Sunday, August 28, 2011

That's What (S)he said: Weekly Round-Up

Hi, people!

It's an exciting time around here lately, with moving the daughter in to her new place for her sophomore year of college, listening to colorful descriptions of what it's like to assemble Ikea furniture, and maybe seeing a sketch of the cover art for CHAINED. (Nothing to share yet, but if I did see such a sketch, it's really awesome.)

Meanwhile, here are last week's favorite things found on the Internet:

I hope everyone on the East Coast is staying safe from the hurricane. Those who still have electricity (or plenty of battery life) are staying updated and sharing storm humor via Twitter. Here are a few funny tweets about Hurricane Irene from The Huffington Post.

Do you keep meaning to connect with people online, but feel like you don't have the time? See "7 Tips For Finding Time For Social Media" from Inkling Media.

Getting an agent is a huge step toward getting published, but what happens if your book doesn't sell? Edan Lepucki has a great "Shutting the Drawer" post on The Millions blog about that heartbreaking problem.

Now, a couple of fun elephant videos. This is fascinating-- an elephant's problem-solving when the fruit on the tree is too high:

And I love Ricky Gervais' take on elephants who have been "caught swimming:"

Reminds me of the cat who was caught barking:

I feel like a big tease giving you book recommendations this week, because the books I've been reading won't be out till next year! A perk of being in the Apocalypsies is that I'll have a chance to read some of the books before they're released. But put THE MAPMAKER AND THE GHOST by Sarvenaz Tash on your list if you'd like a good midgrade adventure, and FRACTURE by Megan Miranda for a young adult paranormal thriller you won't be able to put down.

Speaking of awesome paranormal YA novels, Gretchen McNeil's POSSESS was just released, so pick up that one if you haven't yet! But you'll probably want to sleep with the lights on.

Have a great week!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Plotting For the Non-Plotter: Organized Brainstorming

I'm not very organized. There are a couple layers of things covering my desk right now, for example, but I sort of know where things are. Some organizing is good for me, though, to avoid wasted time searching for things or recreating my entire year on an Excel document when it's tax time.

Same goes for my writing--I'm not much of a plotter, since I like to see the story unfold as I go. Also I usually have an idea of a few scenes that will show up at some point, so that's kind of like that knowing approximately where things are on or around my desk. But it does help to have an idea where I'm going so I don't end up chasing something shiny down a trail to randomland. Plus, I decided that my next midgrade novel will have a mystery, so I need to do enough plotting to make sure everything comes together. And there are ways for us pantsers to plot that give us a little guidance without making us feel boxed in.

I mentioned in a weekend post that I attended a brainstorming session at a local write-a-thon that was super-helpful in working out the plot of that next midgrade novel. I'd done some brainstorming on the story already, but it was kind of like "I have this character, and her family, and I think I know where they'll go, and some other stuff that happens."

Not quite enough to know where I was going. But Lynn Lorenz, who led the brainstorming sessions, took out her magical pad of paper and pen and started asking questions and writing. In about twenty minutes I left with this:

Hard to decipher if you weren't there, but I have a list of possible "culprits" for the mystery; one of those will be the real explanation or guilty party, and I'll use some of the others as red herrings. I'm not even sure yet which is going to be the real culprit yet, so I have the flexibility to allow that to be revealed as I write.

In addition to listing qualities of each character, we discussed how they're connected to one another; that's more plotting, since it's about their relationships. I'd had a minor character in mind, a cute boy that the main character meets along the way, but he'll have a bigger part than just looking cute now-- he'll work with the main character Nessie to try to solve the mystery. He may even have a clue he doesn't know is a clue. And of course Nessie's little brother will be trying to hang out with them all the time.

We also listed things about the setting (Lake Champlain, I'm thinking, and not just 'cause it'd make an awesome research trip) to consider as I write the story.

When discussing plotting again in a later session, Lynn showed a kind of plotting that reminded me of the Beat Sheet from Save the Cat!, another great resource for do-able plotting for the reluctant plotter, although this is even more flexible.

