Monday, April 14, 2014

Novel Epiphanies Part 2

After I put the word out that I needed help with my novel's epiphany, I continued to research the topic in craft books and online. Below I'll share with you some notable quotes and the resources that helped most.

But before I do, here's how I ended up revising my epiphany and related chapters.

First, I cut out most of my main character's ruminations in the chapters surrounding and containing my epiphanies. I put them in their own file labeled "Lessons." Everything that my character needed to learn to complete his quest or story was added to that file. This forced me to think about those lessons as a whole and determine their importance and validity with every scene that came before. I compared them to my initial reasons for telling this story and writing this novel. I highlighted the ones that were non-negotiable to my main character reaching the climax.

Then, I explored all the ways my main character could show he'd learned those lessons through his actions that followed rather than through words. These post-epiphany actions needed to be in direct contrast to his prior actions. I needed to show he'd changed and learned.
Finally, I revised the chapters that followed his epiphany to make my main character's actions more intentional and deliberate, to show his growth and commitment to his new inner-self. In some cases, those scenes did include interior monologue, but I tightened those sections and rewrote them to be less didactic.

And I made sure that my new and improved main character, acting as his enlightened new self in cause and effect scenes, logically rises to his climax ... where he does what he never would have done before his transformation.


Sorry, no spoilers here. But instead, some of the resources I used on my epiphany journey along with some key quotes to give you a taste of their messages.

The Plot Whisper - Martha Aldermon
"What Happens after the Crisis and Before the Protagonist Ends the True End of the Story?"
"It's a time of recollection, integrations, assessment and review. Before blindly reacting as always, finally now, she takes time to re-evaluate, re-invent, re-form and redo things."

Revision - David Michael Kaplan (p. 66)
"The Philosophic Ramble or Rumination, in which the writer suddenly seems to take time out for some cracker-barrel philosophizing or narrative commentary ... Now it's a different story (to make a pun) if the  philosophic asides are an ongoing, integral aspect of the narrative, the author in effect becoming a character himself?"

Second Sight: An Editor's Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults - Cheryl Klein (pp. 271-272)
"I divide Internal narration into the categories of Commentary and Reflection (which I also call Processing). Commentary is the character's immediate internal response to events; Reflection is the character pulling together various bits of information to arrive at a new conclusion, which will usually push the story forward in setting up his next course of action. ... With that said, Internal narration is a tool that should be used carefully and sparingly, because it can quickly become telling and redundant and slow the action down."

Between the Lines – Jessica Page Morrell
"An epiphany, the luminous moment when a character, usually the protagonist, realizes something she has not know previously, can be a powerful and electrifying pinnacle of character development." (p.64)

"Find ways to insert subtext – the unspoken, the innuendo, the nuanced moments that are not directly represented, and the actions that speak of feelings that are too volatile to express out loud. Also, look for times in your story to pull back, to allow the reader to bring her own understanding of human nature into your story." (p.222)

Writing For Children & Teenagers - Lee Wyndham
"The best method for resolving this kind of ending is to have something happen to your main character to make him or her 'come to realize.' It should be some powerful personal experience that shocks, rocks, even floors him or her... Then you should have a quiet scene, for the change in the main character must in no way resemble instant magic. The hero should think over what has happened and realize the impact and implications, and resolve to change course or mend his or her ways ... Next comes the clincher for this kind of ending: you must devise a scene in which the hero or heroine can prove that he or she has indeed changed."

The Writer's Journey Mythic Structure for Writers – Christopher Vogler
"The trick for writers is to make the change visible in appearance or action. It's not enough to have people around a hero notice that she's changed; it's not enough to have her talk about change. The audience must be able to see it in her dress, behavior, attitude, and actions." (p.210)

The Plot Whisper - Martha Aldermon
"Character Motivation: What is Her True Journey?"
"What happens throughout the story makes it impossible for the protagonist to remain unconscious. The Crisis in the Middle forces the protagonist to consciousness."

Writing Irresistable KIDLIT – Mary Kole (p. 163)
"This is when he decides that he will risk everything that's important to him – including his core identity and life, if necessary. This decision must be very meaningful. This moment usually happens as Internal Conflict and leads very quickly to the Climax, which is usually External Conflict."

Also VERY helpful were:
The "Practical Tools" Donald Maass offers for "Turning Points" in The Fire in Fiction on p.77.
The Epiphany Mistakes Darcy Pattison offers on pp. 41-41 of Novel Metamorphosis.
Just about everything in the "Transformation" chapter of Martha Alderson's The Plot Whisperer.

What are your favorite tools and techniques for revising or writing epiphanies?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Bird by Bird by Chapter

Novel revision doesn't seem quite so formidable when it's tackled one issue at a time, one character at a time, one chapter at a time. So today I pulled one problem chapter out of my binder - a mere four pages, versus the whole 185-page heap - and worked on that. Sometimes you have to let go of the big picture. Sometimes you have to forget about all other notes and story lines and pages and characters. Sometimes the only way to get through a huge project without losing your mind, is to get deep inside one manageable section. And hang with it for a while. And make it great.

"Bird by bird."

What's your bird today?

Friday, February 28, 2014

That part with all the dramatic music and amazing scenery ...

 ... and the main character comes to a realization of what he/she must do to move forward. It's called the epiphany. In movies we have all the special effects and scenery in the world to keep them interesting. The main character might be on a mountaintop thinking. Or off in a canoe. Or swinging on a porch swing. Or walking through the desert with a droid. And then there's the amazing John Williams score in the background. You know what I'm talking about.

