Tag Archives: writing

Guest Post Regarding Writing: Editor Kendra Levin & The Hero is You

headshot2013Kendra Levin is my guest today on The Blabbermouth Blog. She is a senior editor at Viking Books at Penguin Random House, a certified life coach, an author, and a teacher. Kendra helps writers and other creative artists meet their goals and connect more deeply with their work and themselves. Kendra’s new book, The Hero Is You, goes on sale November 1st. 

5 Tips for Being Your Own Life Coach for Writers

 I’ve worked in the publishing industry since 2002 and in that time, I’ve had the pleasure and honor of working with dozens of authors and writers from seasoned bestsellers and award-winners to first-timers. But when I added “certified life coach” to the “special skills” section of my resume ten years ago, I had no idea I’d end up using coaching so much in my work as an editor at Penguin. I’ve discovered that just about every person who picks up the pen—whether professional or aspiring—could probably benefit from a little life coaching.

Here are five ways to be your own life coach.

LISTEN TO YOURSELF.

The most fundamental act a life coach performs is being a good listener. When I listen to a client, I’m not just listening for what the person is saying on the surface level; I’m listening for the deeper agenda, what’s under the surface of the words. Listen to yourself. What are the deeper themes you might not realize you’re trying to explore in your work? What is your piece trying to be?

DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK YOURSELF TOUGH QUESTIONS.

As a coach, it’s my job to ask clients questions that will help them investigate themselves, not necessarily make them feel happy and comfortable in the moment. So rather than asking yourself a judging question (like “What the hell am I doing with this chapter?”) try to come from a place of natural curiosity (“Wow, I wonder what’s going to happen in this chapter! How will I resolve these plot dilemmas? I’m so curious to find out what the solution will be!”).

GIVE YOURSELF SPACE.

Hold silence for yourself as a writer: when there is a question you don’t have an immediate answer to in your writing, don’t push yourself to immediately resolve it. Instead of rushing to tie up every loose end right away, hold the silence and see what bubbles up gradually.

BE WILLING TO THROW YOURSELF A CURVEBALL.

If you find yourself feeling stuck, be willing to consider a massive change to your work or a hyper-ambitious challenge to your process. Even if you decide against it, you may renegotiate—“I won’t try to finish the manuscript this month, but I will set a more aggressive goal about finishing it in the next three months”—and in doing so, find a way to refresh your thinking about the issue.

BE COMPASSIONATE.

Remember to treat yourself the way a good life coach treats a client: with compassion, respect, and boundless faith in your potential. Judging yourself helps nobody, and nor does punishing or browbeating yourself if you don’t meet your exact goals. You are not perfect and nobody expects you to be. You are a beautiful work in progress, and you are making progress all the time.

Pre-order The Hero is You at IndieBound, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon. You can find Kendra online at kendracoaching.com and @kendralevin.

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Guest Post Regarding Writing: Matt Bird & The Secrets of Story

unnamed.jpgToday’s guest post is from Matt Bird, who runs the SecretsOfStory.com blog (formerly known as Cockeyed Caravan), and whose book The Secrets of Story: Innovative Tools for Perfecting Your Fiction and Captivating Readers hits bookshelves this November. In his book and on his website Matt offers general writing advice. He also does manuscript evaluations for books and screenplays where he gives specialized advice. Today he’s kindly sharing some of his smart writing advice here. Thanks Matt!

As you write, you have one overriding responsibility: to build identification between your hero and your audience. We need not sympathize with your hero, but we must empathize with her. If we identify with her, we’ll go anywhere with her, and remain rapt by her actions. If we don’t identify, then no matter sympathetic or “heroic” she might be, we’ll feel alienated and disinterested, if not repelled.

unnamed-1.jpgSo what is the #1 identification killer in the manuscripts I’ve evaluated? When the reader has figured something out by page 30, but the hero doesn’t figure it out for another 200+ pages.

In an otherwise-great fantasy manuscript, the heroine was wrong to trust her mentor, and this was clear to the reader right away, but she didn’t figure it out until page 250. This makes it hard to identify with her. Every time the mentor speaks, the text says, “he snarled” or “he sneered”. It’s obvious to us that he’s the bad guy, so we get so frustrated with her that she can’t see it. If the heroine is going to be betrayed, we should be betrayed too. If the heroine gets fooled into trusting this guy, then you should fool us into trusting him as well, right up until you pull the rug out. As a writer, you have to get us to see the mentor in the same way the heroine sees him, so that we’ll fully identify with her.

In a sci-fi manuscript, the heroine was given the weapon she needed very early on, and it was clear that it could solve the whole plot, but she didn’t realize how useful it was until page 300. The book was well-written and exciting, but I spent the whole time yelling at the hero: Don’t you remember? You could win this thing at any time! Why should I root for you to solve this problem if you can’t see the easy solution that I can see?

