Friday, July 30, 2010

9 Best Articles This Week for Writers 7/30/2010

Wow, were there a lot of great articles this week! Here's some of what we found, but if we missed something great, please let us know. If you have good news or a great link to share, please put it in the comments!

To Market
After the Sale
Trends and Issues
Twitter, Blogging, and Social Media
Just for Smiles
 Other Weekly Round-Ups:

Did we miss anything? Anyone? Please leave a comment!

Happy reading and joyous writing,

Martina & Marissa

Thursday, July 29, 2010

14 Writing Inspiration: Seven Types of Plot

American journalist Barbara Grizzuri Harrison once said, "There are no original ideas. There are only original people." I hate to break the news, but maybe she was right. According to one school of thought, every story we've ever read, those we may be currently working on, and those yet to be written are all reworks of what are known as the seven basic plot types. Having an understanding of what these plot types are and how they work makes it easier to craft our own stories. While each plot type can be analyzed in much greater depth, read on for an overview of these tried and tested story skeletons.

The Quest:
This plot is self-explanatory. Think LORD OF THE RINGS, MISS RUMPHIUS, and THE LIGHTNING THIEF. In this type of story, a character sets off on a journey of some sort. She has a goal in mind and it is often difficult to reach. She must overcome obstacles and face strong opposition before she can emerge victorious.

Voyage and Return:
In this plot type, the protagonist has endured a quest, and must now return to her previous life. Whether she is returning from a distant land or a magical one, the contrast between life during the journey and the home she once knew reveals a deeper understanding she has attained. Examples would be the WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ, THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, and ALICE IN WONDERLAND.

Christopher Booker said it well in his book THE SEVEN BASIC PLOTS: “What we are looking at when confronted by a fully developed Comedy is not unlike a jigsaw puzzle. By the time a jigsaw is complete, it seems obvious that there is only one way it could have ended up, with each piece in its proper place and fitting perfectly together with all the others. In Comedy, the key to bringing this to light is the process of ‘recognition’…” Comedies seem jovial, light, and almost effortless, but a dark force is keeping the hero and heroine apart, which often results in a cascade of additional romantic entanglements keeping more minor characters from finding their own happiness. As the story progresses, the obstacle for the main lovers is removed (a parent or guardian relents, a misunderstanding created by the dark force is cleared up, etc.) and the chain of complications swings into motion the other direction until all the relationships result in happy endings.
This may sound simple enough, but Booker's description makes it clear that comedies are not so easy to craft, after all. Examples of comedies are MY FRIEND IS SAD, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and AS YOU LIKE IT.

Under this plot scheme, the main character's own poor decisions or actions bring about her downfall. The result is the evoking of sympathy, pity, and even fear within the reader. Of course for this downfall to be effective, the character must start from a place high enough to fall. Stories such as ROMEO AND JULIET, THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, and ANNA KARENINA fit into this category. For children's literature, the titles are scarce for obvious reasons. Still, it's an outline worth considering for inspiration, or partial adaptation.

In this type of story, the main character is often imprisoned or finds herself under a spell. This can be a physical, emotional, spiritual, or mental state. It can originate from the MC or an external force. Like the voyage and return structure, the power of rebirth stories comes from the contrast between the imprisoned state and liberation. Examples include SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, THE SECRET GARDEN, and A CHRISTMAS CAROL.

Overcoming the Monster
Dum dum... dum dum... you can almost hear the music to Jaws. The protagonist will eventually face the almighty creature who seems impossible to beat. That creature may take the form of another living being, or an entity. Classics such as HANSEL AND GRETEL, LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD, and FRANKENSTEIN fit this mold.

Rags to Riches
Finance doesn't have to enter into this popular plot type. All that's required is for the protagonist to go from ordinary to exceptional, and the contrast between these two states is what ultimately provides the drama. This type of story can also see the character rise quickly to riches (in whatever form that may be), lose this status, and struggle to regain it by defeating something. Sound familiar? HARRY POTTER, CINDERELLA, and PYGMALION are all classic examples.

With the seven basic plot types in hand, consider where your work fits in. Use the well-known examples to see how other authors have done it. Have you included all the elements and added your own spin?

Your twist and approach are what will make YOUR story fresh, crisp, and like nothing we've seen before. The structure may be what provides the foundation, but it's the concept and details that will make someone else want to read it.

So where does your WIP fit? Or what book have you read recently that jumped out as example of one of the basic plot types? What twist made it feel unique? Do you agree with Booker that there are only seven basic plot types? Or do you side with others who believe there are eleven? What do you think? Leave us a comment!

Happy plotting!

Other resources:
The Literacy Adviser
The Seven Basic Plots
Only a Game
Denis Dutton
Suite 101

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

19 WOW Wednesday: Anna Staniszewski

Writing "The One"

By Anna Staniszewski

Back in 2008, I was working on a young adult novel that I thought would be The One to Get Me Published. I poured months of work and sweat into it, convinced it was the best thing I'd ever written. When I began querying agents, I was told my writing was lovely, but...Oh yes, there was always a "but." I reworked and rewrote the manuscript until it was almost unrecognizable. But still, there were no takers.

