Dragonfly Words

Cleaning up for the Maid, or Editing before hiring an Editor

August 7, 2010
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I’m nearing the editing phase (or so I keep telling myself), I’ve been looking for some helpful tips on how to successfully self-edit. During my stint in publishing, I had no problem telling an author that a section slowed down the reader or that a sentence was too wordy. I’ve even been known to throw out entire chapters. When it comes to my own writing, I do not find it to be quite so easy to pinpoint these errors. In short, I either think everything I write is awful and beyond repair (enter the trashcan) or that unnecessary characters/scenes/sub-plots, you name it, are integral to my story.

Before shelling out several hundred dollars to pay a professional editor, I would like to feel that I’m giving said professional editor my best work. It’s the same concept as cleaning up for the maid. You want a maid to spend his/her time cleaning the things you hate cleaning. You don’t want to pay her/him to put your shoes away, which you can easily do for free.

In an effort to start thinking about cleaning up for maid, I have stumbled upon some good blog posts about editing. My favorite post I’ve found in the past few days was from MiG Writers, A Revision Tip, posted by Carmella. In her post, Carmella suggests printing the book out, not how you would print a normal document, but formatted the way it will look in print (horizontal, not vertical). By reading it this way, it will feel like you are reading a real book. You will see the book how a reader would see it. This should help pinpoint problems you may have otherwise missed (see her blog post for specifics).

Because of some tricky plot points coming up, I’ve been thinking that now would be a good time to read through everything I have so far to make sure it is all lining up. I think I will give this trick a try. I’ll keep you updated on how it works out.

*Just read this blog post that I thought I would add: 10 Steps to a Better Story. Good things to keep in mind while editing.


Coming up with a Concept

August 6, 2010
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I think the hardest part about writing (for me anyway) is coming up with a stellar concept. While browsing the web, I came across this great post on MiG Writers (a great blog for middle grade and young adult writers) titled Finding a Rocking Premise. Christina Farley lists the following steps for come up with a premise:

  • Daydream
  • Brainstorm
  • Research
  • Have a critique group or writing buddy
  • Choose your favorite/best idea

To add to the above list, while brainstorming and reasearching, some things that help me find inspiration for my concepts are:

  • Flickr – I like to look at the top photos of the day/week/month/etc. and see if any of the subject matters catch hold of me. I often copy the inspiring photos into a word document and then write out my ideas and a short plot sketch right alongside the photo.
  • Art museum – art is a great source of inspiration
  • Watching kids in the park – not in a creepy way, but rather to see what excites kids. The smallest sentence overheard can develop into a full plot
  • Reading the news – stories in the news can provide great inspiration. I often try to think what would happen if the story were taken to a new level, or if society were completely changed because of this one story.

While I spend 2/3 of my writing time writing, the other 1/3 is spent daydreaming/brainstorming new concepts to add to the future books folder. It’s nice to take a mental break from my current story, and knowing that I have things in the pipeline encourages me to write faster so I can explore where the next book will take me.

How do you come up with your concepts?

For additional resources on choosing a concept, check out today’s post on Ask the Publishing Guru, The Right Write Idea.

How long should your novel be?

August 5, 2010
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I just found this great post by Sarah Webb on how many words a book should be. She, in turn, got some great info from kidlit.com. The general breakdown is as follows:

• Board Book — 100 words max
• Early Picturebook — 500 words max
• Picturebook — 1,000 words max (Seriously. Max.)
• Nonfiction Picturebook — 2,000 words max
• Early Reader — This varies widely, depending on grade level. I’d say 3,500 words is an absolute max.
• Chapterbook — 10,000 words max
• Middle Grade — 35,000 words max for contemporary, mystery, humor, 45,000 max for fantasy/sci-fi, adventure and historical
• YA — 70,000 words max for contemporary, humor, mystery, historical, romance, etc. 90,000 words max for fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal, etc.

You can also check out Chuck Sambuchino’s Word Count for Novels and Children’s Books: The Definitive Post

Looks like I’m closer to my target word count than I thought I was. Guess that means there will be some serious editing in the near future.

Writer’s Voice: What if it just isn’t very good?

August 4, 2010
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How do writer’s deal with voice? I’ve been reading a lot on voice lately (mostly in attempts to solve the never-ending problem of which to use – 1st of 3rd person?). While I did not come up with a definitive answer to my question, I did come across a lot of interesting articles about voice.

So what is voice anyway? To sum up all of the definitions I found, voice is the personal flavor you add to your writing; it is how you inject your own personality into your writing. Of course, this can be problematic. What if your personality is boring? The simplest solution would be to quit writing, but that is easier said than done. For those of us who love to write, giving it up is no small feat. So can you make your voice more engaging?

The good news is, yes! In this blog post on Inky Fresh Press, 5 tips are listed to help improve your writing voice:

  • Pay attention to the voice in the books you enjoy reading. Describe the voice.
  • Write from a different perspective – instead of writing a scene from the point of view of your protagonist, try writing it from the point-of-view of the antagonist
  • Read your work out loud. Does it sound natural? Does it sound like you? Why or why not?
  • Write a scene for a different audience
  • Write letters to friends. I find that writing journal entries and rereading them to see voice helps too.

