February 2011

Hopefully we’ll be back to regularly-scheduled blogging next week, but for now, two Books of Awesome for you:

A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

You know about Hansel and Gretel, right? Oh no, not that story, the real one. If you’re a small child, this book is not for you. You’ve been warned.

I can’t say enough about this book! One additional warning: don’t try to read this on an airplane. With all the laughing, gasping, and laughing again, I’m pretty sure the elderly couple next to me was glad the flight was only from Des Moines to O’Hare.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

This was a Printz Honor book, so obviously other people recognize the awesome. My book club just discussed it this week and let me tell you, it’s a book you’re going to want to talk about. If you’re looking for tough subject matter, unusual structure, or outstanding voice, this book’s for you.

What Books of Awesome have you read lately?


Happy Wednesday, all. Some great links this week:

Shannon O’Donnell has a timely reminder about adding weather to your manuscript.

Laura Pauling has been bringing the awesome (even more than usual) lately. It’s like she’s inside my head, posting exactly what I need to help with this revision. And the hits keep on coming with this post on symbolism/subtext (plus, I always wanted a Nerf gun).

Share the love of Valentine’s week with these middle grade books from The Mixed Up Files blog.

This week’s Link of Awesome: Writer humor from Leila at Bookshelves of Doom.

What’s your Link of Awesome for this week?

For my latest revision, I’m working out some plotting and pacing issues. And, since I own bright neon mini PostIts, it was time to go to the magic board:


Main and subplots are listed across the top, chapters down the side, and each PostIt shows the event moving the plots forward. Things I’ve learned so far:

  • Some chapters need to be shorter. I think this is a result of writing middle grade but reading mostly young adult. Make sure you read in your genre!
  • Some chapters need to accomplish more and build on what came before. If I can move the PostIts and it doesn’t change anything about the next few chapters, the one in question needs to be changed or cut.
  • If a subplot doesn’t show up for a few chapters, it either needs to be further developed or cut altogether.
  • Sometimes, the focus just needs to be on the main plot. I love subplots almost as much as cake, but I’ve noticed the “big moment” or “revelation” chapters only have one PostIt, and I’m okay with that. Those chapters need to pack a punch, not be watered down with other issues.

Anyone have plot or pacing advice?

I got the coolest gift from my brother-in-law and future sister-in-law, who are always on the lookout for writer things. May I introduce: haikubes!

You roll the dice, get the theme, and make a haiku. My first attempt:

Deep, huh? I was feeling pretty good about that one. Then came the second one:

I really wanted to use another line, so I’m adding a nine-syllable fourth row to the haiku structure. Introducing, the SMG-ku:

And a final haiku for the fellow writers out there:

Any inspiring haikus you’d like to share?

A solemn start to the links this week:

R.I.P. Brian Jacques. I’m facing a bookcase with a whole shelf of Redwall books, one of the only series my husband and I both read during childhood. Thank you for tales of heroism, courage, and descriptions of all that food.

Now to the rest:

Constantly using the same phrases? Check out Phrase Counter to check your manuscript for repetition (via Galleycat).

The runner up for this week’s Link of Awesome: The Marilyn cupcake from Bent Objects. Both entertaining and tasty! (it was #1 until I saw the video below)

Fighting off the Marilyn cupcake for Link of Awesome honors, James Franco’s interview with two middle school reporters (via NPR’s Monkey See). Seriously, this guy is why I’m recording the Oscars this year.

Before jumping into my next big revision, I revisited some favorite middle grade books, trying to “read as a writer.” My WIP needs the most help with pacing and setting, so I took notes after each chapter to map character and plot developments, especially in the first few chapters.

First up: The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. by Kate Messner. I love the main character and the dynamics with her family, and it’s a great study on how to interweave subplots.

Lessons from first chapter:

  • Introduce a ticking clock to give the story a sense of immediacy. In this case, there are two: a project due date and a sectional track meet. The main character’s participation in one is dependent on the other, generating immediate conflict.
  • A few great ways to develop character:
    • Give sense of history with friends, like a long-standing game or ritual
    • Quoting parents or grandparents clues reader into their character even when not in the scene
  • By the end of the first chapter, it’s been established that the main character needs a passing grade on a project to participate in the cross country meet. If she doesn’t pass the project, her nemesis runs in her place. And the author’s demonstrated the main character has organization issues. Conflict? I would say so! 

Other lessons:

  • This book is a great example of a symbol enhancing the story. Trees are most obviously the focus of the project, but are also used to indicate character traits and reflect changing relationships.
  • The family members act like a family, in a very believable way, but the situations are also made more interesting because of elements like the father running a funeral home. The characters are both relatable and different.
  • There is a definite Vermont flavor to the book. I’ve read industry blogs saying more details actually make a place more relatable rather than leaving things ambiguous, and I think this book is a great example of that. It’s the sense of place that is important, because if the character identifies with their surroundings, readers will too.
  • The foreshadowing is so subtle. Character traits that start out as annoying get tied into the resolution at the end, a school project leads to a project for the family, and all of the subplots come together.
  • Escalating the tension and raising the stakes can be done without threatening the end of the world. With the ticking clock of the two deadlines, obstacle after obstacle gets in the way of the main character’s project, eventually coming to a head with the family’s subplot. The reader is so invested in the characters, each setback feels worse than the last, and the tension mounts.

If you’re looking for a touching and entertaining middle grade read, check out Kate Messner’s The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z!

Baby it’s cold outside! So huddle under a blanket with the soothing warmth of your chosen electronic device and enjoy some links:

A gem from the Twitterverse: Seven Language Errors Spell Check Will Miss.

Ten Anti-Insanity Tips for Writers from Sarah Ockler (wait, we’re ANTI insanity now?). Great tips from the published trenches.

The always-helpful Agent Rachelle breaks down the author-agency contract.

This week’s Link of Awesome, to get you ready for this weekend’s Big Game: 10 Super Bowl Side Bets from mental_floss. Packers all the way, baby!

Any other publishing gems you’ve discovered since last Wednesday? Or, more importantly right now, thoughts on the Super Bowl?