Monday, June 30, 2014

Michelle's (Current) Top 4 Revision Tips

I’ve been in a constant stage of revision since December. That’s almost SEVEN MONTHS, you guys. Granted, it's been between two different stories, but my brain has been in overdrive. The end is in sight, though, and now I’m here to share my top four revision tips.

-         Promises made, promises kept.
This was a big one for me. When you spend a while with a particular manuscript, you may forget that tiny mention you made in chapter one. If you introduce a plot point into the story (promise made), even if it’s minor, make sure it’s resolved by the end of the story (promise kept). Don’t gyp your reader.

-         Each character has a mind of his/her own.
We don’t want cardboard cutouts. It’s so easy and convenient to let a secondary character (or even a main character) fall into a stereotype. And sometimes the stereotype can be valid (there are mean cheerleaders, etc.), but don’t take the easy way out. Everyone has a personality--let it shine.

-         The underneath is just as important as what’s on the surface—maybe even more so.
As much as I love dialogue, there has to be more to a story than people talking to each other. Giving the reader a peek into the character’s thoughts, even by inserting one or two lines, can make all the difference. If you have chunks of dialogue throughout the manuscript, consider adding a bit of internal thought. (Note that I said "consider." Too much internal monologue can hurt a scene's flow. It's a delicate balance. Use it wisely.)

-         Give yourself some grace.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of “I’m not working fast enough.” Trust me, I know this all too well. STOP IT. Creating something great takes time. Think about your CP for a moment. If they came to you crying and said, “I’m a failure. I missed three days of revision last week and I’m so far behind. You don’t even know,” what would you tell that person? Would you nod and say, “Yeah, you pretty much suck”? No. (Well, I hope not.) You’d (hopefully) tell that person not to be so hard on themselves. Do the same for yourself.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Perfect Pastimes: Books and Baseball

No game in the world is as tidy and dramatically neat as baseball, with cause and effect, crime and punishment, motive and result, so cleanly defined.  ~Paul Gallico, sportswriter and novelist (The Poseidon Adventure)  

As summer officially begins and ballplayers of all ages run onto the field, I wanted to tip my cap to two of my favorite pastimes: books and baseball.  Believe me, I'm hardly the only baseball nut here at Revision Warriors. And that’s no surprise, because really, books and baseball have a lot in common. Stick with me...


You walk in the stadium, find your seats, and POOF. That’s it. The outside world disappears as the home team runs onto the field.  
My baseball watching buddies.
That’s how it feels for me. Like cracking open a new book. Every game presents a new cast of characters, favorite heroes and villains. Pitching duals, rivalries, batting orders are subplots. Every inning is a new chapter.  

"The game's isn't over until it's over." Yogi Berra    

Plot Twists & Colorful Characters

Strategy makes for plot twists; a well-timed change-up, a bunt, a sacrifice fly— every action a potential game changer.  The story could climax with a three-run homer, or sending in that closing pitcher that hitters fear more than the boogie man.  Like when the Yankees would call in this guy, who they called The Sandman...

‘The Closer’ by Mariano Rivera and Wayne Coffey (Little, Brown)

Or say the game is a snoozer. Seven innings of watching your zombified home team getting blasted by a team with a killer lineup. But this is baseball...   

"You can't sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You've got to throw the ball over the god***n plate and give the other man his chance. That's why baseball is the greatest game of them all." Earl Weaver


And vocabulary? I’d wager baseball has the finest collection of JARGON on Earth.  
Baltimore chop Fungo Chin music Balk Screwball Dugout Beanball 
These words are just fun. Period. 

Reading books or watching baseball can make me feel like a kid again. Both are experiences that are fun to share. I relived the joy of “The Monster at the End of this Book” with my daughter, and I’ll probably re-read “Charlotte’s Web” when she’s a little older. These stories are a constant— just like watching a ball game. 

It’s always there.  

Any other similarities I'm missing? Chime in below! :)

Monday, June 16, 2014

My Writing Process Blog Hop

You guys! The amazing Michelle Smith  has tagged us in the My Writing Process blog hop. But before we get on with sharing our answers, please click on over to Michelle’s blog and check out her #DoSomething challenge that’s going on throughout the month of June.

#DoSomething is all about spreading kindness through simple everyday actions. You can find out more about it here and catch up on challenge #1 and #2 here and here. As Michelle says on her blog: 

“The world can be scary. It’s also full of wonder and love and hope. Let’s focus on the latter.”

Okay, now on to our Creature Double Feature.

