Monday’s Writerly Quote

I know many of us, especially us Row80ers, are in the midst of editing and revising. It can be one of the most difficult parts of the process, but it’s also the most necessary. This is where we take that lump of coal and eventually end up with a diamond.

Even Mark Twain agrees, in a way:

Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.

Okay, so it’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, but he’s right. The majority of us writers (and I really could say ‘all’ in that I haven’t run into a bad story ‘idea’ yet) have a fabulous story rumbling around in our minds. The issue is figuring out which words need to be crossed out as we translate from mind to paper.

Something we should all understand is that if we want to be great writers we will never stop editing. Let me say that one more time. If you want to be a great writer, you will never get to a point where you create a perfect first draft. You may create a pretty awesome first draft one day, but if you’re the type satisfied with mediocre effort, do us readers a favor and seek another career.

As a reader, I want the best from that author. I should want to do the same for my own readers, and I hope you do, too.

So embrace the editing process, friends. Let’s figure out which wrong words to cross out and show our readers stories they won’t be able to put down. Let’s never settle for mediocrity.

Do you like the editing process? Hate it? What have you done to help yourself better embrace it? How many drafts do you go through before you let anyone read your story?

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SMC: Triple Duty Writing

This brings us to the end of the Storymakers Conference notes. I hope you’ve found something helpful from reading these. Polish up those manuscripts, peeps, cuz I wanna read about how you landed agents or sold a bajillion copies on Amazon in the near future.

I’ve mentioned Clint Johnson before, who any of you can hire to critique your stuff via his site. He really knows his stuff and his forum was no exception to helpful tips. I give you last NOTES of the conference:

What is actually happening or going on in a story? There are three actions that generate what happens in a story.

  1. Advance Plot
  2. Setting Scene
  3. Revealing Character

Learn how to do all three of those motions simultaneously on the same page, in the same paragraph. Plot is not just a chronological unveiling of the events in your story. You can change the chronology to change the revealing of your story.

Setting limits within the scene dictates what can happen there. When you pick a place, remember that different places have different characters, your establishment of setting is going to affect those.

Revealed character is what makes your story matter. You can have set scene and have a plot that is completely advanced, and your story may still not matter. Characterization is the meaning..

Sometimes writers feel like they need to give us a block of backstory or a block of internalization. But anytime you have a block of anything, it’s a speed bump. The bigger the block, the bigger the bump, the more inertia you’re going to take away from your reader. Doing any one narrative action is bad.

Even if you know something that invests you, you’re using your previous knowledge to wade through the block. If you’re only using two of the three actions (from above), it’ll feel disembodied, or it’ll feel like nothing is happening or readers just won’t care. (And because I thought this next bit was especially good, I’m putting it in a block quote.)

Your story is not what happens. Your story is how your point of view character reacts to what happens.

Action only reveals so much meaning. Reaction is where the greatest amount of meaning comes from—especially in prose. Different mediums have different strengths, and what written prose does better than any other medium is it gives you access to the mind. We can slip into the mind any time we want. And we can’t escape the mind.

Your use of point of view is the key to being able to make everything you ever write matter.

It’s personalities that move an age, not politics – Oscar Wilde

If you begin with an individual you will find you have created a type (I think what he means by this is create an individual and let that individual reveal themselves to you and use what you have learned about the individual to create legitimate reactions within your writing). Begin with a type and you will find you have created nothing. (If you start with a characterization and don’t delve into what makes that character who he/she is, you will have a cliché and a flat character.)

The more we create an authentic individual we’ll find we’ve created a type. (And to go further into this, types in this sense are the Jack Bauers, Darth Vaders, Sarah Conners, i.e. the memorable characters).

In setting, you only record something important to the POV. Use POV to help it mean something. Two people can witness the exact same thing and have a completely different understanding of it. What you choose to describe tells you about the character.

