Happy 2016!

So, another year has drawn to a close and the time has come for The Print Posse to share their resolutions for 2016.

It’s resolution time…

Yanicke’s Resolutions for 2016

I have to say I’m feeling very excited for the year ahead. So much has happened in the last 12 months, both in my writing and professional lives, I don’t even dare to predict what lies in the coming seasons. Nevertheless, I do have a few goals I’m eager to strive for that, hopefully, I’ll be able to achieve regardless of any obstacles or surprises that rear their heads.

So without further ado, here are my resolutions for 2016…

1. Complete at least one chapter per month of my WIP rewrite.

To date, I have finished rewriting chapter 1 and most of chapter 2 of my YA fantasy, A Nightmare’s Betrayal. If I can rewrite one chapter every month, by the time 2017 rolls around I should have 14 out of 20 chapters done. That would be awesome!

2. Meet The Print Posse gals in person – yes, Gabbie, Fiona and Karen, that means you!

3. Resurrect my personal blog which has fallen to the wayside in previous months.

Every December and January I visit with my family in Tasmania. During the quiet and peaceful times that ensue, I often find myself dreaming of and reminiscing about faraway places from movies & novels I love. I thought that seeing I post about all my writing adventures and escapades on The Print Posse blog, I might divert the focus of my personal blog to more personal topics – namely, my favourite things. Recipes, movies, books and other things that inspire. So that is what I am going to do this year.

4. Attend the Byron Bay Writers Festival – see #2 above.

5. Read more.

Reading is something I don’t do often enough as any free time I do manage to secure for myself I usually devote to writing. However, over the Christmas period this year I read some amazing novels and am keen to continue this practice throughout the coming months.

So, there you have it folks. Five small goals to guide me through 2016. I look forward to revisiting them 12 months time and hopefully I will have achieved them all… plus some 😀

Happy new year!

Signature

 

 

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Dear Santa,

All I want for Christmas...

All I want for Christmas…

Dear Santa,

Thank you for all the beautiful treasures you gave us last Christmas.  It seems like only a minute ago we were unwrapping our gifts and eating too much pudding… and yet here we are again!

We have been good girls all year.  We haven’t been pouting or crying or shouting.  We have been extra nice and we have tried really really really hard to honour our creativity and imaginations.

Please find attached our Christmas wish lists for 2015.  We understand that you cannot provide us with everything on the list – that’s why we’ve gone ahead and given you plenty of ideas.

Gabbie would like:

  • A wonderful publisher for her YA fiction Downhill
  • Plenty of time to devote to writing and staring into space
  • A limited edition signed Freya Blackwood picture to hang in her writing room
  • Any YA fiction or Australian Fiction from her fave local bookstore Candelo Books
  • Opportunities
  • Courage
  • Discipline
gabbie_red_santa_hat

Santa Gabbie

 

Fiona would like:

  • Some beautiful pens that glide across the page and make her feel like a writer simply because she is holding them.
  • Novels to read, in particular Kate Morton’s The Lake House.
  • Time to write, revise and re-submit.
  • The patience to wait until her manuscript is ready before submitting it to competitions, agents or publishers.
  • More knowledge about writing.
  • A writing retreat with The Print Posse.
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Santa Fiona

 

Yanicke would like:

  • Her very own literary agent who will love her work and share her dreams.
  • Books 1, 2 and 3 in Maggie’s Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle series. She’s been holding off on devouring these books until the release of book 4 was on the horizon. The thought of finishing book 3 and not being able to read book 4 straightaway was horrifying!
  • A writing retreat in her new home she can escape to whenever the urge to write strikes.
  • Energy, so she can work those long days and still manage to stay awake long enough at night to write a paragraph or two before bed.
  • The opportunity to meet her Print Posse pals in person… FINALLY!
  • Oh, and a ticket to Kate Forsyth’s HISTORY, MYSTERY & MAGIC tour to Oxford & the Cotswolds in June.

But Santa, if you’re feeling particularly generous this year, Yanicke would adore her last two Christmas wishes combined all into one – tickets for all the Print Posse gals 🙂

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Santa Yanicke

 

We hope you have safe travels on December 24th.  Remember to deliver plenty of books to all the little girls and boys.

