Seriously, this is so me—I’m like the poster child for fiddling. I can start revising a first draft and boom, look up two hours later to see I’m still on the first page. *screams*
I swear, some days I long for the past when I knew squat about good writing and thought revision had more to do about sentence structure, grammar and spelling than it does plot, voice, style or character development. You remember those days, don’t you? The good times. We'd pelt out a first draft and KNOW it was pure brilliance.
Now I know why ‘crap’ and ‘scrap’ are only one letter apart.
When I revise, I look at each line I’ve written and squeeze as much blood out of it that I can before moving on: Do I feel the voice? Is the description clear, relevant and unique? Is the plot furthered, am I adhering to the character arc? In other words, did I get as much bang for my buck with this line, or can I do better? Usually the answer is, yes, you can do better--keep trying, moron.
For me, this makes revision s-l-o-w. Think...glacial.
Now I made a deal with Becca this week—she would unhook her Playstation IV and write 4 days this week, and I would get my draft of In Between to her so she can take out her withdrawal rages on it. And...it’s Thursday, people! Thursday!
Tick. Tick. Tick.
I know this isn’t life and death here. Becca’s not going to beat me with a rubber hose, or strike my name from her crit partner list for exposing her to a little bad writing (trust me, she's seen it before). It's just for macro feedback, but still, I’d like her to be able to read it and not want to claw her eyes out.
I’ve decided to try the speed dating technique. I’m going to time myself, and give each chapter 10 minutes of love before moving on. Because it’s so early on in my MS’s transformation, I need something that forces me to not get bogged down on the nitty gritty stuff. I’ll let you know how it goes, but in the meantime, what are your revision techniques? Do you go chapter by chapter looking for all the elements, or do you take one element at a time and go through the MS? I'd love to hear what works for you!
· Tingling skin
· A heavy feeling in the stomach
· A stiffening posture, rigid muscles
· A sudden coldness (dread) that hits at the core
· Reaching up a hand to lightly clasp the throat
· Splaying the fingers out in a fan against the breastbone
· Pulling books or another object tight against chest
· Eyes that water, shine, or form tears
· A sudden onset of anger or frustration (swearing, screaming, acting violent)
· A shaky voice--soft, halting, disbelieving
· Asking simple questions for clarification: who, when, why?
· A feeling of disorientation, dizziness, euphoria
· A shaky or slow smile that builds as the surprise sinks in
· Grabbing someone close by for comfort
· Giving a quick bark of laughter
• stuttering, stammering
• looking down, unable to meet another's eyes
• shoulders slumping, slouching, sagging, hunching
• a desire to run away
• glancing about as if for an exit or escape
• angry or knee-jerk reactions (lashing out, taking a cheap shot, name calling)
• gritting one's teeth, pressing the lips tight
• keeping a death grip on backpack straps, gripping school books against the chest
• rapidly walking away, keeping the head down
• excessive swallowing
• muddied or panicked thoughts
• lightheadedness, tingling in the chest or stomach
• pretending to not have heard or seen
• using long hair to hide the face
I don't know if anyone out there eats tofu. I've never eaten it, but I do really enjoy making sushi, and I read on a website that tofu is a good ingredient to add. I decided to brave the 'Uh-oh, there's another one of those tofu-eating dolphin huggers' looks at the grocery store and selected some extra firm from the tofu section.
Now it seems to me that with tofu, you either love it or hate it. I admit, when I pulled it from the package, it didn't look that appetizing. Despite my interest in experimenting I waffled a bit, not wanting to ruin perfectly good sushi with the bland grey food product. My 9 year old son and I conferred (he's a sushi aficionado, believe it or not) and we decided to chop some up and put it in a salad as a test run. The verdict--tofu has no taste. Zero, zip, nothing. But it 'felt' like we were eating chicken, which was kind of cool. Weird, but cool. In any event, both of us were glad we confined it to the salad rather than letting it merge with the nori and rice.
