lobsters in a tank, bumping into a display of gruesome Halloween masks, etc.
In short, your setting shouldn’t be a Barbie house to set your characters inside of and move them around and make them talk and interact. Your setting should be as dynamic and alive as all the other hard won parts of your novel. Each setting, each change of scenery, you have an opportunity for carefully thought out details. Why choose something random when you can choose something to enhance and highlight the tone and mood of your story or scene?
So next revision pass, focus on your setting. Are there places you can draw the mood out more? Objects or background moments that can serve as symbolism or metaphor for your main character? Setting is a gold mine of opportunity to take your story even deeper, especially if you write contemporary fiction.
About the Author:
Jaye Robin Brown, or Jro to her friends and family, lives in the mountains outside of Asheville, North Carolina. A dreamer by nature, she knew life wouldn't be complete until she was surrounded by land, horses, dogs, and one cantankerous goat. When not writing or playing on her fourteen acre farm, you can find her in the art room at the public high school where she teaches.Website
About the Book:The Sky Is Everywhere
meets This Lullaby
in No Place to Fall
(HarperTeen), Jaye Robin Brown
's poignant debut novel about family, friendships, and first romance. As good girl Amber prepares for her audition at the North Carolina School of the Arts, her relationship with her best friend’s older brother gets more and more complicated. When the bottom drops out of her family’s world in an afternoon, Amber faces an impossible choice, being there for her family, or following her dream as an artist.Amazon
-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers
There was a post last week that fascinated me when I read it. Mary Carroll Moore, and author, editor, and book doctor, and her blog post How Do You Start Your Chapters for the Most Punch? Some Simple--and Surprising--Structure Tips for All Genres suggested that editors don't read the first five pages a manuscript anymore, they only read the first two. She further suggested that:
"We readers have gotten impatient. Or publishers are gearing toward a new generation of readers, the movie-goers? Our brains have changed, certainly, and we may not be able to hang in there for seven chapters before something happens."
Is that true, do you think? There's certainly some research to back up the idea that we've become so used to skimming information online that it makes it hard to settle down to deeper reading. There's even been suggestions of starting a SLOW READING movement akin to the SLOW FOOD movement.
But this issue of skimming for key words and concepts has implications beyond just how people read. It might have implications for the success of how books are written, and bought, and sold, and for their success online. Look at the number of blockbuster YA series that are being written by very young writers. Is it because they know who to connect to younger readers? Might--*might*--this explain why some over thirty authors feel like they have a hard time breaking through?
If we innately don't read the same way any more, has the way that YA books are set up changed from ten years ago? From twenty years ago?
According to Mary Carroll Moore, until recently books began with character or setting with a hint of the story question. In contrast, she suggests that 90 percent of modern stories begin with an event. She suggests examining stories to:
"Look for a dramatic event that causes conflict for someone and has the potential to make big changes in the storyline."
COMPULSION is a mix of romance, contemporary story, and fantasy. It's the story of three teens-- lost girl, a girl who has become unpleasant due to circumstances beyond her control, and a boy who's ready to do anything to escape the confining expectations set out for him. Together, these three have to save themselves and their families and resolve a magical situation a thousand years in the making.
This has to be a slower burn than most fantasies because Barrie begins as a lost, grieving, and ordinary girl with just one very small bit of magical ability. In fact, it doesn't begin as fantasy at all. I started COMPULSION as magical realism, kicked it up to paranormal, and then finally drop into full-fledged contemporary fantasy. And at the end of the first book in the series, we've barely scratched the surface.
Even so, when we meet Barrie in the first chapter:
- She is abandoned in an airport by herself after being orphaned, because her aunt, who she never knew existed until her mother's will was read, doesn't come to meet her.
- She lies to her godfather about the fact that she's been abandoned, thereby giving herself no safety net or way to have him help her.
- She goes off in a taxi to figure out what's going on with her aunt without knowing what kind of a reception she will get when she gets to the plantation her family has owned for three-hundred years--a plantation she never knew existed.
- She uses her family gift for finding lost things to return the taxi driver's wedding ring.
- She discovers that her finding gift connects her to Watson's Landing as if that's where she's supposed to be.
- The gate to the plantation may or may not have opened magically to admit her.
- She finds the mansion falling apart and her aunt sitting on the front steps crying, having evidently broken down so badly that she lost all sense of time.
Sarah J. Maas' upcoming A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES opens with a Feyre, a nineteen-year-old huntress who lives in a fantasy world on the edge of a magical land. Feyre has heard rumors of magic and the Fae, even if she hasn't encountered them herself. She's a skilled hunter. She has killed before and has no compunction about killing again to save herself and her family. In the first chapter:
- Feyre has ventured further from home than she normally dares in chase of deer, who are being pushed further and further away as the forest dies. She and her family are a week from starvation.
- She finds a doe that would feed her family for a week or more, but a wolf is after the same deer.
- The wolf kills the deer and she in turn kills the wolf, who makes no effort to avoid being killed by Fayre's special arrow of ash and iron.
- It isn't until after the wolf is dead that Feyre is sure the wolf isn't one of the wicked fairies who lay waste to entire towns and who may or may not have been spotted in the area.
- She skins the wolf and carrying the pelt and dead doe, she retreats toward home.
The beginning stakes and character arc inception for these books are very different. Barrie could no more kill someone--or something--than she could fly at this point. She could be any girl. She's lost and she has to find her strength and her place. She will, but she hasn't started at that point.
Mary Carroll Moore is right in that both these books start with an inciting event and questions to draw the reader in. But I don't think the takeaway here is that readers are less patient. Some are. Others aren't.
Young adult readers have more competition for their time now, sure. But chiefly, they have more choices. They gravitate toward particular types of stories, the same way that they gravitate toward their favorite sites on the web and their favorite shows on television. Adults do too.
As writers, we should never dismiss readers or underestimate them. At the same time, we shouldn't give up or assume we can't get away without explosions, enormous body counts, or huge starting stakes. Readers will find and recognize the stories that speak to them, but not every story will speak to every reader.
On the other hand, no matter what you think of attention spans or book "fashions," whatever the pace or starting stakes of your story, you'll end up with more reader engagement if you:
- Set out the stakes early. (Barrie has no where else to go. Feyre is a week from starvation. )
- Start with the story question. (Will Barrie find a home/family? Will Feyre be caught and killed by the fey?)
- Keep your main character in the forefront by engaging her/him in activity. (Barrie transports herself to Watson Island. Eyre hunt a deer and kills a wolf.)
- Reveal character and special abilities through action as much as possible.
- Build the story world as you go, slivering in the details of place as needed.
THIS WEEK'S GIVEAWAY
Want an ARC of A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES? Fill out the Rafflecopter for a chance to win!
A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSESby Sarah J. MaasA thrilling, seductive new series from New York Timesbestselling author Sarah J. Maas, blending Beauty and the Beast with faerie lore.When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she's been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.Perfect for fans of Kristin Cashore and George R. R. Martin, this first book in a sexy and action-packed new series is impossible to put down!a Rafflecopter giveaway
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Have attention spans changed? Do you need action in the first few pages? Stakes? Are fast pace, character, or setting more important to you? Or do you like a blend of all three?
Few writers approach revisions with as much love as the initial creative process. But not author Elizabeth Langston. She joins the blog today to give us a fresh, and much appreciated, perspective on how to really dig revisions. And we get to help Elizabeth celebrate the cover reveal of her upcoming book. Congrats, Elizabeth, on a fabulous cover for Wishing for You! Check it out below!
I Heart Revisions: A Craft of Writing Post by Elizabeth Langston
I love revisions. Maybe that’s freakish, but it’s true. For me, edits (no matter how many rounds) are fun! I’d rather “fix” a second draft than write the first.
So today, I’m sharing three of my favorite revision techniques to try with your next draft. I’ve included an exercise with each, plus examples from my book I Wish
.Rediscover the heart of the story
What is the point of your book? What is its “North Star”? Whenever you feel frustrated or distracted during revisions, it helps to have clarity on the emotional core—the heart—of the manuscript.
