Tuesday, January 31, 2012

15 Power Up Your Writing With Selective, Visual Details

"If you've a story, make sure it's a whole one, with details close to hand. It's the difference between a good lie and getting caught." ~ Tamora Pierce

Details build your story world, and by sharing with the reader what details a character notices, they also build the reader's perception of that character. In other words, details help build a character's voice. But as with most things in writing, more is often less.

We can easily overwhelm a reader with details. Too much description slows down action, and it isn't just what characters see that is important in a scene. It's how they interact with what they see. How they feel about it. In other words, picking details that your character can relate to, helps our readers relate to our characters.

Here's an example from Once Was Lost by the incredible Sara Zarr:

The picture of Jody comes back up. She's in braids and braces and underneath her smiling face is Amber Alert information, phone numbers, website addresses. This is real. The rift in the world--the edge of which I've been teetering on for months--splits wide open, and I'm falling. "I know her," I say to the TV, then look around the room like there might be someone else to tell it to, but there's only Ralph, on the coffee table cleaning his paw.

I don't know the process the author uses. I don't know if she pictured Jody before she envisioned her on the TV, or if the description came to her in this paragraph. But the braids and braces bring Jody to life for me. I don't need to know what color her hair is. I don't care about her clothes. I know her from the braids and braces, and those two small details make her alive and vulnerable in a way that a precise description of everything she was wearing never could. By the same token, I'm not sure that anything else would have brought the contrast of the rest of the world remaining unrocked on its ordinary moorings as the fact that the cat is insouciant enough to clean its paw on the coffee table. And of course, the fact that the cat is on the coffee table in the first place tells us quite a bit.

Every word in that example speaks a volume. It speaks to character and to setting, speaks to emotional tone as well as story. Indeed, it advances story and connects it to emotion.

Here's another example from Sapphique by Catherine Fisher:

The showmen left the village early, before Lightston. Attia waited for them outside the ramshackle walls, behind a pillar of brick where gigantic shackles still humn, rusting to red powder. When the Prison lights snapped on with their acrid flicker she saw seven wagons were already rumbling down the rams, the bear cage strapped on one, the rest covered by contraptions of starry cloth. As they approached, she saw the bear's small red eyes squint at her. The seven identical jugglers walked alongside, tossing balls to one another in complex patterns.

Consider the details there and what they tell us. We know instantly we are in a different world. We know a lot about that world just from the fact that the shackles are gigantic and rusting. We know there are seven wagons so we can picture them; we don't picture four or six because the author left it ambiguous. We know for certain how many there are, and so we trust that the author knows. We believe more completely in the story world just because the author gave us a specific number.

Specificity lends credibility.

But notice that the author didn't describe the wagons. She didn't give us every details. She gave us an overview then showed us what was different, what we needed to know to paint the exact picture that she wanted us to see.

The author directed our eyes in specific directions the same way that a director controls how a movie ultimately unfolds for the viewer.

Here's a final example, the first paragraph of the short story Shannon's Law by Cory Doctorow that appears in the Bordertown anthology.

When the Way to Bordertown closed, I was only four years old, and I was more interested in peeling the skin off my Tickle Me Elmo to expose the robot lurking inside his furry pelt than I was in networking or even plumbing the unknowable mysteries of Elfland. But a lot can change in thirteen years.

Wow. Boy do we know a LOT about that mc just from that brief description. Ironically, the one thing we don't know yet is gender, but does it matter just then? Not really, right? We know inside the character, right down to a vulnerable core of curiosity.

Details are the hardest things to get right in a story. They are what takes the most time to write, because for every detail we include, we have to discard all the hundreds of choices we could have made to include the one telling snippet that reveals the most.

Our readers are impatient. Too much detail will turn them off.

And because they are impatient, we as writers must have infinite patience. We must get to know our characters and their worlds. We must climb inside their skins and their heads and rooms and pull out what they care about, what they need us to know about them.

Ironically, the more we know about our stories, the less we need to write. Instead of putting down a paragraph of description, we can make do with one faceted gem of a sentence.

Let's try it out. Can you write a one-sentence character description that advances your story and setting as well as your character?

