Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Year in Writing--2010

Last year, for my last post of the year, I did this kind of cool (well, I thought it was, anyway), month by month look back on my year in writing to see how far I'd come. And ALL year I've been planning to do the same thing this year. But when I started to write the post I realized something: MANS was it boring. I spent so much time in Revision Hell it started to read like a broken record.

So instead, I'm still calling it my year in writing, but I'm going to focus on a bunch of other things that happened too. You'll thank me later.

Endings and Beginnings
After twelve previous drafts--yes, TWELVE--over the last seven months, I *finally* felt like draft thirteen was ready for me to type the two words I hadn't let myself type before--at least not together. "The End." I *might* have cried a little. And it was just in time because two weeks later I attended my first writer's conference. Not gonna lie, it was 3 of the most stressful days of my life. I didn't know anyone, and I had 5 pitches to agents and some of the other writers I met...well...let's just say they were less than friendly. But I SURVIVED. And walked away with 3 partial requests, a full request, and a conference choice award for my first chapter. Yeah, I was shocked too.

Stalling and then Twitter changes lives
After LOTS of going round and round on who to query and when to query and OMG-I'm-too-scared-to-query, my family, friends, and CPs ganged up on me with an epic Twitter campaign (#hitsend) and shoved me into the querying pool, kicking and screaming the whole way. Within 12 hours I had my first rejection, 2 partial requests and a full request from a partial--oh, and I still had ten chapters to finish line editing before I sent the full. It's amazing my head didn't explode.

After 2 roller coaster weeks of querying, my dream came true, and I got an offer of representation from my #1 Wish-List agent. Yeah, it was totally cool. She was traveling when I accepted her offer, so I had to wait 3 weeks to announce (I was too worried I'd get a "just kidding" email, so I wasn't going public until I had my contract in hand) and when I finally shared the news, the reaction and support was AMAZING. Such a high. I'll never forget it. And then...reality set in, when I got my first Laura Rennert revision letter. It was LONG. And thorough. And full of amazing ideas. And OMG SO SCARY! 

Self Doubt, Drama, and Re-Grouping
I started out the month pretty much paralyzed with fear. Wondering what would happen if I couldn't nail the revision (would I lose my agent and have to flee the country for the shame of it?). Wondering where to even start on her notes. Doubting I was good enough. (Incidentally, this was when the revision-is-stressful diet kicked in). And as if that wasn't fun enough, some things in my personal life became...well, let's just say drama-filled. Not gonna lie, it was a tough month. I took a few weeks off blogging. I lost some weight. But by the end of it I knew who my real friends were, what I needed to do with my draft, and I had finally started tackling the revision.

Full steam ahead
Here's where the writing part becomes repetitive (*coughs* Revision *coughs*). But somewhere in the midst of that, I got an email from a friend saying, "Hey, I want to plan an online writer's conference. You in?" (well, okay, she was more articulate than that, but I'm too lazy to go back and find her actual wording) And I of course said, YES. Even though I had NO idea how in the heck we were going to do that.

Slogging through
WriteOnCon was slowly becoming a REAL THING (hey, it even had a name!) and even though I still didn't really understand how any of it was going to work, we were contacting agents/authors to participate--and they were saying YES! Wheels were in motion. Hundreds and hundreds of emails were being sent and group chats were being held and websites were being built and life was pretty much insane.

The tough month and the sekrit to keeping the joy.
July was an INSANE month. Comic Con. SCBWI LA. WriteOnCon planning. Oh yes, also more revision. And I'll confess, I was getting burned out. BIGTIME. A friend who knew my struggles suggested I start another project to give me a change of pace, and I wanted to laugh. I was SO busy already, when would I have time for that? But when I was out of town with my husband for our anniversary I couldn't sleep (insomnia sucks) so I grabbed my laptop. I'd planned to get some work done, but my heart just wasn't in it. So on a total whim I opened a new, blank document and wrote from this new voice that had been hanging out in my head--a new character with a new story I hadn't planned on telling. And it was a revelation. I only wrote 6 pages but they were the best 6 pages I'd written in a long time--not because they were perfect (if only...), but because they were FUN. My sekrit project was born, and ever since, whenever I need a break or to fall back in love with writing, I spend some time with it. It's like therapy in a draft.

Everything was down to the wire. Faculty were being added. Some were dropping out. Then some who'd dropped out wanted back in. And the emails. Oh, the emails. It's amazing gmail didn't close my accounts. And just when I thought it couldn't get any crazier, it was CONFERENCE TIME. Longest three days EVER. Between Error 403 (I *still* have nightmares about that) and keeping up with the forums and the emails and moderating events and everything else, I pretty much didn't eat or sleep the entire time. But it was SO worth it. Not just because we reached so many more thousands of people than we expected. Not just because Publishers Weekly ran a story on us. But mainly because here was this HUGE thing we'd done that helped a whole lot of people, and it had all come from a few vague ideas and a ton of email. Anything really is possible if you set your mind to it. Who knew?

