FIVE MAVEN WRITING TIPS FOR AUGUST–LAST PAGES

The Mavens

 

  We’ve made it from the beginning pages, through the middle, and now we are reaching the LAST PAGES. These will NOT be the last pages from the Mavens, however. Read on:

Cheryl Zach:

In one writing org I belong to, it’s said that the first page will sell the current book to your reader, the last page will sell your next. So what do you need on your last page? A satisfying ending, obviously. Have you truly wrapped up your problem? Did the main character, the protagonist, resolve the problem him or herself? Not a helpful adult–that’s fatal–not the best friend, not an act of fate, the ‘god from the machine.’ Are the emotional conflicts resolved as well as the physical? You may not want too neat a wrap up, it may not sound realistic, but you do want the reader to feel that the story is really resolved, or readers will never feel completely happy with the book. (Mind you, I have written at least one book with an ‘open’ ending (RUNAWAY) in that one important question was left unresolved because the two main characters couldn’t agree. Some books are just like that. You do what has to be done, or at least, what your characters demand. I hope in this case, the novel was still emotionally satisfying–the book did well, in any case, winning an award and selling well.)

Now, having admitted that every rule has an exception, what else can I say. If it’s a mystery, solve the mystery and don’t cheat and introduce the villain on the next to the last page. If it’s a fantasy or science fiction, stick to your own rules of logic. If you’re going to do something truly awful, like kill the protagonist, at least give some foreshadowing.  That’s my rule, not everyone will agree. The late great Madeleine L’Engle, author of WRINKLE IN TIME and other award winning novels, said that writers for young people owed it to their readers to leave some hope at the end of their books. I agree. Not everyone does.

Last Pages: The ending is always important–you need to leave the reader satisfied. Has the protagonist resolved his/her problem/conflict, with only minimal help from others? Is it not too neat, so as to be unrealistic, but without too many loose ends? Have both the emotional/internal and external conflicts been dealt with? My daughter always says the ending needs a certain emotional punch, as well, that little extra something that may send you away smiling, or with a tear in your eye, but feeling content, none the less. You should feel that the story just couldn’t have ended any other way. The character was true to him/herself. The problem obviously had to end this way. There was a twist you didn’t quite see coming, but it was just what needed to happen.  And again, no, I didn’t say it was easy.

Dawne Knobbe

Last Pages: Writing your last pages early helps you to know where you are trying to end up.

Laurie Knowlton

Your last pages must:

Make sure every question you set up early in the book is answered, even if the answer isn’t positive, or finely wrapped up like in: Scarlet O’Hara, “I’ll think about it tomorrow.”
Do not use some out-of-the-world twist ending where someone comes out of nowhere and fixes everything. Your reader isn’t going to buy it and they will feel cheated.
No matter how many wrong turns, and bad decisions your main character may have made getting to the end of their story, allow those decisions to be the learning curve that brings your main character to a state of redemption
Use those little details that you’ve sprinkled through the text to assist in the ending. You want your reader involved in the ending and they will value the use of those details in the solution.
Resolve the story with a satisfying ending that is hopeful. Readers want to feel good at the end of a book.

Stephanie Jacob Gordon

The end is The End is THE END! And please don’t skip the end by telling rather than showing, then moving right to “and so they all lived happily ever after.” This will cause your readers to toss the book into the air wanting to know “WHAT HAPPENED?” Readers want to see, to participate in the finale the same way they’ve participated throughout the book.

Wind up your story in the final pages by showing the growth of your character through action and dialogue. The problem may be solved or the character may have accepted that this is a problem that can’t be solved and moves on with life. This shows growth, too.

Resist explaining, resist adding what happens the next day or years later, resist. But if you insist or your character refuses to take a final bow, make notes for a possible sequel to the story that has come to an end, for some characters can be so stubborn they refuse to exit the world you’ve created and some authors love their characters so much they refuse to let go.

Judith Ross Enderle

Wipe your tears. Just because you’ve written your last pages, just because you’ve written The End, just because you’ve sighed and celebrated the completion of your first draft, this isn’t the end. Writing a book isn’t over until it’s over. And usually it isn’t over until you’ve revised and revised and revised some more. So those last pages . . . might not be your final last pages; they are probably your first last pages. Yup! Upcoming in the fall months: What to do if you are Stuck, Revision Tips, and more.

