Thursday, November 13, 2008

Finally Done!

So last night at 3am I finished my final edit of Lipstick Wars: Another Visiting Teaching Adventure and emailed it to my publisher. It was such a relief to have it out and it felt good to reach my goal but all day I sort of wandered. Maybe that was because I was running on only three hours sleep- do you think?

When you're writing a story sometimes you get so caught up in it that you miss it when it's gone. I asked on LDS Storymakers what people do when they finish a manuscript- or any large project for that matter. Many go right into the next one but others take a break and clean up the projects they have let go while their whole heart and soul have been lost in their book. I haven't quite decided what I'm doing but I don't have to quite yet.

This weekend I'm going to San Fransisco to play tourist with my husband. I better be careful though with all the anti-mormon riots. I haven't been since I was a little girl and can't wait to ride a trolley and eat Ghiredeli chocolates. I'm not sure how to spell it and both Greg and I fight about how to pronounce it but it should still be fun. See ya.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

It's A Wonderful Day and Novel Idea

Last night I was up until 2 a.m. finishing my initial edits on "Artemus and the Knights of Light." It's a cute story that's got a lot of good going for it but like many first novels (mine included) it has POV and story arc issues.

After my initial reading, I struggled with how to get my arms around the project. Sunday afternoon I was thinking about the writing process in general and did a quick search on how to write a bestseller. An article came up that I doubt I could find again but in it, the author suggested using a table or speadsheet to map out the scenes of your book.

One thing I've learned about writing is that its different for everyone. I could never do this before I started writing. I'm an organic author. I start with a basic premise and then sort of live through my stories and see how they grow from the seat of my pants. BUT for editing and revisions, what a fabulous tool.

With this story that was the perfect answer. As soon as I could see it simplified in front of me, I could figure out how to intensify and streamline the plot to add suspense and interest.

Now I'm going to do it on the final edit of my own manuscript.

Hooray for good ideas!!!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Critique Group, Attack! or What Should A First Chapter Contain

I don't know how many of you have ever been to a writing critique group but it's a fun experience. I love seeing people rip apart what I've written and excited to discuss my motivation and clarify if I really have a plot point or simply like this scene so much I'm misleading and boring my audience (which I do far too often.)

In response and perhaps because of this fact, I attack my fellow group members with the same gusto and in the end we find what is best in what we have written. Invariably I have left feeling that my work is better and hope I've helped those writer's around me. It's great!

So last Tuesday we had a new friend come to critique group. She is in her early twenties, just out of college and was a little hesitant to read. We did our pieces first and then she began. Jackie's work was wonderful! It is about a family of elves whose mother dies of a strange disease. Elves hardly ever get sick and the calamity forces these elves to go to the land of humans to find a cure. Great premise!

The only issue was that the conflict wasn't introduced until twenty pages into the story and you weren't sure who the main character was, his weakness or his obstacle. Maybe I'm going through the growing pains of a new writer but the more I read and write, the more formulaic I'm becoming, believe it or not. I hope Jackie comes back because we sort of drowned her in suggestions like simply dropping the first chapter and starting with the second but I hope she does because she is a great writer.

BUT I also wanted to clarify what a first chapter should contain:

1. Grab the Reader- Everyone agrees that the most important thing the first sentences of you book must do is to grab the reader. In the first 13 lines there should be enough action, unanswered questions or pathos with your main character to suck the reader in.

2. Introduce the Main Character- Books are about being given the privilege of living on someone else's shoulder for a while and vicariously experiencing their most challenging, thrilling or scary moment and watching how they overcome it through change. If I don't like the main character, sorry, I don't want to go for the ride. And if I don't know who the main character is, I'm done.

3. Introduce the Main Conflict or Hint at it- In romance the main conflict is will these two people fall in love despite some great flaw. Almost without exception the hero/love interest is either introduced or mentioned by one of the main character's friends ("Did you hear about the new CIO? He used to be a male model.) In other types of fiction where the conflict may be the destruction of a world or simply overcoming shyness, the conflict either needs to be thrown in the readers face through the first humilating scene or hinted at subtly as your character participates in something truly attention grabbing. By the end of the first chapter I've got to have an idea what the book will be about.

4. Plan on It Changing- I doubt that many writers ever keep their first chapter close to the same by the time a book goes to print and most first time writers' books don't really begin until the third chapter. That's okay but expect that your first chapter is going to be chopped up, revved up and slimmed down. It's the first chapter that sells your book and it should go through the most stringent editting. Have lots of people read it. Change it. Try new first scenes. Make it shine.

5. Don't Make it Too Long- I hadn't thought of this but it's true. That first chapter should suck people in. When they end it, it is the first feeling of satisfaction the book gives them and you want them to feel that as soon as possible. If there is information you can put into back story, take it out of that first chapter. Start in the middle, I'm not reading a diary of this person's whole life so you don't have to tell me everything up front. Give me the action, introduce your main character and conflict and leave me with a cliffhanger.

6. Yup, End with a Cliffhanger- NOT at the end of the book but definitely at the end of the first chapter. Does the last sentence leave me starving to read the next paragraph. What vital question have you left unanswered? Leave me wanting more.

Lastly, I have to admit that I think I did none of these for my first book. In my second I did a better job but I can see why this is important and as I reviewed my favorite authors I found that most did this perfectly. Wow.