Back to normal--or not
Just when I thought life would calm down, WriteOnCon came back for more. We got so many emails from people who were sad they'd missed the conference, we decided to hold monthly live events. And whilst we were scrambling to organize those, we found out the only way to avoid another Error 403 was to switch to a different web hosting company--and it was expensive. Cue scrambling to put together an epic fundraiser. Cue hundreds more emails. But that's okay. I happen to love email. And the fundraiser and live events were another huge success.

October, November, December
Group blogs, more of the same, and finally--a routine!
Funny thing about being super insanely busy for an extended period of time: it starts to feel normal. And then it IS normal. I finally figured out a way to organize my time so that I can answer all my emails, organize the live events, revise, work on ze sekrit project when I need to, blog, play on Twitter, and occasionally eat and sleep see my husband. So I figured, why not join a couple of group blogs??? ;) But hey, I'm kind of a pro at juggling now. I don't even really feel it. And hopefully between that and the fact that I am FINALLY getting close with my writing, here's hoping 2011 will be the year I sell my first book. Only time will tell.

*Phew* So there you have it, my year in revising/querying/signing-with-an-agent/blogging/planning-an-online-writer's conference/stressing/not-eating-or-sleeping-enough/surviving-drama and oh yeah, WRITING! Sure, I've had some ups and downs. But I've always moved forward.

And I do want to add one more thing. This year I have made some of the most amazing, supportive writer-friends ever. I seriously don't know how I survived without them, and with their help I know I can handle anything this crazy publishing business throws at me as I continue to chase my dream. Bring it on 2011. I'm ready!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Author Voice--Shannon Style

Okay, ever since I talked about Finding Your Character's Voice in last week's Shannon Style post, I've been trying to figure out how to talk about the vague, indescribable concept of Author Voice, and how I found mine.  And I'm still not sure I've really figured out how to properly cover the topic, but I'm going to give it a try. (heh--not exactly a ringing endorsement for this post, but go with me here) :)

So, first of all, what is author voice, and how is it different from character voice?

Basically it's your style of writing--the way you put words on the page and the way you tell the story that is uniquely yours. It's something that will cross over from project to project, regardless of whether you're using the same characters or writing in the same genre or POV.

Some projects will showcase it more than others, but it still has to be there to some degree. And if you've ever read a draft that fell a little flat, I guarantee you it's because that writer hasn't quite figured out how to inject their voice into the story. For me it's the single most defining element of "good writing," and is the reason writers are able to become career authors. If they have a good "voice" their readers will keep coming back for more, no matter what the story.

Which is hard, because voice isn't something anyone can teach you. It has to come from you. You can learn all the tools of writing: plot fundamentals and grammatical rules, and whatnot. But in the end, the way you use and consciously break those is your voice, and no one can tell you what your voice is. You have to find it on your own.

Think of it like learning to draw. You can study rules of proportion and learn how to play with line and shading and color. But the way you choose to use those tools when you draw is uniquely your style. Van Gogh didn't draw the same way Picasso did. And no one should put words on paper quite the same way you do.

It took me five or six drafts of my current MS to find my voice, and each of the many revisions I've done after that has refined that voice. And I can tell that my voice will continue to evolve with every word I write. Which really is the plain and simple secret with voice. You have to write.

There's no shortcut. No exercise you can do to quickly and easily find your voice. No questionnaire that will lead you straight to it. They say every writer has to purge a million bad words to get to any halfway decent ones, and that is mostly because it will probably take you at least that many to find your voice.

That being said, I do think it *helps* to study voice in other books. I can't say this enough: writers need to be readers. Pay attention to the different "voices" authors use when you read. Which ones are you drawn to? Which ones remind you a little of the way you write? Then analyze them, break them down to figure out what gives them their particular voice. Understanding how they do what they do can help you find your own voice.

Really, it comes down to your own personal taste and preferences. Going back to the art analogy, my style of drawing is very precise, very dramatic, and extremely detailed. Why? Because that's what I personally find appealing to look at. I'm not about loose, rough, free lines and muted colors. I like, clean, sharp lines, dark blacks, extreme whites, and lots of meticulous detail. Does that make me right and other artists who do the opposite wrong? Of course not. But it's my taste, and that's what I strive for when I sit down to draw.

