Monday, July 25, 2011

Recapture Your Story

After finishing the first draft of a novel, you probably feel one of two things. Either you’re excited to get on to the editing process, or you’re already tired of the story and may be wondering why you ever bothered to begin it in the first place. If the first is true, then these tips should only fuel your fire for beginning your editing stage. If the second, hopefully you might gain insight on ways to recapture your story.

Recapturing your story is, in short, reliving the excitement you felt while in the first draft process. It’s getting back to why you started the novel. Then when it’s time to dive in again, it’s with anticipation. Rather than actual craft tips, these suggestions are more motivational; things that will excite you and add the icing on the cake to your novel.

Five Tips To Recapture Your Story

1) Listen To Music:
I’m one of those authors who can’t concentrate without headphones on. They help to block out minor distractions and increase inspiration. I commonly listen to movie soundtracks or classical music that fit’s the tone of each scene. This often gives my scenes the cinematic edge they need. When I rewrite and edit, I also listen to the same music. That way if a particular piece of music infused depth into my story, it might do the same again.

2) Revisit Your Character Photographs:
I also enjoy searching for various actors and actresses that fit the image of what I think my character might look like. By the middle of the story however, I rarely look at my tackboard where my characters pictures are. After draft one, I find it helpful to look again at those pictures and, if needed, gather some new ones. This technique gives me a visual aid as I prepare to edit and make changes to my character’s personalities.

3) Make Another Character Profile Sheet:
My characters can be some of the most changeable people I know. They usually turn out to be quite different than they were in the beginning. So before draft two, I find it helpful to make new character sheets. At this time, I add in the insight I have learned about my characters.

4) Do Research:
When I’m writing a first draft I occasionally find it difficult to get all the details I would like to add, on paper. In fact, most of the historical tidbits get added into later drafts. So after draft one, I do a bit more research getting details correct. This also boosts my excitement over the era I’m writing in.

5) Watch Movies:
One of the perks of writing is that while you are comfortably ensconced on the couch watching “Pride and Prejudice”, or whatever movie inspires you, you are still able to say your working. Watching movies can be considered research. For every novel I write, I have several films that help inspire the particular novel. They may be set in the same era, or have elements that my story has. I make an effort when writing my novels to not duplicate films or write scene by scene movie screenplays, but during the second draft I’ll re-watch some movies, thus exciting and inspiring me.

These are only a few of the ways to recapture your novel. They are some of my favorites and the ones that have worked for me time and again. Using these tips helps me to keep the momentum going during the editing stages and heading towards the completion of my work.
Your Turn? How do you recapture your story after the first draft? Any tips?

Happy Writing…

Monday, July 18, 2011

Landing An Agent - How To Avoid The Bumps

Because my Dad is an avid flyer of radio control airplanes, I’ve watched landing after landing at the air field. Sometimes they’re bumpy and the plane jolts wildly as it careens down the grassy strip, while spectators hold their breath. The pilot knows he needs to practice more on landings. Sometimes the plane crashes and all that remains is a pile of wood splinters and motor parts. Dad isn’t too happy when this happens. The plane needs to be rebuilt and the pilot may just give up and never try again. Then there are the landings that pilots live for, the dizzying whirl of engines and dust as the plan whizzes perfectly down the runway to a smooth stop. The audience claps and the pilot breathes a sigh of relief. This pilot may have suffered the above landings, but they learned more, practiced a lot, and finally succeeded.

Now lets take these scenarios and relate them to the art of landing an agent. In scenario number one, an author begins submitting to agents and receives several rejections - bumpy landings. Instead of taking the steps to improve their writing or attending writing conferences and networking, they stumble along continuing on their bumpy path. Maybe at the end of this path they will receive what the writing community terms the “call” - the landing of an agent. Writer number two also submits to agents, receives rejection after rejection which dims their hope, so they give up and never do receive the “call.” Instead their career splinters into pieces of failed manuscripts and ruined hopes. Meanwhile, writer number three begins submitting to agents and while they do get a few rejections, they then take steps to improve their writing, attend conferences, and learn all they can about increasing their opportunity to secure an agent. They receive the “call” and their hard work and persistence paid off.

Now why did the last scenario to land an agent progress smoother than all the others? What can we as authors do to improve our success in getting an agent? Although, I still am waiting for the “call” myself, here are four “P’s” I have gathered from both reading articles and talking to writer friends.

1) Be Prompt:
When you receive a request from an agent, what do you do? Do you make appropriate changes to fit the agency guidelines, and then send off your proposal? Or do you spin in your chair and eat a box of chocolates? Agents are busy people who speak to a lot of authors. If you don’t follow up promptly they are likely to forget they ever contacted you. They are less likely to forget however, if within a week after their request they receive an email from you with the proposal attached.

2) Be Professional:
This applies to both face to face and email conversation. Be friendly, polite and prompt. Respect them, their comments, and suggestions, even if they don’t accept your work. This will establishing a good reputation for yourself which will undoubtedly work to your advantage in the future.

3) Be Polished: Polish and re-polish, and don’t click the “send” button until it shines. Make sure your work is complete and as ready for publication as you can make it. Novelists have submitted proposals, gotten requests for a complete novel, and have not even had a complete novel ready to send out. So don’t even think about sending out a proposal until your novel is finished and ready for the publication stage.

4) Be Precise:
Agents don’t have all day to read your long emails, so keep them brief. Also follow the proposal guidelines on the agency website. If they only want a three page synopsis make sure it is only three pages. Also, check and double check grammatical errors. Although a misplaced comma won’t lose you a contract, it will decrease your chances. An author with a thorough knowledge of grammatical elements, has a higher chance of succeeding than one who does not. Use your spell check, make sure the agent’s name is spelled correctly, and rid both your proposal and email messages of as many mistakes as possible. The saying “you can’t judge a book by it’s cover” does not apply in this case. Your proposal is what will sell your book. So follow the guidelines exactly.

