Posted by Heather on Sep 21, 2012 in WRITING TIPS
You’ve been DYING to hear back from that critique partner, editor, agent, friend. You stalk your inbox. When the document finally arrives, you break out into a sweat. What if they HATED everything? Then you think, naaah. That’s not possible. Your pages are so shiney you’ve gotta wear shades just to read them. So you open your manuscript with confidence only to find the page is bleeding, okay, GUSHING in ink. You gasp! How do you deal with the mountain of criticism?
Most of us fall into one of these three categories–
THE SELF-DEPRECATING SNIVELER
If you’re this writer, you implode when you receive feedback. You’re paralyzed for days, weeks even, because you’re nothing but a phoney anyway–the one who barely calls themselves a shhhhh, writer. You don’t have any talent and now the critique has just proved that. You have a meltdown.
THE PROACTIVE SUPERHERO
You ponder the comments for twenty-four seconds and then pull on your revision cape and x-ray grammar mask. You attack your manuscript with force, adapting everthing. The critiquer must be absolutely dead on, right? You thank your reader and tell them they’re the smartest person on the planet. Your savior!
THE ANGER-MONGERING INFIDEL
You’re insulted by the comments. WTF do they know about your research, your characters, your method of madness? Nothing! Not only that, but they don’t even have the experience you do. You tell that ingrate how massively intelligent you are, how stupid they are. You even consider degrading their reputation all over the internet so that others won’t be foolish enough to seek their help.
Who we should all strive to be is–
You read the feedback and calmly digest it. It flows over you, through you, and the important pieces stick to your subconscious. You digest it and take notes on how to fix the issues. Then you attack the draft with newfound wisdom and inspiration. You send thanks to your critiquer and offer something in return. GAME ON.
MORAL OF THE STORY
1. EMBRACE YOUR IDIOSYNCRACIES, but aim high! Work toward THE YODA. Ultimately it will make the writing and editing process more enjoyable.
2. GROW A THICK SKIN. It’s essential in this business. Period.
3. TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. Don’t assume you’re inferior and that your critiquer knows everything. It’s your book,your characters, and your style after all. On the flip side, don’t disregard advice entirely just because you think someone doesn’t “get you”. There is ALWAYS something to learn. Always. Even if you’re Stephen King or J.K. Rowling or Phillipa Gregory. If nothing else, the feedback sheds light on how the manuscript affects readers.
4. TREAT CRITIQUERS WITH RESPECT. This is the golden rule. Someone has just spent hours of their time, paid or not, on your work. Their goal is to help the writer improve both the story and their skills–not make them feel lousy. Don’t lash out, even if the feedback you receive is harsh. Show gratitude for their effort and be professional. You never know who that writer/editor/agent knows. The last thing you want to do is damage your reputation, thus your ability to sell books, because you were a hot head one day. Publishing is a small world, after all.
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TAKING THE OUCHIE OUT OF REJECTION
BREAKING OUT OF THE EDITING FUNK
Posted by Heather on May 9, 2012 in WRITING TIPS
A reader or crit partner, even an agent, reads through your manuscript and says, this is too long. Cut 5k, 10k, 30k words? Your jaw drops. What the? How in holy hell am I supposed to do that? It’ll ruin my story, you cry!
Chances are, there’s PLENTY to edit to make your writing tighter and your story move more swiftly. DELETE is the writer’s ultimate-super-bodacious-ultra-sonafide weapon. But there’s nothing to delete, you say? Ahh, look again, young padawan…
CHOOSE YOUR SCENES WITH CARE
This seems like a giant DUH. But it sooo isn’t, at least not at first. Sometimes we add vignettes with loving detail that really serve no purpose in terms of advancing the story or portraying a character’s traits. So how can you tell if a scene can be cut in your own work (especially when you can’t see the forest for the trees)? Look for these points in EVERY SINGLE SCENE:
- Goal— What is the protag/antag’s goal?
- Motivation—What’s propelling your character toward that goal?
- Conflict—What is the problem/issue in the scene preventing the character from achieving said goal?
- Does this scene SHED LIGHT on a character’s traits?
- Does the scene MOVE THE STORY FORWARD?
ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS
Does your protag have a duplicitous nature? Does he/she have a secret talent, a strange preference for maraschino cherries? Demonstrate this by putting your characters in the middle of a scene SHOWING us these idiosyncrasies. Do not describe them, or I should say don’t ONLY describe them. For example:
THIS: Jonny Appleseed loved to scare people. He hid in trees, behind buildings, or in dark corners and sprang upon passersby when they crossed his path. Derrick Cradlesbee was his favorite victim since he made fun of Johnny all the time.