When it comes to writing, I have my own tastes and preferences as well. Personally I love the rhythm of words. So I love to break up sentences into fragments--or to connect sentences with em dashes. I love shorter paragraphs. Single sentence paragraphs. I like to avoid dialogue tags whenever possible, because they feel like they interrupt the flow of a conversation. And I like to give the scenes plenty of emotional "beats." I'm also a HUGE fan of humor--I'm pretty much incapable of taking a scene 100% seriously--and I'm not a fan of heavy description so I tend to break it up and scatter it around.

I'm sure there's more to it than that, but those are--to me--the most defining elements of my "voice." I never consciously sat down and said: I'm going to write with fragmented sentences and use a lot of humor and write around dialogue tags. It's just the method I fell into as I wrote and rewrote and rewrote again and again.

And you'll find yours the more you write, write, write.

It also helps to do what I just did in this post. Find the right words to describe and define your voice. The more you analyze your writing and think about your style, the more you'll figure out what you do and don't do when you're writing. Take a few minutes and try to come up with 2 or 3 sentences that describe the essence of your voice. Then reread a couple of your chapters and see if you're really doing what you think you're doing. Can really show you where you need to polish.

I have heard of a couple of other exercises to help you find your voice, but I've never done them so I have no idea if they really help. One is to write in present tense for a while, because apparently it's easier to be "voicey." I've also heard it can help to rewrite the same chapter in an opposite POV (switching from 1st to 3rd or vice versa) and comparing what stylistic elements stay the same in each version. You are welcome to try them--and if you do let me know if they work.

But personally I don't think you can short-cut your way around this. Sure, some people just have a natural gift for having a very strong voice, and have it in even their earliest MS's. (It's hard not to hate those people...) The rest of us have to write and write and revise and rewrite and repeat with project after project until we finally figure it out. But it's worth the effort. Nothing makes your book stand out more than a spot-on voice. Push yourself and don't give up until you find it.

What about you guys--any tips for finding your author voice? And how would you define your own "voice?"

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Writing Dialogue: Shannon Style

Okay, I had a request from a follower to talk about my methods for writing dialogue, so I'm going to give it a try. But I should probably preface this by saying that the title of the post is a little bit of a misnomer. I will be talking about writing dialogue, but I won't be talking about how *I* write dialogue, because I honestly don't know how I write most of the dialogue I do. I write dialogue almost completely unconsciously. (No really, I can't tell you how often I stare at the screen and think: where did THAT come from?)

Thanks to all my character building exercises (and my way too vivid imagination--my characters are so real they talk to me) I don't really spend a whole lot of time thinking: what would the character say here? I just know. In fact, I usually get so lost in the scene that it's like I can't type fast enough to get the conversation down, and I only really know what I wrote once I go back and reread.

That doesn't mean I don't have to revise though. Usually I have to cut at least a third of the dialogue simply because the characters rambled on way longer than they needed to. And sometimes I'll have to revise because the character(s) hijacked the scene and took the emotions somewhere I don't want them to go, so I have to step in and find a way to stop them from saying what they seem to want to say. (Yes, I realize how crazy I sound. I swear I'm relatively sane.)

But none of that is, I'm sure, particularly helpful to any of you, since I have a feeling most of you are far more normal than that. I do maintain, however, that one of the key elements to writing dialogue is knowing your characters.

I know filling out character profiles can feel like drudgery, but it is so worth it. So if you're struggling with dialogue, that's my first and best piece of advice. Step back and get to know your characters better. Figure out what makes them THEM, what makes them different from everyone else. Their dialogue usually comes naturally after that. (You can find more info on how I build my characters HERE.)

I'm sure that's still not enough, though, so I'm also going to share three tricks I learned in film school (screenplays are allllllllllll about the dialogue), that I have occasionally used to shine up some conversations in difficult scenes:

Remove the dialogue tags and reread: One of the hallmarks of good dialogue--imho--is that it needs to be specific to the character. Your reader should know who's talking just from the way the dialogue is worded, without needing a dialogue tag to tell them. And dialogue should never be interchangeable between characters. Each character should have their own distinct "voice." So the best way to check that is to remove all the dialogue tags and reread the scene to see if it's easy to figure out who's saying what (and don't worry, you'll put them back in when you're done). If you can tell who's talking without being confused, you probably have the dialogue right. But if you have to stop and think, "who's saying this?" you need to revise.

Act out the dialogue out loud: I know most of you probably read your draft out loud to yourself before you declare it, "done" (and if you don't, you should try it. It's AMAZING what you find that way). But that's not quite what I mean. I mean: pretend you're auditioning for a play and the scene you're performing is your book. Read the lines that way, attempting to convey the emotion or comedic timing or verbal cadence of the characters. I know it's embarrassing (best to do this one when no one else is around) and I know we're not all actors, so it probably won't be an Oscar-worthy performance. But it doesn't have to be. You'll still be able to spot problems, even if your acting skills leave much to be desired. If there's no way you can say what's supposed to be a sweet, romantic line without giggling, well...that tells you something, doesn't it? Or if the sad lines don't really feel sad. Or if the jokes don't feel funny. You really get a sense for what feels like real, believable conversation when you do this. Give it a try if you're struggling with your scenes.

