Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Imagination

It’s like she finally came home from vacationing abroad.  For months — despite being excited, motivated, and committed to my new novel — I couldn’t seem to get anything on paper to stick.  I wrote and rejected half a dozen opening paragraphs, unable to get past that 1-page hump.  Nothing worked.  Where was my muse?

And then the other evening, I settled into bed with my iPad and wrote four pages.  Four lovely pages I still like, over a week later!  Obviously, she’s returned home.

Since most of this book will take place in Ireland 500 years ago, I’m hoping that’s where she went on her extended walkabout.  She certainly seems to have brought back some souvenirs; my writing is pithier and more focused than my previous efforts.  Maybe she just needed a break from me.  Who could blame her?  Either way, I’m delighted she’s back, and steady progress is eminent.

Here’s a taste:

Sketch’s mouth curled into a wicked smile as more of her bright red hair pile up at her feet. Tomorrow would be her thirteenth birthday and she was going to prove once and for all she was not her mother’s precious fairy princess. Sketch hated everything to do with fairy tales, while her mother seemed to be living in one. The doctors said the medicine would help, but they lied.

Mary, Sketch’s best friend, paused with the scissors in her hand. “She’s going to kill you, you know.”

“She can’t.” Sketch shrugged. “I’m a teenager, now.” She ran her hand over the short, prickly patch on the left side of her scalp.

Mary raised a blonde, skeptical eyebrow. “Not until tomorrow. And that only works when you turn eighteen.”

“Whatever.” Sketch flipped her red curls out of the way. “Keep going. Make it like my drawing.” A sketch pad on Mary’s bed lay open to the drawing Sketch had made of her radical new hairstyle, shaved on one side and long waves hiding her face on the other. Sketch never went anywhere without her sketch pad and colored pencils, which is how she’d gotten her nickname. She secretly liked that “sketch” was also slang for “odd” or “a little dangerous.”

And a bit later:

When the Goldstein’s minivan rolled to a stop, an unnatural quiet clung to Sketch’s neighborhood like an oppressive fog.  Only the dripping of icicles in the midday sun disturbed the silence.

Sketch shivered as she stared at the flowerbeds buried under a foot of snow in front of their duplex. Then she noticed the tree branches thrusting out of Mrs. McNulty’s windows on the left side. As if a tree was growing inside her half of the house. The branches had black leaves.

No. Not leaves.

Mary’s breath caught as she leaned past Sketch to look out the frosted car window. “They’re birds,” she whispered.

It was true. The branches were covered by hundreds of small, unmoving black birds.

I’m realistic — I have no doubt these early pages will change dramatically before the book is finished.  But there is something there, now.  A tone, a voice, an attitude.  I can build on this and get to the meat of the story, which is coming soon.  And that is when I’ll need my muse to have all of her unpacking and settling in completed, because we’re going to need to roll up both of our sleeves.

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Notes

I wrote my first novel* by the seat of my pants.  If there is one scrap of wisdom I can claim to have learned from that experience it is this: You will revise your first chapter more than any other part of your book.  If for no other reason than it is the part of your novel you will have on paper the longest (unless you write sideways; I can’t manage that particular technique).

I revised that first chapter dozens of times. By which I mean complete revisions. In some I started with a pithy saying, in others I started with action.  I changed locations several times.  In one, the protagonist was doing homework and got in trouble for doodling in the margins, in another she lost track of her little brother and had to go hunt him down at a crowded street fair.  In some she met the eventual villain (before either of us knew he was going to become the villain), in others she didn’t. Every time I learned some new “truth” about the proper way to begin a novel or introduce a character I would tackle that first chapter so that I could improve it and improve my chances of snagging an agent.  And each and every time I revised that chapter, I was happy with the results.

Until I wasn’t.

I have a fatal flaw for a writer, one I know I will eventually have to fix: I can’t move on until I’m happy with what I have.  It doesn’t have to be perfect, and I know I’m likely to change it at some point down the road, but in the moment I have to feel like what I have is the best I can do before I’m able to keep going (this is why I suck at NaNoWriMo).  Every scene and chapter I write is built on those that came before, and if there are holes they will only grow larger the further into the story I get, regardless of how much planning I’ve done.