WRITING EXERCISES

At this point he had us do some exercises. He had us look at the room we were in and pick out a detail about it to describe in prose. So, if you want to play along, look at the area where you’re seated and pick out a detail or two to describe that area to readers. Why did you choose the details that you chose?

Now imagine an old woman were to come into your area. What would she notice that would reveal to us something about her? Modern, uncomfortable furniture. Loud, obnoxious music? Etc? What about the main character of your novel? What would they immediately notice about your space? Use their reactions to what they see to tell your readers something about them without actually “telling” them.

After a little discussion on our choices, we moved to another writing exercise. He split us into groups and gave us a specific topic to write about. For our group the set up was this: a reporter at the beach discovers a dead body. We had to describe the scene pulling out details that would tell us our character was a reporter and also show our reporter’s reaction to finding the dead body.

Once we had written and discussed this, he had us switch the POV to a homeless man finding the body on the beach and his reaction. Then to compare and contrast the differences between the POVs encountering the same exact beach and the same exact situation. If you do this exercise, you’ll be surprised with how the story reads (or at least should) very differently for two different characters walking into the exact same scene.

CONTACT INFO

If you liked the sample of what you read here, you should really check out Clint’s site, especially for those of you thinking of self-publishing in the near future. I worked with him on the first 2 pages of my manuscript and found his insights to be extremely helpful and was astounded at how much he was able to read into the story with only 2 pages.

What do you think of Clint’s advice? Are you going to try the writing exercises? Have you considered approaching your writing in the way of your character’s reactions?

Storymakers Conference

For the first time I attended Storymakers that they typically hold in Provo, UT, and now I’m wondering what ever kept me away for so long. There are tons of helpful workshops, forums, and opportunities available to us aspiring writers—and of course, I’m going to do my best to share the experience with all of you who aren’t able to attend as many conferences as you’d like.

On Thursday I attended what they call “Boot Camp” which is where you take the first 15 pages of your novel and work with a published author on ways you can strengthen it. Of course, I’ve been eagerly applying those tips and have a much stronger first chapter for it. We were helped by and had the opportunity to help other aspiring writers. The ladies at my table both had phenomenal stories. If there’s one thing you learn at a conference, it’s that great ideas abound, but the real trouble is getting it on the page in a way that conveys that idea best to the reader. You hope your peers get published as much as you hope for yourself, because those are stories you want to read when they’re ready.

Friday is when the conference officially began. First on my docket was a workshop taught by agent Hannah Bowman. And without further ado, the notes:

WORKSHOP

High concept means you have a premise that instantly engages. For example, the movie Alien was sold as “jaws in space.” It’s important to have an engaging premise and that’s the first step in writing an engaging novel.

Example: “His Majesty’s Dragon

  • A character can be part of the premise
  • Romance premises are often based on characters

The point of a first chapter is to hook you in with the premise. The first chapter is like a short story. However, in a short story the conflict is worked out, but in a chapter it’s meant to lead you into the next chapter.

You can have the best premise in the whole world, but if things don’t keep happening in an interesting way, your book will fall flat. Hannah sees a lot of interesting premises, but admits many of them fall flat because the author didn’t continue fostering tension and more good ideas.

There should be one good idea on every page. Just one good idea alone is not enough for an entire novel.

CLIMAX

The climax should begin when the character is at their weakest point. All along the way to the climax, you should be making things worse for your character. Build your stakes gradually and show your audience why it matters so that when they reach the climax they’ll be fully invested in the story and find it “believable.” (For clarification, she means believable to the world of the story, not actually believable in reality.)

PITCHING

Your pitch should certainly include the premise, but that alone won’t make a good pitch. It should be the premise and something about the climax combined. Essentially you’re saying: here’s the premise, and here’s why it’s even more interesting.