Yours in wonder,

Gabbie, Fiona & Yanicke aka The Print Posse

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Gabbie’s Got A Hot Date

We interrupt your viewing of The Print Posse’s Month of Letter Writing to bring you this update of Gabbie’s Hot Speed Dating Session…

 

Okay – so it was a Literary Speed Dating session and it wasn’t ‘hot’ in the steamy and passionate sense. But in all other regards it was exactly like a date. There were the usual conundrums of what to wear and what to say as well as a few additional nerve-janglers only associated with a pitching-event:

what if I get a flat out rejection?

what if every publisher in the room says ‘no’?

what if they ask me something that I don’t know?

 

Before the date, I worked diligently planning my outfit – nah just kidding – I finalised my manuscript, making sure it was ready to be sent off if requested. I wrote out my pitch and then I ran it by my galfriends here at The Posse. They helped me tweak it and twist it until it sounded just right. Together, we whittled it down until it was a 2-minute pitch.

I read and re-read the guidelines and followed them like a very good girl. I printed copies of my manuscript, as well as a one page Literary CV and dusted off copies of my previous publication.

I even went out and had business cards designed and printed. It was something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and this event was a great excuse. Again, The Posse helped me with the wording, agonising over three descriptive words and the placement of a semi-colon. {Side note: Every writer needs a Posse – especially if you’re thinking about Literary Dating. Possibly also regular dating.}

Anyhoo… so the business cards… Ta dahhhh!

Bus_Card_Promo

(They look fabulous don’t you think?)

While we drove to Sydney (from Merimbula – 6 hours, thank you to my sponsors; husband and kids dragged along for moral support) I practised my pitch. Conservatively, I ran through it about… fifty hundred times. My 7 year old daughter acted as prompt from the back seat and can now confidently add contemporary, resonate and compelling to her vocabulary.  By the time we hit Campbelltown, the four year old was correcting me.

At the event, I was as dry mouthed and heart thunderingly nervous as if a much younger me was going on a date with a super-cutey (think Eddie Perfect).

Eddie

The event was organised by the Australian Society of Authors, which is kind of like every Aussie writer’s posse and if you’re not already a member then you should seriously think about joining up. This year, I’ve participated in their Virtual Writers’ Group with Charlotte Wood and Alison Manning. This was an unspeakably good experience that deeply enriched me as a writer. In the past I’ve been awarded an ASA mentorship and received contract advice from them, so I can’t say it enough…. they’re an awesome organisation.

In the waiting room, dozens of authors stood around awkwardly clutching their notes and mumbling their pitches. A very loose and unstructured line began to form as various publishers and agents were ushered into the conference room. When the doors were opened, there was an overwhelming identity-shift as these nervy, mild-mannered writer-types suddenly surged forward as though we were at Myer’s Boxing Day sales!

Here’s how it worked. You lined up in front of your preferred publisher. I had my eye on Kimberley Bennett from Random House Children’s Books and Kate Stevens Junior Commissioning Editor from Hachette. Grace Heifetz from Curtis Brown (Literary Agent) was also there and I hoped I might pitch to her as well, but within a minute of the door opening the line to see Grace was loooooong. Clearly, Grace was the Hottie at this Speed Dating Session.

A hooter (yep, like at a sports event) was sounded and the first in line had three minutes with the publisher/agent. During that time they were expected to pitch their novel/idea/poem/picture book and answer any of the publisher’s questions. When the hooter sounded again it was the next person’s turn. After you pitched, you could line up and pitch to someone else.

My first pitch was with Kimberley of Random. As I stood in the line I was thinking “Why am I doing this to myself?”  The nerves were similar to those I’d experienced before going for my P plates, job interviews, major exams or those harrowing moments before entering the labour ward. I was desperate for a drink of water, but that was the one thing I hadn’t brought.  It wouldn’t be appropriate to lick the sweat from my palms so I glanced around for any water stations and that’s when I noticed Kimberley had a glass and a whole jug of water in front of her.   The hooter blared and I sat down in front of Kimberley, resisting the delirium of my water-parched nerves that were telling me to drink her water.  (I may or may not have taken a few deep and noisy “I’m in labour” breaths – the memory is somewhat hazy.)