Ask yourself: what's the character's motivation?: "What's my motivation" is a classic actor cliche for a reason. They need to know why the character says or does the things they do, so they can understand it  and be able to perform it. So when I was studying screenwriting, it was drilled into me that I needed to know the motivation behind every line or gesture, because the actor might ask me about it. And it was amazing how often, when I analyzed my scene from that perspective, I found out the answer was simply, "I don't know." Not good enough. Take the time to really think about why the character says what they do. And if you can't find a reason for it, change what they say to something that does have a reason. Totally takes the scene to a whole other level.

I wish I had a more magic formula than that--or that I could really explain how my dialogue appears on the page--but that's kind of the best I can do. I hope it helps.

Any of you have any other suggestions for writing dialogue that I missed? Please, help a girl out and share your secrets in the comments!

Oh, and if there's any particular aspect of the way I write you'd like me to cover in this Shannon Style series, (or even other stuff like queries, blogging, Twitter, whatevs) feel free to leave me a suggestion in the comments. I have a bunch of them planned already, but I'm always open for more ideas. :)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Brainstorming--Shannon Style

Last week I showed you guys my "loose outlining" method, (if you missed the post you can find it here) which is actually part of the way I brainstorm a project. So I thought I'd use this week's "Shannon Style" post to show you the rest of the ways I brainstorm--even though I have a feeling you're going to laugh at how ridiculously organized it is (I know, it's supposed to be a "storm" for a reason--but I'm a tad OCD, okay?)

Okay, here is a VERY edited down version of what my "brainstorming file" looks like (usually they end up about 10-15 pages long, but I whittled this down to two to keep it simpler for this post, so keep in mind that this is really just the starting point)

(And I know these are kind of hard to see--though if you click on them you should be able to read them better--but don't worry, I will explain them below)
So basically it's a single document with a lot of color coded categories. And I know that's a total nerd-alert way of brainstorming, but I'm a very organized person, and it makes my life SO much easier when I'm actually writing the draft, so I don't care. :P

Here's the categories I break it down into:
  • Main Characters
  • Setting Ideas
  • Basic Plot in One Paragraph
  • Inspirational Music
  • Inspirational Pictures
  • Books to read/reread
  • Random Thoughts/Partial Ideas
  • Loose Outline
  • Rejected ideas

And just like last time, let's look at those one by one:

Main Characters: A quick list of all the characters essential to the story, along with a couple of sentences defining their role. I do MUCH more in-depth character development for each character in a separate file (something I will cover in a later post) but I like to list them here because it helps me to see if I have too many characters, too few, and how they're going to interact with each other. I also use this as sort of the testing ground to decide if a character is worth developing further, or if I have a dud on my hands and need to go back to the drawing board.

Setting Ideas: Personally, I like my setting to be an integral part of the story, whether it's a world I've created or a real, existing place. So I do a lot of brainstorming to figure out where the right setting is, and all the key "locations" in that setting. A lot of times this section gets filled with links to things I've found via google, sometimes even a few pictures if I find something perfect. But this is the space for my brain to visualize all the places that will be in the book, and make sure it's as rich and detailed as possible.

Basic Plot in One Paragraph: Not really something people think of as "brainstorming," but I include it because it's a really good writing exercise for me to force myself to break the plot down to it's barest elements and see it in a single paragraph. Helps me to see if I have too much planned for the book, or not enough, and it also forces me to start analyzing the plot and searching for holes, gaps, or inconsistencies. 

Inspirational Music: I can't write without music playing, so I always make a playlist for the project and one for each of the main characters. But I have like 4000 songs in my iTunes library, so building those playlists could be a Herculean task if I didn't have somewhere to brainstorm them. Anytime I hear something that fits--especially if it's a song I don't yet own--I make a note of it here, maybe even find a link on youtube (if one exists) and I'll use this later when I'm ready to make my playlists. (And if you want an idea of the kind of songs I use, THIS is one of my favorites right now.)

Inspirational Pictures: I do a lot of random googling when I'm searching for story ideas and I stumble across a lot of awesome images that spark bits and pieces of inspiration. But it got annoying to open them in separate windows, so I started inserting them into my brainstorming file so they'd all be in one place and I could look at them all at the same time. It REALLY helped my brainstorming process. (and yes, I usually group and sort the pictures based on what they are. We've already established that I'm a nerd.)

