Saturday, October 30, 2010

When a Book Takes Over

I don't know if you've ever felt this way, but sometimes, after I've read a book (or watched a really good movie),  it just fills up my mind. I don't want to let anything else in to take its place for a while. Not another book. Not a T.V. show. It's just my thoughts about the book and me. I want to savour the thoughts and feelings that rise up when reading a really great book.

My most recent read The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness was like that for me. I didn't like it at first, but I'd read the first book in the trilogy, The Knife of Never Letting Go, and I was hooked on the characters. So I carried on with it. Wow - did it get me. It stirred up so many emotions and made me think. Even when I wasn't liking it, I couldn't put it down.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Point of View Problems

One of the structural problems that worried me about Novel #4 was my changes in point of view. I went through my scene summary and highlighted whenever the point of view changed, using different colours for different POVs. I was surprised to see there were 4 different characters with a voice in the first draft of my novel. One of them only took the stage for a single scene.

I took a good hard look at whether those changes were necessary, and decided they weren't. Middle grade readers don't want to work so hard to follow a lot of different voices. So I rearranged some of my scenes. Cut some and invented others. This is so much easier to do when I'm looking at a summary of my scenes, rather than actual chapters. It turned out that I only need two different viewpoints, a main one and a secondary one. Yay!

Of course, now there will be a lot of rewriting to do, but I know it will improve the story.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Getting Past a Stumbling Block

I'm trying to question everything as I revise my novel and sometimes my questions get me stuck. For the past week, I've been faced with a plot problem that stopped me from moving ahead. But this weekend, instead of revising words and phrases, I went back to my scene summary to look at the bigger picture. What a great idea that was!

It's much easier to see the whole novel with brief descriptions of each scene. Since I'm not looking at my "beautiful" writing, it's also easier to make changes to the storyline. Making a few changes gave me confidence to make more. Here's a few things I want to remember:

1. Nothing is set in stone, just because the words are on the page.

2. It's easy to open a new file to save changes in to avoid messing up what I wrote before, in case I need it later.

3. I make the rules for my own story (as much as the characters might want things to go their way).

4. Sometimes it's okay to do what is convenient for the plot. Not everything has to be a new twist.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Writer's Best Friend

My dog is pretty helpful with my writing (I'd include a picture of her but it throws my old computer into a tailspin. She basically looks like a skinny black lab). How my dog helps with my writing:

1. When I've been at my desk too long, she paws at my arm for attention, telling me it's time to let her outside. Or take her for a walk. This forces me to notice I need a break, and possibly some head clearing fresh air.

2. She gives me a warm shoulder to cuddle up to when I'm feeling frustrated and my writing isn't working.
3. When I want to read my story out loud to check the rhythm, I can pretend I'm reading to her. So then it seems like I'm a weirdo that reads to dogs, not a weirdo that reads to nobody. Why aren't the kids around when I need them?

4. If I hide a dog treat inside an old rejection letter, she'll rip it to shreds for me. I haven't actually tried this, but it might be fun.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Escaping My Real Life

You know when you have one of those days where, by the end of it, all you want to do is curl up with a good book? Yesterday was one of those days for me, and why I didn't post on Wednesday the way I usually do. It was one thing after another that didn't go quite right. So I came home, put my feet up, watched an episode of Mad Men with my husband, and later, (ignoring the giant pile of dishes in the kitchen), pulled out a book.

In no time, I was in another place. Thinking about the character's problems (which are probably going to be solved by the end of the story). Enjoying the experience of the story unfolding.

That's what I love about books.

Monday, October 18, 2010

How Much is Too Much?

Do you ever wonder if you’ve revised your story so much that it’s lost the original spark that brought it to life?

I’m working on Novel #4, which I wrote in 3 months, and (hopefully) I will have finished my first pass of revisions for in another 3 months. My first two novels took 4 or 5 years of hard work and rewriting to get them to the point where I feel comfortable submitting them to agents or editors. Maybe this is just self-doubt creeping in. But I wonder sometimes, if, along with the improvements, something has been lost during the revision process too.

