Wordy Wednesday (“Writer’s Digest Conference 2013, Notes Part 3”)

Sorry this post is coming so late to you today! I was distracted by freedom and a package of Twizzlers. And Batman. (It’s finals week. Class let out yesterday and I don’t have anything again until Friday morning. It’s sort of a problem.)

First up today: I want to dye my hair this summer–it’s something that I’ve wanted to do for years but never actually had the guts too–so now I’m taking a poll to see what color I should go for.

I’m planning on using a dye from this line of temporary dyes (so it’ll last for like a month): http://www.clairol.com/en-US/box-convertor-page.aspx?collectionid=72

I’m deciding between:

Blond: 6 linen (medium cool blond)

Brown: 26 hot cocoa (medium bronze brown)

Auburn: 16 spiced tea (light auburn)

Second up: One last reminder from me to fill out the character form for This Is a Book to help Mel and me create some new, wacky characters to use in our genre-bending novelish masterpiece!

Third up: this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a continuation of my notes from the Writer’s Digest Conference East a few weeks ago. If you haven’t read my notes from the past two weeks, you can check them out by following the following links:

Part 1: Going from Aspiring Writer to Published Author

Part 2: Publishing Short Stories

This week’s topic is Perfecting Your Craft.


The First Draft is the Easy Part – Revision Demystified [4-6-13]

Speaker: Stuart Horwitz

          Three most important words: scene, series, and theme.

          Like NaNoWriMo, the first draft is quantity over quality

          How to Generate Material:

o   Count your words—you can’t simultaneously create and know the worth of what you’re creating—so count your words, rather than the quality of them

o   Find a neutral audience, like a writing group, beta reader, independent editor, etc.

o   Don’t try to organize everything.

o   Don’t count your hours, because you can get distracted during them (hello, Facebook). Count your words. But make sure you have enough hours scheduled to get that number of words.

          “You count the words, you make the time.”

          Listen for the sound of your own voice.

          Have fun—“the most important way to generate material”



o   Find all your scenes, put them in the right order

o   Define (1) where something happens, (2) where, because something happens, something else changes; (3) make sure it’s capable of series, (4) is in service of the overall scene, (5) is necessary to the novel.

o   Brainstorm all of your scenes by giving them each a name—the only catch is that you can’t look at the book. Go through the list of scenes, highlight the good ones in green (good enough)—highlight bad scenes in fuchsia. “A bad scene is sort of like a bad relationship; you have to fix it before you can move on.” Highlight in blue the scenes that you forget—examine why they weren’t important enough for you to remember. Highlight in brown the scenes you still need to write.

o   You should always be writing.

o   Print out a list of your scenes, cut them up, try to put them in order—this helps you get new ideas and understand your story better, etc. Examine how the scenes react and interact to create emotional pay off. This is called “series.”

          SERIES: The repetition and variation of elements that work so that their repetition and variation make the book better.

o   A scene MUST be capable of series.

o   Every time a series occurs, it’s an iteration of the series.

o   A character, relationship, saying, etc can be a series.

o   “Series is how a person becomes a character, an object becomes a symbol, and a theme becomes the philosophy of the book.

o   Series can be abstract or specific.

o   The series reveal your narrative arc. “SERIES is the new PLOT.”

o   Iterations of series create tension—variations of series release this tension.

o   Series—interact, inform each other in complex ways.

o   Write out all the series—cut them down until you just have the most important one, in one sentence—that one sentence is your book’s theme.


o   Put your theme in the center of a target. Take our subthemes (your other series) and place them around it on the target, the distance depending on how connected they are. Ultimately, you’re going to want to place everything on the target, from characters to series to scenes.


          Kill your darlings.

          The tyranny of the first draft—you think anything you’ve already created is better than what you will create in the future. This isn’t true.

          Short narrative parts are “links.” Connective tissues between the actual scenes. An example of a link is the “voiceover link,” in which your narrator talks directly to the reader.

o   Old-school did “scene and summary”—that was classic literature. It’s different now.

          You should have at least 60 to 70 pages written before using this method of revising.

          “Spend time thinking about what you’ve done before trying again and again to do it.”


Twenty-One Revision Techniques [4-6-13]

Speaker: Cheryl Klein

          Revision = Re-visioning

          VISION: go back to the big picture of the story and figure out EXACTLY what it is, what you want it to be.

