5000 and counting!

5000 views jae

I can’t believe how my lil Lit and Scribbles is getting all grown up and viewed. I know the 5000 mark happened a couple of weeks ago, but dang people, it was going to be the end of the world. I might never have reached 6000. Anything could have happened!

Either way, welcome to the 5000 celebration!

So it got me thinking. What could I do for a 5000 hits party? 5000 things of awesomeness? I don’t have 5000 followers or blog posts—yet. Well, since the trend lately has been animated gifs, I thought why not mix that with 5 of the biggest events make one, because one is hard enough while linking to the 5 biggest events that have happened while I’ve been on the blogosphere.


I went to the Backspace Writers Conference and posted all of my notes. There I met a lot of new friends, including the ladies over at Mystic Cooking. It certainly was a lot of fun to go back to NYC again, check out a few sites and eat very well. I learned a lot at the conference too, some of it hard to swallow at first, but it made me do a major rewrite on SHADE that probably helped me win at other things that happened later in the year.

Jae New York City

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Workshop by Donald Maass (BSKP Notes)

Who is Donald Maass you ask?  You haven’t reached the querying stage yet, have you?  Aside from owning a very successful literary agency, Mr. Maass has written a few books, one in particular called Writing the Breakout Novel.  He also holds workshops on that same subject.  I know some of you may be skeptical of another how-to book, but I think after you go through my notes you’ll see how incredibly knowledgeable he is and will likely want to stop by Amazon.com to pick up his book after you’ve finished here.

Get your novel out, even if only mentally, and have it at the ready as you go through these notes.  You’ll probably be making a few of your own.  So, without further ado, the notes:

Start with your protagonist.  List them on the page.  There are typically three types of protagonists.  The everyman, the hero/heroine, and the dark protagonist.


The everyman is exactly what the name implies.  Someone like us, someone we can easily slip into and experience the world with.  He’s more likely to react realistically to situations, though not as much in an epic heroic way.  (If you need more on an everyman, try here.)  If your protagonist is an everyman type, then consider the following questions:

  • What is this character’s most outstanding quality?
  • What makes them good, unique, strong?
  • How can the readers experience a little bit of the best of this character on the first page?


Again, a bit more obvious.  He’s heroic.  He may have super powers, he may not.  He’s out to save the day, even if he’s reluctant to do so at first.  If your protagonist is a hero/heroine type, then consider these questions:

  • What is one way in which this character is perfectly human and ordinary like everyone else?
  • How can the readers see this in the first 5 pages of the story?


He’s flawed, maybe even severely.  He may be depressed, he may have horrors in his past or demons in his mind (literally or figuratively).  If you have a dark protagonist:

  • What is one way in which this character would like to change?
  • How can the readers see this in the first 5 pages of the story?

If you have multiple protagonists, pick the one with the highest conflict and use them for these notes.  We all have strengths and so do  your characters.  If you find yourself resisting certain changes or directions to go with your novel, remember that resistance is good, resistance is your friend.  We feel the most resistance on things we most need to work on.  Make a note of your resistances.

Similar circumstances don’t make you care about people–or stories.  You care when you see the good characteristics.  Don’t make your heroes too perfect or your readers won’t be able to connect.  And your dark protagonists should be longing for something better.


  1. They’ve created characters we don’t care about right away.  What is the inner change the character wants to make.  What is the character grappling with?
  2. And insufficient microtension.

Go back to your protagonist.  What is your protagonist’s defining quality?  What makes them, them?  Finish this sentence, they’re the kind of person who….

Show different dimensions–more sides of the character.  Find two other ways to open your character up and show another side of them we don’t normally see.

In a calm moment, what would this character like to do right now?  Acting out is dramatic.  For our characters it’s often faster and bigger than we would do.  Novelists sometimes take the smaller actions, because they’re safe.  When it’s boring in your book, try letting the character do what they’d want to do.  You’ve got to violate people’s expectations to some degree.


