in all blogs
Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Craft of Writing, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 238
Insecurities and self-doubt seem to be an elemental part of being a writer. Author Rosamund Hodge joins us today to share a very deep and heartfelt post on facing these invisible monsters and writing on.
The Invisible Monster of Self-Criticism by Rosamund Hodge
This post nearly included productivity tips.
"I'm writing about anxiety and self-criticism," I said to myself. "And if you're feeling like you're a terrible writer, obviously the answer is to become a better writer
by working harder and more efficiently! . . . Wait."
And that right there is why I'm writing this article.The Invisible Monster
In 2013, I thought I had the writerly anxiety thing pretty much beat. I had learned to finish novels. I had learned to revise them. I had survived getting rejected by 65 agents, and as my reward I had found an agent and sold my novel. I had completed all the revisions; in six months, Cruel Beauty
was going to hit shelves and I would be a really-for-real Published Author. Life was great
Then it was time to write the second novel.
I had heard, of course, about the Dread Second Novel, and how terrible it was. "That won't be a problem for me," I thought. "I've already written multiple novels! Cruel Beauty
is technically #4! No Second Novel Syndrome for me!"
Ha. Ha. Ha.
Long story short: I wrote the novel. Then I rewrote it nine times. I added, removed, or added-then-removed-then-put-back-again characters, sub-plots, chapters, a prologue, a plague, a giant serpent, and a neighboring country. This list is not exhaustive.
The end result was a novel of which I am now extremely proud. But at the time? It nearly destroyed me as a writer. And yes, I have a career in being dramatic, but I am not exaggerating. As long as I have been writing (nineteen years, if you're curious), I have struggled with anxiety and self-criticism. And over the years, I have dealt with that better or worse.
But by the time I finished revising Crimson Bound
, it was different. This wasn't feeling burnt-out sometimes, or about a particular project. This was feeling like I had an invisible monster--heavy, slimy, malicious--sitting on my shoulder all of the time, telling me that my book was worthless, that everything I wrote was worthless, that I should just stop
. I couldn't read a sentence from my novel without getting depressed. I couldn't enjoy writing--not just working on the novel, but writing anything
Writing had always been my passion, and more than that, my freedom. No matter what else was going wrong with my life, I could still write. I could still have that joy. You can’t take the sky from me!
. . . Except the invisible monster can. He took the sky away from me: that’s what it felt like, when writing suddenly became a burden.
Since this blog post is not titled "How I Quit Writing, At Last I'm Free," you can probably guess that I got better. But it took a while. It's still something that I'm working on--perhaps because my Second Book Trauma wasn't an Attack Of The Foreign Neurosis. Writing the second book, because it was so challenging, forced me to confront a lot of really old fault-lines in my coping skills.
Which leads me to my disclaimer: I think I have some pretty good advice in this blog post. But there are plenty of times when I don't follow it myself. I can't claim to be actually good at this stuff, just to have been forced to think about it.Kindness
I have a long and complicated history with self-loathing. When I finally started finishing novels in 2009, it was because I threatened myself with complete public humiliation: I signed up for NaNoWriMo and told everybody I knew that I was doing it--including a bunch of much-admired professional authors I had just met at World Fantasy Convention--and then posted my word-counts every day on a blog. Failure was unthinkable. So I succeeded: I wrote 50,000 words in less than thirty days, and wrote another 170,000 words in the next eight months.
It was magnificent
. I had never felt so confident in my life.
Clearly, I decided, guilt-trips and the threat of humiliation were the answer to all my writing problems.
And for a while, they were the answer. I kept writing, and I kept finishing novels, and I kept feeling good about myself. But the threat of seething self-hatred works as a motivator only when you're already succeeding--when you normally feel good about yourself, and therefore you have something to lose. When the problem is just that you don't feel the project is urgent enough.
But when the problem is that you already hate yourself? When you hate your writing to such a paralyzing degree that you can't write anymore?
Trying to hate yourself out of self-hatred supremely
doesn't work. Trust me; I really, thoroughly tried. I only started being kind to myself because I didn't have any other options left. And it was really scary, because by that point I had programmed myself to feel that self-hatred meant getting things done meant safety
But facing that fear was worth it. Because it turns out that when you start being kind to yourself, you can start to heal.Don't Talk to the Monster
Probably one of the most helpful things I ever did was learn to think of the invisible monster as an invisible monster
. I've always had that voice in my head--I think we all do--but I'd always seen it as intrinsically part of myself. If it was my own logical judgment that I was worthless as a writer and a person, how could I fight that? All I had to use against my own logic was my own logic, and there's a kind of psychic entropy that prevents that kind of bootstrapping from working.
But then I learned to imagine that voice as something separate from me: an invisible monster talking to
me. And for the first time, it occurred to me that maybe I should tell him to shut up.
I'd always tried to argue with the monster--he would tell me that I was worthless, I would try to come up with reasons why I wasn't so bad, and then I would conscientiously try to evaluate each one. Logic and intellectual integrity demanded
that I consider each time whether or not the monster had a point.
The problem with that approach is that the monster is a lying liar who lies. He hates you. He wants to stop you from writing. He is your personal demon, and he tells the truth only to make you believe his lies.
Don't listen to him. Don't argue with him. Don't talk to him. He is not even worth fighting.
Do you know who taught me to think of my invisible monster as something separate? My therapist.
PSA: Therapy is really great! I think a lot of us have the impression that it's only for people who are:
- trying to save their marriages
- self-absorbed, over-entitled yuppies.
But this is not true. Therapy is not magic, arcane and mystical and completely unrelated to normal life. Talking to your friends is therapy. This article is an attempt at therapy. And if one kind of therapy doesn’t work, it is completely normal and rational to try a different form. Like talking to a professional, licensed therapist.
I didn't start seeing a therapist because of my writing problems; I was already seeing one because of some other (not entirely unrelated) anxiety issues. But when my writing fell apart, that therapist really helped me a lot with putting myself back together. If you have already read all the motivational articles, and you have already tried changing your writing habits, your sleeping habits, and your eating/exercise habits, and you have given yourself plenty of time to work through things and recover, and you are still
feeling really sad and anxious about your writing . . . you might want to consider therapy.
Of course, therapy is not an option for everyone, whether because of location, or finances, or you just can’t stand the idea. If so, I would strongly
advise finding somebody whom you both respect and trust, and talking to him or her about your problems. I have gotten a whole lot of help out of therapy. I have also gotten a whole lot of help out of talking to my mom. Sometimes, all you really need is to tell somebody you trust about the crazy thoughts, and to have the person assure you that (a) those thoughts really are crazy, and (b) you are worth something anyway.Humility
I would rather be self-loathing than humble.
This sounds like a contradiction, but it's really not.
I've always wanted to be perfect. I don't really consider that a flaw. There is never anything wrong in wanting to be better, and to keep becoming better.
But it is a flaw when you want to be an omnipotent goddess of writing who completes her exquisite, entirely-on-time novels without any sort of outside assistance. And it is a flaw when you decide that if you're not perfect, that means you are the worst ever
, and your terribleness is of such an epic degree that nobody in the world can help you.
That kind of willful despair is not an excess of humility. It's a form of pride. It's the determination to be more special than anyone else, no matter the cost. And it's deeply attractive.
But here's the problem: if you value something more than happiness? You are probably going to get something that's not happiness.
And that's where humility comes in. Because happiness is humble. Happiness is saying, "I am small enough that writing this deeply imperfect story delights me."
Humility is saying, "I need help. I can be helped."
I don't like being humble. At all, ever, for any reason. I would much rather be the Supreme Princess of Despair. But I love writing even more than I love my own pride. When the only way I could keep writing was by losing my pride . . . I chose to keep writing.
And here is the magic, the special secret: when you let go of your pride, people can help you. People can love you.
This past month, I was struggling with a deadline. I wanted to believe I could do it all on my own, but I couldn't. So I told some of my writing friends. And you know what? One of them sent me animated GIFs every morning to remind me that I needed to keep writing. One of them read every chapter as I finished it, and told me what she loved about it.
The Rosamund of two years ago would never have admitted she had those needs. And she would never have received that loving support.
It still hurts, every day, when I choose to be humble. Or when I try
to be humble. But I keep trying. And I when I do succeed, I never regret.Finally
Several months ago, I was telling my therapist how I'd had a lifelong problem with perseverance. Ever since I was twelve, I'd been trying to write, but I kept starting stories that I failed to finish. I had completed novels, but every time it had taken a cataclysmic effort that turned my life upside-down. I was a terrible person and nobody should ever respect me as a writer.
She looked at me and she said, "So what you're saying is, despite sabotaging yourself with self-hatred for years at every turn, you've still kept writing."
I had literally never thought of it that way before. And hearing it honestly changed my life, or at least how I felt about my life.
So this is what I really want to say, and what I want you to hear, if you pay attention to no other part of this blog post:
If you're struggling with writing; if you keep trying, and you keep failing worse and worse; if you can only sometimes manage to try anymore--if you are even just barely hanging onto this life by your fingernails--
Then: you are already strong. You are already brave. You have been fighting for years, and if you are still here? That makes you a hero.
About the Book:
When Rachelle was fifteen she was good—apprenticed to her aunt and in training to protect her village from dark magic. But she was also reckless— straying from the forest path in search of a way to free her world from the threat of eternal darkness. After an illicit meeting goes dreadfully wrong, Rachelle is forced to make a terrible choice that binds her to the very evil she had hoped to defeat.
Three years later, Rachelle has given her life to serving the realm, fighting deadly creatures in an effort to atone. When the king orders her to guard his son Armand—the man she hates most—Rachelle forces Armand to help her find the legendary sword that might save their world. As the two become unexpected allies, they uncover far-reaching conspiracies, hidden magic, and a love that may be their undoing. In a palace built on unbelievable wealth and dangerous secrets, can Rachelle discover the truth and stop the fall of endless night?
Inspired by the classic fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood, Crimson Bound
is an exhilarating tale of darkness, love, and redemption.Amazon
About the Author:
Rosamund Hodge loves mythology, Hello Kitty, and T. S. Eliot. She writes YA fantasy that draws on two of those things. In her wild youth, she studied Medieval English at Oxford; she now lives in Seattle and writes wildly.
Visit her on the web at http://www.rosamundhodge.net
or follow her on Twitter: @rosamundhodge.Website
-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers
a Rafflecopter giveaway
We welcome author Melissa Grey today to share with us some of her inspiration for The Girl at Midnight
, plus her insight into the writing process. Melissa has always been generous with her craft knowledge as she was a former First Five Pages workshop mentor here at AYAP. We have a brand new workshop starting
tomorrow -- don't forget to enter! Also, be sure to check the giveaway of The Girl at Midnight
at the end of Melissa's interview below.
Interview with Melissa Grey, author of THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT -- A Craft of Writing PostWhat was your inspiration for writing THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT?
I was really inspired by the Firebird ballet and Stravinsky’s music. It comes from a fascinating bit of folklore that you see elements of pop up in cultures all over the world. I’ve always loved quest narratives, so building a story around that structure was something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.What did this book teach you about writing or about yourself?
