How do you see your plot? Is it a series of dominoes or a web?
I’m a linear thinker. For anyone who knows me, this may very well be the understatement of the year. Point me at a goal and step back. Tell me I can’t have or do what I’ve been focused on and watch me waffle.
This is also how I tend to think about plot. My character wants something. Things/people/circumstances get in his way. There are failures. There is a resolution.
The first night of the retreat, Jennifer Mattson spoke about plot. She showed us the usual plot diagram — a single line creeping up the page. But she also showed us how to use a story cloud diagram to work up possible complications and the like for our story. I looked at this layered, web-like monstrosity and thought, “Poop.”
Linear may work great for a short story or a picture book but middle grade? Nope. My story simply wasn’t complicated enough. I needed more connections. I needed a subplot.
Fortunately, by the end of the weekend I was noodling all this over and working some of it out in my head. If you are a linear thinker, take a look at Shaping the Story by Mark Baechtel. The story cloud may be a tool that will benefit your work.
Just remember — I didn’t say it was going to be easy.
At the retreat this weekend, one of the things that Jennifer Mattson (Andrea Brown Literary Agency) talked about was POV (Point of View). It is, as she pointed out, the reader’s primary access point to the story.
Second person is used only rarely but brings with it a great sense of immediacy. One of the books we read for the retreat, You by Charles Benoit, is written in 2nd person. The only other example we could come up with is a novel by Gary Blackwood. Of course, we blanked on the title but it was his book about a magician (Second Sight, perhaps?).
Point of view is especially important if your character has a quirky or unique way of expressing herself. Jennifer’s example was Junie B. Jones. Love her or hate her, no one else sounds like Junie B. In first person, it works.
When you want to hide something from the reader, be very careful using first person. It works in Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak because the facts that the narrator is hiding from the reader are also hidden from herself.
We wrapped this session up by rewriting a story from another point of view. I chose Charles Perrault’s Bluebeard. Actually, that was the piece that most of us chose. I have to admit that I was surprised that no one else rewrote the story from the point of view of one of the brothers. I didn’t get very far but it was fun once I got rolling. Why not try this exercise with one of your favorite legends or fairy tales? What knowledge might one of the secondary characters be able to bring to the story?
At one point, the middle grade that I workshopped this weekend was a chapter book. The story didn’t quite work at that level, so I aged my protagonist by two years and things took off.
It took off but the gait wasn’t quite even. Every once in a while, I’d sense a lurch. This weekend, with the help of agent Jennifer Mattson, I found out why.
When I aged my protagonist, I didn’t age my antagonist. This might not be a big deal in adult fiction, but you can only get away with so much retaliation against a four year old, even an evil four year old. Bingo. Make her 6 or 7 and things start to come together.
I still needed to create a greater sense of urgency. Why was this particular homework assignment so important that having your kid sister ruin it means REVENGE? I knew why. I had it in my head. Not only had I failed to get it on paper, it was complicated. I needed to find a more obvious reason that this assignment was so very important. When I found this reason, I smoothed out a few more of the bumps but it also meant aging my protagonist one more year and my antagonist one more year. When I took these changes to Jennifer, as well as the addition of a new character, she pointed out two characters that I could now combine.
It was fascinating to see how one change effected other story elements and how these changes rippled throughout the piece as a whole. I’ve got a tremendous job ahead of me but I’m looking forward to seeing how all of this comes together.
If you ever get the chance to have a detailed one-on-one critique with Jennifer Mattson, grab it. She encouraged me to look at things I hadn’t focused on and to get more of the information that was in my head down on paper. Her love of world building really paid off for me since this is a fantasy manuscript and it will be a much stronger fantasy when all is said and done. It isn’t going to be a short journey, but this rewrite will definitely be a journey with taking.
I came away from the retreat with lots of ideas for my middle grade manuscript — more on that and the retreat in general throughout the week.
But also Wow on what I managed to accomplish last week. Even with my son home I wrote 6409 words although I had dropped my weekly goal to 3000. Having ten pieces due this Wednesday was enormously inspirational. Not that it was all work — we went to the Art Museum one day and flew kites another and played games and read and cooked. Fun!
If you are waiting for an e-mail from me, get a cup of coffee and a good book. I have deadlines. I came home to bucket load of e-mail. And a crisis. Technically, it isn’t my crisis, but some people are exceedingly generous. And don’t forget those deadlines.
Now to get back to work. Here are my goals for the week:
Rewrite and turn in the CW article that is due Wednesday. Done!