I didn’t really understand this when I wrote my first novel.  Just as I didn’t understand all of the ways a first chapter, a first scene, a first paragraph impact the reader. When I started my first novel, I was fearless and idealistic. Like maybe the first time one skydives or wrestles an alligator (presuming that’s something one is eager to try). Starting my first novel was easy. Because I didn’t know how hard it was going to be.

And, honestly, when I started my second novel I felt like it would be easier, because now I knew all of that stuff. I could avoid most of the abortive revisions as I groped around in the dark for understanding and clarity. Because now I know before I put the first word down what I need to do, and how to do it. I’m going to write this one by the seat of my pants; I have an outline, color coded, broken down chapter-by-chapter. I have stacks of books and articles I’ve highlighted as part of my historical research.  Unlike my first novel, I know my setting, my villain, my stakes, and how it is going to win.

What I didn’t count on was being paralyzed with indecision about that first word.

See, now that I know what doesn’t work and that I’m incapable of carry on until I’ve nailed the beginning, I’m just rejecting everything I come up with as not good enough. Because I know it isn’t. With my first novel, I wrote the first three pages in about an hour.  It was trash, but I didn’t know that. Because I had no idea what I needed to accomplish in that first chapter.  I was jumping with my eyes closed.  This time around, I know exactly what I need to do in the first chapter, and it’s quite a lot.  I know exactly where I need to be at the end of the chapter, and there are a number of very specific things I must set up before then for the rest of the novel.  I have to be brief and succinct, but I can’t rush.  I need to set up relationships and provide some backstory without too much telling. And none of the openings I came up with led me in quite the right direction or seemed interesting enough.  I’ve spent the last month throwing away a half-dozen abortive attempts at the first paragraph. Not the progress I expected, given all of the confidence and experience I gained the first time around.

This weekend, I finally settled on an approach I’m happy with.  The dialogue is flowing. The backstory is being filled in one small chunk at a time.  The voice is there, as is the relationship.  And the very first glimpse of the main character is provocative.  I’m happy with it.

Of course, before the end it will all have to go….


*My first “real” novel.  I’m not counting the fantasy novel I wrote in high school, before I learned what “plot” was.

Man as baby. Child in diaper with pink teddy bear.

I don’t want to grow up.  And you can’t make me.

I write middle grade novels with fantasy elements.  In the past I’ve written high fantasy and dabbled in science fiction.  I’ve considered and rejected writing for young adults, because I’m not comfortable being responsible for teen-aged girls engaging in romantic relationships.  And frankly, adults are boring.  However, when it was time to seriously nail down what I wanted to write my next novel about, I hit upon a new idea (for me): The cozy mystery.

I work in a bookstore on the weekends, and I had the opportunity one day to spend several hours working with the cozy mystery shelves.  I’d never taken a hard look at those books before, and the first thing that struck me was the titles.  For the most part they are funny and whimsical, which immediately made me think about how fun it would be to write one.  If you are not familiar with the genre, they all tend to feature a main character with a certain hobby or vocation — baking or farming, running an antique shop or a dress shop. Many of them feature dogs or cats, and quite a few involve food of one kind or another.  These main characters are never professional crime fighters, such as police detectives or criminal lawyers (like you would find in traditional mysteries).  These women (about 90% of the protagonists are women) are all accidental sleuths.  Think Murder She Wrote.

As I scanned the shelves I encountered titles like, Tart of Darkness, Seams Like Murder, The Quiche and the Dead, Italian Iced, No Farm, No Foul, and Murder, She Barked.  I founds books that featured pretty much any kind of occupation a middle-aged woman might find interesting.  There were books about a glass shop, a seafood restaurant set in a lighthouse in Maine, a bed and breakfast, a tea garden, a bridal shop, a chocolatier, a cheese shop, a caterer, a florist, a bakery, a sewing circle, and a beauty parlor.  There were books where the protagonist loved crossword puzzles, beading, crochetting, candlemaking, quilting, scrapbooking, journalism, gardening, or one of any number of crafty diversions.  And they almost always take place in a small colorful town, full of quirky recurring characters.

But here’s what really made me sit up and take notice, as I researched the cozy mystery genre. They are formulaic, of course.  But unlike children’s books (or almost any other kind of novel), nobody expects you to be original.  There aren’t just several books about baking, there are a lot of books about baking, and every one of them is part of a series about baking.  Sure, some are about cakes and others are about muffins and still others are about bread, but nobody is going to tell you there are too many cozy mysteries about baking.  A pretzel stand by the beach would fit right in.  The heroes are all very similar, too: 20-40, female, usually single, a tiny bit ditsy, maybe struggling to run a business with money inherited from a deceased aunt, and caught up trying to solve a murder they had nothing to do with.  The deaths are almost always off-stage and “clean” — no gore, little blood, not much violence.  Their best friend’s or neighbor’s brother is the chief of police or a clerk at the local courthouse, so there are plenty of ways for our hero to get official information.  People are constantly coming and going to their little shop so there are a million opportunities to pick up clues, but as the owner they can drop everything and close up shop any time they need to chase down a juicy lead.  Romance is light, and expected to take several books to kindle.  Yes, these are written specifically to be series.  In fact, it’s pretty much a prerequisite.

All of these things attracted me: a simple formulaic plot, a fun hobby to research and write about, some humor, a small-town setting, and an expectation that the publisher will want more.  I started thinking about a divorcee running an antique bookstore in a snowy northwestern town tucked in the mountains.  I started filling the town with characters….

But ultimately, I have decided to write another children’s book.  A historic fantasy set in 16th century Ireland.  Think Freaky Friday meets Brave.  This book will be more difficult to write — more research, convincingly portraying an utterly alien world with it’s long-forgotten speech and modes of dress and local superstition, creating complex characters that will appeal to a young audience, and being original all at the same time.  With no guarantee of any interest in a possible sequel.

Why?  One reason: it excites me more than the alternative.  And without that spark, that drive, that eager motivation, I would probably not get very far.

Manual typewriter and screwed up paper

I’ve been absent for awhile, because I haven’t had anything new to say.  It’s taken me awhile to realize that that’s a problem.

It’s not that I have some hubristic need to spout my “wisdom” to the unsuspecting world on a weekly basis.  The simple fact is, I find writing a blog to be personally useful; it helps me hone my chops, focus my ideas, and clarify my thoughts by forcing me to express them to an audience.  But my first rule has always been to only post things I think will be interesting or instructive to the children’s writing community at-large. About a year ago I reached a point where I had no new useful thing to talk about with regard to my manuscript and my drive to find an agent.

That should have bothered me.

It took me a whole year to realize the problem: I had refused to give up on my dream.  Why is that a problem?  Because I didn’t have room or permission to move on.

Early on I made a commitment to myself to do everything possible to see my MG book, Princess Material, traditionally published.  “Never give up! Never surrender!” And for four years I queried, entered contests, engaged critique partners, and hired professional editors.  The manuscript and query letter steadily improved.  But after over 100 rejections, I have been forced to consider that there is something fundamentally flawed about that book (or it’s just not a good fit for the current market), and no amount of tweaking or polishing will make it right.

And that gave me the opening I needed to refocus my attention on a new project.  I had started a sequel to Princess Material, but part of my evolving attitude about it included the realization that there was no point in writing a sequel to a book that nobody was ever going to read.  So I needed a new project.

Ideas I had.  Even an entire outline.  But until I gave myself permission to put my first book aside, I didn’t have the bandwidth to really focus on an entirely new project (I seem to be a one-book-at-a-time kind of guy).

Notice I didn’t say I had given up on my dreams.  To become a published author, to see my book on a retail shelf, to start a second career as a children’s author.  I have not given up on those.  And I haven’t entirely given up on the dream of getting my first book out there.  But for right now, I have given myself permission to put that particular dream aside so that I can chase a new dream.  It’s a whole lot like the first, but it means starting over with a new book.  Not completely over, of course.  I have gained tons of experience and wisdom over the last four years, which I will make liberal use of going forward.  I will be scrolling back through this blog and revisiting posts from the early days of writing my first novel.  And I will be chronicling this new journey here.  Stay tuned for details of my new project, and maybe a bit about some of the ideas I had along the way.  If you haven’t already, please subscribe.  I expect to be posting here every week, just like before.

Air horse illustration

We’ve all read or written in first-person (I) and third-person (he/she), but where is the elusive second-person (you) novel?

Second-person seems to be exclusively the realm of the choose-your-own-adventure novels (which had their heyday in the 80’s), Internet fan fiction, and instruction manuals.  There is one notable literary exception: Jay McInerney‘s Bright Lights, Big City. In this novel the narrator is actually talking about himself from a distance to separate himself from his own trauma.  Whereas in the choose-your-own-adventure books and most fan-fiction, the “you” in the story is the reader, who steps into the role of the hero.

So, there are specific examples, but they are so specific and far-between (and non-commercial), that writing in second-person has become kind of a trick, a gimmick, a badge of being different for difference’s sake.  And yet….

As a children’s author, the notion of writing an adventure (in which I will do the choosing, ahem) has much appeal.  As readers, children are much more forgiving and willing to experiment than are most adults.  Children expect the unexpected, and are drawn to books that are unique in their own way, be that in the setting or characters, the shape of the book itself, or in how the story is presented on the page.  My gut tells me that an adventure story featuring a young person solving puzzles, getting into wild scrapes, and being heroic would be a natural fit for second-person narration.  Particularly if written in such a way as to allow readers to immerse themselves in the story even further than traditional stories allow.

Consider the following (rough) opening paragraph, for example:

The young pearl-diver gulped another great lungful of early-morning air then scrambled again for the bottom of the ocean.  The mermaid has to be here, he told himself.  He had seen her!  He kicked and swam his way down toward the sunken hull of the ancient ship, the pressure in his lungs burning.  The pouch at his hip slapped his thigh with every stroke, reminding him of the wicked gull woman and her terrible price.  But now he had the enchanted ring, and soon … even his very dreams.

Now in first-person:

I gulped another great lungful of early-morning air then scrambled again for the bottom of the ocean.  The mermaid has to be here, I told myself.  I had seen her!  I kicked and swam my way down toward the sunken hull of the ancient ship, the pressure in my lungs burning.  The pouch at my hip slapped my thigh with every stroke, reminding me of the wicked gull woman and her terrible price.  But now I had the enchanted ring, and soon … even my very dreams.

More intimate, right?  You feel like you’re more inside the diver’s head, as opposed to just a distant observer.  But second-person goes even further.  And by putting it in present tense instead of past tense, the story becomes immediate:

You gulp another great lungful of early-morning air then scrambled again for the bottom of the ocean.  The mermaid has to be here, you tell yourself.  You saw her!  You kick and swim your way down toward the sunken hull of the ancient ship, the pressure in your lungs burning.  The pouch at your hip slaps your thigh with every stroke, reminding you of the wicked gull woman and her terrible price.  But now you have the enchanted ring, and soon … even your very dreams.

Did you find yourself holding your breath?  Do you think a child might?  I said my gut tells me such a story written in second-person present tense would be a natural fit for a kid’s book.  Unfortunately, agents and editors are all adults, and while many of them represent (and adore) children’s books, they are only willing to represent something they believe will sell.  And there is no historical market trend for such a book.  It’s a risk — as much for me as for a prospective agent and any subsequent publisher.  Plus, it screams “gimmick.”  Is it enough simply to write a book in an almost entirely unique style, or is there some reason this particular book must be written in that style?  Jay McInerney found such a reason, but that reason isn’t going to work a second time, and it isn’t going to work in a book for 10-year-old readers.

So this particular unicorn eludes me.  But I haven’t given up the hunt.  I may find an approach that makes second-person irresistible and absolutely necessary.  And when I do, I’ll be willing to risk it.

unhappy teenager with thumbs down

Yes, this is a real thing.  And yes, believe it or not, a rejection can be good news.

Well, more accurately, a rejection can contain good news. If you’ve queried your manuscript for any length of time, you have no doubt received rejections that are positive and friendly and even encouraging.  Most form rejections try to soften the blow, but I have received several personalized rejections, and they almost always reference some aspect of the query or sample the agent liked.  Occasionally they will contain suggestions or even an offer to look at the manuscript again (or some other future project).

The rejection I got the other day wasn’t that.  It was a flat rejection.  It turns out this agent simply does not represent midde grade (this was not evident in the research I did).  But nevertheless, this short rejection was perhaps the most encouraging response I’ve gotten from any query (not counting the R&R and requests for the full ms).

Note that I had recently finished a major rewrite after hiring a professional editor.  Once I had done that I , naturally, needed to revise my query and synopsis.  One thing I noticed was a series of comments on Twitter and in various agents’ wish lists that they were tiring of the whole “chosen one” trope.  So I added something new to the beginning of my query: “If there’s such a thing as the opposite of the chosen one, it’s Catherine.”  Then I sent it out to exactly one agent.  Here is her response:

This is a great pitch, and even though I knew it wasn’t the right project for me, I couldn’t help peeking at it after reading that terrific first line.

The truth is that at least for now, I’m not seeking MG books. Every great author deserves an agent who not only believes in their book but also knows what the heck to do with it, and if the rest of the book is as much fun as your pitch and opener, you’ll have little trouble finding someone who fits the bill on both counts. I wish you all the best in that endeavor.

I am now extremely confident and eager to move forward with this query and this manuscript.

Rugged Book 1

A year or so ago I told you about the nifty keyboard case I got for my iPad mini, essentially turning it into an “iBook Nano.”  It changed my life.  By putting it into a zippered padded pouch with pockets for pens, charger, note pad, etc., I had a handled “briefcase” no bigger than an average-sized hardback book, which I took everywhere.  Because I use Word integrated with Dropbox, the latest version of all my files are always at my fingertips and ready to work on in seconds.  I could spend 12 minutes of a 15-minute break actually writing.

The thing about the Zagg Slim Book(c) is that because it is so thin, it is rather fragile.  Hence the padded pouch.  But there is one spot on the case, where the speaker and charger cutouts are, that will crack very easily.  Fortunately, Zagg has an outsanding return policy, and as long as you register your purchase online, they will replace your entire product with a brand new one at zero cost to you.  I did that twice.

The third time my case cracked, however, I discovered that Zagg had discontinued my particular product.  This is the point where Zagg really earned a gold star in my book.  They offered to upgrade me to the new Rugged Book keyboard case at no cost.  The Rugged Book retails for $139.99 on Zagg’s site, but you can find it varous places, including Amazon, for much less (I was still working my initial $37 investment of that original Slim Book I bought on sale).

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This new case lives up to it’s name — rugged.  The upper case has a rubber seal on all sides, and you would have to try awfully hard to break it.  It’s designed for outdoor use — camping, construction, surveying.  It still has the same great features as the Slim Book: function keys, keyboard backlighting, a full year of charge, bluetooth connectivity, and the keyboard feels like full size. Now I don’t have to wory about the case cracking, and if anything does go wrong, Zagg has generously restarted my warranty … to make up for the “inconvenience.”

61CuEP+QTTL._SL1500_To round out my portable office, I purchased high capacity portable charger with a nifty build-in charging cable.  I got the 5000mAh pocket charger by Kolumb through Amazon, for $19.99.  I can recharge my iPad to full with this, and my iPhone 7 to full twice over.  It charges fast, too, and fits in the pocket of my case without hardly making a bump.  It’s not quite as thick as my iPhone, and only about a quarter of an inch longer.  The adapter allows it to charge both Apple and Android devices.

 

For anyone who has trouble finding time to write on a busy schedule, this is an affordable, workable solution that I have found invaluable.  Now get writing!

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Well … no.

That is, with the same manuscript.

But you wouldn’t do that, right?  You’ve gotten feedback. You’ve sought the services of an editor. You’ve revised and rewritten and rearranged and polished your manuscript so that it is no longer the same one you queried.  Because if you haven’t done those things, or most of them, you are wasting your time and that of your prospective agent.  Meaning that you’ve not just burned that bridge, but pissed on the ashes.

However, there is a protocol for re-querying.

First of all, if you sent in a query letter with pages and got a pass, it’s probably not a good idea to query the same novel, no matter how much you’ve revised it.  Because the agent passed on the concept.  It most likely won’t interest them a second time.  If you only queried with a letter and NO pages, you might try again with a new query letter, assuming you’ve improved it a lot.  But this is as likely to annoy the agent as impress them.

The best-case scenario for re-querying is when the agent requested a partial, or better yet, the full manuscript.  This means they liked the concept and enjoyed your sample enough to want to read more.  And if they went to the trouble to pursue your story, they most likely gave you some constructive feedback when they passed.  If they did, this an excellent sign, because the key to re-querying is that you address the agent’s concerns.  This is like painting the bridge with fire retardant.  Here are some important tips:

  • DO wait at least six months before re-querying (unsolicited)
  • DO follow the advice of the agent if she asks you to query again
  • DO mention in your re-query that you have queried before; remind the agent of your past interaction
  • DO state in your re-query what you have done with the manuscript and what changes you have made; show that a re-read is worth the agent’s time

It turns out there are second chances in the querying trenches, under the right circumstances.  If you’ve been querying for a while with the same manuscript and you’ve recently made major revisions, lightning can strike twice. Words of advice:

Make it count!

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I recently completed a major revision to my daughter’s and my current manuscript.  This wasn’t the first; experience tells me it won’t be the last.  However I did something during this last revision that I’ve never done before.

I systematically eliminated a wide range of “weasel words.”

wea·sel word
noun
1) a word used in order to evade or retreat from a direct or forthright statement or position. 2) a vague qualifier that weakens one’s writing, used to avoid making direct statements. 

EXAMPLES:
    saw
    noticed
    heard
    thought
    knew
    touched
    wondered
    realized
    watched
    looked (or looked like)
    seemed
    felt (or felt like)
    could
    decided
    sounded (or sounded like)

Spotting weasel words (also referred to as “filter words”) in your own work is difficult.  It takes a particular mind-set.  And even when you have that, it fades quickly when you read your own stuff.  I had to keep re-learning what I was looking for, because — in my case, at least — adding these words into my writing was an organic part of my style.  Far from waving red flags, they tended to fade into the background as I read, because they were a part of my voice.  

Compare these two paragraphs:

Sarah felt a sinking feeling as she realized she’d forgotten her purse back at the cafe across the street. She saw cars filing past, their bumpers end-to-end. She heard the impatient honk of horns and wondered how she could quickly cross the busy road before someone took off with her bag. But the traffic seemed impenetrable, and she decided to run to the intersection at the end of the block.

Sarah’s stomach sank. Her purse – she’d forgotten it back at the cafe across the street. Cars filed past, their bumpers end-to-end. Horns honked impatiently. Could she make it across the road before someone took off with her bag? She ran past the impenetrable stream of traffic, toward the intersection at the end of the block.

See the difference? All the talk about “showing, not telling” and “active voice, not passive voice” is really about this.  Sarah felt a sinking feeling is passive.  The writer is telling you that she had a sinking feeling by turning the verb “sink” into a description.  Sarah’s stomach sank is active. “Sank” is the verb.

I can’t speak for other writers, but for my part, I developed these kinds of weasel phrases as a way to avoid using “was.”  Somewhere in the dim past of my writing career, someone told me (or I misunderstood) that “was” was passive and/or boring, and that I needed variety.  So She was hungry became She felt hungry. What I taught myself to do was to trade one passive verb for another passive verb.  Instead, I should have taught myself to write Her stomach rumbled.  

BE AWARE, the words above are not evil. You aren’t expect to never use them.  Sometimes “felt” or “saw” or “realized” is exactly the active verb you want.  But not always.  A simple find and replace is not going to work.  Use find/replace to locate each time you used any of those words, but judge every case individually.

The moment my eyes were opened was when I read a comment by a very helpful critique partner, who finally explained what others had simple noted as “wrong.” Here’s the life-changing comment I received:

I wasn’t sure how, but I knew that guy in the Hawaiian shirt was really an ogre.

I spotted him through the dusty window, leaning against the sign that advertised our shop and gnawing on a big, greasy turkey leg. He had long hairy arms and a hook nose and one big eyebrow all the way across his forehead.

I like your description of the ogre. Very vivid. However, I notice your writing sometimes slips into a mode of filtering the action through the MC’s eyes. So she does a lot of “spotting” things and “glimpsing” things and “seeing things.” This creates a bit of distance for the reader because we are reading about what the MC sees, rather than seeing it for ourselves. For example if the paragraph were changed slightly:

I wasn’t sure how, but I knew that guy in the Hawaiian shirt was really an ogre.

He was just outside the dusty window of our little shop, leaning against a lamppost as he gnawed on a big, greasy turkey leg. Didn’t anyone notice his long hairy arms, hooked nose and that giant eyebrow that stretched all the way across his forehead?

In the example above the reader is the one seeing the ogre (in essence, we become the MC). This creates a closer POV, rather than saying “I saw him…” Because in that case the reader is seeing the MC…and then the MC is seeing the ogre. That’s filtering and it creates distance from the character.

There are several ways this could be fixed.  I went a slightly different direction in my final edit, making “gnaw” the active verb:

Right outside the dusty window, he gnawed on a big, greasy turkey leg and leaned against the sign that advertised our flower shop. He had long hairy arms and a hook nose and one big eyebrow all the way across his forehead.

Here are a few other examples:

NOTICED:
I started to climb in when I noticed there wasn’t any place left to sit.
I started to climb in, but there wasn’t any place left to sit.

WATCHED:
I sullenly scratched my sunburned arm and watched little flakes of my pale skin fall off.
I sullenly scratched my sunburned arm. Little flakes of my pale skin drifted down like snow.

FELT:
I felt a smile slowly lift my mood as I thought of Dad coming home tomorrow.
My mood slowly lifted as I thought of Dad coming home tomorrow.

The other great thing about this process is that I cut very nearly 1,000 words from a 64,000 word manuscript.  That’s huge.  I found that once I got firmly into the mindset of spotting these weasel words, I started seeing other examples of filtering outside of this list, just places where I could tighten and improve and make the action more up-front. This is always a good thing. Eventually, I hope to be able to alter my voice to avoid weaseling when I write, so I don’t have to work so hard to remove them later.

I recommend you put your manuscript through this regimen, regardless of what stage you are in.  It’s like putting your manuscript on a diet and toning its muscles. You’ll find afterwards that you story is leaner and has more energy.

When I started this blog almost four years ago, my goal was to share the journey of crafting and ultimately publishing my daughter’s and my middle grade novel.  I was determined to post every week. And for 186 posts I was successful.

However, for the last two years, the journey has been “revise, find critique partners, enter contests, query, repeat.”  I’ve written about as many posts about The Value of Revising, How to Get Critiques, and Twitter Pitch Parties as I can reasonably write.  So I’m of the mind that at this point, and until something changes, it’s better to post nothing at all rather than post watered-down drivel.

I have no fresh advice, no new insight.  Unless it is this: Never give up. However, I’ve said this before,too, so it hardly new or fresh.

In case you’re interested, here is the current status of my daughter’s and my book:

  • We’ve renamed it Princess Material.
  • We paid a freelance editor and got some fantastic advice.
  • We paired up with some awesome C.P.s and got even more fantastic advice.
  • We are mid-way through revising the newly-named ms with said fantastic advice.
  • We have a goal of being ready by February, which is when many agents re-open their slush piles after a long winter’s nap.
  • We plan to query and Twitter pitch at full steam, then, with fresh pitches.

Fun fact: we learned from several reliable sources that it is perfectly acceptable query etiquette to re-query an agent who has passed on a full, as long as the ms is substantially revised and you say so in your query.  So we will be eagerly revisiting a few near-misses in the new year.

It is our plan to get back to work on our sequel — and perhaps even another project — as soon as we’ve finished polishing this revision of Princess Material.  Which means, hopefully, our journey will continue and I will again have something to share with you on a regular basis.

Wish us luck. And stay tuned!