I launched into my pitch without a stumble and had only one significant pause where I completely lost my place. Kimberley made thoughtful comments, accepted my (gorgeous) business card and CV and handed me her business card and told me to send my manuscript through via email!!!!! (Yes five exclamation points are warranted.)  The hooter blared and I left the table,  filled with some kind of writerly-endorphin rush that made me feel as triumphant as the moment I finish a manuscript.

I found the line for Kate at Hachette and proudly waited my turn.

The second pitch went equally as well, although Kate refused all my well-prepared paperwork, instead handing me her card and saying “Email me all of this and your manuscript.”

Hazahhhh!!!!!! (Six – I know, but I will still argue each one is warranted.)

By this time, there was only forty minutes left and the line for Grace at Curtis Brown was a forty two minute wait. I boldly abandoned that plan and pitched instead to Joel Naoum of Momentum Pan Macmillan who don’t even publish the kind of YA fiction I write. But, it was a chance to practise my pitch and gain some feedback.

Then – with a bold and confident speed dating swagger – I sat down with Emily Stewart from NewSouth Publishing and had a chat about a non-fiction book I’ve got lurking in the back of my mind. No pitch prepared – just a casual little Q & A session, how confident was I becoming??  Confident enough to use two question marks.  Again – gained some great feedback and encouragement.

It was an exhilarating experience and I mean that – if you don’t think writing can invoke heavy breathing, dry mouthed, heart pounding mania then you’ve never been a literary speed dater! Every writer should try this once! I met some fabulous writers while I was waiting in line and built my burgeoning writing network a little more. I also got to connect with ASA staff that I’ve dealt with in the virtual world, but not in real life. The preparation meant that I really got to know my manuscript and honing the pitch to a two-minute spiel helped me consolidate the heartland of my story.

Next time, I probably wouldn’t lug three copies of my manuscript and previous publication around with me.

I probably wouldn’t get so hung up on learning my pitch word for word.

I would probably anticipate the most popular publications/agents and make a bee-line for them at the beginning.

And I would probably bring a drink.

 

 

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A letter to my younger writer-self

Dear Me (aged 16),

You are bursting with expectation and impatient to start life, I know, but just bear with me for a moment because there’s something I need you to do: don’t stop writing.

When you leave home just before you turn seventeen, you will enter a world where writing doesn’t seem to fit.

Make it fit.

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At 16, you feel as though you can take on the world.

For though this new world will be exciting and liberating, it is one that holds unimaginable lows. And though these times are not permanent, writing – as you will discover much, much later in life – will be your release. It will be your escape hatch.

So when you’re awake and alone in the hospital at 3am and the pain threatens to drown you, write. No, you won’t be able to sit up or even concentrate on words printed on a page, but there will be a cassette walkman and it can record.

Use it.

Writing is the best drug. It can set you free, it can stop you from falling over the edge.

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To write is to find the light through the darkness.

You’ve always loved to write. You’ve always intended to one day write a book. Don’t wait for the right time.

Keep writing.

You can not control anything in life except for the words you write on the page and the worlds you create in your imagination.

When the most important friendship in your life fails, and grief and despair engulf you, write.

When life is hard, write.

When life is good, write.

Write for yourself. Write for the characters in your mind. Set those daydreams free and you will be amazed at the weight they release with them.

Write because it is one of your favourite things in life to do and because it brings you pure joy.

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To write is to feel a beautiful freedom.

Don’t let your writing feel like a childish past time you need to leave behind.

It is not. It is part of you and always will be.

Don’t ever stop writing.

x Fiona

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Dear Me,

Dear Me (circa 2000),

Okay – bad news. You are not going to get a book written and published in your special three week ‘Olympic School Holidays’.

Good news – you are going to get a book written. And published.

Settle down, stop jumping around, settle down! Breathe.

This all happens in nine years time.

