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Beats: Anatomy of a Scene’s Emotional Development

Editing is full of weird coincidences and fortuitous juxtapositions. When the same issue crops up in two or three unrelated manuscripts in a row, it’s time to take it to the blog. I’d like to deconstruct a scene and talk about beats, interior dialogue, and clarity. First, some working definitions. A beat is a minor emotional turning point in a scene between the…

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What news! I’m teaching a submissions class in Oakland!

Make Your Query Letter and First Pages Pop: All About Voice (Impact Hub Oakland, Sept. 24, 2016) Agents and editors want to discover authors who write with a “fresh voice.” But what does that actually mean, and how do you add that secret ingredient to your query letter and manuscript? Join us for an interactive, high-energy three hours on Saturday,…

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Put Your Manuscript on a Diet: 3 Steps to Reduce Your Word Count

Listen to your instinct, improve your writing, and reduce word count. Debut novels are usually 80,000 to 90,000 words. YA novels are often less than that. Having edited an unusually high number of overlong manuscripts this year, here are some top cuts to reduce word count that I find myself recommending in almost every project.    1. Reduce word count by paring down dialogue and…

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Why Am I Getting Rejected?

Getting rejected is useful feedback. First drafts get written by ignoring the critical voices in your head. Good novels happen when you listen to those voices, weigh the criticism, and plan a revision. But in a competitive market, only the great novels get published.  Getting rejected hurts, but it signals a chance to see your novel with new eyes and make smart…

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Project 2015, Part 7: Being mysterious isn’t the same as writing good drama.

What do we mean by “writing good drama?” Recently, a great conversation with a client prompted us both to articulate an important principle of fiction writing: being mysterious isn’t the same thing as writing good drama. In other words, when the narrator deliberately withholds information from the reader for the sake of creating a “compelling” sense of mystery, it usually fails. It…

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Project 2015, Part 6: Earned Emotion

Earn Those Feels If you’re a writer, it should keep you up at night: the knowledge that readers will never lack a good book to read. If your own manuscript starts to go all flat and hollow, the reader can put it down and find something better. Who among us doesn’t have a long to-read list on Goodreads or the Kindle, or a good…

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Project 2015, Part 4: Making a Scene

It’s a writer’s job to make a scene. Drama is our stock in trade, and we’re always plotting something. (Always the quiet ones, right?) Seriously, though, I have spent fifteen, geeky years proselytizing my love for the most basic, beautiful element of story structure: the scene. A novel has between forty and sixty of them. That’s not a lot, considering that you have…

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Project 2015, Part 3: “Strong Protagonists” Remind Us How to Feel

There is a scene in Love Actually (2003) where Emma Thompson’s character turns to her husband and says, “Joni Mitchell is the woman who taught your cold English wife how to feel.” The line stuck in my head–inevitably, because Love Actually has become the de rigueur Christmas movie in our house. Also, I think, was the provocative idea that art could teach a person how to feel. Yet hasn’t every book lover…

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Finding a Literary Agent: An Abridged History of Rejection

I’m excited to announce that after more than fifteen years of dedicated writing, workshops, critique groups, and conferences, of getting the input of a freelance editor, and of doing countless manuscript swaps with writer friends, I have an agent representing my novel, ROOM 100, and we are currently working on revisions. It’s worth mentioning: Finding a literary agent has been…

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