April 29, 2010

How to Find What's Really Important in Your Book (and write a pre-revision synopsis)

Lessons 8 and 9 were helpful, and I think I can share a little more of what's going on in these lessons so it can help you. (To read more about my HTRYN lessons, click here. To get to the course page, click here.)

First, before you start really digging into revision, you need to know what you're aiming for. That's logic, right? So lesson 9 simply has you make a list of things you know are important: 3 things that are vital to your story, 3 most important conflicts/scenes/characters/parts of your world. Pretty simple stuff, but it helps to see it all in front of you. Holly also asks you to write about why you wrote this book and what you learned from it, to help you keep your perspective.

Lesson 8 was... well... a little painful. First we created a synopsis of the story we had. (NOT the book we want to have when we're done. The crappy version.) Each paragraph has something we like about that part of the book and something we want to change. I think being able to look back at this synopsis and seeing how much has changed is going to be phenomenal. I look forward to that day. :)

Then we write about our themes. What they are, how we did them right, where they could be stronger, and where they absolutely suck. What can I say? Lesson 8 is all about honesty.

And then comes the REALLY honest parts. Holly has you analyze your book (the crappy version) and then write yourself a negative review. Like what you might find at Amazon.com, this would be a review that's objective, but has a 1-star rating. Yeah. Ouch.

And THEN you write a 1-sentence rejection for your book as if you're an editor. Yeah. Double ouch. The goal is to be objective and summarize the very worst aspects of your rough draft. My rejection went something like:

The characters fall flat on the page, lacking consistent voice, emotion, and action.

Yeah, it's a little harsh. But if I can fix that, I'm golden. And I think I have to tools to fix these problems now. So yeah, these lessons hurt, but they bring a lot of hope to the table too. Which is good, because lesson 10 is greuling.

April 27, 2010

Revision Helps

Ah yes, revision. It's a broad topic, with tons of techniques. Here are some of them:

First, if you're not familiar with The Oatmeal, you have to read these. The Oatmeal uses comic strip humor to demonstrate some things that should be common knowledge. Here's one of my favorites about How to Use an Apostrophe. It's basic grammar stuff, but presented in an oh-so-funny package. :)

Books Are Like Ogres. They have layers. Author Janice Hardy shares how she revises by going through her story layer by layer.

Roz Morris has some fascinating techniques. This is a girl who knows what she's doing. She has what she calls The Beat Sheet and uses it to measure the high points, low points, and plot points of your book by marking all the important aspects. She even has a nifty little example of how to use it starring Harry Potter.

April 24, 2010

Putting Emotion Into Your Characters

Writers hear all the time that our books need more emotion. That this character needs to have a bigger emotional impact or that scene lacks believable emotion. So... how do we write emotion?

The easiest way is to tell us, "George was angry." But that doesn't make it believable or have much of an impact.

The next easiest thing: show us using basic gestures. Angela Ackerman posted an emotional thesaurus, listing appropriate or likely responses to certain emotions on The Bookshelf Muse.

If you're looking for something a little more complex, I've already linked to The 5 Stages of Grief on Show Some Character. Take another look if you're stuck. :) It doesn't just help with depressed characters. The 5 stages of grief are applicable to any character experiencing any level of distress. (And your characters better be experiencing some sort of distress in one form or another.)

From the same website: some advice on choosing which emotion to show. Here's Dramatic Frustration: Remember to Keep the Emotions Real.

We're not our characters and we don't share the exact same experiences as our characters. But we can use our experiences and emotions to make things just as scary (or scarier) for them. In I'm Not Them, But I'm Just As Scared, Lili St. Crow shares how she fuels emotion using her own past. Good stuff. :)

April 22, 2010

Lessons 6 and 7: Characters, Setting, and Props

These lessons are really flying by! I can't believe how much I can learn about my book in just a week. Since they're going by so quickly, I'm going to combine my reviews for lessons 6 and 7.

To read my thoughts on all the How to Revise Your Novel lessons, click here.

