Thursday, June 28, 2012

Writing a Short Pitch

I'm currently in the middle of querying my third novel, and this time I'm doing it right--sending out queries in small batches, waiting for responses, and tweaking my query and pages based on the feedback I receive. But as I'm sure Tom Petty would agree, the waiting is the hardest part.

One of the things that helps pass the time is entering writing contests. These are a recent discovery of mine. Fabulous people in the online writing community generously donate their time to run contests on their websites, blogs, or even Twitter.

I've participated in four contests over the past month and have gotten several requests from agents to see partial or full manuscripts, which is super-exciting (and helps ease the pain of waiting for query responses!).

A lot of my waiting time has been taken up with putting together pitches that fit the guidelines of each contest. I thought it might be fun to take a look at a few of them.

My comments on each pitch are in blue.

First, for comparative purposes, here's my long pitch (the one that goes in my query letter).

Long Pitch:

Remy Bardin’s parents invented a drug that extends human life by two hundred years—as long as you can pay the Company for those daily pills. Society has fragmented into the long-timers who live in constant fear of losing everything, and the short-timers who would do anything for a few extra years.

Remy isn’t worried—he’ll have a guaranteed supply of the drug when he comes of age next year. But his perfect life dissolves when an old man who threatens to expose his father’s secrets winds up dead. Remy can’t help but wonder what his parents had to do with the old man’s death, and what secrets they could be trying to protect.

After breaking into their lab in the heavily-guarded Company stronghold, he finds out things that make him question the morality of his existence… and he must decide if a few hundred years can possibly be worth the price.

I've gotten a decent request rate on my queries, so I know this pitch isn't too bad, but way too long for most pitch contests.

Three Sentence Pitch:

Remy Bardin's parents invented a drug that extends human life by two hundred years, which is why society has fragmented into the long-timers who can afford the pills and the short-timers who would do anything for a few extra years.

Seventeen-year-old Remy's got a guaranteed lifetime supply of the drug, but his perfect world falls apart when an old man threatens to expose his father's secrets and then is murdered.

After breaking into his parents' lab, Remy finds out the horrible truth behind the drug... and he must decide if a few hundred years can possibly be worth the price.

I took out a few details from the first paragraph and combined two sentences into one. Not too bad.
The second paragraph was harder--I spent a good long while trying to figure out how to get all the details into one sentence. I had to cut the part about Remy wondering what secrets his parents are keeping, but I felt like it was at least implied by the shorter sentence.

The last paragraph was technically only one sentence already, but I felt like it was a bit long for a short pitch contest, so I tightened it up.
I must have done something right, because this pitch won me a blog contest and a full manuscript request from an awesome agent at a top agency!

One Sentence Pitch:

When a privileged teenage boy learns the horrific truth behind a miracle drug that prolongs the life of the rich, he must try to bring down the all-powerful Company from the inside.

Here's where it starts to get reeeallly tricky. Distilling the whole plot of a book down into a few paragraphs is hard enough--but when we're talking one sentence, it seems impossible.

What worked for me was to really think about the core of the story--what did I say when someone asked me what my novel was about? I wrote a line or two off the top of my head to answer that question.

Then I started looking at the individual words. In a pitch this short, every word counts. At first, it said "a spoiled teenage boy", but then I thought about the exact concept I wanted to get across and changed it to "privileged"--which really is a better representation of the character's background (and bonus: a less generic word).

Twitter Pitch:

A teenage boy learns the horrific secret behind a life-extending drug and must try to bring down his parents' company from the inside.

And you thought the last one was bad... this pitch, for a Twitter contest, had to be no more than 135 characters long (Twitter allows 140 characters, but 5 were needed for the contest's hashtag-identifier).

I started with my one sentence pitch and started cutting. But even after I got rid of all the extra words, I still had too many characters. Then it was time to look at shorter ways to say the same thing. "A miracle drug that prolongs the life of the rich" became "a life-extending drug". "The all-powerful Company" became "his parents' company", because I saved 4 characters!

