Revision 101: Characters, Building Them and Their Arc

Today on our Revision 101 Workshop: Characters, Building Them and Their Arc

So, today, another HUGE topic. So here’s what I’m going to do. This post is broken down into parts.

First, here are some great resources on building and naming characters. Check them out:

Second, Save the Cat: Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet. This isn’t just for character building, but more so for plot pacing. Still, this will help you plan your character’s arc, and honestly, it’s probably one of the best writing resources I’ve ever seen. So please, if you look at nothing else from this post, READ THIS. Your characters need a story arc. Their character arcs must drive the plot. The plot is a direct result of the choices your characters make.

Third, when making characters, it’s important to make them multi-dimensional. You’ve heard the cliche: a villain is only so a terrible person because he’s trying to please his mom. It may be cliche, but it gives us a reason to root for even the worst of villains. Give me a reason to love the worst of villains and hate the greatest of heroes. No one is 100% likeable or hateable, so that has to translate with your characters and writing.

The last thing I will leave you with is a short list of memorable characters. Their stories and arcs should show you exactly what I mean by all of this 🙂

  • Buffy // Xander
  • Damon Salvatore
  • Harry Potter
  • The Doctor // The Master
  • The Joker
  • Sue Sylvester
  • James Bond
  • Darth Vader
  • Captain Jack Sparrow

The list could go on and on… I just made it off the top of my head. What’s your most memorable character? Who’s your favorite character of all time?


Revision 101: World Building

Today on our Revision 101 Workshop: World Building

Whether you’re writing fantasy and sci-fi or contemporary romance, all books have world building needs. Some are less intensive than others (lucky them!) but they all have needs. SF/F writers have the hardest, but we also have the most fun. Our worlds are completely sand-box, open-ended for our imaginations to have fun in.

So, how do you know where to start? How much do you have to do? Is it enough to say “Alakazam” and write?

World building involves everything from the size of the world, to religions, cultures, magic-systems, law systems, travel, geography, physical features of the world… everything. Everything needs to be thought out.

I could spend a month talking about world-building, so instead I’m going to list some great articles and tell you why you should read them!

1. Writers Are World Creators, by Fiction Editor Beth Hill. Beth talks about the consistency of world-building, and why consistency is important to suspending disbelief. READ THIS ARTICLE.

2. Berley’s Top 10 World Building Tips for Sci Fi or Fantasy, by Berley Kerr. Berley discusses size, history, culture, dominant technology, governments, transportation, magic system/sci-fi technology, religion, currency, and food.

3. Fantasy Worldbuilding, by Patricia C. Wrede. Patricia provides an amazing list of questions perfect for world building. Amazing list. Read this.

There’s obviously more articles around the Internet. Those were just some great ones I’ve found. Do a Google search and you’ll find even more 🙂

No matter what you do, remember this: world building is about showing versus telling, just like everything else in writing. If you want a great example of world building done through showing and without info-dumping (as someone on the #PitchWars feed on Twitter recently said) watch the first episode of Firefly, a sci-fi western by Joss Whedon. That’s world building done right.

When you’re revising, checking for consistencies in your world building (and adding and subtracting as need be) is super important. Suspend disbelief, and you’ve hooked your reader.

What’s your favorite part of world building?

Of Contests and Querying… Is Your Manuscript Ready?

Is your manuscript ready?

This is a question I’ve seen thrown around a lot lately, both to me personally and to others. It’s a good question, one that may not necessarily have the answer you’re looking for, and one that can almost be subjective depending on the circumstances. In either case, before you enter a contest or start querying, know if you’re ready to do so!

For contest and the query trenches alike, you’ll need to make sure you’ve done the following:

1. Actually finished writing the novel, through multiple drafts.

2. Had someone else look at it besides you, and who is not a parent, sibling, grandparent, friend, aunt/uncle/cousin, etc, etc. Get in touch with critique partners via CPSeek and have another writer look at your work.

3. Obtain beta readers. Beta readers are amazing. They look at your work from a reader’s eyes, versus a critique partner who will sometimes go so far into it as to line-edit. Both CP’s and beta’s are invaluable resources, so make sure to get a few of both.

