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On Revising A Novel Manuscript, by Kashmira Sheth

How many times do you revise? The answer varies from writer to writer. Some writers write in their head before they pick up a pen or start typing their first draft. Their stories may come out more polished than those of someone who starts writing without much forethought and sees where the characters take the story.  Even if you are a writer who plots out the entire story, puts down a summary of each chapter on 3×5 index cards and knows exactly what the last sentence of the story is going to be, you still need to revise. There is no escape from revision!

Revision offers us a chance to do more than fix typos and make the right word choices.

It does more than make sure we sharpen our imagery, add sensory details and take out extraneous material.

Revision offers us another chance to re-vision our story – to reimagine “what if”, to see how a theme has evolved and how to make its impact felt by the readers. While writing a story we probably have spent months with our characters, if not longer. We have walked and talked with them, shared the same food and felt the same sense of loss or happiness.  In order to see the story clearly, it is important that, before revising, we gain some distance from our characters. For that big re-vision of the story I find that it is crucial for me to put some time between writing and revising. Once the first draft of the story is done I give my “writer brain” a break.

After a reasonable length of time I go back to the story. I read the first few chapters and think “Wow, this is good” or maybe “This is not so great”. It is tempting to start revising right then and there, but if possible, I hold the urge. I try to read the entire story without making changes, all the while thinking of it as someone else’s novel that I am only reading. At least once, I read the story out loud. That way the clunky sentences jump out, wooden dialogues reveal their chunkiness, and beautiful sentences sing and delight.

Once that reading is done I can think of the shape of the novel. I can think about inserting an entire chapter or taking one out in order to tweak the plot. If I want to tone down a character or even take one of the minor characters out I can do it at this time. I can dig deeper into my characters’ emotional world, plunge them deeper into trouble and make them come out stronger.

For me the subsequent revisions are simpler. I use them to fine-tune paragraphs and dialogues, ponder word choices, and rewrite sentences. I use them to take care of typos and check punctuation. These minor things can be addressed late in the revising process. The important thing to remember is that it can take several tries to get the real re-vision done.

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Kashmira Sheth’s author website: www.kashmirasheth.com

Kashmira Sheth’s bio page

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The Benefits Of Taking A Break When Writing, by Kashmira Sheth

Writing is more than a task, a job or a chore to finish. As writers we are constantly thinking about our characters, how to get them into trouble and how to get them out of that very same trouble. We don’t simply think about writing when we sit down to write. The thinking goes on while we drive the kids to their classes, have dinner with friends, fold laundry, and plant spring flowers. One part of our brain always seems to be thinking about our stories.

Do we need to calm down these constantly churning ideas in our writerly minds?  For me, the answer is yes, and I suspect it is for others too. Our minds need that break.  Just like a good vacation gets you ready for the upcoming challenges at work, a break from writing prepares you for another creative spurt.

We don’t have to take a long break from writing. We certainly don’t have to go on a long vacation. Every day we can give a few minutes of our time to calm our minds. This can be done with activities such as meditation or long walks. When you are walking, immerse yourself in your surroundings to avoid thinking about your characters and stories. I don’t count watching TV or a movie as a break because they engage and stimulate our minds rather than calm them. The important thing is to rest your brain. Gardening is an activity that works well for me. While I am digging my mind settles down, the cycle of the seasons and the rhythms of the natural world sooth me, and the fresh air calms me. Some may find other exercise such as jogging, skiing, or biking similarly helpful.

If you do take a vacation, you can use that time to step away from your story. When I take a vacation with my family I give myself the chance to be in a new place and enjoy my experience, without worrying about my current story. But I don’t necessarily take a break from my writing. I keep a journal about my trip, including the things we do and see. That way my commitment to write every single day is fulfilled.

How do these breaks help my writing? What I find is that when my mind is still, something new and exciting floats up. It may be a plot solution that I had been trying to find for the past month. The answer suddenly becomes clear when I am not actively trying to figure it out. Sometimes, a new idea about a picture book or a story pops up.

Stepping away from the story I am currently working on gives me a fresh perspective on it. When I return to the story I see it more in its entirety than before. So not only can I solve small problems, but I also feel I can see the entire story in a new light. For all of these reasons, it is important to put away your writing, give your brain a break, and then go back to the story.

