Friday, November 30, 2012

In Her Own Words

In my writing career, the only thing I can imagine that would be better than acquiring an agent and publisher for Half-Truths would be if one of my writing friends reached their goal of obtaining a publisher. 

And so I am super-abundantly happy to celebrate Linda Phillips' news. Two years ago I shared how she landed an agent. Now, I'm going to let her share, in her own words, her 18-year saga that culminated in signing with a publisher. 

I hope you'll click on over to her blog and enjoy her journey. She's two years out from seeing her young adult novel actually in print, but we're praising the Lord that she's on her way.

Usually Linda and I walk, talk about writing, and pray together.
This summer we tried our hand at making peach jam.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Free Expressions Part V- The Revision Toolbox

In this last blog on the Free Expressions writing seminar, I will highlight a few revision techniques provided by the YA Muses. This group of writers met at the  Big Sur writing conference in 2009 and decided to stay in touch. Although all were unpublished in the YA world, they formed a writing blog to highlight their journeys and within a year they had eleven book contracts between them. 

TaliaVance, Donna Cooner, Veronica Rossi, Bret Ballou
(Katherine Longshore was unable to attend the seminar)
Talia Vance, author of Silver,  creates a chart for each character and outlines scenes with the main character and each minor character. In addition she:
  1.  Looks at the character arc for all characters
  2. Looks at the relationship arc between characters 
  3. Considers where a minor character is in relation to the main character
  4. Cuts scenes
  5. Sketches out additional scenes
This helpful post of her revision checklist  for WriteOnCon includes many of the points she made during the seminar. 

Donna Cooner, author of Skinny, talked about the importance of creating QBCD: A Quick Brief Character Description when the character first comes into the book. If these introductions are well-crafted they will stick in a reader's mind. Donna uses pictures that she pins to a character board hanging next to her desk.

I played with this idea and came up with: 

Lillie- her skin the color of duck egg shells, black hair tightly curled at the roots
Kate – innocent hazel eyes looking out from a farm face
Sam – dark mahogany skin that glows and throbs outwards, catching you in its circle of beauty

I'm not sure if these will stick, but these word pictures (as well as images I am collecting on my desktop and in Pinterest) will help me portray my characters consistently.

Veronica Rossi, author of Under the Never Sky, recommends setting attainable goals for each month.  "Set yourself up for success," she said. "Give yourself a daily or weekly page or word count. Track your progress. Be as visual and concrete as possible." 

Veronica printed out each draft of her novel and put it in a binder. This way she could visually see her progress. Similarly, after editing or revising a page she folds the page over; a reminder to herself that the page was "done." (At least for that draft!)

To keep herself pumped up, she re-reads old work. "When you get close to a manuscript you're looking for all the mistakes and weaknesses. You get so close that these are the only things you see. Reading old writing can remind you of the point, which is to tell a good story."

Bret Ballou, who writes middle grade fantasy adventures, suggested that distance (the macro level) makes the author more objective. He recommended beginning with an outline and then reevaluating that outline after the draft was done. "Big issues may be resolved with well-crafted, perfectly placed lines."

Bret suggested that writers should break the revision process into buckets in order to focus on one thing at a time. His buckets include: 
  1. Plot: step back to see the whole picture
  2. Key world details can be cleverly placed without ripping or destroying entire passages.
  3. View your ms. in a different font, color, margins, or line spacing in order to step away and see it differently.
  4. Listen to your work (for example, on a Kindle) in order to uncover glaring issues.
For more on Mental Revision, see Bret's contribution to WriteOnCon

How am I going to incorporate these ideas into my work? 
1. Set new goals.
2. Be inspired by the YA Muse blog.
3. Pull out some old stories that never saw the light of day but might be perfect for my grandkids. 
4. Review ALL my Free Expression notes when my own work is ready to be revised!

If this series has captured your interest, you'll be happy to hear that Lorin Oberweger and her competent staff will be returning to Charlotte, NC on October 14-20, 2013.  Check the Free Expressions website for more information.

Here are the four previous blogs in this series:
Free Expressions Takeaway Part I- Voice and Deep Point of View
Free Expressions Takeaway Part II- Deep Scene
Free Expressions Takeaway Part III- World Building
Free Expressions Takeaway Part IV- The Quintessential Query

Monday, November 19, 2012

Free Expressions Takeaway Part IV: Quintessential Queries

As every serious writer knows, the road to publication begins with crafting a memorable query. This fundamental tool of the writing trade must have muscle: its job is to capture an agent's or editor's interest, give a quick overview of your work, plus reflect your book's tone and your personality. 

And of course, all of this is accomplished in 300 well-crafted words or less. 

Tracey and Josh Adams of Adams Literary taught our class on creating quintessential queries. Their agency receives over 10,000 queries a year.  Agent Quinlan Lee reads them super fast and red flags the ones their agency might have interest in. Your objective, as a writer is to get that red flag!

The Quintessential Couple
Tracey and Josh Adams

"The goal of a query is to get your work noticed," Josh said. "It's just like a bookstore; you want a reader to pick your book off the shelf."

How can a writer accomplish this? According to Josh, you must:
  1. Find your “hook.” 
  2. Keep it short. Get to the heart of your book quickly.
  3. Make it relevant. Only give important information that the agent will care about. 
  4. Reflect your personality. Be yourself.  Put yourself out there (but not in embarrassing way!) 
  5. Send your best work, but keep in mind that it is "ready to submit" rather than "done."
As a gift to my readers, Tracey and Josh have generously shared their Do's and Don'ts of Queries

During the week each participant in this Free Expressions seminar received critique time with Lorin Oberweger, Brenda Windberg as well as consultation time with Emma Dryden and Nancy Conescu.
I used my time with Emma to review my query. I was happy to hear that my beginning, in which I reminded the editor of her interest in my manuscript; and my ending, where I listed my relevant writing experiences, were both solid.