*Remember the “too many hands in the pot” cliche, though. 1-3 CP’s works best. For beta’s it’s more up to your discretion. Just remember you can’t please everybody, but if something keeps coming up in multiple people’s comments, maybe that is something you should consider.*

4. You’ve made revisions based on multiple rounds of CP and beta feedback. Seriously. Take your time with this.

5. Consider hiring professional help. There are loads of freelance editors out there who do everything from developmental to line edits, query help, big picture edits– everything. Here are a list of those whom I’ve worked with personally and would refer to everyone:

After all this, then I’d say you’re good to go.

Announcing: the Revision 101 Workshop

Hi everyone! Today is exciting because I’ll be rolling out the details on events for this blog for the coming months.

We just got done talking about first drafts, NaNoWriMo, and how to keep your momentum going. With Pitch Wars kicking into gear, and CritFest and PitchMAS right around the corner, it is important not to get contest trigger-happy.

So, two things:

1. Do NOT enter your NaNoWriMo  2013 novel into ANY content until at least the Spring.

2. Do not enter these contests if your MS is not ready.

How do you know if it’s ready? How do you know when soon is too soon?

We’ll be talking about that more in depth tomorrow. In addition, this week kicks off my Revision 101 Workshop that will run for four weeks. We will cover how to revise your novel, including:

-plot, main characters, their arcs, and world-building

-side plots and POV

-tenses and using Wordle as a tool for revision

-Line-edits, CPs, betas, and other last-item revision points. **

So, are you ready? If not, get ready because this week is going to start with a bang!

(**Revision 101 will last for four weeks, after which we’ll talk about queries, researching agents, and publishing paths for the four weeks after that. So get excited! I know I am!)

Pep Talk on Keeping Momentum by Grant Faulkner

I just got a pep talk from Grant Faulkner in my NaNoWriMo inbox on keeping momentum after NaNo. Here’s an excerpt. Every writer should read this. If you’re a WriMo and haven’t read the whole thing in your inbox, check it out now!


“Dear Fellow Writers,

Life might be described in a single word: momentum. We’re always moving—forward, sideways, backward, upward, or even spinning hopelessly in circles. Like a protagonist in a novel, we try to determine our momentum, and we often succeed, but we’re also at the mercy of external forces. A benevolent force might enter the picture and sweep us forward, as if we’re catching a wave. But then there are those malevolent forces that always lurk about, flexing their muscles like bullies, ready to push us down, tease us, chase us away (or just hand us bills to pay). We have to figure out a way to get up, move on, and find another wave to ride.

Each December 1, I wake up jazzed with the excitement of having a novel in hand (and perhaps just a wee bit exhausted). Misty swirls of my story world seep through my mind, and my heart beats with plot points and possibilities—because now that I have a rough draft, I can hear the second draft calling me. NaNo has given me more than the gift of a new novel; it’s given me creative momentum.

Several years ago, I found myself in such a trap. More accurately, I constructed such a trap (that’s the worst thing about negative momentum: you can be your own bully). I’d just finished a couple drafts of my first novel, and I’d sent it to agents and editors with grand dreams of publishing. I got some nibbles here and there, but in the end, there were no takers. If I could go back in time, I’d whisper in the ear of my younger self to revise the novel again—to focus on the encouragement I received, get some good beta readers, and revise with their feedback in mind—but I decided the novel wasn’t good enough, so I gave up.

I’m still confused by my actions and attitudes during that time and don’t quite know how to explain them, but I must have focused so much on the “can’t” that I didn’t allow much room for the “can.” But NaNoWriMo is a wave of “can.” (Emphasis mine—Jess)

The spirit and momentum of NaNo don’t have to stop just because it’s December.

Life is momentum. Life is stories. Let’s keep our stories going.



It’s easy to fall into the NaNoWriMo hangover and to lose momentum. The dangers are the same after you finish any first draft, whether you wrote it during NaNoWriMo or not. DON’T fall into that trap. Don’t lose faith in your writing ability, your story, or yourself. You have great stories to tell, so look to the writing community and keep going. Keep trudging forward.

