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Wednesday, February 19

Stop or Go On? Should You Revise or Keep Writing That First Draft?

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Drafting a novel is often a messy process, because there are so many different ways to do it. Do you get it perfect on the first try, or worry about perfection later?

There are a lot of things I don't worry about in a first draft. My characters aren't fully formed yet, I don't always know what world building details matter, and my plot might change, even though I outline in great detail. I write a first draft to get the idea in my head down on paper, and then I figure out the best way to revise it.

Not matter what your process is, sometimes amazing ideas just happen as you write. The characters say or do something you weren't expecting, and you get that happy little buzz of excitement when multiple minor details converge into awesomeness.

And then you realize there's absolutely no groundwork in the novel for that amazing idea.

What should you do? Stop writing, go back, and put in the groundwork for this scene to have its full impact, or keep going and worry about it during revisions?

Tuesday, February 18

10 Things That Will Sink Your Novel’s Opening Pages

By Alythia Brown, @alythiabrown.85 

Part of the How They Do It Series 

JH: The opening pages of a novel are probably the most important pages you'll write in that novel. Alythia Brown shares ten things you might be doing wrong.

Alythia Brown is an award-winning journalist and author represented by Moe Ferrara of BookEnds Literary Agency. She’s also the copy editor who created The Grammar Chicken. Find her Medium articles on writing, life and parenting under @alythiabrown.85.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | 

Take it away Alythia...

Monday, February 17

Plotting With the Save the Cat Beat Sheet Structure

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Since I'm still deep in revisions, and recently had an interesting discussion with a fellow author about screenplays, I thought I'd pull this favorite out of the archives. 

I love story structure, and I've studied so many different templates and concepts since I first started writing. Even if the structure isn't for me, I almost always find something useful in it I can add to my process. I think it's also important for writers to understand how story structure works so they better understand what goes into crafting a strong story.

I've discussed both the Three-Act Structure and the Hero’s Journey, and now it's time for screenwriter Blake Snyder's ever-so-popular Save the Cat Beat Sheet. (There's also Hague's Six Stage Plotting Structure and Joyce Sweeney's Plot Clock) While Snyder's format was designed for movie screenplays, writers have adapted it to the larger novel format with great success. You'll notice how this also fits into the same basic story structure as what we looked at so far.

If this structure appeals to you, I recommend buying the Save the Cat book, which goes into more detail that I can do here. (ya know, those copyright laws and everything). It's a great book to have on your shelf no matter what your process is, actually. There's also a novel version, with Save the Cat! Writes a Novel.

Sunday, February 16

WIP Diagnostic: Is This Working? A Closer Look at a Short Story Opening

Critique By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Real Life Diagnostics is a weekly column that studies a snippet of a work in progress for specific issues. Readers are encouraged to send in work with questions, and we diagnose it on the site. It’s part critique, part example, and designed to help the submitter as well as anyone else having a similar problem.

If you're interested in submitting to WIP Diagnostics, please check out these guidelines

Submissions currently in the queue: Three

Please Note: As of today, critique slots are booked through March 14.

This week’s questions:

1. Do my changes work?

2. Are you pulled into the story?

3. Is my use of stylized language subtle enough that it adds to the quality of voice, or is it too distracting?

Market/Genre: Short Story

Note: This is a revised opening from 2015. Here’s the original if you’d like to see how this writer revised. 

On to the diagnosis…

Saturday, February 15

Real Life Diagnostics is Now WIP Diagnostic: Is This Working?

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

The very first Real Life Diagnostic appeared way back in May 2010. Since then, I (with recent help from Maria D’Marco) have critiqued and diagnosed 410 submissions. That’s a lot of pages to review.

I had no idea when I started these critiques that they’d still be going strong ten years later. Thank you for that, and for all your submissions and comments on the writing posted here every week. I have quite a few regular submitters, and I’ve seen how they’ve improved from everyone’s help and generosity.

After all this time, I felt the column was due for a name change that better described what it was. I’ve always thought of it as “diagnosing real life works in progress,” but that wasn’t obvious from the title. It’s still the same column, with perhaps a little more general feedback and well as answers to the submitted questions. My goal, as always, is to help writers improve their writing.

The first official new post appears tomorrow, but then it goes back to its regular Saturday run date.

As of today, there are four submissions in the queue.


Thursday, February 13

Writing a Page-Turner: Keep the Reader Guessing with Story Questions

By Kris Bock, @Kris_Bock

Part of the How They Do It Series

JH: Readers keep reading to get answers and discover more about the story and its characters. Kris Bock shares tips on how to add story questions that will keep your readers guessing--and reading. 

