The air was light and crisp, the wind lightly flowing through the trees, gently shaking the leaves which slowly moved their way down to the soft dirt ground. The mood slowly departed to let the sun take over the sky. Purples, pinks, oranges and reds all painted the sky like a brand new canvas waiting to be framed. Axel sat patiently on his smooth wooden windowsill seat. He waited for the perfect time for the sky to set in its place.
“Bingo.” With his notebook in hand, he very gently and gracefully colored a picture of the sky in all its beauty. He grabbed all different kinds of colors form the new pencil set he bought from the store. He had finally saved up enough to buy the best pencils in town. Many of the townspeople would tell him that it was a waste to buy pencils when he could spend his money on something more useful and important. He was very talented, though many people did not approve. He didn’t listen, though. He made quite a good profit by selling all of his artwork, proving to people that it wasn’t a waste. Despite always being busy helping his mother around the house, he usually found time to relax and draw.
After a while, Axel finished his drawing, satisfied with his work. He sat at his windowsill for a little while longer, watching the sun climb up the sky and the white, puffy clouds roll in. He then stood up, put his notebook on the seat, and walked over to his mirror. He was quite the handsome boy, just like his father. His raven black hair was slicked back and curling a bit on the ends. Crystal blue eyes, like his mother’s, shone like large diamonds on his white pale face. He had broad shoulders and a strong voice. A strong voice he faked 80 percent of the time only to impress the girls his age in the town.
Axel ran his bony fingers through his hair, making it messier than it already was. Even though he went to bed pretty early the previous night, he was still exhausted. The clanking of pots and pans, and the sound of running water could be heard coming from their large marble-based kitchen. The delicious smell of pancakes and bacon came wafting up the stairs and into his bedroom.
Although there’s no hint of science fiction yet, I wonder if Axel’s artistic talent will play a role in the speculative elements of this story. Since Jasmine chooses to start the book with Axel sketching the sky, I assume his artwork is going to be important. I can’t wait to find out how!
This passage is very visual, and the focus is on his drawing. The description is strong but could benefit from stripping out some of the adjectives and adverbs. Me, I put tons of adjectives and adverbs into my sentences when I first write them. Then I spend the rest of my time taking them out. Instead of using multiple describers in one sentence, pick the perfect describing word and use that instead. Figurative language (similes, personification, etc.) are also good substitutes for ordinary adjectives. (Ex: … watching the sun climb up the sky and the cotton candy clouds roll in.)
This book is written in close third person, following Axel and Axel’s thoughts. Therefore, try to avoid putting things in the narrative that Axel wouldn’t be thinking about – like his kitchen counters being made of marble. Another example is when the narrative says that townspeople wouldn’t approve of him wasting his money on fancy pencils or spending time on his hobby. An actual memory of someone commenting on his purchase would cover the same information and seem more natural to his thought process. It would also give you the opportunity to share a reason for their disapproval in the dialogue. (I wonder what their problem is?!)
Likewise, watch out for describing Axel too much. You can get away with that more in third person omniscient, but in close third person you want to only use descriptions that would naturally cross Axel’s mind. He might be looking into the mirror to fix his hair or check for pimples or admire himself. But he probably won’t be comparing his hair color to ravens or his eye color to crystals or noticing that his fingers are bony. Remember, it’s okay not to completely describe him on page one.
Readers, do you have anything to add?
Jasmine, thanks for being brave enough to share your first page with us. I hope you find these tips useful! Good luck with your story and keep writing! Don’t forget to read feedback from Marcy and Krystalyn!
“From 2010 to 2014, the popular online kidlit conference WriteOnCon offered writers a unique opportunity to learn and grow their craft, all from the comfort of their own homes. Over 13,000 people attended during the last year! Unfortunately, increasing time commitments meant the organizers were unable to continue the event in subsequent years. But now WriteOnCon is returning, with a new organizing team but the same purpose: to provide an affordable and fun conference experience that’s accessible to everyone.” ~ The 2017 WriteOnCon Team
If you attended WriteOnCon in the past, then I needn’t say anymore, and you can skip the rest of this post and go right to the links at the bottom. But for anyone unfamiliar with WOC, this is a 3-day online writing conference for kidlit writers. There are writing forums where you can get feedback on your query or first five pages, blog posts, live events – and Ninja Agents! The Ninja Agents – real life literary agents appearing anonymously – sneak into the forums to read, comment, and sometimes request! WOC has all the benefits of a big writing conference and none of the disadvantages (high costs, travel expenses, having to wear pants, etc.).