Don’t stop writing.

How to Keep Your Story Momentum Going

Whether you’re just coming off a NaNoWriMo high or you’re losing steam on your non-NaNo WIP, keeping your momentum going is key to finishing your novel. I’m not just talking inspiration. Inspiration is easy to kick back into gear if you know where to look and what your personal sources are, whether that’s taking a walk, using Pinterest, talking with other writers—whatever it is. The problem a lot of people face is simply keeping momentum, keeping pace.

When you start a new project and your inspiration is helping you write loads of words and chapters a day, the going is easy. But as your reach your mid-point or the three-quarter mark of your novel, the pace starts losing its power. You write less each day, then you write less often each week. It’s easy for other things to take precedence or for other things to appear more important. That’s not to say that writing is the most important thing ever, because it’s not. We all have kids or loved ones or pets or laundry or homework or whatever—and those things are definitely more important than putting words to a page. Unless you’re a full-time writer. In which case, get back to writing your next book!

The point of all of this is: KEEP YOUR PACE. Maybe you don’t have the time or engagement necessary to write 1,667 words a day after NaNoWriMo, or to write a chapter a day for your WIP, and that’s fine. Here are some tips for setting and keeping a new pace:

  1. Set a daily goal and stick to it. Write 1,000 words a day, every day, until that draft is done. Then step back, or start a new project before revising.
  2. Write at the same time every day. Make it a part of your routine. Writing every day is the key to keeping pace, as people who do NaNoWriMo find out. The words you write in November may not be the best ever, but at least they’re out on paper instead of inside your head.
  3. If you lose inspiration or writer’s block strikes, act fast or free write. Do whatever it is that kicks writer’s block for you. For me, that’s Pinterest and talking with my CPs who are always full of amazing ideas. Do what works for you!
  4. Do not make excuses. If it’s something you want, you will make time for it. And I know it’s something you want. Why else would you be here if it wasn’t? Why would you have bothered starting writing that novel if you didn’t want to? Make the time and make no excuses about using it.
  5. Don’t get caught up in social media. Especially after NaNoWriMo and even more so now with the start of #PitchWars, #BakersDozen, and #PitchMAS, it is easy to get swept up in social media fever. There are Twitter feeds to stalk, contests to enter, loads of blog hops and tours to follow. Schedule a time for doing that, too, but do not overlap that time with writing. We all know that writing and social media do not go hand-in-hand if done at the same time!

Do you have any tips for keeping pace? Let me know in the comments below!

For You WriMo’s Out There…

YOU DID IT! Congrats to all who entered NaNoWriMo, regardless of your final word count.

If you did make it to 50k, congrats! For now you get to finish off that word count and hold your shiny new complete first draft. Go you! If you validated your word count, you should have seen this video:

Check back here soon to see what kind of events we are running to help you take your finished novels (whether from NaNoWriMo 2013 or this year in general) from first draft stage to query-ready.

Until then, enjoy the rest of this holiday weekend and bask in glory of your shiny new first draft 🙂

Dear WriMos, Today at the Day 26 Mark…

Dear WriMos,

Right now, I know that you’re in one of three places with your NaNo novel.

You’re blissfully ahead, soaring so close to 50k that today, on the 26th, you will past the finish line. GOOD WORK, a job well done. Go on and soar on past that 50k and wave smugly as you pass by for you, dear writer, have written 50,000 words in 26 days and completed a novel. Go get ready for the holidays and catch up on all your missed tv shows or reconnect with your family after 26 days of separation.

Oh, but you didn’t finish your novel even though you hit 50k? Don’t fret! That is a-okay. First off, you just wrote 50,000 words in 26 days. That’s more than some people write in a year! So take a day off to savor your word count victory, then get back to that novel. Don’t let it fester in unfinished form while you ride off into the sunset with your word count goal. A break is fine, but don’t forget about it.

If you’re behind, DON’T PANIC. There are still 4 full days of writing ahead of you during which it is possible to catch up no matter if your 2k behind or 20-thousand. Want to know why?

