Thursday, September 17, 2009

Keeping a To-Do List for Your Novel

When you write - especially, I assume, when you write often - you develop work habits unique to you.  At least, I *thought* that making a to-do list for my novel was my own little neurotic way of making sure all those plot strings got snipped or tied or woven somehow.  But in a recent #kidlit chat via Twitter (find past transcripts here), I discovered that others do this, too. 

It’s a handy revision tool, a to-do list, and it reads like, well, my Saturday afternoon chore list might.  So presented below, part of the to-do concocted when going through the first round of revisions for Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different (there were four rounds total).  What’s interesting to me is that some of this content never made it into the book, and other parts were edited out completely.  For instance, I decided against having Autumn be a “ghost child” – that is, having her brush with death scare everyone.  It detracted too much from the focus of the plot.  But other parts most assuredly made it in, and some of them are my favorite scenes in the book.

Autumn to-do list

-2 new chapters:  both, bridging the gap between pro-park and anti-park. 

-Next chapter:  list (see white notebook sheet) and write Rockefeller. 

-Chapter after that:  town meeting, under schoolhouse.  (See nrw notes)

-beef up ending: 

-but these old mountains aren’t as strong as they used to be.  Airplanes, weathered down

-no panthers, no chestnuts, no Cherokee, no gramps…maybe this place is changing, after all

-perfectly preserved as a pickle (see synopsis here)

-looking at gravesite – knowing right and wrong didn’t seem to take.  Can’t always tell what’s right and what’s wrong. 

-aunt Lydia still mad at me for leaving her in the dog trot

-mention cody’s rock collection at least one more time, and earlier

-after tilly’s proposal – have other widows in crowd mad cause they didn’t think of it first.  Gramps is kinda a big shot around here, being a widower and his dealings on the park.  Will likely be rich someday.  A good catch

-play up autumn being a “ghost child” more – not everyone knows she’s still alive.  Have them pinch her, etc.  when they see her

-look to increase the struggle over the move in with gramps – maybe mama doesn’t want to move to Knoxville…

-play up the food scene with gramps to show more of mama’s relationship with him.  Gramps eats during prayer.  Katie in here, too – show some likeability

-end of star scene – maybe take autumn’s approval of cody out?  She’s quick to judge him.

-hint earlier – park going awry, autumn is only one who knows.  She suspects col. Earlier?

-make col. More evil by having him break one of the superstitions.

-look back at earlier version (chapter 26, then) when cody has fit over gramps’ treatment of peter…add back in? 

-emphasize the chestnut trees disappearing…

-make gramps feel responsible for losing everyone’s homes, though no one blames him.

-double-check that FDR was standing in 1934.

-include picture of pine trees in Gramps’ coffin

-make sure there are markets in nyc on 53rd

-beef up letters chapter – see nrw notes – more scenery, etc. 

-eliminate all mention of “donation” in end notes

-last few chapters – keep her worried about jobs, homes!

-Introduce lawyer – Gramps hires with his own money to fight for everyone.  Spends his entire savings. 


-be sure and include that they don’t know what’s going to happen, or when.  They might get to stay there forever, or they might get kicked out next week.  The hard part was not knowing. 

Whew!  Looking back, that looks like the whole book! J  Once I completed the item, I crossed it off in my computer using a strike-through over the font – very satisfying!  Every one of those items was crossed off in some manner.  I used this same technique for the upcoming Selling Hope.  I’m starting a new novel now, and looking at the list above reminds me just how much work (and fun!) lies ahead.

So, do *you* keep a to-do list for your works-in-progress?  If so, care to share a snippet or two from it?  

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Autumn Comes to Life!

My talented and uber-supportive illustrator friend, Alison Davis Lyne, does "Visual Book Reviews" - she reviews titles by illustrating scenes that appeal to her from the text.  And totally cool - she reviewed Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different!  Click through here to see Autumn brought to life!  

Thank you, Alison!  What a fantastic idea, and how truly wonderful to see Autumn in all her messy glory!  :-)  

Check out the rest of Alison's site here.  Her paintings are so detailed, and the colors pop right off the scene.  Alison, you have a true gift.  

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

WHY "show, not tell"

I was recently reading a short story that just didn't keep me interested, and I finally figured out why:  the story was full of TELLING details, instead of SHOWING details.  I'm (kinda) paraphrasing here, but the protagonist thinks at one point, "I'm sad that I hurt my wife.  She deserves better."  

Anyone who has ever read a book on the craft of writing or attended a writing conference has likely heard the piece of advice, "show, don't tell."  For instance, the sentence above *could've* been more along the lines of, "Thinking about what I did to her... no!  I can't even think about it.  It makes me sick to my stomach."  We understand through showing details that he feels remorse. 

But why is showing more powerful than telling?  It occurred to me, when I read this story, that no one is so in touch with their emotions that they can pinpoint what they are feeling at any given moment.  In other words, when your spouse leaves a coffee cup half-filled with coffee in his office for three days >ahem!<, you don't think to yourself, "I'm so angry at him!"  No, instead you think, "Honestly?  Does he know where the sink is?"  

Showing is more honest, and honesty in fiction is power.  Showing allows us to *be* the main character, rather than *hear* him/her.  Showing doesn't hit you over the head with an emotion ("I'm sad."), it allows you to feel that emotion.  And nothing rewards your readers more than that.  

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Deciding What to Work on Next

I'm on the second round of edits for SELLING HOPE, and *should* have them back to my editor this week.  But then, what next?  I've been researching two stories simultaneously, one a middle-grade road trip tale, the other a nonfiction picture book.  I've concentrated more on the mg story to this point, because, well, it's what I know - I lurve middle grade historical fiction.  (This one is half contemporary/half historical.)  My heart is in this project, but I'm currently struggling with the plot. Sometimes that can be good - some of my best solutions have come only after wrestling with the plot.  And authors are constantly told that writing 3 or 4 books of a similar type (ie, middle grade historical) is smart in order brand oneself.    

But my head says that the picture book can be researched faster (yes, even though it's nonfiction) and I have a very good feeling about its marketability (in other words, I think publishers will really like the idea.)  And it's not that I'm totally emotionless about this book - far from it.  The idea of it, and how I picture it being executed, gives me that itchy writer's feeling of "Yes! That must be written!"  And, too, maybe it would be nice to change gears for awhile - you know, get the sparks flying from a different piece of flint.     

So - which one to work on next - the heart or the head? The sloppy, messy, heart-driven book, or the practical, marketable change-of-pace?  How do *you* decide what to work on next?  And by all means, voice your opinion on my next project in the comments section!  Please?  ;-)  

Friday, September 04, 2009

On Running Out of Ideas

Every writer gets asked the question, "So, how do keep from running out of ideas?"  The funniest (and truest) answer I've read in response is from author Martha Bennett Stiles: 

"By not dying.  I have more ideas that I had meant to get to than I have time left."

Perfect!   Ideas are everywhere, inspiration in everyone.  

(This quote originally appeared in BORDERLINES, the quarterly newsletter of the Midsouth SCBWI.  Martha Bennett Stiles is the author of DARKNESS OVER THE LAND, THE STAR IN THE FOREST, SARAH THE DRAGON LADY, ISLAND MAGIC, and the upcoming SAILING TO FREEDOM, THE RUNAWAY ADVENTURES OF ALLIE AND RAY, Henry Holt, 2011.  Watch for it - Ms. Stiles is an incredible writer and a wonderful human being.)