In one sentence, can you capture what the protagonist strives to achieve or needs to discover? You don’t have to share the sentence with anyone else, so it can be as corny, sweet, or idealistic as you like. The heart of the story
can be whatever helps you—the author—to stay focused.
Write your sentence on an index card, put it in a teaser, or make it your computer’s background. Just have it front and center, so you’ll always know where your story is headed.Exercise
: Write the heart of your story in one sentence. If you can’t think of something original, then:
- borrow a proverb (“slow and steady wins the race”)
- use a movie quote (“there’s no place like home”)
- fill-in-the-blank (“[protagonist] discovers that _________________”)
Example:Witness scenes from all perspectives
Read through key scenes multiple times, once from the perspective of all major characters present.
I do this for the emotional, intense, story-changing scenes. I start with the “least” important character there. What does this character know before the scene begins? What does s/he observe in the scene? What does s/he smell, hear, taste, and feel? Does her dialog or reactions reflect her true emotions? Does his presence contribute something important? If not, could the character be removed from the scene?
Once I’ve allowed a character to affect the scene (or not), I go through the scene again in the head of the next character—and then the next, revising as I go.Exercise
: Pick an important scene (from your 1st or 2nd chapter) with at least 3 characters, such as friend & hero & heroine. Get into the friend’s head and experience the scene, especially using all of his/her senses. Is anything missing from the narrative or dialog?I WISH
Example: Lacey argues with Grant (the genie) about her depressed mother—in front of her mother. In the first draft version, Mom says something vaguely hopeless to Lacey after Grant leaves.
I wanted to be part of my mother’s solution. I wanted her children to be the reason for the miracle. “Why does it have to be a stranger who helps you get better?”
“Grant isn’t a stranger.” Her voice sounded weary. “He doesn’t remind me of Josh.”
It was the first time I’d heard her use my stepfather’s name in months. “What does Grant do that I haven’t done?”
“Nothing. It’s just different with him.” Her fingers reached out to smooth my hair. “You don’t get to be a kid anymore, and I can’t even promise when that’ll change.”
When I reread the scene through Mom’s eyes, I realized that she felt regret for how her depression was affecting her daughter. So I let Mom reveal her regret through dialogue.
I wanted to be part of my mother’s solution. I wanted her children to be the reason for the miracle. “Why does it have to be a stranger who helps you get better?”Give all relationships an arc
“Grant isn’t a stranger.” Her voice sounded weary. “He doesn’t remind me of Josh.”
It was the first time I’d heard her use my stepfather’s name in months. “What does Grant do that I haven’t done?”
“Nothing. It’s just different with him.” Her fingers reached out to smooth my hair. “I’m sorry, baby. You don’t get to be a kid anymore, and I can’t even promise when I’ll be able to be the adult again. I’m just…sorry.”
When I’m in the first round of revisions, I don’t analyze the subplots; I analyze the protagonist’s most important relationships. I write a mini-description of how each of her relationships evolve over the course of the book—ensuring that I address their status at the beginning, middle, and end of the story.Exercise
: Pick a secondary relationship, such as between the MC and a teacher or employer. How do they feel about each other on page 1? On the final page? Does their relationship arc flow smoothly? Should it?I WISH
Example: When the story opens, Lacey has isolated herself from practically everyone. By the end, I wanted her to have happy or hopeful connections to all people who are important to her.
- Grant; Mom; brother; best friend; former crush: All of these relationships had clear arcs. I only had to tweak and smooth.
- Estranged friend: Lacey remained estranged from her best friend Sara—start to finish—in the first draft. I decided to bring them to more a civil place by the end of the book—which required 2 new scenes.
- Deceased stepfather: Lacey is angry with her late stepdad for leaving a mess in her lap. In the first draft, her anger never went away. But really, she needed closure. I added a new chapter so that Lacey could release her pain and remember how much she’d loved him.
So there you are—3 techniques to consider when you’re revising a manuscript. I borrowed and modified these ideas from a craft book called: Second Sight: An Editor's Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults
by Cheryl B. Klein. I highly recommend this book.If you have suggestions for other books on revisions, leave us a comment!
About the Author:
I'm Elizabeth Langston, and I write Young Adult (YA) magical realism. Whisper Falls
is a time-travel series set in 18th- and 21st-century North Carolina. The I Wish
series features a "genie with rules." The first books in both series are on sale for 0.99 through February 15th at most e-book retailers. See my blog (http://authoretc.blogspot.com
) for details.
I live in North Carolina, USA and work in the computer industry for my day job. I have two college-age daughters and one geeky husband. At night, when I'm not writing, I'm watching TV (dance reality shows, Outlander
) or reading (and that is all over the place.)Website
About the Book:Wishing For You
(I WISH #2): Avail Oct 2015
With high school graduation only months away, Kimberley Rey is eager to discover what her future holds. The next big decision is rapidly approaching--where to apply to college. But this choice is complicated by a memory disability. How will her struggles to remember affect her once she moves away from home?
Help arrives through an unexpected and supernatural gift. Grant is a “genie” with rules. He can give her thirty wishes (one per day for a month) as long as the tasks are humanly possible. Kimberley knows just what to ask for—lessons in how to live on her own.
But her wishes change when she discovers that a good friend has been diagnosed with a devastating illness. As she joins forces with Grant to help her friend, Kimberley learns that the ability to live in the moment—to forget—may be more valuable than she ever knew.Wishing for You on Goodreads
| I Wish on Amazon
| Whisper Falls on Amazon
I am thrilled to welcome Mindee Arnett to the blog today. When I first started blogging and Tweeting, she was one of the first writers to welcome me in. Mindee is an incredibly talented and prolific writer, and I envy her ability to have 2 series going simultaneously. She's here today to share with us some of her secrets behind how she does it all. And I, for one, look forward to checking out the resources she recommends. Thank you, Mindee!
My Writing Process…Lately: A Craft of Writing Post by Mindee Arnett
The last five books I wrote—The Nightmare Affair
, The Nightmare Dilemma
, and The Nightmare Charade
—were all written in more or less the same way, using an approach I like to call a “pantser who stops for directions.” Basically, this means that I didn’t outline, but I also didn’t just rush through the first draft pell-mell. I took my time, contemplating events carefully along the way.
I’m happy with this approach. It works for me, and I’m sure to keep using it whenever I’m drafting. However, with my latest two projects I have made a turn toward the dark side. Yes, you heard me right. I have become an outliner.
But wait, let me qualify that statement lest my little pantser heart breaks—I have become an outliner out of necessity. With the conclusion of both of my series, my agent and I decided to submit my next projects on proposal. Now, what all a proposal entails varies by agent, writer, and editor, I believe, but for us it meant opening chapters plus a detailed outline. Given that I had never in my life written an outline, I had no idea what constituted a detailed outline, so my agent helpfully provided two examples and said, something in between would work. The first example was four pages, single-spaced. The second was 35 pages, double-spaced. Although both were helpful in their way, that made for an awfully large margin.
I knew I needed help. Normally, I don’t have a clue what’s going to happen in a book until I’ve written the first draft. That first draft is
an outline. It’s a way for me to discover the story, spending hours and hours with the characters and the world. But now I needed a short cut, or at least a semblance of a shortcut. There really is no way to get the same depth of discovery in an outline that you’ll get in a draft. But that’s okay. For a proposal I just needed to get the bones. The flesh and heart and muscles of the story could come later.
I decided to check out a book my writer friend Kristina McBride had recommended to me months before—The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller
by John Truby. One reason why I chose this book to help me write an outline is because it’s primarily focused on screenplays, and screenplays, it’s always seemed to me, are stories boiled down to their spine. Also, one of the tools I have relied upon in the past is specific to screenplays, too—Michael Hauge’s Six Stage Plot Structure. You can find all sorts of examples of this online. For my prior five books I used this plot structure as a road map to help me gauge where I was in the novel while drafting. It was particularly helpful with word counts. Most of my novels come in around 100k, so using the plot structure, I tried to make sure I hit that 50% mark, the “Point of No Return” at about 50k. But more on this Six Stage Plot Structure in a minute.
