September 26, 2009

More Plot and Structure - 34 events

I know I already did a piece (or three) on Plot and Structure, but I couldn't keep this website to myself. Gerhi (who is taking How to Think Sideways) was analyzing some novels. (This is one of the HtTS lessons, and it's very extensive.) Anyway, Gerhi found 34 events you can use to write your novel. Pretty cool stuff.

September 24, 2009

Give Me Five Stars!

I entered a writing-related video contest. It's called The Worst Mistakes You Can Make on First Drafts. I chose #14: Fast Pacing. I get points for every time someone watches it and for how many stars it gets. Hope you like it!

**Special thanks to Rachel, Anna, and Sydney. You're so photogenic! :)

Writing Characters that Drive the Story

I'd highly recommend an article from QueryTracker called Plot vs. Character. It discusses the difference between a story that is driven by its characters and the way they change through the story and a plot-driven story, where action drives the story. This is my Achilles heel. I love for terrible things to happen to my characters. I have to really work hard to get them to act, rather than have things happen to them. If you like this article, and think it touches on something you need to work on, try this one by Jane Friedman.

Today, Rachelle Gardner hit this right on the head with her post: Is Your MC Proactive or Reactive? This is vital to any good story, and something a lot of us miss (especially in genre fiction).

September 23, 2009

Writing Characters that Have Depth

Jeff Colburn wrote an article on character development that mentions some things you need to know about your characters. I totally agree that you need to know these things. But that's not what gives your characters character. Character comes through decisions, needs, and hardship. If your protagonist grew up in a trailer park, that's fine. But if he resents his parents, hates his neighbors, and is stuck in a grade F school because of it, even better. But still dig deeper. Show the struggle. Live the conflict. That's how you can get real characters.

So how do you dig deeper? Funny you should ask, because QueryTracker has a terrific article on that as well. Character Development with a Theatrical Approach discusses techniques actors use to make their characters (and the lines they give) believable. This is a great article to read if your characters lack depth and emotion.

And for all you YA and middle grade writers out there, here's a must-read: Writing the Middle-Grade Novel By Kristi Holl. Seriously. It's brilliant. There are links that help you understand how being a kid is different now than it was 5, 10, or 50 years ago. It tells you what kids like in a book, what they're looking for, what's important to them. It covers dialogue, conflict, and setting. If you write for anyone younger than 18, or think you may want to in the future, this should go at the top of your list.

September 21, 2009

Writing Characters that You Care About

I figured I'd go back and hit a basic: Characters. How do you make them believable? Likable? Despicable? How do you make them matter? I think I'll turn to the experts on this one.

First, let's assume you have no idea what you're doing. You want to write a story with killer characters, but you don't know where to start. Holly Lisle (of course) covers this extensively in How to Think Sideways and her Create a Character Clinic. But if you're not into that, Holly did a great Blog Talk Radio episode where she goes through a (fairly lengthy but very detailed) exercise which will take you from ground zero into creating characters with need, a scene with sensory details, and conflict. Yes, it's that good. Here's the link. I recommend you download this as a podcast and pause it to do the writing parts. It took me an entire day to do the whole thing, just to warn you.

My personal recommendation is this: do not write your novel until you can breathe as your character. Do exercises, practice scenes, fill out charts, whatever you have to. But you're not ready to write your novel until you can be your character.

My own personal example:
For Shadow, the first character that lived for me wasn't my main character. It was her best friend, Lisa. I wrote out a couple of scenes between Lisa and Rachel to try and get a better feel for Rachel. One of those scenes had some nice dialogue between the two of them. Through that conversation, I was able to understand their relationship, and through that, Rachel. I really got to know Rachel and I found her through Lisa. That's when the story came alive. Incidently, that scene became the rough draft's opening scene. (That scene has been totally revamped, by the way. But the essence is still there.)

Anyway, the scene breathed because of Lisa. She doesn't play a huge role in the book, but without her, I wouldn't have given a hoot about anyone else. Lisa had needs. She was a regular teenager, but she lived in front of me.

Next Posts: Writing Characters that Have Depth and Writing Characters that Drive the Story

September 19, 2009

Killing Time Between Projects

I'm itching to get started on my next project: Phantom. But I'm making myself wait until October. As much as I want to buckle down and plan, I feel like I should let my brain rest a little from writing. I'm always amazed by how much good can come from breaks.

My main character is starting to take shape, though. An eighteen-year-old girl with a fiery personality. Not at all like Christine. (I always thought she was a bit of a wuss in the book.)

Waiting is tough. I focus on querying agents instead. And reading. Always lots of reading.

Which reminds me... look me up on It's a great website. You can use it to see what I'm currently reading. (Okay, I'll tell you. I'm reading The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan. It's fantastic.) I use Goodreads to keep track of my to-read list (which is constantly growing).

