Tuesday Writing Tip – Allow Your Story to Bloom

IMAG2394I was recently given a climbing plant.

It was a mess of shoots and branches tangled together and it reminded me of the plot of my current work in progress.

It made me realise I have so many loose ends going in all different directions – many of them not really heading anywhere. Because things are such a tangle, it’s also difficult to identify some of the individual plot threads.

As I planted the vine in a pot (so it wouldn’t get completely out of control) I untangled the shoots and trained them around and through the wire garden obelisk.

I pointed them all towards the top of the obelisk – just like I need to do with the loose ends in my story – they have to be moving towards the climax.

IMAG2396When I looked at the vine from the top it looked more like a bush – which is kind of how a story needs to be – a lot happening in the middle to sustain it through to the end. But through all that there has to be continuous threads that wind their way through the story.

As I carefully separated and guided the arms of the vine in the direction they needed to go, I worked out how I could do this same thing with my novel.

SIMPLIFYING A TANGLED STORY

1.  Identify the main threads of the story – the ones that will sustain it to the end – and make them strong, clear and memorable.

2. Identify threads that don’t seem to be going anywhere and either wind them into the main part of the story or chop them out.

3.  Just like the vine and the obelisk, everything in the story needs to be ultimately heading in the one direction – towards the pinnacle or climax of the novel.

4.  The dead wood needs to be cut from the story.

5. Clear the clutter so the characters and the story have a chance to bloom.

Do you find you write overcomplicated plots or stories with threads that aren’t really going anywhere?

How do you overcome this?

Feel free to share your suggestions in the comments section of this post.

Happy Writing:)

Dee

Tuesday Writing Tip – Sorting Through Your Scenes

My muse Molly is plotting just how she's going to get that tasty piece of washing off the line:)

My muse Molly is plotting just how she’s going to get that tasty piece of washing off the line:)

I’m currently going through the scenes of a much edited and rewritten YA manuscript.

There are so many things I like about the manuscript and so many things I don’t – and publishers I have submitted it to have pretty much reacted in the same way.

I keep coming back to the fact that I think the main issues with it are plot related.

I tend to complicate things with lots of small pieces of action and sub plots. I think it stems from an unfounded paranoia that you need lots of twists and turns to stop teen readers from getting bored.

Instinct, and the reading of other great YA novels tells me that if I have characters and circumstances teens can relate to, this is what I really need.

So for now I’m going with that – and trying to get rid of complications that don’t need to be there.

When I look at each individual scene I can convince myself that every scene needs to be there – they all have a purpose.

But when I look at the overall plot, I realise that some scenes are not moving the story forward or really developing my main character – they are just a plot device to show the reader something I want them to know.

So I’m going back to looking at what really matters in this story – and I think this is going to give me a guide to which scenes really don’t matter – which scenes don’t need to be there.

To do this, I’m looking at what I think are the essential elements.

To identify these, I’m looking at the main plot points as identified by screenwriting guru Syd Field – which seem to work just as well for novels (You can read more about Syd’s theories in his Screenplay and The Screen Writer’s Workbook)

Syd Field’s Main Plot Points

 1.  The inciting incident – the thing that starts the story

2.  Plot point one (occurs near the end of the first quarter of the story.) Plot point one is the moment when the main character takes on the story problem and decides to do something about it. This decision changes the character’s life.

3.  Midpoint reversal – As the name suggests, this occurs halfway through the story and is something that takes it in a new direction.

4. Plot point two – this happens about 3/4 of the way through the story. This is when the main character makes a conscious choice that they can no longer cope with the way things are and something has to change.

5.  Climax – this is where the main character confronts the problem/villain once and for all in the ultimate showdown.

Do you find your plots have a tendency to become too complicated? What do you do to simplify them?

Feel free to share your tips and suggestions in the comments section of this blog.

Next week, I’m going to talk about scene sequences and rising tension.

In the meantime, happy writing:)

Dee

TUESDAY WRITING TIP – ADD LAYERS TO YOUR PLOT

I sometimes find that my plots are too linear – there’s a lot happening, but they still feel flat

While I was away in Canberra, I read Donald Maass’s amazing book, Writing the Breakout Novel (and worked my way through his Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook) and so many things in it made sense for me – made me realise that what was missing from my plot was layering.

I needed to develop additional conflict/problems for my main character that weren’t related to the main story but added complications.

Here’s what I mean. My main character’s goal is to avenge an injury done to her and stop the perpetrator from doing it to anyone else.

I followed the directions in Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook and now I have three additional problems for my character.