What I found in Truby’s book were techniques to help me think about my story as a whole and how to flesh out the key parts without doing any actual drafting. And those techniques did help, although they weren’t enough on their own. I ended up using the Six Point Plot Structure as well. But together the two tools were enough to help me generate a decent outline. What follows is a breakdown of the process I ended up using.
- Idea Generation. It goes without saying that before you start a writing project you need an idea, preferably a good one, or at least an idea good enough to sustain a whole novel. I don’t really have any tips for this step or any insight to offer save this—good ideas require two parts. My author friend Jody Casella likes to say that stories are like fires. Just as it takes two sticks to spark a fire, it takes two ideas to spark a story. I sort of love this symbolism, and I think it’s definitely true. I know for me, the two ideas is critical. One idea sometimes feels like it’s enough, but when you get down to writing it, nothing happens. That’s the difference. For example, consider the movie Home Alone. The first idea in this movie is simple and promising: young boy is left home alone over Christmas while family travels to France. At first this seems like enough to be getting along with, but it’s not. It’s not until you add the second idea—two incompetent robbers are planning to rob the neighborhood over the holidays—that you get a story with legs.
- Exploratory first chapter. Once I have my two ideas, I write the opening chapter. Beforehand I will name my main characters, and I usually have a vague idea about their personality, but not much. What I do know at the beginning is the sense of conflict—the “what’s at stake.” This is something I’ve worked out at the idea generation stage.
- Seven Key Steps of Story Structure. If the first chapter went well and I have an idea for the next chapter, I will start to work on the Seven Key Steps of Story Structure outlined by Truby in Chapter 3 of his book. I won’t go into detail here, because they’re in the book, but these steps are:
- Weakness and Need
- New Equilibrium
- Six Stage Plot Structure. While I’m working on the Seven Steps, I will also be thinking about the Six Stage Structure with a goal of filling in the key points of the structure—especially the Point of No Return, the Climax, and Change of Plans, etc.
- Back and Forth plus Character Web. This stage is just a repeat of steps 3 and 4, and I will also start working through Chapter 4 of Truby’s book, which is all about identifying the character web. The cool thing I’ve discovered about these two approaches is that they work on different, but complimentary levels. Truby’s Seven Key Steps are all focused on character motivation, and on the deeper thematic elements at work on your story. Hauge’s Six Stage Plot Structure are focused on events, on the what happens. Together, they make for a solid approach to outlining.
- More Chapters. If I make it this far—if I’ve successfully identified all Seven Key Steps of the Story Structure, and at least the Climax of the Six Stage—then I know that I’ve got enough for a whole book. But I also know that I’m going to need some awesome opening pages. I go back to chapter one, make any changes I need to based on what came out of the steps above, and then I’ll move on to chapter 2. And then chapter 3, and then…
- Write the Outline. Eventually, I will get far enough into the draft that I know it’s time to start working on the actual outline. I always do this last, because I hate it. Fortunately, the exercises I’ve worked through make it easier, doable at least, but the process is still just the worst. Nevertheless, I still complete the task. To my shock and amazement, the first time I did this, my outline ended up being fifteen double-spaced pages long! Hell has never come so close to freezing over.
- Submission. Once I have an outline and some polished opening pages, I will submit them to my agent. She’s already seen the pitch for the story and probably the opening chapter, but she will need to review again. Most likely she’ll have comments that I will need to work on. But eventually, the proposal will be in good enough shape for us to submit to my editor.
And there you have it. My process as it exists today. Maybe it’ll work for you and maybe it won’t. But no worries. Give me a few months and a few new projects and I’ll come up with a new process. That’s the coolest thing about writing—it never gets routine. Always be searching for a new approach.
About the Author:
Mindee Arnett is the author of two young adult series: The Arkwell Academy Series
, a contemporary fantasy from Tor Teen (Macmillan), and Avalon
, a sci-fi thriller from Balzer+Bray (HarperCollins). She has a Master of Arts in English literature with an emphasis in Creative Writing. She lives on a horse farm in Ohio with her husband, two kids, a couple of dogs, and an inappropriate number of cats. She’s addicted to jumping horses and telling tales of magic, the macabre, and outer space. Find her online at www.mindeearnett.com
About the Book:
Jeth Seagrave and his crew are on the run. The ITA, still holding Jeth’s mother in a remote research lab, is now intent on acquiring the metatech secrets Jeth’s sister Cora carries inside her DNA, and Jeth is desperate to find the resources he needs to rescue his mother and start a new life outside the Confederation. But the ITA is just as desperate, and Jeth soon finds himself pursued by a mysterious figure hell-bent on capturing him and his crew—dead or alive.
With nowhere to run and only one play left, Jeth enters into a bargain with the last person he ever thought he’d see again: Daxton Price, the galaxy’s newest and most ruthless crime lord. Dax promises to help Jeth, but his help will only come at a price—a price that could mean sacrificing everything Jeth has fought for until now.
The conclusion to the story Mindee Arnett began in her acclaimed novel Avalon
is a dangerous journey into the spaces between power and corruption, life and death, the parts of ourselves we leave behind and the parts we struggle to hold on to.Amazon
-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers
We hear it all the time, “start with action.” I see the results of that every month in the First Five Pages Workshop, where writers have heard it so often they automatically think they have to start with a murder, a car crash, or an explosion to get someone’s attention.
But here’s the thing. Every novel has its own speed, and its own readership. There's no one-size fits all solution.
The critical aspect of pacing for any novelist is control—knowing why you’re making the choices you’re making and knowing how those choices will affect your readers. Compulsion
, for example, starts slowly to build the world and the sense of disorientation my main character feels as she slips from the everyday world into a world of magic. But as she becomes immersed in that magic, the pace picks up.
- Not every part of a book should be paced the same. As a rule of thumb, adding description and slowing down the pace can create suspense. But as you get to the action, the scenes where the main character’s adrenaline and danger level shifts into high, there’s less room for description, thought, dialogue, and anything that doesn’t contribute to immediate survival.
- Let pacing build and release, rinse, repeat. Then ratchet it even higher. Working toward a mini climax at a turning point, and then slowing down again allows the reader to catch their breath. At some point, if you don’t release the tension, the reader will grow too weary to care much by the time you reach the climax.
- Provide conflicting goals for characters, and never give your main character what she wants—not, at least, without piling on the complications in compensation. If she succeeds, there has to be a “but” to her success. If she fails, occasionally let her fail so spectacularly that she not only falls on her face, she also loses her dog and breaks her leg so that she can’t go after it. Go ahead. Be mean. Once your character succeeds, there’s no reason for a reader to keep reading, unless you provide that reason.
- Make the motives clear to support your character’s goals and elicit sympathy and connection. If you don’t show how the character responds to failure, the reader will be hard-pressed to understand or “get” the character, and it’s going to be hard for them to engage in the book and feel like the failure mattered, or to be interested in the next attempt to win.
- No matter how slow the pacing, use conflict to immerse the reader in the story. Tension is what pulls the reader into the page, and tension comes from conflict, whether on a large scale or a smaller one. The more aspects of conflict you can incorporate (one character against another, a character against himself, etc.) the more you create an immersive reading experience.
- Use unanswered questions to build a sense of urgency. Make sure there are always new questions introduced when providing a revelation, and seed tension into a story on every page. And always end a scene or chapter with new unanswered questions to keep readers engaged.
- Use the “rule of three” in to provide structure and take advantage of hard-wired story “intelligence” that readers have developed. After millennia of storytelling, the human brain has grown used to certain conventions, and the “try, try, try” technique is one that can work at the novel structure level, at the “act” or movement level, or a the scene level.
