So, these past three Mondays, I’ve been giving revision tips to help with people’s stories. And this is the last in the series! I know! I know! The horror!
Get ready writers and put your revision hats on. As I write this, we’re in lockdown because of CoVid-19 aka the coronavirus, and I know you all just want to draft and eat, but get dressed and do the hard stuff, too. Revising makes your book so much stronger.
11. GIVE YOUR CHARACTERS A REASON
Do not have your hamster kill your cat without a motivation. The cat’s tormenting? That’s a reason. The cat’s snoring? That’s a motivation.
Every character has to have a want and a motivation, a reason for doing what they do.
In other words: Your characters need to make sense.
12. THINK ABOUT TIME FRAME
Should your story be an hour in the protagonist’s life? A day? A year? Does it really need to end with the prom? Plath says to think of the story as “an image stamped in Silly Putty, until it became distorted and possibly more interesting?”
Pull out that image. Think about how long your story is in the character’s life.
13. ADD SOME TEXTURE
Think about figurative language. Think about symbols and allusions and metaphors. Use the tools of literature and the sounds of poetry to make your story resonate.
But, um, don’t put a simile in every paragraph.
14. MAYBE YOU SHOULD GO UNRELIABLE
Narrators who are reliable are sometimes narrators who are boring. What would happen if yours went to the dark side?
15. BE TRIVIAL. BE DEEP
We want to hear what matters to the character and what trivial parts of his/her existence make him/her real. If she’s a bus driver. Let us know how that impacts her thinking. Let us see her job.
These revision tips this week are all originally from James Plath’s article “Twenty-one Tweaks to a Better Tale,” which was published in THE COMPLETE BOOK OF NOVEL WRITING, Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinatti, Ohio, Edited by Meg Leder, Jack Heffron, and the Editors of Writer’s Digest.
WRITING AND PODCAST NEWS
Over 170,000 people have downloaded episodes of our podcast, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE, you should join them. There will be a new episode tomorrow!
Yesterday, I shared this with my class at Write! Submit! Support! at the Writing Barn and I thought I should share it with you all too. It’s about revising and one of the writers asked me about my process for revising.
So, I’m back in the camper for the summer because we rent out our hosts to tourists every year. Well, it’s the second year, that almost makes it every year, right?
To put this in perspective, we have two dogs, one obese cat, two humans (occasionally three) in this tiny camper from the 1980s. We painted it white so it wasn’t as depressing, but let me tell you, painting things white doesn’t make anything actually bigger.
Anyways, I was trying to quickly make a camper video about dialogue and I failed completely. Here it is below. Don’t judge too harshly.
If you don’t want to die from secondhand embarrassment let me sum it up for you. The takeaway from this video is meant to be people react to different things in different ways. People speak in different ways. Show this in your dialogue. Think of how your mom talks, your bestie, your avo, the lady at the bar, your rabbi. Not everyone talks the same. Think of how they all react to one simple situation like a rat popping out of the garbage bin in the kitchen. It wouldn’t all be the same, right? Respect and embrace that difference and show it in your story.
You can get exclusive content, early podcasts, videos, art and listen (or read) never-to-be-officially published writings of Carrie on her Patreon. Levels go from $1 to $100 (That one includes writing coaching and editing for you wealthy peeps).
A lot of you might be new to Patreon and not get how it works. That’s totally cool. New things can be scary, but there’s a cool primer HERE that explains how it works. The short of it is this: You give Patreon your paypal or credit card # and they charge you whatever you level you choose at the end of each month. That money supports me sharing my writing and art and podcasts and weirdness with you.
So, I was cruising through some files and found an old YA story that I wrote in 2012. I’m going to post the first pages below because I’m trying to decide if I should go back and work on it or not.
Other writers out there? Do you ever stumble back on 50,000-words of forgotten stories? Or is that just me?
It makes me wonder about these lost stories, the discarded computer files, abandoned for other stories and sometimes forever forgotten.
It’s hard to share full, done books and I’m getting super freaked out about IN THE WOODS’ release in July. July is so soon!
So, this book baby in all its raw form is even scarier. Here you go, never before seen by human eyes other than mine. I hope this makes you all feel better about your drafts!
“Miss?” the woman says. “You need to pay.”
I pull some money out of the embroidered elephant wallet that I’ve had since I was five and try to make my hand not tremble. The ache behind my eyes seems to dull the store’s fluorescent lighting and make the world blurrier. “Oh. Sorry.”
