Monday, April 14, 2014

Good Enough, or Great?

Revising is tough work.



I recently turned in my second round of edits for PLAY ON. For three weeks, I worked seemingly non-stop—I was awake at 4am, and went to bed at midnight. My kid ate frozen pizza three nights a week. There was a four-day stretch during which I didn't change my PJ pants and my hair went unwashed (GLAMOROUS, I tell ya). It’s a wonder that my poor laptop didn’t burst into flames. But I finished, and that’s what important, right? Right. Just never mind that my house looked like someone burglarized the place.

Since I started the editorial process, I’ve had quite a few people (all non-writers) ask me why I’ve had to do so much work on this story. They asked, “Wasn’t it good enough? It wouldn’t be published if it wasn’t good enough, right?”

Well, yeah. It was a good story—a darn good one, if I say so myself. But what they don’t realize is that revisions are a book’s best friend. And honestly, I don’t want my book to be “good enough.” Revisions turn a good book into something great.

“But Michelle,” you’re saying, “you don’t understand how much work my book needs. I’m terrified of screwing it all up.”

On the contrary—I know that feeling very, very well. I was absolutely terrified of ruining my book. But my editor is amazing, and she has these equally amazing lines in her edit letters that are exactly what I need to read (and are actually posted above my computer). One of my favorites, and one I need to remind myself of constantly, is to really dig in, and don’t be afraid of what’s there. You can’t be afraid to be creative. And sometimes, that creativity may require drastic measures.

A character adds nothing to the plot? She may need cutting.

A precious line just doesn’t seem to fit? Slash it.

You have so many subplots that your book looks more like a soap opera synopsis? One of them may need to go. (If you're like I was, you may think that lots of little subplots add depth. Sometimes, perhaps. Most of the time, they weigh your story down.)

There's something you're dead-set on keeping? You absolutely refuse to let a character go, or you'll fight tooth and nail over a line? Then you better make that sucker work. Everything needs a purpose.

All this may sound easier said than done. Sometimes it is, but you need to be open to trying new things. If those things don’t work, delete them and try again. The key here is that you have to try.

What it comes down to is this: Do you want a good story, or a great one? If your answer is great, then take a long, hard look at your manuscript. Dig into your world, into your characters, and consider the potential there. Don’t be afraid of change—that change may make all the difference.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Conflict and Tension Tips



Last week I went through some notes I’d received from a beta reader. In one chapter, my reader highlighted an area and suggested ramping up the tension. I saw her point: that particular scene, with some adjusting, could have been seriously suspenseful. How could I get it there? I dove into my own recollection of conflict and tension tips, and did some poking around for new ones, too.  And, being a Revision Warrior, OF COURSE I wanted to share them here.

 

Less is More.


-     Dialogue: During a tense scene, abrupt dialogue with short—even incomplete—sentences is great for setting a hurried pace.


-     Action Scenes: Writing a scene with short sentences helps establish a quick tempo, which in turn builds tension.


-     Setting: Setting can play a huge role in establishing tension, but don’t get carried away on the adjectives. This, by the way, happens to be a trouble spot for me. Too much time spent describing the creepy stairwell takes the reader out of the moment.



Put your MC through the ringer.  What’s the one thing that could possibly break your MC’s spirit? What’s the one thing that absolutely can’t happen if the plan is going to work?  Consider making it happen. Make it personal. WHY would Situation A be devastating for your protagonist, in particular?

This can be hard. A brilliant lady from my writing group (Marlana Antifit) proposed that my MC face a betrayal, and even suggested who the betrayer should be.  I was not immediately on-board.  Not only would it be one of the worst kinds of betrayal, but the betrayer is a favorite character of mine.  But I couldn’t deny, it would add a layer of conflict I could play with for many chapters.  It could also help inspire readers to keep turning pages. So, as cringe-worthy as it was, I did it. 


Are your characters enthralling? Make sure your readers care what happens to your protagonist. Create characters so vivid, so intriguing that readers want to stay on this journey with them. They don’t all have to be likeable. In fact, who wants a perfectly perfect protagonist? But the reader should certainly want to see how your cast of characters react to whatever train wreck you throw them into.


The stand-by: Show don’t Tell.  While this is always a good rule, I think it doubly applies here.  When that climactic scene finally appears on the page, readers want to be in that moment.  Convey thoughts and feelings through action as much as possible.  


                As an example, instead of: “Feeling scared, she grabbed a knife from the drawer.” 

Maybe try, “Hand trembling, she opened the drawer and pulled a knife from the tray.”



Read a page-turner. It’s like taking a refresher course. One of my go-to reads is JULIE OF THE WOLVES by Jean Craighead George
  
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/386286.Julie_of_the_Wolves?from_search=true

It's a quick read and I’d recommend picking it up if you haven’t.  Here’s the gist of it:  A girl is lost in the tundra and her survival depends on learning to communicate with a pack of wolves. Yes, a pack of wolves.  I first read the story in the fifth grade.  I remember being terrified for Julie, yet also wanting to be her at the same time.  I’ve lost count of the times I’ve read it by now. 


