You may have noticed that I didn’t do a “To Do” post for last week. That’s because last week was Fall Break at Ball State. We didn’t have class on Tuesday, and on Thursday, students turned in their Reverse Storyboard project. I passed out “The Publishing Packet,” which you only get in full if you take my class for realz. Sorry.
This week, students get what I call “Studio Time.” It’s almost time to share our novels with others!
Week 10 Blog Post Due: Chelsea Jackman
Weekly Words #10 (last one): due Sunday, 11/3 at 5 PM. Focus: None. Write what you want.
Due : Packet from Group 1: 1.)Jacket Copy, 2.) 20-40 page “chunk” of the manuscript and 3.) Outline/Storyboard. Put in your groups Google Doc Folder. This should be ONE DOCUMENT, not three.
I’ve broken the students into three groups based on what kind of novel they’re writing.
- Students in Beta Group 1 are mostly working on novels that are Fantastical, not of our world.
- Students in Beta Group 2 are mostly working on novels that are Realism or Satire. We have a thriller, a memoir, a historical baseball novel, a satire, etc.
- Students in Beta Group 3 are mostly working on novels that set in our world, but have some sort of Supernatural or Paranormal or Sci-Fi element to them.
Starting next week, I will be meeting with each Beta Group during class time. The other two groups will use class time to write, write, write.
Starting next week, I will be reading over 100 pages a week.
In most workshops, the work comes at the teacher and fellow students at a manageable rate. Students get lots of feedback, but they don’t write as much. In this class, we don’t do all-class workshop so that students can write more. I haven’t been commenting on their Weekly Words, but now, I will be commenting on their Partials.
Basically, I do the “Reading-and-Responding-to-Student-Work” part of my job in an intense, three-week period rather than spread out over the course of the semester.
From this point on, there are no themes or topics. The “content” portion of the class is done.
In a sense, you’re sort of on your own at this point, but you will continue to hear from the students in the class, and I do have some advice for you.
Decide right now: do you want
a.) to just keep writing?
b.) do you want to share your novel with others?
If the answer is A
Good for you. Keep it up. See ya later.
If the Answer is B
If the answer is B, then start compartmentalizing your writing time. Differentiate between DRAFTING NEW PAGES and REVISING THE BEGINNING. Don’t stop writing your way into the book.
Find your beta readers.
One advantage of showing your work to others is that if the conversation goes well, you’ll feel fired up to keep going. Also: fixing the foundation of your novel might prevent the whole thing from collapsing. But if the conversation goes badly, you might feel discouraged. It’s up to you. If you decide to show your work to others, make it clear that you are not looking for a thorough critique. You’re looking for encouragement. This is not the time to rip anybody to shreds.
Give your beta readers the following:
- Jacket copy
- a 20-40 page chunk of your manuscript, preferably the first 20-40 pages.
- outline or synopsis of what’s to come
The following exercise on how to write jacket copy is adapted from James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure. Feel free to do this exercise even if you picked A. It’s a fun way to remind yourself what your novel is about.
- Name of the lead character:
- What the lead does for a living or how they might be described:
- What is the disturbance in Act 1, the first thing that disturbs the status quo and creates reader interest? Might also be called a plot point or inciting incident:
- What is the doorway of no return? What thrusts the character forward, creates a sense that something must inevitably happen, kicks the character out of the status quo into Act II, hurtling toward the end?
- What or who is opposing the lead?
- Why are they opposed? What’s at stake for each?
- What is the story question? What question does the reader have on his or her mind that keeps them reading in order to find out the answer?
- How do you feel when you read these pages? Sad? Engrossed? Angry? Curious? Creeped out? Enchanted?
Lead character’s name and current situation.
_______ is _________________ who _________________________. (Remember, jacket copy is always written in present tense!) Keep this to paragraph to 1 or 2 sentences that describe the character’s background and situation.
Start with the word Suddenly or But when. Tell the reader what the major turning point, the disturbance is. What the first doorway is. What’s going to thrust the Lead into Act II of the book. Describe Act II in 1 or 2 sentences.
