Pimpin’ My Bio for #PitchWars

Hey there! Though this isn’t Tuesday, I’m blogging for a specific reason today. Welcome to the #PitchWars bio of Michelle Collins, YA writer, voracious reader, occasional blogger, and fulltime fangirl of many things. To learn more about me, follow me down the rabbit hole yellow brick road cobblestone path strewn with boyband t-shirts, gerbera daisies, and zombies.

Follow Me Four

I’m a married mom of two kids who are older than I care to mention. We recently moved back home to Arkansas after a year of living in Vegas, where I got to do a lot of cool things. These things definitely do NOT stay in Vegas.

I met my favorite author, Jennifer Armentrout (and her hunka-hunka cover model and all-around delightful human being, Drew Leighty.)

Jen and Drew

I was an extra in a movie with my favorite actor, Matt Damon. MATT. FREAKIN’ DAMON. And I have to say, he definitely earned his reputation for being the nicest guy in Hollywood. He was super. (Look for me in the convention scene!)

Bourne movie

And I also got to finally meet one of my favorite bands, O-Town. Yes, O-Town from MTV’s Making the Band. (Nope. I do not consider my love of these guys as a guilty pleasure. Not even a little bit.) They’re the hardest working, most down-to-earth and appreciative band I’ve ever met. Go see them, if only for nostalgia’s sake. They do not disappoint. Townie for life!

Me and my boys

KMore about me: I’m a card carrying Sci-Fi geek (my complete collection of Empire Strikes Back collector cards qualify me). Some of my favorite fandoms are: Doctor Who, Firefly, Game of Thrones, Buffy & all things Whedon, Star Trek, The Walking Dead, Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Marvel Universe, X-Files, & The 100. Here’s where I come down on the important issues: Ten over Eleven (and light years beyond Twelve); Picard over Kirk; Spike over Angel; The Order of the Phoneix book, The Deathly Hallows movie;  and Bellarke forever.

My zombie apocalypse team would consist of Daryl Dixon, Jon Snow, and Spike from BtVS.  Yes, they will brood the zombies to death and finish them off with their hotness.

My favorite authors are Jennifer Armentrout, Veronica Rossi, Stephen King, Marie Lu, Madeleine L’Engle, and who doesn’t love JK Rowling? A favorite books list would include A Wrinkle in Time, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Divergent, The Lux Series, Brave New World, & To Kill a Mockingbird. I also adore the Shadow and Bone series, which I use as a comp for my #PitchWars entry.

I’m entering VALLEY OF MIST AND MEMORY this year. It’s a YA historical fantasy based on ancient Mayan culture that was inspired by a dream and an episode of Ancient Aliens. The manuscript is a magical retelling of the Mayan creation myth told in two POV’s—a girl from the valley who believes the Four Elements guide her and a prince from the mountain who’s directed by the stars. They must overcome their differences and team up to find the “somewhat disputed” thirteenth crystal skull before it falls into the wrong hands, specifically the prince’s crow of a brother, who’s determined to gain the skull’s power and destroy the valley.

Oh, and there’s kissing in it.

Hot kissing. We’re talking literal fire here.

(Because it is completely impossible for me to write anything that doesn’t have a lot of kissing in it.)

My Pinterest board for this manuscript is here.

For the pimp portion of your evening, allow me to sell myself to my potential mentors.

smooth move baby

Though I’ve been a writer since I could form coherent thoughts, I’ve been formally attempting this publication thing for about four years now. I’m an active member of SCBWI and have an awesome group of crit partners who dig this story! (That’s got to count for something, right?) I’ve done contests and have come close, but haven’t found the right agent yet. I’m hoping this MS is THE one. I have not queried this MS yet, so it’s shiny and fresh for everyone to see. (Or it will be!)

Personally I’m a quick writer, hard worker, and will give it my all (…Or nothing at all.  O-Town.) Though I’m a sensitive soul, I’ve always understood that honest critique is the best way to improve and I Want it That Way. (Backstreet Boys) I’m fully ready to receive any comments/suggestions/criticisms/gifs. My mentor can expect me to respond to these things with a good attitude/honest questions/my best effort/and possibly boyband lyrics.

And this has been my life and times. The truth is out there. So long and thanks for all the fish.

so long dolphin

WRITERS with polished manuscripts: You can find more information about Pitch Wars on the amazing Brenda Drake’s website. Check out potential mentors and get your pitches ready by August 3!

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By the Numbers

I just finished the first draft of my YA Fantasy manuscript based on the ancient Mayan culture. (And inspired by an episode of Ancient Aliens!) I thought I’d let you in on the editing process as I experienced it this time. If you’re a writer, maybe you can glean some tips and ideas from my process. And perhaps even feel good about yourself as I reveal how bad my first drafts are!

After I typed “THE END” (Okay, I didn’t actually type that. I typed hashtags. The End just sounds more poetic) I let the MS rest for a day or two. Ideally I’d let it simmer longer, but I’m inpatient and have some time to kill right now, so I dove right back in.