Happy brainstorming,

Martina

About the Author

Martina Boone is the author of Compulsion and Persuasion, out now in the romantic Southern Gothic Heirs of Watson Island trilogy from Simon & Schuster, Simon Pulse. Illusion, the final book, will be out in October of 2016. Martina is also the founder of AdventuresInYAPublishing.com, a three-time Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers Site, and YASeriesInsiders.com, a site dedicated to encouraging literacy and reader engagement through a celebration of series literature. She's on the Board of the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia and runs the CompulsionForReading.com program to distribute books to underfunded schools and libraries.

Friday, January 27, 2012

6 This Week for Writers 1/27/12: Our Favorite Articles and Blog Posts

Clara's Favorites

Martina's Favorites

Book Reviews and Giveaways

Craft of Writing

Inspiration and Smiles
Issues, News, Trends, and Congratulations

Self-Publishing, Book Promotion, and Author Marketing

Social Media

To Market
Other Weekly Round-Ups:

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

Happy reading and joyous writing,

Clara and Martina

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

6 WOW Wednesday: Megan Bostic on Always Working to Improve

Megan (that’s with a long “e”) Bostic is a mere human trying to find her place in the universe. Despite the rain and gray (she’s truly solar powered) making her extremely angsty, she’s lived in the Pacific Northwest her whole life, and still does, with her two crazy beautiful girls. You can find her Chronicles of an Aspiring Writer on Youtube, or find her on her website, Facebook, blog, or Twitter account.

I started writing novels in 2002, but will fast forward to the particular novel being published, Never Eighteen. I wrote Never Eighteen, then called Mending Fences, during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in 2008. Any book written in 30 days is going to be a real mess. I polished it up a little and entered it in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest (ABNA) for that year. I’d entered the year before and made the semi-finals. That year, um, nope. Got ousted after the first round. I sat down and did some major revisions then sent it to different people to read—from readers to writers to people in the business I’d connected with. I took their suggestions to do yet another draft and another. By the time I felt I was finished, I was at Mending Fences, version 15.0 (that’s how I name all my novels to keep the rewrites straight)

I began querying to agents in March 2009. While many requested partial or full reviews, I got no takers. I kept going religiously for a year, taking breaks only twice to write two more YA novels (which thus far both sit collecting dust). In February of 2010, I’d decided to take the book off the market, and do another set of revisions before sending it out again.

But wait, there’s more.

A friend of mine sent me the name of another agent, Irene Kraas. He said that even though she ended up rejecting him, she gave him some good feedback, which is something agents don’t often do. I thought, what the heck, what’s one more rejection, and sent her a query. She asked to see the first fifteen pages, then the first fifty, then the entire manuscript. Within ten days of sending her the initial query, I had a contract for representation in my hands.

I did a couple more rounds of revisions at Irene’s request, and by the end of March, she was sending the manuscript out to publishers, five of them to be exact. I was in Disneyland at the time, and remember constantly checking email on my phone to keep up with what was going on. April 9, 2010, we received an offer from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. It was awesome that I was in Disneyland with my husband and daughters to celebrate.

I think what made the most difference for me in the shift from writer to author was being able to take constructive criticism and using it to make my novel the best it could be. We think of our novels as our “babies”, and having someone tell you your baby is ugly, hurts. I’ve learned to take a step back from criticism for a day or two, absorb it, then take what is useful, and disregard the rest.

I think the worst thing an aspiring writer can do is to give up. You can’t get there if you don’t try. Yes, the critiques are hard, yes rejection is hard, but if you want to achieve your dreams, you have to keep going. I have one more very important bit of advice, and that is, never stop trying to be better. You will never reach perfection, but if you keep practicing and keep learning, you will continue to grow as a writer.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

9 Writing Exercises to Recharge Your Creativity and Power Through Writer's Block

One of my favorite writing quotes of all time is from Rudyard Kipling, something about the back kitchen of your consciousness. To my chagrin, I don't remember exactly where it's from and Google, for once, fails me completely. But you get the point. There's a lot of cooking taking place in your subconscious all the time, and complex ideas--the best ideas--can require a lot of simmering.