1.      Know how you work best

2.      Take time off from the project and work on something else in the meantime

3.      Before you look at the MS again, write a letter to a sympathetic friend saying:

a.       What is the book about? What is sacred about it? What’s at the core? What would you refuse to change no matter what?

b.      What do you want to do with the book—to be funny, dramatic, etc?

c.       What is the book about from a thematic/philosophical sense?

d.      All the things you love about it.

e.       What you suspect/know needs work.

4.      Write the spine of the story in one sentence.

5.      Write the flat copy—a 250 word summary that gives away the ending.

6.      Creative stuff—look at word frequency using www.wordle.net

a.       Make a collage or playlist

b.      Choose touchstones (words, pics, or mascots) that represent a character or feeling or idea


7.      Change the font, then print out and read the entire MS on. the. page. Take notes as you go.

8.      List the first ten things each significant character says or does; include internal thoughts for your POV character.

a.       “The man reason for rewriting [is] … to discover the inner truth of your characters.”

b.      What is the character’s joy? Pain? What do they want? What will they do to get it?

9.      Is your inciting incident actual action? How close can you get it to page one?

a.       Where are the turning points in the story?

b.      Work backward from the climax: do at least three plot developments support it?

10.  Chart plotting/book mapping: Map out your book.

a.       Plot-oriented mapping: make a spreadsheet with: chapter number, title, POV character, setting, word count. – At the bottom, justify the existence of each plot relative to the other plots and themes.

11.  Chart plotting/book mapping: Map out your book.

a.       Character-oriented mapping (for each significant character): Desire (conscious, unconscious), strengths, obstacles to reach desire, three actions they take to achieve desire, and overall contribution to plot or protagonist this character makes.

12.  Book map (outline) the action of the book scene-by-scene.

a.       For every scene, ask: What do the characters in the scene each want? What is the conflict in this scene?

b.      For every scene, ask: What is the new info we learn in this scene?

c.       Each scene should have:

                                                              i.      Initial action

                                                            ii.      But (or) therefore (or) meanwhile

                                                          iii.      And then

13.  Mini-map

a.       Provide a 1-to-2 sentence summary of the action in each chapter. Do you have a lot of talking/thinking/action scenes in a row?

14.  Compare the vision you articulated in #3-5 with the results of #7-13 and compile a “To Do” list of things you want to accomplish in a revision.

a.       Don’t be afraid to think BIG, but take time to listen small.


15.  Set a deadline for completing each state of revision and a reward for each one.

16.  Work large to small

a.       Wording’s the last thing; major plot/character changes are first.

17.  Once you’re reasonably satisfied you have the big stuff done, highlight the following in different colors to find your balance, what each scene is conveying to the reader, etc:

a.       Action

b.      Description

c.       Internal narration

d.      Dialogue

Highlight each character’s dialogue in a different color—read through for:

a.       Consistency

b.      Voice

Cut adverbs, other than said, feel, etc—“I felt sad” should be replaced with “I was sad” (stronger language)—Remove passive voice. Use active voice. What’s dangerous is not one particular practice, but an excess of that practice. “Unhelpful babies”—kill your babies when they’re getting in the way of the larger plot you need to achieve. Watch your emotional tone.

18.  Check your first line for resonance—needs to promise drama.

a.       Last line—fermatas—last line of every chapter or scene should be a note you want to sustain in the reader’s mind.

19.  Read the book aloud, or—better yet—have someone read it aloud to you.

20.  Keep a copy of EVERYTHING. Never permanently delete anything.

21.  Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. KEEP CALM AND REVISE ON.


The First Ten Pages [4-7-13]

Speaker: Paula Munier

          You have 140 characters to capture your reader’s attention. You have 140 characters or 25 words to get an agent or editor’s attention. That’s a single line, paragraph, page, or scene.

          “The first page sells the book. The last page sells the next book.” – Old saying in publishing

          Take your favorite ten books off the shelf, read just the first page, and see if you can do the same thing they did.

          First and last page should reflect one another.

          The two most important pages are the first and last.

          The first two weeks as an agent, Paula got 1,000 queries—and they keep on coming. That’s a lot of queries to try to stand out from. But good material will stand out.

          1 in 200 queries is worth asking for material from

          Most writers can’t write a good synopsis—most agents will not hold that against you

          If an agent requests something and the synopsis—they will read the “something” before the “synopsis” generally.