Do the last four activities, finish the write ups and do the photography. Also due Wednesday. Done!
Start collecting interviews for my next CW assignment. In progress.
Write one, maybe two new chapters for the middle grade. I want to get this draft done so that I can get started on the rewrite. Big changes are coming! Done!
Rewrite the picture book that I had critiqued at the retreat. Done!
She recommended it to parents who need to help their children understand concepts that can best be explained visually. But what about all those things that you can picture in your mind but you don’t know what they are called? You know — that little doo-dad beneath the whatchamadoodle?
We like to talk about how much the world has changed in the last 15 . . . 20 . . . 40 years. Yet, as writers, especially writers for children, we also need to look for ways that it has remained the same. These similarities are often what enables modern readers to comprehend past events.
I’m taking an adult study course at my church and, since it is during the day, I find myself in a room full of retirees and one seminary student. Last week, I listened to one of the most confident men I’ve ever met talk about how worthless and inconsequential he felt as a child. After all, he was nothing like his big, athletic, handsome older brother. One of the sweetest women on the planet told us about changing a grade on her report card so that her parents wouldn’t get mad at her. Another man said he felt utterly worthless due to his mediocre grades and was always the last picked for a team, but then he found the Boy Scouts.
Don’t these sound like the same emotions felt by kids today? Don’t these situations sound familiar?
These are the emotions that we can use to build a bridge from our historical novel to the modern reader, from our adult self to the reader we hope to hook. Why? These are emotions our grandparents felt, we felt and kids continue to feel today.
Lately I’ve been whining to my husband that I just didn’t seem to be connecting with the main character in my chapter book. At least, the connection didn’t feel as strong as it had in earlier chapters. “I just don’t feel the character anymore. There’s a distance now.”
“Keep working on it. You won’t get it back any other way.”
So I slogged. I waded. And I whined.
Then I noticed something. This is the first time I’ve written anything over picture book length in first person. Somewhere around chapter 7, I had slipped back into my customary 3rd person. Somewhere around Chapter 7, I no longer felt as strong a connection with my main character. I discovered this after I inadvertently slipped back into first person in chapter 10. The connection immediately felt stronger again. I was back in his head.
In the past, when I’ve heard discussions of first person vs third person, I’ve sat politely enough while discounting what I was hearing. “It doesn’t make that much difference,” I’d think. Then I had to find examples of both first and third person in novels. As I pulled my favorite novels, the ones with the characters I love, off my shelves, I realized that one after another was written in first person.
The chapter book that I’m working on is one I had started about two years ago but then bogged down in and abandoned. When I decided to try it again, I changed to first person. Sure, by now I knew my character better, but that knowledge and the resulting connection comes through much stronger in first person.
Last week, I managed to write 7254 words. Unfortunately, I probably won’t be getting my chapter book done before I leave on the retreat Friday. Why?
Because some nervy editor gave me a contract. The 9 activities are due next Wednesday. And then another nervy editor gave me a contract. The first piece is due in 10 days. With my son off school for the week, I doubt that I’ll get more than 3000 words written this week. That means focusing on those deadlines although I do plan to do a bit on the chapter book.
Here is what I’m hoping to accomplish:
Here are my goals for this week:
Outline the CW article. Done! I actually managed a rough (very rough) draft on this one.
Write one page/day on the chapter book for a total of 5 pages. Done!
Do one activity and write it up each day. That should get me through 5 of the 9. Done!
5 posts for One Writer’s Journey. Done!
1 post/reviews for the Bookshelf. Done! A special thank you to my son who wrote a guest post for me.
I’ve found a new market I want to attempt and I want to work on some new ideas for Writer’s Digest but this week that probably won’t be possible. What can I say? I’ll do what I can do. But when April comes around, I want to take another look at my annual goals and see if how I’m doing. Fingers crossed!
A week or so ago, a fellow writer contacted me. It looked like a job she had applied for might come through, but they wanted to know what her rates were. She didn’t know what to tell them.
An hourly rate? I’m not used to thinking in those terms since I normally get paid by the job/piece. My first guess was $40/hour. Then I did a quick google search and found a listing of what freelances in various industries report making per hour. You can see a summary here. It includes freelance writer at $44/hour.
I also found a rate calculator. You plug in what you want to make per year, how many hours a day and days a week you work as well as the number of vacation days you need. Click Calculate and then see what you should be billing as an hourly rate.
Just a little something to noodle over as you go about your day.