But why is it so hard to find your voice? In a blog post on Rants & Ramblings, Rachelle Gardner discusses the reasons we find voice so hard. A writer’s voice is a personal thing. It is who you are, what makes you unique. But it is so easy to try to be something you are not. We spend so much time putting up a front to our friends, coworkers, strangers we see on the street, and even our families that it is easy to get lost and forget who we really are.

Do you find it hard to stay true to your writing voice? Do you catch yourself copying the voices of successful writers?

Check out this additional post from Inky Fresh Press: What is Writing Voice?

More on Creating Characters

August 2, 2010
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The next best thing to attending the SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Conference is reading the conference blog. One blog post caught my attention today. It is an interview with Carolyn Mackler on Creating Characters That Come to Life. In the interview, Mackler stresses the importance of:

  • Thinking about your characters quirks – what makes them special? Does your character twirl his/her hair when nervous? Does he/she trip a lot? Is your character prone to worrying?
  • Reading your books/story out loud so you can hear your characters – the way a character speaks says a lot about who the character is
  • Research – talk to real life people who share traits similar to your character’s. If you’re writing a nurse, talk to a nurse.
  • Imagine what your character’s closet looks like.

The third point was probably my favorite. Usually I try to imagine what a character’s bedroom looks like, but a closet is even better. While a bedroom is private space, people do occasionally wander into them. A closet, though, is completely private space. Are the clothes organized by season and/or color? Does your character use hangers or is everything piled on the floor? Perhaps a secret alter is hidden away in the closet, or a stalker collage? Maybe it is so crammed with things that the door barely opens, like that wonderful scene in Mary Poppins when everything comes spewing out of the closet as the door slams shut (or did I imagine that scene). A closet can reveal so much about a character, bringing that character from words on a page to a living, dynamic being that your readers can engage with.

What questions do you ask about your character to gain insight into his/her life?

Engaging the Reader Through ‘Prime Real Estate’

July 31, 2010
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I read an interesting article last night called Prime Real Estate. The articles looks at the key areas you need to pay special attention to so as to keep your reader engaged. The prime real estate areas are:

  • The first page of your novel
  • The first paragraph of a new chapter
  • The last paragraph of a chapter

I’d always kept the first page and the last paragraph of a chapter in the back of my mind as important sections, but somehow I’d never put much thought into the first paragraph of a new chapter, but it makes sense. Your last paragraph of a chapter will only keep the reader reading if the first paragraph of the new chapter is equally engaging. Otherwise, the reader will just put the book down, the last thing you want. I know I’ve put several books down and never returned. Now I feel like I should go back and reread the prime real estate parts of books I’ve abandoned along with books I couldn’t put down so that I can see how other writers handle their prime real estate.

Developing your Character through Motivation

July 31, 2010
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Here’s a nice article about character develop. It explains an easy way to ensure that your character develops throughout the story.

via Writer’s Digest – Motivate Your Characters Like a Pro.

Guide to Literary Agents – Some Tips for Writing a Series

July 29, 2010
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Nice article about writing a series: Guide to Literary Agents – Some Tips for Writing a Series.

News for Kids

July 28, 2010
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In my attempts to enter the minds of kids, I’ve been spending a lot of time perusing children news sources, which are surprisingly abundant. One recent find was an article in National Geographic Kids, Beelzebufo: A Giant of a Find. Talk about great inspiration. After all, what’s cooler than a frog the size of a beach ball?

In other news, a bear in New Hampshire ‘rescued’ a stuffed bear being held captive by humans. Read about it here.

Finally, a boat made out of plastic crossed the Atlantic.

You’ve gotta love the inspiration you can get from bizarre happenings in the world.

Overweight Characters in Children’s Books

January 6, 2010
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Is it wrong to make my overweight characters evil and mean? Is this playing into stereotypes? Is this too much of a cliché? Does this teach children to view overweight people negatively? So often with writing it becomes difficult to see past the works of those whose footsteps we walk in so that we can forge our own path. I worry that I will inadvertently play into the stereotypes created by my predecessors, and that my work will suffer as a result.

Certainly obesity is something that shouldn’t be encouraged in children, but children who are overweight, or those with body issues, may become more self-conscious about their weight if characters physically similar to them are villanized in stories. Equally, the kids who would pick on overweight children may feel their behavior is justified through the negative portrayal of overweight characters in books.

The Harry Potter series instantly jumps to mind when I think about negative portrayals of overweight people. Dudley is fat, unintelligent, and a bully. Malfoy, on the other hand, while evil, is intelligent and conniving. He is also thin.

There are many other children’s books that also portray overweight characters in a negative light. Of course, overweight characters are equally portrayed as jovial, yet simple. Rarely do you see a normal, run-of-the-mill overweight character. Rarely do you see an overweight hero (one of the refreshing things about Disney-Pixar’s UP).

But would we want to write an overweight hero? Aren’t we trying to encourage weight loss and exercise? Do we want children to associate being overweight with being dimwitted and/or mean? Or are we inadvertently excluding an increasing population or readers? According to the CDC, 17% of children in 2006 were obese. This is double the amount found in 1980. With these numbers rising, maybe we should not treat obesity in such a negative way. Certainly we can show an overweight character struggling with their weight, or facing obstacles they would not face were they more fit (again to reference UP : Russell faced obstacles brought on by his lack of fitness), but to make every overweight character less than the fit characters may not be the best message to send children.

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