Season 2, Episode 24: Revision is for Nuance

In this episode

I feel like a vast majority of revising for me is staring at the words on the page and going… ‘You know, there are words there, and those words are probably ok! Can I just keep going?
— Abby Mathews

After last week’s episode with Molly B. Burnham, Abby considers taking her advice: Write with abundance. It's like the idea behind brainstorming that the bigger list. You have the more to choose from, and the better your chances are of hitting on something big. Maybe THAT is how you discover what mouse burps sound like.

We hit on the idea of using your kids (or other people’s kids!) as a sounding board if you’re writing a middle grades book. Abby was invited to her daughter’s class to read a portion of her book during Read-A-Thon week. It went swimmingly and one of the little boys in her daughter’s class wanted to buy the rest of her book!

Get specific, get specific – it’s what Jennie Nash told us all the time while we were writing our first drafts. You can’t write to everyone’s preference, so you may as well write to a specific audience and do it well. And sometimes even when you do that…your book is beloved by people outside that genre as well (i.e., our favorite series to reference, JK Rowling’s Harry Potter) Abby’s writing to a specific age group, and she thought she was writing towards girls, but she’s finding that boys are interested in her story too!

Kemlo points out some logistical issues in Abby’s submission which are pretty easily worked out, and we get to hear some favorite lines in her submission. “No need to buckle a horse into a car!”

Revision is for nuance.
— Kemlo Aki

Kemlo also adds that “revision is for nuance.” It’s okay (expected!) if you don’t get all the good stuff in on your first draft, or even your second – subsequent drafts are where the real fun begins—they’re for adding in little callbacks or developing characters and sub-plots, refining foreshadowing and perfecting plot.

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Season 2, Episode 23: A Bunch of Unfinished Thoughts

Shoutout to MomWrites listener and fellow-bookstore-talk-giver Monica Gokey! Monica is a producer and reporter on the OutLANDish podcast, but she's also a fantastic writer and was recently published in the Jen Mann's You Do You. Mel and Monica did a bookstore talk together in January - Monica did a fantastic job...and Mel didn't even die from her fear of both the public and public speaking. Do things that scare you, guys...

This week Mel reviews chapter eight, the first half of which she's deemed "a bunch of unfinished thoughts," and decides she wants another go at her character arcs - you can never know too much about your characters, what function they're serving, what their goals and motivations are in your story. A not so fun fact that we keep learning in this podcast: if you use characters as plot devices, we promise you, you will regret it. But if you've done this already, and you've got characters you haven't developed, you can still save them! Look at the scenes they're in, figure out what purpose they're serving, and trace it backward - find out THE WHY.

What's going on when you don't like your writing, but you can't quite put your finger on what's wrong? Usually, it's because something isn't on the page--and maybe you're giving, as Kemlo says, "the what without the why." Don't make your readers guess at what's going on--readers are less patient than you think, and they know a fraction of what you know about your story - in fact, and they only know what you tell them. You don't want your readers confused or guessing. You want them devouring the pages, taking in all you want them to learn about your characters and your story and racing to the next chapter.

When CPs or editors tell you to get specific about what's going on in your story, they don't mean go into detail about the descriptions of things or events, necessarily - what the mean (a lot of the time) are specifics about feelings. Specifics about the characters' internal worlds, the way they think, how they see the world. Our human brains flip through memories and theories and piece things together in real-time, so adding in those little bits of realism that suck us into the character's inner world helps us relate to what we're reading to on an intrinsic level. And sometimes it doesn't take a lot--a few sentences here, some nuance there--not every revision has you demolishing your pages and rebuilding from the ground up.

That’s the really satisfying part of revision for me—looking at something that’s kind of ‘meh,’ and tweaking it just a little bit until it’s ‘whoa!’
— Melanie Parish

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Season 2, Episode 22: Comedic Writing with Molly B. Burnham

In this episode:

Welcome Molly Burnham, Author of the Teddy Mars series!

Thanks and welcome to Molly Burnham! We’re talking kids’ books, and funny kids’ books (& just funny books in general!), and how she (and you!) can get the humor to shine authentically through in your writing.

Can comedy give you power? According to Molly, yes. And comedy is all about power.

“Humor is based on a convergence. Humor is an interaction between people in some form, and power structures make the difference between what is funny and what is not funny.” – Molly B. Burnham

For instance, if you make a joke about someone, that’s you having power over them. But if you make a joke about you, that’s you having power over you. The elements of who has power, and when, controls what is and is not funny in any given situation.

