Archives: June 2013

When Your Critique Group Disagrees…

by Addie Boswell
Published on: June 24, 2013
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thumbs-up-thumbs-down-hiGiven two versions of the same story, chances are your critique group will diverge. And though you’re lucky if the split is 80/20 and there is a majority opinion, you may still feel more confused than reassured by the process. A case in point:

Recently I asked the Scrivas to critique 4 versions of the first chapter of my YA novel. (Version 4 being the latest and greatest, Version 1 being the oldest and most polished.) I gave simple instructions to the Scrivas: choose which version works best and edit that one.

Ready for the feedback?
ScrivaOne: I like Version 4, but only if that new character is going to be in the novel more. Otherwise, I’ll take Version 1.
ScrivaTwo: I like Version 3, but can you add in the new character from Version 4?
ScrivaThree: I like Version 1, but want more sensory details
ScrivaFour: What if you combine Versions 3 and 4?
ScrivaFive: I like Version 3, but can you take out the flashback?

The only thing I know for sure at this point is that Version 2 gets cut. (Hooray!) Now, how do I make sense of the rest?

Keep Talking
The best part about critique disagreements is that they lead to longer and more complex discussions, and that discussion almost always leads back to the heart of the story. After more talk, I realized the Scriva preferences were based on a few things. For example, the prose is tighter and faster-paced in versions 1 and 3 and I could apply that to 4. And the questions about my new character made me reconsider how important he is to the story arc. While I left disappointed I didn’t get my ‘easy answer,’ after some reflection, the critiques all started to make sense.

So which version did I choose?

None, so far. The conversation made me realize that I need to finish my other major edits and then revisit the beginning. I put the comments on hold to continue the messy business of chapters 2-30. If only editing was as simple as sorting laundry. Or picking ripe strawberries. Or thumbs up/thumbs down.

A Safe Place to Share OBSESSIONS

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: June 20, 2013
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We all have them:  Subjects that fascinate us. Topics that we can’t get enough of. Areas that grab our interest whether we’re browsing headlines, blogs or twitter – or overhearing a snippet of conversation.  If you will read anything on a subject, click any link that deals with a subject, and if you feel compelled to write on a subject, you are probably OBSESSED. Obsessions haunt, possess and preoccupy us. And the sad truth is that not everyone around us shares our obsessions (can you believe it?!)

So that’s where critique groups come in! They have to read and discuss everything you write about your obsession!  There is no way out!  Ha, ha, ha (evil laugh here).

Someone asked me recently how I became obsessed with volcanoes.

“Me? Obsessed with volcanoes?” I was truly puzzled. I read about and write about a lot of topics.

“Uhm, don’t you have like three volcano books?” she said. “Writing three books about a topic constitutes an obsession.”

Oh! You mean THAT obsession. I didn’t think it was the right time to tell her about idea I was developing for a fourth volcano book…

So yes, my name is Elizabeth Rusch, and I’m obsessed with volcanoes. And if you didn’t know better, you would think every single Viva Scriva was obsessed with volcanoes, too. They must be, or why would they so gracefully and enthusiastically read draft after draft of book after book?

That’s why critique groups are such wonderful, safe places to share your obsessions. There is an unspoken code: If you let me explore my obsessions, I’ll let you explore yours.

Obsessions can become contagious. We Scrivas tend to get interested in each other’s obsessions.  I will always scroll through the cool historical photos emailed by historical fiction writer Scriva Nicole. I find myself reading, rather than passing over, articles on the violence in Brazil’s favelas after critiquing Scriva Addie’s gripping YA novel Essa Vida. And I couldn’t wait to learn how to shoot a bow and arrow when Scriva Amber, author of the middle grade novel Archer, pulled hers out at a retreat.

But here is the reality: Nobody in the group is anywhere near as obsessed with volcanoes as I am. Their enthusiasm is most likely one part shared-obsession and nine parts generosity and graciousness.

For their generosity and graciousness, I am truly grateful.

On June 18, Houghton Mifflin released my second volcano book, Eruption: Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives.

COVER FINAL HMH Oct 2012 WHITER

And August 1, Charlesbridge will release my third: Volcano Rising.

Cover Final

Volcano Rising is dedicated to the Viva Scrivas. Thank you for sharing my volcano obsession – or at least indulging it. You are the very best Enablers 🙂

Scriva Liz

 

#AMWRITING

by Nicole Marie Schreiber
Published on: June 18, 2013
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Many of my full-time writer friends take time off during the summer  from their normal writing regiment that they follow during the rest of the year.  If they have kids, summer is the time they go on vacation with their families and spend more quality time with them, and if they don’t, summer just seems like a time that they take a little break.

Not for me.  Summer is my optimal time to write.  I teach PreK during the rest of the year, and though it is only part time, it takes prime time away from writing.  But when school is out, the writer in me beams and does a Snoopy dance.  Writing Time!  Writing Time!  I’m about to have more Writing Time!

Today, my first day of summer break, I woke up and said,  “I am only a writer today!”  I wrote for FOUR hours straight this morning.   It was amazing!  With no day job to have to worry about, or school to bring my own kids to, I could just be a writer.  When I am absent for the rest of the year on Twitter or in the blogosphere, I suddenly emerge as if from a cocoon and start tweeting and reading blogs and commenting.  I wish I could be better about it during the other parts of the year, but it’s too hard.  All I can do during fall, winter, and spring is squeeze in as much writing time as I can, and social networking gets pushed to the side.

