Great Advice For Reading To and Writing For Middle Grade!

My fellow Scribe and good friend, Kathy Palm, just finished writing a book for Middle Grade and is sending it out to agents now.  I wish her great luck.  I got a chance to critique it, and there was nothing much to critique.  The book was WONDERFUL.

She shares her view on Middle Grade books here.  And it’s great advice!  If you read to your kids while they were growing up, this will give you the warm and fuzzies, like it did me.

https://www.katejfoster.com/talking-middle-grade/its-about-possibilities

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It’s not all about the writing

If you’ve read my blog much, you know that I’m a sucker for writers who can mesmerize me  with their use of language.  I’ve said it before, but Theodore Sturgeon’s The Silken-Swift (a short story in his anthology E Pluribus Unicorn) still stuns me with its lyrical beauty.  I reread it off and on just to remember how beautiful words can be–  (available here: http://www.baen.com/Chapters/9781625791177/9781625791177___2.htm).  Alice Hoffman and Sarah Addison Allen feel poetic to me when I read them because of their what-feels-simple-but-isn’t, visual, almost magical quality.  Elizabeth George’s mysteries…well, what can I say?  I idolize her writing.  It makes me work, it has so much depth, so many layers.  She’s NEVER a fast read for me.  I savor her.

All that said, to my shame, I’ve discovered that I can be had with almost any magic and abandon, even if the writing’s just passable.  Sometimes, I just want something FUN.  If word repetition and misplaced commas are only occasional, I go with the characters and the story.  I’m reading The Crystal by Sandra Cox right now and absolutely enjoying it.  Yes, once in a while, commas are in the wrong place.  Do I care?  For about half a second.  I’m too busy trying to keep up with all of the characters’ shenanigans.  And there’s MAGIC.  Kathy Palm would be proud of me.  Her book series, which someday I’ll gladly announce and promote because she belongs to my writers’ club and she’s read us chapters that are AWESOME, is a fantasy series.  She loves magic, but I might love it just as much.  My magic taste runs to fun and games, though, like When Demons Walk by Patricia Briggs and Firelight by Kristen Callihan.  And Sandra Cox delivers plenty of fun.  There’s a crystal ball–that was bespelled–by a fairy.  Gabby Bell buys it before Christopher Saint can steal it, and the mayhem begins.  (I found this book on Mae Clair’s blog:  https://maeclair.net/blog/).   I’d read three romances in a row–all good–but I was ready for something fun and frivolous.  And so far, this book is really delivering.  The writing is solid–(no, it’s not up to Elizabeth George, but neither am I).  The star of the book is the STORY.

Every once in a while, I get so absorbed in word choice, plot, and pacing that I forget to just have fun with my characters.  Yes, every book needs a BIG question that drives the story. It needs tension and pacing.  But some books, every once in a while, have a SPARK.  And that spark can make me stay up past midnight and risk turning into a pumpkin to see what happens next.  It’s just plain FUN.  And inbetween serious books, romances with angst, and characters buried under problems, a little fun is sometimes welcome.  Can’t wait to finish this book!

The Crystal, by Sandra Cox:  https://www.amazon.com/Sandra-Cox/e/B002BM3AKC/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1483562143&sr=1-2-ent

By the way, I put up chapter 3 of VERDANTA on my webpage if you like nymphs, sprites, and mortals.  http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

Author Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JudiLynnwrites/

Twitter:  @judypost

Rewrites as you go: wrong? Not for me!

I just finished rewrites on the first fourth of my WIP. I’ve heard all of the advice: “Don’t edit as you go.” “Let the words and ideas flow.” “Write while you’re drunk; edit while you’re sober.” Those don’t work for me. They don’t work for Les Edgerton either, and here’s why: http://danaking.blogspot.com/2013/12/twenty-questions-with-les-edgerton.html Les’s writing blog, in general, is worth checking out. It’s chockfull of good advice: http://lesedgertononwriting.blogspot.com/

Now, I have a few writer friends who HAVE to take this advice, because they border on the perfectionist side. They could spend YEARS rewriting the beginnings of their books. I’m talking about you, Kathy Palm, among others. (Kathy has a great writers’ blog, too, that I highly recommend: https://findingfaeries.wordpress.com/. And yes, she does believe in magic, but she’s also a fan of horror. One of her short stories is in the upcoming anthology Halloween Night: Trick or Treat–https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25673465-halloween-night). If you’re like Kathy, you have to MAKE yourself let go of your writing, or you could spend a lifetime perfecting one book. (Okay, maybe a slight exaggeration, but you get the idea).

I’m not a perfectionist. I have no such patience. AND, I strongly believe in rewrites when your story feels “off.” I’ve mentioned that I start each writing day reworking the pages I wrote the day before. One, that gets me back into the story. Two, after sleeping on my words, they don’t look as brilliant. I can add, tweak, clarify. I’m not sure I’d take the time to look at those pages so closely when I work through the entire manuscript. (I did say I’m not patient. Now maybe you’ll believe me).

The thing is, when your story’s “off,” you know it. You know something’s not working. Your gut sends a memo to your brain, and even if you try to ignore it, you can’t. You’d think that me–a plotter–could avoid this problem. Yes, I know my characters. Yes, I know nearly every single plot point. Does that guarantee I’ll get it right? Hell, no. It just means the basics will work–period. I plugged through 78 pages on my new novel, and I knew everything was in place, but did it work? Not for me. Something was missing.

Guess what? It’s hard to plot for emotional impact, for depth, for internal turmoil. Those come from your characters, not your brilliant planning. And those are the REAL things that drive a story. Plotting just keeps you on track. Your characters have to bring every single one of those plot points to life–and that means, your characters have to live and breathe and worry and cuss and drink a beer and eat a slice of torte when they want to lose weight, then be angry at themselves for succumbing to empty calories. Plotting won’t bring your characters to life. Only you, the writer, can make them real. But plotting can make them move from point A to point Z with few or no pages you have to pitch. It makes sure they start their journey from New York and end up in Indiana, where they belong. (Indiana’s my home state, and it gets bashed enough, so I’m defending it).

When I read through my first 78 pages, I realized I was hitting every plot point, but I hadn’t included enough of the characters’ motivations, hang-ups, and feelings. I knew how Paula (the protagonist) would react to what was going on around her. But she wasn’t hitting the right emotional notes. And that’s important. Emotional notes are what bring the character to life, what steers them through the story. I’ll follow a character I love through a mediocre novel, but I won’t follow a character I don’t care about through a brilliant novel. Something to consider. I can go back in my next set of rewrites to fill in more depth, more details IF I get the motivations right the first time around, but if they’re off? I’m in trouble, and my gut knows it. If I force it and keep writing ahead, I’d be going in the wrong direction. My scenes would focus on the wrong things. Now that I’ve identified the problem, I can forge ahead, knowing I’m on the right path.

Here’s one more good writers’ link for you to consider: https://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/. Readers view the world you’ve created through your characters’ eyes, mostly your protagonist’s. We often react the way the protagonist reacts. If the protagonist isn’t worried, happy..something, neither are we. We read to FEEL, to live through someone else for a brief period of time. Make your characters stir us.

P.S. I put a snippet from Voodoo and Panthers on my webpage, if you’re interested:
http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

My author facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JudithPostsurbanfantasy

Follow me on twitter: @judypost