Sunday, August 29, 2010

A contest, a diversion, and a thumbs-up

I got a flyer in the mail the other day about a contest for a historical fiction short story, target audience age 13, target length up to 1500 words. There are small cash prizes and the winning entry is published in a newsletter that goes to every children's book and magazine publisher in North America. That's serious publicity for the winner's work! I plan to enter in the hopes of getting my name in front of editors and agents so that when I send my book out, my name might be recognized.
Since I've been researching Nazi Germany for so long, I started thinking about another time and place in history for this short story contest entry. Something light-hearted and fun, please. My thought is to write a story about a kid who accidently sees The Beatles in a NY hotel while they're in town for the Shea Stadium show in 1965. I lived in NYC at that time and remember listening to Cousin Brucie on Music Radio WABC (W-A-Beatle-C they called themselves). I found audio files of him interviewing The Beatles, awarding them the Order of the All American in their hotel room, and introducing them on stage at the show. A good diversion from Nazi Germany, to be sure.
I read my revised first scene at writers' group on Thursday, and it was well-received. Onward and forward.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A hook and some RUE

As suggested by Nancy Butts, my ICL instructor, I've read more books on the art and practice of writing. Hooked by Les Edgerton emphasizes the importance of the opening scene, or better yet, the opening sentence of the novel. He claims that sales to readers (and agents and editors) are made by great beginnings. So, here's my opening sentence, at least until I change it again.

No one who witnessed my loyalty pledge to Adolf Hitler knew I had a note from a Jew in my uniform pocket.
What do you think? Would you want to read further?

In the other book, Self-editing for Fiction Writer by Browne and King, two editors share the marks of an amateur vs a professionally presented manuscript. Although I'm guilty of a number of the basic mistakes they describe, one in particular struck home. They call it RUE - Resist the Urge to Explain. I tend to explain what Sophie is thinking and feeling instead of just showing her actions and letting them speak for themselves. I've got to learn to trust my readers to understand Sophie without spoon feeding them details.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Read and Edit and Edit and Read

I printed out the whole manuscript last week, all 279 pages of it, and read it through in about 6 or 7 hours as a reader would. That gave me a clear idea of where I need to even out the story's pacing, where I need to tighten the tension or add a bit of humor for relief, which characters are superfluous and which need to be fleshed out more, etc. My pencil edits include lots of paragraphs and some entire pages X'd out.
I liked my opening scene of Sophie and her friends pledging to Hitler Youth, but I think I'll make that the second scene. I think my first scene will show the girlfriends at weekend camp and include some characters that become important late in the story. I've got some work to do.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Feedback from my Instructor

My most recent assignment in the Novel Writing course at ICL was to send my instructor, Nancy Butts, the 'last third' of my novel. Unfortunately for her, it ended up being as long as the first 'two thirds' put together. Thank God she liked it.
She gave me some great feedback, both in constructive criticism and encouragement. I tend to pack too many descriptions, words, or scenes into one chapter (that's the story of my life), and I slip into a narrative style that makes Sophie seem emotionally distant at times. Gotta fix those things throughout the ms.
Nancy also gave me terrific encouragement, especially regarding the last 30-50 pages. Get this: " suddenly revealed yourself as a master plotter. I'm serious; talk about magic!" and "Kids will not be able to put the book down from that point forward." and "This is magnificent storytelling."
Holy Cow!
So, now I dig in. I'm going to hole myself up one day this week and read straight through all 279 pages. Hopefully, from that vantage point I'll be able to see what needs to be changed to make the ms more cohesive. I already planned out a couple new scenes that need to be inserted near the beginning and I know there's some wordy scenes that can be cut completely.
My plan is to start editing the first half of the novel in the next few weeks and have it to Nancy before my grandchild is born in early November.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Letting it mellow

Well, my writer's critique group listened to the last 20 pages of my ms last week and had some great suggestions for tweaking the ending. Not changing it, mind you, just switching a few details around so the effect is more of a Pow!.
I'm taking a break from my story for a week or two. Going to catch up on some pleasure reading, finish my last few days of summer program work, go to a wedding, take a couple day trips with my hubby, that sort of thing. That way, when I pick it up again, I'll see it with fresher eyes. I know I need to rewrite the beginning, in part to introduce a character that plays a strong role at the end, but also to better line up the conflict described at the beginning with the resolution offered at the end.