These are only a few tips, and although they don’t automatically guarantee a contract they are tried and true. Many have had success with them and landed an agent and a book contract by using these tips. For other articles and more tips on this topic see the following link:

Happy Writing…

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Dark Side

The many writer friends I have been privileged to meet are wonderful people. My journey as a writer would not be the same without them. They know about the “voices” I hear at strange hours of the day, know the difference between a query and a proposal, and so often their help and encouragement are just the thing that’s needed to brighten a day of otherwise solitary writing.

However, sometimes we as writers can get into difficult situations with these friends. Maybe we were rejected by an editor we knew personally. Maybe someone we were critique partners with for years seems to have copied something we wrote. Or maybe it’s as simple (or as complicated) as getting or giving a tough critique, or receiving a bad comment on a blog post.

Our initial response might be anger, hurt, defensiveness, etc. However as writers of Christian fiction surely there must be a better way to handle these problems.

I am by no means an expert, but here are a few tips in case you have experienced or are experiencing struggles like these in your writing career.

1) Look To The Great Author:
This may sound lame or too basic, but it’s really not. In our novels we have characters praying and going to the Lord for help. But do we really do this ourselves? For me, my first reaction is to go talk to a friend or family member, eat a bowl of ice cream, or write line after line of cutting dialogue to send to said person (which as an advantage gets used in a future scene!). But how often do we go to the Lord about these things like we should? The Lord gave us the writing talent to begin with, so surely he can help us out of the sticky situations that come with it.

2) Let It Cool:
As writers who are actively seeking to become, or are already published, one of the traits we should all be cultivating is professionalism. Sending an email without thinking it over or praying about it first, or complaining in an online writing loop, can only harm our professional appearance. So before responding rashly, let it cool. You may be glad you did!

3) Respond In Love:
Let’s say we are forced to confront someone. Much as we may cringe at the thought, sometimes it is necessary. But when we do, be careful to do it in love and as nicely as possible. If you are sending an email, ask a trusted family member or friend to read it over first. It might help give you a perspective on how your words are coming across. This can save unnecessary hurtful words and broken friendships occurring as a result. Remember, if at all possible with us, we are to be at peace with all people.

4) Don’t Take It Personally
On-line and email relationships are of the most delicate we will ever maintain. Unless we’re using a webcam, no one knows our true meaning whether we say something with a smile or otherwise. We may not mean anything by something we write to someone, and then they take it wrong. Or there are long silences between emails to our critique partner and we think just because we told them they have a problem with commas, they now despise us. This is usually not the case and worrying about it will only take our focus off the ministry we want our writing to be, and make us miserable. In short, don’t make assumptions and remember the acronym Q-TIP (Quit Taking It Personally)!

Negative incidents need not occur in a group of sincere, dedicated, Christian writers. Your writing connections will become some of the best friends you’ll ever make, and together you can continue to encourage each other both in writing, and in the Lord!

Happy Writing….
Your Turn? Any tips on dealing with difficult situations among writing friends?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

My Editing Process

I just finished the first draft of my current novel. When more seasoned authors get to that point, they might feel close to the finish line. They may have only a few minor touch ups before they are ready to begin submitting to publishers, editors, agents, etc. I, on the other hand, have only begun the process from first draft to finished product.

Here’s the layout of the process I use to turn that first draft into a finished novel. Maybe some of these ideas may assist you in the editing stage as well.

1) and 2) Hard Copy Edit:
This is the stage I am in now. The first thing I do is print a hard copy of my novel, and make notes of major problems, such as; inconsistent characters, scenes that need additions, scenes that need to be shortened, name or nickname changes, spiritual thread, consistent dialogue and the list goes on. I might go through my hard copy a second time just to make sure I caught everything. The second time, I am more precise and might add description, inner monologue, etc.

3) Computer Additions:
With my hard copy in hand, I input hard copy changes into my computer draft. This is also the step where I do major scene rewrites, and scene changes. I tend toward writing longer section rewrites best on the computer. By the end of this step, I usually have something that resembles a finished product scene by scene.

4) Line Editing:
I do this on the computer as well. I toy with phrases, change words to make them more historically accurate, delete clich├ęs and passive verbs, and on and on.

5) Grammar Editing:
Now, I’ll go through with the eyes of an English teacher. Checking punctuation, capitalization, and catching more passive verbs. This also gives me a chance to read the novel from start to finish, and make any final pressing changes that still don’t seem quite right.

6) Critique Partners:
Sometimes my critique partners get a few chapters before I get to this step. However, ideally I would send them the chapters after I went through all the previous steps. When I receive their critiques, I’ll make changes accordingly. Having critique partners is a very crucial aspect of the editing process. There is just no way I can see all the flaws in my own novel. I am just to close to the work itself. Plus, having critique partners gives a writer a chance to see how their novel appeals to readers.

By the time I’ve went through these steps I can usually recite the novel almost word for word and quote from it randomly. I’m also ready to move onto something else. My characters have taken me “over the river and through the woods” and I know them intimately. But the vast difference from first draft to final product, is HUGE. While it is a lot of work, it’s well worth the time and effort. Without this process, I wouldn’t even consider submitting to agents and editors.

Editing something as large as a novel can be similar to a potter working with a lump of clay. After hours of shaping and turning the wheel, the finished product emerges into a form all its own.

Happy Writing!

Your Turn? How do you edit/ revise? It is it something you enjoy? I appreciate the tips!