Tag Archives: Writing Tools

Story Threads and Resonance

17 Oct

by Susan Dennard

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Note:

This post has been UPDATED

and re-posted on

Pub(lishing) Crawl!

~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. Her debut novel, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, is now available from HarperTeen. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

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Holding Yourself (and Your Writing) Accountable

22 Aug

 

by Susan Dennard

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I’ve talked about productivity before. About how BICHOK is one sure-fire way to get your writing where it needs to be. About how focused practice is the only way to get better.

But what about those times when your self-motivation (if you even have it to begin with!) starts to flag?

What about those days where you spend four hours at the computer and write all of 4 words?

Yeah, it’s kinda like that.

On those days, my friend, it’s time to seek help elsewhere. It’s time to find SOMEONE ELSE to hold you accountable.

I mean, think about it: when you were in high school, you got your work done (or I hope you did…). Maybe it was at the last minute or maybe it wasn’t always your best work, but you finished. Why? Because someone else expected you to.

So why not put a dose of SOMEONE ELSE in your writing life?

It’s easy. Find another writer (or as many as you want!) and agree to talk regularly, share your goals, and check in often to make sure you’re staying on track.

For example, right now, the Let the Words Flow ladies are sharing their daily word count goals. In the morning, we all email how many words we want to type out before night…and then that night, we email to say how much we actually wrote.

I can assure you that simply knowing the other ladies are gonna see my daily progress really pushes me to keep TYPING! And, if for whatever reason one of us is flagging, we all shoot out upbeat emails–and when I’m the one behind, that support REALLY helps me get back on track.

So if you’re finding you need a bit more motivation in your life, I challenge you to find another writer who’ll hold you accountable and send you lots of smiley faces when you need ’em.

Is this something you would ever do? Or do you already have someone like this in your writing life?

~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

The Great Big Post of Querying

12 Aug

So, recently, a reader emailed me asking me how I went about querying and finding my agent. I’d actually meant to put up a post about this a long time ago, but the old post included my actual query, which, now that I look at it, is rather spoilery…

I will, however, go through some of the tools I found most helpful and give a basic outline of how the process went.

I started writing my query letter literally a month or so before I sent out my first email (I didn’t snail mail any queries), and then I revised and revised and revised and revised some more. I sent it to critique partners, read it to friends, etc, until I’d whittled it down to about three paragraphs that made sense, got to the heart of the conflict, and gave the reader just enough world building. 

During this time, I was collecting a list of agents I’d like to work with, too. Many of these names I got from blogs, since I’d spent so much time reading agent blogs to figure out how to put together a query letter in the first place. Some I got from contests (I got my agent Emmanuelle’s name from Miss Snark’s First Victim’s Secret Agent Contest!).

 Wherever I got the names from, I checked to see if they had blogs or twitter or anything like that. Not everyone does, and that’s fine if they don’t, but if they do tweet or whatever, sometimes you can get an idea of what they’re looking for. I know the internet’s not the best way to make a judge of character or anything, but sometimes you can get a sense of how someone’s like to work with.                                                      .
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Also, a check on querytracker (I did a whole long post about that here) never hurt, either. There’s also www.agentquery.com, but I didn’t use that as much. However, they usually list a number of links to interviews and such that the agent has done, and those can be really helpful. 

Publisher’s Marketplace does require a subscription fee, but it’s not too bad and if you have a membership, you can see what’s been sold by whom and to whom. Which is handy if you’re looking to see who has, say, a really good track record in cozy mysteries or something. Not all sales get reported to PM, though, and some are reported late, so it’s not an end all be all source. 

The Absolute Write forum (or water cooler, as they call it) can be very helpful, too. Many agencies have their own thread in the Writers Beware subforum, and you can search a particular agent’s name to see what sort of experience other writers have had with them in the past. Often, you’ll even see a few people announce that they’ve recently signed on with said agent. The smaller agencies sometimes have rather lackluster, seldom-visited threads, though…which doesn’t at all reflect on the quality of the agency. 

