Monday, February 28, 2011

SDSU Conference: Part 2

Last Monday I wrote about the San Diego State University Writers Conference, including the overall nature of the conference, and a panel discussion of agents talking about the emerging e-publishing paradigm. (click here)

Today I want to extend last week's discussion to share some notes I took at another excellent presentation at the conference, this one by bestselling author and teacher, James Scott Bell. His experience and insights on how to write fiction that will get published are powerful, and carry the extra bonus of utilizing a novel writing/filmic structure approach (i.e., get published and get Hollywood interested).

What I love about Bell is his way of communicating. It feels direct, hands-on, clear, and loaded with valuable content. The presentation was billed as being on Structure.  It was, but Bell made Structure come alive by giving examples of his points that provide content we can relate to in our own novels.  Here's an overview of most of what he squeezed into an hour:

Bell calls his system for structure LOCK.
L:  Lead
O: Opposition
C: Confrontation
K: Knockout

L is the Lead Character.  Readers get into a novel by bonding with the character.  You want to open with a Boom!  Pull readers in right away. The lead character in trouble works well. This will immediately interest readers and get them rooting for the character.
1.  trouble for the character/imminent jeopardy
2.  hardship, not of the character's own making, and the character doesn't whine about it. Example:  Forrest Gump
3.  inner conflict—two voices in the character's head:  a) "you have to do this," and b) fear (usually)
4.  vulnerability:  at any point this character could be smashed by the forces arraigned against her
5.  no wimps.  Can start out there, but must see change very quickly

So, you are shooting for your character to display inner strength and likability.  

Likability often comes from a character who cares about others. Bell suggests a technique for incorporating this characteristic. It is called the 'pet the dog' or 'save the cat' beat. (He spoke in terms of 'beats,' as in music.) This is where the character takes a moment to protect someone else while they are themselves in great jeopardy.

For example, Harrison Ford in The Fugitive: the moment when Tommy Lee Jones' hunt for him is closing in; HF has figured out part of the truth about who murdered his wife and framed him for the crime, and is in Cook County Hospital in Chicago tracking down the proof he needs, with the U.S. Marshalls hot on his trail, when he sees an injured boy on a gurney in the incredibly overcrowded, understaffed hospital. He risks blowing his cover and getting caught by taking an interest in the boy, talking to him and realizing (because he's a great doctor) that this boy will die without immediate surgery. As HF forges a doctor's signature on an order for surgery and wheels the gurney to the surgical suite, the Feds are bursting through the front doors of the hospital in pursuit of him. We LOVE this lead character, who demonstrates his humanity in a moment of personal peril. His act of kindness can get him in more trouble. It raises the stakes and his likability.

O is Objective:  the main goal of the character for the novel. It has to be about impending death. This can be:
1.  physical death
2.  professional death—if the character fails, their professional life will either be over or severely damaged. (For example, Clarisse Starling in Silence of the Lambs)
3.  psychological death—this is the key to category romance, e.g.  If the one great love is lost, that's death.

The Objective can take two forms:  to get something, or to get away from something. The stakes are death. You must make the stakes matter to the character that much. These things have to be thought through before you start writing.

C is Confrontation:  the opposition character. The opposition must be stronger than the lead character. The opposition character doesn't have to be a villain. It can be someone with the opposite agenda (e.g. Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive). But you need to explain the opposition character's justification, so the reader feels some sympathy. Fully justify who they are, be able to crawl into their skin, and ask yourself, why do I love this character?

K is Knockout Ending:  the reader thinks, this is the perfect ending, but I didn't see it coming.

Endings are the hardest things to write because each is unique to the story.

Think of the climax as a final battle:  inside and outside. Inner conflict. Example:  Casablanca—the final battle is inside Rick. He can have Ilsa, but at a moral cost. He makes the moral choice and loses Ilsa, but his reward is he becomes a full person again and rejoins the war effort.

Bell made the point that these guidelines hold true for all dramatic writing, whether genre or literary.

For our part as writers, we all know that guidelines are only guidelines. Great writers break rules all the time, by doing what they do instead incredibly well (Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Ford's literary novel, Independence Day, comes to mind, in which he opens with a beautiful descriptive passage of setting.) But James Scott Bell's points are very well taken. If we use these guidelines where we can in our work, it (and we) will benefit.

There are many points in Bell's approach that resonated with me. The one that surprised me the most, because I'd never really thought about it, was that the opposition character (antagonist) must be stronger than the lead. That little statement opened up a whole new way of thinking about antagonists for me. How about you? Do you have a favorite writing truth you use to guide a writing choice?



Friday, February 25, 2011

Point of View... Which Shall I Use?

What point of view shall I use to write the next bestseller? An excellent question.

I wrote my aviation thriller in third person because I needed to show the motivation with each main character. It felt right because I could tell the story better, and delve into the minds of my main characters without giving away too much. The story unfolded with the complexities of what was going on within 5 POV characters. 

My current novel, I’m writing in first person because it’s all about the main character and her journey. It’s all about her voice. We don’t care what's really going on in the minds of those she deals with, because it’s her perception that brings humor to her adventure. First person works better for this story.

I received an interesting email from an author concerning this point of view question. 

G.B. said, “I wrote my novel in the third person omniscient. My editor tells me that that POV is passé today, that agents and publishers are looking for third person personal or first person POV. Have you heard that? Anyway, I'm rewriting in first person and working with her, but I'd love to send you and you trio or lovely ladies the first few chapters of my book in both versions and get your take.”

We are a trio of lovely ladies? I already love his writing. ;)
G.B. Sent me the first chapter of both. I decided to post the first couple paragraphs of each, and ask what you think.
Here we go….

Lucy Volgelryder thought she was being haunted; the fact that she did not believe in ghosts made the occasional visitations no less visceral.

The first time Lucy saw the spirit was when she was nine years old and playing in the vacant lot behind Shelly Sheckter’s house. The lot backed onto the railroad tracks that sliced through the heart of Plymouth, Michigan. Sleeping over at the Sheckter’s meant lying awake listening to telescoping train whistles. Playing in the empty lot out back meant constantly having to shout over the whoosh of commuter trains and the squeak and rattle of the slower freight cars, as they rolled slowly past.

Most of the lots had high fences that cordoned off the railway right-of-way from its residential neighbors. But for whatever reason there was no such barricade at the vacant lot, just a broken down fence no higher than Lucy’s shoulders, riddled with so many gaps that anyone wagering on more holes than boards would likely double their money.

The two girls were playing catch with a softball when Shelly tossed it high over Lucy’s head. Lucy was a tall girl but not that tall. The ball landed well behind her and bounced through one of the gaping holes in the fence.

