One of the things non-fiction is good for is cultivating voice. Because NF has no characters to hide behind, it forces us to write as ourselves in a way regular fiction (as opposed to fictive or inspired-by memoir) doesn’t.
The voice I’ve spent so long honing in my NF work has helped me a lot over recent months–it’s easier for me to get into a character’s head without mapping or noting or any of the other techniques I used to use. But the other NF stalwart I’ve come to depend on, the outline, doesn’t carry over to fiction.
Granted, I rarely outline my blog posts (though I do use a blog client rather than writing directly in WordPress. More on that in another post.). But other than these posts, I stick to my non-fiction outlines the way finger paint sticks to my jeans, shirts, walls, and kitchen cupboards. Writing an article without an outline is difficult for me–I end up scattered and utterly confused. When I write fiction, though, I find the very act of writing an outline leaves me scattered!
Here’s what my non-fiction outlines tend to look like:
Title: Blog Post on Outlines, Plot, Voice
- What am I writing about?
- Key point – using outlines, getting confused, thoughts
- Do outlines hinder voice or help it?
- Relevant links: x, y, z
Where Am I Going With This? 2 Paragraphs
- Point 1
- expand, include a relevant quote
- sum up
- What I’ve learned/am thinking about
Extra funny thing: I can write from someone else’s outline with no hassle. Hand me a writing exercise, or hash something out with me for a short story, and I’m fine. Ask me to write the outline myself, and I’m a mess.Remember when I said non-fiction helps with voice, because there are no characters to hide behind? I think that’s my problem. Outlines in fiction–for me, anyway–take the story in an NF direction, so that I end up thinking news-and-opinion rather than character-and-plot-development.
Overall, not writing outlines isn’t a killer for me, but it is sometimes annoying. My writing group has no problem working out plots and sequencing, while I struggle to get all my ducks in a row. Oftentimes, this means I have to write and rewrite large chunks of a manuscript until it’s all internally consistent–which is a pain and a half! Lately, I’m getting over the hassle of this by keeping a soap opera diary.
A soap opera diary (I have no idea what they’re actually called, but that’s what a guy I used to know, who worked on Passions, called them) is like an encyclopedia for any given show. Continuity people keep track of all the births, deaths, marriages, evil takeovers, one night stands, coffee hijinks and more so that the show doesn’t contradict itself. There are still gaffes every now and then, but for the most part, the writers and continuity folk manage to keep the show fairly consistent. So, for my latest manuscript, I’ve started doing post-outlines, summarizing chapters and highlighting anything that could be a Big Continuity Issue later.
Do you write outlines for fiction, non-fiction, or both? How do you keep track of continuity issues?Read More
Today, in honor of April Fool’s Day, I’m participating in the Alternate Version Blogfest being run by my friend and critique partner, Livia. You can check out the rest of the entries over at Livia’s blog, here.
This is a small section from the second chapter of my work in progress, Listen (you can see another excerpt from Listen here).
The kitchen smells seven kinds of bad. Singed turkey bacon mingles with eggs, toast, old coffee, kitchen sink compost, and damp newsprint. Lemon rinds, my mother’s newest air-freshening experiment, fester on the windowsill. She has a lot of experiments nowadays. Lemon rinds, even if they are moldy, are one of the better ones. Shampoo in the dishwasher (why waste money buying two products?) is the worst so far. It took me three days to get the dishes clean, and the kitchen floor still has a weird, soapy feel. The twins like to sock-skate on it.
Next to the rinds is a small jar of wilting coriander, dropping leaves on to a beaten up tape recorder. I reach for the recorder, wanting to brush the leaves free, but a hand slaps mine. “Working.”
Working? I choke back my surprise—if she’s up working, it’s a good sign, right?
I can’t remember the last time she was this normal. I can’t remember the last time she was anything but crazy.
On the stove, poaching eggs simmer, their all-organic free-range orange yolks glimmering. Jiggling the handle with her left hand and holding a brown-stained broadsheet in the right, mom leans into the tape recorder, muttering, “Statistics on the new treatment vary. Doctors are unwilling to call it a success with side effects present in ten to twenty percent of patients. Due to herbal nature, it does not fall under purview of medical associations or government drug regulations at present time.” She tucks the broadsheet into the oven’s towel rack then nudges me into the chair next to Leila.
I’ve never made it past the first chapter of Twilight (though I have read the whole Xlormpf spoof), but I’m fascinated by the phenomenon. I’m also fascinated by the longevity of the Cali-girl style character, so this is a spoof mashup of the pair. Although my character, Jamal, is actually a 16 year old guy, I’ve just given him a girly voice for kicks.
The kitchen smells seven kinds of bad–literally seven, and I know because I counted them, one and two and three and all those numbers that come after three but I can’t remember right now because I’m so tired because I was up so late last night. I can’t believe Maddie just knocked on my window like that and expected me to invite her in and then compliment her on her sparkly skin–it is such gorgeous, sparkly skin, and it glimmered like my strawberry shine lip gloss in the moonlight.
