Anniversary Week - Best of the YA Muses: Thumbprints into Their Brain

Happy FOUR years, y'all.  I had a hard time picking my favorite post from this year (9/27/...

Anniversary Week - Best of the YA Muses: Writers: Why You Should Stay True to Yourselves

Veronica Rossi 1 Thursday, July 31, 2014

It's always fun to go back to the archives and see some of the posts I've written. While...

The Revision Checklist originally "aired" on December 10, 2010 and was updated on August 3, 2011.  I still use all the steps at some point in my writing process.  I hope it's helpful!

I have a confession to make.  I LOVE revision.  First drafts are hard.  Overwhelming.  There are hundreds of blank pages to be filled.  It’s scary. [Edited to add that I thought this until I revised my fourth book. And then revised it again.]

But with revision, I already have a book to work with.  I get to play with concepts, characters, plot points and themes.  I’m going to lay out my own revision checklist with all the usual disclaimers:  this is what works for me. Feel free to discard, expand upon or ignore any or all of it.  And please share what works for you.

1.   The Outline:  I don’t usually use an outline when writing the first draft, but I always do one immediately after the first draft is written.  Instead of reading through the entire first draft, I do a skim-through, creating a separate document that will become my map for big picture revisions.  I create a table, with a row for each chapter, a column describing (in 1-3 short sentences) the major plot points/scenes in the chapter, and a column for notes of things that I already know need to be added (more setting details, conflict or character development).

Chapter 1
Short description of action/scenes in chapter in 2-3 short sentences
Notes for revisions
Chapter 2
Short description of action/scenes in chapter in 2-3 short sentences
Notes for revisions

2.   The Big Picture Plotting Revision:  Now that the outline is done, I read through the scene descriptions in order, to see how the story flows from a plotting standpoint.  Does the story build to a climax?  Are the major plot points resolved?  What about subplots?  Do they carry through the entire novel?  Do major characters disappear for long stretches?  Are their chapters or scenes that aren’t moving the story forward?  The outline takes up less than two pages and it’s much less intimidating than a 300 page book.  I’m also a visual learner, and the outline really helps me visualize the plot trajectory of the book.  At this stage I look for scenes that need to be cut or rewritten, and also look for scenes that are missing or need to be added.  I then add rows for new chapters or scenes and describe them in bold, so I know I still need to write them.  I cut scenes that aren’t working and add new suggested scenes within the outline, until I have a plot that I’m happy with.  This is all done is broad strokes within the two page outline, and saves me having to actually cut or revise scenes until I’m satisfied with the big picture.

3.   Plot Revision-Back to the Manuscript:  Now that I’m comfortable with the plotting, I go back into the manuscript and make the revisions I’ve noted in the outline.  I add scenes in the places noted , and take out any scenes slated for cutting. 

4.   Pacing/Conflict Revision:  Now that I’ve done a big picture plotting revision and gotten the plot/scenes that I want in the book, I scale back to a scene by scene revision for conflict and pacing.  I’ve described the process as revising for suspense here.   I use the outline again, but this time, I create a new column next to each chapter where I identify 2-3 conflicts for each scene.  Now I revise the chapter with those conflicts in mind and make sure that there are some setbacks and tension builds in each individual scene.

5.   Setting Revision:  Now that the scenes are working from an overall plot and tension standpoint I go through the entire book to add sensory details in each scene.  My rough drafts are usually dialogue heavy and sparse on descriptions.  If you write a lot of descriptive passages, you might want to take out some setting details.  In either case, this is a great time to look for ways to use setting to emphasize themes or add tension to the scene.

6.   What the MC is thinking Revision:  I write in first person, but that doesn’t mean that the reader knows what the main character is thinking in every scene.  I go through each scene and look for ways to give clues to the main character’s reaction, whether it’s through thoughts, actions or physical reactions.  A little telling is sometimes beneficial here, if used sparingly.  This is one of the last revisions I do, and I always love the book so much more after this one.  It will add depth to your characters and story.