Lesson 6 is a character sharpener exercise, but the most valuable information I got from it came from the minor characters. This lesson helped me to see that I put a lot of weight on characters that only show up once or twice in the book. As I tried to figure out why, it dawned on me:

My main character lives in a small town where everybody knows just about everybody. So when my heroine goes into the hospital, she knows her doctor, the nurse, etc... When the police come to take her statement, she knows the chief of police. She knows how they normally act, and she knows when they're not being themselves. My heroine notices things about minor characters because of her familiarity with them.

So the question is: do I fix this "problem", or do I let it be part of the worldbuilding and risk annoying my readers because they thought the chief of police was going to have a bigger role?

Lesson 7 was all about setting. This included props, which I'll get to in a minute. The biggest, most atrocious flaw in my book is that I don't build the setting well enough. And it showed. I was asked to write down all the description I had for setting A and sometimes there wasn't anything to note.

I'm mortified. How could I let that happen?

But then came the part on props. Apparently, a story needs props that affect the story. (Who knew?) As I read that part of the lesson, it made sense. Of course there need to be props. But as I went through my book I noticed that I didn't have very many. And the ones I do have are pretty ordinary and don't really affect the story (for example: food that my characters are eating).

So I really need to go back and brainstorm. Who knows? Maybe I'm missing some great tension and conflict that would make my story so much better.

April 20, 2010

100 Best YA Books

Here's a list of some of the best 100 YA books by Good Books and Wine. There were a few books that I would have included on this list that seem to be missing :) But most of my magical books are on the list. I'd add something by Bruce Coville. But that's my two cents.