Books to read/re-read: Writing is reading--IMHO--so a big part of my research process is reading or re-reading books that might be similar to what I'm working on. Partially to learn what works and what doesn't, but mostly to see what's already been done and adjust my ideas accordingly, so that my project is as original as possible. I keep a running list as I brainstorm and try to tackle the majority of them before I start the draft, that way I can make adjustments before I'm too far in. But if it's a long list of books, I read the main ones first and crank through the rest as I write.

Random Thoughts/Partial Ideas: This is the longest and most chaotic section of my brainstorming, and is often filled with completely fragmented ideas, usually in the form of a question, like: "what if this character is afraid of ducks?" (okay, not that bad, but kind of). It's all those little ideas that hit me at random points in the brainstorming process and I can't decide if I want to use them or not, until I've really thought them through. So I make a note of them here and revisit later. This is also the first place I turn when I hit a wall. It's amazing how often that weird, "what if" question I wondered about while brainstorming turns out to be the PERFECT solution to the plot problem I stumbled across in the draft.

Loose Outline: All of the brainstorming I do is working to build this, which I covered last week. It's very vague, and only about a page-and-a-half long, but it's the framework for the main plot of the story. I won't let myself dive into the draft until I have this in place.

Rejected ideas: I'll admit it--I'm a saver. I can't bring myself to throw anything away, which is kind of part of the brainstorming process (you're tossing out so many ideas at that stage, it's natural that a ton of them won't work.) But I just never know when the idea that I thought was absolutely atrocious turns out to be the one thing that makes everything come together, so I can't delete them. I also don't want my brainstorming getting too dauntingly cluttered with craptastic ideas though, so I created this section to save my sanity. Ideas I'm pretty darn sure I'm not going to use get cut and pasted here, way at the bottom of the brainstorming file. That way they're still there, on the off chance I do want them after all.

And there you have it: Brainstorming--Shannon Style. I usually spend anywhere from a few weeks to a few months (depending on how complicated the story is) working in this file, ironing out kinks, refining ideas, getting everything organized enough in my brain to finally dive into the draft. 

The best part is, it's all so clear and organized that if, for some reason, I can't get started on the draft right away, (if, for example, I'm in the middle of revision on another project) I can easily reread my brainstorming notes whenever I'm ready to dive in, and they let me pick up right where I left off.  It's how I've been able to juggle my MS and my sekrit MS at the same time without any problems. I'm even thinking about juggling a third. We'll see if I'm that crazy. ;)

Anyway, enough about me and my process. What about you guys? How do you brainstorm a writing project? Anyone else as OCD-organized as I am?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Outlining--Shannon Style

Since everyone seemed to enjoy the peek into my critiquing method last week, I thought I'd start a new weekly post series, giving you guys a glimpse of my approach to various writing elements/processes. But fair warning: my head is a crazy place to be. Enter at your own risk. :)

So today I thought I'd tackle my approach to outlining. And those of you that know me are probably thinking, "WHAT???? You hate outlining!!!!!!!" Which is true. Well...actually, "hate" isn't really a strong enough word. I loathe and despise outlining with the intensity of a thousand fiery suns, and nothing--for me--guarantees a dull, lifeless draft more than outlining the darn thing ahead of time.

But...I'm not totally a pantser either. I'm a connect-the-dotser.

I am way too OCD to just jump into a draft with no idea where I'm going or what I'm doing. So I do a lot of brainstorming before I start (in a very organized way--I'll show you guys my brainstorming method in another post). And part of that brainstorming is what I like to call a "loose outline."

Here's what I HAVE to know before I can start a draft:
  • Starting point
  • Inciting incident
  • Major turning point
  • Major turning point
  • Major turning point
  • Hopelessness
  • Climax
  • Resolution
Okay, so let's look at those one by one.

Starting point: My best guess at where the story should start. I'm usually wrong, and end up changing it later, but I pick the most logical place I can and work from there. Note: my goal is to always come into the story as late as possible. I want my inciting incident be less than 20 pages away from my starting point. Preferably 10.

Inciting Incident: Now, obviously, some stories follow a more untraditional plot structure, but most of what I write tends to be fairly plot driven. Which means at some point something needs to change for the character to really get the plot started--and the sooner it happens the better. (For example: in THE HUNGER GAMES, the Inciting Incident would be when Prim's name is drawn and Katniss volunteers to take her place.)

Major Turning Points: These can also be called "complications" or "reversals of fortune." Basically, I'm an evil writer, and I like to make sure nothing goes easily or smoothly for my characters. So I want to plan at least three major turning points for them along their journey to make them really struggle. I usually do way more than three--though several of those will be "minor" or sub-plot related--but the rest I like to leave up to the drafting process. I won't start until I have three awesome ones planned though.

