What I Learned in Cheryl Klein’s Workshop (An Incomplete List)

I took 27 pages of notes during Cheryl Klein’s plot workshop. Phew! All kinds of revision ideas popped into my head. Fix this! Do that! Don’t forget X. What about Y? I jotted down ideas all over my notes, all over my homework, and book map. Wow!

And then I took a week off. Cheryl set aside our notes and rest for about a week. Good advice. That allowed the solid revision ideas to settle into place while the more frantic ideas floated away. So I ate Thanksgiving turkey, played lots of card games with my daughters, read a whole bunch, visited relatives–and let revision ideas simmer in my subconscious. The following week, I made a list of seventeen things to work on during revision. Here a few things on my list:

#4 Giving my character more active choices to make.

One thing that really struck me while making my book map was that I don’t always let my main character make the big decisions. Too much simply happens to him–outside of his control. During the workshop, Cheryl talked about how active choices have consequences. And that sure makes for more interesting storytelling, doesn’t it?

#5 Cut Subplot X

#6 Axing that character who rarely interacts with my main character. He pops into the story–twice–to deliver BIG NEWS.

Cheryl talked about reworking storytelling situations that are unnecessarily difficult, asking “are there facts that you’ve created that don’t contribute to the plot? Or mechanical problems or issues that change the balance?” I have a character who rarely has access to my main character & that created huge mechanical problems for me. Too much unrealistic sneaking around just for a few bits of BIG NEWS. I also found myself pounding a particular subplot into my story like, um, devouring two desserts after eating second-helpings on Thanksgiving. Now I feel really good about simply leaving out that subplot. If only that would make my jeans fit better…

#12 Pinpoint main character’s Moment of Emotional Truth.

Cheryl asked us to think about key emotional transformation of our protagonist. I realized that I’ve been so busy working out the kinks in all the action in my story that I’d forgotten to stop and really emphasize the emotional change in my character, so that the reader will pause for an AHA moment.

#2 Rewrite chapter one.

I loved that first chapter–it’s so pretty and sounds so nice when I read it out loud. I pictured that scene the moment I committed myself to working on this idea. During Cheryl’s workshop, I realized that it doesn’t serve my overall story as well as it could. My well-honed first chapter actually flattens out some of the bigger themes explored later.

I really wrestled with making this change all during my week off. I skipped a writing day–just because I didn’t want to mess with that beginning. But then I gave myself permission just to try out a new beginning. I’m still working on Chapter One, but it’s so much stronger and much more effective. Even though it’s not pretty yet–or quite finished.

So I’m only on Revision Item #2, but I’m more excited about my WIP than ever. Much thanks to Cheryl Klein for her wonderful workshop!

Making a Cheryl Klein Book Map

I’m attending Scholastic editor Cheryl Klein’s Master Class this coming Saturday, so this week I’m doing homework (I secretly love homework). We have to make a map of our book. I spent too much time yesterday trying to make a chart using Word–but I couldn’t get the little boxes big enough, yet small enough with margins large enough, and I know that some scenes are much shorter than others–I needed flexibility. So I went to the office supply store (I secretly love office supply stores) and bought legal sized paper and pens in fun colors.

Here’s my blank map:

The categories are: scene#, pages, total number of pages (I combined these into one little box); when the scene occurs; the setting; characters (I assigned my main characters colors and listed them by name); what do they want in this scene; the action in the scene; change that occurs in the scene; revision notes.

I’m going to box my map after I write what is needed for each scene so I won’t have to cramp complex scenes or take up too much space for short scenes.

Here are the first five scenes all mapped out:

Here’s what I’ve done so far–it’s one long document. Now I just have to finish writing those final few chapters. I’m SO close, but probably won’t quite finish the whole manuscript by Saturday.

As the sticky notes indicate, I’ve already targeted several parts of my story to strengthen during revision.   I also realized that I suffered a bit of Middle Fatigue, writing too-short, underdeveloped chapters in the middle of the book. Time to lengthen those too!

Can’t wait for the workshop. I’ve already learned a lot doing the homework.

Learning From Other Genres

People often say that if you want to write in a particular genre, read 100 books in that genre, and I really like that advice. But I also think there are advantages to breaking free from your genre and learning what another has to offer. 