This pitch also got me a request for material. Despite its length, I think I spent just as long on it as any of the others.

Have you had to work up short pitches for your manuscripts? Do you find them easy or difficult?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Writers Resource: SmartEdit

Tool for editing manuscripts

I planned to write a completely different post, but earlier this week I was introduced to a handy little writing tool called SmartEdit, and I had to share.

SmartEdit is a free and easy-to-use tool that speeds up the editing process.  You simply post your manuscript in either a text or rich text format and hit enter.  The SmartEditor then lists repeated words, repeated phrases, counts dialogue tags for repetition, lists adverbs, highlights cliche phrases and identifies potential misused words (their vs. there, affect vs. effect, etc.)

Overused words in manuscriptsSounds amazing right?  It is.  I popped my manuscript in and a few seconds later I had a full listing of all my trouble spots.  (Guess who used the word like over 400 times in their manuscript?  This girl!)  

I found the adverb listing to be especially handy - I never realized how much I used unnecessary adverbs like actually. I actually use it quite a bit.

You can download the tool for free right here:  SmartEdit

Now go forth and edit!

A huge thanks to the bloggers at QueryTracker for introducing me to this amazing tool!

Happy Writing!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Industry Month in Review: Smart People, Smart Stories

Welcome to another edition of "Industry Month in Review".  It seems like just yesterday we were at the tail end of May and now voila, summer is officially here!  I have a bit of a loose theme for June's IMIR.  Smart people, smart stories.  You'd think that would be a natural compliment.  Often times it's questionable.  How do you define what's a smart story?  Does a smart story have to be a best-seller? 

In Nathan Bransford's June 11th blog post, Bransford ponders the randomness of bestsellers.  He notes:

"There are more sophisticate and more accessible and more edgy and more simultaneously sophisticated/accessible/edgy books than Girl With a Dragon Tattoo. Why was that the one to take off?

Why was Girl With a Dragon Tattoo such a success? I think it was a good story, surrounded by a good story (sadly the all too sudden death of it's author Stieg Larsson) and a great marketing team. 

That's my two cents.  I'd like to think that my thoughts and writing are smart (or at least can be), but after reading the next article, I'm not so sure.  

The New Yorker recently published an article entitled Why Smart People are Stupid.  

The first paragraph poses the following question:

"A bat and ball cost a dollar and ten cents. The bat costs a dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?"

If you said 10 cents, you're wrong, think again.

The article discusses the many mental shortcuts that we as humans take which often leads us to make foolish decisions.  While the article is science and not fiction, as a writer, I find that it lends itself nicely when thinking about some of the characters that I am developing and why they make certain decisions.

If there's one person that was a smart person and a smart story teller it would be the late Ray Bradbury.  The legendary sci-fi writer passed away earlier this month at the age of 91. This article from the Atlantic Wire sums up Bradbury's venerable career.  

The article quotes an interview that Bradbury did with the Paris Review in 2010:

"Science fiction is any idea that occurs in the head and doesn’t exist yet, but soon will, and will change everything for everybody, and nothing will ever be the same again. As soon as you have an idea that changes some small part of the world you are writing science fiction. It is always the art of the possible, never the impossible."

I couldn't help but think of a recent post I'd seen that ties in nicely with Bradbury's quote (and also made me giggle). 

Star Trek and the tablet.

Finally for those of us who are continuously seeking bits of wisdom in our journey to writing smarter stories, I leave you with this article from io9 where Pixar storyboard artist Emma Coats discusses her 22 rules of storytelling.

Now go forth writers, and prosper. 


Saturday, June 23, 2012

ALA Anaheim. Saturday. In Pictures.

Ally Condie
Arthur Levine
With Sherman Alexie!!! 
Ransom Riggs
Libba Bray

 Dante Fried Chicken. So tasty.
Creepy picture Riggs gave me with book.  Love.
An end to The Giver?.!.
One very flirtatious robot.
Bloomsbury booth was talking this up
Ridiculously long lines.
Maggie Stiefvater signs Raven Boys

Thinking to Inking Pens. Kinda love 'em.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

From Book to Screen (and back again): An Interview with Y.A. Author Holly Goldberg Sloan

It’s my Thursday of the month again, which means another interview with an awesome author who’s managed to bridge that chasm between books and film. 