This week's giveaway:
Compulsion was long-listed for the SIBA Book Award from the Southern Independent Bookseller's Alliance this week, so I'm in the mood to celebrate. How about another mystery box giveaway? Four books and/or ARCs, mix of old and new. Sound good?
Your Two Cents
Any thoughts on pacing? Do you struggle with it in your novels? Do you get tired of the books that go at light-speed from start to finish? Or do you need that non-stop adrenaline rush? Leave a comment!a Rafflecopter giveaway
From Debbie: Thanks to Paper Lantern Lit for letting Inkygirl premiere their new series of GET LIT videos. In this video, former Harpercollins and Razorbill editor Lexa Hillyer talks about how to establish the right WANTS and NEEDS for your characters:
Hello from Paper Lantern Lit, the "story architects!" We're so excited to premiere our new video series, Get Lit, on InkyGirl. Each Get Lit video will explore the blueprints to each of PLL's secrets of the storytelling trade.
In this video, watch PLL Co-Founder (and author of PROOF OF FOREVER, out June 2015!) Lexa Hillyer talk about the Wants and Needs of characters, and how they form the essential basis on which to build your story. We hope these videos will be helpful to aspiring writers– especially all of you prepping for NaNoWriMo tomorrow!
If you missed the introduction to Get Lit featuring PLL Co-Founder and New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver (The Delirium Trilogy, Panic, The Spindlers) click here.
You can subscribe to the Get Lit videos here, and never miss an update.
If you want more content like Get Lit, check out PLL's Blog! We post lots of info for writers in our Toolbox series, which breaks down different parts of the storytelling craft.
On Monday November 3rd, check out Fic Fare for the next Get Lit video, and become the architect of your BEST story!
Today we welcome back to the blog Kimberley Griffiths Little, MG and YA award-winning author. Kimberley has a lot to celebrate this week. Her amazing historical YA novel, FORBIDDEN
, released Tuesday from HarperCollins, earned a coveted starred review in Booklist, and has already received a wonderful mention in USA Today
as one of 3 "Must-Read YA Romances"! We're so happy for her and can't wait to share her detailed and important craft tips with you.
Micro Level Revision – AKA “Line-Editing” by Kimberley Griffiths Little
You’ve been working on your story for awhile now, maybe months, maybe years . . . it’s drafted, rewritten several times, you’ve had feedback from trusted readers, the characters are deeply developed and motivated and three-dimensional, your plot is a rockin’ page-turner. You’re ready to start sending it out to agents! Yay!
WAIT! Hold the presses! That manuscript is actually not quite ready. Be sure you’ve done that final spit, polish and ***sparkle***. Here are a few tips to infuse it with professional polish. I’ve created a list for you to check off as you go through your manuscript once or twice more before hitting SEND.
And don’t worry if you begin thinking, “Ack! I do all these things!” We’re all guilty of every one at one point or another – and in every new manuscript we write! Thankfully, they’re all
: Look DEEPLY at your First Page(s); they’re the most difficult because there’s so much to set up in an interesting and intriguing way (characters, setting, hook, foreshadowing the problem). Those pages are the first impression to your reader, and sometimes, (unfortunately), the last impression.CHAPTER ENDINGS
: This is another area to make sure the chapter ends in the *right* spot with a cliffhanger or teaser that keeps the reader turning the pages. They can’t stop at “just one more chapter!”CHECK THE FIRST LINES
of every chapter and make sure they’re active and pull you right in, maintaining the action and emotion from the previous chapter. (It’s easy to have clunky transitions, especially when we work on a book over several months time).VOICE
: 1st Person, 3rd Person close, 2nd Person, Omniscient, Tenses. Double check that you’ve stayed in the same tense throughout. Play around with different POV and tenses to be sure it’s the strongest one for your story.PET WORDS, REPEATED WORDS
: Look for those words that you use too often. Everybody has a few and we don’t usually recognize them in ourselves. Ask your critique partner or beta readers to help you pick them out.CUT WEAK WORDS and PHRASES
: “a lot,” “really,” “something,” “always,” “sort of,” “look,” “kind of,” “that,” “slowly,” “very,” “realize,” “suddenly,” “it occurred,” “smile,” “nod,” “feel,” etc.TOO MANY DIALOGUE TAGS
: Especially after a comma. Use an action of the character to show their personality and what they’re doing in the scene and leave out the he said/she said with those added qualifiers such as: “I don’t know where it is,” she said, rummaging in the drawer,” OR “He spoke to the professor, twiddling his No. 2 pencil between his fingers.” Too similar phrasing becomes wearying if it’s constant.EXAMINE AND CUT
: “ly” words or qualifiers. “She said sharply.” Let the words or dialogue speak for themselves. Try not to “help” them by adding qualifiers.SPECIFICITY
: Watch for too many phrases or vagueness. Use specific verbs and details to bring the characters and setting alive.EXTRA THOUGHTS
: Delete extra internal character thoughts that don’t move the story forward, or that repeat what’s already been stated.EMOTION
: Watch for emotion that becomes heavy-handed or melodramatic.REARRANGING SENTENCES
: Look for how rearranging sentences or paragraphs might give your manuscript better flow, better clarification, and better pacing and punch.SENTENCE LENGTH
: Make sure your sentences are not all the same length. This tends to create a monotonous rhythm. Change it up. Vary short and long.DIALOGUE
: Watch out for dialogue that’s too “on the nose” (a common screenplay writing term). Go here to read more about this: http://www.scriptreaderpro.com/on-the-nose-dialogue/ NAMES
that fit your characters and setting: Remember “your” characters and “your” setting and choose appropriately.SHOW/TELL
: When using adjective, metaphors, similes, think about the setting, time period, and characters of your story. For instance, don’t use winter/snowy metaphors for a book set on a tropical island. Watch out for that weak verb, “to be.” Rewrite sentences to eliminate the verb “was.”A few more tips!
1. Make your manuscript’s font small and single-spaced so you can see the big picture of the book for pacing and repeated scenes; lay out the pages on the living room floor so you can see it all at once instead of trying to scroll through hundreds of pages on a computer screen.
2. Change the font and formatting by moving margins and using a different font that mirrors a published book. The story will suddenly look and read differently. You’ll find yourself tightening and editing in a whole new way.
3. To get the *big* picture of the entire novel, write down each chapter in 1-2 lines and watch for the story’s plot ARC and the character’s individual ARCs.
4. READ your manuscript aloud. You’ll catch clunky sentences and rhythm and repeated words, too!ABOUT THE BOOKForbidden by Kimberley Griffiths Little Hardcover HarperCollins Released 11/4/2014
In the unforgiving Mesopotamian desert where Jayden’s tribe lives, betrothal celebrations abound, and tonight it is Jayden’s turn to be honored. But while this union with Horeb, the son of her tribe’s leader, will bring a life of riches and restore her family’s position within the tribe, it will come at the price of Jayden’s heart.
Then a shadowy boy from the Southern Lands appears. Handsome and mysterious, Kadesh fills Jayden’s heart with a passion she never knew possible. But with Horeb’s increasingly violent threats haunting Jayden’s every move, she knows she must find a way to escape—or die trying. With a forbidden romance blossoming in her heart and her family’s survival on the line, Jayden must embark on a deadly journey to save the ones she loves—and find a true love for herself.
Set against the brilliant backdrop of the sprawling desert, the story of Jayden and Kadesh will leave readers absolutely breathless as they defy the odds and risk it all to be together.Purchase Forbidden at Amazon Purchase Forbidden at IndieBound View Forbidden on Goodreads
Plus, watch the trailer for FORBIDDEN below! Stunning live movie of a Middle Eastern actress in the desert with voice-over—camels—and pictures Kimberley took in the deserts of Jordan from her trip.