I’ve always known that I’m my harshest critic and while the ability to tear your own work apart can be a useful skill to have, I learned that I also had to be kind to myself. I have a habit of pushing myself to the brink when I’m working on something I’m passionate about and balancing my desire to write the best book I can while still taking care of myself mentally was definitely a challenge. But I’m getting better at it!What do you hope readers will take away from THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT?
I mostly just want people to have a great time reading the book. I want you to feel like you’ve gone on an adventure with this ragtag group of misfits. If readers take away any greater meaning, I hope it’s the understanding that it’s our choices that define us, not necessarily our pasts. Even when things seem dire, there’s always a choice. A choice to be brave or kind or selfish or loyal.What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?
Don’t be precious about your writing. Learn to move on from stories that aren’t working. Be critical of your work and take criticism gracefully. Sometimes what you write won’t be the greatest thing in the world, so take a page out of Elsa’s book and let it go!What are you working on now?
I’m currently working on the third book in The Girl at Midnight trilogy.
ABOUT THE BOOKThe Girl at Midnightby Melissa GreyHardcoverDelacorte PressReleased 4/28/2015
For readers of Cassandra Clare's City of Bones and Leigh Bardugo's Shadow and Bone, The Girl at Midnight is the story of a modern girl caught in an ancient war.
Beneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins. Age-old enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All but one. Echo is a runaway pickpocket who survives by selling stolen treasures on the black market, and the Avicen are the only family she's ever known.
Echo is clever and daring, and at times she can be brash, but above all else she's fiercely loyal. So when a centuries-old war crests on the borders of her home, she decides it's time to act.
Legend has it that there is a way to end the conflict once and for all: find the Firebird, a mythical entity believed to possess power the likes of which the world has never seen. It will be no easy task, but if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it's how to hunt down what she wants . . . and how to take it.
But some jobs aren't as straightforward as they seem. And this one might just set the world on fire. Purchase The Girl at Midnight at AmazonPurchase The Girl at Midnight at IndieBoundView The Girl at Midnight on Goodreads
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Melissa Grey penned her first short story at the age of twelve and hasn't stopped writing since. As an undergrad at Yale, she learned how ride a horse and shoot a bow and arrow at the same time, but hasn't had much use for that skill since graduating in 2008.
Her debut novel, THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT, will be published by Delacorte/Random House in spring 2015.
To learn more about Melissa, visit melissa-grey.com
and follow her on Twitter @meligrey
What did you think of our interview with Melissa Grey, author of THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT? Did you learn any great writing tips? Let us know in the comments!
Martina, Jocelyn, Shelly, Jan, Lisa, Susan, and Erin
We are thrilled to welcome Alex J. Cavanaugh to the blog today as he provides a glimpse into the writing authors face AFTER the deal is done! Alex first made waves, or jumped into hyper-drive, with his Cassa Trilogy, which landed on the Amazon bestseller list. He is also the founder and leader of the wildly popular online Insecure Writers Support Group. Surely that wouldn't describe anyone of us, now would it? Be sure to check it out as well as Alex's newest release, Dragon of the Stars, below.
Writing Doesn’t Stop When the Book’s Finished, A Craft of Writing Post by Alex J. Cavanaugh
Working on a book can take years. We create the first draft, revise, edit, incorporate more changes from critique partners’ suggestions, perhaps hire an editor and edit some more, and finally polish it to perfection. When a publisher says yes, we breathe a sigh of relief. We’re done!
Not so fast. Done? Hardly–we’ve only just begun.
For those who’ve not journeyed down this path yet, let me give you an idea how much MORE writing there is with that one manuscript.Publisher revisions
– No matter how polished, there will be changes. Sometimes minor, such as correcting grammar, clarifying points, tightening the prose, or adding description. Sometimes it’s more involved and results in rewrites or point of view changes. Either way, we will be working on that manuscript several times before our publisher puts it into production. And if we sign with an agent first, that’s an added layer of edits before a publisher ever sees it.Synopsis
– This will involve either adjusting the blurb from the query letter or creating a whole new one. We’ll polish it many times over, passing it back and forth with our publisher. (Unless you’re fortunate and your publisher does this for you.)Cover art
– Some authors have more input than others, but often there is a cover form that needs to be filled out that will give the illustrator a place to begin.Author bio
– Even if we have one already, it will need to be polished and publisher approved, as it will appear on both the book and your site.Our social media sites
– We’ll be ramping up our presence, writing blog posts, Tweets, and more in anticipation of our launch. We’ll be establishing our platform while making contacts. This takes time. It takes reaching out to others and building relationships. It takes becoming part of the community and giving back. Networking that’s done right, with comments, reTweets, and posts that support others, involves a lot of writing.Website
– Sometimes we have to construct our own website, comprised of some of the items above and more. We have to let people know who we are so they will feel a connection.A marketing plan
– Sometimes we’ll need one before signing with a publisher. But afterwards, we’ll definitely need to do our research and create a list. There are so many opportunities, and we don’t want to miss an important one.Letters and emails
– We’ll be contacting bloggers, authors, websites, bookstores, reviewers, schools, etc. We’ll need professional introductory letters when asking for reviews or blurbs. This will be an ongoing marketing effort, even after the book is released.Online tour
– Often there is an online tour during the launch, whether set up by us, our publisher, or a publicist. Requests will come in for interviews and guest posts. Each one will need to be different and fresh. And they can’t simply shout ‘buy my book.’ It will take effort to come up with an interesting topic or angle, one that will make readers comfortable with us and more likely to buy our book. We’ll be writing and polishing these for months, sometimes right down to the wire.Speeches and more
– We might be asked to join a conference panel or give a talk at a convention. We might be invited to speak at a school or an event. The last thing we want to do is go in unprepared. (Especially with kids who can eat us alive!)Review copy edits
– Yes, even after all that polishing, we’ll be editing and correcting some more. There’s always that one elusive typo…
There are a million other details that will require our writing skills, from preparing promotional Tweets to bookmark details. We might have to create our own book trailer. Maybe we’re writing up announcement for our local paper. Maybe we’ve started a newsletter that requires a couple hours of writing time each month. Plus our website content needs to be updated. And if you believe the social media stuff ends shortly after the book is released, think again!
Bottom line, there are a lot more words to write after the manuscript is completed. This can overwhelm some authors. But if we go into it with eyes open, prepared and willing, we’ll enjoy the release of our book that much more.
And then guess what? We get to start all over again.
About the Book:
The ship of legends…
The future is set for Lt. Commander Aden Pendar, poised to secure his own command and marriage to the queen’s daughter. But when the Alliance declares war on their world, Aden finds his plans in disarray and told he won’t make captain. One chance remains–the Dragon. Lost many years prior, the legendary ship’s unique weapon is Hyrath’s only hope. Can Aden find the Dragon, save his people, and prove he’s capable of commanding his own ship?Amazon
| Barnes & Noble
| Goodreads What Are the Kargrandes?
About the Author:
Alex J. Cavanaugh has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and works in web design, graphics, and technical editing. Online he is the Ninja Captain and founder of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group
. He’s the author of Amazon Best-Sellers CassaStar
, and CassaStorm
| Insecure Writers Support Group
-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers
Welcome to our monthly Ask a Pub Pro feature where a publishing professional answers readers and writers' questions regarding the stories they love or their work in progress. This month, Helene Dunbar, author of These Gentle Wounds and the soon-to-be-released What Remains joins us to answer questions on humor in dark scenes, unsympathetic characters, present tense, and multiple POVs.
We'd love to have you send in your questions for next month's column. Please send questions to AYAPLit AT gmail.com and put "Ask a Pub Pro Question" in the subject line. If your question is chosen, you'll get to include a link to your social media and a one to two sentence (think Tweet size) blurb of your WIP.
Come on! Get those questions in!
Author Helene Dunbar Answers Questions on Ask A Pub Pro
1) My question is regarding humor in dark moment scenes. I have a character who's a smart mouth. If he says something funny (dry) in a very dark scene, will that lesson the tension? (asked by Sylvia in NJ)
There’s always a lot of trial and error in drafting. If your character is sarcastic throughout the manuscript and it would be in character for him to say something snarky in a very dark scene, by all means go for it. I’m a strong advocate for letting your character dictate the scene, so only if this would be breaking character would I recommend against it.
This is also where crit partners or beta readers are great resources because they’ll be the first to tell you if a scene is being marred by a character’s response. But I’ve often found that a tense scene can be made tenser by someone saying the unexpected thing that maybe cuts deeper than the expected comment would.
2) I tend to write protagonists that are not perfect....I mean really not perfect, as in more anti-hero than hero...and have had a lot of complaints about sympathy. But to me, the greater character arc comes from someone who has a longer way to go. Is this kind of character just not marketable? Or how do I make them so? (asked by Anonymous)
I agree with you that sometimes the most interesting character arcs are those in which the character has a great distance to go. However…just because a character starts out immensely flawed, doesn’t mean that the reader can’t sympathize with them. For instance, your character might be a total self-serving narcissist who irritates everyone he/she meets except…they have a soft spot for their little sister and take her to the park at 1pm every Saturday regardless of what else they’re asked to do. I think that showing the softer side of a hard character can go very far in rounding out the character and might give you some extra ammunition in ramping up their arc.
That IS a very common criticism though, so make sure that your character is human enough or believable enough or fleshed out enough so that regardless how flawed they are, there is something to make the reader root for him/her.
3) My WIP is currently in first person present tense. I know there may be marketing challenges to using this tense, but am wondering if there are any guidelines craft-wise for writing in present tense. (asked by Anonymous)
My first book, These Gentle Wounds
, was first person present and I can’t think of a single agent or editor who ever told me that this would cause a marketing challenge. I actually wrestle with tense all the time and by that I mean that every single manuscript I’ve written has started out being in a tense different from the one it eventually ended up in. For me, while it’s fine to “decide” what tense I’m going to write in, the story and characters end up taking over and it becomes completely clear what tense the story demands.
As for guidelines, there are some awesome posts on Mary Kohl’s blog: kidlit.com. But I think the most important craft element to writing in first is to remember that you’re in the character’s head, you aren’t listening to a story. So, for instance, make sure that you go back and look for characters saying things that are unnecessary.
Example 1: I saw the kite floating high in the sky and it looked to me as if it might sail on forever.
Example 2: The kite floats high in the sky, looking like it might sail on forever.
You simply don’t need to say, “I saw” and “it looked to me as if” because you’re in the character’s head and most people, when they’re thinking to themselves simply register what they’re seeing or doing.
When I write in first person present I always do a revision draft to look for this. It will help keep your word-count down, help avoid starting every sentence with “I”, and will allow the reader to more closely relate to your character.
4) How many POVs is too many POVs? If I want to work with an ensemble cast, can I do 3 POVs switching off between them each scene, one per scene? (asked by Aaron in WA)
Ha! If you only knew how relevant this question was for me at the moment. Anyhow….how many is too much? It’s too much when you can’t keep the voices of the characters clear enough for the reader to identify without chapter headings that use the character’s name. (I’m making the assumption that you mean “chapters” and not “scenes” because changing characters a couple of times within each chapter is going to be challenging to say the least.)
