Sunday, May 6, 2012

Crits for Water Interview with Author Imogen Howson

(or, the Impossible becomes Possible)

A charity water fact: The lack of clean water accounts for more deaths in the world than war.

Young adult author Imogen Howson is ready to help out, to slow the number of water-related deaths, through the 2012 Crits for Water campaign. She’s donated a 3000-word critique (available Monday, May 7th). She’s a writer, she’s an editor, and she’s got an eye for scene necessity.

Meet Imogen.


As a child, Imogen loved reading so much that she not only read in bed, at the table and in the bath, but in the shower and – not so successfully – on her bicycle. She enjoyed books in a slightly unorthodox way, too – many of her childhood books have ragged edges where she tore paper from the margins in order to eat it.

Some years later, she's busy writing romantic science fiction and fantasy for young adults and adults.
She lives with her partner and their two teenage daughters, in a house that desperately needs a second bathroom, near Sherwood Forest in England. She still reads in most places, but she no longer eats paper.

She's a member of The Romantic Novelists’ Association, the group blog The Lucky 13s, and the online writers’ community Romance Divas. She's represented by Mandy Hubbard of D4EO Literary Agency and her debut YA science fiction thriller, LINKED, is coming out from Simon & Schuster in 2013.


NAE: After a writer gets back an in-depth critique, what would you recommend in terms of a review/revise process?

Imogen: Read it a couple of times, then let it sit in your head for a couple of days. Often, a writer's first response to an in-depth critique is either "but that's WRONG" or "but I can't!" A couple of days thinking it over will help you get over your first instinctive response, and you'll get a better idea of whether it really is wrong or impossible.

At this point, assuming you've decided the suggested changes are useful ones (and totally ignoring the voice that might still be saying "but I can't!"), make yourself a list of what you're going to deal with and in what order.

Personally, I deal with the little things first (overused words, little continuity issues like someone's shoes disappearing mid-scene or someone else's eyes changing colour). I leave the bigger things (particularly the ones I still think are impossible to fix) for later, because I find that as I work through the manuscript fixing the little things I tend to get an idea of how to fix the bigger ones.

As you work through the manuscript, take note of the points where you can change part of a bigger issue (such as a single character's development). Then when you're done fixing the little things, you can go back to those places and start working on the bigger changes.

You'll probably find that what started out feeling totally impossible becomes a whole lot more possible later in the process.

NAE: What’s one of the worst mistakes a critiquer can make?

Imogen: Fixating on particular "rules" without paying attention to whether they're appropriate for the manuscript they're working on. For instance, some writers overuse weak verb/ adverb combinations ("she walked slowly"), and it's useful to them to be told to use stronger verbs ("she strolled") instead. However, if a critiquer goes into a critique with the attitude "all adverbs are bad" and tries to strike out the one or two carefully, precisely chosen adverbs this author has used, that's the reverse of helpful!

NAE: When you critique someone’s work, what is your general process?

Imogen: I read super-fast (it's a curse, not a gift!), so I'll read through once, getting a sense of the characters, plot, setting, conflict etc. Then, having noted the more global issues (unconvincing character development, fuzzy world building and so on), I'll go through and do a line-and-content edit, picking up everything (well, almost!) from character issues to awkward sentences to comma splices.

NAE: Is there one specific thing that you gravitate toward while critiquing?

Imogen: I work as an editor, so I've been trained into looking for everything. I think I'm particularly aware of pacing issues, though. If a scene doesn't advance the plot or deepen the reader's understanding of the characters, then often all it's doing is bogging down the book. Not always, though...

Crits for Water Quickfires—And, go:

1. Oxford comma?   Only if it's needed for clarity.

2. Should "I like him too" have a comma before "too"?   Only if you need it for emphasis.

3. Italicize or underline?   Italicize.

4. How do you separate scenes: #, ***, line break?   I like asterisks, or even better, fancy wingdings, but I've been trained into using two line breaks instead.

5. What's your favorite verb?   Shatter. I like verbs that come with images and sounds.


Thank you, Imogen!

There you have it. If you need help making the impossible possible, take a stab at Imogen’s 3000-word critique here (May 7th).

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