Try not to be disappointed. I know it seems like a long time between now and then, but you have much to learn, Grasshopper.  Even beyond publication you have much to learn.

You have much to look forward to as well. You are going to find a place – a magical, amazing writing haven called Varuna.

Varuna

Varuna

There you will meet your writing soul-mate. Her name is Jess and her connection with you will change your life. Jess will be your champion – believing in you with rugged determination that cannot be feigned. When you are ready to give up this lonely sport called writing, her encouragement will propel you and publication will follow.

Jess

Jess

Your first novel will be a YA fiction, arriving just twelve months after the birth of your first baby girl. You will celebrate with a massive book launch and Jess will be beside you.

Me & Jess launching my novel

Me & Jess launching my novel

The room will be filled with love and support. This will be a deliciously happy time in your life.

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Books for sale!

You do not have Jess for long.

And when she leaves, it will be unbearable.

But you must write. Write. And keep on writing, carrying her with you like a burr on your sock. Like a tattoo on your skin. Like a shadow. Like a muse, an idea, a memory.

After publication and after Jess there will be a time. The time will be hard. The time will feel vacant and barren. But as it passes you will discover it wasn’t unproductive – it was lying fallow, becoming fertile and regenerating.

You will meet new friends and form a Posse. Crazy I know, but it will make sense to you.

The Print Posse

They will hold you up, stretch you out and push you forward. They will lend you their ears, their shoulders, their ideas and their courage. Together you will write your way forward. Maybe the Posse is a gift from Jess. You will never know.

A troublesome second novel will take some time – several years – but during that time you will learn so much. You will return to magical Varuna. You will discover the amazing synergy between reading and writing. You will find Kate and have Wednesday Write Ins! You will forge a deep and loving connection with your writing mentor Peter. You will know that writing is so much more than publication.

My mentor Peter Bishop

Beyond that? Who knows! I feel confident it will be wonderful and satisfying and productive and best of all – creative. There will be more novels, more publications, more articles, more friends, more money and more riches of a higher kind. And through it all, you will write. Write. Write and keep on writing.

Remember what Jess told you – you’re very talented.

You're very talented.

You’re very talented!

But for now, get back to your three-week-novel. Every story must start somewhere.

I love you,

Gab xxx

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A note to my younger writer-self…

Gabbie recently came across a book by Carmel Bird entitled

Dear Writer…revisited….

The book was originally published as Dear Writer in 1988 and Carmel – an accomplished writer herself – wrote the book as a kind of quirky ‘how to’ writing book.

Dear Writer Revisited is a collection of letters from an experienced writer to a woman who has sent her own stories to be assessed.” (p.xvi)

The premise is intriguing – don’t you think?

So the challenge for The Print Posse this month is to write a letter to themselves… what would today’s writer tell the tentative youngster who was just starting out?

As usual, Yanicke leads us into the month…. (cos she is a legend hehehe :p )

note to youger writer self

Dear me,

Run for the hills! Don’t do it! Forget your dreams of being a writer and just be. Be a normal person, live a normal existence. Don’t condemn yourself to a life of maddening passion.

Once you go down that path there is no turning back.

Never again will you be able to enjoy a day doing nothing, an hour relaxing, a minute kicking back. The word holiday will no longer be in your vocabulary. Your mind will be constantly plotting and planning, dreaming and scheming. Every free moment will be snatched, secreted away, devoted to your craft.

Never again will you be able to read a book for the simple pleasure of reading. You will dissect every line, analyse every paragraph, and always with an eye to technique and strategy.

Never again will you hear a song and think of how much it speaks to you. Instead, every word will belong to your characters, every note will chronicle their pain and longing.

Never again will you have enough time – time to think up stories, time to share them with the world.

No, if you walk the path of being a writer you will never know peace again.

But…

All your sadness will be gone and your heart will be full to bursting. Not only with the usual blessings that come with growing up, like love and family and career – although you will have them too – but with plots and ideas and fantasies, entire worlds’ worth.

You will know excitement and yearning – excitement for all the stories you dream of writing, and yearning for enough time to write them.

You will be surrounded by others who share your passion and exuberance – other writers, poets, artists who are just as crazed and tormented as you are – and they will shine a little light on your world.