100. Hate List by Jennifer Brown

99. Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix

98. A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

97. Among The Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix

96. Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause

95. Forever by Judy Blume

94. The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

93. Tithe by Holly Black

92. Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott

91. Wings by Aprillynne Pike

90. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

89. Angus, Thongs And Full Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison

88. Marked by PC And Kristin Cast

87. Maximum Ride series by James Patterson

86. The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

85. 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson

84. I Am The Messenger by Markus Zusak

83. Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli

82. The Mediator series by Meg Cabot

81. The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen

80. Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin

79. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

78. Along For The Ride by Sarah Dessen
77. Evernight by Claudia Gray

76. If I Stay by Gayle Foreman

75. Life As We Knew It series by Susan Beth Pfeffer

74. Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston

73. The Iron King by Julie Kagawa

72. Alana: The First Adventure series by Tamora Pierce

71. Stardust by Neil Gaiman

70. Unwind by Neil Shusterman

69. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

68. Paper Towns by John Green

67. Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

66. A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith

65. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

64. The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time by Mark Haddon

63. The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell

62. Blue Bloods series by Melissa De La Cruz

61. Go Ask Alice by Anonymous

60. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

59. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

58. Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

57. Eragon by Christopher Paoloni

56. Morganville Vampires series by Rachel Caine

55. The Vampire Diaries by LJ Smith

54. Fallen by Lauren Kate

53. The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (one of my favorites when I was a kid)

52. The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot

51. Inkheart series by Cornelia Funke

50. Number The Stars by Lois Lowry

49. Lord Of The Flies by William Golding

48. The Maze Runner by James Dashner

47. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series by Ann Brashares

46. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

45. The Summoning series by Kelley Armstrong

44. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

43. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

42. Ender's Game series by Orson Scott Card

41. Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

40. Wake series by Lisa McMann

39. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

38. Are You There God? It's Me Margaret by Judy Blume

37. Looking For Alaska by John Green

36. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

35. A Great And Terrible Beauty series by Libba Bray

34. His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman

33. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

32. Romeo And Juliet by William Shakespeare

31. The Dark Divine by Bree Despain

30. Wicked Lovely series by Melissa Marr

29. Forest of Hands And Teeth by Carrie Ryan

28. Holes by Louis Sacher

27. The Outsiders by SE Hinton

26. The Catcher In The Rye by JD Salinger

25. The Princess Bride by William Goldman (I'm reading this one now, for the second time)

24. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

23. The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank

22.Uglies series by Scott Westerfield

21. Beautiful Creatures by Margaret Stohl and Kami Garcia

20. Poison Study series by Maria V. Snyder

19. Book Thief by Markus Zusak

18. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carlson Levine

17. Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead

16. Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick

15. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

14. Anne of Green Gables series by LM Montgomery

13. The Giver by Lois Lowry

12. The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare
11. Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

10. Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis

9. A Wrinkle In Time series by Madeline L'engle

8. Graceling series by Kristin Cashore

7. Percy Jackson And The Olympians by Rick Riordan

6. Nick And Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

5. Pride And Prejudice by Jane Austen
4. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

3. Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer

2. Harry Potter series by JK Rowling

1. The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins

I'm ashamed to say I've only read 22 of these books, BUT I've read 8 of the top 10, so that's pretty good, right? 17 of these books are on my To Be Read List. A few others need to be added to the list, so I'll keep this around as a reference.

April 17, 2010

Possible Cure for Writer's Block?

First off, a quick announcement! I've been writing a lot about Holly's How to Revise Your Novel class, but I know the price can be a deterrent. SO she's offering a 7-day Crash Revision course for $5!! The link is here, if you're interested.

Now. Down to business.
Julia Cameron, author of the bestseller, The Artist Way, has a tool for overcoming writer’s block that I'd like to try: Morning Pages. I heard about the method from Jennifer Blanchard. She explains the process in detail here, but I'll summarize:

Every morning when you wake up, before you do anything else, you write 3 pages. Hand-written, stream-of-consciousness... whatever is on your mind, write it out. Usually my mornings start off with "oh my goodness I have so much to do today, where do I start?". So I would write that down.

The beauty of this process is that you turn off your inner editor. This is stream-of-consciousness writing, so anything goes, it doesn't have to be "right" or "perfect" or even nice. You write whatever is on your brain. This process will tap into your Muse, giving it a chance to pour out creativity without having to battle the ever-editing left brain.

And apparently, all that stuff that you worry about, all those negative thoughts, will be voiced first thing in the morning, helping you to move past them and have a more productive, more positive day. (Who couldn't use that?)

  • Place a notebook and pen/pencil by your bed.
  • First thing when you wake up in the morning, grab your notebook and write 3 pages. Whatever comes to your mind.  
  • Don’t do anything else until you write your pages. In fact, you might as well just sit in bed and write them.  
  • Once you’ve finished three pages, close your notebook and get started with your day.

 Simple enough. I want to try it. 
Now, I'm not a morning person. Never have been. So giving up some of my precious sleep time will be difficult at first, but I'm sure it'll pay off. And it'll probably help me get onto a more consistent sleeping schedule, which I've been meaning to do for a while.
After two weeks, I'll report back and let you know how it's working. Now... where to find a blank notebook...

April 15, 2010

Tightening Conflict: Lesson 5

To read my thoughts on all the How to Revise Your Novel lessons, click here.

Lesson 5 is all about Tightening Conflict. Boy, did I need this. I have a lot of conflict in my book. Mostly because it's been beaten into my head a few times that EVERY SCENE NEEDS CONFLICT! Yes, every scene. So I thought I had this lesson in the bag.

Um, no.

Conflict has to matter. The stakes have to be high. We've all heard this before, but Lesson 5 made me face the fact that... well... apparently I've been ignoring that advice. Some of my conflict is a verbal disagreement. (Exciting, right?)

Um, no.

So I marked 21 scenes that need some serious help. Fortunately, Holly gave some great tools for how to ratchet up the level of conflict. Things like taking the conflict to a different location, one that has mare risk. I'm considering using this in one of my early scenes. My MC wants to talk to this ghost, so she tells her friend to go on ahead to school while she skips class. So the hero and heroine have a nice, uninterrupted (boring) conversation off-campus.

BUT what if I took it to the school and she's trying to sneak around, trying to find a place to talk to this guy without getting detention?

