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Keep your students reading all summer! The lists for 2nd, 3rd and 4th, include 10 recommended fiction titles and 10 recommended nonfiction titles. Printed double-sided, these one-page flyers are perfect to hand out to students, teachers, or parents. Great for PTA meetings, have on hand in the library, or to send home with students for the summer. FREE Pdf or infographic jpeg.
See the Summer Lists Now!
Hurrah! You have a revision letter from an editor and you are going to make every single, solitary, revision the editor asks for. Right?
When can you say, “No,” to an editor?
You can refuse a contract for any number of reasons. Money, vision for the published manuscript, an unkind word. You never have to sign a contract.
Once a contract is signed, though, you are under contractual obligation to make reasonable changes to the manuscript. You should go into the revision process with a hopeful, positive attitude, expecting to do everything that the editor asks for. The mutual goal is a successful book, and the editor (presumably) knows what sells and how to improve your story to make it sell better.
What if you disagree? The editor is asking for some particular change in your story, and you think the editor is wrong? It’s time to try the editor’s way. Yes, try. Let’s hope that it does work.
If trying it the editor’s way doesn’t work, it’s time for diplomacy. Diplomacy is when you gently work through a difficult, sticky issue and wind up with a result that makes both parties happy.
Explain. When I have faced the problem of disagreeing with an editor, I did a long, detailed explanation of why I wrote the manuscript the way I did. In one case, I had chosen words based on assonance, or certain vowel sounds. The editor’s alternative completely destroyed the voice and sound of the piece. As soon as I detailed my strategy for writing, the editor agreed.
Suggest alternatives. On the other hand, you may be able to suggest a third alternative which incorporates part of the editor’s change, but keeps your ideas, too. The editor will likely agree because your mutual goal is a successful book.
Do not bring in outside comments at this point. It isn’t a time to say that your critique group loved it this way or that way. At this point–when the editor has put down cash–the editor’s opinion is the only one that matters (besides yours.)
Be kind and respectful. Your attitude is crucial. If you go into a conversation knowing that you disagree, you can still be courteous. Remember: your mutual goal is. . .
Be confident. Sometimes, the editor has pinpointed a problem and really doesn’t care HOW you solve it, as long as it gets solved. Editors often don’t know what they want; they just know that what is in front of them doesn’t work. Be confident of your writing skills! you can make the right decisions about your story. Go deeper, into the heart of the issues raised. Solve the problem in a unique way that blows the editor away. S/he won’t mind. Not at all. Because the mutual goal is. . .
The Ultimate No. Of course, you have the ultimate No. If you really, really disagree, and you can’t find that mutual agreement, you can–if you really have to–get out of the contract. It’s sticky and no one wants this. But you can back out. You probably have to repay advances, and know that this will affect your reputation. Weigh this action very seriously and carefully, and be sure you can accept the consequences. Don’t do it lightly. But yes, you are in control of your own story. You can say, “No,” to an editor.
Keep your students reading all summer! The lists for 2nd, 3rd and 4th, include 10 recommended fiction titles and 10 recommended nonfiction titles. Printed double-sided, these one-page flyers are perfect to hand out to students, teachers, or parents. Great for PTA meetings, have on hand in the library, or to send home with students for the summer. FREE Pdf or infographic jpeg.
See the Summer Lists Now!
You know you should try writing your story in first v. third point of view, but for some reason, you put it off. Why? Because you’ve gotten a first draft of a scene or chapter and you just want to keep going.
It’s exactly the feeling that elementary school children have: “Why do I have to revise?”
Your answer is straightforward: because you are a professional writer. Revising will help you write a book.
You must find the right way to tell this story. I often say that the purpose of a first draft is to find the story, but the purpose of all other drafts is to figure out the best way to TELL that story. Pros experiment, play, explore.
Here are some explorations of character that you can complete in an hour. Just set a time for 5-10 minutes and write something on each of these. If the prompt reveals nothing, drop it. But if it strikes a chord—keep going!
1st v. 3rd. Write a scene using first person point of view and then rewrite it using third. If you want to play with present tense, feel free. Play!
Attitude. Choose a scene and look to see what attitude your main character has. Maybe, s/he comes in arrogant, sad, discouraged, or excited. At the top of your page/file, write the opposite attitude and write the scene again, working to make the character’s opposite attitude work.
Setting. Choose a scene and change the setting. If it’s in the kitchen, send your characters on a picnic. If it’s set on a spaceship, move the story to a cruise ship on the Mediterranean.
Write a Letter. Give your main character a reason to write a letter to someone. It could be written to a family member or to a Congressman. Let your character vent, rant and cry on paper.
Put something in your character’s hand. Put a physical object in your character’s hand. Perhaps a mother goes into a grown son’s room and picks up his old baseball glove and sits in a rocking chair and oils the glove and remembers something important about her son. Or, a grandmother is in the kitchen and getting ready to cook and pulls out an iron skillet. Write a couple paragraphs or a scene putting the object in the forefront.
Cubing is a way of exploring a topic by looking at it from different angles. I’ve chosen just four ways, but you can think of others.
Describe. Using the character’s voice (your choice of POV, tense, etc) describe something important in your story. Repeat with a different POV, tense, etc. if you have time.
Compare. Using the character’s voice, compare something in your story. Maybe you want to compare what the character thinks about his/her current situation with where s/he was ten days ago. Or compare two characters. Or compare today’s supper with yesterday’s supper. Any type of comparison that makes sense for your story is grist for this mill.
Associate. When your character thinks of roses, what does s/he think? This prompt asks you to enter your character’s point of view and make some associations. While most of your writing in a scene should be pointed, there are places where you can slow down and give the reader a glimpse of how the character’s mind works. When faced with X, s/he thinks of Y or Z.
Analyze. What will your character do next? Stop and let him/her analyze what has just happened, thinking about the ramifications of the actions or conversations. If s/he goes this direction, what will it mean for the rest of the story? What is an alternate direction and why should s/he choose that alternate? Analyze, then let the character decide on a plan of attack for the next section of the story.
Take the time to explore your story and your storytelling choices early in your drafting process. It will probably mean fewer drafts—and a stronger story. Great trade-offs for a mere hour of work.
A cat says ________.
A dog says________.
A skunk says______. (We don't know!)
Watch this video to hear a skunk, a ground hog, a bison and more.
When a reader first opens your novel or story and reads the first line, the first paragraph, have you welcomed the reader and tried to put them at ease? It is imperative to invite the reader into a story in a way that puts them at ease. This means clarity must rule. The reader must never question where the story is taking place, or what—exactly—is happening in this scene. You do not have to spill all the backstory at this point—that doesn’t work. But the reader should know when, where and who and a hint of why.