And you will show your children it’s possible to be whatever and whomever you want to be, that chasing your dreams is a legitimate career-choice, and making those dreams a reality, totally do-able.

So yes…

Run for the hills! Don’t do it! Forget your dreams of being a writer and just be. Be a normal person, live a normal life. Don’t condemn yourself to a life of maddening passion.

Signature

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Five books for a desert island…

Well, week four has rolled around again, so it’s time for a bonus post from The Print Posse.

This week, each of us will take turns answering the following question (an oldie but a goodie)…

“You’re packing your bag for that other desert island—the one with no electricity—what 5 books/series do you take with you?”

Yanicke

1. The Secret Diaries Series by Janice Harrell
My all-time favourite series – I could read it over and over again and never get bored. Think Donna Tartt’s The Secret History for teens.

2. The Wolves of Mercy Falls by Maggie Stiefvater
Brilliant, beautiful and bittersweet – what more can I say?

3. Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer
I know, I know, but I can’t help it… I have a soft spot for Jacob ❤

4. The Last Vampire Series by Christopher Pike
Mr Pike was my #1 favourite author as a teen 🙂 I also love The Eternal Enemy and Monster.

5. The Vampire Diaries Series by LJ Smith
Where Elena is a blonde and Bonnie a red-headed firecracker (who happens to be descended from the druids).

Three of these series came out in the 1990s when I was a teen! I guess I never got over them 🙂 No wonder I grew up to write YA fiction…

secret diaries shiver twilight vampire diaries last vampire

 

Fiona

1. Daughter of Smoke and Bone Series by Laini Taylor
I love this series so much. Laini Taylor is one of my personal writing heroes and her prose is beautiful.

2. The Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris
The series differs significantly at times from the show and though I’m a fan of both, the books are better. I mean, Quinn the weretiger? True Blood fans seriously missed out.

3. Throne of Glass Series by Sarah J Maas
Another of my all time favourite series and authors.

4. Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil
This book is definitely in my holiday bag just so I could laugh at the hilarity of Sam’s awkwardness.

5. The Graceling Realm Series by Kristin Cashore
Three books with different main characters set in the same world – adventure, love, terror – this series has it all.

DOSAB_hbfront 301082 Throne-of-Glass-UK 16119664 (1) graceling

 

Gabbie

1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
When I finished reading this book I made the tentative declaration:  “This might have been the best book I have ever read.”

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2.  The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend

It’s just so laugh out loud funny.  Trust me.

3.  Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

Just read this book okay?  I promise you’ll love it.

Jasper

4.  The Catcher In The Rye by JD Salinger

“I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all.  Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean except me.  And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff.  What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff…”

*sigh* Holden Caulfield – you get me every time.  Every. Time.

Catcher

5.  Hmmm…. what to choose? what to choose? Ummmm…. Maybe The Hunger Games?  By Suzanne Collins.  Do we get to share the books?  Are we stuck on the island together?  Would it be wrong to choose the one book I’ve had published?  Shouldn’t someone grab a survival guide?

Guys?

 

Hey guys?

 

A map?

 

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Revision

In The Writing Book – A Workbook for Fiction Writers Kate Grenville explains that whilst plots are important, they’re not what makes you read a book.

Life has no plot!

Life has no plot!

If a plot was all there was to it, it would be enthralling to have someone tell you the plot of a book you haven’t read. And having someone tell you the plot of a book you haven’t read is hardly ever enthralling… Plot is one of the most artificial qualities of the artificial construct called fiction. Life doesn’t have plot: life just has a flow of events.

(2009, pp. 142-3)

My stories come to me not as a plot but as a character (a voice) and a series of scenes. I write the scenes down and discover the story and the character. Even when I try to wrangle my stories into a “plot” they become unmanageable and restless. So I’ve given up! I accept that my stories are primarily about examining the human condition and that the story will spring from my character’s voice and their experience of their own plot-less life.

This means that when I’m revising, I don’t think about Goal, Motivation and Conflict. I tend to think more about the fabric of my writing.

