In the Blogosphere: 9/12-9/17

“In the Blogosphere” is a series, which lists links to writing-related blogs I’ve stumbled upon throughout a given week (usually).

I’m admittedly behind with my Blogosphere posts—I have about 50 links saved, dating all the way back to June (oh noes!)—but they are all still worth a look.  I’ll catch up eventually, right?

GET WRITING!

My weekend plans fell through, so now I will be sitting at home [probably with all the lights on all weekend because this will be the first time I’m staying home alone at my house—how lame am I?] with my computer and my beagle.  Which, as much as I love them both, can also both be time sucks!  But I’m buzzing on my WIP right now and would LOVE to get to 30,000 words by Sunday.  It will be a bit of a challenge, but I’m up for it.

Adorable little baby time suck. And a bunch of crap she'd dragged out everywhere and was chewing up. (And my husband's foot.)

All-grown-up time suck. 🙂

That said, here are some resources—some of which I’ve used and some of which I haven’t yet but might have to employ this weekend, in order to get words written.

  • Write or Die—You can set your word count and your time goals, and this interface will get IN YOUR FACE [well, if you set it that way] until you reach your targets.
  • WriteRoom—This is for Mac users.  It’s a full-screen writing environment that rids you of the “clutter” of word processing programs.  [Referred to by The New York Times as the “ultimate spartan writing utopia.”]

  • WordWatchers—This has been working for me this month—and this isn’t just shameless self-promotion, as a number of writers have been getting tremendous amounts of work done using this writing program.  It’s through The Write-Brained Network and, like its sister weight-loss program, is something each individual designs to fit his or her lifestyle.  All us Write-Brainiacs participating have set challenging goals, and while we haven’t all been hitting them each week [guilty!] we have been getting tons of work done. And, some people have finished entire projects or gotten over slumps, due to the prodding encouragement of others.

QUERYING & SUCH

Here, literary agent Jennifer Laughran busts publishing industry myths that most writers believe or have heard.

Yeah, but this is real, though.

Two takes on the 5 stages of querying:

  • The first, a guest post by writer Anne Gallagher on the Guide to Literary Agents blog
  • The second, by the inimitable Tahareh

When when those rejections come, Holen Mathews at GotYA offers some constructive questions you need to ask yourself.

SOCIAL MEDIA TIPPAGE

Social media got you down? [If you’re Greyhaus Literary’s Scott Eagan, then yes.] Author Jody Hedlund offers some advice on how to use it effectively without allowing it to take over your life—and writing time.

And here, Daily Writing Tips lists 40 Twitter hashtags for writers.

CRAFT

I was going through my saved posts for “In the Blogospheres” today and came across this little jobby, by Heather Trese at See Heather Write, on the importance of having a pitch . . .

. . . which goes hand in hand with the post I wrote this week on plot vs. situation.

It was really hard to narrow down which picture I found to be the chachiest. So I went with this one.

Here is a lovely post by Christina Mandelski over at Will Write for Cake wherein she discusses the importance of setting in a story.

And here, Writing for Digital talks about the value of a good editor.  One edit quite possibly changed the entire course of American history!

FANGIRL LOVE

I heart you, John Green.

I heart you, Meg Cabot. [the Allie Finkle #6, Blast from the Past, review she links to at the end of this post is MINE!]

PLUG!

Inky Fresh Press interviewed little ol’ me!

Grounding is important.

Happy weekend, everyone! Come harass me on the WB or Twitter and make sure I’m getting my words written!

Plot vs. Situation & the Dramaticus Arcasaurus

WHAT IS IT?

Whenever you talk to writers, at some point, the conversation inevitably steers itself to: “What’s your manuscript about?”

And then one hears about the misunderstood girl who is in love with a zombie-werewolf hybrid, the guy who can’t wait to get married, the couple who loses their home, etc.

And then I wanna go: “Yeah . . . but what’s the plot?” Because all those things are concepts.  Situations.

 

Not this one, thank God.

 

Let me say that again, now that you’re done looking at the Situation: 

Those are situations—not plots.

WHAT IS A PLOT, THEN?!