The cashier takes my money. The bills are crumpled and dog-eared. Less than twenty-four hours ago those bills were lined up in the top drawer of my dad’s bureau right next to his gun. I took that, too, even though I already had one stolen gun tucked into my belt.
“Thanks,” I say as the cashier hands me my change. I’ve loaded the case of water, the people food, the batteries, dog food and bedding into the cart already. It’s just the notebook and pens that are left, which seems both appropriate and symbolic somehow.
“Bit cold for camping,” the cashier says. She meets my eyes. She’d been avoiding them.
I fake smile. “Yeah. I’m hardy though.”
“What?” Her eyes fully focus on mine now.
“Hardy…. I’m hardy though. You know? Tough.”
She shakes her head and chuckles even as she starts ringing through the next person in line’s stuff. Diapers. Pepto Bismol. “I thought you said, ‘I’m Artie though.’ And I was all, ‘That’s a funny name for a girl.’ You have a good day, sweetie. Stay warm.”
I sort of stand there awkwardly for a second, just staring at the plastic bags of stuff in the shopping cart. I feel guilty for having to use plastic instead of canvas bags from home. I feel guilty for taking the money and the gun. I feel guilty for what I’m about to do, but I have no choice. All the moments in the last few days have ensured that I have no other choice.
The guy behind me clears his throat, and I apologize again for being in the way. Pushing the shopping cart, I turn it, and start heading down past the other check-out lanes towards the doors, keeping my head low so that the security cameras will only see my hat, not my face.
And the whole time, I’m mumbling, “Don’t remember me. Don’t remember me. Don’t me remember me.” It’s like this little mantra will make words become truth.
And the whole time, the cart is making this funky screeching noise because one of the wheels is a little bit off its track and is scraping against the metal of the cart.
And the whole time, I’m praying that I am not making the worst decision in my life. But no, I have already done that, haven’t I? Or maybe it was the best?
I stop the shopping cart right by the door greeter and check the closest plastic bag. The notebooks are there. That’s important. It’s more important than the batteries or the food or the water.
I will write it all down, old-school style, just like someone did for me. No computers, not even the ones at the public library, because then they can log your IP address. I will write it all down in the notebooks and then send it to my mom or dad and then they can decide what to do with it. Or maybe not. Maybe I’ll send it to someone I don’t love so much.
When Mom gets home today, she’ll know that something has happened. Maybe not right away because I didn’t leave a note. Maybe she’ll call my name and head up to my bedroom looking for me and see all the clothes missing from my closet. Maybe she’ll notice when Sparty doesn’t come to the door to greet her. Maybe she’ll still be at work and she’ll get an email from the high school about my unexplained and unexcused all-day absence. Maybe she’ll just know the way moms sometimes just know things. She’ll call my dad. He will freak out because he is horrible in any sort of crisis. One of them will probably call the police and I will become a missing teenager in an official way. My face will be in newspapers and the news feeds of social networking sites. People will be upset and then most of them will forget.
And in a couple more days, the notebooks will come. She’ll get the mail, or maybe my dad will, and she’ll be excited because she’ll think the notebooks mean hope, that they mean that I’m still alive, and she won’t realize that what they really mean is that I am gone from them forever or at least for a good, long while.
The store’s automatic doors open and I push the cart out into the parking lot. November wind blows the edges of the plastic. I get to the Subaru. Caleb is there. Waiting. The same way I was waiting for him, for so long.
He opens the hatch in the back of the car and starts putting things inside. Sparty sits in the back seat, patiently watching the entire thing. The end of his tail wags just the smallest of bits.
Caleb stops loading for a second, grabs my hand in his and says, “Are you sure about this? You don’t have – ”
I interrupt him because I don’t want to hear him say it aloud. “I’m sure. I go with you.”
I want to fall over onto the pavement, slump against the car and weep. I want to curl my hands into fists and punch the tires, punch the bumper, punch the world for being so wrong and so unfair, but most of all I want to hug Caleb, to hold him in my arms and tell him that I will never let go.
Life isn’t usually a nice ascent where you get to your end goal and never get knocked down or have a set back.
But the point is to keep moving forward, to keep striving and loving and fighting for what you believe in.
For a long time, Marsie the Cat was super afraid to go outside into the big world. She was only okay with it if you put her on a leash like a dog. She liked being tethered to her humans, which is good news for birds, honestly, since cats kill so many songbirds.
