First Draft 15™

Date: Thursday July 8, 2010
Posted in: Random,Writer's Toolbox,writing

Just for giggles, I am guest blogging about ‘Writer’s Butt’ on the GotYA blog, wherein I share my handy diet tips (kinda) to help combat the First Draft 15™.

 

Come see!  Come see!

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Query queasy? Easy peasy, lemon squeezy!

Date: Wednesday February 24, 2010
Posted in: Writer's Toolbox

Well, maybe not easy peasy, but you’ve written a whole novel, right? A super awesome unputdownable, potential-to-rival-the-greats novel, right? You’re not going to let a one-page query come between you and getting it published, are you?!

I know, I know…queries are super hard. I know!! I’ve written about a kajillion of them and have had to tinker with them endlessly before coming up with my final copy, so I get it. Really, I do!

For those wondering what a query actually *is*, it’s a letter from an author to an editor or an agent, querying (or asking) whether they would like to read your novel (and-fall-in-love-with-it-and-help-you-publish-it-and-offer-you-a-trillion-dollars-for-it).

Okay, maybe not the last part…

Basically though, I am here to impart any kind of tenuous wisdom I may have on the subject. So, here goes…

I think it’s helpful to think of the query as the *tease*. You want to give just enough information to entice an agent/editor to read on and request your work, but not too much or you’ll bury your pitch.

Keep it short! If you’re taking more than about 250 words to get your point across,  it’s probably too much. Agents and editors are scanning and are probably spending about 20 seconds on your query (if that!), so make it EASY for them to pull out the salient points of what you’re proposing.

THE PITCH: First 125 words or so…

Here are my 4 C’s & a V to a hooky pitch…

* CHARACTER: who is your main character?

* Why should we CARE? What’s at stake?

* CONFLICT: what is your main character up against? what are the obstacles standing in her/his way?

* CONSEQUENCES: Give a hint of the outcome:  …but not the ending (keep that for the synopsis)

* VOICE: As much as possible, try to match your pitch’s voice to your manuscript’s voice. This will give an agent a sense of your writing style.

THE MARKET: Next 50 words or so…

* TITLE (in caps so it’s easy to spot on the page), genre, word count, target audience, why this agent might be a good fit

ALL ABOUT YOU: Next 50 words or so…

* writing credits, etc. keep it SHORT, keep it RELEVANT to writing

ADDITIONAL INFO: Last 25 words…

* Mention whether you’ve attached a bio below your signature (I always did) and re: sample pages (add them if you’re allowed)

Just remember, you’re not trying to tell your life story in a query, just enough to hook an editor/agent so they’ll read on to your sample pages and hopefully request your manuscript.

But don’t take my word for it! Check out Pub Rants for great (successful!) query examples in the sidebar about 2/3 down the page:

http://pubrants.blogspot.com/

Plus, you never know, part of your query MIGHT just end up as the quote on the cover of your upcoming novel.

Just saying… ;-)

GOOD LUCK, everyone!

xo H

You might also like: Synopsis writing in 9 easy steps…



Synopsis (or outline!) writing in 9 easy steps…

Date: Thursday October 15, 2009
Posted in: Writer's Toolbox

Ah, the dreaded synopsis. Authors hate to write them but they’re a necessary, albeit evil, step in the querying process.

When querying agents/editors, some require a 1 or 2 page synopsis with your initial query. Others will ask for it when they request pages, especially a partial. A synopsis is a re-telling of your story from beginning to end, hitting all of the major plot points (and yes, in a synopsis, agents/editors want to know the end).

I know, I know…it’s sooo hard to distill a whole novel into one page…*whine*…BUT, I’m here to tell you it’s not impossible. Come on, I KNOW you can do it!  You wrote a whole freakin’ novel, didn’t you? This is one measly page.

*sendingyouabitoftoughlove*

Okay. No grumbling. You ready?

This is how I structure my synopses. (Also, very useful for outlining, btw: NaNoWriMo, anyone?) I’ve listed the 9 major points I want to cover when retelling my story. I write a paragraph or so under each point and once done, I’m left with about a one-pager. Of course, before I send it off I take away the headings, but this framework helps keep me on track.

1. Inciting incident (The big problem)

What is the incident/problem which sets your story in motion? What is your MC’s goal, quest, problem s/he needs to overcome?

2. Plot Point 1 (first obstacle)

What is the first obstacle, roadblock, conflict your MC must face en route to his/her goal?

3. Plot Point 2 (second obstacle)

What is the second obstacle, roadblock, conflict your MC must face en route to his/her goal? This shows your MC in increasing difficulty and displays the ramping up of tension.

4. Plot Point 3 (third obstacle-situation is about as bad as it can get)

What is the third obstacle, roadblock, conflict your MC must face en route to his/her goal? This should be your character’s ‘darkest hour’.

