Friday, December 2, 2016

Writing Small

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a love of all things literary. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

I'm neck deep in an edit right now, so I've been thinking a lot about the concept of writing small. Writing small, as Richard Price defines it up there, is hard to do when you're drafting, especially if you have some idea of where your plot is headed. In the drafting phase, our focus is on getting there, to the end, to the action, perhaps, and we often forget that it's often the smallest moments our characters navigate that will resonate most fully with our readers.

In all fairness to the drafting process, it would be very difficult to get all our big ideas on the page if we kept stopping for each small moment. That's what editing is for, right? One of the many tasks we accomplish as we edit is penciling in detail where our writing has left only giant swathes of color and feeling.

Perhaps it was the references to "burnt socks" and "the horrors of war" in Mr. Price's quote that reminded me, but Marcus Zusak is brilliant at writing small in his masterpiece The Book Thief. Here's an excerpt that shouldn't give too much of the story away. Read it with an eye to see exactly what Liesel is seeing in this small, quiet moment.

Papa's bread and jam would be half eaten on his plate, curled in the shape of bite marks, and the music would look Liesel in the face. I know it sounds strange but that's how it felt to her. Papa's right hand strolled the tooth-colored keys. His left hit the buttons. (She especially loved to see him hit the silver, sparkled button--the C major.) The accordion's scratched yet shiny black exterior came back and forth as his arms squeezed the dusty bellows, making it suck in the air and throw it back out. In the kitchen on those mornings, Papa made the accordion live. I guess it makes sense, when you really think about it.

How do you tell if something's alive?
You check for breathing.
Isn't it beautiful? It reminds me of the accordion my mother kept at the back of our hall closet when I was a kid. It was such an alien thing--green, if I remember correctly. Mom only played it once in my hearing. We thought it was a silly looking contraption, my sisters and I. I don't know if we shamed it back into hiding or if Mom simply didn't like to play it, but I understand Liesel's awe here. And Zusak's writing about this small manageable thing, is both fresh and resounding.

Some thoughts on writing small:

A little goes a long way. It can be overwhelming to feel you have to be so detailed with every aspect of an 80k word manuscript. That kind of writing is likely to overwhelm the reader as well, but taking time to expound on small moments here and there, will do a lot of good and the payoff will be felt in the reader's connection to the story.

It helps to put on your director's hat. Sometimes it's helpful to view your story as a movie instead of a two dimensional story, flat on the page. Allow yourself to be the director, zooming in on intricate details and whispered conversations and then widening the shot again when you're ready to move forward on your timeline.

Specific stories have the widest appeal. When you take the time to give your characters specific, authentic moments, your story suddenly becomes universally appealing.

My daughter, for example, has a sparkly stuffed octopus named Dazzle. Well, really, she has a fleet of them. There's Mommy Dazzle and Daddy Dazzle and Brother Dazzle and a slightly different version named Dizzle.

Her favorite, though, is Mommy Dazzle. When she's tired, Jazlyn rubs her index finger and thumb--and sometimes even the tip of her nose--over Mommy Dazzle's eyes. The purple octopus has fuzzy eyelids and the texture variation between the glossy marble eye and the material holds some kind of magical power that lulls my munchkin to sleep. God bless magical cephalopods!

Now, this is a very specific, very particular memory I've shared with you. It's not likely you know a little girl named Jazlyn with a fleet of stuffed octopuses graced with magical eyes. But I'd bet big money that you know a child who is deeply attached to a stuffed animal or snuggly blanket and because that's true, you can understand just how precious this memory is to me. My small moment likely resonates with you.

And the small details you color your story with have that same kind of power. The power to connect readers and story. The power to connect your voice and their heart.

Tell me, have you ever thought about writing small? Is it something that comes naturally to you or do you have to work at it? If you have an example of writing small from your own work that you'd like to share, please do so in the comments here and be sure to encourage one another. 

ALSO! Check this out! 

For a limited time you can snag Go Teen Writers: How To Turn Your First Draft Into A Published Book for just .99! 