My word count prior to this edit was 79,000 words. Word count after edit is 77,000.

The manuscript was started on March 21, 2015 and the first draft was completed Jan 2, 2016. Though there were about 4 months in that period where I relocated and worked on another MS.  So I’d estimate 5 months working time on this.

This story is told in present tense with 2 POV characters– a girl who lives a primitive life in a valley and a boy from a more advanced civilization who lives on a mountain.  That’s all I can share right now. Oh, there’s kissing. I can share that.

After I read through and tightened the MS overall, I went back and took advantage of that ever-so-amazing FIND button. Bill Gates (or whomever) deserves all the accolades for that little thing. It is my best editing friend. (Besides my crit partners, of course!)

I utilized FIND and REPLACE in 3 different instances. Two character name changes and one name that I inexplicably decided to spell differently throughout the MS. (Ah, such is the life of a pantser!)

For this manuscript, I researched the ancient Maya people and  culture. I tried to get as close to possible to authentic Mayan words or Mayan-sounding words without offending the Mayans who are still living today. As a result, I created 29 “magic” words and added them to my Word dictionary.

My last step was to go through and use that FIND button again, searching out those pesky FILTER WORDS and CRUTCH WORDS.

Crutch words are words the author uses often. I usually have 1 or 2 words that creep into manuscripts without my permission. In this case, I used a lot of “beautiful” and “strong” in the first draft of this MS. This is not surprising as these are the most prevalent words the 2 main POV characters use to describe each other! They’re still in there, but I managed to trim them down and use other descriptors like gorgeous, stunning, rugged.

Filter words are words that don’t add anything to your sentences. They often appear in manuscripts because people use them in their daily vernacular. But they serve no purpose and slow down the action.

Below are some common filter and crutch words and how I fixed them are:

  • Really – This word crops up when I tried to put emphasis on something. Oftentimes I can find another word that conveys the feeling I want. I used it 22 times in my MS. I narrowed that down to 9. Here are some examples on ways I axed “really.”

PRE EDIT:  She steels herself for some really bad news.

POST: She squares her shoulders, steeling herself for bad news.

(I also got rid of the unneeded “some” in the first sentence. Now the sentence is more fluid, plus it shows action.)

PRE EDIT: We have the map and it doesn’t really tell us which way to go.

POST: We have the map and it doesn’t tell us which way to go.

PRE EDIT: This guy is really getting on my nerves.

POST: This guy is unraveling my last nerve.

  • Very –  Another word that adds nothing. You can get rid of the ‘verys’ by coming up with a more descriptive word to use.

For example: I changed one character from “very pretty” to “stunning.” Another character went from being “very tired” to being “exhausted.”

  • Begin/began to – I went from 21 instances down to 7. The remaining 7 were times when the character actually started to do something, but was interrupted. Make your characters act, not begin to act.

PRE EDIT: The villagers begin to panic and scatter.

POST EDIT: The villagers panic and scatter.

(Because if you are panicked enough to scatter, you’re not going to stop, right? You’re going to get the heck out of there. Beginning to panic and scatter implies the villagers will run a few feet, then stop for some reason.)

  • Probably – Similar to “really,” using “probably” slows down the action. Your characters should act with purpose. “Probably” shows they’re guessing or unsure. If that makes sense for the character, then it’s okay. Otherwise, you don’t need it. I went from 12 to 2 “probablys”. Both rmaining cases are the POV character being flippant and sarcastic, as his personality dictates.
  • Smile/Laugh/Nod – When I give you these numbers, you’re going to think I wrote a book about a bunch of happy agreeable people. That is not the case. I have a tendency to use smiling, laughing and nodding as place holders in my MS. This story has a lot of dialogue and a lot of characters. To break up the dialogue and show (not tell) who is speaking, I find myself letting the characters react to other speakers or events by smiling, laughing or nodding. Now that’s not a bad thing, unless it happens so much that all they’re doing is walking around like they’re on Prozac.

PRE EDIT: Corvus laughs. He approaches Araylee with a sneer, drinking her in with ruthless eyes.

POST: Corvus approaches Araylee with a sneer, drinking her in with ruthless eyes.

In my first draft, Corvus was reacting to something another character said prior to this line. He laughed about it, then went on to approach Araylee. But upon further review, his laugh did nothing to advance the action. The important thing is that he approaches Araylee, not that he is amused by came before.

PRE EDIT: He nods his head at me, then turns toward the Stargazer.

POST: He bows his head an infinitesimal amount, then faces the Stargazer.

Not only is the edit more descriptive, it shows the intent of the character. The POV character is implying that this character is doing the minimal amount as possible because he doesn’t WANT to nod his head.

PRE EDIT: I nod my head in understanding.

POST: I understand.

I went from 307 smile/laugh/nods to 68. (Because sometimes characters get to smile. Usually after the kissing.)