A friend of mine sent me an email about how she can't get motivated to write--that she has too much to do on her WIP and no inclination to start. Knowing her manuscripts and her recent critique experiences, I wrote her back that I suspected her subconscious was mulling things over, preparing to make some large-scale changes. The moment my fingers typed that, I knew I had hit on something true.

We can force ourselves to write when we aren't feeling inspired. We should force ourselves to write every day or at least most days. But we don't have to write our WIP.  We can write something completely different: a short story, a synopsis for another manuscript, a picture book, a writing exercise. Or we can do something that will help us see our manuscript from another point of view. Literally.

I haven't really done writing exercises in a while. I've felt the urge to let loose several times recently, which resulted in two picture book texts and a short story. But time is so precious, I feel like I can't take time to do something "unproductive." It surprised me how much I LOVED the exercises that I did in the Miami breakout sessions. They completely took pressure away and let me experience the joy of creation--but at the same time, taught me a lot about writing in general and my own writing in particular. In creating those small snippets of scene, I had to include hints of plot, character, setting, theme.... My brain did all that subconsciously, on the fly, which was an instant reminder of why I love being a writer.  As a bonus, I now have additional book ideas to throw in my drawer, which is actually quite productive. :D

My favorite exercise came from literary agent Jill Corcoran, who was teaching a break-out session on voice. She gave us a prompt, let us write our brief scene, and then told us to turn the exercise around and write the same scene from the point of view of a different character. WOW.  Try this and you will  find new conflicts, new personality quirks, new deep character insights, new possibilities in your scene. Of course, part of what worked so well with this was that Jill gave us a writing prompt as a starting point. Here's the thing though: you don't need a writing prompt. All you need is your WIP.

It occurred to me that I can combine writing exercises with my WIP to bring things out of my mind's back kitchen. Trying Jill's exercise on a scene in my novel was even more revealing than switching my main character from close third person to first person point of view. Suddenly, I discovered new depths in the social position she holds in relation to those around her, how much power she wields, and how her actions and opinions effect others. How much of this she knows consciously in turn informs how she should act at any given point. I highly recommend this as an eye-opener.

Whether you are stuck in your current WIP, just starting one, or facing a revision, combining writing exercises with your own scenes can give you a major jolt of creative adrenaline. Including the two I've already mentioned, here are some exercises you could try:

  • Take a scene from your manuscript and change the POV. Switch it from first person to third person, from third person to first, from third close to third distant, etc.
  • Rewrite a scene from your manuscript from the POV of an observer or one of the supporting characters in the scene.
  • Change the age of your main character by twenty years, up or down, and then rewrite a scene from your manuscript from her POV.
  • Write a one paragraph description of each of your main characters in the point of view of every other character.
  • Write an obituary of each of your main characters.
  • Write down the earliest childhood memory of each of your main characters.
  • Write paragraphs or scenes in which each of your character's biggest secrets are discovered by another character.
  • Write paragraphs or scenes in which each of your characters reveal their biggest secrets to another character.
  • Rewrite one of your pivotal scenes between two characters to include no dialogue. (Think of the destroyed kitchen post-sex scene in Mr. and Mrs. Smith.)
  • Rewrite one of your action scenes to include mostly dialogue.
  • Write an argument between each of the characters in your scene and someone else in the scene revealing baggage from a previous scene or interaction.
  • Describe the setting of your scene from the POV of each of the different characters in the scene.
And if you are interested in improving or identifying your authorial voice, try these two exercises as well:
  • Type out a chapter from a book by one of your favorite authors and then rewrite a scene in your book in that author's voice/style. Read the ending chapter of a book by one of your favorite authors and then rewrite it.
  • Analyze how that chapter is different from the original.
Want more? Here are some additional sources for writing exercises:

We all need a kick in the creative pants once in a while. But more importantly, we all deserve to bask in our own brilliance. We do that by creating shiny new words and ideas, finding deeper connections between things we've already put in place, falling deeper in love with our characters. So exercise your creativity on your own manuscript. It's guilt-free, productive, and wonderfully rewarding.

Happy writing!