Next to my stupid crazy mom’s moldy lemon rinds–as if lemon rinds are good air freshener, duh–one of the dead pots of herbs is shedding on a tape recorder. Only my mom would use a tape recorder for her notes. I mean, they’re so 1976. I’d get her an iPod or something, but she’d just forget what it is and use it to scrub the sink or bake it in the oven or something. I’m so fed up with her being crazy. Mom’s aren’t supposed to be crazy. It’s kind of good sometimes, though, ‘cause before she crazy mc crazypants, I’d’ve been locked up in my room staring at the ceiling at midnight instead of locking lips with Maddie.
She’s talking into the crap recorder, saying stuff like “statistics” and “treatments” and trying to poach eggs at the same time. I hate poached eggs. She can’t get anything right. I bump her away from the stove, point her to a chair, then dump the eggs in the trash.
I love Jane Austen novels, and I couldn’t participate in an alternate version blogfest without a little homage to Jane.
Even with his cousin’s early knocking, Jamal was the last down to breakfast. The kitchen, despite Mrs. Mahmoud’s best efforts, reminded him of a pig sty in the height of summer. Observing the disorder around the sink–disorder mirrored in his mother’s movements–he gently removed the frying pan from her grasp, and helped her to a chair. But before long Mrs. Mahmoud was on her feet again, reaching for a tape recorder covered in dry, brown coriander leaves.
She held the recorder to her mouth, moving her lips as if trying to speak clearly, but mumbling, “Statistics on the new treatment vary. Doctors are unwilling to call it a success.”
“I’m happy you’re working,” Jamal told his mother, “but perhaps you should sit down, and rest your nerves.” His mother did as she was bid, but still clutched the tape recorder in one hand. Jamal wondered if he should take it away from her, then thought better of it. He couldn’t recall the last time he had seen her working, couldn’t recall the last time she had acted so close to normality. This sudden focus on work had to be healthy–hadn’t it?
And that’s it for now. I’ll be back with a book list as usual tomorrow, and regular YA world commentary and discussion on Tuesday. Enjoy your April Fool’s, everyone!
Earlier this week, I asked about the limits in YA literature. Is there a line? And if so, where is it?
We are actively looking for great, new, cutting edge fiction with protagonists who are slightly older than YA and can appeal to an adult audience. Since twenty-somethings are devouring YA, St. Martin’s Press is seeking fiction similar to YA that can be published and marketed as adult—a sort of an “older YA” or “new adult.” (Submissions can be read here; winners were announced last night.)
New adult literature isn’t exactly, well, new. In The Guardian of Education, an early 19th century journal dedicated to reviewing children’s literature, Sarah Trimmer defined “Books for Young Persons” as books for readers 14-21, while the term YA was coined in 1937. But despite its early roots, publishers didn’t truly begin marketing to a younger audience until the fifties and sixties (Maureen Daly’s Seventeenth Summer and S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders were two of the first real YA novels, though they were released 26 years apart ). Until then, children and teens selected books from an adult pool, though certain titles appealed more than others (Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series are good examples).
Sometime in the 1980s, young adult literature came into its own. Come the 1990s, children’s books had been divided into several categories – picture book, early reader, reluctant reader, chapter book, middle grade. The past couple of years have seen YA split into early teen/tween fiction and a catch-all 14 or so and up category. According to St. Martin’s Associate Editor, S.Jae Jones (JJ), NA fiction would be the upper end of YA, pitched at readers 18 to twenty-something.
Although NA may be part marketing ploy, I think this evolution of the genre is inevitable. Though books like Anne of Green Gables and Little Women are still incredibly popular (Little Women has never been out of print), YA literature with a more realistic, true-to-life bent (think Nancy Werlin’s The Rules of Survival) is much in demand. NA gives St. Martin’s and, hopefully, other houses, the chance to revel in the complexity of publishing for young adults.
Earlier this week, I wrote about Knopf’s decision to categorize Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels as YA. But sticking TM in with YA (oh, god, I’m writing in LOLspeak) is a gross over-simplification of not just the book, but of teen readers. Not all teens will be ready for the cloaked realities in Lanagan’s novel; conversely, some teens will read, dissect, and discuss the book without hesitation. Creating an upper category like NA helps readers find the books they’re ready for without drawing undue attention from younger readers.
NA also straddles another YA issue – the crossover title. For the past few years, some publishers have been marketing books (TM, Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, and Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief come to mind) as both adult and young adult, marking the different editions with different cover art. Will the creation of New Adult fiction do away with the crossover title? Possibly. Publishers everywhere are trying to cut costs–no longer able to afford slush readers, most houses are now agent-query only. Cover production isn’t cheap (especially if you’re Bloomsbury). NA gives publishers the chance to put out just one cover yet still reach the desired crossover audience.