Chris Eboch is the author of over 60 books for children, including nonfiction and fiction, early reader through teen. Her writing craft books include You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers, and Advanced Plotting.

Her novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; and the Haunted series, about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs.

Chris Eboch Website | Blog | Goodreads 

Chris also writes for adults as Kris Bock. Her Furrever Friends Sweet Romance series features the employees and customers at a cat café. Watch as they fall in love with each other and shelter cats. Get a free 10,000-word story set in the world of the Furrever Friends cat café when you sign up for the Kris Bock newsletter. You’ll also get a printable copy of the recipes mentioned in the cat café novels.

Kris also writes romantic suspense set in the Southwestern U.S. If you love Mary Stewart or Barbara Michaels, try Kris Bock’s stories of treasure hunting, archaeology, and intrigue in the Southwest.

Kris Bock Website | Blog | Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Instagram | Sign up for the Kris Bock newsletter 

Take it away Kris...

Tuesday, February 11

3 Rules to Raising Story Stakes

By Laurence MacNaughton, @LMacNaughton

Part of the How They Do It Series

JH: Many novels fail because the protagonist doesn't have anything at stake. Laurence MacNaughton shares three rules to making sure your story has the necessary stakes to make readers care. 

I will never forget the time I watched an author face-plant the career opportunity of a lifetime without even knowing it.

This happened at a multi-author book event, with dozens of people attending. One particular author was reading the opening scene of her new book to a restless crowd. I sat in the very back, intently trying to listen, but I couldn't really get into the story. My mind kept wandering.

The person sitting next to me—a literary luminary who routinely negotiates million-dollar book deals—sighed with disappointment. “What’s at stake in this story? There's nothing at stake here.” And with that, they lost all interest in this author. Maybe forever.

Friday, February 7

Janice Hardy Events and Workshops for 2020

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

This year's event schedule isn't as hectic as last year's--though I suspect more will be added before we get further into 2020. If you're looking for some in-person craft workshops, give one of these a try.

Here are the conferences I'll be at and the workshops I'll be teaching (so far):

February 20-21: Florida Heritage Book Festival Writers Conference

Renaissance Marriott World Golf Village Resort St. Augustine, FL

February 20: Full Day Workshop 8am-4pm: Kicking Your Writing Up a Notch

It’s not uncommon for writers to hit a point where they know their writing is good, but it’s not where they want it (or need it) to be. They could use a little help to push their skills and story to the next level, but they’re not sure how to get that push or where to apply it in their manuscripts. In this workshop, you’ll learn ways to improve your writing and story developing skills to take your novel from nice to “Wow!” From macro-level structure techniques, to micro-level word choices, this full-day of exercises and tips will dig into your writing and polish the gems within. Bring your laptop or pages and be ready to write!

February 21: Understanding the Scene: The Engine of Your Story

Scenes are the building blocks of a novel, but they don't always unfold the way we want them to. In this workshop, you'll learn the mechanics of scene and its troublesome partner, the sequel, and how to use this pairing to drive your story. You'll also learn how to develop scenes and weave them together to build strong and focused plots, as well as what to do when you story grinds to a halt and you don't know why.

Thursday, February 6

What Novelists Can Learn from Studying Picture Books

By Sherry Howard, @SherLHoward

Part of the How They Do It Series

JH: Writing is writing no matter what the genre or market, and we can learn a lot by studying what other writers--and markets--have done. Sherry Howard shares thoughts on what novelists can learn from studying picture books.

Sherry Howard lives with her children and silly dogs in Middletown, Kentucky. Sherry is the author of the picture book ROCK AND ROLL WOODS, with a starred Kirkus review. Her poems and stories have appeared in multiple journals and anthologies. She also writes for the educational market, with about a dozen books.

Sherry Howard | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Take it away Sherry...

Wednesday, February 5

Hey, Still with Me? Poking Dead Scenes With a Stick, Part One

revision, cutting scenes, editing, deleting scenes
By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Revisions aren't for weaklings. They're hard, they take commitment, and sometimes you have to make the tough call and decide the fate of a scene that isn't pulling its weight. 

I've been deep in a revision for a few months now, looking at each scene with a critical eye. Is it advancing the plot or story? Is it serving the story in any way? Is it a scene that should stay, or do I need to kill it?

I've been lucky so far, and most of the scenes are indeed doing their jobs, but I have had to kill a few that weren't. It's always hard, because there's usually something in that scene I liked, otherwise it never would have made it this far.

But cutting dead scenes from a manuscript improves the novel as a whole. It's just not always easy to know if we should.

To be clear, I'm talking about problem scenes, not scenes you know are working.