Editing Category Archive

On Plotting (Downloadable Plotting Doc Attached!)

There are a thousand-and-one ways to plot. To write. To draft and edit and tell stories. I’ll be the first to jump on the no-way-is-the-right-way train, that all ways are valid. In fact, I’ll argue that the way I write now isn’t the way I’ve written before and is not the way I’ll write later. It will always be in flux, and I think this is healthy! It allows for growth and change.

Being aware of the above has meant that over the years, I read craft books and explored techniques on plotting (I’m a reformed pantser), and through it all I’ve taken notes to refer to later and to share with friends. A few weeks back while on a writing hiatus, I started to combine those notes into a Google Doc, which turned into a fill-in-the-blank doc for myself for future works, which turned into a question of, “Huh, why on earth don’t I make this available to others?”

So, if you’re curious about my process, please check it out! I would like to emphasize that nothing you see in it is set in stone. I’m not arguing that this is how you should plot or draft or edit, it’s simply a few things I like to keep in mind when I write. I’ve found that drafting often often includes the willingness to forget certain elements now, and the necessity of remembering them later. This doc is one way I’ll help myself to remember elements for later. I very much hope you find it helpful! Please feel free to download it and use it in whatever way you’d like.

Without further ado, here’s my Plotting Overview doc, as well as an EXAMPLE Plotting Overview doc of how one might use it (I’ve used the book example HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE).

Cheers for your writing! Whatever you’re working on, may the writing-gods provide you with a day of joy.

Tips on Query Writing

I critique a lot of queries. Query writing is relatively easy to learn and hone, and it’s one I’ve enjoyed working on over the years. Though I have an agent, I still write a query-pitch for all of my manuscripts. It helps focus me while drafting and revising, and what’s especially cool, is if you write a particularly good query…your agent might use part (or all!) of it in submissions to editors.

While critiquing queries, I’ve noticed there are similar mistakes people seem to make. This post is designed to address some of them.

*It should be noted that the best query advice (IMO) is Lauren Spiellers’s Query Checklist. I use a verysimilar format below for my query suggestions. Please go check her post out! (She knows more than I do, because she’s…you know, a really good agent.)*

A few notes:
-I typically work with fiction queries for MG, YA, and A categories. This post doesn’t address queries that are specific to PBs, memoirs, or nonfiction books.
-I suggest below a pitch that’s broken into two parts, though I’ve often seen (and have used!) a three-part pitch.
-Place all titles (yours & comparison novels) in capital letters.
-Be wary of introducing too many characters.
-Be wary of listing things that happen (ie: Red Riding Hood must trick the wolf, save her granny, and not stray from the path…). This is telling and would be much more interesting if “shown” in longer form in the query itself.
-Be wary of getting “fancy”. Plain writing and sticking to the regular query format often works best.
-Keep the entirety of the query to around 250-400 words total (350 is a better max, truthfully).

1. Intro

Include: one agent with correctly spelled name & why you’re querying them. This paragraph is not always necessary. Jumping straight into the pitch is a good choice too. I believe Query Shark suggests this.

Some phrases that might be helpful in this paragraph:
“I understand from your website/Manuscript Wish List/Twitter that are interested in XXX, so I am excited to share my manuscript, TITLE, with you.”

2. 1st Half of Pitch

Include: main character’s name, normal life, deepest hopes, and inciting incident. The inciting incident is the event that kicks off your story and main conflict, ex: “Craving freedom (deepest hopes/needs) from her tedious chore-driven life (normal life), Red Riding Hood balks when her mother sends her to Granny’s house” and “testing the limits of her mother’s reach, Red Riding Hood strays from the path.”

Some phrases that might be helpful in this paragraph:

If you need help with the inciting incident sentence (“But…when…” sentences work well): “But when [exciting/terrible thing] happens, MC must [do something exciting/terrible that launches them into the story].” Ex: “But when Red Riding Hood strays from the path, she comes face-to-face with the legendary, terrifying Wolf.”

3. 2nd Half of Pitch

Include: “meat” conflict, aka: the main conflict your MC deals with; any other major characters; and stakes, aka: what horrible thing will happen if the MC doesn’t achieve their goal.