Setting. The setting should be clear and specific, with sensory details appropriately sprinkled throughout the opening scene. This includes information on the geographic location, time frame (e.g. 6th century BC or 2017A.D), and something about the emotional territory.
Character. In the opening pages, the reader should meet a character that intrigues. Please, don’t name five characters on page one and expect the reader to stay oriented. Instead, give each important character a grand entrance. The inner life of the main character should start to come alive, as well. What does s/he fear, love, long for?
Cautions: The worse drafts hide information, wrongly believing that just giving a hint here or there is the best strategy. Instead, the reader becomes confused and closes the book, never to open it again. The great sff writer Orson Scott Card wisely said, “The only thing to withhold is what happens next.” Within the context of a scene, this is exactly right. The reader should understand exactly what is going on—and be so enthralled that s/he turns the page to find out “what happens next.”
Don’t use this as an excuse to include backstory, though! Backstory comes ONLY at the point at which it will create an emotional crisis in a reader. Instead, when the reader is deep within a scene, they should only care about what happens next.
Voice is too formal
In the search for a great voice, some writers fall back on their English class and write too formally. Great fiction is informal writing. This means you can use slang, jargon, curse words (when appropriate), incomplete sentences, sentence fragments. You can, and should, interrupt someone when they are speaking. Characters can be rude. A great novel is not a tea party! Stop being so polite, so formal.
Try making up rules for yourself–play with the formality of your novel; keep what works and discard the rest. Don’t like my rules? Make up your own. But play!
For every ten sentences, you must use a sentence fragment.
You must use one slang/jargon word per page.
You will write one section of dialogue (about 10 exchanges) and every bit of dialogue is incomplete sentences.
In every chapter, someone must be rude.
Yawn. What happened in this chapter?
Then, why is the reader turning pages?
A good exercise is to go through each chapter and write one sentence that summarizes what happens. Something important must develop or change in some way in every single chapter. Novelists do not have the luxury to stop and give us back story or tell every single detail of the setting. You must pick and choose from among the myriad of details, bits of dialogue, actions, thoughts and arrange them in an exciting, fascinating, intriguing order.
For every action, your main character should have an emotional reaction. Why else is the reader following this character around? OK. Not every single action. But it’s a good exercise to try: underline the actions, and circle the main character’s emotional reaction to what just happened. How do they correlate? Do we have 100 actions and only one emotional reaction? Where ever you are on the continuum from no emotional reaction to 100% emotional reactions, evaluate it in terms of your character, your novel. Is the reader getting enough of your MC’s inner life to keep turning the pages? From my experience as a first reader, most novelists err on the side of not enough emotion. If this is hard for you, push yourself toward too much emotion and you may wind up about right.
Writing a novel is a continual decision-making process. For each detail you might include, there are dozens of great ways to put that into words. We go from words to sentences to paragraphs—and each word selection carries connotations and denotations. It’s complex! The variety of ways to tell a story are amazing. What scenes do you include/exclude, and why? What character is the main character? The point of view character?
Throughout the process of writing a novel, it’s a balancing act all the way. We walk a tightrope upon which we build a story. One misstep and the reader falls off.
This is one of the main reasons why first pages go wrong. 90% of a story may be working, until a sentence here, a word there, a questionable emotion in the midst of the scene—and the reader puts the book down. Fine tuning the novel is crucial. Here is where first readers can really help, by marking the places that are “off.” Even if they can’t articulate WHY this section is OFF, they know it when they read it. You don’t want an English teacher marking up the story with red marks. You want a sensitive reader saying, nope, this doesn’t fit. Don’t know why, just know it doesn’t fit.
It’s a matter of balance: every word must belong. Nothing must be out of place. The reader must keep turning pages with no interruptions in the flow.
A cat says ________.
A dog says________.
A skunk says______. (We don't know!)
Watch this video to hear a skunk, a ground hog, a bison and more.
I’ve been reading manuscripts lately and one thing keeps jumping out at me: dialogue that is too perfect. It’s grammatically correct, perfectly punctuated. And totally unreal.
Characters don’t talk that way. Kid-characters, especially, in the midst of an exciting bowling tournament or soccer or other sports games do NOT talk in complete sentences.
Use Sentence Fragments for Realistic Dialogue
You must get over the fear of sentence fragments in order to write believable dialogue. Really. Right now. Commit to at least one sentence fragment on every page of your manuscript, just for practice.
Here’s an example from Clementine, Friend of the Week by Sara Pennypacker:
“What does that stand for, M.V.P.?” I asked.
Margaret scratched her head like she was fake-remembering. “Oh, right! Moron-Villain-Pest,” she said. “He wins it every year. No competition.”
That is three sentence fragments: Oh, right! Moron-Villain-Pest. No competition.
What if Pennypacker had filled out those sentences?
“Oh, you are right! M.V.P. means Moron-Villain-Pest. He wins it every year. There is no competition.”
That is clumsy to read, more boring, and destroys the voice of the novel. Sentence fragments work better here to keep the rhythm, keep the pace interesting and maintain the ironically-innocent voice of Clementine.
Sentence fragments also allow the writer to put emphasis where needed to direct the reader’s attention. Here, the emphasis is on the definition of M.V.P and how well the M.V.P fulfills his role. No competition.
Are you struggling with believable dialogue? Look at writers like Elmore Leonard, David Mamet and Woody Allen.
When writing a novel, one common admonishment is to keep in mind the goal of entertaining the reader. Fiction’s purpose is to entertain; non-fiction’s purpose is to inform. But the lines between the two can often blur, as when non-fiction uses narrative techniques.
This week, I’ve been reading Cory Doctorow’s book, For the Win and he uses info dumps like crazy, putting in lots of technical discussions, potentially boring information. He does it–and it works? What is he doing right?
Story comes first.For the Win is first and foremost a wide-ranging global story of online gaming and how the workers across the world join together to fight for better working conditions. There’s a strong plot, strong goal and an interesting series of developments.
Interesting characters. Doctorow also pulls together a fascinating cast of characters, drawn from the four corners of the globe. There’s the uneducated, but smart Indian girl from the slums, a disillusioned teen from California, Worker activist from Singapore, determined striker from China, and equally fascinating radio personality from the Pearl Delta of China. They are all fleshed out with real-world needs, wants, goals, and their individual circumstances come alive.
Setting. For each character, their setting is particularized with specific sensory details. You get spicy chai and well-water in an Indian slum juxtaposed with the luxury of a wealthy California home.
In short, Doctorow tells a stirring, interesting tale.
But he goes a step farther. As long as he has your attention, he wants you to know something about the online gaming world. If you look at the top ten world economies, many of them are virtual worlds and economies of an online game. Sometimes, he stops and gives an info dump on economics, gaming rules, worker unions and so on. And sometimes, he has one character ask another to explain something.