 

FIVE MAVEN WRITING TIPS FOR JULY — MIDDLES

by The Mavens

  Whether your middle is teeny tiny as in a picture book or quite expansive as in a novel, sometimes middles can bring your writing to a halt. Here’s what the Mavens have to say about successfully getting through the middle of your manuscript:

Stephanie Jacob Gordon  As I get older discussing middles is not high on my list. My middle has increased a lot since I first began to write.Oh. Judy says that is not the kind of middle we are supposed to talk about. I am relieved.

The thing about book middles, some of them have also increased a lot. More in novels than picture books. I am finding that there is a lot of nothing going on in these books. Action, adventure, calamities, and changing scenes are becoming description, pontification, and boring. What I think a middle should be is where it all happens.

There is the beginning to get us into the characters, learn the main character’s problem(s), and believe there is no way their problem(s) can be solved. In other words, we begin to care about the main character, move into their skin, become them, and live the story.
There is the end where amazingly the problems are solved and we see the main character’s growth because of what he/she has gone through to get to the end of their story. Or, the problem cannot be solved and we see the main character’s growth by how he/she copes with this sad (but honest) conclusion at the end of their story.

So, what did we leave out? The middle…where we hope the story allows us to be one with the main character, share their adventures, calamities, successes, and failures.
So, as I said in the beginning…the middle is where it all happens! At least it should.

Judith Ross Enderle  Your own middle is where your strength resides. It’s the place where your entire body benefits from the organs that process the food we eat and drink so your growth and development can happen. When your middle isn’t working, you hurt.

The middle of your story isn’t so different. This is where the strength of your story resides. It’s the part of that develops the who, what, where, when, and how of your story. That’s one of the reasons that middles can sometimes be tough to write, why this is where you get stuck, or where you might go off track. The middle is the where the growth and development of your story happens. If that’s not happening, then your story hurts, too.

My advice: if you are stuck in the middle, keep going even if you have to skip some places. If you come to one of those sticky spots, type WORK MORE HERE then go on to the next plot part where you know what happens and how to show it. Once you reach The End, go back and read. You’ll know how to: a) develop those sticky middle parts, or b) realize you don’t need them.

Hope this helps get you past the muddle in the middle.

Laurie Knowlton  Everyone knows that a story has a beginning, middle, and an end. The beginning is just that. The day things changed for your main character. It is a small part of the actual book that makes the reader care about your main character.

The middle makes up the largest portion of the book. It is where the main character moves forward through their problem, quest, or journey. The main character must use their whit to work through ever more difficult situations on the journey to solving their problem, quest or journey.

So what does that mean? It means PLOT. How does your character rise to the occasion, overcoming one obstacle more difficult than the last, to reach a climax? They must be active. They must be vocal. They must sometimes stumble and fight against their own inner demons. There must be twists and turns, because a straight line is BORING. There must be loss that accompanies gain. There must be laughter and tears to make the reader care enough to keep reading. Every chapter must have its own mini arc that keeps your reader on edge while your main character presses on to solve the ultimate story question.

Cheryl Zach  Oh, that sagging middle! What a quagmire it can be. You can have a fast, exciting beginning, with an action-filled and dramatic ending in mind, but what to do about the middle? If the story line seems to be sagging, it may be time for a new complication to the plot. Time to ratchet up the story tension and make it harder on your protagonist. Maybe he or she is having too easy a time solving his problem. Maybe the problem wasn’t big enough for a whole book? Go back and rethink.

Maybe it’s time to introduce a new character–must be essential for the plot, but another villain may be hiding in the wings? Maybe someone who will be a friend, an ally. Perhaps he or she was foreshadowed earlier on and you didn’t quite see it? I do this to myself a lot, without realizing I was writing it in all along. At any rate, a new element may need to be introduced, and it will get your gears moving again.

Dawne Knobbe  Middles are the hardest part for me in a story. If I get to the middle and get stuck, then it helps to work on the ending—See last pages. (Which means you’ll have to watch for next month’s blog tips about Last Pages.)