By plot, I mean the main thread the MC (main character) has to follow.  The quest.  There must be a conflictAnd if you don’t have these things, you don’t have a plot.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately because I’ve been doing a lot of critiquing/editing as well as trying to finish my WIP (work in progress), and it’s come up.

Yes, Harry Potter is about a boy who finds out he’s a wizard and the trials and tribulations that go along with that. Self-discovery, blah blah blah. However, while that factors in to the plot, that alone is not enough to sustain a novel.  There must be some sort of journey the character has to go on.

J.K. Rowling is nice to us in that way, because if you’re looking for the “plot” of each of her books, she gives you a hint in the title.  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s StoneHarry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Point is, each book has its own plot.  And while Harry’s situation—the fact that he’s a wizard and “the boy who lived” and all that—helps him through the plot, it is but a small factor.

Here’s a blog post wherein I did a complete breakdown of the arc of the first Harry Potter book.

Bottom line: Each book must follow its own dramatic arc.  And if you can’t figure it out, then there’s probably no plot—or it’s not strong enough.

DRAMATICUS ARCASAURUS

Here is what my whiteboard looks like at the moment:

 

You're just looking at the purple line - don't worry!

 

Scared yet?  (You: That’s the most jacked-up dramatic arc I’ve ever seen!)

You may have noticed my ‘roided-up dramatic arc* has a few extra humps.  What I’ve done here is take the regular dramatic arc (exposition, conflict, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution) and mesh it with Blake Snyder’s 15 beats of the three-act structure of every successful story** (opening image, setup, theme, catalyst, debate, break into II, B-story, fun & games, midpoint, bad guys close in, all is lost, dark night of the soul, break into III, finale, and final image).

Snyder’s structure follows the regular dramatic arc, but it does a more thorough job of establishing what author David L. Robbins would call “bases” by breaking things down even further.

 

Aww---little baby Harry!

 

For example, while Snyder’s “opening image” and “setup” fit nicely where “exposition” sits on the dramatic arc everyone learns in fifth grade Language Arts, I wouldn’t necessarily say Snyder’s “catalyst” is the same as the “conflict.”

To me, the “catalyst” or “inciting incident” (or whatever you want to call it) is the thing that sparks some change in the main MC’s life.  [Harry P. gets the owl post/learns he’s a wizard]

But that’s *not* really the same thing as the “conflict” of the story, which is the actual thing that sets the plot in motion. Here is what I wrote for “conflict” in the HP#1 plot breakdown post I linked to above:

CONFLICT

  • They learn of the attempted robbery of the Sorceror’s Stone from Gringotts Bank
  • This incites talk of why someone would want to steal it (because it has the power to give a wizard what he wants most) as well as who might want to steal it (He Who Must Not Be Named—a.k.a. Voldemort)
  • Harry learns from Ron and Hermione that people say Voldemort is planning to return to power

And I would agree (it’s always nice when I agree with myself!) now.  The “plot” of HP1 has to do with finding the Sorcerer’s Stone—and, actually, that also helps the overarching plot of the entire series, which is defeating Voldemort. The “conflict” is, the stone is missing, yo—and it’s up to Harry & his posse to find out who has it and get it back.

NOW . . .

I’m not trying to say that writing a book is as mechanical as following a formula—of course it’s not.  Your characters always surprise you, and you always change things.  But if you take a look at these things—study them a bit and apply the concepts to your own WIPs—you’ll have an easier go of the initial planning and writing of your book if you figure out the bare bones of your story and they follow the arc.

It will help you with pitching and querying too, because agents and editors want to know the situation AND the plot . . .

 

. . . and probably not Snooki at all.

 

*Click here for a brushup on dramatic arcs.

**Click here for more about Snyder’s 15 beats.

***I’m not saying plot yourself silly.  I am with David L. Robbins and his “baseball writing” on that one.  But if you’ve got all these ingredients *before* you write, you’re pretty much guaranteed a tight plot and a satisfying story.

Pointers from the Pros: Anna DeStefano on the Character-Driven Story

Pointers from the Pros” gives tips from authors and publishing industry professionals on everything from craft to querying to their experiences on the road to publication.  This post is by guest columnist and SWO member J.M. Lacey.

I attended the August 2010 Scribblers’ Retreat Writers’ Conference in St. Simons Island, Ga., which featured a stellar set of professional speakers.

