How to take critiques without crying – 5 steps to awesome

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Made by me using pablo…

Critiques and beta readers… they’re how our craft gets richer, our writing more fab-tabulous, and our manuscripts closer to published. But do we all know how to accept the feedback when it comes?

I didn’t.

I think I’m better now. I’ve taken a crash course in how to receive feedback. Here are my top five tips:

1. Take it and nod

Seriously people. Someone’s just taken the time to read your work and give you feedback. That’s huge. So maybe the feedback isn’t what you wanted to hear…? Continue reading

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Entertaining and heart-warming – ‘The Memory Shed’

thememoryshedI got drawn into this book by the awesome idea of a sinister garden shed. I admit, I don’t like delving into the depths of my rickety back shed (hello red-back spider, and <hooly dooly> what made that scuttling noise?) but I always love discovering long-forgotten things.

I wasn’t disappointed by the read. In fact, it pleasantly over-achieved! ‘The Memory Shed’ by Sally Morgan and Ezekiel Kwaymullina, illustrated by Craig Smith, was a delightful read. It is beautiful, well-written and give-yourself-a-hug warm.

The stats…

  • Junior Fiction
  • 5 chapters
  • 55 pages
  • About 2,500 words
  • Chapter 1 – intro to characters (including shed!) and inciting event (going to clean shed out)
  • Chapter 2 – trepidatious entry into shed to start clean
  • Chapters 3-4 – fun and memories
  • Chapter 5 – realisation and happy finish.

What did I love?

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Ponies + Mermaids = Gold… ‘Lulu Bell and the Birthday Unicorn’

LuluBellBirthdayUnicorn.jpgI’ve just read that the Lulu Bell series by Belinda Murrell has sold >200,000 copies.

Just a moment while I put the laptop aside and bow in tremulous awe.

Okay, I’m back. So today I’m reviewing Lulu Bell and the Birthday Unicorn, the first in the Lulu Bell series. The book instantly caught my attention, thanks to the vibrant illustrations by Serena Geddes. And then it kept it, thanks to the clever writing.

Awesome thumbs-up aspects:

  • Cute animals (everywhere)
  • Mermaid costumes (what kid doesn’t want one of those)
  • Humour
  • Diversity
  • Gorgeous illustrations

That’s the short of it. But, of course, I had to look a little deeper into the workings of a very successful book idea.

Want some tips on how a great chapter book works? Read on…

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Putting a little DORK on my FORK: ‘Dork Diaries #1’

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As an ex-librarian, when I found the first ‘Dork Diaries’ on the WRONG SHELF, no – <gasp> – make that the WRONG ENTIRE SIDE of the Junior Fiction section of my library, I knew I had to help it find its way home.

Except when I picked it up, I immediately recognised the title, and took it out instead.

Yes, I hear what you’re saying… ‘But, Heather… this book was published in 2009! How can you not have read it yet?!’

That’s cool – I believe in better late that never when it comes to books.

My first take-home from this book is it’s not entirely my thing. And that’s completely fine because gazillions of other people think it’s their thing. So it’s still valuable to review why it worked. I don’t need (or even want) to write a book just like it (no one should for any book), but I can incorporate some of the winning ingredients into my own writing.

My second thought was about how different this ‘girl’ book was from funny ‘boy’ books of a similar ilk. More focus on clothes and looks and the opposite sex. Hmmm…

But what worked in this book that I can take into my own writing?

  • Friend-making
  • Love interest (not hopeless)
  • Besting the nasty popular kid through personal skill
  • Fab illustrations.

My favourite thing is the way MC Nikki keeps on saying all these awesome and/or outrageous things, and then tells us it was only in her head. A clever trick. I would internally gasp, like ‘Did she really say that?’ and then find she didn’t. Sometimes I was relieved, sometimes I was disappointed!

‘But I just said it in my head, so no one else heard it but me.’

And you know what else I love? In the acknowledgments, author Rachel Renee Russell thanks her agent who saw ‘the potential of this book when it was merely fifty rambling pages about a quirky girl and her fairy godmother.’ This book no longer has a fairy godmother. (Quirky girl? Still a tick.)

From that, I figure that compelling character and great writing will win out. Maybe we don’t need to get that submission perfect. Maybe, even if it’s the wrong genre aimed at the wrong age group, if we write well enough someone will see the potential.

Write on, people!