Begin the last paragraph with the word Now and make it an action sentence, like Now Brad must struggle with the harrowing mystery of his family legacy. Or, begin with the word Will, and write a few story questions: Will Mary claim what’s rightly hers? Or will she be stopped by forces she can’t see or identify? And will it hurt the ones she loves? Make sure the last paragraph describes the reading experience the reader can expect. “Readers will feel ____ as they embark on/as they finish this novel.”
Have fun with these! It’s totally okay to ham it up. They aren’t something you will ever write yourself (publishers write jacket copy) but it’s a fun way to have other people tell you what they think your book is about. Also: you don’t have to know the end in order to write the jacket copy.
Last week in novel-writing class, I gave my students THE PUBLISHING PACKET, a spiral bound goldmine of information. The students are getting their manuscripts ready to share with their Beta Groups, and so it seemed like a good time to prepare them for the task of sharing their words with others. Chelsea Jackman humorously reports on what she learned. Also: don’t worry. Some of these concepts WILL be covered in later weeks.
List of things you’ll need:
The patience of Job
What to do:
Prepare a manuscript
Write your jacket copy
Write your cover letter
Wait, wait, and wait some more
“I’ve written this book, and I want people to read it. How can I publish it?”
First, let me just say that ebook self-publishing is not a sin.
My mother has published two ebooks and is working on more. That’s awesome. If you’d like to see her developing children’s series, click here: The Adventures of Whippy the Whale. You’ll also get to see some of my art … I’m her illustrator. *grin*
But, if you’re following and reading a blog by Cathy Day, I’m assuming you’re more interested in having a lovely clean, neat, perfectly typeset printed book in a pretty, shiny dust jacket, published by Random House or…
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[Many apologies for the lateness of this post. This was the week of Fall Break at Ball State, and so things got a little confused. My bad! –Cathy]
By: Heather Hood
The theme for last week within the fishbowl was…you guessed it theme! Before I go into what theme is and how you can apply it to your own writing style, I want to discuss something we did differently in class last week. No, no it’s nothing bad. Actually it was relatively fun. So what is this not bad, relatively fun thing we did in class? Well, we flipped our class.
What do you mean you flipped your class? Flipping means instead of having the usual lecture in class, our teacher, Cathy Day, recorded a screencast about the week’s unit on theme and had us watch it on our own time. So what did we do in class then? We worked on homework for the class and if we had any questions, we could just ask Cathy, who was right there working with us.
So, my fellow bowlmates, how well did this work for you? I know I personally felt more concentrated on the Reverse Storyboard Project we had due this week. I’m not afraid to admit I am a procrastinator, especially on bigger projects, so it was nice to be in that small, studious atmosphere. And I know I personally loved the screencast for this week unit of theme because I found it easier for me to take notes and listen to what was being said. Did any of you feel that we missed out on anything by flipping? If you are not inside the fishbowl, would this have been something/is something you wish your class or school did or would do?
I should stop talking about flipped classrooms and get down to business and discuss want you really want to know about… theme!
What is Theme?
The main idea you should remember about theme is that a theme is about an author trying to say something that is important to them. It’s an author’s thought on a subject. So if you want to know the theme of something you are reading, ask yourself what or tell yourself that an author is saying? What is the piece about? Every piece is saying something.
Searching for a Theme
Cathy gave the fishbowl a great example of creating a piece of art out of a block of marble, like Michelangelo did with his sculpture David. Every piece starts off as a square, bland piece of marble. It’s there, waiting, but nothing screams of great things to come out of it by itself. A sculptor has to be willing enough to step in front of the marble block, see what is lying in wait, and make it. Here, Michelangelo states it better:
“Every block of stone has a statue inside of it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”
As the artist, all you have to do is find the right block of marble, and the right piece and the theme will be waiting for you.
How can you supply a Theme in your work?
The best way to do that is to use what you have available to you: your narrative tools. You can show a theme through these elements, but try to do so in an organic way that is doesn’t seem deliberate but is:
- choice of characters
- a character’s actions
- a character’s dialogue
- reoccurring patterns
If you want the readers to know something is important, Carol Bly suggests telling the readers three times. She calls it the Rule of Three because, each time something important is introduced, the reader will have a different reaction.
