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April 14, 2010

Road Trip Wednesday: Best Writing Advice Ever

Kate Hart
I know, I know. Friends aren't good beta readers. They're not going to give you an honest opinion.

Clearly, your best friend is not an English PhD who teaches writing. Lucky me.

I couldn't have kept going with this "crazy writing idea" without her support, which has been extensive. Her advice and suggestions have been invaluable, but there's not enough room on the interwebz for me to share it all, so I'll stick with two.

One: BFF doesn't read YA. Hell, she barely has time to read for fun, period-- she's working on a dissertation. But I was terrified that she would look down on me for writing it. I should have known better, obviously, but it was a fear.

Anyway, I was stressing over something early in this process, and she said, "Look. I think you went into this thinking that because it was young adult, it would somehow be easier. But it's not." She wasn't the one looking down on my choice. I was. I slapped myself around and haven't doubted for a second since that she's behind me 100%.

Two: My writing process starts with a "dialogue spine." I had a scene that had taken shape that way, but never developed past two character blabbering at each other. BFF didn't have a specific suggestion for what to fix, and knowing me as she does, suggested an analytical approach that has helped with many other scenes since:
"Go back through and identify (via list, colored highlighters, whatev) three or four kinds of things this chapter is currently providing: 1) basic information the reader needs, 2) basic information each character needs (but that the reader already has), 3) specific character developments, 4) plot advancing events. Categories 1 and 2 are probably almost all dialogue. Category three should be subdivided by dialogue or action (gestures reveal character, after all). There may be more categories than that. Anyway, once you’ve got those specific goals in mind, try a couple of things.

1) Imagine you have been forced to cut ½ of everything 1-3 in this chapter, while keeping anything from category 4. Where else in the surrounding chapters could you accomplish those goals?

2) Instead of #1, you have to keep this chapter basically as is, but change ½ of the information (categories 1-2) currently conveyed through dialogue to be conveyed through action, gesture, implication, allusion, etc.

3) Plot advancing events: congress passes a law such that you can’t advance the plot in that way. You have to get from point A to point B in a fundamentally different route. Whacha gonna do?"

See? She's kind of a genius.

Also, when combined, we are an unstoppable force at Pictionary.


Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival," where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on our own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.


  1. I am going to have to come back to number two, because, wow.

  2. awesome advice! I'm going to have to earmark this for later reference ;)

  3. Yeah, I'm gonna go ahead and save this.

    Also, I feel bad for the poor schlubs who faced you in Pictionary.

  4. Kir and Karla-- I know, right? I think she should be an agent or an editor.

    Vee-- Sadly, it was our husbands we annihilated. LOL It's a little more evenly matched when we play Trivial Pursuit.

  5. I'm definitely bookmarking this. The second advice is awesome, most definitely.

  6. remind me not to play board games with you...
    Great advice :)

  7. Very cute! Love your blog.

    Found you through AW. :)

  8. Loved this. I'll be bookmarking this for future reference.

  9. Second advice was a bit confusing, so I'll have to reread it slowly and make sure I take it in. But an analytical approach? Genius!

  10. I am 1) way jealous you have such an astute bff/beta reader
    2) in love with this post because my bffs and I have watched Zoolander together approximately 25 million times. Did you know there's going to be a sequel? True story.

    Awesome advice!

  11. I am bookmarking this page right now. Thank you so much for sharing your BFF's incredible advice with us. Two of my BFFs are editors, and I am terrified to show them my book...

  12. This is great advice. Thanks for sharing it with us. :D

  13. That is awesome!! I love the math, haha. I want to meet your BFF, in a non-creepy way (I think) :D

  14. Wow! Fascinating. I am right at the point where I can probably use something like this. Thanks!

  15. Great advice!
    BFF's, although not agents, are wonderful motivators, nevertheless!

  16. I might be crushing on your BFF right now.
    Seriously, though. Awesome advice.

  17. Wow.

    Such detailed advice! AND board game savviness. I might have to kidnap your friend.


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