- Before you submit your manuscript to an editor or agent, print it out and read it aloud. You’ll catch any typos or missed words this way.
- Today’s computer systems have a feature in them to alert you to grammar issues and spelling errors. Use it.
- Does your character have a clear want that moves the plot along?
- Have you made it clear what your protagonist’s desires and fears are?
- Do your characters have distinct speech patterns or details that the reader knows who is speaking without a dialogue tag?
- Have you included obstacles in your story to play on your character’s fears and weaknesses? Have the obstacles increased and become more difficult over time?
- Does every plot event challenge, reveal, and shape your main character?
- Does the plot contain any twists or surprises?
- Does the ending of your story resolve the conflict? Is it inevitable?
- Does each chapter end with a hook for the reader to want to turn the page?
- Does your story start with a great hook?
- Ask a fellow writer or critique group to analyze your writing before turning it in. Unless your spouse is a fellow writer, don’t bother asking their opinion.
A Middle Grade novel are for elementary and middle school themed. They have less darkness and sweeter endings than YA. They are more open to curriculum tie-ins and educational content. The view of the story is through the eyes of the MG character. It starts with the character. Ask yourself these questions about your character before you write the story:
- What are their hopes & dreams?
- What do they want?
- What obstacle is standing in their way?
- What problem must they solve?
- What specific action must they take to overcome obstacle?
- What is their flaw?
- What are they afraid of?
- What does the character need to learn & evolve over the course of the story?
The protagonist needs to be someone the reader cares about and wants to know better. They should be active in their own story. They should have believable motives and care deeply for things and people. The character should not be afraid to take risks and have strong opinions and believes about the world and themselves. Kids are real people with real problems, yet use humor whenever you can. It can be situational funny, instead of comedy. Don’t preach or talk down. Kids hear enough in real life. Balance actions and feelings. Read a lot of MG to get a handle on it. Sit at a mall or other places where kids hang out and just listen to their speech and the things they talk about.
Here is a contest some of you writers out there might want to chance. It’s run by Owl Canyon Press. There isn’t any cost to enter. The stories must be in English. The catch is to use only 50 paragraphs total and each paragraph must have at least 40 words. There isn’t a maximum word count. Owl Canyon Press also provides the first sentence and the 25th sentence. Interested? Go to www.owlcanyonpress.com to enter and further instructions.
Let’s see how clever and wise you are.
I found out about the NW chapter of the Mystery Writers of America while I was at the PNWA writing conference. For those who are writing mysteries and thrillers, this a great bunch of people that have organized meetings for mystery writers. You can join on Facebook without any fees. I went to their meeting last night. They had Criminal Judge Sean O’Donnell as a guest speaker and I was glad I went after hearing him speak. He was a prosecutor during the Green River Task Force. The killer was Gary Ridgeway that murdered many young girls, especially street walkers, by choking them, then raping them after they died. During one of his killing sprees, Gary had his sleeping eight year old son in the car! When one of the detectives asked Gary what would he have done if his child had woken? He answered, “Well, I couldn’t have any witnesses, so I’d kill him.” Ridgeway also posed his victims after death. He did this because he didn’t want rigor mortis to set in, so he could defile and have sexual acts with the bodies. He was one sick-o!
Anyway, for those writing crime mysteries, Mr. O’Donnell said in King County of Seattle, the prosecutor and ME come with the homicide detectives on a case. The Coitus program for DNA kits didn’t exist in the 70’s & 80’s. One detective made Gary Ridgeway chew on a piece of gauze to get a sample of his saliva. They saved it all those years until those tests were available and linked him to some of the murder victims. Smart!
I listened to Craig English, a teacher and author at the PNWA conference about how he creates urban fantasy. He said urban fantasy is something freakish or a personal moment of otherness that happens to a character. The character might not embrace the strangeness at first, depending on their background, turmoil, and religious preference. Then up the stakes after the odd episode and see how the character deals with it. It could be a flexibility of reality. Establish the mundane world, then the fantasy, and balance the two. Decide on a theme and the rules of the weird. The character realizes the world is not quite what it seems.
I attended a writing class discussing magical symptoms in SF, fantasy, and paranormal. So here are some things to bring your writing up to par dealing with magic elements. Ask yourself, how do you plan a rational symptom? These are some guidelines:
- where does the source of the magic come from?