5. Climax A (lighting the fuse)

What sets things in motion for the big show-down?

6. Climax B (watching it burn)

What conflict/tension/precariousness happens to make us wait and wonder? This is the point where things could go either way…

7. Climax C (kaboom!)

This is where the excrement hits the ventilation device. The ‘final showdown’.

8. Denouement

Everything becomes clear. The world makes sense again. Story questions are resolved.

9. Resolution

And they all live happily ever after. Or not.

Your synopsis should follow a similar story arc and exhibit the energy of your actual story, like so:

A few additional points:

* Synopses are told in third person (even if your story is in first), present tense.

* Try to inject a similar tone/voice into your synopsis as you use in your manuscript. Let your voice shine through! This will give the reader a sense of your writing style.

* No pouting. That only leads to massive amounts of chocolate consumption. Which is not exactly bad, per se. Just try not to get chocolate stains on the paper. ;-)

See? That wasn’t so bad, was it? Now, you can write a synopsis in 9 easy steps too!

And, psst…,  if this looks a bit like my plotting outline…as I mentioned, it is…

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

Happy synopsis-writing, outlining, NaNoWrimoing, everyone!



Toying with emotions…

Date: Tuesday March 24, 2009
Posted in: Writer's Toolbox

Had loads of fun with the chicklets in Cape Breton with Meme and Pepe. Lots of walks on the beach, lots of great food. The best part was seeing the ocean, of course. Like pressing a big ‘reset’ button on life.

So, vacation mode/work mode. Ha! As a writer and a mom, does my life really fit into such a tidy arrangement? Pas si tant. 

Which gets me thinking about other things…so off I go on a merry ramble…

There’s a technique used in art, where the artist draws the negative space of a subject. So, when sketching a hand, an artist doesn’t draw the fingers, but the space between the fingers. Shifting perspective like this takes the focus off the literal and forces the brain to see things in a new way, often with stunning results.

How does this apply to writing? Well, imagine a character who is angry. You can tell he is angry. His voice is raised. He speaks through clenched teeth. His arms are stiff at his sides, hands balled up in fists. Those are the literal manifestations of anger. But if his anger was an aura around his body, what would be the emotion at the edge of that anger?

Is it disappointment? Did his son get caught drinking, underage?

Is it fear? Can he imagine what would have happened if his son had been behind the wheel?

Is it hatred? Does he detest his wife for leaving him to deal with the situation?

Is it shame? Has been a bad example with his own past behaviour?

I’ve been working on a young adult novel for a while now.  The dad is tough. Really tough. Hard to please. Hard to read and my main character, Logan, is on the brink, dealing with it all. I’ve been exploring Logan’s father’s anger and realize it’s all of those things. Fear, disappointment, shame, hatred. But mostly shame. Shame that he’s turned out to be the father he never wanted to be.

Human emotion is complex. And like most things in life, it doesn’t fit in a tidy little box.

For example, happiness over getting a college scholarship can mean so many things:

Relief: for easing the financial burden off a single parent.

Pride: for having worked hard to achieve such an honour.

Satisfaction: for having beat out your rival, who’s done nothing but make high school a living hell.

So ‘positive’ emotions can also have an ugly side. And those which are *supposed* to be negative, can have a tender side and be rooted in love.

Care to play? Which other emotions have ‘another side’? Discuss…



THE THREE LITTLE PIGS and plotting…OCD Style

Date: Thursday January 8, 2009
Posted in: Writer's Toolbox

Just wanted to expand a little bit on my previous post regarding plotting. I base my method on ‘the Rule of Three’. The theory being that the pacing of a story is very effective when grouped in threes, like for instance, The Three Little Pigs or The Three Bears.

In writing itself, The Rule of Three is manifested over and over. Three major plot points, or acts, three levels of conflict (man against himself, man against man, man against his environment) three levels to the climax, three stages in a scene (the beginning, the middle the end), the strategy is used again and again (and again).

Just for example, I’ll illustrate how something like The Three Little Pigs would fit into my process. Of course, TTLP is not a novel length story and wouldn’t fit into chapters this way, but stay with me for a sec.  :-) :

Chapter 1: Inciting incident

   The three little pigs get kicked out of the house by their parents and told to go make their mark on the world.

Chapter 2: and then what happened…   They go off on their merry way.

 

Chapter 3: and then what happened…   To make their mark on the world.

 

Chapter 4: Act 1: 

   The First Little Pig makes his house out of straw.

Chapter 5: and then what happened…    The wolf shows up.

 

Chapter 6: and then what happened…

   He huffs and he puffs and blows the house down. The first little pig runs to his brother’s house.

Chapter 7: Act 2: 

   The Second Little Pig makes his house of sticks.

Chapter 8: And then what happened?

   The wolf shows up.

Chapter 9: And then what happened?

   He huffs and he puffs and blows the house down. The first and second little pigs run to their brother’s house.

