Sunday, December 30, 2012

NaNoEdMo is Hiring!

Dear Edmos,

While we're rebuilding the NaNoEdmo website, we're also looking for someone to fill the volunteer position of Community Liaison (CL). What does a Community Liaison do, you ask? The CL is in charge of the Forum Moderators and the Red Pen Luminaries (RPLs).

Responsibilities of the CL:

• Oversee the moderators of 22 forums
• Recruit additional volunteer moderators as needed
• Assist moderators on escalated issues within the forums
• Oversee RPLs of 10 regions world-wide
• Recruit additional volunteer RPLs as needed
• Assist RPLs on escalated issues within the regional forums and within physical regions
• Keep in contact with moderators and RPLs via email, before, during, and after March.
• The bulk of work for the CL occurs between the months of January and March, though we are looking to expand our editing resources to be available and fresh all year long in the near future.

EdMo is run by a small group of people currently spread all over the United States, so your physical location in the world doesn't matter. We usually stay in contact via email and through online chat meetings.

This is a fantastic way to meet new people from all over the globe, gain work experience that will look great on any resume, and help keep the creative effort of writers alive and well. In reality, what could be better than that?

If this seems like something you would be interested in doing, please email me at nanoedmo(at) When you email me, please include any experience you may have and why you think you would be a good Community Liaison. Please note: experience is not necessary, but very welcome.

We are hoping to fill this position before our new website launch in February, so please get your emails in to me no later than Saturday, January 12, 2013.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The End of Another March

Dear Edmos,

March is over. I’m not sure whether I should be elated or sad by this pronouncement I have to make. What I can say, however, is a big giant CONGRATULATIONS to those who made it to fifty hours.

To those who didn’t make it to fifty hours… think about this… even those who did most likely still have a lot of editing left to do in order to make their novels publishable. I can pretty much guarantee that one round of editing will not suffice for anyone. We have all just begun the editing process, or maybe some of you have been editing for months already, and this is your way of wrapping up your novel. Either way, I think everyone by now knows just how much work it is to write and edit a novel, never mind trying to get it published.

CONGRATULATIONS for picking up that red pen and giving it a try in the first place. Many people don’t even get that far, and you did, which means you all deserve a nice big round of applause.

But you’re on a roll, and you’re not going to let anyone or anything stop you. Right? Right.

Remember that. You’re a writer and you’re going to write. Even if your ultimate goal is not to get published, you still want your novels to shine. Of course you do.

So keep at it, even after March is over.

In the meantime, we’ll be working on making sure the website stays up and running next year. We’ll also be changing the color scheme too, so it will be easier to read for everyone.  Basically, we have a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff we need to do, but rest assured we’ll be back again next year kicking and screaming and better than ever.

I created a slogan for this year’s Edmo that said let’s make this year better than last year… or something like that. As you can see, I clearly jinxed us, giving us the worst year ever with the website going down all the time. I abandoned the slogan a quarter of the way through the month with the way things were going. But let’s hope it can’t be bad two years in a row.

With all of that, I leave you off with two pieces of writerly advice:

a)      Stop complaining about making too many mistakes. Why? It happens to everyone. Every published author out there had to get his or her start from somewhere. Even they wrote garbage when they were younger. Even they write garbage now. You just don’t see it. Even they misplace commas and misspell words and mix up plot lines that cause major rewrites of an entire manuscript. It’s the writer’s life. It happens. Just go with the flow and use every mistake as a learning tool. When you’re 102 years old you’re still learning something every day, even if it’s how to spell Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

b)      Stop Stopping. March might be over, but as I’ve said above, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re done editing your novel. If you stop now, just because Edmo is over, you’ll lose your momentum. Momentum is one of the most important things in helping a writer get his or her work done. Remember that. Keep up the editing, keep up the momentum, don’t stop, and you’ll get that novel done a lot sooner than you would otherwise.

And with that, I bid you adieu, and good luck on the rest of your novel. I’ll see you again next March for another crazy month of editing!


Friday, March 30, 2012

Editing with Charts by Leah Cypress

First drafts serve different purposes for different writers. I know writers who describe their first drafts as embarrassing, and would rather die than show them to anyone; I know writers who revise as they go and end up with a “first” draft that is almost ready to send to an agent. (Note: almost. I don’t know anyone who sends in a first draft without any revision.)

