Thursday, May 21, 2015

Learning to Rewrite

by Jemi Fraser

For me learning to rewrite a draft was NOT an easy road.

Stage #1 - Complete Ignorance

  • in my first rewrite, I had no idea what I was doing. I went through the draft, fixed all the typos, tweaked some sentences, and was daring enough to eliminate a couple of paragraphs here and there
  • then I met some amazing folks over at Agent Query Connect and learned that a rewrite should be a slightly more intense process
Stage #2 - Gaining Confidence
  • the next step in my journey was realizing that everything I'd written in my first drafts didn't have to be included in the final draft. I could take out entire scenes. I could move entire scenes. Change pov.
  • these realizations actually shocked me, and took me a while to wrap my head around 
  • at this point, I carefully saved each new 'draft' with a date indicating the changes
Stage #3 - Gaining Crit Buddies
  • this changed my world and burst my naive little bubble. And I will be forever grateful.
  • I learned that a rewrite involved more than the tweaking I'd been doing.
  • reaching deep down into the story was pretty tough. I was faced with some big realizations. Probably the biggest one was that external conflict isn't enough. There needed to be internal conflict too. For both my MCs (I write romance).
  • this involved re-reading and re-writing scene by scene, making changes, keeping track of changes, making notes, deleting favourite scenes & lines, adding conflict (lots and lots of adding conflict)
  • I no longer saved drafts, only the main one, with a folder (I'd discovered Scrivener at this point) with the very few scenes I though I might want to reuse or rescue somehow
Stage #4 - A Real Rewrite
  • I tried my Stage 3 version of rewriting for several of my novels, and found it very discouraging. Several stories I know have tons of potential were languishing. I also discovered Stage 3 is HARD. Very hard. For me, a million times more difficult than writing a first draft.
  • brainwave!
  • I decided to dump all my chapters and scenes into a new Scrivener folder titled Draft 1
  • because I love (LOVE!!) writing first drafts, I decided to treat Draft 2 like a Draft 1
  • I rewrote the draft from scratch. At first I found it tough to not peek at the first draft, but it definitely got easier. The changes I needed to make were core changes and because of that, the story changed dramatically, while keeping the same basic plot elements, and I already knew those plot elements, so I didn't peek.
Stage #5 - Unknown
  • as I'm evolving as a writer, I know my style will change too
  • I've got 5 or 6 stories begging for rewrites (I was stuck fast in Stages 2 & 3 for far too long) and at this point I'm nearly salivating wanting to do a Stage 4 rewrite for each of them
  • I wonder if I'll have discovered Stage 5 by the time I get to them all?
Learning to write well (and to rewrite well) is a personal journey. My journey will probably look nothing like yours, but I hope by sharing mine, you might find some ideas to help you move along to the next step. Or suggestions as to what Stage 5 might look like for me!

Do you rewrite? Do your rewrites look anything like mine?

Jemi Fraser is an aspiring author of contemporary romance. She blogs  and tweets while searching for those HEAs.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

How to Make Your Novel Sellable - Step 1

by +Denise Drespling

Edit Novel

Last week, I gave you the 7 steps to edit your novel and make it a sellable quality.

This is a subject that is so near and dear to my heart that I'm not through discussing it yet. And it's one that is vitally, critically, MAJORLY important. Mainly because editing is too often rushed through or skipped over entirely.

Not editing is, to me, like going through the difficult (and dangerous) work of jackhammering the rock from the mine, but not bothering to have it cut into a diamond and polished. What do you have? A hump of ugly rock that no one wants to look at. But chip away the rough parts, sparkle it up, and suddenly, you've got something highly valuable that's worth admiring. Get out your chisel, it's time to polish your gem!

Here is a review of the 7 steps:

  1. Initial Read Through
  2. Seek and Destroy Problem Words
  3. In-depth Word Analysis
  4. Read it Out
  5. Get Some Feedback
  6. Let it Rest
  7. Repeat!

