Thursday, October 9, 2014

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: Check it out and leave me a comment!