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.
Weighing in a just over 35,000 words, the first draft of my newest middle grade novel is now complete.
Calm down cute, fluffy, puppy. Complete is a misleading word as there are still many miles to go before it is actually finished.
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.
Kvetching and moaning confessional ahead. You’ve been warned.
Let me start by saying motivation has been low on this side of the keyboard. After working for a couple of years on a project, I hit a major road block. The new piece I started in January and was super excited about seems to have stalled as I’ve reached the muddy middle. My knee has been aching (an injury from a couple of years ago come back to haunt me), and I’ve used that as an excuse not to work out even though working out is one of the main ways I control stress and mood. The job (read income) situation has been spotty at best. Eighteen months out from the finalization of my divorce and the journey of grief seems to be never ending.
And don’t even get me started on the weather. It’s 60 degrees and sunny then it’s 18 and snowing. Right now there is some kind of mixed rainy, freezey, ooblecky* crap coming from the sky and I have on wrist warmers while I write. The only thing that has brightened my spirits has been the large number of hits my post about college visits got this week. I have had enough. If I was rich I’d hop a plane to somewhere with palm trees and turquoise waters. Instead, I watched the first three seasons of House of Cards (not a feel good show that one) interspersed with The British Baking Show (much lighter) and surfed the internet for inspiration.
I suppose I could find something on the internet to validate any mood but this week a few things have fallen into my cyber lap and I thought I’d share them with you.
All of these articles reinforce the idea that sometimes writers need to take time off, that the universe provides, that we are where we are for a reason, that we need to be kind to ourselves. I tend not to buy this line of thinking. If you’ve read Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and rewards) of Artmaking by Bales & Orland, you’ve seen their argument that artists will do almost anything rather than do their art. They call this “resistance” in the book and I seem to have it in spades. My suspicion of self-care is probably rooted in my early indoctrination as a rower. “There is no I in team,” “we don’t say can’t,” “row hard or go home.” As you can see, there’s not a lot of forgiveness or kindness in this philosophy. At this point though, I’ve should-haved and guilted and scolded myself enough and the only thing I feel is that it’s time for a hot bath…
3 cups of tea, 0 words. Not a good day at the office #writerslife
Thanks to the fun and easy infographic maker over at Canva.com, I’m able to bring you my 2015 in review. It’s been a crazy year with a lot of growth, connections, and possibility. Stay with me for 2016!
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!
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!
Perhaps you were one of the kind people who voted for me in the first round of the #MMPoetry 2014 competition. If so, you were one of a minority. The majority voted for Queen of Children’s Literature, Jane Yolen. Her humorous poem had to include the word svelte (Which I thought was Yiddish in derivation and so the bacon reference especially funny… actually the word has an Italian derivation.)
My word was bemoan. I always try to write two or more poems in the time we’re given (under 36 hours). Some of the drafted poems end up being very bad. For bemoan, I wrote three, two of them decent. Because it would be published on the first day of spring, I went with the more serious. Perhaps that was a mistake.
You can read both poems from the competition here.
A huge thank you to Ed Decaria for organizing and mediating the logistical beast that is the March Madness Poetry competition. He puts in a ton of time and energy all to fulfill the honorable mission of getting kids excited about poetry.
Here for your viewing pleasure are all three of the poems I wrote in advance of the competition. These are the first drafts. Feel free to make comments below and while you’re feeling critical, head over to the Think Kid Think website to judge the #MMPoetry 2014′s “Elite Eight”!
John plays music while we work
he lets me change my seat.
His stories make us gasp and cringe
we email, chat, and tweet.
We sang Bohemian Rhapsody
he’s epitome of cool,
We all bemoan tomorrow
when Miss Phlegm returns to school.
Poet’sNote: The concern here was, would people know that the named John was the sub in question.
I never though the day would come
when I’d bemoan the snow.
Instead, my nose against the glass
I’d watch the white stuff grow.
But now I crave some color
some warmth, and sun, and rain.
The calendar says springtime
but the snow has come again.
Poet’s Note: Here I was concerned that the poem was too quiet and serious for my audience but I liked the rhythm and the wording. In the comments of the competition, many people connected to the imagery in the line “nose against the glass” which made me happy.
Brotherly Love (a limerick)
There once was a boy who played flute
His brother preferred drums and lute
He’d often bemoan
The flute’s squeaky tone
So he rendered the instrument mute.
Poet’s Note: Because there were two boys, the second he is difficult to understand. Plus, I didn’t have enough lines or syllables to be explicit about what happened to the poor flute.
