Saturday, June 30, 2012

Three Things to Keep in Mind While Drafting


Personally, I love drafting. There’s less pressure on a draft than a revision, because your first draft is expected to suck. But I struggle a lot with drafting, especially at the beginning of a new project. It's a leap of faith to commit hours and hours of time to an idea that's nothing more than that--an idea, slowly and vaguely taking shape in your mind. There'll be times when you will furiously, ecstatically pound out words, and then there are simply times when you won't. Here are the three things that I think are vitally important to keep in mind through all of that.

1. Write. Just write. Write anywhere. Write everywhere. Write on a steno pad while your boss is preoccupied. Write during chemistry class while you should be taking notes. Write during lectures, and nod thoughtfully on occasion to show that you’re paying attention. (Okay…don’t do any of that. They tend to have consequences. Rather lasting ones, like a nose-diving chemistry grade). Your first draft doesn't need to be good. At all. First drafts are just a jumbled collection of your thoughts and emotions translated into messy words, and you’ll clean it up during revisions. At this point, the only thing that's important is that you get it down on paper.

Also, get into a habit of pressing CTRL+S after every paragraph. It'll save you a lot of headaches and heartbreaks. There is no muse-killer more effective than losing your work to cyberspace.

2. Don’t wait for inspiration. There will be short bursts of it peppered here and there, of course. There will be scenes that simply flow out like swollen rivers…and then there will also be scenes that flow out like drool. Writing isn’t about waiting for inspiration. Writing is about forcing words out of yourself even when you’re utterly lacking in inspiration.

That said, drafting is also a good time to find things that do inspire you. When I start a new project, one of the first things I do is look for music. Music helps me write (or, I guess it could just be that my noise-resistant headphones block out the rest of my family…), and my tastes can vary widely from story to story. For example, my playlist for my war-torn fantasy features mostly Linkin Park. My WIP set in a land of strict tradition and wandering monsters is set to mostly Celtic, Narnia-esque music.

3. My art teacher once told me that the best advice he ever got on marriage (which, for whatever reason, was his pet analogy for ceramics) was that you should expect to have days on which you wake up and not like the person next to you. At first, I was totally surprised by this, maybe because it was so different from archetypal, ooey-gooey wedding advice. But turns out, this was an invaluable piece of advice when I applied it to writing. There are days, many of them, when I open up my computer, scroll through my draft, and think, “Wow. This is utter crap.”

I constantly doubt my work. I constantly wonder if I’m good enough, and with embarrassing frequency, I don’t believe that I am. I sit there sweating in front of a blank screen and think, “I could be doing something else. I could be studying for SATs. I could be at tennis practice. Screw that, I could be at the beach.” The hardest part of drafting is having faith in yourself, and believing that you're able to pull thousands and thousands of words from corners of yourself that you honestly might rather ignore. Yes, there will be days when you do not want to do this. But deep down, you know you’ll always run back.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Drafting (or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Process)

So, you've got an idea. Maybe it's a small, simple contemporary. Maybe it's a sprawling epic fantasy. Maybe it's somewhere in between. Regardless, it's draft week here on For Love of YA.

...doesn't that make me sound really cool? No? Well, *censored*

Anyway, here are seven steps (in no particular order) you planners/outliners out there should take before you dare enter the world of The First Draft.

Pick a tense.
Past? It gives a sense of reflection. Present? It gives a sense of immediacy. Future? It gives a sense that you're an idiot. (Don't do future.)

Flesh out your characters.
You don't have to know every single thing about your characters at this stage, but there are some basics you should know. Name? Appearance? Personality? Relationships with other characters? Quirks? Home life? These will probably be important, some more than others, so you should definitely know them.

Pick your POV character(s).
I have some qualms with using multiple narrators in one book— mostly because one POV is usually stronger or more interesting than the other. That aside, if you're going to use multiple narrators, decide now.

