Tag Archives: revising

Getting into Your Character’s Head

This post is for my writer friends. Does your writing ever feel distanced from your main character? Do your critique partners tell you they can’t empathize with him or her?

Good writing–writing that draws readers in and makes them feel as though they are living the scene themselves–requires getting into your character’s head.

So how do you do that?

Envision the scene from your character’s eyes. I’m a very visual person, so I visualize scenes as I write, sort of like watching them on an imaginary television screen in my head. And while I typically do this as though I’m watching from an “offscreen camera,” when my writing is feeling forced and distanced, it’s time to change perspectives and watch what’s going on directly from my character’s viewpoint.

Eliminate phrases that remove your reader from the scene. This includes phrases such as, “I saw,” or “I thought,” or “I wondered” (or, if you’re writing in the third person, “She saw,” etc.). Compare the following:

  • Jane boarded the bus. She noticed a young girl, about her daughter’s age, sitting in the back seat listening to her iPod. She wondered where her own daughter might be now.
  • Jane boarded the bus. A young girl, about her daughter’s age, sat in the back seat listening to her iPod. Where would her own daughter be now?

The story is being told in Jane’s point of view, so we don’t need to be told that she is noticing and wondering. We know that. The first version takes a step back from her, while the second puts us directly in her thoughts. We are right there, noticing and wondering along with her. Not to mention, the second version is tighter. Bonus!

Smell, taste, and feel the world. We hear it all the time as writers: Don’t forget to use all five senses. And it does make a difference. Your characters experience the world through more than just sight and sound, and even an occasional reference to one of the other three senses can bring a passage to life.

What writing tips do you have for getting into your characters’ heads?

5 Things I Learned as a Pitch Wars Mentee

fs_cover_smallA year ago I entered THE FUNERAL SINGER in a contest called Pitch Wars. The experience was simultaneously terrifying, exciting, and rewarding. It also proved to be the most important step I would take in my five-year path to publication.

If you are already obsessed familiar with Pitch Wars, you can skip this bulleted list while I explain how the annual contest works:

  • Contestants send in a query letter and the first few pages of their manuscripts to mentors–authors and agent/editor interns or assistants who volunteer to participate and who specify on the Pitch Wars website what genres they’re most interested in. Last year’s rules stated we could submit to three mentors of our choosing.
  • The mentors then review their submissions and select one writer and two alternates they wish to work with.
  • The selected contestants send their full manuscripts to their mentors for critique and, if they agree with the mentors’ suggestions, they have about five weeks to make revisions.
  • With a new and improved manuscript ready to roll, contestants post a pitch and the first 250 words of their manuscript on the Pitch Wars site.
  • A group of amazing editors and agents review the pitches and first pages and make requests to see more if interested. The contestant with the most requests wins!

I entered the contest in December 2012 and was thrilled to be selected by one of my targeted mentors–the generous, talented, and incredibly supportive Erica Chapman. Getting accepted (from among about 2,000 total entries) was a thrill, but it was just the start of my Pitch Wars rollercoaster ride. So, what happened, and what did I learn? Here are the top five lessons I took away from my Pitch Wars experience:

1. Prep, prep, prep.
I’d spent four years writing and revising this manuscript and another year exploring publication options, so my query letter and pages were definitely as strong as I could make them. At last, all those critique partners, workshops, and hours of hard work would pay off.

Also, I researched my selected mentors carefully. All three were people I wanted to work with, and all three were people who seemed like they would be great fits for my manuscript. This targeting–much like the targeting writers need to do when seeking agents and publishers–made a huge difference in my response rate, as all three of the mentors expressed an interest and requested to see more pages.

Finally, I did tons of research on the market. I knew where my story would fit in the young adult world and what types of readers might like it. In my query letter, I said THE FUNERAL SINGER “took AUDREY, WAIT! and dropped it onto the set of SIX FEET UNDER.” Turned out, Erica was a huge SFU fan and had also read and loved AUDREY, WAIT! Talk about a perfect match!

2. Sometimes your manuscript needs tough love.
As I freaked out about waited patiently to see Erica’s critique, I had some hopes and fears about what she might suggest. Were there sections that moved too slowly? characters who needed more fleshing out? word choices that didn’t quite work?

Hahahahaha! If only. No, Erica came back with one main comment: I needed to change my main character’s ultimate love interest. Yes, you read that correctly. SHE WANTED ME TO MAKE A DIFFERENT CHARACTER THE MC’S LOVE INTEREST! That is not a tweak, people. That is not a light revision. That is a REWRITE of most of the novel. And I had five weeks to do it. Keeping in mind, it took me FOUR YEARS to write it.