For example, the Indian girl who is such a great gamer they call her General is uncertain about economics. She asks the college-graduate economist to explain something, then because the General dosen’t understand the complicated economics, the Economist explains further, in simpler terms.
It works. Really, it shouldn’t work, it’s an info dump and at that point of the novel, Doctorow is just trying to teach me–the reader–something about economics. (I am denser than the General sometimes!) And I don’t mind a bit. I keep reading. Because in the context of the exciting story, I don’t mind a bit of explanation, in fact, it adds to the enjoyment of the story, because I understand motivations and the worker’s dilemmas better. Doctorow makes me root for the worker’s revolution because I understand it better.
If I was just reading about economics, my eyes would glaze over. Reading this novel, though, I am fascinated and I try harder to understand. It matters because he’s made me like the General and hope that her life gets better.
Likewise, if you need another example of how an info dump works well in a novel, read Doctorow’s book, Little Brother.
Go ahead: break the rules and give us an info dump in your novel. But please–tell a story first.
A narrative arc is a necessary part of fiction and is often a key component of nonfiction, especially narrative nonfiction. The arc indicates that there is some sort of progression.
Emotional Progression. The most common sort of progression is for the emotions to build to a climax. If two characters are arguing, the intensity, complexity and depth of the argument grows over the course of the story. It is mad, madder, maddest. If it is a verbal argument, it spills over into physical actions.
Character Progression. Similar to the first is the progression of a character through stages of change. This could be a change from doubt to faith, or loyalty to betrayal. The direction of the change can be in any direction, from moral to immoral or vice versa. The main thing is that there isn’t a steady state for the character, but there is change.
Plot Progression. This is partly the time-line of the story, but plot progression also implies that the events included int he story are intertwined in some way that leads to a bigger event or an event that means more than the previous events.
For narrative nonfiction, there can be other sorts of progressions, which will mimic or replace the narrative arc. Fiction writers will want to pay attention to these, too, because within a story, there may be places where some information would benefit from strategic organization. For example, my first picture book, THE RIVER DRAGON, had a series of descriptions of a dragon’s voice. Here’s the progression I used in which the metal mentioned became more base and the sounds became louder: a voice like the clink of copper coins, voice like the gong of a brass cymbal, and voice like a hammer on an iron anvil.
Here are some other options for progressions.
Time-line. The life and times of a scientist, for example, may be enough of an arc for some articles or simple books.
Physical progressions. For some nonfiction, it may be enough to organize the information around some physical characteristic. Perhaps discuss birds in order of size starting with the tiniest hummingbird and progressing through condors and other large birds. Or, you may discuss birds beaks and organize on that basis.
Logical progression. Often narrative nonfiction attempts to logically explain some issue. Here, the organization revolves around the logic of arguments, that of laying out the basic thesis and then providing supporting information.
Spatial progressions. Little used, but often effective, is a spatial progression. Here, you may describe the countryside to the north, then east, south and west. The progression may go from a person’s hat to their shoes.
When we write and readers read, we are looking for meaning, for coherence and cohesion. We want the writing to make sense of events, rather than a random collection of facts. Even browsable nonfiction imposes some sort of organization on facts, by grouping elephants on one page and mice on another. Look for narrative arcs and progressions to help you create the strongest organization possible.
Yesterday, I went to a local elementary school to tutor, something I’ve recently started. My second grader, CL, brought a nonfiction, information worksheet to go over. He read through the information on what makes popcorn pop and did pretty well in the reading. But his understanding was weak.
The paper said that popcorn kernels pop because the water in the kernel gets heated up into steam, which cracks open the hard cover and the popcorn pops out.
OK. I asked CL, “What is a kernel?
He didn’t know. In fact, he consistently had trouble pronouncing the word. And yet one of the exercises was to draw popcorn before and after popped.
Even more crucial to understanding the text, I asked CL, “What is steam?”
He didn’t know.
The writer of this informational piece made assumptions about his audience, that they would understand certain vocabulary words: kernel and steam. Further, these words were crucial to understanding the piece. In my opinion, the writer failed in communicating. (Yes, in the context of a school assignment, maybe CL just needed to learn a couple words. But these weren’t presented as vocabulary words; instead it was an informational piece that he needed to comprehend, but crucial information was missing from the text.)
How often do we fail to engage our audience because of our vocabulary, our sentence structures, the organization of our stories. Do you consider audience at every turn?
For fun, go to Up-Goer Five and try to write something only using the Ten Hundred most common English words. How does this compare to your usual writing? How should it compare?
Of course, even when writing picture books you don’t have to worry about vocabulary level because these books are usually read by an adult to a kid. However, you do need to make sure the adult will understand the book. Also, many unfamiliar words can be understood in context.
Vocabulary Level. Make sure your vocabulary levels will be understood by the reader. For unfamiliar words, create a strong context, or define it in the text.
Dialect or Diction.THE HELP was written in dialect and it almost turned me off from reading it. It wasn’t the topic or the events, just how it was told. It’s also part of the charm of the story.
Insult or Bless. Remember, too, that your words have the power to tear down or build up. Yes, in fiction, there are awful conflicts that must be expressed honestly. Yes, characters tear each other down. But overall, does your story end in a note of hope? Does good triumph over evil? I know there are dark stories without hope, without success. But they aren’t the type of stories I want to write. My stories end with hope.
Too Intellectual? When I write fiction, I use the words that are appropriate for my story, words that convey exactly what I mean. And yet, I also know that I tend to be a bit too much in love with my words. Sometimes, I will replace words–for my audience’s sake.
What do you do for your audience’s sake? What are you assuming they will know that will make your communication fail?
Welcome to the first Fiction Notes Podcast, where you’ll learn six ways to use the Shrunken Manuscript.
I teach a novel revision retreat; in order to attend, you must have a complete draft of a novel and we spend the weekend talking about how to revise that manuscript. The workbook for that is Novel Metamorphosis: Uncommon Ways to Revise. Traditionally, we only go into depth on the Shrunken Manuscript technique in the retreat, but for the first time publicly, I’m going to explain six ways to use the Shrunken Manuscript. It’s a fitting topic for Fiction Notes’ first Podcast.
ShowNotes for Fiction Notes 001: Shrunken Manuscript
1:45 Instructions on Shrinking a Manuscript
3:32 Seeing your strongest chapters
8:49 Seeing your major plot points
11:49 Seeing your antagonist v. protagonist
14:22 Seeing your character arc
17:17 Seeing your scenes
18:42 Seeing your novel’s pacing
How do I listen to the podcast?
You can listen to it by simply clicking on the arrow on the Podcast PlayLink.
You can also download the podcast and play it on your iPod, iPhone, etc.