VS.: Johnny Appleseed perched unseen on a bowed branch. A mosquito murmured in his ear and the sweet scent of rotting apples filled his nostrils. He cradled a water balloon in his hand like a baby kitten, careful not to puncture its stretched skin. And there he was—the indominable Derrick Cradlesbee with Claire Lightfoot on his arm. He would pay for making Johnny feel a fool in homeroom. Johnny leaned forward, careful not to lose his footing on the spindly branch. Just three more steps and Derrick…
You get the idea. Portraying a character within a scene is powerful and a reader is more likely to absorb the character’s traits/thoughts/feelings, etc., within an action scene demonstrating them.
TRIM ECHO WORDS, PHRASES & OTHER USELESS CRAP
Echo words or phrases reiterate an already stated thought, thus making them redundant and UNNECCESSARY. This is the part where you “murder your darlings”. Delete, prune, and leave only the meat. Here are a few questions to help guide you with your trimming. When revising, look at each word, each phrase and ask:
- Do I really need this word/line? Does it add to the story? Can I communicate the same idea with a word or two or a gesture instead?
- Is there one slam-dunk word that will nail the same string of adjectives or thoughts?
So look at your MS again. Focus on one scene at a time and comb it lovingly. I guarantee you’ll find a few lice that need to be zapped.
Posted by Heather on Feb 27, 2012 in WRITING TIPS
What does polishing your manuscript mean? You hear it all the time. Make sure your ms shines. Look out for weak verb constructions and adverbs, or too many dialog tags, etc. Sure, these are important elements. But don’t be fooled into thinking strong mechanics are enough for your book to be “ready” for submission. They’re superficial elements. Yes, writing mechanics will make or break a great novel, but it’s only one of the MANY things that make a novel shine. Be sure your manuscript can answer these questions:
- What are the character’s hopes and dreams? Are they obvious to the reader?
- Did you convey a sense of yearning toward these goals?
- How does your character change over the course of their journey to reach their goal(s)?
- What unforeseen growth (or lack of it) happened IN SPITE of the protag’s ignorance of this need to grow?
- Did you properly portray the protag’s likeable qualities?
- What noble (or horror-inducing) actions display the protagonist’s inner sensibilities?
- How do your protagonist’s weaknesses cause obstacles for them before they may achieve their goal(s)?
- Why should the reader continue to read your 250+ paged novel? What is the lesson or moral your book reveals?
Setting & Mood
- Are your characters’ actions anchored in description and sensory details? Have you made the reader hear the metallic clang of a chain fence, feel the rustle of silk on skin, or smell the fatty richness of bacon?
- Have you reflected the character’s feelings by their view of their surroundings? How has this aided in creating a mood or tone for your novel? Can you pinpoint specific examples?
- Does your book display the theme(s) you’re trying to communicate? Can you discern them in different parts of your novel?
- Which additional themes can you weave into the story to enrich the messages in your MS?
- Does the reader long to discover how the character will confront their obstacles?
- Have you made each chapter a mini novel within itself– beginning, middle, climax, and end?
- Does each chapter finish leaving the reader wanting to turn the page, or close the book?
- Have you developed the novel’s themes through the use of symbols?
- Is there a sense of foreshadowing illustrated through the use of symbols?
So how do we know if we’ve REALLY answered all of these questions?
1. Get a critique partner or group on par with your level of craft or slightly above.
2. Enlist several beta readers outside of your crit group for fresh eyes
3. Hire an editor
4. Become a reader yourself. Let your manuscript rest for several weeks and go back to it. Reread it from cover to cover without revising anything. What is missing?
When you can answer all of these questions without hesitating only THEN is it polished to perfection.
Enjoy this post? Check out:
Breaking Out of the Editing Funk
Posted by Heather on Feb 10, 2012 in WRITING TIPS
We’ve been discussing trite openings and plotlines the last couple of weeks here at BETWEEN THE SHEETS. With so much blather about what is good and what isn’t, how to be inspired, and how to avoid falling between the cracks, I’ved decided to run a contest–an opening line contest. And I have some VERY EXCELLENT PRIZES. Trust me. You want to enter. So let’s do it!
Submit the most creative opening line (of a novel) you can come up with in 160 characters or less, spaces included (like a tweet profile byline or a text). Make it dazzling. Entice me. The top three most intriguing will WIN WIN WIN prizes.