She then had us take a break to work on creating a one-sentence pitch. You’ll want to identify how the conflict develops and what the climax is, but to take caution in making your pitch too plot-heavy. The point of the pitch is to sell the agent or person on reading the book. Your pitch won’t be a play-by-play synopsis. Also, it’s good if you can include some of the more unique elements of your book to make it feel less generic. There’s nothing new understand the sun, except perhaps for viewpoints. Show your agent why your book is that unique viewpoint.

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WFC – Dialogue Panel

In following with a pattern of sorts, I feel like one of my writing strengths is dialogue. So this time I decided to send the ego out for a break and find out if there was more I could learn. It’s good to strengthen your weaknesses, but even better to build up your strengths, right?

This was presented by Mette Ivie Harrison who spelled dialogue as dialog, which apparently is technically correct, but it bothered me the whole time! People, it’s D-I-A-L-O-G-U-E. Okay, enough of that. Onto the notes.

#1 DIALOGUE IS GREAT FOR GETTING TO KNOW CHARACTERS

Characters can talk about themselves to other characters. People naturally reveal themselves to others in conversation, but it must be comfortable. Avoid ‘uh’ ‘um’ etc.

Examples used: Code Name Verocity, Life As We Knew It

#2 DIALOGUE IS GREAT AT REVEALING CONFLICT

Each character wants something different. Each character should have a different verbal style to get this. One could be passive, the other aggressive. Shouting is not the only way to show conflict in dialogue. Whispering, twisting words, sarcasm—all work as well.

Example used: An Ideal Boyfriend

#3 DIALOGUE IS EXCELLENT FOR MOVING THE PLOT FORWARD

It can reveal information that is necessary for the resolution of plot, but be careful how you approach it. And it can resolve problems and conflicts.

Example used: The False Prince

#4 YOU CAN USE DIALOGUE TO CONVEY INFORMATION TO THE READER

But be careful of maid/butler dialogue. Those scenes where almost completely unimportant characters reveal the one piece of vital information that moves the plot forward. They can even be semi-important characters, but whose only purpose is to convey that information before disappearing completely or being killed. Point being, if they already know it they won’t talk about it. (This is something I didn’t like about Dr. Whatshisface in Pontypool.)

If you use this method, have a character who is ignorant be involved in the conversation. Or have the conversation be between two people who debate the info given. Take Harry Potter, for example. (KATE!) Because he doesn’t know the world, then he can explain it to the readers naturally.

JAE NOTE: At this point she generally quit selecting samples from other works and stuck to the ones she knows: her own. Sure, it’s perfectly fine to do a bit of shameless promotion of your own stuff. I don’t know that I’d feel comfortable even doing the one example. But anyway, it caused me to wonder if she doesn’t take as much time to read other things? I mean, go to Harry Potter if you need examples for crying out loud! 😉 Does anyone else feel like this was a bit self-serving? Anyway, for the rest of these, just go find one of Mette’s books, according to her.

#5 USE DIALOGUE TO MAKE THE READER FEEL EMOTION

Make the reader feel something is not the same as the characters feeling it. The characters may not react to pain, but the reader will. Characters may also not be able to cheer for a final kiss, but readers will.

#6 WHAT IS NOT SAID IS AS IMPORTANT AS WHAT IS SAID

Silence can be as potent a response as any paragraph of words. There is more than one way to convey silence. You can use misdirection figuratively and say everything but what will gradually become clear to the reader is truth (for that story. Also, I didn’t quite get what she meant. I think lead your readers down a wrong path, all the while laying the groundwork that shows them the truth they arrive at in the end was there all along).

Anyway, one of my favorite dialogue scenes is between Han and Leia. Because they knew Han’s character well enough, they knew this scene should play out exactly like this:

We were running out of time, so 7-9 she did rather fast. I couldn’t make many notes before she read more samples from her books.

#7 Use a twist to make your dialogue pop.
#8 Witty banter is an old classic of great dialogue.
#9 Zingers make great dialogue.