1.         She wants to break up with her boyfriend but doesn’t know how without ruining their friendship.

2.         She has been caught shoplifting and her father is a policeman.

3.         She has to stop her younger sister from becoming involved with a dangerous older guy.

See already, I have things that are going to complicate my character’s life and hamper her in achieving her goal.

But thanks to Donald Maas, I realised I had to do more than create obstacles for my character.

As Maas points out.  “So what? Who cares if your main character doesn’t achieve their goal? What’s at stake?”

These questions have encouraged me to delve even deeper into my plot

If my main character doesn’t stop the person who attacked her then her own family is at risk because the perpetrator knows where she lives. Lives are at stake…and not just her own.

Now all I have to do is get my readers to care about my main character and her family and then the stakes will matter to them too.

Don’t you just love it when you pick up a writing book that really resonates with you, that can help you see how you can become a better writer.

If you have some favourite books on writing I’d love you to share them…and also share your experiences of how they have helped you.

Feel free to leave your feedback and suggestions in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing:)

Dee

FRIDAY FEEDBACK

Don’t forget to come back Friday to checkout our feedback on a piece of someone’s work in progress.

If you’d like to submit your work for the Friday Feedback segment, click on this link to find out how.

HOW TO GET EXCITED ABOUT YOUR WRITING AGAIN

I have a number of submissions ‘out there’ at the moment.

Just to name a few, I have a contemporary YA novel, a humorous mid-grade series, a humorous educational chapter book and a proposal for a non-fiction YA series.

I know there are many many writers out there just like me…waiting…waiting…waiting. And it’s not always easy. There are some days when I wonder whether I’ll ever hear back…when I seriously wonder whether I even want to. Sometimes I feel as if I’m chasing a rainbow that disappears just as I’m about to reach out and touch it.

Last month, I had a ‘will you stop writing this stuff’ rejection in the same month as the same manuscript shortlisted in a major writing competition and I got a request for a ‘full’ for it from a US agent. No wonder we writers get confused.

For a nano second I even asked myself last month why I do this. Why do I put myself through all these ‘ups and downs’? The answer wasn’t hard to find. It’s because I’m a writer. It’s what I do.

And now, less than a week later, I’m excited about writing again…and here’s why?

1.            I have the most awesome writerly friends (you know who you are:) who inspire me with their great work, support me with their caring and wisdom and show me true kindness.

2.            When I’m not writing I’m reading, and reading fabulous books reminds me why I write and inspires me to write better.

3.            I have just done another amazing, inspiring, so full of learning online course with the great Mary Buckham, (Check out her website) who not only provides awesome learning materials but also positive helpful feedback.

4.            I have excavated from my manuscript pile a piece of work I always loved, but never submitted because it ‘breaks a few rules’. I’m now working on that one ready to submit.

5.            A new idea for a quirky new YA novel has leapt into my head, complete with plot and characters…and I’m having fun writing again.

I have put aside what I was working on to pursue this new idea and I’m finding it liberating. This new idea is truly what I want to be writing at the moment.

Sometimes I forget that I have control of all this. I was soldiering on with a manuscript that I still think has merit, but for a number of reasons I’m just not into right now. But I was stubbornly pursuing it because I felt I had to get to the end. But I don’t. Not right now – not when I’m not in the mood – not when I’m not enjoying writing it.

Another thing going for my new WIP is that it’s about a 15 year old boy and I happen to have one of those home on school holidays at the moment…and he’s always willing to help me with ideas, suggestions and crits…so why wouldn’t I make the most of this opportunity?

When your writing isn’t going the way you’d like it to, what do you do to bring it back on track.

I’d love you to share your tips and suggestions in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing:)

Dee

P.S. Friday Feedback is back this week

REVISION TIPS – PART TWO – THE SCENIC ROUTE

Last week in my blog post about revision tips  I talked about using your Plot diagrams as working drawings. They act kind of like a map – show you whether you’ve stayed focussed on your story or whether you have been sidetracked along the way. I don’t know about you, but I find this pretty easy to do. Sometimes characters seem to take me off on a complete tangent.

Today I’m talking about revising a story that is less structured and has evolved through a more organic process. My MG survival story, GAME ON seemed to develop as scenes in my head. I spent two years travelling around Australia with my husband and very small children so I guess it’s hardly surprising that so much of the landscape is very vivid in my head – as are the hazards of crocodile infested waters, snakes under the car, heat etc.

I knew who my characters were and what they wanted and draft one was complete. But the story more or less came together as episodes which meant that part of the revision process was about turning it into an actual plot – with dramatic tension, something major at stake for the main character, a climax and a resolution.

I started with a number of visual cues from which I developed scenes

1.            The scene where my character finds out they are going on the trip that’s going to leave them stranded in the Australian wilderness (but they don’t know that yet).

