Author Archives: Coral Jenrette

Receiving Feedback

Critiquing is a critical part of the writing process – getting feedback from others gives us guidance and can shed a light on where we might focus in revision. There is so much we can’t see as the writer of our own work and getting other people’s responses to what we’ve written is truly illuminating.

 

But receiving feedback – literally sitting there while someone tells us what they think about our work –can be hard. Sometimes it can be really hard. It’s great when people say, “I love what you’ve done!” but it can be hard to listen to people say, “Here are the things I think you need to fix.”  It can even be hard when they say, “I love what you’ve done but here are some things to fix.” Someone can love your piece, and it can still need work.

The fact is, even if it it’s combined with positive feedback, receiving critical feedback can be challenging.

Here are a few recommendations for how to handle the moments when your piece is getting critiqued.

  • If your group is reading the piece for the first time while together, allow someone else to read your piece aloud. Hearing where they read smoothly and where they stumble can give great insight as to where you might want to revise at the sentence and word level.
    • No critique partners? Critique partners read everything in advance? Your piece is longer than a picture book or a few pages? Use a Read Aloud function, like you can find in Word – Google docs also seems to have a text to read function
  • Try to take feedback in and listen without getting upset.  It’s very natural to have a knee-jerk reaction to critical feedback. “But that’s not what I meant” or “you’re not understanding” – if they didn’t understand, it might not be on the page the way it is on your head. Try to take in critical feedback without being defensive.
    • If you’re too defensive or upset receiving critical feedback, it may hurt people’s ability to be honest with you in the future.
    • The exception — respond to any kind of clarifying question that will help someone provide feedback from a place of understanding
    • Sometimes one critiquer will say something is missing on the page (a motivation, for example, or an emotion), while another critiquer will have gotten exactly what you were trying to say. In this instance, consider whether what you are trying to get across is obvious enough. It may be. It may not.
  • Relish the positive things people have to say. You need to learn what works in your work. Even if a line is cut or a scene doesn’t make it, if people loved it, find out why so you can replicate.
    • Some people are great at this. For others, it can be really hard to take in the positive. Some people want to skip right over the positive and get to the critical because that’s where the work is, but make notes about what people love, so you can keep those things in your writing, and celebrate those things as the critical feedback comes rolling in.

 

What other recommendations do you have else for those moments during a critique while people are actively giving you feedback?

 

**Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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Filed under Coral Jenrette, craft advice, critique, Revision process

Deep Dive into Your Target Word Count

As you develop your story, there are so many components to consider and perfect: a strong character arc, varied pacing, stellar dialogue, beautiful descriptions… the list goes on and on. But one factor you must always consider is word count.

If your novel is too short, it might not be considered ‘meaty’ enough for the age group. If your novel is too long, agents and publishers might worry that it has a ‘saggy middle’ or is filled with fluff. And for picture books, the current trend is definitely shorter over longer, but that can look very different depending on the age of the targeted audience and whether the book is fiction or non-fiction.

So what do you do?

First, because this can change over time, research the current trends for word length for the type of book you are writing (type something like “word length for picture books” in the search engine and see what you get). Here’s an article from Writer’s Digest to get you started.

Second, find comparison (comps) and/or mentor texts. Story Spinner Susan Wroble wrote a great post on how to do this.

Third, use a fantastic resource like Accelerated Reader Bookfinder (www.arbookfind.com) to see how those comp and mentor texts measure up when it comes to word count.

When you search for a book, AR Bookfinder will give you a lot of information (short blurb, ATOS book level, interest level, rating, whether it is fiction or non-fiction, subtopics, etc.), but most importantly (for this post) it will give you the specific word count for the book.

This is critical because page length can vary – just think about the difference between a story submitted in 11 point font, single spaced, with ½ inch margins vs. a double spaced, 14 point font, with 2-inch margins. This is why the industry is so specific about the formatting that you use when submitting materials – it gives some consistency about what ‘5 pages’ really means. But when you’re publishing a book, you have no such limitations. The pages can differ in size of the book itself, in margins, in fonts and font size… the list goes on and on. While, in general, more pages means more words, two books that are 250 physical pages can have very different word lengths. Nowhere can you see that more than in picture books.

Here are four examples:

** If you have trouble seeing the table, the information is written at the end of the blog post

 

These are four wonderful books, all targeted to the K-3 reader, but they couldn’t be more different. And that is reflected not only in the way the books are written (prose vs. dialogue, for example) but in the word length. For these four books, the book with the most pages has the smallest number of words. Seeing how your book stacks up in word length to a book similar to yours can give you a good sense as to whether you are hitting the mark.