You can embed the podcast onto other websites. If you do this, please let me know! (darcy at darcypattison dot come).
The podcast will soon be syndicated on iTunes and when it is syndicated, you can use a variety of apps to download and listen to it from a variety of platforms, such as iPod, iPhone, iPad, Android, etc.
As 2013 starts, it is traditional to write down writing goals and I am doing that. But I am also pondering the fact that I am in charge of my own writing, and that is a double-edged sword.
As 2012 drew to a close, the Congress was debating fiscal matters, trying to prevent the country from falling off a so-called fiscal cliff. As much as I might care one way or another, it was all out of my hands. I voted for a Congressman and for a President. But beyond that, the decisions were not a part of my daily life.
My writing, however, rests squarely on my own shoulders. Will I write today? (Duh!) What will I write–today? That isn’t President Obama’s business, it’s mine.
In the amazingly relevant book, ART AND FEAR, Bayles and Orland say that we daily face a specific fear: “. . .–the fear that your fate is in your own hands, but that your hands are weak.” (p. 3)
For me, the overriding drive isn’t the fear of failure, it is the fear of never-having-tried. I don’t want to hit 100 years old and look back and regret that I never tried. Tried what? The stories that scare me, that I think I am too weak, too bad a writer to pull off, too inadequate to tell such a moving story.
I don’t know what I will write this year, there are many factors to weigh. But one of those is the need to accept the challenge of telling stories that are important to me–even when I am terrified of trying. That’s my only goal for 2013: to write with more courage and determination than ever before. Because I am in charge of my own writing.
What story have you been too scared of writing? What story did you think you could NEVER write? Let’s do it together this year!
When you write, do you put yourself on the page? Of course, you do. You can’t do otherwise. But the real issue is, how much of yourself do you allow to show through? Do you censor yourself? Do you deliberately reword because something you may say will reveal too much of yourself?
Admit it. It’s hard to talk about real issues, about how you really feel, with friends. And then, you expect to put it on the page? For example, I grew up with an alcoholic step-father and, believe me, those years are hard to talk about. Even the mention here is hard.
Our fears revolve around issues of shame. You would be embarrassed if someone knew this one thing about you. You wouldn’t be able to show your face, if you revealed such and so. (Once, I found one of his hidden bottles and opened it and dumped the whole thing out and then put the empty bottle back where I found it. He never said anything–because of his shame and embarrassment, I presume.)
Vulnerability–showing our real face to others–is essential if your fiction will have an authentic voice, a deep impact on readers. Sure, there’s fluff writing, pure entertainment. But what sells are stories about real issues, told in a way that impacts others deeply.
To resolve those issues of shame, to allow yourself to be vulnerable, I recommend you start by watching this video by Brene Brown, which has been viewed over 7 million times. The description sounds like a definition of the task of a novelist: “Brené Brown studies human connection — our ability to empathize, belong, love. In a poignant, funny talk, she shares a deep insight from her research, one that sent her on a personal quest to know herself as well as to understand humanity.”
If you can’t see this video, click here. TED also includes a transcript in multiple languages.
I am preaching to myself, most of all. I know that in 2013, I want to write the most honest, most vulnerable stories I’ve ever attempted. Someone once asked, “What are you scared to write?” Then, recommended that you attempt that very thing. I am most scared of stories which will lay my soul bare, leave me vulnerable. That’s what I need to attempt next.
When do you get feedback on a work-in-progress? Never, early, mid-project, as often as possible?
Types of Feedback and When to Get Them
Good early feedback
Pat on back. Often what you need is just a pat on the back, someone saying, “Good job!” My local critique group does this by just asking people to share good news. You can do this by posting word counts on Facebook or simply telling friends that you’ve finished a full draft of a novel. Those who understand the importance of your writing in your life, will be excited and celebrate with you. And be sure to celebrate your small successes, because the large successes are often few and far between.
Market evaluation. If your goal is publication, another type of early feedback that is helpful is to get an idea of how your story might fit into the marketplace. This can help you decide if you want to push it to the top of the project list, or bury it. Maybe you’re writing a biography of Hilary Clinton and three just came out. You need to know this because they are your competition; your book must be different and better than those, or it won’t sell.
Sometimes, though, the market analysis and feedback may say you’re a fool for writing this particular story, that it will never sell. And you must say, too bad, it’s my story and I’ll tell it anyway. Even when your attitude is one of passionate commitment, it’s good to know the odds are against you. You’ll work harder, you’ll push yourself to excel beyond your wildest dreams. You’ll look for tiny ways to build the audience for this story, to make readers care more. In short, even a negative market analysis can be the impetus for an successful story. Go on: buck the trends and do your own thing and amaze us all. We’ll love you all the more for being the underdog who succeeds. Just know that’s what you’re doing up front.
Good ongoing feedback, get as often as you like or need
Reader Report. One valuable type of feedback is just a reader reporting on when s/he is engaged with the story, when it loses his/her interest, when s/he is confused, when s/he is bored. This might also include things like, “I didn’t like Phillip when he did that.” These type reader reactions can then be compared to your goals at that point in the story.
One way to ask for this type feedback is to ask trusted readers to pay attention to their mental state as they read the draft and mark the mss this way (Feel free to create your own variation):
Big C in the margin: I am confused
Big B in the margin: I am bored
Big S in the margin: This story is too slow, speed up.
Any comment jotted in the margin: Anything they want to fuss about.
It is often hard to train a reader to read this way, because everyone wants to solve the story’s problems for you, or they want to mark up every misspelled word. That’s not the type of feedback you’re going for here, though. Instead, you are looking for a reader’s reaction to the STORY itself. Explain to the reader that they are a reader you are Trusting with responsibility for the Story, that you can take care of grammar and such later, but here, you just want them to focus on Story. You just need a reader’s reaction.
Good feedback after first draft
When the first draft is done, now is the time for intensive feedback from other writers or editors. This is the first time you deal with technicalities of storytelling.
Overall story structure. For many writers, the hardest thing is to see the forest for the trees. Overall story structure is hard because after 50,000 or 100,000 or 150,000 words, how do you step back and see the structure? You can monitor this yourself with a Shrunken Manuscript. Or you can find a critiquer who can see this story of thing.
Overall feel for voice. Another important critique at this point is whether the storytelling voice is working. Does the voice pull the reader through the story in a compelling way? If not, there’s work to be done.
Overall feel for character. Does your character come alive for the reader? You need a check on your characterization skills and notes about specific places where it works and where it doesn’t.
Any other technical issue, for example, how to get in and out of a flashback. At this point, good critiquers will point out a myriad of things that need attention. It could be that the character’s names are off; maybe, you are bouncing around POVs; perhaps, the setting is bland or overblown. Now is the time to get feedback on anything else that occurs to a good critique.