Anna DeStefano, a nationally bestselling and multiple award-winning author of classic romance for Harlequin and Silhouette and contemporary paranormal romantic suspense for Dorchester Publishing, spoke on Saturday.

Here are some key points from her program on “The Character-Driven Story”:

  • Character comes first, then the plot. Why? Readers have to connect with your characters through emotion. True storytellers will make the reader care about the character rather than the situations the character finds him/herself in.
  • Agents and publishers need to connect emotionally with your story. If they can’t connect with your characters—ergo your story—they will pass on your manuscript.

  • Really understand your character in the planning process. Story and character are the same thing. Every time an event changes in your story, the character has to change. Create experiences through your character for the reader instead of telling the reader what the character is actually doing.
  • In the planning stages, start with your Inciting Incident. This happens early, where the character is drawn into and committed to the story—whether it’s a problem, obstacle or tragedy.
  • Next, map out your Black Moment. For example, is the character still struggling with the same thing at the end? This is the emotional dynamic, the lesson.
  • Finally, create the backstory that will take your plot to a new level. Developing the character’s backstory and past will help you move forward in the creation process, but this doesn’t mean to reveal the character’s past to your reader. This will come out in your character’s experiences (see point three). Get the character from the inciting incident to the black moment.

  • Put some thought into why the characters in your story are doing what they are doing, before they do it. Understand your characters as well as, if not better than, your plot.
  • Figure out the emotional conflict from the beginning of the story. At mid-point, throw in more obstacles. At the end, the character needs to make a decision.

  • Make every scene count. In each scene, your character should have a motive, goal and conflict. Otherwise, you are wasting space. The conflict should escalate. Create tension to drive the reader to know more about the conflict.

DeStefano concluded by prompting the audience to think about the difficulty in changing our plot if a publisher asked us to do so. If we have developed strong characters that we know well, changing plot shouldn’t be an enormous challenge.

OVERALL TAKEAWAY

Character is plot, and plot is character.

J.M. Lacey is a freelance writer and marketing and PR consultant. She is working on a character-driven novel. Visit her Web site and blog.


Pointers from the Pros: Author David L. Robbins Talks Plotting & Outlining

Pointers from the Pros” gives tips from authors and publishing industry professionals on everything from craft to querying to their experiences on the road to publication.

I’m speaking at the 35th annual Southeastern Writers Association conference in beautiful St. Simons Island, Ga., this week and taking copious notes at the sessions.  Although I can’t go to all the faboo classes, I’m sharing some tips from some of those I’m lucky enough to attend.

Here is what historical fiction author and James River Writers co-founder David L. Robbins* had to say about plotting and outlining.

Robbins. (Photo by Adam Ewing)

BASEBALL WRITING

  • Think of a successful book as a home run.
  • In baseball, in order to hit a home run, certain things have to happen, or it’s not a home run: player has to hit the ball and run all the bases.
  • Main characters need to run the bases of their stories—and they each do it in different ways.
  • Design a specific character that will run the bases—and then, run alongside him.  Record how he does it.
  • You might only have four bases; you might have 40.  But let those be the only parameters, rather than outlining.

IT’S ALL ABOUT CONTROL

  • Don’t write 900,000 words.
  • Physically control as little as you can, and let the rest have a certain autonomy.
  • However, don’t let your character keep running into right field; control him.  Get him to second.
  • The Juggler
    • With several items in the air, it looks like chaos.
    • The juggler only has two things in his hand at a time; yet, he still controls six or seven in the air.  He knows the orbit and the momentum.
    • Books we love demonstrate this: The reader loves the sense of chaos, but that’s because the writer has absolute control.

RECOLLECTIVE VS. RECORDATIVE WRITING

  • Recordative: Run the bases with your characters & record what they do.  There’s an immediacy to your imagery when you’re recording something.
  • Recollective: If you use passive verbs, there’s a detachment.  If you’ve outlined too much, you’re remembering what the character did, rather than experiencing what he did—and the reader will be detached.