 

If your picture book is 700 words, and your comp titles all range from 400-500, your book may be too long for your target audience.  If your mentor texts are 45,000  – 50,000 words, and your novel is 17,000 words, again — potential problem. Your book lengths don’t need to be an exact match, but hitting market expectations is important in securing an agent and/or a publisher, or in getting readers if you decide to indie publish.

 

And … don’t use a single text to decide if you are hitting this mark because, just like rules for ‘i before e’ there are exceptions out there. Could your book be double (or half) the expected length and still sell? Of course it could! But make sure when you decide that your final manuscript is really final, you know how your book measures up.

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If you couldn’t read the table, here is the information on the four picture books:

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal

Fiction, 32 pages, 341 words

Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora

Fiction, 36 pages, 822 words

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie  Levy, Illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley

Nonfiction, 40 pages, 1802 words

 Waiting Is Not Easy! by Mo Willems

Fiction, 58 pages, 197 words

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Building your TBR Pile

Stack of Books

A new year is coming, and that means another year of writing and reading goals! I wrote about creating categories around your To Be Read (TBR) list. Nothing beats word of mouth hearing from a friend that they loved a book you must try, or having a bookseller or librarian listen to some of your favorites and make a recommendation or two. But if you’re thinking about reading in specific categories, here are some ideas of where you might look for books to try.

No matter how you find your 2021 TBR books, I wish you a massive and diverse list of books and many happy days and nights of reading!

 

Diverse Books

Diverse books make up a fraction of publishing, yet they are so critical for readers young and old to see themselves, and to see people other than themselves.

We Need Diverse Books has compiled a list of sites that recommend diverse titles – by going to this page you can access many different sites that suggest diverse books.

 

Award-Winning Books

The Newbery was “the first children’s book award in the world… [and is] the best known and most discussed children’s book award in this country.” A full list of award winners going back to 1922 can be found here.

The Geisel Award is given annually to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished American book for beginning readers published in English in the United States during the preceding year.

The Caldecott Medal goes “to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.”

A great list from @sailyreads on Instagram highlights book awards that celebrate diverse authors and stories. Here is how these books are described on their websites.

  • The Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth”
  • The Coretta Scott King Book Awardsare given annually to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.”
  • “The goal of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literatureis to honor and recognize individual work about Asian/Pacific Americans and their heritage.”
  • “Awarded biennially, the American Indian Youth Literature Award identifies and honors the very best writing and illustrations by Native Americans and Indigenous peoples of North America. Books selected to receive the award present Indigenous North American peoples in the fullness of their humanity.”
  • “The Schneider Family Book Awards honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.”
  • The first and most enduring award for LGBTQIA+ books is the Stonewall Book Awards, sponsored by the American Library Association’s Rainbow Round Table.

 

State/Regional Lists

Consider adding local authors to your list! Almost every state has an award list. “The Colorado Book Awards annually celebrates the accomplishments of Colorado’s outstanding authors, editors, illustrators, and photographers.”

There are also regional awards that highlight specific interests. For example, “the WILLA Literary Awards honor the best in literature, featuring women’s or girls’ stories set in the West that are published each year.”

 

SCBWI

Of course, our beloved SCBWI is a great place to find possible books! You can browse the BookStop, where members’ books are listed. SCBWI has multiple awards as well that are given each year to published books, including the regional Crystal Kite Awards (“a peer-given award to recognize great books from 15 SCBWI regional divisions around the world”), the Golden Kite Award (“the only children’s literary award judged by a jury of peers”), and the Spark Award (“recognizes excellence in a children’s book published through a non-traditional publishing route”).

 

Recommended Books

According to the Goodreads website, they are the world’s largest site for book recommendations. They have a recommendation engine that will make suggestions, you can browse books by genre, and you can see readers’ favorites by looking at the Goodreads Choice Awards, which have finalists and winners broken out by genre.

The Indie Kids’ Next List includes recommendations from indie book stores, where you can read a paragraph about why a particular bookseller recommends that book.

Big bookstores will be happy to recommend you books: you can look them up here, even if you end up checking them out from your local library or purchasing from an independent bookstore. Amazon offers a best children’s books of the year (this one is for 2020), broken out by age group, as well as monthly recommendations.

