Archive for August, 2016

17 Aug

Pitch Wars Homework Assignments

In Editing,Pitch Wars by MK England / August 17, 2016 / 6 Comments

(Quick apology—the new wordpress update broke my theme, so I’m stuck with a temp theme for now. Pardon the mess.)

Last year when I was waiting for Pitch Wars mentee selections to be announced, I was chomping at the bit, wanting so badly to get started on a new round of edits. Sure, I did some half-hearted planning for NaNoWriMo to distract myself, but what I really wanted was to throw myself back into my PW manuscript and make it better.

crazy typing

One of the first things my awesome mentor, Sarah Glenn Marsh, did last year was give me homework assignments right after I was selected. They were designed to help me analyze my book so I’d be in a better position to hit the ground running with revisions. And you know what? There’s no reason you can’t start on those right now, before Pitch Wars really begins, before you know if you’ve been selected or not. These assignments are great for anyone with a finished MS in need of editing, whether you’re participating in Pitch Wars or not, whether you get in or not.

So, without further ado, here’s your homework. Get as much done as you can before 11:59pm on August 24th. 

  • Make each chapter title a heading in Word for easy navigation (more info here). Even if you use Scrivener (which I love), you’ll need a word doc to share with your mentor or critique partners.
  • Make a list of all chapters with chapter wordcounts. Variation isn’t a bad thing, but if you have some major outliers, those might be chapters to look at for bulking up or breaking into two parts.
  • Make a character arc chart for all major characters: who are they at the start, who are they at the end, how they get there, what their role in the cast is, what they want, what progress they make toward their goals, etc.
  • Do a goals & stakes analysis for each chapter. Look at how each chapter progresses the characters toward their goal, and how the stakes come into play depending on their progress. If a chapter doesn’t address the goals and stakes, it likely needs to be cut. If you have trouble with this, summarize each chapter in only one sentence listing the most important things that happen, then think about how those tie in to your overall plot arc/goals/stakes. Don’t force it—if a chapter doesn’t fit, it might need to be significantly rewritten or cut.
  • Start on your revision outline. This will change a lot if someone takes you on as a mentee, depending on the feedback you get, but it’s good to start brainstorming fixes based on your own analysis while remaining open to mentor suggestions. Note overall changes to make throughout the manuscript as well as chapter-by-chapter notes.
  • Read my post on Critiques and Cultivating Self-Awareness. It’s important to understand your own reactions to receiving critiques and be prepared for the emotions that come with. Developing this self-awareness is one of the most critical things you can do as a writer.

Here is your starting ctrl+F list, a list of things for you to look for in your MS using the ‘find’ feature of your word processor. These are common crutch words and bad habit red flag words that apply to pretty much any manuscript. If Jamie and I decide to take you on as a mentee, we’ll also provide you with a customized one with any crutch words/phrases that are unique to you (for instance, I tend to overuse ‘a bit’ and ‘grin’).

  • That
  • Just
  • Filtering phrases (she saw, she heard, she smelled, etc.)
  • Thought phrases (she realized/understood/knew/wondered/remembered/thought)
  • Feeling words (sad/happy/angry/nervous/etc.)
  • Started/began
  • Really/very/extremely/absolutely + other empty modifiers
  • is/are/was/were (passive voice red flags)
  • Suddenly
  • Basically/practically/almost (I am so guilty of this)
  • ly (will help you catch adverbs)
  • If writing in past tense: this/now/here (words that imply present-ness)

When you’re using Ctrl+F to catch these filtering and thought phrases, don’t forget the sneaky constructions that slip under the Ctrl+F radar: I can see, I can hear, I suddenly realized, etc. For advice on fixing these errors, check out Pitch Wars class of 2015 alum Rebecca McLaughlin’s Show Don’t Tell series on her blog in which she reworks passages of her own writing.

Reading List (Choose One or More):

  • The Elements of Style by Strunk and White OR Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Truss
  • A book in your genre you haven’t read before
  • A book on the craft of writing. Ask for recommendations if you need them!

Best of luck to everyone awaiting Pitch Wars decisions, and major props to anyone tackling a manuscript revisions right now! You got this. You are great. I believe in you.

…now, back to trying to pick a mentee. *sweats*

Report back with your thoughts and progress!

han salute

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11 Aug

Synopses Are Actually Awesome

In Pitch Wars,Queries & Synopses by MK England / August 11, 2016 / 3 Comments

I honestly never thought I’d say those words.

It’s true, my attitude toward synopses has evolved over the years. At first, I utterly loathed them. Then, after my crit partner’s synopsis revealed a major plot issue I’d failed to spot while reading the actual manuscript, I acknowledged that though they sucked to write, synopses could be a useful analysis tool.

And now, after reading Pitch Wars submissions? Synopses are beautiful and valuable and should be written with care.

We requested synopses along with the full manuscript from every contender, and they’ve been so enlightening, illuminating issues with the manuscript that are difficult to see at ground level. Here are some of the most common problems we’re seeing with manuscripts via synopses:

  • No self-contained plot arc. This is the big one. Even if your book is planned as part of a series, the first book must be able to stand alone. Readers hate it when the core plotline of a book doesn’t resolve at the end. More importantly, though, you can’t guarantee that you’ll be able to sell the whole series. You might only sell the first book. The publisher might want it as a duology rather than a trilogy or quartet. Wrap things up in the first book and leave some intriguing threads loose to pick up. If your book is bought as a series, your editor will help you revise to reflect that.
  • Mushy middle. You get off to a great start, and you knew where you wanted to go, but you didn’t know how to get there and there were no tentpoles in the middle propping the story up. Critical things need to happen throughout the book.
  • Too convoluted. There seems to be a real push to make things too complex: Too many characters, too many new ideas or concepts crammed in, too many subplots, etc. Sometimes these are due to poor synopsis writing, which hey, it’s hard, I forgive you. But sometimes, those same issues are reflected in the manuscript, and the synopsis just makes it easier to see. It’s no fun getting to the end of a synopsis and thinking “…I have no idea what just happened”.
  • More love for worldbuilding than characters or plot. Jamie and I LOVE cool worldbuilding. We really, really do, and it can make a book shine. But your world is the stage for your characters and their actions. Make sure your worldbuilding always serves the characters and the plot.

All of these are fixable, and a dedicated writer CAN fix them in the two months allotted for Pitch Wars, but you have to be open to the kind of large-scale rewrite that these problems require. Are you willing to gut entire chapters, chop off your whole ending, and eliminate dead-weight characters? It’s fine—take a few days, cry, feel grumpy, curse our names, and do whatever else you need to do to mourn and digest the feedback.

Then sit down at your keyboard, crack those knuckles, and make your book the best, shiniest book it can be.

Sometime in the near future, I’ll write a post on non-painful ways to write a synopsis. In the meantime, check out THE classic post on synopsis writing over on pubcrawl.

How do you feel about synopses? Do you have lots of angry feelings about them, or have you kind of come to terms? Vent your feelings in the comments.