Thursday, October 9, 2014

Figure It Out Already!

"FIGURE IT OUT ALREADY!"
      This is the phrase I mentally yell at my brain when I'm learning something new. It doesn't really work, but I keep yelling it anyway. The learning comes in the application for me--always. Sometimes it comes after multiple applications. So when I learned about Martine Leavitt's Mechanics of Desire from my friend Heather Clark I thought my world had completely changed. She basically states that you need to know, from the start of your story, the desires of each character--especially the protagonist. You need to know their emotional desire as well as their concrete desire. If you want to read more about the concept (which you should, because it's brilliant and makes writing so much easier), follow the link to Heather's blog and read all about it. 
     I've been writing a novel, still writing a novel, the same novel I've been writing for two years now. Of course, each time I tackle it, the novel completely changes. You know why? Because I have never figured out my characters and what they want. I think I've got it, but I don't. I'm so close--but I'm never quite there. So I decided to scale back a little and start with a simple picture book that I've been stuck on for a few months. The writing and images are beautiful. My characters, Billy and Penelope, and the conflict they face, are unique. However the story itself ran into a storm and I started writing about the rain instead of the characters. I couldn't move forward. Penelope was running around with a boat over her head and Billy was cowering under a porch. The storm had too much power and the characters couldn't win. Can you guess what I did then? Yep! I stopped writing it. 
     After applying the Mechanics of Desire I figured out that the storm didn't matter, it was just background to what Billy wanted--HIS desires. So now that I've figured that out, I have to bring the focus back around to Billy and allow the rain to do what it will. Billy has purpose, desires, announced strategies, and conflict every step of the way. Even in a picture book, this type of determination will help move the story forward. I am excited to write again. I think that if I can meaningfully apply this concept in a small setting, I may be able to do so in a larger one as well. I can guarantee I'm not done mentally yelling at myself, but even small wins like this are super helpful. There's much more learning to do!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Make Every Word Count

I recently won a Picture Book critique from Sharlee Glenn, Author of Keeping Up With Roo, Just What Mama Needs, and One in a Billion. I was excited and a little nervous having an amazing published author look over my book. I picked a manuscript that I put together over two years ago and haven’t looked since. I liked the basic concept, but it didn’t quite have the punch I wanted it to pack. Sharlee gave me a few line comments, like, “I really like this alliteration sequence” or “Woa, wait, who is this?” But there were two comments that struck me the most.
The first statement was: Don’t write anything that can be shown in a picture.
At first I cut everything--and I mean everything--that was visual, but after showing it to my critique group they weren’t happy. They wanted to feel the scenes. They wanted emotion, action, and description. When I looked at back at what Sharlee said, I realized it was an overarching critique to help me with word count, but I still needed to write out the actions along with the story and feelings of my young protagonist. However, that statement alone helped me focus my story better.
The second statement was: Picture books for young readers have 200-500 words. I know that as a parent I like reading shorter books to my kids, so I took the advice to heart. My manuscript was almost 1,100 words. So if I cut it down by more than half, I would have something closer to submission ready. Seems easy enough, right? However, it took me over a week to take the word count down to just under 500. Making every word count is something critical in the Picture Book process. I’d heard that phrase hundreds of times, but after picking my manuscript apart, I have come to truly understand. The scenes flow better, the action is more powerful, and the themes are easier to find. Overall, I have a more engaging story with half the word count.
To be honest, I’m still working on improving it. My writer’s group has seen it many times. I’m just about ready to send it to my Beta Readers, but I really feel like it’s almost to the point where I’d feel comfortable submitting it to an agent. I want to thank Sharlee for taking the time to look at the book for me and for offering such a great critique. Any time you have a chance to get advice from a professional, take it! I’m sure glad I did!

What are some words of advice you’ve received that changed the way you look at writing?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Studying Craft

     I have been working mainly on my Middle Grade novel over the past few months since Nanowrimo, so new content has been pretty sparse, but I'm still learning, attending conferences and practicing my writing skills. Learning craft is probably one of my biggest challenges with writing, but I've found a few resources that have helped me, and wrote this blog entry about it a few months back on Real Writers Write:
http://www.realwriterswrite.com/2013/10/studying-craft.html. Check it out and leave me a comment!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Being Flexible is the Key