 

Starred Books

Books are ‘starred’ when specific book reviewers award them a star as part of their review. They are hard to come by, and many excellent books and many popular books don’t receive them. These reviewers include Booklist (published by the American Library Association, also known as ALA),  Kirkus, and School Library Journal (also known as SLJ). Some are subscription-based to see the full review, but a search of the title will usually show if it has been starred. Some publishers will post quotes from these reviewers on their book. These review journals will also publish ‘best of’ lists.

 

Best-Selling Books

There are lists available that include the books that are selling the best over a period of time. Two major ones include The New York Times Bestseller list, which includes books ranked by format and genre, and USA Today’s Bestseller List, which shares the top-selling 150 books, across formats, including bookstores and online retailers.

Indiebound aggregates sales from hundreds of bookstores across the country to create their bestseller list, which is broken down by genre.

Amazon shares their top selling books if you click on Books and then a particular category. So does Barnes & Noble, which will break it down by Kids and YA.

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This list is by no means exhaustive, or an endorsement – hopefully it will help you find new books to love and give you new ideas of where to search.

Other places you love to look at for book recommendations? Add them in the comments below!

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Writing with Others (at distance)

At this point, you may already have figured out how to navigate working with your writing and critique partners in this time of distancing. Some of us already critique at a distance, so the change is nothing new. But here are a few things you might consider if you’re not already trying them.

The Move to Video Conferencing

We’re all used to the phone, and many of us have used FaceTime or Skype to talk one-on-one to friends and family. Your whole group can meet using one of this video-conferencing platforms, such as Skype, Google Meets, or Zoom. Many of these platforms are free for users to set up meetings, they may just limit the amount of time you can meet before they kick you off.

The benefit of these formats is that you can see multiple people, and they can sign on from anywhere, as long as they have a Wi-Fi connection or a data plan on their phone. For Zoom, the only person who actually needs to sign up to Zoom is the person setting up the meeting – everyone else just clicks a link.

Video conferencing is the closest many of us can come to see our writing friends and critique partners, so I highly recommend it. Here is a link discussing different options (also where the groovy picture came from).

My group uses Zoom, so I’ll talk about that here, but just know there are plenty of options.

 

Ways to Use Zoom

One way to use Zoom is to simply move your regular critique time to this format. You can still see other, talk one at a time, and see facial expressions and reactions. Zoom doesn’t allow for side-conversations, unless you pay extra to have break out rooms. You can use the chat function, but honestly it can be distracting. But Zoom can get you 80% * of the way there for your critique group. * Not an official scientific number

Zoom allows you to share your screen, so if you want to reference specific parts of the manuscript, you can show it to everyone if that’s helpful to draw attention to your point. That could be critical for discussing illustrations, layout ideas, etc.

We’ve also started using Zoom as an accountability tool. I belong to a writing group whose purpose is to get together just to write. We do timed writing sprints, and then visit over lunch. With the pandemic, we’d been doing the writing sprints via text. But we discovered that we did a better job at showing up if we were literally showing up. Now we login to Zoom and show our faces as a way to ensure that we’re working away.

 

SOME ZOOM TIPS

Mute – a lot

Our computers and headphones pick up a lot of background noise. The larger your group, the more distracting it can be. It’s better to stay muted until you want to talk. Just be prepared to start talking and have someone remind you, “If you’re talking to us, you’re still muted.”

 

Gallery View vs Speaker View

On Zoom, you can choose between Speaker View (where Zoom decides who is ‘talking’ and has them in the center of the screen) or Gallery View (where everyone is their own box, very Brady Bunch. I like Gallery View because if you’re eating an apple, or one of your kids shouts something in the background while you aren’t muted, you are taking center stage.

 

Log back in again

If you’re working from free Zoom, your meeting with three or more people will end after 40 minutes (at the time of this blog post). But never fear! If you just log back in again, you can restart it with the same link. So as long as you don’t mind restarting the meeting, you don’t need to pay for Zoom. Make your meeting as long as it needs to be, and then just click the link again if you get booted off.

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Writing buddies and critiquing partners are so critical to us, as writers and just as people. However you do it, and however often you use it, find a way to stay connected. We’ll be back together again soon! Stay safe, everyone.

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Reading Goals for the year

Although January started weeks ago, it’s always a good time to reflect on the past and to make plans for the future.

As I first sat down to think about all that I did 2019, I thought about my major writing accomplishments. But as I spent more time considering the full spectrum of writing work I did, it included reading, listening to podcasts, taking classes, and even writing posts for this blog!

