Tags: Reading

How to Deal with a Huge Pile of Comments

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: August 20, 2015
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Have you ever felt buried under a pile of manuscripts comments? My two critique groups generously agreed to read my whole middle-grade novel April Fool. So I had 10 copies printed and mailed them off.

All 10 members read them, poured their hearts, souls and intellects into reading and commenting. And now I face this:

Pile of April Fool manuscripts

(Wow, it looks so much more intimidating on my desk…believe me, its a huge pile.)

When I met with the two groups, the members gave me oral comments and I took notes furiously. But I don’t want to miss anything they may have written in addition, so I have to go through this huge pile. Did I mention that it is huge.?Or at least feels huge…

So how do I take a pile of marked up manuscripts and turn it into a plan? I start by pulling the first manuscript off the pile. I begin to read the comments. In Word I start two files: One is a list of notes on comments that I know I want to address. These comments and suggestions resonate with me, and I have a hunch that by making these suggested changes the manuscript will not only be better but will also be closer to what I want the book to be. The second Word doc is a list of notes on suggestions that I think are interesting but that I’m not sure I want do.

The first list becomes my master TO DO list for revision. The second list I will consider again after I have finished those revisions. After working with the manuscript on the first set of notes, I usually have a better idea of whether these suggestions will take me in the direction I want to go.

There is one more step to this manuscript mountain climbing process. The height of the pile is partially my own fault. Instead of printing the manuscripts double-sided to save paper, I print single-sided. That way I can flip through a manuscript, taking out all the pages that have no comments or that have comments or edits that I don’t want to do. This leaves me with a much smaller pile of the pages that have important comments or line edits that I want to input. Ahh, a smaller mountain.

This reviewing and sorting and weeding process helps me both ponder comments at my own pace and sets me up with a clear list of revisions I know I want to make.

And when I’m done with all these revisions and I’m ready to print out my new improved manuscript, I’ll have lots of recycled paper to print it on 🙂

Happy revising.

Elizabeth Rusch

A Lot to Read

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: June 20, 2015
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There have been times in the history of the Viva Scrivas when only one or two people were submitting work to be read most months. We wrung our hands about what to do about it, how everyone should be able to get something out of the meeting even if they didn’t submit, how to keep the group vital while reading only one or two people’s work.

Pile of PapersThe pendulum has swung recently. Everyone is super productive and super eager to get feedback on mostly long work. In our last meeting, we had 60 pages of an alternate history YA, 92 pages (single spaced) of a YA with documentary film making teen, 100 pages of a YA coming of age novel, and the last hunk of a YA novel set in Brazil.

The next month we’ll be tackling a whole MG novel (150 pages) and two chunks (50-100 pages) of two of the YA novels.

That’s a fair amount of reading.

So how do we do it?

First of all, when things seem to be heating up, when it seems like a lot of people want to share big chunks, we sketch out a schedule for submissions. That way we know what is coming when and can set aside reading time. It also helps prevent meetings with nothing to read and others with too much to read.

Also, we have a guideline (sometimes followed, sometimes not) that if you are submitting a large chunk (50 pages or more) you must submit a month, rather than just a week, before. Also as a courtesy, we offer print outs for longer chunks, especially full novels.

How do I personally manage all that reading? For one thing, I really look forward to it. I am excited to read my fellow-writers work, whether its pages I’ve never seen or a revision where I can see a work getting better and better.

I also print out all the submissions as the come in and put them on a table in my livingroom with a pen nearby, so I can curl up on the couch with the pages in the evening, away from my desk.

I try to get everything read a few days before the meeting so I have some time to let my thoughts percolate. I will often add a few notes last notes a few days after reading something or at the meeting itself.

Mostly I welcome a lot of reading from the Viva Scrivas. It means the group and the individual writers are on a roll. It means I have lots of great reading ahead. And finally, it means that I will likely learn a lot as I read and as we gather to share our thoughts on all this wonderful work. As ScrivaAmber once said: We learn as much by reading and commenting as we do by getting comments on our work.

Elizabeth Rusch

 

REVISING SCENES

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: April 20, 2015
Comments: 1 Comment

While revising my middle-grade novel April Fool, I have found Donald Maass’ THE FIRE IN FICTION to be enormously helpful. The whole book is terrific, but I’ve been focused on Chapter 3: Scenes that Can’t Be Cut. I have heard many times that a character should want something in every scene and that something should change for the character in every scene, but I haven’t always been sure about how to accomplish that. Using exercises Maass offers at the end of this chapter, I have created a scene worksheet that I have found helpful. Pick a scene, answer the following questions, and then revise the scene with your answers in mind.  I hope you find it as powerful as I do! The questions from my worksheet, adapted from The Fire of Fiction, follow below:

The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great

WHAT DOES YOUR CHARACTER WANT IN SCENE?