Finally, I got a TON of help from just other writers. The girls at LTWF were an enormous help, as were other friends I made online, who gave me advice about everything from manuscript formatting to query-letter-writing.

I sent out queries in really small batches, since my overall list was pretty small. I ended up signing with Emmanuelle after about two months (longest two months of my life. Truly, lol), but I suppose if I hadn’t gotten any offers after a long while, I would have had to widen my search a little. 

In the end, everybody talks so much about query, and there’s a ton of advice out there (even about the best day of the week or the best time of day to send a query—as a literary intern, I’m just going to say…at least at the agency where I work, this is not going to matter in the least), but in the end, there’s only so much you can do. And writing a really strong story trumps most of the other stuff anyway 🙂

~~~

Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She is represented by Emmanuelle Morgen and her book WHAT’S LEFT OF ME is about a 15-year-old girl fighting for her right to survive in a world where two souls are born to each body and one is doomed to disappear. It recently sold in a three-book deal to HarperTeen. You can read more about her writing process, travels, and books at her blog.

Writing a Saleable Book

10 Aug

by Susan Dennard

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Recently, someone asked me:

What is required to make a book saleable?

That is a rather large-in-scope question, and as such, I’m afraid my answer will be kinda vague. All the same, I thought it was worth taking the time to answer for everyone.

🙂

My super broad response is the:

The most important thing in writing a saleable book is writing a good book.

I am 100% convinced that if you have a well-written, compelling story, your novel will eventually find an agent/editor. Period.

That said, there are a few critical things that define a “good book”. Again, these answers are vague, and I’d be more than happy to get specific for anyone with questions (ask in the comments, please!).

Parts of a Good Book

1. First and foremost, the story absolutely most flow. Stilted dialogue, poor pacing, or unreadable grammar/syntax will kill a manuscript. A reader can put up with slow scenes if it all flows beautifully, and a reader can put up with a less-than-compelling plot if it’s smooth.

The way to ensure your novel flows is to revise-revise-revise. Learning to master the written word is absolutely critical. Few people write stunning first drafts, but give them a red pen, and they can line-edit their words into perfect prose.

2. Secondly, a book needs a compelling plot with tension on every page. The story builds, the tension builds, and everything ends in an explosive climax (and this applies to any genre—by explosive I simply mean all aspects of the story finally come together).

This is something you can learn by reading about writing, taking workshops, or simply reading heavily in the genre you write. There are structure to stories (three-act is the most common), and your job is to practice until these are second nature when you write/revise.

Again, my first drafts are rarely good examples of compelling plot, but I can revise them until they shine and all the subplots weave into the main plot.

3. Third, a book needs a cast of characters that readers care about. The best way to achieve this is to ensure the MC has a desperate need—secondary characters too. This is also something you have to learn by doing/practicing.

4. Fourth, the book must have high stakes. “High stakes” simply means we are invested in whether or not the MC achieves his/her goal. What will she lose if she fails to reach her goal? And why does that matter? A common reason a book fails to compel readers is low stakes—if we don’t care about the MC’s failure, we don’t care about reading the book.

Finding Problems

My biggest suggestion in terms of how to address these 4 components is to start critiquing and getting your work critiqued. Either find a critique partner, join a critique group, or stay active in a critiquing community. This is no doubt something everyone here already knows, but it’s so important (in my opinion) that I just have to emphasize it!

When you see others make mistakes, you learn to spot them in your own writing. Additionally, we, the writers, are often too close to our novels to see them “as a whole”. CPs and betas have the needed distance to spot problems

When I got an agent, Something Strange and Deadly had been through 4 crit partners and 2 betas. Did I always listen to my CPs’/betas’ comments? No—you must decide and filter feedback—but it was thanks to my CPs/betas that I caught some of my biggest mistakes (character inconsistencies, flat climax, plot holes, etc.).

What do you think? Are there any other components you think a saleable book needs? And how do you feel about critique partners or beta readers?

~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

Show versus Tell: Macro-, Micro-, and When to Use It

29 Jun

by Susan Dennard

~~

Note:

This post has been UPDATED

and re-posted on

Pub(lishing) Crawl!

~~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. Her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, is now available from HarperTeen. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

Allow me to romance you while you question your sanity.

28 Jun

by Biljana Likic

~~~

Ah, l’amour!

