Craft Concerns: Sure I’m showing but let me tell you too…

I’m in the final pages of revision note making on my current middle grade novel WIP, and I’m finding all those things that make me roll my eyes when I see them in submissions. Ideally, I’m able to take off my writer hat, put on my self-editing hat, and catch those mistakes before my work goes to any agent or editor.

Many of these craft concerns are just part of drafting and in some cases are a writer’s own shorthand or red flag to rework a section. My personal red flags include the words: then, and then, feel, smile, see, and hear. To me, they signal that I’m about to tell, or lose a chance to be in scene showing emotion or moving the plot forward with action.

This manuscript is particularly difficult because the narrator is rather intrusive and actually has an important part to play in telling the story. What I’m finding is that I tell AND ALSO show. It’s as if I don’t really trust the characters to have their own voices or actions, nor do I trust the reader to get what I’m trying to say. Instead of just showing and letting the scene stand on its own, I write a little telling intro that goes nowhere before their scene. Like this:

My job now is to rework these scenes. Instead of summing up crucial off-stage moments after the fact or before I also show, I want to make sure that the action is happening on stage and in order. Back to the revision cave.

What are your revision red flags?

The End—Almost

Weighing in a just over 35,000 words, the first draft of my newest middle grade novel is now complete.

excited puppy.jpg

Calm down cute, fluffy, puppy. Complete is a misleading word as there are still many miles to go before it is actually finished.

sad panda.jpg

No, no. Don’t be a sad panda. Now I’ll set the draft aside to marinade, pickle, steep, sleep (Oh, sorry. That’s what I should be doing now since it is past midnight…). Normally, I’d let it rest for two weeks to a month, but I’d love to get it off my desk by the new year (resolutions and all), so I may speed up the process. Next comes a revision, then beta readers, more revisions, and a thorough edit after that.

good job human.jpg

I think so too!

The Revision Cave: All In

As a middle school educator I taught the writing process as a series of steps that separated “revision” from “editing.” Revision, I told my students had to do with answering the big questions that a reader had about your work. It was the writer’s chance to go deeper, be more specific, cut what didn’t work, be clear. Editing on the other hand was about the conventions: spelling, grammar, etc. (By the way if you teach writing I highly recommend Kate Messner’s, REAL REVISION)

At some point in the journey of my writing career, someone at some conference or workshop or lecture pointed out the obvious that the word revision is re-vision or “to see again in a new way.” I took on this definition as my mantra and thus, each revision has turned into a massive undertaking where I basically re-write a manuscript.

It doesn’t start that way. It usually starts with finding a better beginning. Beginnings are hard and many writers talk about a necessary writing to the end in order to fine tune a beginning again (and again). Of course, my fine tuning sets off a ripple effect throughout the entire manuscript. When faced with a section of manuscript that doesn’t work, I pinpoint the problem, I brainstorm solutions then I try it. (“Try it”–is another good piece of advice that can be an entrance to a revision blackhole.) How about a whole new character, Anna? And what if you add an epistolary element? What if, what if, what if…?

I’m pleased to say that I’ve been making steady progress in the revision cave for the last two weeks! My word count each day has hovered around 1000 as I reorder, rewrite, and rediscover the story I am trying to tell. I am going deeper, being more specific, cutting what didn’t work, being clear. Here are a few other things that I’m working on that you might notice in your work:

Where Does the Scene End:
I often end a scene where it will make a good chapter ending–one that doesn’t let the arc of that scene come to resolution, one that keeps the reader a little on their toes. This is a good thing unless, I haven’t given the reader everything they need. When I haven’t, I seem to start the next scene with a quick summation of what the reader missed. Sometimes this info is crucial to the emotional arc of the character. It should have happened “in-scene.” I am looking for these places in the work and rewriting to show the emotions instead.

Tension Makes Me Tense:
I am a pantser by nature but recent workshops with David Macinnis Gill and re-readings of Vogler’s,THE WRITER’S JOURNEY, and McKee’s, STORY have reminded me that plotting and outlining helps. I struggle to make the tension rise throughout a story and sometimes fall into and episodic (good fodder for another post) form of story telling. In this revision, I’ve listed the steps of the hero’s journey and jotted down the scenes that will happen at each of these crucial points. This organizing tool has been incredibly helpful. I’ve also written out what I see as my MC’s controlling belief (an idea I gleaned from Kathi Appelt and Franny Billingsley ) and I’ve added to that a question that describes her emotional arc. I make sure that each scene addresses in someway my MC’s belief and question (and desire but that’s also another post). This forces me to stay on track in the plotting.
Controlling belief: My mother left because she thought I was ugly and useless.
Question: Am I worthy of people’s love?