But we don't have that luxury in books. We have to fill in that time. Nor can we simply allude to it. We have to deliberate and reach a verdict. And for middle grade readers, we can't afford too much navel gazing. We don't want to to lose them.

Darcy Pattison has this helpful post on epiphanies:

But ...

I'm working on the epiphany of a character-driven middle grade novel right now. And I've got three chapters of self-talk, dialog, rumination - some different settings, but talk nonetheless.


How do I let the reader know what my MC has learned?

So how do you do it? How do you gussy up a character-driven, middle grade epiphany? Even THAT sounds boring. What do you do to keep it interesting?
  • Make it funny?
  • Intersperse action?
  • Use the "Pope in the pool" technique from Save the Cat?
  • Keep the tension high? If so, how?
I don't want to water it down or make it longer. So, maybe it needs less gussying and more trimming.
  • Maybe there's more I can do with inference. 
  • Maybe I'm explicitly stating too much.
What are the best character-driven middle grade epiphanies you've read? How were they achieved?

Middle grade writers, HELP!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Autographed copies of my books available ONLINE through the Tattered Cover!

Great News! The fabulous Tattered Cover Bookstore has agreed to stock autographed copies of all my books. So now, you can order autographed copies online and have them shipped directly to your home. It's easy. Here's how:

1. Head to the Tattered Cover website at and search for my books.

2. Add the desired number of copies of my books to your Shopping Cart.

3. From your Shopping Cart, click "Checkout" and complete the Checkout form. In the "Order Comments" field at the very bottom of the online order Checkout form, please add the comment "Autographed copy/copies please."

4. Review and place your order.

If you have any problems or questions, contact Michael Parker at the Tattered Cover at 303-470-7050.

Of course, if you're ever in the Denver area, stop in at one of the three Tattered Cover locations. It's a phenomenal bookstore and an experience that you'll never forget!

Monday, February 10, 2014

A few photos from CCIRA!

Alexa Tuell reading TOO PURPLEY!

Me, Sarah Azibo, Todd Tuell and Alexa Tuell!

At the SCBWI Booth!

With the fabulous Lin Oliver who was touring with her co-author, Henry Winkler!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Upcoming Appearances 2014

 2/7/14    Colorado Council International Reading Association, Signing and chatting at the RMC-SCBWI Booth 12-2 and 4-5.

2/11/14   School Visit Littleton Academy, Littleton CO.

2/21/14   Skype Visit Ringgold Elementary School, Ringgold, LA

2/27/14   Skype Visit Cartoogechaye Elementary School, Franklin, NC

3/5/14     World Read Aloud Day!

3/6/14     Skype Visit West Newton Elementary, Covington, GA

3/7/14     Skype Visit North Columbia Elementary, Appling, GA

3/18/14   Skype Visit Prairie Crossing Elementary, Parker, CO

3/28/14   School Visit La Junta Primary, La Junta, CO

4/8/14     Skype Visit Sunny Heights Elementary, Indianapolis, IN

5/17/14   Indies First Story Time, The Tattered Cover Highlands Ranch

9/28/14   City Park Story Time, Denver, CO

It's not too late! Schedule your visit today!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Critique Questions for the Average Mike ... Picture Book Edition.

Sometimes the freshest eyes are those of readers who don't also write. And without minds muddied by picture book writing rules or market madness, Average Mike (nicknamed after my husband who sometimes fills this role) readers can offer a quick, clear assessment of where your story works or doesn't. With just one read under their belts, they're also a barometer for complexity of picture book plot. After all, they won't have multiple reads to figure it out.

So here's how best to use an Average Mike reader.

Pick an Average Mike - someone who doesn't write. Maybe even someone who doesn't often read in your genre. Ask him to read your story slowly and carefully and tell him that you'll be asking him several questions when he's done. DO NOT tell him what to look for in the story or what questions you'll be asking. If your chosen reader loves to "edit" or catch grammar, punctuation or spelling mistakes, tell him that this isn't the draft for that. That you'll be turning to him for help with that in a later draft.

When he begins reading, leave the room. Have him call you back in when he's done. Have him hand the manuscript back to you so that you can take notes on it and so he doesn't peek or scan it for answers.

Then ask him to do the following/answer the following questions (if any of the questions are not applicable, simply eliminate them):
  1. Retell the story in simple terms - in particular describe the cause and effect of each plot point.
  2. Who is the main character?
  3. What does he/she want most?
  4. Are there significant secondary characters?
  5. What do they want most?
  6. Describe each of the significant characters in the story and how you see them?
  7. Retell the story in terms of actions and motivations of the significant secondary characters?
  8. Describe significant character emotions during the story. Describe the cause of each.
  9. Where did the logic of the story trip you up?
  10. What makes the main character stand out? How is she/he different?
  11. What is the climax of the story? What happens there? Does it work?
  12. How is the main character's problem resolved?
  13. How are any secondary characters' problems resolved?
  14. Does the solution/conclusion of the story make sense? Why or why not?
  15. Did you find the ending satisfying? What questions were you left with at the end?
  16. What did you like best?
  17. What bugged you most? 
  18. Where did the language or rhythm of the story trip you up?
  19. Did anything in or about the story surprise you? What and why?
  20. How did you feel as you were reading the story?
Notice how none of the questions are YES/NO. Let your reader talk. You should simply listen and take notes. Try to refrain from explaining or even reacting if your reader has misunderstood your story or has understood something incorrectly.

Feel free to tailor the questions with specific character names or plot points as necessary. But beware of directing your reader to the answers you want. They may not be the answers you need to hear.

What questions would you add to the list?

See also "Critique Questions for the Average Joe ... or Mike" middle grade novel edition.