Tag Archives: novel

Derailed: writing caution

Once upon a time, DH and I made our way down south for a job interview.  While driving along, we came upon a very recent train derailment.  The damage was incredible.  Cars tipped over a football field off the track.  Cargo scattered across the ditch in ways that defied logic.

Thankfully the train troubles occurred outside of town and far enough off the road that nobody was injured.

Upon our return, the mess had been cleared away and we completely missed seeing the site of the accident.  Virtually all traces of the derailment were gone.  And while the train company must have dealt with extensive  and far-reaching damages, the casual observer would have missed the fact that twenty-four hours earlier, a near catastrophe had occurred.

Our writing is like a train track.  We have a story arc that begins in one station and ends in another.  Along the way, we transport our precious cargo.  We may make switches along the way, dropping off some cars and picking up others.  We may speed up and slow down for towns and bridge crossings, but we never stray from the track.

Unless, of course, we get derailed.

When this happens, we have  two choices: clean up the mess, pay out the damages and deliver our salvaged cargo or go back to the station and start our trek all over again.

Neither option is fun and both require a lot of work.  Critique partner and soon-to-be-pubbed, Calista Taylor, recognizes her risk for derailment and takes another set of tracks to ward off disaster.  When the writing gets tough and she’s “blocked” for longer than a week, she retraces her steps and finds out where she went wrong. 

With my current WIE (work in edit), I discovered yesterday (45 pages from the end) that I had failed to make a detour when I should have.  Instead of switching tracks, I steamed forward and missed out on adding some cargo to my train that will invariably make my novel much stronger and more intriguing.

While I didn’t totally derail, it was like I jumped the track.  I took a short cut and deprived my potential readers of the scenic route.

What do you do when  you find your story floundering?  When do you realize your writing has derailed and how do you fix it?  Do you automatically trunk a derailed manuscript or do you try to salvage what you can?

Curious minds want to know.


Red, Black and Blue: what color is your hook?

Contrary to my blog title, I was patriotic this weekend.  We journeyed up north and stayed longer than expected, ate more than necessary and had not internet connection.  Henceforth my hiatus.

We also had a little mishap–or two.  Henceforth my title.

Eldest broke his toe in a barefoot soccer match.  He should have been wearing tennies, but impromptu backyard games make us forget to nab our sneakers before fully engaging.

On the same day, DH capsized his sailboat in the middle of the lake.  When my father-in-law jumped in the speed boat to save him, I followed without thinking.  In the trial and error process of rescuing DH, I ended up bruised and battered.

Eldest and I reluctantly wore black and blue.

The red, however, was all good news.  Last year at an SCBWI conference, I heard an editor speak about a new book she had recently acquired.  She was thrilled to have it in her hands and spoke enthusiastically about this YA novel.

Turns out Sisters Red was worthy of her praise.  It’s not often I find a fairytale that really grabs me, but this book did.  And it got me thinking.  Did I love the book because of Jill Dembowski’s enthusiasm, or would I have loved it equally without her gushing about it?

I had no intention of buying this book as I scanned the shelves on Friday.  Yet the title popped into my head after lying dormant for over a year, and something stirred deep within me.  I knew I had to have it. 

I was prepared to love it and I did.  I was not prepared to rescue DH and I suffered for it by fumbling with a wet, heavy mast in gale force winds.  Eldest was ill-prepared to kick the ball around and will pay a high price for his foolishness as marching season ramps up.

Preparation goes a long way in dictating how we experience things.  It also plays a major role in how we present our writing.

A great novel deserves the undying love and respect of its author.  We should be able to paint it with passion in a few choice words.  If we can’t, we will end up with a battered a bruised hook.  One that does nothing but highlight how ill-prepared were are to represent our writing.   

How do you answer when someone asks, “What are you writing about?”  Do you have an enthusiastic and engaging hook to present?  One that will stir something deep inside and suck your potential readers in?  Or, are you a bit unprepared and fumbling?

Be Prepared

All night the song from Lion King has been going through my mind.   

It’s easy to think that we are prepared when we begin submitting our work.  Reality, however, may be much different. 

For instance, how well do you know your novel?  I mean really know it.  I’ve heard of writers attending critique sessions at conferences and when asked questions about where their manuscript is headed, they fail to have an answer.  They had been so wrapped up in other projects, they were no longer intimate with the details of their initial manuscript.

What are your MC’s motives?

How did you pick the villain?

Where does your novel take place and why?

Love your manuscript so much you can talk about it in short, concise thoughts.  Don’t risk losing your potential editor or agent or future reader by rambling about the plot. 

My Dear Daughter loves to regurgitate movies for me.  She always provides me the long version, complete with quotes and back tracking.

Your readership doesn’t love you as much as I love my daughter.  They will not have the patience for us to “remember” the details and spew them out willy nilly.

Be prepared.

Get a pitch–a one sentence summary of your novel–and be prepared to use it.

Prepare a mini-synopsis for those moments when someone asks for more, but has little time to spend while you search for the right words.

Reread your manuscript and familiarize yourself with the characters, plots and story that you are trying to sell.  Because if you can’t, nobody else will.

Be prepared.


PS.  If you don’t believe me about getting the facts straight from an earlier post, just check out the comments.  Laura was kind enough to spare me more than a day’s worth of embarrassment by reminding me which Disney movie this song was from.  Never assume and never forget to edit.