Creating Categories

So as I look to 2020, I wanted to focus in on one aspect – reading. The first thing I realized is that I didn’t want a straight reading goal of something like: fifty books. I wanted to be strategic as I thought about what I would read. I came up with the following categories and assigned some numbers:

  • Reading aloud with my kids: Picture books and Harry Potter 6 & 7 (24 + 2)
  • Reading in genre (36)
  • Fiction reading outside of genre (6)
  • Books on writing craft (4)
  • Non-fiction/how-to outside of craft (4)

 

Reading aloud with my kids

At the time of writing, I have eight-year-old-twins. I firmly believe there are picture books suitable for all ages, but there are books that will be less interesting to them – the time when we will sit on the couch reading picture books together might start to fade. While we’re in the zone, I want to capitalize on it.

I’m also currently reading Harry Potter aloud to the boys – I’d like to get through the last two books of the series with them before the summer. It’s something we love to do, and given that their friends talk about it more and more (spoilers abound) it would be good to finish it so there’s a chance for a few more surprises.

 

Reading in genre

This is a huge part of what it means to be a writer, and is recommended across the board. Plus, I love the genre I write in!

 

Books on craft

I love continuing my education and I think reading craft books are great ways to learn something new, but even when it isn’t new information, craft books are right there to remind you of things that you want to make sure to incorporate.

 

Reading outside of genre

I’m a writer and a reader – and while fantasy is completely my jam, that’s not the only type of fiction I enjoy. With the intention of being well-rounded, I want to make sure to dip into a variety of genres. I also learning across the board, and a few non-fiction non-craft books will make it into my reading list this year.

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Whatever you decide for your own reading, think about how variety might help you meet your goals. Once you get your categories, assign numbers to each group, and then happy reading!

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Making Steady Progress

I love Scrivener – I think it’s an absolute game changer when you’re working on a novel. It allows you to plot things out, move sections easily around, see how many words you have in a given chapter – I could go on and on. And I’m sure I will in another post.

But one of my favorite things it does is allow me to track how much I’m writing each day. Word will tell me how many words are in my document, but Scrivener will tell me how many words I’ve typed that day at a glance. See the picture at the top of this blog post.

And that really helps a goal-oriented person such as myself. It also helps if you are doing a NaNoWriMo style challenge – it makes it crystal clear if you’re staying on target and helps you fill in your stats as you go.

For my current work in progress, I’ve been trying to be more aggressive, striving to hit a thousand words each time I write, and trying to write every day. I start each day knowing this is my goal, but one of the things that keeps me going is this little box.

It’s the way you run for the lamppost. When you’re running, and you need to inspire yourself to go farther, and you think to yourself, “I just need to get to the lamppost.” And you set that target for yourself into the distance, something challenging to keep you going, yet that you know you can achieve.

I try not to obsess as I work, and happily toggle the box off and on as I go.  ([ctrl-comma], for PC users who like keyboard shortcuts, as I do.) I do get a happy little boost as I toggle it back on – okay, two hundred more words down! And then I toggle it off again and get back to work.

Sometimes it’s the desire to hit the thousand-word mark that keeps my laptop open. Sometimes it’s looking at the length of my overall novel, and seeing that if I just write another sixty-seven words, I can make it to another milestone round number. But all of these things push me to get more on the page. And the more I get on the page, the further along I am, the closer I am to getting out of drafting and into the revision stage.

Setting a goal, and seeing my visual progress toward it, inspires me to keep going, keep writing, keep typing, keep trying. And anything that keeps me moving forward is a winner in my book.

What inspires you to get one more word on the page?

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Revising those first ten pages

Edited page from thebookdesigner.com

I keep revising my first ten pages. Over and over again. And for good reason – it’s the first time you interact with a reader, it’s the time when they really decide if they’re going to be invested enough in your story that they’re going to keep reading. You need to establish your voice as an author, establish your main character as someone they will care about, create conflict to keep driving them forward, and on and on.

So much work to do. So much weight that the first ten pages carry – that the first page itself, that the first sentence has to carry.

You work and rework and rework it again. Share it with your crit group, share it with them again.

The right time to shine and polish and edit those first pages can vary for you in your process, and here are two right times to consider.

At the beginning. You basically write and write and rewrite and rewrite the opening until you feel that voice, that excitement, that opening, and then BOOM you rush through and write the whole rest of the book. It’s like a little toy race car that you rev and rev and rev and then whoosh you let it go and you cross the finish line.