Dividing your book into four approximately equal parts, mark at the end of each section where an important turning point for your character will be. You can draw a chart on paper, but sticky notes on a posterboard or wall is more fun.

So the plan for a 20-chapter book would look like this, with one sticky note representing one chapter:

That first turning point will probably be that "point of no return," when your character has left the old life behind and is starting the new one. Knowing the other important turning points that will come up throughout the character's journey helps avoid writing a story that sags in the middle. After you figure out what those turning points will be, go back and write the scenes needed for your character to get to each one. On the remaining sticky notes you can fill in what will happen in the chapters leading up to each turning point.

For more plotting help, here are a couple of awesome resources I found online recently:

Adventures in Children's Publishing's "Plotting Made Easy" Complications Worksheet
Martha Alderson, aka The Plot Whisperer, has a 27-part series about plotting on her YouTube channel.
Janice Hardy's Tips for Plotting Your Novel on Chris Eboch's blog

Share in the comments your favorite ways to plot! Even those of us who don't like to plot can benefit from doing just enough to keep us from getting distracted from what's important.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

That's What (S)he said: Weekly Round-Up

Hi everyone! Here are a few favorite links from the week:

Agent Rachelle Gardner has an excellent blog, and she recently asked her clients to participate in a "Parade of Blogs," in which they each post on a particular topic. See the list of links for the first Parade of Blogs topic, "How does an author go about building a platform and marketing books?" There's so much good information there, it's one to bookmark for later revisits.

I love Twitter, but I have a few pet peeves about how it's used sometimes. Like the ones listed here in "My Top 5 Twitter Turn-Offs." Add "people who follow and unfollow the same day," and you've got my list.

And how's this for a rejection? Ever get your submission blown up?

Kate Hart's Field Trip Friday, Twitter Version includes some of the week's best tweets about publishing, writing, the SCBWI conference, and other entertaining things, like the #kidsbookorADULTbook fun some of us had on Monday.

The inspiring and entertaining article about THE HELP author Kathryn Sockett's rejections has been making the rounds all over the place, but check it out if you haven't seen it yet.

And my exciting news of the week-- I found out that CHAINED has release date! Because it's up on Amazon!

Here's how it felt to see that:

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

We Weren't Even Drinking When We Wrote the Acknowledgments

I found out today that I need to turn in my acknowledgments page. It's kind of fun, remembering all the people who've helped me with the research, writing, and editing of CHAINED, but I'm still worried about turning it in. What if I sound like a dork? Or I'm too wordy? Worse, what if I'm not wordy enough and I forget someone? I've kept a running list of people to thank, but I'm sure I didn't list everyone who answered a question or two.

I mentioned on Twitter that I'd like to just thank everyone I've ever met and call it done. Or I could submit my list of Twitter followers. There are some pretty awesome people.

A few of those awesome people joined in on the fun and offered more acknowledgment page suggestions.

Here are some alternatives to turning in my Twitter list or the "Thank you, everyone I've ever met" document.

Just imagining everyone's confusion would make these worthwhile.

This goes well with, "Any mistakes should be credited to people who told me wrong stuff."

Then we got even sillier, thinking about the thanks we owe to Cheez-Its and cupcakes and other refreshments.

Nothing gets done without the beverages. And chocolate.

Gah! How could I forget the elephants? And elephant keeper story would be really boring without any elephants. Ok, so it's everyone I've ever met, my Twitter list, random people, me, snacks, beverages, and elephants. That should be it.

Oh no. If we're including the air we breathe this could lead to an exhaustive list of Things We Need...

I'm starting to feel like Navin Johnson leaving home:

Ok, anyone else I could be forgetting?

Of course, the Romans. They want credit for everything.

Well, you know what's going to happen now. This'll just start a whole new debate.

