Saturday, May 31, 2014

LDStorymakers Conference Notes: Voice

One of my favorite classes--it was so full I had to sit on the floor--was taught by Lisa Mangum (you can find her books here), called Voice: How to Make Your Manuscript Sing. These are my notes from the class.

Readers want to hear the story the way the author intended and not from anyone else.

What is voice? 
  • The quality that makes your writing unique, conveys the author's personality and attitude. 
  • The characteristic speech and thought patterns of a narrator.
What it isn't?
  • Style
What's the difference?
  • Voice = what you have to say
  • Style = how you choose to say it

My voice says "Love is eternal and the choices you make matter." You can say it in the style of a YA Romance or a horror novel about a serial killer. Same voice, different style.

Voice and style are different but more powerful when used together.
  • Voice = lyrics
  • Style = melody
Changing the style can help change how people hear your voice. If you pick the wrong style, your voice will be unbelievable.

Be selective about the words you give voice to and the words you use to showcase your style.

Quote from Gary Provost: "This sentence has five words." Read the full quote here.

It's all about perspective and what you focus on. I loved this example. :)

Choose wisely--The Details Matter

  • Pacing
  • Scenery
  • Dialogue
  • Characters
  • Narration
  • Action
Be intense--Evoke strong emotions
  • Pour yourself into it.
  • A book is based in emotion. A good book will inspire strong emotions in the reader.
  • It's hard to inspire strong emotions when you say it like everyone else says it. Push past cliches.
How do you feel?

Quote from Jeff Goins: "Pay attention to how you're feeling." You can read the full quote here and get some other great advise for finding your voice.

Strive for deep creativity.

Quote from Elizabeth Bluemle: "It's inspiring to come upon books that make something fresh of the same old words we all use." You can read the full quote and another great article on voice here.

Be Notorious
What are you know for? Homework.

  • Jot down five books you like to read. How are they alike and how are they different? What is it about them that intrigues you? Often what we admire is what we desire to be.
  • Describe yourself in three adjectives. Does your writing reflect that?
Be Genuine

Speak to word--the word is all of us
  • We are storytellers
  • Be brave enough to use your voice and say something
  • Find the right words and right style and your voice will ring clear and true
A Writer's Voice

Quote from Patricia Lee Gauch: "A writer's voice is not character alone, it is not style alone; it is far more.  A writer's voice line the stroke of an artist's brush- is the thumbprint of her whole person- her idea, wit, humor, passions, rhythms."  

Your Voice is Your Voice

Quote from Donald Maass, Writing the Breakout Novel: "To set your voice free, set your words free." You can read the full quote and an excerpt from the book here.

Practice, practice, practice and fail a lot. 

And that's it. I hope it was helpful to some of you. Be sure to check out Lisa's books and follow her on Twitter.

Thanks for reading! Anything anyone wants to add?

Friday, May 30, 2014

Chopping down that wordcount

We all have filler text. Some of us have a lot of it. And it does serve a purpose: we need it sometimes for our brain to transition from Point A to Point B in a scene. Of course, one of my favorite parts of revision is realizing you don't actually need that filler text at all, and that the scene is that much more snappy and powerful and interesting without it. People often ask me if it's hard, deleting the words I've written, but personally, I think it's a pretty great feeling sometimes.

Need to whittle down your wordcount? Here are a few things I keep an eye out for when I'm chopping away:

Repetitive or 'on-the-nose' dialogue: Dialogue is one of the most enjoyable parts of writing for me. I think that's usually why I get carried away. When real people talk, especially when they know each other well or are in a particularly intense emotional state, they don't always use full sentences, or say what they mean. I was told by a workshop teacher once to that the character should say their piece in as little space as possible, and that advice has served me well. So if the characters are repeating themselves (or someone else), or explaining themselves in a way that leaves little up to interpretation? Cut it out.

Also a great candidate for chopping: when I'm writing a scene with a large group of characters and I shoehorn in some dialogue so that the audience remembers they're there. Not only do I cut that line, but if the character has that little to do in a scene, I try to write them out altogether.

Anything that dilutes your impact: Sometimes a scene ends. And then it keeps going. It can be hard to see until I'm in the revision phase, but sometimes a scene or chapter hits its natural endpoint (and a great one at that), and then I have a good three or four paragraphs after it. Those can all go, and the 'wham' factor is stronger for it. The same goes for a tense conversation that has a little too much slack, or a reveal that gets a little too wordy. Even if you're not writing an edge-of-your-seat thriller, those threads still need to be as taut as possible.