“Well?” Lucy asked expectantly.



I am a cursed woman. Or so I believed for much of my life. I also felt I was being haunted; the simple fact that I do not believe in ghosts made the occasional visitations no less visceral.

I first saw the spirit when I was nine years old, while playing in the vacant lot behind Shelly Sheckter’s house. The lot backed onto the railroad tracks that sliced through the heart of Plymouth, Michigan.

We were playing catch with a softball when the ball sailed high over my head. It landed well behind me and bounced through one of the gaping holes in the fence that cordoned off the railroad right-of-way from its residential neighbors.

I turned to glare at Shelly. “Well?”

Thank you G.B. for sharing your work for this great discussion. I, too, have heard agents make the comment about omniscient being passé. Below are my thoughts.

You really have a way with words. I love both first lines. Both grabbing. I do think the impact of writing first person, especially since this is Lucy’s story, could be very powerful. But your omniscient third person writing style is great. I especially like the detail in the omniscient POV. I felt more on location and in the story in the first example.

Could you add more detail to the first person POV? I’ve taken what you wrote in the omniscient section and added it to the first person. What do you think?




 (Karlene’s Edit)

I am a cursed woman. Or so I believed for much of my life. I also felt I was being haunted; the simple fact that I do not believe in ghosts made the occasional visitations no less visceral.

I first saw the spirit when I was nine years old, while playing in the vacant lot behind Shelly Sheckter’s house. The lot backed onto the railroad tracks that sliced through the heart of Plymouth, Michigan.

Most of those lots had high fences that cordoned off the railway right-of-way from its residential neighbors. But for whatever reason there was no such barricade at our vacant lot, just a broken down fence no higher than my shoulders, riddled with so many gaps that anyone wagering on more holes than boards would likely double their money.

We were playing catch with a softball when the ball sailed high over my head. It landed well behind me and bounced through one of those gaping holes.
I turned to glare at Shelly. “Well?” 

I know G.B. would love to hear what you're thinking, as would I. Tell us what you think.

Thank you for sharing your work G.B!

Enjoy The Journey~

~ Karlene

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

About Heather

I'm a writer & reader of all things fantasy/sci-fi be it adult or YA. I have been known to branch out quite a bit in my reading though. If it's well written chances are I'll read it. On my personal blog, Heather's Odyssey, I share tales of my journey to make it easier for other aspiring writers to find the answers to their questions about the literary world.

I'm the co-creator and moderator of the #WritersRoad twitter chat which occurs every Monday night at 6:00pm PT. We often have great authors who drop in and sometimes even a literary intern, or an agent so be sure to stop by! We're taking the manic out of Mondays. You can find me on Twitter here.

I'm also a member of SCBWI (Society of Children's Writers and Illustrators). My first young adult urban fantasy, The Secret Of Spruce Knoll, is on submission to agents and is even in the hands of a few editors. Fingers crossed that I will have good news on that front soon! In the meantime I'm editing a historical young adult fantasy while outlining a young adult steampunk novel. Busy, busy, that's me! I look forward to getting to know you more.


About Karlene

I've lived in Seattle all my life, but for twenty two years have traveled the world as an airline pilot. I recently closed one chapter of my career, flying the 747-400 with Northwest Airlines, and excited to open the next chapter in 2010 on the Airbus A330 with Delta. I've raised three daughters, completed two masters’ degrees, worked with seven different airlines, have written training manuals and trained thousands of airline pilots. And now … it's time for the next chapter of my life to begin! I have plotted and crafted stories, in my mind, during my many journeys as a pilot. I have recently shifted gears from 'thinking about' these stories, to making them a reality. My first aviation thriller: Flight for Control, will be complete and with an agent in 2011. I have YA story in works: Twist of Faith. And watch out for the Darby series: Flight 69, Flight 151 and Flight 007… with many more to come. You can find me on Twitter here, and can find me on my aviation blog Flight To Success.


About Linda

I'm settled in the Northwest, close to my Mountain States roots after living quite a few places in the US, and one overseas (which was fabulous).  Reading has sustained me my whole life, so it feels like the most natural thing in the world to write, as well.  Suspenseful stories with an international flavor, and US historical fiction are my writing loves.  I've completed two suspense novels and am onto my first historical now.  Of these, the second suspense, Love, Lies, And Spies, is available for representation.

I'm a member of PNWA (Pacific Northwest Writers Association); a member of Sisters in Crime; a Board Member of the Seattle Chapter of the Women's National Book Association; and spent two years in a novel writing workshop taught by Fred Shafer of Northwestern University, as well as many years as a member of large, juried critique group. You can find me on Twitter here.


Characters: The Key To Success

Creating a living, breathing character that readers sympathize with, love, or hate is often the key to a successful novel. Coming up with one that isn't clique or run of the mill is the hard part. How many tough P.I.'s with a penchant for drinking and fast women, or teen girls pining for the untouchable guy have you read about? Far too many I imagine. Does that mean you can't put one in your story? No, not at all. However, if you want your novel to be successful all elements of your characters cannot be clique.

Your main character, or characters, must have depth. Not to say you can't have a shallow character. Every now and then I love a shallow character but even they have to have depth. Think of why they're shallow, what made them that way? There's your depth! Adding small things like habits, nuances, likes, and dislikes will make them more relatable. If readers can't relate with your characters in some way they probably won't keep reading.

One very important thing to remember is that your characters shouldn't be too perfect. If they're gorgeous, charismatic, and completely without flaws they aren't going to be someone readers will sympathize with. In reality, no one is without flaws, our characters shouldn't be either. They don’t have to be physical flaws, they can be emotional. A flawed character is a beautiful character. If you tend to make your characters too perfect make that your mantra.

How does one come up with characters? Observation of people is one of the best ways. Take a little bit from here, a little from there, and create someone unique. I'll reveal a secret of mine here. Sometimes I'll do those personal questionaires, you know the fun ones will all the questions about your likes, dislikes, and history. It creates a great spring board for ideas. Remember to have fun with it!


Monday, February 21, 2011

What I Learned at the SDSU Writers Conference

It's been three weeks since the San Diego State University Writers Conference, and I can hardly believe I'm just now getting around to blogging about it! We Critique Corner Sisters were all there, and had an excellent experience. If you're considering conferences, this is a good one to look into.

The overall is, it's a comfortable conference with high level professionals running it and leading seminars, sharing their expertise, talking to writers one-on-one through appointments for both pitching and editorial review of material you send in ahead of time, AND, maybe the most distinguishing thing about the conference is that it's set up for casual, open interaction with editors and agents.  Each day, time is set aside for drinks, snacks or lunch in a ballroom with big round tables labeled by genre.  You can sit anywhere you choose, and agents and editors join the table and chat with writers about what they're working on, and frequently request submissions.