I could go on and on about author Holly Goldberg Sloan.  From her generosity and charm to her "can do" attitude.  She welcomed me in with open arms (into her gorgeous Spanish style home she built herself I might add) and imparted much knowledge and wisdom to me (some of which is only to be shared after a few glasses of wine).
But I digress.  Let’s focus on the interview at hand shall we?  Holly’s first YA novel I’LL BE THERE was published by Little Brown in 2011.  Since then, the book has garnered numerous accolades and awards including the prestigious 2012 Peggy Miller Award for Young Adult Literature.   But don’t let that “first YA novel” fool you.  Holly is a veteran screenwriter having written a number of family friendly films including ANGELS IN THE OUTFIELD, THE BIG GREEN, MADE IN AMERICA and COLLISION COURSE: THE CROCODILE HUNTER MOVIE.  Holly also wrote and directed the children’s film HEIDI 4 PAWS.
Author Holly Goldberg SloanI asked Holly what made her decide to write her first novel.  I expected a pretty standard answer.  Boy was I wrong.
HGS: That was actually just an accident.  A friend of mine had asked my husband and I two years earlier to go to Mexico for his birthday.  When the time came, we went.  We didn’t realize it was a vegetarian yoga resort that didn’t have television, phone service or the Internet.  At the time I was working for Dreamworks Animation and I didn’t have any of my notes with me so I couldn’t work on my script.  Then my husband got food poisoning.  I had nothing to do.  I couldn’t go on Facebook endlessly and look at my friend’s pictures so I started writing a story and that became my book.
JP: Do you feel your background in writing family films steered you towards writing YA?
HGS: I am a screenwriter and that marketplace has become harder than it used to be ten years ago.  They make fewer films and the films they make aren't the kinds of films that I necessarily write.  I write smaller family stories and those don't attract big Hollywood stars.  So it's harder for someone like me to do what I did before.  
But there's this other way to be a writer and tell stories - so that was a natural thing for me to do - to take a story I was interested in telling and just write it in book form.
Angels in the OutfieldI didn’t know I’LL BE THERE was a young adult book until I was told it was a young adult book. I love to cook so I make a lot of analogies to cooking.  If I made a dish and I thought it was stew and you told me it was soup I wouldn’t care.  As long as you liked it and ate it, I’d be happy.  That’s how I feel about the category.  It’s a way to position the material so people understand what it is.  It all has to do with niche marketing and how crowded our marketplace is.     
JP: What do you love most about being a writer?
HGS: The best thing about being a writer is that no one can stop you.  If you want to be a director, you can’t just wake up in the morning and between breakfast and lunch do a lot of directing. But as a writer no one stops you.  The only person that’s stopping you is you and time constraints.  It’s like painting a room, you can use a spray gun and do it in one day, or you can get a little tiny toothbrush and you can do it a little bit at a time.  But if you do it, it will get done.  So the first thing is commitment to doing it.
JP: I'm really excited about this tidbit of news.  You're currently writing the adaptation of I'LL BE THERE.  How has that process been - adapting your own work to screen?
International book covers for I'LL BE THERE
Marketing at it's best: I'll Be There international book covers
HGS: I'm working with producer Donald DeLine (The Italian Job, Green Lantern) and producer Paula Mazur (Nim's Island) and her partner Mitchell Kaplan (Independent bookseller) on the feature.

Writing screenplays and writing novels are two very different things.  And in some ways, being good at one doesn't help the other skill set.  In a movie you work to keep the train on the track heading with increasing steam toward a destination.  In a book, the train can go all over the place.  It can even simply sit still and people can come to observe and report on the condition of the locomotive.  Movies require a great deal of visual thought and interpretation.  And books require internal understanding and description.  Both ways of storytelling are dependent on tone.  Tone and character are everything. 

