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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

It’s All About The Timing- Pacing Your Novel Correctly

How long is your novel? I’m not talking about word count or pages—I mean the length of time that elapses from beginning to end.

Does it take place in one afternoon? A few weeks? Several years?

While reading Betsy Lerner’s
The Forest for the Trees (highly recommended advice from an editor to writers), I came across a section about structuring the timing of your novel. Betsy says she’s worked with brilliant authors over the years who have committed all kinds of “time crimes,” not seeing the structure their own sentences and paragraphs suggested.

To me, timing can be controlled by two things:

How you pace each scene- Betsy notes a writer can use paragraphs and space breaks the way a poet uses stanzas. These are devices that instruct the reader, almost like giving a guided tour through a house:

“Here, this way, come with me over here, here’s a new room that we’ll check on later, be sure to remember that decoration in the bathroom, yes, there’s a basement, but it’s dark and we don’t want to go in there, interesting painting over there, let’s take a breather, relax and have a cookie while I tell you about the owner, etc.”

Long paragraphs can be like a realtor talking about a single room for an hour. Your eyes start to glaze over and you really just want to see the rest of the house—there are exceptions to this, of course, but it can be especially true in novels for younger readers.


How you transition breaks in time- Have you ever been frustrated while writing because your character has to change venues before a more exciting scene takes place? Don’t always feel like you have to document the car ride, train ride, plane ride, and fill it with inner thoughts, phone calls, or descriptions of what your character had for dinner (though, personally, I always love food descriptions). If you're doing that, there better be some important information revealed that keeps the plot moving forward.

If you’re writing it just to get to the next scene, it may come across as forced. That’s what chapter breaks are for. Your readers are smart enough to be able to transition their thought process—“Oh, it’s next week now. Okay.” Just be sure to do it in a way and at a place that makes sense, instead of jarring the reader.

Whether your protagonist’s journey is a week or a year long, you need to be aware of timing, and the structure of that timing. It’s kind of like the show, Next Food Network Star, where they give contestants 1 minute to do a food demonstration.

Some of them start really slowly and comfortably, then have to squeeze all their information into the last ten seconds, which just doesn’t work well. Others get nervous and talk so fast that they’re out of important things to say by the time the clock hits 30 seconds, and they end up trying to add awkward filler. Try to strike a balance.

That’s all for today :)

Friday, August 26, 2011

What Your Personalized Rejection Means

Have you ever wondered what certain phrases mean in a personalized rejection letter?

First of all, agents are very busy people, and don't owe us anything at all (not even a form response), so it's a very special thing to get any sort of feedback. Even a few sentences might lead you on the road to rethinking a key part of your manuscript.

That said, it can occasionally be hard to decipher what the agents actually mean by things like:

I need to connect more to your character.

The writing and voice are strong, but I didn't fall in love.

The lovely Kate Schafer Testerman of kt Literary was kind enough to explain how things work on the agent side and how to translate "agent-speak" phrases. She wrote a wonderful post (click below) that makes you think about your manuscript and characters, no matter where you are on the road to publication. Read the comments for some extra questions answered.

Declining a Partial - kt Literary blog post - August 24, 2011

Please remember that this is one agent's post, and that opinions vary :)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Writers Who Do Yoga

I tried to do a little stretching last night, and have come to the conclusion that it’s time for me to take up some form of yoga. I never liked the idea of it when I was younger. I was never patient enough to sit in the poses and contemplate things. I wanted to move and didn’t feel like I needed to stretch much.

I’m older now. My body would appreciate it, I have more patience, and I have stepdaughter who’s about to get her driver’s license (aka, anything that brings me balance and serenity seems like a good move).

In typical Jess fashion, instead of just starting to stretch (or picking up the Christy Turlington Living Yoga book that’s been gathering dust on my shelf for ten years), I decided to get on the internet and look for writers who do yoga. It would be an even bigger motivation to start if I could guarantee some sort of idea circulation, plot epiphanies, or spiritual insights into the use/non-use of the Oxford comma.