The time for Early Registration is NOW. It’s easy; it’s affordable; and there are perks. Critiques are on offer from agents, editors, and published authors – and they’re selling out fast. (But don’t worry. I keep seeing new ones being added.)
Visit the WriteOnCon website.
Watch the video.
See you there!
In the thirteenth century, the Holy Roman Church has ordered the Knights Templar to exterminate the Passionate, her bloodline. As Alexia fights this new threat—along with an unfathomable evil and her own heart—the Soulless genesis nears. But none of her hard-won battles may matter if she dies in childbirth before completing her mission.
Can Alexia escape her own clock?
1. Timeless is the final book in a trilogy. Did you have this book planned out when you began Alexia’s journey in Moonless – or did this story develop along the way?
My first draft of Moonless (in 2002) was a novella. A historical love story about a woman defying society and her father. It wasn’t until the next draft that it wrapped its fingers around one of my much older characters. That was the point at which I knew it was going to evolve, but I wrote a potential stand alone, just in case. So no, TIMELESS was not in the picture at first, but by the second draft, yes. I sometimes wonder what would have happened to it if I’d leaned toward the first draft and stuck with that sweet, but simple story. Part of me still loves it and wishes both could exist simultaneously.
2. What surprises did you encounter in the writing of Moonless? (Characters who didn’t behave as planned, twists you didn’t see coming, conflicts that ended differently than you expected, etc.)
When the love interest first took off his mask, so to speak, he wasn’t who I’d been expecting. I’d been writing two different people—a sweet, simple young man toward the beginning, and an older, kindly gentleman toward the end. Then he told me they were the same person and I’d been getting it wrong the whole time. (Picture my jaw hitting the floor.) Yeah, it was like that.
And Bellezza. I had no idea this girl was going to steal the show and drive the action. She was just an instigator of the initial conflict…until she appeared again. And again. And again. She may as well be Alexia’s dark shadow, her opposite, and a hint of the wicked potential that lies in each and every heart.
3. What advice would you give a writer starting a book with series potential that would make writing the subsequent books easier?
Create a story map. Use an excel spreadsheet or story program to build a spreadsheet of names, mannerisms & quirks, places, important objects, etc. You will thank yourself in later books. Also, write up a chapter by chapter outline with each book after you’ve completed them so you have a quick reference guide for future works.
Tightly clutching a twenty dollar bill in her hand, 23 year old Maya approached the counter at an Asian takeout restaurant.
“Uhm, could I have an order of spring rolls?” she uttered.
“Is that all?” The woman at the counter inquired.
“That will be 11 dollars.” The woman added.
Maya handed the woman the twenty dollar bill and received her change. She situated herself on one of the red leathery cushions positioned throughout the wait area. She had heard good things about this restaurant, and was hoping that it would live up to the rumors. It was strange, really. The place just appeared one day out of nowhere. A different employee (a man this time) tugged on a short string connected to a bell, making a shrill ring that grabbed the attention of all the customers. He then placed a grease soaked takeout bag marked ‘spring rolls’ on the mahogany countertop. Maya stood and paced over to the countertop and grabbed her food. She peered up at the man at the counter when she realized he had been staring at her the entire time she was here. He winked at her then continued staring. What a creep… Maya thought to herself and hurried out of the building. She shivered. That’s definitely a drawback. This place better have amazing food. Maya weaved through the bustling crowds of people out on the terribly paved streets of Vladivostok.
A chunk of her ash blond hair slid into her face, covering one of her bronze-colored eyes. She ducked into an alleyway, pulled her hair away from her face, and continued walking down the alleyway. Her nose caught whiffs from the white paper bag in her hand, and she could almost taste the crispy, almost sweet parcels filled with a variety of vegetables. She navigated through a labyrinth of alleyways until she got so far out she came to an entrance to a forest. Maya loved this getaway from the busy life in the town. She would come here almost everyday now for some peace and quiet. The thick treetops were comforting, as they reminded her of her childhood that was full of adventure. Pulling back some blooming branches to create an opening, she entered and began to wander around.
Following the sound of a trickling stream, she came upon an old, eroded wooden bridge that was surrounded by lush underbrush. She maneuvered around the shrubs and sat down on the side of the bridge. The bridge was still damp from the morning dew. Maya slipped her flats off of her feet and set them next to her, swung her feet over the side of the bridge and opened her bag. She scarfed down the spring rolls (which really were as amazing as people said they were) and went to roll up her trash in the bag. I almost forgot. She pulled out a fortune cookie encased in a transparent plastic, tore away the wrapper, and snapped the cookie open. Setting the slip of paper holding her fortune to the side, she ate the cookie. When she picked up the slip of paper and read her fortune, she suddenly felt sick to her stomach. This must be some sort of a joke. Her mind was racing. The paper read ‘Your life’s in danger. Talk to nobody about this. You must leave to a different country immediately’. Maya quickly gathered her trash, slipped her shoes on and ran all the way back to her flat that overlooked the ocean.