I've been madly restructuring my first two chapters based on thoughtful input I got from a terrific editor there, which is my main (if inadequate) excuse for just now getting to this blog post.

Here's an important fact about the face-to-face opportunities you get at conferences:  the general success rate of writers getting submission requests is reported to be around 60%.  That's right.  Six zero.  Compare that with the success rate of around 1% we hear about for unsolicited mail or email queries.

Aside from that, though, I want to share a couple of prize tidbits I picked up from speakers at SDSU:

From agents Kathleen Anderson, Amy Burkhardt and Loretta Barrett, on the role of agents in the new publishing paradigm:
     Publishers are years behind on e-book publishing, which is not yet producing huge revenue for them. One big problem area is the definition of e-book rights in contracts, which publishers have not nailed down properly.
     Authors need a contract that preserves these rights, and agents control the content of the contracts, so they are an extremely important link for authors.
     Make sure your agent is fighting for everything for you—the out-of-print clause, the e-book clause, everything.
     Multi-apps publishers will grow.  A multi-app is not an e-book, not a movie, it's a mix.  (Think children's picture books with touch hyperlinks that make voice or atmosphere sounds, and expand that to other sophisticated formats that combine media.)
     The role of editors is still extremely important, and more and more, writers are hiring free-lance editors.
     Publicists are crucial.  It's tough to find the right one when looking for a free-lance if that's what you need to do.  The cost range is huge, from a firm like Lynn Goldberg's ($15-20,000 for a six month contract that does everything, to firms that charge far less for very targeted programs, like only national radio tours, which are great for non-fiction, but not fiction). Loretta Barrett suggested a good book on publicity:  Publicize Your Book, by Jacqueline Deval.

These agents' ideas about the new paradigm that's trying to emerge were fascinating, thought provoking, and helpful.

On a different day, James Scott Bell, best-selling novelist and writing teacher, gave an outstanding presentation on the subject of story structure and content, which is more the type of thing we usually talk about on this blog.  I've run out of time and space on this post, but will come back next Monday to share some powerful specific strategies he provided on how to write fiction that will get published.

So here's my sign-off question:  are you thinking in terms of e-publishing for your novel?  If you've looked into it, or done it, could you share what you learned about what role an agent/editor/publisher plays in the process?  Do the things the agents talked about at the SDSU panel fit with your understanding of the current situation?  Thanks!!


Friday, February 18, 2011

Gratitude and Passing it Forward

Stylish Blogger Award: When Lindsey's The Write Words blog  bestowed this incredible award upon the Critique Sisters Corner, we were overjoyed. Gratitude for the honor, and excited with the opportunity to pay it forward. Thank you Lindsey!

The rules for accepting this award:

1. Thank and link back to the person who gave the award
2. State seven things about yourself
3. Pass the award on to any recently discovered great bloggers

Here are seven things about Heather, Linda and Karlene
  1. Heather lives in Oregon, and Karlene and Linda live in Seattle. 
  2. We all met in Hawaii at the Hawaii Writer's conference in 2008
  3. Heather has completed 8 novels, 5 of which are ready for publication. Linda has 2 complete novels and a 3rd on the way. Karlene has completed 1 novel, and will have 3 more by August. 
  4. Heather writes YA. Linda writes Mystery, Women's suspense and Historical. Karlene writes thrillers, mainstream and non-fiction motivational. 
  5. Heather has a background in Law Enforcement. Linda, once an advertising executive, is now following her passion of full time writing. Karlene is an airline pilot and speaker. Linda and Karlene are active with
  6. We all love conferences! Heather is currently at the San Francisco Writers' conference. We all attended the SDSU Writers' conference a few weeks ago, and we'll be together at the PNWA in August. 
  7. Heather's favorite drink: Coffee. But she will be toasting a mixed drink when she gets published. Linda will be toasting one of her killer martinis. Karlene will toasting with a splash of bubbly, a martini and a rum drink.
A few of our favorite bloggers:  (Kate Haggard, The Saucy Scrivener)  (Morgan Lee, Fantasy Fairy)  (Pensees.  Love Stories)  (A.L. Sonnichsen, The Green Bathtub)  (Rachael Harrie,  Rach Writes) (Michael Di Gesu In Time) (Sisters in Scribe, Kristie, Valerie, and Lacey) (Anne Riley) (Brenda Drake) (Karlal Antelli) (Victoria Neuville)

Thank you Lindsey. Thank you bloggers for making our list easy. Thank you readers.

Happy Writing!

~ Karlene

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Beyond Perfecting The First Page

Many of us writers work so hard on our first page that we know most of it by heart. It's our first impression so we have done our best to make it a good one. We probably have workshopped it, had it critiqued by agents and/or editors at conferences, and had our critique partners or beta readers go over it until they never wanted to see it again. Chances are we've cut, added, and edited it until our eyes felt like they were going to bleed. But what about the rest of the novel?

That's right. Get the visine out, add an extra pillow to your chair, and limber up those wrists because your editing work has only begun with the first page. If you have polished that page like I'm certain you have then it is likely brilliant. But what if an agent or an editor asks for a partial or a full of your manuscript? What will they find on page two, page 10, or even page 100? You must think beyond that first page and prepare to work just as hard on the rest of the novel.

Once you've gone through the entire novel with as much care and precision as you have the first page, then you have something that is ready to submit. The brilliance of the first page must echo on through the novel. Come chat with us live this Thursday at 6:00pm pacific time on Twitter for the Writer's Road chat where we'll discuss this in depth. Click for a link here and then type in WritersRoad. We hope to see you there!


Monday, February 14, 2011

Show Don't Tell

Probably the first guideline we learn when we want to be writers is "show don't tell."  It's easier said than done, of course, but without a doubt it's also the easiest way to separate the amateurs from the pros when it comes to storytelling.

Sometimes it's necessary to tell, especially with setting.  The trick there is to be sure the telling doesn't sound like it's in the author's voice.  Have it come from the character's voice and express a legitimate character need, not the author's need to tell.

Telling can be distancing (She took her shoes off and walked across the pebble beach to the ocean's waves.) Showing, on the other hand, is intimate and immediate (Foam from the crashing waves gobbled the pebbles of the beach, racing toward her, and threw its icy fingers over her bare toes.) Showing puts the reader right in there with the characters and lets him/her vicariously experience what's going on.  This is certainly a desirable place to be for a reader, and as writers, we want to get our readers there frequently. The key to show, don't tell, is to dramatize the narrative, or "put it in scene."