JP: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
HGS: I tell everyone believe me, no one is going to steal your great idea because there really are no great ideas. It’s all execution dependent.  The more people you can get to read your work and the more people you can get to respond to it, the more you can look for true advocates who really do believe in you...or believe that they can make money off you which is the same thing in the world of commerce.

In addition to adapting her debut novel to screen, Holly is busy completing not one but two novels.  The follow up I'LL BE THERE TOO for Little Brown and COUNTING BY SEVENS for Dial Penguin.  
To find out more about Holly Goldberg Sloan and her adventures click here.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Writer's Resource: Baby Name Websites

Hello sticker
Naming characters can be one of the most fun parts of writing a novel, but it can also be one of the most frustrating. Choosing names requires thought--lots of thought. Your characters are part of the culture of your novel, which means their name should reflect that culture.
A good tool to use is baby name websites. I've done a roundup of a few of the more helpful ones below:

Wizard hatBaby Name Wizard: This site's Advanced Baby Name Finder is awesome. It allows you to select different attributes like popularity, length, and first letter to start with (useful when making sure main characters have names that start with different letters). You can also require or exclude names that are Biblical in origin, non-standardly spelled, traditional, or esoteric. This site lets you easily search baby names by origin via the drop-down list. Bonus: they've also got a page of Tips for Writers (and they're good tips, too!).

Social Security logoSocial Security Database: The U.S. Social Security Administration maintains a database of the 400 most popular baby names of each decade, all the way back to the 1880's (!). There's also a table of the top 10 names in each year from 1912-2011, as well as the top names per U.S. state for the last 40 years or more.
Baby Names World: Like the Baby Name Wizard above, this site has an advanced search that lets you filter by length, first letter, and popularity. It also lets you filter by origin, though, and it has some other options that are a little more subjective (heavenly names, anyone? Movie star names? How about pirate names?). Warning: this site is sponsored by Nickelodeon and thus has video ads that seem to play on every page. They're easy to turn off, but be aware!

Happy naming!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Curious Lives of Teenagers: Dads

In order to respond to the cultural norm of celebrating one's father on Father's Day, subjects were asked to respond to the prompt "my dad..." Here are their replies:
  • is a 12 year old in a 46 year old man's body
  • is cool because he lived in Japan for four years
  • is better than yours
  • died nine years ago on father's day
  • is the reason I'm not afraid to fly
  • is way too in love with Lacrosse
  • is old
  • is the beez neez
  • likes to sing
  • is not a ginge
  • fakes English accents in public
  • has a handlebar moustache...I love him
  • is a role model
  • is the late night snoring on the couch while the tv lies on a volume of 10. He is that brilliant cook who never makes anything, but loves to "help." Ha ha.
  • is super strange
  • makes the best creamy Mac & Cheese
  • cooks Sunday breakfast every Sunday. NO EXCEPTIONS.
  • does a great immitation of Elmo
  • is the Karate King
  • farts with great, putrid winds that have rolled straight from a stinky hell
  • is Steve Irwin, Tim Allen, and Charlie Sheen
  • is a guiding force helping me to strive for success whenever a helping hand may be needed. He brightens the nights with his jokes and works hard throughout the day in order to insure that the rest of us are safe
  • an angry stork, but a man that knows how to work and bring out everyone's best
  • is the most amazing man I know
  • the stubble on my dad's cheek is grey and black/his hair, once jet black is now grey/ but as my dad gets older/ he definitely doesn't get colder/ instead his smile been getting warmer/ every single day
  • is king of the hand sanitizer
  • is a lucky penny which I happen to be blessed to find on the grimy side.
  • is always there when I need him, always puts a smile on my face, & has taught me more than anyone else has
  • tells me about how great of a fisherman he is when he really has only been once or twice
***Observation: More subjects opted out of this prompt than any other, but those who wrote were more enthusiastic than usual. Seems subjects were more sharply split than on any other question, though no one spoke of why.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Interview With an EPublishing Pioneer

Last winter, at the SCBWI NY meeting, I heard numerous agents, editors, and writers buzzing about major literary agencies like Book Ends, LLC, Dystel & Goderich, The Waxman Agency, and a gazillion more jumping into the epublishing arena. Today, the great Trident Media's epublishing division launches its first middle grade book, Evertaster, into cyberspace so I thought I'd snag an interview to see what the author, Adam Sidwell, had to say about his experience delving into these unchartered waters...