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Kashmira Sheth’s author website: www.kashmirasheth.com

Kashmira Sheth’s bio page

***

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Narrating Your Story In A Lean Style, by Kashmira Sheth

Many recent novels sometimes seem lean in the way they are written. The reader is in charge of filling in some of the blanks. These kinds of stories are rich in characters and voice but short on extraneous narration. This writing style often helps readers feel a great kinship with the main character. This lean narration is not just used for transitions from one scene to another, or from one physical place to another, but is also used for the emotional journey.

In teen novels this has to be done carefully and judiciously. If done too much, readers may feel like they didn’t get into a character’s emotional world. It could cause the reader to feel apathetic toward the protagonist and he might lose interest in the story.

One way to use lean narration while avoiding the pitfalls is to have fully fleshed out scenes with dialogues and sensory details that are relevant to the interior landscapes of the characters involved. The mood (eg. upbeat, happy, gloomy, tense or sad) can be enhanced with narrative details, dialogue and action tags.

For example, if your main character is having an argument with his parents about not doing well in school, his body language during the argument could carry the scene as much as the words he lashes out at them. At the end of the argument, what your character decides to do can tell readers how he feels about what just happened. Does he take his books out and just stare at them? Does he start studying? Or does he go for a run to clear his head and to get away from his parents?

The setting can also tell the reader a lot.  If your protagonist goes running in a rain shower, this may help show how he is desperate to get out, and maybe his mood turns more gloomy and sour. The setting can influence what your character is feeling, and you can convey this without too much narration. If he goes out for a run on a beautiful, sunny day, it is easier to believe his mood turns better.

How your character responds to the world around them also gives clues to your character’s state of mind. Say he goes out on a drizzly, cold day and, instead of making him feel terrible, it invigorates him. He feels that his argument with his parents is only one small part of his life. Just as he knows the sun will shine again, he knows things will get better with his parents. In this case, his response to the situation may indicate an inner strength and an optimistic nature. All of this can be done in a few sentences. Yet it reveals a lot about the protagonist and moves the story forward.

By using settings, metaphors, active verbs and small details that echo your main character’s feelings and disposition, you can move the story forward in a lean but satisfying way.

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Kashmira Sheth’s author website: www.kashmirasheth.com

Kashmira Sheth’s bio page

***

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Using Your Character’s Senses To Show Your Story-World, by Kashmira Sheth

As a writer, many of us see the story unfolding in our head. When we start putting those scenes down on the page most of them are written out as what our main character or our narrator ‘sees’. I love what eyes can see and the type of sensory details it can provide the readers but it is important to remember the four other senses too.

In real life we experience many things with sight but at the same time we also gain knowledge of our physical world through the other senses. It is important to write stories that not only use the sense of sight but also employ sound, taste, smell and touch to make the physical world of the protagonist richer and more complete.  For example, if there is spilled sugar in the kitchen our character may not see it but will experience it with other senses. How she discovers it could depend upon if she is walking barefoot or wearing shoes.  If barefoot she may notice it by feeling it on her feet but wearing shoes she might hear the crunch first.

Rich sensory details bring multiple layers to a story. A misty, foggy March morning with beautiful imagery is good. But if we take the same scene and add the sound of a bird, say a cardinal, piercing though the mist it could add a new dimension. The reader hasn’t seen the cardinal, and yet the sound can bring the image of red crested bird ready for spring. By adding sound we give an impression that beyond the veil of mist there is a world out there, a world of sound, color and life.

Similarly, the sense of touch brings texture to the story. Just observing that a wool shawl looks soft or rough doesn’t create the same image as adding how it feels to the touch. That the wool shawl felt smoother than my furry kitten or that it felt like I was holding a prickly pear gives a fuller, more accurate and vivid description.

Taste is one of the most important and indispensable tools for fiction writers. If you are writing about food, no matter how much you describe it just doesn’t do it justice. It is like going to a restaurant and getting a dish that looked lovely. The presentation is great but what you are after is the taste. Are the green beans crunchy and flavorful? Is the dressing tangy? Is the crust melt-in-your mouth flaky?  In my writing, I use the foods and spices of India to bring out the flavor of Indian dishes.