Because. You. Can. Do. It. Even 20,000 isn’t so many words. If you can manage 500 words in 15 minutes, that’s only 10 hours of writing. Or two hours a day. Or one hour after work and two half hour word-sprints with your friends on Twitter.

You have already made it this far. It is possible to finish strong.

But here’s the thing: Even if you don’t finish at 50,000, that’s okay.


Reaching an arbitrarily picked 50,000 words isn’t the point of NaNoWriMo. You do not “win” or “lose”. Not really. The point is that you have written, that you were motivated to write, that you found a community of writers who are in the same trenches as you are, whether you’re published or unpublished, agented or unagented. Whether you have written fifty novels or this is your first literary attempt.

There is only one way to lose NaNoWriMo, and that is to not have tried doing it at all. And if that’s the case, then guess what, dear writer?

You’ve already won.

No go power out those last couple thousand and claim your bragging rights and swag.

My Top 5 Favorite NaNoWriMo Pep Talks

Every year, the NaNoWriMo runners ask well-known authors to write pep talks for WriMos to help them through November. Pasted & linked below are my top five favorite NaNoWriMo Pep Talks from recent years.


1. James Patterson,

“So Writer, you’re trying to write a novel in 30 days. Has anyone told you you’re crazy yet? You’re not crazy. I promise. Here are some tips on making it to December 1 without going crazy or giving up. Outline. Lie to yourself. Get into a writing routine. Don’t do it alone. Don’t stress. Stop reading this.”

–James Patterson

So Writer, you’re trying to write a novel in 30 days. Has anyone told you you’re crazy yet?

You’re not crazy. I promise. I know because I’ve written a novel in a couple of months. And yes, I’m a human being (just ask my editor, or my wife) and I do sleep. The book even got published. So anyone who tells you it’s impossible is wrong and you should probably stop taking their advice. Unless it’s your mom. Then just stop taking her advice about writing (you should still floss once a day).

There’s no getting around the fact that it’s hard, though, is there? By now you know that better than anyone. Maybe you should give up on this whole novel business and go relax. Or work at a paying job. But I say, keep at it. Because, like I said, it’s possible. And as you must suspect, it’s a pretty fantastic feeling to have written a book.

So how do you do it? Here are some tips on making it to December 1 without going crazy or giving up. (Though if you have to do one of them, I’ve always found sanity overrated.)

Outline. If you already have: gold star; proceed to the next piece of advice. If you didn’t, don’t worry, because it’s never too late to go back and make an outline. An outline isn’t something to be scared of, it’s just a chapter-by-chapter description of the scenes that, lined-up together, make your book. On the count of three, tell me the story that unfolds in your novel. All the way to the last chapter. Now write that down. There’s your outline. Easy, right?

Lie to yourself. Honesty is a great quality, but we’re writing fiction here, so you’d better get used to a little light lying. Tell yourself you can do this. Tell yourself your book will be great. The world will love it and you’ll be the next J.K. Rowling, J.D. Salinger, Art Spiegelman, or whatever flavor of author you hope to become.

Get into a writing routine. Think it’s hard to write every day during NaNo? Most professional writers keep this kind of pace all year round. Holidays, birthdays, vacations—you name it, we’re writing. The trick is making writing into a daily habit. Same time. Same place. Same hot beverage of choice. Every. Single. Day. Again. And. Again.

Don’t do it alone. If you live with somebody, tell them to be unpleasant to you if they see you doing anything else during your writing time. Buy them a water gun. If you live alone, have friends call and check on you. And if you have no friends, you will have no trouble writing a book in 30 days. What else do you have to do? (I’m not knocking friendless people. We’ve all been there.)

Don’t stress. I don’t mean to undermine the above, but remember this is one month, not your entire writing career. Try hard, learn from it, and if you don’t get to 50,000 words, figure out what you did wrong so you can get there next time.

Stop reading this. Start writing. Now. (Or at midnight your time.)



2. Neil Gaiman,

“A dry-stone wall is a lovely thing when you see it bordering a field in the middle of nowhere but becomes more impressive when you realise that it was built without mortar, that the builder needed to choose each interlocking stone and fit it in. Writing is like building a wall. It’s a continual search for the word that will fit in the text, in your mind, on the page.”