I’m between those extremes. For me, a first draft is where the magic happens: where my characters come alive, the plot become twisty, and the sense of wonder makes itself felt. If none of that happens in the first draft, I’ll abandon the draft and, upon occasion, the project. But if it does… then I have something to work with.

And I do mean work.

My first drafts are complete messes. They tend to be littered with notes to myself, anything from “think of a better word” to “need a motivation for her to do this” to “explain stuff about sorcery here.” And that’s just the stuff I knew was problematic as I was writing. Once I sit down to revise, I quickly realize that I’ve invented contradictory rules for my world, one character suffers from a personality change halfway through the novel, people knew things in chapter 2 that they discovered for the first time in chapter 10, and I’ve used the phrase “narrowed her eyes” approximately three times per page.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when I realize just how full of holes my manuscript is; but now that I’ve been through the revisions process several times, and realize just how much my draft is going to change along the way, I know better than to panic. The important thing, for me, is not to start in on the manuscript itself – at least not right away. Instead, I create a couple of new documents, which might include: (1) a timeline, (2) a character-motivation chart, (3) a list of over-used words (I actually have a semi-permanent one that I use for every manuscript – I tend to be a repeat offender), and (3) a compilation of various scenes where I need to make sure the descriptions/information is consistent. And most importantly, I make one of these:

This chart, specifically, was made for Nightspell – a novel told from the point of view of three different people, with the motives and knowledge of various other people to take into account. Each column represents what one of my characters knows at every point in the book, and the colored post-its represent the various plot threads and plans winding through the book. I got the idea from Lon Prater, a fellow writer and member of my online critique group. (Diana Rowland, another writer, said she uses post-its on the living room wall. Maybe when my kids are old enough not to be way too tempted by that...)

Eventually, of course, I do plunge back into the manuscript. But with my folder-full of charts and outlines to help me, I find it much easier to see where my story has gone wrong, and what I have to do to make it right.

Leah Cypess used to be a practicing attorney in New York and is now a  full-time writer in Boston. She much prefers her current situation. She writes adult and young adult fantasy, and enjoys traveling, hiking, and spending time with her husband and children. Her two published fantasy books are MISTWOOD, about an ancient shapeshifter  trapped in the form of a human girl, and NIGHTSPELL, about a country where ghosts come back from the grave to solve their own murders.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Darth Vader and the Death Star: An Editing Ideology by Laura Lascarso

In between construction on Death Stars I and II, Darth Vader moonlighted as senior editor for a major publishing house. He applied his same philosophy in running the Death Star to critiquing manuscripts, using the Force to ensure that writers were as ruthless with words as he was with underlings. He valued, above all else, economy and efficiency. 

Here are a few pointers from the Darth Vader school of thought:

1. Choke your darlings.
If you have a minor character who is underperforming, or worse, not performing at all, choke them out using the Force. If you have a droid and a human who serve the same function, combine them into a cyborg, thus making them more than both. There is no room on the Death Star or in a manuscript for freeloaders.

2. Blast your adverbs, clich├ęs, unnecessary dialogue tags, etc.
These time-wasters are like Stormtroopers—can’t live with them, can’t live without them. Like the Imperial Army, they’re incredible ineffective. They have state-of-the-art weapons, but never actually hit their mark. In fact, they are the laughingstock of the entire galaxy. Economize the best and pulverize the rest.

3. Treat your adversaries with respect, but show no mercy.
Make your protagonist work, your antagonist too. Don’t let their fates be handed to them. If your protagonist is lacking oomph, make life harder—murder his aunt and uncle, cut off his hand, throw him down a vent shaft. If your antagonist seems two-dimensional, give him an inglorious Jedi past, a lost love, a dysfunctional father-son relationship. Give them both motivations and desires. And plans. Your antag and protag should each have a master plan that is in direct conflict with each other. Also, a fight scene with lightsabers never hurts.

4. Curb your tangents.
Keep only what’s interesting, relevant and well-written. This applies to both descriptions and random factoids. Do you know what the Death Star serves in the cafeteria on Wednesdays? Or how Darth Vader feels about the Emperor’s new job creation policies? Don’t distract from the story with too many asides. Keep the reader in the action of the story.