There’s a lot of lovely description in this piece. All our senses are engaged – sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. We’ve got the mahogany countertop, the greasy bag, the shrill bell, the scent of the spring rolls, and the damp bridge – just to name a few examples. Not only can I picture the setting, I experience everything that Maya experiences, which is a tricky thing to do in third person. Well done!
I also like the early clues that “something is not right” leading up to the fortune cookie warning: the restaurant that appeared one day out of nowhere and the man behind the counter who was staring at Maya. That’s definitely a drawback. This line made me laugh.
One thing I would suggest is dropping some of the physical descriptions of Maya. Rather than state her exact age in the opening sentence, let us guess her age based on some detail in the story – for instance, maybe she is stopping at this restaurant after work, or between college classes.
Likewise, this sentence pulls us out of the story: A chunk of her ash blond hair slid into her face, covering one of her bronze-colored eyes. The reason is, the writer has done such a good job making us see and feel what Maya sees and feels that we are very connected to her. But if a piece of hair falls into a person’s eyes, they don’t usually think to themselves: My hair is ash blonde and my eyes are bronze. Therefore, we know that the author is inserting that description. It’s not really what Maya’s thinking. Even in third person, the writer should stay very close to the main character’s thoughts. (I didn’t know this until I worked on revisions for The Caged Graves with an editor at Clarion/HMH. She made me drop physical descriptions of Verity unless they were pertinent to the scene; ie, when Verity compared herself to a photograph of her deceased mother.)
Overall, this is an excellent beginning to the story that needs only a little tweaking. Thanks for sharing it with us! I really want to encourage this talented young writer to keep honing her craft.
Happy Halloween! Today, Sheri Larsen is visiting us to talk about her new release, Motley Education, and how it evolved over time.
Ebony’s less-than-average spirit tracking abilities are ruining more than sixth grade at Motley Junior High: School for the Psychically and Celestially Gifted. Her parents argue so much her dad’s moved out. And, even though he’s scared of his own shadow and insists on bringing his slimy, legless lizard everywhere they go, Ebony wouldn’t survive without her best friend, Fleishman.
When Ebony’s Deadly Creatures & Relics’ project goes missing she learns her missing project is one of the keys to saving the spirit world. Now Ebony and Fleishman must battle beasts from Norse mythology to retrieve her project before spirits are lost, the Well of Urd dries up, and Ebony loses all hope of reuniting her family. But someone lies in wait, and he has other plans…including creating a new world of spirits without them in it.
1. What was your inspiration for Motley Education?
I’d have to say my youngest child, twelve-year-old CJ, for two reasons. Firstly, he’s an avid reader and major mythology buff – two things we have in common. We could sit for hours chatting up mythological creatures and coming up with variations of our own. And secondly, once I knew the world I wanted to create and who my main character was going to be I knew ‘she’ had to hold a complexity of struggles vs. successes, self-doubt vs. confidence, and the outer self vs. the searching inner self.
2. I recall you talking about an MG project on your blog some years ago, and I believe it was this one. Can you tell us a little about the evolution of the story?
Yes, Motley was one of those stories that had to sit on a shelf in my brain left to permeate until it was ready to be told. When I felt it was time, I actually began writing it as a young adult tale with Ebony, my main character, a male hero not a female heroine. Slowly but surely, the more the story tapped off my fingers and onto the screen of my laptop the more it felt middle grade and my main force in the story felt like a girl. I’d always had this image of a female middle schooler with dark funky hair, a quirky fixation with graveyards, and a unique sense that she was different but must fit in somewhere – kind of the tween I had wanted to be back in the day. Pondering elements that would accentuate this main character’s voice and posture, I decided to paint her world with psychic and celestial brush strokes mixed in with mythological elements. Once the name Ebony ‘Jade’ Charmed was born the rest of the story just flowed.
3. What surprises did you encounter in the writing of this book? (Characters who didn’t behave as planned, plot twists even you didn’t see coming, etc.)
Love this question! My main antagonist, who never set out to be a problem for Ebony – I can’t say much because I’ll give a twist away. He’s two in one and really not a villain…sort of. Also the real goal of the story’s main villain didn’t come to me until after my first draft. This is when I knew that this was going to be a series. We’re looking at three books, but hopefully a total of five to end the world journey.