But not in the summer!  Yippee!

Now, it helps that I have a husband who works from home and helps with the kids so I can go off to write at a coffee shop or the library during the summer.  He did that today, and I am so grateful.   The few camps that my kids are signed up for later this summer will help give me time to write, too (as well as curb summer boredom for them).  I’ll be able to write, and then have quality mom time, too, instead of working at a day job and have to take away quality mom time in order to write.

So, let’s cheer on the arrival of blue skies, berry season, popsicles, the opening of the outdoor pool, and more writing time!

 

Welcome Summer!

 

-Nicole Marie Schreiber

 

 

Embarrassing but true, I cut 5,000 words of fluff

by Amber Keyser
Published on: June 12, 2013
Categories: Craft, Other Topics
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word count massacreRevision comes in many shapes and sizes, and to be honest, I find most of them quite painful.  I love what happens as a result of revision.  My manuscripts are better, cleaner, truer and more alive because of the process, but it hurts.  That’s okay.  I eat chocolate at 10:00 am and swig coffee and play with silly putty and I get it done.

And sometimes (because I am a little crazy), I graph it!  The Scrivas have blogged about how we use graphs to identify strengths and weaknesses (Graphs and Charts, Oh My), but I’m not sure we’ve used them as progress reports before.

So here’s the deal…

I have written a YA novel called THE HUNT FOR MARA LAYIL under contract for Relium Media.  It is part of a broader transmedia property called ANGEL PUNK that has multiple storytelling platforms–comics, gaming, fan engagement, and film.

I’ve been working on the book for about two years.  It has been through the wringer of many Scriva critiques.  It has also been professionally edited by the divine Emma Dryden of drydenbks.  I did several major developmental edits as well as the more precision-targeted line-by-line edits.  I went through the thing MANY times.  It was in GOOD shape (I thought).

90,000 words of well-crafted, explosive prose.  (Right?)

Then Relium Media brought agent, Kirsten Neuhaus from Foundry Literary, onto the team.  Kirsten is smart, dynamic, and best of all she gets the transmedia aspect of the ANGEL PUNK property.  She loved the book (see, it was in good shape), but she wanted me to cut 5,000 words.

*jaw drops to floor*

What was I going to cut?  Seriously, I’ve been through that thing.  I need all 5 points-of-view.  I need all those scenes.  I have subplots!

Kirsten was pretty specific in her guidance.  “Don’t cut anything big.  Just cut the fluff.”

The task at hand was to tighten the prose.  I figured out my goal: sixteen words a page.  Before I got to work, I decided (since I’m a dork that way) to graph my progress as a way to both track the goal and to encourage myself along.  I entitled the file Word Count Massacre.

And you know what?  I did it, and it wasn’t even hard.

When I read with an eye for words that weren’t doing sufficient heavy-lifting, I found them.  I learned I have a habit of saying things twice in different ways as if I couldn’t decide which was better and so doubled-up.  I learned that I state things that can be infered from the text.  (For example: She picked up her fork and ate a piece of cheesecake.  Smart readers know that She ate a piece of cheesecake probably means with a fork.)  I sometimes use complicated language such as she was in the process of looking back when she looked back is fine.

It was crazy and good.  Now I know that I will NEVER send a manuscript out without doing a read through for the fluff.  Thanks, Kirsten!  That was damn good advice (and yet another reason agents rock)!

“Fail Better”

by Melissa Dalton
Published on: June 9, 2013
Categories: Challenges, Craft, Other Topics
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Veronica Roth, author of the Divergent trilogy, quotes Samuel Beckett and has great advice on critique and writing here. Inspiring stuff!

Seligmann, Seligman, and Perfection

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: June 4, 2013
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WSM-cropI never would have noticed the error if I hadn’t decided recently to make a fictional family tree of the descendants of Miriam Seligman(n), known as “Savta” (Grandmother) in Blue Thread. As I went back over the electronic version of the manuscript, I discovered that about half the time I spelled Savta’s last name as Seligman. The other half of the time…you guessed it. Seligmann.

No one noticed. Not an editor or a copy editor or the author. What? Unacceptable!

After I did the usual muttering of expletives and mini-flagellation, I calmed down and accepted the inevitable. Writing, like most if not all human endeavors, is asymptotic to perfection. We strive, but we never quite get there.

Then I discovered this quote ascribed to William Somerset Maugham:

Perfection is a trifle dull. It is not the least of life’s ironies that this, which we all aim at, is better not quite achieved.

Maugham (1874-1965) was quite a well-known British writer (I should write so well), one of the most popular in the 1930s. He produced scores of novels, plays, and short stories. Orphaned at age 10, young William came under the care of a rather icy uncle. He later became a doctor, served in the ambulance corps in World War I, and worked as a spy for the British Secret Service. Certainly not a dull life.

In Britain each May, the Society of Authors presents the Somerset Maugham Award to the best writer (or writers) under 35 who published a book in the past year. The award money is to be spent on foreign travel. What a perfect way to spend an award. Did I say perfect? Never mind.

 

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