Good feedback after second or any other draft
Ditto. Everything you need on the first draft, you need here.
Good feedback before you submit
Ditto. Everything you need on the first draft, you need here.
Copyediting. This is the ONLY time you need a critique to focus on copyediting. You, the writer, should be copyediting through out each draft, so there should be few things to catch here. But it’s good to have someone else go through it now and make sure you haven’t missed anything. Spelling and grammar do matter. Now is the time to take care of it.
Is there BAD feedback?
Yes. Here are a couple types of feedback to avoid.
Avoid feedback that focuses on the reader’s vision for the story. Often a critique will focus on his/her opinion and not try to understand your vision for a story. Ignore them. This is your story, your idea, your passion—your book. You do NOT have to do what this critique says. Period. Get them out of your writing process and never let them back in.
Avoid feedback that kills a project. I’ll admit it. I’ve had feedback on stories that meant I put the story away and never looked at it again. The critiquer’s feedback was, literally, deadly. They attacked the very idea itself and made it loathsome even to myself. Maybe they were right, maybe not. Either way, that story will never have a resurrection. Are you as sad about that as I am? I will never let that person critique another story for me. Never.
Value Good Critiquers
For those early readers who manage to be honest and yet encourage, hang onto them. Mention them in the acknowledgment of your novel; publicly thank them. Give them free copies of the published work.
to move my story (for the moment) into a new tense. It was the only way for me to see the story new, to get the characters moving more quickly, to take a landscape and give it shape and meaning, to accelerate the plot.
Here, then, is where I have been since 5 AM, along the great wall of Fort Belvedere. Four new paragraphs for the Florence novel, a book that I had left untouched for weeks.
Revisions are a circle. I print out a manuscript and read it while marking up edits and revisions. I go back to the computer and make corrections and changes. Then Print, Re-Read, Repeat.
The number of iterations depends on where I started and where I want to go, but the process remains the same. I am trying to match up what is in my head and what is on paper. If someone else reads it, I am trying to match up what is in my head, through the medium of words on paper, and put that exact image/story/whatever in someone else’s head–exactly. I try not to leave anything JUST in my head. It’s got to be on paper and in the reader’s head.
Revision–it’s a head thing. I’m doing it today. Are you?
We all know the importance of the first chapter. It must hook the editor and ultimately, the reader, or all is lost. If you don’t pull the reader in with a stunning first chapter, you are sunk.
You can, of course, get thee to a library, where you can sit for lovely hours and read first chapter after first chapter, studying intently as you go. Or, at a retreat in St. Louis this weekend, a writer suggested using samplers.
First you need a Kindle or a FREE Kindle app for the Cloud, iPhone, android phone, iPad, desktop or almost any format you can think of.
Next, search the Kindle store for “sampler,” and you’ll find a host of FREE ebooks that have sample first chapters on a variety of topics. Here are four samplers to start you off.
Be warned! You may find that you simply MUST buy a few of these novels once you read the opening chapters. This could be dangerous to your pocketbook!
Wow. What a vague comment. But immediately I knew what the problem was.
My story has a main plot — Parties– and two subplots, Bugs and Music. In the original draft. Chapter one focused on Parties/Bugs, but chapter two went to Music/Bugs.
What is the main plot? Parties.
But when chapter two went to Music/Bugs, it threw the main plot out of focus. Instead, I moved the Music/Bugs to chapter three and pulled a later Parties chapter up to the chapter two position. Of course, that meant smoothing out transitions and timelines, something easy to do; it was also easy to get wrong, because it was tiny things that indicated the timelines. “Later that day. . .” “. . .from yesterday.” I am very bad at finding all of these small edits and am relying on some critiques to make sure I didn’t miss something.
Besides the position of the subplots, I also realized that one subplot had too many scenes. In the short novel that I’m working on, I didn’t have much room for each subplot, so when Bugs got four pretty major scenes, it threw off the focus again. After evaluating the four scenes, I realized that one was slightly repetitious and I could cut it without affecting the overall story. That strengthened the Bug climax because the two lead-up scenes were enough and it left this remaining scene more fresh and fun.
Finally the Notes suggested that the climax of the main Parties plot was too short. Duh. It was only half a chapter. In the revision, it begins in the next-to-last chapter, and continues through most of the last chapter. Making the climax of the main plot longer, gives it more weight.
Overall, here’s what I did:
Cut a Bugs scene.
Rearranged the order of Parties plot, Bugs subplot, and Music subplot.
Strengthened the Parties main plot by enlarging the final Party scene.
Created more tension throughout by tweaking the emotional impacts of events.
All of that because the Notes said the story was out of focus and the final Party scene needed to be longer. It’s what we do: we revise.
Ever have one of those mornings when you realize--what? That you shouldn't have done something last night. That you don't remember what you did. That you don't know where the chingaus you are or how you got wherever the chingada you are. And maybe you're even scared to turn around? Well, that's how my fantasy novel The Closet of Discarded Dreams begins. Then everything gets worse.
Today I'll probably receive the first copies of the book. It might be like all the Xmases ever, all combined into the opening of one gift, from a publisher, but nevertheless as latent with emotion as anything I probably ever received from Santa.
In a week, on Sept. 16th at Su Teatro's Denver Civic Theater I will do the premier reading and wonder and wonder how it will be received. In preparation for that and to commemorate holding a copy in my hands in a few hours, below is part of the first chapter, the opening to the novel. In the Denver Metro area, I'd encourage people to request the book from Tattered Cover Bookstore, since it only became available to stores in the last couple of days.
If you like what you read here and want to read more, spread the word, twitter and friend and like away to your networks, family and co-workers. Given logistical problems of not getting the book earlier, I assume it won't make the Colorado bestseller list. We'll just have to see.
Chapter One - Entrada
When I opened my eyes I immediately realized I wasn’t in my bedroom, or in anyone else’s for that matter. From about twenty feet up, a seemingly endless ceiling overshadowed me, sparkling all star-like. It reminded me of a colossal version of an old Westside San Anto bowling-alley-turned-Mexican-dance hall, except no salsa blared here, nor did any banda play. Drunk like a borracho on a titanic waterbed, I floundered atop a never-ending loose collection of gear, goods, and possessions amassed in all directions.
My muscles not responding well, I must’ve looked like a stupid action figure in some messy kid’s closet. The ocean of stuff glutted my vision, overwhelming my mind. These sensations and images flashed through me like a dream—no, a nightmare—yet I felt conscious. In which case, what was all this chingadera and where in Gringolandia had I landed?
