This Is An Overseas Post

Contrast with Apple Blossoms, Bach, and Story

These apple blossoms and buds look like visual staccato and legato notes.

Sometimes learning something that you had given up on changes your whole view of the world. James Rhodes’ How to Play Piano teaches rank beginners how to play J.S. Bach’s Prelude in C Major. I never learned to read the bass clef and I’ve really been enjoying this attempt. It makes you wonder what else is still possible.

Rhodes suggests listening to the following musicians play the Prelude. They all interpret it differently:

All of those versions got me thinking about contrast in fiction. While down the YouTube rabbit hole about what that middle pedal on the piano is for, I discovered Robert Estrin’s virtual piano lesson about using short (staccato) and long (legato) notes to bring out the melody in Beethoven’s sonatas.

It’s got me wondering how I can bring out the main story arc using contrast in fiction. There are lots of things to try:

  • Rhythm: Short and long sentences
  • Pacing: Dialogue, action, exposition
  • Setting: Light/Dark, Loud/Soft, Hectic/Peaceful

It all ties into Friday’s post on The Winged Pen about a Setting Exercise from The Rural Setting Thesaurus. Rebecca Smith-Allen’s post on the The Urban Setting Thesaurus is up today.

I’d love to know what you think about this. Have you consciously built contrast into your stories? Or do you have favorite examples from your reading? Feel free to share.

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Tame your revision Step-by-Step: DESPERATE MEASURES

Infographic of 7 revision management tips battery icons

Revising a novel is a form of bookkeeping. How do you keep from losing your mind? At The Winged Pen, we’re talking Revision. You can read the overview, find links to all the posts, and download the infographic here.

To go along with the Winged Pen’s post, I’m attempting a “how-to” series. Let me know how you like it.

If you find yourself in a revision rut, may this jog your creative process back onto the smooth road.

This week’s topic is DESPERATE MEASURES.

I’ve written about how to get the juice back into your writing life before.

*cough* I never have trouble with revision. Why do you ask? 😉

I once interviewed author and scientist, Paul Kindstedt, about his creative process while writing his epic Cheese and Culture: A History of Cheese and its Place in Western Civilization.

It takes creative muscle to write 9,000 years of cheese history! When I asked him how he did it, he talked about hiking, cross-country skiing, and ways to “refresh your mind.”

Creativity doesn’t happen by force. Discipline to keep showing up is important. But so is playfulness. Maybe you need the discipline of play. . .

In that spirit, here are a few more ways to help a recalcitrant novel along:

  • Tiny tasks. Years ago, the psychological heaviness of my dissertation slowed me to a crawl. Finally, I bought a tiny spiral notebook and made a list of the teeniest tasks possible for the day: “Print out graph.” “Buy tape.” One day, my husband came home and I was reading a novel on the couch. “Didn’t you have to work on your dissertation?” he asked. “I finished for today,” I said, secure in the virtue of checking off my tiny task for the day. But here’s the funny thing: Tiny tasks get the thing done.
  • Help someone else. Offering critique for a fellow writer’s work can do wonders for the creative process. It can help your self-esteem, inspire you to greater heights, help you to understand problems in your own writing, and give you confidence to improve your own pages. And that’s even if they don’t offer to reciprocate.
  • Project switch. You can trick your creative brain into believing that you’ve left the “hard” project behind. Try a blog post or a small task to build up your courage before sneaking up on the monster manuscript.
  • Fly and be free! You’ve worked through your pages, gotten critique, studied writing books, and maybe even suffered through your editing letter. Give yourself a break. Writing is supposed to be fun, remember? Let it rip for a change. You might be surprised when you look at it later. (keyword=later.)
  • Overcomplication disease. If you write intricate stories full of plot twists and setting details, you might need the question that moves my work forward.

Happy Revising! And don’t forget ways to refresh your mind!

Have you got desperate measures to share? What works for you?

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

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Tame Your Revision Step-by-Step: FEEDBACK FOLDER with Scrivener

Infographic of 7 revision management tips battery icons

One of the problems with getting feedback on your manuscript is overwhelm. If you’ve got five Word documents floating on your computer somewhere, it can bring your revision process to standstill.

This post is about the simple way I keep track of valuable feedback from my critique partners.

Over at The Winged Pen, you can read the Tame Your Revision overview as text and download the infographic.

Last week my post about SLICE AND LABEL was unexpectedly popular. So here’s the second post in my how to manage your revision process with Scrivener. Hope it’s useful!

