Posted in Uncategorized

My Go-To Book for Writing Craft

Way back when, I created this website with a major objective in mind: I wanted to pass along information I had learned from other writers and industry professionals when I was just learning to write. Around the time I began receiving rejections on my very first manuscript, I stumbled across a book on self editing. I absorbed the information like a sponge and eventually saw that I had several problems with my writing. It was the springboard I needed to improve. This amazing book should be in every writer’s box of revision tools.

SELF EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS, by Renni Browne and Dave King.

It teaches writing craft, focusing on such skills as dialogue, voice, point of view, exposition, how to eliminate unnecessary words and dialogue tags, and so much more. In a nutshell, it teaches the mechanics of writing—how to write professionally. Many times a manuscript sounds amateur- ish. That’s probably because the writer is not as skilled as they need to be.

This self editing book also gives specific examples, checklists, and exercises to check for understanding. I found it to be so helpful, I took notes on each and every chapter, and to this day, I still refer back to it often. Beyond that though, it’s an easy read and actually pretty entertaining! If you’re struggling with the mechanics of writing (or wonder if you’re writing is strong enough), go get this book. 🙂

It doesn’t, however, focus on plot issues, world building, or character development. That’s a whole other part of the revision process. Before you tackle those issues in your manuscript though, you need to be sure your writing is spot on. I was thrilled to find this book and I’m sure you will be too. Even the best writers forget the basics sometimes. Reading this book is one way to stay on track!

For an excerpt, go to Renni Browne shares a fantastic page from the chapter on voice, which we all know is so hard to develop! This sample will definitely help.

You may have your own tricks or books that have helped you. If you do, feel free to comment. I’m sure I’m not the only one who would benefit from knowing what works for you. 🙂

Speaking of revisions, click on the Critique Corner tab. I’ve set up the details of our next critique round and hope you’ll join in on the fun. I know many of you have new manuscripts in the works. This will be a great chance to get fresh perspectives on your words. And if you can, tell your fellow writers too. The more the merrier! Hmm. How fitting that sounds for the holiday season!

Have an amazing weekend. I’m planning to make cookies, wrap presents, and probably shovel the driveway. We’ve got some snow coming! And though I hate driving in it, I do like watching it turn my yard into a winter wonderland! (Don’t get me wrong…I’d rather be hanging out by the pool with those of you lucky enough to live in warmer climates, but I’m trying to show gratitude this holiday season, and I’m guessing winter bashing is not showing gratitude.) So, bring on the white fluffy stuff! Maybe I can sneak in a few minutes of writing by the fire as it paints my neighborhood sparkly white. Hmm…now that I would be very grateful for!

Posted in Uncategorized

Manuscript Monday #6

Manuscript Monday is a series of blog posts which chronicle the life of my manuscript. It follows the journey I take to turn my week old baby story idea into a fully grown, polished novel. Take the journey with me. 🙂

My 6 week- old manuscript:

I’ve been asking myself a question all week? What is the trick to finding your character’s voice?

Writers know how important it is to have great voice in their story. The trick is knowing exactly how to do that. I’m sure many of you have scoured the internet for articles on this very subject, just like I have. And I bet you’ve heard this phrase over and over again: Voice is hard to describe, but if a story has it, you will recognize it.

That’s so true. One of my very favorite books, LOVE AUBREY, by Suzanne LeFleur has amazing voice. Another, a debut middle grade that was just released, AT YOUR SERVICE, by Jen Malone has fantastic voice in my opinion too. Chloe is a 13 year- old girl, but not just any 13 year-old girl. And you’ll feel like you know her, and know how she would react to any situation after just a few pages. The voice in the story leaps right off the page.

But…even if you know how to recognize a story with great voice, it’s still takes a high level of writing skill to write a novel that has it. Of course some writers seem to be born with this skill. Don’t you hate those writers?? The rest of us may have to work at a bit. In my quest to weave voice into my current manuscript, I’ve come up with a trick, or maybe more of an exercise to help you find yours.

A few months ago, when I was working on revisions for my last novel, I tried to focus on where in my manuscript the voice was lacking. I scanned each chapter and highlighted areas where I felt my main character really displayed great voice. Those are the passages I wanted to study. Why does she come to life in those places? I came to two conclusions:

  1. She uses phrases the reader knows she would say, even without knowing that she’s the one that said them.
  2. She has a certain way of saying things, like only she would say them. These small details bring what she says to life.