Who doesn't remember this childhood scary tale line: "Slowly he came, step by step, inch by inch . . ."  Jumping up and down and screams all around! How boring it would have been to start, instead, with "The monster came into the room to eat up the little children."

One of my favorite examples of showing is from a contemporary author of fun crime fiction (I'm inventing categories), Colin Cotterill.  His opening paragraph of Anarchy and Old Dogs describes a blind man retrieving mail from the post office.  Immediately below is my rendering of it that makes it more telling than showing (with profound apologies to Mr. Cotterill).  Following that is his paragraph.

Mine:  Dr. Buagaew was blind, but he managed to get around fine.  At the post office he walked directly to the p.o. box section from memory and reached out to touch the wood boxes.  He felt for the loop of wool that was wound around the door of his box to make it easy for him to find.  When he found it, he ran his hand over it to find the keyhole, then fingered the key into it and opened the box.  He reached in to find the thin envelope he was expecting.  His co-conspirator had delivered, as promised.

Colin Cotteril's:  The post office box was eighteen across, twelve down, and it had a loop of wool wound around the door so Dr. Buagaew wouldn't miss it.  He traced the keyhole with his left hand and inserted the key with his right.  From inside the wooden chamber came the scent of bygone correspondence:  of brown paper parcels and glue, of old parchment and secrets.  His hand fell upon a thin envelope.  He knew it would be there and he knew what it contained because only one other person was aware of the post office box address.

What's so great about Cotteril's rendering of this paragraph is that he actually shows us that the doctor is blind, without using any clichés like tapping a white cane. Between the wool loop, tracing the keyhole, and the wonderful scents he notices, we know without being told.

What's your feeling about show don't tell?  Is it something you do naturally, or do you work at it? Do you have examples of telling vs. showing?  It's always great to add more ideas to the arsenal for that ever-greedy show don't tell monster.


Friday, February 11, 2011

How Important is Proof-Reading?

A friend sent me a question--- Is proof-reading important? On face value this is a simple question with an easy answer. Yes, you must proof-read. Many times. Publishers should be concerned.  Most publishers won't see your book if it hasn't been proof-read because it won't make it past the agent and editor.  I've posted the letter below and would love to hear your opinion.

"I just wanted to run something by you since you are an aspiring new author.  Do you believe in proof-reading before sending a manuscript to the printers?   Would or should a publisher be concerned if an article or book was NOT proof-read?  

In the last year or so, I have looked at a variety of books (mainly on aviation topics, but also a few others).  To my surprise, I've found multiple errors in spelling, grammar and even explanations and sometimes incorrect diagrams too!  I am not talking about the occasional typo, but errors every few pages.  

Three separate books by different authors, all had tons of mistakes and errors.  IMHO, that is not only distracting but it also shows a lack of credibility and professionalism.  If this is the standard they set, then why should I bother to read their work, let alone purchase it?  Imagine if you were looking for a job and sent a cover letter/resume in for your dream job and it was full of typos, incorrect spelling and bad formatting.  Do you think it may just end up in the circular file? 

The author of this question provided an example of an aviation book that he'd said had multiple negative reviews. I looked at the book in question, and while it's supposed to be a technical book, there are in fact many errors.

"The reason I decided NOT to buy it was my browsing several pages allowed on Amazon and the volume of negative reviews on its content.  I'm not even sure if the author knows that his book is so full of errors!  I would never buy a tech book that is inaccurate to this extent and it kind of makes a mockery of its title, Ace The Pilot Technical Interview  

If you look at the same book under the US Amazon, you get even more negative reviews.  The majority of the positive ones seem to be the entry-level pilots starting out on their careers and perhaps they wouldn't be able to tell the difference between a right and wrong answer." 

---- Excellent point. When you are an expert a particular field like aviation, when the agent is not, perhaps the agent doesn't know the book is in error. I'm sure they don't have technical experts in all areas.  Is this a good excuse? I don't think so.

"Another book on how to answer any question during an interview, had the author come back to a reviewer saying, don't worry so much about the typos, it's the message inside that's important, not the spelling or grammar! --- I assure you that spelling and grammar mean everything.

Maybe as a pilot, I've learned that if you are going to do something, you should do it right, not half-heartily.  Also, I think it is in the pilot psyche to be detail-oriented and meticulous.  Besides, whatever happened to Spell Checker?!  I would think most authors using a word processing or publishing program to write their books would have this feature enabled, so why not use it?

Spelling and grammar are not important--- they are essential. Most people won't read the content if there are errors. If you're going to do it, do it right. I'm sorry you had this experience, but it could be a result of self publishing. I looked up the publisher in question with this aviation book, yes they have a branch of self publishing. 

Unfortunately authors who publish without the pride and ownership, give self-publishing a bad name. I am not against self-publishing, but it you do it, do it right. 

How many times should we proof-read our work?  What steps do you take to create perfection? Inquiring minds want to know.

Happy Writing

~ Karlene


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Key To A Good Critique Group

It isn't enough to find just any critique group. To really learn and grow as a writer you have to find the right critique group. Figuring out exactly what that is can sometimes be as difficult as finding it. A good critique group is well balanced, and I don't mean genre. You can belong to a group that all write different genres and it can be the perfect group. I know because I belong to such a group.

The balance is in the way everyone critiques. You don't want to belong to a group that sits around and only tells each other how wonderful their writing is unless all you need is affirmation and a pat on the back. It is nice to have that pat on the back now and then but there is little to nothing you'll learn from a group like that because chances are high that they aren't being honest.

Honesty is the key to a good critique group. However, that key should be handled carefully instead of wielded like a battle-ax. The members of the group should be able to affectively communicate what didn't work for them in your manuscript and why. However, this should be done with a bit of grace. We don't want a lovefest but we don't want a slaughter either. Balance makes the key work. The group should say what they liked and what they didn't. After a session you should feel like you'll be able to improve your work with their feedback. If not, then the group may not be right for you.

Be open minded, choose wisely, and have fun. Remember, you're there to learn and improve and hopefully help them do the same. Check out my good friend Lisa's post on When To Take Advice. Here at the Critique Sister's Corner we'll be sharing our methods with you as well as critiques on query letters, first lines, first paragraphs and all kinds of other things. Thank you for joining us. We look forward to sharing this journey with you.


Monday, February 7, 2011

First Line Contest Again

Hi everyone,

I'm adding a third post to Linda's.   She came across a fabulous contest. Check it out on Brenda Drake's blog:

Here's my entry:

Name:  Karlene Petitt
Title:    Flight For Control
Genre:  Thriller

The storm raging outside the cockpit window reflected the nightmare Sandra called her career.

