Posts Tagged ‘critiquing’

How We Write Wednesday: OUCH!!! Critique and Editorial Revisons

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

Ouch! Other people’s revision notes hurt. A lot. No writer loves being told that what they’ve crafted doesn’t work for the reader. Even light critique or editorial revision comments can be painful to work through,  but WE NEED THEM. Eh-hem. Yeah, this is going to be one of those tough love HoWW posts I know you love so much…

Don’t think I don’t sympathize with a writer’s sensitivity to hearing constructive criticism.It’s never easy for me, turning a manuscript over to a beta reader (akin to dropping my creative pants in public) or my agent or editor and asking them to show me where the story breaks down (where I need to get back to the gym and work on the gushy parts). But I do it. Because I’m a professional writer, and I adore my readers, and I want every book to be the very best it can be. AND I can’t get the story and plot and characters and setting and theme and symbol and narrative structure, etc. there completely on my own.I know that while I draft, everything’s not always going to be perfect the minute my creativity poops it out ;o)

critique pig

We’re too close to our work once we’re in the thick of the writing. We’re no longer seeing the story’s journey from a reader’s perspective. At some point, our writer’s experience becomes the tunnel we see through. Which means, we’re in the tall grass (yes, I’m having fun with metaphor today, since Jenni’s doing the bulk of the HoWW post work), losing our way even as we write something unique to our voice that we want readers to love.

To be worthy of that love, we have to be willing to let go of a little of our creative control. At least long enough to ask the writing professionals we trust where we’re not getting the story right.

Enter the very necessary critique and editorial revision phases of your creative process. (more…)

How We Write Wednesdays: Draft Done? The REAL Work begins!

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Rewwriting time! Jenni  and I have been taking planning for two months now on HoWW. How to craft characters . And let’s not forget plot, because Jenni gets cranky when we do, and you won’t like her when she’s cranky. Now, it’s time to rewrite, because as David Kaplan says in A Creative Approach to Writing and Rewriting Fiction, “The purpose of writing a story is to rewrite it.”


Yep, that’s right. No book’s done with just a single draft in your pocket. Not even two drafts, if you aks me. You’re not done, just because you have your first thoughts down on paper (or in the computer). Once you’ve got that good stuff behind you, it’s time to make it even better!

Feeling a little cranky yourself yet?

Yeah, this motivational post is going to be a little heavier on the tough love than most.

Finishing  your first draft (and we’ll talk drafting in May), is just the beginning. It’s merely the end of your planning. For those of you who don’t outline your plot and character ahead of time (I’m shaking my head now. Can you hear the tense spots in my neck popping while I do it?), the draft is your only planning. But for even those of us who put serious thought into what we’re going to write before we actually do, we still don’t know for SURE what’s going to happen until that magical creative thing that is putting words onto paper happens, and the story itself takes over.

I’m a firm believer in the creative flow of drafting. The power of discovery. The synergy of planning and experience and momentum combining to create something magical. BUT… That something magical, that completed draft, is only the beginning. It’s not everything it could be. It’s not ready to leave your mind and your heart behind. It’s not all it can be. Which means, it’s time for the REAL work to begin…

Kaplan tells us that ”You need three things to be a good fiction writer…talent…a knowledge of craft…and just as necessary, a devotion to revision, to the merciless re-working of your writing until it is the best it can be.” And he (and Jenni and I) aren’t talking about looking for typos or grammar errors or tweaking your prose so it pops just so, though all that’s important eventually.

What I teach to craft students is re-writing, not copy editing or proof reading. Deconstructing what you’ve done. Figuring out why it works and why it doesn’t. Asking yourself questions like: (more…)

How We Write: Our Secret–Plot, Revise, Plot, Revise…

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

The REAL secret to writing best selling novels… That’s what Jenni and I are talking about on How We Write. And what we’re saying is, THERE IS NO SHORT CUT. Eh-hem. Sorry, didn’t realize I was yelling.You might have noticed by now that this sort of thing torks me a bit. Folks who give/sell sure-fired advice, keys to the kingdom, THE WAY to your published Eden. They don’t often work. They tend to demotivate over time, not lead us closer to our overall objective–success.

success failure

Too often once you follow these ten easy steps, you realize there’s nothing of substance on the other side. And the guru you’ve gotten the list from has mysteriously moved on to giving advice like “how to be the most popular tweeter on the planet,” and you begin to realize that this person’s objective is to give advice. Because THAT’S what he/she thinks will make them a best selling author. God forbid that the person giving advice about writing personally follow through on any of what he/she’s saying and get back to writing novels themselves.