But anyway, Marsie worked her way up to facing her fears. She took one step outside. Then another. Then another. She explored the world.
Marsie the Cat: Are you going to tell the humans that they should be like me and be brave?
Marsie: Humans should always emulate cats.
Marsie: Fine. Go on with the blog. Also, please don’t tell them that I’ve never killed anything. The other cats would mock my pacifist ways.
Marsie: They all heard that, huh?
Me: Pretty much.
In my own life, there are a TON of things that I’m hesitant to do because it feels too vulnerable or like it’s just… Well, like people will laugh at me, honestly. But then I think – Dude, people laugh at you all the time. Those people are just haters and at least you are giving them a moment of joy at your expense or… yeah… I don’t know there’s got to be a way to spin this positively.
Anyways, one of the weirder and more vulnerable parts of my writing process is painting. A lot of times when I get stuck, I paint something that expresses the moment of the story that I’m working on.
Sharing that makes me feel a bit jittery-vulnerable. But I’m sharing it because:
Marsie wants me to. She thinks it’s motivating.
This is my year of doing things that are hard for me like the podcast and being in THINGS WE HAVEN’T SAID and stuff and rebooting a blog and having an occasional newsletter.
BACK TO PROCESS
So, lots of other authors make notebook mosaics of images when they write a book. They’ll cut out pictures from magazines and glue them into a notebook or a big piece of cardboard paper and stare at these images to represent their characters.
Yeah, that would be far too logical a way for me to approach getting into the ‘essence’ and ‘imagery’ of my story.
Instead, I paint things. I do this despite the facts that:
1. I have NO IDEA how to paint.
2. I only took Art 101 in high school and it did not cover painting. It was all about drawing still life. I failed at it.
3. Did I mention the whole lack of artistic talent thing?
Oh! And also every Sunday morning I would draw cartoons when I was a kid and every Sunday morning my mom would declare, “Nobody in our family is an artist.”
And I would say, “Grammy paints.”
And she would say, “My side of the family.”
But because I am:
I do not let this lack of training or talent or my mother’s genes stop me.
Art is way harder for me to share than:
1. Stories about my skirt falling down
2. Family tragedies
3. My writing (even poems).
I’m not sure why that is. I guess it’s almost like posting current diary entries or something, but here goes:
So, this dark and dreary one (with the lens flash included for special coolness) is from the story AFTER OBSESSION that I co-wrote with Steve Wedel. I had to get into the scary part of the story. And the sense of isolation and the creepy guy.
And this smoochy-smoochy one is for ENTICE (a NEED book), and yes, the people are kind of ugly…. I told you I couldn’t paint! And yes, Zara’s hair is blonde. I ran out of black paint. A real artist would have gone out and bought more black paint, but I’m a writer so….
Excuse me. I have to go hide in shame.
Okay, I’m back.
And yes, the guy has the weird beginnings of a beard, but that’s because I messed up. 😉
And you’d think after years of bad painting that I would eventually stop with this.
Spoiler: I haven’t stopped with this. There’s a whole bunch more on my art page.
But the one I’m working on right now is for ANOTHER NOW, which is a time travel story that I’m working on. It’s YA and the first part takes part on Mount Desert Island in Maine. And I was thinking about how we add on paint and add on paint, but scratching it off? That’s also pretty cool and it reminds me of revising a book.
Because when we revise, we scratch things out. We accentuate other things. It’s all about trying to make people feel and think. It’s all about communicating story as best as we can, right?
And life is sort of like that. We add on and add on with our experiences, but we also can scratch out the parts of us we don’t like. We can quit boards and remove ourselves from bad places. We can work to bring more joy and meaning into our life and work to reduce our own negative qualities.
Revision isn’t just about adding on. It’s also about scratching out.
That’s pretty cool.
Yep, it’s the part of the blog where I talk about my books and projects because I am a writer for a living, which means I need people to review and buy my books or at least spread the word about them.
I’m super good at public image and marketing for nonprofits but I have a much harder time with marketing myself.
So, please buy one of my books. 🙂 The links about them are all up there in the header on top of the page. There are young adult series, middle grade fantasy series, stand-alones for young adults and even picture book biographies.
There are certain really important questions in this world.
Why does asparagus have to smell soooo rotten when it cooks?
And why does my asparagus have cool googly eyes?
Why does my dog Gabby have to lick my fingers every time I sit down and type?
