Monday, February 20, 2012

Writing YA for Dummies

Happy Presidents Day!

I'm taking full advantage of my day off by starting the second draft of my WIP. After receiving feedback from my writer's group, letting it marinate for a few weeks, and then reworking my story to fix plot and character problems, I am ready to go! My banana cream pie-in-the-sky goal is to revise 1 chapter/day. A more realistic goal might be 1 chapter every 2-3 days. I'm aiming to finish draft #2 by May 1. (If only I didn't have a full-time job that's in its busy season currently...) I know -- I shouldn't set such firm goals in a public forum where I can be judged held accountable. But I'm hoping this spurs me on to finish in time. How long has it taken you to finish a second (or third or fourth) draft?

An unlikely tool in getting me psyched up for revisions is Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies by Deborah Halverson. My friend gave this to me for Hanukkah, and I let it collect dust all through January. When I decided to read it one morning on the train, I was hooked. I had never read a writing advice guidebook for novels. I figured I knew how to write a story from studying screenwriting in college and from reading lots of books. YA for Dummies didn't teach me new tricks; rather, it helped clarify parts of writing I thought I knew. I had about five epiphanies about my book after reading this.

My biggest takeaway from YA for Dummies was how to write a theme and weave it into my story. The theme is the central idea in your novel. In screenwriting, they call it the controlling idea. In Robert McKee's book Story (a must-read for any screenwriter), he says that Paddy Chayefsky, writer of Network, would keep his controlling idea next to him while he wrote. That way, he could make sure everything he wrote stuck to that theme. After I wrote my first draft, I couldn't state my theme in one sentence. I had about 3 themes garbled together. With draft #2, I've streamlined, and my story feels much clearer and focused. Halverson includes a theme-building exercise in the book, which at first I scoffed at, but came to find helpful.

I recommend picking up this book, or at least flipping through it at Barnes & Noble. Unlike Story, it's written in a nuts-and-bolts fashion, which I can appreciate. Just the facts ma'am. No matter how much you know, you're bound to learn something new. I haven't read other how-to books like Save the Cat or Writing the Break Out Novel. Have you? Thoughts?

Finally, a random comment on a YA book I'm currently reading. Said novel was published last year and takes place in present day. In one scene, the protagonist is searching for a quarter to use a pay phone, and then her friend takes her to a record store. The record store part I will let slide...barely.

But who still uses a pay phone? And they sure doesn't cost a quarter anymore.

I live in Chicago, and I've only seen maybe 2 pay phones. I doubt suburbs have them anymore. Most teens today have never and will never use a pay phone. They carry cell phones. If they don't, they would ask a stranger to borrow one before thinking to use a pay phone. That small detail pulled me out of the story for a moment. So for those of you writing contemporary, leave out the pay phones. I know people are wary about writing in technology that could be outdated in a year. But trust me, cell phones aren't going anywhere.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Group Date: When My Life Became “The Bachelor”

So remember the story I read two weeks ago? Well, the editors at In Our Words Blog liked it and published it on their website. In honor of V-day, read all about my so-bad-it's-memorable dating experience here!

Happy Valentine's Day...even though it's an over-rated holiday, IMHO...

And cheers to one of my favorite rom-coms

Monday, February 6, 2012

I'm a Storyteller!

Last Thursday, I made my debut as a storyteller in Chicago. And I'm still on kind of a high about it.

The storytelling artform is comprised of people getting up in front of others and reading a 5-10 minute non-fiction story about something in their lives. Think along the lines of David Sedaris's personal essays in Me Talk Pretty One Day, Naked, etc. There are a smattering of monthly storytelling events at bars around the city. I've had a few friends read their essays, and a part of me always wanted to do it. And since 2012 is the year I'm doing stuff instead of just talking about it, I quickly wrote a story and got to perform it in front of an audience. I was so nervous! But hearing the audience laugh, getting that instant feedback, was exhilarating.

The Phil of 2011 would have said he was going to write a story sometime that year. He would've thought about it, thought about it, put it aside, forgot about it, come back to it, thought about it some more, and then another year would've gone by. (Forgive the 3rd person usage) But one of the resolutions I made to myself was to get my work out there. Don't sit on it. Don't wait too long. Don't obsess about making my work perfect. I wrote this thing in a week, and it may not have been perfect, but I'm proud of it, and proud of myself for getting out there.

I hope you all do the same. Don't hoard your material, fearing rejection like I used to. Also, I recommend reading your writing aloud -- to strangers or just to yourself. It's an unexpectedly nifty revising tool!