When writing and maths don’t gel: cutting your word count

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Made by me using pablo…

So, I want to shed 7,000 words from one of my WIPs. It’s about 350 pages long…

Ever the mathematician, I figured it was as simple as deleting 20 words per page and – hey presto – I’d be at my magical number.

100 pages into my cull, and I’m down 1,500 words. Roughly, that equals NOT ENOUGH.

As one of my bosses used to love to say: “Toughen up Princess”. This is not even murdering my darlings, this is just 20 puny words per page. I can do this!

Step 2 is going to be Murdering Some Of Those Darlings (hey, why hold back? entire scenes even??!), so I hope I can step up the word removal before I get to that. I want this draft to be within the accepted norm for word count for a Young Adult.

Cut cut cut!

How to create and maintain suspense: the riveting ‘Black’

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I read this book in one sitting. NOT because it’s short (it’s actually 276 pages). NOT because I was reading-deprived after a month of writing (which I was, but that’s not the real reason). NOT EVEN because I didn’t want to go to bed before I figured out what super-scary stuff was going down that would otherwise give me nightmares.

No. I read this in one sitting because it’s that damn good.

I lent it to an author friend and she couldn’t put it down either.

Black‘ by Fleur Ferris is totally worth reading.

Obviously, me being me, I then wanted to figure out why this book was unputdownable for two sleep-deprived children’s writers.

Roughly speaking, it’s split into two almost equal parts. Part One, where we’re anxiously trying to figure out what is happening and waiting for it to all go bad. And Part Two. Where it goes bad, and we’re caught up in Ebony ‘Black’ Marshall’s fight to regain herself. I understand what makes the second part tick. I can write action and up the stakes and have people fight for their lives.

But the first part of the novel is a brilliant study in creating suspense.

I knew I had to work out how Ferris had done it. Want to know too? Read on.

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25K on the SnowNaNo!

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That’s what I want to see! I’ve cracked the 25K mark on my snow-filled (affectionately dubbed SnowNaNo, but as yet unnamed) junior fiction novel, and the night is still young. In fact, it’s also only the 14th.

Cause for celebration.

I love my manuscript! I love my characters!

Perhaps most of all, I love the Word Sprints page under ‘Inspiration’. It took me 3 NaNoWriMos to find it, 5 seconds to randomly choose a 20 minute sprint, 20 minutes to write 600+ words, and a nanosecond to realise how awesome that was. I’m a word sprinter through and through now.

What’s working for you?

Editing: 3 reasons why talking to yourself is NOT a sign of madness

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Made by me using pablo. Not my window. My window is far less salubrious. And has no flowers.

My office window has one metre and a rickety old fence between it and a public access side lane. On beautiful spring days like yesterday, when my window is wide open, I often worry that people walking the lane might come to the conclusion I’m mad.

Because I’m talking to myself. A lot.

Yes, it’s full-on editing time for me and my YA South American Road-trip manuscript. This is about the fourth edit I’ve given it, which means I’m reading it out aloud to myself. And occasionally then telling myself, aloud, what I need to do to fix a spot. Okay, the second bit sounds crazy. But the first is true-blue proven editing gold.

I read aloud for three main reasons:

  1. Dialogue

  2. Awkward phasing/repetition

  3. Consistent voice

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An acorn full of fabulous – ‘Violet Mackerel’s Pocket Protest’

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If you’ve got a girl of about four or older, and you haven’t met Violet Mackerel yet, you definitely should. The books are in a series, but you don’t need to read them in order. Standalone or not, you will be swept away by their charm.

Book 6 is ‘Violet Mackerel’s Pocket Protest‘, written by Anna Branford and illustrated (here in Australia at least) by the brilliant Sarah Davis. When the beautiful simplicity of the writing combines with Davis’ vivid illustrations, you’re on to a winner.

‘Pocket Protest’ follows Violet and her friend Rose as they attempt to save the local oak tree from being cut down to make way for a carpark. They meet discouragement and setbacks along the way, but they stay true to themselves and keep trying.

It’s a wonderful book to introduce environmental themes to kids. It also has diverse characters (race, financial status, deafness) that are treated the same as all the others, again a very positive model for young kids.

Brief breakdown

  • 10 Chapters, 108 pages (yes that’s about 10 pages per chapter if your maths-head has clocked off for the day)
  • Illustrations on most spreads
  • Primary problem Chapters 1-10
  • Secondary problem Chapters 4-9
  • Both problems successfully solved, some adult help but mainly due to the girls’ actions.

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