But the middle--in which I gave a synopsis of my book--needed work. Within 15 minutes Emma and I had brainstormed a paragraph that not only concisely describes my book, but in the process, I also learned more about my characters and plot. 

What's the moral of this story? Not only is writing a quintessential query your foot into an agent's door (or in-box), but writing it before you finish your manuscript may help you define your book and push forward.

Next week will be my final blog post in this series. Advice and tricks on revision will be brought to you by the YA Muses

If you missed the other blogs in this series, here they are:
Free Expressions Takeaway Part I- Voice and Deep Point of View
Free Expressions Takeaway Part II- Deep Scene
Free Expressions Takeaway Part III- World Building

Monday, November 12, 2012

Free Expressions Takeaway Part III: Building Imaginary Worlds

I used to think world building just pertained to creating a science fiction or fantasy world. And although it is generally associated with those genres, all novelists must create believable, fictional worlds in which reader immerses themselves.  

For example, even though Half-Truths takes place in a "real" time and place-- Charlotte, NC in the 1950's--I must show the sights, sounds, smells, textures, emotional tone, and sociological and political atmosphere of the two areas of the city in which my story unfolds. There is historical data which helps me construct this world such as this 1939 article from The Charlotte Observer:

It is my job as a novelist to weave this information into the fabric of the world I am building. What will it mean to my white and black characters that there is a separate hospital for Negroes? A lot. 
Here are a few takeaways from Brenda Windberg's class on world  building:

  • Consider the psychological and political world of your character. There is always someone who has power and people who rebel.
  • The structure of your character's existence will create the context of your story.
  • Describe concrete, highly specific worlds. It should be fully immersive because of the high level of specificity.  Brenda used the Harry Potter Theme Park as an example of the huge amount of details which JK Rowling included in her books; this makes the theme park a totally immersive experience. 
  • Writers must ask questions such as: "What if?" "Why" and "Why not?" Find the boundaries of your world--which is more than just a physical world. 
  • Brenda's advice: "The rules and parameters of your character’s emotional reality can set the tone for your world."
  •  Use details in a way that adds emotional content. Let them show a purpose. The place the character’s eye goes to is what you record. “Let your character react to details, don’t note them.”
  •  Limit what the reader needs to know to propel the story forward. Weave this through your story. Readers want to experience the world as they come into it. 
Our incredible Free Expressions leaders:
Lorin Oberweger and Brenda Windberg
Brenda generously shared her two handouts from the class. You can access them here:
World Building Exercises
Description as a World Building Tool 

Since  I have a lot to say about writing a tight query letter, I'm going to save that for the next blog post. 

If you missed the first two blogs in this series, here they are:
Free Expressions Takeaway Part I- Voice and Deep Point of View
Free Expressions Takeaway Part II- Deep Scene

Monday, November 5, 2012

Free Expressions Takeaway Part II: Creating Deep Scenes

Lorin Oberweger, the Free Expressions maven, taught our next "Your Best Book" class on Deep Scene.  As most writers recognize, scenes are the fundamental structural unit of every novel. “Every scene involves some type of negotiation between two people. A character wants something and has to strategize and bargain to achieve what he/she wants,” Lorin said. Conceptualized in this manner, each chapter may include several scenes.

The novelist’s job is to create interesting times and places in which the characters live and breathe. Lorin asked us, “How does the time and place impact your viewpoint character? Do they have psychological meaning for your character?” Novelists must identify and show the idiosyncratic details that their protagonist sees.

Writers need to define the inciting incident, which happens before the scene and propels the scene forward. Like falling dominoes, each scene should create the need for next scene. According to Lorin, “Your characters must put themselves up a tree, hate it, and want to get down.” As she pointed out to me in my WIP, “a protagonist must do more than just react to the moment.”

The character’s practical and emotional goals need to be their own goals, not the author’s. (Does this resonate with any other writer besides me?) As I mentioned last week, Lorin pointed out that my main characters were missing obtainable goals which will propel them through Half-Truths. Probing Lillie, my light-skinned African American 15-year-old, I discovered that she wants to become a doctor. 

Every novelist wants to write a page turner. In order to do that, writers must infuse each scene with opposition: the friction, obstacles, and conflicts which characters encounter as they try to meet their goals. What conflicts will Lillie meet in trying to meet her goal? In the South in the 1950's she will meet plenty and she will need strategies--ways to get around the opposition-to turn her dreams into reality.

But, as writers we don't want our characters to immediately achieve their goals--the book wouldn't be a page turner if we did that! So, each scene also needs swings; shifts in strategy when the character is trying to achieve her goal.  

Beats are emotional and psychological turns which the character must take in order to meet her goal. In other words, what changes will Lillie face--what sacrifices might she have to make--in order to accomplish her goal? She and I are still figuring that out.

Finally, each scene needs an outcome. "Most scenes should create a need for another scene. The thing that the character thought she wanted will come at a cost and create complications," Lorin said. "It'll be 'yes, but no.'" 

Breaking down my book into scenes has helped me tremendously. You can create note cards using these headings, as well as any other scene elements you would like to include, print them on card stock, and fill out one per scene. 

Next week we'll look at building imaginary worlds and tight queries. 

Here are two more of Lorin's handouts which complement this material:
Scene Response Sheet

Four YBB participants taking a break
from creating deep scenes. 


If you missed last week's post, here is the first blog in this series:  Free Expressions Takeaway Part I: Voice and Deep Point of View. 


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