ON OUTLINING

  • Don’t do it!  When you outline, you’re following a recollection when you go to write.
  • He’s a fan of pivot points (the “bases”).
  • Outlines hobble or hamper characters.  Let the characters surprise you.
  • An outline makes them run to first base a month before your character actually gets there.
  • Know generally where the book ends, and figure you’ll get there—be in the moment.
  • It’s insecure writing if you need to outline too much.

Don't let your paint brush drip!

ON BEING AN ARTIST

  • Manet didn’t decide where to put a brush stroke; he just did it.  Have your brushstrokes.
  • Set out the pivot points (bases) and trust yourself as an artist.
  • What’s in the character’s head, heart, & how he’s going to get there is all brushstroke for him.

*Click here for my SWA Presenter Spotlight on Robbins.

You Have a Question? I Have an Answer: Should You Query a Series?

“You Have a Question?  I Have an Answer” is a feature that answers real questions from real writers.

Q:  Ricki,

I’ve been told my WIP is too long.  I am currently trying to decide if I should edit it down to more agent-friendly word count or split it into two books.  The trouble is, if I were to split it, the first book would end on a such a cliffhanger that it would most certainly require a sequel.  I just don’t think it would stand alone.  That said, what are your thoughts on querying a series?

–L.H.

A: Thanks for the question!

In terms of ending on a cliffhanger, I can see how that might be tough to hook an agent as a stand-alone novel.  The first thing I’d say is—certainly—splitting a longer manuscript into two books isn’t going to be as simple as pasting half into one Word document and half into another.

Doing the splits with your manuscript isn't easy!

I’ve talked about this before on the blog: You’ve got to have two plots, or arcs—and you’ll want to make sure the first one is resolved because, in a series, each book must be able to stand on its own.  You also need to make sure you have an overarching arc that lends itself to a sequel or two.

As far as querying a series is concerned, you most likely don’t want to tell agents it’s a series.  Not yet.  Most agents don’t want to know you’ve got a seven-book series in the works when you query them because they want to be convinced the first is worth their time.

Being that there are this many stars in this movie and no one's ever heard of it (have they??) you'd thinking keeping mum wouldn't be a good idea. But in terms of querying a series, it is.

HOWEVER, when Suzi Agent is interested in your book and trends toward offering representation, she will ask you what else you’re working on—usually by way of a phone call—and that would be the time to spill.

Waiting until this conversation for the sequel/series reveal will work for you in a few ways.

First, it shows you’re savvy—you didn’t bombard her with grandiose plans of your multimillion-dollar series, like so many amateurs do.  Nope—you did what you had to do in order to ensure the first book was submission ready.  Go, you! And that tells her you’ve most likely been (or will be) just as careful in developing the rest of the books as you were with book 1.

As well, it shows you’re a hard worker.  Plotting out a series isn’t easy.  If you’ve got the chops to do something like that, it demonstrates you’re serious and tough—definitely in the top 10 requirements for being a novelist.

Hope this helps—and good luck with however you decide to handle your sitch!

Click here. You just have to.

In the Blogosphere: 3/15-3/19

“In the Blogosphere” is a weekly series, which lists links to writing-related blogs I’ve stumbled upon throughout a given week.  Most posts will be from that week, but if I find some “oldies but goodies,” I’ll throw those up here as well.

I never find as much time to read blogs as I want, but here are a few posts that struck me this week.

RESOURCES

If you didn’t see my post about the Shenandoah Writers Query Symposium I’m helming, please check it out.  I’m looking to compile some of best query-writing resources out there and discuss them with my writing groups.  I plan to turn this “symposium” into a series of blog posts, so even if you’re not a member of Shenandoah Writers, give me your two cents (i.e., comment or e-mail with your favorite query resources or tips).  A few brave souls have even given me queries they’ve written so we can critique them, so there are multiple ways you can get involved.

This is an oldie but goodie.  It was actually written on my birthday in 2006 (but I digress) by the long-retired literary agent known to millions only by her scathing pseudonym, Miss SnarkShe gives the straight dope on your plot pitch versus a synopsis.

Here, mystery writer Elizabeth Spann Craig offers some ways to reveal a protagonist’s character through self discovery.

I recently discovered young adult fiction writer Jamie Harrington‘s blog, Totally the Bomb.com (love that name, BTW!).  And I’ve already found two posts I love.  In this one, Harrington talks about five clichés used in young adult lit.  And in this one, she dissects the classic love triangle.

