Tell me what your novel is about in one sentence. I don’t mean an elevator pitch intended to sell the manuscript in thirty seconds or less. What is your deepest connection to the story? Why are you writing the blasted tome anyway? When we discussed this at the Whole Novel Workshop, Stephen Roxburgh suggested considering concepts like redemption, salvation, forgiveness or recovery.
Here are the core stories for my many trunk novels and works in progress.*
A boy rediscovers friendship.
A girl acquires courage.
Two brothers learn to love each other.
A girl rescues her grandfather.
My statements are general enough that they could describer many novels, but they state the underlying concept that the reader is supposed to identify with and remember. They also remind me why I started the project in the first place.
*I have another WIP that my family and critique group have encouraged me to focus on. To be truthful, I don’t yet know the characters or the plot well enough to state its core story. I can’t write that novel until I figure out what it is about.
Our holiday officially started last night when we picked up Sam after his last final. For the next couple weeks, the house will be full of young rock stars, ninjas and mathematicians. Amazing amounts of food will be consumed. The Christmas tree will shine and Chanukah candles will blaze.
I also plan to finish my current draft, the one where I’m listening for Selena’s voice. I don’t imagine that I’ll nail it, but I hope to make progress. My next draft is also dedicated to Selena’s voice.
At the Whole Novel Workshop in Honesdale, our teaching assistant, Candy Dahl, proposed an exercise for developing a character’s voice.
Take a blank piece of paper.
Write “Dear [your name]” at the top.
Write “Love [your character’s name]” at the bottom.
Lie down on your bed and imagine your character entering the room and talking to you.
After five minutes, get up and write what the character said. Stream of consciousness is okay.
Yeah, it sounds crazy, but it works.
I experimented with this technique at Honesdale and got amazing results. I am doing a major revision in which my main character and his love interest change places, and the voice of the new main character has eluded me. Since every draft should have one purpose, I put aside my worries about voice and focused on the major changes in the plot.
The first draft is finished, and now is the time to think about voice.
I decided to start each writing day with Candy’s exercise. My (new) main character is bossy and more than happy to tell me what to do. It’s working so far.
I photograph this crabapple tree a lot. This time, I was trying to catch the last bit of light before the sun sank below the tops of the trees. The snow always photographs a bit blue at this time of day.
goes to Debbie Diesen who suggested “a patch of psoriasis on the elephant you used to ride when you worked for a traveling circus.” I’ve never worked for a circus, unless you count those 18 months with the USDA.
goes to Charlie B. who suggested it was “one of Sam’s first grade art projects.” Charlie gets extra points for identifying the objects in the painting.
goes to Ruth McNally Barshaw who said it was “a close up of wrapping paper for earth-friendly gifts.” Absolutely, and it’s recycled paper too.
goes to Buffy Silverman who suggested it was a map for my upcoming fantasy novel, “Finkelstein Crosses the Gray Sea and Ravishes the Kingdom of Small Pox.”
goes to Amy Huntley who wrote, “Ahhh... my utterly unRomantic relationship with Nature explains why I failed to see the bark connection everyone else thought was so obvious."
In preparation for the upcoming familial feeding frenzy, I have embarked on my own cleaning/shopping/cooking frenzy. In keeping with the spirit of celebration, I’m holding a mystery photo contest. The winner will receive leftover turkey shipped to his or her home.
Not really. Much of our leftover turkey will be sent to college with Sam to nourish him through his upcoming final exams.
There are no prizes.
But there will be awards!
All you have to do is guess what the photo is and tell me in the comments section.
Novels in their early stages tend to be unwieldy collections of scenes. In order to become a novel, causality must be established. Each scene must lead inexorably (yet unpredictably) to the next. Tension, emotion and the presence of secondary characters should also be tracked. A storyboard can help. The entire technique is described in Writing Stories: Ideas, Exercises and Encouragement forTeachers and Writers of All Ages by Carolyn Coman, but here’s a brief overview.
Draw a simple sketch depicting the main event in every chapter. (The art doesn’t have to be good.)
Below the pictures, write a phrase describing the action. (Use an action verb.)
Above the pictures state the primary emotion.
If you do this on index cards, it’s easy to rearrange the order of the scenes.
You can check for sequences where the action or tension is lacking.
So far, my experience with Paris consists of aerial views and two four-hour layovers in the Charles De Gaulle Airport. Many Americans go to Paris to shop, and on my return trip from Italy, I was no different. I had finished my book, and I don’t yet own an e-reader. Thinking that the shops at Charles De Gaulle airport must sell books in English, I began my search, and was finally rewarded by finding an entire shelf of books written in my mother tongue. An elderly American couple joined me.
“How about that one?” the woman asked.
“I’ve read it,” the man said.
This conversation was repeated about ten times, and the man was starting to sound cranky. I couldn’t blame him. We were both faced with the prospect of traversing the Atlantic without a book. Most of the wife’s suggestions were thrillers or mysteries, so I handed him Eye of the Red Tsar by Sam Eastland.
“You might like this,” I said. “It’s historical fiction about the Russian revolution.”