And now for a deeper look!

Step #1: Initial Read Through
Once I feel the novel is complete, the first thing I do (after my little happy dance) is an initial read through of the whole thing. I don’t edit much while writing because it messes me up and distracts me. Even if you do edit while writing (or write longhand, then type it up), this should still be step one, it’ll probably just be a cleaner step one.

What I’m mainly looking for is plot issues. Big things like unanswered questions, timeline consistencies, holes, and dull parts. I try to do the reading quickly, as much at a time as I can so that I can get as clear a picture of the work as a whole as possible. I don’t pay too much attention to the words themselves at this point, though I’ll fix a typo or clean up an awkward sentence if I think it needs it. This is where I’ll also add description or scenes that seem to be missing.

It’s important that this is step one because if you don’t fix the big stuff first, it’ll be harder later. You may have to do this step twice (or more). If you’re not sure about how the plot is holding together or you added or removed a lot, keep doing this step until you know it’s working.

Before I begin, I make a style guide (which is probably better done at the start of the novel writing, but I never remember to do it). The style guide helps me keep spellings and usages consistent. Things like character names, names of places, or unusual spellings. I also have a section for little details like “Owen has off Wednesdays and Sundays.” That way when I get to a Wednesday in my story, I can make sure Owen’s home and not skipping off to work.

I also make a list of things that are “out there.” By this, I mean dangling questions or bits of information that create a loose end, even a tiny one. It’s the “plant” part of plant vs. payoff. I make notes of the questions or information, then delete them once I get to the part where it’s covered.

What tends to happen while writing is that you have a scene, and a character does something or says something that creates a little, “hmm, why’d that happen?” in the reader’s mind. But if it’s not a major part of the plot, you might forget. For example, I had my character, Nora, ask Reece if he snored. This was an important question, but not critical to the plot. At the time, he answered her, but when he asked why she’d asked, she changed the subject. Reece won’t let that go. It’s going to nag at him because it’s a strange question, or was, in the context of their conversation. Problem was, I forgot all about it by the next time they had a conversation. I caught it because I wrote down “Nora asks Reece if he snores” on my style guide and realized, after they’d had many conversations, that this should have come up again, but didn’t. So I added it.

These are the loose ends that can be frustrating for your reader if they go unanswered. I’m sure you’ve read a book like that. This just happened to me recently reading The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. I liked the book a lot, but toward the end, she mentions something that will happen soon (don't worry--no spoilers). By the end of the book, the thing has happened, but she doesn’t share the outcome. Now, I’m left wondering, well, what happened there? She brought it up, she created the question in my mind, and she didn’t answer it. It’s one thing if you’re Joyce Carol Oates going for a “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” ending. Or even Rainbow Rowell doing an Eleanor & Park ending, where there is some ambiguity left for the reader to decide what happens. This wasn’t that. This was a minor detail that could have been skipped over all together. But she choose to bring it up. Then she forgot about it. Not cool. Don’t do this.

Part of the reason to read it fast and all at once is to help you see the character's voice. You don't want dialogue or actions that don't fit. Maybe your character started out a little differently, then changed as you wrote. You may have to fix up the beginning a bit to keep it consistent (but also remember your character should grow and change throughout the story). Keep an eye out for pov and tense shifts, too. These become more obvious when you read a lot at one time.

This step is a good place to do major changes. Play with character flaws or strengths, do timeline adjustments, add scenes or delete, etc. Hopefully you have a picture of the flow of the thing and which parts need to be sped up or slowed down, expanded or streamlined.

Make sure you've done this step thoroughly enough to know that the plot, timeline, etc. is starting to work before you move on to step 2: Seek and Destroy Problem Words.

