5/27/17

Preparing for a Workshop // Part 3 // explaining your story

And now it is time for everyone's favorite topic. Every writer's dream moment.

Explaining your story to the clueless. 

You meet someone who has never heard of you, or your story. But, since you're at a writing workshop they KNOW you're a writer. There's no hiding it. There's no avoiding the question. You have to be able to explain your story. I used to get out of explaining my story by saying, "Oh, I write fantasy novels in other worlds with adventure and magic and stuff." And that would satisfy. But not anymore.

Now, fellow writers, you must learn to coherently explain your plot.



There are several ways to do this. My advice would be to write a pitch for your story, which I wrote a post about here. A pitch is a one sentence hook, and my favorite version is the conversation pitch because you can give it to fellow writers in a casual setting and make a conversation.

I do have a few other tips to help you with sharing your story idea with someone!

STEP #1: be confident.

You know your story better than anyone. This person knows nothing (most likely). So be confident when you're telling the person about your book. Speak boldly and don't back down, don't play things off as if they're no biggie. Don't brag about your book, but don't discredit it either.

Be confident! You've spent so much time with your story. So OWN IT.

STEP #2: have something prepared, aside from just your pitch.

Be ready to give a brief description of your main character, your story world, and some of your themes. If you end up striking a full-on conversation with someone who is interested in your premise, you'll want to be able to give them more than just a one line summary. They'll likely want to know a little more plot stuff, and then some other aspects of it.

SO. Think over how you can briefly sum up your story world, your main character and the journey they go through (emotional and physical) in the course of the story, and why you started writing the book/some things you want to say with it.

It's important to mull over these because YOU WANT TO HAVE THOUGHT IT THROUGH. You don't want to get caught of guard because then you'll start blabbing. And you'll say a bunch of stuff that probably didn't need to be said, and you'll lose the listener's attention.

Also, you want the conversation to be double sided. You want to hear about the other person's story too. And if you spend the whole time trying to explain your Very Complicated Main Character, you likely won't get to hear much about their story.

Briefness is especially important when talking to professionals. You want it short and sweet ... and memorable. Those few words you get need to be big words that hook and grab. They need to matter.

At this point, I can hear your thoughts. 

"But HANNAH," you whine. "What is this thing you speak of? Briefness, you call it? What is this magic?"

I know, I know. I tend to write long. My MG novel (which those books are ideally in the 50k-70k range) was 94k words. *sighs* There's a LOT that goes on in that story. And don't even get me started on my YA novel, The Thief's Conspiracy. The first draft was only 85k words, but the second draft was a whopping 126k.

"Summing up" is synonymous with "brutal axe murder". With a cherry on top. (Yes, that's a pun. Yes, it is a good pun. Appreciate me.)

Point being: I GET IT. Summing stuff up is really hard. But a key thing to remember is: you don't have to tell them everything.

You just want to touch on the key points. The things that will pique their interest.

Let's start with summing up your main character.

"But I have five main characters," you might protest. "I can't sum them all up!"

I'm not sure what my opinion on this matter is, but I've heard it say by wise writers that you can only have one main character. I didn't believe it when I was planning The Dream Walkers, but I kind of do now, especially when I found out who my main character was in that book, and why. I saw how she effected the story and characters and carried the plot differently than the others.

I'd say give three to five interesting things about your character. For example, my main character's name is Chloe and she is the oldest of four siblings. She's a Dream Giver, which means she can give people dreams at night and send them to Dream World, where they play on the landscape she crafted. She can also open doors in Dream World that no one else can. But she's a very lonely child, and has to learn in the story that sometimes we might feel alone even when we're surrounded by people, but that doesn't mean we are alone.

See? That's like ... how many words is that? 86. That's an 86 word summary of my main character.

It's so much easier than you might think! Say what is interesting and important, and leave the rest for when the person reads the story.

The same goes for your setting. Be brief, and tell people about the cool and hooking parts.

I'll end with one more "official" step. (because it's centered and in bold and says step before it so it's obviously Very Important.)

STEP #3: listen.

Remember that the person you're speaking to (at least when you're at a workshop) is a writer too. Be sure to keep the conversation balanced. What's their story about? Who is their main character? Why are they writing this book?