7.   Line edits:  Now we’re getting into minutia.  I try to do line edits as I go through each scene in the prior revisions, but now is the time to use the find function on your word processor to look for overused words and descriptions, eliminate passive voice (not all-just what doesn’t need to be there) and cut back on gratuitous adverbs and adjectives.  This a great time to think about first lines, dialogue tags and make your characters sing.  This also the place for the big read through.  I read the entire manuscript through from beginning to end, on paper, making edits with a pencil.

8.   Send to trusted readers:  This part of the process can’t be skipped.  A reader who you trust to be honest and give constructive feedback is priceless.  This could be a critique partner, an agent, a family member or friend.  I rely on other writers (hi Muses) because I know I will get more than a vague I liked or didn’t like something, and they will point out plot holes, pacing and voice issues that I am too close to see (or have been avoiding).  Some writers only want the criticism; they want to know what needs to be fixed.  I need readers who will point out what is working as well.  I don’t know about you, but I am a fragile, needy writer who constantly seeks validation.  And I know I can trust my readers to encourage me as well as help me improve the story.  Listen to the feedback, but keep it in perspective.  You can't please everyone all the time.  Trust your gut and your vision, but accept what rings true.

9.   Repeat:   With valuable feedback in hand, the process starts again.  The only exception is that I think it’s important to have a new set of trusted readers when you get back to step 8.  This is especially true if you had plotting or pacing issues the first time around.  You need fresh eyes who won’t be influenced by what they’ve read before.

That’s my process.  Of course it’s all subject to revision.

Anniversary Week--The Best of the YA Muses: The Revision Checklist

The Revision Checklist originally "aired" on December 10, 2010 and was updated on August 3, 2011.  I still use all the steps at s...

Anniversary Week--The Best of the YA Muses: My First Draft is a Mountain Road

Katherine Longshore 2 Tuesday, July 29, 2014

One of the things I've appreciated most about blogging with the YA Muses for the past four year...

This week marks four years of blogging as the YAMuses.  To celebrate, we'd like to share some of our favorite posts of the pasts.  One of my personal favorites, re-posted below, was also picked up by Writer's Digest.  Hope you enjoy!

Critique of the Critique Group

Donna Cooner 6 Sunday, January 23, 2011

Finding a good critique group is like internet dating. You have to be very patient and willing to endure a few (sometimes more than a few) bad encounters. Any good critique always starts with the positive, and there are so many good things to say about a critique group that works. It's like having a deep conversation about one of your most favorite things in the whole world with your best friend/mentor/editor/cheerleader/mother all rolled into one. It's also about learning from other people's writing. You look forward to the session and, when you leave, you're eager to get back to your WIP as quickly as possible. If that's not your overall feeling about participating in a critique group, then something may be wrong. So now to the critique part...

The Top Ten Worst Critique Group Members

1. The Snob(s). There are likely to be different levels of experience and success in any writing group, but no one wants to participate in a group to feel inferior and intimidated. When I first moved to Colorado, and was trying to find a new critique group, I visited a group in Boulder. When I arrived I was told they had to vote on whether or not I would be "worthy" to join the group. I spent the whole time feeling like every comment, every word, was being judged. After the session was over, I went to the bathroom and was surprised to find, when I returned, the vote had occurred and I was invited to continue. Unfortunately, I didn't feel the same way about staying in the group. Awkward!

2. The Time Hog. If you have a group session that lasts two hours, she will always want to go first and will take 1:59 to talk about her WIP. Sometimes the Time Hog will even take other peoples' critique time and still make it about her story.

3. The Retro. He hasn't read a children's book since he was a child. His stories are full of names like Suzie Squirrel and Tommy Tree. There are sometimes rainbows and unicorns involved and usually a strong moral message. The worst example of this was a story I once read called (and I'm not kidding) "The Tree who Wanted to Grow Up to be a Telephone Pole."