If you’re not a Scrivener fan, you can use your organizing tool of choice. And share your tips in the comments if you feel so inclined.

Here’s how I use a FEEDBACK FOLDER in Scrivener:

  1. Create a place for feedback in Scrivener’s Research folder. When you open a new file in Scrivener, you have a Manuscript folder and a Research folder. I put feedback in the Research folder because I don’t want these “words” included in my manuscript word count. Click on the folder name and type to re-name it. I call this folder FEEDBACK. (Brilliant, no? I told you this was simple.)
Screenshot of Scrivener showing highlighted Research folder and Project--New Folder drop down menu.
Create a new subfolder in Scrivener’s Research folder

2. Click on the FEEDBACK folder and create a few subfolders. I have SYNOPSIS, DRAFT, and QUERY because I work on each of those separately. You could have one for PITCHES too.

Screenshot of FEEDBACK folder with subfolders SYNOPSIS, DRAFT, QUERY.

    Create folders for each kind of feedback.

3. Import Word* files with feedback and label them with critiquer’s name and date. This way I know at a glance who has seen what even if I fall into a revision hole for a while. Critique partners’ time is valuable. Don’t want to waste it.

(Don’t toss the original files yet until you decide if you like reading the feedback from within Scrivener. The comments can get kind of small.)

My crit partners are very kind and also send me general comments via e-mail or Twitter. I paste these into the file so all their insight is in the same place. (I know–not rocket science. Took me a while.)

*Or whatever form your feedback arrives in. Physical objects don’t work well, so save any tomatoes for salsa.

Screenshot of Scrivener File--Import--Files
Import those Word files with Track Changes that are cluttering up your desktop.

4. Flag the feedback you want to re-visit. Here you see my current draft and a long list of files that represent the hard work of my critique partners. On the right-hand side you see the Inspector panel. (If yours looks different, go to View–Inspector–Synopsis. Then click on the blue circle with the i on it in the upper right-hand corner.

Screenshot of Scrivener's View--Inspector--Synopsis menus
Find Scrivener’s Inspector with the View–Inspector–Synopsis menus and the tiny white i on a blue circle.

5. Pick a color. Click on the drop down arrows next to the Label field, Scrivener will let you pick a label or edit to create your own. Double-click on the color to change it.

Screenshot of Label menu showing categories and colors
The menu that pops up when you click on edit in the Label or Notes dropdowns.

6. Make it really obvious. Scrivener lets you change the color of the file in the Binder so you can easily see what feedback you want to re-visit.

Screenshot of View--Use Label Color in--Binder menus
Don’t lose your place in your next revision. Scrivener can help.

7. Motivation and Status. Click on the Status arrows to choose a status. Scrivener’s existing Statuses are handy. I like concrete labels like: “Send to name of critique partner” or “Posted on Wattpad.”

*FYI, Scrivener’s Status menu doesn’t let you color code, so I use it for things I want to know when I’m “in” the file. If you need color, use the Label menu.

Screenshot of Scrivener's Status dropdown.
Add a goalpost to your revision with Scrivener’s Status dropdown. Click on + to add a new one.

There you are, a shiny new FEEDBACK folder and a game plan for your revision.

Happy Revision! Let me know how it goes!

If you’d like to see the SLICE AND LABEL post, click here.

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I recommend a new middle grade book, and share story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

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Tame Your Revision Step-by-Step: SLICE AND LABEL with Scrivener

tameyourrevision

Revising a novel is a form of bookkeeping. How do you keep from losing your mind? At The Winged Pen, we’re talking Revision. You can read the overview and download the infographic here.

To go along with the Winged Pen’s post, I’m attempting a “how-to” series. Let me know how you like it.

If you find yourself in a revision rut, may this jog your creative process back onto the smooth road.

If you’re not a Scrivener person, feel free to adapt to your tool of choice. There’s more than one way to slice and dice a manuscript! 🙂

Here’s how I SLICE AND LABEL in Scrivener:

  1. Select the chapter(s) or scene(s) I want to revise today. In the screenshot below, I’ve selected the chapter “A Delayed Party.”
  2. Duplicate the chapter folder including the scenes inside the folder and give it a new name. Scrivener just adds the word “copy” to the end of the name.
Screen shot of Scrivener menu, Documents--Duplicate--With subdocuments and unique title
How to duplicate files in Scrivener

3. Read through the chapter and see what’s happening. For example, “Conversation about goldfish.” Or “Transition to Castle.” I don’t make a judgement about whether its worthy to stay in the story. Just label and move on.

