Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Manuscript Makeover Part 1: Character

Last summer, a writer's group invited me to teach a class on editing from start to finish. I designed my manuscript makeover class for them, and I've decided to share it on my blog as a series of posts.
Today I'll discuss editing for character, which is one of the most important parts of writing a novel. This involves making sure your reader will like your main characters and also making sure they understand your characters' emotions and thought processes.
First, it's important that readers love your main character(s).  
As Blake Snyder says,  "Liking the person we go on a journey with is the single most important element in drawing us into your story.” 
Here are ten ways to make a character more endearing:
1. Have your character do something heroic in the opening scene. (Think of Mr. Incredible in the opening scene of The Incredibles.)
2. Make them funny. (Phil from Groundhog Day is good example of how this can work well.
3. Make them a good friend to another character. (Think of Cher from Clueless or Sam from Lord of the Rings.)
4. Give them special talents or abilities. (This is why we like Shelock Holmes.)
5. Make them attractive. (Basically any female main character in a movie.)
6. Make us feel sorry for them. (Harry Potter is a good example of this.)
7. Make the bad guy worse. (Think of  Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.)
9. Give them something we wish we had. (Captain Kirk from Star Trek can travel anywhere he wants, so people like him despite his negative qualities.)
9. Make them proactive. (This is why women love Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice.)
10. Don’t let them get too negative about themselves or other characters.

Second, ask yourself whether your reader can relate to your characters:

Can the reader feel what the character feels?
Can the reader understand why she says what she says and does what she does

You can do this through dialogue tags. I like to write down examples of great dialogue tags that I encounter while reading. Here are some examples from JoJo Moyes' Me Before You. Notice how they reveal her characters' emotions and thoughts:

Describing voice:
“Her voice is husky, testament to their missed hours of sleep.”
“He said it like it was a question.”
“When Patrick spoke again, there was a faint air of martyrdom in his tone.”
Describing internal feelings:
“How could I explain to him . . . how a body can become so familiar to you?”
“I couldn’t stop beaming.”
“I turned to face Mrs. Traynor, wriggling so that my jacket covered as much of the skirt as possible.”
Main character interpretting others’ dialogue and cues
“She withdrew her hand from mine as soon as humanly possible.”
“Only later I realized he hadn’t seemed happy when he said it.”
“Mum shut her eyes for a moment, as if calming herself before she spoke.”

Another way you can help readers identify a character's emotions or thoughts is through descriptions. Make sure that when you describe a setting, a character, or an action, you do it from your character's point of view and not your own. I've been reading the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and I'm so impressed with how well she tells her stories from a child's point of view. I invite you to read a few chapters from any of her books to see what I mean.

A good way to know if you're on the right track is to ask critique groups and beta readers if they can relate to your characters.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Meet Kathryn Cooper

Today, I'd like you to meet author Kathryn Cooper. She and I have been online friends for a few years, and she's awesome. I think everyone should get to know her. 

Here's our interview:

1. Please tell me about your new book. What inspired you to write it and what's it about?

Aspen Everlasting is the first book I've ever written. My love of Young Adult reads began in college when I took a children's literature class. I read Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. I fell in love! My passion for reading grew. After a few years I read a trilogy where I didn't like the ending and decided to write my own book! So I did. It took a few years, but I'm happy that I accomplished this huge goal.

Aspen Everlasting is about a sixteen year old girl named Aspen that quickly finds that she has super strength. She goes on an adventure to find out what was happening to her. This is adventure and clean romance.

2. I know you had surgery for a brain tumor a couple years ago. How has that affected your writing? How has it affected your outlook on life? 

I found out I had a brain tumor as I was finishing up a lot of editing from my beta readers and editing friend. I had been working on this book for a few years so when I regained my ability to read I went back to writing. I edited a lot then a month before my surgery I sent it in to agents. After my surgery I found out that I would be going through radiation for 6 weeks then 12 months of chemo. So I sent my book out to publishing companies without an agent. I was so happy to find out Cedar Fort took my book as an eBook. It was a wonderful day.

My outlook on life didn't change it just grew larger. I became closer to God my Heavenly Father, my brother and Savior Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. My love for others grew. I know that every person good or bad are my brothers and sisters. 

3.You live in Texas now, but if you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live and why?

I was born and raised in Texas so this is where I want to be. I love my Texas country life. I dream to visit Scotland, England, and France.

4.Do you have plans for another book? If so, what is it about?

I keep going back and forth. I'd like to write about what I went through during my brain tumor treatments. I was going to do a YA fiction, then an adult fiction, but now I'm thinking I'll just write the true story. Nonfiction! 

5. I'd like to know a little about your childhood. Where did you grow up, and what were your favorite hobbies as a child?

I grew up in the area of Waco, Texas. In the summer we spent hours every day swimming in our backyard pool. In the fall I loved being in my high school band's colorguard. Go Flags!

6.What are five of your favorite books or authors?

I love too many books to name them! Some authors I love: Janette Rallison, Shannen Crane Cramp, Ally Condie, Ally Carter, Lindsay Cummings, Marissa Meyer.

7.Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Go for it! Write when you can. Create a story that you love. Read a TON!

You can learn more about Kathryn at https://kathryncooperwrites.com

Her book is available on Amazon and at select bookstores.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Writing = Rewriting

I've been working on two projects lately--a novella set in Rexburg, Idaho, and a novel that begins in the Cape Verde islands. Over the last few months I've been rewriting both. I hate to rewrite, and I love to rewrite. Mostly, I hate it before I start, and I love it after I'm finished.

After I rewrote 150 pages, I took a break over Christmas and New Years. During that time, I watched a bunch of Kon Mari cleaning videos on Youtube and did a ton of decluttering. I also rearranged some of my drawers in the Kon Mari fashion. It struck me that decluttering is a lot like rewriting. It makes you feel a lot better once it's done.

I think there's a myth among the general public that for a real author, words come easily. A real author can write a book in a month without much need to revise or edit. She naturally develops plots and outlines as she types, coming up with characters, worlds, and historically accurate details easily. For me, this couldn't be further from the truth.

Good writing involves a lot of rewriting. 

Sometimes I forget this, and I get discouraged that I'm having to rewrite a scene for the third time. I was in one of these funks last month, when I read this quote by Michael Crichton: "Books aren't written--they're rewritten . . . It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn't quite done it." You read that correctly: Michael Crichton, author of Jurassic Park, The Andromeda Strain, Coma, Twister, Congo, and Westworld, has had to rewrite parts of his novels up to seven different times.

Then I found out that Ernest Hemingway rewrote A Farewell to Arms a whopping thirty-nine times!

I was already feeling much better about my third rewrite.

In a class I attended with Brandon Sanderson, he joked with us that his first drafts weren't absolutely spectacular and that his critique partner, after reading something that had been revised a few times, joked that he'd forgotten that Brandon was actually a good writer.

The process is different for each writer, but, no matter how you draft and revise, it involves serious work. Some writers may redraft instead of rewriting. Others may be like Diana Gabaldon,who wrote the Outlander series. She said, "I get asked, 'How many drafts do you go through?' all the time. The answer is either 'one' or 'infinity,' but I don't know how to tell the difference. I don't write, leave, come back later and revise.  I work slow and fiddle constantly, so the revision is pretty much done as part of the original writing.  By the time I'm done with a scene, I'm done with it."

This doesn't sound fun . . . but it is fun, once you start doing it, and finally everything starts to come together.