Yesterday Barbara O’Conner posted on writing for kids. It’s all there in a nutshell.
Her advice also applies to writing a synopsis, especially her question, What is the story about?
I had an interesting experience at the Whole Novel Workshop. We had to submit 20 pages and a synopsis of our novels. In some cases, the story described in the synopsis differed significantly from the story told by the manuscript. That sounds impossible, but it happened. Writing a synopsis is difficult, and it’s tempting to get distracted by subplots and tangents.
The part I found most disconcerting was that I tended to believe the synopsis over the manuscript, and based my critique on what the author said she was going to write instead of what she wrote. This was the wrong approach. Of course, some manuscripts (or maybe all manuscripts in early drafts) meander before they get to the substance of the story. Once we determined what the novel was really about, the direction for revision became obvious.
This was a case where decorum affected the photographs. For some reason, I felt it was okay for me to go into a neighbor's driveway and shoot up at this weeping cherry, but not okay for me to walk onto their lawn and photograph the blossoms straight on. The flowers are backlit, but I like the contrast of dark and light.
Earlier this week, in my post about The Call to Adventure, and I said that boredom was not a good enough reason to embark on the hero’s journey. Lori pointed out that bored kids can get into a lot of trouble. Too true. When my boys were young and bored on some errand with me, they made their own fun. This was rarely a serene time.
I have read a few YA novels in which the protagonist was bored, got in trouble and had to face some sort of punishment. In these stories, the penance provided an opportunity for the hero to experience the Call to Adventure, so leaving on the journey was a multi-step process.
In other novels, boredom is insidious. The protagonist doesn’t even realize he or she is bored until the siren song of adventure calls. Think of Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit or Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island. Although in both novels, the lure of adventure was enhanced by the possibility of finding a treasure.
I retract my comment about boredom. It can be an aspect of the Call to Adventure.
Many novels are modeled on the Hero’s Journey whether the expedition is a classic adventure or an internal transformation. Lately, I’ve been thinking about The Call to Adventure and what causes a character to leave a safe, secure and familiar world to embark into the unknown, face danger and return changed.
The hero doesn’t go for funsies.
The hero doesn’t go because he or she is bored.
The hero must be compelled to go. The stakes must be high. The known world or the hero might be threatened, and only the hero can solve this problem. Sometimes the known world is terrible, and the adventure is the only means of escape, gaining wisdom or finding salvation. The hero must be faced with an unbearable choice. Going may be terrifying, but staying is impossible.
Otherwise, there is no reason to leave.
Otherwise, there might not be a reason to write the novel.
I’m currently planning a new project, and any day now, I’ll figure out my Call to Adventure.
The SCBWI-MI listserv has been discussing what makes a successful critique group. Debbie Diesen and Sandy Carlson liked my post, so here it is again.
Be honest. Telling someone their submission is great when it’s not is neither kind nor polite.
Be constructive. Telling someone to put their manuscript in a drawer isn’t helpful. Not every manuscript can be published, but every manuscript can be improved. The writer can learn by improving it.
Writing and critiquing are different skills. Both have to be developed.
For face-to-face groups, have a person other than the writer read the submission out loud. The writer should listen for awkward phrasing and observe the reactions of the other members of the group. It’s a great way to judge emotional impact.
If submissions are sent in advance, read them and think hard about them.
Say what works and doesn’t work, even if you can’t figure out how to make a helpful revision suggestion.
The critique is about the manuscript, not the person who is critiquing. I love it when critique members compliment my ideas, but the bottom line is improving the manuscript.
The writer must make the final decision about which critique suggestions to use.
I’m about to start a new project – or rather I’m returning to a project I started last summer. At least two endowed objects (a bracelet and a clay flask) will be important in this story. Here are the questions I’ve been asking myself about the endowed objects.
Is there an endowed object in the novel?
What is it?
Who possesses it?
What significance does this person place on the object?
Do any other characters know about the object?
Does the object hold any significance for them?
How does ownership (or lack of ownership) affect the characters?
Now I'm in the beginners' photography class. It's a much better place for me. This is clearly going to be one of those experiences where the more I learn, the more I realize I don't know. Here are my first attempts to adjust white balance. The clarity is much better than in this photo.
A white flower on a bright sunny day is a difficult subject, especially when it's breezy.
At the Highlights workshop, Stephen Roxburgh said most manuscripts are rejected because they were submitted before they were ready for publication. That’s a hopeful idea. It means the chasm between rejection and acceptance can be traversed with good ideas and hard work.
Recently I was rejected from a community education photography class. At the first session, we all described our photographic equipment. I had the least expensive gear (by far) and was asked to transfer to the beginning class. In fairness to the instructor, the class, despite its misleading catalog description, is about how to use fancy equipment. I’m not ready to spend the time and money to acquire multiple lenses, external flash units, photo manipulation software etc. Perhaps I never will be.
One of my trunk novels has received four or five glowing rejections. Agents praised the writing, then turned it down because they weren’t “connecting with the manuscript.” Perhaps someday, I’ll figure out how to fix that problem, and the rejections will turn into acceptances.
Rejection still feels terrible, but maybe it can be conquered by being ready.