I’m going to continue my posts about things I learned at Honesdale, but this is about something I felt at Honesdale. The Whole Novel Workshop was an opportunity of a lifetime. It was a solid week of writing, complete with a brilliant critique of my entire novel, insightful comments from my peers, and spectacular food prepared by other people. I worried that I wasn’t accomplishing enough during my Opportunity Of A Lifetime. Since I returned home, I realized three things.
1. A revision of this magnitude requires hard thinking first and hard work second.
2. Real writing, for the most part, doesn’t happen in a cozy cottage surrounded by spectacular fall foliage. It happens around teenage rock bands that show up at dinnertime, mountains of laundry, and days when AWOL characters can’t be coaxed onto the monitor.
3. Writing must be done for its own sake. In the face of uncertain economic times and the changing publishing industry, the only thing a writer can do is make the writing as good as it can be.
Several years ago, I heard Jaïra Placide speak at an SCBWI conference. For me, the most important thing she said was, “Every draft should have a purpose.”
When revising, it’s easy to ignore the big issues and fiddle with words, but word tinkering should be left for the last step. I find that my revisions are most effective when I focus on a specific goal for each draft. These goals are large issues like adding personality to a secondary character, making a character’s voice consistent, or getting the characters into the action sooner.
At the Whole Novel Workshop in Honesdale, I was reminded that every draft should have ONE purpose. In my current revision, two of the main characters are exchanging roles, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the enormity of this task. I keep reminding myself that this draft is for stage management. All I’m doing is moving the characters around. At this point, it doesn’t matter if the writing is clunky or if the characters have lost their voices. I’ll fix those things in subsequent drafts.
I heard from Christine who manages the B&B where we stayed in Manarola. Both of her emails follow:
Dear Ann, Thank you for writing to check on us. All of us in Manarola, Riomaggiore and Corniglia are safe and were incredibly fortunate, as there was only minor damage in our villages from the storm. The situation in Vernazza and in the old town of Monterosso is tragic. They have been without water, electricity, gas and telephone service since Tuesday. The situation is particularly difficult in Vernazza, as it is now only accessible by sea. My husband went there today by boat with a group of volunteers from Manarola, to bring supplies and help with the cleanup. He said that the conditions there are even worse than we had imagined. The heavy rains caused a huge landslide at the top of the village, which diverted the river there onto the main street of the town. The river brought with it mud and debris which now almost completely covers the main floor of the buildings all along the main street. Several people are unaccounted for, and nearly all of the businesses in the town have been destroyed. The cleanup efforts will likely take months, but the people of the Cinque Terre are very resilient, and are determined to recover from this terrible tragedy. Thanks again for your concern.
Kind regards, Christine and Family Carugiu B&B
Dear Ann, Thank you for the link to your blog. You are welcome to include my e-mail. Your pictures are beautiful! My husband and I went to Vernazza by ferry today to help pump water from a friend’s house, but only residents were allowed to get off there, so we dropped the pump off and continued along the coast. The sea is filled with debris, but the mud that turned the water from blue to brown has started to settle. There are numerous emergency crews working in Vernazza and Monterosso, and electricity has been restored. Heavy equipment has been brought in by boat to remove the incredible amount of mud in the streets. The Italian government has declared a state of emergency, so special funds are now available for cleanup and relief efforts. Support has been pouring in from around the world, and is greatly appreciated by the locals. Our communities are working very hard to return to normal as soon as possible. Kind regards, Christine
Tuscany and Cinque Terre have been devastated by storms. (Telegraph Article) I emailed the manager of the B&B where we stayed to ask if she and her family are all right, although I suspect internet connections won’t be working for some time. The damage was horrendous. Monterosso and Vernazza were “all but wiped out.” The people who live this beautiful place are in my thoughts.
My pictures of Manarola can be seen here and here.
The biggest problem with my novel is point of view. In my first discussion with Stephen, we decided there were three possible approaches: 1) make my protagonist female, 2) write the novel in third person and make her female 3) switch the roles of the protagonist and one of the secondary characters. Stephen suggested that the first was the most conservative approach and I should start there.
The process reminded me of my former life as a laboratory scientist. When something didn’t work, my husband would say, “Think of three ways to solve the problem and do them all.” I already had that skill set, so on the first full day, I rewrote my first chapter three ways. It was immediately obvious I should take approach #3.
The Three-Solution-Approach works. Trust me. The other writers at the workshop started referring to it as “doing an Ann.”
I grew up a mile from the Pacific Ocean, but this was my first view of the Mediterranean Sea. (Technically, the ocean off Cinque Terre is called the LigurianSea.) I was amazed first at the deep teal color of the water. The Pacific tends towards blues and grays. Second, I couldn’t believe how calm it was on the day we arrived. The Pacific, contrary to its name, always has waves.
This is an early morning shot of the main swimming area for Manarola. There is no sand, but people bask on the rocks and on the cement ramp.
We went swimming at the second beach because fewer people go there. If you enlarge the photo, you can see a ladder by the little breakwater. The water was surprisingly salty which made it easy to float.
I wasn’t the only person fascinated with the ocean.