#10 DIALOGUE TAGS ARE IMPORTANT

But don’t overuse them. If it’s clear which character is speaking, you don’t need a tag. Don’t tell us the emotion conveyed if it’s already obvious.

Example used: The Queen of Attolia

JAE NOTE: She wanted to put in desperately for one of her samples, but I think you should write it so we can conclude that it is desperate. It’s harder, but your readers will appreciate it more.

CONCLUSION

Despite a few bothers, I still enjoyed attending this forum. All of these points served as good reminders. I intend to take all the points and see if they help me find areas where my novel’s dialogue could be improved.

Did you learn anything new? What are your writing strengths? Is dialogue one of them? Do you agree with her advice? Disagree?

Writing for Charity Conference

Last Saturday I attended the Writing for Charity Conference. This is my second year attending it and I found it just as helpful this year as I did last year. It’s only a one-day conference, but lots of published authors attend. Some give advice on your manuscripts and some give forums. And since they usually have a bunch of great authors come, it’s a worthwhile event.

Some of the authors in attendance included Ally Condie (Matched), Lisa Mangum (The Hourglass Door), Tyler Whitesides (Janitors), Carol Lynch Williams (The Chosen One), and of course Shannon Hale (Austenland). At the opening of the conference, all of the authors were on stage in a sort of introductory forum where attendees could ask questions. Shannon Hale was the MC, which if you’ve ever been around her before, you know is a wise choice. She’s hilarious!

Since I purchased a bluetooth keyboard a few months ago, I took it along with my phone to take notes. There’s something wonderful about being able to get things down via typing I’m much, much faster at it. Thanks to Open Office, notes were a snap.

Okay, so the microphone was passed along a group of about 20 authors, so I’m not sure who all said what, only that Shannon was running the mic back and forth across the stage as well as making little jokes.

CRITIQUING

All of them agreed one of the most important thing aspiring writers can do is have a critique group. Whether it’s friends you trust to be honest, CPs you trust over email, or your writer’s group—GET FEEDBACK. This will help your story and writing out immensely. Many authors also agreed reading your work aloud was extremely helpful with editing, especially when it comes to dialogue. In fact, one author even went so far as to say read it aloud with someone listening because you become even more self-conscious and will catch mistakes better that way. Another author says she has her husband read it aloud to her, stating she finds hearing it in someone else’s voice helps point out the flaws.

They said make sure every scene, every moment, every sentence, every word is doing something for your reader and not just the story. The point is to create an emotional experience for the reader. One said when you edit, read your story with a particular thing in mind. For example, read for humor, to see if the humor is working or not. Or read to see how pacing is flowing. Or read for certain characters to see if their motivations line up. Etc. Etc.

But the biggest point of all: Never stop revising.

OTHER TIDBITS

What’s the hardest thing about writing? These authors say: rejection. It never stops. You never really make it to a point where you’re not getting some kind of rejection. Whether it’s selling your next book, harsh feedback from an editor, a bad review—rejection is part of the cycle of being a serious writer. The point is to understand that and keep your goals in focus.

The best moments are when you know that the dream you’re choosing right now is the right dream. Shannon Hale, I believe, said she felt like she tried out a bunch of different possibilities and realized this was her dream. Another author said if she hadn’t made it as a writer, she’d probably be a librarian. But not the good kind, the reading-all-the-books and not-helping-the-patrons-kind. 😉

They also gave words of caution. Sometimes we writers are looking for some kind of magic formula, but there’s just not one. There’s no perfect plot device. There’s no shortcuts. It’s just going to be grueling, difficult work—but work that’s worthwhile.

Their advice on naming characters? When it comes to names, look at what you’re writing and have those names fit the book/setting. A lot said they used baby names books or websites. Once suggested a helpful resource: The Social Security popular baby names site. You can look up any year and found out what the most popular names were to give you an idea of what kinds of names you should use, especially if you’re doing historical fiction. But also if you’re writing contemporary YA, you can look up the year your character was born in and see what names were popular in that year. Fantastic!