What is your character’s main problem?  What would make this problem matter more?  How is this problem a challenge?  Why is it something the character must do?

Now that you’ve written all that down, what would make it matter even more?  Is your character the only one who feels this way?  Why?  Why would they bother to take care of their problem? Is this a part of something else?   When will you reveal the connections?

How can you make it matter even more than that?  Is it connected to their childhood?  What is the secret connection for your protagonist?  What was the hurt?  How does the current problem push that button?


What is it the protagonist most wants?  What’s the opposite of that?  Can your character want both, even a little?  When is the first moment your protagonist wants the opposite?  Can you make it sharper?  Can you make them go the opposite way?  Can they embrace something they  don’t believe?  What is the first moment the character becomes aware of wanting the opposite?

What is the second moment?  What is a trigger for them?  A point of frustration?  What do they do to take the opposite direction?  When your protagonist is stuck, tape their mouth shut.  What do they do in that situation? (Not that their mouth is literally taped shut.)

In the third moment, what propels them in the opposite direction?  Is it chaotic?  Do they behave selfishly?  Get angry?  Whom can they offend, hurt, insult?

When do they say “I quit,” or they leave their quest/goal and walk away?  What does it mean to burn bridges for them?  What would mean there’s no going back?  What is it they can do that’s over the top, out of bounds, that ordinary people won’t do?  How far can you make them go?

In what ways is your protagonist conflicted?  Can you hold a conversation in your head with your character?  When characters are conflicted, we want to resolve them.  Your readers may end up thinking about that character even though the story resolves.  (And that’s a good thing, you want memorable characters.)


What is the external problem?  What is it we find or get to uncover?  What does it mean to grow up or mature?

How can the problem get bigger?  Who else is hurt if the problem isn’t fixed?  How can the problem cost more?  What help does the protagonist have that can be taken away?  Does he have allies or friends?  Can they be taken away?

How can this problem get even worse?  Who can be destroyed?  What are some consequences if the problem isn’t solved?  What are some aspects of the problem you haven’t touched?  What are some ways the problem can affect the story that you haven’t thought of?  Who is counting on the protagonist?  Who can the protagonist trust?  Who can the protagonist let down?  What would be shattering?  Why does the community need this problem solved?  Why does it matter?  How can it become more important?

Who is the pessimist (not necessarily the antagonist)?  Who will love when the protagonist fails?  Who will be proven right?  Who is constructing the protagonist’s humiliation?

How can we make it even worse?  Let’s give the problem a mind of its own.  What’s the thing your protagonist wants least to have happen?  What are the circumstances of actual failure?  (And by the way, many of the novelists in the room at this point said they couldn’t make it any worse because their protagonist is dead.  But Mr. Maass reminded us all that there are things far worse than death our characters could experience.  So try to think what’s worse than death?)

The next 30 pages after the worst…

  • What does the character learn?
  • What is the first thing that is going to change?
  • What begins to change?
  • What has your villain overlooked?
  • Who returns to the protagonist’s side?
  • What kind of understanding or insight might be given to the protagonist?
  • Maybe the circumstances aren’t as good/bad as everyone thought?
  • What’s the first thing that can go right?

The next 20 pages after that…

  • What is success now?
  • Who can change?
  • How can they solve it?
  • Do they work with somebody?
  • What wasn’t possible before?
  • How can your antagonist overlook things?
  • Who can say to your protagonist, we need you, come back?
  • Why do they come back?
  • What did they not burn down?
  • Is there something humbling, some forgiveness?
  • Is there a way for things to come out okay, well enough, differently than we expected?
  • What’s one outcome the protagonist never expected?  What is the silver lining?
  • Who else can change?
  • Can you give the protagonist a reward?  What is it?
  • What do they feel they don’t deserve that they can get?
  • Even though the worst has happened, is there still a way back?
  • Can you do a happy ending?

