Three Movies that Are Great at Dropping Clues about Characters

3 (Three) 3

Are you working foreshadowing into your story? OK, good, but are you doing it in a clever way?

Consider this example I just read online.

“Foreshadowing is a warning of a future event through context clues in storytelling. In a movie like Jurassic Park, the foreshadowing is subtle. When the helicopter is landing to take them to the park, Dr. Grant (Sam Neill) only has two female connectors to his seat belt. So what does he do? Well, life finds a way and he ties them together, foreshadowing later when we find out the dinosaurs are reproducing unchecked inside the park.”

I loved reading that! And there are other great examples from three of my favorite movies.

  1. Becca in Pitch Perfect sings her own song at the audition. We know from this scene that she’s not going to just sing what people tell her to sing. She’s also late, which means she doesn’t follow the rules and do what’s expected.
  2. Cady in Mean Girls, her name is pronounced two ways. This shows that she’s not quite sure who she is, and neither is anyone else. Also, it sounds like “catty” and she gets sucked into some very not-nice behaviors.
  3. Bring It On – Torrance’s bad dream in the opening is about being naked in front the school, or being exposed, and she is embarrassed and humiliated. And guess what? She uncovers and exposes a huge secret and is embarrassed and humiliated. Torrance’s dream comes true when she learns Big Red has been stealing their cheers.

Three Things I Used to do as a Beginning Writer (But Now I Don’t)

 

Welcome to the next part of the Three Things series! Want to catch up on some other Three Things?

Three Things I Ask My Critique Partners 

Three Things I Give My Critique Partners

I’ve been a writer for a long time – all the way back to when I started a literary journal in seventh grade. And I’ve been a member of SCBWI for over 10 years! I’ve learned a lot over that time, and picked up some very useful habits.

But there are a few things that I used to do as a beginning writer that I don’t do anymore. Why don’t I do them? Sometimes it’s because I’m lazy. Sometimes it’s because I forgot that I used to do them and just got out of the habit. Maybe I should start doing them again! And sometimes it’s because I learned a new, better way to handle things.

Here are three things I used to do that I don’t do anymore.

  1. Write out my story by hand first. I used to love writing by hand. I filled notebook after notebook. But as I got to be a better typist, I could type as fast as I was thinking. It was hard to keep up with my thoughts when I writing by hand. I still journal by hand, but I usually start my stories by typing now, and usually in Scrivener.
  2. Worry about starting in the wrong spot. I don’t do this anymore, because I know I can always go back and change things. I just start writing my story at what feels like the best spot. Yes, sometimes this means when I’m revising, I will go back and delete the first two, three or even four chapters. But that’s better than rewriting my first chapter over and over and over and not making any progress. It also helps that I outline my stories first, so I generally have a strong idea of the right place to begin.
  3. Complete a full character profile sheet on every character before I start a story. Uh oh, does this sound like blasphemy? Oh well. I don’t do it. I don’t interview my characters or write out their full backstory. But I do know their wants and needs, their misbeliefs, and their funny habits. I jot down a few important things, then I move forward. I used to try to do these things, but it really became a big source of procrastination for me. So I stopped doing them, and my stories have turned out just fine. Sometimes it’s important to figure out what works for you, instead of doing what every other writer says is required.

 

I wish I could say that while I used to have imposter syndrome, I don’t have it anymore, but that’s not true. I think there is always going to be something in my brain that makes me ask, “am I really doing OK at this?” It has gotten a little easier to answer, “yes, you are doing fine.” And I hope that it gets easier for you, too, if you have the same issue.

Three Things I Ask My Critique Partner Before I Give Any Feedback

Do you belong to a critique group? If you want to be a writer, and you want to sell your work, I truly believe you need to join at least one critique group. For best results, I think more than one critique group is the best way to go. And it’s even better if you can get into different critique groups with different kinds of writers.

I’m in three groups. One is with people who live nearby and we meet face to face. The other two are online. The first online one is made up of writers who mostly write nonfiction. The second group is all agented writers. I get incredible feedback from every group, but I also get a variety of different kinds of feedback. Each group helps me become a better writer, and I love my critique partners. That’s why I want to give them the best critique feedback I can on their work!! It’s the only way to show my gratitude.

