Tuesday, January 16, 2018

I'm Stuck...In A Fight...In My Own Head! By Hilary Wagner

Yes, I'm talking about the old fight scene!

The pure mechanics of fight scenes mess with my head. I don't want to be over descriptive, taking away from the action. I don't want to be under descriptive, making it unclear what is actually happening in the fight. I don't want it to be bland, as in "Paul hit Peter in the face," (yeah, that's riveting literature) and I certainly don't want it to be too colorful, as in "Blood spurted from the cavernous wound like an angry volcano of gory wrath!" I am writing for children after all...though that's never really stopped me before. I digress....  

Long story short, if there is one place in a manuscript where I'm going to get stuck, it's a fight scene. I'm not an outliner, so I map every move out in my head as I go...which is probably the slowest way to write a fight scene. I'm a huge fan of boxing, so that's helpful, but even still, all the moves involved in a fight...at least a non-boring one can be pretty complicated. 

How do you handle your typical fight scene? 

For those of you who have a certain joy writing them or are the quintessential note takers before actually writing a fight scene, I'd love to hear your take. What's your process? How do you keep it interesting without going overboard? 

Give us your super ninja street cat fight gang warfare bad guy/good guy cage fight to the death action packed "king kong got nothing on me" wisdom!

(For kids books, of course, so maybe not quite to the death...well, maybe, depends on the book and sometimes our mood.)

Thanks! Hilary

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Sprints and Marathons by Kell Andrews

To have a sustained writing career, you need to run both short and long distances. 



I'm thrilled to finally announce here that my next picture book, The Book Dragon, illustrated by √Čva Chatelain, will be published in fall 2018 by Sterling Children's Books. I got the contract offer January 5. 

Are you thinking that this is moving awfully fast from contract offer to publication? Not really, since the contract offer was more than a year ago, January 5, 2017, and I wrote the story in the long-ago optimistic days of 2016. 

That's a long haul for a short book. 

Then again, publishing is always a long haul.

"It's a marathon, not a sprint." Or is it?

To the contrary, writing a picture book is a sprint. It takes a lot longer to write each word in a 500 page book, but it does not (with rare exceptions) take as long as a 50,000 one. Rewriting is another sprint, maybe the next heat, while writing the next story is another race entirely.

To have a career in picture books, you need to string those sprints together until they approach something like a marathon. Last year I drafted and polished six manuscripts, and I'm not even prolific. So far I'm sprinting again and again, with the results being an every-other-year publishing schedule. That's a lot of writing for each published manuscript.

Novels are marathons. Or are they?

Novels are marathon you can turn into sprints. Writing a novel is a daunting process. It takes months or even years. Staring down an empty page, putting your butt in that chair day after day -- it's intimidating.

It's a marathon that I personally need to break into sprints to make it manageable. Half-hour writing sprints, writing by act, even middle-distance events like NaNo can put manageable interim goals into place so you don't have to stare down that long, long distance from the blank page to "the end."

And when you're lucky enough to get a contract, you inevitably have a few more sprints ahead -- revisions often land back in the writer's inbox at the worst times, and with not enough time attached. 

It's always a long haul.

Yes, even for picture books, maybe even especially, since illustrated books tend to take longer from contract to publication. There's an excellent chance my Fall 2018 date will change into a Spring 2019 one.

That's OK. It gives me plenty of time fit in a half-dozen sprints, or even a full marathon.

Monday, January 8, 2018

A few thoughts on Beginnings by Paul Greci

Photos by Paul Greci

A birch tree, a spruce tree and a saguaro cactus ran into each other at a bar…

I’ve set the expectation here that I’m going to tell a joke. In other words, in the opening line, I have made a promise and the reader expects me to follow through.

Several years ago, when I took a multi-day writing workshop from Jeanette Ingold, one of the things she said was that in the first chapter of a novel you make a promise to your reader.

Part of that promise is created by the tone you set. Part that promise is created by questions you raise. Part of that promise is created by the voice. Is your story a thriller/adventure? Or, is it more introspective? Is it historical? Is it more character or plot driven?

According to my wife, who is an avid reader, and novel writer, the promise in the first chapter is often instrumental in her deciding if she is going to keep reading a book. If she’s interested in the promise the author is making, then she’ll keep reading.

In his book, The First Five Pages, Noah Lukeman says this about openings and extending them beyond a one-line hook to encompass the first chapter: “At its best, it can be not only a propellant but also a statement of what you might expect from the text to come.” He goes on to say, “….don’t write an opening for the sake of an opening, but for the sake of the story that follows.”

Now about that birch, spruce and saguaro…After heated exchanges about the merits of spines versus needles, and sap versus water, and who is better nesting habitat, more fire proof and drought resistant, they all threw up their hands in laughter realizing that even though each one has its strengths and distinctions, in the end, they are really more alike than different.

 Paul Greci is the author of Surviving Bear Island, a 2015 Junior Library Guild Selection and a 2016 Scholastic Reading Club Selection. Forthcoming in 2018 is the yet to be titled sequel to Surviving Bear Island published by Move Books. In 2019, Paul's first young adult novel, The Wild Lands will be published by Macmillan.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Happy New Year--and a Challenge by Michael Gettel-Gilmartin

Happy New Year, everyone. I can't believe that it's 2018 already, and that Project Mayhem has been in existence for 8 years. That's astounding, and I'd like to thank each and every reader of this blog, and all the writers who have contributed to it over the years. There's a wealth of information and inspiration in our archives, that's for sure.

The turning of the calendar makes most people a bit introspective, I suspect. At the end of each year, I mull over the things that transpired over the past twelve months, for better or for worse, and it gets me thinking about what I could do differently.

For me, 2017 was not a productive year on the writing front. I got sidetracked by all the public negativity, sucked into way too many tweetstorms. I found myself slinking away from the page all too often. I read less fiction too, which is alarming, because good stories are inoculations against all that is crass and cheerless in the world around us. (It's also alarming because I've got a TBR pile about to topple off my nightstand.)

In my ruminations, I did come across an article by David Cain, who writes the blog raptitude.com: Getting better about being human. Cain writes about having a "Year of Deepening," a year in which "you don’t start anything new or acquire any new possessions you don’t need."

He goes on:
"No new hobbies, equipment, games, or books are allowed during this year. Instead, you have to find the value in what you already own or what you’ve already started.
You improve skills rather than learning new ones. You consume media you’ve already stockpiled instead of acquiring more.
You read your unread books, or even reread your favorites. You pick up the guitar again and get better at it, instead of taking up the harmonica. You finish the Gordon Ramsey Masterclass you started in April, despite your fascination with the new Annie Leibovitz one, even though it’s on sale."
A consumer society, Cain explains, always tempts us to the new thing. In much the same way, when a story becomes too difficult, it's easy to be tempted to try something new. (I am undeniably guilty of this.) That shiny new thing is so much more appealing than the old thing you've been slogging away at, which has long since lost its luster.

I needed this reminder, and so it's with renewed determination that I am making the goal of finishing my latest novel this year. Wish me luck!

The rest of David Cain's blog post, Go Deeper, Not Wider,  can be found HERE.

Do you have any goals for the year ahead? Does going deeper resonate with you? Let me know in the comments--and have a great 2018!