5. Break his heart.
Darth Vader no longer has a heart, but he remembers what it was like to have one. He wants to feel things too. Give your protagonist an internal struggle, have them build relationships with other characters, then destroy those relationships only to rebuild them again. Darth still wonders how a Wookie has more friends on Facebook than he does. Don’t they know he can destroy them with a single thought? It’s because at the end of the day, neither superweapons, nor annihilation can fill that empty space in Darth Vader’s chest.

Only the heart of your story can.

Laura Lascarso lives in in North Florida with her darling husband, two children, three chickens and a dog named Lucy. Her book, Counting Backwards, is coming out August 2012 from Antheneum (Simon & Schuster).

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Final Week of Edmo is Here

Dear Edmos,

The final week is upon us. Um... when the heck did that happen? I'm not really sure. But it did. It's here, and we just have to deal with it the best we can. This is often times, a rough part of the month for many people. You're sitting there watching your friends and family members march past the 50 hour line and wonder when you'll get there. And then you wonder what's going to become of your life the moment Editing Month is over. No more spending time in the forums talking to people, no more filling up your spare time (or maybe your work time... don't worry, we won't tell the Boss.) with editing and other equally important writing endeavors.

Yes, spending loads of cash from your recent pay check to buy that new (or antique) pen you've been ogling is a perfectly good writing endeavor. No writer can write without the best equipment they can buy. Well... they can, but it not nearly as fun, is it? I've got a new fountain pen in mind myself. I just have to reach that 50 hour goal before I can spend the money. Remember that people, goals are good. They keep you in line when you want to veer off track.

So, here's what I have to say: You WILL cross the finish line. No matter how many hours you have left to complete, I've got full faith that you'll manage to pull it off. Even if you have to remember how to fake a cough from your high school days and call in sick.

Right now, there is no need to worry about what will happen after Edmo is over. Just remember, we'll be back again next year and the best is always reserved for those who are patient enough to wait. Also, it is my belief that those people who are brave enough to attempt Edmo are also serious enough about their writing to do it year round, whether or not there's a no-competition competition (to use Chris Baty's words) going on. And if that's the case for you: More power to you! And I hope to see your book published some day. (I want a signed copy, you hear?)

Even if you don't write or edit year round, I applaud you for coming out of your shell and attempting National Novel Editing Month, especially if this is your first time. Editing is not easy. It's not fun. And many writers would prefer to skip it. I've been doing NaNoEdMo for years now, even before I took over as Queen, and this is honestly the first year I've ever truly enjoyed editing something I've written. I think for the most part it has to do with the fact that I've finally written something I deem publishable, something that I love, something I enjoyed writing in the first place. And it also has to be because there is NaNoEdMo. Because if there was no EdMo, I would never have even tried to edit my work. It's thanks to you guys for wanting to edit, for joining up, and becoming a great community, that so many writers are getting their work polished and (hopefully) published.

Now, I'm keeping this email very brief because I know we're all short on time, and because lately I haven't had time to do anything during the day so I'm doing it late at night, and I'm getting wicked tired... so I'm blaming all mistakes and errors within this message on my poor tired brain. Sleep will come soon... I just know it will.

And in the meantime, keep editing folks. It's the only way.


Revisions Don't Have to Suck by Susan Dennard

Everyone thinks revisions suck. They think that cleaning their story/prose is zero fun—all the fun is in the inspired writing, right?

WRONG. You can enjoy revising. Heck, I’d WAAAY rather revise a book than write it. I mean, we’re talking about 1) creating something from nothing versus 2) fixing up something you’ve already made. #2  will ALWAYS be easier than #1.

The key is to get organized and to be patient. 

Cleanliness…er… Organization Is Next To Godliness

I’ve written a lot of posts about getting organized and staying organized when revising. This is so, so, so important because it allows you to work more quickly, to always know how much ground you’ve covered (and how much you have left), and to really hone your skills as a storyteller (I swear: the more you revise, the stronger your grasp of storytelling will become—and that means your future first drafts will come out cleaner).

Always, always begin BIG and work down to small. What I mean by this is that you should start with Big Picture Issues—plot holes, flat characters, bland setting—and work down to the line edits.  Why? Because Big Picture Issues affect every page. If you decide to completely nix a subplot, you’re affecting a ton of prose—so why line edit those words if you’re only going to cut them later on?