Denise Drespling is the author of short story, “Reflections,” in the Tales of Mystery, Suspense & Terror anthology (October 2014) and “10 Items or Less,” in 10: Carlow’s MFA Anniversary Anthology (April 2014). You can also find her work in these anthologies: The Dragon's Rocketship Presents: The Scribe's Journal and Winter Wishes.

Hang out with Denise at her blog, The Land of What Ifs, her BookTube channel on YouTube, or on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, or Instagram.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Dontcha Know and Other Vernacular Issues for Writers

by Cat Woods

Minnesota Speaker 1 according to the world: So, yeah, dad and me, we went down ta da park de udder day fer a bite ta eat. It was a fer piece, dontcha know.

Minnesota Speaker 2's illogical response that the rest of the world believes happens in every conversation: Ooofdah, dat is a fer piece.

Now, I get that I'm not "from Minnesota" in the traditional sense. I was made in Japan, born in Seattle and attended seven different schools on the west coast before settling into the great Midwest in the fourth grade. I've been a minority. I was in Washington when Mount Saint Helens blew and didn't realize that seeing the ocean was a big deal because I swam in it every weekend.

And maybe my varied childhood makes it hard for me to swallow the Fargo-esque vernacular that everyone else in the world believes is how all Minne-sooooo-tans speak. Or maybe it's so unpalatable due to the overuse of this vernacular in every portrayal of the Midwest. Either way, I despise this hacked-up version of our language as much as Southerners probably hate seeing "howdy" in every fictitious conversation involving them.
  • Truth #1: Every living, breathing person in Minnesota does not say "ooofdah". After residing here for nearly 30 years, I still don't have a feckin' clue what that word means. It only serves to conjure up visions of stodgy, old grandmas in their housecoats and hair rollers leaning to the side of a stained and lumpy couch and letting one rip before uttering the word that is equally grotesque.
  • Truth #2: Yes, Minnesota speakers are lazy language users. We "ta" and "fer" all day long. As a speech coach it drives me absolutely batty, and we actually practice correct enunciation during warm ups before competition. "To. To. For. For." I think this should be recited along with the Pledge of Allegiance in elementary schools each morning--and I'm only half joking. 
  • Truth #3: Vernacular is a cool way to show character, place or time in writing. But, it can also kill a piece.
Grammar Girl has two fabulous articles on her blog discussing the hows and whens of writing slang and writing dialect, both of which make up the everyday language of certain populations at any given time. Her recommendation is to use such things sparingly and mostly in dialogue.

For instance, "Groovy" quickly places someone (beach bums or druggies?) in the 1970s--although I've only ever heard one Minnesota, college-educated man use this word, and that was in the late 2000s. Use of this word in a current novel could be used to effectively date the story, or to show an intriguing aspect of someone's character--aka the attorney from above.

A delightfully, unexpected example of how to use vernacular showed up in my inbox this morning from Chick Lit Goddess, Isabella Louise Anderson. Her blog post delivers an excerpt from a novel, Dear Carolina, that highlights two very different character voices. From this short plug for a beautiful sounding story, we catch a glimpse of how writers can effectively show social status, education and experience through simple language usage.

But what should writers do about words or phrases or even geographic differences that are nearly impossible to use without confusing a handful of readers or overburdening the majority of our audience with boring explanations?