Love, in any form, is pretty sweet. It’s why you constantly see me writing about it. I’m a hopeless romantic. And while I can’t consider myself an expert on romance, I do know a thing or two about it. My favourite part is the tension.

The thing that makes something exciting is the lead-up. You can talk all you want about how you hate waiting, but half of what’s making your stomach flip is anticipation of what’s to come. It’s like when you hear a crush will be at the same party as you. Your mind goes into overdrive. Will they see you? Will they talk to you? Will they, dare you think it, accidentally graze your arm as they reach for the punch they’re getting for your rival? Will you finally be poisoning it tonight?

The wonderful thing about that last question is that it’s only a half-joke.

In writing, it’s no different. If you want the reader to be rooting for two people to get together, make them feel like they’re part of the romance. Make their stomach flip when it looks like the boy will finally notice the girl. I’m not talking about endless woe-is-me from the protagonist, or secret, long-suffering proclamations. I’m talking about subtle things. Things that really show how every moment the girl spends in the boy’s company electrifies her.

What makes it doubly fun, is having her not know if the boy is doing it consciously or not.

She walks into the room with a glass of wine. Her eyes are drawn to him like magnets and she stares at his face. He’s sitting by the cake, already having eaten his dinner. She decides dinner isn’t important anyway and makes a beeline for the three-tiered confection, pretending to be considering the cake whenever she thought he looked over.

She’s there before she wants to be. Her sudden proximity to him is making her aware of every insecurity, from the slight tummy she could never lose to the fact that she isn’t very good at walking in heels. She watches him from the corner of her eye and jumps when he turns to look at her. She makes brief eye contact before taking a drink of wine to distract herself.

“Would you like some cake?”

She almost chokes on her drink. She clears her throat.

“Excuse me?”

“You seem to really want some cake,” he says.

A rush of embarrassment pours through her as she realizes she just spent the last few minutes seemingly entranced by white frosting and pink sugar bows.

She clears her throat again. “Is it any good?” she asks.

He doesn’t answer but stands, taking a natural step towards her, and picks up a cake knife. He’s unbearably close. He cuts a piece and hands it to her on a plate. She has to be careful how she raises her hand to accept it so that she doesn’t accidentally touch him. He’s watching her as she takes it, and she feels his fingers brush hers.

“Thanks,” she says quietly, not looking at him.

“You’re welcome.”

She sits down stiffly. A moment later, he retakes his own seat beside her, and as he pulls in his chair his thigh comes into contact with hers. Her grip tightens on her spoon as he starts to flirt with the girl on the other side of him, and it’s a good ten seconds before he moves his leg.

She sets down her plate, takes up the wine glass, and drains it.

Not once does it talk about how she’s infatuated, and nowhere does it outright say that she’s attracted to him. This is an example of showing instead of telling. Through her reactions, you can see that she’s attracted to him; it never has to be said. And it’s done with the little things, the tiny details: tensing up when he looks at her; staring too long at the cake out of nervousness; skipping dinner altogether for dessert she doesn’t want.

Scenes like these are what makes you want to scream. They make you want to either yell at the girl to grow a spine, or punch the guy in the face.

But, most importantly, when they finally get together, the event makes you squeal with delight.

What I love most about this stuff however is that they can lead to a happy, squee-inducing ending, or they can be the first sign of doom. As it stands right now, that scene can go in two directions: one is amusing, possibly frustrating, but ultimately happy; the other is degrading, miserable, and ultimately resentful. You don’t have to say right away right kind of relationship these two people will have. All you have to do is convey the immediate events. And though I would love for every scene like the one above to end in romance, it can always turn sour.

In the end, when it’s all said and done, the moment you leave the territory of maybe and cross into yes or no, the tension dulls considerably, and the conflict just isn’t as fun anymore. It is, after all, anticipation of the answer that keeps you at the edge of your seat.