(And--just a thought here--what if she fails and gets detention? There's a whole scene of potential conflict in there. Trust me, it's there.) I could have my heroine get in serious trouble for skipping. That could increase conflict.

The possibilities are endless, as always. That's what makes it hard.

April 13, 2010

How to Write A Great Beginning

I've posted on beginnings before, but it was mostly about How Not to Begin Your Novel. Since then, I've found some helpful sources that tell what you should do.

One thing I love about Darcy Pattison is the way things are spelled out so precisely. (I like it when people explain everyday processes into tiny, easy-to-digest pieces.) 12 Ways to Open Your Novel is no different. Seriously, it doesn't get any simpler than this. Here are literally 12 opening lines/techniques that have been successful in the past, complete with examples.

How To Write Your Novel's First Chapter according to C. Patrick Shultz:  POV, setting, a mystery, a fascinating character... these are all great ways to grab a reader. And you need to grab a reader quick.

James Scott Bell has a different approach to a similar task: to Grab Them On Page One, you need to start by stirring the pot. Start at the point where things change for the main character, with a disturbance.

Larry Brooks never ceases to impress. The Single Most Powerful Tool You'll Ever See that Fits on One Page is his fantastic list of must-haves for your story (which centers around how you begin, of course).

I hope these help you as much as they helped me.

April 10, 2010

More Crackin' on Character Building

By the way, if you're not an avid reader of this blog and you need help with your characters, I have more than a dozen posts on the subject.

But, if you've read all that and are thirsty for more, here you go!

It's all about the villain, right? I've posted about villains before, but this article was fantastic: Beyond Bastards, Bullies, and Bad Girls breaks down just what an antagonist is, why an antagonist is not necessarily a villain, and how to make their roles pivotal and complex.

Taking it down a notch, here's an article on the basics of Character Development. Maybe you think you need to know more about your character, but are unsure of which questions to ask. This can help.

I've written about this one before and how it helped me, but I gotta share it again. Mary at Kidlit posted on Character-Driven Plots and has a phenomenal list of questions to ask your characters. Seriously. Go. Now.

Do you love your main character? Why? Author Becky Levine shares Why She Loves Her Main Character. I thought this was just so inspiring. This is how I want to feel/write my characters.

April 8, 2010

Identify Your Main Plot (and your subplots)

To read my thoughts on all the How to Revise Your Novel lessons, click here.

Lesson 4 was interesting. I'd never seen this done before. We created a one-line summary of our book (which is highly recommended, btw). It has the protagonist, antagonist, conflict, twist, and setting.

Then we marked every scene that directly correlated with that sentence. Suprisingly, about half of my scenes fell into that category, maybe less.

So what about the rest of the scenes? We grouped them and labeled them as various subplots. Seeing so many scenes that enriched my plot, but weren't the lifeblood of the story made me feel a lot better about rearranging some things.

I noticed that I have a subplot that pushes into my main plot. Two "subplot characters" manage to take a lot of decision-making (and glory) from my heroine. That just can't happen. So there's going to need to be some serious revising of that subplot and those characters.

Thank goodness I caught that!

April 6, 2010

Let's Get Crackin': Character Building

Okay, the How to Revise Your Novel class that I'm taking has really picked up speed. I don't want to bog you down with what I'm doing in that class, so I'm going to reserve those posts for Thursday.

But since today is Tuesday, I'll be talking about... Characters!

Big topic, I know. But I have so many links and goodies, I'm busting at the seams. So let's get to it!

First off, if you want to build good characters, you HAVE to read everything you can from the blog Plot to Punctuation. This blog has a number of series on character development, all of which are worth reading all the way through. But, here are my favorites:

How to Revise Your Character's Attitudes: consider complexity and consistency when creating your character's beliefs and attitudes. Includes a few methods and techniques for getting to know your characters and why they behave/believe the way they do.
Great Characters are Like Origami: A step-by-step on how to create believable, authentic characters from the ground up.
The Five Stages of Grief: The latest series on this blog. Fiction is all about having your character's world come crashing down. So, how should your character react to crises? These posts have the answer.
How to Revise Your Character's Mannerisms: this is something I struggle with. We all have our own ways of moving, our habits, our ticks, our quirks. Here's how to make your characters' mannerisms consistent and believable.
Why You Sholud Steal Your Character's Shoes: Why heroic, perfect characters are boring, and how to fix it.