Last weekend I took a class about writing Collage Memoir from Paisley Rekdal who teaches in the MFA program at the University of Utah. While I do write in a journal every night, I’m not quite sure why, since my life is usually pretty dull. I read, I write, I cook, less often I clean…I watch soccer, drive carpool, chat with friends, watch TV, bad Reality TV…

ZZZZ.

So it was interesting to discover that I do have interesting things to say as Paisley guided us through a series of readings, followed by writing exercises. Collage writing combines personal writing, poems, photography, art, fiction–or even “found language” from news articles, etc. 

I actually came up with a few essay ideas that I’d like to pursue. And I added several unusual books to my ongoing To-Read list–books I never would’ve heard of otherwise–like Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud which provided the starting point for the class. Talk about a different genre! 

Best of all–I found myself jotting down note after note about ways I could use collage writing techniques to develop characters in my novel and move the story forward in unique ways. So, if you’re looking for a way to pump some energy into your writing, try taking a class outside of your comfort zone. It’ll spark your imagination for sure!  

Thanks [email protected] for sponsoring the class! 



The Benefit of Small Conferences

I spent last weekend speaking and critiquing at the SCBWI Canada East conference in Niagara Falls–and it got me thinking about how much I love small conferences.

I’m standing just above the waterfall. 

We all slept, ate, workshopped, and socialized (the best part) at the Mount Caramel monastery and retreat center.

My roomie Fran Cannon Slayton and I could hear the waterfall from our room.

Before the conference, SCBWI volunteer extraordinaire, Jackie Garlick-Pynaert, took the faculty members on a tour of the falls. We got really close to all that thundering water.

Getting soaked with author Terri Farley.

But we also grew close to the attendees. By the end of the weekend, I’d had the chance to talk to nearly everyone. Small events allow the faculty to get to know you as a person–you’re not just a face in the crowd or 5 critique pages. You’re the person with school-aged kids (like me), or the one who tells hilarious bear stories.

Post-workshop Q&A time. I talked about character development.

Small workshops create a cozy, intimate atmosphere. Even a shy writer (and aren’t we all a little bit shy) won’t feel intimidated about asking questions. I also had the chance to talk to people about their work after my workshops. We chatted about stories, writing, and balancing writing with family over lunch, dinner, and during evening socializing. Only a small conference offers so many of those moments.

During our sight-seeing tour, I wondered if the American Falls, which would be a truly impressive waterfall in any other location, felt like the sidekick to a much more beautiful, impressive friend.

American Falls is downstream from the huge horseshoe-shaped Niagara Falls.

I used to feel overwhelmed by all the writers filling the ballroom at big conferences. I’d think, all of these people share my dream? Yikes! And I’ve never been good at squeezing myself into a group of professional schmoozers to chat with faculty. Small conferences allow me to be my quieter self. And I’ve made friends who’ve allowed me to connect with even more friends at bigger conferences. (I’m learning to schmooze.)

Veronica Rossi, Terri Farley, Hilary Breed Van Dusen, Josh Adams, me, and Fran Cannon Slayton.

So, if you’ve been thinking about attending a conference, but aren’t sure if you’re ready, try a small conference. I know Jackie already has a great lineup for Niagara Falls next year!

Much thanks to Jackie Garlick-Pynaert, Lizann Flatt, and Alma Fullerton for a wonderful weekend.

Off To New York!

I’m packing my bags…


Trading in my ratty sweats…

For cute little outfits!

Yay!

I’m attending the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators conference, having lunch with my editor, meeting with my agent, and signing books with some of my favorite authors at Books Of Wonder, January 28th from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. Please stop by if you’re in New York:

JT Dutton (FREAKED, STRANDED)
Albert Borris (CRASH INTO ME)
Fran Cannon Slayton (WHEN THE WHISTLE BLOWS)
Ann Haywood Leal (ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER)
Lisa Greenwood (MY LIFE IN PINK AND GREEN)
Sydney Salter (MY BIG NOSE AND OTHER NATURAL DISASTERS, JUNGLE CROSSING)
Ellen Hopkins (non-2k author of CRANK, BURNED, GLASS, IDENTICAL and TRICKS)

Please invite anyone you know in NYC too! Here is the link to our Facebook invitation: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=264346959027&ref=mf

And here is the link to Books of Wonder, for directions:
http://www.booksofwonder.com/nycstorelocandhours.asp

Any help you could give twittering or facebooking or blogging this event would be much appreciated – if you want to connect to our Facebook invitation, feel free!

I’ll share fun New York tidbits with you next week!