Here’s a rough outline of the steps I follow:
  1. Print the entire book out to determine what I wrote and find ALL of the problems (from plot to pacing to dialogue).
  2. Get all the issues organized and break the book up into bite-size (i.e. scene-size) pieces.
  3. Figure out what I want my book to be—i.e. if it were in perfect condition and in readers’ hands, what would I wantthem to be reading?
  4. Make a Plan of Attack. I know what book I want, so how do I do that? (This step relies heavily on OCD-organization—color-coding, index cards, and lots of post-its!)
  5. Write in my changes. I know what each scene needs, so now I dig in and make those changes directly on the printed manuscript.
  6. Type in your changes! All those handwritten adjustments are now typed into your document, and if you have the desire (more like ability—I’m not so great at any edits on a screen), you can line edit as you go.
  7. Congrats! You’ve got a solid novel ready for full line editing or a critique partner’s eyes!
For more info, I urge you to check out my Guide to Revisions—it’s really in-depth, has worksheets for you to follow, and is the epitome of organization. ;)

Patience Is Definitely a Writing Virtue

I’ve just given you a lot to swallow (and if you check out my Guide, you’ll see there’s A WHOLE LOT to swallow). It’s daunting—terrifying even. I’m scared every single time I sit down to revise…

Which means now, more than ever, you need to be patient. Be patient with your work, and above all, be patient with yourself. It can take a LOT of revising to get the manuscript As Good As You Can Make It, but if you’re trying to get published, you have to have a top-notch novel. Agents and editors read so many books—so many bad books—that you’ve really got to stand out by having a stellar story, strong characters, and solid prose.

So I want you to write down these three things and tape them somewhere you’ll see ‘em often. This will be your revisions (or writing…or line editing or anything!) mantra.
  1. I CAN do it.
  2. I HAVE to do it.
  3. I will be GLAD I did in the end.

You CAN do it. If I can, then I know you can. It took me upwards of ten rounds of revisions before I even began querying for my first novel, Something Strange & Deadly. I HATED my book by the end, but…it definitely paid off. Within a month after I started querying, I signed with an agent and got a 3-book deal with HarperTeen.

And that’s why you HAVE to do it. If you want your story to stand out from the rest, you’ve got to make it better than the rest. You have the tools, so now all you have to do is crack down and< do it!
Once you do, you’ll be GLAD you did—just as I was (and still am and will always be). The hard work pays, the perseverance pays, the organization pays, and the patience absolutelypays. My first drafts for new novels are so, so much stronger! It only takes me one round of revisions to get it ready for my crit partners.

So dream big, never EVER give up, and get to work on those revisions! YOU CAN DO IT!!

Susan Dennard is a reader, writer, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She used to be a marine biologist, but now she writes novels. And not novels about fish either, but novels about kick-butt heroines and swoon-worthy rogues (she really likes swoon-worthy rogues). She lives in Germany with her French husband and Irish setter, and you can learn more about her crazy thoughts and crippling cookie-addiction on twitter, facebook, or Goodreads. Her debut, Something Strange and Deadly, will be available from HarperCollins in July of 2012, and you will never believe how happy this makes her!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Character Motivation by Bobbi Miller

Who were your favorite characters when you were a young reader? Jo, of Little Women? Mattie, in True Grit? The Artful Dodger, in Oliver Twist? Emma, of Jane Austin fame? What about Huckleberry Finn? Why are we so drawn to certain characters? The key to creating compelling characters is for the writer to establish strong character motivation. Often in rejections, editors highlight interesting characters and plot, but so-what? Why does this character want what she wants? 

The character’s motivation creates empathy between herself and the reader. After all, readers can empathize with a character’s motivation, especially if it’s similar to her own. Readers want to know why these characters are in the mess they are in. They what to know what happens to these characters. If  the plot is what happens to your character, then her motivation is the force that sets the plot into motion and keeps it going. It’s why she goes after her goal in the first place.

Fiction is primarily an emotional exchange. The reader stays connected to the hero because she feels the story. The reader wants to see the character succeed, or at least wants to see what happens next.

An easy method to use in understanding your character’s motivation is simply to ask her. Just as you ask your friend or your significant other why s/he is doing something, ask your character.  This is a freewrite exercise, no holds barred.  Ask your character why does she yearn for this thing? What’s so important about it that she’s willing to take risks to get it? What is she willing to risk for it?  How would she describe her current situation? If you hear inconsistencies in your character’s answers, don’t discard them, or ignore them! These inconsistencies make your character more human, and that means more authentic. 