1)     What am I working on?

Diane: Currently, I'm putting the final polish on my YA fantasy before submitting to agents and editing a YA sci-fi.

Rina: I’m currently working on a sequel to my middle grade fantasy, RULES OF RODENTIA. In Book Two, well… geez, I can’t really say too much without giving away parts of Book One! But rest assured, the deep woods are still a perilous place and there are some tasks only a young mouse like Tobin can handle.

Marlana: I'm working on a YA contemporary titled, AND THE BAND PLAYS ON from dual POVs.  The pitch: Sixteen-year old trumpet playing Frannie experiences her first crush when Ali moves into the neighborhood. He's like no one she's ever met -- tall, dark and...damn! Ali is upset to be uprooted from Orlando, leaving his friends and soccer team behind. So no one is more surprised than he when he begins thinking of Warrenstown, WV as home. Then on 9/11, America is attacked and the terrible tragedy that unites the townsfolk also outcasts Ali, his family, and anyone who associates with them.

Cheryl: I’ve been torn between two YA projects for a while—a straight up fantasy and something that’s leaning toward light sci-fi. As of late, though, the fantasy, entitled FATE INTERRUPTED, seems to have won the battle for my attention. Here’s the pitch:

In a country sharply divided between honor classes, Dorian Van Zander, youngest son of the high judge, crosses paths with prophet Kahlia Coine. Kahlia’s paintings illustrate her patrons’ futures, and she predicts Dorian will succeed his father after the high judge is murdered. Kahlia knows the future isn’t a suggestion, it’s a force, and once set on a path, there is no stopping it. But promises of a higher honor class for herself, her younger sister, and her ailing father lure her to court where she’ll attempt to alter the fate of Dorian’s family and her own.

Kahlia begins eliminating members of the high-court as pre-murder suspects, but publically displaying their secrets puts her own life in danger. Despite her low status, friendship between Kahlia and Dorian blossoms into something more, but the connection Kahlia discovers between herself and the judge’s inevitable demise threatens to rip away the life she’s always desired and the love she never knew she wanted.

2)     How does my work differ from others of its genre?  

Diane: Though my books are similar to what is out there in the genre, I haven't read anything exactly like them. The worlds are unique and so are the characters.

Rina: I think the biggest difference in my current work vs. other MG fantasy is the cast of rodents, snakes, and other critters who take center-stage. RULES OF RODENTIA is about the journey of a young mouse trying to ensure his family’s survival in the forest. Life is tough when you’re only two inches tall. Aside from letting the critters communicate with each other, I do try to keep a sense of realism. Tobin can’t cast a spell to transport himself to the spider den to save his baby brother; he needs to track the spider’s trail across the woods. 

Marlana: My husband is from Morocco and together we're raising two amazing boys. My husband and children are Muslim. I'm often surprised at some of the assumptions made about children with an Islamic upbringing. I felt I could bring unique insight into the home of a Muslim teen and what they experienced before and after the 9/11 attacks.  AND THE BAND PLAYS ON is my third novel and I can seriously say, it's the first time the words seem to pour directly from my soul to the page.

Cheryl: Yikes, this question is a toughie! I always want my settings to add another level of conflict to the plot instead of just being a backdrop for it. While most of what I write leans toward the fantastical, I try to make sure that there is lots of depth and richness to my world building, drawing on the characters culture, politics, and most importantly their world views that color everything related to both setting and plot. The places may spawn from my imagination, but I want them to feel as real and believable as possible and so intrinsically tied to the plot that the reader couldn't imagine the story taking place anywhere else. 

3)     Why do I write what I do?

Diane: I love speculative fiction! Always have. The first book that caught my attention was The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley in seventh grade. I fell in love with the world she created. It was a great escape. I try to fashion that same feeling in the novels I write. YA is a fun genre too. There's so much happening in life during the teenage years that stick with us for the rest of our lives. My characters go through lots of exciting changes and make some tough decisions.