Here’s my number one rule of writing craft: There are no rules so long as you can do it well. Seriously. Rules are for “what usually works.” But if you can pull of something brilliant that doesn’t follow anyone else’s rules, than by all means, do so.
Two authors that pull of multiple POVs extremely well are Melissa Marr (I believe that the final book of the Wicked Lovely Series had 15 POVs or something absurd and it was handled perfectly) and Maggie Steifvater (The Raven Boys series to me, is a masterclass in writing 3rd person, multiple POVs and still feeling like you’re in the head and heart of every single character. I honestly have no idea how she does it, but I’m determined to find out.)
About the Book:In less than a second
... two of the things Cal Ryan cares most about--a promising baseball career and Lizzie, one of his best friends--are gone forever.In the hours that follow
...Cal's damaged heart is replaced. But his life will never be the same.
Everyone expects him to pick up the pieces and move on.
But Lizzie is gone, and all that remains for Cal is an overwhelming sense that her death was his fault. And a voice in his head that just...won't...stop.
Cal thought he and his friends could overcome any obstacle. But grief might be the one exception.And that might take a lifetime to accept
About the Author:
Helene Dunbar is the author of THESE GENTLE WOUNDS (Flux, 2014) and WHAT REMAINS
(Flux, 2015). Over the years, she's worked as a drama critic, journalist, and marketing manager, and has written on topics as diverse as Irish music, court cases, theater, and Native American Indian tribes. She lives in Nashville with her husband and daughter, and exists on a steady diet of readers' tears.Website
-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers
For Part 1 of my YOU NEST HERE WITH ME series, please see Three Questions With Heidi Stemple.
Photo: Jason Stemple.
I was thrilled to meet Jane Yolen at a recent SCBWI conference, and even more excited when Jane read my f&g of Where Are My Books? and liked it (see photo at the very end of this interview). Jane Yolen is the renowned author of many children's books, fantasy, and science fiction, including Owl Moon, The Devil's Arithmetic, and How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? Her books, poems and stories have won many awards, including the Caldecott Medal.
You can find Jane at her website, JaneYolen.com, on Facebook and on Twitter. She and her daughter Heidi Stemple run a Picture Book Boot Camp (next one is Sept. 10-13, 2015), which is a Master Class in her home:
Her newest book is YOU NEST HERE WITH ME, a picture book co-written with Heidi Stemple (see Heidi's Three Questions interview in Inkygirl.com earlier today) and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, published by Boyds Mill Press in March 2015.
Synopsis of YOU NEST HERE WITH ME:
This lyrical bedtime book is an ode to baby birds everywhere and to sleepy children, home safe in their own beds. As a mother describes how different species of birds nest, secure and cozy with their mama birds, she tucks her own child into bed with the soothing refrain, “you nest here with me”—easing her little one and readers alike to slumber. Perfect for a young audience, this poetic text begs to be read aloud, and is accompanied by Melissa Sweet’s incredibly warm and original art.
Q. Could you please take a photo of something in your office and tell us the story behind it?
Photo: Heidi Stemple.
Like most writers, I have an enormous research library in my home and when I am working on a particular project, those books get scattered around my writing room.
As I am currently working on two very different manuscripts--one set in the Holocaust (the first section in the Lodz Ghetto) and the other a graphic novel trilogy set in 1930s Edinburgh, I chose to pick out a book from each of those piles to feature in the photograph. At the top is a day-by-day catalog of what happened during the ghetto years in Lodz, and in the second materials about Scotland through the ages. Fiction has to take the real and massage it into a story that nay (or may not) have actually happened. We recreate (hi)story and bring our readers along.
Photo: Heidi Stemple.
From Jane, about the photo above: "I can't seem to write without a cup of tea (British decaf with demarara sugar and a splash of Lactaid milk.) I keep making cuppas coming all day long."
Q. What advice do you have for young writers?
Read, read, read.
Write something every day.
Never take no for an answer.
Don't believe your reviews--either good or bad.
Heart on the page.
Know that books are not just written, but rewritten.
(Above: Listen as Jane reads and critiques her very first poem)
Q. What are you excited about right now?
Two of my old books recently splashed out big: HOW DO DINOSAURS GET WELL SOON (Scholastic) won the Colorado One Book Award, and BAD GIRLS (Charlesbridge)--written with daughter Heidi Stemple--won the Magnolia Award, Mississippi's Children's Book Award for the middle grades. Plus the latest book Heidi and I just published--YOU NEST HERE WITH ME (Boyds Mills) with amazing illustrations by Melissa Sweet--has recently had a tremendous start and after only a month is getting a second printing.
But honestly, I am always most excited about the manuscript I am working on now. That's where my heart is, where my soul is. That is where my tomorrow is.
For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.
For Part 2 of the YOU NEST HERE WITH ME series, please see Three Questions With Jane Yolen.
Heidi Stemple didn’t want to be a writer when she grew up. In fact, after she graduated from college, she became a probation officer in Florida. It wasn’t until she was 28 years old that she gave in and joined the family business, publishing her first short story in a book called Famous Writers and Their Kids Write Spooky Stories. The famous writer was her mom, author Jane Yolen. Since then, she has published twenty books and numerous short stories and poems, mostly for children.
I had a chance to hang out with Heidi at the SCBWI Summer Conference last year. She's smart, she's funny and she's so supportive of others in the industry. Then partway through a group conversation, I also discovered that her mom is Jane Yolen (!!).
Heidi and Jane run a Picture Book Boot Camp (next one is Sept. 10-13, 2015), which is a Master Class in Jane's home:
Where to find out more about Heidi:
Heidi's website - Twitter - Heidi's Author Page on Facebook - Facebook page about the yearly owl count
Synopsis of You Nest Here With Me (Boyds Mill Press, 2015):
This rhyming bedtime book is part lullaby and part introductory field guide for the smallest ornithologists. But, at its heart, it reminds baby birds and children alike that home is wherever you are safely tucked in with your family. If you look in the back of You Nest Here With Me , you'll see that part of the dedication is to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. If you want to know more about birds--including listening to owl calls, visit them at: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/Page.aspx?pid=1478.
Heidi's office. (The cat is named Romeo)
Q. Could you please take a photo of something in your office and tell us the story behind it?
I love birds. All birds. But, especially owls.
"Think I'm kidding about the owls? I even have owl nesting dolls."
I have about a hundred owls in my house. Actually, I’ve never counted them, but there are a lot.
Heidi's living room. "See the owl in the rafters? His name is Wilbur and he watches out over the house." My mother, author Jane Yolen, wrote a book you might know called Owl Moon. It’s about a little girl who goes out owling with her dad. What you may not know is that the little girl is me and Pa is my father, David Stemple, who was a great owler. He was the one who taught me to call owls and now, once a year, I lead a team of owlers for the Audubon Christmas Bird Count. On our best year (so far) we called down 67 owls from midnight to 7am.
These (pictured above) are probably my favorite owls—they make up a bookend that my dad had in his office. Now they sit on the bookshelf right next to my desk and remind me of him.
Q. What advice do you have for young writers?
When you live in a family of writers (my mother and both my brothers work in children’s books) you know that inspiration comes from everywhere. You never know when and from where an idea for a story will pop up. Keep your eyes, ears, and mind open at all times for those ideas. And, write them down because ideas are slippery little buggers.
Prep for the Owl Count
Every writer has all sorts of notes jotted all over the place with ideas for stories or poems or essays or speeches. I even have the beginning of a story on my iphone—you can’t really understand it because I dictated it with voice-to-text and it got most of the words wrong. But, it’s good enough for me to figure it out later when I am ready to write that story.
Q. What are you excited about right now?
I am always excited about my newest book and the book (or usually books) I am working on. So, besides the projects I am writing and researching right now (which involve pirates, the civil war, the Christmas Bird Count, cookies, the moon, monsters, and soup—yes soup) I am probably MOST excited about my brand new book You Nest Here With Me (co-authored by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Melissa Sweet). This is a book that took 12 years to get published. We sold it twice—to the same editor at 2 different publishing companies—and then waited 3 years for the illustrations. I am glad we were patient because we are so happy with the way it turned out.
For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.
An aspiring author who attended one of my panels at the NoVA TEEN Book Festival asked about how to approach character development. Kristen Simmons and Melissa Marr both had great responses, and it turned out that our approaches are somewhat similar. We talked about using tools like Meyers/Briggs personality types and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders for building protagonists, antagonists and other characters.
I've written about some of these tools before and links for resources are in my Character Traits Worksheet, if you want to get into deep and gritty detail to get yourself started. The personality disorders information isn't in there, but you can find online resources at MerckManuals.com, if you're interested. Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi also have a pair of amazing research tools in the POSITIVE TRAITS THESAURUS and the NEGATIVE TRAITS THESAURUS for character traits.
But if you're more of a pantser, and you're looking for a quick jump start as an entry into your story, there are seven key aspects of character that will help you create one that most readers will be able to relate to. (Note the caveat--because there's no such thing as a character who is universally liked.)
Seven Keys To Building Character
- An Internal Wound/Need - At the very least, your main character needs a lesson to learn. If you give one to each of your characters, even better. Your work will be richer for it. This is usually tied to your story question in some way, but the wound or internal need is really the fundamental thing that makes your character react the way she does whenever she's pushed to make a choice. This is what ultimately leads her to disaster. A wound can be anything from feeling alone and lost because you've lost your family, which becomes a driving need to find a new family--as in COMPULSION--to feeling loyal to the friends who rescued you, which becomes a driving need to protect them from harm, as in THE ORPHAN QUEEN.
- An External Goal/Problem to Solve - In most types of novels, the internal goal is only part of the story. There's also something that needs to be fixed externally, which ties in to what is going on with the characters on the inside. In COMPULSION, there are several interrelated mysteries to solve as Barrie arrives at her new home, and following her gift for finding lost things as she investigates these mysteries leads to danger and conflicts with her need for love and acceptance from the new family members with whom she is desperate to connect. In THE ORPHAN QUEEN, Wilhelmina needs to win her kingdom back, and in order to do that, she has to perform certain dangerous tasks set to her by the boy who rescued her when she was a child, until her experiences away from him begin to make her question whether his orders are the best solution.
- Relatable Motivations - At every step of the way as characters follow their goals, and at both the internal and the external portions of the story, the reader needs to understand why the characters make their decisions. Moreover, those decisions have to be relatable in context with their characters and background. Based on her internal needs, my Barrie, who has always desperately wanted a sister, can't help wanting to befriend her cousin and give her the benefit of the doubt even when everyone around her warns her that her cousin is not what she appears to be. Based on her external goals, Barrie has to investigate what's going on at Watson's Landing because various supernatural elements grow more insistent to push her into doing what they want. For Jodi Meadows' Wilhelmina, she needs to protect the ragtag Osprey orphans because she is one of them and they're the only family she knows. But her loyalty conflicts as she begins to realize that what their leader wants won't necessarily be the best for the people of her kingdom, whose queen she needs to become because that is her birthright and her responsibility.