To illustrate this, Molly gives the example of women in comedy – for centuries, women were not allowed on stage, comedy or otherwise. Men had the power, and they often made jokes at the expense of women. When women got on stage and started making fun

When you’re writing a book, especially one with humor, you have to know who has power in your book and how the power shifts between your characters and their environment. Molly’s protagonist Teddy undergoes a lot of physical comedy while trying to break world records, and the reason we can abide his suffering because he has power over himself and is choosing to try to break these world records. He also doesn’t have a fragile ego – emotional strength is huge power, and Teddy has it in spades.

It sounds like a lot of work, right? Molly says her books undergo a lot of revision and the humor comes out in later revisions. She advises writers to “create from abundance” – write more than you need, make lists, and improvise possibilities for scenes – all of this gives you more options and lets you ask the question: Where or how could this be better? Which possibility resonates with you?

The improv concept of “Yes, And –“ is another way to amp up the humor in your writing. How can you escalate a situation? Don’t say no, and don’t stop the action in your scene and let it come to a screeching halt.

Molly would also like to remind us that failure, kids, is part of the process. Sometimes she writes things she doesn’t like, and it feels like a waste – we’ve all been there, right? We’re going to write things that don’t jive for us for one reason or another. Getting into the right mindset after a failure is important and accepting that you’re going to have these days is essential.

The wonderful Teddy Mars books can be found at your local bookstore, library, indie supplier, or Amazon.

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Season 2, Episode 21: Children’s Books Are Everyone’s Books

In this episode:

Shout-out to Paul Skidmore, author and filmmaker! Paul was laughing hysterically in Starbucks while reading Abby’s story, and that’s something that’ll make you feel awesome. If your story is enjoyable by people of all ages, you’re doing something right.

“Where the children’s story is simply the right form for what the author has to say, of course, readers who want to hear that will read the story or re-read it at any age. I never met the Wind in the Willows or the Bastible books until my late 20s, and I do not think I’ve enjoyed it any less on that account….the good ones last. A waltz that you can only like when you are waltzing is a bad waltz.” – C.S. Lewis

Do MG writers have to fight the idea that their work is less-than because they’re writing for kids? Absolutely, but they shouldn’t have to! It’s like saying you’re “just a mom”. Every single mom out there knows how hard it is – and every single writer knows how hard it is to write a book. Our MG readers, and upper MG readers, are full of questions, they’re between childhood and adulthood and they’re very impressionable – MG writers have a power and responsibility in helping these kids form opinions and ideas that they’ll carry with them for the rest of their lives. It’s important!

The only way you can write a story for everyone to enjoy is to pick a specific protagonist – you have to make them exactly who they are, their specific age and circumstances, and do a beautiful job writing them. 

Deeper-level, meaningful writing appeals to all ages – there’s something for everyone to enjoy. In the rest of the episode, Kemlo and Abby dissect word choice and how some words are funnier than others, what works and what doesn’t, and what hits as “funny” or just weird. 

One of the things that takes a book from appealing to a very limited audience to having more universal appeal is the work you do on the deeper meaning of the story.
— Kemlo Aki

 Mentioned in this episode:

By paul andrew skidmore



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Season 2, Episode 20: Revision. Figuring Out What You Meant In The First Place

In this episode:

This week, Mel nails her revision of Chapter 7, making some important decisions about her character’s motivations early on (and even before) the story starts, and she and Kemlo brainstorm on background and drive as it relates to their story.

It’s important to keep in mind what’s driving each of your characters throughout the story-and that’s subject to change and matures, but remember – to each character you’re writing, they’re the star of their own story.

Sometimes, the best way to work yourself out of a corner you’ve painted yourself into is to ask, “What’s your character afraid of? What’s the absolute worst that could happen?” What’s the fear that’s unique to them or their story?

In regard to character arcs: If your character changes their mind or their drive, they have to have a really good reason for doing so. People are generally stubborn in real life, too, and it takes a lot for us to change course when we feel really strongly about something. Make decisions hard for your characters, because they’re hard for us! We don’t want to read a story where things are easy for everyone and characters are pulled along by the plot. We want to live through these characters – to wonder what we’d do in a situation, to watch them struggle and agonize along with them.