Martina

About the Author

Martina Boone is the author of Compulsion and Persuasion, out now in the romantic Southern Gothic Heirs of Watson Island trilogy from Simon & Schuster, Simon Pulse. Illusion, the final book, will be out in October of 2016. Martina is also the founder of AdventuresInYAPublishing.com, a three-time Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers Site, and YASeriesInsiders.com, a site dedicated to encouraging literacy and reader engagement through a celebration of series literature. She's on the Board of the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia and runs the CompulsionForReading.com program to distribute books to underfunded schools and libraries.

Friday, January 20, 2012

7 This Week for Writers 1/20/12: Our Favorite Articles and Blog Posts


Thanks to the Miami conference and a brand, shiny new upper respiratory infection that has kicked me on my a$$, I am late to the show with this week's Round-up. And the fact that it exists at all is 100% thanks to the brilliant, lovely Clara Kensie, who has been keeping us afloat these past weeks. Please give her a big hand, everyone. She rocks. As soon as the antibiotics fully kick in, I'll be back to give her a hand. Meanwhile, here's what we've got for the week. Enjoy!

Call for Help

Donna's Dream House is a holiday home for children and teenagers with life-threatening or terminal illnesses, situated in the heart of Blackpool, UK. Run by volunteers, it has hosted and helped hundreds of families. Until just before Christmas, when arsonists broke into the Dream House, stole essential computer equipment, and started a fire that damaged the building so badly, it may have to be rebuilt completely. More importantly, the fire destroyed many personal items and mementoes.

The Dream House had to cancel Christmas for the families that were set to stay there over the holidays. The Write Dreams blog wants to help give them a flying restart in 2012. They are auctioning off critiques, books (including some rare UK ARCs) and other goodies.

http://writedreams2012.blogspot.com/

New DIYMFA Feature

Gabriela Pereira is offering a new feature on the DIY MFA blog. The idea is to provide writers with all the basic legal information they need to know so they can make smart choices and ask the right questions when seeking legal advice. The series started this week with an intro post and continues Wednesday and Friday (MWF for the following two weeks as well).

Craft of Writing

Inspiration

Issues, News, Trends, and Congratulations

Self-Publishing, Book Promotion, and Author Marketing

To Market

Other Weekly Round-Ups:
Did we miss anything? Anyone? Please leave a comment!

Happy reading and joyous writing,

Clara and Martina

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

6 WOW Wednesday Posts and New Feature Interviews to Promote Your Work

I've just now gotten home from Miami. It is 12:50 am,and I still have to decorate for my daughter's birthday--plus tomorrow/today is going to be a whirlwind. So. The longer post I was going to do is just going to have to wait.

For today, what I need to tell you is that our WOW Wednesday posts are filled into November. If you have some writerly good news to share, are a published or agented writer with an AHA moment or great advice to share with other writers, or you have a book coming out and you want to do a post in November or thereafter, our invitation to do a WOW Wednesday stands. Just let me know.

But since we are filled up so far in advance, we want to go ahead and bring back author interviews that run the week a book comes out. If you have a book releasing and would like to schedule an interview and book blurb to appear on Adventures in Young Adult and Children's Publishing, we would love to feature you the week you release. To set it up, just answer the following questions and email the interview to kidlit (at) writeedge dot com at least one week in advance.

Interview Questions to Answer

Book blurb plus your two to three sentence bio.
What inspired you to write this book?
What is your favorite thing about the book/in the book?
How long did you work on it?

Optional Questions
(Answer any, all, or none of these at your discretion.)

How was your journey to publication? Long, short, how many rejections?
What most made the difference to you in getting from aspiring writer to published author?
What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?
What has surprised you most about becoming a published author?
What are your favorite books on writing craft?
What are your favorite books to read for pleasure?
What new projects are you working on and when can we look to see them on the shelves?

Happy writing!

