Setting Goals – Report back

As I mentioned last week, three of my writing buddies and I have formed a writing support group. We’re setting goals each week and then checking in with each other. Last week I met my goals, but then I set very modest goals. They, on the other hand, set goals that would push them. Most of them either met their goals or came close to it. I’m wondering which is the best approach. Setting modest goals that I know I can reach or pushing myself by setting a more difficult goal(s)? My thought has always been to set something that I know I can do and then if I exceed it, that’s a bonus. But am I being too easy on myself? If I set a more difficult goal would I make it? I know if I didn’t I’d be hard on myself, so that can be counter-productive. But I’m thinking that maybe I’m being a bit too easy on myself. Maybe I should challenge myself more. This week I’ve set a higher goal. I’m going to rework the middle of a book to add more tension and action. I’ve known what I’ve wanted to do with it for some time. I just haven’t taken the time to do it because I’ve started a new first draft and that’s more fun to work on. Plus I’ve written two books since this one and it’s hard to get back into that world when it’s been three years since I last worked on it. I got some feedback from editors on it last year which had a common thread. They turned...

Setting Goals

I’ve just made a pact with three other members of my critique group to set writing goals every week. We’re all either starting novels or are partway through first drafts. I’m just starting a new novel. It’s actually going to be the first of a trilogy. I never thought I’d write a trilogy but I have so much story this time I can’t do it any other way. I’ve made a lot of notes for all three books and  have outlined all the major plot points, but now I need to go back and flesh out the in between scenes for the first novel. I started writing the first chapter because the dialogue was so strong in my mind that I had to get it down. Next week I want to go over my notes and make sure I’ve stacked my scenes the best way and that there is a strong progression in the story with an escalation of tension. I also feel like I’m missing some scenes in the beginning so I need to pay attention to my instinct and think about that. It’s good to take time to just think about your story. Usually writer’s block happens because you haven’t thought about your story enough. Or at least that’s the case if you’re an outliner. If you’re a pantser, then you’re writing by the seat of your pants and planning isn’t necessarily part of your process. I need to know where I’m going before I write a scene. Next week my goal will include more thinking time and less writing time. Once I’ve worked everything out in...

Sacrifice

I had an interesting talk with a writing buddy about whether or not a main character must always make a sacrifice in order for it to be a satisfying story. We finally decided that it depended on the type of story. For simple stories like early chapter books and some picture books it’s not necessary. In those sometimes the character just learns something or experiences something—like the first day of school. There’s not a lot of character growth in those kind of stories. This is also true of series mystery characters. There isn’t a lot of character growth in a continuing character. The detective or amateur sleuth figures out the mystery and catches the bad guy, but doesn’t change a lot from book to book. They often don’t even age. They are stuck in a time warp. For me I see characters changing the most in middle grade and young adult novels. In order for the characters to grow they have to make choices and learn from those choices. And in the climax they are going to have to make a sacrifice. They have to give up something they want or have  in order to achieve the better good. That sacrifice forces them to change, to grow, to mature so they aren’t the same person they were at the beginning of the story. If they don’t have to make a sacrifice then the change doesn’t feel real. They haven’t earned it. And once they’ve made the sacrifice, they can’t get back what they gave up. Janie gives up her place in the cool kids’ clique in order to help...

The Next Big Thing

Snake Talker Today I’m hosting the Next Big Thing blog campaign. The Next Big Thing is an international campaign that began in Australia. Authors and illustrators of books for kids and young adults talk about their recently published books and/or those that are due to be released. Each author who has been nominated turns around and nominates a couple of other authors. We all answer the same questions about our work. It’s really just a great big game of “Tag, you’re it.” Today is my turn to answer The Next Big Thing’s standard questions about my book, Snake Talker, and I’m tagging two of my favorite fellow kids’ book authors, Ann Koffsky and Sean McCollum, to go next. What is the working title of your next book? The one I’m currently working on is still in my head and not yet on paper so I’m going to talk about a book that is already out. Snake Talker came out over a year ago. Where did the idea come from for the book? I actually got two ideas for books at the same time. I decided to write this one first because I knew more about the story. I don’t remember exactly where the idea came from. Like so many story ideas they seem to be made up of bits and pieces of things that interest me. They merge in my subconscious and suddenly the idea is there. What genre does your book fall under? YA science fiction. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition? You’ve got me on that one....

Description

I recently hosted a schmooze, where the topic was description, and I came to several realizations in preparing for it. As I looked for different examples of good and bad description it struck me that the least effective ones were where just a basic description of what the character(s) could see around them. One description, in particular, helped me to see this. The description covered an old stone church that had been converted into a school refectory. There was all kinds of history associated with the building, but the description was just a simple list of things the character could see when she walked inside. The part of the description that stuck with me was when the character thought of churches she’d seen back home that were in old trailers with plastic chairs. That image was so strong and full of all sorts of meanings and connotations, it sparked my imagination. But that wasn’t where the story was taking place. And while it was helpful background information about the character, the power of the scene should have been where she currently was. Instead, that one line took me out of where the character and the story were taking place. The old church should have been oozing with possibilities for description. It was a lost opportunity. It made me realize that description needs to be more than simple surface details. That kind of description is forgotten within a page turn. It makes no impact and therefor has no staying power. When I found examples of good description, I realized they had something in common. They were rarely a laundry list...