Award Lists & Revision Tip #3

Santa’s elves arrived in the Forest early this year!

They brought the news that WINTERGIRLS has been named a Publisher’s Weekly’s Best Book of the Year, Kirkus’ Best YA Books of 2009, Booklist’s Editor’s Choice of 2009, the 2010 Texas Tayshas High School Reading List and nominated to YALSA’s 2010 Quick Pick List! It has also been nominated to the 2011 Grand Canyon Reader Award by the very nice people in Arizona, who were kind enough to nominate…

CHAINS as well, on the Tween List for the Grand Canyon Reader Award.

Each one of those lovely lists feels like another filled stocking in front of the fire!


Many people struggle to find a way to look at the larger picture of their novel. They can line edit a page or take a chapter to their writer’s group, but managing the unwieldy novel is hard.

Here is what I do.

1. Get the largest piece of paper you can find. I go to an art supply store and buy an enormous artist’s pad for this task.

2. You need to carve out three hours of concentration time. Turn off the internet and phone. Loan your dog and children and partner to nice people who will return them fed and watered after the the three hours. Chain off the driveway so delivery trucks and friendly people who don’t understand what you mean when you say "I’m working" can’t drop in.

3. On one of your massive sheets of paper, list every chapter in your book. Describe the action in the chapter in one sentence.

4. Now prepare a separate action list. (This one will take up a couple of sheets of paper. (Did I mention that you ‘ll need to clear off the kitchen table for this? And maybe the floor?) This list will break down each chapter into the scenes. Keep it brief! F. Ex.: "MC (main character) drops homework in fish tank. Fish die. MC hides them in flower vase. Mother sees them and flips out."

5. (This is the fun part) With a colored pen or pencil, go through the detailed chapter list and make notes about the emotional arc of your MC and the important secondary characters. Also, make sure that changes in mood are properly motivated, and that conflicts are set up. You might use different colors to represent different plot elements.

6. The threads of your novel are laid out in front of you. Step back and study it. Do your characters have reasonable emotional responses to the actions in the chapters? Do the building levels of conflict appear in the right order? (I often move scenes around at this stage.) Which scenes and/or chapters can you completely remove from the story without affecting anything else? What characters can you eliminate? Do you have any characters that can be combined because they serve the same purpose in the story. (I do this a lot.)

7. By the end of this process, your papers will be covered with notes, stickies and lots of colored arrows.

8. Sit down with the giant map of your novel and apply the changes to your manuscript. I like to do this on a hard copy first, then type in the changes.

9. Don’t forget to unchain the driveway and let your loved ones back in.

Dang, this is a long blog entry. Still with me? Questions?

Revision Tip #2

If revising during December (like I am) give yourself only 24 hours in which to complete your shopping.

(Like I did.)

::crosses off the last item on gift list, pulls manuscript back out::

KY controversy update & Revision Tip #1

Welcome to December! We woke up to a snow-covered forest and it is still coming down!

The Lexington Herald-Leader wrote an article about the book banning in Montgomery County High School in Mount Sterling, KY, where the superintendent appears to be breaking district policy by refusing to return the books (Twisted, Deadline by Chris Crutcher, Lessons from a Dead Girl by Jo Knowles, The Rapture of Canaan by Sheri Reynolds, What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones, What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones, and Unwind, by Neal Shusterman) to the classroom after the books were approved by the district’s Review Committee.

The superintendent says that he does not believe these books belong in the classroom.

(From the article) "I wrote the teachers over a month ago and said, ‘show me why the books should be in the curriculum and we’ll reconsider that decision,"’ he said. "I’m certainly not the world’s final authority on what ought to be in a college curriculum. But so far I haven’t heard a word from anybody about why we should use these books."

That’s not exactly true. I have a copy of a five-page letter written to Dr. Freeman by one of the top experts in the field about the use of contemporary literature in high school classrooms. The letter explains exactly why those books have a place in his classrooms, citing state standards, research that validates their use, and the district’s own vision statement.

What do you think? Share your opinions with Dr. Freeman ( or on the newspaper’s website, in the Comments that accompany the article. Remember: it is possible to have strong opinions and be polite at the same time.

Congrats on everyone who participated in NaNoWriMo last month. Even if you didn’t hit the 50,000 word mark, you wrote something which is way better than nothing. I’m deep in revisions for my next novel, so I’ll be posting my own revision tips this month for any of you guys who are interested.

Revision Tip #1
When you finish a first draft, don’t look at it for at least a week. Clean up your desk and catch up on your reading. Do some journaling about what you thought the story was at the beginning of the the draft and how it changed when you were writing. Make a list of those pesky little thoughts that are bugging you about places where your characters might not be consistent, or major plot issues. Do this without rereading your pages! Trust me on this one.

PS – A couple of you wondered what was on the back of the shirts we wore for the Turkey Trot 5K. It was a list of all of our names and the tag line, "The family that runs together eats more pie!"