Martina
(and the ladies of AYACP)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

16 Writerly Inspiration and Aha Moments

We all know that we can't improve our writing much by simply writing a manuscript. Or even a dozen manuscripts. Not if we write in a vacuum. Big improvements come from:
  • Writing a variety of things, playing with techniques, and seeing what sounds "true"
  • Getting feedback on what is working and what isn't working from other writers, hopefully those with more experience and talent than we have ourselves
  • Getting feedback from others who read (for pleasure) the type of thing that we are writing
  • Reading voraciously (and with a writerly eye) both within our genre and outside our genre
  • Reading books on craft written by editors and other writers

The above paths to improvement are nothing new. We all know about them and hear about them all the time. But I'm going to add something to that list, something important: going to writing conferences. And I don't mean just the conferences that have great keynote speakers and opportunities to (hopefully) put your work in front of editors and agents. I mean writing conferences where you get to do all that, but more importantly, where you get to actually sit down in a room with other writers and take in lessons on craft, look at examples of different techniques, and try them out yourself. Conferences that force you--yes, force you--to become a better writer.

I just attended an SCBWI conference in Miami, and Holy Cow. It was amazing. I usually go to the big SCBWI New York conference in January, but this year, I took up an invitation from a writer friend--one of my best friends--who I met at the conference in New York two years ago. She told me that the Miami conference is full of writing intensives and break-out sessions, and she was right. She and I, along with another writing friend met at a conference, attended a day-long novel intensive on Friday, and then listened to great speakers all day on Saturday, had our manuscripts critiqued Saturday afternoon, and then had two more wonderful craft sessions on Sunday. We came away inspired, the same as we would have in New York, but more than that, I think we all came away as dramatically better writers.

It comes down to Aha moments, moments where you hear exactly what you are ready to hear said in just the right way. It can be something you've never heard before, or something you've heard a hundred times but never really understood because you weren't ready for it until that moment. I think I had about six of those in the Friday intensive presented by writer Dorian Cireoni and agent Marietta Zacker. It was an intense intensive, full of great advice. They offered it with energy, passion, and deep knowledge. They showed AMAZING examples of brilliant writing by Sara Zarr, Sarah Ockler, Nova Ren Suma, and others who write for children and young adults. They also gave us exercises designed to help us look at our own work in different ways. They were stellar teachers. And I defy anyone to take a workshop from them and not learn a ton. But I also need to mention who was there. Not just novice writers. There were many published writers in that class and the other classes offered over the weekend. There were also editors and other agents--professionals who have learned that you never stop learning.

If you haven't been to a conference yet, GO! Go as fast as you can. But don't go just in the hope that you will get your work in front of someone or hear about how to get your book published. Go because if you do, you will learn how to become a better writer and how to write a better book. Good books will eventually find an audience. I do firmly believe that. It may not happen overnight--but if you work diligently, read everything, write consistently and with passion, and constantly work on learning and honing your craft, it will happen. Don't let yourself get discouraged. Get inspired instead. Learn, grow, persevere, and go to conferences to meet other writers to take on the journey with you. Chances are, you will meet writers who will change your life--and become your friends for life.

Happy conferencing,

Martina

Places to Find Writing Conferences and Workshops

Friday, January 13, 2012

7 This Week for Writers 1/13/12: Our Favorite Articles and Blog Posts

Clara's Favorites

Book Reviews and Giveaways

Craft of Writing, Editing, and Critiquing

Inspiration and Smiles

Issues, News, Trends, and Congratulations


Social Media


Self-Publishing, Book Promotion, and Author Marketing


Self-Publishing, Book Promotion, and Author Marketing


To Market


Other Weekly Round-Ups:
Did we miss anything? Anyone? Please leave a comment! Happy reading and joyous writing,

Clara and Martina

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

16 WOW Wednesday: Caroline Starr Rose on Working Hard and Believing

Caroline Starr Rose spent her childhood in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and New Mexico, camping at the Red Sea in one and eating red chile in the other. As a girl she danced ballet, raced through books, composed poetry on an ancient typewriter, and put on magic shows in a homemade cape. She’s taught both social studies and English in New Mexico, Florida, Virginia, and Louisiana. You can find her on her website, on Facebook, or on her blog.

Working Hard and Believing

by Caroline Starr Rose
I left teaching in May 2009 to pursue writing full-time. Risky? You bet. Leaving a steady job in the hope of securing publication -- it's a long shot. But by October I’d signed with my agent, Michelle Humphrey. Five months later, my novel-in-verse, MAY B., sold at auction. While this all sounds easy, my publication journey has been anything but.