- The first mention would go unnoticed because the importance, or theme, probably blends in with what’s around it.
- The second mention would resonate with the reader like a memory and they would start to ask questions about the piece.
- By the third mention, things start to click into place and readers see a pattern being established in the piece within the beginning, middle and end.
Developing a Theme
Donald Maass suggests five ways you could go about developing a theme in his book Writing the Breakout Novel.
- Consider alternate endings and outcomes. Explore through questions or scenarios how the ending of your novel could be or how different a scene could have come out.
- Give your characters parallel problems. Explore another character and how they would handle the same (or opposite) problem as your protagonist. Is their resolve better?
- Use foils. Use a contrasting character to highlight your protagonist’s qualities or use more characters to represent more choices (think of character delineation).
- Can your character’s problem speak to louder problems? Create their problem so that you can expand off of it to create an even larger problem until maybe there is no larger problem. Theme can come from doing this.
- Create a backwards antagonist. Explore the world of the antagonist and its minions. See how they are right and if the way they do things could work just as well as the protagonist’s ways. Just have fun with it.
- Write what you feel and what you want and a theme will develop.
- Have fun and enjoy what you write. Passion can make a theme stronger.
- The theme is already there, you just have to mold it and display it so others can see it.
- The Rule of Three is helpful when writing!
What I learned/ Figured Out This Week
One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that a theme doesn’t always jump out of nowhere and knock you on the head and say, “Hey! I’m right here!” For some people that may happen and that is great, I wish I was more like them. For me and some others, theme doesn’t show itself so easily. And that’s fine too, because eventually it will be easier to identify. But there is always a theme to take from and to put into a piece, even if you think there is none. I’ll leave you with this…interesting image to try to remember theme:
Week 8 Blog Post Due: Lindsay Gregg
Weekly Words #8: due by Sunday, 10/20 at 5 PM. Focus: Using the tips from lecture regarding how to develop the theme of your novel, think about three scenes in which the theme is present. The first bell chime. The second. And then the third.
The students inside the fishbowl have now read and discussed all four novels that I used as models:
- Mrs. Bridge
This week, they are working on their Weekly Words (3 weeks to go!) and on their projects. They have to do a Reverse Storyboard Project on a novel of their choice or an Extraction Project on Mrs. Bridge.
They are also beginning to think about shoring up a good “partial” (the first 20 pages or so) to share with their Beta Groups in a few weeks.
This is the last week of my lectures or units. It’s not that there’s nothing left to say about writing novels. Oh no, there’s so much more. But for now, I think I’ve introduced everyone to the key concepts of beginning a novel.
The subject for this week is Theme.
- Theme is premise.
- Theme is meaning.
- Theme is idea/s.
- Theme is what makes a novel worth reading, in my opinion.
Much of my lecture comes from Donald Maass chapters on theme in Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook (Part III, chapter 31). I know I’ve recommended you go buy this book in the past. So let me say it again: go buy this book. His exercises will help you discover and/or develop a theme.
I saved theme for last because it’s complicated and not exactly something you should have all figured out at the outset.
If you’re a plotter, then you might have started your novel with a theme you’re trying to impart. That might not be the best idea, although it works for some people.
If you’re a pantser, then you might not know what your theme is until you finish a draft of the whole book. That might not be the best idea, either, although it works for some people.
The point is this: all novels have something to say. Even schlocky, pulpy novels. If you’re writing a novel, that means you have something in you that you want to say. Own that.
- Write three scenes in which the theme of your book is somehow present. And remember: it’s not about symbols! Theme is much more organic than that.
- Other than that, write write write. You’ve got three more weeks to generate as many words as you can before the Generation Phase of the class is over.
Lindsay Gregg reports on Week 8 from *her own blog* 123writewithme. Thanks Lindsay!
Okay everyone, we’re done with Week Eight.
