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Posts from the ‘Craft’ Category

Think big as you revise your manuscript with these nine steps

You say you’re revising your draft, but are you really? In the past, I’ve thought I was revising a manuscript when in fact I was really just editing it.

A revision is just that: a “re-visioning” of the story – looking at it in a whole new way. It’s easy to think you’re revising when what you’re really doing is making small edits, reworking sentences, and tightening up scenes and dialogue. Those things are important but don’t go far enough to truly create a publishable manuscript.

Instead, when you’re ready to dive into revisions, think big. Open your mind and pen to rethink every aspect of your manuscript.

To move into re-vision mode, consider these questions:

  1. Use a logline to maintain focus. A logline is one sentence (at most two) that conveys the dramatic story of your novel or screenplay boiled down in the most succinct way possible. It presents the major throughline of the narrative without details about subplots or characters.  As you begin to revise, go back to your logline or create one if you haven’t already. Read more

Don’t miss a beat: Get into the heart of your character

In a previous post I wrote about a little technique I learned from author and writing instructor, Rhay Christou, who teaches for the online Lawson Writer’s Academy.

Develop your characters through dance” highlights a short video by actor Kevin Cox demonstrating how to unlock your body and mind in order to delve deeper into your characters.

Another tip I learned from Rhay is called, “Don’t Dance. ACT!” In this exercise, you pick a moment in your scene where your character is having (or is supposed to have) an emotional response to something. Choose one emotional beat. Now get up, stand in the middle of the room, and close your eyes. Picture yourself in your character’s setting. Become the character. What do you feel? Hear? Taste? Open your eyes. What do you see? Does your setting affect how you feel?

How are you holding your body? Tense? Relaxed? What is your body doing? Facial expressions? How do you feel? Angry? Sad? Frustrated? How does it show up in your body? Are you having a visceral reaction? A thought?

Now grab your journal and write as much as you can without stopping. If more feelings come up, write them down. Keep writing. Can you add anything to your scene to make it stronger?

In my chapter one, my protagonist, a veterinarian, struggles to save the life of a dog. Her boss forces her to use her mysterious powers that she has tried to run from ever since her mother died (she blames her powers for her mother’s death). When I close my eyes and become my character, I ask, “How does it make me feel that my boss has forced me to use my powers?”

Here’s what I wrote: “I’m angry. Pissed off. Want to hit something. My body feels tense, rigid, so tense my breathing is labored and tight. My chest feels like it’s in a vise, pressed together like a moth between glass. How dare she! She has no right to call on my powers. Total invasion. And what’s worse is she doesn’t realize the consequences. She doesn’t know that somebody could get injured or die. I never should have trusted her. Should have kept my mouth shut. Granddad was right—don’t trust anybody with my secret. Let this teach me…never again.”

Do I have any of these feeling in the chapter? Noooooo. After she saves the dog, my protagonist and her boss have a nice little chat about their dating life. Right. Revision time.

Ever notice how sometimes when you write, your brain kind of does a little hop-skip-and-a-jump ahead of itself? Mine does. Sometimes, I miss whole reaction beats. My character skips from one thing to the next without really processing what’s happening.

These exercises help me slow down and pay attention to how my character feels. They get me out of writer-brain and into the heart of my character.

I highly recommend any of the Lawson Writer’s Academy online courses. You’ll learn tons and meet some really cool writers. Check out their September classes here: www.margielawson.com or see the list below:

Master The Synopsis!
No. More. Whining.
MASTER THE SYNOPSIS! Starts Monday.
Instructor: RITA Finalist Jennifer Archer.
Sept 1-26;  Fee:  $50
http://bit.ly/MasterSynopsis

Submissions That Sell
Make your query SELL your MS.
Instructor:  RITA Winner Laura Drake.
Sept 1-26;  Fee:  $40
http://bit.ly/SeptSTSell

From Blah to Beats: Giving Your Chapters a Pulse
In 14 short lessons, learn how to make your chapter a lean and mean beating heart.
Instructor: Rhay Christou, MFA
Sept 1-30, Fee:  $50
http://bit.ly/GiveChaptersPulse …

From Homeroom to Last Bell:Hero’s Journey in YA Fiction
YA Writers: Fab class.
Instructors:  Jennifer McAndrews, Linda Gerber
Sept. 1 – 26;  Fee:  $50
http://bit.ly/HeroJourneyinYA 

Story Structure Safari
Instructor feedback, priceless. You’ll find your Story GPS.
Instructor: Lisa Miller
Sept. 1 – 30; Fee:  $50
http://bit.ly/SeptSSS

Getting Serious About Writing a Series
Lectures, plus tips from 18 fab authors.
Instructor: Lisa Wells
Sept. 1 – 26;  Fee: $40
http://bit.ly/WritingSeries 

Virtues, Vices, and Plots
Need a New Approach to Plotting?
Sept. 1 – 26:  Fee: $50
Instructor:  Sarah Hamer, MFA
http://bit.ly/SeptVVP

 

 

 

Deep editing: Make each word count

In July, I took Margie Lawson’s Immersion Master Class, an intensive three and a half day workshop on deep editing. My brain is still teeming with all the tips we learned to turn our manuscripts into bestsellers.

One day, as we reviewed one of my first-draft chapters in my current project, we came across a short paragraph about a character’s driving skills.