Some phrases that might be helpful in this paragraph:

If you need help with the stakes sentence (“If…then…” sentences work well): “If [MC cannot defeat/win goal], then [awful thing that will happen].” Ex: “If Red Riding Hood cannot defeat the Wolf, Granny won’t be the only one to perish.”

Also in terms of stakes, do keep them relevant to character arc to ensure that they are impactful—that it impacts more than just plot. One way to do this is to look back at your “inciting incident” sentence and the “deepest hopes/needs” sentence (Red craves freedom & strays from the path because of it, wherein she meets the Wolf) and make sure that your stakes is tied back to that (“Red must stop the Wolf or risk the destruction of everything she holds dear–her granny and any chance at freedom.”)

4. Book Details

Include: category, genre, word count, comparison novels, and other book details

Some phrases that might be helpful in this paragraph:

If you need help including book details succinctly: “Complete at xx,000 words, TITLE is a CATEGORY & GENRE novel that will appeal to readers of COMPARISON NOVEL and SECOND COMPARISON NOVEL.” [Note: Comparison novels are important; they show you’ve done your research and know the category and genre you’re writing in.]

If your book has series potential: “Complete at xx,000 words, TITLE is a standalone novel with series potential.”

If you write from multiple points-of-view: “Told from multiple points-of-view, TITLE is complete at xx,000 words.” OR “Told from xx and xx’s points-of-view, TITLE is…”

5. Bio

Include: publishing details and what you do besides writing (job, hobbies, etc). If you don’t have any publishing details, that’s okay! Don’t get too bogged down here. The most important part of your query is the pitch for your book. Feel free to add something short and fun. Ie: “When not writing, I can be found crocheting bookmarks and concocting magical stews.”

Some phrases that might be helpful in this paragraph:

If you are seeing new agent-representation: “After an amicable split with my previous agent, I am currently seeking new representation.”

6. Sign off

Be kind. Be courteous. Remember the agent you’re querying is flooded with work. They’re incredible human beings who deserve our respect. Include in the sign off what you’ve attached in the query showing that you’ve done your research. Agents can request a few pages attached IN THE BODY OF THE EMAIL to specific page amounts as an attachment, to the entire manuscript. They could also request synopsis. Be prepared for a variety and please follow their guidelines!

Some phrases that might be helpful in this paragraph:

“Per your submission guidelines, I’ve included XXX of my manuscript below, as well as XXX. Thank you for your time and consideration.”

