Thursday, February 24, 2011

Best. Conference. ever!

So I just have to gush about the WIFYR conference this year. For those who aren’t familiar with the acronym, it is The Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference held June 13-17 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Registration is open now, and some of the classes are already full. I’m already signed up for Martine's class, and I hope to see you there!

I’ve been attending this conference for years, and it has been so helpful. For me personally, I formed my awesome critique group from this conference (and I know others have done the same), and I’ve met tons of my writing buddies here, as well as made important contacts. Not only can you network, but you get a full week of intense workshopping with an author. Then there are awesome afternoon sessions that are just so helpful, and that’s not even mentioning the dancing they do in the opening and closing parts! So check out the short (as in 45 seconds) video to see what the conference is like:

And there is also a facebook page, which is currently having an AWESOME CONTEST!
And there is going to be an AMAZING faculty!
Beginning Class– Sharlee Glenn
Picture Book Class– Trudy Harris
Picture Book Class– Kristyn Crow
Illustrator Class– Kevin Hawkes
Chapter Book Class– Mike Knudson
Middle Grade Novel– Claudia Mills
Beginning YA Novel Class– Emily Wing Smith
Novel Class — Louise Plummer
Fantasy Class– Holly Black
Advanced Novelist Class– Martine Leavitt
Advanced Novelist Class– Kathleen Duey
NEW! Writer’s Boot Camp– A.E. Cannon
Keynote Speaker– Ally Condie
AND these guys will be there, too:
Agent– Mary Kole, Andrea Brown Literary Agency
Editor– Alyson Heller, Aladdin Books
Editor– Lisa Yoskowitz, Disney

I also want to mention that my friend, Cherylynne, is having a contest over on her blog where you have the chance to win one (or more) of 50 books. That’s right — FIFTY BOOKS! So go check it out now!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Are You Ready?

My dear  bloggie friends:

I am SO glad to have this chance to have your ear. I have this *very important message from David Farland:

David Farland’s Daily Kick in the Pants—Changing Times

As I’ve been forecasting since last April, we’ve seen some huge changes in the publishing industry this year.

In the latest news, Borders has filed for bankruptcy here in the United States. Borders of course is the second largest bookstore chain in the United States, but they failed miserably at keeping touch with the changing times. The mistake? They didn’t respond to the online threat from, and they didn’t put together a program to sell electronic books.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Fractal Geometry of Story

by Rebecca J. Carlson

Last night I watched a documentary film on the history of fractal geometry, and it got me thinking. how can I use this to write a better story?

Yeah, I think that a lot. I think it about nearly everything. If I chop the end of my thumb off with a paper cutter I think, hmmm, how can I use this to write a better story?

Fractals are geometric shapes that repeat the same pattern at different scales. Like twigs join into branches, branches join into limbs, limbs join into tree-trunks, and the green grass grew all around, all around, and the green grass grew all around!'

When was the last time you organized a story or recorded details about a character using a bubble map? Yep, you guessed it. You were using fractal geometry!

Books have fractal structure too. Sentences become paragraphs, paragraphs become scenes, scenes become chapters, chapters become parts, and parts become a whole novel. But there's more to it than that. Story itself should pervade each level. Each sentence, paragraph, scene, chapter, part, and novel can tell a story.

Levels of meaning have a fractal structure. I think the best stories contain a character whose individual life may be a small thing, but it represents a whole that includes all of our lives, which in turn represents some kind of universal principle about life. A metaphor is a fractal, a pattern that we see repeated as we move from something small to something larger.

Social groups in stories can be fractal. How many stories use the actions of a small community to represent the actions of a whole culture, of a whole nation, or of the entire world?

Fractals are beautiful. Trees, mountains, rivers, ocean waves, clouds... all these forms in nature have smaller and smaller pieces that repeat the pattern of the whole. Being aware of fractals in our stories, and bringing out those patterns, can lend power and beauty to our written words.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Life After Draft One

Now what?

I wrote it. I read it. It's good but it needs fixing.

And right now, I have no idea how to fix it.

What I'd really like to do is take a two week cruise with nothing but a stack of books to read and forget all about it.

I know every writer has a unique way to tackle this problem. This is the hardest spot for me--facing 86,000 freshly strung-together words, all of which need to be revised. How long do you let a first draft rest before you start revision? And then what do you do first?


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Write What You Know.

By Jonene Ficklin

How many times have you heard that? A bazillion times? Yeah, me too.

Problem is, the things I know may not be interesting to the general population.