In the screenshot below, I’ve highlighted “Mamma had noticed!” as the beginning of a conversation about goldfish. Scrivener offers me the choice of “at Selection” or “with Selection as Title.”

Screenshot of Documents--Split--At selection
How to slice and dice your manuscript in Scrivener.

 

I choose “with Selection as title” and Scrivener creates a new text with the title “Mamma had noticed!” I can click on the label and change it to Conversation about goldfish if I want.

screen-shot-2017-02-28-at-9-29-23-am

4. Put like things together. Write new connections. Once all the pieces are labeled, it’s easy to see where you’ve covered the same thing twice. I lift out the pieces I want, leaving the throat-clearings and engine-startings behind. Add transitions if needed.

5. Merge everything together. Scrivener will put “A prank” and “Mamma had noticed!” together and label them “A prank.” You can change that after the merge by clicking on the name and typing over it.

Presto! A nice tight scene with all the ingredients you need to move your story forward.

Screenshot of Scrivener Documents--Merge. The selected files on the left are highlighted in blue.
How to merge the good stuff together again in Scrivener.

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I recommend a new middle grade book, and share story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

 

 

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Tools: Emotional Connection in Fiction Part 2

photo of compartments under the lid of a piano, paintboxes, brushes, sewing things
A piano with built-in toolboxes for sewing and putting on make-up. Andreas Landschütz, 1820. MAKK museum in Cologne. © Laurel Decher, 2017.

Last week I wrote about the challenges of making your reader feel the emotions of your main character. This week, the thrilling conclusion.

Challenging feedback doesn’t have to derail your writing. I’ve got tools for us. 🙂 Just don’t try to use the whole toolbox for every scene. That way lies ruin. *cough*

book cover for Karl Inglesias' Writing for Emotional ImpactKarl Iglesias’ Writing for Emotional Impact. There are SO many powerful tools in this book that you’re sure to find a way to add that zing.

Appetizer: Six techniques from this book with examples from Nancy Cavanaugh’s middle grade This Journal Belongs to Ratchet in this blog post. Download my infographic six ways to reveal character here.

Book cover for Mary Kole's Writing Irresistible KidlitMary Kole’s Writing Irresistible Kidlit. A variety of craft advice all in one place. It’s aimed at the children’s book author, but much of it is applicable to all fiction. Her Emotional Plot made me understand that story circumstances = emotion.

 

 

Book cover for The Emotion ThesaurusAngela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s The Emotion Thesaurus. This is the ultimate grocery store for thoughts, physical reactions, body language, and facial expressions. An excellent starting point to build in body language and thoughts that show the reaction your character is trying to hide from everyone else. Right after you let the reaction leak out, then you can show the character hide it.

Appetizer: Read more about how to use it at the Winged Pen.

 

book cover for K.M. Weiland's Structuring Your NovelK.M. Weiland’s Structuring Your Novel has the clearest explanation of how to construct character reactions I’ve seen. When readers internalize what the main character wants, they can identify with them. The clearest way to get emotion across is to show your character’s thinking.

Appetizer: My infographic based on K.M. Weiland’s book is here.

And there are two new recent books I haven’t read, but they are both on my wishlist! I’m promising myself one of them as a prize when I finish the revision of my WIP.

Book cover for Lisa Cron's Story GeniusLisa Kron’s Story Genius. On my wishlist.

Appetizer: Her downloadable “Top 11 Takeaways from Story Genius” here in exchange for your e-mail.Or listen to The Creative Penn podcast (or read the transcript): “Take Five with Lisa Cron.

 

 

book cover for Donald Maass's The Emotional Craft of FictionDonald Maass’s The Emotional Craft of Fiction. I heard him speak at a workshop once and I love his Writing the Breakout Novel workbook. He gives concrete advice. Inspiring.

Appetizer: Read an excerpt on Writer Unboxed.

 

 

Feeling overwhelmed? 😉

  1. Pick ONE thing to try and see if you like it.
  2. Follow Donald Maas’s advice: “Does it make your scene better? Then put it in.”
  3. Send it by your beta readers to test.
  4. Repeat.

Feeling any better about your manuscript? Let me know in the comments below. I’m always looking for new insights.

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I recommend a new middle grade book, and share story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

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Are you feeling it? Emotional Connection in Fiction Part 1

photo of compartments under the lid of a piano, paintboxes, brushes, sewing things
The perfect piano for a tiny house? This one has built-in toolboxes for sewing, painting and grooming. Andreas Landschütz, 1820. MAKK museum in Cologne. © Laurel Decher, 2017.