–Neil Gaiman

Dear NaNoWriMo Author,

By now you’re probably ready to give up. You’re past that first fine furious rapture when every character and idea is new and entertaining. You’re not yet at the momentous downhill slide to the end, when words and images tumble out of your head sometimes faster than you can get them down on paper. You’re in the middle, a little past the half-way point. The glamour has faded, the magic has gone, your back hurts from all the typing, your family, friends and random email acquaintances have gone from being encouraging or at least accepting to now complaining that they never see you any more—and that even when they do you’re preoccupied and no fun. You don’t know why you started your novel, you no longer remember why you imagined that anyone would want to read it, and you’re pretty sure that even if you finish it it won’t have been worth the time or energy and every time you stop long enough to compare it to the thing that you had in your head when you began—a glittering, brilliant, wonderful novel, in which every word spits fire and burns, a book as good or better than the best book you ever read—it falls so painfully short that you’re pretty sure that it would be a mercy simply to delete the whole thing.

Welcome to the club.

That’s how novels get written.

You write. That’s the hard bit that nobody sees. You write on the good days and you write on the lousy days. Like a shark, you have to keep moving forward or you die. Writing may or may not be your salvation; it might or might not be your destiny. But that does not matter. What matters right now are the words, one after another. Find the next word. Write it down. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

A dry-stone wall is a lovely thing when you see it bordering a field in the middle of nowhere but becomes more impressive when you realise that it was built without mortar, that the builder needed to choose each interlocking stone and fit it in. Writing is like building a wall. It’s a continual search for the word that will fit in the text, in your mind, on the page. Plot and character and metaphor and style, all these become secondary to the words. The wall-builder erects her wall one rock at a time until she reaches the far end of the field. If she doesn’t build it it won’t be there. So she looks down at her pile of rocks, picks the one that looks like it will best suit her purpose, and puts it in.

The search for the word gets no easier but nobody else is going to write your novel for you.

The last novel I wrote (it was ANANSI BOYS, in case you were wondering) when I got three-quarters of the way through I called my agent. I told her how stupid I felt writing something no-one would ever want to read, how thin the characters were, how pointless the plot. I strongly suggested that I was ready to abandon this book and write something else instead, or perhaps I could abandon the book and take up a new life as a landscape gardener, bank-robber, short-order cook or marine biologist. And instead of sympathising or agreeing with me, or blasting me forward with a wave of enthusiasm—or even arguing with me—she simply said, suspiciously cheerfully, “Oh, you’re at that part of the book, are you?”

I was shocked. “You mean I’ve done this before?”

“You don’t remember?”

“Not really.”

“Oh yes,” she said. “You do this every time you write a novel. But so do all my other clients.”

I didn’t even get to feel unique in my despair.

So I put down the phone and drove down to the coffee house in which I was writing the book, filled my pen and carried on writing.

One word after another.

That’s the only way that novels get written and, short of elves coming in the night and turning your jumbled notes into Chapter Nine, it’s the only way to do it.

So keep on keeping on. Write another word and then another.

Pretty soon you’ll be on the downward slide, and it’s not impossible that soon you’ll be at the end. Good luck…

Neil Gaiman


3. Chris Baty,

“If you don’t believe me, just scroll back through all you’ve written so far. That’s more than most people achieve in a year, and you did it in two weeks. It may be less than you’d hoped, and the quality may be crappier than you’d envisioned. But first drafts are supposed to be rough, and I guarantee you’re too deep in the process right to recognize all the great stuff you’ve put on those pages. Despite our meddling, you’ve achieved a truck-load of literary goodness. And it’s just a taste of what’s ahead.”

–Chris Baty

You’re watching a movie. And halfway through it, the hero crumbles.

He or she is lost. Surrounded by zombies or forsaken by love or separated from their favorite wookiee. They stare forlornly at the mess their life has become, hope fading that things will ever be put right again.

Screenwriters call this moment “the long, dark night of the soul.” Every Hollywood movie has one because we love seeing our protagonists pummeled for a while before they pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and head out to kick some ass.

