The Page a Day Writers Group

Archive for the ‘revision’ Category

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Last Saturday, March 1, one of my favorite YA writing buddies and I met at the University of San Diego (USD) for the Society of Never Give UpChildren’s Books Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Inside Children’s Books conference. After lunch, a fabulous panel of agents and editors chose the first page of my YA novel, TWO FEET, NO SHOES, among those worthy to read to the entire group of more than a hundred authors and illustrators!

Whoo-hoo! Sounds great, right?

At the end of the conference, full of anticipation, we picked up our written critiques from the agents and editors on the first fifteen pages of our novels. We read my friend’s feedback first, as I’d coached her on improving her pages and line edited them. Both agents liked her writing enough to invite her to submit her manuscript when she felt it was ready for them to read it. I was thrilled for her – and still am.

Then we read my critiques. The feedback an editor from a mid-size publishing company in Boston gave me was unclear and unhelpful, other than the fact that she didn’t connect with my story. Comments I’d received from an agent based in San Diego, although explicit and helpful were fairly scathing. The only positive thing the editor and agent could agree on was that they liked my voice – which is something.

My friend looked at me and said, “I don’t understand. Your writing is so incredible.”

I could barely respond – or breathe. I considered quitting, since I seem to be so much better at improving other authors’ work.

To be fair, In October, an agent in San Francisco told me I had drawn compelling characters, she loved my premise and voice, but she thought I spent too much time setting up for fifteen-year-old Maya’s stealth trip from Los Angeles to Jalisco, Mexico to confront her deadbeat dad. This agent requested the full manuscript after reading the first hundred pages, but I have yet to hear from her.

It appears from these latest critiques that my effort to get Maya on the road in fewer pages has been a disaster. So it’s time to be a Badass and suck it up. Kathryn Stockett’s THE HELP got sixty rejections while she revised like crazy before someone took a chance on her. On Monday, I’ll look at the feedback again and get to work recreating the beginning of TWO FEET, NO SHOES.

Hopefully, this draft will be the Momma Bear version, not too long or too short, too much detail or too little, but the one that’s just right.

legal-seduction-book-coverCongratulations to Page-a-Day Writer, Sharon C. Cooper, weaver of romance extraordinaire! Her newest book, Legal Seduction, will be released June 1 by Kimani Romance, a subsidiary of Harlequin, but you can preorder a paperback or e-book at this very moment! Get a sneak peek at the storyline on her blog, “Just Thinking…”.

A couple years ago, Sharon decided to take the self-publishing route, so she started “Just Thinking…” and began to build a following. She posted regularly, giving insights about her life experiences. Once she developed a routine, she began hosting interviews with other writers, doing blog-hops with writers in the same genre, holding contests and offering giveaways.  In the meantime, she finished her first novel, revised like crazy with feedback from other Page-A-Day writers, and got a professional content and line editor to help her fine tune the manuscript to get it ready for publication.

Something New, a sweet romance, came out in April, 2012 and became a bestseller on Amazon! Whoot! Whoot!  It’s a great story that totally deserved to sell a lot of copies and receive recognition – and this is coming from someone (me) who doesn’t generally read romance. I’m always up for authentic exchanges between three-dimensional characters, plot twists, and a satisfying ending, though.

Since then, Sharon has been busy. She’s published Blue Roses (July, 2012), Rendezvous with Danger (April, 2013), and Still the Best Woman for the Job (2013), all of which have enjoyed great reviews and sales. Is it a wonder how an editor with Kimani Romance contacted Sharon to offer her a contract with a traditional publisher?

We’re all waiting for Sharon to tell us about the differences between self and traditional publishing after Legal Seduction comes out in June, so stay tuned to get the inside scoop from one Page-A-Day author’s perspective.

Until then, we’d love to hear your thoughts on self vs. traditional publishing.

Tonight marks the seventh online chat in my class with Kathie Giorgio ( WORKSHOP). I’m behind in my review of lessons learned from weeks five and six, which I will recap here.

Hmm… was it me that said my story was leaping along like a gazelle? Sometimes, in my effort to “go deep,” I worry that my story is waddling up a steep hill like a land-locked penguin. The. Pace. Feels. Slow. My inner penguin wants to jump in, soar at superglide speed through the depths, and emerge at a new exciting destination with a polished jump, landing on two feet and smiling. But that’s not how it seems to work for me in Rewriting Land.