An accomplished novelist friend recently got feedback on a manuscript that was heartbreakingly familiar to me.

“I like it but I’m not loving it.”

Ouch. I know just how that feels.

For years, I worked on a manuscript that repeatedly got the critique that readers couldn’t connect with my main character’s emotions. The feedback was inexplicable and painful because I didn’t have any tools to address it with.

Over time, it started to feel like a personal attack. They were all after me. There was something wrong with me as a writer. I had the wrong feelings. Or I didn’t have feelings. Or I didn’t show them properly. Or something. You know the voices.

A brief non sequitor: getting obsessed with adverbs or gerunds or passive voice or what have you may lead to such controlled language that the emotion is beaten out of it. *cough*

A comment like “I like it but I don’t love it” can hurt so much. But they don’t have to. It might be time to let your story out to dance or skate or sing. Here are three mini-stories that helped me see emotional reactions in a whole new light.

 1. A musical interlude: One day in high school, I was practicing a piece of music in the empty band room and the band director walked through and tossed off a comment about playing with more feeling: “It’s okay. You must have just gotten that piece.”

I played a line or two again for him, putting my feelings into the music. He shook his head.

Puzzling.

My feelings were evidently wrong. But how can a person fix their feelings?

Now I realize he wasn’t asking me to feel the music. He wanted me to use technical skill to let the listener feel the music.

2. A skating interlude: Years ago, I read an autobiography of a couple whose skating pair routines moved audiences to tears. In My Sergei, Yekaterina Gordeyeva writes about the demands of creating an emotional experience for the audience. While performing, they were working far too hard to be feeling all mushy.

Look at all the technique to communicate emotion in this pairs skating routine. Or this one with a stronger female lead and lots of passion. Or this one based on Rodin’s The Kiss and skated by Gordeyeva and Grinkov.

(Thanks to Susan Gilbert-Collins for reminding me of the skaters’ names!)

3. Vanessa Van Edwards researched which TED talks go viral. She noticed that two excellent talks, released at the same time of year, found completely different success. One found a small audience and the other exploded.

Talks that went viral had LOTS more gestures than the ones that didn’t. The number of gestures are a measure of the speaker’s commitment to his or her topic and to the desire to communicate it to the audience.

They are also a measure of the speaker’s skill.

Gestures, body language, and words that match communicate much more.

Communicating emotion in a story is a skill. The novelist’s craft includes so many ways to move the reader: foreshadowing, characterization, story structure, dialogue, body language. So if you get this feedback, reach for your tools.

In next week’s post, I’ll recommend some brilliant toolboxes you’ll love.

What about you: Have you gotten feedback that stumped you for a while? How did you handle it? Or have you got favorite tools to add feelings to your WIP? Go ahead and share in the comments.

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I recommend a new middle grade book, and share story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

 

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An Aha! Moment via Joanna Penn: Publishing vs. Marketing

Joanna Penn is so smiley and enthusiastic and knowledgeable that she always gets me inspired. This webinar was no different.

Got a sudden insight from Joanna Penn’s webinar on goals for the new year (2017):
Marketing is what you do to SELL a book.
Packaging, editing, and categorizing are what you do to PUBLISH a book.

This is almost guaranteed to be obvious to everyone else. Why was this such an eyeopener for me? Once I saw the difference, I could break down the process into smaller tasks.

A few years in the query trenches makes the difference between writing and publishing crystal clear. My idea of publishing was fuzzy: it included everything from literary agents and editors to book reviews and book signings.

Marketing decides who the likeliest readers are and sets out to win them over. When you pick out comp titles for your book, you are choosing an audience with particular tastes.

Publishing MAKES the packaging (including some baked-in marketing):

  • edits the story
  • chooses the right categories and keywords.
  • writes a book description that ticks all the right notes.
  • designs a book cover that appeals to readers and matches what your story delivers.
  • chooses formats (audio, e-book, print) and distributors that reach the story’s audience.
  • tinkers with packaging later on if the book doesn’t find its audience

Marketing USES the packaging to attract readers with:

  • book reviews
  • ads and promotions
  • blog tours
  • social media
  • sales and offers

Rachel Aaron has a fascinating, detailed post on which marketing techniques work.

So now that we’ve gotten the difference between Writing, Publishing, and Marketing straight, we can go back to writing the next book. 😉 Because that’s the strongest Marketing* technique of all.

*If you want your work to be clear cut, take up something heroic, like logging with drafthorses.

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I recommend a new middle grade book, and share story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.