I, too, would love your comments, thanks!

~ Karlene

First Line Contest

Hi everyone,

Doing a second post in the same day because came across a fabulous contest. Check it out on Brenda Drake's blog:

It's simple and straightforward and has great prizes, including an agent critique. You have to post your first line on your own blog, and list your info and url in the form Brenda provides in her post.

The idea is to post your entry today or tomorrow, get feedback from your readers, then revise (if you want to) and submit the first line to the contest on Wednesday this week.

Here's my entry:

Name:   Linda Gray
Title:    And When I Die
Genre:  Suspense

Three days after we settled in London, a shadow I thought I'd seen moving behind me as I explored the city fleshed itself out in the form of a dark suit that breezed past my left elbow.

Revision:  A shadow I'd seen flicker behind me as I explored London fleshed itself out on the third day, in the form of a dark suit that breezed past my left elbow.

Revision 2:  A shadow breezed past my left elbow in the form of a dark suit.  The way it moved was familiar, blood-chilling—I'd seen it flicker behind me for three days as I explored London.

Would love your comments, thanks!



You know that famous phrase, “the Devil is in the details?”  Or its corollary (which I think actually came first), “God is in the details?”  We all know the wisdom of these phrases when it comes to things like contracts—whether for health insurance or a car loan or pest control or a movie deal for our manuscript (well, we only HOPE to know it about the movie deal, but we can imagine).  Buyer beware!  Check those details with a magnifying glass before you sign on the dotted line.

But it's not only in areas where we need to be wary that details are important. It's also in areas that we want to be great, beautiful, and fulfilling in our personal lives, like love, food, travel and reading—and writing.  Just as the real worth of a contract is shaped, and possibly hidden, in its details, the real worth of our writing shines through the details we include.  When you think of the books that have meant the most to you, I'm willing to bet the ones that come to mind are the ones that evoke the clearest, most visceral impressions of characters, feelings, action and settings. How do those authors do that? Through well-rendered details.

Compare these two sentences:

1.  Tiny beads of moisture slicked Julia's skin, and larger drops fell intermittently from the trees to the sodden carpet of leaves beneath her feet.

2.  Julia stood under the still-dripping trees after the rain, getting wet.

Number one is taken from the prologue of Leave the Grave Green by Deborah Crombie.   Number two makes the same factual statement, without the embellishment.  In Crombie's rendering of this sentence—tiny beads of moisture slicking Julia's skin, the falling drops being larger and intermittent, the sodden carpet of leaves—what a difference these details make in painting the picture and making it visceral.  I especially like the work the active verb, “slicked” does in combination with those “tiny beads of moisture.”  I have an impression of how Julia probably feels standing there, because I'm there with her.

When I look at the use of details in this context, I begin to appreciate anew the rewriting my old professor in a novel-writing group required of us.  "Take that sentence and re-render it, using detail that comes from the character's emotion," he would exhort us, and we would sigh in frustration because we thought the sentence was doing it's job of getting the reader from point A to point B just fine.  But then we would do it and get excited because he was right.  Just looking at the difference between the examples above makes that clear to me. (And that part about making the detail relate to the character is essential,whether it's coming from her emotions or is external but clearly affects her in that moment.)

If this kind of attention to detail didn't come naturally to you as you wrote your first draft, it represents an important level of revision.  When I revise to add detail, I only hope to have the insight and patience needed to do it well:  awareness of where sentences can be made richer through more detail without slowing the pace inappropriately, and a willingness to apply myself in all those spots.  Pace is an important consideration with this topic—we need to be aware of that, too.  Even in the fastest-paced genre novels, though, deftly-used, telling details are what make the difference between a good story and a great one.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Are You Set Once You Get An Agent?

There is a misconception that once you get an agent things will start to snowball from there and you'll be on the fast track to success. That is unfortunately a myth. The reality of it is, the road is long and hard even after you get an agent. You move on from having to impress one person, to having to impress an entire publishing house. Publishers do not buy books lightly, especially not with the tumultuous state the economy is in.

I had an agent and believed the myth myself once. After a year I ended up parting ways with him due to a restructuring of his company. Do over night successes still happen? Yes, but they are fewer and farther between today.

You will go through at least one edit with your agent to polish up your manuscript. This process can be quick or painfully long, it all depends on you and your work. The faster and better you edit, the faster this part of the process will go. My edits took about a month, between me doing them, e-mailing them to my agent, and him approving them. Once he was happy with the work he began submitting me immediately.

After you get an agent the work does not end there. While they're working hard to sell your book you need to be working hard to sell yourself. Your online presence will become vital. Editors looking at your book will most likely google you to see what your platform (or online presence) looks like. Always be careful what you say. Be careful what you say on line. If you don't want a publishing house editor who's considering buying your book to read something you said on line, you shouldn't have said it. Help your agent sell your book by maintaining a professional on line presence.

So how long does the process take from agent to publishing contract? I'll let you know when I get there! It's different for everyone. If you remove time for the holidays my book has been on submission for going on nine weeks now. The great news is, we haven't received a single rejection yet! The bad news, I've realized I really need to work on that elusive virtue called patience.


Dream Big And Visualize

Absolutely nothing has ever been created, built, invented, or come to fruition that has not begun as someone’s idea, thought and visualization. Our thoughts create our reality. We manifest what we have in our lives because of our beliefs, needs, desires and dreams. The key is to know exactly what it is that we want. Send the universe our desires and they will come true.

It’s not easy. Obstacles are placed in our way, daily. But obstacles have a purpose. They represent our fears and doubts. They teach us how to navigate them, challenge us to continue, or give us reason to give up. The choice is ours as to what we do with them.

I can actually see my first novel, Flight for Control, in print. The cover is gold and brown and a setting sun paints the background. Angled across the cover, flies a 747. Half the plane on the front, the other half on the back, and when we remove the cover of this hardback, we can hang the picture on our wall.

When I write, I can see my characters. I see them as if they were the cast in a movie and I hear their voices. They’re alive. They live in the pages. Can I make this dream, and this story come to life by visualizing it? Why not? Everything in my life has been accomplished by first a thought, then a dream, and a crystal clear picture of what I want, followed by a lot of hard work. There is nothing that I haven’t desired in my life that I haven’t achieved. I attribute that to the power of the mind and that first thought. If your dream is to publish your novel, then see it happening and make it real.

We need more than focused determination, commitment and effort to accomplish our dreams. We need direction. Without a destination, without that dream, we’ll never get there because we won’t know where ‘there’ is. See where you want to go, and the sky is the limit! Visualize it.