I exaggerate. There’s some great advice out there, and you should soak it all in. But always remember that this is work. This isn’t a race. And you can’t force your way into being “successful” at it by following a set of rules that promises to be the answer to all your problems.

We’re not selling quick and easy in HoWW. We’re talking about our processes (because Jenni’s is different than mine), and how you need to discover your own. We spent a month exploring what character means to a real, in-progress novel. March has been about plotting and structure, and Jenni wraps up the discussion by touching once more on narrative structure, and going just a little deeper than before. But she’s also ranting, like me ;o) Because the point we try to make in each post is that narrative structure and conflict lock and character plotting and so forth are just frameworks in which your story needs to work. They’re NOT your story, and too many people will tell you differently, and that gets us cranky.

Your story is what happens on the page and in the reader’s mind, once the list of things that makes a good story, mechanically, are taken care of. (more…)

How We Write Wednesday: Conflict Box–Failing and Fixing

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Jenni made one thing clear about Conflict Lock last week: the conflict box seems simple enough, but when you try to chart conflict without motivation, which is essential to drill to the core of what drives your external story, things can get tricky. Lets get right to some examples to illustrate what we mean (review  our posts from last week again here and here  if you need to catch up), then I’ll wrap things up at the end of the post and get back to talking about what’s MOST important…character ;o)

My first pass at the conflict box for my WIP was a fail:

conflict box mine fail

Pretty good, right?

But notice the amount of yadda yadda. Never a good sign in a chart that’s supposed to be very simple. (more…)

How We Write Wednesday: External Conflict–Lock and Load

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

Jenni’s going to explain the Conflict Box over on her blog today. HoWW is all about plot this month, and it’s time to get serious about the external conflict that drives story and our critiques. And unless you lock and load your protagonist’s central goal and what stops him/her from achieving that goal, your plot won’t believably propel the protagonist or the reader through the story.

lock and load

You can tell from Jenni’s and my last two posts, that plot isn’t my drafting happy place. Character is. But, as I’ll be teaching once again this weekend with the Central New York Romance Writers Mini-Con, character IS plot. Your two lead characters (the protagonist and antagonist) must have external goals that are in conflict with each other, in every scene/chapter/act of the story, or you’re not crafting characters that will drive each other to grow and change on the page. And, the part I like best, those external goals and conflicts must derive from who these people are as characters BEFORE you create the on-the-page situations and obstacles that get in the characters way.

A hard and fast rule: the protagonist’s goal must drive the antagonist’s conflict in your story, and vice versa. Think of it in revers–if the antagonist of your novel isn’t complicating your protagonist’s race to achieve his goal, you don’t have much of a story, right? No matter how beautifully drawn your characters are, you won’t have the core external conflict that will keep a reader turning pages to see what happens next. (more…)

How We Write Wednesdays: Plot THIS…

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

Jenni’s talking process this month, as we teach a blog series on plot. I sharing details from a critique she did for my soon-to-be-released Secret Legacy. She did the narrative structure  tap dance last Wednesday. Today, let’s get into what I did when her “I am a plotting maniac” analysis assured me that I had no plot at all…

plotting maniac

I just gave a workshop on the importance of planning. For those who are new to HoWW  because you heard my lecture last weekend and thought you’d pop over and see what all the fuss was about, let me fess up. I began writing Secret Legacy before a medical crisis, stopped a month in (for several months) while I dealt with surgery and the fall out, then took up the drafting again mid-recovery (when in fact my health was getting worse, not better). Which is my excuse for having NO PLAN (other than my intuitive understanding of of characters I’d written in Dark Legacy and the overall series and story arc I wanted to tell). I was drafting blind, which is how I know for certain, when I teach, that my students don’t ever want to be where I was when I asked Jenni to read the ugly first draft because I knew it was way off. 

