Posted by: carolannwilliams | October 18, 2009

Outlines and French Scenes

In the world of drama there’s what known as the French scene. French scenes are determined by the number of people on stage. For example: John and Mary are together; that’s a scene. Bob walks in; that’s the next scene. Mary and Bob leave. John is alone; that’s the next scene.  Now what’s important about these scenes is that the dynamic, the interaction between the characters, has to change with the change of players. And all interactions must advance the action. In other words, they must advance the plot.

Am I suggesting you outline a whole novel in this way? My answer is, yes. It’s what I’ve finally forced myself to do with my middle-grade novel and, lo and behold, the rambling plot that I’ve been fiddling with for years is pulling into shape. It’s a laborious process but I’ve got a clearer, cleaner shape unfolding before me. I also know my characters better than ever. As a matter of fact, they’re changing, and the plot is changing, and when I’m done I think I’ll have a much more interesting story than the one I first envisioned. That’s when I’ll start to write.

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Posted by: carolannwilliams | October 17, 2009

Puppy!

Oh my gosh, I haven’t posted in what, a week? New puppy is to blame. We’re in heaven here but it’s the typical new-baby-sleep-deprivation routine and a great deal of pandemonium with the cats. Unless the puppy is in his crate we have to stand guard. One cat is finally adjusting but the other is becoming downright predatory. The vet says to give him a little more time. Then, if he doesn’t calm down she’ll put him on Prozac.  Prozac?! Way to go! Can I have some too?!

Posted by: carolannwilliams | October 10, 2009

Resource

I’ve found another wonderful resource for writers of all stripes. The online publication Narrative Magazine (www.narrativemagazine.com) is a gold mine. It includes fiction, poetry, graphic stories, non-fiction, interviews, writing advice, and much much more. The writers are famous, new, and the classic greats. The magazine takes all submissions and they have a batch of contests. There’s a $20 charge per submission, but it’s worth it. This is a great publication and deserves support. Plus, I had some questions and e-mailed them and got a personal response within the hour. I then e-mailed back another question as a reply and got an immediate response. Remarkable! In addition, once you’ve paid for your submission you receive a free three-month subscription to Narrative Backstage, which is so good I just might pay to subscribe after my three months are up. Check it out.

Posted by: carolannwilliams | October 9, 2009

Marketing Children’s Books

Marketing is not my specialty but I’ve run across a great source of info. When you buy the 2010 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market, published by Writer’s Digest Books, you’ll get a code for a free subscription to their online database and daily newsletter. The newsletter provides up to the minute info on editors, agents, and more. The code will also get you a downloadable 62-page book chock full of other kinds of nitty-gritty information useful to writers. Though the 2010 Market is a bit pricey — $29.99 — in and of itself it’s a good resource, and the additional perk of the newsletter and book (usually $15) makes it well worth the cost. Not to mention, you’ll have full access to the WritersMarket.com website, which is a subscription-only affair.

Posted by: carolannwilliams | October 8, 2009

Plot: To Outline or Not to Outline?

After writing up the non-plot of Henrietta’s Lucky Day yesterday I realized just how helpful outlines can be. I’d basically put the action in a nutshell and discovered there was no nut! With that revelation I turned to a middle-grade novel I’ve been tinkering with (oh, I do a lot of tinkering) and wrote it out, scene by scene — no dialogue, no description, and just the characterization necessary to propel the action. Wow. What I learned. I now have a story.

Outlines are hard. They force you to focus on the structural basics. I tend to get lost in playing with the words. But if you write the book without the fun stuff, you’ll have the shape you need to build on. Structure = the bones of a story. Once you’ve got that there’s no worry or struggle about what happens next. You can go to town, fleshing it out with abandon.

The first draft of my middle-grade outline is 15 scenes. I will now break those down even further, adding notes about the characters’ motivations and emotions. When I am satisfied that I have the whole novel in front of me and that the arc is there (see previous posts on story structure/the arc of a story) and that the scenes are in their proper place within the arc, I’ll start writing. That’s when I’ll find the characters’ voices, and my voice, and the fun will begin.