4. Motley Education includes a little Norse mythology. What kind of research did you do on this topic, and how did you put your own spin on it?
I did a ton of research and I enjoyed every moment of it. I love history, any history at all that gives us pause and reason to look into my own evolution, communities, cultures, countries, etc… For a while when I was younger I looked into becoming a sociologist. Can you tell?
I definitely put my own spin on the Norse world, adding in a little steam & cyber punk, mechanics, and little known mythological characters/creatures. These elements will definitely grow in the next book.
5. What’s next for you?
Currently I’m working on book II for Motley Education, initially titled The Shifting Hollow. Think Sleepy Hollow creeping around the world of Sleeping Beauty. 😉 I’m also in the midst of edits for my young adult novel, Marked Beauty, which is set for release March 28, 2017. Lastly, I’m finally writing a YA contemporary novel that has plagued me for years. It’s pretty heavy – the subject dark about a teenage girl struggling to survive her life living with a parent suffering from severe depression/mental illness.
Congratulations, Sheri! Motley Education is available at:
Yup. That’s me. Facing the climax of my WIP and wondering, “What’s going to happen?”
I know it makes me seem like the worst sort of pantster, progressing 5 months and 56k words into a story and still not knowing what’s supposed to happen in the climax. Believe me, I’ve been beating myself up over it for weeks. How can this story have any sort of cohesiveness if I don’t even know how the conflict will be resolved – or what form that resolution will take?
Luckily, I have the history of my other, published works to remind me that this is all part of the process and if I give myself the head space and time, I will work it out.
The climactic scenes of The Caged Graves came to me all at once in the shower one day, just as I was about to launch into a completely different climax that was, by comparison, lackluster and unsatisfying.
Entering the climax of The Eighth Day, I had no idea how the good guys were going to defeat the bad guys. They were out-manned, out-gunned, and about to be sacrificed at the top of a pyramid, for pity’s sake.
I expected the climax of The Inquisitor’s Mark to be an all-out, guns-blaring battle between Riley’s clan and the Dulacs. Instead, it turned into a battle of wits for the custody of Jax.
In The Morrigan’s Curse, I knew going into the climax that Jax, Dorian, and one of the bad guys would perform certain actions. But where this would happen, how to get them to that point, and what everyone else would be doing remained a mystery to me right up until I was writing it.
So, I guess it’s not so bad if the current plan for my WIP’s climax is: The Big Bad appears and wreaks havoc (of what kind, unknown). The protagonist learns something startling (this part, at least, I do know), and this ends up (somehow) being the key to defeating Big Bad.
I can work with that. Right?
So many people commented on Yvonne Ventresca’s strategy of reverse outlining last week that I decided to share my techniques for “post draft outlining.”
By the time I type THE END on a first draft, I know all the things that are wrong with it, which may include:
- Important information I never found a place to insert
- Important information I inserted in several places, not sure which place would be best
- Plot holes
- Unnecessary side plots, characters, or clues I never ended up needing
- Inconsistent details in setting or world building
- Wavering character motivation
- Character changes (In the first draft of The Caged Graves, the character of Beulah Poole started out as a teenage girl. I realized about two thirds of the way through the first draft that I needed her to be an old woman!)
Immediately after the first draft, I create a side-by-side outline to guide my second draft revisions. In one column, I list the important events in each chapter. In the other column, I note what changes I’ll need to make. These include all the things I listed above, as well as events to delete or re-order and chapters that need to be combined or split apart.
In the case of The Caged Graves, a historical murder mystery, I also created an even briefer outline of the events in each chapter and color coded them: purple for the mystery of the graves, yellow for Verity’s romance, blue for the mystery of the Revolutionary War treasure. This helped me adjust the pacing and make sure that the main mystery remained in the forefront of the story, with the romance providing a counter-point and the secondary mystery appearing often enough to not be forgotten. If I found that one color took over an entire section of the story, or if one color disappeared for too long, I made notes on how to fix it.
Anyone else have an outlining (pre- or post-) to share?
Today I’m hosting Yvonne Ventresca, author of Crystal Kite Award-winning Pandemic and the newly released Black Flowers, White Lies. Yvonne is a writer friend I actually know in real life. We’ve hung out together at tons of book events: NJASL Fall Conferences, Collingswood Book Festival, B&N Events, and plenty more — sitting behind our little tables, chatting with each other while trying to make eye contact with potential book buyers without scaring them away.