This isn’t me. It’s not how I work. And I recommend that, if you take this approach, you make sure that you will eventually let that car go. That eventually you will leave those first pages and that you will finish the rest of your book and that your car has enough gas to get you there.

The second way is – at the very end. This is what I’m doing right now. I planned and plotted out my novel. I drafted my novel, revised it. I gave it to various readers, got their feedback, and revised it again. Now I’m majorly reworking the beginning. Cutting away, slicing away, melding chapters together, cutting chapter two completely, saving just a few lines of important information. Trimming again and again, literally thousands of words. If you’d asked I would have said, no way can my story stay intact if I cut that much. And yet it can. And it’s better. I’m also adding in more voice, making the beginning sound more like the middle where I was really hitting my stride.

There are surely other times to do it, but I think the key is that, if you perfect chapter one at the start of your process, don’t forget to finish your story. And once the book is finished, regardless of how much work you put in, be prepared for how much work you may still need to do on the beginning to get it right.

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Dreaming of Audio Book Narrators

Many authors dream of seeing their book published, on shelves, in a library, or just in their hands. Others dream about which of their favorite publishers might take on their projects and make them a part of their publishing families.

I have now started dreaming of who would narrate my audio book.

For many years, I never really listened to audio books, and if I did, they were adult non-fiction. I remember going into the audio book section and deciding that I would pick out a fiction book. I don’t read romance, and yet I chose Black Hills (a romantic suspense) by Nora Roberts and pulled it off the shelf.

I was immediately swept away by the narrator, Nick Podehl. And I’m not the only one – he has narrated The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss and a little book called Wonder by R.J. Palacio.

And in that moment, suddenly I thought to myself that I would listen to books he narrated, even ones I might not necessarily pick to read, because he was just that good. Imagine if he narrated one of mine!

The next narrator I vocally fell in love with? David Tennant, as I listened to him narrate How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell, taking on myriad voices, including dragons. I had a total fangirl moment while at the movie Ferdinand when I thought he was voicing Angus, and couldn’t wait for the credits to see if I was right (I was). My dreams got more specific. Tennant is Scottish, and I started to wonder – could I set any of my books in Scotland to up my chances of scoring him as a narrator?

Soon after that, I was totally entranced with Katherine Kellgren and her amazing voicework in The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood. I loved her narration so much that I became immediately attached to her and to the way she voiced these beautiful and charming characters, complete with howls. Sadly, Kellgren passed away in 2018, and I experienced such a feeling of loss for her, for the rest of the Incorrigible Children’s series, and for my own future hypothetical stories.

My most recent dream narrator is Jim Dale (join the club!). One of my son’s was delighted to find Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling in the audio book section of the library one day, and of course we checked it out. With so many characters, it was amazing to hear the way Dale made each one come alive, each character recognizable before we even get to the dialogue tag. It inspired me to work harder to make my characters unique. And Dale himself is recognizable to me, now, as well – I had such joy when I realized that he is also the narrator on the version of Peter and the Wolf by Sergey Prokofiev we listened to last month.

Audio books are not just a wonderful way to experience a new story, but fodder for you to dream as a writer – who would you love to hear read one of your books?

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Whole Novel Critique

There are lots of opportunities to get a page, a set of pages, scenes, or even chapters critiqued – and then to sit down and polish those sections until they shine. Each of these are helpful and important steps to creating the best possible manuscript. I do encourage you, early in the process, however, to do what it takes to get a full novel critique.

Why?

The key thing in a novel is how your main character changes and transforms. Unless you’re writing something more episodic (and I would argue that even in those types of stories, your main characters do have an internal shift over time), a key factor to whether your story will resonate with readers is what happens to the main character – not their external plot. You can’t get that valuable feedback on how well that shift is working unless someone reads the whole piece.

Plot holes? Can’t find them unless you’re reading extended sections of your novel.

Each of your scenes (even each of your pages!) could be filled with tension and conflict. They could have beautiful description, and zippy dialogue. But maybe your pages don’t have much description at all – and your critique group doesn’t say anything because hey, you just submitted chapter 5, and they’re assuming that the description is there in Chapter 4 (spoiler alert – it wasn’t).

How?