Hopelessness: Have I mentioned that I'm an evil writer? Well, I am. In my screenwriting training we were taught that it was absolutely essential to push the main character to the point of "hopelessness"--and it's exactly what it sounds. Strip the character of pretty much everything they care about, make it seem like there's absolutely no possible hope for any sort of resolution, and then hit them one more time right where it counts, just to seal the deal. So I try to figure out the big things I'm going to rip away from my poor characters, and some idea of how I'm going to do it, before I dive in.

Climax: Usually follows the "hopelessness"--or, sometimes is wrapped up in the "hopelessness"--but we all know what this is. It's where everything that's been building comes to a head and boils over. The character must now face the problem head on. I absolutely cannot start writing a book until I know this, because it's the spot on the horizon that I'm driving the story to. My goal. I may not know exactly how I'm going to get there, but I have to be able to see where I'm headed. Otherwise I'll get hopelessly lost in the weeds and never find my way back out.

Resolution: I don't have to know all the specifics of the ending, but I do need to know whether it's going to be happy or sad, what the character is going to lose, what they're going to gain, and what major plot lines I'm going to tie up. But a lot will change as I power through the draft, so I try to stick to just the basics, that way I allow plenty of room for the plot to evolve.

I know that may seem like a pretty detailed outline, but it's really not. Usually it's about a 1-2 page document by the time I'm done. All I'm doing is giving the story its spine, and marking all the "dots" I need to "connect" as I write. It's a far cry from the scene. by. scene. act. by. act. 30-page outlines we had to do in film school. And that's what I want--because those outlines KILL my creativity.

For me--it's impossible to tell if a "small" scene is important until I let it play out on the page. It's too easy to say, "oh, nothing important will happen there, so lets skip to something bigger," and end up skipping all the good, fun moments that become everyone's favorite scenes. I *almost* made that mistake with my current MS, and if I hadn't changed my method, everyone's favorite character wouldn't exist. (True story. I'll share it someday, once I'm able to talk about my book online.)

But I also need some sort of structure to keep me from rambling all over the place. So that's why I've come up with this hybrid, Shannon-style method of outlining. It keeps me organized enough to not veer too far off course. But it gives me the freedom to let the story unfold more organically, so I can have those wonderful "gifts" and "surprises" that only come when writing freely, without preplanning. It's the best of both worlds. For me, at least.

What about you guys: do you outline? If so, how detailed are your outlines? And if not, do you do any preplanning, or do you just dive in blind? It's fascinating to hear about everyone's process. :)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Critiquing--Shannon Style

Since so many of you have entered to win my 25-page critique (which, btw, I am blown away by--I can't believe how sweet and enthusiastic you all are!) I thought I'd use today's post to talk a little bit about the way I critique. (Let's hope it doesn't trigger a mass exodus of people deleting their entry for the contest. *bites nails*)

Okay, setting my neuroses aside, I'm what you might call a thorough Critiquer. In fact, when I first sent notes to my CPs, they came with a long email explaining my method to them before they opened the document and saw how...colorful their pages were:

This is...pretty standard for a crit from me (okay, fine...maybe it's a little conservative--I didn't want to scare you all off. I leave a LOT of comments. My CPs will testify)

So what exactly are you looking at?

Well, first--I always highlight repetitive/redundant words/phrases in yellow and any adverbs that jump out at me in teal. I'm not saying the writer has to change them. I just want to make it easier for them to see where they are.  A lot of times they don't realize  how many there are until they see it that way.

And then...there's the comments. Anytime I'm confused, or have to read something more than once, or feel unsure about something--I leave a comment. Usually a long one. But I'm not pointing out things I don't like. I'm just questioning everything.

Every line of dialogue I ask myself: can I see the character saying this? Every description I ask myself: can I picture this? Every emotional beat I ask myself: can I understand why the character is feeling this? Do I believe it?  And if the answer I come up with to any of that is, "I'm not sure...", I make a comment. Not because I necessarily expect the writer to change anything, but because I want to make sure they've really thought it through.

I know how writing goes. I know what it's like to get in "the zone" and the words are just flowing flowing flowing and it's SO clear in your head. But sometimes in the haste to get the words down, we rush through things or skip something important or forget to provide certain details to help the reader see what we're seeing. And even when we revise, it's so clear to us, we often don't realize it doesn't read that way to others.

It happens to all of us. Don't be fooled into thinking I send perfectly clean pages to my CPs. (I am woefully blind when it comes to my own writing.) But I try to read really slow and carefully when I read for someone else--the same way I hope someone will do for me. I try to point out anything that makes me pause and think..does that really make sense? And I leave lengthy comments because I like to try to explain why I'm feeling confused, what I'm wondering about, what I feel like is missing. That way the writer can better understand what I think the problem is. Then it's up to them to decide if they agree or disagree and tweak accordingly.