FIVE MAVEN WRITING TIPS FOR JUNE – FIRST PAGES

by the Mavens

 

Aack! The year is half over. How did that happen? If you’ve spent the past six months thinking about the book you want to write, this is a good time to get started. And where do you start? With the FIRST PAGE. Here’s what the Mavens have to say:

CHERYL ZACH: First Pages are vital. You must catch the reader’s interest at once. Years ago I heard award-winning author Richard Peck say that he used to give himself ten pages to grab the reader’s attention; now it must be done on the first page. And it’s not just a restless young person you must mesmerize–it’s also the agent or editor who will be your first reader. If your book makes it to print, it’s the book store buyer or the clerk who puts it on the shelf, or it’s the parent of a young child if your book is a picture book. First pages matter.
For a young adult novel, on that essential first page you need to establish who the main character is, give at least a hint of the problem and the setting. Sound hard? It is. The first page will go through innumerable drafts. You’ll write it, edit, rewrite  many times. Read it aloud, read it to your critique group. Write it again. Hone it, tighten it. For sure tighten it. Every word counts. {Do not do an info dump–try to tell too much on what the book is about, as if you were giving a book report. You want to show; use action, dialogue, sensory details. Bring the story to life immediately.)
Go back through your most loved novels or picture books. Old favorites are allowed, but be sure to read many new books, too. See what the current best sellers are, what editors and readers like today. See what skillful writers can do with a few lines, a couple of paragraphs, to grab you by the throat and not let you go.

LAURIE KNOWLTON: What’s so big about first pages?
First pages are not EASY. They need a great deal of thought and rewriting, and rewriting.
Riveting first pages are imperative because they introduce your reader to the main character, the setting’s time and place, and a story problem, quest, or journey.
Your opening line should GRAB your reader making them want to read the next line, and the next line, and the next line. In those lines the writer needs to make the reader care about the main character and what they are up against. The reader needs to feel the conflict. A good way to do this is through strong sensorial action and dialogue that fills in the gaps.
Your first page is either going to keep your reader reading or putting down the book and moving onto something else, or someone else’s book. Don’t let weak first pages keep your reader from consuming your book!

DAWNE KNOBBE: First pages usually become a page further into your chapter. Don’t be afraid to “cut to the chase.”

STEPHANIE JACOB GORDON: Eve Bunting always said: “Start with the moment that’s different.” That means the event that makes your character take notice and react. That moment should be important to your character, make a difference in his/her life, create a situation where something is at stake for the character. The reaction may be physical or emotional, but it should be something that will hook your reader and create a page turn in order to find out what happens next.

JUDITH ROSS ENDERLE: Don’t be surprised if you toss out your first page or even your whole first chapter once you’ve completed your first draft. That’s a lot of firsts, but sometimes you don’t know if you’ve started in the right place until you’ve found out where your story ends.

Happy summer! Happy writing!

 

 

FIVE MAVEN WRITING TIPS FOR MAY

by The Mavens

     Yes, May has edged into June. Can I blame another late post on visitors? Maybe not, but that’s the excuse I’m using anyway. This post is about RESEARCH so let’s get to it:

JUDY ENDERLE: Fiction writers, don’t skip this topic! Yes, your writing benefits from research, too. It helps to give your story depth and make your setting real. Plus you may be surprised to find interesting nuggets that can be woven into your story. Have fun!

DAWNE KNOBBE: Many stories take place in the real world. If you set your story in New York, you need to know it as well as anyone who lives there.

LAURIE LAZZARO KNOWLTON:   
1. Keep a list of: book titles, authors, websites, interview contact information, movies, and journals. You will need them later!
2. The internet isn’t the answer for everything and unless it is a site maintained by government departments, both local, statewide and USA wide the information may not be correct.
3. Go to local, state, and college libraries.
4. Include interviews, and visits to actual settings in your research.
5. Look at PBS for their specials that take place during the era you are writing about.
6. Are there any local museums that highlight your stories’ era, setting, or persons?

 7.Verify important information by finding two other sources that confirm it if possible.

STEPHANIE GORDON: Love, love, love research. It’s like adding the frosting to the cake, the gravy to the potatoes, the cream to your coffee. Head to the library, look on line, talk to people in the know about the who, when, where of your story. Dig for the tidbits of daily life, the sensory details of locale, the mood of time and place. You won’t be sorry. Sometimes research on one book can lead to another book, like it did when the research for a historical YA led to a picture book for Judy and me.

CHERYL ZACH: Obviously, research is essential for nonfiction. I believe it’s essential for fiction, as well, Not just for historical novels although when I wrote a four book series set during the Civil War, starting with HEARTS DIVIDED, I read over a hundred books and articles. My main characters were teens and young adults who were all fictional, but when I wrote about an historical figure in a certain time or place, you can believe he or she was there! And I never had anyone express an opinion I couldn’t support through letters, journals or speeches.