I knew my characters and everything about what I wanted them to feel. I was feeling everything with them. I had 300 pages of feeling that was the best, most accessible emotion I’ve ever put on the page (did I mention I was a mess when I wrote the first draft???). I’d written, I kid you not, the dead-on, most amazing ending I’ve every pulled together, that resolved issues I’d written about for two books, leaving the door open for a sprawling series I hope to be writing into for years to come.

But, as Jenni pointed out last spring and in her last post, I had absolutely no plot reason for my principle characters to be emoting all over the reader or each other in key places in the book. (more…)

How We Write Wednesdays: Okay, Okay, Let’s Talk Plot

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

Jenni’s talking plot today over on her blog. Or, more to the point, she’s sharing how often I have no plot when I first start writing because I spend so much time researching my characters (which you can hear more than you ever wanted to about, in our last month of  HoWW posts).

plot structure

She’s being gentle, pointing her “YOU NEED HELP WITH YOUR STORY, GIRL” finger at me–for now. I suspect that won’t last as we get deeper into things in March. You thought our shoe confrontations got aggressive–just WAIT until we start bantering turning points, and I’m not allowed to use internal character motivation or emotion in my debate…

Seriously, it’s a great post. You should all dive in, contemplate her sage advice and experience, ignore any pot shots she takes at sick little me (cough, cough, sniffle), and come back next Wednesday when I take my revenge turn at the story structure wheel.

Oh, and tomorrow. Come back here tomorrow, when I’ll kick off a Publishing Isn’t For Sissies series on online/digital/viral promotion,beginning with an in depth look at NetGalley, where Dorchester’s just launched their presence, including a feature of my to-be-released-in-May Secret Legacy.

Take a look at the link–Dark Legacy and Secret Legacy are both up there, in all their new sci-fi/fantasy glory, which is really cool, since I’m starting brand new in that genre and we need reviews and industry exposure to draw a whole new segment of readers to my metaphysical/parapsychological/psychic world ;o) Come back tomorrow and the next few Thursdays to hear more.

As for me, I’m taking my coughing self back to bed the rest of this morning, so I’ve got a shot at kicking this flu’s ass before I fly out Friday to teach and network and wear amazing shoes at the DFWcon in Fort Worth. I can’t wait to meet many of you there!

Take it away, Jenni!

How We Write: Character Is Just The Beginning

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

We’ve talked a little about analyzing story, a lot about what character growth means, and even more about how to figure out why your characters are doing what they do in key places in your story. So, is that it? You know me better than that. Let’s take a closer look at Jenni’s example from last week’s HoWW Post, think this through a little more, then set things up for a whole new topic starting next week. One of Jenni’s favorite things this time–plot.

But don’t think you ‘ve seen the last of this lovely planning document. It’ll be back sooner than you might expect, especially since we’ve established that character is plot is character is plot. And those of you coming to hear me teach at the  DFWCon this month and the Central New York Writers Minicon  in March, we’ll play with it even more ;o) 


Okay, let’s bullet point some cool features about this type of character analysis that we’d love to get you excited about (I love bullet points, so for those of you who dug the bullets Jenni uses above, you’re my kind of detail freaks):

  • Think critique group–you know, the kind of thing Jenni and I were doing when I first showed it to her. Think about the type of digging deeper conversations you’ll have with those helping you with your own stories, with this as a starting point to visualize evolving components of your novel.
  • For the first row in Jenni’s table, (more…)

How We Write Wednesdays: Making Characters Realistic–YOUR Way

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

So, after last Wednesday’s Character Chart Basics, that didn’t turn out to be so basic after all, how are we doing???

Like I said, I know it’s a lot to take a step back from a work-in-progress and rethink why you’re doing what your doing with your characters, how you’re making them realistic,  at key points in the story. But whether you’re in the planning stages or preparing to write/re-craft, that level of understanding of your intent for your character arcs is crucial. Still, even if it’s not your or your critique partner’s first time around the “mine for motivation in every scene” block, the process I described last week can seem overwhelming. It’s difficult to envision who and what your characters will be over the course of a novel.

character drawing

So, let’s take a step back and revisit Jenni’s blog for fresh look and her and my critique of her WIP. It’s her turn to take the HoWW wheel, and she’s promised to give us some specific examples of exactly how this sort of character analysis and planning/re-crafting can work, whether you’re doing it solo or as a team. How to make all the information I dumped into the last post work–YOUR way.