Do you ever think you are "over-writing" or "over-revising"? How would you know?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Birthday Wishes

Today is my birthday. I’m not telling how old I am, but it’s old enough to wish I'd gotten serious about my writing much sooner than ten years ago. Here's what I wish for today:

1. The ability to tell where my plot is weak before the novel is finished, so I don't have to take the whole thing apart to fix it.

2. Courage, to inspire me to send out more queries for my completed novels.

3. More sleep!

4. An express pass through my revisions so I can get working on something new.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Creating a Consistent Voice

As I revise my novel, I'm trying to create a consistent voice for my main character. Some of the strategies I'm using include:

1. Adopting a consistent style of writing throughout the novel that fits with my character’s background. While I’m not using a dialect (since I often find them annoying to read), my character does have certain phrases and grammatical structures that are typical of her (made up) societal group.

2. Making a conscious effort to write more simply. Though I tend to be sparse when it comes to description, I do tend to use long phrases, which may be more suitable for older age groups. This time, I’m trying to keep my sentences middle-grade short and sweet.

3. Taking time to think as my character would. Writing every day helps me slip into my character’s mind more easily. Even so, I sometimes have to stop and think about her experiences and background, to decide if what I’ve written really fits. I've had to cut sections of my novel or change elements that don't make sense in light of her past experiences or cultural background. I guess this is why we need to know as much about our characters as possible.

Friday, October 8, 2010

What I Learned This Week

My brain is stuffed so full of what I'm learning about teaching (I teach kindergarten and I'm trying out some new approaches this year), sometimes it doesn't feel like there's any space for my writing. It's hard to get a good balance between writing and the rest of my life sometimes. That's why I love reading other people's blogs to help me focus on the writing process. Here's some great things I learned this week:

1. What it really means to start a story with action. In a recent blog post, Jill Corcoran discusses how intriguing the reader is not the same as being thrown into the middle of an action scene.

2. How writing for different age groups might affect the process of getting an agent from Mary Kole over at

3. Some benefits of going to a writing conference. Between getting the time to do it (anything that happens during the school year and involves travel is out) and the cost, I always let them pass me by. But after reading this blog post by Jennifer Hubbard, I'm thinking about it again.

4. It is possible to get past Chapter 2 in revising Novel #4 (still no title). What I needed was someone to talk with about my ideas and help me to feel okay about taking the simpler, more obvious path instead of a more complicated, less logical one. I'm learning not to create unnecessary complications for myself when writing a story.

P.S. Happy Thanksgiving if you're celebrating this weekend!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Bookstores: Exciting or Scary?

Bookstores are one of my favourite places, next to libraries. As a reader, I love to browse. Skim back cover copy. Read a few first pages. I end up wishing I had a) the room to store more books at home and b) a lot more money. One of the best times on my summer vacation was discovering a wonderful bookstore in a small town in Michigan that was filled with the kinds of books I enjoy reading.

At the same time, bookstores often scare the writing side of me. There are so many great looking books there. I always feel like my own novel will never be that clever, that intriguing or that pretty. I have to remember not to compare my unpublished work to work that has already been edited a zillion times, with the benefit of the expertise of editors and agents.

Do you like visiting bookstores or do you avoid them to get past the scariness?

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Value of Different Perspectives

Recently, a one of my critique partners pointed out something about the events in the beginning of my latest novel that made her question its believability. Clearly, I hadn't thought about that aspect of story enough. It made me go back, think more deeply, and work out some changes to make the story stronger.

Why didn't I see it myself?

Sometimes I get so immersed in the story I can't see something that's right in front of me. Once I set up my story premise, I accept it and go on from there. I don't challenge it anymore. Even during revisions, when I stop and question everything from individual words to character motivations, I don't always see when one of the ideas isn't working or isn't coming through the way I want it. Hooray for my critique partners! They usually catch those kinds of problems. Thanks, writing buddies.