Just like when we don’t fully understand why we do the things we do, you’ll discover that your character does not always understand her behavior.  This confusion, however, makes your character real to the reader. Her confusion reinforces her struggle. Madeleine L’Engle (The Heroic Personality, Origins of Story, 1999) offers that the heroic personality is human, not perfect.  What it means to be human is “to be perfectly and thoroughly human, and that is what is meant by being perfect: human, not infallible or impeccable or faultless, but human.”  Your character’s  confusion is authentic. This sense of authenticity is important in keeping the reader connected to your story. 

 At the core of your character’s confusion is her inner struggle. This inner struggle is what your character brings to the plot. It’s there before the story begins. It’s the struggle that is holding her back in life. And she’ll carry this struggle throughout her story.  James Scott Bell offers an experiment to help discover your character’s inner struggle:  Write down the one positive character you want to the reader to understand most about your character. Is she determined,  for example? Now, list those aspects that battle this characteristic, such as her timidity, or self-doubt. The presents the character’s inner struggle:  she is fighting with herself to achieve her goals.  Understanding how inner struggle influences motivation transforms your character “from plain vanilla to dynamic and dimensional.” (James Scott Bell, The Art of War For Writers, 2009)

And the key to understanding your character’s motivation is understanding your character’s history, called her backstory.  Backstory is defined as simply what happened before the present story begins.  Using backstory with care helps the reader to bond with your character. It deepens the relationship because it engages emotion and sympathy. Your character’s history relates to her inner struggle.   As Dr Phil tells us, our past affects our present. Understanding this psychological make-up of your character adds depth to your story. 

In another freewrite exercise, ask your character: What and why did she choose to wear those particular clothes? What is her attitude – about her family, her neighborhood, her friends?  How did your character grow up, was she loved, and what did she lose that helped shape her personality? What is your character’s disposition? How does she define herself? If you asked your character, “who are you”, how would she answer?

Of course,  you won’t have to use everything you discover about your character.  But, if you don’t know everything about your character, it shows in your writing!

Remember, the hero needs opposition to make her story worthwhile. Opposing characters simply stand contrary to your character. The antagonist may simply be all who disagree with the hero’s tactics. Villains, on the other hand, are usually dedicated to the destruction of the hero.  Christopher Vogler describes the difference between antagonist and villains: “Antagonists and heroes in conflict are like horses in a team pulling in different directions, while villains and heroes in conflict are like trains on a head-on collision course.” (Writer’s Journey, 1992)

Like the hero, villains also need their motivation.  Just as you sat down with your main character, spend some time talking to your villain.  Why does she oppose your character? Why must she have this thing? What’s so important about it that she’s willing to take risks to get it? What is she willing to risk for it? How would your villain describe her current situation? How would she describe your lead character? How would she describe her relationship with the hero?

And, like the hero, your villain has a history. And this history influences her motivation. Unless she was born evil, and few people are, villains were born human. Dean Koontz once offered that the best villains evoke pity, even sympathy, as well as terror.  Sympathy for a villain, deepens a story.  A bully doesn’t pick on someone just to be mean. Why did she become a bully?  What would your villain say about her family?  How was your villain raised? Did she experience a traumatic turning point that changed her emotionally?

In the end, villains are people, too.

However, as Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird, 1997) warns, you never know what you will find when you explore the depths of your character. When you explore the depths and shadows of your characters, you are touching upon your own shadows and fears. But this inner exploration is the key to creating memorable characters.

Says Ralph Keyes (The Courage To Write, 1995), “Daring is always more riveting than skill. Any juggler knows that the real crowd pleaser isn’t his hardest task, such as keeping five balls in the air. The biggest oohs and ahhs are reserved for feats that look as though they could main him…Bold writers have the same relationship to readers that a juggler has to his crowd. When they seem to catch an errant machete by the blade, their readers stay glued to the page.”

So, fear not and be bold! Dare to go deeper into your character!

A storycollector,  storyteller, and a writer who teaches writing, Bobbi Miller earned her MFA in children’s writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and a MA in children’s literature at Simmons College. Her picturebooks, One Fine Trade (illus. by Will Hillenbrand) and Davy Crockett Gets Hitched (illus. by Megan Lloyd) made the Bank Street College of Education List for Best Children’s Book of the Year 2010. Her third picturebook, Miss Sally Ann and the Panther, will be released in 2012. She is represented by Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary.  Find out more about her process, including her recent article on Voice, on her website