Know your premise.
Your premise is very important at this stage. You can go into a project with no semblance of a premise, but if you're a planner, this will complicate things greatly.
(By the way, if you don't know premise vs. plot: the premise of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is "a boy goes to a school for wizards." The plot would be "at Hogwarts, Harry has some general shenanigans before Voldemort tries to kill him.")

Know your basic plot.
You should have a general idea of what happens in the story. You don't need to know every subplot at this point (unless you want to), but knowing your basic story structure is helpful.

Know the main characters' goals.
What do they want? Does he want to win the girl or score the winning touchdown or ace the math test? Goals tell us a lot about the characters, and it's important for planners to know them.

Know the stakes.
What happens if the characters don't reach their goals? Does he die? Does she fail the tenth grade? Stakes tell us what kind of story it's going to be.

What do you like to know before you pick up your pen/begin typing? Did I miss anything?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Overwriting Overkill


So, you’re an overwriter. You ramble. You rave. Trust me, I know. My first manuscript was 80K. My second was 125K. My third was 167K (I wish I were kidding). Obviously, being succinct is not one of my stronger areas.

Chances are, if you’re an overwriter, you will be cutting up your precious manuscript. You will be pressing the delete button over and over and over again. You will be highlighting entire paragraphs and passages and pages and trashing them. And it will hurt. A lot. But it’ll be worth it.

Recently, my agent asked me to cut 20K words from my manuscript. And I had absolutely no idea how. At all. My first day of Project Manuscript on Diet consisted of me staring at my computer screen, whimpering (again, I wish I were kidding). But lo and behold, three weeks later, I had turned a 115K manuscript into a 95K one. So for all of you overwriters out there with overweight manuscripts, I’ve compiled those three painful weeks into a few (succinct-ish) points.

Look for Repetition: You might have scenes that mirror each other in terms of setting, character development, plot development, etc. Those scenes have made it this far because you’re attached to them. So, detach yourselves from them. In the back of your minds, you probably already know that they aren’t necessary. You just like them. Trust in yourself as a writer—you will write such scenes of breathtaking beauty again. Then press delete.

Don’t be Redundant: One of my first critiques I ever received hit on that. The man pointed out that since I already wrote, “he spun around,” I didn’t need to add, “he demanded furiously” as a dialogue tag. It was already implied. It was a great piece of advice. But cutting those, my writing became a lot tighter. I think. *frowns at writing*

Combine Scenes: Some of your scenes actually must be kept, not for gorgeous writing, but for some less-major but very important things such as characterization, foreshadowing, etc. These scenes can’t be deleted, but they can probably be combined. If you cut half of the first scene and half of the second, you have cut a whole scene without losing anything important, correct? Then again, math is not my strongest subject…

Make a Commendable/Expendable Chart for your MS: Go through every chapter and write down what things are commendable, what things are expendable, and rate the importance of the chapter on a scale of 1 to 10. This will help. A lot. Seriously. It’s basically creating an overall plan to cut down on your novel. You don’t have to stick to everything, but it’ll definitely give you a place to start.

Cut a Line from Each Page: This is something I started doing during my last round of revisions. Basically, I made myself cut between six words and one line on each page. You realize that a lot of what you've written is actually unnecessary--clunky adjectives, overly dramatic passages, adverbs. It's amazing how many words you lose, without actually sacrificing any scenes.

I know, a lot of these things are easier said than done. Being an overwriter sucks because you end up having to cut A TON from your manuscript. But hopefully, these tips will help you create a tighter, faster-paced manuscript. And who knows, maybe one day, I'll figure out how to stop overwriting...

Okay. That's ridiculous. Sigh.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Five Tips for Underwriters

So if you're anything like me (Mark), you underwrite. A lot. You underwrite so hardcore it'd make a picture book look like a phone book by comparison. Your ms, printed out, would be mistaken for a pamphlet. Your word count is lower than your weight.

Luckily, you have me to help you. I'm so nice, aren't I?