About The Author
Kimberley Griffiths Little was born in San Francisco, but now lives in New Mexico with her husband and three sons in a solar adobe home on the banks of the Rio Grande. Kimberley adores anything old and musty with a secret story to tell and makes way too many cookies while writing. She's stayed in the haunted tower room at Borthwick Castle in Scotland; held baby gators in the bayous/swamps of Louisiana, sailed the Seine in Paris; ridden a camel in Petra, Jordan; shopped the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul; and spent the night in an old Communist hotel in Bulgaria. Kimberley's Awards include: Southwest Book Award, Whitney Award for Best Youth Novel, Bank Street College Best Books of 2011 & 2014, Crystal Kite Finalist, and New Mexico Book Award Finalist.Website
We are thrilled to welcome Gretchen McNeil to the blog today. Gretchen is a woman of many talents being an opera singer and clown (what a lovely combination!) as well as an award-winning writer. She's had novels optioned by Hollywood and has sold rights internationally. And she's here to share with us today why the dreaded synopsis can actually be the professional writer's best friend!
Selling on Proposal, aka The Dreaded Synopsis by Gretchen McNeil
Of my seven contracted books, all but one – my debut Possess
– have sold on proposal. Some were sold from a synopsis plus fifty or so pages, some were just from a synopsis. But notice the common thread...
Selling a novel on proposal was, for me, the ultimate writing goal. “You mean I don’t have to write the entire book first? You mean I can finish the book knowing it already has a home (and a paycheck) lined up? Sign me up!”
It’s a double-edged sword, of course. While you’ve managed to charm an editor and publisher with your synopsis and/or pages, you still have to deliver a final manuscript on or before a due date, and the pressure of scheduling your creativity can be crippling.
|photo credit: evegaddy.net|
But I’m not here to talk about that part. I’m here to address that dreaded “S” word – the synopsis.
Like it or not, this is something that almost every author – published or unpublished – is going to have to deal with until the end of time. Synopsizing a completed novel is hard enough, but crafting one for a book you haven’t written yet? How is that possible
(I can actually hear you pantsers in the audience screaming out in abject terror. Don’t worry, hopefully this will be painless.)
I think the key for me in writing a proposal synopsis is remembering its purpose: it’s meant to be marketing material, a sales pitch to hook your audience. It’s not necessarily a roadmap for your finished manuscript, which I think is where a lot of people get hung up. Think of it like an elongated query letter as opposed to an intricate blow-by-blow of the book. There are certain important points you want to hit, while the details can be left for later.
What are those important points? For me, I aim to answer the following questions:
- Who is my main character?
- What does he/she want?
- What’s in his/her way?
- What does he/she do to get around that obstacle?
- What’s at stake if he/she fails?
The answer to Question #1 usually resides in the part of the book most people refer to as “the backstory” – elements that come out during the action, but aren’t necessarily enumerated at the beginning of the book. In a manuscript, that’s awesome. In a synopsis – which doesn’t have a lot of action – that’s problematic. But since this synopsis is a pitch, feel free to front load a paragraph or two of backstory to establish your character. It’s important to hook your target audience with this right off the bat.
Next you move into the First Act of your book (if you’re a proponent of Save the Cat
! beat sheets, you know of what I speak): basically establishing your supporting cast and your setting, and explaining the conflict, i.e. Questions #2 and #5. What does your character want? What’s at stake if she fails? Establishing this last question up front is important because it sets the stakes immediately which, hopefully, gives an editor the desire to keep reading.
So far, so good. And notice we haven’t had to really dive into much of the action of this book yet?
Unfortunately, that’s about to change. Questions #3 and #4 are basically the impetuses (impeti?) for action in your novel, the answers that force your main character to make a decision and go on his/her journey. The bad news is that this does require some sense of what actually happens in the novel, which is a scary concept since you haven’t actually written it yet. The good news is that all you really need to aim for are tentpoles: Event A! Disaster B! Turnaround C! Yes, this does require gazing into the crystal ball and trying to see the finished product, but it also allows for some leeway when you actually write the book. The specifics of the tentpoles can change, as long as, structurally, they still exist.
|photo credit: Susan Morris Shelfari|
Last but not least, the climax. I think this is the scariest part of writing a proposal synopsis because so much of the ending of a book relies on what happens in the middle…which hasn’t been written yet. So how do you tackle the dénouement?
I tend to dance around it a little bit, reestablishing the stakes and the difficult decision the hero is going to need to make in order to get what he/she wants, and then telling the reader exactly what the result of the climax will be. Not exactly what the climax
will be, but the result of it. For example, “Refusing to play by the rules, Katniss is able to beat the Capitol at their own game.” Spoilers
Notice I didn’t tell you how. Or that Peeta was involved. Just showed the outcome while teasing what may or may not happen in the climax. That’s how I get around, er, not really knowing
what’s going to happen when I’m writing a proposal synopsis.
So there it is. It’s not particularly detailed but it’s a blueprint for the book I’m going to write, hopefully with enough voice and tone and plot and promise that an editor will love it. Just remember, “synopsis” isn’t a four-letter word. In the end, it can be your best friend.
About the Author:
Author of YA horror novels POSSESS, TEN, and 3:59, as well as the new mystery/suspense series Don't Get Mad
, beginning in 2014 with GET EVEN and continuing in 2015 with GET DIRTY, all with Balzer + Bray for HarperCollins. Gretchen also contributed an essay to the Dear Teen Me
anthology from Zest Books.
Gretchen is a former coloratura soprano, the voice of Mary on G4's Code Monkeys,
and she sings with the LA-based circus troupe Cirque Berzerk. She is repped by Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown, Ltd.Website
About the Book:The Breakfast Club
meets Pretty Little Liars
in Gretchen McNeil’s witty and suspenseful novel about four disparate girls who join forces to take revenge on high school bullies and create dangerous enemies for themselves in the process.
Bree, Olivia, Kitty, and Margot have nothing in common—at least that’s what they’d like the students and administrators of their elite private school to think. The girls have different goals, different friends, and different lives, but they share one very big secret: They’re all members of Don’t Get Mad, a secret society that anonymously takes revenge on the school’s bullies, mean girls, and tyrannical teachers.
When their latest target ends up dead with a blood-soaked “DGM” card in his hands, the girls realize that they’re not as anonymous as they thought—and that someone now wants revenge on them
. Soon the clues are piling up, the police are closing in . . . and everyone has something to lose.Amazon
Do you edit
censor yourself as you write? Before you even start to write?
We all second guess ourselves, at least to some extent. I do. Something happens, someone says something negative, or I read something brilliant by someone else, and the doubt demons start nibbling away at my self-confidence, whispering that what I'm doing isn't good enough.
There is so much noise in this business, so much whispering, so much doubt.
We can't let it take hold or we'll paralyze ourselves. Deadlines don't give into paralysis or doubt. : )
When I'm feeling like writing has become a chore and I need to regain the joy of writing, I find that there are a number of things I can do that practically guarantee to get me back on track.
If you're doing NaNoWriMo and feeling like you're overwhelmed, don't give up. Here are a few tricks I use to convince myself that I can keep going.
- Connect to what you love. If you're anything like me, the characters are what you love most about your manuscript, but if you're more invested in the plot or the concept, that's okay. Make a list of what you love and why you love it. Concentrate on rekindling that initial enthusiasm. Got it? Good. Now look at the scene or chapter you're currently writing and find a way to incorporate what you love into that chapter. Make your character do something that shows who she is, or demonstrate the "cool" aspects of your plot or concept.
- Write a letter. Get in the head of your character more deeply by writing a letter from her to someone else in her life. What is bugging her most? What does she need someone to know? What would she tell someone who wronged her if she had the chance? What would she say to her best-friend, right here, right now.
- Write a paragraph. Focusing on writing a thousand words or two thousand or more can be debilitating. The task can feel too huge when you're not feeling inspired. Instead of telling yourself you have to write ALL THE WORDS, tell yourself to write the first sentence in a paragraph, and then another sentence. All you have to write is one paragraph. Then another. You can quit any time, but once you've met your goal for the day, the words may come more easily.