My favorite thing about this picture is that they actually made Taylor Lautner stand on a box. Hilarious!

This is another oldie but goodie, but at her blog, The Bookshelf Muse, the Jill Corcoran-repped kids’ lit author Angela Ackerman has a great resource for conveying emotion through a character’s body language.  It’s not just for overcoming the five clichés Harrington outlines above, and it’s not just for juvenile lit.  In this post, Ackerman introduces the idea of the “emotion thesaurus,” (which provides alternatives to having a character shrug his shoulders or roll his eyes).  If you look in her sidebar on the right, she’s got a slew of entries under The Emotional Thesaurus.

PLATFORM, BABY

Blogging making you crazy?  Author Jody Hedlund offers some advice on what do to when your blog overwhelms you.

And here, Carol T. Cohn of Compukol Connection explains why you need to edit those pesky blog posts.

Shane Nickerson gives this amusing take on how Twitter slowly takes over your life.

Twitter zombie. Hey - not a bad idea for an urban fantasy! 😉

LITERARY AGENTS

Not sure whether to go with a big agency or a boutique agency?  Epstein Literary agent and founder Kate Epstein discusses the pros and cons of both.

Last week, Twitter was abuzz with talk of Lowenstein Associates, Inc., agent Kathleen Ortiz‘s blog post on query etiquette.  This week, she added an equally-as-important part two.

And I really felt for Caren Johnson Literary Agency‘s Elana Roth when she posted her thoughts on the protocol with regard to those queries/partials/fulls left hanging when a writer is offered representation.  Although she got a bit bashed in some of the comments, she started a discussion that I think needed to be addressed.  And she handled the backlash well.  Kudos!

POTTER PROVIDES HELP

Dudes—Harry Potter is on the brain! Like it or not, writers can learn a lot from J.K. Rowling‘s famous example.

Last week, I did a post on how to break up a manuscript of epic proportions, and I used the Potter series to illustrate dramatic arcs (in it, I outlined Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone‘s dramatic arc and discussed the overarching arc of the series).

This week, I’m seeing posts—left and right—using Rowling’s baby to illustrate all kinds of things.  Coincidence?  Actually, yes.  I’m not that important! As well, some of these posts are older:

  • Here, guest blogger Jim Adams talks “showing” and “telling” in scenes and dialogue on Jane Friedman‘s (of Writer’s Digest) blog, There Are No Rules.
  • In this post, Adams is at it again, giving tips on how to stretch the tension in a series.
  • On St. Patty’s Day, Adams addressed conflict, according to Potter.
  • Here, Friedman provides a complete list of links to all the posts in Adam’s 13-part series.
  • And the good folks over at guardian.co.uk‘s Book Blog talk about character names in fantasy (but the post will interest writers of all genres)—with special attention to The Series that Need Not Be Named.

"Ohhhhh, Accio DEATHLY HALLOWS." --Hank Green

IN THE NEWS

Business Wire reported that Follett, college textbook wholesaler, will join forces with Bookrenter to start a textbook rental program.  Where was this when I was in grad school?

CONTEST

Are you a Jane Austen fan?  Adept at writing queries?  Here’s a contest over at Getting Past the Gatekeeper that combines both of these things—write a query as if you wrote, and are pitching, Pride and Prejudice!

CLINK!

Last, but not least, congratulations are in order.  My Writer’s Digest Books editor pal Chuck Sambuchino got a mention in Publishers Weekly for his upcoming humor book . . .

. . . and in the same post, it was announced that young adult fantasy author Beth Revis signed a huuuuuge three-book deal (I don’t really know her, but we have some mutual friends and I’m deciding to share in her excitement).

Congrats, peeps!

A toast to you!

You Have a Question? I Have an Answer: How to Break Up Long Manuscript Using Arcs

“You Have a Question?  I Have an Answer” is a feature that answers real questions from real writers.

Q:  Ricki, I’m currently editing my manuscript (it’s YA fantasy), which many people have suggested might be too long.  It’s intended to be a series, so I’m trying to figure out if I can split it—but I’m thinking I might be too close to it.