For instance, I know just how to get each of my kids up in the morning.

Grade-schooler: Pull out of bed by the feet, zombie-walk him to the bathroom, push inside, turn on the light and shut the door. He figures it out from there.

Junior-higher: Say his name until he answers. Make sure his eyes are open. Stay until his feet hit the floor. Make sure he doesn't trip over the book he was reading that fell on the floor. (Yes! Gotta love it!)

High-schooler: Turn light on. Pull covers off. Wait for the howl, then carefully back away.

I also know how to stay calm when one of my kids spills pop on the carpet. Again. Not saying I do, but I know how.

Anyway, you get the picture. I'm a mom. I know mom stuff. But do you want to read about it all the time. No!

All right, I know a little art stuff too, but I don't know everything. So my quandary is, how do I write what I know and still make a marketable story?

The September 2010 edition of Writer's Digest said this:

"Write what you know" means to write what you see differently, feel profoundly and know what is important for the rest of us to get. You don't need to have lived an extraordinary life or have a unique subject. You need only an original outlook and a fresh purpose for writing.

Hey, you can alway research what you don't know. But you can't fake what's in your heart. Say what matters. That's writing you want to know.

As far as researching, that is SO much fun! I love surfing the internet, checking out twenty books at a time from the library and watching the librarian's face as I do. (Okay, I'm exaggerating - but not by much.) And most of all, I love interviewing people.

I'll bet you know some interesting stuff - like the fine art of sword-making (even having watched it counts), how to make a killer flambe, where the best restaurant in Seattle is, how to get rid of snails in my garden, or how to sing Mary Had a Little Lamb backwards.

You have tried something I haven't and I'm eager to learn more!

So go ahead, write what you know . . . and then some. Remember, liars are welcome here. After all, isn't that what an imagination is for?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Seeing Your Characters

By Leisha Maw

I thought I knew my characters. I mean, I created them didn't I? I gave them a name, a purpose, a life. I gave them dialog and made them cry. I even gave them those good moments so they could feel warm fuzzies along with the reader.

But did I see them? Yes, although I admit they were a little fuzzy--until, under Jonene's excellent tutelage, I started drawing them. I know this is a writing blog, not an art blog, but stay with me here. Drawing my characters really made an impact on my writing. It crystallized how I saw my characters, and it made them so much more real to me. I mean, Vic, my main squeeze in one of my WIPs, went from this:

To this:

And he's still not done. I have to dress him and finish his hair and shade his neck and do all the little detail stuff like give him a bit of scruff, but the point is, when I think of him while I write, I know his features. It's the difference between being told coral is rough and stroking it with your fingertips. It's knowing. It's experiencing it. Vic is somehow embedded in my being now, and I never have to grope for a picture in the dark recesses of my mind. He's alive in there, and he's even cuter than I thought.

So, do you see your characters? What do you do to envision them?

Leisha Maw

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Exercise is not a writing excuse

My sails are pointing me toward warmer shores at the end of this month -- Rebecca's homeland, actually (sorry Rebecca, I'm flying direct to Maui or I'd love to meet up!!) and as you might imagine, I have a certain fear that I may be mistaken for a resting seal if I don't tone up a bit.

As a result, I've been much more diligent than in winters past about keeping up an exercise program, and I just have to share how important I believe exercise is -- especially for writers!

You probably all know this. I thought I did. Every time I'm in a good exercise habit, I see how invaluable it is to my creative mind, to my mental energies as much as to my physical energies. Then, something happens: a busy spell, an illness, something to get me off track with my exercise program, and every time, my writing productivity also suffers. It's amazing how correlated they are.

When I'm running (my exercise of choice) I get all sorts of ideas so that I'm excited when I sit down to write. I also get my spiritual food while running because I love podcasts and videos. Sometimes I watch behind-the-scenes extras of my favorite movies: I love hearing the series creators or the film writers talk about characters and story. There are so many types of good that come during my workout.

But somehow it's the extra nth factor that really makes the difference. It's that knowledge that I accomplished something today, so what's stopping me from accomplishing another great thing? It's the doing of things that leads to the doing of more things. Simple, but true!

So I'm just reminding you (and myself, for I'm sure to hit another slack-off after my Hawaii trip!) to get out there and exercise, your writing will thank you!

Write on,
Amber M

Monday, February 7, 2011

What's your muse?