After our tofu experiment we went ahead and made sushi (sans tofu) and then I set the kids loose on the bright outdoors. I was looking forward to getting some writing done, seeing as I'd done absolutely nothing and the day was creeping into the south end of late afternoon. It was warm out and with all the huge dumps of snow, perfect weather to build a snow fort.
My two sons came to the door only moments after I bundled them up, asking me to come build with them. As I stood in the doorway, I could feel my WIP staring holes in my back. I really needed to work on it. With all my appointments and field trips in the previous day, I'd had no time for it then either. But as any mom knows, the guilt of the "Please, Mom?" has nothing on an unfinished story, so I suited up and started piling snow.
It was such a great time, and so fun to be working on a project with my boys--something they were excited about. As I looked down at my wet gloves and snow-filled boots, I realized that I should never let the guilt of not writing get in the way of my life. There will always be an unfinished manuscript, but only a set amount of "Please, Mom?" left before my two little monsters are all growed up.
So, get out there and have some fun. Go for a walk, laugh, build a snow fort. The work will always be there, but life will move on, with or without us.
• Noticing the small things around them (smelling the roses, so to speak)
• showing affection—hugging, touching, etc
• rapping the fingers lightly (as if to internal music) on a leg or other surface
• swinging/tapping a foot to an easy beat
• showing patience
• bouncing on one's toes
• rapid speaking
• a feeling of breathlessness
• tingling hands
• a need to share the intense feeling with others
• lightness in the limbs
• an energetic walk, quick movements, no hesitation
• a desire to be with loved ones or friends
• risk taking
Awhile back, I was wandering through the juvenile department of my library, just minding my own business and perusing the selection when I overheard a mom and her daughter who were having some trouble. Mom had a reading list in her hand. Daughter looked supremely bored.
Mom: Oh, look. Here's one from your list. (picks up Shannon Hale's Princess Academy)
Me: (gushes) Oh, that's such a great book! It's one of my favorites!
I smiled, waiting for the oh-good-there's-someone-who-can-help-us look. Instead, I got a face full of skepticism, then frank suspicion: the what-do-you-mean-it's-one-of-YOUR-favorites look. Otherwise known as the why-are-you-lurking-in-the-kids'-section-you-pervert look. It was the first (and hopefully last) time I'd seen that particular expression. Then and there, it occurred to me: I needed a better way of finding good books to read. So I did some research, talked to some media specialist friends, and came up with a list of resources on locating good literature for kids.
· The library and local bookstore. Great resources—if you can hang out there without looking like a psycho.
· The ALA website, a wonderful resource if you're looking for literary or award-winning books. It's kind of a busy site, but the link takes you to a list of notable books from 2008. It's broken down into age categories and lists tons of books that librarians and other specialists have identified as "the best in children's books" and includes award-winning books for the year. There's also a link at the top of the page for Past Notable Children's Book Lists, in case you're worried about ever running out of books to read.
· Cool-Reads. This site was designed and run by two teenage boys. It's a collection of reviews for YA books by YA readers around the world. The site is no longer active, since the original creators passed out of the 10-15-year-old age range, but it still contains a wealth of information on books for teens through 2004.
· The BookHive. This site is run by children's librarians and specialists. You can search for books by author, title, reading level, interest area, number of pages, and even favorite illustrator. Books are reviewed by media specialists and occasionally recommended by children.
· Series Binder. Created by librarians, this site offers a listing of books in a series, so readers can find series of interest and read the books in their correct chronological order.
· The Children's Book Council. The site as a whole is a massive resource for children's authors, but this particular link takes you to the Reading Lists page. Here you'll find many interesting lists, including Graphic Novels for Young Readers, 75 Authors and Illustrators Everyone Should Know, and Books to Grow On (classic books for ages 0-3). One list I'd like to specifically point out is Hot Off the Press. This bibliography comes out monthly and features anticipated bestsellers in the children's market, both recently-published and forthcoming. This is a good resource if you want to know what's new and potentially hot.