Last but not least is the sense of smell.  Smell is probably the most evocative of all the senses. You may visit a beach that you used to go as a child after twenty years. You may notice that half-a-dozen new resorts have been built, changing the look of the beach. Yet you might feel that there is something very familiar about the place. It probably is the scent of the salty, moist air. It is the scent that will take you back to your childhood of building sand castles and wading into the water.

Using all the senses to describe the place your protagonist inhabits is critically important in a YA novel. It immerses your reader fully in the scenes and settings of the story. As writer, it is satisfying to make the world come alive, one sensory detail at a time.

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Kashmira Sheth’s author website: www.kashmirasheth.com

Kashmira Sheth’s bio page

***

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Using Characters And Setting To Situate Your Story In Another Culture, by Kashmira Sheth

The most challenging part of writing a story set in another culture is making it feel authentic and relevant. It is like building a brand new house that perfectly blends with the century-old neighborhood. It should have the same weathered feel as the other homes. To write a story that feels realistic, the author should think of two critical parts, characters and setting.

Characters:

Start a story with the main character and build her (or his) personality. Do it in such a way so that the readers can relate to and empathize with the protagonist. The character must have habits, likes and dislikes, and certain physical attributes. For example, she may like to wash her hands obsessively, he may hate the idea of his father’s waking him up at four to help him on the farm, he may have a big mole on his hand or she may bite her nails. These kinds of details help us create an image of our character in readers’ mind no matter where they are from.

Give your character’s personality a strong sense of believability. A childhood adversity, such as money problems, may drive your character to start a lawn-cutting business while still in high school. A shocking event in his early life (eg. a sibling’s accidental death) may cause him to have nightmares into adulthood. Life-changing events that shape him make his behavior believable, his motivations clear, and his journey plausible in the reader’s mind.

Setting:

A place with sensory details is also critical to a story. If the story is set in an unfamiliar place the setting is as important as your main character. Using all five senses brings the place alive and keeps the story grounded. When a writer can establish a character in a setting that seems unique and yet natural it adds depth to the story.  To achieve this, the writer can use a familiar place (contemporary novels) or build it up from imagination (fantasy novels) or from extensive research (historical novels).

The last step is to bring the character and the setting together in an intertwined fashion. If your protagonist lives by the ocean, the tide may have some special significance to him. On the other hand, if he lives by the mountains, he maybe fond of hiking along a trail to clear his mind.

Another way we can do this is to let your character use dialogues as well as body language not only to convey his thoughts and feelings but to ground him in the place. These gestures must be culturally specific and relevant to the story though.

What if your protagonist, who lives by the ocean, opens a window, sees someone, and shivers? Is it because of the cool ocean breeze or because he sees his arch enemy walking up? This kind of reaction to a setting can serve dual purposes for your story and make readers want to keep on reading.

Once the setting and character are well established readers can identify with the protagonist easily. Then the details you provide from another culture, tradition or time become just as engrossing as the ones the reader is familiar with.

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Kashmira Sheth’s author website: www.kashmirasheth.com

Kashmira Sheth’s bio page

***

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Voice In My Teen Novels, by Kashmira Sheth

When I first started writing I had a hard time understanding what voice was and how I could give distinct voices to my characters. Should I have them talk with an Indian accent? Would that be enough? I didn’t think so.

I read more books, looking for voice, and as I wrote my first novel the concept became clearer. Voice is how people express themselves. It has to do not only with accent, but also with word choice, with sentence structure, with figure of speech, and most importantly with how a character views the world and themself. Beyond all that there is time, place and culture to consider.

There are regional differences in how any language is spoken. Characters speaking in English from the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States or India sound different from one another. They pronounce things differently, greet each other differently and put emphasis on different syllables. In some parts of the world, people may spit sentences out so fast you wonder how they were able to keep them from getting tangled up.  In others, people may draw out their words slowly and carefully like each sound is a nugget of gold that they have to weigh precisely.

Depending on their age or background some characters use short, simple sentences. Some use long and convoluted ones that go on and on, with the help of punctuation, and if you are not paying attention, their meanings could be lost.