After signing with Michelle, I sat down with a file folder I called In The Mail, a low-tech, messy record of my submission process over the years. Here’s what I found:
  • 11 years of writing (10 years of subbing)
  • 11 manuscripts (four middle-grade novels, seven picture books)
  • 211 rejections from editors (2 fulls and 1 partial requested over the years)*
  • 12 contests/grants entered (1 win)
  • 75 rejections from agents (12 fulls and 2 partials requested, mainly in 2009)

Michelle sent me an email in March 2010 saying, "Good news! Best discussed over the phone." She told me two, possibly three editors were interested in MAY B., something I never expected from my very non-commercial book. It was amazing to talk with three people who loved my work, had shared it with others in their office, had thought through ways to strengthen the storyline, etc. The work editors are willing to put into a book before even knowing its theirs is amazing. In the end, I decided to work with Nicole Geiger at Tricycle Press. After a combined ten rounds of edits, line edits, and copyedits, the book was ready to go.

And then I got another phone call, this time from Nicole. Random House had decided to close Tricycle, she told me. All editors had been laid off, and all books slated for summer and fall 2011 were in jeopardy (MAY B. was originally to debut September 2011). For six weeks my book was without a home. All I could do was wait.

Finally Michelle called with the news that one of the three original editors was still interested in my book, an editor who also happened to work for Random House. MAY became one of five Tricycle titles kept in the Random House family and became a spring 2012 title for imprint Schwartz and Wade.

I’ll admit, it was hard learning my new editor, Emily Seife, didn’t feel the book was done. She asked for three more rounds of edits, two more rounds of line edits, and one of copyedits. Thankfully, she knew what I didn’t, that my book would be stronger, deeper, and richer with this extra work.

Over the years, in the midst of rejection and doubt, in the isolation of the pre-blogging era, two things have kept me going, the ideas that I have something unique to say, and my work can only improve if I keep at it. When I wrote MAY B., I knew it wouldn’t have mass appeal. I also knew it was the story I needed to write. Debuting with a literary verse novel in this slow economy is a reminder that my girl’s quiet story meant enough to several people to foster and develop. This leaves me utterly grateful.

Hard work is and will always be a part of every step of the process. Despite the long journey, every moment has been worth it.

*Most sent before emailed submissions became the norm. I waited over a year to hear back from a number of publishers, many of whom wouldn’t accept simultaneous submissions.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

7 A Writer is a Writer Because....

"A writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, because everything she does is golden. In my view, a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway."
 ~ Junot Diaz
I'm still under the weather, and on top of that, I'm getting ready for both a writer's conference and my daughter's birthday--the one happening the day after I get back from the other. Which is a long-winded way of letting you know that this is going to be a rerun of an old post. But it's a post I need to revisit for myself because the writing (or the lack of it) is getting to me. I can't get to the computer for more than a few minutes at a time, and in those minutes, I wonder if I am spending my time productively.

Have you ever struggled with the decision to rewrite something? I'm excited about a manuscript I've got cooking, but I know I need to finish revisions on something else first. And I don't quite feel like I have a handle on the revision. I thought I had it. On paper I have it. But "it" is a slippery sucker. Every time I get it by the tail, it bucks and leaves me lying on the ground staring up at the stars. Until I figure out what's wrong, all I'm really accomplishing is word-polishing.

Have you been here too? Reading, rereading, fiddling with words? Eating chocolate and polishing again to make yourself feel like you're getting somewhere?

Finding the Courage to Start Over


So here's what I have to remind myself: it isn't the ability to complete a first draft or a revision that defines us as writers and helps us grow. It’s how we pick ourselves up, and start over, revise or rewrite, or start something new in a more logical, thoughtful way.

Creating fiction is a little like baking a cake. There are basic ingredients that can be combined in almost infinite ways with small artistic touches to create something unique and delicious. Of course, there are also hundreds of ways we can sabotage ourselves.


Fiction Has to Be More Logical than Reality

In fiction, we can’t just add elements willy-nilly. Readers expect fiction to make more sense than real life, and the farther we get from contemporary and mundane events, the more everything in the story has to be absolutely logical and believable. Because the second the reader doubts one thing and starts to question, she's gone forever.