Five Tips to Turn Your Underwriting-Self into a Master of Life, the Universe, and Everything Writing-Related:

1. Describe.
Descriptions bring your setting and characters to life. They allow us, the readers, to view the world the way the author intended us to. Underwriters frequently leave out descriptions, allowing the reader to interpret the way things look and feel in their own fashion. I don't recommend this. I recommend appealing to all of a reader's senses. What does your character feel, see, hear, taste, and touch?

2. Details.
Too often, underwriters forget to include the deets. Without details, we as the reader can feel lost or disconnected. So long as they're relevant, never forget to include the small things— the streak of gray in the mom's hair; the love interest's slightly endearing lisp; the MC's nervous ticks.

3. Prose.
We underwriters love literary fiction but could never write it. We cower in fear at the five-letter word that starts with P.
...anyway.
Even if you're writing something totally commercial, try infusing your work with some prose. Just try it. Describe the way the rain on the tin roof feels like a heartbeat or whatever. You have express written permission from me to delete all that prose as soon as you write it, but who knows? Maybe, even if it doesn't fit, you'll find you like describing the leaves dancing as they fall like cigarette ashes. Or something.

4. Pacing.
I know, I know. We underwriters just have such amazing plots and characters we want to get right into the heart of them.
Slow down, killer.
We need to make sure we have the five basic story parts (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, conclusion). But we don't have to neglect everything else to get our stories there. Make sure your novel isn't moving along at breakneck speed. If you find it is, refer to tips 1, 2, 3, and 5.

5. Secondary stuff.
These include subplots, deuteragonists (protagonist's posse), secondary characters, etc. Though you don't need 4,192 characters (you're not George R. R. Martin, my friend), it's a good idea to use more characters besides the main ones as supports or foils for your MCs.
Also, subplots (side quests, getting the girl before the big football game, etc.) should enhance your overall story. They shouldn't be like in sitcoms, where they have nothing to do with the main storyline. If a subplot isn't contributing to the main plot, delete it.

Are you an underwriter or an overwriter? Leave your answer in the comments and make sure to check back on Saturday for Amy's tips for overwriters!

—Mark

Saturday, June 16, 2012

New Twitter!

Hi, everyone! We just wanted to let you all know that For Love of YA is officially on Twitter! *pause for cheering* Follow us at @forloveofya. We'll be tweeting about giveaways, interviews, updates, posts, writing tips, everything but the kitchen sink!

...you know, I never understood that expression...

Saturday, June 9, 2012

So You Think You Can Query (Part 2)


Yodles, everyone. Thank you for not questioning my wordchoices.

So. Querying. Often defined as: that long, painful, slightlymasochistic thing that aspiring authors do to drop that pesky ‘aspiring’ partin their titles. (Here’s a fun fact: I started querying on yesterday’s date,last year. And started getting rejections on today’s date, last year). So Ithought I’d share a few things I wish I had known at this time last year,before I sent out my first batch of crap-queries. I’ve even compiled it into a verynice DO and DON’T list and everything!

  1. Don’t: rush. You probably want to send out ten queries today, twenty tomorrow, and thirty the day after that. Trust me, I know. DON’T. Why? Because once you start getting rejections, you’ll want to sit down and revise your query, then crumple it up and throw it into a virtual trashcan, and rewrite it entirely.
  2. Don’t: send out your query without reading it over at least once or twice. Don’t be an idiot and send out an email without replacing the Dear with agent’s name. Um…not that I ever did that. *cough*
  3. Don’t: use clich├ęs. Avoid them in all writing, but especially in your query. If you start your hook with “In a land of…” or introduce your conflict with “a sudden twist of events,” the agent reading your query will start drooling and reject you in her sleep. (Trust me on this. I used both of those painfully unoriginal phrases in various versions of my query. I will go hide in the closet of shame now).