Animalistic metaphors aside, in order to go deep, I need to link arms with my main character Agave as she wrestles with inner demons and the world at large. I need to feel complete freedom to overwrite the parts that I underwrote before in my even rougher draft, knowing that after this fair-to-middling draft is finished, I will go through it again and delete with vigor. With a nod to Stephen King, I’ll need to kill those darling phrases that were such fun to write but don’t move the story forward or serve much purpose in getting to know my characters. Even so, these bits of fluff are important just to clear out of the system and, if nothing else, serve to strengthen the nest of writing practice.

As Jane Smiley said in a 2006 Writer’s Digest interview (I find these author interviews full of hope and wisdom so I keep back issues for moments when I need a boost), “…What [a novelist] is really interested in is … what it feels to be alive. How it feels moment-by-moment going through a certain experience.” So, I’ll continue to go deep—and slow—during this rewrite, hoping the nuggets will emerge from the rough.

First, the Pat on Back report: I seem to be strengthening my point-of-view skills, for the most part. Also, I rewrote a section to fill in gaps about Carlos, Agave’s love interest. And jiggedy-jig, my rewritten scene was met with cheers!

Critical feedback from weeks five and six centered on plot inconsistencies and missing details. My main character’s motivations have also been questioned by a couple of class participants.

Their questions lead me to admit that I’m struggling with a major plot question: whether to make my main character’s quest a person-to-person mission or expand her goal to cause a shift in society. I’m unsure whether my personal wish for societal upheaval on this issue is clouding what’s best for my story.

Ms. Giorgio asked, “What does Agave want most?” I can’t seem to shake the strongly held belief (the shibble, in author Drusilla Campbell’s lingo) that Agave will not rest until things change on a deeper level – much deeper than just a shift in her personal situation. A possible compromise might be that this book will encompass her person-to-person quest, but leave open the possibility that she has just begun setting things right on a larger scale. So far, I haven’t reached closure on this.

I’d love to hear your pacing and plot point dilemmas and how you moved forward.

Write on,

Ondine Brooks Kuraoka

The weeks are flying by; I’ve completed week four of my twelve-week online book-writing class with Kathie Giorgio. I can honestly say, thanks to this class, my story is leaping along like a gazelle. I also find I’m thinking back to the class I took with Drusilla Campbell, and appreciating how much I learned with her, as well. I feel so fortunate to have been nudged along by two such fantastic mentors!

When I took Campbell’s class, my “rough draft” was more like a mass of morphing cells than a living, breathing story. It was so nebulous and and fragile at that stage. I was still forming the story arc, and also had a very difficult time building conflict into the plot—a basic cornerstone of any viable story.

I’ve since nurtured my writing self with conflict coaching:

“Got conflict?” (coffee mug)

“Three cheers to conflict!” (office flag)

“Treat yourself to a heaping helping of conflict today!” (kitchen banner)

“Your characters are allowed to be in conflict.” (screensaver)

“Characters need to be in conflict with each other and themselves. Otherwise, no story!” (computer screen Post-It)

I remember Campbell’s edict that in each scene, one of the characters is not allowed to get the thing they want. Or, if they do get it, there must be a price. Until the resolution. Then, they might finally be allowed to have what they want. But they must have changed in the process. Or their environment must have changed.

Before taking this class with Giorgio, I wrestled with my mass of nebulous cells— my messy, primordial ooze of slopped-together scenes—until I had more of a real rough draft. So, now I have more to work with, but still lots to work on.

Which brings me to week four’s feedback ): don’t leave essential characters invisible to the reader for too long, or a) it’s very confusing; b) the story won’t flow as well; c) the story won’t be as believable.

My main character, Agave, has gone through a horrendous transformation. While she grapples with life after the precipitating, transformative event, I somehow left her love interest hanging on the invisible periphery. How could I have done this to dear Carlos? I was so wrapped up in poor Agave’s physical struggles, I neglected to include Carlos as part of her emotional struggle. I dropped the emotional thread, and the result was a disconnect that felt unbelievable. My critique circle united in a chorus of “Where’s Carlos?”

Of course, Carlos comes back into Agave’s world, but apparently not soon enough, emotionally. I’m grateful for this essential input and will reweave these scenes in my revision.

Pat on back: I reveled in the comments that I had captured satisfying detail in Agave’s transformation!

Thanks for sharing the journey. What have your revision struggles, joys, and aha! moments been?

