Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I Started Writing a New Novel!

I started writing a new book today (or maybe two)! Before writing, I spent a couple of weeks trying to sketch out the plot. I find it really hard to revise a story later if I haven’t thought enough about the plot before I start, because sometimes it seems that when I change anything, the whole story unravels. So, I decided to do more thinking before I leapt into writing. What I did:

1. Brainstormed.

2. Shaped the ideas into a long summary of the story and gave it to two very critical kids in my target age group to pick apart. Revised based on their feedback.

3. Wrote some brief descriptions of main characters and the setting.

4. Used the “nine box” technique to help organize some main plot points (for more info see Suzette Saxton's Feb post at QueryTracker).

5. Wrote a one-sentence summary. (Thanks, Christy, for your suggestion over on MiG Writers).

I have two great ideas for separate novels that have kept popping into my mind from time to time, and I didn’t know which to choose first. So I followed this process for both of them. Still don’t know which one to choose -- I’m working on both. I expect soon one will take over. Today I started writing Novel A.

I don't usually write novels this fast, back-to-back, but I figure I'll be on a break from teaching in the summer, so I can do revisions then.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Found Only in Fiction: Phrases Girls Hate

I recently asked a few of the teen and preteen girls that hang around my house about what words and phrases bug them when they’re reading books. I was surprised at how opinionated they were on the subject. But then, these girls are all avid readers (and bear in mind it was a small sample of less than 5). Here are some phrases they found irritating:

Phrases like “She blinked and then….”

The word “breathe” in the middle of a character’s inner thoughts.

Writing the sound of people laughing, e.g. “Ha! Ha! Ha!” said Thomas, instead of “Thomas laughed.”

The word “pierced” when used as a sound, because it makes them think of physical stabbing and not a sound.

“Cringe” and “scowl”.

“Flowery”. One girl said, “What does it mean, anyway? It reminds me of showery.”

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Eagerly Anticipated Disappointment

My third novel is out getting its first few critiques--always an anxiety-filled experience for me. It's the first test of whether anything about it is any good.

I'm always eager to get my critiques, but after I get them, I read them and set them aside for a while before I act on them. Why? Because there's always that tiny glimmer of hope inside that this time my writing is perfect, but of course it isn't. I sometimes feel disappointed when something I've written doesn't work. After my initial emotional reaction, logic kicks in and I see what I need to do to improve it.

Feeling disappointed is a good thing. It means my critiquers are doing a great job. (Yay Critique Circle!) It also means I know what I need to do next. But it still stings a little.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Quick Writing Link: Do Cell phones & Texting Complicate Your Plot?

I've been thinking about the issue of technology in writing MG and YA fiction and today, I came across an excellent article on the topic. Check it out in the March/April issue of Women on Writing. There are some other great articles and interviews here too - the entire issue is devoted to YA writing!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Found Only in Fiction: Mental Notes

These are so overdone. Do you actually walk around in real life thinking, I must make a mental note about that? Okay, maybe you do. But when book characters do it, it's just annoying. Can't they just think whatever it is without conjuring up an image of a tiny person inside their brain with a paper and pencil?

Mental kicks and punches are even worse. What part of the brain is getting punched? Are there hands and feet inside there?

This is so common it's hard to pick up a novel without finding a mental note inside it. Please don't do it, I'm begging you. Your character might get hurt.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

#30. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

I can see why this novel was a Newberry Honor Book. I haven't read many historical novels for MG readers, but this one created a complete picture of life in 1899 as a backdrop for Callie Vee's story of finding out what she wants out of life (and standing up for it). I loved the way Callie's relationship with her grandfather developed through their love of science. I loved the attention to detail in this book, and the way the words flowed easily across the page.

Although I got my copy from the public library, this is a book I'll consider adding to my personal bookshelf.  I think there is a lot to be learned from it about writing dialogue without drawing attention to dialogue tags and building character through the use of specific details. I'll be reading this book again, because it is so rich it's impossible to absorb it all the first time.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Quick Writing Link: A Painful Perspective

I'd never thought of looking at my novel from the point of view of how much emotional pain the main character is feeling, but over on Fiction Notes, Darcy Pattison writes about how a pain scale might help with plotting.