Rina: As to why I like writing Middle Grade, it’s because adult minds tend to muck up even the simplest ideas. Typically, if you ask a grown-up a question, like if animals have feelings, you tend to get a big, drawn out response. I like skipping through all that nonsense and diving right into a story.  
Just today there was a story on the morning news about a mysterious ocean creature eating a 9 foot-long, Great White Shark. The shark was swallowed whole. Scientists are scratching their heads and I LOVE THAT. There’s mystery in this world, and that is what I like to think about. What ate that shark? A giant squid? A megalodon? Something we’ve never seen because that trench the shark was pulled into is so, SO deep?  Take it further—what if a ten year old girl won a science fair scholarship and got to accompany a research vessel, and they picked up a strange blip! on their radar…

Marlana: It was after I finished HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HOLLOWS that I wrote my first novel, a MG fantasy titled THE ALLIANCE OF MISFITS. I was so upset to say goodbye to Harry, Ron, and Hermione that I needed new characters to cope with the loss. My second novel, a YA Sci-fi titled THE GATHERERS, was outlined after a Star Trek marathon on Netflix. My protagonist, Paxton, appeared in my dreams and insisted I write her story. Finally, my WIP is something I've wanted to write for over a decade, but have been too afraid. With the encouragement of my critique groups and the upcoming 15th year anniversary of the horrific attacks, I knew it was time.

Cheryl: I think my voice lends itself well to YA. Besides that, though, I truly adore everything about YA literature. For me, it comes down to figuring out the world and where our special brands of crazy fit into it. The world and everyone in it is always evolving. Nothing stays static forever, so figuring out how we fit into the grand scheme of things is something (I think) readers of all ages can connect with. And then there’s the kissing. Because…KISSING! Duh!

4)     How does my writing process work?

Diane: I write whenever I can! With my first novel, it took me a while to figure out how everything was going to work in the world I'd envisioned. I did several rewrites and heavy revisions. But the second book just popped up in my brain. I also wrote it during NaNo, which was new for me, but it was a fantastic experience! I got so much done in such a short time.

Rina: I wrote RULES OF RODENTIA, Book One, chapter by chapter, plodding forward because that’s what felt natural. Working on the sequel is a different story (no pun intended). This time I’m outlining the book first, making sure I have the right story arcs coming together, points of character growth, and sprinkles of tension in the right places. There are a couple story lines that cross over from Book One, so it’s helping me keep things straight.

Marlana: Great question. And my answer? No idea! It's going to sound ridiculous, but seriously -- there are times my fingers are striking the keyboard and I'm reading the words filling the paper like it's someone else's work. I have zero idea how those words got there or where they've come from. I tend to write in chapters although I've been known to jump ahead and write a few scenes that have come to me -- typically while taking a shower, that I don't want to forget.  Then once I've written a chapter, I go back, edit it and then write the next chapter. Then I start at chapter one (AGAIN), edit it, edit the second chapter and then write chapter three and so on. You can imagine how tedious this becomes and it takes until I'm about ten chapters in before I make my OCD self stop starting from the beginning.

Cheryl: Ugh! Another tough question. ;) My writing process changes depending on any number of things. Sometimes I outline. Other times, not so much. Sometimes I write daily. Other times… you guessed it. Not. So. Much.

I can tell you this though, it can be frustrating if you dwell on the how or the why too much. For example, after finishing the novel I’m currently querying, I had a hard time falling in love with a new premise, set of characters, world, etc. I had lots of ideas, but the whole writing them down thing wasn’t happening. It drove me crazy because until that point, I was SO excited to start on something new. Stalling out felt like failure of the epic variety.

Très Stressful, I assure you.

Thing is though, it wasn’t because the ideas weren’t good, which of course was my big fear. Turns out, I just needed time to get better acquainted with them. And the longer these new characters and conflicts and setting percolated in my head, the closer I got to putting my fingers to keyboard. Once the story had built itself up to bursting from my head, the writing part took care of itself. Sometimes you just have to trust your brain to know what it needs and go with it. At the end of the day, telling an awesome story is all that matters, regardless of the process.

Up next are the lovely writers below. Please stop by their blogs and check out their posts next week.

I am writing toward publication, Taekwondo-ing toward a black belt, parenting toward sending seven grown-ups into the world, and wife-ing toward happily ever after. I think I have a thing for goals.

José is a Cuban-American writer and math teacher living in Epcot with his wife Lisa and their two teenage kids. Stories of his have appeared in STRANGE HORIZONS and STUPEFYING STORIES, and his novels for young adults are represented by Cameron McClure of the Donald Maass Literary Agency.

Reading and writing have always been second nature for me. They are as integral to me as the air I breathe and the words I speak. I knew from a very young age that I would grow up to work with words in some capacity. I thought, perhaps I'll be a librarian. No, a literary agent. How about a copywriter? But the entire time, my heart would whisper, "you're going to be an author." In August of 2013, I released my first novel The Right Kind of Wrong and have since published Whiskey and a Gun (a prequel novella) and Capricious (a short story). My next novel, The Finish will release in 2014.