Her father died before she was born, but Ella Benton knows they have a special connection. Now, evidence points to his death in a psychiatric hospital, not a car accident as Mom claimed. When strange, supernatural signs appear, Ella wonders if Dad’s trying to tell her something, or if someone’s playing unsettling tricks. As the unexplained events become sinister, she finds herself terrified about who—or what—might harm her. Then the evidence points to Ella herself. What if, like Dad, she’s suffering a mental breakdown? Ella desperately needs to find answers, no matter how disturbing the truth might be.
1. I’m really looking forward to reading this book! Black Flowers, White Lies seems like a cross between a gothic mystery and psychological suspense. Would you say this is an accurate description?
One of my favorite classes in college was Gothic Literature! Black Flowers, White Lies does have the mystery and psychological suspense, but because it’s set in contemporary Hoboken, New Jersey, it’s not quite gothic. I briefly thought about setting the story in an abandoned castle or a creepy old boarding school, but since Ella (the main character) feels safe at home, I felt that if bizarre things happened there, it would create a scarier effect.
2. When were sitting behind our respective tables at NJASL last year, you described this book to me as a YA version of Gaslight. What was the inspiration for the story (besides Gaslight, that is)?
This novel has evolved over the years, so it has a few inspirations. My early versions were about a teen girl who needs to rescue her kidnapped mother. In the final version, Ella, doesn’t need to rescue her mother–she needs to save herself. This shift in focus really brought the story together for me, because it clarified her journey as a strong heroine.
3. Based on the synopsis, it seems like Ella might be an unreliable narrator. I’ve been fascinated with unreliable narrators since I read Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle when I was a young teen. Do you have any favorite books where the protagonist’s view of the world is skewed, muddled, or not to be counted on?
I loved Liar by Justine Larbalestier, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie, and Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk.
4. Tell us about your creative process. Are you an outliner, a pantster, or something in between?
I’m a ducks-in-a-row kind of person in general, but surprisingly, I don’t outline. I usually have a sense of the main character and some of the key events when I start a story. After I finish a draft, I create a reverse outline to get a handle on what I’ve written. Making the outline after I’ve drafted the story allows me to see flaws in sequence, pacing, etc. It’s definitely my favorite technique.
5. I also outline after the first draft is written! Great minds think alike! Were there any surprises for you in the writing of this novel? Plot twists you didn’t expect? Characters who didn’t behave as planned?
One of my favorite characters started as a female but worked better as a male. This meant a major rewrite, but once I started the revision, I could tell that it was taking me to a better creative place.
FUN FACT: During the writing of Black Flowers, White Lies, Yvonne asked her Facebook friends for their cat names, and was able to incorporate many of them into the story. Except for Petals, all of the animal shelter cats are named after real animals.
Bio: Yvonne Ventresca’s latest young adult novel, Black Flowers, White Lies was recently published by Sky Pony Press (October, 2016). BuzzFeed included it at the top of their new “must read” books: 23 YA Books That, Without a Doubt, You’ll Want to Read This Fall. Her debut YA novel, Pandemic, won a 2015 Crystal Kite Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators for the Atlantic region.
I wasn’t …
hanging from the artwork
drinking milk out of Bob’s cereal bowl
climbing the curtains
knocking books off the shelf
rubbing my butt on Gina’s homework
licking the plates in the sink.
walk across Dianne’s laptop and delete a page of her manuscript
stick my whole head in Marie’s glass of soda water (the bubbles were startling, but then I kind of liked them)
unlock the front door
steal Bob’s sunglasses
take the drain stopper out of the sink and carry it down the hall
photobomb Dianne’s Skype visit with a classroom
sneak into Sorcia’s Cone of Shame while she was sleeping and terrorize her.
Keeping it short here today. This past weekend was Parents Day at my daughter’s college. Bob and I drove over 4 hours to visit Gabbey at school. When we arrived, the school had planned some activities, but none them appealed to us.
Field Day for Parents? Pass. I am a grown up. No one can ever get me into a Potato Sack Race again.
Football Game? Gabbey said, “Heck no.”
We checked TripAdvisor for local attractions, and this is what we found:
Yup. Things to Do is grayed out. Gabbey’s college is located in the dictionary definition of BOONDOCKS. The Potato Sack Race was looking better and better.
At least we got to spend a couple days with Gabbey.
When I’m at home, our local attractions are:
- Longwood Gardens (pretty famous)
- Brandywine River Museum of Art (original Andrew Wyeth paintings, he was a local)
- Brandywine Battlefield (re-enactment once a year)
- Go Ape Zip Line and Treetop Adventure at Lum’s Pond (awesome, but now infamous, see earlier post)
If we go a little further afield, we can reach Hershey Park, Hershey World, Lancaster (Amish Country), and anything in Philadelphia.
What are the local attractions in your neck of the woods?