***Update: Success for Sidwell & Trident! The surge of their "lunch launch" (strategery at its best: let your followers know exactly how, when, were, etc. to make the biggest impact) was successful & they made Amazon's #2 "movers and shakers" list & #2 in their demographic overall in just a few hours. Let's see what they do by the end of the day. Unsurprisingly, it looks like literary agencies do know what they're doing :). Nice work Adam & Trident.*****

1) When you connected with the prestigious literary agency, Trident Media, did you apply to be the first author they represented in their new epublishing division, or was that a happy accident?
That was a happy accident. I queried Alyssa Henkin of Trident a few years back with the Evertaster manuscript. She loved the story and the concept and the writing, so we worked on it together over the next 2 years. Previously she worked as an editor for Scholastic, so she really knows what she’s doing. It was great to work with a pro like her. We shopped the manuscript around, and ultimately decided that the best home for it was right there with Trident. I’m very happy with how it all worked out. The book is available in paperback todayand the ebook will follow shortly. Look for it on Amazon!

2.    A) It seems that you’re at the cusp of a new wave of publishing, what has surprised/delighted you most on this journey?
I think the freedom and speed with which we are able to get the book out. Depending on which publisher you go with, you might have to wait a whole year or even two before your book comes out. That’s a long time to wait when you need reader feedback and want to write stories that are current. With Trident the process has taken less than 6 months. Also, I’ve had incredible freedom with cover art direction. I am a professional artist for feature films, so of course I wanted to be involved in that.
B) As we have established that you are a pioneer, have you ever felt the urge to don a hat and push a handcart? Ha ha! Well, not really. This is my first experience with publishing, so I don’t have anything to compare it to. I’m just happy that I can finally give my book to readers.
3.    You’ve done a great job marketing Evertaster. What marketing strategies have you found have worked the best? I think that reaching out to people is really the best, in as personal a way as possible. Things are extremely busy right now, but I try to reply to anyone who has questions or comments on the facebook page, or tweets, or anyone who sends me a message. I enjoy connecting with readers. People are really excited to celebrate, so it’s actually a great excuse to get in touch with old friends and make new ones.

4.    You’re a brilliant designer who has worked on blockbuster films; how has that impacted your writing and/or your promotional work?
Thank you. That is very kind. When you work on films for a living, and you’re surrounded by top animators and concept artists and designers in the industry you absorb that visual language. It becomes a part of you. The comment I constantly get back from editors is “The story is so cinematic!” Without even realizing it, I’ve written what reads like a movie on paper. I always see the scenes playing out in my head, and I think that comes from working on films for the last decade.  That’s also what led me to Goro Fujita, the amazing designer from Dreamworks who did the cover art. He designed sets and concepts for the films Megamind and Madagascar, and he did an amazing job with the cover. Come check it out and feel free to like us on facebook.
5.    Where do you see epublishing heading in the next year?
Five years? What have you found to be its strengths/weaknesses?
Epublishing is growing. I think that we’re going to see shorter, almost novella size books rise in prominence. They will be very current. They will also be somewhat disposable in a sense that you’ll read it and expect to see what the author writes next, instead of lingering on a book like we do now.
Bonus Questions: When is Evertaster released? Who is your target market? How do I get a copy?
Evertaster is for ages 8 and up. I think it will also appeal to food-loving adults who like adventure; it’s really a delicious story. You can get your paperback copy today, June 14th: Super Evertaster Thursday. 
We’re having an Evertaster Lunch Launch; it will be discounted for a few hours today so I recommend you buy it at high noon before the price goes up! The paperback book will be for sale on Amazon exclusively for the first few weeks.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Writers Resource: Business Cards for Conferences

Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators LA Conference LogoThis August I will attend my first ever in-person writing conference at the Los Angles based SCBWI.  (I say "in-person", because my first real conference was last summer at the virtual WriteOnCon.)