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Season 2, Episode 19: Mo' Magic, Mo' Magic, Mo' Magic

In this episode:

Take note, if you’re consuming vitamins, make sure you’re not day-dosing yourself with melatonin… once Abby adjusted her vitamin schedule her writing followed suit, but we’re not gonna lie, Mr. Toad’s antics took a turn for the wild during Abby’s pm vitamin-induced daydreams.


This week, Abby talks about the schisms she’s been dealing with in splitting her book into 3 parts. The goal for this revision was to up the world building in this draft and really bring the magic out from the first page. She’s started to layer in more meaning and up the stakes for Bernadette and the rest of the characters (welcome to the story, Ralph S. Mouse!).


Mel read the first five chapters of her book to her daughter, and she LOVED it (Mel loved it too!) and was in hysterics at Mr. Toad’s, Amelia Bedelia, and Ralph S. Mouse. For MG writers, enthusiasm from a reader is the ultimate compliment. Abby wants to highlight the stuff that Mel’s daughter and her own daughter loved about it and make sure she keeps that in the forefront during the revision. It’s both the meaning for Bernadette and the world building that need to be super strong, because that’s what kids in this age group are looking for in a story.

Abby works on starting and ending her chapters this week – what’s the key to the effective closure of a scene? When scenes and chapters begin and end, you can do it with a physical location. If you do that, there needs to be some decision that’s made to end the chapter and go to the next one. The decision in the chapter she’s referring to wasn’t entirely on the page, so that needs to be highlighted.

You don’t want to feel like you’re ending the chapter in the middle of a scene, but like anything, it’s a judgment call. There are plenty of books that do that, but it’s more satisfying when there’s a little bit of resolution with a sense of suspense to come.
— Kemlo Aki

 Dialogue tags: When you’re the person writing, you know who’s talking. It really helps when someone else can read it for you and point out where you’re either adding in too many or leaving out important information. For most readers, they won’t notice the tags are there until you veer into overuse. Try to show who’s speaking without using dialogue tags, but make sure your cues are revealing something else about the characters as well. It can be an effective way to show nonverbal subtext in a glance, a raised eyebrow, etc.

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Season 2, Episode 18: Convenient for Your Plot

In this episode:

Content warning – mentions of terminal illness, suicide

Note: Mel’s computer bit the dust this week after seven years – luckily, she had her book backed up. Back up your stuff!  Always always always. Backing your book up in more than once place is always a good idea.

On this episode of Mom Writes, we review Mel’s chapter 7. She originally thought there wasn’t a lot to change in revision – Kemlo had other ideas.

Mel did extra credit work this week and turned in character sketches – what makes her characters tick? Who are they? What’s they’re history and why are they doing what they’re doing? Originally, Mel had a character that was a “throwaway” guy that turned into an important character later in the book, but she never did the homework on him. In order to keep him from turning into a plot device she needs to figure out what his internal logic is and insert more of him into the story.

I feel like I piecemealed his story together as I was writing…
— Melanie Parish

(Yeah, listeners – don’t do that.)

Kemlo tells Mel that these two characters of hers (siblings) relying on each other each need to have their own “a-ha” moment, where they realize they need to live for themselves. This sort of moment of transition is really important to see – a concrete change in their relationship and with themselves is the kind of satisfying character development we can offer readers. Mel and Kemlo review many other ways to sprinkle additional character details, motivations, and specifics throughout this chapter and others.

Next time, Kemlo asks Mel to continue sketching out her characters, dig a little bit more on the ones with thin biographies.

You don’t want character motivations to change because it’s convenient for your plot. You want to trace the arc of their growth and change – how did those events affect their worldview and motivations? Did they end up seeing things in a slightly different way?
— Kemlo Aki


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Season 2, Episode 17: Do Bad Weeks Make For Bad Writing?

In this episode of Mom Writes

I will update the show notes when Mel gets a chance to write them! (LOL!) But in the meantime, I wanted to let listeners know that we are hosting a webinar all about the One Page Book Summary tomorrow (Tuesday, August 13th) at 7 pm Eastern time. So if you miss Jennie’s voice on the podcast, here ‘s a chance to listen to her do a live coaching session where she goes over a (few?) writers’ book summaries.