It wasn’t my idea, it really wasn’t, but I’m doing it anyway… NaNoWriMo that is. Ever heard of it? 50,000 words written in one month--November. My good friend and Critiki member, Heather Clark, said she was doing it and asked if anyone wanted to join in. My first reaction? No way Jose! I don’t have the time or the motivation to write a whole novel in one month, especially November. Who was the crazy person that set it during the busiest time of year? Second reaction? Well, maybe it would help me get this story I’ve been thinking about out of my head. Heck, why not?
I  still didn’t want to say the words, to commit to it, but the question was looming. If you know anything about me, once I make a decision there’s no going back, you can count on me.  This storyin  has to be written, I might as well do it quick, so I said the words, “I’ll do it!” So there you have it, I am doing NaNoWriMo.
For two weeks I’ve been focusing on outlining, brainstorming characters and relationships, getting down to minor details, and prepping for this major goal. I have never written anything close to this many words in such a short period of time, but my heart is in it. I feel prepared and now I’m just itching for tomorrow morning to start the first scene of this novel or perhaps the third chapter, which brings me to my point.
The thing that has helped me the most with this huge goal is remembering that I need to be flexible. I can allow myself to write badly, as long as the concept is on the page. This book is not going to be perfect when I get to the end. The language will not be consistent from start to finish. The character’s voices won’t be completely defined. It’s basically brainstorming on paper, but it WILL BE ON PAPER. I may make changes to characters or settings as I write, but I will continue to write and mark with an asterisk things that change. If I need to brainstorm more or find something better to fill a scene, I will mark it with a comment and plow forward to the end. Of course having a great support system helps. That’s where my husband, crock pot, washing machine, and critique group come in.

This isn’t my first time shooting for a big goal. When working for a promotion in Mary Kay I knew it would take more focused work to get to where I wanted to be, but it was always for a short time. “Short term sacrifice for a long term gain.” Big goals push us, they motivate us, and they can be the very things that turn our careers around. So I’m doing it! Will you join me? Nanowrimo starts tomorrow morning! I’d love to be your buddy, look me up: janelley33.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Discovering Characters: A Proper Introduction


I’ve mentioned before that I have been having difficulty with my current middle grade project. I’ve realized that my stopping point boils down to, “Now what would that character say?” or “What else would this character do?” But I don’t have any good answers. I’ve re-written and brainstormed and re-written again only to figure out that I don’t know my characters well enough. I’ve read books, attended conferences, looked online and read in my genre. I’ve filled out character questionnaires and done character interviews, but even then I ask myself, “Well, how am I supposed to know what my character has in his pocket?” or “I have no idea what she would say about her best friend.” Every answer I come up with feels forced and doesn’t help me get any closer to understanding my character.
Recently a friend of mine and member of my critique group, Heather Clark, attended WIFYR and went to a class taught by Martine Leavitt that changed her life and as a result, mine. You absolutely have to read her recent blog about it on Real Writer’s Write. In using the “Mechanics of Desire.” I’ve finally grasped the question that has alluded me for years: How do I develop my character?  
In recent brainstorming sessions I’ve started with a miniscule idea of who my characters are (on both sides of the coin--protagonist and antagonist). Then to flesh them out I’ve started a document for each main character. I write a separate line for each aspect of my character and fill in:
Emotional Desire
Concrete Desire
Controlling Beliefs
Announced Strategies
Obstacles
Stakes
By doing this I really get into the character’s head. I understand who they are and why. From here, any quirks they have, skills they have, or objects in their pockets only make the character that much deeper. By understanding my characters desires and motivations, I can easily go from one scene to the next, which is where my other plotting resources (Dan Well’s Seven Point Plot Structure and Craig Nybo’s “How to Write a Novel”) will come in handy.

I have come farther in brainstorming this particular version of my story than I have ever been before, just through fleshing out the characters. I think that once I’m done figuring out my main characters the rest will come. I can’t wait to write “The End” on this first version of my story and get back into editing. Have fun discovering your characters and bringing them to life. I know I will!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Writer's Block

     I've been working on a middle grade novel for almost a year now and am still on chapter five. Not that I haven't been writing, but because I keep re-working the same chapters over and over. I have had other people read what I've written and they like what they've read. However they've raised concerns that have halted my progress with completely finishing the book. Things like, "If you keep writing this story, what is the consequence if she doesn't escape her situation?" My answer, "She'll get eaten." Their reply, "Isn't that a little gross for a middle grade novel?" Even though I love my setting, after months of trying to make it work, I had to concede--on more fronts than just that one. My total premise was off. I've re-thought what I'm going to write, but I had to work through what I want to have happen with the story and what will actually work. I'm starting to work through my writer's block and I know the story I'm currently writing will be better than the one I originally thought of. The key is to stick with it and don't give up (an don't let anyone read it until you're done with the rough draft)!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Consistency Is Key

    For the past year and a half since I started my writing career I've been off and on with my writing. But recently I decided that I would make writing a daily habit. I started with just 15 minutes a day (yes, I use a timer). From my business training I've learned that small and incremental changes create lasting change, so I have been improving over the past few weeks. For two weeks I wrote for 15 minutes, the next two weeks for 16, and am currently writing for 17 minutes a day. Since I've started this process I have brainstormed, written, and edited an entire picture book story and even done some major brainstorming and writing for a second story. Not bad for only 15-17 minutes a day. Every two weeks, when I feel like I have mastered the time frame, I will bump the time up one minute. Soon I will be at 20 minutes and in no time at all, an hour. My productivity will go up and hopefully my chances for publication. Good luck figuring out your goals and consistently reaching them!