Thursday, June 19, 2008

Theme vs. Premise vs. Plot

I think agent Nathan Bransford can read my mind. Or maybe he was sitting at the next table at Germano's in Baltimore this weekend, when I was whining to my sister and nieces that I'm stuck in my YA work in progress because "I have a theme, and I have a premise, but I don't really have a plot."

In this incredible post, Nathan breaks down those three elements and gives spot-on insight into how to create and define the ever-important plot. A must-read for writers ... please follow that link!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Troubleshooting Tips ... and Some Cool Stuff

I'm a little slow in posting this, a revelation I'm sure my readers find shocking given my clockwork-like posting habits. Anywho...

A couple of weeks ago, the Northern Virginia Writers hosted Kathryn Johnson, a prolific author and writing coach, who spoke on "Polishing for Publication: 12 Troubleshooting Tips Anyone Can Use to Create a Marketable Manuscript."

I'm not inclined to reveal all 12 of Kathryn's tips here since that training is her bread and butter, but I'll share two.

  1. Make your opening sentence count. Opening sentences should create curiosity in the reader and raise some questions. The example Kathryn shared was Tracy Chevalier's "Girl with a Pearl Earring," which begins, My mother did not tell me they were coming. Who are "they"? Why did the narrator feel she should be told? What will happen when they come? Great stuff.
  2. Use lots of dialogue. According to Kathryn, dialogue ... and plenty of it ... is all the rage for editors these days. Get your characters talking!

Now, onto the cool stuff alluded to in the second part of my headline...

Check out this amazing video, which I discovered in the comment section of my favorite Crossword Puzzle blog, The JimH Crossword Blog. (If you are a NYT puzzle fan, this site is a "can't miss.") (The video is non-crossword related, BTW.)

And, check out the highly amusing GraphJam, which came to my attention courtesy of Eric Berlin, an expert puzzler and a kid lit writer. Warning: GraphJam has the potential to be a major time suck. (It also is non-crossword related.)

Friday, June 6, 2008

I Have a Friend

On May 23, I joined FaceBook, meaning I created a page for "Linda Acorn" with my name and a great big question mark on it. Tonight, a mere two weeks later, I received my first invitation to become someone's friend.

I have to tell you, I felt a little like I did in the second grade, when Leslie Brooks and Dolores Borelli invited me to be their friend. I remember that day like it was yesterday. Back in the day, being asked to be someone's friend was a big deal.

Nowadays, everyone friends everyone ... heck, "friending" has become a verb. I friend; you friend; he, she or it friends. I fully expect the verb form to be added to Webster's before long. (Gotta love our living language. But I digress.)

Having a friend on FaceBook has forced me to upgrade my anemic profile. Now that someone has access to it, I want to put on a good face. I posted some interests, some background info, some details that I hope will confirm to my new friend that I am indeed friendship-worthy. (The great big question mark is still there, though. ... I have the darnedest time finding a photo of myself that I like.)

I haven't yet figured out how to find friends myself on FaceBook, but I suppose that's the next step. Time to expand my circle before Friend #1 starts to wonder whether I'm a total loser.

Wonder if Leslie and Dolores are on?

Friend #1 has written on my wall! Squee!

Update 2: I am no longer a question mark! I have truly put a "good face" (well, I hope it's good) on my page. Also, I have five friends now! And I've even lost at Scrabulous to one of them! (I know, word games should be my forte. Sigh)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Lesson Learned from 'Making the Band'

Though my recent Brush with Fame in Baltimore happened during a non-writing-related conference, it did teach me a few important lessons.

For one thing, I learned that putting a photo of Danity Kane on your blog can make for a pretty good traffic draw. Even more so than photos related to children's literature. Shocking, but true.

I also learned a couple of things about reality TV production that might translate well to fiction writing.

During the brief time I spent watching the Making the Band cast and crew, the two camera crews filmed everything. The cameras were constantly rolling. They filmed the entire cast disembarking from the bus, the unloading of the suitcases from the bus, the wheeling of the suitcases into the hotel, etc. I am guessing when the episode about the band's tour finally airs, all but about five seconds max of that scene will end up on the cutting room floor. Maybe a shot of the hotel entrance and a short clip of my new buddy Brian (finally figured out the corn row dude's name!) stepping off the bus. Let's face it, the band's arrival at yet another hotel on yet another tour stop is not going to make for exciting TV.

In fiction, we need to know everything that happens to our characters and everything about our story's setting, i.e., we need to "film it" all in our minds, but we don't need to put it all down on the page. We need to provide just enough information on the setting to give our readers a sense of place, and we need to describe just enough of their activity to provide context for the story.

Bad: Brian stepped off the tour bus onto the sidewalk. The sign in front of the hotel read 'Hilton Garden Inn - Inner Harbor.' Brian and the rest of the band walked to the front of the hotel, through the turn-style door, and into the lobby. Meanwhile, a bellman got the bags out from under the bus. Brian watched as the man filled several carts with their bags. It took about five minutes because there were a lot of them. Most were pink, Danity Kane's. Once he had unloaded all the suitcases, the bellman rolled the first cart to the door. Another bellman got the door for him...."

Better: "Brian squinted as he stepped off the tour bus. Which city was this again? The sign in front of the hotel said 'Hilton Garden Inn - Inner Harbor.' Must be Baltimore. So this must be Thursday. The days and the venues all blurred together. Brian watched as the hotel bellmen unloaded the bands' bags from under the bus. Pink suitcase after pink suitcase. Dagg, those Danity Kane girls could pack."

The pink suitcases (and there were a LOT of them!) bring me to another lesson. As the hotel's poor bellman struggled to wheel his loaded cart through the front door, a duffel bag tumbled off the pile and onto the ground. It was one of Shannon Bex's (yes, I learned her name too ... she's the blonde!). One of the crew pointed this out to Shannon, who simply shrugged. This was not caught on camera. Now, had Shannon thrown a fit and yelled at the bellman, I'm guessing it would have taken a cameraman all of about two seconds to run over and start filming.

In fiction, we need to relay only those scenes where things happen, scenes with conflict. No conflict equals no story. (The great thing about fiction is, we can create the conflict. If this had been a novel about a fictional girl band, the Shannon character surely would have had a hissy fit to end all hissy fits!)