And when it comes to romance, there’s nothing more exciting than maybe.

~~~

Biljana Likic is an aspiring author, currently revising her first novel, TIME IS A FUNNY THING. She’s going into her second year of university, where she can’t wait till she’s out so she’ll finally have all the time in the world to write. You can visit her blog and follow her on Twitter.

Writing in Style (Or Style in Writing?)

15 Jun

By Sammy Bina

~~~

Anyone who knows me in real life (or just follows my inane ramblings on twitter or tumblr) knows that my not-so-secret second love in life is fashion. Every morning I wake up and check the publishing blogs I subscribe to, then immediately move on to the style blogs. My writing may be influenced that day by some tips I picked up, and my outfit may just be an interpretation of something I saw online. Either way, my day has been impacted by the two things I love most.

But what does fashion have to do with writing, you wonder. Besides the obvious fact that your characters wear clothes (or maybe they don’t. Maybe you’re writing about a nudist colony, in which case, this post may not be relevant).

As writers, we’re told to infuse our characters with personality. No one wants to read an entire novel where the main character is as bland as a piece of burnt, unbuttered toast. We’re told to give them quirks, a distinct voice, and maybe a few defining physical features. Clothing, I think, falls into the same category. Maybe it’s just me, but I pay close attention when an author takes the time to describe what a person is wearing, even if it’s only a passing sentence. Suzanne Collins doesn’t really waste a lot of words on Katniss’s dress for the opening ceremony. In fact, this is all we get:

“I am dressed in what will either be the most sensational or the deadliest costume in the opening ceremonies. I’m in a simple black unitard that covers me from ankle to neck. Shiny leather boots lace up to my knees. But it’s the fluttering cape made of streams of orange, yellow, and red and the matching headpiece that define this costume. “

“My face is relatively clear of makeup, just a bit of highlighting here and there. My hair has been brushed out and then braided down my back in my usual style.”

It’s pretty vague, if we’re being honest. We have absolutely no idea what the headpiece even looks like. But that’s okay, because we’re given an impression. In our minds, we’re able to understand that the dress is, in a lot of ways, like Katniss herself: simple yet powerful.

Period pieces require a little more effort than a contemporary novel. Instead of saying a character’s wearing jeans and a t-shirt, you’ve got to worry about historical accuracy. I took a class on the history of fashion in college, just so I’d have the basic information if I decided I ever wanted to write in that genre. The text book is actually a really great reference for anyone who’s looking for one: Survey of Historic Costume. There’s also a great website (the KCI Digital Archives) that has a lot of fantastic images compiled for your perusal. If you’ve read any historical romance novels, you’ll know that fashion plays a bigger role than it does in contemporary stories, if only because a person had to change so often, and a specific garment meant a specific thing in a specific situation. These days we don’t really have that problem; at least, not to such a degree.

Taking characterization into consideration, I think clothing is a totally legit way to help your readers understand them. I mentioned once how black clothing doesn’t make your leading man a bad boy, but it’s still making a statement. Same goes for that girl who’s always wearing frumpy clothes inspired by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Maybe she’s poor and can’t afford nice things. Maybe she doesn’t believe in wearing pants. Maybe she thinks she’s stuck in the 1800s. Whatever the reason, it speaks to her character as a whole.

Lately I’ve been trying to pay more attention to my physical portrayal of people and places. I’ve made a conscious effort to include some sort of clothing description where it’s necessary, and one of my CPs mentioned the interior of my main setting seemed a bit lackluster. Needless to say, I took the time to spruce it up. I realized she was right — initially, it was just a standard house. There was nothing defining about it. Now, as I go back and edit, it’s begun to take on a personality of its own. Which goes to say that clothing doesn’t just belong on people — you can dress up a setting, too!

If you’re anything like me and prefer a visual to help you with your descriptions, the above websites should be pretty helpful. Also, take a look at polyvore.com. Not only can you create visual representations of outfits, but interiors as well! I’ve definitely found it to be a very helpful tool in certain situations.