When someone is genuinely interested in our book, it's really hard to stop talking. I know I could go on for AGES. It's my passion, after all. How could I not? But don't forget to offer the joy of being heard to someone else.

You both deserve to be listened to.

I won't be back till July, so I wish you all a happy summer! I'll be back with a wrap-up post and I will spam you with my fangirling and pictures let you guys know how my writing workshop goes!

Do you struggle explaining your book to people? Any tips that I missed?

<3

5/20/17

Preparing for a Workshop // Part 2 // critiquing

This is part two of my Preparing for a Workshop mini series. If you missed the first post, you can read that here.

And now for today's post! CRITIQUING.

**WARNING: I might rant. Just a bit. Not 100% sure, but you should be warned, all the same.



There are several important things to remember when giving and receiving a critique. Let's start with giving someone a critique.

#1: ENACT THE SANDWICH RULE.

I think Jill talked about this once upon a time at Go Teen Writers (not 100% sure about that though). But basically the idea is when critiquing someone's work, if you find a problem, try to sandwich it by taking notes of things you like. If there's a sentence you don't understand and think needs clarification, or a weak description, mention how much you like the line of dialogue before it, and how creative the world building is after. That kind of thing.

It also reminds us to encourage. Because encouragement is very important in critiquing. We writers are dramatic, after all. Often times, we think our books are the ABSOLUTE WORST in the whole world. Getting a critique back that points out all flaws would only help that mindset along. Getting back a critique that was all fluff and fangirl would likely cause the person to not trust what you're saying and disregard the whole critique (unless it's a late draft and close to publication).

POINT BEING: you need a balance of the two. Then the writer will be encouraged to work on the problems, but take comfort in knowing that there were good things about their work and that it's not actually all horrible.

#2: BE HONEST AND HAVE GRACE.

I was at a church service a few weeks ago, and the preacher was talking about how we need to have two things in our conversation: honesty and grace.

You do NOT want to lie. If the book is really not good, don't rave about how amazing it is just to encourage them and make them feel better about it. That's not the truth, so they don't need to hear it. However, do not go on and on about how bad it is and all these issues they need to fix. They don't need to hear that, either.

What they need is the truth. But they need it with grace. If one of their characters is flat, find something good to say about them (sort of like the sandwich rule here) and gently advise on how to make them better.

A THOUGHT: don't ever say, "This is horrible. Do this instead, and then it'll be good." You are not the writer. You are giving advice. Let your comment sound more like, "This is okay, but I don't think it has quite what you were aiming for. Maybe if you added this or took out this bit, it would have more impact and be stronger."

Always, ALWAYS, no matter how bad the book is, be gentle, gracious, and kind. The point of all beta reading and critiquing is to help the author, both with their story and with their motivation.

#3: DO NOT FORGET WHAT YOU'RE AIMING FOR.

If you're doing this as more of an encouragement / pleasure read, do not search the work for problems. If you're doing this to help the writer get through some writing that's giving them trouble, don't just talk about the character issues you spotted, or how their pacing was poor. If they gave you an early draft and asked for big-picture advice, don't go line by line to correct grammar and point out weak descriptions.

If you notice something big that the writer didn't specifically ask for, it's okay to point that out if you think it needs it. But don't point out every little grammar mistake if they sent you a first/second draft.

Keep in mind what they asked for, and read it for the purpose of commenting on that. It will save your time, and give them the advice and encouragement they need.

Now that I've ranted about critiquing for others, here's some advice on how to receive a critique.


#1: COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR BETA ABOUT WHAT YOU'RE LOOKING FOR.

Right off the bat, let your beta know where you are with your story and what you need / want from them right now.

In order for them to give you a good, beneficial critique, they need to know what to look for. Otherwise they're just going to comment on whatever they see. It might help you, yes, but there will likely be some questions you had that they didn't answer, and some things they pointed out that you didn't want or need.

In just about every area of life, communication is very important.


#2: DON'T TAKE EVERYTHING AS LAW.

If your beta marks a line and says, "This is flat and doesn't work. Change it." don't go, "oh dear. I need to change this." At least, not immediately. If they didn't explain why they thought it was flat, try to find the reason for it. Take a step back from your work and consider. If you find the reason for their comment and agree with it, change it. If you don't agree, don't change it. It's not disrespectful to them. You're staying true to yourself and your story.

