Thursday, March 28, 2013

Good Weekend Coming!

Okay, so I haven't done much nook editing this week. However, I think this is going to be a great weekend for it. Mostly because my sister's out of town and I don't have anyone around to distract me with shopping and fro-yo. Of course I may do both of these things on my own this weekend. The point is, I hope to read through most of KM4. I'd like to have it to my beta reader at the end of next week, and to everyone else by the end of April, if not earlier!

So, here's to a good, productive, fun weekend of editing.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Craft Note: What Are My Characters' Stakes?

So, a friend of mine shared a blog link with me about "stakes" in writing, which got me thinking about my newest work, THE SPIRIT KEEPER. This is a Young Adult (although, I do think "adults" would enjoy it too) supernatural trilogy that I started about two years ago now, I guess. The first book is written (I was going to say "finished" but nothing is finished for me) and edited (again, nothing is finished), but I still think that something is missing. I've had at least 2 readers say that they couldn't connect with the main character. I believe that part of this is because I have yet to answer this question: "What's at stake for my characters?" Also, I have no idea what the point is or what I'm trying to say, or want to happen. Perhaps these questions are all tied together? Maybe it's the same question asked three different times....

So, let's take a moment to consider stakes in writing. It been a while since I've done one of my "craft notes" posts... this might be fun. Or boring, depending on what interests you.

Ava Jae (Writability blog) writes...

...Without established stakes, the readers have no reason to care if your protagonist fails or accomplishes his goal. The tension disappears, the conflict doesn’t matter because if your protagonist loses, oh well. Not like anything bad happens.

I really think this is a vital problem in my YA novel. I have an overall idea of what I want to happen across the three books, but I still don't know the end goal. And while I do plot and plan (outline) to a certain extent, I don't believe that I think about "stakes" at all. Do you?

Maybe you think about them all the time? Or Maybe you're like me and don't think of them this way. I can only hope that in all of my plotting and weaving that I'm some how accomplishing the above? I tend to think about writing in less traditional ways, or maybe I define writerly terms in ways that aren't the norm. I've been writing since I was nine. Everything I knew about writing (up to almost 3 years ago now) was learned through reading and by the practice of writing. Even having studied writing in the MFA program, I know that I couldn't adequately define anything about my writing process. I vaguely understand metaphor. I have no idea what syntax is. Participating in a MFA program really opens your eyes to writing mechanics (in some cases, anyway). I don't really know how much I learned in all those classes. I often found myself scratching my head whenever we talked about "plot." I was probably the ONLY person in my classes who wrote plotted, character-driven pieces, and I didn't understand what the hell they were talking about. The way literary writers think of plot (versus a "genre" writer) isn't the way I think of it. Or maybe it was semantics. Similes, even. Still, one degree later and I'm still not quite sure that I could explain technical craft to anyone. Not in the traditional sense, anyway.

Anyway, my lack of thinking about stakes is likely why with every project I come to a "what am I writing about" or "what's the point of this novel?" moment of panic. It usually happens toward the end, and especially if I haven't been outlining. I know that I have "goals" that I want the characters to move toward (growth is a big thing for me), but I don't always consider what might be at stake for them. Again, are these things the same? I'm not really sure.

When I think about my KM books, I'm not sure that I could identify what's at stake for Estela. Yes, she has something to overcome (usually a psychopath!), and I do think that she grows with each book, but am I missing something more important? I probably am, especially with KILLING MEMORIES, which wasn't outlined until late in the second half and still feels a little muddy. It needs another edit. In the span of four books (because while they could stand alone, I wrote them to be read as one giant saga), what is at stake for Estela? A lot of little things happen, but what's the big picture? I really don't know. I need someone to tell me.

 Here's another great excerpt from the blog:

I suspect a large part of the reason writers sometimes forget to mention the stakes in their pitch is because they’re so close to their work. The writer knows what will happen if their protagonist fails and sometimes it seems obvious to them even in their stake-less pitch what that failure means--but to the outside reader who doesn’t know the story so well (or at all, for that matter), they need the stakes spelled out to them. 