In your post on editing last week, you mentioned the word “arc.” You said if you had two arcs, you could maybe split your manuscript into two.  Can you explain this a bit?

–A.C.

A: Thanks for the question!

When I said arc, I was referring to the dramatic arc, or plot.  If you already know this is a series, it sounds to me like there must be some over-arching plot and a lot of little sub plots.  This is good!  It means you have a lot of material to work with, and that will help you in your editing of the first book.

This will probably ring a bell from seventh-grade English, but each story arc is made up of these six basic parts:

  • Exposition
  • Conflict
  • Rising Action/Complications
  • Climax
  • Falling Action
  • Resolution

For instance, let’s look back at the Harry Potter series (and I’m assuming, if you’re writing YA fantasy, you’ve read Harry Potter.  If not, you need to drop everything and read it NOW because you should be using these books as your bible!  Also, if you haven’t, *SPOILER ALERT*).

But I digress.

In the HP series, you’ve got the overarching plot of Harry vs. Voldemort; but, in each of the books, J.K. Rowling focuses on something different.  Although you get that it’s Harry vs. Voldemort, it’s a different piece of the puzzle each time.

In the first one, you’ve got Harry learning he is a wizard, learning about the existence of Hogwarts/this whole wizard world, and learning about the overarching theme (Voldemort is a bad guy, who seeks to return to power and destroy him).

And while “Harry vs. Voldemort” is the bigger-picture plot, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’s arc/plot in the dramatic-arc breakdown looks something like this:

EXPOSITION

  • Harry’s an orphan
  • His aunt & uncle are heinous to him
  • Oh yeah—and he’s a wizard

CONFLICT

  • They learn of the attempted robbery of the Sorceror’s Stone from Gringotts Bank
  • This incites talk of why someone would want to steal it (because it has the power to give a wizard what he wants most) as well as who might want to steal it (He Who Must Not Be Named—a.k.a. Voldemort)
  • Harry learns from Ron and Hermione that people say Voldemort is planning to return to power

RISING ACTION/COMPLICATIONS

  • Harry learns the ropes of coming into his wizardry
  • Malfoy’s a pain in the ass & Snape’s not much better
  • Voldemort lost his power after killing Harry’s parents and trying to kill Harry, and he’s probably not too thrilled that his attempt on Harry’s life failed
  • Harry, Ron, & Hermione suspect Snape is after the Sorceror’s Stone because he hates Harry, and they think he tried to sabotage Harry with a spell during the Quidditch match
  • Harry and his friends venture past the three-headed dog guardian of the Sorcerer’s Stone because they believe Snape is going to steal it (the series of challenges they face on the way to the stone, etc.)

CLIMAX

  • Harry finds Professor Quirrell is about to steal the SS—not Snape—and it’s because he serves Voldemort
  • Voldy is feeding off Quirrell’s energy, and he wants the SS so he can restore his power and come back to life—ya know, without residing in the back of Quirrell’s head
  • Quirrell/Voldemort tries to take the stone from Harry, but Q/V burns up when he touches him

FALLING ACTION

  • Harry’s in the hospital
  • Dumbledore tells Harry that Voldemort is likely to return—and he’s probably pissed at Harry

RESOLUTION

  • Harry goes back to his aunt/uncle’s for the summer
  • Even though they’re awful, he’s happier because he knows he has Hogwarts and a whole wizarding world of his own to look forward to in the fall.

My suggestion would be to read (or reread) Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets.

You said yourself you’re too close to your book right now to know what to cut, and this can be a good break.  But it’s not just a break from your book—it’s research.

Read those two books and study J.K. Rowling’s use of exposition—how she sprinkles it in.  She really does make each book capable of being a stand-alone, but they each fit into the overarching plot—and that’s what you’ll want to do as well.

I would also suggest, for the sake of your own series, plot out Chamber of Secrets (and maybe even more of the HPs—even if you use Wikipedia summaries for the rest of the series) in the same way I just did above.  This will get you accustomed to figuring out how to break down stories this way—and that will be key in breaking apart your own.

Once you get away from your book and immerse yourself in this task, you’ll have a fresh pair of eyes for the trimming and tightening—I promise!

I hope this helps!