What is a One-Page Book Summary? And why is it important? Well, its’ a tool that Jennie created to help you see at a glance the heart and soul of your book. Defining your book on just one page can be enormously comforting when you are deep into writing, revising, moving things around, or just trying to make things work in the first place. One glance at this One-Page Book Summary can bring you back to your story's basics and your purpose for writing it.

So register here and join us! Also, if you can’t make it, I’m pretty sure you should register anyway because you can always watch the replay!

But back to Mom Writes, this episode is all about my (Abby’s) rewritten first chapter. After hitting my Two-Tier Outline (now the Inside Outline) pretty hard and sorting out what I was pretty sure is actually TWO books, I turned my attention back to my draft. The goal was to work in some more magic and the literary world characters into my story from the get-go.

This rewriting of Chapter One also coincided with a pretty crappy Thanksgiving vacation. It was full of stressful situations. So how did I deal with crazy + a writing deadline?

Tune in to see how I did it this week’s episode of Mom Writes!

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Season 2, Episode 16: Secondary Character Development

This week on MomWrites…

Melanie spends some time in a sensory deprivation tank (in someone’s house?!), gets an A+ from Kemlo this week for character development and creepiness, and gets her questions answered about ancillary characters (to ax, or not to ax?).

Mel decides to turn her random security guard character into someone useful – a human, empathetic foil for all these flat affect characters, deciding that she needs to either ax him completely or find an arc and resolution for his character. The important thing is that his actions or departure effect’s Mel’s protagonist, somehow.

In other chapters, Kemlo’s having trouble reading one of the other characters, who’s supposed to be a later romantic interest but Mel’s having trouble translating the relationship between this person and the main character and advises Mel to keep building the character and the relationship.

“Is this one of those situations where you’re not going to get it right the first time, but every time you go over it you put one more little piece in, one more little piece in…you don’t try to get it all in right out of the gate?” – Abby Mathews

Yes, Abby, that’s exactly right. Each time you ask yourself why – why’s the character behaving this way? What are they motivated by? — you’re going to get another layer, another level of nuance in your writing.

According to Lisa Cron in Story Genius, every character believes they’re the protagonist in their own story, and we should write accordingly if we want our characters to behave in a way that is consistent for them, for their story, and the story they’re telling themselves. We don’t just want reaction – we want action – real-life people, for instance, don’t merely react. We act! We make decisions based on what we want, what we’re trying to avoid, what we’re ultimately after in life.

Melanie and Kemlo go over some dialogue in-detail to determine if there’s a need for subtext (there is!) and if there are things she can add or subtract to make the conversations more clear. Even if you don’t want to spell out what another character’s true motivations are if you’re writing in the first person, you can lay clues to help your protagonist—and your reader!—figure it out along the way.

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Season 2, Episode 15: Layers of Emotion

Trigger warning: we talk about suicide in this episode, as it pertains to one of Mel’s characters.

This week Mel had to do some Kemlo-ordered homework – reading the Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maas, Understanding Show Don’t Tell by Janice Hardy, and The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. She has trouble connecting emotion to her writing and needs to do more work on Chapter 5 before moving on.

“When writing body sensations, you yourself have to be in touch with your own body. A lot of times we ignore our body sensations because we’re focusing on other things.” – Melanie

Kemlo says that it’s hard to layer emotion because it needs to be pervasive – it needs to be on every page, all the time. We as readers don’t cease to be human, and sometimes it takes as little as one or two lines of tweaking to add that nuance.

Sometimes, just adding a character’s thoughts is enough to get the emotion across—and not just “I feel afraid” – what are they afraid of? What do they think is going to happen, or what do they want/not want to happen? There’s more power behind it if it’s character-specific.

“One of the things I find fascinating when I read, say, the book A Man Called Ove – when you read it, there are places I’ve cried in that book. He’s just doing it in a really nuanced, really subtle way. Sometimes it’s the whole Gestalt of what you’re getting across. What makes it so hard is trying to get it on every page.” – Kemlo Aki

Mel points out that she and Abby (who has a graduate degree in) could walk into an art museum and while Mel could say “Hey, what a nice painting” Abby would see so much more because she’s got more experience with the subject. The same goes for writing – until you write a book, it’s hard to have a sincere appreciation of all that goes into the process. An experienced writer can look at a book and see all the different threads the author spent likely hundreds of hours weaving through their story, the subtle details that take seconds to read but add so much to the final product.