I often feel WAY too close to my characters. But in the case of THE SPIRIT KEEPER protagonist, Evelyn, I'm not completely sure what her stakes are. What is she going to lose if she fails (and what is she trying/tasked to do)? I feel like if I can figure that out the main character may be more likeable. I mean, I like her just fine, but I'm really close to her. Unlike readers, I can hear her voice, feel her anxiety, etc. I feel the same way about Estela and Moo and while I feel that they are richly developed, I still wonder if readers are really able to see them like I can?

Stakes are definitely something to think about as I write/edit.

I know for a fact that I didn't include the stakes in my query letter for THE SPIRIT KEEPER when I sent it out to agents a year ago. This is something that I'll need to think about when I start working on submitting it again (likely after I finish up with my KM series). This is also something I need to think about when I write my blurb/summary for KM4.

Stakes are on my mind now, but I wonder if they'll slip away once I start writing/editing again? Perhaps my subconscious will tuck them away with all the other skills I've learned and then do the work for me? One can hope...

What is The Subconscious to every other man, in its creative aspect becomes, for writers, The Muse. ~Ray Bradbury

Check out the article: Pitch Tip: Remember Your Stakes

Sunday, March 17, 2013


I just finished my first edit of KILLING MODELS! This has been a very productive weekend. I'm starting my Nook edit now and after that I'll send the novel to my beta reader. In the meantime, I need to work out the summary and the cover.

Maybe I'll be done by April! 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Strange Week

I haven't gotten much editing done this week for a couple reasons (1) personal things going on, and (2) (a facebook app where you can make cartoon avatars of yourself):
This is my avatar! I look cute as a cartoon :) I do love pancakes.
My sister made one too so I've been making comic strips for the last two days. The only good news is that it's the weekend and I usually get a lot of editing done on the weekends. I'm about 82 pages away from the end of my first edit of KM4. My nook edit is usually much faster and my beta reader is pretty quick too. I was making steady progress, but now I need to get refocused.

I've also posted a few things on my other blog. It's been a strange week. I hope next week is better.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Editing, editing, editing!

I have about 160 pages left to edit for KM4. It's been going smoothly (when I sit down and do it that is). I suppose that's because each book was easier for me to write, so the later ones have a little less work. It still takes me a good chunk of time though. This is the first real edit that KM4, and the others, have had. When I was posting chapters to FictionPress, I simply read them over quickly and posted--typos be damned! It's kinda nice to revisit these stories 5+ years after writing them. It's my hope that I am improving them somewhat....

Anyway, I hope to carve out sixty pages this weekend, but we'll see. I'm starting to wonder if I'll be done with the edit this month or if it'll be April. I'm not going to rush it. Rushing leads to typos and little errors that I don't like reading about when people leave reviews. So, I'm going to try my best with this one. After KM4 is done, I might take a little break and work on something else. I've been doing a little hand editing of A SPIRIT KEEPER, the first book in my planned trilogy. Reading the characters makes me a little excited about starting to work on those books again. I still feel like it's too long, but I might continue to push forward with it. I mean, if an agent doesn't want it, I'll put it online. At least that way it'll be read and won't just sit on my computer.

However, even thought I feel like working on something new, I still need to go back to KM1 and do one more extensive edit. I totally rushed that book and it deserves a little more attention. It was the first novel I ever completed... I wrote the first half without a plan and then planned the second half (so I would finish it). While I think I smoothed out the plot, I know there's more work to be done. I might actually print that one out and work on it that way. Sometimes you miss a lot of stuff when you work on a screen.

Which brings me to something else: Curbing my need to change things based off feedback (often negative) that I receive. I think studying fiction and being in a workshop like setting helped me learn to sit on things for a few days to ponder (or fester) before taking action. If I didn't, I'd change everything just so that people would like my work. I can't please everyone. I know this as a writer, but that doesn't stop me from wanting to. In general, I love all forms of feedback (as long as they're constructive). I feel like I learn a lot from readers and other writers. I guess that's the important thing.

Oh, remember my writing goal? It's been two months... *sigh*