A Sure-Footed Voice

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketA funny thing happened to me during the editing process. I realized my biggest problem scene is in the first chapter. In the first scene of the first chapter. I’m actually pretty happy with the rest of it–the other eighty or ninety or one hundred scenes. I’m not sure how it happened that the first and most important scene became dud-ish. Well, I have a few suspicions. That first scene was, literally, the first that came to me in this incarnation of my story. It came to me organically–charming me with words and phrasing. It helped to establish the feel and flavor of the tale. It rooted all that came after.

But.

It’s not working. I’ve come to see (cue light bulb) that it possesses too strong a narrator-type voice. It’s intrusive. It’s my voice coming through and not the protagonist’s.

It’s so important to get the first scene right. We read about it all of the time. Our friend Ray Rhamey shows us with his regular manuscript floggings (HERE) how often our first lines fail by lying flat on the page, when they need to reach out and grab, and shove the reader into the story.

The first scene is significant not only when it comes to snagging the attention of agents and editors; it’s important because it establishes a bond between reader and writer. Trust me, those first lines say. I’m a storyteller, and I have a tale for you. You’ll like it. Grab a chair and sit a while with me, these pages, and you’ll be glad you did.

Here are a few examples. What do the voices do for you? Do they incite trust? [Read more…]

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Harry Potter and the Narrative Charnel House

Warning: If you don’t want to hear what happened in the book, don’t read this. There are spoilers ahead.

It read like an episode of the Sopranos.

Beloved characters die gruesome deaths with little or no mourning for their passing. A caged animal blows up. A hat bursts into flames while being worn. The mucus pouring from a dying man’s orifices is collected and studied. A snake punches out of the neck of an old woman’s rotting cadaver.

These vignettes of violence wouldn’t be so shocking except that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is supposed to be a book written about children for children. Maybe they’re shocking because of it.

Now I’m not going to tsk and say we should shield children completely from violence and the consequences of evil. But I was unprepared for JK Rowling’s bloodbath and, honestly, I couldn’t really understand why she’d need to torture and kill so many of her characters. I’ve given it a lot of thought from a writer’s standpoint, taking into account narrative tension, the motivations of her antagonists, and plot relevance.

I still don’t get it.

[Read more…]

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INTERVIEW: Alice Pope

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketAnyone interested in breaking into the children’s or young adult market, take note: Today’s interviewee knows a lot about this business. Alice Pope is the editor of the Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market (CWIM), the foremost guide for these genres, published annually through Writer’s Digest Books. We’re thrilled she’s agreed to answer some of our questions about CWIM and the market itself. Enjoy!

Interview with Alice Pope

Q: For people who might not know, what is the CWIM? What makes it a valuable resource for children’s writers?

AP: CWIM is also known as Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market. It’s an annual guide for (obviously) children’s writers and illustrators seeking publication. CWIM lists hundreds of book publishers, magazines, agents and reps, contests, conferences, etc. It’s a great tool for writers because we offer the most up-to-date and complete information we can in a print format. We get our information straight from editors, agents, contest directors, etc.

We also put together a wonderful (in my humble opinion) collection of articles and interviews every year, which is the fun part of working on CWIM. There’s a lot of useful information between our covers. We include craft-y pieces, business-y pieces, and lots of info and advice straight from writers themselves, both first-timers and well-seasoned. I think it’s both instructional and inspirational.

Q: How long have you been the editor of the CWIM?

AP: The first edition of CWIM I worked on was the 1994 edition (as a production editor). I co-edited the 1995 CWIM and then, after much pestering of the higher-ups, fully took the helm for the 1996 edition. So something like 13 or 14 years. I have a long attention span. (And I really love my book.)

Q: How has the CWIM changed over the years?

AP: I suppose the biggest difference is the number of articles and interviews we include. When the book started in 1989, it was fewer than 180 pages long and included just two articles. The 2008 edition is 448 pages long and includes two dozen features and six “Insider Report” interviews. And (I hope) over the years the book has taken on my voice a bit—there’s a lot of me in it.

Q: How is this year’s CWIM (released in August) different from last year’s
release?
[Read more…]

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Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketI’ve caught myself sounding tired and negative in my recent posts—I put this down to a lengthy struggle with the current wip. This started out as a book called Heart’s Blood, then when I was about five chapters in and under contract in Australia and the UK, the US rights were sold for that novel and another stand-alone book on the proviso that I delivered them in the reverse order. The deadline was the same. I had to put away what I’d been working on and start writing a new book that only existed as a short synopsis at that point. Very fortunately, the Australian and UK publishers agreed to publish the second book first, or I would have been in real trouble.

It just happened that all sorts of interruptions got in the way of progress on the novel. Some months down the track, I was seriously unhappy with what I’d written, and not only because there wasn’t enough of it. The new novel, an adult fantasy set in early medieval Ireland, has the same setting and some of the same characters as my first series, the Sevenwaters Trilogy. The expectation is that it will be closer to the mode of those earlier books than to that of my more complex, more historically based later books. It was much harder than I expected to return to that simpler and more emotive style, and to the restrictions of first person viewpoint for a story that had to include battles and journeys as well as domestic elements. My writing has developed a lot since I began the Sevenwaters series—I’ve written seven other novels since the last in that trilogy. [Read more…]

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