Lucky 7 Excerpt from my Young Adult Civil War manuscript

letter-writingThere has been a “Lucky 7” excerpt writing meme spreading across the interwebs since 2012 if my cursory Google search is accurate. I thought it would be fun to share some of my progress.

In case you don’t know, the rules of the Lucky 7 meme are:

  1. Go to page 7 or 77 in your current manuscript.
  2. Go to line 7.
  3. Copy down the next seven lines as they are – no cheating.
  4. Tag 7 other authors.

Now, I’m nowhere near page 77 of my manuscript, so it’ll have to be page 7. These memes always make me nervous… what if they select a part of the book that’s kind of, well, boring? I suppose the idea is to open your eyes as a writer and make every page in your book compelling.

Anyway, here is my Page 7 line 7 excerpt from my young adult Victorian fiction, without preamble or context:

He opened his eyes in time to see wide skirts sweeping from the room. That confirmed it. He wasn’t at Camp Chase. The only woman allowed in the prison had died a few months ago of the very disease she had been helping her doctor husband fight.

Waking up away from Camp Chase should have brought him some relief, but that woman’s harsh accent filled him with dread. He had never heard anyone speak like that before, not even in the prison. Was he with friends, or simply in a smaller, more lavish prison?

“He’s awake?” he heard a younger voice from down the hall, most likely Alina. Whereas the older woman sounded annoyed, Alina sounded excited. “Have you spoken with him? Can we keep him?”

I don’t have seven writers to tag, so please forgive me. I’d love to see excerpts from:

  1.  Drew Farnsworth
  2. Caitlin O’Sullivan
  3. Eliza Wyatt
  4. Evangeline Holland

Relying on Writing Exercises

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I picked up the Writing Great Books for Young Adults by Regina Brooks from the library last night and have already worked through it and the select exercises provided within. I found it to be a great book because it’s practical, pragmatic, and from the viewpoint of  an agent who knows what it takes to make a good story.

There were four exercises in particular that I found helpful: Historical, Emotional, Rebellion, and Wanted.

Historical Exercise

The Historical exercise was all about picking an era and writing a short blurb about someone during that time. Since I’m working on a Civil War book set in my hometown of Columbus, OH, this felt like it should have been a natural fit. I think because I assumed it should be easy, I think I made it difficult! Here is what I came up with, unedited:

It’s just after the Civil War and a teenage girl has been helping with the effort. A staunch Unionist surrounded by Copperheads at school, she despairs of ever fitting in. When she stumbles upon a wounded soldier, she helps him home to take care of him. His memories are gone, but little by little she realizes he might be a Confederate prisoner escaped from Camp Chase.

Something about this felt super flat. But it was more important to get the idea out there, so I went with it.

Emotions Exercise

Then I tried the Emotions exercise, where you were tasked with taking some emotions you remember from your teenage years, and applying them to a character. This is the result of that exercise:

A Unionist teen is rejected by her Copperhead friends now that the war is won. She buries herself in preparations for Lincoln’s funeral procession [to avoid wallowing in sadness] when a wounded Confederate soldier falls into her lap, forcing her to confront ideas of what’s right and fair as she nurses him back to health.

This feels like it has a little more meat to it, if only because it feels more… human. There are emotions involved, people hurt and needing help, and you get a hint of the protagonist’s personality.

Rebellion Exercise

The Rebellion exercise was interesting because it is a lens where you think of a time when you tried/felt like rebelling against your parents…

Forced to stop associating with people she considered her friends, ______ resents her father for breaking her apart from them. She hates these people for following the new rules even while she makes excuses for them. She feels alone, betrayed, unheard, discarded, trapped, rejected, and yet somehow, aloof to it all if it will help her deal.

I didn’t really like that one. It felt kind of whiny.

Want Ad Exercise

The Wanted exercise was fun because it’s all about writing a want ad for your protagonist…

Average-looking, gangly 18-year-old female, unaware of her ability to make anyone feel at home. Questionable manners, average command of English, with a twang from childhood living in countryside. Staunch Unionist, but former friends with Copperheads. Logical-minded. Annoyed by inconveniences. Caring, but clumsy about showing it. Tendency to speak bluntly. Only daughter with younger brother, expected to be responsible and calm while mother fights illness and father returns from war.

I don’t know. Writing all of this out makes me realize how much work I have to do to really get back into writing. I’m fighting my looming frustration and sadness, trying to stay positive about this new book attempt and that I’m not a terrible writer. I have a lot of doubts right now, and as long as I don’t think about them, I can write. As soon as I think of my readers, however, I seem to freak out!

Anyway, feel free to send me your thoughts about these exercises! Email me, comment on Facebook, or here at the blog.

Best,
Belinda

Nifty Online Plotting Tools

I found these tools online by searching “character, writing tools” through Google. Some of these are actually meant for students to map/study an already published text, but I see no reason why we can’t also use them to analyze our own work.

Drama Map: this is a smiple organization tool to help with character, conflict, resolution, and setting mapping. Not the most detailed, but if you are working scene-by-scene, this could actually be very useful. Plus, it’s always fun to work with pretty graphics.

Circle Diagram: another way to map out scenes (or your overall plot) is to use the circle diagram theory. The idea is that you place the beginning at the 23:55 and the ending at say… the 00:05 position (if we’re thinking clocks). Then, you put the exact center of your plot at the 12:00 position. Keep filling in with plot twists, etc, and when you’ve filled the sides of the circle, you can start drawing lines across it. This allows you to draw on information that only you as the author knows early in the plot, and have it relate to something much later.

General Themes that (almost) all stories start from:

*The journey there and back.
*Winning the prize.
*Winning or losing the loved one.
*Loss and restoration.
*The blessing becomes the curse.
*Overcoming obstacles.
*The wasteland restored.
*Rising from the ashes.
*The ugly duckling.
*The emperor has no clothes.
*Descent into the underworld.

I’ll return later with quick summaries of all the books I’ve been reading. I sort of fell behind on my reviews. Such is the life of a student. Or rather, such is life.