This is the writing book I recommend more frequently than any other book. If you don't have a copy, snag the ebook now. You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Go Teen Writers Ebook is on Sale!

For a limited time, you can grab Go Teen Writers: How To Turn Your First Draft Into A Published Book for just .99! 

Jill Williamson and I wrote this book because the editing process is daunting, especially that first time. We hope you find it useful!

Grab your copy on:

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

NaNo Recap And A Christmas Party Invite

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.

Today is the last day of NaNoWriMo, so if you're close to reaching 50K, keep at it! You're almost there. You are such hard workers and we believe in you!

I did technically "win" NaNo, even though my book is not yet complete. I logged in 76,901 words so far and I'm still going to write some today when I get home from my side job. (Yes, I have a side job watching a darling three-year-old boy.) But since I came into NaNo with a bit of a head start on this book, and since it is likely going to be closer to 200K when I finish, I still have a little bit further to go.

*crackes knuckles and moves smoothly into December Novel Writing Month to keep the words flowing fast* Whoo!

For those writers who reach at least 50K, NaNoWriMo will send you this nifty badge to display wherever you like. Here is mine:

If you didn't reach 50K, that's okay. Life happens. And we are proud of you for giving this a try. I don't know about you, but in the words of Robert H. Schuller, “I'd rather attempt to do something great and fail than to attempt to do nothing and succeed.” But remember, NaNo is not really about "winning" anything. The whole point is to get you writing and to teach you that it's okay to write messy, ugly, show-no-one rough drafts. Giving yourself permission to stink as you write your rough drafts can be one of the most freeing lessons you can learn as a writer. NaNo taught me that, and I hope participating in NaNo taught you something about your own writing.

What to do now that NaNo is over?

If you haven't finished your book, I say keep on going! But if you did complete your NaNo draft, here are some ideas of what you can do next:

-Take a break. After an intense time of writing, it's nice to rest your brain. When I'm not writing, I like to read. I have so little free time these days, that reading whatever I want is a rare treat. Whatever it is that will rest your brain, decide how long you're going to rest, then rest. You need it.

-Edit. If you finished your book, you might want to dive right in and start editing. If that is you and you need some help, check out these two posts: The Macro Edit and The Micro Edit.

-Join a writing group—if you're not already in one. Besides actually writing, there is no better method to improve beyond getting feedback from others. Being a part of a close-knit group of writers is a great way to grow and give back. Check out these posts for ideas about writing groups:
Suggestions For Writing Groups, Part One
Suggestions For Writing Groups, Part Two
11 Things To Do In Your Writing Group

-Continue to set writing goals. Whether they be word-count goals, chapter goals, or word sprints with friends, goals help you get your writing done in a timely manner.

-Celebrate. No matter how many words you logged during the month of November, your worked hard and should celebrate that. Maybe that looks like buying yourself a treat at Dutch Brothers, a banana split, or a box of chocolates. Or maybe that means buying yourself that book you've been dying to read or going to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Whatever it is, enjoy, and pat yourself on the back for a job well done. One way you can celebrate is by coming to my Christmas Facebook party this Friday! Enjoy some random silliness and a chance to win a Kindle, a book, or a gift card. It's going to be a time of joyous merriment.

Here is an official invitation:

So... share in the comments:
1. What did you learn from NaNo this year?
2. What do you plan to do now that NaNo is over?

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

NaNoWriMo Day 29 Check-In

After writing 3,973 words today, I have logged 50,006 words for the month. I'm official!

I'm not going to finish my novel this month. I think I have another 30 to 40k until the end, which would make this the longest first draft I've ever written. What about you? I'd love to know how many of you will keep working on the same draft in December.

Two days left, writers! You can do it!

Monday, November 28, 2016

NaNoWriMo Day 28 Check-In

THREE days left. Wow. 

I'm feeling pretty comfortable with 4,000 words left to write. How much do you have left? Are you still going strong or limping your way through these final days?