- if it’s from an energy source, are there constraints using more or less energy?
- how can it go wrong?
- can anyone access the energy source?
- if the person is tired or drunk, are there consequences to the magic?
- how did the person get the magic?
- who else can cast the magic?
- what are the set of rules using magic?
- how could the power get abused?
- how important is the magic to the plot?
- what are the trials & tribulation to do the magic?
- what are the physical & mental costs using magic?
- what kind of magic are you using? There are 4 different choices: arcane, divine, elemental, and demonic
Arcane is the inner ability to do spells & incantations. Divine is god-like beings. Elemental is the use of fire, earth, wind, and water. Demonic is obvious powerful being.
Capturing that vision in mind, the story unfolds from the tips of the writer’s fingers into printed word. It dances in front of the reader and dazzles him until the story ends. This thought came to mind after listening to various speakers at a writers conference.
For those of you that like to write mysteries or are thinking of writing one, you might like this information. A panel of agents and editors broached the subject, what is the difference between a mystery, thriller, and a horror novel.
Mystery has a puzzle and clues to follow. It’s usually not terrifying, has a broad crime or a murder.
A thriller or suspense: existence of hope, heightening of suspense, the unknowing, doesn’t need to be a murder to justify action, revelations through the story. specific pacing involved. Serial killers in a story are expected to be a thriller.
Horror: something awful happened, worst feeling, exploits fear, darkness within.
Thrillers are plot driven. They kick start with conflict and the stakes are raised frequently. In a horror, something about the story sticks with you.
Editor, Jenny Chen recommends mysteries should be written in third person, instead of first person, so the story doesn’t drag. It gives a window for the reader to understand the mystery.
I hope this helped some of you. Happy writing.
I attended the PNWA conference and one of the speakers was Cherry Adair. She talked about plot. For a good plot it must have these elements: story goal, scene goal, and black moment. A story also needs these 7 things:
- a succession of significant events with consequences
- things characters do, feel, think, and say
- a way of looking and doing things
- deciding what’s important and showing it to be important
- showing what matters to your main character
- one or more characters have something vital at stake
- something happens
Cherry also suggested not to bog down the opening with details and descriptions, but open with a bang. In other words, start novel with first crisis. There must be some kind of struggle for your main character for the reader to care. The first quarter of the book is the buildup. The middle is the emotional journey and always in trouble. The last act ties up everything. Give characters choices. The main character must grow in some way by the end of the novel. Each scene must have a motivation, goal, and conflict. The higher the stakes the longer the scene.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What is the point of the scene?
- What does the reader need to know?
- What does your main character have to find out?
- What backstory do you want inserted?
- What is the time and place?
Emotion, thought, decision, action moves the plot. Define the character’s needs and create obstacles.
Are you trying to make your writing stronger, but don’t know how? Here are some tips. Get rid of all those filtered words and make your character’s POV come alive for the reader. These words include:
- started to
I know I’ve used these words myself. Every writer knows the rule, don’t tell but show, but for novice writers it may be hard to figure out. Use your five senses and the reader can visualize your story. Drop all the adverbs and use stronger verbs. For example instead of Mary looked up at the stars, try The blue glow of the stars illuminated the moon. Instead of impatiently waited, try I shifted my weight from foot to foot. Get the picture?
Are you wanting to join a critique group or start one of your own? Here are some guidelines established by the PNWA. The goal of the author is to improve your story. The author must be open to change their characters, story, changing the direction of their plot, and even the emotional arc. A critique group is not a means to hear praise. Although every writer longs to be loved and appreciated for their writing, we must be open to hear how to improve and make our stories better.
Before you begin, establish the size of your critique group. Three to six is an ideal amount. It gives everyone a chance to read their piece and time for the others to critique.
Establish a time to meet. Once a week is best, but at least once a month. Also determine which day of the week and the time.
An ideal critique group is a mixture of gender and a variety of genres. Diversity is the key. You want many view points.
Bring only one copy of the scene or chapter you want to share. The author reads it out loud to the others. This stops the others from reading ahead and correcting grammar issues. You want them to pay attention to your story and give genuine criticism. Don’t defend yourself or characters. Listen to what the group has to say about improvement. You don’t have to agree, but write down their suggestions.
As the listener, you should take notes. Always start with something positive to say about the reader’s work. Otherwise, all the author will remember is negativity.