Even mid-revision, Mel and Abby are reminded again that practice might not ever make perfect (what writer is happy with their book when the send it off to their publisher?), but it makes it better.

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Season 2, Episode 14: #ioutlinesohard

On this episode of Mom Writes… Abby goes above and beyond in a Sudafed-induced writing frenzy, turning in ALL the pages and a brand-new inside-outside (formerly two-tier) outline. With this new, revised version, Abby feels she’s got a real handle on her story.

If we refer back to Ep 71 of the podcast, Abby thought she’d convinced Jennie that her original outline was meant for multiple books. Now, with this recent version, Abby assumes it’s back one book again, but Kemlo says, “Wait! There’s a lot more here.” There’s a whole bunch of material to explore, and there’s just not room for it all in one manuscript. It’s great news, but how do we break this up into multiple books?

Once Abby has her new outline done and worked out how her protagonist’s journey can come full circle for this book, she thinks there’s actually four story ideas to explore. For book two, Abby’s got to figure out which of Bernadette’s problems to tackle next.

The key, according to Kemlo, is solving these problems with the story, not the plot. When you solve problems with plot, you end up with something predictable and generic and rarely applicable to the characters in your book. Why are your plot elements problems for your particular characters? How and why are these challenges going to make them change?

At the end of each book, Bernadette (and potentially secondary characters as well) has to come away with a new understanding of the problem she faced at the beginning of the story; she has to be changed in some meaningful way for the book to have impact on Abby’s readership.

Ralph S. Mouse is a beloved character in Abby’s draft and the first clue to her reader that something is amiss in Bernadette’s world. Abby decides to bring in this magical aspect from the very first page with her new introduction of Ralph. Not only will Abby’s plan for Ralph and Bernadette move the story forward in what Bernadette learns about herself and friendship, but it brings the “book world” and the “normal world” in contact with each other from the beginning – a way to pick up the pacing of what Abby fears were a slow first few chapters.

Next, Abby’s going to write forward with the new knowledge of how and when she’s ending her book and continue to revise her draft with this new information in mind.

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Season 2, Episode 13: Looking at the Inside Outline Upside Down

In this episode

This week Abby looks at her Inside Outline (aka the Two-Tier Outline) from a different perspective. She looks at it upside down. Or maybe it's inside out? ;-)

But first...

Abby, the 3rd grade Room Mom, missed the class Halloween party (which, in her defense, was NOT scheduled on Halloween but an entire week before…). She received a text from the teacher while we were recording, asking where she was! And since the big party activity was Abby teaching the kids how to draw a haunted house on scratchboards, the teacher moved the date of the party on the fly!

Can we say #momfail?

Then to compound that, Abby realized she didn’t read her edits before she hit the record button!

Can we say #writerfail?

Kemlo breaks the news that she wants Abby to work on her outline one more time. It’s not a surprise, seeing as Abby really doesn’t have things together this week, on or off the page!

She’s struggling with chapter endings and beginnings, and her Two-Tier outline reflects that. (a.k.a the Inside Outline, for those of you who are keeping up with our rebranding efforts.) The outline makes it really obvious that she’s going to struggle with that when it comes time to write. Abby is changing up the structure of her story in the second draft, and the outline shows the arc of change in each scene, but it also shows the lack of arc for each chapter. So Kemlo is trying to help her fix that before she struggles with it later.

They talk about chapter length and story flow, and Kemlo points out it’s not the overall flow that’s not working, but what’s off is where Abby puts the breaks.

The ladies also talk Abby into putting a giant TK on the quotes at the beginning of her chapters, because it’s a mental roadblock in Abby’s writing.

Kemlo breaks down the flow within a chapter, and Abby brings up Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid method of analyzing a chapter. (By the way, she uses the word “shortcut” when she really means the word “shorthand.”) Abby’s description of the positive to double positive, etc… that Story Grid lays out really throws Kemlo, and they spend some time dissecting it.

All this brings Abby to the conclusion that she wants to work her Two-Tier Outline (a.k.a. the Inside Outline) differently… She wants to break her outline apart and look at the flow on both the scene and emotional levels independently. That way she can see that there is a logic to the emotional change and that one emotional-plot-point truly leads to the next. And the same on the actual plot level. This thing that happens would actually lead to the next thing. And if there’s a hitch in either of those two trajectories, then that’s where she needs to go back and do some work.

Tune in next episode to see how it worked out for her!