- Strengths that Help Solve the Problem - This is your character's toolbox. And once you know what your character needs to do, it's easy to determine what characteristics will help her get there. Barrie has inherited a family gift for finding lost things. This leads her to some of the clues, but she still has to have the intelligence to interpret the clues, the compassion to care about them, and the courage to follow them. Wilhelmina has taught herself to become a master forger, and she can forge virtually any handwriting she needs to copy. She has also become adept at all forms of thievery and spying, which help her when she needs to infiltrate the palace of the enemy king.
- Weaknesses that Interfere - These are the chains and anchors that your character wears around her neck. Barrie is too trusting and unwilling to hurt others, too determined to exert her right to an independence she has never had before, and too eager to prove herself. Wilhelmina is blinded by her loyalty and what she thinks she knows so that her prejudice keeps her from seeing the truth of what's going on beneath her nose.
- Complete Backstory That Shows How the Wound Occurred - This is the how of why the characters are the way they are. In addition to the basic facts of their lives, this must include a reasonable explanation of how they received their wound as well as the story of how their strengths and weaknesses have served them in the past. In Barrie's case, her backstory all ties to an ancient spirit who gave her ancestor a wish, which became the gift of finding lost things. And everything that has happened to her and her parents stems from that gift and the curse that the is inherited by members of the other half of her family. In the case of THE ORPHAN QUEEN, there's a history of the kingdoms and the wars between them, which connects to the background of the terrible thing that threatens to destroy all the kingdoms and everyone in them.
- True Change in the Character as a Result of the Story - This is how the story resolves the character's interior need, which often ties into the character's external goal. The character must end up in a different place both mentally and in her physical circumstances. Barrie, for example, finds that blood doesn't necessarily constitute the best family you can have, and she simultaneously resolves the mysteries that surround two of the founding families on the island. Wilhelmina finally sees through her prejudice and takes a risk to protect her people, only to discover that this costs her love, half her friends, and the certainty in the rightness of her cause and methods, which has always been her armor. Physically, she is no longer the unknown orphan she was when the book began.
Hopefully, these quick sketches show you how tightly internal needs and external goals can work together to create the engine for a story a reader will understand. How you choose to balance and prioritize internal needs and external goals in a story will determine whether your manuscript is more character driven (internal) or plot driven (external). There are an infinite number of possibilities.
How do you like your fiction? Which do you prefer to read: character driven or plot driven stories?
THIS WEEK'S GIVEAWAY
I loved that a reviewer said that COMPULSION was like BEAUTIFUL CREATURES meets Lauren Oliver's ROOMS, so I'll giveaway a copy of ROOMS to one lucky winner.
The New York Times bestselling author of Before I Fall and the Deliriumtrilogy makes her brilliant adult debut with this mesmerizing story in the tradition of The Lovely Bones, Her Fearful Symmetry, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane—a tale of family, ghosts, secrets, and mystery, in which the lives of the living and the dead intersect in shocking, surprising, and moving ways
Wealthy Richard Walker has just died, leaving behind his country house full of rooms packed with the detritus of a lifetime. His estranged family—bitter ex-wife Caroline, troubled teenage son Trenton, and unforgiving daughter Minna—have arrived for their inheritance.
But the Walkers are not alone. Prim Alice and the cynical Sandra, long dead former residents bound to the house, linger within its claustrophobic walls. Jostling for space, memory, and supremacy, they observe the family, trading barbs and reminiscences about their past lives. Though their voices cannot be heard, Alice and Sandra speak through the house itself—in the hiss of the radiator, a creak in the stairs, the dimming of a light bulb.
The living and dead are each haunted by painful truths that will soon surface with explosive force. When a new ghost appears, and Trenton begins to communicate with her, the spirit and human worlds collide—with cataclysmic results.
Elegantly constructed and brilliantly paced, Rooms is an enticing and imaginative ghost story and a searing family drama that is as haunting as it is resonant.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Today we welcome to the blog debut author Latifah Salom, whose novel The Cake House recently released from Vintage. I love how she has twisted Shakespeare's Hamlet into a modern YA set in Los Angeles with a diverse cast! Latifah is bravely here to share her "bad" habits with us. Thank you, Latifah!
“Bad” Writing Habits by Latifah Salom
I wonder what advice I can give on the craft of writing. The truth is I have a lot of bad habits that it might be wiser to do the opposite of what I do.
So many writers, past and present, have written countless words on the subject of the craft of writing, it seems well-trodden ground. A quick search on Google will pop up hundreds of web articles listing many different habits you should avoid when writing or habits you should adopt. There is no shortage of writing advice, anywhere from plot structure to paragraph length. When you should write, what time of day you should write, word choice, write what you know, show not tell, avoid adverbs, and the list goes on.
Most of what’s out there is excellent advice, whether it works for you or not – it worked for someone, and therefore is valuable. I too enjoy reading about my favorite novelist’s writing process. Do they prefer to write in isolation? Or in a café? What is their ritual? Where do they go for inspiration?
When it comes to advice of any kind, let alone writing advice, I’m not a fan of words like “should” or “should not.” This might seem a tad hypocritical since I very much enjoyed taking writing workshops and literature classes that had no shortage of rules and advice. I remember a tense moment in a workshop where, after reading a student’s work, the instructor said one should avoid using first person present tense. I happened to agree that first person present tense should be used sparingly, but this piece of advice was not particularly well received by a good portion of the students in that class. The lesson I learned from that experience was: a person is going to write however they want to write, and that’s okay.
Here are a few of my “bad” habits as a writer:
1. I edit as I write
Almost the first piece of advice on writing I remember hearing was never edit as you write. Write first, get it all out on paper (or in a word document) and then after you’ve finished your draft, you can go back and beginning editing. The point of the advice is to avoid disrupting the creative flow or energy of your work on a first draft. Good advice! And not one I ever follow. Going back and reading and editing what I’ve written often helps clarify where I’m going with the story and how to get there. Especially if I’m blocked on the next part, editing helps me figure out what I need to change to make the story go forward. I have always edited as I write, and the habit is now so deeply ingrained, it is very much a part of my process. In fact, I have been editing this piece as I write.
2. I waste time on the Internet
I waste a lot
of time. Typically, if I sit down to write, I will waste about 2 hours on average before I finally begin writing. Of course, writers are masters at all sorts of delaying tactics. I’ve made it routine, and even call it my “warm up” as if that might make wasting time necessary. And perhaps it is. I’ve come to realize that I need that wind down after a long day before I can inhabit the right headspace for creative writing. I also take many breaks – remaining at the computer but doing something else such as answering email or fooling around on social media. Whatever my mental process, I’ve learned to let it go. If I need to waste hours, so be it. The important part is to actually start writing, however I get there.
3. I use an outline but never stick to it.
I like to call outlines “road maps.” That way when I veer completely off course it seems more like I’m taking a quick detour rather than driving the story in an entirely different direction. Sometimes I can even hear that disembodied GPS voice recalculating the route to my destination. I also edit my outline as I write. And, if I need to change the destination, that’s okay too but that rarely happens. My destination remains the same, but how I get there often goes through several changes. When writing THE CAKE HOUSE, I went off course quite a bit, sometimes drastically. I can usually find myself back to the story. Nothing will shut my writing down faster than attempting to rigidly keep to an outline that may have worked when I began but is no longer where the story wants to go.
Whatever advice you chose to follow or not follow, the key is to keep moving forward. Keep putting words down on paper.
About the Book:
Part mystery, part compelling coming-of-age tale, The Cake House
is a riveting debut novel that re-imagines the classic story of Hamlet amidst the hills of suburban Los Angeles.
Rosaura Douglas's father shot himself when her mother left him... or at least that's the story everyone is telling. Now her mother has remarried and Rosie is trapped in a new home she calls "The Cake House," a garish pink edifice that's a far cry from the cramped apartment where she grew up. It's also the house where her father died—a fact that everyone else who lives there, including her mother, Dahlia, and her mysteriously wealthy stepfather, Claude, want to forget.
Soon, however, her father's ghost begins to appear; first as a momentary reflection in a window, then in the dark of night, and finally, in the lush garden behind the house where Rosie spends most of her days. After he warns her that Claude is not to be trusted, Rosie begins to notice cracks in her new family's carefully constructed facade. Dahlia is clearly uncomfortable in her marriage; her stepbrother, Alex, is friendly one second, distant the next, and haunted by troubles of his own; and Claude's business is drawing questions from the police. And as the ghost becomes increasingly violent--and the secrets of The Cake House and her family’s past come to light--Rosie must finally face the truth behind the losses and lies that have torn her life apart.Amazon
About the Author:
Latifah Salom was born in Hollywood, California to parents of Peruvian and Mexican descent. As a teenager she attended the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, and she holds degrees from Emerson College, Hunter College, and from the University of Southern California’s Masters of Professional Writing program. The Cake House
is her first novel. She currently lives in Los Angeles.Website
-- posted by Susan Sipal @HP4Writers
I was doing a panel at the fabulous New York City Teen Author Festival last week, and I mentioned that my current writing process includes a short discovery draft rather than a traditional outline. I received several tweets asking about that, so I promised to provide a brief how-to.
My first pass pages (the first read-through of a typeset manuscript) is due today for PERSUASION, so this is going to be very quick and dirty, but that's probably appropriate. The whole point of a discovery draft is to pour the story out.
I'll admit, too, that I used to call the discovery draft an outline. I would start writing it based on the my Plot Complications Worksheet, but I only seem to be able to outline action, so wherever I had to reveal information or have an emotional scene between characters, I had to write the dialogue out to see what would happen.
Long story short (or not, as the case may be) my "outlines" ran thirty to forty thousand words! That sounds crazy, but there are a number of benefits.
- The draft is still short enough to allow for easier analysis after the words have all spilled out.
- I have an opportunity to really discover my characters.
- I don't have to censor myself or worry about editing words as I write.
- I can get the story out in a matter of days or weeks and know whether it is going to work.
- I can easily boil down the discovery draft into a standard synopsis.
- The draft is easy to expand into a full manuscript that's far less messy than a standard first or second draft.
For me, the discovery draft is really the best of both the plotting and pantsing worlds.
Now that I have some experience under my belt, I've also found that I can guide myself through the story with ten simple story plot points:
- Snapshot of BEFORE -- a scene or two that introduces the main character within her current environment, shows us who she is, what she dreams of, what she is up against, and also suggests what she needs to change.
- Jumpstart for Action -- also called the "inciting incident," the jumpstart is the event that will (in the next section) lead to a decision to aim for change. This sets the story goal, and the jumpstart is where you first get to show whether you are going to have a reluctant protagonist or an active one. Is your character the one who discovers that change is necessary and goes after it because she has set a goal for herself? Or is she pushed into change by outside forces or other characters?
- New Direction and No Going Back -- this is the first turning point, where the character is now aware that change is necessary because she cannot live in the status quo and she must do whatever is necessary to achieve the goal that was revealed in the jumpstart. This is also where we first see that she understands (or thinks she understands) the stakes and the consequences for failure. In making the decision, she demonstrates that what she has encountered has altered her perception of herself and her world in some way, so that she takes some action that she would not have taken before, and that action is irrevocable.
- Testing the Waters -- Having crossed the point of no-return so that she cannot extricate herself without dire consequences, the protagonist has to keep going. Step by step, she works toward the goal, meeting helpers and mentors who will assist her, meeting antagonists and minions who will work against her, and amassing knowledge that will bring her closer to her goal.