Monday, June 9, 2014

6 Tips for a Cleaner Manuscript

We all love all our words, don't we? But sometimes, things must be cut in order to fit our manuscripts into a certain word count, or maybe our critique partners are sobbing because there is too much AYKB (as you know Bob) and repetitive description.

Here are some ideas to make your manuscript shine! (Your readers will thank you!)

1. Make sure you have formatted correctly. The BASICS:

-12-pt Times New Roman black font
-one inch margins on all sides
-align left
-double space (no extra space between dialogue)
-single space after periods
-indent (5 spaces/ half inch) new paragraphs
-scene breaks are marked with a # in the center of the line
-align header to the right and include your last name/title (or key words)/page number except title page
-chapters begin on new pages about a third of the way down

Always check an agent's/publisher's site for more tips on how they want your ms formatted!

2. Unnecessary backstory. Yes, I know you want to tell me about your hero's birth, but is it necessary explain it all in the first 20 pages? Get to the action of the story that you're telling now. Backstory can be woven in and revealed as the story progresses if it is essential.

3. Repetitive details. This is a hard one. I'll give some examples.

Marsha sat at the diner booth and ordered a strawberry milkshake. 
"So, that's one strawberry milkshake," the waitress said.


Sally walked into the hardware store. She scanned the isles looking for a wrench. The hardware clerk asked if she needed help finding anything. 


Ned thought his situation was dire. He Ned was stuck in the canyon without water, food, or shade. There was no shade. No food. What was he supposed to do?

See? Some things don't need repeating. Usually these details are hidden within the same paragraph or on the same page. Trust your reader to understand the story, emotions, and details. This also helps with author intrusion. :)

4. Seek and destroy passive voice! Look for these words, mostly to-be verbs (was, were, are, that, etc.), and try to restructure your sentences to make them more active. Marlana wrote an awesome post about how to find passive sentences if you need more clarity.

You were not at work today. vs. You missed work today.
You must clean your room. vs. Clean your room.

5. Limit the amount of metaphors you use. Everyone enjoys a comparison of objects, but not every other sentence or paragraph. However, one of my critique partners pointed out that Mark Zusak used tons of metaphors in The Book Thief and got away with it. I concur. I hardly noticed them. So if you're Mark Zusak, you can use as many metaphorical passages as you desire. :)

6. As You Know Bob (AYKB)

"Douglas, did you see how the commander reacted to the new general? She nearly peed her pants."
"Yeah, Bob, I did see. I think she did wet her pants. I was at the back of the line when the general walked in though, so I might not have had the best view."
"Hey, Douglas, I think it was because of his large head. She couldn't contain the laughter."
"Sounds right, Bob. I saw her shoulders shaking."

Please don't write dialogue like this. Here's a rewrite without AYKB.

The general's head was shaped like a watermelon, stretching over his decorated shoulders. The commander could not laugh. Melon wasps stung any moving object.

How about you? Are you trending a new style of writing that your critique partners just don't get? Have you sent an ms out in 18-pt Kefa font in purple to an agent? We'd all like to know. ;)

Monday, June 2, 2014

Passive and Active Voice

I love to write a few chapters and then go back and search for passages that can be reworked to sound less passive. Passive voice can be *yawn* boring. So what is passive voice? There are several definitions out there – but my favorite is straight and to the point. 

Passive Voice: When you make an object of an action into the subject of a sentence. So whoever or whatever is performing the action is not the grammatical subject of the sentence. 

Why is passive voice sometimes frowned upon? Because it often forces your reader to guess what you mean and quite honestly, these passages often lack pizzazz. This is because the subject’s be-er or do-er isn’t moving the sentence along but the subject of the sentence is acted upon by some other agent or by something unnamed. 

There is an easy way to find these annoying little passages. Look for a form of “to be” followed by a past particle. “To Be” verbs: has been, have been, had been, will be, will have been, are, am, is, was, and were.

I *heart* Control + F so I can search for them. I’m not always able to get rid of all of them and that's okay too.  

I learn best through example.  Here are a few I found surfing the net.
Why did the chicken cross the road?
Why was the road crossed by the chicken?

The auditor approved the new budget.
The new budget was approved by the auditor. 

Ben showed me his new car.
The new car was showed to me by Ben.

I washed the dishes this morning.
This morning the dishes were washed.

For those of you searching for passive passages within this blog?  Eh- yeah.  I’ll get right on that.

photo credit: FLEECIRCUS via photopin cc