What are you reading?

September 18, 2009

Query Letters: How Much is Too Much?

As I query agents, I wonder what I should include and what is too much information. For example, I research the market. I wouldn't say I'm an expert, but I know things. I know:

--That YA sales haven't suffered from the falling market like other genres have. Neither has fantasy. (Or romance, if that's what you write.)
--I know that the market is saturated with vampire novels. Although they're still selling well, their sales are predicted to drop.
--Werewolves are in the same boat.

I want to tell agents what I know, but I don't want to come off as desperately clamoring for attention. I want agents to know that I'm aiming to reach fans of Stephenie Meyer and Patrcia Briggs (and I've included that in some of my queries), but I don't want to sound like, "Look, I'm just as good as Stephenie Meyer and Patricia Briggs."
Because let's face it--I'm not. Stephenie Meyer is a young writer, but her characters are amazingly real. Their dialogue, the voice, it's all there. Patricia Briggs also has a great voice and characters. And her stories have such depth, so many layers... No, I don't think I'm that good yet. But I hope to be.

Shadow has avoided vampires and werewolves and has a (relatively) new kind of paranormal: ghosts. Okay, ghosts aren't new, but my story uses ghosts as a medium for original ideas. The premise is, as far as I know, original. I've looked for books like mine. Either it's a relatively new idea, or I suck at looking.

So how does one say, "I know the market. I'm avoiding trends. I want to be as good as the best someday." ?

September 16, 2009

Your Story Needs to Change Your Characters

My writing class is going well. My first story was critiqued by the class on Monday. I think everyone liked it, but I need to go back and work on character development and setting.

This week's short story is a struggle. I think it's the deadline that's getting to me. The story is due on Friday and I've got an idea churning that's based (loosely) on someone else's memory. As I started plotting, the story turned into a retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. Unfortunately, I don't know how to end it and I'm still going to struggle with character development.

I think one thing a lot of beginning fantasy writers struggle with is their characters' personal development over the course of the novel. Typically (like in my first novel), things just happen to the character and the character has to solve a mystery and/or survive. A good story has characters with needs. A good story changes the characters in some way as they fight to meet those needs. I think a lot of us forget that sometimes.

September 15, 2009

How to Submit and Query Agents, Part 4

Since I'm really focusing on this at the moment, I've found a few extra tidbits on querying and finding an agent. (If you're interested in this, you can go back to Part 1 of this series.) Since I've already given you all I know on the subject, I'll just post what I've found during the last couple weeks or so.

Get Published Now has a mailing list you can sign up for. Several, in fact. You can choose what areas you're most interested in.

Molli Nickell does a lot for rising authors, especially when it comes to breaking in. Her blog, The Query Letter Wizard, focuses on--you guessed it--query letters. Everything from when to submit to how to craft and polish your letter.

Hope these help! I'm still submitting, but haven't heard back. The world of publishing works on a different clock. It could be several weeks before I even get a reply. I may start planning my next book a little early. :)

September 14, 2009

What Now? Life after the manuscript.

I think the manuscript is ready for submission. So right now, I'm nervous. I don't want to get my hopes up and then be let down, but I really think this one has a shot. It's ten times better than my last novel.

I've already sent 7 queries--my top picks. I'm on edge, expecting a reply any day, though it could take months. I'm still researching queries and agents and all that good stuff. I think I'll write another post on the subject, since I've found some good stuff.

So for the rest of the month, I'll submit my story to a few agents a day until I've exhausted my list of potentials. Starting October 1, I'll begin planning my phantom novel :) I'm excited about that. I may not be able to wait.

September 9, 2009

Breakneck Speed: Finish a Novel in Four Months?

I did it! I finished Shadow Bound. Don't get me wrong, I worked hard for those four months, but consistency is key. Writing every day, 5 days a week gets results. This novel has made me realize the importance of setting goals. Some of mine?
Edit 15 pages a day (not including new scenes)
Write 500 words a day/2500 words a week (I wound up going way over this, by the way, but setting smaller goals encouraged me to at least sit down and get something done. )
Query at least 5 agents a week (still working on this one)

50,000 words is a little shorter than I would have liked, but for the genre, it fits the range. Now, all I need to do is submit to agents and gracefully handle rejections until I get an offer. Keep your fingers crossed!

September 7, 2009

Most Productive Day. Ever.

Sometimes, the Muse sings. Sometimes, you have a really good work day and you get a lot done. Sometimes they both happen at once and you get a massive amount of genius. Yeah, I don't mean to brag, but today was a massive amount of genius.