Once I recognized this, I found paragraphs where she fell flat. There wasn’t much emotion in what she said. It could have been any character speaking the words. In fact, she wasn’t speaking in “her speak” at all. She made statements or asked questions, but not in a way that stayed true to her character. Those are the scenes I rewrote, working to make her feel more alive. The result was a scene that sucked the reader in. Readers follow characters they connect with. They rarely will connect with a character who falls flat.

So the million dollar question for many writers is: How do I find my character’s voice? How do I make her sound like a real person? If a character (honestly) feels real to you, she will feel real to your reader.

This trick may help. Find a paragraph that includes your main character. In a new document, copy this paragraph. Under it, tell what you have learned about your character from reading it. How difficult this task is, will determine how well you’ve written with voice. You should be able to tell a lot about them just by this paragraph!

Don’t be discouraged if you can’t. The reason why, may be that you don’t know what you’re trying to convey in that paragraph to bring the character to life. Try this:

Take that same paragraph and rewrite it several times. Your job, when writing each paragraph, is to convey a different attitude for your character.

I’ll give you an example of how I did that for the opening paragraph of my latest middle grade novel:

In my opening paragraph, eleven year-old Kia is sitting in an outdoor theater with her class for the Opening Ceremony of the Piedmont Challenge on a really hot day.

To find her voice, I rewrote it several times:

(Angry Kia)

My sixth grade class sits in the amphitheater outside Crimson Elementary School. All five hundred of us are squished shoulder to shoulder for the opening ceremony. I mean are you kidding me? The Piedmont people couldn’t spring for a bigger place for us to hold this opening ceremony. Who can I talk to about this? Heads are about to roll.

(Nervous Kia)

My sixth grade class sits in the amphitheater outside Crimson Elementary School. All five hundred of us are squished shoulder to shoulder for the opening ceremony. The sun is scorching the back of my neck. My pony tail even feels hot. I don’t care about the heat. My sweaty palms are the problem. What if I drop my competition tickets? What if I faint before I get to the front of the line? What if I drop the tickets once I get them?

(Confident Kia)

My sixth grade class sits in the amphitheater outside Crimson Elementary School, where all five hundred are squished shoulder to shoulder for the opening ceremony. The sun is scorching the back of my neck. My pony tail feels hot. Good thing this competition is going to be a piece of cake. I’ll solve my tasks in no time and get home to jump in the pool by noon.

(Spoiled Kia)

My sixth grade class sits in the amphitheater outside Crimson Elementary School, where all five hundred are squished shoulder to shoulder. The sun is scorching the back of my neck so bad even my perfect pony tail feels hot. I am so disgusted with this whole situation. How can we be expected to solve not one but seven tasks in these conditions? My lip gloss is dripping now too. Where is my assistant, with my fan?

Now there’s a fair bit of “telling” in these examples, but I want you to notice instead how different each of these characters are. See how voice can bring your character to life in so many different ways? As you read through the examples, did Kia seem like a different person in each one? None of these examples are the actual opening paragraph in my manuscript, but they helped me flesh out who Kia really is- what type of personality I wanted her to have. In this situation, I wondered, How would Kia react to her circumstances? She’s at the opening ceremony for a big competition. The stadium is a million degrees. Hmm…

Here’s my real opening…until I change it again because writing with perfect voice is hard!

My sixth grade class sits in the amphitheater outside Crimson Elementary School. All five hundred of us are squished shoulder to shoulder for the Opening Ceremony. I don’t mind that the sun is scorching the back of my neck or even that my ponytail feels hot. The metal bleachers may be burning my legs too, right through my uniform skirt but it doesn’t matter. None of that can wreck this day. I’ve been waiting five whole years for it to come.  

In this paragraph, I’m trying to show that Kia is excited for the competition while including some sensory details in the process. Does it work? I’m not sure, but I’ll keep working on it!

For my new manuscript, I did this very exercise this week with my opening. Before I get too far along, I want be sure I know who Atria is, what type of person I want her to be. I can’t tell you how much it has helped me to do this! I hope it works for you too. Now I’m off to write more words. Hopefully a lot of them! Good look to you on your writing too. 🙂 See you Wednesday!

Posted in Setting, Writing Craft

Set it Up!

When I think about my favorite books, I realize that every single one has something in common. They have a cool setting. There’s an actual place inside the author’s world that intrigues me. I actually want to travel there! I want to live there or take a vacation there or hang out there.