In the scene, my character is driving along a dark, windy road in the mountains at night when he comes across my protagonist walking along the side of the road after she’d just seen her maybe-boyfriend sucking face with another woman. (Every time I hear the words “sucking face,” I think of the 1981 movie “On Golden Pond,” where I first heard the term. The power of fresh writing!)

Anyway, the driver of the car offers my protagonist a ride home (she knows him—he’s the new man in town). She learns more about him and why he’s in town. He ends up giving her relationship advice and flirting heavily with her.

Here’s the paragraph in question:

“Hmmm,” he said, tapping his brakes before the next curve, then laying off them during the turn. He handled the vehicle as if he’d had years of experience coaxing the two-ton beast into compliance. “Any news on your grandfather?”

Questions that came up in class: Read more

Step away from your desk and fuel your writing life

It’s easy as writers to hole up in our writing caves. We’re busy operating under the influence of words and we don’t want to be interrupted.

But sometimes you have to get out into the world. It’s how you pick up telling details that add more authenticity and authority to your work. And then there are the times when you’re stuck. Stepping out just may spark an idea or epiphany.

Deborah Harkness, author of A Discovery of Witches: A Novel (All Souls Trilogy),wrote on her website about the act of trying to make conversation with a “living human” after a day of writing. She writes that if she could give one piece of advice to an aspiring author, it would be this:

“Say yes.” The world is asking you to try new things, have fresh experiences, meet people, see foreign places, and learn things. Most of the time we say no. Say yes. Go for it. Try. Live. Dream. Refuse to be negative. Be generous with your own time and gifts. See what happens then.

Changing your routine routine can reveal unexpected insights. Read more

Does your protagonist have a life theme or motto?

At the beginning of each year, my writing partner Carly chooses a short phrase or sentence that she uses to remind herself of what she wants to focus on for the coming year.

She says she likes to keep the sentence short so it’s easy to remember and can easily be turned into a daily mantra. For the last several years, she’s developed a personal writing theme.

To read more about her idea, please read her posts, “My 2014 personal writing theme revealed,” and “Short story writing method reveals New Year’s theme.

I noticed while re-reading Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods,” that the main character Shadow has a motto that he lives by. In the first chapter, Shadow is in prison and we learn his survival motto is, “Keep your head down. Do your own time. Speak when you’re spoken to.” In other words, you do your own time in prison. You don’t do anyone else’s time for them. You don’t get mixed up in their dramas. You keep your mouth shut.

Later, after Shadow is let out of prison and he begins working for Mr. Wednesday and is kidnapped by men in black, he repeats his old prison motto to himself:

“He pretended he was back in prison. Do your own time, thought Shadow. Don’t tell them anything they don’t already know. Don’t ask questions.”

By the end of the story—well, I won’t put in any spoilers—but basically his motto gets turned on its head. And this is part of his growth as a character.

Does your character have a motto they live by or a life theme like Carly and Shadow that they can sum up in one or two sentences? Is there a belief that drives them from day to day? Having this theme firmly in mind while writing your scenes will help ground you in your character’s reality.

Exercise: Set a timer for six minutes and free write about what your protagonist’s life theme might be. Do the same for your antagonist and then every major character.

If you’d like, please share your character’s theme in the comments below.

 

 

How to create a great villain

In Award Winning Screenwriter Jacob Krueger’s short video below, he answers the question “How Do You Create a Perfect Villain?”

Krueger says we have to remember that the antagonist thinks he is the hero of his story. Most characters believe they are the good guys even if they are doing horrible things.

Example: in “Star Wars” all Darth Vader wants is to rule the galaxy with his son–he just has a twisted way of going about it. Each antagonist has a story they are telling themselves that makes them feel like a good person every day. Their desires are as important to them as the protagonist’s desires are important to them.

Krueger also says a great antagonist comes at the world with a point-of-view that is so truthful it forces the main character to deal with something they’re not confronting in themselves. A great antagonist will force the protagonist to face their flaws, overcome them, and be changed in some way.

For more tips in creating a great antagonist watch Krueger’s video below:

Develop your characters through dance

Thanks to Rhay Christou, author and writing teacher at www.MargieLawson.com, for introducing me to this short video below showing a fun and creative way to develop your characters.

Actor Kevin Cox offers advice to other actors that can be beneficial for writers, too. He says we should be able to express our character physically. He suggests dancing out your scenes—try different styles of dance like hip hop, ballet, tango, salsa, waltz, etc. Give your dance the attitudes of your character. This will help unlock your body and open up your potential to connect with your character. If you have two characters in a scene dance out one character’s part then dance out the other character’s part. How do they differ? What did you learn?

Once you’ve got the dancing down and you’re still in your character’s skin, close your eyes and ask some questions. What do they feel in the moment? How are they moving? What do they taste and hear and smell? If they opened their eyes right now, what would they see?

Watch this 3-minute video and then read on:

I just tried this (in my side yard where no neighbors could see me) and discovered the following:

* My protagonist feels heavy in her body when she’s with the antagonist she is attracted to (she’s not overweight so this is a reflection of her emotional state);

* She feels lighter in her body and soul when she’s with her ex-boyfriend who she is also attracted to.

* The difference is the antagonist leans in on her energy, he is trying to get something from her and wants to control her. Her ex-boyfriend wants her to be herself and to fulfill her potential but only so that it completes her and not him. Wow. Love it. And this is just the surface stuff…I bet if I dig deeper into the dance, I find more.

Try the exercise and tell us what you experienced in the comments below.

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