Then there are figures of speech. Our inner world is colored with our outer world. The physical surroundings, including weather, seasons, terrain, plants, animals, and people have a profound impact on how they express themselves. For example, a character living in a desert might use a spiky cactus to describe a prickly personality, while a character living near a rocky beach may compare it to sharp rocks. A character’s profession will also shape the way they talk and think.  A poet may describe a sunset differently than a scientist, even though they are both watching the same sunset at the same time and same place. The metaphors and similes our characters use or don’t use reflect their environment and their backgrounds. This makes up part of their voice.

Our character’s position in life will influence how our character views the world, which in turn will impact their voice. If she is a princess she is going to view world differently than if she is a chambermaid. They both may be living in the same palace but they view it differently, they express their thoughts differently and they expect others to communicate with them differently. Again, who they are will give each of them a unique voice.

Time, place and culture will also impact our character’s voice. A modern day princess will express herself very differently than, say, a princess in the 14th century.  Also, a 14th century Indian princess might talk differently to her father than a Russian princess during the same time.

What has worked for me is to know my characters well. Then I concentrate on the scene. Once I have a scene in my mind, and see my characters moving and interacting with other people in their physical space, the voice comes out naturally.

Voice was not as elusive as I had thought.

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Kashmira Sheth’s author website: www.kashmirasheth.com

Kashmira Sheth’s bio page

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Using Imagery In Your Novel Writing, by Kashmira Sheth

The writing that stays with us long after we have read it usually has many layers. The story is gripping, the narrative arc is well defined, and the characters jump off the page, but often there is also something else. It might be the way the writer has used imagery that creates a cohesive effect and pulls the story from enjoyable to unforgettable.

There are many things that one can use for imagery. It can be taken from nature – plants and trees, mountains and oceans, wild animals and birds. The imagery can be taken from culture – from food and cooking, from clothes and celebration, from rituals and traditions. It can be taken from art – from posters and paintings, from music and from books.

In order to use imagery effectively, the imagery must fit the protagonist and his or her journey. If your character is passionate about growing crops and cooking, then employing imagery of farmland, terrain, produce and spices makes sense. But if your character’s idea of cooking is to make toast and slather peanut butter over it and eat it on his way to meet a friend, such imagery will not resonate with the reader.

Imagery can be used to bring to life the character’s situation, his or her moods and emotional state. One book that I admire is The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Here, author Elizabeth George Speare uses color to reflect 16-year-old Kit Tylor’s two distinct worlds. Kit has left her tropical island home and has journeyed to the Puritan New England of 1687. The brilliant colors of the flora of Barbados clash in Kit’s mind with the drab landscape of New England. The author uses the blue and jade of the warm ocean surrounding Barbados to set apart the muddy brown river in the new land. The latter reflects Kit’s mood in New England.  The author also uses clothing to show the change in Kit’s surroundings. The Puritan women’s drab clothes made of homespun coarse material are in stark contrast to the colorful silks and satins of Kit’s wardrobe. And in dreary New England, she stands out like the brilliant plumage of a tropical bird. It makes the reader understand how Kit could be an easy target in this new world. These jarring contrasts are easily imagined in the reader’s mind and evoke his sympathy.

Speare uses color throughout the story in a unifying and clever manner. At different stages the colors mirror Kit’s emotions. A little into the story Kit comes upon a blooming meadow – an expanse that reminds her of the ocean. The meadow claims her and the reader feel that, along the way, this new county will claim Kit, too. In the middle of the story, when Kit feels a little settled in her new environment, the white snow covers the land and the reader feels that Kit is somewhat at peace. At the end of the story, Kit sees the tender green New England spring coming alive from the brown muddy earth, which reflects her transformation.

I believe that when appropriate imagery is woven into the narrative it can provide depth by reflecting the character’s emotional world. With this, the story becomes layered and stays with the reader long after the final words are read and the book is closed.

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Kashmira Sheth’s author website: www.kashmirasheth.com

Kashmira Sheth’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

Keeping CornerBoys without Names     The Witch of Blackbird PondSaraswati's WayShades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)Code Name VerityTarzan: The Greystoke Legacy

Writing Teen Novels
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