Go through your own notes.  Is there something useful you discovered?  Can you add some or all of this to your story?  Almost every manuscript needs more stuff in the middle.

For the blah scene (the one you find the least interesting, but feel it’s still necessary).  At the end of the scene, write down what is different than when it began.  What is the exact point when things change?  What is it that causes the protagonist’s brain to go ding!  That moment is the scene.  It’s the turning point of the scene.  Now, how much of the rest of the scene can you cut?

When creating scenes, remember to always: ARRIVE LATE and LEAVE EARLY.

As your POV character walks into the scene, they should want something.  Whatever they want, do they avoid it or not?  If it’s positive, what are three things that suggest it will be negative?  If it’s negative, what are three things that suggest they will get what they want?

What are three things that send the reader’s expectation in the wrong direction before the outcome?  Write down two things the POV character will notice in the scene that no one else does.  It might be taste, smell, a shift in a relationship, a mood, etc.  Is it an abstract thing that can change?

What’s the mood in your scene?  What’s the public collective mood?  How does your protagonist or POV character change by the end of the scene?  Who are you at the beginning–who are you at the end of the scene?  Can you put a name to what has changed in the scene?  There are inner and outer turning points.  Can you rewrite the scene–not revise–completely rewrite?  What if you picked 4 blah scenes to do this with?  (I tried this with my first chapter.  I opened up a new Word doc and wrote something completely new with out referring to the old stuff at all.  I came out with something much, much stronger.  I recommend you try it with whichever chapter(s) or scene(s) you choose to rewrite.)


Tension is what drives your story.  There should be tension in macroplot, floor by floor, and line by line (called microtension). The effect in the mind of the reader will be momentary uncertainty that makes them anxious or uneasy.  It should unsettle them.  The constant simmer can occur with dialogue, action, or exposition.

Remember that in dialogue, where there is agreement there is no tension.  Tension is based in opposition.

Action cannot generate tension only a character and their feelings can create tension.  Actions themselves don’t create tension, but what we do with it.  Have contrasting and conflicting emotions.

Read your manuscript in a completely random order.  Look at each page and ask yourself how do I add tension to these characters?  Do this one page at a time on every page.  As you practice microtension it will get better.

Your goal is uneasiness in the reader.  It’s the emotional undercurrents of the fighting.  There’s not enough tension in most aspiring novelist’s manuscript.  “Trust me, I’ve read your manuscripts,” he quipped.

Mr. Maass is holding more extensive workshops, covering some of what he did here, but more in depth.  He holds them at various locations across the country.  Check the schedule here.

He also has another book out filled with prompts, as he puts it “to help you move from blah to breakout.”  And you can also follow him on Twitter where he sometimes offers advice and prompts.  You can see some of the prompts from 2011 on the agency site as well.


And that, ladies and gents, brings us to the end of the Backspace Writers Conference notes.  I hope these have been helpful to you in improving your writing.  Let’s get cracking on our rewrites so we can soon join the ranks of the others they call published!

Have any advice you’d like to add?  Stick it in the comments below.

Workshop by David L. Robbins (BKSP notes)

David L. Robbins, for those who don’t know, has authored eight novels, and teaches at the College of William and Mary.  You can read more about him and his book on his website.  I found the advice he gave during the conference very helpful.  And now, notes from his workshop:

First of all, try and look at your story like a reader.  Approach it with only the information they would have.  Is there enough information?  Too much?  Does your character have knowledge they shouldn’t have?  This is a difficult thing to do (because we see the story in our minds perfectly) but do your best to pull yourself out of your head and take only the info given by the words you’ve put on the page.


Know yourself as an artist.  Figure out what your process is.  Do you begin with the place?  Do you build the world and figure out how it runs first?  Or maybe you start with the character.  Once you know who your protagonist is you build from there.  Or is it a scene?  Do you have an idea for a scene and try to bring the world and character into it to see what happens?  Knowing how you like to start creating helps you understand your process so you can get started.