I fully expect they'll reject some or most of my comments--and I'm fine with that. (I'd honestly be a little worried if they took every note. No way I'm right all the time) ;) And I never want them to see all the comments and think: she didn't like my pages, or she thinks I'm a bad writer. It's quite the opposite, really. I have been lucky enough to read some of the most amazing drafts ever--and they still got colorful, comment filled pages back from me. It's just my method. I'm slightly OCD, extremely detail oriented, and I ask a lot of questions. It makes for very...festive looking critique pages.

But for the most part it seems to be well received. ( CPs haven't dropped me--yet... ) And I swear, I'm not brutal. I am also very generous with my happy faces and "awesomes"--plus plenty of blonde jokes and invented words. I promise you won't feel hopeless by the end.

So on that note, if you haven't left a comment to enter to win the critique, you might want to go here and do that (assuming I haven't just scared all of you away)

And what about you guys: what's your approach as you critique? What are you watching for? What makes you leave a comment?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Comic Con Adventures: Being Rainbow Brite

Okay, I'm finally at a more clear headed place to give you guys a proper Comic Con update--but I don't want this to be an insanely long post, so I'm splitting it into the posts for the rest of the week. And even though I didn't actually wear the costume until the Saturday of the Con, I know you guys well enough to know the Shannon Shame is the part you're most interested in. Le sigh.

So fine. Here's the big costume reveal:


You can't really tell from the picture, but I totally had the side ponytail going (which took like 20 minutes to create--my hair was like 'Nooooo! We did this in the 80's--we're not doing it again!!!) and bright blue eye shadow and that weird white thing under my eye is a jeweled star. And I'm posing that way because it kinda helped hide how freaking short that darn skirt was.

But here's the thing about being in costume at Comic Con. Not only is it uncomfortable, and a lot harder to squat on the floor in a super short skirt--but it's like being a small time celebrity. One of the big things people do at Comic Con is take pictures of the various costumes, and apparently Rainbow Brite was a big hit. No really, I had a ton of people pull me aside to tell me I was their favorite costume of the Con.

So I'm not kidding when I say that shouts of "Rainbow Brite! Over here!" haunted me everywhere I went. I couldn't go more than five minutes without someone stopping me to ask for my picture (and you KNOW how much I love having my picture taken). I posed solo. I posed with kids. I posed with nerds. I posed with sweaty old guys. And I got hit on--a lot. Um...yeah. It was arguably the longest day of my life.

I tried seeking solace at the Random House booth--because people were less prone to pester me if I was busy talking--but it still meant about every fifteen minutes I had to pose for a picture, a fact the Random House publicity people seemed to find hilarious. But they let me stay (and gave me some awesome ARCs while I was there) because, well, frankly I wasn't leaving. Also because I was drawing attention to their booth. And at least I made some cool friends at Random House.

Oh, and the cherry on top of the experience? Saturday was the day of the Rick Riordan signing.

Thaaaaaaaaaaaat's right.

I got to meet my favorite author--the man whose books are one of the primary reasons I write MG--dressed up as Rainbow Brite. It wasn't exactly the way I'd hoped to meet such an icon. But such is life. At least he'll probably remember me--though I can't quite decide if that's a good thing.

Anyway, yeah. It was definitely an experience, and I can't promise I'm ever going to do it again. But I did it! I got my rainbow on and lived to tell the tale. Now I'm just praying the photos won't end up on too many websites. It's already on one--and no, I'm not telling you which--so who knows how many more will add it. *cringes at the thought* *hides*

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Pirate-Duck Cupcake Debacle

Okay, I know I've given you guys heaping helpings of Shannon Shame before--but I can say without a doubt that this is DEFINITELY the worst it's ever been.

No, really. You'll be agreeing with me in a few minutes--trust me. I fail. EPICALLY.

And for those of you who missed yesterday's post--here's a quick recap so you won't be confused. Basically, Sara, my CP, is evil. I asked her to do a guest post for Lisa Mantchev week (since she's a huge fan, and I'm insanely busy trying to plan an online writer's conference.) And what does Sara do?

Fill your head with lies and dare me to vlog!!!! Decorating a cupcake!!!!! Specifically a cupcake version of one of these lovely little rubber duckies that Lisa is giving away in my contest:

And she KNOWS I can't decorate cakes to save my life. She was there for the Were-Platypus cupcake fiasco. She saw this disaster:

So she knew I was going to have to humiliate myself live on camera. And, well, I hope she's happy--because this is BY FAR the most embarrassing vlog I've ever made. Even my husband agrees. *Sigh*


I have no words.