As I struggled to sit up, on my left I toppled over the heavy gold pieces of a nine-foot-square chessboard—of ebony and ivory? On the other side I squished an opened box of chocolates that reeked of liqueur. I wiped my hand on the mink coat lying there and smelled my palm—definitely Amaretto and Kahlua. Strange since I’d never had a sense of smell in a dream. I wiped the stuff off on my jeans and shook my head to try to get straight. Then I gave myself a cachetada hard enough to sting my cheek, and rubbed and stretched it. Nada of the surroundings changed. No, this felt nothing like a dream.
Facing me, as well as to my right, the distant horizon shimmered. I’d somehow awoken in a humongously long box, unfathomable miles across in two directions. Everywhere between me and the distance, piles of goods rose like a consumer society’s ultimate graveyard, leaving but ten feet of suffocating space overhead.
Now I felt like a forsaken knick-knack in some hoarding giant’s garage, stacked almost ceiling-high. In my mind, the stunted headroom choked off the horizontal boundlessness, threatened to crush me with claustrophobia. I wanted to puke, heave hard and bad, but forced it back down and swallowed. The nausea went away.
I followed the twinkling, pale ceiling to where it ran into a more exposed, orange wall behind me and a yellow one to the left. My eyes and brain couldn’t accept that the planes met at right angles, like this enclosure might be hexagonal or something. I shook my head again and squinted but the angles fluctuated worse. To boot, the disorientation wasn’t only in my head. My skin, my bare feet, my gut, didn’t feel normal. A hangover from an exotic drug I should never have tried? I couldn’t remember doing such a thing.
Fact was I couldn’t remember anything I’d recently done—last night, yesterday, the past week and for much longer. Maybe I’d been drugged with something that had wiped out my memory. So besides being lost, I had some kind of amnesia? And where the chingaus had my socks and shoes gone to? Had I gotten rolled? I checked for a wallet and found nothing, or anything in the other pockets.
Worried that if I stood I’d lose my footing on the stuff, I stayed crouched, scanning for someone or something familiar. I made out a third wall miles away but just barely, like this hazy place was gargantuan enough to have several climates, with fog in front of me and what looked to be a mirage to the far right. Between me and those distant walls, perpendicular shafts of darkness regularly sundered the background, pillars of black light rising out of the ground as if to keep the flat canopy from collapsing. I could have used a pillar myself, to keep my balance.
I shook off the vertigo and inspected the Flooring, as I’d learn they called it. It was impossible to believe. No wood floor, carpet, tile or linoleum anywhere. No ground, no dirt. Just thousands—no, it must have been tens of thousands of…things sat on I couldn’t imagine how many millions of others. In that sense, the place resembled a humongous junkyard, but most items appeared to be whole, useable, many even new. Any man-made object of value seemed like it would be here somewhere. I tore my eyes from staring too long because it confused me—like speeding through a liquidation sale of valuables from mankind’s every era. Besides, I was in no shopping mood for anything, except information, something to get my bearings or understand what had happened and where the chingada in Aztlán I could be.
Subdued noises came at me from every direction, like my ears were partially plugged…but I didn’t think my hearing was the problem.
From fifty yards in front echoed the steady clicking of rollercoaster wheels. The contraption hadn’t been there a minute before, I felt certain of that. It stretched for possibly miles on prairie-like slopes of goods, bearing but one screamer riding with his arms raised. Further back stood a short oil derrick with its gushessplashing the ceiling or gurgling oil that seeped into the underlyinggoods. A couple of men in black-drenched overalls whoopedit up. At least those people acted like they knew where they were.Yet, I hesitated running to seek their help.
Sprinkled throughout as far as I could see, larger groups were involved in different activities. There looked to be parties, a tamalada, a videogame tournament or quieter mundane events, like some kind of business meeting and a wedding ceremony. Plus more—a courtroom trial, a monster truck rally, a team of fresco painters frenziedly at work, and further out a score of naked people obviously involved in an orgy. At the limits of my vision, the eclectic mix of goings-on melded into grayed blurs.
More odd than all these oddities, was that the participants seemed totally involved in their own special thing, paying no attention to groups near them. As if they didn’t know they had neighbors. It was like I’d Google-mapped in real-time and max-zoomed on a world of suburban barbecues. A place where each backyard gathering pretended it existed in its own private mini world, despite the nearby competing commotion. Except, these people needed no eight-foot fences to aid the illusion and suburbia had never looked this loco. . .
Rudy Ch. Garcia will autograph and sign The Closet of Discarded Dreams at
Su Teatro's Denver Civic Theater
on Sunday, Sept. 16th
at 5:00pm, 721 Santa Fe Drive
A free event with refreshments and suavísimo door prizes.
I’ve written before about the importance of using strong body language for your characters. The September, 2011 Cosmopolitan magazine, featured an article by Mina Azodi on “Cool Mind Tricks that can Give you an Edge.” Really, she’s talking recent research on body language. Here are some extra body language tips to consider.
Give your character a pair of sunglasses. The classic gambit of hiding behind a pair of shades actually frees a person to do and say anything. With inhibitions lowered, look out. It often translates into selfish or hedonistic behavior.
Your character sits with one arm on a chair rest and the other draped along the chair’s back. Add an ankle crossed over the opposite knee. What do you have? Confidence. Only a confident character can pull off such an open, casual and yet commanding position.
Your character nods yes. Angela and Judd are about to explode at each other. What can prevent the relationship from self-destruction? A simple nod of the head tricks a person into being more agreeable, and stops the escalation of an argument. Bring the characters to the brink, then pause and let one of them do a simple head nod to turn the scene toward a resolution.
Your character washes his/her hands with soap. When Pilate washed his hands of Jesus death on the cross, he was practicing this body language technique. Studies show that when you make a decision, you are less likely to second-guess that decision if you wash your hands. Did Angela just lie to Judd? She’ll feel less guilty if she washes her hands. Even an antibacterial wipe works! So, after that argument when Angela just lied, send her to the kitchen to think about the relationship and let her wash away her worries.
Your character picks up and holds a heavy object, like a paperweight. Is your character considering something important, about to make a decision? People tend to give their opinion more weight when they are holding something like a heavy clipboard. In the midst of decision making, send Judd down to lift weights. It will make him more serious and it’s likely the decision will be a better one.
Your character presses up on the underside of a desktop or a table with his/her fingertips. Pressing up brings flexes the arm muscles you use to bring things closer to your body, which translates into more openness and creativity. Angela’s more likely to creatively solve a problem when she presses up with her fingertips. However, the opposite is also true: pressing down makes a person feel less accepting and more closed off. Press up and Angela gets creative about a problem; press down and she sulks.
Your female character hugs a guy. Angela hugs Judd and–what happens? When women smell a man’s hair or skin, they instantly feel more relaxed. She doesn’t need that glass of wine, she just needs a quick hug and whiff. And it doesn’t have to be a flame that she hugs, just a brother or father will do.