David says he holds auditions for characters in his head.  He says to interview the characters that can tell your story.  Is the character you want to use too limited in their view of the world to convey the message you want?  What perspectives of the world would they have?  Find the character that can tell your story the way you want it told.  Avoid artificially using devices to drop info.  He often referred to the “phone call”–where the character who needs the information suddenly gets a mysterious phone call that tells them exactly who the murderer is.  Don’t let them find a letter where the killer has confessed everything, or where someone who would have known the information the whole time suddenly reveals that information.  (I think basically if it would be hoaky in a TV show, don’t do it.  I would sum it up as don’t be a lazy or cheap writer.)

Look for a story that’s difficult.  Look for something that challenges you.  Writer’s block is not writer’s block.  It’s a moment to go from good story to great story–if you take the time to figure the problem out.

He also recommended doing original site visits when possible.  In this moment I think he was referring to historical fiction, but this could apply to any genre, even sci-fi or fantasy.  He said you’ll catch things on site you might not think of otherwise–little details that give your writing that extra degree of authenticity.  (For example, are your characters camping in the woods?  They may be on another planet, but going camping yourself and thinking about your story in that setting can bring you those details–especially if you’ve never been camping before.  You may not be able to go on a spaceship, but you could tour a submarine to get a feel for the enclosed space.  Maybe you tour a warehouse that holds similar images of parts of the ship in your head.  Find places to grab the texture you need to add to your story.)


Point of view is everything, because everything is point of view.  You build tension in POV and tension drives the story.  This is harder to do in first person because your narrative is limited.  POV helps your reader empathize with your character.  The default setting for your reader is that they come to your story already wanting to be attached to it.  Your job is to not sabotage that.

Don’t write in a way that your character is aware of their body, like he could feel his hand shake.  (And often could will be an indicator of that).  Take out every facial expression.  You can’t see your own face twisted up in pain.  (I didn’t completely agree with this.  He said you can’t feel yourself blushing either, but clearly he’s never been a girl. 😉 )  Think of it this way, if you have to tell me, it’s not working.  For instance, if you have to write, he said nervously, then you’re not setting up right.  His point was that you should create a situation where that’s naturally assumed, no tags needed.

Don’t write about silence.  Don’t waste words.  Don’t state the obvious.  Try not to tell the reader things they already knew.  Example: “What the @$%# is the matter with you?” she yelled angrily. (As opposed to she whispered sweetly?  Anger is obvious.)


Design characters that are distinct.  Create characters that have motivations–that want something.  We’re storytellers, not commentarians.  The why is character.  Characters drive the story.  Keep them actively engaged.  Don’t write stories about people who are acted upon–no victims (meaning they stay victims).  Record what the character does between plot points.  Using baseball, don’t let your character go anywhere but first, but let your character show you how they are going to get there.  Don’t recollect what they do.  Be the writer who was at the scene only moments ago who recorded what they did.

Have your character view the world in their point of view.  Two characters in your story may view something like a castle very differently, but the castle remains physically the same.   (I think what he means is your protagonist could remember fond memories of her cat when she sees a stray cat crossing the road, while your protag’s best friend hates that cat and all cats guts for clawing her face off when she was little.  Same cat, different reactions).

Don’t mention things unless they matter.  Don’t bring up how well your protagonist sings if they never ever sing the rest of the entire book (and not because they’re scared to do it).  Don’t mention PhDs, trunks of clothes, etc., unless they matter.

When writing an antagonist there seems to be a 3 1/2 conflict law.  Your protag may be facing people, forces–anything that can overwhelm them.  The conflict should go like this:

  1. The good guy wins.
  2. The conflict is bigger and the bad guy wins.
  3. There is a 1/2 confrontation (they may start a fight and get interrupted)
  4. The big resolution (good guy wins).