And if you're interested in coming to Maine in September for a writer's retreat focusing on the Inside Outline (where you can work with Jennie and Kemlo, as well as meet up with Melanie and Abby), you can find more info here:

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Season 2, Episode 12: Layers

For anyone interested in joining Melanie, Abby, Kemlo, and Jennie (as well as the #AmWriting hosts) at a retreat in September, you can find that info here!

In this episode:

This week, Melanie is in a panic because she's been asked to do some public speaking. But beyond the actual Oh, S@#! feeling that public speaking induces, we talk about how it plays into the whole work/life mom/writer balance. Being asked to speak at a bookstore about writing is a fabulous way to put yourself out there as a writer. But the question is, would you bring your kids?

This naturally turns the conversation towards how our children perceive what we're doing. Writing a book is a long, arduous process with nothing at the end of a long writing stint to hold up in your hands and say, "Look what I made!" The final product comes way, waaaaaay later. So, how do we help our kids understand what we're doing?

We also talk about how and where we work. Melanie and Kemlo, being introverts, hole themselves up in private spaces. Abby, the lone extravert in this conversation, prefers to work in the midst of everything. She even bought a keyboard that connects to her phone by Bluetooth so she can work in the car, at the kids' acting/dance lessons, all the places.

So how productive were Abby and Mel this week?

Mel isn't happy with the chapter she wrote this week. She couldn't quite put her finger on why, and Kemlo points out that her MC was very wishy-washy, changing her mind a lot but never moving the story forward. Kemlo points out that we change our minds all the time in real life, so your characters can do the same, as long as we (the readers) see that decision making, see the shifts and understand why the characters are changing their minds.

Mel laughs because she says she might have written it, but she doesn't understand why her MC is doing what she's doing, either! Kemlo points out that what Mel has done is just put down the first layer: the action. Now she can go back and put down the second layer: the emotion.

Melanie fleshes out some of her upcoming writing talk with us. She realizes she can't just stand up there and say:

So, yeah. Writing… It's hard. *sits down

We talk about all the hours that writers put into their books, and Kemlo says she thinks the only difference between a great writer and an ok writer is the number of hours they put into their work! Writers work so hard to make it look effortless to their readers. And we, as writers, sometimes forget that when we read!

Kemlo says, "It just occurred to me that when you go to see a play, I don't think anyone sees a play and assumes the actors just walked on the stage and started acting because they were supremely talented and could just do it. But when people read a book, they do tend to think that. 'Oh, well, this is an incredibly talented writer. And I'm not that talented, so I can never write a book.' And so, I think the only thing that separates people from right really great books for people who don't is the number of hours they put into it."

And Melanie agrees, "I think writing is a skill like anything else, and it can be taught, and it can be learned, and it's just the amount of time that you're willing to put into it."

Lastly, Mel wrote a scene that confused Kemlo. A character grabs the MC. What was his intent? Kemlo thought the intention was rape, but Mel didn't intend it that way. Oops. It goes back to what they were talking about earlier in this episode. Mel didn't put the internal thought on the page. She left room for interpretation, and Kemlo interpreted it in a way Melanie didn't intend. Mel goes through her thought process as she was writing this scene, and she and Kemlo look at how she can fix it to make the scene to accurately reflect the emotion she wanted for the scene.

Mel also admits that she is trying to go back and layer in some of the romantic subplot that wasn't fully fleshed out in her previous draft. And she thinks that was in the back of her head as she wrote this, and while Melanie didn't intend for the scene to come off as sexual, she thinks she accidentally made it so while she was looking for ways to introduce it elsewhere in the book.

Mel reminds herself, "The writing of a book is layered, and nobody gets it right the first time."

Here’s the book our friend Monica Gokey Bequette was promoting at the bookstore talk:

You Do You (I Just Want to Pee Alone Series Book 6)
By Jen Mann, Kim Bongiorno, Galit Breen, Deva Dalporto, Whitney Dineen, Harper Kincaid, Sherry Stanfa-Stanley, E.R. Catalano, Sarah Cottrell, Janel Mills

Here are some shots from the bookstore talk!

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Season 2, Episode 11: Chapters and Details

In this episode:

What makes a good chapter beginning and ending? Abby feels constrained by the linear passage of time in her story. But first thing in the morning doesn't necessarily make a good chapter beginning and going to bed doesn't necessarily make a good chapter ending. So the question is, what does?