As I've been doing my research on what to expect and how best to prep, I stumbled upon one reoccurring theme:  business cards.  It seems like anyone and everyone who has attended a conference recommends having a business card.

Why have a business card?  There are two main purposes:

1) Networking with other writers
2) Networking with agents (and perhaps publishers, depending on where you are in the process)

business cards for writers
There will be hundreds of other children's book writers attending the conference, which means hundreds of names, faces, blogs and work-in-progress titles to remember. A business card is a simple and hassle-free way to exchange info and hopefully keep in touch with other like-minded individuals after the conference ends.

To this end, a business card should include the basic  information you want to share with other writers: your name, email address, blog/website/twitter handle, and a short blurb about the genre you are focused on. You can also include a telephone number, but there's no need to add your address unless you're feeling really friendly.  :-P

Okay, seems easy enough.  But what about agents?  Do they really want a business card from me? And if I do happen to have the opportunity to give them my card, what information do they care about?

These were exactly the questions I posted to my fellow aspiring writers on AgentQuery Connect (check out my two posts about this resource if you have not already.)  They gave me some fabulous advice, but perhaps the best suggestion came in the form of a blog post from agent Lauren Ruth.

Business card for writersI considered posting a number of different resources about writers' business cards, but in all truth Lauren Ruth's was the best.  In addition to reading it in its entirety, I highly recommend reading through the comments - there are some great thoughts and ideas that built on Ms. Ruth's suggestions. It's a must-read post for anyone trying to figure out what to include on your business cards.

Regarding where to go to make your business cards, there are a number of online resources that are easy to use, reputable, and cheap.  Below are a few links.

Vista Print - they offer 250 free cards - who doesn't love free? I can also vouch for this company from personal experience.

Zazzle - if you're not into the photo idea Lauren Ruth suggests, this site offers some fun writing-themed graphics

Uprint - In addition to the traditional card, they offer unique die-cut designs, and have a section focusing on business cards for writers

Happy writing!  And if you're planning to attend the LA SCBWI conference please let me know - I'll have a business card waiting for you.

Monday, June 11, 2012


On the second Monday of every month, we choose an outstanding YA book to review. We want to spotlight books of interest to aspiring writers, as well as highlight some of our favorite books and authors!

Divergent by Veronica Roth
Synopsis (from Goodreads): In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves… or it might destroy her.

Reading Divergent, Desert Hot Springs, California

There’s no better way to spend an afternoon in Desert Hot Springs, California than to sit next to the pool with a glass of sangria and a good book.  In this case, you guessed it, the book was DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth.   
First Line: "There is one mirror in my house." 

Holy cow, just one mirror?  I’m not a teen (nor hopefully an egomaniac) but even I can see the problems with having only one mirror (mind you my make-up trumps my boyfriend's hair any day). 

But enough about me, more importantly, the first line raises questions for the reader while providing clues about the world we’re about to enter. Why is there just one mirror?  Clearly, this is not your average household.  The sentence is short and to the point.  It sets the tone – something serious is going on. 

I recently got back from the SCBWI Canada East conference in Niagara, Canada.  If you can't make it to SCBWI New York or L.A. definitely consider Canada East for next year.  It is well worth the visit to the Falls (not to mention the scenery).  

It was there that I had the pleasure of listening to agent Tracy Adams of Adams Literary speak about the "It" factor and what it takes to have a great opening hook. 

Lets take a look at the rest of DIVERGENT's opening paragraph:

"It is behind a sliding panel in the hallway upstairs.  Our faction allows me to stand in front of it on the second day of every third month, the day my mother cuts my hair."

What does this tell us?  A lot.  

1) It starts with action.  We can picture Tris sitting in front of the mirror as her mother cuts her hair.  