Interview with #PitchWars 2016 Mentee, Lacee Little

Another year has flown by and we’re heading into my fourth year with #PitchWars (ahhhh!). This year is going to be an extra spacial year, because I am co-mentoring with the extraordinary Allison Ziegler. We’ll announce our 2017 wishlist soon enough, but for now, I have a post about my indomitable 2016 mentee, Lacee Little, and her experience with PW!
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Lacee Little’s manuscript, AN IMPOSSIBLE MAGIC, is honestly one of the more creative, adventurous, and surprising historical fantasies I’ve read in recent years. Her query and pitch snatched up my heart immediately when I read it during the 2016 submission process. She turned out to be an absolute joy to work with, and over the course of two months, she was miraculously patient and hard-working while we made her MS shine. She’s become one of my dearest writing friends in the past year (#PitchWars can be a blessing in many different ways!), and I am eternally grateful to have a friend whose undying love for Diana Wynne Jones matches my own <3
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Read below for Lacee’s thoughts on Pitc.h Wars 2016 and what it was like to work closely with me in preparation for the agent round (umm, have I mentioned yet that the girl garnered 24 agent requests during the agent round? It was an absolute whirlwind)! Also, if you’d like to read the interview with my 2014 mentee and alternate go here, or the interview with my 2015 mentee go here (eh em, this lady–Julie Artz–is a mentor this year, too!).
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Me: There are a few parts to PitchWars, the first of which was deciding which mentors you wanted to submit to. How did you decide who to send to?
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Lacee:  I treated it very similar to looking for an agent. Mostly I looked at the MG mentors’ wishlists, and what books they enjoyed, and found the ones that closest matched my MS. Also with you, I had followed you on twitter since 2015 PW, and I really thought you seemed like an enjoyable and encouraging person to work with.
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[Me: Lacee was an alternate in PW2015 which is what she's referring to above!]
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Me: For the 2017 PitchWars hopefuls, what was it like to have me as your mentor? (Feel free to be honest :P)
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Lacee: The best ever!!! Seriously though, my answer is “Beyond my wildest dreams,” and I really mean it. I did not expect such detailed attention, encouragement, and just general helpfulness. Instead of just offering feedback, you talked things through with me, too, which helped accelerate the revision process.
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[Me *blushes furiously* Really though, the feeling is mutual!]
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Me: What was your overall experience with the editing/revising process? Was there a certain part that was particularly difficult or rewarding?
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Lacee: This was actually my best revising ever, I think. It certainly was the most enjoyable. Usually I revise extensively, then send to a CP, then revise a ton more, and send to a CP. It takes months. This time, I feel it was so much more collaborative, which I loved! I discussed ideas with so many people in the MIDST of revisions, and had people look over stuff before I’d completely “polished” it, which I’d never done before. Plus, I had more people read over and critique my MS than I’d ever had before, and I loved getting so many expert opinions. It was really interesting to see how everyone notices different aspects that need help.
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Me: Were there any parts of PitchWars that you were surprised at? Submissions? Edits? The agent round?
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Lacee: Like I said above, I was surprised how much support you gave me! I honestly did not count on such generosity! Also, I was very surprised by the community. Last year [in 2015] I was a last minute addition, so I wasn’t on the facebook group. It was such an essential part of my PW experience this year, not to mention the support from other mentors, and your past mentees. It totally felt like being adopted into a tribe/family, which I definitely hadn’t expected!
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Me: If you could choose to do PitchWars all over again, would you? Why?
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Lacee: Honestly, I would feel a bit greedy since it would be my 3rd time. ;) But hypothetically, for sure. I would encourage anyone to participate. I have yet to find an opportunity for better community and mentorship, and Pitch Wars handles things so professionally. It’s the best ‘writers helping writers’ organization I’ve ever seen!
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If you’re interested in finding Lacee over on twitter, you can find here; she really is a remarkable writer and friend, and I know she’d love to say hello!

Pitch Wars Blog Hop!

It’s finally time for Pitch Wars to start! Yippee! I’ve been looking forward to this for months and I know the other mentors have been too. For this contest, I’ll be mentoring Middle Grade books :D Below you’ll find the types of MG books I tend to enjoy most. Please feel free to post questions in the comments section or find me on twitter (@julianalbrandt)! I love making new friends and can’t wait to work with you :)

pitchwars

MG Wish List

I adore MG because it’s often extraordinarily clever and touches upon tough subjects (“…if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”-Madeleine L’Engle). If your MS is a story with clever twists, whimsical turns of phrase, solid world building, and well developed relationships between characters, then I’m your mentor! [think HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE, CRESTOMANCI, & THE PECULIAR]

For more specifics:

-Genre wise, I’m most attracted to fantasy, sci-fi, and adventure stories.

-I’m a massive fan of mythology, whether it’s a retelling or it’s incorporated into the story (WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON, WATERSHIP DOWN)

-I love journey stories where MCs are set on a physical quest (LIESL & PO, THE SPINDLERS, PETER & THE STARCHASERS)

-And tales that use magic to help explain/tackle a serious subject (A MONSTER CALLS)

-I also prefer stories in which magic is already ingrained into the world (along the lines of magical realism) rather than stories where the MC “discovers” magic or comes to realize they have magical abilities (“chosen one” stories)

-Lastly, I adore a good adventure story. I still daydream about DOWN RIVER by Will Hobbs (which I think is technically YA, but I read it in early middle school and so have stuck it firmly in the MG category :P ) In general though, I might not the best fit for contemporary MG. I typically don’t enjoy contemp unless it’s full of heart–think WALK TWO MOONS or OKAY FOR NOW, or if it’s an adventure.

All of the above are merely stories I’ve loved in the past, which is just to say that I have no idea what I’ll love in the future. If your MS is a humorous, character-driven story, with an MC who goes on a physical journey that parallels their internal one, then I’m the mentor for you :D

 

Why You Should Choose Me!

-My writing is represented by the fiercely wonderful agent Emmanuelle Morgen of the Stonesong Literary Agency. While I mostly spend my time writing YA, I started out with MG and I always come back to it–it’s at the heart of my writing soul. I’ve written 8 books (whew) and am amazed at how much I’ve learned with each one. I can’t wait to share some of that with you.

