Friday, December 24, 2010

At the Last Minute

Last minute shopping is kind of like writing the last few chapters of a novel:  it can either mean panic, if you're truly not finished getting what you need, or magic, when you discover something amazing you previously overlooked. Let's hope we all have the magic without the panic!

Wishing you a wonderful Christmas Eve and Christmas Day!

P.S. My posting may be a little sporadic for the next week or so, as I indulge in some holiday visiting and fun. Oh yeah, and finishing up those novel revisions I promised myself I'd complete.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cool Writerly Gifts That Come From Books

Book characters often have a special talent or device that helps them to stand out. If we could get these things for Christmas, some of them would make writing so much easier! Here's a few that I'd like:

1. The extendable ears Fred and George Weasley invented in J. K. Rowling's The Order of the Phoenix, because they'd come in handy for helping to create natural-sounding dialogue.

2. Sam's curiosity in E.B. White's The Trumpet of the Swan, because his nightly questions would generate a lot of writing ideas. I wouldn't mind a dose of his patience, either (while I'm waiting for stories that are out on submission).

3. The Scrabble skill that Ambrose has in Word Nerd by Susan Nielson, because I'd love to beat my Mom at Scrabble sometime.

What have you found in a book that you'd like to have?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Writing or Wrapping?

Christmas holidays can really derail your writing (or revising) plans! All that time off work that seemed to stretch ahead of me is quickly being filled up with shopping, baking, house cleaning and watching Christmas movies. My best tips for getting some writing work done:

1. Get up extra early to squeeze in a little time for writing when the house is quiet. Take advantage of the fact that everyone is staying up late to watch those once-a-year Christmas movies.

2. Send family members out with a long list of last minute gifts and say you have to stay home to finish tidying up. (More needles are going to fall off that tree anyway, so who will know what you've really been doing?)

3. Lock yourself in a room to "wrap gifts" for an hour or so. (Wrapping, writing, what's the difference? Those small pieces of leftover giftwrap are great for jotting plot notes.)

How are you keeping on track with the big day getting so close?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

About Revising (Part 2): What I Love

In my last post, I talked about how revision gets me down, but honestly, I really do love it. Here are some of the good points:

1.Since I know the ending, it's clear what details I need to emphasize to set it up and can plant them gracefully, instead of throwing in everything relevant in sight.

2. I get a good laugh from some of the dumb things I put in during the mad rush to get something written. Why did I ever think they'd work?

3. I know more about my characters since I've seen them in action, so it's easier to get inside their heads. And it's interesting to see how they've changed my original plans.

4. Since I don't make lists of characteristics before I begin, my characters sometimes morph in unusual ways. They sometimes change their hair colour, height, or special talent, and, in one unfortunate incident, gender. These things are so easy to fix, it's a real confidence booster.

5. If the new section isn't working, I always have something to fall back on (assuming I remember to save the new stuff in a new document).

6. It's fun to develop more voice by drawing it out and exaggerating a little.

7. During revisions, I start to feel my jumbled words are beginning to turn into a book that someone besides me might actually want to read.

What about you? What do you like about making revisions?

Monday, December 13, 2010

About Revising (Part 1): What I Hate

Since I'm so immersed in revising, my next two blog posts are about the good and bad sides of the process. First, the bad stuff (I like to leave the best for last):

1. I love the idea of having that whole book sitting there waiting for me to be improved upon (it's written, yay!) but then about halfway through my revisions on the book, I have that same gigantic loss of confidence that I did when writing it. You know, the one where it all seems like crap. I thought the revision process would be different.

2. Problems that I thought I solved in my first draft somehow sneak in again. Sometimes, the solutions were not really solutions, or just bandaid solutions to hold it together so I could finish the draft. This is when I discover they don't work.

3. Cutting out great writing sucks. But as Gail Carson Levine recommends in her book Writing Magic, I always save the bits I cut. You never know. (Except I think I do know. They'll sit on my computer until one day four years from now when I'll find the file and say, "What did I save this junk for?")