Give your antagonist real power, force, and/or charm in the plot.


Stakes matter a great deal.  If there aren’t any stakes, there isn’t any story.  Write scenes that develop stakes.  Characters should really want something.  Create tension to do this.  Tension is imbalance.  Keep the agendas wide open in the scenes.  Sometimes you’ll have to create a character who reveals the stakes (though not someone who says, “And the stakes are this…”)

When you’re resolving a scene or the whole story itself, make sure it satisfies what you promised–even if it does it in an unexpected way.  And don’t let a fire, flood, or random act of God resolve the story–aka don’t be lazy just because it was hard to think of an ending.


Embrace the place.  Be in the moment.  Let your reader feel the place your character is in.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be pleasant, but definitely vivid.  Integrate place into your story.  Pick locations that amplify your character.  Make sure location has to do with the characters and the story.  Place has to come before everything else.


Precision is concision.  Never let two words do the work of one.  Write the components, leave out the sum (or telling how they feel).  Never have anything on the page your character doesn’t think about.  Don’t engage in back story unless your character thinks of it.  Do not write at any moments other than your best moments.  Do what it takes to maintain your health, welfare, etc. so you can focus.

And lastly, remember that a “no” just means this is not the path, not that this is the end.

Keynote by Lauren Baratz-Logsted (BSKP Notes)

Lauren was a great end of the day keynote.  I think many of us were feeling overwhelmed by how far we needed to go with improving our books and Lauren was that bright ray that said: Don’t worry, you can do this.  I recommend you check out her book “The Twin’s Daughter.”  I’m maybe halfway through and so far I’ve enjoyed the imagery and story she’s weaved together.  You can find Lauren here.  Now onto the notes!

Don’t chase trends.  Write what you want to read.  If you try and chase a trend by the time you have a book written the trend will likely have come and gone.  Set daily goals for yourself in your writing.  Doing this is taking control of your writing career and moving forward.  And if at first you don’t succeed, write another book.  (And personally I think you can shelf a book you created and come back to it later.  You never truly have to “throw them away.”)

Gather all the wisdom you can so you are able to make the best decisions about both creating and polishing your work.  The two biggest mistakes you can make: 1) listen to all the advice you’re given, 2) ignore all the advice you’re given.  It’s a happy medium you must determine yourself.

On agents, ideally they want to work with you on improving your book.  Ask your agent about any questions they have as well as some of your own on the feedback they might give you.


Don’t get teary-eyed.  Don’t have a knee jerk reaction.  The best thing you can do is to say, “Thank you.  You’ve given me a lot to think about.”  What she means is don’t get defensive about your work.  The feedback might be right, or it might be wrong.  Give yourself time to really consider the suggestions you’ve received so you can know whether to accept or ignore it.  Also, you don’t want to discourage beta readers from ever helping you out again.  You need them to be honest.  Your chances of getting published are much better when you’ve polished your manuscript without your ego getting in the way.

She had a 3-tiered approach to revisions:

  1. Make minor changes first.
  2. Then make the mid-size changes
  3. Now the big revisions.

Sometimes you may feel discouraged by all the changes you need to make.  Starting with the simple things, like typos or grammar errors gets you into the groove to move onto the rest.  (I’ve found this to be true in my own experience).

When it comes to editorial advice, she says there are three kinds of changes:

  1. The obvious changes.  (This is likely grammar or typos–anything that once pointed out you easily agree need to be changed).
  2. Lateral changes.  (Where you please them, but it doesn’t change the book that much.  I think another way to approach this is assessing what it is exactly they’re saying doesn’t work and then applying your own ideas on how to make better.)
  3. The hell no changes.  (These are the changes that would alter your story past recognition to where you hate it.)

You have to balance out your writing.  Always write as an artist, but also write as a professional.  I think she meant be willing to take and apply criticism but remember that at the end of the day it’s your art, not anyone else’s.