MORE TO COME

Well, that was the first forum. There’s plenty more to come tomorrow and next week. Hopefully you’ll find some helpful tidbits among these notes. I know some of you have a difficult time getting out to conferences because of personal circumstances. I took these notes with you folks in mind. Maybe this can be a kind of vicarious attending of the conference. Enjoy!

The Writing Game

I’ve been working steadily on polishing my WIP Shade for probably two years now, with breaks in between for other projects. First it was having a friend who edits professionally go through it with me and changing it as I learned. Then it was doing a major rewrite after a conference. And then again with Pitch Wars.

I got to the point where I felt pretty confident about editing—as far as process goes. But that’s when I started to notice a shift in writing. When it came to starting brand new—and I’m talking a project you’re not sprucing up, I mean 100% scratch—it was hard to switch over from editing mode. Part of me felt like I had to edit as I went along. And I’m not discounting that, but I do think it can hinder creativity.

WRITING PHASES

If you’ve been in this game long enough, you’ve been through different writing phases. For me I see these stages as plotting, creating, and editing. There are complexities within those stages, but I think it’s sufficient enough to cover the areas of writing with these phases. You can be in all three at one time, but my philosophy is you’ll likely be in one of them more than another at different times while you create story.

And these stages don’t necessarily occur in that order. You might be creating, then decide it’s time for some plotting, and then go on to editing. There’s no wrong or right way when it comes to process, except to say do it right for you.

PLOTTING

This is the stage where ideas are knocking down your door. Maybe you can’t even sleep at night because ideas are bothering you so much. Scenes are vivid in your mind. You might take to outlining, if you’re a plotter like me. You may also do some research to help the plotting along in your mind. Perhaps you gather photographs or other things that remind you of the story bouncing around in your head.

Often I have to outline just so I can get some peace. It seems like during this stage it’s hard to stay focused on conversations. Sometimes books, too, are difficult to read because the ideas are flowing.

The upside is you’re on top of the world. You can’t stop creating and you hope you can somehow capture all of that wondrous creativity before you. For me, it’s like that scene in Tangled where they’re surrounded by sky lanterns. How can you possible focus on anything else when you’re surrounded by all of that?

tangled sky lanternsLife is good and you’ve got creativity flowing.

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Meeting Notes 10

It’s been a couple of months since my last Meeting Notes post. And to be honest, there haven’t been a ton of meetings lately, which for me is a good thing. Now, without further ado…

meeting notes jae

Sometimes I really have no idea what’s going to come out when I start doodling. I tend to like shading things and giving them a bit more of a 3D perspective, but I’ve always had an obsession with drawing eyes. I usually don’t doodle them, but this time I said what the poodoo, why not?

COMING SOON

Thanks to inspiration and a sort of reminder from Mayra, I’m going to work on presenting an editing series to go along with the How to Write a Novel Series and the How to Design a Book Cover series I’ve already featured here on the blog. I’m hoping all of you will add your own editing tips in the process.

I recently finished up another major edit session on SHADE and am going to tackle the query letter next. I have a decent one, but my mentor from Pitch Wars made some new suggestions, so I’m at it again. I think once I’ve got a copy we’re both happy with I might send it over to Janet Reid’s Query Shark blog and see what she has to say. It’s both frightening and thrilling at the same time.

I’m going to commit to writing the editing series for next week. You heard it here first. Look for the editing series next week. This will include advice on how to do it yourself, beta readers, writing groups, and when to seek a professional editor (yep, that’s a when). There’s a lot more resources available than you’d think, many of them free of charge—and they’ll improve your writing.

Anything you’re hoping to see coming out of the editing series? Anything you wish I would doodle while I was making my meeting notes? I’m up for requests or suggestions. Have you ever dared to submit to the Query Shark? Would you? Let me know below.