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Hooking your Audience

Think you have a few pages to hook your audience? Think again.

Last night, I explored my childhood bookshelf at my mom’s house with my eleven-year-old niece, Lilly. Then I watched as she went through the books one by one.

“How ’bout I read this story to you, Mimi?” Lilly said to me after piling up a decent-sized stack of mid-grade novels to take home.

“Sure,” I answered, excited to see some of my favorite stories being reclaimed.

Then I listened as Lilly struggled through the first line of one of the books. About half-way through that line, she stopped. “Uh, how about I try this other book?” she said.

“Okay. You don’t like that one?”

“No, I have to get a feel for them right off. I can tell right away if I’m going to like it or not.”

After struggling through the opening lines of two more books, Lilly gave up. I was sad, yet I understood. I was exactly the same way as a child, and I’m not far from there now. If an opener doesn’t hook me, I’m out.

Thankfully, Lilly’s mom and I made a strong enough sale on the rest of the books in Lilly’s stack (mostly because they had boys and possible kissing in them–Lilly’s almost twelve) that she still went home with a bunch. But today I’m left thinking about the openers we create for our audience, and the limited opportunity we have to grab their attention.

Earlier this week, I started reading Chris D’Lacy’s mid-grade novel The Fire Within. Admittedly, it was the cover that attracted me to it. (Think people don’t judge a book by its cover? Think again.) I have to give the cover artist high props for this one: it’s beautiful and intriguing. The problem: both the cover and the short cover flap description promise that the book’s about dragons. Now at almost half-way through it’s 350 pages, I’ve yet to encounter any dragons that aren’t clay statues.

Again, my thoughts turn to Lilly and my childhood self. Would I have continued reading? Heck no. And this is despite the fact that D’Lacey’s writing is quite good. (I’ve been studying his sentence structures and dialogue techniques as I read because I feel like I have a lot to learn from him–which is why I’ve kept reading despite the lack of dragons.) But I was promised dragons. How long do I have to wait to see them in action?

Here’s some things I made note of from watching Lilly and from my experience with D’Lacey’s book: 

  1. An opener must be short and powerful.
  2. Big words and difficult names don’t belong in the first sentence. (Lilly tripped over some of these and tossed the books aside immediately. You might say this applies only to stuff for kids, but I wonder…?)
  3. Deliver on your promises. If you say you’re going to give readers something, give it to them. Immediately. (Suspense is great, but please, at least give us a taste so we want to keep reading.)

What do you think? What do you love or hate to see in an opener?

Have you seen my new website? http://amysjoy.com

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The Problem with Editing

>The problem with editing is that you have to keep reading the same thing

over

and over

and over

and over again.

The writing just isn’t as much fun the 50 bizillionth time around.

Ah time…time is so grand. With time we can set one writing project aside, move on to the next one, and come back to the last one after some time has passed. Then we can see it again with fresh eyes, and be able to really look at it critically, cut out the rubbish, add in more flavor, and–with any luck–find that what we wrote was more brilliant than we remembered.

Editing Takes Patience…Unfortunately

>Over a month ago, I finished the complete, revised draft of my young adult novel, The Academie. Since then, I have been dying send it off to agents and move on to my next project. What’s standing in the way? Editing. Why? Editing takes patience. Lots of patience.

Unfortunately, no matter how you cut it, editing simply isn’t a quick process. Why not? Because while we might like to hope that our word processor catches everything with its grammar and spell checkers, this simply isn’t the case. It can’t catch if you used the wrong version of a word (hear/here) or if you left out a word, or if you simply haven’t described a particular character with the right kind of detail. Tend to be on the wordy side? The spell-checker can’t catch that either.

So I’ll continue on, page by page, checking to make sure that everything is as perfect as it can be because I know that good editing could mean the difference between getting an agent and publisher for my work or getting my writing tossed into the recycle bin.

Revising Happens After You’ve Finished Drafting

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I hear groans from my students at all stages of the writing process. But where I often get the most questions is when we get to revising. I already did that as I wrote, many will tell me. Now what do I do?
I remember vaguely how difficult it was to revise as you wrote back before there were computers. Type, type, type, pause, grab the white out, blow, check for dryness, type, type, type, repeat. Finish, read, mark changes with a pen, begin typing and correcting with white out again. For me, the process was a nightmare.
So much has changed with the advent of word processing software. Most of us now revise and edit constantly as we type. (I’ve done it dozens of times already, just in writing this article!) While this continuous reworking can be considered both a form of revising and editing—depending on the types of changes being made—unfortunately, this doesn’t make your work ready for publication.
Why not? Because odds are that the little changes you made as you wrote didn’t cover the scope of what needs to be done during the revising stage, including a consideration of your:
1.       Introduction: is what you have the best possible way to interest readers?
2.       Organization: have you placed elements in a logical fashion, broken down paragraphs so that each one focuses on only one topic, broken down large paragraphs to make it easy on readers, and included transitional words and phrases to help readers follow your train of thought?
3.       Details and Examples: have you provided enough to illustrate your point? Have you summarized general information and detailed important parts? Does each detail and example you’ve provided fit with your intended purpose for writing?
4.       Conclusion: is this the best possible way to draw the writing to a close? Have you left readers with enough closure that they will feel satisfied?
5.       Writing Style: Is the voice and tone appropriate for the audience?
Once you’ve evaluated each of these areas, you should get an idea of what changes need to be made. Revising will then mean adding, re-wording, and cutting, and every once in a while, it may mean starting over. But thanks again to our wonderful word processor, tossed away ideas are now easy to hang on to. And you never know when a tossed away idea may become useful in the future!

Drafting: Creating a Writing Purpose and Getting Words on Paper

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The main goal of prewriting is to generate ideas. The main goal of drafting is two-fold: to create a purpose for writing and to get words on paper. Why not just dive in? Plan first and you’ll find revising (the next step of the writing process) will be a whole lot easier.
To discover your writing purpose, consider:
1.       Who are my readers?
2.       What do I want them to know?
3.       Why do I want them to know this
These three questions will get at the heart of three essentials to writing: Audience, Focus, and Thesis, which together form your purpose for writing.
Audience: who you are writing for. Who you are addressing will determine what you say and how you say it.
Focus: what you want your readers to know. You should have figured out in prewriting. If you’re still struggling with it, it’s best to do a few more prewriting exercises before trying to move on.
Thesis: why you want readers to know this. Together with your focus, knowing your thesis will help you determine your purpose for writing. All good writing has a clear purpose.
Once you’ve created a purpose for writing, keep it in mind as you begin drafting.
This being said, don’t over-scrutinize your work as you write. Your main goal in creating a first draft is just to get words on paper. There will be plenty of time to make it good in the next stage of the writing process: revising.
Note: you may think that creating a writing purpose applies only to non-fiction. Not true! I’m not a literary agent, but I’d bet much of the fiction they reject stems from the writer not considering who, what, or why as they created their story.

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