Your character takes a few steps backward. Stepping backwards seems to send your brain into problem-solving mode and you’ll be more likely to answer test questions with accuracy and speed. Angela and Judd fighting again (yes, fiction needs lots of conflict!)? This time, Judd takes a couple steps backward, away from Angela, which lets him see the big picture better and understand the correct next step for their relationship. In the end, it may send him into Angela’s arms, but he’s got to step backwards first in order to solve the problem.
Doodle! Wow, I am so glad to see this one because I always doodle. Turns out that doodling can actually increase your memory by about 30%. Scientists speculate that the drawings engage the area of the brain which might otherwise be used for daydreaming and zoning out. Keep part of your brain busy, so the rest can pay attention–nice.
Your character leans his/her upper body forward. Angela and Judd are discussing the possibility of getting married (I know, they argue so much, I am worried about them making it, too.) Scientists say that if you lean forward, it helps you visualize the future more vividly, so you’ll have an easier time planning. Angela leans forward and visualizes Prince Charming; Judd leans forward and Angela becomes the woman of his dreams. Together, leaning toward each other across the table, they might just imagine a future that will work.
Besides writing, my passion is making quilts. Now, this is a complex undertaking and takes time. I’ve learned to break the tasks into small chunks, something doable in only 15 minutes. For example, I cut one fabric one day, another fabric the next. I might sew quilt pieces together one day, and the next day actually iron the seam allowances. Taking it but by bit, it’s easy.
What if you only have 15 minutes a day to write?
Amish Quilts made by 10 year olds.
Maybe you’re one of the writers who has to work an outside job to make a living, and you do major writing on holidays, like Memorial Day. But during the week, you might be able to snatch a 15 minute time block here or there. Or, if you have kids, you only have 15 minutes at a time. Here are some examples of daily writing tasks that anyone can do.
Lists of names
Description of a character
Dialogue: have your character talk about the story plot with his/her best friend
Try three different voices for your character
Description of a setting
Explore how the setting changes with different weather
List of actions that a character could take in this setting
List of conflicts
List of ways to add more tension
List of ways to up the stakes
Plan a scene by listing the story beats
Write the introduction of a scene
Write the middle of a scene
Write the end of a scene.
Read aloud a scene/chapter
Edit the scene/chapter for great sensory details
Edit the scene/chapter for strong language
Edit the scene/chapter for voice
Edit the scene/chapter for sentence variety
Novels are complex. But bit by bit, slowly, you can write a novel. If you write one page a day, you complete 5 pages a week (2 days off for Sat and Sun). That’s 20 pages a month, and 240 pages a year. That’s a novel.
You don’t need 40 hours a week, you only need 15 minutes a day.
Endings or beginnings? Which are more important? Neither. They are both crucial.
Connection between the Beginning and the Ending
The first thing to notice is that these two points in a narrative must be intimately connected. The story problem you set up must be the same story problem that you solve. When you’re revising a novel, you must check these two point to decide if you went off track somewhere.
If the main story problem is peace in a family that is fighting, the ending can’t be that the family goes off on vacation together. The reader doesn’t know if the family will fight during that vacation or not. They might indeed go off on vacation, as the denouement or the aftermath of the climax, but this isn’t the climax. The climax or high point of the plot must be a family confrontation that solves some basic problems and restores a semblance of peace.
When you’re faced with a disconnect, it doesn’t matter which you change, the beginning or the end; but you must change one of them, these must match up.
Importance of Beginning Well
It is important to begin well, to draw the reader into your fictional world. The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman rightly argues that you only have five pages–at the most–to capture an agent, an editor or a reader. Often, you only have one page. So, beginnings are crucial. They set the stage, introduce character and setting, and most important, Hook the Reader. Lukeman’s book is an excellent guide to getting those pages right.
Importance of Ending Well
On the other hand, it is also important to end well. The end of a sentence, paragraph, chapter and novel are places of emphasis or stress. Consider the difference between these sentences:
The circus featured elephants and a great trapeze act, all presented in the center ring.
Featured in the center ring of the circus was a trapeze act performed above an elephant act.
In the first sentence the elephant/trapeze acts were buried in the middle of the sentence. Pulling them to the end, emphasizes their importance. Likewise, look at the ends of your chapters. Do you dribble off into nothing, or do these make memorable statements that pull readers to the next chapter? And what are the last lines of your stories? Memorable?
He loved Big Brother. –George Orwell, 1984 (1949)
It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known. –Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
The biggest problem I have in planning a plot–still, after all these years–is that I am too nice to my characters. I can’t imagine the horrible things that need to happen, without a big struggle.
Listen up: What is the worst thing that could happen to your character? It MUST happen at the climax of the story. You can’t wimp out and make it easy on him/her. It must be totally and utterly horrible.
When your character walks through the doorway to Failure, your plot really gets going.
Of course, I mean that within the context of your story. You may have a pastel palette for this story, so the absolute worst thing might be if Jill has to clean her room. Or, you may have a palette with deep colors, including black. Jill must face the death of her best friend and she has to choose to take her place or not. Or, worse, Jill may face a life-sentence in a horrible jail, a living hell.
Whatever it is, the character MUST be faced with the worst.
Then, you can work backwards from there and create a series of scenes that lead up to that. At every step, things MUST get worse.
I also try to pair that with an internal character issue: the climax is the point where the internal and external story arcs come together. The resolution of that climax turns on some internal change in the character. The “absolute worst” thing for the character to face is determined by the internal arc. What would challenge something fundamental in your character? Jill want more than anything to gain her mother’s approval; but when her best friend is threatened, Jill goes against her mother’s commands to save her friend. She is now thinking independently.
Why is this so hard for us to do? Why are we peacemakers?
How do you overcome our “tea party” mentality so you can be brutal to your characters?
I was reading through some of our older science fiction titles, and I came upon Worlds of Wonder by David Gerrold (published in 2001). As I was flipping through the book, I read an opening line that intrigued me:
“All writing is list-making. Nothing more. The trick is knowing what to put next on the list.”
This seemed a puzzlingly simple notion–that developing the plot of your story was in some way akin to the act of jotting down your grocery list. And yet, as I started to read further, what the author was saying made a lot of sense:
The thing about Lego bricks is that you can build just about anything you can imagine–if you’re patient enough. People have built whole cities out of Lego bricks. The problem is that you have to figure out yourself how to put the things together. While there might be instructions on how to build a specific kind of Lego castle, there are no instructions on how you can build the castle that exists in your own imagination.
Planning your story is the same experience. You have a sense of what you want it to be, how you want the pieces to fit together, but actually getting this brick to fit next to that one…. Pretty soon, you start to wonder how the hell Arthur C. Clarke and Larry Niven and Frederik Pohl and Richard Matheson and Jack Finney and Anne McCaffrey and C.J. Cherryh and Connie Willis can make it look so easy.