When I typed “Writers who do yoga” into the Google search engine, the first hit on the list was Top Ten Reasons Not to Do Yoga. Not an encouraging start. Then there was an Amazon.com page that lists books involving Yoga for Writers.

Titles included:
Writing Begins with the Breath: Embodying Your Authentic Voice

The Journey from the Center to the Page

Those sounded interesting, but I really needed a big name for motivation. Something like Shakespeare or E.B. White or Kate DiCamillo. Then I tried Googling, “Famous Writers who do yoga,” and just got a bunch of links to random celebrities.

After a bit more searching, the only things I can confirm are that, while the practice yoga has been around a very long time:

Hemingway was not a yoga enthusiast.

Nor was Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Sylvia Plath—doubtful.

Beatrix Potter—doubtful as well.

George R.R. Martin—I really don't think so, but I don’t want to make any assumptions :)

In fact, the only author I could nail down as doing yoga for sure is Madonna. Didn’t know she was a children’s author? Click HERE. And I don't even know if she still does yoga. She might just lift weights, judging from this photo.

Anybody know of yoga-mat-toting authors?

And by the way, if anyone has some DVD recommendations for a beginner, let me know!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Contest Alerts, Agent News, WriteOnCon Highlights!

Happy Friday! I’m a bit exhausted from staying up WAY past my usual 9:30/10:00 bedtime, thanks to the awesome Forums at WriteOnCon, so let’s just dive into today’s info.


Mandy Hubbard Pitch Contest- Hosted by We Do Write, this contest ends at midnight tonight (August 19), so head on over and post your Twitter-sized pitch if you write Middle Grade or Young Adult.

Vickie Motter Pitch Contest- Hosted by Monica BW at Love YA, this is open to YA and adult fiction (fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal romance, dystopian, and post-apocalyptic). No Middle Grade. Opens at 10:00 AM (EST) on August 22 and closes at 50 entries.


Holly Root of Waxman Agency (click Holly's name to go to her Literary Ramble's page) is relocating to the West coast and will be taking a query break from August 22- September 30, so if you are dying to query her and can’t wait until October, now’s the time.

Suzie Townsend of FinePrint Literary Management tweeted that she’s closing to queries for a hiatus on September 1st, so you’ve got about a week left to query her.

Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary Agency (click and scroll down for her bio) was part of an awesome panel discussion (see link below), and she announced that if you attended WriteOnCon, you can query her (include that you were an attendee in your letter). This is AWESOME, because she’s a mega-cool agent who usually only takes queries from referral or conferences. Awesome.

My Highlights from WriteOnCon

There were so many incredible sessions at this year’s WriteOnCon and I’m so impressed by the ladies who put it together (*virtual round of applause*). The best part is that you can still access everything, even if you didn’t get to attend things this week. Below are just a few of the highlights according to Jess:

Vlog from Lindsay Leavitt on “The Debut Year”- Very honest and informative. Good background/realistic info for anyone who dreams of being published.

Vlog from Shelley Moore Thomas—She's hilarious and has Roald Dahl and JK Rowling as guest stars (Yoda too!). Shelley’s awesome and this vlog illustrates perfectly why she’s the Storyqueen. She talks about making the transition to different writing categories (PB to Middle Grade, etc.). Visit her blog HERE.

Moments that Matter, Matt Myklusch— This one was very special to me. It’s about finding a way to insert moments for your readers and really develop characters so that the reader cares… not just using characters as a vehicle to get through the plot. Plus, he used an audio clip from A Few Good Men.

Beth Revis Vlog- This down-to-Earth and sweet NYT Bestseller actually shows you her stack of drafts and explains why and how you can succeed as a writer. Truly inspiring.

Live Chat with Barbara Poelle and Holly Root- Without a doubt, this was the most entertaining Live Chat of the conference. Read the transcript—it’s hilarious and informative!

Live Chat: Michael Bourret, Marietta Zacker, Ammi-Joan Paquette: This was another chat that stuck out to me in terms of some really good questions and great answers.

There are so many more I’d love to mention, but you can peruse the whole event list at writeoncon.com

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Happy International Pirate Day!!