Remember one more thing: your words may not be perfect, but they don't have to be when you first put them on the page. Focusing on word count can be debilitating, but words don't matter.
Hear me? Words don't matter.
Words change. Sentences change. Paragraphs and scenes and chapters may be deleted.
Focus on what the characters want and why your main character isn't getting what she wants, why it's almost impossible for her to get what she wants, and your story will write itself. Once it's down on the page and you are happy with the story, THEN you can focus on the words. In the meantime, focus on the joy of story! : )
Giveaway This WeekThe Young Elitesby Marie LuHardcoverPutnam JuvenileReleased 10/7/2014I am tired of being used, hurt, and cast aside.Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever.
A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto
, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars—they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.Teren Santoro works for the king.
As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites, to destroy them before they destroy the nation. He believes the Young Elites to be dangerous and vengeful, but it’s Teren who may possess the darkest secret of all.Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society.
This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen.
Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways, as each fights a very different and personal battle. But of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.It is my turn to use. My turn to hurt.Purchase The Young Elites at AmazonPurchase The Young Elites at IndieBoundView The Young Elites on Goodreadsa Rafflecopter giveaway
Today we welcome to the blog Nikki Kelly, whose first novel, Lailah
, was published in October from Feiwel & Friends. Nikki has a most entertaining post for you today on how to choose the point of view of your protagonist. As fun as those gifs may be, make sure you red until the end as she offers some really apt advice.
Viewpoint Selection by Nikki Kelly
“Hi Nikki, I need your help! I have a story that I want to write but I’m a bit confused, I don’t know which point of view I should tell it from. How did you pick? What made you write your story from Lailah’s POV??? Please could you help me! I really want to get started but I don’t know what to do!
I originally posted my debut novel Lailah
, a community of readers and writers, back in December 2012. I am still very active on the platform and talk to young, aspiring writers every day. The above question hit my inbox a couple of weeks ago, but it’s not the first time I have been asked about viewpoint selection, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
This question almost, always includes these exact words—‘which point of view is the right
The answer, I say… well, there is no right
I usually begin my reply by breaking down the most common, and simple, viewpoints:First Person
Writing as if you are the character: I, me, my. Third Person, limited
Writing with: he, she, they and pronouns such as his, hers, theirs.
Maintaining the narrative to the feelings, and ponderings of only the viewpoint character.Third Person, omniscient
Still writing with: he, she, they and pronouns such as his, hers, theirs.
This time, however, the narrator is ‘all knowing’ of all the characters thoughts and feelings. Omniscient gives a broader view of the story.
I go on to highlight that there are Pros…
…to writing in each viewpoint: First Person, the Pros include
The reader has an immediate connection to the viewpoint character.
Believability due to being ‘inside’ the viewpoint character's head.
Clear, and concise perspective.First Person, the Cons include
Your reader can only know what your viewpoint character knows.
If your viewpoint character is unlikable, you have to live in his/her head for as long as it takes you to tell the story!Third Person, limited, the Pros include
Can add suspense as the thoughts and feelings of the other characters remain unknown (only interpreted through the viewpoint character).
Can still connect closely with the viewpoint character. Third Person, limited, the Cons include
As with first person, the perspective is limited and your reader can only know what your viewpoint character knows.Third Person, omniscient, the Pros include
Can connect with more characters in the story in a more intimate way.
Easier to manipulate the plot as there are more choices and options available.
Greater flexibility.Third Person, omniscient, the Cons include
The reader has more distance from your viewpoint character.
Multiple characters thoughts and feeling to juggle
I check in and ask if that all makes sense…
So then I suggest writing a paragraph from the story using all three viewpoints, and reading each one aloud. This helps to see which viewpoint comes most naturally when writing, and also helps to establish which works best for the story you are trying to tell.
Often, this then leads to…
I chose to write my debut novel Lailah
in first person, as it came more naturally, and it worked well for the story itself. Lailah is on a journey of self-discovery, and I wanted the reader to only know what she knew, to learn the truth of Lailah’s undiscovered nature, right along with her. This also worked really well for the reveals (there was, of course, some bread crumb dropping along the way!), and it worked especially well for the plot twists at the end of the book.
About the Author:
Nikki Kelly was born and raised only minutes away from the chocolately scent of Cadbury World in Birmingham, England. Lailah
is Nikki's first novel, and the first book in the Styclar Saga. She lives in London with her husband and their dogs, Alfie (a pug) and Goose (a chihuahua).
Visit her online at www.thestyclarsaga.com
Twitter: @Styclar Goodreads
About the Book:LAILAH
(The Styclar Saga #1)
The girl knows she’s different. She doesn’t age. She has no family. She has visions of a past life, but no clear clues as to what she is, or where she comes from. But there is a face in her dreams – a light that breaks through the darkness. She knows his name is Gabriel.
On her way home from work, the girl encounters an injured stranger whose name is Jonah. Soon, she will understand that Jonah belongs to a generation of Vampires that serve even darker forces. Jonah and the few like him, are fighting with help from an unlikely ally – a rogue Angel, named Gabriel.
In the crossfire between good and evil, love and hate, and life and death, the girl learns her name: Lailah. But when the lines between black and white begin to blur, where in the spectrum will she find her place? And with whom?
Gabriel and Jonah both want to protect her. But Lailah will have to fight her own battle to find out who she truly is.Amazon
Have you wondered what happens once your book is sold and the editing process begins? Then you're in luck because Stina Lindenblatt is here to give us all a behind-the-curtains peek at the editing process. Stina is published by Carina Press and blogs with Querytracker. Having lived in several countries, she now calls Canada home.
Working with an Editor by Stina Lindenblatt
When I first signed with Carina Press (digital imprint of Harlequin), I had no idea what to expect. I’d heard HORROR stories from other authors about the experience (with other publishers). When I was a newbie writer, I assumed if an editor offered you a contract for your book that meant she loved it. And generally, that is true. But that doesn’t mean your book is ready to be published yet. It might mean you have to tweak the story here and there (plus do line and copy edits). Or it might mean you’re facing major rewrites. The second scenario is more common with the second book on contract verses the first, because the editor generally has to love the first book before she forwards her request to the acquisition committee. With the second (or third) book on contract, the editor has no idea what to expect. She’s just hoping she’ll love it as much as she did your first book.
And you’re hoping the same.
Or else you’re in for some major rewrites. And no one enjoys that.
For the most part, you can expect three rounds of edits. Sometimes more. From my own personal experience and the experience of other authors I’ve spoken to, the first round (the developmental edits) will amount to a letter from your editor. This letter could be a single page or it could be fourteen pages (like Libba Bray received for her third book in the Gemma Doyle trilogy). But like the saying goes, size really doesn’t matter. Your editorial letter might be only two pages, and it could still amount to you rewriting a third of your book. If your editor is anything like mine, she’ll start off by highlighting what she loved about your book. If yours does that, REREAD IT A MILLION TIMES each time your stomach knots into a tight ball as you read the rest of her feedback. It will make you feel better and it’s calorie free (as opposed to the chocolate you’ll be tempted to scoff down while reading the editorial letter).
If you’ve sent your book out to beta readers before sending it to your editor, you’ll be familiar with the concept of taking a breath (and possibly a day or two) before tackling the edits. There is one big difference, though, between dealing with your beta’s comments and those of your editor: one you can ignore, the other you can’t. If you don’t agree with what your beta reader said after you’ve given the feedback some distance, then you can ignore it. But make sure it’s not just pride that’s keeping you from agreeing with her. With your editor’s comments, you often don’t have the same luxury of ignoring her feedback. Unless you have a good reason not to, trust her experience and judgment. She might have a very good reason for her comments. For example, your use of a common trope may be cliché. Or she might decide a major plot point is weaker than it should be, and you need to rethink it. A good editor will give you suggestions, and it’s up to you where you go with it.
