On Friday I attended a novel intensive, where Nancy Werlin gave self-editing advice. She talked about making a chart, literally. Each chapter receives its own picture box. You write a scene from that chapter, draw a picture in a square—no matter how heinous, stick figures allowed—and beneath label the scene with a strong verb. This will help you find sections of your book where nothing is happening. For example, if you have several boxes within your novel labeled "realizing," you should probably revise those chapters or scenes, so that your protag is reacting to whatever information or realization they had. Doing this will strengthen weak areas in your novel.
On day two, in the YA track, Nancy spoke about her own revisions. It was interesting to see that she suffers from the same editing issues as the rest of us, even after nine published YA novels. Her example was on a final novel in her fearie series. She thought she'd written the perfect ending to the series, but after having her rough-draft critiqued, she learned there were major flaws.
In short, the book was not as perfect as she thought, and she had to revise the entire novel. Her message was for authors to understand that being published doesn’t mean you have less revision issues. In writing, there is always more editing. Even when you swore you'd written an epic novel. Even when it sounded perfect in your head. Even when you have a successful writing career and work with a professional agent and editor. It still happens.
There were two other revelations I had as a writer because of the conference. The first: male agents can do justice for girl writers who have a romancy style. I never bother to query male agents because I think they won't get my voice and the romance I insist on having in each novel. But after listening to Josh Adams speak that has all changed.
Now I feel Josh would be my dream agent. He reps several authors who write romancy stories and, yes, he gets it. He really gets it! There is a sincerity in the way he speaks about his authors and their stories. It's obvious he wants to go to bat for them and help them find great success. He gets excited in a way I didn't think was possible for a man, and he has an unmistakable sense of pride for each of the novels he represents.
I was blown away by him and have decided to add a new made-up word to my vocab. Agent crush. Which I define as a non-physical, non-sexual desire to work with someone you admire. And I have a huge agent crush on Josh Adams. If I'm lucky, one day he will represent my stories.
The other revelation I had is one I've heard before but still struggle to incorporate. Editors no longer want the kind of stories that jump right into action. They want to know your characters before the sh-t hits the fan, before the floor falls out beneath them, before a truck kills their dog, their BFF, or them. They want to emotionally connect with the protagonist and feel that can only happen if they see the character in their normal element.
This is a concept I struggle with and am coming around to slowly with practice and understanding. It makes sense. As a reader, we can't sympathize with the protagonist when their world is crashing around them, if we don't know how they act when life is normal.
It is a slower approach. That's not to say it should be a boring one, but it definitely goes against a lot I have learned. Some writers and agents argue this approach, but it seems the successful editors and agents of this time want to get to know your character first.
So there are some my tidbits in regards to my experience at the SCWBI conference this summer. I hope the information helps your current writing endeavor. It most definitely is helping mine.
Have a fabulous summer and keep writing! You may be a story away from success!