Kemlo suggests that at the beginning of a chapter, you want the reader to anticipate what your protagonist is anticipating. You want to give the readers something to root for.

But you also need to give the readers a little memory jog. Say your reader set your book down at the end of chapter 7 yesterday. Today she picks up at Chapter 8. You have to give her the teensiest bit of context, so she goes, "Yeah! That's where we are."

Kemlo and Abby pick these ideas apart for a little while, as well as the concept of each chapter showing a change, and at the end, you have the result of the change. Or the decision that's made because of the change.

Abby continues to look for ways that she can incorporate the Book World and its magic into the ordinary world of her protagonists' middle school. But here's the catch. While the Book World is an open secret to her readers, what if they haven't read that particular book? Does not getting a reference confuse her readers or stop them cold?

This is important for any writer with "expert knowledge" to consider. How do you feed your reader enough knowledge that it moves them forward without jerking them out of the story?

As an example, Abby brings up Howl's Moving Castle. It's a book she references in her novel. Abby thought she had brilliantly incorporated a Howl reference into the story, it took Kemlo right out of the reading.

Abby wants to include other references to books that aren't necessarily easily recognizable (like the Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland or Willie Wonka from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). What about Mr. Pignati from The Pigman? Or the Wizard Howl from Howl's Moving Castle?

Kemlo says you should always refer back to story. What does your protagonist need to know to move the story forward? More specifically, what does she need to know NOW? And if it doesn't have a place, then maybe you don't need it. (No matter how awesome it might be to have green slime ooze down the staircase because a wizard is upstairs throwing a tantrum!)

Abby uses this information to drive some of her other decisions about which characters and events to include as she weaves her Book World magic into the real world.

We also want to make sure to include a link to Author Accelerator Maine writing retreat that we are holding in September. If you want more information on joining Abby, Melanie, Jennie, and Kemlo (as well as the brilliant ladies from the #AmWriting podcast) for a retreat, you can find it here:

If you’re interested in Howl’s Moving Castle, you can find it here! If you read it, let Abby know what you think about the book. She was PRO Howl, while the entire rest of her book club was ANTI Howl! (Her children are also pro Howl, for the record!) BTW, there’s a movie, if you want to cheat!

Howl's Moving Castle
By Diana Wynne Jones

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Season 2, Episode 10: Show Don't Mel

In this episode:

Mel writes an action chapter (!) and wants to know – how do you add in emotion and meaning without slowing down the pace?

According to Kemlo, the key is in the little clues. It doesn’t have to be a long-winded thing, sometimes a word or two, a thought, even nonverbal cues can let us into the heads of our characters when there’s not time or space enough for more. We need to see how things are affecting our characters – if we don’t, does it mean anything to them? Does it mean anything to us?

This is Mel’s third or fourth pass on this chapter (totes normal, you guys! Sadly!) and there’s still room to weave these things in, to layer emotion and meaning so that every word is really serving the story. You want the reader to feel a seamless experience – don’t leave them wondering what’s going on in your protagonist’s head and heart, don’t make them feel like they’re the cameraman trying to take it all in – you want your readers to feel as if they are the protagonist in those moments, feeling those feelings, wanting those same things your characters do.

We return to the concept of show don’t tell – listeners, is anyone else still struggling with this? Like, forever and ever, amen? It’s essentially this: You don’t just feel afraid; you feel your heart pounding, sweat pricking your palms, your vision tunnels, and you want very specific, particular things in that exact moment, because you’re a whole person – just like your characters need to be. If you can show these things without using an emotion word (fear, afraid, dread, you get it) then you’ve done it.

In regards to emotion in the first draft: “I’ll often tell people, go ahead and write ‘she was afraid’ or whatever, use the big box terms and just use it as a placeholder so that you know what you need to capture there so you don’t get stuck on it and slow down, because I think the finessing you’re doing now, the nuance, the subtlety, that takes time.” – Kemlo Aki

Abby and Mel recall their conversation with author Rachel Solomon in the first season, when Rachel told them about her “ad libs” first draft – in order to save time and keep the momentum of the drafting process, she’ll sometimes just leave big blank spaces where emotions, reactions, character development should be – and after getting the basic plot framework down she goes back and fills in the rest. It’s a good strategy if your find yourself getting bogged down in getting it all right during the first draft (which isn’t possible, and that’s okay!).


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