David goes on to suggest this exercise, which I share with you below. (A sidenote: What’s particularly amusing about it is that he is the writer of the episode “The Trouble with Tribbles” from Star Trek: The Original Series, which is, in my opinion, one of the best Star Trek episodes ever.)
Get yourself a stack of index cards. Write a one-line synopsis of each specific scene that you think should be in your story, one scene per card. Don’t worry about writing them down in any specific order. Just write them down as fast as you think of them:
Lt. Uhura brings a tribble aboard the Enterprise.
Lt. Uhura first gets the tribble from a local merchant.
Uhura’s tribble has a litter of little tribbles.
Scotty discovers tribbles in the air vents.
Kirk finds a tribble on his captain’s chair.
Kirk and Spock beam over to the space station. Kirk opens up the storage compartments and lots of tribbles fall down on his head.
But this isn’t enough for a complete story. You need a second plot line too, something to complicate the first one:
The Klingons want shore leave, but what they really want is … to disrupt the plan for Sherman’s Planet.
The Klingons are on the speace station. A barroom brawl breaks out.
Kirk investigates the fight. He bawls out Scotty and restricts him to quarters. Scotty is glad for the chance to read his technical manuals.
The plan for Sherman’s Planet is that Earthwillplant a new grain. If nothing earthlike will grow, the Klingons get the planet.
The Klingons are here to poison the grain.
The tribbles eat the poisoned grain, reproduce like crazy and fall on Kirk’s head, but McCoy discovers that they’re dying.
Now, take all these separate cards and shuffle them together and start laying them out on the kitchen table in the order you think they should go. First organize each plot line in its own thread. Then you can go back and forth between separate threads, picking up the next appropriate scene from each.
When you have all the cards laid out in order, go through them as if you’re reading a comic book or a storyboard and see if they re
Doing anything the beginning of September? No? Then you might want to consider taking part it a 35 year old literary marathon that has produced 25 published novels in its time and a lot of tired writers. The competition is international and differs from NaNoWriMo
It's shorter - a month is so-o-o-o long
It costs to register
There are prizes
Early-bird registration (deadline: August 15) costs $50 which at today's exchange rates is nearly £32 and about 40 euro. That's quite a lot of money but if you do submit (there's no obligation) someone is actually going to read it. First prize is publication by the organisors, second prize is $500 and third prize is $100.
The Nitty Gritty
The actual writing AND editing must begin no earlier than 12:01 a.m. on Saturday,
September 1, and must stop by 11:59 p.m. on Monday, September 3. It's run on the honour system but they do ask you to give details of a witness who can verify that you've obeyed the rules. There are no limits to the novel’s length, but
they expect something in the region of 25,000 - 30,000
words. I may sound a bit picky but that's not really a novel - it's more like a very long short story. I'm not knocking it though - that's 30,000 words entrants might not have written otherwise - 30,000 words that could grow into something big and important. I approve of seat of the pants writing, where you're forced to convert all the ideas you've had floating in your head into ink and paper, forgetting the niceties of the semi colon and proper meal times.
I guess the organisers will get suspicious if you submit a proper novel length submission (that's usually reckoned to be between 80,000 and 100,000 words) accurately typed with evidence of immaculate copy editing. They say they can always tell if someone has cheated...and I bet they can, because I cannot understand why they don't let you edit afterwards. It just doesn't make sense (like some of the manuscripts submitted, I presume).
White Hot and Ice Cold
72 hours of burning fast writing sounds great - sounds like the kind of creative kickstart some of us need (hand goes up) - but editing is done with an ice cold pen, ripping out scenes, squelching witty asides and strangling endearing characters because they don't serve any useful purpose in the story. And you need distance to do that - at least a week (Aristotle recommended nine years) but definitely not during that white hot creating phase.
What do you think? Anyone done something like this? Can you edit and write at the same time?
I blame it all on Stephen King, his literary shoulders are broad enough to bear the burden. Three weeks ago, I went to Bangor, Maine to visit my friend and talented writer, Terrie Whitten. A native of Bangor, she immediately drove me by Stephen King’s house, complete with a wrought iron gate with all sorts of creepy things in black. That’s it. I was jinxed.
Wrought Iron Gate in front of Stephen King's Bar Harbour, ME house.
I was fooled into thinking everything would be fine by a couple days of sightseeing: Penobscot Bay and a whale and puffin tour out of Bar Harbor and the rest of the day at Acadia National Park. But that night, I got sick and 24 hours later, I was in the ER with a severe, acute gall bladder problem, which resulted in surgery. Gee, thanks, Stephen King.
When I finally got home, we took another trip to Denver to see my daughter’s new house, where the bathroom was stripped to the studs and my husband helped rebuild it, while I sat in a corner and pretended to write. Instead, I took multiple naps and just fiddled around.
And today, I am back at the office, ready to go! But my novel seems to have slipped a bit in my mind. What was it I was writing? Who is that character?
I asked for advice on the Fiction Notes Facebook Group on how to get back into the story and you can read their great advice here. If you’re not a member, just ask to join and I’ll click you through!
Coming this fall: 30 Days to a More Vibrant Character and Random Acts of Publicity Week.
Children’s book writer Katherine Paterson, author of Bridge to Terabithia, once wrote that she had finished a draft of a novel and dramatically announced to her husband that the draft was awful and she was quitting. He calmly said, “Oh, you’re at that stage.”
Yes, there are Stages of Writing that we go through. Recently, a new writer bemoaned his lack of progress and someone suggested that he read Ann Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, which talks beginning writers through some of the emotional stresses of learning to BE a writer.
OK. You’re at the Bird by Bird stage, too. Here are some other books to help you through this stage.
How To Write a Children’s Picture Book by Darcy Pattison (Kindle only).
After teaching children’s fiction for twenty years, I wrote this ebook that explains the typical 32-page children’s book and how digital formats may change the picture book. It includes chapters on every type of picture book.
Help for Revising Your Fiction
If you make it past the first draft, sorry, but you’re not done yet. Now, it’s time to move to the next stage and revise.
To improve your writing skills, there are a couple of books that I always recommend. They aren’t for the faint of heart–learning to improve your writing takes time and attention to detail. Take it slow, doing a lesson a week or so. But I guarantee your writing will improve if you work at it.
The Art of Styling Sentences by Ann Longknife Ph.D. and K.D. Sullivan.
Do semi-colons confuse you? Do complex-compound sentences scare you? Then you simply MUST work through these twenty sentence patterns. When I worked through this book with a friend, I found it made more difference in my writing than anything else I had ever tried. It freed me to express my thoughts in complex ways–and get it right.