So, writers who've been through this before, how did you decide who to include on your acknowledgments page? Were you able to list everyone you wanted to, or did you have to keep it short? Did you leave anyone out and regret it later? Any hints you can share will be appreciated. Really, I'd thank each and every one of you.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Perks of Being a Writer: The Things I Can Call "Work"

If you're a writer, you've probably heard the advice, "Don't quit your day job." It's good advice; most writers aren't going to earn enough money from the writing career to make it their only source of income.

I still have to work, but summer is a slow time for the day job. So it's not a paycheck-friendly time, but the upside is I have plenty of time to write. And one of the perks of being a writer is that there are so many things we can label "Work" that other people can't.

Why yes, I am busy doing research
Watching TV
The midgrade novel I'm working on is about a girl whose parents are cryptozoologists. Last Thursday there was a MonsterQuest marathon on The History Channel, and I took notes while watching. That is a productive day of research, people. And the young adult novel I'm revising, Reasons For Leaving, has a subplot about a Ponzi scheme, so the same goes for Bernie Madoff documentaries. For CHAINED it was anything about elephants.

How will I ever get all this work done?
To be a great writer, you have to read a lot. So now when I read, I'm not just enjoying a good book, I'm perfecting my craft. Each book is like a mini-workshop.

I'm not being nosy, I'm studying realistic dialogue.
Any place you visit is a source for potential new characters or story ideas. Even if you're somewhere you don't want to be, you might pick up a bit of a conversation or get an idea for a plot thread or character trait that can will find its way into a book.

Surfing the Internet
I can't remember how we all got by before the Internet. That was awful, wasn't it, all of us sitting around waiting for Google to show up? Now, spend one minute searching for whatever you're interested in, and you have more information than you know what to do with. And there are countless resources for writers out there, so we always have something to read about how to be a better writer.

Watching movies
Similar to the "reading" perk: novelists can learn a lot about writing from screenwriters, so when we watch movies we're also learning about good storytelling. I'm pretty sure this means that popcorn is tax-deductible.

No, I'm not staring into space, I'm plotting.

There are probably more we could add to the list--what are your favorite work-that-doesn't-look-like-work activities? I'll take a break from looking out the window to read your comments.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

That's What (S)he said: Weekly Round-Up

It's been a busy couple weeks lately, but yay, copyedits are done! (If you don't know what copyedits are, it's the last round of edits before the manuscript goes to the typesetter, and takes care of all the dots and commas and people without matches lighting torches.) It's an exciting time but also a scary one--it's getting closer to being a real book that people are going to see in real life and read!

Last weekend I went to a write-a-thon at the home of Diane Holmes, where we had workshop presentations by Diane and Lorin Oberweger, then worked on our own stuff in the afternoons. In addition to finishing up the edits, I went to a brainstorming session to figure out the plot of my next midgrade novel; I had a character I like, her family, some things that they're doing, but not one of those pesky "plot" things. I can't believe how helpful the brainstorming session was--within about twenty minutes I had some great ideas about where the story needed to go, and this non-plotter now has a skeleton of a plot to work with. I'll do a post about the brainstorming session next week.

Meanwhile, here are some of my favorite things I saw online this week:

For those of us who wish we were at the annual SCBWI conference in LA, we can follow along on Twitter with the hashtag #LA11scbwi. It's almost as good as being there. Ok, not really, but we have Shark Week.

Check out "You're Kind of a Big Deal" by author C.J. Redwine if you haven't yet--an inspiring post about her rocky road to publication.

Do you want an "editorial" agent, or one who's more hands-off? Agent Jennifer Laughran has a great post comparing literary agents to real estate agents.

Jay Kristoff guests posts on the YA Muses about writing like a girl even if you're not one in 5 Tips On Writing Outside Your Gender. (And if you're interested specifically in male-female dialogue differences, see the "Dude Talks Like a Lady" post I did last year.)

Now for some fun videos. First, there's the beluga whale dancing to mariachi music:

And the New York City construction worker who entertains the crows during his lunch break. How long before this guy gets a recording contract?

Have a great week!