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The time might not be now

After attending my first writers’ conference, I came away inspired, and with a bucketload of great ideas! Of course, I won’t post the content of anyone’s actual presentation, as that’s not mine to share. However, I hope you benefit from these thoughts on what I learned, and some ideas on how I plan to apply them in my own journey. This is the fifth in a series of posts on lessons learned from the SCBWI Northern Ohio 2017 Conference.

Lesson 5: “But do we need to know it now?”

For my fifth lesson, I opted to do a one-on-one critique with Linda Camacho (@LindaRandom) an agent with Prospect Agency.

We had a lovely 15-minute chat that went all over the board, and much of it was personal to my story. However, I’d like to share a tip she suggested (in regards to showing rather than telling, which seems to be a problem of mine) that really stuck with me and felt universally helpful.

When you’re looking at the amount you’re telling in terms of backstory, ask yourself these two questions:
1) Is this something we actually need to know to further the story? If no, delete. If yes…
2) Do we need to know it now?If no, delete. If yes, find a way to work into dialogue if possible, or pare it down to bare bones.

Of course you want to tell all of the nuances of your character that you spent hours and days and weeks building. But if the readers don’t need to know something, it’s okay to just hint at it, or leave it out altogether. If they do need to know it, are you giving it in an information dump? Does it even really make sense to be in that particular part of the story?

Long story short:

Don’t dump. Yes, you want to get your key points across, but resist the urge to drop backstory on your readers like a load of bricks. Parcel it out, in conversation as much as possible, and only give the most important tidbits. Save the reason your character will only wear white socks for a time when that fact actually helps forward the story.

Result: I’ve got some editing to do. Not news, but now I have one more tool to help me do it.

I’ll keep you posted as I make progress. In the meantime, let me know a favorite nuance you created for a character that you can’t find a way to work naturally into your story.

Happy editing!

Photo by Alex Holyoake at Stocksnap.io

The details that make the story

After attending my first writers’ conference, I came away inspired, and with a bucketload of great ideas! Of course, I won’t post the content of anyone’s actual presentation, as that’s not mine to share. However, I hope you benefit from these thoughts on what I learned, and some ideas on how I plan to apply them in my own journey. This is the second in a series of posts on lessons learned from the SCBWI Northern Ohio 2017 Conference.

Lesson 2: “I did not need to think of a new story. I only needed to create the details.”

My second lesson came from opening remarks given by Newberry Medal Award-winning author Linda Sue Park (@lindasuepark). The first thing you should know about her is that she’s really funny and a great storyteller. Second, while she has given a voice to Koreans and Korean-Americans in many of her stories, she also loves baseball, cooking, knitting, and many other things that make her unique.

She shared a quote about two basic plot structures (attributed either to John Gardner or Joseph Campbell depending on the reference you use):

  1. A stranger comes to town
  2. A hero goes on a journey
Is she a hero going on a journey or a stranger coming to town? You decide.

What she loved about this was the freedom that comes with it: if there are indeed only two kinds of plots, all she had to do was fill in her own details. She encouraged passion for the details, and pointed us to the Fuse8 blog by Librarian Betsy Bird (@fuse8) as an example of details (in this case knitting needles) that were wrong.

Her point, and well taken, is that the people who are passionate about a particular field will definitely notice when you get it wrong. If you’re going to write about something that isn’t your field, you should do so much research that you become a part of that community. And you almost certainly already have passions you could write about that you would be frustrated with if someone else got wrong. The devil, so we’ve heard, is in the details.

Long story short:

You’re unique, and so am I. Though I had heard it before, I was reinforced in the knowledge that each of us has our own story to tell, and we are the only ones who can tell it our way. We should write something that ignites our passion, that we spend the time to know well.

Result: I’m going to continue to write my passion, and know that telling a story my way is the only way I can, or should, try to tell it. And I’m going to be sure to get the details right.

I’ll keep you posted as I make progress. In the meantime, please share something you’re passionate about that has come through in your writing. Or tell me your story about the girl in the photo above…

Happy writing!

Emotion vs physical action in writing

After attending my first writers’ conference, I came away inspired, and with a bucketload of great ideas! Of course, I won’t post the content of anyone’s actual presentation, as that’s not mine to share. However, I hope you benefit from these thoughts on what I learned, and some ideas on how I plan to apply them in my own journey. This is the first in a series of posts on lessons learned from the SCBWI Northern Ohio 2017 Conference.

Lesson 1: “The way readers connect to your character is through emotion.”

My weekend began with an intensive workshop called Plotlines and Heartlines given by Jill Santopolo (@jillsantopolo), an Editorial Director with Philomel books who also authored the Sparkle Spa series and an adult contemporary novel called The Light We Lost. The main goal of the workshop was to bring our own story ideas and work through the action as well as the emotional journey our main characters

Is she hungry for love, or a sandwich? Make sure readers can connect with your characters’ emotions.

As we worked through the five act plot structure and the emotional arc of our stories, I discovered something very important:

My character had nothing driving her other than my keystrokes. Plot structure isn’t enough. If the protagonist isn’t following a desire then she’s just floating along through the story. Sometimes a character’s deepest desire might be hidden from herself, but as the writer I need to know what’s driving her, and I need to make sure readers know. Turns out, the unspecified desire and drive might be why my story feels so slow in some places.

Result: I knew it deep down, but I put into writing what it is that drives my character. Now I need to go back through and make it apparent to the reader. I need to make sure the emotional arc is tied throughout, and that the reader has reasons to care about the character.

I’ll keep you posted as I make progress. In the meantime, let me know how you feel about whether your character needs to know her own drive, or just share what’s driving your characters.

Happy writing!