I consider the fabric of my stories.

I consider the fabric of my writing.

What is conveyed?

What is left out?

Can the reader breathe?

Is there a strong sensory element?

I like to examine my work at the word level, pruning and pruning the wild bush that grew when I did my “hot writing” splurge. I look for repeated words, clichés, words ending in _ly, long sentences, short sentences and the quality of my dialogue. I read it out loud, scribbling and re-writing until it has a certain poetry to it.

Here's me pruning the unwieldy bush that is my first draft!

Here’s me pruning the unwieldy bush that is my first draft!

As I revise I’m always thinking show show show (don’t tell).

Here are three examples of recent revisions:

Example 1

First draft
It was getting late by the time I got home. There was no one in the house though and the place felt hollow.
Later draft
It was getting late by the time I got home. Nuts wasn’t slumped at the door and there was no one in the house. The place felt hollow.

Example 2

First draft
This was all about Bern. The champion. I let the word focus fill my skull.
Later draft
This was all about Bern. The champion.  Focus.  I let the word fill my skull.

Example 3

First draft
It was an effort. Just staying up that day and not crawling back into bed, but I did it. I followed Gus out to the kitchen for breakfast with Mum and Dad. I could tell they were pleased to see me. They both tried too hard to act normal so I carried on as though nothing had happened either. I made toast and Dad passed me a knife.
Later draft
It was an effort just trying to stay awake that day, but I did it. I followed Gus out to the kitchen for breakfast with Mum and Dad. They were pleased to see me, but they tried too hard to act normal. I made toast and Dad passed me a knife.

When I reflect on my favourite books, they’re more about character than plot.  Getting to know and love the characters is what keeps me turning the pages. I loved Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye. I still consider Adrian Mole one of my mates (since I’ve read all his diaries).

Love love LOVED Adrian Mole. (And Pandora and Bert Baxter and Nigel...)

Love love LOVED Adrian Mole. (And Pandora and Bert Baxter and Nigel…)

I think Helen Garner and Christos Tsiolkas create characters that are memorable and realistic – when I recall their books I recall characters before plots.Garner Barra

There are as many ways of revising as there are authors in the world.  So – don’t leave us hanging here by a thread… how do you revise?  Do you think about each scene?  Do you question Goal, Motivation and Conflict? Do you examine your word choices and interrogate your characters? Click into the comments box below and share your wisdom.  We would love to hear it!

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Is Life Too Easy for Your Main Character?

“Write the book you wish to read.”

It’s an inspiring thought. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what I did. This was a big problem for my first manuscript.

Here’s what happened. I was fed up with reading about characters I liked having life dump on them continuously. Things kept getting worse for them. Why couldn’t they just be happy? Maybe I was fatigued from Songs of Ice and Fire but I needed books to become my happy place again. So that’s what I wrote – a sweet, inspiring, romantic tale of joy. The storyline contained some minor complications but generally, we watched as the MC fell in love for the first time.

Awwww.

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A feel-good story about love does not necessarily make for an enthralling read.

It was sweet. It was lovely. It was not the way to write a story.

In July this year I attended the CYA Conference and had the opportunity to hear author Kaz Delany deliver a workshop on GMC -Goal, Motivation and Conflict. The workshop was called, ‘How to Avoid a Saggy Middle’ and as I sat and took notes, a trickle of doubt slowly filled my stomach.

My first manuscript had minimal GMC – Goal, Motivation and Conflict.

G: – What does your character want?

M: – Why do they really want it?

C: – What stops them from achieving or obtaining it?

Check out Debra Dixon’s book, Goal, Motivation and Conflict for more information.

I attempted to ignore my GMC doubts and continued on my querying way. But the thought remained – my MC had things way too easy. Was that the deal breaker?

In September, I sent my work to an editor for feedback and guess what the overriding issue was?

Not enough GMC.

Damn.

Out came my notes from Kaz’s workshop and I set about plotting some problems for my MC. At the same time I was reading Queen of Shadows by Sara J. Maas and noting how every single chapter had loads of GMC, not only for the main players but for the supporting ones as well.

