Houston, We Have a Problem.

I’m baaack! I had a wonderful time at the 2011 Pennwriters Conference, and I’m going to do a more complete post about it later this week. This morning, I’m going to talk about one of the revelations I had at one particular workshop, and what I’m going to do about it.

First, a quick reminder that today is the last day to enter my contest for the “best” revision metaphor. Leave a comment at last week’s post and join in the fun.

So..there were plenty of wonderful workshops at the conference, and I had time to drop in on a few. One was Ramona DeFelice Long’s “Four Truths of Character.” Ramona’s talk was great, and it got me thinking–as all the good classes do–about my own projects. Specifically, about Caro’s story. One of the things Ramona talked about was the character’s mission–another word for her goal. THE THING SHE WANTS. And I realized that I’ve been drifting around that question, not honing in on what it is that Caro is going after.

Now, I have some excuse, I know. There was that crazy first draft, at the end of which I realized I had two stories to write, not one. If I wasn’t clear, while I was drafting, what story I was supposed to be putting Caro in, it’s no wonder I wasn’t clear on what she wanted. So I’m not flagellating myself. Too much.

BUT…here’s the thing. I have this book-in-a-drawer. It’s a book I still love, and a book I have hopes of revising at some point down the line. And the longer I stay away from it, the longer I realize that perhaps the biggest revision point will be…wait for it: what the hero in that book really wants.

Light-bulb moment.

I wrote six drafts of that book, all without tightening the story enough around the hero’s goal/needs. And the result has been, I think, that I have a nice, well-written, funny book, with a big flaw that is now–because of that polishing–harder to revise away.

In other words, I don’t want to wait that long on Caro’s story to figure it out.  (Okay, and this is very possibly true for the picture book, too!)

So what am I going to do about it? Well, my first thought was that I needed some brainstorming time with my critique group. So I brought it up at yesterday’s meeting, thinking I’d just schedule 20 minutes or so at our next meeting. But, of course, because they are so amazing, that wasn’t good enough for them. One brilliant critique partner suggested that I could let them know about some missions/goals that I’ve seen in other YA books.

Another light bulb.

So here’s the plan. In the next couple of weeks, I will:

  • Pick a half-dozen of my favorite YA novels and reread at least the first chapter, but most likely up to the point where the inciting incident hits, since I think that incident is a microcosm of the story’s BIG PROBLEM.
  • Figure out what the hero wants at that moment, and see if I can come up with how that specific goal plays into the big story goal (which, I think, the hero doesn’t always know until later in the story).
  • See if, in the process, any more light bulbs go off.
  • Bring those goals and my own questions about Caro to my critique group for brainstorming

I’m also, I think, going to read Donald Maass’ The Breakout Novelist. I think Maass’ writing books may be the best I’ve found, for pushing me to actually think about character, instead of just typing away and seeing what comes.

Between Ramona, my critique partners, Donald, and me, I’m guessing Caro and I will get our mission. Or at least get a heck of a lot closer to it!


Contest Winner & a Few Links

Last week, I interviewed Martha Engber about her book The Wind Thief and ran a contest for an ARC of the novel. Today, while my son lay on the couch with another book in hand and a cat on lap, he reached into the bowl for me and drew the winner’s name.

Tara Lazar, Come on Down! Email me at beckylevine at ymail dot com, and send me your snail mail address. I’ll pop the book in an envelope and send it on its way!

I admit it, I do like Google Alerts. I like think that I’m not too obsessive about it, but it’s fun when one of the alerts shows up in your email, even if some of those links do seem to end somewhere in never-never land with no real source. Ah, the magic of the Internet. Sometimes, though, they take you a fun place.

Like finding out your book is available for pre-order at the Writer’s Digest online shop! In print and PDF version.

One more cool thing, and I’ll leave you to get back to work. Don’t you all have a novel to write or 30 picture book ideas to come up with?! 🙂

This morning, I got an email from Jane Friedman, at Writer’s Digest, telling me about a promotion they’re doing for the book. Every now and then I get these notes, and usually it’s just pretty exciting to think about a company like Writer’s Digest out there working to market my book. This idea, though, was particularly fun to hear about, because it comes with a freebie.

Which is always good.

Anyway, Writer’s Digest is setting up a critique-group registry, and any group that completes their form will get a free digital copy of The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide.


You can read about it here and, if you want, sign up your group.

The Community of a Critique Group

I talk a lot here about the structure of a critique group and about the critiquing process. As you all know by now (and are perhaps tired of hearing!), I’m a big believer in the power of a strong group to help us build our writing skills and move our projects forward.

What I haven’t talked about as much is the importance I also place on the community a good critique group gives us.

By now, it’s a cliche to say that writers spend a good part of their work-time alone, even lonely. For some of us, that’s the best way to focus on the writing, to get words out of our minds and into the story. There’s part of that life, thought, that can make it harder to stay writing, to really define ourselves as writers. And that’s the part of spending our non-work time with family and friends who may have no idea what this thing we do feels like.

How many times has someone asked you “How the book’s going?” and then looked confused and muddled when you don’t have a straightforward answer like, “Oh, it’s going to be published next week.”

I once heard an author talk who co-write all her mysteries with her sister. She said the best thing about co-authoring a book was that you had another person who, at any time, on any day, really wanted to talk about your writing. 🙂

A critique group is, at it’s root, a steady reminder that what we are doing is not only important and justifiable, but incredible, exciting, and sometimes just darned fun. As different as we all are, the members of our critique groups are a bit like mirrors–people we can look at and see as authors, people who send that reflection back to us–recognition that we’re authors, too. When someone in our group has a success, that success becomes a possibility for the rest of us; when they “fail,” we’re there to point out how many times they’ve seen us slip, too, then get up and keep writing. A critique group is a statement of value about what we’re doing, one that–if we write alone and in a void–is hard to always remember.

The Internet–with its blogs and social-networking sites is, of course, an extension of this community. Writing conferences, too, are a place to reach out and make more connections, to grow a bigger circle.

A strong critique group, though, is the base on which this circle gets built. And, for me, it’s the base on which I know I can build my own, powerful writing path.