WHO SHOULD PARTICIPATE
1. Writers in need of honest feedback for their opening chapter or scene
2. Writers who could use expert marketing/platform advice, need help promoting an upcoming book release, or need direction from a media coach expert before hitting the conference circuit.
HOW TO SIGN UP
1. Sign up with your name and opening line in the comments section of this post (No more than TWO entries per person). Your opening line doesn’t have to be “real”, it just needs to get me all hot and bothered about the story you’re selling. Show me your creative badassery.
2. Be sure to read others and talk about your favorites.
3. Share the contest on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+, etc. No, I will not be stalking your every move, but would genuinely appreciate your cooperation. (I’ll send you a bucket-load of good karma.)
4. Check back on FEBRUARY 24th for the conclusion of the contest. Winners will be posted.
5. I’d love it if you followed me. Also NOT required. I ain’t that shallow, but let me know if you do and I’ll follow back.
1. Both unpublished and published authors may enter
2. All genres welcome
3. In the event there are fewer than 10 participants, the prize will not include Shari’s consultation, so round up some folks to enter!
Winners will be announced on FEBRUARY 24TH. I will post the top three as well as email those who have won. Good luck and pass it on!!
FIRST PLACE: A critique of your opening chapter up to ten pages or 4,000 words by beta reader extraordinaire (yours truly), AND a FREE thirty minute phone consultation from multi-pubbed author, magazine editor, and media expert SHARI STAUCH of SHARK MARKETING. Shari will assist you with your social media platforms (how to use them, how to increase your traffic, how to reach your target audience), coach you on improvements to your blog/website, or make suggestions on promotional details for your book release. Don’t have a website? Shark Marketing specializes in websites for authors as well as writers conference websites. This is a fan-tab-ulous prize!
SECOND PLACE: A critique of your opening scene or up to 2,000 words AND a book of your choice (below).
THIRD PLACE: A critique of your opening scene up to 1,000 words.
Good luck, everyone!
(The spacing is wonky & driving me nuts, but alas, I can’t fix it. You and I will have to deal with it.)
Posted by Heather on Feb 7, 2012 in WRITING TIPS
We’re continuing our discussion of how to avoid writing trite openings or overused plotlines. We’ve reviewed a list of the most common storylines in PART 1 and how to devise a grabby intro in PART 2. In part three, let’s take a look at what makes a story original…and how the heck to create one.
MAKING STORIES ORIGINAL
You’ve probably read somewhere there are only thirty some-odd character archetypes and even fewer journeys for the human psyche. So how do you make them fresh over and over again? The answer is in the subplots.
EX. Boy meets girl. Girl falls in love. They’re from different sides of the tracks, making their love forbidden. Angst and rebellion ensue–a tale as old as time. But what is underneath this storyline that is driving the protag & antag to their ultimate goals? Boy is an Afghani warlord with a penchant for executing people. His secret goal is to avenge the death of his family. Girl is an American soldier sent to Afghanistan for duty. She despises men because her father beat her. All she wants to do is annihilate every male she sees, especially the bastard warlords responsible for killing her mother in 911.
A very different subplot will unfold in such a setting.
Another major factor in creating an original plotline is the outcome of the protagonist’s journey. Girl falls in love with warlord, but kills him anyway for revenge, OR Girl & Boy flee Afghanistan and stay with Tibetan monks to work through their demons. The outcome should distinguish your protag from all of the other Boy meets Girl stories.
EVERY ACTION CREATES A REACTION
How a protag and antag (or any other character for that matter) react to one another pumps creative elements into a stale story.
EX. Judy discovered her husband is cheating. She could A.) boil his bunny B.) withdraw every dime from his bank account and leave without a trace C.) silently seethe and then bed all of his coworkers and friends…the list goes on and on.
An exercise to get started– make a list of your protag’s actions. Now list three different ways they could react within the same setting. How will the antag’s action change as the protag’s do? Create surprises!
AVOID THE COMMON & FINDING INSPIRATION
READ, READ, & READ SOME MORE
Read. A LOT. Ravenously. Offer to beta read. The more varied the genres you read, the better. Keep a running list of subplots. It enriches your knowledge base, ultimately improving your craft.
WATCH THE MARKET
This happens naturally if you’re reading constantly. Study the trends and then DO NOT follow one. By the time your novel gets picked up, the trend will be passé and you’ll be nothing but a harpy trying to ride someone else’s coattails.
GET A HOBBY
Try something new. Join an ethnic dinner club. Take scuba lessons. Enroll in an astronomy class. New experiences will help you develop varied subplots as well as enrich your characters’ traits.