2.            The scene where the kids get separated from their parents so they have to now fend for themselves.

3.            Wild camel scene

4.            Dying of thirst scene

5.            Dingo encounter scene

6.            Snake encounter scene

(I know, that’s a lot of adversaries, but seriously, there are a lot of hazards out there in the outback)
Oh, and I wanted to stick a crocodile in there somewhere but I figured that had to come at the end – after they got out of the desert – when they were crossing the river to try and get to Broome.

REVISING MY FIRST DRAFT

So this is how the first draft revision happened.

1.            List scenes

2.            Revisit my character

  • Who Is he?
  • What does he really want? (to survive)
  • What is stopping him getting what he wants? Hmm, the snake, the crocodile, the camel, the dingo?
  • How is he going to overcome these obstacles?

3.            Decide on the order of my scenes

I had my inciting incident…I knew what was going to happen to get my main character Jack out of his comfortable house and on his way to the desert. The next step was to decide what would happen there. I needed something to radically change for his situation to get a lot worse – this would be the first turning point – the thing that would take the story in a new direction. This was the thing that would force Jack to confront his opponent (nature) on his own.  This seemed like the logical place to get rid of his parents (not permanently – just for the duration of the book).

I needed a bit of humour to help build the tension, so that meant adding a couple of scenes and then it was on to the midpoint reversal. This was where Jack encountered a problem that would change the entire direction of the story. This is where he realises that he’s not just responsible for his own life, he’s also responsible for his little sister, Flick.

And of course just when he’s starting to get things under control, they have to go badly wrong again, don’t they?

But not as badly wrong as what happens in the climax. Here he has to get his gravely ill sister across crocodile infested waters.

So just by thinking about Jack’s inner conflict, about raising the stakes for him, about making things harder and forcing him to really fight for his survival, I devised my plot – I turned my scenes into a story.

4.            Transition scenes. Now that I knew the order of events in the story I had to look at my transition scenes. Did they still make sense? Were they getting my characters to where I needed them to be? Were they giving the reader enough information? Did they allow the reader into the heart and mind of my main character – so they could feel and understand the full extent of what he was going through?

5.            The ending. When I revised the ending of Game On, I looked at whether things had been resolved for both my character and the reader. Had I tied up all the lose ends for the reader? After experiencing such a harrowing tale of survival, was my character different enough at the end of the book from the city kid who had set out on his holiday looking forward to time off school?

WHAT’S NEXT?

These are just the revisions for draft two. While I’m revising I make a list of things to be done in the next draft. That way I have a checklist to follow…and it can always be added to as I go.

As I mentioned last week, this is just how I do things. Everyone has their own methods. I hope some of this has been helpful to you.

I’d love to hear your tips on how you revise. Feel free to leave them in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing and revising:)
Dee

HOW TO MAKE A GOOD MANUSCRIPT EVEN BETTER – TUESDAY WRITING TIP

I recently read a blog post by US agent, Nephele Tempest where she said,

I see a great many manuscripts that show promise: good story, interesting characters, steady pacing that builds suspense. But all too often, the writers have jumped the gun and sent me a draft that still clearly needs rewriting.

http://nephele.livejournal.com/146822.html

 She also said that…

writers have to make sure the prose on the page actually conveys what they see and imagine in their heads, and in a fresh, compelling manner.

As I commented on Nephele Tempest’s blog,  this is one of the hardest things to do as a writer. We know what we want to say, but how do we pass that on effectively to our reader – and how do we know when it hasn’t quite worked?

If we can bring our reader into our character’s head and into their world, our good writing becomes even better.

So, how do we do it? How do we bring the reader closer?

Recently, when I was working with my wonderful crit buddy, Alison Reynolds on my YA manuscript, I realised it’s those little extras that take something that’s a good read to something that a reader can more closely connect with.

They’re the things that help the reader understand a character’s motivations and forge a closer connection. They’re the little things that bring a character’s voice into the reader’s head as if they were standing in the same room.

In my current YA, the little things that needed tweaking in my manuscript were mainly  character and voice.

For example, my main character’s mother seemed impassive to her daughter’s pain. In my mind this was logical behaviour because the mother was repressed due to something that had happened when she was young. It wasn’t that she didn’t feel things; she just didn’t show them. It was her defense mechanism. I knew this about my character but forgot to convey this to the reader so the mother just came across as being uncaring. Making this small connection for the reader helped them to empathise with her character and feel closer to the entire family situation.

One of the flawed characters in the book did something major to redeem themselves fairly late in the book. This piece of information/action got lost in the redrafting process, but it was something that was vital to the resolution of the story and future outcomes for the main character.