Remember learning the literary concepts of conflict in grade school? JULIE OF THE WOLVES has it all, Man vs. Man, Nature, Self, Society... after I read JULIE, I always feel inspired.

Play up those chapter hooks.  In TV-speak we called this a “teaser”.  Always end your chapters with a suspenseful hook, a tidbit that will make diving into the next chapter irresistible. 


On that ever-challenging First Chapter...  In the opening pages, your protagonist should be doing something. The reader wants to get to know your main character, and what better way than by throwing them in the proverbial fire? By the end of a few famous opening chapters, we knew Harry Potter was the Boy Who Lived and Katniss alluded to the horror of the Hunger Games. And Julie, from JULIE OF THE WOLVES? On page one she’s already lost in the Arctic Tundra, laying on her belly, staring at a pack of wolves. 


Do you have any go-to tips or great reads for tension? Please share!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Fear Will Not Rule Me



Fear will not rule me. It’s a thought my MC has shortly after the book’s inciting event, and it's a big turning point for her. 

See, she’s faced with a decision and while she already knows what she wants to do, she hasn’t acted yet. Blake Synder calls this beat The Debate. The character can still change his or her mind. They can still back out. But my MC realizes that if she doesn’t try, then she’s letting fear win.

It’s the moment she commits to her choice.

She’s afraid, yes, and she accepts that fear. She owns it. And she resolves to move forward anyway.

So, where am I going with this? 

Lately, I’ve been stuck in a holding pattern of sorts. It hasn’t been a lot of fun. Every time I try to start a new story, all these doubts start needling me. Truth be told, it’s been driving me berserkers! I feel like I’m my own worst enemy. 

After doing some serious soul searching, what I’ve realized is that I’m afraid. I’m afraid I’m not good enough, afraid of making the wrong choices, afraid that my writing won’t be marketable.

I’m afraid of failure.

Mind = blown, right? Yeah, I didn’t think so. If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’re a writer and there’s a decent likelihood you’ve experienced at least some this, too. Heck, even if you’re not a writer you’ve probably been afraid of something.

Here’s the thing, though. I also know that if I let fear paralyze me, I’ve already failed.

They have a saying at my son’s karate school: a black belt is a white belt that never gave up. Writing is a different animal, though, and there is no guarantee that if you keep trying you’ll eventually get from point A to point B. We take that risk the moment we commit to being writers. Writing is like putting a little piece of your soul out there in the world. I write because I love it. I love words, and creating kooky, kickass, characters and the places they inhabit. I love stories that make me feel something. I love telling stories that will make other people feel something.

So fear be damned! Yes, it’s still there, and yes, I’m going to own it. Sometimes I will fail, and that’s okay.

I don’t know who said that the road to success is paved with failures, but the quote resonates with me. Each of our paths will look different. Some will be longer than others. But if you’re not paving the road, then you’re standing still.

I don’t want to stand still.

Now, dear readers, I turn it over to you. What are you afraid of? How do you overcome that fear?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Authentic Characters

FIRST,

OUR WINNER IS....
                               
                                     Carrie at In the Hammock Blog

Congratulations! We'll get Allegiant right out to you!!

Yay for the giveaway!! Thanks to all who entered!


NOW...

CHARACTERS!

Why do we love them? Hate them? Love to hate them? We've all sympathized with the nasty villains, or hated the heroine because--how could she not see that coming???

I have a tendency to get attached to certain characters. Everyone has a favorite. Don't deny it! :)

So, what's the recipe for a favorite character? For me, it's the character's voice and authenticity that draws me into a story world, and then, I'm hooked! I'll buy all the books in the series or stalk the author to see when their next book is coming out because I'm 100% sure I will love it.

For instance, Buffy. You've seen her here on RW. She iconic.

Why? She's a mess, but she fights through it all. Loss and pain, she's got it covered after a few tears, or not. Things happen that are out of her control and we watch to see what she'll do. This is the kind of character that will connect with the reader.

We've talked about interviewing characters. Here's some questionnaires extraordinaire that might help you write the I-can-touch-you, you're-so-real-to-me-it's scary characters.

Most of all, we have to stay true to who our characters tell us they are. We can't shape them. They shouldn't reflect us, they should surprise us. As writers, we should respect their perspective. Even if it goes against what we think is right or wrong. The character has an idea of what is best for them even when we're screaming, "Don't open that door!"

That kind of character might be intimidating to write. He or she will have a voice--one that can't be tamed.

What if that person is awful? What if he has bad habits that are distasteful even to you? Is she or he dealing with something that is beyond your knowledge? Dive into research and interview people who have dealt with things outside your scope. Be bold and write a character that will jump off the page!

Will you take the challenge and write a character that is authentic? Even if it's scary? Share with us! We want to know!

Monday, March 17, 2014

ALLEGIANT BOOK GIVEAWAY

Let's celebrate the DIVERGENT movie with a book giveaway!!