EX. Jane meets Mr.Wonderful on Cocoa Island. She hadn’t planned on taking scuba lessons with such a hunk. What luck! Until her swim top tangled in her tube as they practiced shared breathing. With only seconds between breaths, Mr. Wonderful attempts to help her, only to run out of oxygen. Your girl meets boy just got a lot more interesting because of your new acquired skill.
PUT ON YOUR 3-D GOGGLES
Put on your writer goggles, grab a plume and notebook and go to a place you would never dare set foot in– a dance club, a group home for runaways, a geisha house, a sewer tour, a Sear’s appliance store. You’re bound to run across very different kinds of people and have vastly different experiences in each location. Look, listen, take notes. You’d be surprised how many radical plot points spring into that twisted writer head of yours.
Posted by Heather on Jan 19, 2012 in WRITING TIPS
You’re a creative genius. You’re really going to knock their socks off with this A-M-A-Z-I-N-G storyline.
Are you sure you’re original? I asked an agent, who will remain nameless, the most overused, overwrought storylines and openings. Here’s the list–
1. Bad Weather creates problems for protagonist
2. Protag wakes up from a baaaddd dream, or even a good one
3. Protag is standing on a battlefield or hill overlooking the wreckage
4. Protag wakes up drunk/hung-over and doesn’t remember what happened the night before
1.Girl loves her boyfriend/husband. Gets pregnant. Is thrilled & happy to tell him, but he complains about money or acts like a bachelor-cad and girl decides not to tell him. Drama ensues.
2. Girl feels like an outcast. She’s clumsy. She’s kinda average pretty. Other girls are mean to her because they’re either A.) jealous of her since the hot boy likes her for some God-forsaken reason or B.) she’s new in school and threatens their turf
3. An orphaned witch/vampire/werewolf discovers they are a witch/vampire/werewolf and then commences to uncover their parents’ deaths and how they’re linked with the all-mysterious dark half.
4. There is at least one character in your novel where there is a god/angel/demon in disguise to deliver information or carry any weak plot points
5. Boy meets girl. Boy is super hot and arrogant, withdrawn, mysterious. Girl is tough as nails outwardly, but is all warm goosh inside and a sex goddess in bed who just wants to be loved.
6. Protag is a farmhand with mysterious parentage…
7. Boy/Girl is being chased the entire novel as they try to uncover a sacred lost relic, encrypted with the secret to immortality
8. Girl/boy is a have-not in a dystopian society, which seeks to control their every thought, their every move. Boy/girl challenges authority and by their disobedience ultimately takes down the ruling class.
If you fit into one of these categories, never fear! You can always REWRITE to make your novel breathtaking, original, A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! Ahh, but how does one do this? Stay tuned for OVERDONE PLOTLINES & WHAT TO DO ABOUT THEM (part two).
P.S. Are there any other trite storylines or openings you have noticed? Do tell.
Posted by Heather on Jan 4, 2012 in WRITING TIPS
How do people do it–write 5,000 words per week, crank out dozens of short stories, or even a novel per year? They must have a secret formula. Some cerebral superiority, or maybe high tech software that prods them when they aren’t looking. The rest of us lowly writing humanoids need a plan. A REAL, honest to goodness plan. So here it is. A plan to help you ditch your crappy writing habits and get cranking.
Take a good look at your habits. Do you spend half of your alotted time screwing around on the internet, texting, or wandering away from your desk to refill your coffee mug? Do you hit your snooze button 17 times, missing your 5 a.m. wake-up call? Be HONEST about your pitfalls. Now work around them.
I can hardly concentrate after eight p.m., therefore, I never schedule writing time in the evenings. Social media is actually FUN for me. This means I have to UNPLUG the modem in my house at times or work in locations sans internet. I love to distract myself with food so I pack snacks to avoid getting up. My phone is my fifth appendage, so I turn it off. I’ve learned to be honest about my habits to create productive blocks of writing time.
Devise a Schedule
Make a list of times you’re most alert–when you can actually feel the creative juices oozing between your ears. If you aren’t able to write during those times every day, choose the next best option and nail the time slots down. Do not budge on those blocks of time for ANY reason.
Be Reasonable. If you can only write for two hours effectively, then don’t set aside four hours. The last two hours of spinning your wheels will leave you frustrated.
Do a Warm-Up
Before each session, do a warm-up activity to gain your focus. Scan through the next couple of scenes (or notes for a scene) you need to revise or write. Then, on a notepad, jot down a rough outline of what you will cover in this particular time block. Spend 5-10 minutes listing important points and then begin. It’s incredible how much a short amount of direction-focused time helps get the creative machine roaring.