In a previous draft, I had realised that it was my character’s voice that was letting the story down. The dialogue was competent and the character was likeable, but I hadn’t done enough with her words and actions to make her stand out as a person – to give the reader reason to like her so much that they cared about what happened to her. The things your character says and does are what make them stand out – what make them unique – what make them sparkle – what make them matter to the reader.

Another of my problems can be that I’m focussing so much on building up tension that I make my plot too linear. Don’t be afraid to have flashbacks and play with format to give your story depth and interest.

Letters to Leonardo started life as all letters, but on my wonderful editor, Sue Whiting’s suggestions, I changed it to a mixture of narrative and letters. This gave the letters more importance and added texture to the story – it was like having two characters – the narrative showed the action and the letters took the reader on a more intimate journey into what the main character, Matt was feeling.

Character, voice, setting and structure are all things to look at when trying to give your story more sparkle.

The hardest part is taking a step back so you can see for yourself where things aren’t working as well as they should.

I am learning to trust my instincts. If a voice in my head says, “this could be stronger” or “this doesn’t quite work”, I stop and pay attention.

I also try to leave plenty of time between a final draft and when I send it out.

Good luck with your submissions.

Do you have any tips of your own about how to make a manuscript sparkle – how to turn good writing into something great?

I’d love you to leave your tips and share your experiences in the comments section of this blog.

Happy writing:)

Dee

HOW DOES READING HELP YOU WRITE BETTER? – TUESDAY WRITING TIP

Some time ago, I wrote a post about editing and mentioned how reading Steph Bowe‘s, Girl Saves Boy helped me find my ‘character’s voice’. Just reading someone else’s words can spark great ideas and can help you identify the weaknesses in your own work.

I know some writers who refuse to read books in the same genre they are writing because they don’t want to be influenced by them or seen to be copying, but as well as showing you better techniques, reading someone else’s work can spark gems of creative brilliance and give you something great to aspire to.

I’m currently writing a survival story about a tween and a teen stranded in the Australian outback. I travelled Australia for almost two years in tents with my husband, the family dog and two toddlers, so the outback setting  for TEXT ME WHEN YOU GET THERE is very familiar to me.

But I wanted this book to be more than just an action packed read – I wanted it to leave the reader with a strong sense of setting, the strength of the human spirit and a connection to the characters. Even though I had the plot figured out, I knew there were still many layers to be added.

So I went back to read other survival stories for kids/YA. I pored again through Hatchet by Gary Paulsen (an old favourite) and Wendy Orr‘s wonderful new survival story, Raven’s Mountain. Both novels are set in an area that I’m totally unfamiliar with yet they still managed to make me feel as if I was actually there fighting for my life against the obstacles the characters were facing.

Reading both these great books again and thinking about how they were crafted, helped me identify the following weaknesses in my own manuscript:

  1. Main character doesn’t make enough observations about himself – this would help reader see how he grows throughout the story.
  2. Compare the outback setting more to his home – this will help reader connect with how out of his depth the character is in his new surroundings. Make observations about the things that aren’t there as well as the things that are.
  3. Use road signs to identify where the MC is for the reader.
  4. The MC is stuck in life-threatening situations without any adults present. Give him permission to do risky things that parents wouldn’t want him doing because that’s how they are going to survive – perhaps he keeps hearing Mum’s voice in his head. Jack and his sister are on their own so they would be more introspective – nobody to talk to except each other and when they fight, they would have nobody left to talk to.
  5. Apart from fear of outback hazards like dingos, snakes etc, there would also be phobias that kids might experience in a normal environment like fear of the dark.
  6. Need more sensory detail in terms of smells and taste.
  7. More description needed about physical state and injuries.
  8. Need more lighter scenes where kids are mucking around like they would at home – this will help add tension to the darker moments.

This is just a hint of the improvements to my manuscript that were inspired by reading Gary and Wendy’s books. I haven’t included specifics because I didn’t want to give away too much of the story.

But hopefully this will help you see that reading other books isn’t copying what other writers do. It can generate ideas and teach you things about your work in progress and the way you write.

I’d love to hear about books you have read that inspired you to write better. Feel free to leave your comments at the end of this post.

Next week at Tuesday Writing Tips we’re looking at how Critiquing Can Help You Write Better. Hope you can join us then.

Happy Writing:)

Dee

P.S. the pics for this post are from our “Around Australia trip” Hope you enjoy them.

Here are another couple I just had to include for the ‘cute’ factor even though they have no relevance to the story. Pic 1 is camping at Hogwash Bend. Pic 2 is with a baby kangaroo at Oodnadatta.

Here’s one last one I had to include of a Goanna who used to drop in every afternoon to play with the boy’s Lego.