I guess these are similar but it has helped me.

Who Hates You Baby:
As students we learned the different types of conflict: man v. man, man v. self, man v. society, man v. nature, man v. machine. (Man! We’ll assume that is short for human.)
I was convinced that my book was MC v. self but part of the lack of tension in my manuscript came from the lack of a clear antagonist. I struggled with this idea, but in this revision I’ve chosen to clarify the antagonist and amp up the adversarial nature of their relationship.

I’ll be back in the revision cave come Monday but for now… out of the cave and into the mountains!

Copyright: fredlyfish4 / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: fredlyfish4 / 123RF Stock Photo

The Cupboard Under the Stairs

I’m at the end of my second month of living in a new space on my own. It’s been quite a downsize. I lost a large office/studio in the process. Still I love it in my new place and have found a little nook to call my own– a cupboard under the stairs. It seems appropriate since I write for children and young adults that my work setting is the same as Harry Potter’s infamous bedroom. I dare say that my space is a lot nicer though. All cobwebs have been cleared and a slow spider or two was invited to take up residence elsewhere. It is quite noisy when my teen boys (man-child 1 and man-child 2) tromp down the stairs but the side walls are a little like blinders so that may help my work production. Speaking of which, I’m trying to finish my revision and deliver to my awesome agent by Monday. They say U.P.O.D. (under promise over deliver). I just hope to be able to deliver on time.

Here are some images of my new space! (And Lucy)

Lucy is resting after chasing her bunny.
Lucy is resting after chasing her bunny.








Revision Strategies over at Sporty Girl Books!

Hello wonderful followers. I know I’ve been MIA from my blog but there’s nothing like a deadline to make us produce. This week, it was my deadline for my group blog. I’ve posted over at Sporty Girl Books about my recent colorful, tactile revision technique using a plot chart. If you are a plotter or a pantser, this could be useful for you either as you revise or as you plan the initial draft. Please take the time to click, read, comment and follow over there. Hopefully, when I’m done with this revision, I’ll be back on a weekly blog schedule. See you then!


I made a chart with the first sentences of each of my chapters yesterday. That’s right folks, I am revising again. My reading at the PEN New England award ceremony is 12 days (and a wake-up) away and then… THEN!… my YA manuscript will be submitted to publishers as the award winner. 

The upcoming award triggers my Impostor Syndrome (See a great blog post about this at PubCrawl.) but the love from participants at his weekend’s New England SCBWI conference put those fears to rest. Still, I know that I’ve been working a lot on those first 20 pages one sends with their query and not at all on the other 200 pages. I wanted to do a polish on the entire manuscript.

One of the comments I had from an agent who declined was that the writing was too “diaristic.” The comment has been niggling at me, as comments that ring true do, but I hadn’t been able to pinpoint the problem. Time away from the story, and inspiration from the conference have allowed me to see it fresh this week– thus the chart.

My chart revealed many things. I have three chapters where my character “woke up”, many that include time or setting markers, and a significant number that try to catch the reader up on what happened just before the chapter starts (backstory). Diaristic.

Just as cartoon character runs in place before they shoot forward, I’ve written these throw away sentences to tell the reader what is going on.

(I wanted to put a video here but all I could find was this sound clip. Still funny.)


What would be more effective? Sentences with emotional resonance that grab the reader so that when they finish the previous chapter, and are about to go to sleep, they peek at the next chapter, read the sentence and say to themselves, “Just one more.”

In a future post, I’ll show you all the spreadsheet with the old and new first chapter sentences. For now, I #amrevising.

Training event #3: Revision (My 600th post!)

Good Monday morning!

It has been a big weekend here at the Boll household. My husband who was away for 16 months with the Navy has returned. Right now we are in the Honeymoon portion of the adjustment period. Dad is a superstar and the boys are on their best behavior. Dinner was lovely (no one argued), weekend chores went well (they did what they were asked the first time)… hmmm why wasn’t it this way for the last year?!?

In some ways, my stress has been releaved. Right now, Hubby has the morning drive and dog walk task and here I am in the quiet of my newly cleaned office to think, and create.

Our family is going through a process of revision. We have to learn to see ourselves again in a different way. There are parts that we want to keep that make us stronger as individuals and as a unit and parts that hold us back from being our best selves. One way to come out happy on the other side of revision is honesty. Stay with me now, this applies to writing too.