If I finish this scene, I get a piece of chocolate. If I finish these ten pages, I get a glass of wine. If I finish this chapter, I get a trip to Tahiti. Okay, maybe not, but you get the idea.
Schedule a Write-In
Remember those lock-ins from high school? Everyone stayed up all night eating pizza, throwing water balloons, and playing Capture the Flag in the dark. A few unruly teens would stray under the bleachers and grope each other until a teacher came by with a flashlight and flushed them out. Yeah those.
A write-in won’t be as memorable, but far more worthwhile. This is a great way to connect with other writers, break out of writer’s block, or find a critique partner. Gather at least one other writer (or as many as possible) and select a meeting place. Make a chart of individual goals, as well as a group goal. Get the coffee pot going. Disconnect the internet. And GO! Camaraderie may be just the bit of inspiration you need. And, hey, make it a weekly/monthly thing if you can swing it.
Live your Life
If the words won’t come no matter what you do, put down your proverbial plume. Live your life. Do something active. Watch a movie. Read a book. Travel. Fill yourself up with life’s moments; hard work, the dull routine, pleasure. The words will trickle back, slowly, or maybe even flood your being, once you’re full of life again.
The key is to know yourself and try many tricks until something sticks–then make a routine. Good luck with your writing goals in 2012.
If you liked this article, check out:
Breaking out of the Editing Funk
Posted by Heather on Dec 4, 2011 in WRITING TIPS
I confess, this is not my writing checklist. Janis Hubschman created it and is kind enough to share it with the world. If you aren’t using these techniques to advance your prose, I suggest you get busy. They may save you a couple of crappy first novels or short stories.
1. WHEN THE STORY STALLS, ask: what is the character thinking now? Is she thinking anything? If not, why not? Characters need to learn something about themselves, about their values and assumptions.
2. CHARACTERS REVEAL THEMSELVES UNDER STRESS. Raise the stakes. Drive the character into a tight spot. What are the psychological crutches the character relies on under pressure?
3. READERS LIKE TO LEARN about something when they read. The details of an unusual job or hobby, the day-to-day activities of a particular place at a particular time in history, for example, draw the reader in.
4. TRUST THE READER. Remember Hemingway’s iceberg theory: “you could omit anything if you knew you omitted it and the omitted part would strengthen the story and make people feel something more than they understood.”
5. TAKE APART SUCCESSFUL PUBLISHED STORIES (or the stories of writers you admire) to see how they work.
6. GIVE THE CHARACTER SOMETHING TO DO in the scene. It brings the character and the scene to life. A character soaking in the bathtub, thinking about her rotten marriage is boring. A character performing brain surgery, thinking about her rotten marriage is a different proposition.
7. TO GAIN INSIGHT INTO A CHARACTER, CONSIDER HER HISTORY: Think about what happened before the story, what tortuous path led the character to this particular moment?
8. ALLOW THE CHARACTER TO MISINTERPRET another character’s words or actions. In life, we often misread a situation, jump to conclusions. Interesting things can happen when characters make presumptions or project their own hang-ups onto others.
9. LET THE CHARACTERS CONNECT WITH OTHERS. Alienated characters, the whiney and self-absorbed protagonists that blame everyone else for their predicament have lots of precedent in literature, but can hold readers at a remove.
10. BUILD TENSION BY SLOWING DOWN A SCENE. Let the scene unfold moment by moment. Linger on the details. Build silences into the dialogue.
Any other pearls of wisdom fellow writers care to share?
Posted by Heather on Nov 30, 2011 in WRITING TIPS
I’ve grappled with how to begin the second round of revisions on my novel (not a NaNoWriMo book) the last few weeks. I’m at the part, you know, where you really have to make your prose sing. The problem is, everytime I’ve thought of tackling my MS, I’ve wanted to beat it with a broom handle rather than face it again. Soooo, I took a six week break and enlisted a few high profile beta readers. The result: it’s in decent shape, but still needs some very important tweaking.
But how does one go about that all-important tweaking? Rather than invent my own warped system of revising, I looked to a few “experts” for advice. These blog posts might turn around the editing process for you–like they did for me. So all of you NaNoWriMo folks and every other writer out there in need of revision direction, here it is:
Nathan Bransford’s Revision Checklist
James Scott Bell’s Revising Your Novel
Holly Lisle’s How to Revise a Novel
J Timothy King’s Checklist for Revising a Novel
Janice Hardy’s Editing your Novel: Tips & Tricks