"As you know...": This phrase is often used to warn writers away from clumsy exposition - when two characters discuss, in great detail, something both of them already know. I am sometimes guilty of doing the same thing with the reader. Sometimes it can be necessary to remind the reader of something that hasn't been brought up in a while. But if I take up precious plotting time reiterating a point I've already made, that can go. Stories work best when you trust your reader to connect the dots. And this is where betas are invaluable. If they don't get it, they'll let you know.

There are times for the scalpel and times for the machete: Sometimes I can make a huge difference in my wordcount just by taking out the little things above. And sometimes - say, if I've done heavy revisions already - I find a scene that was necessary the first time around, but has been made redundant by the changes I've already made, or no longer make sense for the characters/relationships. It can be hard to get rid of those. But it's necessary. And when that number at the bottom of your document drops by several hundred words, it's a beautiful thing.

Happy weekend, OA, and happy writing!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Is Angst Necessary?

People often view creative types as angsty people. We have that visual of a tortured artist, or a writer holed up in some attic turret with a bottle of booze and a soul full of torment. While I'm sure this is sometimes the case, I know many more writers who are peppy soccer moms who just happen to be awesome at writing stories that fairly drip with angst.

So where does all that angst come from? Don't creative people need angst?

Well, in my opinion at least, no, I don't think they absolutely need it. However, do I think many creative people have angst (at least more than the average person)? Yes. Do I need angst? I have no idea. :-D

I do tend to be more inspired by angst. Depression and sadness seem to draw the creativity out of me more than other emotions. (What this says about me I really don’t want to know) :-D The good news is, I don’t necessarily need the angst to be my own. I get very inspired by other people’s angst as well, like a really good, angsty song or movie. I guess I’d have to say, no, I don’t think creative people have to have angst in order to produce good work. But, I do think it helps.

Robert Penn Warren said:
The writer’s fundamental attempt is to understand the meaning of his own experiences. If he can’t break through those issues that concern him deeply, he’s not going to be very good.

I think this is what I use in my work. I wouldn’t describe it as “angst,” but I do dissect my experiences in order to serve up the most intense parts of them. And the more “angsty” emotions do tend to be the strongest, the ones that stick with me the most. For example, I was ecstatic at my wedding. It was a wonderful day. And then when my son was born, the love and joy I felt looking into his newborn eyes was beyond description. 

But the experiences that are the easiest to delve into now, are the depressing ones, the sad, heartbreaking, emotional ones. I have a hard time feeling that exact euphoria I felt at the best moments of my life. But I can feel the pain and anguish and rage and heat and desire and all consuming love that I felt at the worst or most intense moments in my life at a moment’s notice – I just have to dip into the right memory. 

What I truly think you need to produce good work is emotion. Any kind of emotion. Not angst, necessarily. But raw, unfiltered emotion. 

 Edna Ferber said:
I think that to write well and convincingly, one must be somewhat poisoned by emotion. Dislike, displeasure, resentment, fault-finding, imagination, passionate remonstrance, a sense of injustice – they all make fine fuel.

Notice that these are almost all “negative” emotions. I just think negative emotions are easier to tap into – and they are probably easier to relate to as well. Not everyone has felt that rush you get when you first fall in love. But everyone, at some point in their life, has been sad or hurt or scared. There is a line in Pretty Woman that I have always thought was so true…when Vivian is asked why she doesn’t believe the compliments she gets, and she answers, “The bad stuff is easier to believe.” I think this is true in a writer’s work as well. I think that goes along with the saying “Too good to be true.” The bad stuff is just easier to believe, to convey, to tap into. 

Do I think all creative people need to dress in black and sit around brooding with a shot glass in one hand and a cigarette in the other?…no! Of course not! In fact, my writer friends are some of the funniest, happiest people I know. But I do think a writer or artist has to have some kind of emotional background to draw from. 

So, what emotions drive me as a writer? This one is easy….all of them. 

If you read a scene in one of my books that is particularly depressing – well, I was probably feeling depressed that day. Or, more likely, I purposely delved into those memories or played a song that will trigger the emotions I need so that I can tap into them. And if you read an especially funny scene, I was probably in a really good mood that day. 

Can I write a funny scene if I’m mad or depressed? – yes. But I guarantee you it will be funnier if I was in a good mood when I wrote it. Same with the opposite end of the spectrum. I can write a fairly convincing tear-jerker no matter what kind of mood I’m in – but it really helps if I’m bummed when my fingers hit the keys.

So what do you think? Do creative people have to have angst in their lives in order to create emotionally touching art?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Have You Turned Off Your Writing Brain?

I love reading. My TBR pile is huge. Getting lost in an amazing story with fabulous characters is always a win. 

While I can do this most of the time, I sometimes find that if I'm deep in writing a WIP then my writing head start to creep in as I read. "Reader brain" is enjoying the story, but then "Writer brain" switches on. This is when I start to think things like:

"Hmm, I'm not sure I'd use that word there."