- The Big Twist -- At the midpoint of the story, what the protagonist thought she knew is suddenly turned on its head. The goal proves to have been only part of what is necessary, or it proves to be a false goal, or the situation is far more dire than the protagonist originally thought. But there's no way that she can get out of it now.
- False Hope and Disaster -- Despite the added complications, the protagonist thinks she has a chance to win and wrap things up. Her plan is lining up nicely, she's almost there, but oops. Not so fast. The antagonist or forces working against her prove to be far more powerful and complicated than she expected.
- Overcoming Deep Despair -- Having pretty much ruined everything, the protagonist wallows in despair and sees no way out. Before she can find a real solution, she has to get through the emotional black moment that pushes her into the character change she will need in order to finally achieve success. This is the crucible in which her new (winning) character is forged and she finds the strength within herself to keep on fighting.
- The Battle Royale -- The final battle between the protagonist and the forces allied against her. She must summon everything she has, every internal strength and external weapon. Will she succeed? Partially succeed? Lose but live on to fight another day?
- Cleaning it Up -- What happens after the battle? What are the consequences and the remaining steps to be taken after the big bad has been defeated or your protagonist has failed? Here's where you wrap up all the loose ends and minor plots.
- Snapshot of AFTER -- What does the world look like with the Big Bad gone? What is life like for your protagonist in this new world and how is this a change from the snapshot of BEFORE? This is where you get to show your audience what "happily ever after," "more work to do," or "damn, I've really screwed this up" looks like for your protagonist.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
So that's it. The no-outline outline that leaves plenty of room for the magic of pantsing. It seems to work for me, and I hope you may find it helpful as another option for your writing toolbox. Ultimately, obviously, there's no right or wrong way to write. We all have to do what feels comfortable for us, and sometimes that can change from book to book.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? How do you leave room for magic?
THIS WEEK'S GIVEAWAY
ISLA AND THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER
by Stephanie Perkins
Love ignites in the City That Never Sleeps, but can it last?
Hopeless romantic Isla has had a crush on introspective cartoonist Josh since their first year at the School of America in Paris. And after a chance encounter in Manhattan over the summer, romance might be closer than Isla imagined. But as they begin their senior year back in France, Isla and Josh are forced to confront the challenges every young couple must face, including family drama, uncertainty about their college futures, and the very real possibility of being apart.
Featuring cameos from fan-favorites Anna, Étienne, Lola, and Cricket, this sweet and sexy story of true love—set against the stunning backdrops of New York City, Paris, and Barcelona—is a swoonworthy conclusion to Stephanie Perkins’s beloved series.
Welcome to our monthly Ask a Pub Pro feature where a publishing professional answers readers and writers' questions regarding the stories they love or their work in progress. This month, Andrea Hannah, the critically acclaimed author of Of Scars and Stardust joins us to answer questions on insta-love, incorporating unusual elements, and writing high action.
We'd love to have you send in your questions for next month's column. Please send questions to AYAPLit AT gmail.com and put "Ask a Pub Pro Question" in the subject line. If your question is chosen, you'll get to include a link to your social media and a one to two sentence (think Tweet size) blurb of your WIP.
Come on! Get those questions in!
Author Andrea Hannah Answers Questions on "Ask a Pub Pro"
1) I've known a couple of writer friends who have designed unusual elements into their stories, elements they thought helped make the story fresh and unique. But then reviewers would complain that these elements were weird or poorly researched because they didn't understand it. Is it better to avoid any element that's not commonly known so that you don't throw the reader off? Or is this just a problem with some reviewers and not the general reading public? (asked by Sara from TX)Andrea responds
: You can’t write to avoid criticism. Trying to dodge critique will drive you bonkers and cause you to lose an important piece of yourself within your story. Also, where would we be without Harry Potter
’s Polyjuice potion, or the Hunger Games
’ tracker jackers? Fresh, unique elements are both fun and necessary in story-telling, and world-building would be a lot less fun without them.
That being said, everything in your story needs to have a purpose, one that can’t possibly be replaced by another element. Example: We need
that Polyjuice potion in HP, because without it we lose the scene where Harry and Ron sneak into the Slytherin common room, which is critical to the overall narrative. We need
those lethal tracker jackers in HG, because they are the catalyst that allow Katniss to get some leverage by grabbing the bow and arrow, and demonstrates Rue’s loyalty to her.
When you’re developing your unique elements, make sure to clearly establish the function and rules of those elements (Ex: we knew right off the bat that the Polyjuice potion had an expiration time) and that it’s clear within the narrative why those elements were essential to those characters, and that their choice to use or destroy them is in line with their character. And above all else, stay true to who your character is, the world they inhabit, and who you are as a writer.
2) I've heard writers say that in high intensity/high action scenes that you decrease the level of detail. I've also heard the opposite, that you should show more detail as if things are happening in slow motion. What do you think? (asked by Anonymous)Andrea responds
: I think it’s a combination of both. Firstly, if you’re writing from a first person POV, that means you’re writing every scene as if we’re experiencing in real time, with your character. If your character is in the midst of kicking some butt, they probably aren’t stopping to notice the color of the sky or the flecks in their attacker’s eyes. It’s called mimic writing, and it’s where you mimic the actions of the writing through the length of your prose. High action usually means short, clipped sentences. Think of how you’d talk if you were out of breath.
But what really
brings an action scene to life is the specific details you do choose to incorporate, not the amount. Choose your details carefully to convey as much about the scene as you can in a powerful way. The spots of blood dotting his chin. The crumpled patch of grass where his sword fell. Really be there, and observe the details in your scene. Then bring us with you!
3) I've heard a lot of people complaining about the insta-love in a lot of young adult books. Yet readers seems to really want the romance to heat up quickly. How do you incorporate the romance without making it insta-love? (asked by Renee in NC)Andrea responds
: I don’t think insta-love is the problem, especially since we’re writing about and for teens, and sometimes, this is how they fall in love (and adults, too)! I think readers are generally sick of feeling that insta-love is used as a plot device instead of an actual experience the character is going through. Look, people fall in love in all sorts of ways in all sorts of timeframes, and all are plausible. When you’re writing your characters, just make sure you know who they are, if it would make sense for them to have that kind of reaction to another human being, and stay true to that. Your readers will be able to feel the genuineness of your characters, and they’ll appreciate your writing for it.
About the Author:
Andrea Hannah lives in the Midwest, where there are plenty of dark nights and creepy cornfields as fodder for her next thriller. Her critically-acclaimed debut novel, Of Scars and Stardust
, was published by Flux in October 2014. She graduated from Michigan State University with a B.A. in special education. When she’s not teaching or writing, she spends her time chasing her sweet children and ornery pug, running, and dreaming up her next adventure. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @andeehannah, and at www.andreahannah.comWebsite
About the Book:
After the attack that leaves her little sister, Ella, close to death in a snowy cornfield, Claire Graham is sent to live with her aunt in Manhattan to cope. But the guilt of letting Ella walk home alone that night still torments Claire, and she senses the violence that preyed on her sister hiding around every corner. Her shrink calls it a phobia. Claire calls it the truth.
When Ella vanishes two years later, Claire has no choice but to return to Amble, Ohio, and face her shattered family. Her one comfort is Ella’s diary, left in a place where only Claire could find it. Drawing on a series of cryptic entries, Claire tries to uncover the truth behind Ella’s attack and disappearance. But she soon realizes that not all lost things are meant to be found.Amazon
-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers
Point of view is one of the things that writers frequently forget to include when developing a setting, but because setting can help you unlock so many different aspects of character, POV is critical. Based on who they are and their individual experiences, each character is going to see the setting in different ways, and the objects and aspects within the setting will raise memories from their lives. Giving thought to those connections and varying perspectives within a setting will, in turn, help you create the fine details that bring the setting to life. The connection between setting and memory is one of the most powerful and most often forgotten tools in the writer’s arsenal.
When I started creating Watson Island, for example, I began with the history of South Carolina and I wove in different events from the area and how they touched on the descendants of the three privateers who settled there. Since my main character is a Watson, I was focused particularly on her family’s history, but since she knows nothing about that history when she arrives, I had to tell that history partly from the point of view of members of the other families. Each book within the trilogy changes the historical narrative to show how the family perspective and facts that have been passed down have changed the story and the families themselves.
And that’s the fun and challenging part about any setting. Each family, each person, is going to remember history in a way that flatters them. Not every fact gets passed down from generation to generation, and many not-so-factual things do get passed down: likes, prejudices, habits, perspectives.
As we are constructing our fictional words, we have to remember the bare bones—the basic worksheet:
- Role in the story
- Unique features and general history
- Particular things of interest
- Sounds, sights, smells
- Associated characters
- Things it reveals about the story
But we also have to look at the setting from the perspective of each of those associated characters. Each of them will have:
- Sounds, smells, objects within the setting that trigger particular memories
- Attitudes toward the setting and objects within It that tell us about that character
- Ways of describing the setting and the objects in it that reveal how the character’s are changing as the story develops
As a writer, the more you think about the setting from the point of view of different characters, the more you will reveal the story to yourself. Setting gives us endless opportunities to weave together all the other elements of story: character, plot, theme, and mood/atmosphere.
THIS WEEK'S GIVEAWAY
Seekerby Arwen Elys DaytonHardcoverDelacorte Books for Young ReadersReleased 2/10/2015a Rafflecopter giveaway
For readers of A Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games comes an epic new series.
The night Quin Kincaid takes her Oath, she will become what she has trained to be her entire life. She will become a Seeker. This is her legacy, and it is an honor. As a Seeker, Quin will fight beside her two closest companions, Shinobu and John, to protect the weak and the wronged. Together they will stand for light in a shadowy world. And she'll be with the boy she loves--who's also her best friend.
But the night Quin takes her Oath, everything changes. Being a Seeker is not what she thought. Her family is not what she thought. Even the boy she loves is not who she thought.
And now it's too late to walk away.Purchase Seeker at AmazonPurchase Seeker at IndieBoundView Seeker on Goodreads
I love insightful, meaty craft articles that help me both improve my knowledge of storytelling while also pushing me to analyze my current WIP. Today's Craft of Writing post comes from author Ara Grigorian, who expertly does both. And he does so with examples from two movies that I loved: Notting Hill and The Hunger Games. I know I'm going to be using his fabulous analysis to help with my upcoming revision! Hope you will too. And be sure to check out his upcoming release, Game of Love, which has been receiving glowing reviews, at the bottom of the post!
Finding Your Story’s Beats by Ara Grigorian
Stephen King has said time and again, if you want to be a better writer, you have to read a lot and write a lot. I will humbly add one more task to your to-do list. If you want to be a better storyteller, watch more movies.
Okay, okay, set down the pitchforks and torches. Yes, we all understand that movies are never as good as the books. And no, we're not trying to write a screenplay, we're trying to write better books. So what am I really talking about?
If you’re writing commercial fiction, where pacing, strong plot points, and increased tension in your selected genre matters, then our brothers and sisters who write scripts can teach us plenty.