Are you ready to sing Shiver Me Timbers & Rattle Me Bones?

Are you ready to be loyal today and break out in pirate speak if your boss says something you don't agree with? "You want me to get the coffee for the meeting??? Walk the plank, you scurvy dog!!"

Are you ready to...

...okay, I made that song title up. And you probably shouldn't tell your boss to walk the plank (though I do recommend using that on children & teenagers). It's not International Pirate Day at all.

I wanted to come up with something informative, but really I can't think of anything because I'm too excited about the awesome WriteOnCon online conference going on now through Thursday.

What are you waiting for? Get over to the Forums, catch an event or eight, and have a blast while learning from some of the most amazing authors and industry professionals out there!

In case you already knew about WriteOnCon (and I'm guessing you did), here are some links so you don't feel cheated by having clicked on my post:

See you on Friday!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Can Critique Workshops Kill Your Voice? (And A Call For Manuscripts)

Kristin Nelson (of Nelson Literary) had an interesting post yesterday regarding critique workshops and voice.

She had a conversation with a colleague who was of the opinion that newish writers can have the voice in their manuscripts stripped by critiques. She encourages writers to rediscover that voice. While I'm all for critique partners and workshops, I can see her point.

In some critique sessions, mechanical mistakes are highlighted, to the point that a writer rearranges sentences, deletes phrases, and stops being…them. Quirky writing that might appeal to people for its originality can be suppressed for the sake of writing correctly and by the rules.

I understand the other side as well. When you’re offering feedback, it’s often easy to point out grammar issues, sentence structure, or places that seem flat. Those are concrete things that can improve a manuscript. It feels like a productive way to offer advice. Giving the writer specific things to work on is great!

But it can lead to the writer concentrating so much on getting those mechanics down that they lose a bit of heart. Of soul. Of voice.

Do you ever feel like when you alter your manuscript to make it technically appealing, you lose some of that voice?

Like everything else in life, it’s a matter of practice and balance. Do NOT stop getting critiques! It’s the only way we can improve and learn and thrive. This may seem like a solitary business, but it’s really not. You’ve got help and support all around you.

Click the link to read Kristin’s post: Critique Workshopped The Voice Right Out Of There

On another note, Louise Fury of Lori Perkins Agency tweeted this a few days ago:

CALL FOR MANUSCRIPTS: Im looking for YA contemporary thrillers in the same vein as I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Underwear Post

I got tagged by the lovely Donna Weaver for this silly meme. Usually I’m really bad about passing these things on, but when Donna popped up in my comments and asked, “Are you gonna play?” I decided to get on board. Plus, it has to do with underwear—something that I tout the merits of on a daily basis with my two-year-old. “Don’t you want to wear underwear instead of diapers? Isn’t underwear so cool?” I had to put my money where my mouth is, so here goes:

1. What do you call your panties / underwear / undergarments? Do you have any commonly used nicknames for them?
I call them undies. I wish I would call them “unmentionables,” because that’s one of the silliest words out there. Say it five times out loud and you’ll sense the irony.

2. Have you ever had that supposedly common dream of being in a crowded place in only your underwear?
Nope, not that I remember. I’m probably more likely to have dreams about male movie stars in their underwear (sorry hubby!).

3. What is the worst thing you can think of to make panties out of?
Twizzlers. On a hot, squishy day.

4. If you were a pair of panties, what color would you be, and WHY?
Rainbow, because I don’t think anyone should be stuck in one color scheme, even if that someone is a pair of underwear.

5. Have you ever thrown your panties/underwear at a rock star or other celebrity? If so, which one(s)? If not, which one(s) WOULD you throw your panties/underwear at, given the opportunity?
Hmm. I feel like throwing any underwear that’s not fresh and never-been-used would be more of an insult than a compliment. And if I was insulting someone, I’d probably go with something unexpected like a big wad of Icy-Hot goo. I can’t think of anyone who deserves that right now—sorry!

6. You’re out of clean panties. What do you do?
It depends where I am. Once I was in the wilderness for almost 60 days in a row. If you think I packed in that much underwear or did laundry on a daily basis, you’re mistaken. My mother used to say something about accessories that applies here: When in doubt, do without.