"What's this character thinking?"

"I'd like a bit more/less detail."

Then I might start to think about the structure of the story. Or about the themes. The voice. Plot threads and how they might weave together. 

And my weird brain goes on. 

I'll admit having these thoughts sometimes makes me feel a bit guilty. I know how flipping hard the author has worked to get the story out in the first place. Still, I sometimes wonder if this is part of my writing brain trying to stay in the zone? They do say that you learn to be a better writer by reading more. 

Or maybe, just maybe, I need to quiet my brain a bit more and just enjoy the story :) 

How about you? Do you sometimes find your writing brain switching on while reading? 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Can I Write Off Inspiration On My Taxes?

I just got back from a three-week-long visit to Ireland, England, and Scotland and am still jetlagged! This trip was partly to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary (as if I need an excuse to go to that part of the world) and partly to do some research on the Celtic lands.

My forthcoming novel, Crow's Rest, draws from Celtic mythology and faerie lore pretty heavily, so it seemed only appropriate that I see some of the sites that birthed these stories. I've come back armed with thousands of photos (that's not an exaggeration) and some video footage that might find its way into a Crow's Rest book trailer.

I also made note of travel plans that worked, and those that didn't, for future articles to sell. We opted for self-catering cottages and I'm so glad we did--made the eating for food allergies so much easier. Plus, we had the bonus of having cottages in the gorgeous countryside all to ourselves!

I'm sure I'll be tying this trip into other posts, but for now please excuse my fatigue and enjoy one of the pictures from a graveyard in Ireland. It shares a site with a ruined church founded by St. Finian in the 7th century:

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Count Submissions, Not Rejections

Many writers have a number they track. For most of us, it's the number of rejections we've received. Somewhere around rejection 100, I began to take a perverse pride in the growing tally. Rejection is the author's badge of honor, right?

Then picture book writer Carol Gordon Ekster posted this on Twitter the other day:
It occurred to me that I've been counting all wrong. The number I should be tracking is not my rejections, but my submissions. As Carol wrote, you can't get published if you don't submit. And you can't control your rejections -- only your submissions.

Order Deadwood, coming from Spencer Hill, June 24, 2014
I'm not advocating for leafleting the publishing world with books that aren't ready, to editors who aren't right. But if you're counting submissions, there's no number that's too high. You don't reach a wall -- you keep building.

So what's my number? Somewhere over 300. That's 300 times I reached out, 300 times I had faith in my work, 300 times when I was willing to risk my ego, 300 times I allowed myself to hope.

And yes, I'm proud of that. I admit that my number of rejections and my number of submissions are very, very closely correlated. So I don't need to tell you my rejection number.

I have one book coming out in three weeks. If that percentage doesn't sound impressive, that's OK. That one wouldn't have happened without the 300.

What's your number?  

About Kell Andrews:  Kell Andrews writes picture books and middle grade novels. Deadwood, her middle-grade contemporary fantasy about a cursed tree, comes out from Spencer Hill Middle Grade June 24, 2014.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

River Of Bones--Movie Announcement and More!

The last few months have been amazing for me. I have a movie deal in the works. I am trademarking a Soda Pop (featured in the movie script) and so much more. I can't go into a lot of detail about negotiations-but I can tell you that it has been a long hard journey through publication to where I stand today.

I want every struggling author to know that its worth the effort. Its worth the tears. Its worth the heartache---and most of all--Its worth your time. I truly believe that if you feed your soul with what you love to do that your dreams will come true eventually.

A lot of people have asked me for advice on how to get a great deal when it comes to turning your novel into a film. To me, the answer is simple--you must first have a great script. If you aren't a script writer, then hire the best you can find. Get someone with experience. Never settle for second best. And while shopping the script you must find a director that is top in his or her field--don't settle for  someone with no sales or history in the film industry. Don't settle for someone who is a hobbyist with no studio connections or large corporate sponsors.

Another question I get asked a lot is this: Could an author produce their own movie?
I am a big believer in trying--I would never in a million years try to produce or pay for my own film. Don't get me wrong--I really respect and admire those that do their own filming and are successful at it, but for me I wanted the highest quality for River of Bones. I knew I could never have enough funds or experience to get the job done.

If negotiations go as planned we are set to start production this September--and I promise to keep you all posted. :)

Thank you again for your love and support! I have really appreciated all your comments, letters and words of encouragement!

If you are looking for a copy of River of Bones its on sale for the next few hours!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Waiting in Suspense

This baby is due any day now, technically on Monday. I keep telling him we're ready for him but so far he just kicks me in the ribs and hiccups in response. When we finally meet face to face I'll have to give him a talking-to.