Before I give any kind of feedback, I ask my critique partners some questions.

  1. Do you have a specific question or problem area you want me to focus on? This question is really important because it helps me really focus in on what they need or want to make their story better, instead of me only providing the kind of thoughts or reactions I had. Maybe they really want me to think about plot, but they don’t care about the setting so much. Or they don’t care about fixing punctuation (which is copyediting, not critique, but that’s a comment for a different post!!) and really want to know if the dialogue felt real. Finding out what my critique partner wants helps me provide useful feedback.
  2. Do you have a pitch for this story? Yes, back to focusing on the pitch. I can’t stress this enough, but knowing the pitch is key to know if you’ve written a story that delivers on the promise of the pitch. And if my critique partner wants to sell this story, I think the two things need to go together. I won’t be doing them any favors if I ignore one.
  3. Who is your ideal reader for this story? I need to know this answer so I can help my critique partner evaluate if they have written a story that works for the age of their ideal reader. I will think about vocabulary, sentence structure, the topic of the story, and what kind of background information the reader might need to have to grasp any concepts or ideas. Knowing the ideal reader also helps me think about how to market the story, and I can give some suggestions to my critique partner about that, too.

After those three questions, I can give my critique partner some strong, useful feedback. But if I have time, I often ask a fourth bonus question.

What part of your story is your favorite? This is a sneaky question, but I still think it’s important. I really genuinely want to know what my critique partner loves about their own work. And it helps with that positive reinforcement that they have created something beautiful. But it also helps me get a sense of what they are passionate about, and for me to share my favorite part of the story with them. It always feels good to celebrate the things we love.

 

Three Things That I Give My Critique Partner When I Share a Story

I’m a member of some fantastic critique groups. I’m actually in three groups that meet regularly, two over zoom and one in person. I love these groups, and I feel like my critique partners give me some fantastic advice. You can read about their advice on creating characters here, on tightening the focus of my story here, and writing stronger opening sentences here.

Those links are three paths to some great advice FROM my critique partners. But when I’m bringing a story to my next critique group meeting, I’m always prepared to give my partners three things. I think these three things help me get the most of my group time, but they also help the group overall.

  1. I bring my story pitch. I like to bring my story pitch because I want to sell my stories. And I know that to sell my stories, I need to be able to pitch them. I also know that the story pitch is the promise of the story, what I’m promising I’ll deliver to the agent, editor, and reader who picks up my story. So, I bring the pitch because I want to know if it’s interesting and if I’ve delivered on the promise. Bringing the pitch is good practice because I can also tell if a story is ready to bring to the group. If I can’t pitch it, it’s not ready for the group. And it’s far from ready for my agent!
  2. I bring a clear, main question about my story. I never ask my critique partners if they like my story. That’s not a helpful question. But a clear, main question about my story that I do bring is “Does this part of the plot make sense?” or “Do you believe the main character would make this choice?” or “Does this voice set a scary tone or a funny tone?” Because those questions are ones I can take action on, I can make revision decisions. I can’t change if someone likes my story or not. But I can strengthen my story based on the answers to a clear, main question. Also, I can focus feedback on something that really helps me write a better story.
  3. I bring suggested comparative titles. Why do I bother bringing the comparative titles or “comps” to critique group? Because I want my critique partners to know the vibe or feeling or theme that I’m hoping to create, and I want to know if I’ve hit the target. I also want them to help me refine my comps into something that feels right. Again, I don’t really want to know if my crit group likes my story. I want to use this precious time to really hone in on the best way to market my story.

So those are the three things I bring to my critique group. But there’s also a fourth and fifth item that I bring, and I thought we could all use a reminder. I always bring an open mind, and a closed mouth. I come prepared to listen to feedback and not use up the group’s time defending my choices or explaining what I meant to write. That’s a waste. I want to get the most from the group that I can, and I don’t get that if I’m the one talking!