  • Say/Says/Said –Ah, the dialogue tag. I can’t seem to get away from the dialogue tag in my first drafts. As I mentioned above, I have a lot of dialogue. When I’m drafting I don’t stop to think about how much I use them, but when I plugged “say” into my FIND search, I wanted to cry. 224 times I used say. After this pass, I’m down to 79. Because sometimes there really is no better way.

You can scrap say/says/said if there are only 2 speakers. Having a whole page of He said/She said is boring and redundant. Instead, use action to break up your dialogue.

If you need to use dialogue tags, consider other descriptive words. Words like: declare, admit, joked, replied, growled, hissed, sneered, etc… But be cautious about the tone of your MS. Using alternative words can make the MS sound stuffy or formal.

PRE EDIT: “Good evening Archer,” she says. She swishes her golden hair over her shoulders

POST: “Good evening Archer,” she purrs, swishing her golden hair over her shoulder, immediately drawing my brother’s eyes.

(Doesn’t that give you a much better idea of who this girl is anyway?)

  • Feel – Feel is another one of my favorites during first drafts. Emotions are important, yo. And my characters just feel all over the place in my first drafts. But too many “feels” don’t actually bring the reader “THE” feels. Oftentimes it separates the reader from the emotion you’re hoping to convey. To say a character feels something is telling. Have them show their feelings.

PRE EDIT: I feel her apprehension in the air around us

POST: Her apprehension hangs in the air around us

PRE EDIT: I can feel Archer’s presence behind me.

POST: Archer’s presence trails behind me, like a shadow, dark and ominous

PRE EDIT: A feeling of obligation sets in my bones and dread swims in my blood.

POST: Obligation sets in my bones, dread swims in my blood.

I don’t even want to tell you how many times I used “feel” in this manuscript. Right now I’m a touch over 90 “feel/feelings.”  My goal is to narrow that down a lot more before I submit this to an agent.

I hope my first draft editing can help other writers find ways to improve their own works. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but these are the tendencies I cling to while writing. All writers should take note of their own crutch words and filter words. Kill those little darlings!

Other common words to check for in your manuscripts.

That – almost never needed

Definitely, certainly

Rather, quite, somewhat, somehow

Down, up – almost never needed. (As in: reached up, bent down. Just: reach, bend)

Think/thought, wonder/wondered – much like feel. Use action and descriptors.

Inhale/exhale/breathe – these are overused, especially in YA. And for the love of Bakab, the Mayan god of the Four Directions, do NOT have your character exhale a shaky breath they didn’t know they were holding!

 

hashtag amwritingchallenge

This month I am participating in the #amwritingchallenge. Writers are posting photos of various things on a list to their Instagram or Twitter accounts. (I’m posting on Instagram.)

I think this is a cool idea because it not only because it builds a community of people who are going through the same things, but it allows writers to give some thought to the thing we love to do–write.

Yesterday’s challenge was to post a pic of the view FROM WHERE I WRITE. Today’s challenge is a PAGE FROM YOUR MANUSCRIPT.

Already on Day 2 I have gained new Instagram followers/friends and have enjoyed seeing the myriad of pictures from all over the place. Today I’ve even gotten to peek inside some awesome manuscripts!

I’m looking forward to seeing what comes up during the rest of the month. If you’re a writer, consider joining me for this fun challenge.

amwritingchallenge

To check out my #amwritingchallenge photos, visit my Instagram page.

Nineteen Signs That You Love YA

  1. You know the difference between Veronica Roth and Veronica Rossi.
  2. When you meet a guy, you size him up by his ability to pick a hot best friend that’s full of snark. (Your friends think you should end up with HIM.)
  3. When you declare your team, you don’t mean the Cowboys or Yankees.
  4. When you’re asked to pick a number between 1 and 10, you always say Four.
  5. You can pronounce Tahereh without any help.
  6. Tuesday is your favorite day of the week.
  7. You ask for B&N gift cards for Christmas and birthdays.
  8. If your life were a movie, you’d be played by Jennifer Lawrence or Shailene Woodley. Ansel Elsgort would portray your boyfriend. Or brother.
  9. You think aliens are hot and that Daemon is a perfectly acceptable name for a guy.
  10. You’re not afraid of the zombie apocalypse because you know you could survive.
  11. You couldn’t care less who wore what designer at the Oscars, but are up early on cover reveal days.
  12. Tahereh + Ransom = OTP
  13. You can’t cite a classic work of literature without comparing it to the contemporary retelling of it.
  14. You can find the heart of gold in every bad boy you meet.
  15. You believe everything should come in trilogies.
  16. When you meet someone, you automatically sort them into Houses, Factions, and Districts.
  17. You have a color-coded spread sheet of upcoming release dates (Or is that just me?)
  18. You know how to book shimmy and do so frequently.
  19. You never forget to be awesome.

Happy reading everyone!