Hopefully you will have nailed things on this round of edits, but it is still possible that you might need to do a few more back and forths on the developmental edits. Or if you’re lucky, the changes can be dealt with during line edits. After line edits, your manuscript will be sent to the copy editor. Some publishers will also include a round of proof reading.
If your book is under contract, your contract will specify the time frame all of these edits are expected to be done by. Unfortunately, things happen and you might not get the time listed in your contract. For example, instead of one week to hand in copy edits, you have only two days. Not only that, you might be expected to do the edits while you’re on vacation. It all comes down to the production schedule of your publisher, and you often don’t have a say in the matter.
It can be scary when you start working with an editor, but it doesn’t need to be. The most important thing you can do is learn from the experience and let it help you grow as a writer. In the end, it will be worth it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stina Lindenblatt writes New Adult and adult contemporary romances. In her spare time, she’s a photographer and can be found at her blog/website
and on Twitter at @StinaLL
. She is also a contributing blogger with the Querytracker blog. Her New Adult contemporary romance TELL ME WHEN
and LET ME KNOW
(Carina Press, HQN) are now available. Goodreads
ABOUT THE BOOK
Amber Scott should be enjoying life as a college freshman. She should be pursuing her dream of becoming a veterinarian. She should be working hard to make sense of her precalculus math class.
She shouldn’t be waking up her college roommate with screaming nightmares. She shouldn’t be flashing back, reliving the three weeks of hell she barely survived last year. And she definitely shouldn’t be spending time with sexy player Marcus Reid.
But engineering student Marcus is the only one keeping Amber from failing her math course, so she grudgingly lets him into her life. She never expects the king of hookups will share his painful past. Or that she’ll tell him her secrets in return, opening up and trusting him in a way she thought she’d never be able to again.
When their fragile future together is threatened by a stalker Amber thought was locked away for good, Marcus is determined to protect her—and Amber is determined to protect Marcus…even if that means pushing him away.
Welcome to the new Ask a Pub Pro!
For 2015, Adventures in Young Adult Publishing has a new offering for our Friday craft posts! Over the years, we've tried to cover every craft aspect of writing and have built quite an archive for readers to search when they are learning new skills or have a specific concern. We’re thrilled that Writer’s Digest has twice honored us on their 101 Best Websites for Writers, and we plan to continue offering in-depth articles by published authors each week to help writers fine-tune their craft. Of course, we’re going to continue running our author and agent mentored First Five Pages Workshop each month to provide five writers specific critiques on their manuscripts.
Have a Specific Craft Question?
We think we can do even more to help though. As authors, we have all been stuck with our WIPs on our road to publication. There are times when we had specific questions about technique or craft that weren’t completely addressed by the articles on this site or elsewhere online, and we expect that may be true for other writers. Maybe you need to know whether the exotic name you've chosen for your historical heroine seems charming or hopelessly anachronistic. Or, perhaps you're wondering if the new character who suddenly appears in your third act is really needed...or if that beloved secondary can be killed.
Questions like these are where an Ask-A-Pub-Pro Craft Post will come in handy! Send us your specific craft or publishing questions, and we'll line up an experienced author, agent, or editor to answer it. Just make sure your question can be clearly expressed in a couple of paragraphs.
Are you an Industry Professional with Experience to Share?
To further make this a new opportunity for our readership, we will include authors and editors from a wide variety of houses and publishing experience to provide this detailed feedback. As we recognize that there are many talented authors and knowledgeable editors that don't usually get covered on this blog, we’ll provide a mix of perspectives from the big traditional publishers and smaller presses as well.
Here’s How It Will Work
If you are a writer with a specific craft or publishing question, send us an email to AYAPLit AT gmail DOT com with "Ask-A-Pub-Pro Question" as the subject line. Likewise, if you are a published author, agent, or editor and you’d like to participate by answering questions for this series, please email us with "Ask-A-Pub-Pro Volunteer" as the subject. At the beginning of each month, I will pick one or more questions and one or more publishing professionals to answer them. The pros will have a couple of weeks to prepare a response, and then the Ask-A-Pub-Pro post will go live on the last Friday of the month.
As a benefit for participating, writers who ask questions will get to include links to their website and social media as well as a Tweet-sized blurb of their current MS at the bottom of their question. You can also choose to have your question posted anonymously. Publishing professionals who respond will likewise get to include links to their sites plus a blurb and cover photo of a new or upcoming release.Come on. You Know You Have Questions. Send them In!Click here to start right now!
-- Susan Sipal
-- Martina Boone
A reminder: before you worry too much about a promo/marketing plan for your yet-to-be-published book, make sure your book is as polished as you can possibly make it. No matter what the format, how gorgeous the cover, how well-promoted....you need to have a good story and strong characters.
Take the time to hone your craft.
A few years ago, people speculated about the death of books. Books, many said, wouldn't survive the rising popularity of e-books. Teens, the wisdom said, would adopt e-books, and within a few years, no one would read on paper anymore.
But guess what?
A recent Neilsen survey says that teens prefer "real" books.
And there appear to be concrete advantages to reading printed books. A study suggests that digital readers remember significantly less about when events occur in a plot than people reading the same story on paper, while another study showed markedly better reading comprehension for people reading a paper book.
I admit. I made the switch. There are several reasons that e-books work well for me, but they all boil down to convenience.
Here's the thing though. I also made the switch when reading manuscripts.
I read digitally when I write:
- I type the story on my laptop.
- I read the story on my laptop and edit as I go.
- I make changes electronically, and my beta readers read digitally.
- And finally, before I send the book off to my editor, I make it into an e-book, and I read it in the Kindle program on my iPad.
My editor, on the other hand, prints the book out and reads on paper.
For those of you unfamiliar with the editorial process, it works something like this:
- I submit the first(ish) draft to my editor.
- She reads and sends me a letter about what's working and what isn't working and makes specific notes in the manuscript. She sends me the printed file via UPS.
- I follow the document through digitally and come up with a chapter by chapter list of changes to address her concerns.
- We discuss those changes and make sure we're on the same page.
- I make the changes electronically and then send her the digital file.
- She prints it out and reads it again, marking pacing and other issues in the manuscript margins and making suggestions for specific lines that need to be reworked.
- I go through the line edits and submit the file--digitally.
- I send the electronic file to my beta readers and go through their suggestions--digitally.
- I convert the book to an e-book and read it through, highlighting places I need to go back to.
And all this time, even though the book has been printed out, I don't *read* it on paper.
Then I get the copyedited manuscript. On paper. And I have to read and review it on paper.Oy.
There is a real difference in the way the words read and look on paper. I see things I didn't see when I was reading digitally, even when I read the book as an e-book. Even when I read passages aloud, which I also do frequently.
The moral of this story?
This is only the second book I've worked on with an editor. I'm going to get better--all of this is a learning process. I definitely have a takeaway on process for myself though. And for book three, I'm going to do things a little differently.
I'm going to print the book out for myself several times before the copyediting stage. Not sure how I'm going to work this in with the fast deadlines that we work with in publishing, but I'm going to make time, because it's worth it.
Takeaway writing tip of the day:
Read your manuscript in as many different ways as you can:
What about you? Do you prefer to read digitally or on paper? Does it make a difference in how you read and what you understand and remember?
- As a Scrivener or word processing file.
- As a Scrivener or word processing file with the font changed. (You'd be surprised how just this small change brings things to light.)
- As a Scrivener or word processing file that you read aloud.
- As an electronic book.
- As printed pages -- bound, if possible.
THIS WEEK'S GIVEAWAYRebel Belleby Rachel HawkinsHardcoverPutnam JuvenileReleased 4/8/2014
Harper Price, peerless Southern belle, was born ready for a Homecoming tiara. But after a strange run-in at the dance imbues her with incredible abilities, Harper's destiny takes a turn for the seriously weird. She becomes a Paladin, one of an ancient line of guardians with agility, super strength and lethal fighting instincts.