That means we have eight weeks to go and have logged countless hours of writing amounting to at least 12,000 words. Everything we’ve done so far is starting to turn into something. At this point, for most of us, that something is messy and in need of an organizational override.
This is also the point where many, especially myself, get discouraged and feel overwhelmed by the plethora of words and possibilities and the fact that all of these words and possibilities no longer fit into the hopeful little box you had imagined for them.
The best advice we’ve heard so far is to go on. Muddle through. Do whatever it takes to get words on a page, but at this point words on a page just won’t cut it. As my professor, Cathy Day, put it last week—being a writer is like having…
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Week 7 Blog Post Due: Camille Germain
Quiz 7: Evan S. Connell, Mrs. Bridge (whole thing)
Discussion /Have Read: my blog post “Novels to Stories, Stories to Novel,” Evan S. Connell’s short story “The Beau Monde of Mrs. Bridge” and Cathy Day’s extracted short story “Etiquette Lessons.”
Weekly Words #7, due by Sunday, 10/13 at 5 PM. Focus: If you want, you can turn in nothing but plot points this week. This will be really helpful if you’re a plotter. If you’re a pantser, you’ll start doing it and hate it. If so, stop.
We took a writing break last week inside the fishbowl. So if you took one, too, don’t worry. We did this because we’re gearing up for the big project/paper for this class, the reverse storyboard project.
This week we’re talking about the idea of storyboarding, contriving a way to take books out of our computers so that we can see them in one fell swoop.
Do this: Google “novel storyboard” and look at all the images. Here’s what I get.
Reverse storyboarding is a process you use on a book you admire or want to learn from.
Forward storyboarding (or just plain storyboarding) is a process you use on your own work-in-progress.
How to reverse storyboard, including a picture of the storyboard Rebecca Skloot created for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Either spend some time reverse storyboarding a book or forward storyboarding your own.
By Camille Germain
The term “risk-taker” has many connotations in our society. It is often seen as a person who indulges in ideas upon impulse, challenges the norm and jumps into situations that are not ideal in the concept of safety. But they are almost never seen as boring. As writers we kind of have to take on the role of a “risk-taker”. We must put our characters into situations and circumstances that provoke the reader to ask questions. There must be a reason to turn the page.
How do we take risks in our writing?
1. 1. Raise the Stakes
2. 2. Increase the Voltage
The easiest way to test the height of your stakes is to ask the question “So what?” Act like your character is a test subject and put obstacles in front of them to see how they react. What will happen to Character A if Conflict C happens? Or what if Character A becomes discouraged after Conflict C and then Conflict D happens?
To have “High Stakes” means that something is at risk and that you can clearly state something could be lost. There are both public and personal stakes and we must ask “What will society lose as a whole if…?” Each scene or chapter is relevant to raising the stakes. To move the story forward ask “What can I do to get my character closer to where I want them?”
Personal, deep-down stakes act as an insight to the characters. It shows who and what they are.
How can you make the stake matter more?
You must ask “How can this matter more?” If Y doesn’t happen… what will my character do or go through? Ask “How could things get worse?” And even though this seems malicious, make sure to ask “How can I make my character suffer?” You must figure out why the outcome of whatever situation or circumstance or conflict matters to the novel.
1. 1. There needs to be something at stake for you personally.
2. 2. Your audience needs to feel anxious.
3. 3. There needs to be a question of “Will they or won’t they?” for your characters.
What happens when you foreshadow the outcome of the irrevocable commitment early on? Decide if there is a bridging conflict or if it starts with a bang and there is no backstory and figure out how to make it create a backstory throughout and the initial, uniting character conflicts. There needs to be a temporary conflict, mini-problem, or interim worry that makes the opening matter.
1. 1. There needs to be conflict to move the story forward.
2. 2. Determine what your stakes are and raise them.
3. 3. Make your character suffer.
4. 4. Your audience needs to feel anxious.
5. 5. Be a “risk-taker”.
What I learned:
It is important to care about your characters. If they do not overcome conflict and endure then we are less likely to care. There must be personal and public stakes and society is affected by both. Each scene is relevant and acts as a catalyst to whatever outcome we want. Make the character matter.