This past February, I taught a workshop at the Southern California Writers’ Conference
in San Diego and again recently at a local high school in Los Angeles. The goal: help you find your story’s key beats and their timing
I’ve combined lessons from James Scott Bell (“Plot & Structure,” his workshops and his newly released “Super Structure”), Blake Snyder (“Save the Cat!” series) and John Truby (“The Anatomy of Story”). There are more. Pick your methodology, it doesn’t matter. They are all great and they all show that structure and story is king.GAME OF LOVE
is my debut novel (May 2015, Curiosity Quills Press). But before I got a publishing deal, and before my agent became my
agent, I realized something was missing. I’d get requests for fulls based on the query and first five pages, but something would fizzle.
This is what I did…
I selected nearly a dozen movies that were in my book’s genre, or had characters and situations that aligned well with my book. Why movies and not books? Simple: in ten hours I can watch five movies. In ten hours I can read a good chunk of one book. My goal was to learn, to dissect, and find the patterns, fast! Efficiency and effectiveness are critical to the author who also has a full-time job or other competing priorities.
After the third movie, the patterns emerged. By the tenth, I saw exactly what was missing from my book. I was missing key beats, and furthermore, those that I was hitting, I was hitting them late in the story line. Pacing and powerful, distinct scenes that propel the story forward – that was the secret to getting my book noticed.
First of all, what’s a beat? Per Wikipedia (the source of all truth), a beat is the timing and movement, referring to an event, decision, or discovery that alters the way the goal will be pursued by the protagonist. Key word is, alter
. It needs to be big, powerful.
In my workshop, to drive the point home of these key beats, we dissect movie clips. For this post we will analyze one of my favorite movies, Notting Hill
(NH) with Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant and a few scenes form The Hunger Games
. Spoiler Warning: I give away the ending!
Let’s jump in and analyze the most important scenes:
1. Opening Image/Disturbance
: The opening scene needs to set the mood, style, and stakes. This is also where we get to meet our main character(s) and their “before” world. Notting Hill
opens with a collage of clips where Julia is bombarded by the flash of cameras. A radio personality says she is the “biggest star” by far. The song, “She” plays in the background and if we’re listening to the lyrics we hear, “She may not be what she may seem.” We very quickly understand she’s incomplete. Immediately after we are introduced to Hugh’s character. An unsuccessful bookshop owner who was once married but is now alone, with hopes for romance.
In less than three minutes we get the world of these two characters. We also see that these characters can’t go on like this forever. It is unsustainable. Change, radical change is needed. How quickly have you set up your characters? Furthermore, how obvious are the stakes and the need for transformation?
2. Theme stated
: Blake Synder hammers this one. Early in the story (certainly before the 5% mark of your story) the theme will get stated in the form of an innocent question or statement. The main character will not get the significance, but this is the core of the story – the “What’s the story all about.” In the first couple of minutes in Notting Hill
, Hugh says “I always thought she was fabulous, but, you know, a million, million miles from the world I live in.” He’s not talking about the physical distance but the distance between an average guy and a superstar. The theme of this movie is can love overcome the crevasse that lies between a superstar and a nobody. All the challenges they face and all the fun scenes will test the theme.
Read through your manuscript, how quickly are you planting the seed for your reader? Are you then sprinkling the story with situations that revisit this theme?
3. Catalyst/Inciting Incident/Trouble Brewing
: This is where the main character’s world is thrown off balance – a life-changing moment. In Notting Hill
, Julia walks into Hugh’s store where they first meet (a small incident). Shortly after she leaves, he accidentally spills orange juice all over her (a bigger incident). She goes to his place to change (definitely merits a Facebook post!). Then to really throw his world into a tailspin, she kisses him. That is the catalyst moment. He is hooked.
Make sure your catalyst isn’t just a plot device but tied directly to the story and the theme.
4. Break into Two/First Doorway of No Return
: This is a powerful scene where the protagonist makes a definitive decision to pursue the journey, as crazy as it may seem. A decision that has no turning back. This is key because if the protagonist can say, “never mind” then it’s not a big enough pull to force the plot forward. The motivation has to be primal: love, fear, death, life, etc. and still tied to the theme. In Notting Hill
, he has fallen for her, badly. At first she’s pushes back but she also can’t help but be attracted to him – he’s different. Not like the celebrity types, so she decides to take a chance and goes on a date with him to his sister’s birthday party. In Hunger Games
, when Primrose is called for the reaping, Katniss makes an immediate decision – she will volunteer. Not because she thinks she can win, but because she needs to save her sister. Can Katniss change her mind? No way!
Do you have a scene that’s this big where your main character makes a decision that is profound and impossible to turn back from? What propels the call to adventure in your book?
5. Mid-Point/Mirror Moment
: This is a critical scene because this is where the dynamics of the story change. After the break into two, the scenes that follow are fun. They show us the promise of the premise. The main character lives in the upside down world of the choice that’s been made. In Notting Hill
, Hugh experiences the world of the celebrity while Julia lives in his simple world. But after all that fun stuff a key scene is needed that shows the bad guys are getting ready to ruin the party. Time clocks appear here. In Notting Hill
, Hugh discovers that she still has a boyfriend and in a beautifully shot scene on the streets of London, then on a bus, and finally in his bedroom we see it on his face -- he is taking inventory of the mess that is his life. In Hunger Games
, after all the training and the fun of the capital, the games begin. She’s on the platform, scared for her life.
What happens halfway in your story? Is there a moment where your main character is thinking, what have I done? Maybe even stares into the mirror wondering who is that person reflecting back at her?
6. All is Lost/Dark Night of the Soul/Lights Out
: A scene where the main character is now officially worse off than when the story first started. Feels like total defeat. In Notting Hill
, when he finds her again during a shoot, he overhears her with another actor. She dismisses him and says, “I don’t even know what he’s doing here.” He finally gets it and leaves. She then finds him and tries to explain why she said what she said, but he’s done. He can’t take the pain anymore. In a dramatic scene, she says, “And don’t forget, I’m also just a little girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.” She leaves and Hugh is left stunned.
This is a critical scene because this is where humility will bring the main character to his knees. And from this humility a new idea will rise. The idea that will force the start of the final act.
7. Break into Three/Second Doorway of No Return
: A solution is found. The old world, the old way of being dies and a new world emerges. In Notting Hill
, he calls his friends to tell them what happened. Surrounded by his friends, he realizes that love is worth the pain of uncertainty. He realizes he needs her. And thus, they break into act three.
Your main character’s life is on the line (the alternative is death – professional, emotional, psychological). How big is your scene? Does the reason for the decision to go for it tie in with the theme?
8. The Final Buildup and Battle
: This is where you typically see the hero go up against the clock. He gathers the team, suits up for the challenge, executes the plan, only to be faced by another major challenge. But after digging deep finds a way to get to the final battle. Typically the main character will handle the bad guys in ascending order. In Notting Hill
, it’s a chase scene from one London Hotel to another until he finds her at her last press conference before she leaves the country. In a comedic scene he pretends he’s part of the press and asks, in front of all to hear, if she would consider staying if he admitted that he had been a “daft prick.” She does reconsider and a montage follows, to the music that opened the movie, we see footage from their wedding.
9. The Final Scene/Resonance
: But we’re not done because this is the bookend scene to the opening scene. We need to see the transformation of the character. We need to see that the world has also changed. In Notting Hill
, we started with two lonely people, trying to make it in their own lonely worlds. The movie ends with these two on a park bench, relaxing, he’s reading a book (a good man, clearly!), and she’s pregnant. Alone no more.
How does your story end? Is the final scene a bookend to the opening scene?
For this post, I highlighted nine story beats. You can easily identify 15, 30 or 40 if you invest a bit of time with the methodology of your choice and a day or two of back-to-back movies. I assure you, you will never watch a movie the same way again. And you will be a much more effective storyteller in the genre of your choice.
About the Author:
Ara Grigorian is a technology executive in the entertainment industry. He earned his Masters in Business Administration from University of Southern California where he specialized in marketing and entrepreneurship. True to the Hollywood life, Ara wrote for a children's television pilot that could have made him rich (but didn't) and nearly sold a video game to a major publisher (who closed shop days later). Fascinated by the human species, Ara writes about choices, relationships, and second chances. Always a sucker for a hopeful ending, he writes contemporary romance stories targeted to adult and new adult readers.
He is an alumnus of both the Santa Barbara Writers Conference and Southern California Writers' Conference (where he also serves as a workshop leader). Ara is an active member of the Romance Writers of America and its Los Angeles chapter.
Ara is represented by Stacey Donaghy of Donaghy Literary Agency.Twitter
About The Book:
Game of Love is set in the high-stakes world of professional tennis where fortune and fame can be decided by a single point.
Gemma Lennon has spent nearly all of her 21 years focused on one thing: Winning a Grand Slam. After a disastrous and very public scandal and subsequent loss at the Australian Open, Gemma is now laser-focused on winning the French Open. Nothing and no one will derail her shot at winning - until a heated chance encounter with brilliant and sexy Andre Reyes threatens to throw her off her game.
Breaking her own rules, Gemma begins a whirlwind romance with Andre who shows her that love and a life off the court might be the real prize. With him, she learns to trust and love… at precisely the worst time in her career. The pressure from her home country, fans, and even the Prime Minister to be the first British woman to win in nearly four decades weighs heavily.
As Wimbledon begins, fabricated and sensationalized news about them spreads, fueling the paparazzi, and hurting her performance. Now, she must reconsider everything, because in the high-stakes game of love, anyone can be the enemy within… even lovers and even friends.
In the Game of Love
, winner takes all.Amazon US
| Amazon UK
| Barnes & Noble
-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers
There are people who don't do any research or reference at all when they're drafting. They put XXX or something similar wherever something needs to be verified or checked, and they move on. I wish I could be that free, maybe I would write faster. In the day of the Internet, you would think I look everything up online, right? But no. The internet is a great research tool, but it's also a giant rabbit hole down which I can disappear for hours, so apart from fact checking and pure research, I tend to keep a handful of physical references to do my heavy lifting.
- Standard Dictionary -- I almost never use this, but I do keep one to check a definition of a word I'm not sure about. The trouble with the standard dictionary is that you pretty much have to know the word you're looking for first.
- Visual Dictionary -- There's an online version of this as well, and both versions are great for kickstarting the brain when you are looking for related concept. Have a scene set in a kitchen? A supermarket? Don't settle for the first description or item that comes to mind. A visual dictionary can help you see the setting item by item to jump start your creativity.
- Reverse Dictionary -- Have a word or a term stubbornly stuck on the tip of your tongue? This is the tool that lets you find it intuitively.
- Standard Thesaurus -- It's common writer's wisdom that if you're having to resort to the thesaurus to get the right word, you're not going to find it. We often make the mistake of thinking this is because simpler is better, but the truth is that not every word you find in a standard thesaurus is going to mean the same thing.
- Thesaurus Dictionary -- This great tool allows you to consider or cross reference the nuances of each synonym, which helps you find the perfect word to express your meaning or to find an alternative if you have to use one to avoid those pesky echoes (repeated words) on your pages.
- Visual Thesaurus -- This one is, unfortunately, purely an online tool, but it's handy if you have to find a related concept or synonym in a hurry.