So you think books about plants are boring? Then you haven't read the right ones. With chapter names like Death By Snot, The Rainforest Strangler, and The Stinkiest Flower on Earth, Peculiar Plants will show readers how fascinating and even bloodthirsty botany can be.
This nonfiction middle-grade picture book introduces young readers to twelve oddities of the plant world, including the corpse flower, the baobob tree, the Portuguese dewy pine, and the resurrection fern. Each chapter begins with a humorous multiple-choice quiz question and fun factoids. Then the plant is discussed in all its weirdness. How is it strange? What makes it that way? Why does it look, smell, grow, and eat the way it does?
Know a kid who's curious, not easily grossed-out, and likes to laugh? Peculiar Plants is the book for them.
This retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears attempts to explain many of the questions raised by the original story: Why was Goldilocks wandering the woods alone? What gave her the right to barge into a strange family's house, eat their food, break the furniture, and drool on the sheets? Was she spoiled, curious, or just way too extroverted?
In this picture book, the heroine’s idiosyncrasies can be summed up in one complicated word: compulsive. The golden girl enters the sloppy house of the three bears because she simply has to clean it. When the bears return from their junk food movie extravaganza to find Goldilocks arranging Baby Bear’s books by height, they’re not sure exactly what to do. But when they become enlisted in the girl’s unending cleaning efforts, one thing becomes clear: drastic measures must be taken.
Dara's world is abruptly shattered when her father and two siblings are murdered by a lifelong neighbor. While she tries to come to grips with the tragedy, other oddities are taking place: relics, those mysterious jewels that keep people from wandering each night into the nightmare part of the dream world, start to fail. People begin to die in their sleep.
In a strange turn of events, Dara is chosen to be a relicsmith, one of the rare people who can walk the dream world awake. In her travels, she discovers that the boundary between the nightmare portion of Reverie and the safe part has been breached. Her people are being pursued, deluded, and led from the safety of the Glimmer into the Haze by someone or something straight out of darkest nightmare.
Emotionally incapable and vastly unqualified, it falls to Dara to repair the breach and return the dream world to safety. But can she do it before her people are destroyed?
In Kryss, most people are connected in a special way to one of the world's elements. For instance, Regalo's link enables him to touch any plant and determine its medicinal properties. It's an extraordinary ability but one that many people share, and one he's not particularly adept at. More than anything, he wants a life that has impact, meaning. The opportunity comes unexpectedly through an unlikely friendship with Maitlin.
Maitlin is one of the Broken, one of the minority who have no identifying link with the world. These people are outcasts on Kryss, forced into lives of servitude and menial labor with no hope of freedom or respect. Weighed down by years of oppression, they plan a rebellion that will enable them to live apart from the Linked—for the first time, free.
When Regalo learns of the secret rebellion, he's torn between his growing feelings for Maitlin, his concern for his people, and his own desperate need for recognition. In his search for the right thing to do, he begins to see the black-and-white world he's always known as it truly is. But can he find the truth through the prejudiced and tyrannical lens of the Linked? Perhaps the only way for him to really see is to become one of the Broken himself.
Nora loves living in California. Mama schools her at home, freeing her from the stuffy, smelly Coloma schoolhouse and leaving her afternoons open to play with her Pomo friend, Adsila—behind Papa's back, of course. But then someone finds gold at Sutter's Mill and everything goes crazy. Papa runs off to find his fortune, and Nora's freedom disappears, swallowed up by the effort to keep their farm afloat.
Of all the greedy, thieving men the gold has gotten hold of, it turns out her father is the worst. While Nora struggles to pay off his mountain of gambling bills and save the farm from foreclosure, her bitterness grows. She knows she should forgive him, but she plain doesn't want to. Then the cholera strikes, and she's forced to decide, once and for all, if she will forgive Papa and release the anger she's carried for so long or stay mad forever.