In writing, there are bits we fall in love with. It may be an original line, a group of words, a character, a plot twist, but sometimes that bit we love may not be helping the entire piece shine. What follows is a longish post in which I work through the process and thinking of creating a poem. I’d love for you to grab a cup of tea and stick around. After you read, leave me a comment. Is my process similar to yours?

About a year ago while walking Lucy dog in the early morning winter,


I came up with a group of words, “The snow shows, what my dog’s nose, knows.” I’ve been struggling to work a poem around this line. It started like this:

poetry revision 1 poetry revision 2

Then like this:

Waking to White

The moon winks in my window,
starry laughter fills the night,
My fingers find Nell’s furry ears,
and then I wake to white

Six feet on floor, we leave the bed,
a chill is in the air
Nell’s collar rings, my parents snore,
we skip the creaky stair.

Wet nose to knob, Nell has her coat,
a wagging welcome mat.
But wait I need one layer more,
a scarf, two boots, a hat.

We slice through cold, we run and leap,
into the covered field.
A rising sun, a rosy sky,
a sparkle show revealed.

Nell on her back, she wiggles, twists,
dog angels all around.
Woodsmoke fills the morning air,
but Nell just sniffs the ground.

Usually Nell leaves me out
I’ll never have her expert snout
Today for sure, I know I’ll win
I’ll be my doggie’s sniffing twin

The snow shows, what my dog’s nose,

At this point I’ve struck the pieces that are holding back the poem. I created a whole story here. Is it really necessary, I ask myself, all this build up? I really love the image of the moon in the first stanza, I can skip the kid and dog going down the stairs and getting ready to go outside if I trust that the reader knows a child wouldn’t be out in the snow in their PJ’s. Also, the piece about Nell already having her coat is a little inside joke to myself and a homage to Else Holmelund Minarik’s, “What will Little Bear wear?” The next stanza brings the child and dog outside, and I also like the imagery of a sparkle show. What if I turned those couplets around in order? Then the transition from night to day, inside to outside, calm to play might work better.

A rising sun, a rosy sky,
a sparkle show revealed.
We slice through cold, we run and leap,
into the covered field.

Nope. That doesn’t work for me. Even though the syllables, 8 in the first line and 6 in the second, are the same, “a sparkle show revealed” feels more settled and doesn’t lead into the next line. Also, going straight from the child waking to being in the snow is too abrupt. Hmmm…

What about this:

All suited up, we’re out the door
into the snowy field.
A rising sun, a rosy sky,
a sparkle show revealed. 

I lose the active verb “slice,” which I liked, but now I’ve gained “snowy” which helps the reader who might not have gotten that the white in the first stanza was snow. I like this better.

Now I have to deal with the fourth stanza which bothers me because the rhythm changes from 8 and 6 syllables to: 7, 8, 8, 8. This ups the pace and let’s the reader know something is going to happen but to me, it feels a little drastic.

What I need here, to make the final line work, is to set up the contrast between between Nell’s abilities to track invisible scents and the experience of the child who can finally see the critter pathways in the snow. But wait, doesn’t the last line already say all that? What happens if I just ax that fourth stanza?

Nell on her back, she wiggles, twists,
dog angels all around.
Woodsmoke fills the morning air,
but Nell just sniffs the ground.

The snow shows,
what my dog’s nose,

This doesn’t feel right either. I still feel that the contrast between human and dog, grass and snow aren’t specific enough. While I’m driving in the car, I come up with the line, “critter paths, hide in summer grass” which is 8 syllables long. This is the same number of syllables as the pay-off line at the end. It also fulfills that transition and contrast void I was feeling. Here is the final poem.

Waking to White
By Anna J. Boll

The moon winks in my window,
starry laughter fills the night,
My fingers find Nell’s furry ears,
and then I wake to white

All suited up, we’re out the door
into the snowy field.
A rising sun, a rosy sky,
a sparkle show revealed.

Nell on her back, she wiggles, twists,
dog angels all around.
Woodsmoke fills the morning air,
but Nell just sniffs the ground.

Critter paths,
hide in summer grass
but snow shows,
what my dog’s nose

Thanks for reading Creative Chaos.  I’d love to see your comments, what would you like to see? Happy revising!

Poetry Friday: Keep surfing, no poetry here folks..

I’ve mentioned
my YA manuscript.
It’s out
and about:
lunching with agents,
riding beside them
on the train.
There has been one decline.