Just when life can't get any more disastrously crazy, Harper finds out who she's charged to protect: David Stark, school reporter, subject of a mysterious prophecy and possibly Harper's least favorite person. But things get complicated when Harper starts falling for him--and discovers that David's own fate could very well be to destroy Earth.
With snappy banter, cotillion dresses, non-stop action and a touch of magic, this new young adult series from bestseller Rachel Hawkins is going to make y'all beg for more.Purchase Rebel Belle at AmazonPurchase Rebel Belle at IndieBoundView Rebel Belle on Goodreads
AND A SPECIAL DIGITAL DEAL! COMPULSION IS $1.99 at AMAZONCompulsionby Martina BooneHardcoverSimon PulseReleased 10/28/2014Beautiful Creatures
meets The Body Finder
in this spellbinding new trilogy.Three plantations. Two wishes. One ancient curse.
All her life, Barrie Watson had been a virtual prisoner in the house where she lived with her shut-in mother. When her mother dies, Barrie promises to put some mileage on her stiletto heels. But she finds a new kind of prison at her aunt’s South Carolina plantation instead--a prison guarded by an ancient spirit who long ago cursed one of the three founding families of Watson Island and gave the others magical gifts that became compulsions.
Stuck with the ghosts of a generations-old feud and hunted by forces she cannot see, Barrie must find a way to break free of the family legacy. With the help of sun-kissed Eight Beaufort, who knows what Barrie wants before she knows herself, the last Watson heir starts to unravel her family's twisted secrets. What she finds is dangerous: a love she never expected, a river that turns to fire at midnight, a gorgeous cousin who isn’t what she seems, and very real enemies who want both Eight and Barrie dead.Purchase Compulsion at Amazon for $1.99Purchase Compulsion at IndieBoundView Compulsion on Goodreadsa Rafflecopter giveaway
Before we roll-out our fabulous lineup of bloggers with great craft of writing tips for 2015, we thought it might be fun to look back over our 2014 craft posts and highlight some of the best tips that we found to be fresh and useful. The ones below come from the first half of 2014 and cover aspects from Character Development to Worldbuilding to Prologues. We hope you'll find a snippet that speaks to you and then click the link to read the full article. And remember the blog labels! Follow Craft of Writing
to read more great craft articles than could be mentioned here.
Finally -- don't forget our new monthly Ask a Pub Pro column
where you can ask a specific craft question and have it answered by an industry professional. So, get those questions in
! Or, if you're a published author, or agent, or editor and would be willing to answer some questions, shoot us an email as well!
Craft of Writing: Best Craft Tips from 2014, part A
Whenever writing a character, always keep one question foremost in mind: what is this character’s motivation? What does this character want? Characters drive stories, and motivation drives character. So that basic motivation should never be too far from the character’s thoughts. What does this character want and what is he or she doing in this scene to get it? It’s almost a litmus test for the viability of a scene. If your character isn’t doing something to get closer to what he or she wants, then you should be asking yourself if the scene is really necessary.
(from Using Soap Operas To Learn How To Write A Character Driven Story by Todd Strasser
Plot Element (A Ticking Clock):
The clock is mainly a metaphor. You can use any structural device that forces the protagonist to compress events. It can be the time before a bomb explodes or the air runs out for a kidnapped girl, but it can also be driven by an opponent after the same goal: only one child can survive the Hunger Games, supplies are running out in the City of Ember....
Only three things are required to make a ticking clock device work in a novel:
-- Clear stakes (hopefully escalating)
-- Increasing obstacles or demand for higher thresholds of competence
-- Diminishing time in which to achieve the goal
(from The Ticking Clock: Techniques for the Breakout Novel by Martina Boone
World Building (Details):
Whenever you have an opportunity to name something or to get specific about a seemingly random detail in your story, do it. Don’t settle for anything vague or halfway. Be concrete. You never know when one of these details might come in handy later. They’re like tiny threads that you leave hanging out of the tapestry of story just to weave them back in again later.
(from Crafting A Series by Mindee Arnett
“Write without fear
Edit without mercy”
Your first draft should be unafraid. Personally, I’m a planner, but you don’t have to be; I know published authors who aren’t. The important thing is that you embrace the flow of creation and let the story and its characters live. Don’t judge at this point. Write until it’s done.
Once you have that first draft in place, set the story aside for a few weeks, then take off your writing-hat – with all its feathers and furbelows – and don your editing-hat instead. The hat your inner editor wears is stark. No-nonsense. Maybe a fedora.
(from Edit Without Mercy by L.A Weatherly
Even less likeable characters are readable and redeemable so long as they are striving for something they desperately care about. One of the basic tenets of creating a powerful story is that the protagonist must want something external and also need something internal one or both of which need to be in opposition to the antag's goals and/or needs. By the time the book is over, a series of setbacks devised by the antag will have forced a choice between the protag's external want and that internal need to maximize the conflict. The protagonist must react credibly to each of those setbacks, and take action based on her perception and understanding of each new situation.
(from Use Action and Reaction to Pull the Reader Through Your Story by Martina Boone
Theme is important when writing. It can be one of the things that puts the most passion into your work. What is it you are really trying to say with this book? You don’t have to know before you start writing. Heck, you don’t even have to know while doing the first revision. But as you go over your manuscript again—and again—you will see things popping out at you. Tell the truth. Dreams matter. Work together. Listen to your own heart. Those are the things that make us fall in love with literature. Once you begin to notice these repetitions (or if you know what you want to say from the start) the real fun begins, because you begin to see all kinds of beautiful ways to make it evident. Symbolism and dialogue and imagery.
(from Write What You Love and Stay True To Your Passion by Katherine Longshore
Story Structure:On Prologues
The point I’m trying to make is that you should always strive to be confident in every page, to the point where you should never need a crutch like a prologue. Instead, the beginning needs to be amazing. Not necessarily adrenaline-filled, not necessarily action-oriented. Just damn good. Every page of your book should be, at the very least, strong and interesting writing, and your opening should have the tangible hooks of the ‘problem’ we feel in this book, even if they are only tugging ever so gently. If you have a prologue its worth examining the real page one and making it stronger, finding your real beginning, having faith in your book and your writing. If it doesn’t hold up, prologue or no, the book won’t work.
(from An Agent's Perspective on Prologues by Seth Fishman
on 2/24/14)On story structure and finding the heart of the story
As a novelist, I have to be both mother and master of my imagination. Story structure is what both of those roles rely upon—structure nurtures, protects, rules and drives the raw imagination. Months into working on Willow, the other characters began to want to have voice in different ways that the original epistolary form would not have allowed. Although I was confident in the characters, I had to also have confidence in my ability to tap into my imagination and structure it so that the soft, intangible electric energy of the original idea or the heart of the story (what Turkish author Orhan Pamuk calls “the secret center” of the novel) are bolstered and illuminated. Structure is always what I go back to when I’m feeling panic or insecurity.
(from Wonder Woman's Invisible Jet of Creativity by Tonya Hegamin
-- Posted by Susan Sipal
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Whether I'm working on my own writing (including the 250, 500 and 1000 Words/Day Challenge) or an illustration project, I find I'm able to better focus and be more productive if I can create a mental space in which I feel safe enough to do my best work.
Perhaps safe isn't the right word. I like Shaun Tan's "bubble of delusion" idea, which I first heard in his talk at an SCBWI Winter Conference a couple of years ago.
Sean's advice: Set up a safe space in which you feel positive about yourself and your work, and in which you know that you WILL do great work. Surround yourself with positive, encouraging people. Try to avoid negativity as much as possible. Sean says he steers clear of reading reviews of his work, for example.
Part of the way I do this is trying very hard to STAY OFFLINE when I'm doing creative work. Even dropping in on Twitter or FB for a few minutes can end up being an energy-sucking black hole, often making me question whether I'm doing enough (especially in terms of promotion, networking, working on my craft, etc.) or doing it -whatever "it" is- the Right Way.
What do YOU do to create your own Bubble Of Happy Delusion?