Maas takes me on a ride of emotions in each of her books because NOTHING comes easy for her characters. She bleeds them – emotionally, physically and mentally. As a reader, we journey with them and it’s all because of GMC.

With writing my WIP, The Yokai Hunter, adding GMC to each scene came more naturally than it did with my first manuscript. Let’s look at my (very, very rough and unedited) first draft I shared previously on The Print Posse blog.

Goal: Leighton wants to be good at being a Yokai Hunter.

Motivation: She wants to make her dad proud and prove her own strength.

Conflict: When she finally comes face to face with a yokai, she is too stunned to react and lets the demon walk free.

While the scene has a LONG way to go before it is polished, you can see the GMC building blocks.

Now let’s look at how the experts do it.

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Buffy The Vampire Slayer Once More With Feeling

One of my favourite ever pieces of television is the Buffy The Vampire Slayer Once More With Feeling episode. This episode was written and directed by the master of writing himself, Joss Whedon, and is heavy in subtext, character development and laugh out loud moments.

In this episode a demon named Sweet has been summoned to Sunnydale and cast a spell making everyone sing about their deepest fears and secrets. Buffy opens the episode with the song, Going Through the Motions as she stakes vampires and rescues the handsome guy, all in a day’s work.

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Going Through the Motions

Goal: Buffy wants to feel. Something, anything. She also wants her friends to believe she is happy and that her optimism towards life is real even though it is all an act.

Motivation: Since her return, Buffy has been indifferent and detached from life to the extent where she places herself in near-suicidal situations. She is numb.

“I touch the fire and it freezes me/I look into it and it’s black/Why can’t I feel?/My skin should crack and peel/I want the fire back!”

buffy i want the fire back omwf

Walk Through the Fire

Conflict: Being sent to kill Sweet and rescue her sister is not the conflict she must face – it’s being forced via song into confronting and revealing her feelings or lack there of, to her friends.

Here’s the same episode but with a focus on Anya.

Goal: Anya wants Xander to tell her what she means to him and be convinced they will live happily ever after.

Motivation: Anya has a deep-seated mistrust of men (not surprising considering all her years as a vengeance demon) and is doubtful of Xander’s true feelings for her. She is worried he will betray and break her heart.

Conflict: With the spell cast over Sunnydale, Anya and Xander are forced to sing about their relationship fears and communicate their emotions through this very personal form of expression. They don’t want to hurt the other but both harbour doubts over the longevity of their relationship. Rather than clearing the air, expressing their concerns adds weight to the shadow looming over their engagement.

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Supporting characters Anya and Xander experience their own GMC.

Identifying GMC in other works such as books or TV shows is a great way of sharpening your own skills. Next time you lose yourself in a fictional dream, ask yourself:

Goal – What does the character want?

Motivation – Why do they want it?

Conflict – Why can’t they have it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and make my characters’ lives much more difficult.

*rubs hands together gleefully*

Categories: Motivation and Conflict, Writing | 2 Comments

Scenes – to be or not to be? That is the question…

Revision. It’s something every writer must face at some point in their writing journey.

This month, Fiona, Gabbie and I will take turns delving into specific aspects of the revision process.

That is the question...

That is the question…

Scenes. The building blocks of a novel. A well-written scene captures the reader’s attention, holds it and then leaves the reader wanting more. But what makes a scene well-written?

From what I have gathered over the years, from participating in writing courses, researching on the net, and trial and error, is that it boils down to one thing: a scene must move the story forward. Of course, other things are important too – like good grammar, interesting dialogue, vivid world building and all that jazz.

But if a scene doesn’t move the story forward, it’s pointless. It’s weak. It’s failing to live up to its potential. Effectively, the writer is taking a huge risk that they will lose the reader’s attention, and the reader will put down the book, walk away and never return. They’re also squandering the opportunity to make their novel a page-turner.

Scenes are the building blocks of a novel...

Scenes are the building blocks of a novel…

So how does a writer who is revising their novel determine whether their scenes advance the story?

A scene that moves the story forward has three elements:

(i) Setting and Action – it informs the reader of where the character is and what they are doing.