The kindest,
most gracious letter
I’ve ever seen.
It even has a posticom.
Casing, jamb and hinges
constructed from
A secret reentry door.
A FASTPASS™ at Disney World.
For free!
But nothing is free.
To open the door
I’ll need to find my re-vision glasses
checking all the places
I’ve already looked
by the tv
under the papers by the computer
until I realize they have been
perched atop my head
from the very beginning.

I hope
the other wonderful women
(agents all)
are enjoying their summer
and their children
(fur or otherwise).
They should be flying kites
dipping their toes in cool mountain lakes,
getting sand in their swimsuits
after chilling in salty seas.


It is summer.

I am busy too.
Packing for Italy
where I will research a book.
An idea that floats
and anchors
and floats again
in the grey matter
behind my eyes.

In Florence
there will be art
and architecture.
In Tuscany
bikes rides,
and wine with my husband
(In the flesh.
First time
since January).

In September
sunny summer days
fade fast.
We gear up for school
and supplies,
and deadlines,
and then,
maybe then

The agents will
breathe deep
open overflowing files
and read.

All in good time.
Click for the Poetry Friday Round-up

Five on Friday: PI Day edition

1. We just got back from an elementary school “Ensemble and Solo” concert. It’s always great to be in a school setting and just watch kids interacting. There’s the anticipation of going on stage, the side conversations (some mouthed across the gym with accompanied hand motions and facial contortions), and the performances.  I was so impressed by how brave all the kids were.

2. If you missed it, Wednesday, March 14th was PI day. That’s right 3/14…3.14. Young son is a huge fan of PI. He has a PI t-shirt and can recite PI to 26 digits. We had a Geektastic PI celebration with all round food: hamburgers, applesauce in round containers, and smiley fries (the fact that I got them shows what a special event this was). For dessert we made NOT one BUT two pies. One chocolate, peanut butter pie and one apple pie with walnut crumb topping. We invited over our wonderful new neighbors over to help us eat all the sweet treats and I gave a “what is PI anyway”- demonstration. It was an all-around (ugh) good time!

3. I submitted two book review queries this week and I’m working on some poetry for submission. It feels good to be finally getting something off my desk even if it isn’t my WIP. Sometimes I just need smaller projects to work on. A revision is so much easier to handle when the entire word count fits on a single page.

4. Thanks to my VCFA friends, I have made a bit of progress on my WIP revision. I already have a few work periods scheduled next week and feel confident that I will be productive.

5. I bit the bullet this week and plunked down the money for the July VCFA mini-rez. I’ll get to see my dear friends, and get a dose of inspiration in the form of fabulous faculty.

How was your week?

Five on Friday

1. This has been a good week. First of all, my revision is moving along. (Thank you Cheryl Klein!) While I might not be on schedule to complete the next draft by my self-imposed deadline of February 15th (next Wednesday), I’m confident that it will get done. This mood is quite different from the pity party I had for myself a few weeks ago. “Woe is me…” (I said to myself,) “all my writing and for nothing! I may be able to bang out a draft, but a real writer knows that 90% of writing is revision. I’m never going to finish. I’ve let down my family. All my VCFA friends are going to get published and I’m not. I should just give back that stupid MFA.” I know. It’s pretty annoying stuff. Please don’t tell me that I’m the only one that has these pity parties. Please. In fact, write me a comment telling me the silliest negative thing you ever told yourself.

2.  I’m busy reading for upcoming Book Review Wednesdays. On deck are Cynthia Levinson’s new nonfiction We Got a Job, and the graphic novel Friends With Boys. I’d love to know… How far in advance do you want to know about a new book? On its launch date? A month before? Leave me a comment and any titles you’d like to know more about. If its on NetGalley, I can try to get it.

3. This is also a good week because Frosty’s Donuts is having a grand re-opening! Frosty’s Donuts are like a piece of heaven, glazed and with a hole. These donuts are so light, so melt-in-your mouth amazing, they are a symphony of sugar and lard. I do not frequent Frosty’s. If I went their frequently, I’d be as round as a donut. Frosty’s closed when June Frost passed away and this week, a new sign appeared. Grand Re-opening in three days. (That was Wednesday.) Now the big day is tomorrow. The place is getting all spiffed up with new paint (no more Jesus pamphlets), but they’ve retained the original baker. You can bet, I’ll be in line tomorrow to support them. Frosty’s donuts. A little less Holy but still amazing.

Frosty’s Donuts from Don Bernier on Vimeo.

4. I’m getting new neighbors!!! Nuff said.

5. We are going to Puerto Rico next week to visit with my parents. Sun. Warmth. Fewer items of clothing. Love. Childcare. Nuff said.

Have a good weekend!