When writing and maths don’t gel: cutting your word count

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Made by me using pablo…

So, I want to shed 7,000 words from one of my WIPs. It’s about 350 pages long…

Ever the mathematician, I figured it was as simple as deleting 20 words per page and – hey presto – I’d be at my magical number.

100 pages into my cull, and I’m down 1,500 words. Roughly, that equals NOT ENOUGH.

As one of my bosses used to love to say: “Toughen up Princess”. This is not even murdering my darlings, this is just 20 puny words per page. I can do this!

Step 2 is going to be Murdering Some Of Those Darlings (hey, why hold back? entire scenes even??!), so I hope I can step up the word removal before I get to that. I want this draft to be within the accepted norm for word count for a Young Adult.

Cut cut cut!

How to create and maintain suspense: the riveting ‘Black’

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I read this book in one sitting. NOT because it’s short (it’s actually 276 pages). NOT because I was reading-deprived after a month of writing (which I was, but that’s not the real reason). NOT EVEN because I didn’t want to go to bed before I figured out what super-scary stuff was going down that would otherwise give me nightmares.

No. I read this in one sitting because it’s that damn good.

I lent it to an author friend and she couldn’t put it down either.

Black‘ by Fleur Ferris is totally worth reading.

Obviously, me being me, I then wanted to figure out why this book was unputdownable for two sleep-deprived children’s writers.

Roughly speaking, it’s split into two almost equal parts. Part One, where we’re anxiously trying to figure out what is happening and waiting for it to all go bad. And Part Two. Where it goes bad, and we’re caught up in Ebony ‘Black’ Marshall’s fight to regain herself. I understand what makes the second part tick. I can write action and up the stakes and have people fight for their lives.

But the first part of the novel is a brilliant study in creating suspense.

I knew I had to work out how Ferris had done it. Want to know too? Read on.

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25K on the SnowNaNo!

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That’s what I want to see! I’ve cracked the 25K mark on my snow-filled (affectionately dubbed SnowNaNo, but as yet unnamed) junior fiction novel, and the night is still young. In fact, it’s also only the 14th.

Cause for celebration.

I love my manuscript! I love my characters!

Perhaps most of all, I love the Word Sprints page under ‘Inspiration’. It took me 3 NaNoWriMos to find it, 5 seconds to randomly choose a 20 minute sprint, 20 minutes to write 600+ words, and a nanosecond to realise how awesome that was. I’m a word sprinter through and through now.

What’s working for you?

Editing: 3 reasons why talking to yourself is NOT a sign of madness

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Made by me using pablo. Not my window. My window is far less salubrious. And has no flowers.

My office window has one metre and a rickety old fence between it and a public access side lane. On beautiful spring days like yesterday, when my window is wide open, I often worry that people walking the lane might come to the conclusion I’m mad.

Because I’m talking to myself. A lot.

Yes, it’s full-on editing time for me and my YA South American Road-trip manuscript. This is about the fourth edit I’ve given it, which means I’m reading it out aloud to myself. And occasionally then telling myself, aloud, what I need to do to fix a spot. Okay, the second bit sounds crazy. But the first is true-blue proven editing gold.

I read aloud for three main reasons:

  1. Dialogue

  2. Awkward phasing/repetition

  3. Consistent voice

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An acorn full of fabulous – ‘Violet Mackerel’s Pocket Protest’

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If you’ve got a girl of about four or older, and you haven’t met Violet Mackerel yet, you definitely should. The books are in a series, but you don’t need to read them in order. Standalone or not, you will be swept away by their charm.

Book 6 is ‘Violet Mackerel’s Pocket Protest‘, written by Anna Branford and illustrated (here in Australia at least) by the brilliant Sarah Davis. When the beautiful simplicity of the writing combines with Davis’ vivid illustrations, you’re on to a winner.

‘Pocket Protest’ follows Violet and her friend Rose as they attempt to save the local oak tree from being cut down to make way for a carpark. They meet discouragement and setbacks along the way, but they stay true to themselves and keep trying.

It’s a wonderful book to introduce environmental themes to kids. It also has diverse characters (race, financial status, deafness) that are treated the same as all the others, again a very positive model for young kids.

Brief breakdown

  • 10 Chapters, 108 pages (yes that’s about 10 pages per chapter if your maths-head has clocked off for the day)
  • Illustrations on most spreads
  • Primary problem Chapters 1-10
  • Secondary problem Chapters 4-9
  • Both problems successfully solved, some adult help but mainly due to the girls’ actions.

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How to balance hot YA Book Boyfriends with positive self-esteem – the electric ‘Obsidian’

Beautiful face. Beautiful body. Horrible attitude. It was the holy trinity of hot boys.

obsidian_coverThis is Katy’s p27 take on Daemon Black, one of the most entertaining Love Interests I’ve met in a while. I’ve been reading ‘Obsidian’ by Jennifer L. Armentrout, and it’s got me thinking about how to create the perfect YA Book Boyfriend.

Adding romance elements to YA can make your book HOT. But this isn’t just about book sales – if you’re writing for teens you need to be considering their self-esteem, and modelling positive relationships.

I also see three elements to a great YA Book Boyfriend, but I think Katy got them wrong. As a character, she’s supposed to get it wrong. We, the readers, are the ones who need to see it right.

Elements of a hot-dayam Love Interest:

  1. Instant (mutual) attraction
  2. He acts like a jerk most of the time
  3. There is a good reason why, and we readers get hints about this early.

I’m not saying this is the only recipe for romantic tension, but it’s one that’s worked time and again. But don’t miss the important fourth element – your MC’s self-esteem.

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Editing: How to turn your manuscript mistakes into opportunities for awesome

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You’ve all been there. Late at night, at your desk, final check of your latest Work In Progress. You’re pretty happy. Close to hitting that big green metaphorical button that says GO FOR IT!

Then something makes you frown.

There’s a mistake… <head meets desk>

Happened to me last week. My kick-ass group of teens were driving across South America, hell-bent on getting evacuated the heck out of there because, you know, stuff was going down. But then I re-did my calculations and realised their car was going to run out of fuel 300 km before the town they actually refuel at. Ouch.

I was facing a plot crisis.

Solution? Brainstorm what to do, and reject all your initial ‘ordinary’ options

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3 of my fave picture books to inspire imaginative play, and how they do it

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Imaginative play is a vital learning tool for kids. One of the great ways to inspire and encourage imaginative play is to read books that incorporate it. As a mum of a voracious book-devouring 4-year-old, I’ve met quite a few picture books. And here are three of my favourites for inspiring the imagination. They each do it in unique ways, that align with how children are learning about play at different ages.

The first two came out in the 80’s, which just proves that great literature stands the test of time! So, what do these books do that I find so wonderful, and that keeps my daughter asking for them time and again?

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How characters can make your book a lemon

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Made by me using Pablo

In the last few weeks, I’ve read two books that failed to hit the mark for me. And when I say failed, I don’t mean in a grand and epic fashion. I mean in a baffling and miserable sludge puddle.

Both books were fantasies, from bestselling authors. Fair share of hype. Great covers. Reputable publishers. Promising plots. Great writing. Rock solid world-building.

Total disappointments.

I tried, I really did. I’ve loved other books written by these authors. I read all the way through both of them, hoping to hit that point where the plot starts to consume me and the characters become real. And then the last pages came, and with them that sense of how many hours of my life I couldn’t get back.

Eager to salvage something from the mess, I pinpointed what I didn’t like about them. In my opinion, both books lemoned in two key ways:

  1. The main characters.
  2. The love interests.

And when I write it like that, it starts to make sense. So… what made these characters so unlikable?

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