It's always interesting to me to hear how writers view the act of writing. Given we all spend much more time than any sane person ever would, thinking up similes and metaphors, we tend to anthropomorphize or animate just about everything, including whatever it is that empowers, enables, forces, etc. us to write.

Traditionally muses were women, often young and beautiful, which makes sense given the derivation of the word. Stephen King described his muse as a guy who sits in an armchair smoking cigars. The more regular Mr. King was in his writing schedule, the more likely his muse would show up and keep him company.

For me each story has its own kind of muse, and they're all wild, mythical, never before seen animals. For me, the challenge is harnessing them without killing them. If I'm too heavy handed, they become too tame and the resulting story might have some technical merit, but that's about it. So when I'm writing, I go through phases. In the early phases, I try to find the form and shape of the muse. For that I write a TON of verbiage that I will later throw away. Only when I feel confident that I know what kind of beast this is do I move in aggressively. The ideal result for me is to have the muse all hitched up to drive the story, without it being so tied up that it can't take off running and pull the reader through the pages.

What's your muse look like?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

ARRRGH! Happy 1/2 Birthday to US!

Well, here we be, six months to the day since we laid claim to this cove, and I'll be blowed if we haven't got ourselves a fine crew and plenty of fellow voyagers tied up at the dock!

Fer yer entertainment, I'd like to spotlight just a few of our top-comment-garnerin' posts from the past six months:

The Power in a Word by Jonene Ficklin

Revisions, Why Art Thou So Hard by Susan Kaye Quinn

How NOT to Pitch to an Editor by Leisha Maw

Been a pleasure sailin' with ye, and I be lookin' forward to many fine adventures to come.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Scrivener as a Writing Tool

Around the first of the year, I asked for suggestions for plotting techniques and writing software, as I was toying with my Shiny New Idea.

Well, I didn't get too far with the new idea, but I did learn a lot about Scrivener and outlining.

I HIGHLY recommend Scrivener for Windows (the Mac version has more features, but the Windows version has the basic functionality that makes it such a useful tool). It's free in beta-mode until the official version comes out. Scrivener is not a plotting technique so much as tool to organize all kinds of writing activities.

While I was reading McKee's Story, I took detailed notes in Scrivener. Because of the organizational structure of the files, I can quickly access my notes about say, the Inciting Incident or Crisis/Climax/Resolution.

Then I copied my entire MG MS into Scrivener, chapter by chapter, because I wanted to re-write the opening. Because I had all my McKee notes in the same story project, it was easy to flip back and forth between my notes, make new notes about ideas for the rewrite, and eventually to use the corkboard to diagnose and redesign my opening. It looks something like this (the different cork pins are different POVs):

Now that I'm starting Draft 4 of my YA novel, I'm once again using Scrivener to organize my thoughts, analyze the plot structure, and embark on the rewrite. Scrivener makes this gargantuan task very manageable.

By the time I get back to Shiny New Idea, I'm going to be a Scrivener Pro, and it will be well worth the $40 when it is released (and will hopefully have more of the Mac-Scrivener features as well).

The one thing I wouldn't recommend using Scrivener for is actual writing.

The word processor in Scrivener is not very powerful, and I like having my entire MS in one document (although breaking it into chapter-file-chunks for reorganizing/rewriting was very instructive). Even though I was designing the rewrite in Scrivener, I did all my actual writing in Word.

Once I get back to Shiny New Idea and work on plotting from scratch, I'll report back on which plotting methods (Snowflake, etc.) I end up using, and how that works out!

If you'd like to get information about more awesome tools for writers, check out this blog post on INSTRKTIV.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

How to Tell When You're Done?

So last week I was all on fire to get my first draft written out to the end.

But how do I know when I've reached the end?

Sure, the action climax is over. The main character made all his important decisions. The consequences fell. The last bits of tension are resolving. Confessions are being made. Details are being cleared up. Happily-ever-after (or at least happily-until-the-sequel) looms on the horizon.

But I love these characters. I love this setting. I keep thinking up more scenes. How will I know when to stop?

I mean, if I'm not careful, I'm going to end up writing half-way into the next book.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Gaggle of Contests

I'm running a bunch of contests over at Ink Spells in the next couple weeks! Hop over and enter for free books, candy, and a critique!

300th Follower Readers are Smart Contest - Win a book of your choice or a 20 page critique from yours truly

Omnific Publishing's Looking for Love Web Hunt - Win the entire Omnific collection of books!

Season of Love Giveaway - Win a copy of my book, Life, Liberty, and Pursuit and some candy for your sweetheart for Valentine's Day!