Showing Real Estate (Your Pages)

Mary Kole at wrote a thought-provoking post today for writers. She compared the pages of a novel to prime real estate. The first page, the introductory paragraph of each chapter, and the the closing paragraphs are what hook the reader and keep them turning pages.

Go here to read the full post.

As an aside, revising to query is kind of like getting your home ready to show. You dust, vacuum, carry out the trash, throw out clutter, rearrange furniture. And if small children are in the house, one last run through to make sure everyone has flushed. (Or is that just me?)
But we should do the same with our manuscripts before we show/ send them. We revise, tweak, cut the clutter. Scrub it until it shines. Even *gasp* move some scenes around. Proofread for typos. Anything to make it polished, immaculate, enticing. So the buyer cannot refuse.
Get your mops out. There’s work to do. 😉

Layers & Cliches

Subplots are plot lines given to different characters.

Layers are plot lines given to the same character.
In Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Mass notes that breakout fiction makes extensive use of plot layers. Real life is complex, so our characters’ worlds should reflect that.
Main characters who only have one layer are in danger of becoming boring. That’s the last thing you want.
Bored readers. Stop. Reading.
But don’t be cliched when you add on layers. Think through several ideas first before attaching one to your character. Mass suggests 10. I guarantee you the first few ideas you come up with will not be unique.
I’m guilty. It requires brain cells to think beyond your first three, four, dozen or so impressions. Dig deep to find that original spark.
Say you need a job for your main character’s dad. He is gone from home. A lot. Distracted by work. Brainstorm 10 occupations.
1. Pilot
2. Motivational speaker
3. Salesman, pharmaceuticals
4. Con-man
5. Professor/ lecturer
5. Architect
6. Landscape Architect w/ a specialty in zoo design
7. Speech writer for top government official, who happens to be his wife
You get the picture. These were jotted down as they came to me just now. Not super great, but I think 6 and 7 are intriguing. (Btw, my family knows someone who designs zoos.)
Keep thinking, and push yourself beyond that initial thought. I promise to do the same and have with a picture book this week.
And click here for a list of cliches to avoid like the plague. Ha.
Happy writing.

Book Birthday

Picture Book author Jean Reidy‘s newest book, TOO PICKLEY! releases today.
She wanted to throw a big party, but she’s in Uganda, Africa, reading to a bunch of cute kids and mending mosquito nets at the Musana Children’s Home. (Musana means sunshine in the local language.)

Could you help spread the word about her release? I know it’d mean a lot.

I LOVE pickles, but I suppose there comes a point where something can be TOO pickley.
If it is anything like TOO PURPLEY, which my daughter adores, then we’ll get along just fine. 😉
(Besides, who can resist that adorable cover?)

I Could Go For Another

Day Like This.

SCUMBLE by Ingrid Law (SAVVY) is an amazing read. I could hardly put it down and found myself rereading sentences for pure bliss. Clever, witty, and full of heart. Perfect for reluctant boy readers or any girl that ever wore watermelon lip gloss. Releases this August from Dial Books.

The Shrunken Manuscript

Mandy and I plan to shrink her WIP this week.
Shrink 200-plus pages to oh, I don’t know, thirty-five.

Author Darcy Pattison, owner of the Fiction Notes, persuades writers to shrink their novels in her book Novel Metamorphosis.

Author Sara Lewis Holmes (OPERATION YES, Arthur Levine, 2009) uses it too. You gotta love the glitter.

Instructions for the Shrunken Manuscript Strategy

(From Darcy’s website, with permission.)
  1. Take out the chapter breaks, so there is no white space between chapters.
  2. Single space the entire mss.
  3. Reduce the font of the mss until the mss takes up about 30 pages. This is arbitrary, of course, but I find that I can see about 30 pages at a time. It doesn’t matter if the font is readable; you’re trying to shrink the mss so you can mark certain things and you won’t be reading it but evaluating how these things fit into the big picture. If your mss runs over 40,000 words, you can try putting it into two columns in order for it to fit into 30 pages. If your mss is over 50,000 pages, you may need to divide it into two sections and evaluate 30-shrunken pages at a time.
  4. Use a bright, wide marker and put an X over the strongest chapters.Note: Actually, you can use the Shrunken Manuscript to evaluate anything that you want to visualize across the novel: places where two characters interact, the percentage of dialogue, places where you repeat a certain setting, places where the theme is made obvious, etc.
  5. Lay out the mss pages on the floor in about three rows of ten. (Adjust layout to your page count, of course.)
  6. Stand back and evaluate.

Of course, everything is arbitrary and I’ve just made up rules to fit my mss. Change anything you need to fit your mss. But these guidelines generally work well for most mss.

I hope to do this to my own MG by summer’s end. Don’t worry, I’ll post plenty of pictures! (I’m thinking M&Ms would work well.)

Top 10 Topics for Novels

This is a list compiled by the editorial staff at Dial Books for Young Readers.

This list, along with others, was distributed at our regional SCBWI conference last spring.
1. The new kid in middle school or high school
2. Choosing between the popular crowd and the social outcast with a heart of gold
3. High fantasy with a prologue and tons of characters with unpronounceable names who go on a quest.
4. Dealing with parents going through a divorce
5. Dealing with the death of a parent or sibling
6. A sulky, angsty, “too cool” teen who must learn to get over him/herself
7. A kid trying to save the cranes, dolphins, redwoods etc.
8. A kid who’s sent to live with a cranky aunt/uncle/grandparent and who discovers the older person is okay after all.
9. War historical fiction, especially set during the WWII and The Revolutionary War
10. A “normal kid” who discovers she/he has some kind of magical power
*This doesn’t mean you can’t submit these topics, only that we see these most often, so make sure yours is really different