Also, don't take everything personally. If someone makes a blunt comment, take a step back and breathe before getting too upset about it. They're most likely just trying to help you. They don't mean to make you feel like your book is horrible, or your characters are all 2D. Try to sympathize with them. And most importantly ...


#3: BE OPEN. 

It's easy to send off something (especially something you feel good about) and expect the reader to be all praise and adoration over it. 

But 1) as hard as it is to accept, you're work is likely not perfect yet. Otherwise, you wouldn't need betas.

And 2) they are LOOKING for problems. That's they're job. So, even if it's not actually something you think of as a problem, they're going to find issues with your work.

So when you open their document, remember that they are giving their opinion. Be open to their suggestions, but if you feel the need, remember you can discard their entire critique. (not saying that you should, because everyone can teach you something, but remember that you are in charge and you have the final say in everything about your story right now.) You don't have to do anything. 

But you can. You can learn from what your beta has said. 

Take advantage of the comments they give you. Even if you don't agree, study their reasoning. You might find yourself changing something based on an issue they noticed, even if you don't fix it in the way they suggested.

Just be open and listen. That's soooo important. Take your time, and remember to be thankful. Critiquing someone's work takes time!

And lastly, 


#4: WAIT UNTIL YOU'RE READY.

There are deadlines that have to be met, yes. But for unpublished writers (generally speaking) you're not in a big hurry. There's not a big rush to get things to betas. 

So take your time. Make your work the best you can on your own so that you don't have other people pointing out problems you were already aware of and planning on fixing. 

Know yourself, too. I can't send first drafts to people for them to critique. About four years ago, I sent the first draft of a chapter to my cousin and she critiqued it for me. It was ... not pretty. There were so many issues with the work, and I hadn't even read over it on my own. After I got the critique, I couldn't write for about a week (which was a long time for me). I finally had to tell her I couldn't take first draft critiques anymore. I, personally, cannot handle it. And I know that now. And I stick to that. 

Know yourself. Push yourself, but don't strain yourself. Wait until you're ready, until you can't do much else on your own. Don't wait until it's the most beautiful work of art you've ever created (because that doesn't happen without help) but wait until you know you need the opinions and thoughts of other writers and readers you trust.


I'm 97.5% sure I severely ranted in this post. I'm also 81.06% sure I'm not sorry about it. I hope you learned something from this post! 

Have you ever critiqued or beta read someone's work? Have you ever had your work beta read or critiqued? What was your experience? 

5/13/17

Preparing for a Workshop // Part 1 // creating something that shines

Today is the kick off of a mini series I'm doing this month before I go to my second workshop. I'm going to talk about the prep to do before for the next three Saturdays, and then I will disappear until July 6, when I'll give my second quarter wrap up.

So that's what will be happening here at Stan for the next month! Now, on with the post!



Up until the workshop last year, I had not crafted anything that truly shone. I had not prepared any piece of my writing to share with someone else.

I hadn't built confidence in anything.

And, as you can probably guess, I hadn't shared my work with anyone (except for my cousin). So when I realized I was going to have to edit something and show that something to a professional editor ... to sit across from her while she read it and then talk with her about it?

AHHHHHHHHHHH.

I only had to prepare the three opening pages of manuscript, and a four page excerpt for critique groups.

Not much, I know. But I wasn't prepared. So far, I'd only written for fun. I was serious about it, but I hadn't buckled down to craft words that really shone. Words that I could look at and be proud of.

Being proud of my writing was, to be frank, a foreign concept to me.

But it is possible. I did it, and you can too. Here are a few steps I took to get my three pages ready for a professional editor.

Step #1: I MADE IT THE BEST I COULD ON MY OWN. 

The first thing you need to do is sit down and look at your pages. Print them out if that helps you. Take a bright red pen to it. Grab a writing craft book (the GTW book is my go-to, and worth every penny to buy a copy).

Shred it to the best of your abilities. If you're new at micro editing, this will be a bit challenging to you. There's a fine line to walk between good writing and too much polishing. You don't want to lose your voice, but you also don't want to be filled with telling and poor descriptions.

Step #2: I GAVE IT TO SOMEONE ELSE.

I had several people look over it. My cousin was the main person, of course.

And we did not send it to each other just once.

