I‘m thrilled to share with you some tips from a writer I greatly admire. Maggie De Vries, author of Rabbit Ears, is also the author of eight other books for young readers and the book Missing Sarah, which I wept over when I read it a few years ago. I love tip number 7 – perfect wording for an idea I’ve been trying to explain to my students!
So here (lucky us!!!) we have 10 tips to consider to prepare our writing for its journey out into the world — get ready to revise with the marvellous Maggie De Vries, author, children’s book editor and creative writing instructor.
1- Outline or diagram your book onto a single page, or wall or white board … and analyze its structure. Choose your favourite approach (or several) and analyse your book accordingly. Use Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey adapted for writers by Christopher Vogler in the memo you can find at this link http://www.skepticfiles.org/atheist2/hero.htm and in expanded form in his The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. Screenplay analysis can be enormously helpful for us book writers: I love both Robert McKee’s book Story and Michael Hague’s Story Mastery website (see Hague’s post on screenplay structure in particular). Or use Elizabeth Lyon’s book, Manuscript Makeover for novels or Eve Heidi Bine-Stock’s How to Write a Children’s Picture Book Volume I: Structure if you’re working on a picture book. Don’t feel you have to model your work precisely after these experts, but use them to make sure that you have a clear understanding of how your own story works, of how its built.
2- Read your story’s beginning and end together. Is the whole story contained somehow in its start? If not, could it be? Does the end echo the beginning in some way? If not, would you like it to?
3- Find all the major turning points in your story and chart them. Do they fall in the “right” spots? The screenplay-writing sources from #1 may be helpful again here.
4- Find the spot where the story takes off, where the reader knows suddenly what the protagonist’s journey is going to be. Does it happen soon enough? Is it clearly enough defined?
5- Make sure you have a strong grasp on scenes. Everyone says “Show, don’t tell.” Do you know when you are showing and when you are telling? Do you know why? Know when you shift into scene and when you shift out. (Think unity of time and place. Or on-stage versus off.) Ask yourself, can readers see the important parts unfolding in their imaginations?
6- Are you sure you’ve chosen the right person? (First, second, third…) And the right tense? (Past, present.) Experiment. If your piece is in third person, past tense, change one scene into first person, present. Or vice versa. And see how it feels.
7- Look for slips in point of view. Make sure you’re telling the story consistently through your point-of-view character.
For example, if the story is being told through Martha and she isn’t looking in a mirror, it should not say, “Her cheeks turned red,” as Martha can’t see her own cheeks. Nor should it say, “Mark’s heart beat faster,” As Martha can’t know that.
8- Root out clichés, and replace them with your own fresh images. I think of clichés as placeholders: they are just fine in a first draft, but not in later drafts. (Often a second reader will be better than you are at finding the tired phrases in your writing.)
9- Check each use of “quite,” “very,” “really.” Almost always, these words can be deleted. Many other adverbs can be deleted as well, often in favour of a stronger verb.
10- Collect data on each of your characters and work to make each character even more distinct. For example, if two characters use the same turn of phrase, rewrite so that only one does.
11- Bonus: Have several trusted people read your story. Ask them to mark the moment when they were hooked. Consider opening your story at that spot.
Maggie de Vries is the author of ten books, most recently teen novel Rabbit Ears. (HarperCollins, March 2014) She teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of British Columbia, and is currently taking Life Coach training with Martha Beck while working on a time travel novel set off the West Coast in Desolation Sound.
FIND HER HERE: www.maggiedevries.com or on twitter: @Maggie_deVries