What about you guys? Do you think clothing can be an important aspect of characterization? I’d love to hear what you have to say!

~~~

Sammy Bina graduated with a degree in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and interned for the Elaine P. English literary agency in Washington D.C.. She is currently editing her YA dystopian, SILENCE. You can follow her blog or find her on twitter.

A Musical Secret

8 Jun

By Sammy Bina

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We’ve had plenty of articles about the importance of outlining here at LTWF, but today I thought I’d throw one more at you. Something a little out of left field, if you will. Something different. Because when it comes to outlining, I’ve never been a fan. In fact, I pretty openly despise it. Only recently have I been somewhat converted to the monstrosity known as the Detailed Outline (meaning I’ve only done it for one book); in every other instance (including the novel I actually made a Detailed Outline for), I’ve gone about things a bit differently.

My secret? I outline using music.

Writers are inspired by all sorts of things. Maybe for you it’s a conversation you overheard on the subway, or a really incredible piece of art. Maybe your ideas come to you while you’re in the shower, or in the middle of taking an exam. For me, music’s always been my muse. I tend to write my novels as if they were movies — I can see them play out in my head and, more importantly, can imagine the soundtrack playing faintly in the background. Ironically, I can’t write with music playing, but it’s a huge factor in actually getting me to write.

Allow me to explain how this all works.

Step 1: I get an idea for a novel. For realism’s sake, we’ll use my current WIP as an example.

Step 2: I open iTunes. That’s right — before I even open Word, I’ve got to get a playlist started. I even come bearing an example:

As you can see, this is the playlist for SILENCE. It’s still growing, but the initial playlist, before I even began writing, consisted of about 20 songs. Because the story’s very melancholy and quiet, I put together a compilation of songs that I thought would work well to set the tone. For example: William Fitzsimmons, Peter Bradley Adams, and a bunch of instrumentals.

Step 3: Start writing.

Step 4: Add songs to playlist. As new scenes are written, I try to imagine what song might be playing in the background if it were actually a movie. Most of the time the song actually inspires the scene, but sometimes it’s the other way around. For example, I consider SILENCE’s theme song to be If You Would Come Back Home by William Fitzsimmons, which is at the very top of the playlist. It isn’t directly related to any scene, but I always listen to it before I start editing. It really helps me sink back into the story and how I felt when I was writing it. Some people set the mood for a romantic evening at home. Me? I set the mood for a romantic evening with me and my computer.

Pivotal scenes often get more than one song. In the first chapter of SILENCE, the main character has a flashback to the night her parents died. The scene initially starts with a song from Yann Tiersen’s Amelie score, but as the tension grows, it turns into a song from Mansfield Park. Different instruments lend themselves to certain feelings, and in some cases, instrumentals aren’t even good enough. Sometimes you need lyrics. My soundtracks are so random and mismatched, but somehow, it just works.

By the time I’m done with a story (written and edited), the playlist is usually between 30 and 50 songs. It really depends on how scene-specific I get. SILENCE is a bit more like that, while my playlist for THE AGE OF NEVER GROWING OLD is more generic and mood-setting than anything. It all depends on the story. All I know is that this is the only real way I can outline. I start associating songs and lyrics with specific scenes or characters. The first novel I wrote had a pretty short playlist (short being 25 songs), but every time one of those comes up on my shuffle, I’m still reminded of scenes I wrote nearly a decade ago. Music sticks with you, which is why I think it’s been such an effective tool for me. So for those of you who are like me and are having trouble outlining, maybe give the musical route a go. If anything, you’ll get an awesome playlist out of it!

~~~

Sammy Bina graduated with a degree in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and interned for the Elaine P. English literary agency in Washington D.C.. She is currently editing her YA dystopian, SILENCE. You can follow her blog or find her on twitter.

How to Write a Scary Scene

6 Jun

by Susan Dennard

~~

Note:

This post has been UPDATED

and re-posted on

Pub(lishing) Crawl!

~~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. Her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, is now available from HarperTeen. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

Tackling Revisions

11 May

by Susan Dennard

~~

Note:

This post has been UPDATED

and re-posted on

Pub(lishing) Crawl!

~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. Her debut novel, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, is now available from HarperTeen. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.