4. Getting stuck shouldn't happen because I have the whole first draft sitting there but it does anyway. Why isn't it easier? I know the book needs work. Another case where I thought the revision process would be different.

5. It takes a long time to get the revisions right, even longer than writing the first draft. Sigh.

Okay, these are all the negative thoughts I have about revising. You can share your own gripes too -- but don't worry about adding encouraging remarks, because I'm going to write about the good stuff on Wednesday. So spill it. What do you hate about revisions?

Friday, December 10, 2010

What I Learned This Week

Some of the most interesting and helpful things I learn about writing come from reading other blogs. Here's what I discovered this week:

1. There can be blog contests with surprising twists. I love the Epic contest of Epic YA author Beth Revis is running to publicize her debut novel Across the Universe. I've heard a lot about this book and have been waiting for it to come out. But the contest itself is awesome - there are 100 prizes! If you haven't heard about it, you should check it out.

2. Writing seems so much more focussed when you keep the big picture in mind. This great post by Janice Hardy sums up the two key things you need for a good story: have a hook and be entertaining. And Laura Pauling expands on Sarah Davies' Unique Concept + Voice + Craft. Great stuff to read while revising. It helps keep you on track.

3. I love these tips for creating dialogue by Shannon Whitney Messenger. Definitely will be trying some out.

4. Sometimes you can only get past a tricky place in your novel by making a big change. But it's a good idea to save it with a new file name BEFORE you begin making the changes, just in case you need part of that earlier version. Duh!

5. Holiday treats provide great fuel for late night writing sessions. Sugar rush leads to better thinking, right? (Or maybe not. See previous point.) But I am on track to finish my revision of Novel #4 by the end of December.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Revising With a Plan

Taking time to plan my revisions for Novel #4 has been incredibly helpful. After breaking down my novel into sections and thinking about which parts contribute to the plot and which really don't (see my previous post for details), my next step was to decide what I needed to do to the existing book to make the new structure work. For each section, I wrote down what I needed to do.

For example, "Change part about chocolate so Maya refuses chocolate curls". By listing all the changes I need, the process has become less overwhelming. I can focus on one change or one section each time I get a chance to work on it. And then I get the satisfaction of crossing it off my list once I've accomplished it. We'll see if this process leads to a stronger book.

How much planning do you do for your revision process?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Made Up Words

Do you ever make up new words or phrases in your writing?

Since my middle graade novel involves a made up place and an invented scenario, I'm also creative with the language my characters use in dialogue. So far, most of my invented words are for emphasis -- the equivalent of "Wow!", "Really?" or "No way!"

Another way I use invented words is for some character names. It's easy to do by taking an ordinary name and changing it a little until it sounds right. Using invented names is one signal to my readers that the world of the novel is not quite the same as the world we live in.

I find that one of the tricks to using invented words or expressions is to balance their use. If they are too infrequent, they won't seem like part of the everyday lives of the characters. If they are overused, then I think they'd be distracting for a reader. I also try to make their meaning clear, so a page of translations won't be required.

P.S. The League of Extraordinary Writers, a group of YA writers of science fiction and dystopian works, are having a cool contest with giveaways of their new books. You might want to check it out!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Revisions: What Really Matters to the Story

I always get about halfway through my revisions and realize my novel is getting too complicated. I panic and think there's no way I'll get all the loose ends wrapped up by the time I get to the ending.

Part of it is because when I write my first draft, I throw in lots of obstacles for my main characters. The more tension and conflict, the better, right? Maybe not. During the revision process, I need to weed some of them out. But which ones?

One thing that helps me to decide is to think of my novel as made up of  3 or 4 big sections. In each section, there's a task that is going to help my main character reach her goal. After that, I look how the smaller obstacles in that section affect the big task. The only obstacles that matter for the story are the ones that make a difference to the character reaching her goal. 

Another thing I've noticed is that it's easier to build from a simpler framework to a more complicated one. Things get tangled up fast when you're trying to fit together all the pieces of the story. When I stop and look at the "bare bones" of the story, it's a lot easier to see what does and doesn't belong. KISS (keep it simple, stupid) is going to be my new motto for December.