The Red Ink, Blues?

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DO BETTER. Those were the two words scrawled on the very first draft of my young adult novel, many years ago. I was new to the craft and had yet to experience the sometimes brutal, always remarkable insight of the critique world. Let’s just say I learned the hard way, military style, with zillions of Track Change bubbles and plenty of red ink screaming at me from every direction. One particular scribble challenged me to simply DO BETTER. Imagine my horror.

But my beloved editor friend was right, and when I read my manuscript again, I did so with an open mind and an eagerness to learn. Now, I am the one with the red ink writing DO BETTER on my own manuscripts.

In other news, I left the SCBWI-Austin conference feeling more hopeful than ever about my young adult manuscript. The agent who critiqued my first ten pages/synopsis LOVED it, and invited me to send the final draft when done.

My pleasure. 🙂

I credit my friend’s two wonderful words. Now, I am paying the challenge forward to you, my new writing friends. Never fear the red ink. Instead, force yourself to always DO BETTER.

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The Write Path

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A tough part about being a writer is knowing if your manuscript is on its right path. In other words, is your work strong enough to outshine the millions of other manuscripts vying to compete in the big publishing arena?

This weekend, I attended a fabulous SCBWI conference in San Antonio and had the pleasure of hearing what Folio Literary Agent, Molly Jaffa, had to say about initially impressing an agent. In a nutshell, it boils down to the first ten pages. Sometimes, even the first sentence.

Later in the afternoon, I was expected to meet with Molly for a 15-minute critique session on–you guessed it–my first ten pages!! As you can imagine, I was a little stoked (and nervous!). So, I did a checklist of the following bits Molly said she enjoys and does not enjoy when reading our first ten pages:

GENERAL:

1. Establish the stakes. What does the protagonist stand to lose or gain?

2. NO PROLOGUES!!!

3. Create narrative tension in the novel’s beginning to where the reader cannot put novel down.

VOICE:

1. Make sure voice is not too generic. Specificity in voice makes reader relate more than a bland voice.

2. Extra level of detail makes a BIG impact!

3. Avoid too much slang, jargon, and throwback and classic voices.

DIALOGUE:

1. Do not have characters constantly address each other by name.

2. Tags should almost always be “said.”

3. Avoid meaningless conversations.

4. Do not recap what another character already knows.

5. Do not info dump.

6. Avoid starting story with a dream sequence. You can do better!

7. Avoid having too many characters, especially in YA.

In the end, the critique session with Molly was better than I could have hoped for. Of course, the rest of the novel must also impress. So perhaps I should stop blogging and start writing? After all, my YA novel is not going to complete itself. 🙂

Happy Writing!