The old Gods are dead—or are they? In a dying town in the Nevada Desert, this question comes too late. When a small store opens up, run by the stranger, Owen Siris, it boasts to the ability take a person’s troubles away. In a place where the population is drying up as fast as the river, there’s plenty of troubles to go around. Brett certainly has his share, caught between his fear of being knocked around by his mother’s loser boyfriend Dennis and the the terror of watching an illness ravaging his last surviving parent. It's no wonder he jumps at the idea of a quick fix.
When he seeks Mr. Siris out, the last thing he expects is help for free. But that’s just what he gets, along with a strange stone beetle covered in hieroglyphics. Told to keep his ‘worry stone’ with him at all times, Brett obeys, and immediately notices a swift improvement in his life: Dennis seems to have ditched town, kids at school are starting to notice him and his grades are improving. The word about the miraculous Mr. Siris spreads, along with the worry stones. It isn’t until Brett begins to experience ‘dead time’ and can’t account for where he’s been or done that a deep fear grips him. And when Dennis’ mangled body show up, a victim of murder, Brett knows that something terrible is happening to himself and the town.
Together with Amber, another classmate who is alarmed at the changes resulting from her special talisman, they begin to investigate the stone artifacts and discover they are Egyptian scarabs, vessels believed to hold the souls of dead. Used in Ancient Egypt, these scarabs were placed in the care of the God of the Dead, Osiris.
It seems impossible that the God of the Dead has set up shop in Brett and Amber’s town, but how else can they explain the disturbing change over the townsfolk or the sudden midnight activity at the long-abandoned salt mine? Has Osiris come back to rein, seeking command of his loyal worshippers once more?
Sabrina Milo is starting over...not that she wants to. A divorce, a move across town to live in a senior's complex with her homecare specialist mother and a new school aren't the best ingredients for an exciting future. Not that there aren't some things she's glad to leave behind--like her criminal record.
Her paper world tears when she overhears what she believes could be a murder in the unit above her. With no one to turn to, Sabrina must separate imagination from reality and find out what happened. As she follows the clues, trust between herself and her mother deteriorates. Her past surfaces and Sabrina stands accused of defacing school property...again.
Innocent, Sabrina's pleas hold no weight. Further alienated from those around her, she begins committing criminal acts in order to discover the truth about the death of her neighbor. Felonies pile up, and while they do, another suspicious death visits the senior’s complex. When she finally finds the proof she needs, the question becomes: can Sabrina find the killer before the killer finds her?
Genre: Mystery + Fantasy
When we first saw The Fellowship of the Ring, my husband hadn't read the books yet. Right after the Weathertop scene, Al turned to me in the theater and whispered, "Aragorn's a badass." We all like characters that take care of business, but I think what draws people to Aragorn is his conflictedness. He doesn't jump into his future with high hopes and a bag full of optimism. He does the opposite, in fact: he's turned his back on his destiny, run from it his entire life. We like Aragorn because he's not perfect. He makes the mistakes and choices that most of us would in his situation. Real people are conflicted. To a certain degree, characters should be, too.
I absolutely love Anne (Shirley) of Green Gables, because she's so normal. Her defining characteristics are common: she's blindly optimistic; her temper is short; she never shuts up; she has body-image issues. These qualities are so normal that I either share them or know someone personally who does. Anne is comforting; not only do her characteristics make me empathize with her, they makes me feel better about myself. Readers want characters they have something in common with; it makes the people on the page more realistic and easier to relate to.