Dream big and see yourself in that dream. Feel the joy and the excitement of the success before it happens, and know that it will happen. See your novel come to life and your dream become a reality. Enjoy the process and live the dream.

Write on!


Writing Time/Writer's Discipline

Most writers love to write -- why else do it? It's not like anyone who tries it can easily make a living at it, so you need to love it, but life doesn't always allow for doing what you love. For most of us, it's necessary to carve out the time and convince ourselves that we deserve it.

Once you've done that and you have your writing time scheduled in your daily routine, do you stick to it? If you've got young children or a demanding job that can pull you away from any routine you set up for yourself, or even if you've just got an already pretty full life, it's not that easy. Fact is, it's not that easy no matter what, in my opinion. Not until it becomes an addiction of sorts.

Jeff Davis (The Journey from the Center to the Page) is a great teacher and writer whose class I took at the Taos Writers Conference a couple of years ago. He gave us a tip for sticking to a writing schedule. He said a good friend of his, who lived down the road from him and who is also a writer, kept tabs on him. Jeff would get up in the morning and do his yoga and go to his writing desk and at 6:00 a.m. the telephone would ring -- it would be his friend calling to ask if he was writing. No getting to it later, or another day, that phone was going to ring every morning. The message was: find an incentive to get you to stick to your discipline.

I decided to adapt Jeff's system. A writing buddy of mine and I set up a regularly scheduled telephone conversation every weekend. (She lives in a different state, btw. It doesn't have to be someone down the road.) We report to each other --with complete honesty -- on what writing progress we've made on our projects during the week, and we pledge to each other what we will do in the coming week. When we started doing this, our pledge was fifteen minutes a day, five days a week. We figured no matter what else was going on, we could find fifteen minutes. Now we're at an hour minimum.

This system really works. It's amazing what saying it out loud to someone will do for you. I managed to find those fifteen minutes -- no excuses -- and, surprise, surprise, once I did, I started writing at least that long each day, even if the writing seemed like nothing but dreck. Fifteen minutes became an hour or more, and after months of doing that the most amazing thing happened -- I developed a sort of 'writer's muscle'. Try it, you'll see. You'll have strength and stamina to write longer and longer the more you do it. It will feel natural. And if you miss a day you'll feel bereft! In other words, it becomes kind of addictive. Thank you, Jeff!


Minutes Don't Roll Over...They Disappear

How often have we said, “I don’t have time,” or “I wish I had time,” or somebody calls to inform you how busy they are, and why they 'don’t have time’?

Very few publish authors began their careers with the luxury of not working another job, inside or outside their home. How did they do it? Did they have more time than you or I?

Time is the only thing that is universally exactly the same for everyone. Nobody gets more hours in their day than anyone else. We just ‘choose’ to use our time differently. The bottom line of time is prioritizing. Yes, we have kids, grandkids, careers, homes, responsibilities, families, gardens, friends, homework, etc. I could personally write a single-spaced page on the demands of a day. How do we squeeze another minute out of our already busy days?

The key to success is finding those scattered and lost minutes that we have misplaced, and use them wisely. There was a time when I would write lists of all I had to do, until one of my daughters informed me that list writing was a procrastination technique. I debated that thought for awhile, and then realized she was right. I didn’t really need to spend an hour today scheduling tomorrow. Efficiency experts delve into businesses and find ways to save millions of dollars. Why don’t we delve into our own lives, and find ways to save time? Each minute saved will be one minute closer to our goals. But where is that missing time?

I’ve found many missing minutes lying in my bed, thinking about getting up in the morning. Now, instead of ‘thinking about’ getting up, if I wake up at 0400, I get up and begin writing. It’s quiet, my mind is fresh, and the phone doesn’t ring. Spending time with my husband is now a long walk while I tell him about my novel, and we strategize who will get murdered next. Discussing plot points while getting fresh air is really fun! Inspiration blooms while talking out loud, and it takes away the stress of my hubby’s day too. Oh yes, and my house is often a mess. I have decided that I would rather write my novel than sweep the floor. I’ve just lowered my standards on how clean my house really needs to be, and have learned that the laundry doesn’t care if it sits in the dryer for a couple days before it’s folded. While I signed a contract with William Bernhardt that I would write 50 pages a week, I made a commitment with myself that I would write every day. What commitment are you willing to make with yourself?

Realize one thing: You are important and deserve some of that valuable resource, we call time, you so willingly give away to everyone and everything. If only one hour a day, then 365 hours later, you will have your novel complete. Be committed to yourself and your craft, and you will get there. Take time for yourself and write, you deserve it!


Stealing Time To Write

Until you're one of the lucky few who get to call writing their full time job and earn an income that allows you to keep it that way, you'll have to manage your writing time with your day to day life. As someone with a full time job, spouse, animals, and a budding writing career, I can tell you this is no easy task. I know people who have quit writing because they just couldn't find that happy balance of time. How does one avoid such a sad end? That's going to depend on you, your family, and how bad you want to write.

Like many of you out there I lead a very busy life. For the most part I can't stick to a writing schedule because I never know when I'm going to have time. So how do I do it? Sometimes literally one minute at a time. I don't set my goals so high that I have to have hours to write. I'm happy if I can sit down for five minutes and write a paragraph. Progress is progress, no matter how small. You have to take what you can get. Whenever I can I try to plan on writing first thing in the morning as I do my networking (Twitter, Facebook, e-mails). I literally write between pages loading. This won't work if you're blessed with fast internet service! I'll admit, it's not the best way to write, all distracted and such, but it works. Once I'm done networking-set a timer for this folks, you'll thank yourself later-then I enter everything I hand wrote the day before into my computer. I carpool which allows me to take a notebook and write all the way to work. Whenever I can I also write during my breaks at work.

None of us have time, not in today's world. The key to getting your writing done is to steal time. Try to write while the kids are napping or take a notebook to their soccer practice. Write any time and anywhere you can. Best of luck!


Just Do It

Like many wannabe writers, I’ve always had the best of intentions to write a novel. The first chapter always found its way onto my computer, but the next time I sat to work on it, I edited what I had previously written. This process went on for many years. The moral of that story is I had many versions of a first chapter.

For years I have been crafting stories in my head, with the greatest of intentions to put them to paper. But I never did. Not because I didn’t try, or because I didn’t have a strong enough desire, it was that life just got in the way. A husband, three kids, a couple master degrees, and starting my career over at seven different airlines, always got in the way.

A few years back a friend told me that I should attend the Maui Writer’s conference, and I agreed. But the price, and the time commitment, and life… it all got in the way.