NaNoWriMo participants go through their own long, dark nights of the soul halfway through November. If you haven’t experienced one already, you will very soon.

I say this with certainty because we’ve spent a lot of time and money making the middle stretch of this year’s adventure especially difficult.

We don’t have the costumes or the makeup budget to send a convincing-looking group of zombies to your door. Instead, we’ve relied on smaller, cheaper things to demoralize you mid-month. We’ve convinced your bosses and teachers to heap projects on you at the last minute. We’ve gotten your family to pitch fits when you need to get caught up on your word count. Most insidiously, we’ve paid your novel’s cast to stumble through their scenes with all the eloquence and charm of a baked potato.

Why? Because we have to do something to make your novel-in-a-month endeavor a fair fight. Which it isn’t. Look at you! You’re a fantastically gifted individual, with fierce courage and an imagination powerful enough to knock out a dozen books in November.

If you don’t believe me, just scroll back through all you’ve written so far. That’s more than most people achieve in a year, and you did it in two weeks. It may be less than you’d hoped, and the quality may be crappier than you’d envisioned. But first drafts are supposed to be rough, and I guarantee you’re too deep in the process right to recognize all the great stuff you’ve put on those pages. Despite our meddling, you’ve achieved a truck-load of literary goodness. And it’s just a taste of what’s ahead.

Because the second half of this noveling marathon is when things really begin to move. For starters, the NaNoWriMo-funded interference will end. This is partly because we’ve realized the whole “fair fight” thing was a dumb idea, and partly because we blew all of our harassment budget on yesterday’s spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to crash every word processor in Manitoba.

Shenanigans aside, the back half of NaNoWriMo has always been a place where writers get their second winds. As long as you keep working, your potatoes will turn back into charismatic protagonists, and your imagination will build a path right out of these mid-month doldrums.

You can help build that path faster by hitting your writing goals for the next three days. This may sound like a small thing, but little, consistent writing achievements open the door to huge writing breakthroughs.

If you’ve fallen behind on your word count or lost the thread of your story, you may think no breakthrough will be big enough to save your book. Take heart: There are 300,000 of us out there right now living that exact same movie. We’re all struggling to balance our books with the crazy stuff life has chucked at us these past two weeks. We’re all wondering if we have what it takes to see this thing through. And we’re all about to stand up, dust ourselves off, and go kick some major ass.

The long, dark night is ending, my friend. The homestretch lies ahead.

I’ll see you at the finish line.



4. Holly Black,

“So no excuses—get the word count done.” –Holly Black

Greetings fellow writers,

Here are some things I wish someone had told me when I was writing my first book. I want to say them to you in the hopes they will help and encourage you. Even if you’ve heard them before, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded.

1) No one can tell if the writing was fun or if it was hard. Trust me. I know it seems like writing that pours out of your brain in a passionate flood should be better than writing that comes slowly and miserably, but the only person who will ever know the difference is you. So no excuses—get the word count done.

2) You don’t have to believe you can; you just have to do it. I remember everyone telling me I had to think positive when I was writing my first book. If I believed I could do it, then I could! If I pictured myself published, then it was going to happen! Which sounded great, except…could I do it? If I didn’t think I could, was I doomed to fail? What if I was almost totally sure I would fail? I am here to tell you—what matters is sticking with it. Even if you don’t know if you can make it through NaNoWriMo, just get through today. Then get through tomorrow. Don’t worry about the day after that, until it’s today. Then you know what to do.

3) There aren’t good books and bad books. There are finished books and books that still need more work. Please don’t let wondering if there’s a market for your book or wondering if the book you’re writing is genius or evidence that you should be heavily medicated get in the way of the writing. Remember, right now you are not writing a good book, you are writing a good draft. Later, you will have lots of time to kill your darlings, make the suspense more suspenseful, to add foreshadowing and subplots. Later you will have time to change the beginning or change the ending or change the middle. Later, you will have time to cut and polish and engooden. For now, trust the process and write (that said, if you suddenly wake up in the middle of the night and realize what’s wrong with Chapter 7, then by all means, jot that down for later).