Whew! That's probably enough for today. (A BIG thanks to P2P editor!)
I'll wrap up characters on Saturday.

(By the way, some people have mentioned that my links should open up a new window. I will start trying to implement that. Hope this helps!)

April 5, 2010

Let's Try This Again

I found an even simpler, more versatile template. So... I changed things up again. :)

April 3, 2010

Happily Ever After is Hard Work!

In my church, we're called upon to serve in various areas. We don't have a paid clergy. Recently, I was asked to be a part of the youth program. I now work with the young women (ages 12-18) which I absolutely LOVE.

As part of this job, I watch what's called the Young Women General Broadcast where the world leaders of the church speak directly to the young women, their mothers, and the young women leaders (that's me!).

Overall, it was very nice, but President Dieter F. Uchtdorf (second counselor over the entire church) gave a talk that really struck a chord with me. He began talking about fairy tales and all the adversities the characters go through before they reach their "happily ever after".

He went on to talk about how we need the bitter in order to taste the sweet. A marathon runner feels so fantastic at the finish line because of the hours of pain she experienced before. He tells of his personal experiences with heartache as he tried to win the heart of a beautiful girl (and how sweet it was when he did).

I can't wait to look up this talk later. It should be here soon.

But it got me thinking.

We all suffer. Some more than others. And sometimes we feel very much alone. President Uchtdorf encouraged us to turn to the Lord, who knows you so well and is familiar with your adversity.

But, obsessive nerd that I am, I thought about fiction. We're told that a character must suffer in order to be interesting. There needs to be something at stake. There needs to be conflict. Otherwise, what's the point? It's boring.

Why? Don't we strive for easy lives? Wouldn't it be great if our characters could be interesting and carefree?

I think that everyone is looking for their own "happily ever after", but it's not easy. I think, as humans living this life, we like to know that we're not the only ones that have to work for our happy ending. We want to see others overcome adversity and hardship so we can have more hope for our own circumstances.

Sure, a character's hardship may come from aliens or dragons or ninjas, but that just makes it all the better. We're taken out of our own worlds and sent into a new one.

Even in this new world, completely different from our own, there is hardship. There's pain and suffering and struggle. My conflicts seem normal by comparison. They seem more... conquerable.

All characters have to have flaws for the same reason. We lose interest if a character is flawless and wonderful in every way. Because then we can tell ourselves: if that (imperfect) character can overcome her problems, I have a chance too.

Hardship is necessary, in life and fiction. Without it, we can't grow. We wouldn't learn anything, and we'd be helpless as infants. Yes, it's hard. Of course it is. That's the point.

Just remember: the harder you have to work for something, the sweeter it is.

April 1, 2010

My thoughts on Lesson 3

To read my thoughts on all the How to Revise Your Novel lessons, click here.

Wow, lesson 3 took no time at all. 2 days, that's it! This lesson is pretty simple: create a sentence describing each scene, using the protagonist, conflict, antagonist, twist, and setting. I've used this technique before in How to Think Sideways. I even posted some examples of this technique as I edited this same manuscript the first time.

So I got crackin'. At first, I was doing pretty well. I had good, solid scenes with conflict and twists and everything. Then I got to some of those half-scenes. You know what I'm talking about. Those one-page "scenes" that consist of a conversation or a character thinking something or maybe getting back to everyday life. Those scenes where nothing pertaining to the story happens. I probably have about ten of those.

The problem is, most of those scenes have my hero and heroine in them. The scene develops their relationship. So the scenes need to be in there. I can't just delete them. I'm going to need to flesh out these half-scenes. They need to have conflict, something at stake. And it needs to tie in with the story.

I think I've got my work cut out for me.
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