Of course, NA is unlikely to mean an uptick in acquisitions–there’s a lot of higher level and crossover YA already out there, and that’s just the already published stuff. Even closed to unsolicited submissions, most houses appear to be swimming in material. Yet “unlikely” does not equal “not at all” – though adults are reading YA, picking up a “kids’ book” still carries a stigma for some. Several of my twenty-something friends look down on the YA titles cluttering my bookshelves, claiming to be “past all that stuff”. But, as JJ points out,
Dan [Weiss, publisher-at-large at St. Martin’s] and I think there is a gap in the current adult market–the literary fiction market–for fiction about twentysomethings. You never stop growing up, I think, but little in the market seems to address the coming-of-age that also happens in your 20s. This is the time of life when you are an actual, legal adult, but just because you’re able to vote (in the US, anyway) that doesn’t mean you know HOW to be one. This is the first time when you are building a life that is your OWN, away from your parents and the family that raised you. It’s a strange and scary place to be.
Just as YA is fiction about discovering who you are as a person, I think NA is fiction about building your own life.
As older, snootier readers discover the joy of upper level YA–ahem, NA–demand may increase. This, in turn, would give writers the chance to explore the freedom of a slightly older protagonist while also easing some of the logistical aspects of writing YA (Would a parent really let their 15 year old hunt Daleks? Does this happen while she’s in school/at camp/over the summer? How could he afford x and y?)
Early twenties protagonists are surprisingly rare; in a panel on YA literature at Harvard’s 2008 Vericon, City of Bones author Cassandra Clare talked about pitching her novel, then about twentysomethings, as adult fiction. After several conversations, Clare realized she had to choose between adults and teens. She went with teens.
Will New Adult take off? I hope so. Last night, the winners of St. Martin’s New Adult contest were announced on #YAlitchat (there’s more on JJ’s blog). For most books, it’s at least 2 years between acquisition and release, meaning it could be a while before an NA section pops up in Barnes & Noble (unless St. Martin’s digs through its YA catalog to get the ball rolling). In the meantime, I think I’ll be loaning my upper YA books as NA…
Would you buy New Adult books? Does the title appeal to you/sound better than YA? Or are you happy with the system as it stands?
Photo Credit: Juliaf, via sxc.hu
My first review for the Santa Fe Writers Project is up!
Oscar Banks is cookie-cutter perfect. He’s a straight A student, is dating the prettiest, smartest girl in Candor High, and has more friends than a parrot at a pirate convention…[more]
Read it at SFWP.org, then check out some of their excellent fiction!
Although I’m sure I haven’t covered everything in Tim Crouch’s workshop–workshops are like that, full so much information that it’s impossible to grasp it all–this is my last post about it. Until I think of something else, anyway. According to Crouch, one way to get the creativity flowing is to impose restrictions. “Form and restriction can be the most liberating thing,” he says. Here are a couple of his.
Bob from Bogota
- Pick a letter
- Write a name beginning with that letter
- Write a piece of clothing beginning with that letter
- Write a place beginning with that letter
Now, write a monologue about that person, with that clothing, in that place–and make sure every word also starts with your chosen letter.
Write a 26 word story. The first word must begin with “a”, the second with “b” &c. all the way to “z”.
Need help getting started? Try this prompt: Apple butter curdles dramatically.
Today’s takeaway: sit down and write. Not sure where to start? Write anyway. Some of the best stories begin in the middle.
Did you try the exercises? Share your efforts below!Read More
Ever since Baby, I’ve had trouble fitting in time to write. Time was, I could write several thousand words a day – this is how I have a novel to revise in the first place. Now, I manage between 1000 and 3000 words at Burdicks’ every Friday morning.
Much as I love Burdicks’, that’s not enough. Not if I ever want to finish the novel!
So I’ve come up with a plan. Starting today, I will write 1000 words a day. It sounds ambitious, I know, but I have a plan for my plan: small bites of the chocolate bar. After all, 1000 words is only 100 words ten times, or 250 words four times. I can do that!
How? I’m planning on trying to write something every hour – if I’m near the computer, I’ll write in my new daily document (so I can keep a decent count). If not, I’ll write in an A5 notebook. Why A5? It’s easy to tuck into a bag (or stroller) and I know that each page is roughly 100 words. At the end of the day, I’ll do a tally and, if I have time, type up any written stuff. And if I don’t have time? I might have to learn to use the Mac dictation software (a tip I picked up from author Kristin Cashore at a reading – more on that later, though!) to enter the text around my teething tot.
1000 words a day equals 7000 words a week. Will all 7000 be stellar? Probably not. Will they include sections I’m rewriting? Heck yes! And that’s okay – every word moves me forward, and that’s a win.
Of course, it’s now just over midday and I haven’t even started yet…
How many words do you write a day? Interested in trying this challenge out with me? Say so in the comments!