When it comes time that you’ve been published, she said to apply the 5-minute rule.  That is to only give the reviews 5 minutes of your time.  Five minutes and then back to work.


We’re in the digital age, which means most of what we post online is usually permanent.  Don’t talk back to reviewers.  It makes you look unprofessional and thin-skinned.  The only instance when you should talk back is when they’ve accused you of plagiarism, but that’s it.  Don’t feed the trolls.  There will always be people who hate you, and often a lot of those people are generally miserable anyway and want to make you the same.  Don’t fall for their games.  Don’t look down on what other people write.  We’re all at different stages in our writing careers.  Be encouraging and building, not discouraging and destructive.  And don’t take it personally if other people look down on you.  We all have different tastes, and you can never please all of the people all of the time anyway.

Never tell an unpublished writer that it just takes talent.  Never say that published writers are lucky.  We are all one lucky break away from being published.  It only takes one yes.

Keep your mind running on two tracks at the same time.  On the one track, you want it to be published, but on the other track be pleased with progress, even small progress.  You cannot be a good writer without being a good reader first.  Get to know your market.  And lastly, the only person who can take you out of the game is you.

Social Marketing Your Book and Self (BKSP notes)

The first sin is social marketing is being boring.  Don’t be boring.  What I think they meant by this was don’t spam Twitter feeds pleading for people to look at your blog or book.  And don’t let an automated system do too much of the work, so that people realize it’s a robot and not you.  Finally, give them something worth following you for.

Social marketing is all about building your personal brand.  Thanks to the internet, you’re not just marketing your book, you’re also marketing yourself.  Since agents, editors and publishers alike will probably Google you, it’s best to control what’s being put out there about you on the web.  When posting on social media, post as though everyone who can read it has the power to fire you.  That may seem a little extreme, and a lot of people in the forum and on Twitter (of course we were tweeting this!) didn’t agree with it.  But as a writer you’re in a different place than the average Joe.  Average Joe can afford to rant about people and things and post crazy pictures, etc., etc., etc.  Average Joe isn’t trying to get a book published, and no one will probably ever Google him.

They suggested that you don’t try to master every social medium out there, but pick a couple and be really good at them.  Maybe it’s Facebook, Twittter, Linked In, blogging, etc.  Do you have a favorite author or even person that uses Twitter?  Read through their tweets and see how they interact with others.  You can do the same with agents and publishers and see how they interact with their writers.  This also goes for Facebook, blogs, etc.

Be personable not personal.  What does that mean?  Don’t rant about how much you hate your co-workers, or give TMI about the situation with your boyfriend, etc.  Think about what you’d like to read in a blog and the things you wouldn’t–then don’t write about the wouldn’t.  It’s all about controlling your online image.  While you’re Googling yourself, Google images too.  Are they the images you want yourself to be seen by?

Whatever stage you’re in with your writing career, have a place ready for potential fans to go.  Give them the kind of connection that makes them fans.  Know when others are having a conversation about you.  If someone says they like your book, say thank you!  But, remember someone out there will always hate you no matter what you do.  Repeat in your head the words “grace & dignity.”  Don’t respond to haters in an ugly way.  It reflects worse on you than them.  In most cases it’s probably best to be aware, but ignore.

Understand who your audience is for your book.  With social tools, especially Twitter, it’s not about building followers, it’s about building relationships.  But, social media should never take precedence over your writing.  Don’t get so involved in the promoting that you don’t make time for what you’re promoting in the first place.  You’re on the web for a reason.  If you need help controlling time-wasting on the web, they recommended 3 tools that shut down the parts of the internet that waste time:

You can follow these social media gurus on Twitter: Colleen Lindsay headed the panel with Dan Blank and Lauren Cerand.  They also recommended following a social media blogger named Cat Rambo.

I asked what hashtags they recommended for YA on Twitter.  They said #amwriting, #YAlitchat, and #fridayreads.