4. The Distractor. She wants to talk about anything and everything but writing. Her children started swim lessons last week, her mother-in-law is visiting Paris next month, it's windy (cold, hot, rainy, etc.) outside, her favorite hairstylist is moving salons... you get the idea. She often has to leave the group session to take phone calls or return text messages. While I love the fact I'm more than just writing to my wonderful writing group, when we get down to business it's ALL about the writing and that time is precious.

5. The Harsh Critic/The NiceyPiecey. These two go together. She's just mean and never says anything positive. Just watching the face of the person being critiqued tells the story. It hurts. Nicey Piecey is just the opposite. EVERYTHING is wonderful and he never makes a suggestion for improvement--he can't think of a thing to make it better. Ever. Hearing what's not working is an important part of the critique process, but we also need to hear what IS working.

6. The Debater. She has a come back to every comment and suggestion. The result is that every critique session becomes an argument about why she did suchandsuch or why she didn't write it that way. Of course, you are the ultimate boss of your own story and the editorial decisions are your own. That said, you can't look over the shoulder of an editor or agent when they read your story and tell them why. The manuscript has to stand on it's own without explanation.

7. The Picker. He always focuses on the little details to the exclusion of the things that really matter. Should you call it a "monster" or a "gargoyle"? Discuss. All of this, when what you really need to know is, if the thing is dead or still hiding in the closet!

8. The Sulker. After her turn to read, she spends the entire rest of the critique session with arms crossed, eating potato chips, and refusing to comment on anyone else's manuscript. Something someone said didn't sit right and now she's closed down. We've all had those moments--at least emotionally--when it just hits us wrong. This person, however, ALWAYS reacts with sullen silence to any kind of criticism.

9. The Boss. He always knows what's best for your story including what the climatic scene should be, how the story should end and even where you should submit your manuscript. While helpful suggestions should always be appreciated, he takes it from advice to orders.

10. The Sporadic. She shows up infrequently and randomly. Because she misses so many sessions, she often doesn't know what people are working on and readers have to "catch her up" every time before they read.

This week, Katy and I head to the SCBWI Winter conference in New York where I'll be participating in critique groups. Hopefully, I won't run into any of these critique group characters and, most importantly, I really hope I won't turn into one of them myself! 

Anniversary Week--The Best of the YAMuses

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Feels like Home

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Over the last few days I've been pondering the ups and downs of the last year. I had a lot of big "life changes" and I was forced to choose carefully how I spent my time. I no longer had the luxury of long hours to read and write and review books.

For me, if I'm not reading and reviewing, it makes my writing motor run out of gas. I'm inspired when I read a great story and it makes me want to write a great story. But when time is limited, my reading suffers, and that directly affects my writing.

I knew that writing was tough, but I always felt like it came naturally to me. I never sit and stare at the blank screen because the words just aren't coming. I've never experienced that. What's truly tough is making time, finding time, or stealing time to write KNOWING THAT IT'S POSSIBLE THAT NO ONE WILL EVER READ WHAT YOU WROTE.

That's the difficult part for me. It's not the actual writing, it's taking all that time to create a story that I want to share with others, and then facing the fact that statistics tell me that what I'm aiming for is highly unlikely.

That's the hard part about writing.

Writing because you love writing is easy. There's no fail/succeed in that.

Writing because you love writing and want to be a published author is not easy. You either fail or succeed.

To spend so much time writing with the goal of being published, and knowing that a lot of people have that same goal their entire lives and never succeed, adds a deeper level of commitment to writing.

So I've come to a conclusion: I'm going to keep writing. :)

I'm not going to lie to myself and say that I don't care if I get published or not. I do. That's my goal. I'm can't change my goal because I found out it's a lot harder than I originally thought. I accept the fact that I may spend thousands of hours working toward something that may never happen.

Because in the end, we find out that the discipline of writing is more like a wise teacher than a fun thing we do. Our lives become richer, deeper, and fuller. We pull things out of our souls. Things like determination and perseverance and discipline.

And that is the reward.

Writing is Really Difficult

Over the last few days I've been pondering the ups and downs of the last year. I had a lot of big "life changes" and I was for...

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