And as if all of this weren't humiliating enough, the lovely Lisa Mantchev--who is a big part of the reason I'm in this mess--had to send me a link to THIS (like I needed more proof of my epic failure):

So yeah...if you need me, I really AM fleeing to Mexico this time. 


(Oh, and, as with the previous posts, anyone who leaves a comment today will get an extra entry in the Lisa Mantchev contest. If you haven't entered yet, what's wrong with you?) :)

Monday, March 29, 2010

So...I HAVE AN AGENT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I have a feeling some of you aren't surprised by this news. I have NOT done a very good job of keeping it secret--but it was HARD!  I had to wait almost three weeks from the time I got the email offering rep to the time I got the contract--do you know how long that is in Shannon years????

But yes--those of you who emailed me guessing what was going on (or those of you nodding your heads right now thinking, "I KNEW IT!")
I have an agent!

It's all signed and official...see:
(Yes, I had to do the obligatory "signing my contract" picture--it's a MUST!)

*pauses to jump up and down*

AND--as if that weren't amazing enough--she happens to be the agent who was at the top of my Wish List from the very beginning. An agent I admire so much--especially after meeting her at the conference--I'm still having a hard time believing it's true. But the contract doesn't lie, so I can now happily announce that I am repped by the uber-fabulous:

Laura Rennert with Andrea Brown Lit.

*Jumps up and down again*

I'm not going to rave too much about how amazing Laura is (because, well, she might be reading this and I'm not sure I need her knowing *quite* how much of a Fangirl I secretly am)--BUT, if you're curious about her you can read more about her here.

And yes, I'm aware that this means I have a certain deal to fulfill--but I'm not going to get into that today! (Don't worry, it's coming. I am nothing, if not a girl of my word. *grumbles about vlogging*)

I also have to give a little shout out to my husband, who has been SO patient and supportive this year, especially through the insanity of these last few months with my crazy revision schedule. Not only did he bring me flowers to celebrate my signing, he also gave me this:

(I have him well trained, don't I?)

Which turned out to be a new charm for my charm bracelet to commemorate the milestone. Apparently there are no book related charms, so he picked the envelope, since my Agency Agreement came in the mail. (Here's hoping Tiffanys releases a book related charm by the time I finally sell my book. Maybe I should send them a letter suggesting it...) ;)

And, I want to finish by taking a minute to thank you guys: my loyal, amazing blog followers. You've listened to me whine, cheered me on in your comments and emails--shoot, a couple of you became my CPs. Not to mention a certain Twitter Campaign, which will forever live in infamy. I'm not sure I could've reached this point if it weren't for all your support. So thank you. As an expression of my gratitude, I've used the last couple of weeks to assemble a contest of EPIC proportions! (no really, this one blows my other contests away!) Stop by tomorrow for all the details. I promise--you won't be disappointed. news is FINALLY announced!

Now, I'm off to happy dance and squeal and generally make a complete fool out of myself for a few minutes (good thing there's no one around to witness it) and then it's time to get started on Laura's editorial notes, which But it's okay, she's spot on--and I'm the queen of revision anyway. Plus...THIS REVISION IS FOR MY AGENT!


Saturday, February 6, 2010

Were-Platypus Cupcake...Sorta

Brace yourselves for the biggest #shannonfail ever

Some of you may remember my campaign to force C.J. Redwine to make Wally the Were-Platypus into a cupcake--which was a HUGE success BTW. We stomped the other cupcake designs into the ground! 

But C.J. is not one to be trifled with.
And so, I just spent my Friday night--you guessed it--making a Were-Platypus cupcake. 
And--as if that weren't pathetic enough--it might just be the ugliest, most deformed, most ridiculous thing ever. I will definitely NOT be pursuing any careers in cake decorating.

Here's what I ended up with...

Gah--I can't do it--it's TOO embarrassing!

But...I have to...

But it's SO lame!

*Deep Breath*

Okay, I'm posting it.

I am! I am! I am!

Here goes...



Have I stalled enough yet?

Nope...I think I can drag it out a little more...




Okay, I'm really doing it this time--and be prepared. My husband laughed so hard when he saw it he could barely breathe. It is the #epicfail of all cupcakes.

And so, without further ado...I humbly present Wally the Were-Platypus Cupcake:


He appears to be part muppet, part penguin, part gibbon...

But I'm calling him a Were-Platypus--and my one defense is that I have yet to find a photo of a Were-Platypus, so how do you know that's not what they look like? Hm? Hmmm?

Oh, who am I kidding? It's total crap. 
But if it's any consolation, he tastes delicious--and I would know. I ate several of the failed attempts. 

So...there you go. The first Were-Platypus cupcake. 

Now I can't WAIT to see how C.J. does it--because I'm sure it's going to stomp my little blob guy into the ground. 

Were-Platypus FTW!