So, to outline or not to outline? There are those who do not outline, but my guess is they have it all in their heads; what they do is not random. The great writer C.S. Lewis belonged to a writing group of other great writers — among them J.R.R. Tolkien — that met to almost exclusively discuss plot. If attention to plot was good enough for Lewis, it’s good enough for me. And it  just might be good enough for you too.

Posted by: carolannwilliams | October 7, 2009

Plot Structure

Here we go again. Structure. Some writers know it instinctively. Stephen King is a great example. Boy, can he ever tell a story! For many (dare I say most?) of the rest of us, it’s a struggle. Here’s an example from a picture book I’ve been tinkering with forever. It’s titled, Henrietta’s Lucky Day.

Henrietta is a little girl who decides to walk to the park by herself. Along the way she encounters neighbors who one by one suggest she should not be doing this. Their suggestions make her nervous. She bravely replies that it’s okay because she has her lucky whatever — hat, sunglasses, etc.— but her nervousness builds. When a big dog yawns at her it’s the final straw. She takes off running, climbing, and scrambling willy nilly until she finally plops down on the far side of a fence, only to discover that she’s lost all her lucky things and that she too is lost. She begins to cry. At that moment her mother appears. She scoops Henrietta up to carry her back to their house and Henrietta sees that she plopped at the far end of her own back yard! Relieved, she happily tells her mother, “this is my lucky day.”

Now, my book is nicely written, line by line, and Henrietta is cute as a button, but THERE’S NO PLOT. Henrietta simply sets out, gets increasingly scared, and then is saved by the deus ex machina event of her mother suddenly appearing. Henrietta herself has done nothing to make things turn out all right. As a matter of fact, in general Henrietta’s done nothing. Yes, she took the action of setting out for the park at the beginning of the story, but that’s where it stops. Everything else is reaction. Henrietta is passive, and passive characters don’t make for very good stories.

I remind myself, character = action = plot.

Posted by: carolannwilliams | September 30, 2009

Book Festival, Saturday, Oct. 3

Just an announcement to let you know I’ll be at the Collingswood Book Festival in Collingswood, NJ (near Philadelphia) this coming Saturday from 10:00-4:00. I’ll have a table, and I’ll also be reading BOOMING BELLA in Tent 3 at 11:30 a.m.

In case of rain the festival will be held inside the Collingswood High School on Collings Avenue.

For more information and directions go to the festival’s website: www.collingswoodbookfestival.com

Hope to see you there!

Posted by: carolannwilliams | September 29, 2009

Fear and Trembling!

A writer friend has confessed she’s scared to begin her novel. She’s done a ton of research (historical), knows her characters pretty well, and should be ready to write. But, eek! It’s so big, a whole long novel! And there are so many other novels out there that are wonderful! How could hers possibly be as wonderful as all those?! She’s in a panic.

To her and to all the rest of us writers whose knees occasionally grow weak I say, focus. Take it bit by bit, paragraph by paragraph. If you know where you’re going (something I’ve discussed in previous posts) you’ll eventually get there. To borrow Anne Lamott’s famous phrase, just take it “bird by bird.”

Posted by: carolannwilliams | September 28, 2009

Characterization: An exercise

Your character is in line at security at the airport. Her purse/his carry on bag has gone through the x-ray machine and the guards have seen something they deem suspicious. Now your character must empty everything onto the table. What, exactly, spills out? The items you choose will tell reams about your person. Don’t forget the one suspicious thing.

Do this exercise a few times, using different items. Different items equals different person. You’ll get a sense of how characterization is built on even the smallest details.

Posted by: carolannwilliams | September 27, 2009

Characterization: Be Kind

Want to write great characters? Be kind to them. Even the vilest antagonist has a heart somewhere deep within. Understand the wounded core beneath the ugly behavior and you will have a well-rounded, fully human being instead of a stereotype. It won’t make the character any nicer in the context of the plot, but it will make your portrayal of that person more affecting, and it will make your book a richer experience for the reader. Compassion is essential, in life and in art.

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