(ii) GMC (goal, motivation and conflict):

  • Goal – what the character wants;
  • Motivation – why the character wants to achieve this goal;
  • Conflict – the obstacle preventing the character from achieving this goal. This can be another character (whose goal is at odds with the main character’s goal) or an external obstacle.

(iii) Twist – something that changes everything.

It can be something that surprises the reader or raises new questions. This is the element that drags the reader into the next scene and makes your novel a page-turner – by making the reader want to know more.

The twist is the key to page-turning scenes...

The twist is the key to page-turning scenes…

A good place to study scenes is – surprise, surprise – in movies and television series. Screenwriters are very adept at crafting effective scenes. It might have something to do with the fact that time restraints (and therefore screenplay length) are extremely limited, so every scene must count.

To illustrate, let’s analyse a scene from a TV series many people are familiar with – Buffy the Vampire Slayer – written by, none other than screenwriting legend, Joss Whedon.

Scene 1, Episode 1 – Welcome to the Hellmouth.

Setting and Action
A boy and a girl are breaking into a school at night.

GMC – this scene is stuffed full of GMC.
The boy wants to go up on top of the gym. He says it’s because the view up there is amazing. But really he wants to get the girl alone and make out.
The girl doesn’t want to go up there. She’s scared and doesn’t want to get into trouble. Or maybe she simply doesn’t want to make out with the boy – after all, if you can see the whole town from up there, the whole town can probably see you.
They hear a noise. She thinks it’s something to be concerned about. He doesn’t.
Conflict, conflict, conflict.

Then BOOM!

Twist
She is a vampire. So there was something to be concerned about – just not what the boy (or viewer) was expecting.

Joss Whedon: The Boring-Scene Slayer...

Joss Whedon: The Boring-Scene Slayer…

Some things to keep in mind:

  • A scene must end after the twist – if the scene continues, you lose the I-have-to-read-more effect on the reader.
  • The twist doesn’t have to be an earth-shattering event – it can be subtle (eg. a new character arriving on the scene, the main character becoming aware of something previously hidden to them). For example, in Scene 2, Episode 1 of Buffy, Buffy is trapped in a nightmare. She wakes up and then her mother calls out “you don’t want to be late for your first day”. This new piece of information is the twist and pulls the viewer into the next scene – Buffy’s first day at a new school.
  • A good way to determine whether your scene moves the story forward is by looking at your character. Does your character arc within the scene (ie. do they feel/act/think differently at the end of the scene than they did at the beginning)?
  • Action doesn’t have to be a car chase or a fight scene. It can be introspection or dialogue, BUT ONLY if it moves the story forward. This can be through character development or by revealing backstory – but this new information must be critical (ie. it affects the main plotline or a subplot). Simply revealing generic information about a character or their past is not enough. For example, if your entire scene comprises your character waking up, eating breakfast and engaging in small talk with her mum about how the toaster keeps burning the toast, you need to get rid of it (even if the banter is witty and clever*) – UNLESS the overzealous toaster is critical to the story line (ie. your character suspects her mum is having an affair with the pool boy who just so happens to prefer his toast burnt)

* in the event that the witty banter reveals something cool about a character or relationship and you REALLY don’t want to throw it away, take that banter from the pointless scene and merge that into a scene that moves the story forward, or salvage the scene by adding some conflict and a twist.

Often pointless scenes creep into our stories because they are transition scenes – boring scenes we think we need to write to fill a gap between two incredible, story-changing, can’t-put-the-book-down scenes. Just get rid of them. Go directly from one critical scene to the next, and only write those scenes you can’t wait to write – these are the scenes the reader can’t wait to read. You can always add a few sentences to explain what happened in between if you feel it’s necessary.

And remember, scenes that are boring to write are boring to read.

Make your novel a page-turner by injecting conflict into your scenes...

Want to make your novel a page turner? Inject some good old-fashioned action and GMC into your scenes… with a twist!

So that’s it from me.

In the next two weeks, Gabbie will be sharing some of her secret revision wisdom, and Fiona will be delving more deeply into the concept of GMC and how it relates not only to scenes but to the story as a whole.

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