No, Gabby, “fingers are yummy” is not a good answer.
And why does Gabby think the UPS man is evil incarnated?
Gabby: No, that prom dress is evil incarnate. What were you thinking?
One of my major questions of all time is why is black bean soup not so tasty?
Like I love refried black beans. I love black beans in a regular way. Why not the soup?
I tried a recipe to find out.
Black Bean Soup – Allegedly Spicy
It’s soup. It’s made from canned black beans.
2 tbsp olive oil (enough to coat the pot's bottom)
2 onions (chopped, diced, cut)
2 celery stalky things – ribs? Ribs sounds creepy (chopped)
5 garlic cloves or 7 TBS (Totally up to you, but mince it)
5 tsp cumin
.5 tsp red pepper flakes (This was not spicy enough for me)
4 cans black beans (rinse. drain. )
4 cups veggie broth
2 tsp lime juice
salt and pepper (as much as feels good to you)
You can garnish. It will impact the calorie count, obviously, but it's way more fun – cilantro, avocado, cheese, tortilla chips
Find a pot. Study the pot. Is it big enough?
Put the olive oil in the pot. Turn the burner onto medium. Watch the oil get warm. Ponder life.
Wonder why you’re writer.
When the oil is shimmering like a vampire in a successful young adult novel/movie franchise, add the onions, celery, carrot and maybe salt if you are into that. Cook 10 minutes or until the veggies are soft and mushy.
Think about how you changed those veggies from hard things into soft things. Feel powerful. Wish you could elicit that same kind of change in your main character and her story arc.
Add garlic. Think about vampires. Wonder if world is ready for another vampire franchise. Add cumin and red pepper. Cook 30 seconds. HURRY!
30 seconds pass so quickly when you aren’t waiting for an agent to call. You have no time to ponder this. Instead, add all the beans and the broth. Turn the heat up enough to get a simmer.
Lower the heat so that it’s a gentle simmer and keep it that way for 30 minutes.
Cry. Because the world really isn’t ready for another vampire franchise yet even though you, personally, have written 374,012 words about vampires and love and garlic.
Stare at the social media outlet of your choice for 30 minutes while your soup is simmering. Pretend like you’re going to use this time to write.
Go back to the kitchen. Really super carefully get 4 cups of the soup (more if you like your soup thick like your prose and plot and descriptions). Blend/puree that soup in a blender. Be careful of steam.
Return blended up soupy stuff into the pot. Stir it all up. Add the cilantro if you want, lime, salt, and pepper. Taste it.
Eat that soup. It should be dark like the night that your story’s vampires emerge from, dark like your villain’s heart.
Gabby the Dog and Spartacus the Dog’s Verdict: They won’t let us taste this. It’s all ‘black beans and dogs don’t mix’ and ‘You’re name is Spartacus not Fartacus.’ Humans….
Man Verdict: This is delicious and filling. But I’m going to go have a third bowl anyways because I don’t believe in moderation.
Me: I think it needs more cumin and spice and salt and cumin and lime and cumin.
Man: There is no pleasing you.
Me: I’m a writer. All I want to do is improve things. It’s how I am made.
WRITING NEWS AND APPEARANCE AND STUFF:
THE CLASS AT THE WRITING BARN
The awesome 6-month-long Writing Barn class that they’ve let me be in charge of!? It’s happening again in July. Write! Submit! Support!is a pretty awesome class. It’s a bit like a mini MFA but way more supportive and way less money.
PRAISE FOR CARRIE JONES AND WRITE. SUBMIT. SUPPORT:
“Carrie has the fantastic gift as a mentor to give you honest feedback on what needs work in your manuscript without making you question your ability as a writer. She goes through the strengths and weaknesses of your submissions with thought, care and encouragement.”
FLYING AND ENHANCED – THE YOUNG ADULT SCIENCE FICTION SERIES
Cross Buffy with Men in Black and you get… you get a friends-powered action adventure based in the real world, but with a science fiction twist. More about it is here. But these are fun, fast books that are about identity, being a hero, and saying to heck with being defined by other people’s expectations.
This quick, lighthearted romp is a perfect choice for readers who like their romance served with a side of alien butt-kicking action–School Library Journal
Time Stoppers’s third book comes out this summer. It’s been called a cross between Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, but with heart. It takes place in Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine. I need to think of awesome ways to promote it because this little book series is the book series of my own middle grade heart. Plus, I wrote it for the Emster. Plus, it is fun