4) Figure out what happens next. Some people swear by outlines; other writers are like to find the story along the way. Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, before you quit for the day, write a little bit of the next scene or a couple of lines on what you think will happen next. That way, you are never looking at a blank page.

5) Write for your reader self, not your writer self. You are the best audience for your own work. If you would absolutely love a character like the one you are writing about, if you adore books like the one you are working on, then you are going to know how to make the book appealing—write it like you were the person who was going to read it. Remember the fun bits, the juicy bits, the stuff you linger over in other books—the good stuff.

6) Talk it through. When you get stuck, sometimes it helps to talk through the book out loud—even if only your cat is listening. Sometimes hearing the plot is enough to engage a different part of your brain in solving the problem.

7) Give yourself regular rewards. A fresh cup of coffee (even if it is your 353rd) when you get to the end of a scene, an episode of your favorite show, a snack, a couple of minutes rearranging your My Book is Awesome mix—if you give yourself regular motivational rewards, you will have small goals to work toward.

Over the course of this November, you are going to feel frustrated, despairing, elated and exhausted. You will walk around in a foggy haze at your job or the bank or the supermarket. People will talk to you for twenty minutes and you won’t have heard a word they said because you just thought of a fantastic new subplot. You will look up things on the internet that make you look like a serial killer. But it’s good practice—just think, once you become a professional writer, that’s how you’ll behave all the time!

Holly Black


5.  John Green,

“I think stories help us fight the nihilistic urges that constantly threaten to consume us. So here’s the pep part of my pep talk: Go spit in the face of our inevitable obsolescence and finish your @#$&ng novel.” –John Green

Dear NaNoWriMo Author,

Way down deep in the dark archives of my hard drive, I have a folder called Follies, which contains an impressive collection of abandoned stories: There’s the zombie apocalypse novel about corn genetics, the sequel, the one about the Kuwaiti American bowling prodigy, the desert island novel, and many more. These stories have only one thing in common: They’re all about 25,000 words.

Why do I quit halfway in? I get tired. It’s not fun anymore. The story kind of sucks, and it’s hard to sit down every day and spend several hours eating from a giant bowl of suck. And most of all, like the kid who spends hours preparing plastic armies for war, I enjoy setting things up more than I enjoy the battle itself. To finish something is to be disappointed. By definition, abandoned novels are more promising than completed ones.

You have likely reached the moment in this insane endeavor when you need a rock-solid answer to the question of why, precisely, you are trying to write a novel in a month. You have likely realized that your novel is not very good, at least not yet, and that finishing it will be a hell of a lot less fun than starting it was.

So quit. Quit now, or if you’re among the many of us who’ve already quit, stay quit. Look, we are all going to die. The whole species will cease to exist at some point, and there will be no one left to remember that any of us ever did anything: Our creations, all of them, will crumble, and the entire experiment of human consciousness will be filed away, unread, in the Follies folder of the great interstellar hard drive. So why write another word?

Sorry. I reached the halfway point of this pep talk and tumbled, as one does, into inconsolable despair.

Here’s my answer to the very real existential crisis that grips me midway through everything I’ve ever tried to do: I think stories help us fight the nihilistic urges that constantly threaten to consume us.

At this point, you’ve probably realized that it’s nearly impossible to write a good book in a month. I’ve been at this a while and have yet to write a book in less than three years. All of us harbor secret hopes that a magnificent novel will tumble out of the sky and appear on our screens, but almost universally, writing is hard, slow, and totally unglamorous. So why finish what you’ve started? Because in two weeks, when you are done, you will be grateful for the experience. Also, you will have learned a lot about writing and humanness and the inestimable value of tilting at windmills.

Something else about my Follies folder: It contains the final drafts of my novels Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, and Paper Towns. They are follies, too—finished ones. Whether you’re reading or writing, there is nothing magical about how you get from the middle of a book to the end of one. As Robert Frost put it, “The only way out is through.”

So here’s the pep part of my pep talk: Go spit in the face of our inevitable obsolescence and finish your @#$&ng novel.