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s a good idea to shift us back and forth in our identification with the hero. Sometimes we should be one step behind, trying to figure out what our clever hero is doing, sometimes we should have the same amount of information as the hero, and then sometimes we should get one step ahead of the hero, aware of a danger or possibility that she isn’t aware of, and nervously anticipating her discovery of it.

But we should never get ten steps ahead. We should never watch our hero go on a mini-quest for 50 pages, knowing full well that this endeavor is for naught, because the hero hasn’t figured out something yet that we already know. How are we supposed to feel for those 50 pages?

I realize that it’s tricky, because you want to “play fair.” In the first example, you don’t want the betrayal to come out of nowhere. It should be a shock, but the sort of shock that leaves us kicking ourselves, lamenting that we should have seen it coming. In the second example, you don’t want to pull out a solution in the final chapter that feels like a deus ex machina. You do want to set it up earlier, but you have to outsmart your audience. Fake us out. Plant us the solution, but hide it well, and make us forget it. Misdirect us into thinking that there will be a different solution, and then yank that false solution away, leaving us totally sweating it out alongside the hero.

A hero cannot simply “be identifiable”. You need to carefully manipulate our feelings all along the way so that we are encouraged to identify with the hero at every step of the way. As often as possible, we need to feel the same thing the hero does at the same time she feels it. That’s full identification, and that’s the heart of great writing.

To pre-order Matt’s book The Secrets of Story: Innovative Tools for Perfecting Your Fiction and Captivating Readers you can go to Amazon, Indiebound, or Barnes & Noble.

Got comments? Hit him up here…

 

 

 

 

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Guest Post: Plotting Your Story

There are many ways to plot or plan out your story.

Photo by Heather Demetrios-Fehst

Photo by Heather Demetrios-Fehst

There are those who loathe the mere mention of the word “plan.” These writers saddle up their yak, swig down a healthy dose of goat rum and head out on the trail, determined to see where the road takes them.

Some enlist NASA to construct elaborate charts and complex calculus equations to create their entire story structure. No surprises, no room for miscalculation.

And, of course, there are a zillion in-betweens. What I’m offering, is a flexible method of looking at where your story has been and where it is going. This is not my invention, nor is it mine alone. I’m just sharing. And I call it….wait for it…..wait. for. it….

THE INDEX CARD METHOD

Get yourself a bunch of index cards, majority of one color with 10 of one other color. For example, I use white cards because they are easier to write on/read, and 10 blue cards.

In order to give yourself a destination, and some roadside way stations, you are going to break the story up into quartiles. Otherwise, there’s a darn good chance that you are going to steer your yak into a ditch and lose your story in a goat-rum induced delirium.

This is where you use the colored index cards. Lay them out thusly…(and what’s great with index cards is that you can lay them out on the floor, the dining room table, the deck of your yacht, your wall, your neighbor’s wall…)

Quartile 1:

  • Inciting Incident – Kicks the story off
  • First Plot Point  – The Point of No Return – Big jolt, creates the narrative journey. This is where the core of your story is.

Quartile 2:

  • Reaction to First Plot Point
  • Pinch Point – Concrete reminder of antagonistic forces at work
  • Second Plot Point – Midpoint of story; major twist

Quartile 3:

  • Reaction to Second Plot Point – Protag becomes proactive vs. reactive
  • Pinch Point
  • Third Plot Point – Twist; set up the climax

Quartile 4:

  • Climax
  • Resolution

Now…don’t panic. It is ok to NOT have these answers yet, or any idea of what that scene is going to entail. I’ll save scene dissection and understanding for another post (and I lectured on understanding the quintessence of your scene, and building your story scene by scene, for my graduate lecture at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, in July). For now, just write on the card what its purpose is (so you know where it goes in the overall arc). If you have sketchy ideas, put them on the card. These are your mile markers.

Then, using your main stack of index cards, you begin to layout scenes. Each scene is a card. Whatever gets you from one “blue” card to the next, allowing cause and effect to move the story. If this, then this…Don’t feel like you have to know them all right now. Just place those scenes you do know and as you begin to write, as you begin to look at how the story is progressing, you can add or delete as needed.

That is the beauty of the index cards. You can move them around. It gives you a flexible visual layout and allows you to play with the progression.

I like to think of them as lily pads, floating on the pond that is your story.

Each scene allows your reader to walk across the surface of your story and reach the far bank. Give your readers a purposeful path.

Headshot JoeJoe McGee is a children’s book author from southern New Jersey. He is a graduate of the Rowan University Master’s Writing Program and The Vermont College of Fine Arts Master’s of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults program. Joe is a former airborne Army officer, the father of three young boys, and a writing instructor at Rowan University. His debut picture book, PEANUT BUTTER & BRAINS is forthcoming from Abrams (2015). He is currently working on a middle-grade novel and several picture book revisions.

 

 

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