Have you heard about the ghost?

Everyone at Springett Hall is gossiping about the ghosts: echoes of laughter in the hallway, strange faces in the mirror, doors creaking open on their own. Lucy doesn’t know any more about the other spirits than the servants do. She can’t even remember how she died, and Philip, the only person who can see her, isn’t all that helpful in that regard. Add your own speculations about Lucy’s demise in the comments below and click the link to the left to join the Rafflecopter giveaway for a signed ARC (uncorrected advanced reader copy) between June 17th and June 24th, 2015 (please keep comments appropriate for all ages).

From The Haunting of Springett Hall:

“Maybe I had a premonition I was fated for a tragic end.”

“A romantic notion, I suppose.” A teasing glint brightened Philip’s eyes. “Unless you died in some embarrassing way.”

“What! I’m certain I didn’t.” I couldn’t admit now that I’d worried about the same thing.

“You might have choked on a chicken bone because you were eating too fast.”

“I don’t even like chicken. Meat isn’t good for one’s constitution.”

“All right.” He leaned against the bookshelf with a cocky smile. “Maybe you forgot to tie your boot laces and tripped when you glanced up to watch the peaceful flight of a dove overhead.”

I folded my arms, trying not to smile at the image. “My boots have buttons, not laces.”

“Or you were reading a book while you walked and got run over by a carriage.”

“In the house, I suppose?” I rolled my eyes.

Reading like a writer and writing like a reader

First, as a total digression, my book comes out one month from today! I’m freaking out a little, but mostly in a good way. I’m super excited and looking at a crazy calendar of giveaways, signings, blog tours, and (no doubt) an emotional roller coaster.

Last week I taught a class on reading like a writer and writing like a reader to a group of aspiring teen authors, which was a lot of fun. I thought since I had the handout all made up, I’d share it here as well. We learn a lot by writing, by critiquing and being critiqued, by reading books about writing, but I believe there are some things we can only learn by reading, and reading widely. So, here are some questions I ask myself when I read (and try to ask myself about my own work when I edit, though that tends to be more difficult):

Reading like a writer, writing like a reader

E.B. Wheeler

Writing is a series of choices. Slow down and study what the writer is doing. Take their story apart and examine each piece so you learn what to do (and what not to do!) to build your own story.

Remember: There’s no one right way to tell a story—you’re not looking to copy another author’s style or steal the magic formula; you’re looking for tools that you can use as you develop your own voice and style.

Reading questions:

  • Why did the author write this (what seems to be its purpose and theme)?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • What is the form and genre?
  • What is the point of view and who is the point of view character? Why might the author have chosen that POV?
  • What kind of language is the author using—formal, informal, modern, archaic? What effect does this create?
  • How does the author use sentence length to create rhythm and mood?
  • How is the author using dialogue? Does it advance the plot and illuminate characters?
  • How is the author using descriptions? Does it distract from the story or enhance it by adding to the mood and reflecting the character’s frame of mind?
  • Am I ever bored or confused? Why?
  • What kind of tension is in each scene (i.e., active conflicts–man versus man, man versus nature, man versus self–unsolved mysteries, dramatic irony [when the reader knows something characters don’t, either good or bad], ticking bombs, romantic tension, social tension [including embarrassment], interpersonal tension, moral dilemmas)? Does it vary from scene to scene–a new kind of tension rising as a previous one is resolved? Does the tension relate back to character, conflict, and stakes–the character’s struggle to reach their ultimate goal?
  • How does the author transition between scene/sequel/scene (action/reaction/action)?
  • What about this resonates (or doesn’t)? Is the author “telling the truth?” Do the emotions feel fresh and authentic, or like canned “Hollywood” reactions?
  • Are there techniques here I can use in my own writing?
  • What would I do differently if I had written this piece?

Write your first draft for you—have fun, write what you would like to read. Don’t worry yet about if it’s any good. THEN edit for your readers. Dig into your writer’s toolbox and pull out whatever’s going to help them enjoy the story more.


Storymakers 2015: Meaningful, believable relationships in stories

Here’s another post about lessons from LDStorymakers, this one including my own “light bulb” moment at the conference. On Thursday, my agent emailed me suggesting that the next step in revising my manuscript is to deepen the relationships between the characters. I started thinking about how I would do that and, honestly, not feeling very sure about how to go about it. My very first class on Friday at Storymakers was Sarah Eden’s class on defining relationships, and while the rest of the conference was great, it would have been worth it for me just to go to this one. It was a light bulb moment and gave me the formula I needed to make the relationships in my manuscript do more.

Among other things, Sarah Eden talked about how all deep, realistic relationships are about needs. Characters are in relationships because it fulfills some need for them, but it also might keep them from facing a shortcoming they need to overcome. For instance, in Pride and Prejudice, Darcy and Bingley’s friendship fulfills Darcy’s need for someone who tolerates/accepts his social backwardness and Bingley’s need for guidance from someone with a level head. In order to grow, they have to face these shortcomings. Darcy needs to develop his own social skills, and Bingley needs to learn to make his own decisions. As the characters grow and change, their relationship must change as well.

Ms. Eden pointed out that the real, internal change that is the hallmark of realistic characters in a well-developed story must have an external reflection, including in the character’s relationships with others. Some relationships will strengthen and deepen, some will shift (i.e. from friendship or even antagonism to romance, from mentor to friend or enemy), and others will become more distant or dissolve altogether. Some may not change on the surface, but the underlying dynamics will be different (such as in family relationships). The external changes have to be a natural outgrowth of the internal changes, but if they don’t take place, the internal changes seem less real, and the characters and their relationships ring false or shallow.

This way of evaluating relationships has me super excited to get back to work on the relationships in my manuscript. I already know my characters well–their strengths and weaknesses, the “wounds and wants” that motivate their actions–and their relationships do change in the story, but now I have a tool for examining those relationships and their growth. I can ask myself at the beginning of the story what each relationship means to them–what needs it fulfills–and in what ways their relationships are “unhealthy”–providing a crutch for their shortcomings that will have to be removed. I can make sure their relationships reveal more to the reader about who they are. Then, I can make sure the shifts in their relationships by the end of story reflect their internal struggles. Doing so will hopefully help my readers (and my agent 🙂 ) feel like the relationships are deeper and more real.