This past weekend was wonderfully relaxing. I played catch with my kids, went to see Divergent, enjoyed the spring ritual of going to Fat Boys drive in and binge watched How I Met Your Mother. But March was full of travel for me. Check out the March Round-Ups Part One:The Brunswick Inn and Part Two:Brooklyn & NYC or just read on to hear about Part Three: VCFA Novel Retreat.
This was the second year that I’ve driven up to Montpelier in March to meet with writers, my people, in the safe and supportive writing community that is Vermont College of Fine Arts (FMI: Writing Novels for Young People Retreat-VCFA). Last year I signed up for the critique track which allowed me to get feedback from other authors, and industry professionals about my work in progress. This year, I chose the writing track which gave me time to write and revise.
No matter what track one chooses, all participants enjoy lectures from the guests. This year, those guests were author Jennifer Richard Jacobson, author Rachel Wilson, and editor Martha Mahalick from Greenwillow Books. Rachel kicked off the weekend with a wonderful theater-based workshop on allowing yourself to play. I’ve already gotten her permission to borrow some of the great theater games for my “Active Mind, Active Body,” presentation at NESCBWI in May. Jennifer took a wide look at emotion on the page and I ended up with pages of notes. Martha discussed revision, the problems that she sees most often, and ideas about how to fix them. She let us have an inside view to the relationship between an editor and her authors. All the presentations were inspiring!
The change of place, the helpful presentations, the wonderful company all allowed me to write again after an stress-induced hiatus. I completed a the first draft of my WIP, printed it out, and started my read through. The other wonderful thing about the weekend is the public reading. One night, we are all welcomed to take the floor and read 2 pages from our manuscripts. I love reading my work (probably because reading was a part of the VCFA curriculum when I was there). However, I hadn’t read from the work before and found myself nervous and a little breathless. Still, it was well received and it’s always good to take advantage of a chance to read aloud. Especially in such a supportive environment.
This week, my goal is to complete my first read through and to write myself an editorial letter. This is one of my favorite revision techniques. I get to pull back from being an author and just attack the manuscript. Sure, I’m still personally involved, but I try to give the story some tough love. When I read the editorial letter in a week or so, I’ll have the hard job of hating my editor (me) and trying to figure out how to resolve the problems in the manuscript. (A little schizophrenic I know, but it works for me.)
My Maine Writer’s and Publishers Workshop, Desire in Middle Grade and young Adult Novels, has a new date and time. Instead of two three hour sessions we are compacting it into a single five hour session on March first at the Patten Free Library in Bath, Maine. Click the picture or text link above for more information and registration. I can promise you a kick-ass lecture with examples from wonderful books, and one on one attention. If you know a someone in or around Maine who might be interested, please send them the link to this blogpost. Retweets and Facebook postings are encouraged!
You’ve heard it from critique partners, agents, and editors: “What does your character want?” The adult world is full of desire but what about the world of children and young adults?
Children and Teens often want passionately. Some are passionate because they are untouched by failure and disappointment; others are passionate because people who are supposed to love and protect them from failure and disappointment– have let them down.
I’m going to be leading a two part workshop for Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance where we will discuss the importance of a clear desire line in fiction for young readers. This workshop takes place over two Saturdays: February 1 and March 1. We’ll use ancillary writing activities to discover our character’s deepest desires, and explore the differences between positive and negative desires. We’ll have a guided critique of each other’s first chapters and look for ways to make desire more opaque. Before the second session, you’ll get to revise your first chapter then we’ll process what we’ve learned and I’ll share my own revision process and techniques. Take a look at the full workshop description.
By the end of our 6 hours together I hope to persuade you that one of the most important things you can do for your story is to clearly define your character’s desire in the first few chapters of your MG or YA novel. Depending on the audience, it is even better if that desire is clearly stated or hinted at in the very first chapter.
When the reader can clearly access the character’s desire:
The reader roots for that character from the onset.
The reader sympathizes with the character. (Even in the case of an unsympathetic character, the reader will connect with the act of longing.)
It is this longing that keeps the reader reading.
If this kind of inquiry into the craft of writing for children and young adults interests you, sign up!
More about me:
Anna J. Boll, author/illustrator and educator, earned an MFA and Picture Book Certificate at Vermont College of Fine Arts and a MSEd at the University of Southern Maine. A winner of the 2013 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award, she is represented by Alexandra Penfold. Her poetry is published in Highlights High Five, Babybug, and Ladybug magazines.