Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Manuscript Vacations

I would love to know why taking a break from writing and revising a manuscript gives fresh perspective of that work. It is one of those miracles of writing. A writer sends a manuscript away to a cozy drawer or corner hide-away on the computer for a bit and somehow the brain breathes and revives (or something) so that when it’s time to reunite with the manuscript, there is often magic. There is a fresh perspective that smells a lot like clarity. For me, it’s kind of like putting in fresh contacts. This works especially well when I’m not happy with something I’ve written—when things are not working and I’m ripping out way too much hair.

How long a break? I’ve read that a healthy break for a book-length manuscript is a month, which is about right for me. Here’s the rub, though: I am really impatient. I mean, REALLY impatient. A month might as well be a year. With that in mind, here are some things that I do to distract myself while my manuscript vacations:

Go on my own vacation. I wish. Unfortunately, escaping to some tropical paradise for a month break doesn’t usually work out for me, but it’s a nice fantasy.

Get organized. While I’m finishing a novel, I put off tons of life stuff. A manuscript vacation is the perfect time to catch up on everything. This includes cleaning my office, which usually has dropped books and magazines, too many pages, pens, notes, and all kinds of scary miscellaneous stuff in a bizarre semi-circle around my desk by the time I type “The End.” Finding the floor and getting back to some level of organization is therapeutic.

Start a new novel. This is my agent’s favorite way for his clients to take their minds off of finished projects. I agree. Immersing in a new project is very distracting. The only catch is the necessity of taking a break from the new project when it’s time to revisit the one that’s been on vacation.

Revisit life. This includes retail therapy (a.k.a. shopping), meeting pals for lunch (and probably picking up the bill since I’ve been ignoring them), exercising, and generally indulging in treats that I put off for the sake of the work in progress.

Do you put your manuscripts away for a while after you’ve finished them? If so, how do you distract yourself during manuscript vacations?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


“Your protagonist must never act in a way that lowers her status below that of the antagonist.”

I read this line in the July/August Writer’s Digest, in an article titled “Raise Your

Characters Above the Status Quo” by Steven James. A great article, by the way, but what do you think about that statement?

Status, as described in this article, is a character’s need or attempt at having a dominant role in social interactions. Body language, dialogue, and, of course, behavior illustrate status. Interesting characters undergo shifts in status and a protagonist must have areas of weakness or low status to be multi-faceted. That makes sense, right?

However, as the quote seems to be saying, a protagonist shouldn’t be submissive to an antagonist. Hmmm . . . interesting. Because readers would have more respect and affection for characters that show strength and courage and confidence? Okay. But must a protagonist always be heroic when confronted with the antagonist? I mean, Harry Potter got his butt kicked more than once by Lord Voldemort and his minions. Just sayin’. However, Harry did maintain his strength and dignity and confidence through the worst of circumstances, didn’t he? I never considered him wimpy when up against Voldemort. Did you?

Do you agree that a protagonist must never act in a way that lowers her status below that of the antagonist? I'd love to hear your thoughts as I think about this.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


What is almost as much fun as Twister (the game, that is)? How about a good plot twist? Okay, maybe two good plot twists? (Insert ba-da-dum drum beats here.) I’ve got plot twists on my mind because I’ve recently finished reading Popular by Alissa Grosso, which has a stunning (that’s STUNNING, people) plot twist. And that’s all I am going to say about Alissa’s novel as I do not want to give away anything about her plot and that surprise twist.

Do you enjoy a change in the expected outcome or direction of a story? It can be startling and thought provoking and fun (at least I think so). Tell me you didn’t gasp when Darth Vader announced that he was Luke’s father. Seriously. Personally, my favorite plot twists happen when I am sure that I know what’s going on. Yeah, sure I know. That’s the fun of a good twist, right?

Writing twists, though, can be tricky. Timing and the proper placement of clues really matter. Too much information and a reader could see the twist coming and be unimpressed with the big reveal. Not good. Yet, if the twist isn’t properly set up, the reader could become confused. Twists, like many writing techniques, require balance and patience. Writing them, it seems to me, becomes a lot like walking a tight rope.

So, what are some of your favorite plot twists? Or, are you unimpressed with plot twists? Do tell!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Deadline: The final time or moment when something MUST be finished.

There are lots of deadlines in our lives, right? And, if you’re like me, you might even give yourself deadlines. These can be useful, but also stressful. Ugh.

When I was a textbook editor, our fearless leader drilled into our heads that editors and writers must always “meet or beat” deadlines. In other words, there’s a reason the word dead appears before line, as in cross that line and you’re dead, sister.

Now, whenever a deadline is hovering, this mentor’s voice rings in my ears. I picture a deadline as a concrete barrier laced with barbed wire. This explains why, when I was working feverishly on revisions for Buck Fever and a family emergency blew in, requiring a long road trip, I revised in the backseat, which I’d tricked out with lighting and a makeshift desk. No exaggeration. Sure, revising for twenty-four hours in a cramped space while cruising an interstate highway wasn’t much fun, but I met my deadline. And that was rewarding.

Tell me: How do you meet or beat deadlines? Or don’t you? *winks*