3 HINTS THAT HE/SHE MIGHT GET IT:

3 HINTS THAT HE/SHE WON’T:

NEW STRONG FIRST LINE:

NEW STRONG LAST LINE:

WHAT IS THE TURNING POINT, WHEN THINGS CHANGE?

HOW DOES THE CHARACTER SEE HIMSELF/HERSELF BEFORE TURNING POINT?

AFTER?

THREE SENSORY DETAILS DURING THE TURNING POINT:

FIVE SETTING DETAILS:

I hope you find this exercise as powerful as I do!

Elizabeth Rusch

Reading Books, Writing Books

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: July 2, 2013
Categories: Basics, Inspiration
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Comments: 1 Comment

open bookI love how my reading informs my writing and my writer’s mind. Here are several recent reads—novels, as well as books about writing—and the writerly issues they led me to think about.

*
-[A sequel to a novel I had moderately enjoyed; the sequel, I couldn’t be bothered to finish]
MOTIVATION
I felt several characters’ motivations were not clear or well supported. The main character did strong things without her motivation for them having been built up. An important supporting character only intermittently seemed to remember—and act on—one of her driving motivations. A minor character belied a motivation the author suggested for her.

Note to self: Make sure my characters’ motivations are clear, sensical, convincing, supported.

*
-Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, Chapter 16, “Weaving a Story”, by Donald Maass
-Starters, by Lissa Price (illustration of the principle)
CONNECTIONS (and SURPRISES)
Connections between seemingly unrelated aspects of a story (characters, locations), weave it together more tightly.

Sabina’s corollary: Unexpected connections that make sense can result in satisfying surprises (as in The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner)

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-Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, Chapter 13, “Public Stakes”, by Donald Maass
MAKING THINGS WORSE (ESCALATING)
We all know this principle. Yet reading it here clicked for me, leading me to a new way of thinking about the organization of my novel.

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-The Mind of Your Story, by Lisa Lenard-Cook
CHRONOLOGY (BEGINNINGS, PACING)
Lenard-Cook has some interesting thoughts about chronology that I’m just dipping into. These are supported by cool graphs, which we Scrivas tend to like (see Chapter 10, “The Mind of Your Story”). I’m not sure if I agree with everything said, but the glimpse of her ideas about chronology is making me think hard about where exactly my novel starts and how it unwinds. As a student of Lenard-Cook’s said about story: “It starts here because it’s about this.”

*
So what are you reading these days, and how does it inform your writing?

-Sabina I. Rascol
www.sabinairascol.com

YA Goes to the Oscars

by Michelle McCann
Published on: May 7, 2012
Comments: 2 Comments

While watching the Oscars a few months back, I noticed something strange: a large number of nominations were for movies based on children’s books, particularly young adult novels. I counted and it was a whopping 21 nominations this year: 1 for Tin Tin, 3 for Harry Potter, 6 for War Horse, and 11 for Hugo.

And then there is the staggering success of The Hunger Games movie. Best-ever opening weekend. Already surpassed grosses for all the Twilight movies combined. I went to my very first midnight opening and was amazed to see hundreds of grown people standing in line for 5 hours. For a movie. On a school night!

What is going on? Why are these movies suddenly so popular, with adults as well as kids? I think it is the same reasons YA novels are so popular right now, with adults as well as kids:

Today’s YA novels are incredibly well-written AND incredibly fun to read.

Soon after the Oscars I came across a great piece in the New York Times that eloquently expressed my feelings about why YA is sweeping the nation (and the Oscars). Lev Grossman, book critic for Time Magazine, wrote an op ed that’s title says it all: “Nothing’s Wrong with Strong Plot and Characters.” In the article he admits to being in a YA-only book group (another trend I’m noticing these days) and lays out some ways that today’s YA novels are different from adult literary fiction:

  1. YA novels tend toward strong voices and clear, clean prose. Adult literary fiction, by contrast, can be more focused on style: dense, descriptive prose, full of carefully observed detail, which calls attention to its own genius rather than urging the reader forward.
  2. YA novels focus on storytelling. Much of adult literary fiction, on the other hand, explores ways to break down storytelling, fragment it and make it non-linear. This kind of reading demands a lot of work from the reader.
  3. YA novels are rarely boring. They are written to grab your attention and hold it.

These are the same reasons I believe so many people, young and old, are flocking to see YA movies these days. The stories are great. The characters are great. The themes are meaningful. And they are not boring to watch.

Grossman ends his piece with a sentiment that pretty much sums up why I love reading YA so much (and by extension, going to YA movies as well):

“I’m not as young as I once was. At my age, I don’t have time to be bored.”

