Motivation

When I embarked on the journey of Epic Novel, I had never had any instruction in Creative Writing. I had learned what I knew solely from reading fiction and one or two books on craft. I had not even had much instruction in reading literature. I had no knowledge of character motivation or character arc. Even so, I recognized that my story fell flat because I didn’t know what my main character wanted. Okay, there’s a huge massive war and he wants to protect his family and his people. But what about before the war? What did he want then, and how did that motivate him to join the war? Rereading my draft, I realized that he has motivation–he’s had it all along–it just needed bringing out. I didn’t recognize it when I first started the story because I didn’t know what my own motivation was. I know both now. What a relief!

Rereading my old draft, I realized there are a lot of things buried in there that I didn’t realize when I wrote it. The motivation for my main character seems so obvious to me now, it’s amazing. I’ve figured out a few more motivations as well, including the motivation for Arch Nemesis Number 1. Now I just have to master character arc. 🙂
Anne M.

Draft Eleven of the Epic Novel

Six years ago, I completed Draft 11 of Book 1 of the Epic Novel. After five years and eleven drafts, I was so sick of that story, I wanted to throw it out the window. I put it away before I’d even finished typing the draft. This spring, when I began working on the Epic Novel once more, I went straight to Book 2, knowing I need to figure out the rest of the story before I can redraft Book 1.

A few weeks ago, I had the sudden urge to reread that old Draft 11. The draft was horrible–I mean, very, very rough. I made myself laugh with all of my “He tilted his head quizzically” and “He raised his eyebrows skeptically.” The text was all floating dialogue and action. Very little description or character development. Many scenes did not need to be included. They did not move the plot forward or reveal character. Even I became confused with the plethora of characters, and I had created them all. When I thought about it, I immediately counted eight extraneous characters. So, not my best work.

At the same time, I wrote the draft before I had ever had any formal instruction in creative writing. I could tell when I had taken Comp II at college because the writing drastically improved at that point. The draft wasn’t great, but it was a rough draft, and one I needed to write to explore the story.

The more I read, the more I became amazed with this story. The story is there, the characters are there. They just need work. I know I have to make some tough decisions: which characters do I cut? Which ones really are unnecessary, as much as I love them? How much of the characters’ complicated back-stories is necessary for the reader to understand motivation, and how much is just too much?

I’m excited. I have already learned so much from this story. Someday, I’ll finish it, and I hope that others learn as much from it as I have.
Anne M.

Anne After the MFA

After a year and a half hiatus from blogging, an update seems in order: I have my MFA! Yes, nearly a year ago, I graduated with my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. The first six months AMFA (After the MFA), I didn’t touch a book, and I didn’t pick up a pen. I needed a break. This spring, however, I dove back in. You see, for ::::does mental count:::: five and a half years, I had writer’s block–including the two years I attended grad school. Don’t ask me how I got through; it was by the grace of God! Every piece I sent in for workshop was an idea I had come up with before the onset of writer’s block. I had an okay time actually writing (although it was like pulling teeth sometimes), but coming up with new ideas was out of the question.

Well, I figured out some things about my life, and other people figured out some things about my life, and God opened my eyes to some things about my life. Once I got those things mostly straightened out–voilà! Story ideas out of the woodwork. I began a Young Adult fairy tale retelling, but after only twenty pages, I felt called back to my “epic novel,” the story I’ve been working on for ten and a half years (minus five and a half years of writer’s block). The story has gone through many evolutions already, and several different names, hence the affectionate project title of Epic Novel.

I am daunted. This project could take years more to finish. My current estimate is that it will be a four book series. Yikes! But I want to be published now! (wines a voice in my head that sounds amazingly like Veruca Salt) The wonderful thing about this story–I am incredibly passionate about it. I’ve known these characters longer than I’ve known some of my best friends. The story intrigues me, absorbs me. The result? So long writer’s block, hello obsession. I’m back to struggling to balance writing with all the other aspects of life. It’s a good problem to have.

I hope to keep this blog updated more regularly now, if for no other reason than I need an outlet for all my writer ramblings (there’s only so much my sweet husband can take). Until next time, I remain writerly yours,
Anne M.

Getting Close to Close-Third

My packet was originally due today (Thursday), but my mentor is out of town, so she asked for it on Saturday. I’m very grateful for the extension. Workshop and Thanksgiving in one packet period ate into my writing time a great deal.

I have made a breakthrough. I think I am finally getting the hang of close third-person point of view. I revised the last fifteen pages of my middle grade novel (turning it into twenty-five pages), and it is so much better than the rest of the novel right now.

After last packet, I realized that I’ve never revised for anything other than plot before. After three semesters here, I can’t believe I got into the program. There is so much I still don’t know, but that’s why I’m here.

Evidence that I’m getting better at inhabiting my characters: My husband about gave me a heart attack by coming up right beside me. I should have seen him, but I was on a jungle gym in a backyard far away at the time.

Things I did to my draft:

Removed the words “felt,” “feel,” or “feeling” and showed the feeling instead

Removed adverbs and described actions and looks instead

Replaced dialogue tags with actions or descriptions

I might have gone overboard, but since this is a learning experience, I preferred to do too much than not to do enough.

This packet (due late tomorrow night/early Saturday morning) is my last packet of the semester. I’m very excited about the end of semester. I need my two weeks of break! I’ve actually read two of the books for the residency book discussion and have started the other. I feel ahead for once, and well deserving of my break.

