Reading Summary

Here are the books I’ve read this month:

  • Wicked by Gregory MacGuire
  • Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
Advertisements

Plotting, My Nemesis

I always have difficulty with plot in my writing. This, perhaps, is an attempt to figure out why.

I’m a pantser, in general. It took me a while to figure out what a “pantser” was, so I’ll explain: one who writes by the seat of their pants. The other end is a plotter, one who plots and outlines before writing.

I suppose the only way to improve my plot deficiency is to read book dedicated to plot: YA (young adult). I have a story that I gave the ol’ Freytag’s Triangle treatment, and it looked more like Freytag’s descending foothills. Not good news. I’ve since become hyper aware of plot issues and I suppose it has become a neurosis of mine. I worry that my writing doesn’t make logic sense and/or it doesn’t follow logically or have enough intensity.

I don’t read much YA—as I don’t write it—but upon reading a book about plotting where the author suggesting reading it, I feel I should. YA books must move at a fast rate, and continue the plot tumbling forward to catch the young reader. I will have to put other sensibilities aside, or maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised by what’s out there. In any event, plot is what I’m trying to learn.

At the Mt. San Antonio College’s Writer’s Conference, I attended a session presented by Gerald Locklin, a prolific writer from Long Beach. He suggested the “3” rule, as I will refer to it. A character should come up against an obstacle three times, before failing or achieving his or her goal. This idea has intrigued me, but I haven’t written anything using this ‘formula.’ What caught my attention was Locklin’s own admitted trouble with plot; I had found a connection to my issue. Perhaps I will play with this idea.

What the rule states is that a character should not get the desired goal, whatever it may be, without ‘failing’ twice: at least. These minor failures will address the situation and cause the character to approach the obstacle differently, to “attack” the problem from another angle. On the third try, he or she will achieve the goal, or fail.

Why three? The first incident is trial, a probing. The second incident is a stronger attempt, and the third and final is the catapulting change of life for the character. It can also be: the first is a accident, a trigger of the problem and intial attempt at solving/overcoming/etc, the second a re-evaluation and off approach, and the last, a final attempt to solve the problem. According to Locklin, the character will most likely fail all three times, and the change will be something unexpected, but believeable.

And so I have my work cut out for me in tackling this plotting problem. Oh nemesis, you will be soon replaced by another.

A Writer’s Duty

I’m guessing that as a writer, you’d love to see your work published. Whether it is novel length, or short, you most likely have a targeted publisher in mind. Great!

Now, the question for you is: do you read books or subscribe to the markets you are sending your work to? Most writers send blindly to publishers hoping for the best—as I have, and indeed I was published (though I have supported the publisher). This is a viable way to operate, but then again, think about the publisher. Since many writers send out to publisher they may not have read before (which is good way to get rejected—as sending something the publisher wouldn’t publish), this means many small publishers go out of business

If you do send out manuscripts to the Biggies (in both novel and short formats), you are increasing your chance of rejection as many writers will target the familiar names—and most likely they have read authors or publications by these publishers. The huge volume these Biggies deal with alone slims the chance of publication.

So what to do?

If you are serious about publishing your work, and I assume most of you are, pick up a copy of Writer’s Marker 2011 (or wait a month for the 2012 version). An old copy might work, but sometimes the information is out of date. You can also subscribe to the online version on the Writer’s Digest website.

This information comes in handy for finding agents and publishers, but the best part is you get web addresses where you can find out what the publication credits are for agents, titles under a publisher, or journal names to look up (and maybe subscribe). Most libraries offer interlibrary loans if they do not have title in stock, if you can’t afford to purchase in any format. If you can, help support the small publishers, and their authors. You could be one of them. You could find a wonderful book, or journal that just may showcase your work. And you are doing your “homework” as said in the industry.

Remember, if you aren’t willing to buy a book or subscribe to a journal, how many will be willing to do the same for you?

*Sorry for the late post*

First Publication Is Here

This will be a short blog. I have my first publication in. I haven’t read it, but I have looked at it. It is very awesome to have something published!

In other news, I’ve decided to change up the blog a bit. I think it was perhaps too overwhelming with information and posts, so I will post once a week on Wednesday mornings. I may post small blogs (like this) on occasion. Happy Monday and a great week to everyone!

 This is from the most recent issue of the Chiron Review (issue #96). If you’d like a copy, please go to www.chironreview.com and purchasing instructions are on the page. Help support them. 🙂

P.S. I *may* be doing a giveaway blog for one copy of this. Convince me 😉

Revision

For the last couple weeks, I’ve been working on revising four short stories for my graduate application writing sample. Revision ideas vary widely with writers and I feel it’s important enough to dig in-depth here. As many of you know, I teach writing classes and I also mentor in creative writing. Through time with students and through critique groups and talking with other writers, I’ve found some writers consider a thorough spell- and grammar-check a revision(maybe changing a few things here and there: basically clean up).

I thought the way, once, but I’ve learned that this is proofreading, where the story is already in the right place. “But my story is there already!” you say. Every story I’ve written started in one direction, and ended on a completely different path.I will outline the process of one such revision.

I pondered a story I had written in college—I don’t remember the revisions it went through there. In this story, I had a character dream, and remember her rape through those dreams and a chance encounter. It didn’t work. She relived the experience at the end of the story, but the writing didn’t convince me. I read the unrevised story at a critique group, and listened to their comments: none of which helped with the problem. The group was not a waste of time, as I heard the story aloud, and actively thought about it and what could make it stronger.

I changed the narrative time, making the story chronological instead of shifting, adding to the before and after of this event. Now the story moved in the right direction. Not all the elements were destroyed, and those that stayed had a new surrounding. I had made the right choice after several years.

This piece went through another critique group, and I got an excellent gauge of the reaction the piece would receive in general. It wasn’t the reaction I wanted. So I took pen to paper, and thought about what I would change. I took suggestions and ignored others. I stuck to having her parents blame her for what happened—it has happened to real people. I changed the delivery of their feelings, but not the intent of what they said.. I think it works.

My stories haven’t been submitted, so there is still time for proofreading. I don’t worry about minor details until thelast, when they are the changes that need to be made. When the heart and the vital systems are up and working, then I worry about the face and features of the piece. Little errors are caught easily when read aloud.

In teaching, I’ve noticed that new writers don’t normally revise; they proofread, as they have been taught before turning in a paper. While not a bad move at all, it isn’t the right move. I had a student who wrote an interesting story. For his revision, he tightened word choice, paying attention to verbs, etc, and did very minor story changes, save for the one our class made. This type of revision works best near the end of the process. I’ve also had another student fix spelling errors only and didn’t address any craft concerns for their revision. The story needed work, not the spelling.

In my few chats with John Brantingham (a faculty member at Mt. SAC in Walnut and fellow writer), we’ve often found ourselves discussing revision. I once posited that we should not be called writers and instead revisionists, and he agreed, saying the work lies in revision.

I say that I’m a fair writer, but a good revisionist (with plenty of help). What do you think about revision?