In the Last Song by Nicholas Sparks, the story takes place along the coast of North Carolina- much of it in a small beach house that belongs to Ronnie’s dad. The house and surrounding beach are described so well that I can see myself spending the summer there, listening to the crashing waves and watching the baby turtles scurry through the sand. Nicholas Sparks has created a setting that draws the reader to it.

In the middle grade novel, Breadcrumbs, Anne Ursu has imagined a forest so magical, the characters practically pull you into the story with their bare hands. They’re fanciful and scary and sad and I want to see it all for myself! In The Prince of Fenway Park, cursed creatures actually live underneath the pitching mound at Fenway Park, the stadium where the Boston Red Sox play baseball! There, the sights and smells and sounds are so real any respectable fan would trade their most prized baseball card for a chance to see it for them self.

Sometimes there’s a place I read about that I don’t want to visit though. At all. Like the setting of the Hunger Games arena. That’s one place I will gladly stay away from. But… even that arena and the District 12 setting and the Capitol setting still intrigue me. District 12 is desolate and poor and depressed. Food and safety are luxuries that none of the residents there take for granted. The Capitol district is just the opposite with its over- the- top carnival atmosphere. Residents live well. The hairstyles and makeup are colorful and the food is presented as works of art rather than nourishment. Suzanne Collins describes just enough detail to let the reader use their imagination but still reveals sights, sounds, scents, textures and tastes that make you feel a part of the story.

And that’s what great storytellers do. They use all five senses to describe a scene. They create a place where readers want to go. Whether it’s a house or a barn or a stadium or a town, great story tellers make those places come alive. They make the reader wish that it was a real place. They set up the story and make it feel very real.

When you’re writing your story, strive to do the same thing. Create a place that your reader would love to go…if only they could! Maybe one day the setting you create will be a place readers think about long after the story ends.

So what about your favorites? What are some of the cool places you’ve read about lately?

Posted in Plot, Writing Craft

Give Your Character a Surprise!

I love surprises. I love being surprised. I love surprising other people. And this past weekend, I pulled off a good one- I threw a Sweet 16 Birthday Party for my little girl (who’s obviously not a little girl anymore) and it was a huge, fun surprise! It was fun for me to plan, and fun for my daughter and her sneaky friends who were in on the covert scheme!

The expression on her face as she walked through the front door was priceless- filled with shock and confusion upon hearing her friends shout, “Surprise!” Her face lit up at the sight of them all gathered together- just for her. It was a take your breath away moment. A moment I’m sure she won’t ever forget.

Everyone should feel that kind of moment at some point in their lives. And I think your characters should feel that way too.

So how exactly do you create that take your breath away moment? A moment that catches your character off guard? Something so surprising or shocking that not only is your character surprised, but your reader is too?

Well, if you know your character, it should be easy. Think about what she loves. Maybe for Anna it’s kittens and hot fudge sundaes. Or think about what she wants. Maybe she wants to get the lead in the school play or a new clarinet. Or think about what she really needs like warm winter boots that don’t leak through the soles. Maybe there’s something that she really wants and needs. For example, maybe she wishes that her dad who’s been stationed in another country for many months could finally come back home for good.

Now that you have some ideas, decide what you want to surprise your character with. And make it big. Even if the surprise is small, you can write about it in a big way. For example, if you’re going to give Anna a hot fudge sundae, turn it into a big deal. Set the scene. Write about Anna’s banged up knee that happened from a fall off her bike. Write about her tears and her broken handlebars. Then, just when your reader feels awful for Anna, write about the table that Anna’s mom has filled with every topping you can think of. Add all her favorite flavors of ice cream and all her favorite sauces. Write about Anna’s walk into the kitchen and the smile that slowly creeps over her face when she sees the ice cream display before her. Write about her dried up tears and the hug between her and her mom. It may be just a little surprise, but for Anna it’s a big deal. And for your readers it will be too.

So how can you make the surprise for your character an even bigger deal? Choose something you know about her that’s even bigger- like missing her dad. For example, your readers are already aware already that Anna’s dad has been gone for a very long time and they know also that Anna misses him very much. Imagine the surprise they will feel (right along with Anna), when her dad shows up at the school auditorium, right before her big stage debut as the lead in the school play! Picture that surprise. 🙂

Our daily lives are full of big surprises and little ones. So if you want to create a story that keeps the reader turning the page, be sure to include a few of both in your character’s life too!

And remember…

“Life is not measured by the number of breaths that we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”  ~Hilary Cooper 

So good luck with the surprises you’re planning and the amazing story you’re writing too!