As I edited my first draft today, I found that a few scenes were missing. So I added those. I typed up the pages I had marked from my hard copy pass, too. Overall, I edited 36 pages of manuscript and added nearly 4,200 words to the original work!
Thanks to Liquid Story Binder, I know that it took me all of six hours of actual work to do it.

I have never written that many words in one day before. Ever. Not in first drafts, not during NaNoWriMo. 4,200 words is a lot. To put it in perspective, if I wrote this many words every day, I could finish a novel in 12 days.

So, bear with me as I bask in my own glory. **sigh** ;)

**Just a side note, I'm not that into myself. It's supposed to be funny

September 3, 2009

Question & Answer: Where are you in the process?

I thought I'd do a short update post in response to a comment on my post How to Submit and Query Agents, Part 3:

Wow, Emily. I like your blog. It has a lot of useful information. I have a question for you: Have you actually started the Query process? Or are you working on your Query letter? Have you gotten any bites? I'm interested to know what you are going through right now with your novel and if you think you spent enough time revising it or not.

Thanks, I'm glad to hear my blog is helpful! I queried for my last manuscript (a lot). No bites on that one.
For my current project, I'm compiling a list of possibilites (I have about 20 so far). I'm also working on my query letter in between editing sessions. I think it's pretty polished up at this point and may be done.
I think Holly's one-pass is working really well, but I think I'll print it out when I'm done and read through it (maybe out loud) to catch any little things I may have missed.

September 2, 2009

How to Submit and Query Agents, Part 3

First, Authorial, Agently and Personal Ramblings has a list of Query Dos and Don'ts that provides an excellent segue from Part 2 to Part 3.

So you know what agents you'd like to query. The big question: How do you query?
There's so much advice out there, I don't know where to begin.

Okay, first: be polite.
Second, get the agent's name right.
Third, make sure to include your contact information.
Fourth, include your book's title, genre, and word count.
Without these, you may as well bang your head against a wall.

Then try How to Get An Agent. Robert Gregory Browne gives a breakdown of the "logline". If you have a good logline (or The Sentence, as Holly Lisle calls it), you'll at least get your foot in the door.

Dame Devon from Deadline Dames says, "The most important thing is that it makes your book sound exciting, interesting, engaging. It’s a sales tool, not a dictionary entry." This is so true! I know it may seem obvious, but your job is to make the book sound interesting. Your job is NOT to list plot points. It's like the hook that you might read on the back cover of a book. They give you just enough that you know what kind of book it's going to be, and hopefully, the hook makes you ask enough questions that you want to read the book.

17 Reasons Manuscripts are Rejected is a list of what not to do. It has some pretty good tips.

And then you get to worry about all the other stuff, as listed in: What you can do: Twelve Easy Steps. Yeah, it's a long road. Hope you love what you do!

Dame Jackie of Deadline Dames wrote three articles about submitting to agents. The first is here.

Part 1 of Querying Agents here.
The next part, Querying Agents Part 4, is here.

September 1, 2009

How to Submit and Query Agents, Part 2

Now that you know the basics, how do you know who to submit to?

Honestly, a huge part is personality, which I can't help you with. Sorry.
I can help you narrow it down. Hopefully, you've done your research and have gone to the websites I gave you in Part 1. If not, I'd highly recommend you go back and do that.

After that, what I do is start pulling up the websites of literary agencies. That's right. One. At. A. Time. It's tedious. It takes forever. But I like to be thorough. Like I said before, I use QueryTracker to do this. I search their database for any and all agencies that take the genre of my current book (in this case, young adult fantasy) and I get a handful of pages of agencies.

I'll go to each agency's website. First impression: Is the website professional looking? Do they publish books similar to mine (at least somewhat)? If so, I keep going.

Usually, they have a page that lists the agents that work at that particular literary agency. Go there. I read each bio and try to get a feel for which agent is the best fit for my book. Things I consider: what genres they take, how much experience they have, what authors they've worked with, and overall gut feeling.

DO NOT submit to more than one agent at the same agency. Find the best one for you and if you think it's a good fit, query him or her. If it's not a good fit, move on to the next agency.

Here's why: Let's say you have the next Twilight novel and you go to Good Publishing Literary Agency. (not a great name, but hey--I'm winging it.) Agent A represents paranormal romance and Agent B at the same agency represents young adult urban fantasy (most likely, there'll be some overlap). If you submit to agent A at Good Publishing Literary Agency and they decide it's not right for them, but that the book has great publishing potential, they'll forward it to agent B. (Maybe Agent A has a full plate or doesn't connect to your character's voice or whatever.)

Next, try to find Submission Guidelines. Each agency has its own preferences. Some may want you to include the first five pages posted at the bottom of your query. Others may want you to have something specific in the subject line. If you don't do this, your query may be deleted without anyone reading it. And that's bad.

Part 3: Query Letters and other fun stuff to send to agents
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