PURCHASE IT: One way to get a whole novel critique is to pay for one – the one you want at the early stage of your novel is a developmental edit. There’s no point in a copy edit (where grammar and typos are fixed) if the story needs to change. If you take classes, some of the teachers also do developmental edits on the side. There are many folks online who do as well (including some folks who are or work with literary agents!) – most will offer a sample of their work, and most are pricey, so really talk through what you want to accomplish and what they plan to deliver to make sure you’re paying for something that will be valuable. Ask questions around depth of edit, whether it’s a letter or inline comments (or both!) and how fast they will deliver. Developmental edits take time (typically weeks).

Here are a couple of ways to get your novel critiqued using the barter system.

NOVEL SWAP: One option is to ask someone to read your novel and give feedback, knowing that you’ll do the same for them in return. Keep in mind that this is a big ask, and that you’ll have to put out the work on the flip side as well. Make sure you’re ready to be grateful, regardless of their feedback, and that you are ready to be gracious in turn. Also be forthright with your word count, for both your sake’s. Think about how to make it feel equitable. Not all books are the same: if one of you wrote a 35,000 word middle grade novel and the other just finished a 155,000 epic fantasy (and you still want to swap!), be prepared for how you can make that work and feel good for everyone involved.

If you’ve met someone who is at a similar level to you at a conference or workshop, you could approach and ask them if they’d be open to reading and giving feedback on your novel and you would do the same for them. Classes (like Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop here in Colorado), especially those that involve getting feedback on pages, can be a great place to meet people and see if there’s someone you want to approach.

If you’re not an active participant of an in-person community, or you’re an introvert who can’t imagine asking someone to do this in real life, you can turn to online writing message boards. I’ve actually read someone’s whole novel and provided feedback when I was active on Absolute Water Cooler. If you’re a member of SCBWI, you could look to get feedback by posting on the Blueboard. I HIGHLY recommend that you engage with the community first before you start asking for folks to read your whole novel.

ADJUST THE FOCUS OF YOUR CRITIQUE GROUP: Already in a critique group? You could totally ask a member of your group if, on the side, they’d be willing to read your full. But you can also shift the focus of the group. In our critique group, we decided that each member could submit a full-length piece one time per year to get feedback from the group. And if you didn’t finish a book that year, you could opt to submit whatever you had – your choice. It kept the flexibility for folks who didn’t finish a book to still have plenty of opportunities to submit shorter works each month, and for others who did finish to get that critical whole novel feedback.

 

Whatever your method, make sure that you’re looking at your novel both in parts and as a whole so that you create the best piece of work that you can.

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Push your characters off a cliff

You’ve heard people say that you need to be mean to your characters – you may have heard the recommendation to have your protagonist climb up a tree only to steal their ladder, and then throw rocks at them.

This idea of being mean can also be thought about as keeping the flame burning – if you set up a problem for your character, and then resolve it too quickly, then you release all the tension in your chapter (or maybe in your book, depending on what it is). And tension is what keeps us reading.

Imagine your main character wants to go to Harvard. It’s all they want. She rushes home and the letter is waiting right on top of the stack. She takes a deep breath, and opens the envelope. She reads it – and she got in. Hooray! But she didn’t worry that long (on the page) so neither did we, as readers.

Imagine instead she rushes home. She takes a deep breath. She paws through the mail. The last letter on the bottom of the stack – is her letter from Harvard. She takes a deep breath. Should she open it? It’s not thin, but it’s not fat either. She tosses it into the air, and her beloved dog, a Great Pyrenees, grabs the letter out of the air and races right out the doggy door. She struggles to open the backdoor – where is he? Where is he? She finds him behind a tree, slobbering all over it and chewing on it. She grabs it from him – but tearing it out of his teeth rips off a chunk. She opens it. “We are writing to inform you –“ and that’s the chunk that is missing. She doesn’t know if she got in! Will she call the school? Ask her guidance counselor? How will she find out???

These extra moments of stress and strain amp up the emotion. If you put your character on the hook, and then immediately take them off the hook, you lose all these opportunities to keep your reader furiously engaged to find out oh my goodness what is going to happen next?

You can keep tension both by lengthening the amount of time it takes for resolution (in this instance, I added in a dog and ripped letter) or by putting the resolution of one chapter into the next chapter. My father used to read me Tros of Samothrace by Talbot Mundy as a child – and I don’t know if the chapter always ended with Tros hanging off a cliff or if my father, with his understanding of story, would just stop reading at that moment. But I do know that I couldn’t wait for the next night when we’d pick up where we left off and find out what happened. Give those moments of wonder and breathless anticipation to your reader – by using the content within your chapters and in your chapter breaks.

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