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Posts tagged ‘group blog for YA novelists’

Pacing A Novel, by Lish McBride

Pacing is often the bane of my existence. My beginnings are never fast enough, my middles are squishy and my ends need to be slowed down. I’m three novels in and this has become a comforting pattern. The great thing about pacing is that it can be fixed. The bad thing about pacing is you have to fix it, which means editing, which always makes me incredibly whiny.

So now that I’ve proved to you that I have issues with pacing, thus invalidating anything I say after this, I’m now going to give you a quick and dirty run down on how your novel should be paced. Just because I can’t seem to follow the rules it doesn’t mean I don’t know what they are.

Beginnings are important, so your first page has to be shiny and wonderful. When I pick up a book in a bookstore, that first page makes it or breaks it for me. You could have the best synopsis in the world, but if that first page is boring or sloppy I lose all hope for the rest of the book. Great books have snappy openings – I know how both Moby Dick by Herman Melville and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens begin and I haven’t even read those books. Yet. I used to have the opening to The Thief of Always by Clive barker memorized. Openings are important.

So how does one make their opening a winner? Well, I can give you a few pointers. First, you should immediately ground the reader. They need to know exactly what kind of world they are stepping into. What tone do you want to strike? Which senses do you wish to invoke? Which character do you want to start with?

The best way to get things going is to start in medias res, which is a fancy Latin way of saying “into the midst of things.” Basically, you want to jump right into the narrative or plot. Don’t bog the story down with twenty pages of immediate back-story. Don’t dilly-dally, friends. Jump right into that sucker. Look at the opening you’re working on. Do you start in the right place? Does the reader leap right into your story? If not, cut some things.

You should never be afraid to cut away the fat (just save and back up EVERYTHING). Things can always be added back in later if you change your mind, or that necessary snippet can be moved elsewhere. You have a whole novel. Stretch out a little bit and enjoy the space. My middles always need to be trimmed down. They wander and slow down, and it’s just no fun. I have to edit them to death. Part of that is because I always have a firm sense of where the story starts and ends but my middles are always a little hazy. That’s okay. I don’t mind cutting. The trick is to figure out what to cut. This is where beta readers or editors come in. They are great at pointing out which spots were slow and clunky. If you don’t have access to such people, read through it yourself and think, “Is this part really necessary here?” or “This page goes on too long – what can I cut? What can I condense?” Sometimes mapping/outlining the chapters help. As always, read it out loud to yourself. That’s the best way to catch mistakes.

Stories generally follow an arc. You know, the whole ‘beginning, middle, boiling point, resolution’ thing? Yes, that. Well, characters should have their own arcs, and if you’re doing a series, it usually has it’s own arc too. Keep that in mind.

Your endings need to live up to the promise you made at the beginning of the book. This means it needs to be just as strong. Your characters should be at the end of their arc and should be changed (if they aren’t, you need to make sure the reader is clear on why they haven’t changed). Conflict should be resolved – or if you’re leading up to another book, resolved enough to satisfy. It needs to be memorable. Like the beginning, you have to re-establish tone, senses and imagery. You need some sort of emotional bang. You might not get it on the first try but, again, that’s what editing is for.

Homework: What part of novel writing is tricky for you? Beginnings? Middles? Ends? Think back on your favorite novels and think about what worked in their beginnings, middles or ends. How can you apply those things to your own work?

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Lish McBride’s author website: www.lishmcbride.com

Lish McBride’s bio page

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Writing Teen Novels
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Month In Review (May 2013)

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Vocabulary And Word Choice In Teen Novels, by Andy Briggs

How do you know exactly what kind of language to use in a novel for teenagers? You may know the slang and jargon, and have a good feel what most teenagers vocabularies are like. Don’t be fooled. It’s not that straightforward.

Despite your best efforts, your editor will come back to you with a note on the manuscript telling you that a teenager would never say that. Worse, they will tell you a teenager won’t understand a phrase you’ve used. Worse still, they will tell you that a word is too difficult for a teenager to understand. I have had all those comments from people. I could have easily edited them out, but I would recommend you don’t completely back down.

In one story, my lead character – who is British – said, “My bad.” Just to clarify, in case your street cred is not all it should be, it means my fault. It’s an American term. I never thought it would result in a salvo of emails, then actual conversations, with my editor because I didn’t want to change it. Their excuses ranged from, “I haven’t heard it” through to “a British child would never say such a thing”. I just felt it was the correct, light-hearted response my character would say, so it stayed. I got an email back from my editor a few months later telling me they had now heard the phrase everywhere.

Was it an important line? No. Did it matter? Probably not, but my protagonist would never have said “my fault”.

These minor things can get out of hand. I used the word hawse in a line of description. My editor wanted it cut – nobody knows what a hawse is, apparently. If you don’t, then see my next point below. But the hawse was the precise name of the thing I was describing. Instead of “the chain rattled through the hawse”, they would have preferred “the chain rattled through the hole in the side of the hull”.

Using such words is important when a character is supposed to be knowledgeable about something and where someone knowledgeable would use such a word. A pilot is less likely to say, “pull back on the control column”. They would most likely say, “pull back on the stick”. Using the right word adds an extra layer of believability to your story.