When the American Film Institute hosted a countdown of the top 100 heroes and villains, Atticus Finch came out on top. It's funny because when you think about him, he's...well, he's kind of a bore. He wears three-piece suits, is non-athletic and nearsighted; even his kids think he's lame. But by the end of To Kill a Mockingbird, you absolutely love him. Atticus Finch resonates with so many readers because of his admirable qualities: courage and conviction. Nothing is universal, but certain characteristics come close to being universally admired because lots and lots of people wish they shared them. These are the qualities that inspire. Readers like to be inspired. (And by the way, since I'm sure you're dying to know, the #1 villain on the countdown was Hannibal Lechter. *smacks lips*)
Ok, so Junie B. Jones isn't a classic. Yet. But among readers, Junie B is definitely a well-loved character. I know this from ten years of introducing her to first-graders. Whatever the age of the audience, people like to laugh. People like characters that are funny, which is most of Junie B's charm. I mean, she created the terms "fluffery", "cats and gowns", and "cockle-doodly-doo". How will readers not love her? Whenever possible, add humor.
So what about you? Who are some of your favorite characters, and why?
Quote of the day: When writing a novel, a writer should create living people. People, not characters. A character is a caricature. (Ernest Hemingway)
· stiff eyelids
· a scratchy throat
· soreness in the throat, lungs
· difficulty responding to questions and interacting with people
· uncontrollable crying
· premature aging (wrinkles, tired eyes, gray/white hair)
· weight loss or gain
· a desire to live in the past
· suicidal thoughts
I never used to be. When I first started writing, I realized how much I didn't know. I set out to educate myself, reading all that I could about how to write properly, finding writing mentors, carefully researching all the big no-no's of writing. I sifted through websites and forums to find out what editors wanted, what would sell, what would catch their eye. I focused on the rules, I tried to do everything right. In other words, I did what all of us have done at one point or another.
I believed that because I write for kids, my main characters had to be perfect--role models of a kind. I religiously followed all the rules about characters, striving to make them interesting and unique, to make sure they learned and grew as a result of the story. What I didn't realize is by trying so hard to mold my characters into all of these things, I had, well, missed the point completely.
Interesting, unique, character growth...all of these things are important. But if they don't feel authentic, then they won't catch anyone's eye. So how does one make a character authentic?
To make your character feel authentic, you have to risk everything. What I mean by that is you need to be true to the character, not the rules of writing. Let your main character dictate their actions, their dialogue. People aren't perfect in real life, and characters shouldn't be either. Let their personality show, let their flaws show. Trust in yourself that character growth and all the rest will come out on its own without you trying to force it. Just write their story, in their words.
The same can be said for other elements of writing: Voice, Characters, Style, Plot. Risk makes us honest; it makes us bleed. It makes our work authentic. We take the risk that to find an editor who completely gets our vision, we might run across a few that don't.
So know the rules. Know what is out there, know what editors want. Then shove it all in a dark corner with the dust bunnies and tell the story that needs to be told. The real story, the honest story. Take a risk and get it right--that's what will make your story stand out from the rest.
I settled down on the couch, adjusted my reading glasses, opened the book, and *GASP* —a novel in verse. I, the poetry-illiterate, had checked out a novel in verse. I'm embarrassed to say that I considered returning it.
I suck at poetry. I love the way it sounds, but the art form itself—writing or comprehending it—is beyond me. As a poetry doofus, I always thought that a novel in verse would be page after page (of fabulous imagery) without a central plot or conflict. If there was a main character, it would be someone I could neither understand nor relate to. Maybe my misperceptions come from adolescent confusion over Beowulf and King Lear. I blame my English teacher. (That was a joke. I taught school for ten years; please don't send me hate mail.)
Regardless, I decided to be a big girl and give it a shot. And the book was awesome! Its main character had a clearly unique voice, conflict any teenager would sympathize with, and was someone I felt for and wanted to succeed. It was a beautiful book and I'm so glad I read it.
Pat me on the back, someone: I'm growing.
So if any of you, like me, are or have ever been a poetry-phobe, cut your teeth on Reaching for Sun, by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer. And for you poetry-lovers out there: any other YA/MG novels in verse you can recommend?
Thought for the day: Never be afraid to try something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark; professionals built the Titanic. ~Unknown