There are a million stories out there waiting to be written. We all have drawers and notebooks full of ideas. And there’s nothing, nothing, that says we have to rewrite the first book if it doesn’t sell. But we shouldn’t ever give up on it without first taking the time to break it down.

Examining the Structure

To see what’s wrong with a story, we have to look beneath the words. We have to examine the concept, the shape, the balance of the layers, the way the flavors come together, the texture, and yes—the artistic quality of the frosting. We need to evaluate the key ingredients.
  • Concept. Can you state it in a sentence? When CHARACTER(S) encounter INCITING INCIDENT, she must OVERCOME CONFLICT to ACHIEVE GOAL.
  • Originality. Is your story different enough from what’s already out there? Is there some unique twist in the concept that makes it specific and exciting?
  • Character. Examine your main character. Is she novel-worthy? Is she slightly bigger than life? What holds her back? What flaw keeps her from getting what she wants? What does she want and why does she want it? What does she actually need, without realizing that she needs it? How are those two opposed to create conflict for her? What's her character arc? What does she learn? Who is the antagonist? How does the antagonist keep the protagonist from achieving her goal? Is the antagonist every bit (or more) as smart and determined as the protagonist? Who are your supporting cast? Are they each unique? How do they complicate things for the protagonist? Have you built (at least for yourself) a backstory for each of your characters and used it to add conflict to the choices they must make?
  • Theme. What does your story mean? How will it touch your readers?
  • Structure. Do you follow the classic four-part story structure? Do you have a great opening and closing image? Does your rising and falling action make sense when you map it? Is it logical? Do your story milestones fall in the right places and have you set them up well enough? Do you have a solid hook, high stakes, a compelling call to action, and is it your main character who responds and actively makes things happen? Do you have enough sub-plots? Too many? Do they all tie together and do you resolve them all by the end? Is every element tightly woven into the fabric of your work, or have you cheated by using devices the reader will resent? Is there enough conflict overall?
  • Scene. Is every scene necessary? Is there tension on every page? Does every scene have its own goal, motivation, and conflict? Does every scene have rising action? Does every scene start and end with a hook?
  • Setting. What are your setting and background? Have you made these as interesting and unique as possible? Is there anything about them that would make things even more difficult for the main character and/or highlight parts of her struggle?
  • Point of View. Is the point of view you are using giving the reader the best platform for understanding what's going on? Is your story told from the point of view of the person experiencing the greatest conflict? Do you avoid head hopping? Is each point of view unique?
  • Voice. Does the voice of each character reflect her world view and backstory? Does she take a stand on what she sees, hears, feels, and experiences? Do we understand her from the things she says? Can we connect to her? Can we differentiate her from the voice of every other character?
The above isn’t a complete list by any means, but it’s a start. These past weeks when I haven't been able to sit at the computer, I don't have to stop writing or revising. I'm thinking. I'm assimilating. I've got my cake cooling and getting ready to shape and frost.
The most important thing I am telling myself to remember is that I can't give up. YOU can't give up. Don't get discouraged. If you believe—BELIEVE—in your story with every sleep-deprived, unwashed, and family-estranged fiber of your being, then you CAN take it apart, add to it, delete from it, and make it into something bigger and better. More memorable. And more saleable.

It won’t be easy. It may not happen the first time. Or even the second time. If you're like me, you may be eager to move on to a different manuscript. You may feel overwhelmed by the revisions. But you're a writer. Everything you have learned so far--everything you will learn by doing this revision--will transfer into that new story eventually, and it will be even stronger by the time you get back to it. Sure you can quit and move on now. But if that first story haunts you, dredge up the energy to go back to it. Find the passion. Accept the delay and the brewing that's required. Accept it and rejoice in it.

This is what I'm telling myself.

It isn't writer's block. It isn't a road block. Life isn't getting in your way. It's giving you an opportunity to strengthen the bones of your story.

Don't Give Up

They say it takes ten years to get truly good at something. Well, it takes a whole lot more than that if we give up when the going gets tough.


So if you're facing a tough draft or a  hard revision?  Don’t. Give. Up.

Never give up. We'll all get there together.


Happy writing,

Martina