And for those of you who, like me, love seeing your favorite YA books up on the big screen, you are in luck. The floodgates are open and just about every YA hit I can think of is “in production.” Here’s a short list of what I found on IMDB:

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Sept. 2012 (starring Logan Lerman from Percy Jackson, and Emma Watson from Harry Potter)

Uglies, Nov. 2012

Incarceron, 2013 (starring Taylor Lautner from Twilight)

The Giver, 2013 (starring Jeff Bridges)

Ender’s Game, 2013 (starring Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley and Abigail Breslin)

Forest of Hands and Teeth, 2013

Maze Runner, 2013

Divergent, 2015

The Fault in Our Stars (TBA)

To join or not to join, that is the question

by Michelle McCann
Published on: December 7, 2011
Comments: 2 Comments


Hi, I’m Scriva Michelle–the new girl. A few weeks ago I was officially inducted into the Viva Scrivas (a terrifying hazing from which I am unlikely to recover). It’s been a long, ambivalent road for me deciding whether or not to join this talented writing group. I work part-time and have young kids, so finding time to write has been a major struggle for me. THE major struggle. I’ve had a number of children’s books published, but I wrote them all before I had children. Ten years ago!

Once the kids arrived, I felt like if I was taking time away from them, paying someone else to watch them, I should be doing something that actually paid more than the cost of the childcare. My writing virtually stopped.

But my old writing partner, Scriva Liz, never gave up on me. During those non-writing years she continually reminded me that I can write, that I love to write and that I should get writing again. She is a persistent gal, that Liz.

In an effort at full disclosure, I’ve been thinking about why I resisted the pull of the critique group. Here are the fears that have kept me away until now:

1) I HAVE NO TIME. I will fill up the tiny amounts of time I have for writing with critiquing other people’s manuscripts (which is already what I do for paid work–I’m an editor). After all, critiquing is much easier and more fun, at least for me.

2) I HAVE NO TALENT. I will be discovered as a fraud, a non-writer. I will either not be able to actually write again (it has been nearly 10 years, after all), or the group will realize, once they read my first submission, that I actually suck.

Neither of these fears is unique. In fact, they are cliché writer fears. But there you have it: not only do I have no talent, I am also a cliché!

So why do it?  Why not write at home, alone, and never show it to anyone? Now that I’ve taken the leap, I’m seeing the positives:
1) I NEED A KICK IN THE ASS. What has happened in the past few months that I’ve been dipping my toes into the group to see how we fit is that I’ve actually been thinking about writing all the time. I’ve been listening to the similar struggles of other writers in the group and realizing that I’m not alone. Feeling the pressure to do it. And I’ve been writing. For the first time in 10 years.

2) I NEED DEADLINES. Meeting once a month forces me to at least sit down once a month and try to get some words on the page. If I don’t submit something to the group at some point it’s going to be embarrassing. So I have to work. Someone is waiting.

3) I NEED SUPPORT. I’m starting to realize that maybe the reason I stopped writing for 10 years is that I needed some support. Some cheerleaders encouraging me to skip the kids’ soccer games for once and choose to write instead. Some talented people to sit with as we all stare at the blank white page and painfully pull the words and the stories from our heads.

And I think it’s working. I went on my first writing retreat last June, and now, five months later, I have about half of a middle grade novel written and the rest outlined. I actually survived the first critique of my early chapters, and while the Scrivas have given me plenty to work on for revisions, nobody laughed me out of the room. Nobody said, “You suck! Who in the world ever suggested you could write for kids?” At least not out loud.

And yes, I do struggle to find time to write my own stuff AND read/critique the other writer’s manuscripts. But there are words on the page. Finally. And another deadline next week.

I’m in. Time to get writing.

The Gift of Recommended Reading

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: November 28, 2011
Categories: Craft, Inspiration
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Sam-Nana readLet’s face it. I’m never going to be able to read everything I want to and still have the gazillion hours I need to write my next book. Not even when grandson Sam and I spend together time getting lost in our individual stories. Not happening. No way.

The books I choose to read now are often on a list of the top ten this or the five best that, which goes against my usual tendency to browse the bookshelves and decide for myself.  Writing is work, and sometimes reading is as well. There are some books I simply must read. Many of them are excellent, which is the reward for all that  eyeball time.

I mine Viva Scriva meetings for recommended reading, particularly because the Scrivas know exactly what I’m writing. Sara Ryan’s The Rules for Hearts is by my bedside with Amber’s suggestion to look at the “quiet girl” who resembles the main character in my sequel to Blue Thread. I devoured Jennifer Donnelly’s Revolution on Scriva advice that I look at the time travel of a modern girl back to 18th century Paris (my sequel involves a 1960s girl and 11th century Paris). You get the picture.

It goes both ways. I suggested that Sabina read Ruta Sepetys’s Between shades of gray and Robert Sharenow’s The Berlin Boxing Club because one of her writing projects includes historical fiction from World War II.  What you read does inform what you write. Recommended reading can be just the critique you need.

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