The whole team here at Adventures in YA Publishing join together to wish you all a very productive and happy 2016. We are sure that many of us today are formulating not only our resolutions for work, home, and self, but also for writing. As you think over what stories you hope to complete this year, perhaps it is a good time to give some thought to reviewing the craft that makes your story the best it can be.
So, please enjoy these tidbits below from the insightful craft posts our wonderful guest bloggers have shared throughout 2015. And be sure to check out last week's Christmas Day post of Best Craft Tips of 2015 from Adventures in YA Publishing, part A.
From: Character is Not Plot by Brian Yansky
So basically all of this is just to make the point that plot should be looked at as an opportunity. How? Here are a few ideas:
- Plot should have progression. You should see movement all along toward some resolution.
- Plot should make promises from the beginning and fulfill them in interesting and unexpected ways-- as Brandon Sanderson has written.
- Use what happens to deepen theme as in To Kill a Mockingbird.
- Sorry characters—be, as Vonnegut says, a sadist toward your characters. Create situations that test your characters.
From: Solutions for the Most Common Mistakes Writers Make and More -- An Interview with Editor Emma D. Dryden
In my opinion, concept and execution can’t exist without the other, so one is not more important than the other, but both are equally critical. Someone can hit upon a terrific concept, but if they can’t execute it intelligently and with great craftsmanship, the concept remains just that—a concept, without the elements of storytelling that bring concepts to life on the page: character building, world building, subtlety and nuance, layers of substory and subtext, and so on. To my mind, how well or how poorly something is executed speaks directly to an author’s mastery of their craft as a writer and story teller—an author has to be able to not only conceive of a story and tell a story, but actually put the story down on the page within a story form that compels and transports readers.
When it comes to concepts, lots of authors have great concepts but they may not fully understand the conventions of the genre in which their concept would be best executed. Every genre has conventions. It’s critical for an author to know and understand the conventions of the genre in which they’re writing and understand that readers know these conventions as well. Only when an author knows the conventions of their genre can the author then break and change the conventions to suit their story, thereby executing a story that’s going to not only surprise and compel readers, but also keep them satisfied. Again, this applies as much to picture books and nonfiction as it does to fiction and fantasy.
From: Thoughts on Theme by Claire M. Caterer
Instead of searching out a tagline, plot summary, or theme, try writing a story about people first. Everyone’s different, and I know some people start with plot or setting, and I can’t argue with that. But character had better be close behind, because the best plot in the world can’t save a story peopled by cardboard cutouts. If readers can’t identify and engage with the characters, your big, deep theme won’t mean a thing to them. In fact, they probably won’t get far enough in the book to figure out what the theme is.
Find something compelling about your character in your story. Are you writing about someone who doesn’t fit in? That could be boring and faceless unless your character is Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games) or Harry Potter or Charlie from Perks of Being a Wallflower. Come up with that person, and even if the theme is common—the Lone Hero Makes a Stand or Good Conquers Evil—the story will be powerful.
From: Blah Blah Blah: How Dead-End Dialogue Kills Pacing by Amy K. Nichols
The final problem to look for when revising is sections where your characters say what they already know solely for the reader’s benefit. Writers do this when they question their ability to communicate the story, and/or when they underestimate the readers’ ability to comprehend it. Passages of dialogue that state the obvious cause readers to roll their eyes and think, We already know this! (Well, that’s how I react anyway.)
If you come across a character stating the obvious, ask yourself the following questions:
- Has any of this been shown in previous scenes or chapters?
- Does this section of dialogue advance the story?
- If I cut this dialogue, will the reader be lost or confused?
If you answer these questions and still feel you need the exchange, revise the section to be as quick and snappy as possible.
From: Crafting a Satisfying Ending to Your Story by Amy Fellner Dominy
Whatever happens at the end of your book, happy or tragic, funny or heart-breaking, make sure it’s believable for your character. We want our characters to be smart, and capable. But are they? Is that the person you’ve created? Give your characters the space to be larger than life. To take things to extremes. To make horrible mistakes and huge miscalculations if that’s who they are. Or allow them to cower in fear if that’s who they are. Don’t give us the ending you want or the ending you think we want: give us the ending earned by your characters.
From: Reverse Outlining and Magic Post Its by Katherine Locke
In this process [of reverse outlining], I use the “But” and “Therefore” method of checking my scenes, pacing, and tension. I learned this from a neat tip online [LINK] from the South Park writers and it’s been life changing! The words “But” or “Therefore” should exist (unspoken, unwritten) between each scene or beat of your story. NOT the words “And Then.”
From: Essentials of a Pitch by Ava Jae
All pitches must answer these questions:
1) Who is/are your protagonist(s)?
2) What does/do your protagonist(s) want?
3) What’s standing between your protagonist(s) and their goal(s)?
4) What do they have to lose if they fail to achieve their goal(s) (What’s at stake)?
From:Having Fun with Editing by Skylar Dorset
When I set out to write a novel, I’m aiming for tens of thousands of words. But what if I only had two thousand words to tell a story? What if I only had two hundred? Setting out to tell a story in two hundred words is tough, but it can be done. What challenging yourself to tell a story in so few words really does is it teaches you how to edit yourself down. If you’ve challenged yourself to two hundred words and you’ve written two-hundred-and-fifty, you develop techniques to find the clauses and flourishes and details you don’t need. It forces you to think about what’s really important in what you’re trying to get across. You develop an instinctive feel for what you need to tell your story and what you don’t need.
From: Three Steps for Nailing Your Author and Character Voice by Martina Boone
Getting to know your characters is the critical aspect here. And that takes more than just doing the cursory work about their background. It takes knowing what the character feels and sees and things about every situation.
Dive into the character’s skin, and you’ll nail the voice. You can do it!
- What do they want?
- What motivates them?
- What do they notice in a given situation?
- What do they not notice?
- What do they feel about the people and locations around them?
- How educated are they? How do they speak?
- How do they express themselves? Do they use an economy of words, or do they speak eloquently? What is their frame of reference for comparisons and how they see the world? Are they artistic? Overly-emotional? Sophisticated? Free spirited? Focused on pure logic?
So, now that you've had a short refresher on some critical craft elements we hope you'll feel energized to face the new year with energized writing. May all your stories this year glow with character and emotion...and meet a very eager audience!
-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers