Heart and Soul

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As you know if you’ve been reading my recent posts, I’ve been hard at work revising my MG Fantasy. Last week I wrote about how one of my two main characters (aka MCs), my street rat, didn’t have a unique voice. This week, I thought I’d focus on my other MC’s problem: her heart. Or, more specifically, her heartline. She didn’t have one.

That’s right, my poor little girl just puttered through the story without making any major emotional changes. After everything that happened to her in the course of the manuscript, she was pretty much the same character at the end as she was at the beginning. Even worse, the closest thing she had to an emotional breakthrough – reuniting with her family – was just too close to my street rat’s emotional journey. So she had to change.

 But how?

I was stumped. I just didn’t know how to fix the problem. Until someone pointed out that the best way to find my character’s heart was through her soul. That’s right, I needed to know my character inside and out. I knew who she was during the course of the story, but who had she been before? What were her interests? Her hobbies? Her dreams?

Usually I’m pretty good at knowing my characters. I have a little questionnaire that I fill out for each major character, so I can get an idea of their motivations. But I didn’t do it for this manuscript. I think it’s because it’s a historical fantasy. I just brushed off most of the questions as not applicable (favorite music? pet’s name? social media outlets? N/A, N/A, N/A). But in doing so, I left my characters incomplete.

So I dusted off that questionnaire and started answering it. Sure, I left a few blanks. But I had enough answers to make me feel like I knew my girl well enough to give her an emotional journey. Now I just have to go through the manuscript and give her a bit of a personality adjustment.

The best part? The things I’ve learned about my characters have helped make my world more complete, too. Knowing their hobbies, and their hopes, has filled some of the holes in the world I’ve created.

So next time you’re struggling with a character’s heart, take a close look at how well you know their soul. You might be surprised by what you learn.

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Cutting Out Sweets

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No, I’m not going on a diet. The sweets I’m cutting out are of a purely literary variety.

That’s right, it’s revision time!

Call it what you will: killing your darlings, killing your babies (I have real babies, so I don’t particularly enjoy this one), whatever – it all comes down to the same thing: eliminating precious snippets of text you’ve spent hours creating  in order to improve your story.

If you read last week’s Goal! post (ha, ha goalpost!), you know I’ve been working hard on revising my MG Fantasy. And one of the things I’ve been working on is finding my voice. My story is written from two (alternating) perspectives and, up until now, they’ve kind of sounded the same. Which is bad. One character grew up in the slums, while the other grew up fairly well off. They have different backgrounds, different interests, different everything. Except voices.

The voice they share is pretty close to my more educated character, so now I’m going through the manuscript and trying to adjust my street rat’s voice. The problem? It means cutting out so many nice turns of phrase. Lines I carefully crafted until they sounded just right. Metaphors my crit partners complimented me on.

But, as beautiful as those lines might be, they’re not things my character would say. So, they’re gone.

Every last lovely word of them.

*Sob*

Seriously, though. I can see my manuscript getting better with every change. As pretty as those lines were, they were making my story ugly.

Maybe someday I’ll be able to work some of those fantastic phrases into another story. But only if it’s true to the character.

What do you think? Have you ever had to cut out a sweet, sweet line? Kill a darling phrase? How do you cope with the pain of killing your “babies”? I’m thinking some chocolate might be called for…

 

 

 

Goal!

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Ok, not that kind of goal. Today I’m posting about writing goals. A couple of weeks ago at my local Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (aka SCBWI) get-together we worked on setting goals for ourselves, and our co-ordinator (the lovely and talented Katherine Battersby) said something that stuck with me: Keep your goals within your control.

That means, while long-term goals of getting an agent, or a book contract, or being the next Robert Munsch, sound good, they all rely on someone else to achieve them. Those goals are important, as far as knowing what you want in your career, but they’re also out of your control. So instead, Katherine urged us to pick goals we could control, like querying a certain number of agents, or submitting to publishers, etc.

Of course, I, of all people, know that even goals that should be within my own control can be derailed (you know, like by hitting your head and not being able to use the computer for eight months, just as a random example).  And that’s when you need to re-assess and change your goals to something inside your ability and control.

So, I’ve decided to make a list of my short-term goals. These are things I’d like to accomplish within the next two months or so (some have earlier deadlines than others), and goals which I should be able to achieve even with limited computer time. I’ll check back in at the start of May to let you how I did on my list.

1. Continue to write one blog post each week.

2. Work on revising my MG Fantasy.

3. Perfect the 250-word synopsis for my YA Contemporary draft.

4. Name my YA Contemporary draft (my working titles just aren’t, well…working).

5. Apply for a SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grant (for that YA Contemporary draft).

6. Decide which manuscripts to submit for the various levels of critique at the Montreal SCBWI Conference at the end of May. (Watch for an upcoming post on this topic.)

So there you have it, my short-term goals. Do you have any goals you’d like to share? Tell me about them in the comments.

Behind the Curtain

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As the season change approaches (not a minute too soon, if you ask me), I’ve been doing a lot of what I consider the invisible work involved in keeping my kids clothed: weeding the too-small clothes from their wardrobes, sorting through spring and summer things to find what’s needed, patching hand-me-downs, scouring second-hand shops and sales, not to mention the eleventy-billion loads of laundry required. These are things my kids (and, let’s face it, my husband) don’t think about or notice. All they care is that there are clean clothes that fit, available when needed.

All this “invisible” work has got me thinking about the invisible work of writing. You know, the hours spent searching for the perfect rhyme, or re-writing the same sentence until it sounds just right. The subtle structuring of sentences, the addition of alliteration (see what I did there?), and the weaving in of themes. Then, of course, there’s all the*really* invisible work: the time spent trading critiques and integrating feedback – both from your crit partners and what you learned through critiquing their work.

Our goal as a writer is to make all this work stay invisible. The reader shouldn’t notice these finer details, they should just see a world they get lost in, a book they can’t put down.

But as readers who are writers, it’s our job to peek behind the curtain and see what makes the writing work. So I urge you, next time you’re reading something that’s taking your breath away, take a minute and examine it. See how the writer is pulling you in. Then take that information and apply it to your own writing. Sure, it may disrupt your enjoyment of the book, but I guarantee you’ll be a better writer for it.