*cover from Goodreads*

For those who have only read Divergent or Insurgent, here's the blurb for Allegiant, the final *wipes tears* book in the series from Amazon:

What if your whole world was a lie?
What if a single revelation - like a single choice - changed everything?
What if love and loyalty made you do things you never expected?
The explosive conclusion to Veronica Roth's #1 New York Times bestselling Divergent trilogy reveals the secrets of the dystopian world that has captivated millions of readers in Divergent and Insurgent.

I L-O-V-E this series! Veronica Roth did an amazing job of brining all her characters to life and investing us as readers into the world of fractions. Note, Allegiant is dual POV! Which means, yes, you can be inside Four's head! And if you want to see Ms. Roth talk about Allegiant and a little about the Divergent movie, watch this. I always like hearing authors speak about their work!

As a HUGE YA fan, I was super excited when I heard (long, long ago) that Divergent was going to be made into a movie. I cannot wait to see it this Friday!!! Squeeeeeee!

If you haven't seen the goosebump worthy trailer....




It's going to be AWESOME. So let's party with some reading!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

If you've been following RW, you know we are a group of people who ADORE writing! Some of us are revising, working on our next WIP, waiting for publication, or starting/trudging through the query process--we must keep hope alive!

And because Veronica Roth is so amazing, I dug up this inspiring blog post from before Divergent hit the shelves. So to all the writers, publication can happen. And when it does read that post again! :)

Monday, March 10, 2014

What? You're Still Not Published?

I wasn't sure what to blog about this week until I ran into a dear friend I haven't seen in a while. She kindly asked me how the book was going. Bless her, she didn't even blink when I asked her which one. The follow-up question, isn't it published yet?, is one I've been asked many, many times. 

The thing about writing a book is that -- drum roll please -- it's really, really hard. *cymbal slap* And like most things that are difficult in life, it also takes time. Lots and lots of time.

From the fruition of an idea to the final, polished project, a manuscript can take years to write. Once it's ready, a person who wants to get traditionally published needs to obtain an agent. Every query you send, needs to be personalized and every agent requests something different -- a query only, a query and few first pages, a synopsis... 

I think it took me three months to query a dozen agents. I most likely will be done with the first draft of my WIP by the time I've queried every agent I want for my last novel. Also, I like to query in small batches since some agents provide helpful feedback. This lets me fix some things before sending out new queries. (See Querying and Dealing with Rejection) The turn-around time for a response from an agent can be 24 hours (probably less than 1%) four to six weeks, or have a policy of 'if you don't hear from us in eight to twelve weeks, consider us a pass'. 

 Like most writers, I'm balancing family, scheduled employment, writing new words, editing old words, beta reading awesome words, critiquing submissions from my CPs (Critique Partners) in both my writers groups (and I know several writers in three and even four groups), read published books to keep up-to-date on what's currently out there because the more you read, the better writer you'll be, and I *heart* books. Oh and let's squeeze in lunch with a friend and watch an episode of Grey's Anatomy. 

I'm not complaining, it's all par for the course. But it's definitely difficult to explain that you might spend a year on a book and its edits, spend another year querying it and, if there's not interest, you might end up shelving it. My first manuscript has been officially shelved for three years. Hopefully, the project I'm querying now won't end up in the same fate. But if it does, I'll keep on writing.

Since I'm writing this blog, I want to jump on a soapbox for a second. (My post, my rant :)) For all those picture book authors out there, I give you a giant hat tip. I wish I had your talent and ability. I get very annoyed when I hear someone say they're ready to publish the picture book they wrote this morning over a plate of omelets or worse, persons who believe before writing a "real" book they could churn out a few picture books as a bit of a warm up. Writing picture books is VERY hard. And if you don't believe me, check out the jobs the amazing and talented Anna Dewdney held before she was able to write full-time. 

Things that keep me positive? Check this out. :) 

photo credit: Arya Ziai via photopin cc

Monday, March 3, 2014

Everyone Has a Story

A month or so ago, my husband and I tore through Season 1 of Orange is the New Black, a Netflix original show. You guys . . . WOW. Just wow. In case you’re not familiar with it, OitNB follows the main character, Piper, after she’s sent to prison for the decade-old crime of transporting money for her drug-dealing girlfriend (via IMDB). However, Piper is (obviously) not the only person in this prison. It’s filled with plenty of other women—women who have stories of their own.

The show is awesome in that it incorporates flashbacks to tell the backstory of each character, showing us the “before”—before that character made a choice that changed her life. As writers, our characters are the same. Each one has a story of his/her own. They make their own mistakes, their own choices. Some of those choices are terrible. Some are life-altering. But the fact is, those choices are what breathe life into our characters. And, good or bad, each character is the hero of his/her own story.

I mentioned this idea in a previous post, but I love “interviewing” my characters, or even just taking a piece of paper and writing down every mundane detail I can think of. Here are a few questions that I make it a point to answer:

-What is this character’s dream?
-Who does this character love the most?
-What’s this character’s biggest regret?

And my favorite:

-What would it kill this character to lose?