All hope wasn't lost, however. In between all that toil on The One, I'd been working on other projects mostly to keep myself sane). And what do you know, one of them actually won an award. So I stared querying that project, suddenly convinced it would be The One To Get Me Published. When that second manuscript landed me an agent, I thought: We're finally on our way!

Well, The (Second) One had some close calls and went through several revisions, but it's still out on submission, nearly a year later. But you know what? All hope still wasn't lost because I'd kept working on other projects, and I had more than one manuscript my agent could send out. So while The (Second) One was still making the rounds, another little manuscript snuck in and got itself a book deal!

So this is my advice to other writers who are desperate for The One: Keep writing. You never know which project will catch someone's eye, and your writing will only get better the more projects you complete. Work hard, insanely hard, on The One, but also push yourself to work on other things, because you never really know which one will be The One.

Anna lives near Boston with her husband and their adorably insane black Lab. She's represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Anna's debut novel, MY UN-FAIRY TALE LIFE, will be published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky in Fall 2011. You can visit her at

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

13 Conference Round-Up: Elana Roth on High Concept

In this special installment of Conference Round-Up, we'll head back to the event the Maryland/Deleware/West Virginia Chapter of SCBWI held recently. The Leaps of Imagination: Fact, Fiction, & Fantasy conference was filled with useful information. Many big names were in attendance, such as agent Stephen Fraser, Michelle Poploff (Executive Editor at Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers), agent Elana Roth, Louise May (Vice President/Editorial Director of Lee & Low), and Debra Hess senior Editor at Highlights for Children). Several other industry professionals, as well as authors and illustrators were on hand for the 2-day event. Read on, as Marissa shares tips and information coming out of this conference.

A few weeks ago, we presented part one in our series of tips coming out of this SCBWI event. This week, we'll share tips on the elusive topic of high concept, courtesy of literary agent Elana Roth.

Elana's presentation sought to demistify the term "high concept," which seems to be everywhere these days. Not only was her talk structured and clear, it provided many examples that helped clarify how a book may find itself with this label.

When you think high concept, think about a book that would be akin to a big Hollywood blockbuster movie. It has wide appeal and can be pitched easily within one sentence (though Elana reminded us gently that all books should be pitched as such). The premise of the story tends to be bigger than the characters themselves. While the characters make us care about a book, they might be exchanged for other characters easily because the premise is what's stronger.

So what are the core elements of high concept books?
  • There's a key twist or hook.
  • Stakes are typically very high.
  • There's universality, or wide appeal.
  • It's rule breaking, in that it hasn't been seen before.
One book that Elana has worked with that fit this mold is CANDOR by Pam Bachorz. The story centers on a town brainwashed by the mayor, whose son rebels by helping new kids escape before the messages are effective. This "What if...?" format for a story's premise often leads to high concept stories.

Another example is our friend Kiera Cass' upcoming novel THE SELECTION. This book, pitched as HUNGER GAMES meets "The Bachelor", clearly has wide appeal based on the premise.

Genres That Tend Toward High Concept Include...
The important thing to remember is that there isn't a one-size-fits-all way to identify high concept books. The premise and content are what garner the label. Books that tend to be more character-driven (WHEN YOU REACH ME or THE TRUTH ABOUT FOREVER) are not typically considered high concept stories.

Does high concept mean lower quality in terms of writing? Sometimes, yes. There's the great debate over the TWILIGHT series, of course. But the bottom line is the bottom line. And while Stephanie Meyer seems to take a lot of hits, we can admit she did some things right. Furthermore, does it really doesn't matter that much based on her success?

As writers, why do we care about high concept? It's simple. In tighter economic times, high concept books generally do well. If there's belief your book can sell, starting with an editor until it reaches the hands of the reader, then it's less risky. Does your book have to be high concept to sell, or even become a bestseller? Elana firmly said no. It just makes it easier.

Be mindful of what high concept means, who is requesting submissions under the term, and why it may benefit you to write something that commands this label. There's no doubt Elana Roth made a strong case for this elusive category.

Happy writing!


Other resources on this topic:
Miss Snark on high concept.
Fiction Matters tells us what the heck high concept means.
*Fiction Groupie* defines high concept.

Monday, July 26, 2010

12 Conference Round-Up: Midsouth Writing Retreat

The Midsouth chapter of SCBWI recently held the Midsouth Writing Retreat in Crestwood, Kentucky. Kendra Levin, associate editor at Viking Children's Books was on hand to help attendees reach the goals of writing, learning, and more writing! Fabulous writer Genetta Adair was also in attendance to bring back tons of tips and information. Please welcome her as she generously shares them with us. If you have recently attended, or plan on attending a writer's conference and would be interested in guest blogging for us, please let us know!