Conversation 1
  • I once used the word sneakers to describe my MC's shoes. A critique partner from a few states away asked, "What's a sneaker?"
  • "Tennies."
  • "A tennis shoe."
  • "But your MC isn't playing tennis. They are called athletic shoes."
  • * yeah right. Jimmy slipped on his ATHLETIC SHOES, tied them and headed outside to play. not*
Conversation 2
  • "Come over tonight for some taverns."
  • "So, we're going to the bar for dinner after meeting at your house?"
  • "I think she means sloppy joes."
  • "Aren't they called BBQs?"
  • "Nah, they're just shredded beef sandwiches, dontcha know."
  • "I'll bring the pop."
  • "I like Coke."
  • "I don't do drugs, but I'd love a soda."
  • *i'm ready for coke after this conversation*
Conversation 3
  • He climbed in his pickup and headed down the street.
  • Collaborator 1: Only farmers drive trucks. A teenager would never drive a truck. Especially to school.
  • Collaborator 2: This story takes place in the Midwest. Everyone drives trucks here. Even business professionals drive trucks.
  • Collaborator 1: Not here. This would confuse readers. It has to be a car. Either that or you have to tell readers that in other parts of the US, kids who aren't farmers actually drive trucks.
  • Even though he wasn't a farmer, he'd always loved driving trucks, as did many of his friends in the Midwest even though kids on the west coast would call him a freak for doing so because nobody in California ever drove trucks unless they were farmers. You see, sometimes things are different in different parts of the country and that's okay even if it feels unusual to some people. Now...where was I? Oh yeah, He climbed into his pickup, cracked a soda and swore never to collaborate on another project again.
Conversation 4
  • Your MC cannot be in Carter Elementary. Elementary = kindergarten-4th grade.
  • No, it's always k-6.
  • Well, ours is k-5, with junior high grades 6-9.
  • We don't have junior high. Middle school is 5-8 and high school is 9-12.
  • *le sigh*
Based on life experiences and the language in which people use from infancy on, getting simple ideas across can be cumbersome and frustrating for writers. But it shouldn't be. Maybe it's naïve of me to think that readers carry a certain responsibility in using context clues to infer the definition of words they are unfamiliar with. After all, it is a skill we teach kids in school (the elementary, middle, junior and high versions) to help build their vocabularies. In my opinion, writers cannot carry the full burden of describing in detail every little language nuance that might possibly trip up readers from different areas or generations. Yes, we need to write clearly and succinctly. However, we do not need to act as a dictionary.
To recap: Writing in heavy dialect risks annoying readers. Novels riddled with "all y'all", "oofdah" and "hey" get old fast. A smattering of well-placed words like "groovy" can lend character to certain characters. As a side note, though, it is very easy to use vernacular, dialect and slang to stereotype characters or date a piece, and this is bad. Very bad. All this said, it is impossible to use completely common words that will alleviate any confusion for every reader because the world is a big place and language is as vast and as varied as the individuals who use it. 
So, dear writers, at what point do you strap on your sneakers and run with your word choice? How do you know when your novel's vernacular is too much? When is it not enough? How much description do you use to define potential troublesome words or phrases? How does this vary by age group or genre?
Curious minds want to know.
Cat Woods has never used the phrase "dontcha know" and ridicules with impunity those who do. She also wonders why the rest of the world quotes the movie Fargo (North Dakota) when making fun of Minnesota dialect. Some day she might write this into a novel, but for now, she's content with blogging at Words from the Woods and supporting the middle grade anthology she was contributing editor for. Tales from the Bully Box is part of a bully prevention campaign that is near and dear to her heart and has its own website at The Bully Box.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Free Advantage

By Matt Sinclair

Our latest free days are done, but I’m still sifting through the data of the experience. Last week, my company Elephant’s Bookshelf Press ran some ads to promote Billy Bobble Makes a Magic Wand by fellow FTWAer R.S. Mellette. Friday was National Physics Day, so we decided to try to become a particle on that wave and ride it ohm. My painful puns aside, I was pleased with the results.

Billy Bobble is in KDP Select, which means the electronic version of the book is currently distributed exclusively through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. For every ninety days of exclusivity on what is clearly the biggest online bookselling space, we have up to five days during which we can “sell” the book for free. While we could just use those days and see what happens, it makes a lot of sense to promote the fact that it’s available for free. After all, the point is to get the book in front of as many people as possible.

I won’t specify which vehicle we used the first time we tried this for Billy Bobble, as the results were less than lackluster. Let’s just say, we had much higher expectations than the double-digit returns we got, especially when the advertising vehicle said its emails were sent to more than a hundred thousand addresses.