          Reasons Agents Stop Reading:

o   Nothing happens

o   I’ve seen it before

o   There’s no strong voice telling the story

o   I’m bored

o   I’m not connecting with any of the characters

o   I can’t tell what kind of story I’m reading

o   Don’t care what happens next

o   The plot is unbelievable and/or full of clichés

o   The dialogue doesn’t sound like “real people”

o   There are typos, spelling, and/or grammatical errors

          Agents, editors, readers—they’re a sucker for voice—a strong voice can save you

          Make sure your title fits your genre

          You want the reader to be asking questions

          Don’t go for the cheap joke if it’s not authentic

          Invest in your project—get a line editor

          Top Ten Reasons Agents Keep Reading:

o   Something happens (aka: inciting incident)

o   Strong voice

o   Level of craft is high

o   Characters make you FEEL something

o   Writer has gained the agent’s confidence

o   Don’t know what happens next

o   Something unique about story/storyteller

o   It’s clear what kind of story is being told

o   There’s a market for this type of story

o   The prose is clean, clear, and concise—the 3 Cs of Prose

          Never open a book with weather. But if you have to start with weather, make it;

o   Bad weather

o   Propel your plot

o   Affect your hero in a bad way

o   Set the tone

o   Speak to theme

          Avoid prologues

o   If you need a prologue, don’t call it a prologue—use a time reference instead (“Five years earlier,” etc)

o   Try to use a device like a newspaper clipping, diary entry, etc instead

o   Apply a different format to set it apart from the rest of the book (italics, breaks, etc)

          Do not start with a dream

o   So many stories have done this, pulling it off in an original way *now* is tough

          Don’t start with a character alone, thinking.

o   If you do this, he’d better be doing something compelling at the same time, like:

§  Committing a crime

§  Finding a corpse

§  Planting a bomb

§  Etc.

          Don’t start with a phone call (especially in the middle of the night)—also, tweets, voicemails, etc.

          DO Start with:

o   Voice

o   Setting

o   Action

o   Character

o   Conflict

o   Scene

o   Theme

o   Tone

          You have to:

o   Move the plot forward

o   Establish genre

o   Highlight voice

o   Describe setting

o   Reveal character

o   Set the tone

o   Speak to theme

          Most of all START WITH A SCENE.

          You HAVE to have a killer first line.

          Scene 1 Checklist:

o   What actually happens?

o   Why will the reader care about/relate to the characters?

o   How do you want the reader to feel? What have you done to evoke that emotion?

o   Have you used all the elements of fiction at your disposal—setting, plot, character, theme, etc?

o   Have you chosen the right POV/voice?

o   Does the dialogue ring true?

o   Are the story questions strong enough to keep the reader reading?

o   Is it clear what kind of story you’re telling?

o   What makes this story different from the others of its ilk?

o   Is the scene well-written and well-edited?

          If you can’t think of what makes your story special, you’ve got a problem—you want your story to be “just like [insert successful novel name here], but different because [insert kickbutt reason here].”




10 thoughts on “Wordy Wednesday (“Writer’s Digest Conference 2013, Notes Part 3”)

  1. Pingback: Wordy Wednesday (“Writer’s Digest Conference 2013, Notes Part 4″) | Julia the Writer Girl

  2. We went to the same classes! I really enjoyed the revisions techniques class – very useful information. Stuart Horwitz was a little harder to follow with his presentation.

    PS: I want to dye my hair (red), but I as well don’t have the guts to do it. Maybe I will settle for some good highlights, but what’s the fun in that?


    • I liked the fact that there were so many opportunities to learn about revision this year–I definitely needed them!

      Highlights can still be fun, I’m sure. 🙂 I’m trying to force myself to actually follow through with dyeing by making myself publicly accountable. I’m kind of terrified at the moment, but I have no choice but to do it now. Whoooo!


  3. NAME OF CHARACTER: Halycon (I know it looks like it should be Halcyon but it’s not)

    TYPE OF CREATURE/PERSON: She is a time-traveler who always wears a sunflower in her hair and loves outer space. She has dark blue almost black nail polish all the time and glitter all over because she is super duper awesome. She is really nice but she has a dark side so look out!

    SPECIAL ABILITY: She can create fire slash hold fire because that sounds cool.

    PLACE OF ORIGIN: Corpse Pond, MI



  4. “The first page sells the book. The last page sells the next book.” — SAD DAYS. I mean, the last page I’m good with, the first is an issue. Also, BOOEY ON YOU GUYS FOR HATING ON PROLOGUES. I love them. I love them a lot.


    Interesting post, my friend. =)


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