2010 Midsouth Writing Retreat

Genetta Adair
(SCBWI Midsouth Regional Advisor)

The Midsouth Region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators presented their Midsouth Writing Retreat this past weekend near relaxing, rural Louisville, Kentucky. The focus of the retreat was to write, and to write a lot. At a charming chapel built in 1879 and later converted to a cozy retreat center, the retreat goers took advantage of four specific blocks of time built into the schedule for their personal writing. While writing was the goal, the whole shebang centered around Kendra Levin, the conduit toward that goal. Kendra is an associate editor with Viking who edits everything from picture books to young adult novels.

“I’ve discovered that if a story has a problem that nine times out of ten it has to do with character motivation,” Kendra said. She flew in from New York to lead the attendees in discovering what their characters want and how to use those desires to make their stories more dynamic and compelling. In addition to editing, Kendra has achieved acclaim as an award-winning playwright whose work has been produced off and off-off Broadway. Most importantly, though, she works with writers as a certified life coach. Each of those skills enabled Kendra to direct the retreat participants in an inspiring weekend full of surprising revelations with their works-in-progress.

To kick-start the retreat, Kendra guided the group in a visualization exercise reminiscent of a 1970s mystical hallucination (minus the drugs) and opened the door to the sub-conscious (a place where manuscript secrets lay in wait). Employing writing exercises and group discussions to link characters’ motivation to plot, she created a frenzy of excitement as attendees discovered details of their own stories that they hadn’t previously known.

“My intent in asking these questions,” Kendra said, “is to get you to think of how to make your character pro-active and to think in concrete ways.” More than writing exercises, though, she pointed out weaknesses as well as strengths in the writing shared and explained how to examine our characters and their plots in depth. The attendees enjoyed working Kendra, and many asked how much she would charge for a lifetime of coaching them. Like the Visa commercial, she answered, “It’s priceless.”

An author from Mississippi said she experienced several epiphanies as a result of the event. A Kentucky writer said she thinks part of the magic of a retreat or workshop is that if we're open, we don't know what might come to us. Another attendee said she thinks everyone there left with gifts from the retreat – new words and new insight. One attendee completed the first eight chapters of a new work-in-progress, another wrote 10,000 words during the weekend, and others revised, plotted, and added to their manuscripts. That was the goal of the retreat – to give everyone a loosely structured event with a coach to allow their creative juices to flow.

Kendra talked a bit about Viking Children’s Books, which does not accept unsolicited manuscripts. For those of you who may be curious, though, I’ll include what she edits: all age levels of hardcover literary fiction. “I just signed a novel in verse,” she said, “but I haven't done much poetry.” She likes funny picture books (especially if they're irreverent or wickedly funny). For mid-grade novels, she said, “I like adventure, survival, or friendship stories. I don’t do fantasy, but I like magical realism.” With young adult novels, Kendra likes other cultures and identity themes along with thrillers and romance. She's drawn to books where kids are empowered to make it on their own. Historical fiction isn’t her favorite genre.

When asked about whether a beginning writer should build an online brand, Kendra said, “The most important thing is being a good writer. Once you get published, your publisher will expect you to help promote your own books through a web presence to help others find you (like schools and bookstores). The stronger your online presence, the more publicity you’ll receive.”

Following Kendra’s departure Saturday afternoon, Candie Moonshower (children’s book author from Nashville who teaches English Comp. at two universities) led the group in more writing prompts and shared her experience of winning the SCBWI Sue Alexander award in 2003.

To sum it all up, the first ever region-wide writing retreat was a success with twenty-one attendees from six states, an editor life coach who was approachable, easy going, and showed genuine interest in each of the attendees’ writing, and an award-winning author who challenged and motivated the attendees to persevere. Both Kendra and Candie provided insightful feedback that led retreat attendees to a higher place in their writing.
Genetta Adair's work has been published over 500 times in Faces, Clubhouse, Brio, Guideposts for Kids, Guideposts for Teens, or other children’s and adult magazines and newspapers, as well as in educational material used as test passages for CTB McGraw-Hill, Harcourt Brace, and Waterford Institute. She is the SCBWI Midsouth Regional Advisor and plans many events for the Midsouth throughout the year. To see what's coming up next, go to

Friday, July 23, 2010

21 Best Articles This Week for Writers 7/23/2010

Here's what's new around the blogosphere this week. There was certainly a lot of it, which means there must be a lot that we missed. If you have good news or a great link to share, please put it in the comments!

The Craft of Writing
To Market
After the Sale
  • Web Presence Checklist [Self-Publishing Review] Website, blog, author email & signature, announcing on forums and mailing lists, social networking, author pages, title information submission, book reviews, contributed articles, contests, book trailers, paid advertisements, merchandise.... And you thought the hard work was done when you sold the book?
  • How to Impress Booksellers [Galley Cat] Check #waystoimpressbooksellers Tweeps!
  • Publishing Insiders Wrap-Up: Why Some Authors Fail [Author Marketing Experts] Successful authors are open, hardworking, and willing to do something writing-related 7 days a week.
Trends and Issues
Twitter, Blogging, and Social Media
Just for Smiles
Other Weekly Round-Ups:
Did we miss anything? Anyone? Please leave a comment!

Happy reading and joyous writing,

Martina & Marissa