Chapter 10: Act 3: 

   The Third Little Pig builds his house out of bricks

Chapter 11: And then what happened?

   The wolf shows up.

Chapter 12: And then what happened?

   He huffs and he puffs but the house will NOT GO DOWN.

Chapter 13: Climax A 

   The wolf is furious. The pigs are nervous. (the fuse is lit!)

Chapter 14: Climax B   The wolf keeps huffing and puffing. The pigs build a fire. (watch it burn!)

 

Chapter 15: Climax C        
     
   The wolf goes crazy cause he can’t blow the house down! He climbs on the roof and goes down the chimney and falls in the fire….(Then kaboom!)

Chapter 16: Denouement

   The wolf runs away, the pigs are safe.

Chapter 17: Resolution

   They all live happily ever after.

Imagine if there were only two pigs. The level of tension would just not be the same. We just wouldn’t be as invested in them as characters because they would have succeeded too quickly without having struggled enough.

If there were four pigs, I think the story arc would drag on for too long, making us wonder ‘What the heck is wrong with these pigs? Don’t they ever learn?”

So. The Rule of Three.

Do you use it in your writing?



Plotting…OCD Style

Date: Tuesday January 6, 2009
Posted in: Writer's Toolbox

I’ve written about this before, but since I’m in deep (ha!) with REAL MERMAIDS DON’T WEAR TOE RINGS and it’s still fresh in my mind, I thought I’d share some of my plotting process with you guys. This is a system which enables me to write a first draft very quickly and helps to keep my story organized. It may make no sense at all, depending on your individual writing styles, but if you’re anal retentive like me, this might be useful.

I’m not sure if what I do is outline but I do begin with a loose framework when starting off a novel. I don’t typically do it as a one pager, rather, I set up my Word document through the ‘Document Map’ function and build out the story from there. I know that my story will follow this typical flow:

Inciting incident (The big problem)

Plot Point 1 (first obstacle)

Plot Point 2 (second obstacle)

Plot Point 3 (third obstacle-situation is about as bad as it can get)

Climax A(lighting the fuse)

Climax B (watching it burn)

Climax C (kaboom!)

Denouement

Resolution

So I set up my Chapter Headers and add a few lines under each to keep track of what may happen where. The attribution of chapters is arbitrary and only an example. I’ve attached a screen shot of RMDWTR so you can see what that looks like.

documentmap

Chapter 1: Inciting incident: you may want to name your chapters to keep straight
   Write a few sentences about the character’s big problem

Chapter 2: and then what happened…
   Blah, blah, blah

Chapter 3: and then what happened…
   Blah, blah, blah

Chapter 4: Plot Point 1:
   Write a few sentences about the first big obstacle/conflict

Chapter 5: and then what happened…
   Blah, blah, blah

Chapter 6: and then what happened…
   Blah, blah, blah

Chapter 7: Plot Point 2:
   Write a few sentences about the second big obstacle/conflict/worse than the first

Chapter 8: 
   And then what happened?

Chapter 9: 
   Blah, blah, blah

Chapter 10: Plot Point 3:
   Write a few sentences about the third big obstacle/conflict/ worse than all three

Chapter 11: 
   You may go straight from  PP3 to the climax or there may be a building of tension/conflict to bring you there

Chapter 12:
   Blah, blah, blah…

Chapter 13: Climax A
   Lighting the fuse

Chapter 14: Climax B 
   Watch it burn…

Chapter 15: Climax C            
Then kaboom! Write a few sentences about each stage of the climax

Chapter 16: Denouement
   Then what happens?

Chapter 17: Resolution
   Tie up any story threads

Setting all this up in a document map using the HEADER function really helps me navigate the document, both from the initial set up to get the outline down and while writing, since all I need to do is fill in the holes. It makes it easier to skip ahead if I get an idea for a specific scene and having the document laid out, I can pinpoint approximately where it should go within the overall pacing of the story.

This is a loose guide I use for myself. Chapters get added in, merged and taken out while writing, and my initial outline usually changes as new ideas spring up, but it’s the most efficient way I’ve found to both ‘outline’ my story, keep track of pacing and organize my scenes.

And now you all know how anal I am.  Whistle

HOW TO SET UP DOCUMENT MAP:

As I’ve mentioned, I navigate my document with the document map by attributing a header style to all my Chapters which, in turn, designs my document map. The document map pane on the left hand side of my screen is always open and all I have to do is click on ‘Chapter 3′ let’s say, and it jumps to that area of the manuscript. Very useful, saves a lot of time, and gives me a ‘global’ perspective on what could be a very long, unwieldy document.

To set it up, it takes a bit of fiddling and you may already have formatting in your WIP that will show up in the document map. (Check by clicking VIEW/DOCUMENT MAP)

If you want to experiment, save your WIP as a new document. (I don’t want to be responsible for screwing up your oeuvre, ack!)

