Friday, September 27, 2013

Editing Novels: Round Three + More Notes from Martine Leavitt's class at WIFYR

I just finished another revision of my MG novel. (fist pump).

It's cause for going out to lunch tomorrow (especially since my husband's guys-only backpacking trip has evolved into going out to dinner twice and one afternoon by a pool). I'm excited.

It isn't time to put the manuscript away yet, however.

I believe it was Ann Cannon who said her approach to editing involves only focusing on one fix each time through a manuscript. Since in the past I've to get bogged down on sentence structure and wanting to fix every little thing at once, this time I tried this approach.I went through the book with a goal to to fix the supporting character and give her better motivation.

Good things happened. Besides getting through another draft and actually liking the result, I found my changes to the supporting character added a new dimension and motivation to my main character.

Which never hurts. Because finding, clearly defining, and sticking to the main character's overarching desire is something I can never review too much.

As Martine Leavitt told our WIFYR workshop last June, desire seems to be the thing with which almost all her students [at Vermont College of Fine Arts] struggle.  I think most writers have to wrestle through a draft or two, or at least some major outlining, before we truly find the heart of our character's story.

Martine quoted John Gardner. To paraphrase this quote,  plotting, however childish or elementary it may seem in comparison to surgeons, physicists…the writer has no story until he has figured out a plot that will efficiently and elegantly express it…although action without meaning will have no universal appeal, plot is the essential element of every writer’s plan.

And a quote from Kurt Vonnegut which Martine reminded us of, with good cause, more than once: "Every character must want something, even if it’s a glass of water."

To me, desire means more than a casual wish for something. A glass of water can be nice. But if you're dying of thirst, that changes everything.


After a bit of a break, and lunch, I'll need to tackle my next two projects: 1. Making sure that desire or need, is clear and important throughout the book, and 2. Tackling that boring part in the middle. Which is good subject for another post.


Monday, September 23, 2013

Part 2: Creating a Book I Feel Good About Writing

Then again . . .

As much as I want to write a book that kids will want to read, as important as that is to selling a book, it isn't the whole reason I write.

Writing is expressive and cathartic for me. As my characters discover things about themselves, I often find they discover things I needed to know or relearn.

So I can't make that scene that had 1 cop car in it suddenly have "a whole troop of squad cars" like my daughter suggested, unless it's true to my intent and to my character.

Which makes me remember that important rule Martine Leavitt taught me at WIFYR: is every scene related in some way to the character's central purpose and desire? Even if it might be more Hollywood to have twenty police cars with sirens blazing, if I throw it in just for sensational appeal, it isn't right for my story. Am I adding things the way a new teen might add too much makeup, too many accessories? Time to remember the old design maxim.

Less is more.

While I could add more Hollywood action or fluff, maybe the emotion, the setting, and the description need bolstering. In other words, the true elements essential to the driving need of the main character, need more time and attention.

Off to do more editing.

And to go with my goal of adding photos, here's my oldest after getting a haircut. The stuff on the floor, as well as his great new do, is a great illustration of less is more.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Where I've Been


My husband is somewhere in the above photo. Spotting him may be a bit easier than finding any blog posts from me in the last month or so.

I've been editing.

I've been soo tired.

I've been on vacation.

Editing on vacation, and getting more tired from jet lag.

I'm back now. And as I've been trying to start reading other blogs, I've noticed I like posts with photos. So I think I'll insert a few here and there. This is a beautiful street in Nice, France. I had this idea to take photos of windows and come back and make a books of fabulous doorways and balconies.

What does this have to do with writing? Nothing.

But even if I don't get that book of windows made (a book for me, not for publication), I plan to keep working on the books I write.

And start blogging more consistently.

And actually follow other people's blogs better.

I also need to at least write down where I took all these photos before I have to say, "I took this somewhere, but I'm not sure where."

What do you need to do better in your writing world? Do some research to make sure your scene snapshots are authentic?

Write consistently?

Do a better job supporting other writers?

Or take a vacation?



Creating a Book Children Want to Read

I've mentioned it before. My children read my books.

Don't peg me as the type to send a query stating, "my family loved this book." I have a critique group (two  now, actually). I go to writing conferences. I send my work out for others to read. Okay, now that we've cleared that up, back to why my kids read my books.

Adult writers are kind. They, like me for them, appreciate the bundled hours of labor, worried effort, rejection and grief that go into creating a book.

Kids just want something great to read. It has to be fun. They have to like the characters, and stay interested.

So while my critique partner may politely suggest I might want to add a little more drama to a section, kids have too many other distractions to stick with a book that stops making sense or stalls. Unlike in critique group, at home I'm competing with Percy Jackson and Goose Girl. My kids are avid readers, and they know books well. If my daughter puts my book down, I know my plot just hit a sinkhole.

That's when I beg her to stop being nice and tell me what's wrong. So far I've heard, "I hate [Insert name of character I thought complex and fascinating]. She's too whiny."

"You didn't make the scene with [insert what I thought was a scary situation] bad enough. You need to add a whole bunch more, and make it last longer."

Sometimes my daughter asks about a part that didn't make sense. Then I'll say, "What about where . . .?"

And she will say, "Oh. I didn't know that happened." Uh-oh. In other words, I'm not getting that part of the story out of my head and onto the paper. It might need more sense of setting, or clarified language.

If my book is getting as boring as math class, they'll tell me. And if I'm going to write a book that's going to keep my kids attention, I really have to step it up. A bit like this photo of my youngest, trying to stand tall enough to fit this Bahamanian mask.

This book will go back to more beta readers. It might get a professional edit after that. But for now, I'm enjoying the fresh and honest perspective of my kids. Because if they want to read it, really want to, when they have the option of picking up a bestseller instead, then I know I'm off to a good start.