The great thing about life is we all have a choice. Of course we have obligations and commitments, but what I realized is if I wanted to succeed as a writer, I needed to invest in myself and take the plunge. I made the right choice.

The Hawaii Writer’s conference was by far the best investment I had made in years! With William Bernhardt as my instructor, I took away an education of a lifetime. I realized that my delay in writing was actually due to my inability of knowing ‘how to’ put my story together. And the women in my class, Heather and Linda, gave me the greatest gift: a realization that I belong in their world, the world of writers.

The place where imagination, creativity, research, and a lot of hard work, come together to make dreams come true. These women have assisted me with the basics, provided encouragement, and indulged my many questions. Our conversations of plot and character arcs took me to a new level of enjoyment. I realized that this is the world in which I belong. I am living in a fantasy with my characters, bringing them to life, and love every minute of it.

Making a commitment, to William Bernhardt, to write everyday gave me focus. And with my new skills, along with the commitment to myself, in three months I’ve finished a 400 page novel, and am on the 3rd revision! It won’t be long until I too am submitting to agents. I even joined a writers group. And yes… I am making this work with grandkids, holidays, birthdays, floods, and studying my new airplane. If I can do it… you can too.

It’s more than wanting it… it’s all about making a commitment and just doing it! Believe in yourself and go for it. Life is too short to do anything else… but write!


My Paid Vacation Just Got Better

Being an international pilot definitely has its benefits in combining the job and the opportunity to write. Sitting in airports, the commute from Seattle to Detroit and Anchorage, time abroad on layovers, or those middle of the night time zone confusion wake-ups, have enabled me to obtain two masters degrees. This year, however, has brought new challenges, passion, opportunities, and a new set of eyes.

My writing has shifted from technical to fiction. Dressed in black for Delta Airlines, I will be flying the Airbus 330 to Europe instead of the Boeing 744 to Tokyo. And I may get to spend, up to, seventeen fun-filled days in Detroit, on reserve. Reserve: the process of sitting in a hotel room, on your nickel, waiting for someone to call in sick so you can cover their trip. This may appear painful, because it is, but not without opportunity.

I have “decided” to look at this new life as an opportunity to write. Seventeen days in a hotel room without laundry, dishes, cooking, = productivity. And my new set of eyes… They are not the glasses that I undoubtedly need after sitting at my computer for the previous six months, eight hours a day, but the fact I will see my new world differently.

Characters captured in the terminal, the taste of Linda’s air inhaled, education on the history and a sharp eye for Heather’s channelers in Ireland, will remain in focus. Mystery, intrigue, and plots abound.

As writers, we must take advantage of the world we see, feel, taste and experience, even if it’s our own backyard. But if we have the opportunity to travel, make that backyard the world. And remember to bring extra batteries. For your computer, Lela. ;)


Up In The Air

There are two main ways that travel affects my writing that I'm aware of. One is that amazing sense of suspension you get when you're actually in the travel mode -- especially if it's on an airplane. Maybe a ship going across the ocean would be the same -- I've never done that. But I know that when I'm flying I'm not anywhere except up in the air, and it's an incredibly wonderful feeling of freedom and possibility. It's a time when imagination can be whole, like in a lucid dream, and stories can spin or plans unfold that would never have been so accessible on the ground.

Then there's the actual experience of the place you travel to. Places always figure big in my imagination and in my writing. When I was very young I was drawn to novels that gave me the taste and smell and sights and sounds of places so powerfully that I felt I was there. Historical novels and mysteries set in foreign countries (or New York City, which seemed like an exotic locale to me back then) were big on my nightstand. Now that I'm grown up, I find myself drawn to those same kinds of descriptions in my own writing, but now I draw from personal experience as well as imagination.

When I remember places I've been, the first thing that comes to mind is the feel of the air. (I know, it's all about air again - can't seem to help it.) Somehow that awareness triggers everything else I feel about a place: the imprint left on me by its architecture, landscape, social culture etc. In Honolulu the air held the kind of heat that made my skin stand up and take notice, happy but looking for that ocean breeze. In the English countryside there's an incredible gentleness, almost a waftiness, to the air, that caresses when it's warm and chills when it's not. In Manhattan the fresh air (yes, it can be wonderfully fresh, as long as there isn't a garbage strike!) embeds itself in the amazing energy that comes from the pulse of the city to fill your heart with excitement.

Next week I get to go to Buenos Aires. I've never been south of the Equator before, although I have been to Venezuela (where the air felt settled, somehow). I am so excited to get this new experience, and plan to take lots of pictures and lots of notes about all those sensory details that make a place unique. High on my packing priority list: comfortable shoes. A person has to walk a lot and feel the air to know how things are.


Trouble With Outlines

The hardest thing in the writing process for me is outlining my book before I start. I wasn't always a believer in outlines. When I attended the Hawaii Writer's Retreat my instructor William Bernhardt (NY Times bestselling thriller author) made me do an outline on my story, even though it was finished. I was adamant that I do not do outlines but he insisted and I did as I was instructed. Wow am I glad I did. It revealed so many problems in my manuscript I was blown away. It showed exactly where there were pacing problems with too much action or lack thereof, revealed issues with character and plot arc, and showed me a ton of things I needed to cut and rearrange. Guess that NY Times bestselling author really knew what he was talking about. Go figure. From then on I was hooked on doing an outline.

That doesn't mean it's easy for me. I get part of an outline done and start getting the itch to write. Then I catch up to where I am on the outline and get impatient. I don't want to waste time on doing an outline, I want to keep pushing forward! That's when I slow myself down and remind myself of the lesson I learned at that first writer's retreat. I will screw it up if I don't outline it. I have no doubt I will, it's just how I am! So I get out the sheets of paper and start working on it. I use my own version of the roman numeral method and map out what I want to happen in each chapter, the key points and all that. Now I'm also outlining a character arc for each of my main characters (learned that one at our Tulsa retreat!).

Despite the difficulty of committing myself to it, I understand the importance of an outline and will always make myself do one. After all, I know it will ensure I end up editing a lot less! Check out my friend Jamie's hilarious and ingenious way of outlining. What is the toughest part of writing for you?


Finding The Right Words

My Critique Sisters and I were discussing our challenges in writing and I said, “I have no challenges.” But of course, "there is something that must be difficult,” they replied. "What could that be?" I asked. I sit at the computer and the story flows from my mind, heart, and soul via my fingers, through the keys, to the blank page. My chapters are scenes in a movie. My characters are real to me. I love dialogue. And I write. And write and write. My greatest obstacle is placing life on hold so I can delve into my fantasy world.