Write on,

Ondine Brooks Kuraoka

No class tonight; Kathie Giorgio’s Online Book Writing Workshop ( WORKSHOP) meets again in one week. The class meets a total of twelve times, and each online meeting involves a discussion of the pages students have submitted in the previous week. The discussions are lively and bear fruitful critique, giving each of us a solid sense of what to work on, as well as the encouragement to forge ahead.

As an exercise, I wrote my last 15-page section in first-person, just to see how it would fly. Most of my classmates prefer my third-person pages, but my instructor and one other student like my first-person effort (there are six of us, total, plus Ms. Giorgio). Hmm… First-person gets tricky. I’ll need to think on it.

Also, my instructor’s favorite part of this recent submission was the beginning. I feel I’m eating enough humble pie here that I don’t mind sharing this jig-worthy POB (Pat on Back!) Ms. Giorgio was pleased enough to sprinkle “phenomenal” into her comments on that section! She felt there was so much that made the experience real in those paragraphs. Of course, that’s what I need to do consistently throughout.

I now divulge, that’s the part I spent the most time re-writing. The rest of the fifteen pages, I pretty much substituted “I” for “she” in my original draft, with a few other minor additions to fill in my character Agave’s internal world, and not very convincingly at that due to not giving it enough time. It was a bit slap-dash. Very basic lesson learned: more time spent in re-writing makes a difference. Better to learn this in a critique class than after submitting to an agent. Slow down, speedy. Rewriting is time well-spent. Duh. Moving on!

My novel is set in Mexico, and another lesson this week involves cultural representation. I don’t want my characters to be seen as representative of their culture; I want them to be experienced as individuals within a culture that influences them. They don’t behave “as a group.” They act the way they do based on their accumulated personal experiences, one factor of which is their cultural environment. One of my less sympathetic characters is even more unlikeable because she makes some uncompassionate statements to Agave early on. I received feedback that, if I don’t want her to be seen as a generalized representative of her culture, the reader needs more time to get to know her as an individual character, more interactions with her, before she makes these outrageous, callous statements.

Ms Giorgio says, “A novel is a process of developing layers. So you can breathe and take a little more time… A short story is like a surfer, riding a wave. A novel is like scuba-diving. Go deep.”

Putting on my oxygen tank…

Write on,

Ondine Brooks Kuraoka

Wow! Here I am, rolling into week three of Kathie Giorgio’s 12-week Book-Writing Workshop ( WORKSHOP).

The class has lit a fire under my chair to polish my weekly submission allotment of 15 pages, which we discuss and critique in an online chat each Monday night. No class tonight, due to Memorial Day.

At my last blog post, my big task after my first 15-page section was to solidify point-of-view (POV). I honed and reworked my second section. I re-read each sentence, pondering, am I walking in Agave’s shoes? (Agave is my main character.) Not just observing her walking in the shoes, but actually walking in them? Can I feel each step? Okay- not in a psychotic way. But you know what I mean! I can truly say I immersed myself in each page. The cliché “blood, sweat, and tears…” Yup! That was me. And if you had read my second section, you’d know I’m not kidding. Blood. Check! Tears. Check! Sweat. Mmmhmm!

So, I eagerly awaited the chat last Monday, perhaps even more nervous than I’d been the first Monday. I am wearing a very cheesy grin now when I tell you, according to Ms. Giorgio, I nailed POV! She didn’t have to take out her POV paddle once! Woo hoo!

But, do you hear that pop? That’s the sound of a momentarily inflated ego popping. I somehow neglected to illuminate the reader with a couple of entire scenes, crucial to the plot. Other scenes need to be filled in with more detail. Still other scenes were confusing in spots.

My ego, though, has matured. After it pops, I patch it and it re-inflates, determined, even if a bit nervous. I’ve also become skilled in chucking my harsh superego out the window during the writing process itself. This allows me to be wobbly, awkward, and very rough in my first drafts. Such freedom! I have faith in the revision process, a faith strengthened by the experience of this class.

I submitted my third section today. This time I rewrote my pages in first-person, as an exercise in POV. I’m not sure I would want to write the entire novel this way, but I would consider it. I look forward to class next Monday.

Write on,

Ondine Brooks Kuraoka

Who are we?

The Page a Day Writers Group is a diverse collection of wonderful writers based in San Diego, CA. We've been meeting monthly since 2004. Our primary function is in-depth writing critique, marketing and brainstorming, but there's usually some wine, chocolate and ribaldry involved too. We write fantasy, humor, literary fiction, nonfiction, romance, thrillers and YA. Join us on our journeys to publication and the wonderland beyond!