Looking for ways to build connections and imagery within your work? Ways to add deeper meaning, either for your characters, yourself, or your readers? A symbolism dictionary
is a great way to start your thought process or check the meaning of symbols or images you've already put on the page.
Encyclopedia of Folklore
- Motif Index of Folk-Literature -- Stith Thompson's six-volume set describing, classifying, and cross-indexing Narrative Elements in Folktales, Ballads, Myths, Fables, Medieval Romances, etc. is not for everyone. But it's fantastic for those of us who geek out about such things.
- Encyclopedia of Folklore and Literature -- Less comprehensive but nevertheless fascinating if you want to trace the use or evolution of a particular element of folklore or myth through the various retellings or uses in fiction. A great place to troll for story ideas, too.
- The Golden Bough -- James Frazer's famous "Study in Magic and Religion" isn't an encylopedia per se, but is anthropological approach to connect folk beliefs from around the world and tie them, where possible, to fact and science, is another brilliant reference book for anyone who writes speculative fiction.
THIS WEEK'S GIVEAWAYThe Shadow Cabinetby Maureen JohnsonHardcoverPutnam JuvenileReleased 2/10/2015Giveaway Ends 5/11/15
The thrilling third installment to the Edgar-nominated, bestselling Shades of London series
Rory and her friends are reeling from a series of sudden and tragic events. While racked with grief, Rory tries to determine if she acted in time to save a member of the squad. If she did, how do you find a ghost? Also, Rory’s classmate Charlotte has been kidnapped by Jane and her nefarious organization. Evidence is uncovered of a forty-year-old cult, ten missing teenagers, and a likely mass murder. Everything indicates that Charlotte’s in danger, and it seems that something much bigger and much more terrible is coming.
Time is running out as Rory fights to find her friends and the ghost squad struggles to stop Jane from unleashing her spectral nightmare on the entire city. In the process, they’ll discover the existence of an organization that underpins London itself—and Rory will learn that someone she trusts has been keeping a tremendous secret.Purchase The Shadow Cabinet at AmazonPurchase The Shadow Cabinet at IndieBoundView The Shadow Cabinet on Goodreadsa Rafflecopter giveaway
Do you have a favorite reference book you like to use for writing? Do you enjoy reading books that involve myths, folklore, and magic? What are your favorites?
We are thrilled to have multi-published author Eileen Cook on the blog today. She's here to share with us some wonderful insights for writing dialogue. And be sure to check out her new release, Remember, at the end of the post. Thank you, Eileen!
Six Tips for Improving Your Dialogue: A WOW-Wednesday Post by Eileen Cook
Many readers describe dialogue sections of a book as their favorite. This is likely due to a few reasons:
- Dialogue gives us the sense of getting to “spy” into intimate conversations. (And who doesn’t like to hear what other people are saying?)
- Dialogue tends to increase the pacing of a novel. These passages read more quickly than long blocks of narrative.
- Dialogue reveals character, what they say/do when interacting with others tells us a lot.
As writers, dialogue allows us to reveal important information in an interesting way and to move the plot of the book forward.
So how do you make your dialogue leap off the page? Here are six tips that will help you improve:
1. Avoid the Boring Bits
: Real dialogue is filled with unimportant information. (How are you? Fine. Sure has been hot. Yep.) When you include dialogue in your manuscript make it dialogue that matters.
- Why are the characters interacting? What is the purpose of the scene? If you cut it would it matter to the story?
- Try reading the dialogue out loud - how does it sound?
- Avoid too many adverbs (he said sarcastically, she said angrily, he said happily.) The emotion of what is said often can come through without this. “I hate your f-ing guts. I hope you die,” she said angrily. This line is repetitive. There aren’t many ways to say this lovingly.
- Do you use character’s names too often? The truth is we rarely do in real dialogue so be careful you don’t have too much:
“Good to see you, Brian. Are you ready for the test?”
“I tell you, Ryan, I am freaking out.”
“Don’t worry, Brian, it will be fine.
2. Dialogue Should Match the Character
: Different characters should sound different from each other. What is your characters age, gender, level of education, ethnicity and how does that impact how they speak and the words they use?
- If you took the character names off the page, would it be possible for you to tell who is speaking just by what they say/how they say it?
- Think about your character- a teen boy from a small town in the South will “sound” different than a 40-year-old woman who moved to New York from England.
- Avoid stereotypes or going over board. Just because you want the voice to match a character keep in mind that not all people from a certain group talk a certain way. Also avoid writing huge sections in dialect/accent, it can get distracting for the reader.
“I dinna know lassie. Och, I be shamed terrible of wha happn’d.”
If the reader has to try and decipher what your character is saying it gets to be a challenge. Consider putting in just a couple words here and there, after that the reader will “hear” the accent without you needing to have it in every line
3. Dialogue Depends on the Situation
: Think about the situation in which the dialogue happens. If there are guns being fired all around the characters, this is not likely the time for them to have a long conversation about their feelings. What they say will need to be short, more direct.
- Do you characters sound the same in all situations?
- How does your character sound when threatened? When relaxed?
- Who else might be around while they are talking? If they are talking to someone they have a crush on, but are surrounded by a group of her friends, they will likely talk differently as compared to if they were alone.
4. Dialogue Depends on Who They Are Talking To
: The truth is that how we present ourselves is different depending on who we are interacting with. How a teen might talk to their parents is different then to a teacher, or to their friend, or to the person they have a crush on.
- Does your character sound the same when talking to different people?
- Write a scene where they talk to someone they are very close to as opposed to someone that they dislike.
5. Characters Don’t Always Say What They Feel
: One of the biggest errors in dialogue is having characters say exactly what they think or feel. In movie dialogue this is called “writing on the nose.” The truth is, most of us are either too polite or scared to say what we think. Sometimes we know we can’t say what we want because it will get us in trouble.
- Write a scene where characters say exactly what they think and feel. Then rewrite it trying to show the reader what the characters think/feel, but don’t allow your character to say it directly.
- Does your character know what they think/feel? Often we confuse emotion. We come across as angry when in reality we are scared. For example, a parent may yell at a kid for doing something risky, when in reality what they are is horrified because the kid could have been hurt.
6. Using Location To Amplify Dialogue
: We know that stories need conflict. Looking at where/when a dialogue scene happens can be an opportunity to increase conflict. What is the worst time/place to have a conversation? It would be a difficult conversation to break up with someone. It is even worse if that break up scene happens in some place that is public. For example, telling a best friend that you kissed their boyfriend is an awkward conversation. It’s worse if you tell her in front of a group of people at lunch. Or it might be worse if you tell her just after she admits that she’s in love with him.
- Look at where key dialogue scenes happen in your book or story. Is there a way to increase the tension in the scene by moving the conversation to another place or time?
7. Have Fun
: The best part of writing dialogue? Unlike real life where once we say something (or are unable to think of the perfect comeback in the moment) in fiction we can always go back and revise. If you think of the perfect snappy sarcastic line for your character two weeks or two months after you finish a draft, you can go back and put it in.
Dialogue that engages the reader will pull them into your book. It allows them to get into the head of your characters and to feel that they are active participants in the story. If you find this is an area you struggle with things that can help include:
- Download film or TV scripts and look how it appears on the page.
- Read your manuscript aloud. Often what looks good on the page, sounds “wrong” when we hear it aloud.
- Practice makes perfect. Be patient with yourself, writing dialogue is a skill. The more we practice the easier it gets.
About the Book:
A thrilling tale about what a girl will do to get back a memory she lost…or remove what she wants to forget.
Harper is used to her family being hounded by protestors. Her father runs the company that trademarked the “Memtex” procedure to wipe away sad memories, and plenty of people think it shouldn’t be legal. Then a new demonstrator crosses her path, Neil, who’s as persistent as he is hot. Not that Harper’s noticing, since she already has a boyfriend.
When Harper suffers a loss, she’s shocked her father won’t allow her to get the treatment, so she finds a way to get it without his approval. Soon afterward, she’s plagued with strange symptoms, including hallucinations of a woman who is somehow both a stranger, yet incredibly familiar. Harper begins to wonder if she is delusional, or if these are somehow memories.
Together with Neil, who insists he has his own reasons for needing answers about the real dangers of Memtex, Harper begins her search for the truth. What she finds could uproot all she’s ever believed about her life…Amazon
About the Author:
Eileen Cook is a multi-published author with her novels appearing in eight different languages. Her books have been optioned for film and TV. She spent most of her teen years wishing she were someone else or somewhere else, which is great training for a writer. Her latest release, REMEMBER
came out in February 2015.
You can read more about Eileen, her books, and the things that strike her as funny at www.eileencook.com
. Eileen lives in Vancouver with her husband and one very naughty dog and no longer wishes to be anyone or anywhere else.Website
-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers
Whether I'm working on my own writing (including the 250, 500 and 1000 Words/Day Challenge) or an illustration project, I find I'm able to better focus and be more productive if I can create a mental space in which I feel safe enough to do my best work.
Perhaps safe isn't the right word. I like Shaun Tan's "bubble of delusion" idea, which I first heard in his talk at an SCBWI Winter Conference a couple of years ago.
Sean's advice: Set up a safe space in which you feel positive about yourself and your work, and in which you know that you WILL do great work. Surround yourself with positive, encouraging people. Try to avoid negativity as much as possible. Sean says he steers clear of reading reviews of his work, for example.
Part of the way I do this is trying very hard to STAY OFFLINE when I'm doing creative work. Even dropping in on Twitter or FB for a few minutes can end up being an energy-sucking black hole, often making me question whether I'm doing enough (especially in terms of promotion, networking, working on my craft, etc.) or doing it -whatever "it" is- the Right Way.
What do YOU do to create your own Bubble Of Happy Delusion?
Last week we posted the first part of our look back over our 2014 craft posts and highlighted some of the best tips that we found to be fresh and useful. The quotes below come from the second half of 2014 and cover aspects from Pacing and Plot to Voice to Editing Tips. We hope you'll find a snippet that speaks to you and then click the link to read the full article.
Also -- don't forget our new monthly Ask a Pub Pro column
where you can ask a specific craft question and have it answered by an industry professional. So, get those questions in
! Or, if you're a published author, agent, or editor and would be willing to answer some questions, shoot us an email as well!
Craft of Writing: Best Craft Tips from 2014, part B
Pacing and Plot:
Pacing and plot are two entirely different things, and a common problem is when a writer plots a novel with plenty of surprises and cliffhangers and threads that all lead to a crescendo in the denouement and thinks this means that the novel will thus avoid pacing problems.
Remember, pacing is all about reader perception. If your plot demands a secret conference between all the rival kings to get to a key plot point, and the only relevant piece is that key plot point, then all the give and take and discussion in the scene may bog your story down until you get to the big “reveal.” This leads to skimming and comments like, “Get to the point already!”
(from Dealing with Pacing Problems by Jake Kerr
...But I also think those kinds of stories can be really valuable, particularly at a time when “strong” still seems to mean “masculine” or “physically badass” to many. Being strong isn’t about wielding knives or a witty barb; it’s about how your characters respond to the challenges life throws at them. A girl in a wheelchair, overcoming discrimination and dismissal is damn strong. A woman moving past bullying or rape, a girl defying stereotypes to become a scientist in a male-dominated industry – these characters are no less strong for not wielding a sword or a gun.