Even with contemporary novels, I do research. For RUNAWAY, for example, I checked court procedure and state law to make sure I was accurate. Young readers deserve that. I interviewed a lawyer who did family law and checked out several websites.

As for more on how to do research, I’m not the most knowledgeable on internet research, so I’m going to leave that topic to someone else, although just by wandering around the web, you can find a lot. I still like books, which go into more depth, and a research librarian at your local library–they also answer the phone!–is your best friend. Keep good notes. You may need to refer back to them, later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

FIVE MAVEN WRITING TIPS FOR FEBRUARY

The Mavens

This month’s tips topic is: GENRES AND MORE You’ll see some advice repeated in these tips because it’s important. We’ve tried to cover all definitions of genre. Please let us know how you like our tips as well as sending along any tip topics you’d like to see covered.  Thanks!

Here’s what the Mavens have to say: 

Judy Enderle: Imagine a gigantic library with only two signs: Fiction and Nonfiction. How will you find the book you want? Wait! There’s a librarian putting up more signs: genre signs!  Genre means the type of story you are writing (or love reading) or the category where your book fits. Fiction genres include mystery, romance, thriller, humor, historical, science fiction, and more. Nonfiction is divided into topics that include nature, sciences, biography, how-to, etc.

But you want a book for your seven-year-old? Follow that librarian! There’s a special section for young readers. Along with genres and topics, the signs there also indicate categories or specific formats: picture books, early readers, middle grade, and YA.

See how helpful genres, topics, and categories are? See how helpful librarians are!

Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton: Let these three questions help you: 

What comes naturally to you? I could never write horror. It scares me to death. Even Indiana Jones type stories keep me up at night. I am truly a five-year-old at heart. I’m always excited to discover something new. The most important things in life to me are family, friends, and nature. I love the settings that encompass those parameters. If you look at the developmental stages of a five-year-old child, they are into discovering their family, their ever-growing circle of friends, and their world. Therefore, picture books work best for me.

What age is your inner voice? Look at the vocabulary and length of sentences you write. Is your written language developmentally accurate? Is your character able to tackler age-appropriate problems for the genre? I have a client who consistently wants to write picture books, but who writers with the voice of a middle grader. I have told her many times, “This is a great story that needs to be written with a better-developed plot requiring the length and details that will do the story justice.” Recently she began working on a middle grade story. She said, I feel set free. I was afraid to tackle a longer piece. Now that I am doing it, I feel like my main character has been set free from a straitjacket.”

What genre do you read? If you want to write picture books, you must read picture books. (Yes you are allowed to read grownup books) but you must read, read, read the genre you wish to write. How else are you going to learn the right feel for pacing, word counts, plot structures that appropriate for the protagonist of your chosen genre?

Ultimately, my best advice is to: Write what you know and love, NOT what you think will sell.

Cheryl Zach: Obvious but true: don’t try to write in a genre you don’t enjoy reading. I remember when Harry Potter was at its peak and I was critiquing manuscripts at a conference. I saw more manuscripts than you would believe from brand new writers who had never read fantasy, didn’t even know if they liked fantasy, certainly were not familiar with the genre, just wanted to be instantly rich, famous, and wildly successful–which is like trying to fly to the moon on a paper airplane. Read widely and write in the genres you love–it will show! Not to mention, the more you write and and read and study and hone your craft, the better writer you’ll become.

Dawne Knobbe: One thing to keep in mind when you are deciding on a genre is that Young Adult is not a genre of fiction. Like adult fiction, YA can be written in any genre. So if you want to write YA, you must narrow it down. Here are few to ponder: mystery, thriller, adventure, fantasy. Always best to write in the genre you like to read.

Stephanie Jacob Gordon: Good luck! If you are like me, you don’t get to choose. Some writers do have a genre they write in exclusively. I don’t. I love writing picture books. I love writing middle grade novels. I love writing short chapter books, poetry, young adult (started out doing YA romances, a very popular genre). I hated writing for TV, but not because of the writing. I loved writing the scripts and being the story editor for our television show. I hated being the editor of a kid’s club magazine. I loved writing for a kids’ airline magazine. (I love writing and gathering material.)

I loved writing for Hamilton High School newspaper, The Federalist–the very important gossip column and the popular music scene articles. Okay, I hear you laughing. I even loved writing a few spec TV sitcom scripts no one will ever see. Genre is as temporary as the last gust of wind for me. I flow with the blow. Did I say I love writing To Do lists that I never ever Get Done? Did I say I Love Writing in many genres?