Do you bring anything special to your group? Do you always prepare a specific question? Do you always ask people to read your story out loud? I’d love to hear your methods and ideas!

Three Things that Help Me Be Creative that Aren’t Writing

 

When you’re writing a story, any kind of story, including graphic novels, nonfiction, news articles, funny stories in a text to your best friend – WHATEVER!!! – you want to be creative. At least, I want to be creative. I hope you do, too!

But creativity can be hard to turn on some days. Some days I feel blah or dull in my brain. But I know that these feelings can be cleaned out and swept away with a few tricks. I’m going to share mine with you, and then I want to hear how you tap into your creativity.

  1. Exercise. Yes, exercise. In whatever shape or form you like to do exercise, do it. I’m not going to dictate that you do a certain kind of exercise for a certain length of time, but I do find that aerobic exercise works the best for me in terms of coming up with new ways of thinking about something. So, find something that works for you. Experiment. Try a new kind of movement. Walking, running, swimming, rowing, dancing – whatever!!! But get that blood pumping and that oxygen into your brain and let the neurons sparkle and snap. You will find your creativity.
  2. Make something. Whether it’s baking or cooking (I’m good at one and only so-so at the other), drawing, gardening, sculpting, soap carving, knitting, whatever!!! Again it’s all up to you, but the act of making something that isn’t writing can feel really empowering. You remind yourself that you are good at creating. It’s not procrastinating at all, it’s actually a reinforcement of the idea that you can start and finish something that you enjoy, and you will bring that to your writing.
  3. Read outside the genre you’re writing. I love to read all kinds of writing about all kinds of topics, and I promise that if you expand what you read, it will help you be more creative in your writing. When I’m writing nonfiction, I read rom-coms. When I’m writing a picture book with a fun premise, I might read a field guide. (Yes, I love to read field guides). When I’m working on a textbook, I read poetry. Sometimes, I read print magazines when I’m tackling a graphic novel manuscript. Bring in all kinds of ideas and perspectives to your brain from all kinds of writing. Let it swirl around and unlock some new doors you didn’t even know were waiting.

These are my top three ways to bring creativity into my writing. I rely on them to help me be creative and think about not only my manuscripts, but my life, in a new way. But they only work when I actually use them, and when I practice being creative. That’s is the main point of all of this. You can’t be creative if you sit and wait for it. You have to work on it every day and build the creativity habit. So these little side methods are my creativity cross-training. I use them to build up my creativity muscles and keep things fresh and strong.

Now, what do you do to strengthen your creativity?

 

Three Things to Help You Write A Better Story that AREN’T Writing

 

In this month’s post, I’m going to share three things to help you write a better story thatAREN’T writing. There’s a lot of writing advice out there about how to write better that are focused on actual writing. Things like dialogue, voice, and clarity. And those are incredibly important parts of writing. But sometimes you need to take a step back from the story and look at things in a new way.

Also, you’ve probably figured this out already, but these three things work best if you already have a story written.

Last year, I drafted and revised a young adult manuscript in about six months. Yep, six. And it was a strong enough story that my agent put it out on sub! Woo! Now, there are a few reasons why I was able to get this story done quickly.  One reason is that I’m a pretty good typist. Two,  I am able to set aside time each day to write. We need to acknowledge that this is really, really hard for a lot of people. Finally, I’m very disciplined. I don’t struggle with procrastination (about writing).

But I also used some really important non-writing strategies that helped me write a strong story.