Remember, How We Write Wednesdays began with an idea of showing others how the brainstorming and critiquing we’ve done with our own and each other’s books has enhanced the depth and complexity and quality of our stories.

Mining for motivation and character development is just the first step on our journey here:

  • We want to show the process of writing and critiquing as it’s really done, not  just lecture about it.
  • We want to demonstrate and encourage you to discover your own process, not simply offer a list of “to-dos” that may or may not work once you try to apply them yourselves with no additional help.
  • This is a practical approach to helping writers find their own techniques–not a bucket of quick tips, when there’s nothing quick about the day-in, day-out challenge of creating an satisfying reading experience.

So head on over to Jenni’s blog to read about What is better? Do what other writers say works? Or make it work for you? And how to know the difference.

Then come back here next Wednesday, when I wrap up our Character Arc discussion, answer final questions, then spin things in a totally new direction.

Just as Jenni and I head off to the Dallas Fort Worth Writer’s conference (read more here and here) to teach in person. Hopefully we’ll see some of you there, or at the Central New York Mini-Conference in March, where I’ll be teaching plotting through character and a lot more, along with my agent Michelle Grajkowski.

Look us up. Come out and learn with us in person. Then work with us some more out here. We’ll be talking craft and critiquing and understanding and improving your own writing process for months to come ;o)

How We Write Wednesdays: Character Chart Time!

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

Let’s dig deeper into how critique groups and brainstorming can ramp up the motivation and plot we’ve spent the last two weeks of HoWW insisting will work much better, if you write from deeply-drawn character arcs. At least that’s been my experience while teaching and working with writers for years, as well as working on my own books and those of other authors like Jenni. Let’s go deeper into our Character Plotting conversation for another Wednesday, and you can let us know in the comments how we’re doing and if you want to hear more…

We left Jenni last week typing away on her laptop at the conference we attended together, after we’d spent the better part of an evening taking potshots at her work-in-progress. Actually, we’d been working pretty hard together (and pretty calmly, all things considered), trying to understand what wasn’t working and how to get every second of hard work she’d already put into the project to pay off. Which of course meant, as she and you now know, even more work.

She was going to have to rewrite. A lot. Frustrating? Sure. But our critique process is always focused on the work and making it better, so we typically wind up the emotional portion of the evening pretty quickly and get back to business. And for her book, that meant going back to the beginning and figuring out what her heroine was all about, all over again.

“How do you do that?” I can hear a lot of you asking. Just like my students have asked for years, ever sense I began teaching workshops and half-day/weekend retreats on deconstructing story and character and digging to the bar- bones truth about why they’re doing the crazy things they do in your books.

“But I’m a pantser,” others say, “and I can’t write if I have to analyze everything about my character’s motives and conflict.”

Um, okay. Don’t over-complicate your process. Got it.

I assure you, the basics of “character plotting”–brainstorming character arc for an entire novel–couldn’t be more simple. In theory. And in reality, not doing it to preserve your “creative process” is a cop out. Remember, this is something Jenni and I worked with AFTER she’d penned her rough draft–of the ENTIRE book. We were rewriting/reworking at this point. Deconstructing. Fixing the “writing by the seat of her pants” stuff.

Have you ever held a WIP in your hands and loved parts of it, but you knew it was broken and likely unsellable, and you had no idea what to do with what you’d created? Yeah–us too. Most every published author has. With most every book they’ve written. That’s why we put ourselves through the trauma of rewriting. A lot. And some of us learn along the way how to do a bit of this analysis ahead of time, in the planning phase, since that tends to save you time in the long run and make the rewriting you do even more effective once you get to it.

So. Simple. That’s our primary objective for this post. Here goes the “theory” part…

This is what my Character Chart looks like before you and a critique partner begin to deconstruct what’s going on in your WIP. (It’s a little small, so it’ll fit into the blog, but you’ll get the gist.)

character chart 600

That’s right. That’s my super-secret, crack-the-character code. Now you’re in the know. Beginning, middle and end, charted out in pretty much the simplest Microsoft Word table there is. This is a critique concept that’s simple enough for anyone to work with, right? (more…)