There is an execrable trend amongst some publishers to dumb-down the language in stories just so they can make sure it works in the 9-12 or YA sections of the bookshop. We don’t all have the same vocabulary. I know you use words or phrases that I have never heard before – in which case I would look them up. As a writer, I feel it’s my duty to throw in one or two words that would perplex the average reader. Usually the meaning of the word can be guessed at in the context of the sentence. If you didn’t know what execrable meant when I used it above, you most likely still made a correct guess. If a word can’t be figured out, then that’s what dictionaries are for.

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Andy Briggs’s author website: www.andybriggs.co.uk

Andy Briggs’s bio page

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On The Process Of Plotting And Writing A Novel, by Sam Hawksmoor

Patrick Ness told me that he always begins by writing the last line first.  I could never do that.  I like the voyage of discovery in the writing process too much to prescribe an ending.  I like an element of surprise.  After all, I am putting my characters through the mill and during this they will develop and change and sometimes surprise you with their reactions to events.

Nevertheless if you want to interest an editor or agent you need a plot.  I have recently submitted a detailed six-page plot outline to my publisher for a sequel. However, it’s a plot outline with no flesh on the bones: a character may do something horrid to someone and they will react but, until I write it, I don’t necessarily know quite how the character will react.  An editor doesn’t need to know that. They need to know if it will be exciting and different (but not too different). They will want to know where there will be action or emotion and how the story will be resolved.  You will have to work al that out before you pitch, even if you start your pitch with a simple  ‘Boy meets girl, girl prefers another boy… who claims to be a alien.’ (No, I’m not actually writing this.)

The idea is that you are dealing with consequences.  The boy will seek to disprove the other boy is an alien and the more he does that the more the girl will like the alien…

A good editor will be one step ahead of you and ask detailed questions: Where is the alien from?  What are his characteristics?  What makes him so special?  Why does the girl prefer him? Don’t pitch until you are ready with the answers.  The last thing you need is to have the editor interested at the beginning and then feel deflated because you don’t know how it all will turn out.

I love character interplay and the mechanics of a relationship.  It’s also imperative to let characters fail. Take risks. A reader might be disappointed but then will be rewarded when your character picks themselves up and tries again.

Plots are pathways to a resolution but the strength of a good plot comes from the characters: readers like the characters so much they want them to succeed, and care less about where the characters are going than being able to go with them.

Sometimes when writing you can trap yourself in a corner.  Do you go back and rewrite or do you write on?  Raymond Chandler always knew what to do: have someone kick down the door with a gun in their hand.  Don’t worry if things get difficult.  Rescue is at hand, even if it’s a ‘Sorry, wrong door.’  I think creating difficulties for yourself is good for the writing. The reader is doubly rewarded when you finally figure it out.

What point in your story should you begin your novel?

The most obvious answer is ‘the beginning’ but sometimes it’s good to start half way in:
Your character is trapped in a cave, fire is blocking the entrance and something is approaching that means to kill him.  He wishes he hadn’t left home at all because any moment now he is going to have to fight to the death, and death is the easy way out.  Now you can go back to the beginning.  Last Tuesday.  It’s raining and your character gets a text that simply says, ‘Help me. If you love me at all, you will come’.

Readers will have the patience to go along until your character is standing in that burning cave facing the prospect of death.  Let’s hope your character knows how to survive.

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Sam Hawksmoor’s author website: www.samhawksmoor.com

Sam Hawksmoor’s bio page

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How To Tell Good Literary Agents From Bad Literary Agents, by Amy Kathleen Ryan

In my previous post, I discussed why a novelist should have an agent. What follows is a step by step process for how to tell the good agents from the bad.

A good agent doesn’t ask for money up front. Every book and magazine on being a writer will tell you this. Everything agents earn from you comes out of sales of your work. Most agents make about 15% on domestic sales and 20% on international sales. I’ve heard some agents are asking for a bit more but this is the basic guideline. Many good agents will also deduct some expenses from your take home pay, for example any travel, postage and long distance costs that were incurred during the sale of your manuscript. My agent does this and I’m okay with it. If someone asks for a “reading fee” or charges you for their editing services up front, I’d be very wary.

A good agent has a list of recent sales to reputable publishers and is capable of landing a decent advance. Most agents will list their clients on their website and you can check there for recent sales but the best way to determine an agent’s negotiating prowess is to buy an inexpensive subscription to The Literary Marketplace, where almost every sale to a publisher is trumpeted with a little code key for how much money the author landed for his/her manuscript. If an agent has gotten a “Significant Deal” or a “Major Deal” for a client within the last few years, you know this agent is capable of successfully running a bidding war. This doesn’t guarantee a bidding war for your work but at least you’ll know it’s a possibility.

A good agent gets good reviews from their clients. Before signing an agency contract, you can ask for references for your agent. I believe most agents are very willing to have current clients speak with prospective clients. You might want to ask things like how long it takes for the agent returns the author’s phone calls and emails, how long the author had to wait for the agent to submit their first book, and how the author would describe the agent’s communication style. I would caution you not to be too stringent with the way you evaluate these answers. A good agent will have a lot of clients and can get very busy, and might not always return calls/emails as promptly as you might wish. Also, I had to wait about six months for my agent to submit the first book I sold with her but I’ve never had to wait that long since. In other words, sometimes a good agent is worth waiting for. Only you can decide how long you’re willing to spend waiting for your agent to get around to you.

But how do you get an agent in the first place? My next post will answer that question. Stay tuned!

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Amy Kathleen Ryan’s author website: www.amykathleenryan.com

Amy Kathleen Ryan’s bio page

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