So, with Physics Day on the horizon, I decided to conduct an experiment. We’d run three consecutive free days. On the first, I chose to run an ad through a popular site geared toward voracious readers. The second day, we advertised through an even more popular site that had worked well for us in the past (when Battery Brothers became the most widely downloaded free YA book on Amazon for a day… ah, memories…)

Without giving away too much information, I’ll say this: if BookBub is as effective as it is popular and exclusive, then those authors whose books are accepted for it (which we weren’t) must be very pleased. While the results for Billy Bobble were not quite as strong as those for Battery Brothers, we easily topped a thousand downloads for the three days. I think I was running a slight risk in highlighting the physics aspect of the novel, but it’s true to the work. Although some folks seem to be frightened by what might sound intimidating, we keep receiving very positive reviews along the lines of “not just for kids,” and “a fun family read.”

I’m asked sometimes why we would give the book away for free; why not simply discount. There are several reasons. For one, it’s a good way to get the book in front of a lot of ebook readers – particularly those who are savvy (or cheap) enough to subscribe to the popular “free download” newsletters. That said, I’m well aware that many of those downloaded books will never be read. I can’t tell you how many free titles are currently languishing on my Kindle while I spend my time reading books for work and for EBP. But one of the most valuable reasons is that we’re more likely to get reviews after a free day.

I always hope to get at least one review for every ten downloads. On Amazon, the number of reviews helps get the book into their email promotions, which don’t cost EBP anything. Plus, if those readers enjoyed Billy Bobble Makes a Magic Wand, then we hope they’ll be excited for Billy Bobble and the Witch Hunt, which I’m editing now. Ultimately, it’s all about providing readers an enjoyable experience and getting them to come back for more.

How have you promoted your free days? Care to share?

Matt Sinclair, a New York City-based journalist and fiction writer, is also president and chief elephant officer of Elephant's Bookshelf Press, which recently published Billy Bobble Makes a Magic Wand by R.S. Mellette and Tales from the Bully Box, a collection of anti-bullying stories edited by Cat Woods. EBP is currently looking for horror stories for an anthology that will be published in the fall. Matt also blogs at the Elephant's Bookshelf and is on Twitter @elephantguy68.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Everyone’s a Critic, but Few People Make Good Critique Partners

by Sophie Perinot

You can’t pick your relatives but you CAN pick your critique partners.  And a wise choice will make you a better writer.

The tools in each writer’s kit vary—sometimes wildly (if you don’t believe me, put a pantster and a plotter in the same room).  But whether you write long hand or go straight to your keyboard, whether you do a quick-and-dirty first draft or agonize over every word, there is one tool essential to turning out a novel worth reading and that’s a good critique partner.

Given that critique partners are so essential to authorial success, it is perhaps not surprising that newbie writers snap up the first living breathing body available to them.  That is a mistake, a big mistake.

The selection of a critique partner should NOT be driven by desperation or sheer gratitude.  I mean imagine if people got married that way—if they were just glad to be asked by someone, anyone?  Shudder.  Yet I've seen people acquire critique partners in that manner, and then try to “make it work” when a divorce would be a mercy.
So how do you interview someone for what is basically an unpaid and sometimes thankless job without seeming rude? And how do you and make a reasoned selection?

Let’s start with the most basic qualification: the person under consideration needs to be a writer.  Save your grandma/best friend for the role of beta reader.  Yes, I am sure she reads hundreds of books a year and will offer an honest, unvarnished opinion of your wip (actually I am not sure, but that’s beside the point).  BUT she is not a writer.  Would you hire the bag-boy at your grocery store for legal advice?  When it comes to critiquing your writing you want someone who can write and write well, which leads me to point two . . .