If I don’t post again, Merry Christmas! Enjoy your holidays. I know I will.

Anne M.

One Lump or Two?

I just read an interesting article at the Teaching Authors blog on food and fantasy. It reminded me of an exercise I did once for a big project. I wanted to get to know my characters better, so I wrote a few questions for them. A couple of the questions were “What is the character’s favorite dessert?” and “How does the character take his tea or coffee?” I used it just to get to know my characters better, but the answers came in handy later for a scene where the characters drink hot tea after a harrowing experience. I knew the MC always had his tea with a little bit of honey.

In other news: today, I turned in the first twenty pages of a young adult science fiction novel for my workshop in January. I really like the story, but I have a feeling the first draft of the first twenty pages isn’t very good. I’m also almost done with the second draft of my middle grade novel. And my last packet is due December 10! I feel this semester should be over already, but just three more weeks.

I imagine I won’t post in the next week (family in town), so Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Typing

And today, I typed 40 double spaced pages. My hand hurts, and I’m ready for bed.

Twenty Pages

Today, I wrote twenty pages.

My hand hurts, but I feel pretty good. My packet is due on Thursday, and for once, I feel mostly prepared. I am so glad that I don’t have to divide my attention between creative and critical work anymore.

Yes, that means that I have finished my critical thesis. I’m just proofing it one last time before I send it to the office.

I’m getting really excited about the January residency and seeing everyone again. I need that boost every so often. No wonder people come back for the alumni weekend. I’m definitely going to look into joining SCBWI for after I graduate. Having a writer community is a huge help.

Is anyone doing NaNoWriMo this year? I thought about, but I think I’ll get my 20 pages for workshop and that’s it. If you are doing NaNoWriMo, I’d be interested in what genre you’re writing and how many words you’ve got so far.

I’m off to do non-writerly things for awhile. I hope to update again before next year.

MLA Format is Somewhat Lacking

I’ve spent most of the last three days wrestling with MLA format. MLA does not have guidelines for a paper with headings and an outline, for how to cite software, for how to cite multiple pages from one website, for how to cite hypertext narratives (no surprise there), or how to cite picture books. That last one doesn’t directly relate to my critical thesis, but the rest do. I’ve just been making things up the best I can.

Hypertext narratives usually have page titles rather than page numbers (whatever shows up in the blue bar at the web browser, for example). My current citation solution is to put the page title in brackets where the page number would normally go. Thus a citation after a quote from Michael Joyce’s afternoon, a story would look like this: (Joyce [preface]). We’ll see what my mentor says. . . .

In addition to that, MLA has changed the works cited formatting this year quite a bit. Now, we’re required to put the medium after every works cited entry (web, print, CD, etc.), and we don’t have to include URLs. I’ve been bouncing back and forth between Diana Hacker‘s website and the OWL at Purdue trying to make sure I get everything right.

Now that my thesis is mostly done (for this packet), I should get to my creative writing. I don’t know how I’m going to switch to my creative brain after so much critical thinking.

P.S. For some reason, blogger won’t let me post a comment, so here is my reply to Lina:

You might enjoy it, although not everyone will like nonlinear stories.

I actually liked the book better when I read it out of order.

I’m doing pretty well. My allergies always seem to act up right

before I have a packet due. Maybe they’re stress related. . . .

How are things going with you?

Critical Thesis: Hypertext Narrative

I realize it has been far too long since I updated. Toward the end of last semester I began to really struggle with getting everything done. I often thought of updating, but I couldn’t if I wanted to get everything else done on time.

I’m now in my third semester of graduate school, which is the critical thesis semester. I’m writing my thesis on hypertext narrative and children’s literature. I’ve spent several hours today at a coffee shop writing the thesis. I think it’s going fairly well.

I read a book for my thesis that just screamed hypertext narrative. If you want a taste of what a young adult hypertext narrative might be like, get a copy of Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins. I would suggest reading the book in a random order. Just pick a chapter and start reading. I read the book in order until chapter 16. Then I read randomly, picking chapters here and there, keeping track of which ones I had already read. I loved reading the book this way. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, except for the ending, which I felt was forced. If the book had been written as a hypertext narrative, it wouldn’t have needed an ending, so maybe that’s why it was forced. Try it and see what you think.

Anne M.

Fourth Packet Panic

Obviously, I’m still struggling with the whole grad school + real life thing or I would have updated during the second and third packet periods.

I’m used to this time of year being done with school, not having the fourth packet panic. When I was in college, I could push myself through this I’m-so-tired-of-school! feeling because the end was in sight. Just a couple more weeks! Actually, this week would have been my finals week—I’d be done! Instead, I have over a month left. I’m thinking that perhaps the fourth packet is the hardest. Last semester, my fourth packet was the worst packet ever! This packet is looking that way.

I’ve been trying to research for two essays, but that’s about all I’ve got so far—some unorganized research. I’m also supposed to write something new this packet because . . .

TA DA!

I finished my middle grade novel! (the first draft). However, I’m not so good at coming up with new ideas on command. I’ve got an idea, but it has to percolate before I can put in on paper. And so, I have a little over one week left to write both my essays, 20-40 pages of creative work, and try to finish my sadly lacking bibliography.

And the worst part is? I don’t want to do any of it! I want a break! I need a break! One month this summer is not going to be enough, but I will have to make do.

I’ll try to write more authory things later.