My immediate reaction: I’m done. I’m quitting. I cannnot deal for one more minute with this novel. I told my husband this. Then I made the mistake of through the grace of God read him Erica’s email. “Can you believe that?” I asked. “She wants me to make HIM the love interest!” At which point, Joe, who by the way is SUPPOSED TO BE ON MY SIDE, DAMMIT, said, “I think she might be right.”

This did not make me feel better. This made me want to go to bed and cry for fourteen hours. But it also made me go back, review my novel with Erica’s critique in mind, and decide to try. And you know what? She was right.

3. Sometimes you need to go with your gut.
In addition to the whole love-interest thing, Erica made a number of smaller suggestions. Some of them I followed, but a couple I didn’t. While I of course respected her expertise and her opinions, in the end, THE FUNERAL SINGER was my story. Certain elements meant a lot to me, and I wanted to stick with them.

I did, however, take a look at her comments and consider other ways to address them. Sometimes when an agent, editor, or critique partner suggests a change, what they are really saying is, “What you did here isn’t quite working.” As they say, there is always more than one way to skin a cat.

For example, Erica wanted me to make a major change to my climactic scene because she worried that my main character’s actions in that scene made her too unlikeable. Without giving any spoilers, I did not make that change, but I massaged it enough that, while her actions remained the same, the context around them changed enough that (I hope) the reader is able to at least understand them.

4. With enough motivation, incentive (and a hard deadline!), anything is possible.
As someone who works full-time and writes at a snail’s pace even on the weekends, the thought of revising my novel in time for the agents/editors round was more than a little intimidating. Did I mention I had five weeks? And needed to change the LOVE INTEREST?!? So, yeah.

But I knew Pitch Wars offered a great opportunity, I knew there were hundreds of writers out there who had competed for that opportunity, and by now I knew that Erica’s revision suggestion was just what my novel needed to take it to the next level. So, I did it. And even if this list of lessons ended right there, it would have been worth it.

5. Contests can work!
But, the list doesn’t end there! I received seven requests from agents/editors (which was not enough to win … the winner got eight … but I wasn’t complaining!). I ultimately did sign with one of the agents, Andrea Somberg from Harvey Klinger Inc., and even ultimately (outside of the contest) found a home for my novel.

Had it not been for Pitch Wars, THE FUNERAL SINGER would not be a book today! It was released on September 24 by Swoon Romance, a longtime dream come true.

Don’t you just love happy endings?

Voila! It’s a Book!

I first started writing THE FUNERAL SINGER five years ago. I remember it like it was yesterday. (Well, not really. I mean, it was five years ago!)

But here’s how it started: In April 2008, I went to a children’s writers conference, where T.A. Barron, author of the wildly popular MERLIN and MERLIN’S DRAGON series, gave the keynote address. Barron was talking about everyday heroes, and he commented that kids and teens today too often have a skewed idea of what it means to be a hero.

His remark stuck with me, and on the four-hour drive home from that conference, I started formulating the plot for THE FUNERAL SINGER. I decided to write a novel about a girl who becomes a pop “hero” but who ultimately discovers it can be more rewarding, more real, to be an everyday hero. Next thing you know, voila! It’s five years later and I have a book! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

Seriously, though, let’s take a look at my path to publication, by the numbers:

  1. I went through one agent “break up” while working on this book. My former agent was smart and successful and sweet, and I admire and adore her, but she didn’t love this book like I did. I had to choose, and I chose the book. I’m not going to pretend it was easy. I’m not going to pretend I didn’t cry. But ultimately, it was the right choice.
  2. I entered two online contests with this book. It did well in both contests, and in one of them I received some feedback that ultimately led to major revisions and improvements.
  3. I put this book through three writing workshops. The feedback and support I received in those classes played a huge part in my writing and revisions.
  4. I received four “close, but no cigar” rejections from agents on this book. The ones where you get so close, where you can practically hear the phone ringing with the agent’s offer, are the toughest. Rejection sucks and leaves you with two choices: Give up, or try again. Only one of those choices offers the possibility of success.
  5. Did I mention, I spent five years writing, revising and submitting this book? That’s like, a lifetime (if you’re a five-year-old) (or a hamster).

Had I known my journey to publishing this manuscript would have meant going through all of that, I’m not sure I ever would have begun it. But I’m glad I did and am so thrilled to finally have a chance to share THE FUNERAL SINGER with the world!

Swoon Romance will publish it in Fall 2013 as an e-book. I want to thank publisher Georgia McBride, editor Amy Garvey, and agent Andrea Somberg for believing in this book!

Stay tuned to this blog for details and updates—including a sneak peak at the cover—as we lead up to its release!