I do think that if you can make your reader feel the pain that your characters are feeling, than your reader is going to be immersed in your story.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Found Only In Fiction: Grimace

According to the Oxford Canadian Dictionary, a grimace is “a distortion of the face made in disgust or to amuse”. It’s a legitimate physical reaction. But after hours of reading, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s rarely effective when book characters do it.

Almost every time I see this word, it draws my attention. I’m no longer thinking about the character, I’m trying to visualize a grimace. When I meet a word like this, I think: Do you use this word in everyday life? If not, maybe it doesn’t belong in your novel.

Suggestion:  Use only on rare occasions, if at all.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Beautiful Words

27. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

After hearing so much about this book over at Grace Lin's blog, I had to read it. This book is many stories in one, with imaginative folktales woven through the text. I enjoyed the unique format and especially the way the author uses language. Plus, who doesn't love stories that contain dragons?  Some favourite phrases of mine included:

"As the sky deepened like brewing tea..."

"stars began to poke holes in the deep blue velvet sky" (This describes one of my favourite colours of the sky).

A good book to read if you appreciate how words can be perfectly put together to create compelling images. I'm thrilled to find out there are going to be more.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Quick Writing Link: Dear Editor

Editor and author Deborah Halverson's new Dear Editor site is a place for writers to ask questions about the writing process and the publishing industry. Great advice on how to write teen dialogue!

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Curse of the Writing Mind

Sometimes thinking like a writer almost feels like a curse. You hear about something rotten that happens to someone and, even while you’re saying how sorry you are, the wheels start turning. Wouldn’t that make a great story? Maybe I can use that as part of my character’s background. What would it be like if you lost the use of both hands while stranded in a rainforest?

Even though real life situations give me ideas, I try to change them significantly in my fiction. Some ways to keep reality and fiction distinct:

1. Use real life situations only as a jumping off point.
2. Don't use names and characteristic details of real people in your life.
3. Borrow a few details from a real-life situation for a different situation in your writing.

Any other ideas?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Writing Re-Actions

Yesterday I wrote a piece and posted it on my blog, then after some thought, I later “un-posted”. Why? I’d had time to think about the post as a reader. What did that post say about me? About my character?

This is so tied in to what I do when I’m working on fiction. Except there are more reactions to take into account.

Character reactions. All those details I generate in developing characters, like their favourite foods and where they shop, help me to get into their heads. To feel what they are feeling. The tricky part is using words to express it. A feeling often doesn’t come across naturally if you just state it. You need to create it:

• Set up the conditions for feelings to emerge by creating problems and tension.
• Use actions to show how the character reacts.
• Provide room for the character to respond emotionally.

Reader reactions. How does the reader feel about what you wrote? This is difficult to judge when you’re the writer. You have to put aside your notions about how you want the reader to feel through the words and phrases you’ve put together and try to just react. It helps to have some distance. I set my work aside for a while after a draft is completed. It’s also part of the reason why I’m in a critique group.

Monday, March 1, 2010

More on Different Viewpoints

 23. Eggs by Jerry Spinelli

What a great story of friendship between two unlikely characters - a 9-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl! I can see this book appealing to both boys and girls. It was interesting to see how Spinelli handled the different points of view of the two kids. In some novels with different viewpoints, the POVs are quite distinct in terms of voice. I didn't find that so much here, but changes were clear. In a few places, the story was told from an adult perspective, which I found a bit jarring. I enjoyed the vivid visual images in this novel.

Revision update: I didn't reach my goal of finishing draft #2 of my work-in-progress by the end of February. But I will definitely finish this week. I made it to Chapter 17 of about 20 chapters. One of the things I will need to do in my next revision is to think about how to make the viewpoints in my own story emerge more naturally.