Revision Tip #13

Given how late it is right now, you might have already figured this one out.

Revision Tip #13

When revising, sometimes you just need to turn the blasted Internet off. As in all the way OFF.

Because when revising, you have to hold a million strands of character and story and setting and voice and everything else in your head. Some days, there just isn’t room for anything else.

Revision Tip #11

Big news: Kirkus is shutting down.

How do you think this will affect publishing and bookselling?

Hard to understand news: Some readers in Sweden are talking about WINTERGIRLS. My Swedish is not very good, but I am pretty sure they were not overly fond of the book. Can anyone do a better job translating than I did? I don’t need word-for-word, I am just looking for the overall gist of the review.

Revision Tip #11

When you wake up thinking about your characters, don’t fart around with email or television or blog entries. Get to work!

Which I am doing right now.

(Though I will come up with something more useful later today,if my brain slows down.)

B’day & New YALSA award & Rev Tip #10 (setting)

(Excuse me, family business first) HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JESSICA!!

(Thank you.)

The nominees for the 2010 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults have been named and I am really excited for two friends, Deborah Heiligman (Charles and Emma) and Tanya Lee Stone (Almost Astronauts) whose books both made the list.Huzzah!

Revision Tip #10

I need to clarify yesterday’s tip.

A Facebook Friend wrote in to say my advice contradicted what Barry Lyga wrote on his blog.

(I’ll wait while you hop over to Barry’s page and see what he wrote.)

(Really, it’s OK. I just made tea. The fire is warm. Go on! Shoo!)


(Are you back yet?)

Barry and I agree more than we disagree. We are both striving for the balance between tight writing and clear writing. Neither one of us wants you to waste words and page space on dialog or description that don’t move the story forward.

But I see opportunity to use what he calls "blocking" as a way to move the story forward. It’s all in the details. There is no point to just throwing in descriptions of actions simply to avoid a page of dialog that bounces back and forth between two people. (For the record, my first drafts are often page after page of dialog.) The key is to find THE EXACT RIGHT ACTIONS that will help your characters show what’s going on inside them in addition to telling.

This is where choosing the right setting for a scene helps.

I’ll give you an example from CATALYST. There is an emotionally loaded scene in which the main character, 18-year-old Kate, is talking to her younger brother. The two of them have just come from a funeral for a small child who was a neighbor. The brother is pestering Kate for details about their mother’s funeral, which happened when he was an infant.

In the scene, Kate is cleaning the kitchen. (Their father is the minister, they live next to the church, the congregation gathered at their house after the funeral for a meal.) She is wiping clean, sanitizing, scrubbing, putting things into boxes, sweeping up – all actions that really show what she is trying very hard to do with the memories and feelings about the death of her mother. In the climax of the scene, she puts the last container of food in the refrigerator and slams the door so hard that family photos and the drawings by the dead child all fall off the door of the fridge.

That dialog could have been set in many different places, but I deliberately chose the kitchen because of the opportunities it gave me to create subtext for Kate. Putting action into dialog sequences ensures you don’t have talking heads on the page, and it allows you to give the reader more information than just the dialog alone, if you are wise about your choice of action and setting.

Does this make sense?

Questions? Thoughts?

Revision Tip #9 – My Kingdom for a Verb

Does your draft have dialog that goes on for pages? Feels like a screenplay more than a novel?

You (or more accurately) your characters need some action: Verbs, my friends. You are in need of verbs.

Step 1: Choose a dialog-heavy scene.

Step 2: Brainstorm abut what kinds of actions the characters might be doing while they are having this conversation. F. ex., mom and son arguing at the grocery store about if he can borrow the car Friday night. Potential actions: picking out groceries (be specific!), checking labels, returning groceries to shelf (possibility for character development! Does this character go to the trouble of returning item where it belongs or not?), smelling squeezing, poking. More character development: are items neatly stacked in cart, or thrown in?

Step 3: Insert actions into dialog.

Step 4: See where you can trim dialog by allowing characters’ actions to speak louder than their words.