When you meet a fellow writer (at a conference, in a virtual community, through a “critique partner’s wanted” posting) and you start thinking “maybe this one is the one,” be smart—start by offering help before requesting it.  Offer to critique something for the candidate: his first three chapters, her query letter.  Get a sense of whether he/she is not just a writer but a GOOD writer.  Personally, I looked for critique partners who write better than I do.  No matter how nice your critique-partner prospect is, if you don’t respect their work you need to finish critiquing the portion of manuscript you've been given, smile nicely, say how much you've enjoyed it and then walk away.

Assuming your possible partner survives this first hurdle, you will want to refrain from doing a little victory dance until you find out if this person—let’s call him tall-dark-and-talented—can edit.  Or more specifically, can edit in a way that is useful to you in shaping your manuscript.  A surprisingly large number of awesome writers cannot critique the work of others.  Why?  Three problems are common:

  • Some people are just too nice.  They might be willing to circle a comma fault, but they aren't willing to go much further.  They desperately want to tell you your book is great (primarily because they desperately want someone to tell them their book is great).  This is useless to you.  If you want to hear your book is great you can go back to grandma.  I am willing to concede for a moment that your first draft IS great, but you want to make it better, right?  That’s why you are seeking a critique partner. So you need someone who is willing to say the tough stuff: your protagonist lacks dimension, your back-story isn't working, the manuscript could start two chapters later without losing anything.  In other words, someone who can see big-picture developmental issues, not just catch misspellings.

  • Some writers can only see your work through the lens of their own style.  I call these the “my way or the highway” crew. Such a partner is more than willing to mark-up your manuscript, and every edit they suggest will make your writing more like theirs.  But you don’t want to be them, you want to be a better authentic YOU.  A good critique partner gets your style and holds you to it.  They will identify an awkward sentence without rewriting it in their signature style.  So when you get your first chapter back from tall-dark-and make sure his comments are not just an attempt to turn you into his clone.

  • Sometimes there is a basic incompatibility of vision.  This is the would-be-partner whose comments just don’t resonate.  Every partner, even the best, is going to make suggestions that have you thinking “huh?”  These are changes you will ultimately leave on the table—after all it is your book and you can be selective.  But if a majority of tall-dark-and’s comments simply don’t add up for you, than however many his other attractive features, there is no chemistry and he is not your match.

When you find someone who can both write and edit you celebrate!  And you also commit.  I mean if you like it then you better put a ring on it—metaphorically. Be ready to become your new critique partner’s ally, giving your time (sacrificing the occasional a weekend when she has a deadline) and best efforts to review her work.  Like most things in life, you will get out of the critiquing relationship what you put into it.  It is not a coincidence that so many critique partners climb the ladder of writing success together.  They are boosting each other up the whole way.

Sophie P’s has two critique partners of her very own--one of whom has played that role for eight years (yes, the woman is a saint).  Sophie's next novelMédicis Daughter--set at the intrigue-riven, 16th century French Valois court--will be out in December of 2015.  But you can ABSOLUTELY pre-order it now.  To find out about Sophie's previous literary endeavors, visit her website, or her FB page.  You can also  follow her on Twitter as @Lit_gal 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Stay In The Moment

I had a long eventful weekend so this will be short and, hopefully, sweet.

I spent Saturday and Sunday managing the Society ofChildren's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) booth at the Los Angeles TimesFestival of Books. It went very well, and I'll blog more about that after I recover from the exhaustion.

On Sunday, I had to slip away from the festival to attend a memorial for a friend from my theatre days. It was a beautiful service that got me thinking and feeling. My friend was not only a successful actor, but also a fantastic person. He had two great kids who he and his wife raised to perfection. He took life as it came, with a pragmatic approach to solving life's problems.

Why do I bring this up here? As a reminder.

We artist of all disciplines sometimes get lost in our work. We can lose sight of what is important. In trying to hold up a mirror to life, we sometimes forget that we must also live. Our books, our paintings, our performances become important to others, but our lives are what are important to us.

Or, they should be.

Live well. Stay in the moment.