    1. Do: personalize your query. I can’t stress this enough. It took me over forty rejections to take this to heart. The second time around, though, I researched vigorously and started all of my queries on a personal note. For example, here is the beginning of the query I sent to Suzie Townsend:
    Dear Ms. Townsend,
    As you've expressed an interest in strong female protagonists and different fantasy worlds, I thought that you might be interested in my project, WILDFLOWER, a story about a subject that happens to share a name with your dog: Fate. I hope that the characters and their motives will appeal to the readers of your agency's client, Veronica Roth, though the plot and setting are very different
      Brownnosing? Yes. Successful? Very.Full request in a day. Peruse blogs, hide in the corners of Facebook pages,stalk them on Twitter. Whatever it takes.
      1. Do: have people critique your query. Any feedback at all is invaluable. www.agentqueryconnect.com is fabulous for getting responses. Remember, your query is like a step inside the door. Like how girls always send pictures of their prom dresses/shoes/hair/makeup to their friends before they finalize anything, right? (I have a conspiracy theory that boys do it, too… *suspicious glare at Mark*) That’s what getting critiques on your query is like. Otherwise, your prom date—um, agent—might slam the door in your face.
      2. Do: make sure to make your query yours. Even if you’re following the traditional hook/conflict/bio three paragraph formula, make sure that your query will stand out of the thousands that an agent goes through every month. Make a list of reasons of why your story is different from all of the other ones in your favorite bookstore. Show that in your query.

      What’s that? You want an agent’s perspective on queries, yousay? Well, it just so happens that the fabulous Emily Keyes wrote a blog post afew weeks ago about the queries she accepts/rejects…here. Go check it out!

      Friday, June 1, 2012

      So You Think You Can Query (Part 1)

      Querying is hard to do, harder to do well, and impossible to do perfectly. Seriously. I've read virtually everything on querying available online, I've been doing this looking-for-an-agent business a while (six-plus months), and I've had my query critiqued to the core by fellow authors. Because of this, I have what is considered a "successful" query, meaning I have over a 25% request rate.

      Do I still get rejections? Yes. All the freaking time.

      Here a few basic tips that'll (hopefully!) reduce your rejection rate if taken to heart. Keep in mind, I am no expert. I'm just a guy who's been doing this a while.

      •Query is spelled Q-U-E-R-Y. If you get this wrong, you should not be querying.

      •Limit your query to one page (on Word).

      •Agents' guidelines differ, so look at them first. However, the general format is a hook followed by one (or possibly two) paragraphs about your novel, and then your novel's info.
      —•Hook: keep it short, sweet, and catchy. Introduce the main character(s) and their struggles. (Struggles is a funny word, don't you think?)
      —•About the novel: be sure to include the main characters, their goals, what's keeping them from their goals, and what will happen if they don't reach their goals.
      —•Housekeeping: use this format or play with it a little: "_______ is a xx,000..." (round to the nearest thousand) "...word (genre)." Be sure to say it's YA or MG if it is.
      —•Bio (if applicable): can be the same paragraph as your housekeeping. Include PERTINENT publishing credits and a PERTINENT degree, if you have those things.
      —•"Thank you for your time and consideration."
      —•Contact info.

      •Make us care about the characters, but paragraphs of "Sally is nice with long brown hair. Shaniqua is ghetto fabulous." are no-nos. (Unless you plan of juxtaposing Sally and Shaniqua and this is a plot point)

      •Do not give away your novel's ending. Stop at a point that makes the agent HAVE to keep reading. Generally, this will be your climax or right before it.

      •That said, don't be coy with information. Give us the plot points!

      •You do not want to come off as an entitled jerk. Agents enjoy sanity.

      •Incorporate voice into your query.

      •If an agent asks for sample pages, paste them below the query. Make sure they are the first pages.

      •Do not query until your book is complete and as good as you can make it.

      Part two coming next week from Amy! In the meanwhile, is there anything we missed or anything you'd like us to cover?