-I love editing and critiquing! It’s one of my favorite parts of writing.

-I’ve had a lot of practice honing queries. In fact, I often do giveaways on twitter for them. It’s something I genuinely enjoy. Also, I know the query game. I know what it’s like to be in the trenches. We’ll make yours sparkle.

-I’m passionate about writing in all forms and will work so, so hard for you, if you’re willing to do the same.

-On a not-writing note, I’m currently in school for my Masters of Elementary Education, and I work full-time as a secretary. I spend the majority of my free-time in the mountains–rock climbing, hiking, running…pretty much anything that gets me outdoors.

Girls wanna have fun

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Show vs Tell: The Pain Lexicon

Now that November is over and your NaNo is finished, it’s time to move on to the next step…QUERYING!

Uhh…wait. That’s not right. Once you’ve taken a step back from drafting your NaNo and given yourself a moment to clear your head, it’s time to edit your WIP until it shines.

For this mini blog series, Lauren Spieller, Charlie N. Holmberg, and I have put together a few (hopefully helpful) tips on how to pump up your writing. Our goal is to help you avoid a few simple pitfalls when describing characters who are experiencing pain.

To kick us off on Show vs Tell, a quote from Anton Chekhov: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

The idea behind “show, don’t tell” is the thought that, believe it or not, readers are pretty darn smart. They are very capable of taking cues and figuring things out on their own. As an example: when a character frowns, most everyone will know (or assume) that character is feeling something negative. Our goal is to take out the moments when we write, “Suzie is mad,” and change them to, “Suzie frowned.” Though, of course, this is very simplified.

Often, there are simple clues that hint that you might be telling instead of showing. Scour your writing for the following words. If you find them, there’s about a 90% chance that you are telling something that would be much more powerful if you would show it instead.

  • thought
  • knew
  • wondered
  • realized
  • decided
  • wished
  • hoped
  • smell
  • see
  • hear
  • feel

Also check for forms of to be (is, are, was, were…), which are clue words that you might be using a passive voice instead of an active voice.

Instead of this these weak words, as writers, we want to choose strong words! Words that have pop, that allow a reader to experience the story along with your characters. This is exactly why Charlie, Lauren, and I created the Pain Lexicon (found in a link at the bottom of this post).

Since this post is supposed to be directed toward PAIN, here’s an example of using “telling” words to describe what a character might feel if they are in pain:

Suzie realized her stomach hurt as pain ran through it.

In the sentence above, we know Suzie’s stomach hurts, so writing the word “pain” becomes redundant. Also, do you see the clue word “realized”? Take it out! If it’s happening to your character, they won’t have to “realize” anything—their response to it will be automatic.

To help make this moment more clear for a reader and show instead of tell, think about what else might be happening to Suzie’s body: is she sweating, or experiencing shortness of breath? Is she bent over and clutching her abdomen? Or perhaps she’s rubbing her skin, trying to make the feeling go away. To fix this sentence, I grabbed a few words off the lexicon: clench, wheeze, and lurch. So, “Suzie’s stomach hurt as pain ran through it,” turns into,

Suzie clenched her fists and wheezed, doubling over as her stomach lurched.

When you show, your reader will be intimately drawn into your character’s experiences, rather than being on the outside. If we look at the science behind storytelling, it seems that with good showing, our brains can’t actually tell the difference between reading about an experience and having it happen first hand.

If you are working on this very thing in your writing, the next time your character has a tummy ache, is shot, or falls and breaks an arm, I challenge you to forbid  yourself to write the word pain. Try it! Use the Pain Lexicon to identify words that pop and zing. It might be difficult at first, but the end product will be powerful writing that your reader will be able to experience right along with your character.

What tricks do you use when trying to show rather than tell? I’d love to hear about any struggles you might have, or if you’re especially good at this!

Pain Lexicon

Visit Charlie’s website for her post: The Pain Lexicon: Using Physical and Emotional Descriptors in “Painful” Passages.
Visit Lauren’s website for a post: The Pain Lexicon: Let’s Make It Hurt.

Here are some follow up posts that might help if you still need clarification on this:
 Don’t Tell Me Why–by Janice Hardy
Show, Don’t Tell–by Grammar Girl
In Six Seconds–by Chuck Palahnuik