So all this waiting for baby makes me think of suspense as a writing tool, which makes me think of Harry Potter. That poor wizard had to wait a lot! He waited until his eleventh birthday to have his weird magical instincts and experiences validated by a giant in an island hut. He waited every summer for school to begin, or for letters from his friends. He waited to spend time with his fugitive godfather... and even then it didn't turn out the way we all hoped.

In the Harry Potter books, while Harry waits, we as readers get acquainted with the Dursleys, the family who raised him. We see what happens to Harry's mood and personality as a result of all his patience and longsuffering. We develop tender feelings for his constant companion Hedwig. We begin to want for Harry what he so desperately wants for himself: a loving family.

How can suspenseful waiting make your WIP better? What are your characters waiting for that will bring their motivations to life?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

RT Convention 2014 Recap

Unfortunately, I usually only have time to fit in one major conference a year. In the past, I've attended the San Francisco Writer's Conference and the New York Pitch Conference. Both had amazing craft workshops which featured everything from sharpening your first chapter to honing your final pitch.

Having these two workshops under my belt, I thought I was prepared for the RT Convention in New Orleans. Boy, was I wrong. RT is like a conference on mega steroids. There is so much to do and see it is almost impossible to fit everything in. There are writer tracks, reader tracks and sessions covering every genre and category. To say I was overwhelmed at the beginning was putting it mildly.

Once I got my footing, I settled in and took advantage of everything the conference had to offer. This  included several pitch sessions where I got to meet one-on-one with editors and agents. It also featured a special panel at the end of the final day featuring Gayle Forman, author of the YA Contemporary novel, IF I STAY, and a star from the film, discussing the movie which will be coming to theaters in August. Very, very cool!!!

Now I will have to admit there were many other great things about the conference. The mega book fair, where I got to have some of my favorite authors sign their books (see photos below), was unbelievable. But the most amazing thing was getting to meet so many writer friends in person. Whether they were published or newly agented, they were incredibly kind to share their stories about the path to publication, and I have to admit this was my favorite thing overall.

If you are interested in growing your craft, and meeting tons of writer friends in person, I highly suggest you check out info on RT 2015 taking place in Dallas next year. Just make sure you wear comfy shoes because you'll be sprinting to every incredible session!

Photos of some of my cool spoils from Leigh Bardugo & April Tucholke:

View photo.JPG in slide show

View photo.JPG in slide show

Monday, May 19, 2014

Save the cat? Kick the dog? Deciding overall story changes

On the second draft of my current WIP, revisions are proving to be somewhat brutal. I really liked Becky's recent post about revising, and it got me thinking about big picture changes I want to make in my novel.

But where to begin? Some scenes read fine while others need a ton of fixes, and it's difficult to refrain from line edits at this stage. I need to meld together story elements that work, and discard those that don't.

Knowing what to cut and what to keep isn't always clear. In concentrating on overall big picture problems, I've consulted the Periodic Table of Storytelling by James Harris.

Photo from:

While this is mostly directed at screenwriting, a lot of it can be applied to novels.The table divides elements into overall story structures, settings and plot, story modifiers, plot devices, etc. It even includes character archetypes and villains. It's tons of fun to play with.

Lots of us have probably heard the phrase "Save the Cat."(On her blog, Janice Hardy has used it to discuss overall plotting.) While not included on the Periodic Table itself, I found this page that discuses "Save the Cat" on, where the table derives a lot of its material.

"Save the Cat" didn't truly sink in for me until my fiction workshop last semester, when I discovered my main character didn't show a lot of empathy. This made it harder for readers to get invested in her story, so I found opportunities where she could feel sorry for others. Sometimes the "saving" part doesn't have to be literal.

There's also  "Kick the dog," a useful tool for fleshing out villains. Since we all know villains need to be three-dimensional, there's also "Pet the dog" (acts of kindness) and "Adopt the dog" (a shift from evil to good).

Photo credits:

And there are other ways. I determined one of my villains is what's known as "The Chessmaster." He's using my protagonist as his pawn to accomplish what he wants...and when she figures this out later in the story, it allows her an opportunity to turn the tables on him.

Finally, the table includes "story molecules" (the circles at the bottom), which show how some story elements can fit together. Examples include well-known stories like Star Wars and Firefly (also demonstrating what's been overly done and how you can make your story different). In studying the table today, I've already figured out how to add more emotional depth in one scene and heighten the tension in another. And I hope, when I'm done with this pass through, the scenes gel together a little more cohesively. 

For those wanting an even simpler analysis of overall plot structure, we can always count on Kurt Vonnegut

 So: when revising, what methods do you use to fix big picture issues and link events together in a significant way? What overall story elements stand out to you in your current WIP?