We sent each other those first three pages at least four times. That might seem a bit overkill to you, but it was necessary. I could not have done it on my own, and after one round of edits, more problems would pop up.

Frustrating, I know. Especially for such a small amount of words.

I gave it to another writing friend too, and I actually won a draw on the Writers Helping Writers blog and got a free one page critique, which was incredible.

A small note on critique partners: when you send your writing to someone, you want it to be perfect. But you have to remember, you can't make it the best it can be all by yourself. You need some fresh eyes. You have to bite your lip and toughen up and send out that imperfect document. It's so hard because you KNOW it can be better. You just aren't sure how to get it there yet.

People can help you. Go to your writer friends. They are valuable and will help you make your pages as good as they can be.

But they can only do so much. You are the one that has to take their advice and apply it. Don't let their critiques get you down. They want to help you. And if something they say doesn't sit with you, don't apply it. Examine what they thought was an issue and try to think about it from a new perspective. But if you're happy with something the way it is, KEEP IT. That's another sign of art. Art isn't going to be cookie cutter perfect. It's not supposed to be.

If you're having trouble finding a critique partner, go check out the Go Teen Writers facebook group. There are probably other places, but that has been a huge source of community for me.

Also, when asking someone to critique your work, I would recommend an exchange. Especially if you are both going to a conference or workshop. You can message said person and say, "Hey, I've been trying to get these pages for the workshop ready. Would you like to have a critique exchange?" If they say yes, you'll not only get someone to provide feedback on your work, but you also have a chance to critique someone else's work. Looking at someone else's manuscript for micro issues might be just the thing to get you into the mindset of editing your own. Plus, you'll be helping out a friend.

Step #3: I LET IT GO.

Just like you need to let it go to send it to people for critiques, the day will come when you need to pack up your things for that workshop or conference. And at that point, you have to let it go. You can keep chipping away at those words for a lonnnng time. There will always be a different way to phrase something, a different route to take the story down.

Just take a deep breath and let it go. Let yourself be happy with what you've created, and get ready to show it to people.

That's it for this week. If you're not going to a workshop or conference this summer, I still highly recommend creating something you can show people. Three pages is a good amount. A lot of people want to read your writing. It's nice to have a few pages you can be proud of and say, "Here. Read this."

I'm going to devote a post next week to critiquing. In the meantime, happy writing!

Have you ever been to a workshop or conference? Have you ever gotten a piece of your writing ready for others to read?

<3

5/6/17

Dare to Dream

So it's 1:11 A. M. and I'm just now starting this post.

It's bound to be a bit rambley. Prepare yourselves.

I watched La La Land for the first time tonight. I know, I know, I'm late to the party. But I wasn't sure what to talk about today, and this gave me a lot of inspiration.

Hence, the post.

This movie gave me many mixed feelings. But I want to focus on the big thing it taught me.

It portrayed a very realistic view of following your dream.

It showed how stepping out into the void, taking a leap in order to do what you love ... it isn't easy. It's not romantic. It's not all going to fall together magically. The world is not going to halt in awe of your talents. People are not going to flock to you and swoon over your art.

But that doesn't mean you need to give up. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try.

Because that's not what it's about. Following your dreams is about finding your true purpose in life. It's about not settling for something that will keep you safe and secure. It's about taking a risk.



Dare to dream.

Take a deep breath and do it. Choose to follow your heart. Choose to do what you love. It doesn't mean abandoning college or "stable" jobs. What you love could very well fall under those categories.

But don't push yourself into categories just so you can have a "chance" or "be successful".

What does successful mean, anyway? In my eyes, being successful is finding your purpose in life. It's finding the path God wants you to walk, and going forth boldly.

I'll end with a verse I found the other day.

So we will boldly say:
"The LORD is my Helper;
I will not fear.
What can man do to me?"
Hebrews 13:6

If it's God's plan for you, no power on earth can stop it.

Follow your dreams, and make them real. It will be hard, and it's not going to be all romantic like in the movies. Life isn't butterflies and daisies.

But there are butterflies and daisies. So find them when you can.

If that made any sense. I probably just incoherently rambled.

This has been episode 34 of Late Night Chats with Hannah. Stay tuned!

Also, you should go check out the post Katie did on this a while back on her blog. It's really beautiful. <3

Have you seen La La Land? What did you think of it? What's your dream?

<3