7. Are you old enough to remember Underoos? If so, did you have any? Which ones?
I never had any :(

8. If you could have any message printed on your panties, what would it be?
Go read a book instead of my underwear.

9. How many bloggers does it take to put panties on a goat?
Dear Lord, have our levels of procrastination regarding our writing come to the point that we’re putting panties on goats instead of working on revisions? Shame on us :)

Now I get to pick a few folks to participate:
Jen Daiker~Hilarious writer of all things chick lit.
Matt MacNish~ Because if he participates, it’ll mean he has to answer a question about putting panties on a goat.
Michelle Merrill~ Because she's awesome and has wicked cool eye make-up.
Lisa Gail Green~Because she's awesome and hilarious too!
Jeigh~Because she's super funny and wrote a post about a restaurant called The Pie Hole.

See you on Friday!

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Importance Of Reading In Trees (And Agent News/Contests!)

My mom recently went through a whole bunch of old photos of me and my sisters, and she sent these with the caption, “Oh how you loved to read!”

That was the tree in our backyard. I was probably 8 or so in the first picture and closer to 10 in the second.

There were also pictures of me reading behind couches, under the kitchen table, and in the bath tub. I thought I’d spare you those, because that tree was my special spot. I think it made it easier to slip into other worlds when I was away from people (though I looked pretty exposed in that winter tree picture).

Did you have any special reading spots as a kid?

Okey-dokey, on with the agent news:

Agent Suzie Townsend of FinePrint Literary is taking a query hiatus from 9/1 to …TBD, so you've got about 25 days to shoot her a query. She says not to despair too much, and that other fabulous folks at her agency will be open for your querying pleasure. For details, click HERE.

Ninja Agents???
Click HERE to read the awesome news about agents who will be going through the query forums on the WriteOnCon website. If you’re not registered for this free online conference, sign up now!

Mini-Synopsis Contest with Agent John Cusick of Scott Treimel NY over at YAtopia: Condense your novel synopsis into 3 sentences to win a partial or full manuscript request. I dare you! MG and YA only. Entry deadline, August 11th.

First 500 Words Contest with Agent Lauren Ruth of Bookends Agency at Blackbird in my Window. Some adult genres and YA. Entry deadline, August 11th.

FYI, I’m leaving to meet up with my sister’s family this morning. They’re flying here to hang with us over the weekend (I suspect they’re mostly trying to escape the Texas heat/humidity). We’ll be hiking and eating and letting the little cousins bond all weekend, and I won’t have access to the internet. It’s really pretty sad how much that upsets me.

Thanks in advance for any comments, and I apologize in advance for not getting to your fabulous blogs this weekend. I’ll play catch-up next week.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

JK Rowling Stole Famous Magician's Life Story!

If you haven't seen the David Copperfield video posted on GalleyCat, you're in for a treat. In a hilarious 2-minute video, the famous magician claims that the character of Harry Potter was based on his own autobiography.

They both battled evil sorcerers, they both have a best friend named Ron, and they both have lightning-shaped scars (though Mr. Copperfield won't show his...it's in a "personal" place). Coincidence? David Copperfield thinks not.

Click below for a few smiles.
David Copperfield Threatens Harry Potter


If you want to win a really cool Hunger Games poster, please head over to this post on Brittany's blog, Hills and Corkscrews. Brittany is the fabulous teen who organized the teen blogfest I mentioned a few weeks ago. She could really use more entries, so head on over there if you have a moment.

If you don't follow the blog Cornell DeVille, there was a nice post on query letters yesterday. At the bottom of this post, a free editing opportunity was offered from his personal copywriting website. He'll critique any 250 words you send...eh-hem, perfect for getting feedback on a first page or query letter!!

I took him up on this, and he got back to me the same day with some awesome suggestions. And if you like his comments, you might keep him in mind for future editing assistance. *Note: the warning that says "Don't click THE LINK" because gremlins will take you away to a magical place, etc., is not meant to be intimidating. Click the link :)