Clearing all formatting will start you off fresh, but you’ll lose italics, double spacing and the works, so it’s easiest to start this from the get go. For an already existing WIP, hilight the areas where you’ve marked your chapters (i.e. Chapter One) and choose FORMAT/STYLES AND FORMATTING then choose a header style for your chapters. Once you do this for every chapter, it will map it out in the document map and you can take a look at VIEW/DOCUMENT MAP to see what yours looks like.

If you have a bunch of other stuff showing up, I think there’s a way to filter your document map so you only see the header style that you’ve chosen for your chapters, thereby ‘hiding’ the other stuff, but I haven’t looked into that.

I hope I haven’t confused you and also hope this is helpful. Let me know if you try it out!

…If you’re OCD and you know it, wash your hands…

Related post: The Three Little Pigs and Plotting…OCD Style



Perfecting your Pitch Paragraph

Date: Thursday August 28, 2008
Posted in: Writer's Toolbox

Try the title of this post 5 times fast. (Come on, I know you wanna…)

Been discussing pitch paragraphs with my super awesome critique group. Given that authors will forever have to write these things, whether trying to snag an editor or agent for your work or providing copy for a catalogue, might as well embrace the process. (or at least try to understand it)

So, I thought I’d take a look at a couple of popular picture books (cause let’s face it, picture books rock!) and deconstruct what goes into crafting a perfect pitch paragraph (p-tuh!) and offer up my new perspective (pa-tooey!) here for your perusal. (pa-choo!)

Here are a few examples of great picture book ‘hooks':

FANCY NANCY:

Fancy Nancy By Jane O'Connor Illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser

Meet Nancy, who believes that more is ALWAYS better when it comes to being fancy. From the top of her tiara down to her sparkly studded shoes, Nancy is determined to teach her family a thing or two about being fancy.

How Nancy transforms her parents and little sister for one enchanted evening makes for a story that is funny and warm — with or without the frills.

WALTER THE FARTING DOG

Walter, the Farting Dog by William Kotzwinkle: Book Cover

Warning: This book may cause flatulence. Walter is a fine dog, except for one small problem: he has gas. He can’t help it; it’s just the way he is. Fortunately, the kids Billy and Betty love him regardless, but Father says he’s got to go! Poor Walter, he’s going to the dog pound tomorrow. And then, in the night, burglars strike. Walter has his chance to be a hero. Destined to become a children’s classic, this story will have kids rolling on the floor with laughter. Adults are permitted to laugh too.

Both examples give a strong sense of character/conflict/hint of outcome and we really get the personality of the book in the descriptions.

character: Nancy likes to be fancy
conflict: She’s determined to make the rest of her family fancy, too
hint of outcome: The enchanted evening turns out differently than we might expect
personality: Frilly descriptive language, fancy, tiara, sparkly just like the book


character: Walter is a fine dog
conflict: But he farts too much and that’s a problem for Father
hint of outcome: Walter turns his flatulence into something unlikely positive.
personality: Funny, irreverent, like an inside joke between the author and the reader, just like the book.

So, it seems to me that when perfecting your pitch paragraph (pes-ghetti!) your goal is to distill your story in three to five sentences with these three things (character/conflict/hint of outcome) in mind while maintaining the personality of the story in the pitch.

Christy asks (hi Christy!) if I could include the pitch for ACADIAN STAR. This is the copy on the Nimbus website. Let’s see how well it fits into my, erm, theory:

ACADIAN STAR:

The Acadian Star competition is the biggest thing to ever happen in Meg Gallant’s small Cape Breton town. Meg dreams of performing onstage with her best friend Nève. If they’re lucky, they might even make it to the finals in Halifax. But Meg’s weird old aunt, Tante Perle, has been acting stranger and stranger-and just before the finale of the competition, she whisks Meg away from everything she knows. Meg suddenly finds herself trapped in the time of the tragic Acadian Deportation-and she has to choose between escaping to her own time and saving a girl who looks remarkably like Nève. Why is she trapped in the eighteenth century? Will she be able to save this stranger, so quickly becoming a friend? And where does Tante Perle fit in with all this?

How did we do? (It was a bit of a collaborative effort between me and my fan-tabulous editor, Penelope.)

character: Meg loves singing and dancing and dreams of performing in the Acadian Star competition
conflict: But instead, her Tante Perle whisks her away to the 18th century Acadian Deportation
hint of outcome: Will Meg stay to help the deportees or escape back to her own time?
personality: Mystery, conflict, adventure, just like the book! (I hope <s>)

What about you all? Can you break down your pitch in this way? Any words of wisdom to add to my percolating theory? Do I at least get bonus points for having it colour-coded??

**Please visit Christy’s Creative Space for more tips on the what/when/where and how of pitching. Fabulous!