Best wishes,

John Green

Query Basics & Tips

Hi everyone! Today I want to go through some basic querying tips to help those who are just starting that process. How do you know when you are ready to query your MS? What should a query letter include? Where can I find examples? That’s what I’m here to answer. Just know that this is a subjective business, so even if you have the best query in the world, if it doesn’t resonate with the agent or editor, it just wasn’t a good fit.

How do I know if I’m ready to query my MS?

You know when your MS is ready after a few things have happened, in this order. First, you’ve finished writing it. Duh. And congrats! Second, you go through it at least once, probably twice on your own. Then, third, you have someone else look at it, preferably multiple someones—hopefully your critique partners and beta readers. Fourth, you’ve revised your MS according to their comments. Take each feedback set with a grain of salt—everyone has their own opinion. But if the same thing gets mentioned, consider fixing that.

This may be my own personal opinion because of how well it’s worked in my critique group, but consider having CP’s and beta’s who read and write in genres different than your own. That way, if they’re hooked, you know you’ve hit the mark and they can help you with things they’re better at. For instance, I write mostly sci-fi and fantasy, whereas all three of my critique partners don’t. They write thrillers, romance, and mystery stories. Without them, I wouldn’t even know how to attempt writing romance.

Lastly, once you’ve done all that—and that’s a lot of work!—you must write a query letter and, I’d suggest doing this now to save yourself the trouble, a synopsis.

**Note: THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A QUERY LETTER AND A SYNOPSIS** which you should pay attention to, because I see a lot of agents on Twitter who say people who query them don’t know the difference. Here it is:

A query is like the blurb on the back of a book. It tells you the main characters, the setting, the inciting incident, and what’s at stake if they fail. That’s it. You do not tell the ending. You do keep it to a reasonable word count length—ie. Ideally less than 300 words.

A synopsis is just that—a synopsis of the book. A synopsis has the same details as a query letter, but it tells the reader exactly how the book ends, what the side-plots are, and adds in a few more characters. Synopses vary in length depending on what the requesting agent wants, though, so be sure to form one-page, three-page, and five-page versions just in case.

How do I write a query letter?

As we’ve already discussed, query letters have a few essential parts: intro, hook, main characters (no more than 3), inciting incident, goal, and what’s at stake if your characters fail. That’s a lot to get into ideally less than 300 words!

More than that, you also need to include the title of your work (duh!), the word count, age category (PB, Children’s, Middle Grade, Young Adult, New Adult, Adult) and genre.

Tips here:

  1. Research word counts. Know how many words are ideal for books in both your age category and genre. A 100,000 MG Contemporary Romance probably needs to get cut and reconsidered, but a YA Dystopian like the Hunger Games sat just right at 85,000 words.
  2. DO NOT SELECT MULTIPLE GENRES. Know your genre. Saying a YA Contemporary Romance is fine (blending contemporary with romance), but saying you have a NA Sci-Fi Fantasy Romance Thriller is not. You know what sounds right and what doesn’t, so use your common sense.

Now you’re ready to query. But who to query?

I suggest using Query Tracker to find agents representing your category and genre. It’s a free membership and it is brilliant. Once you make a list of agents, research them. Find interviews they did on blogs, stalk follow them on Twitter. Find out who they represent and which books they have published. Read one or two of them. Use them as comparative titles if you can—but make sure your novel stands out from any they have previously published. If they already have a client with a book just like yours, they probably won’t take you on.

Build a list, and prioritize agents by who your dream agents are. Then, when you’re ready, send the first batch out. I would recommend not querying your dream agent first. Why? Because you want to make sure your query and sample pages are doing their job correctly before you do that. If your query lacks something and that’s all your dream agent wants first, you’ll want to know that (and fix your query) before you go ahead and send anything to that agent. If your query is getting a lot of requests, then feel free to send it to that dream agent.

**There is a school of thought, here, and even a great recommendation by agents, to not query agents and small publishers at the same time. Daliah Adler has a great article on her blog here that covers the whys and why nots much better than I ever could. READ THAT ARTICLE.**

That’s all my basic tips for today. If you have any specific questions, ask them in the comments 🙂 I’m working on getting a guest post from an agency intern on how to write a great query letter.

Until next time!