  1. Write the pitch first. This is something I do with every book idea now, from picture books to novels to nonfiction. If you write the pitch first, you know the essence of the story.  You know who the main character is, what their goal is, and what their challenges will be. And you know how to sell this story! This is crucial if you want to create something that has a chance at being published in the traditional publishing industry. So when I’m crafting my pitch, I’m reading the pitches of books that sold and are listed in PW Children’s Bookshelf. I’m copying text from those listings, deleting the words relating to those stories, and inserting words from my story. Does it work? Does it sound similar? Do I have a strong, sellable story idea?
  2. Outline. Yep, I’m a plotter. I am 100% fully onboard with plotting. Remember I mentioned I’m really good at not procrastinating (about writing)? It’s because I know what my plan is each time I sit down to write. I don’t have writers block because I’ve already mapped out my route. I think this is a skill I learned from running. I know how far I’m going to run each day, and where I need to go to get that mileage. If you think that plotting stifles your creativity, you might want to test this theory. I find that plotting enhances my creativity and productivity. I know my pitch already, so the next logical step is to outline the story. This helps me work out the details and add in fun elements that I look forward to writing. And it helps me identify areas that I haven’t quite figured out yet. But I am free to make changes to the outline because I’m not 20,000 words into the story when I need to make a change. I’m only 200 words in, so easy peasy! Change it up! Get creative! And when you’re ready to start writing, it’s so much easier. 
  3. Halfway through the story, and after you’ve finished your draft, write a chapter by chapter outline. Wait, what? Why am I doing this if I already outlined? I don’t really need to do this, do I? Yep. I do. Here’s why. When you write a chapter by chapter outline, you get a chance to make sure that each chapter is working to advance the plot. You can identify the object (goal) of each chapter, the obstacle or problem in each chapter, and the outcome, that should make readers want to turn the page and start the next chapter. If any one of these is missing from a chapter, you need to figure out if you can add it, or if you should just delete the chapter. Again, yep. I’ve deleted whole chapters because I realized even though I had fun writing them, and they helped me get to know my main character, they were not essential to the story.

So there are three things I do to help me write a better story that aren’t actually writing the story. I hope they help you write a better story, too!

Want some extra advice on revising your story? Check out my 12 Days of Revision!

And don’t forget I offer critiques and editing. 

Your First Bird of 2024

The start of a new year is one of my favorite times – because I can start a new year list of birds! Did you notice the first bird you saw this year? It could have a special meaning. People have used birds to predict the future for generations. So, what do the birds have to say about your 2024?

 

@elizpagelhoganauthor #birdsoftiktok #birds #birdlover #2024 #newyear #prediction ♬ Magical Fantasy – Dmitriy Sevostyanov

12 Days of Revision – Day 12

12 Days of Revision

  1. Search the document for overused filler words like just, should, Once, I used the word shrugged 117 times. 
  1. Search the document and double-check your their, there, you’re, your, where, were.
  1. Does the first scene deliver your story promise?
  1. Are all of these characters necessary? 
  1. Write out all of the letters of the alphabet. Then, write down all of the names of your characters and places. Are you reusing the same first letter all of the time? This can be confusing for readers. 
  1. Check for “he started running” and “she began yelling.” Change these phrases to “he ran” and “she yelled.” 
  1. If nothing significant to the story happens on Sunday, we don’t need to read about what your main character does on Sunday. Skip ahead to the next big moment. 
  2. Have you used all five senses in this story? What does a walk down the main character’s street sound like? When it’s French toast day, do their clothes smell like maple syrup all day and make them grumpy? 
  3. Be careful about using slang. It could make your book sound outdated. 
  4. Does each chapter finish with a moment that makes it irresistible to turn the page? 
  5. If you’re writing historical fiction, watch for anachronisms. I once had to tell a critique partner that people couldn’t go to Wendy’s in the early 1960s. 
  6. Nonfiction can be unbelievable, but fiction must be believable. Make sure your characters’ actions and motives feel absolutely logical and rational within the context of your story, and connected to their goals and desires. Otherwise, you lose the reader. 

November Gratitude

I’m really thankful for all the incredible experiences I have this year. I’m going to take time this month to appreciate them and think back on the fun I’ve had with friends and family.

I’m not doing NaNoWriMo this month, but I will probably do a version of “Outline Some Story Ideas and Figure Out Which Ones I Really Want to Write Month.” So, that would be… OuSoStIdFiOuWhOnIReWaWrMo.

If you’re doing NaNo, I wish you a tremendous amount of luck and perseverance and creativity. I know you can do it!

My NaNoWriMo word count tracker from 2015