2) This is not the society we currently live in (unless anyone out there lives in a faction that I don't know of).  It's rules are definitely stricter than ours.  

3) Tris lives with her mother.  She willingly allows her to cut her hair. This implies that Tris is probably young and she follows the rules.  

What else? More questions.  Why is Tris living in a society of strict rules where her mother is the only one that cuts her hair?  Is she forced to?  Is this a choice? 

Should I be worried about Tris?  Should I be scared for her life?  I wouldn't want to be in Tris' shoes, so yes, to both.   

All this makes me want to read more.  Conclusion: the hook was a success.


Roth takes us on a journey.  But what I enjoyed most about DIVERGENT was not the physical journey but the mental one. I’m not living in a dystopian universe filled with four factions, but I can recall (unfortunately too clearly) my days as a teen struggling with identity and trying to balance between being a “good girl” and wanting to be a badass rebel.   

Notes for Writers: 

Roth has a way with words.  I particularly enjoyed the way she was able to put words together to describe not only features but the person behind them.  Take this sentence for example:

"His eyes are so deep-set that his eyelashes touch the skin under his eyebrows, and they are dark blue, a dreaming, sleeping, waiting color."  

A handsome thinker with dark blue eyes?  I'll take two please.

Insurgent by Veronica Roth
A Good Read For: Similar to Marie Lu’s LEGEND, DIVERGENT is a good read for fans of/writers of dystopian fiction, science fiction, and action-adventure. It is action packed and even though these teens live in a dystopian universe, they act and feel (for better or worse) like real teens .  

The next book in the series, INSURGENT, has a release date of... oh wait, it's already been released! And it's another New York Times Bestseller.  So go get yours stat!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Things I Learned In Improv Class, Volume 2: You Are Not The Star

Improv comedy is a form of live theatre in which the plot, characters and dialogue of a scene are made up in the moment, without a script.

In this series of posts I'd like to share some of the tools I learned during the three years I studied improv comedy in Chicago, and show you how I apply them to my writing.

Today's lesson:  you are not the star

One of the hardest pills any aspiring improv actor must swallow is the idea that they are not the star of their scenes. Improv is a team sport, so spotlight stealers beware - nobody wants to work with someone who's only in it for themselves.

A scene ends after a big laugh.  Why?  Because there's usually nowhere else to take it once you hit the punchline, and you always want to end on a high note.

People who come out of the gate swinging with funny one-liners and punchy jokes kill the scene before it's started.  The truly great improvisers are able to take time and build scenes out so that they not only get a chuckle, but they get side-splitting laughs and thundering applause.

Even better than that, the truly great improvisers are experts at setting their scene partners up for success.  They don't focus on themselves and making everyone think they're funny - they focus on making the scene funnyEven if that means giving the big laughs to someone else.

So what's this got to do with writing?

I love me some metaphors.  Similes?  Check.  Analogies?  You betcha.  I love nothing more than crafting a beautiful sentence that will make readers sit back and say, damn, that girl can write!  

The problem is that beautifully constructed sentences and flowery comparisons may not be the right thing for my story or the voice of my character.  And really, it shouldn't be about making a reader sit back and marvel at a single sentence - it should be about making them sit back and marvel at the story.  

Essentially, I am not the star of the stories I write - my characters are.  By focusing on myself I am doing my story a massive disservice, because I'm taking the voice away from my character and giving it to me. Me, me, me. 

Learning to let go during revisions

At first, revisions were extremely hard for me. I had trouble cutting sentences or sections of the story that weren't really working, so instead I would try to write around them and force them to fit.

Then one day I started letting go (see my first post about saying 'yes, and' to critiques) and the most amazing thing happened - I was free!  The scenes read smoother, my characters were more consistent and my story was much, much stronger.  All I had to do was learn to let go of the scene or sentence that I was, for whatever reason, so enamored with, and focus instead on my characters.

No matter how much you love your writing, if it's not doing your story any good then it's time to say goodbye.  Remember - you are not the star, your story is. Focus on what's best for your story and your characters, and you will never go wrong.    

Happy writing!