So what is my challenge? What is difficult? I realize that the meaning I attach to these words does not define writing in my vocabulary. Those two words instill the feeling of angst, the image of obstacles, the thought of overwhelming frustration, being burdensome, demanding, or unyielding. And writing does not make me feel anything but creativity, joy and flow. There lays my personal challenge... vocabulary.

Crafty, creative, emotion inducing, thought provoking words that can instill feeling, and portray characters emotions by their actions, do not come natural. They sneak in during my many rewrites. Someone said, “It’s okay to be a lousy writer, as long as you’re a great editor.” I say, "Make sure you have a thesaurus close by and a critique group."

We all have areas that need extra effort, but those areas do not have to be challenges. They just require a little more attention. Keep crafting and each day you will be one step closer to your dream, and remember to remove the word "difficult" from your vocabulary.


The Tunnel Vision Challenge

Where to begin? So many to choose from. Everything from story development to characterization to authenticity can be challenging to writers, and that's just skimming the top of the barrel. I'd have to say that, at the moment, my greatest challenge is within the realm of style.

It's not that I don't know what my style of writing is or that it doesn't come naturally. It's more that I let myself follow my mind's eye and ear and my heart, to the exclusion of paying attention to the proper writing conventions. For me, that translates into blocks of dialogue that are not broken up by action or internal monologue or environmental factors. And blocks of internal monologue, and blocks of exposition. When something is fascinating to me, I get tunnel vision.

This is not always easily fixable on rewrite, but it is fixable. The more I work at it, the easier it becomes. I have to admit, however, that at this point, I'm not catching all the times I make this mistake, not without help. A novel is a big, sprawling octopus of a narrative, and it's just plain hard to pin those powerful, squirmy, suction-cuppy arms down where they belong.

Perhaps the most important thing I'm learning from my challenges is how incredibly valuable a good critique group is. It's so invigorating to recognize problem areas and actually fix them! That's what happens with good critiquing and determination. With the help of my wonderful critique group, I'm thinking that my tunnel vision will someday be a thing of the past.


Revision Is What You Make Of It

Rewriting can be painful or it can be liberating for your manuscript. It's all up to you.

After many queries I finally got an agent for my first book. A couple rounds of editing commenced then he submitted it to a few editors. After over a year he admitted defeat and we parted ways. The shortcut for that book/series now glares at me from my computer screen. It demands satisfaction. Who am I to deny it?

For those of you who follow my personal blog, Heather's Odyssey, you know rewriting that series is one of my New Year's resolutions. The premise is solid, the characters are intriguing, and the story deserves to be told. I cannot and will not walk away from it. But how to start such a monumental rewrite and not drown in it? It's all in the outlook. It isn't depressing to me that the poor book didn't make it the first time. In fact, reading over it now with a more educated eye, it's painfully obvious why it didn't make it. I'm excited about breathing new life into it and making it into something spectacular. I don't dread the rewrite, I'm looking forward to it.

I've printed it out, all 435 pages of it, and have set a date on my calendar. And I mean that literally, a date. I plan on getting a nice bottle of wine, my trusted red pen, and spending the entire weekend with my manuscript. Rewriting doesn't have to be a headache. It is what you make of it. No doubt there will be many edits for that book in the future but I look forward to each and every one!


The Power Of The Rewrite: Distance

Hawaii writer’s retreat and conference, 2009, taught me many things, such as the reality of editing and rewrites. One bestselling author had said, “I rewrote my first novel 22 times before it was published.” Another said, “I rewrote this novel 13 times.” Similar comments were tossed about the conference. This concept of rewriting appeared to be a common occurrence among the best. New to the game, I had to wonder what is the difference between an edit, and a rewrite?

While ‘edit’ and ‘rewrite’ are found on different pages in the dictionary, they have a unified meaning in my vocabulary: The continual process of transforming flat characters, poor structure, and inadequate pages into something remarkable that moves the reader. It is a process.

How many times will we need to perform this process? Until you can’t find anything else to change. This can only occur if you give yourself space from your novel. Write it. Edit. Revise. Rework. Reread. Re-edit. Continue this process until you believe that your manuscript is perfect. Then set it aside for a month. Yes… a month! I actually tied a ribbon around mine and set it in the middle of the dining room table. When you return to read it again, you will look at it with a fresh set of eyes and discover what worked, and what did not

Two tips:

1. Read aloud. You’ll hear your own mistakes far easier than you will see them while reading silently. Your mind knows what you wanted to say, and your eyes will deceive you into thinking that’s what you wrote. If you ‘hear’ the words, you’ll catch your mistakes.

2. Have your spouse, or someone who can be brutally honest with you, and is willing to discuss it with you, read it. Then let the discussion flow.

Today I untied my novel, and began my fourth editing process. For all those who believe editing, and the ensuing rewriting, is work, I beg to differ. This process is just as enjoyable, if not more so, than the initial writing. Confessing however, that after the third edit that followed the speedy first draft, I was somewhat tired of her. Our distance apart, with her tied up and laying alone on the table, and our recent reunion today, has reignited our love affair and I am very much enjoying this edit and rewrite.

Sometimes we just need a little distance.

What, I Have To Do It Again?

In the hard cold world of real-life writers, edit is not a bad word. Even revise is considered a 'happy' verb, as in "My agent loves my manuscript and sent me notes and now I'm going to revise it." Or, the more common, "Gawd, if I have to go through my manuscript one more time I'm going to go crazy, but last night I dreamed that the protagonist would never do what I've got her doing in the fourth chapter because _______(fill in your brilliant dream insight), which means that everything from Chapter Four on has to change. But at least I can fix it -- whew! I'm revising." Or, the ever popular, "Huh. I thought my character's development was pitched at just the right combination of subtlety and clarity to show internal conflicts, but nobody in writers group could understand what happened to make Jennifer jump off the bridge in the third chapter. I'll revise."

If you're lucky enough to get to the stage where you need to revise that means you've got something to work with. It also means you like your work enough to feel it's worth a second or third or tenth effort. Chances are that no matter how good your writing is, when it's at the early drafts stage and you show it to agents or teachers or insightful writing buddies, you'll discover it could be better. Once that nugget of reality nestles into your active brain, it's like the proverbial lightbulb goes on. Revising = Opportunity to Improve = Good!

For those of us edging from the warm, cozy fantasy world of wannabe into that hard cold world of real-life writers, this realization is a giant step. When we can get excited about the hard work that goes into revising -- paying serious attention to the details of storyline and character development, always looking for the words that express these things most deftly, putting in the many hours it takes -- then we can also see that our equation might change. Revising = Opportunity to Improve = Good Enough to Publish. When I think of it that way, I don't mind having to revise. Again.