(from What Does Strong Mean to You? by Tracy Banghart
What is it that makes a character likable? Some of the common denominators in likable characters include making sure that she (or he):
- has something she loves.
- has something she fights for.
- is willing to sacrifice for something.
- has some special skill or ability.
- has some handicap or hardship that makes her an underdog.
- has a flaw that readers can relate to and forgive.
- operates from motivation the readers can see and understand.
- has wit, spunk, or a sense of humor.
(from Unlikeable Characters and Mary Sues: Do We Give More Leeway to Male Characters than Female Characters? by Martina Boone
|source: harrypotter.wikia.com |
On Important Objects/Mechanics
For example, in Lord of the Rings, there is the one ring and the lesser rings, the Wizard’s staffs, etc. Harry Potter has many as well: the sorcerer’s stone, the sorting hat, the Sword of Gryffindor, etc. If you have these objects, try to have them serve another purpose besides a plot device. Rae Carson does an excellent job of this in The Girl of Fire and Thorns. The Godstone is crucial to the plot, it connects history to the present and informs the reader about the people. These objects should not be a crutch, but should add richness to the novel.
(from World Building Tips by Erin Cashman
1. Make your manuscript’s font small and single-spaced so you can see the big picture of the book for pacing and repeated scenes; lay out the pages on the living room floor so you can see it all at once instead of trying to scroll through hundreds of pages on a computer screen.
2. Change the font and formatting by moving margins and using a different font that mirrors a published book. The story will suddenly look and read differently. You’ll find yourself tightening and editing in a whole new way.
3. To get the *big* picture of the entire novel, write down each chapter in 1-2 lines and watch for the story’s plot ARC and the character’s individual ARCs.
4. READ your manuscript aloud. You’ll catch clunky sentences and rhythm and repeated words, too!
(from Micro Level Revision – AKA “Line-Editing” by Kimberley Griffiths Little
Learning from Positive Reading:
...The advice this professor gave me was to forget “good.” It wasn’t my job to determine whether or not a book, poem, story, etc. was worth reading. Other people with far better credentials had, in fact, already determined the work was “good.” It had made its way into the literary canon. It was a classic. My job, as a literature student, was to figure out why. What separated this work from its contemporaries? Why did it survive while others produced in the same vein were forgotten?
When I graduated and was up to my eyeballs in rejections, I returned to that lesson. I checked out piles and piles of contemporary juvenile literature from my local library and attacked each book in the same way I’d once attacked the works I’d read for my literature professor. I went at it thinking, “Okay, somebody—an agent, an editor, a publishing house—has already decided this book is good. Why? What does this book have that made it a work to be acquired? What are this author’s strengths?”...
...Then challenge yourself. Figure out how to incorporate other authors’ admirable qualities into your work in your own way. I contend it’s far more useful to try to emulate something positive than it is to avoid something negative
(from Positive Reading Challenge by Holly Schindler
For me, voice is telling. To be true and genuine, voice has to take us by the hand and lead us into the magical world of the character, or the narrator. But beyond the facts or emotion that the words convey, voice is about the selection of the words themselves. It's that indefinable quality of rhythm and sentence structure and elegance of expression that elevates writing above the ordinary.
(from What Is Voice In Fiction? by Martina Boone
On Writing Dialogue:
Read play scripts. Remember, plays are almost all dialogue. Not film scripts, watching and reading those are totally different experiences, there’s nothing but stage direction in a film script and very little dialogue, despite my film examples. The plays the thing. Heh. If you’ve never read a play and Shakespeare or Marlowe aren’t your jam (though you may love it and no one writes better dialogue than those guys) there are a million amazing contemporary playwrights (Mary Zimmerman or Sam Shepard, Tom Stoppard, Edward Albee, Wendy Wasserstein, Paula Vogel, John Patrick Shanley to name just the big ones) who all write dialogue that will set your brain on fire. Feel the rhythms, feel how the conversations make the story unwind and let tension grow, feel the quiet moments and the fighting, it’s a really unique experience. Full-length plays, when read straight through, can be consumed in like, an hour.
(from A Diatribe on Dialogue by Jennifer Longo
On Outlining a Novel:
An outline helps you to summarize the story in your own mind. It sounds like an obvious point, but knowing exactly what your story is about -- in as few words as possible -- helps you to write it better. An outline helps crystallize your themes, your characters' goals, attributes and shortcomings, and the obstacles standing in their way. Being able to easily put a finger on these things lets you write your first draft much more efficiently.
(from The Craft of Outlining by Kiki Sullivan
-- Posted by Susan Sipal
Today we welcome to the blog Madeleine Kuderick, who has written a beautiful book in verse on an important and emotional subject. By the numerous reviews praising KISS OF BROKEN GLASS, she handled it with skill and sensitivity. Her post for us today is equally as insightful.
The Infamous Arc. How much do characters really have to change? by Madeleine Kuderick
“If there is no possibility for change in a character, we have no interest in him.”
That’s what Flannery O’Connor said, and it almost seems too simple, right? But it’s true. Without change, there’s no arc. And without an arc, there’s no reason to follow a character anywhere, and certainly not all the way to the end of a book. Readers want to see characters that overcome inner demons, wrestle against external obstacles, and ultimately experience change. They want something cathartic to happen. That’s what creates a satisfying ending. That’s what burns the character into reader’s hearts.
But what if a dramatic change is unrealistic for the character? What if a tidal wave kind of transformation is not authentic? Should the writer force the big metamorphosis anyway or allow the change to be just a tiny ripple instead?
I faced this dilemma when I wrote KISS OF BROKEN GLASS, a YA novel in verse that deals with self harm. KISS opens with Kenna, the protagonist, being committed to a psych ward after she’s caught cutting in the high school bathroom. The entire novel takes place during her mandatory psych hold. That means it all happens in just seventy-two hours. I knew that in such a brief span of time, a transformative change would not be realistic for my character. In fact, it would be an absolute untruth to promise the reader that self-harm could be magically cured with a three day stint at the hospital. But as a writer I worried. Would a subtle change be enough? Would readers accept the more honest outcome or would they be disappointed that I didn’t deliver a shiny new protagonist at the end?
I’m happy to report that reader response has been strongly in favor of the realistic ending I wrote. They appreciate the honesty of it. Many readers comment that it’s refreshing to see a genuine story outcome. They say they’re tired of reading the saccharin sweet, bows and ribbon endings that bare no resemblance to reality.
I recently participated on an author panel doing a Twitter chat for the Guardian where we discussed this topic even further. “There’s a general problem in YA of tying endings up too neatly,” one participant wrote. “The problem with books is they have to end. Mental illness doesn’t.” I found this comment especially insightful and it’s very relevant to what we are talking about here. Yes, our characters need to change. But they should only change to the extent that it’s believable, honest and real. At least I believe that’s appropriate in contemporary realistic fiction, which is what I write.
So in the end, I agree with Flannery O’Connor. It’s the change that makes the character interesting. But, the change doesn’t have to be a tsunami of events played out unrealistically across the page. It can be just a drop. A hint. A ripple. Enough to let the reader know that transformation is possible. That your character actually wants to change. That’s enough. In fact, that’s everything
. And the reader will follow your character to the very last page.
About the Book:
In the next 72 hours, Kenna may lose everything—her friends, her freedom, and maybe even herself. One kiss of the blade was all it took to get her sent to the psych ward for 72 hours. There she will face her addiction to cutting, though the outcome is far from certain.
When fifteen-year-old Kenna is found cutting herself in the school bathroom, she is sent to a facility for a mandatory psychiatric watch. There Kenna meets other kids like her—her roommate, Donya, who's there for her fifth time; the birdlike Skylar; and Jag, a boy cute enough to make her forget her problems . . . for a moment.
Madeleine Kuderick's gripping debut is a darkly beautiful and lyrical novel in verse, perfect for fans of Sonya Sones and Laurie Halse Anderson. Kiss of Broken Glass pulses with emotion and lingers long after the last page.Amazon
"Readers will devour this . . .
" -- Kirkus Reviews
"Vivid and descriptive . . . a moving story about a serious issue.
" -- School Library Journal
“Kuderick's keen diction and free-verse technique shine.
” – Kirkus Reviews
"A fresh, honest, and ultimately hopeful story.
" -- Horn Book
About the Author:
Madeleine Kuderick grew up in Oak Park, Illinois, a community with rich literary tradition, where she was editor-in-chief of the same high school newspaper that Ernest Hemingway wrote for as a teen. She studied journalism at Indiana University before transferring to the School of Hard Knocks where she earned plenty of bumps and bruises and eventually an MBA. Today, Madeleine likes writing about underdogs and giving a voice to those who are struggling to be heard. Website
-- posted by S.P. Sipal, @HP4Writers
I love children's book author Samantha Berger's enthusiasm and creativity. Have you seen her #ePUNymousPortraitSeries? In addition to writing wonderful picture books like CRANKENSTEIN (illustrated by Dan Santat) and A CRANKENSTEIN VALENTINE (sequel). Samantha has written cartoons and promos for Nickelodeon, comic books and commercials, movie trailers, theme songs, poetry, magazine articles. Not only that, but she's also a voiceover artist!
Samantha's newest picture book is SNOOZEFEST, a hilarious and endearing bedtime story written by Samantha and illustrated by Kristyna Litten, just out from Dial Books For Young Readers. It's perfect for anyone who loves sloths, music festivals and/or the joy of SLEEPING. If you're on FB, check out her hilarious #Snoozefest Countdown pics.
You can find Samantha at her website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Q: Could you please take a photo of a random object in her office and tell us about it?
Yes indeed I can. I took a picture of this lovely grapefruit, that grew right in the back yard! I am working in a California office for a few weeks, and the owner of the house where I'm staying gave it to me. The idea of fruit growing on trees has always been MAAAAGICAL to me, and I may have missed my calling as a migrant worker. And I really want to eat this one, but I have one reservation.
The yard where it grew contains five dogs, using that tree as a bathroom. This grapefruit reminds me to ask the important question: Am I such a germ phobe I won't eat this grapefruit? Or is that grapefruit some kind of dog poo/citrus hybrid. A "pisstrus" fruit, if you will. Stay tuned.
Q: What advice do you have for young writers?
*I would say, if you wanna write, WRITE. WRITE ALL THE TIME, EVERY DAY. WRITE like a passionate discipline, like something you HAVE to do. No excuses. Write.
*Blather, blurt, and blab. Just keep writing. Do not write and edit at the same time. Write, write, write, then go back and read/edit, at a completely different time.
*Make your decisions, all of them, for a REASON. Make no choices arbitrarily. From dedication to author photo, every choice must be made with intent. That is what separates great writing from mediocre. Be prepared to defend every single word.
*Find your best way (pantomime wall building, pretending to erase, meditation) to block out any negators and nay-sayers. There will always be critics, opinions you don't agree with, and close minded haters. Don't engage, always ignore, keep being you, move on.
*Always find time to PLAY and HAVE FUN when you write. Pretend you're not writing for an audience, a paycheck, a critic, a career, a review, an award, an assignment, or whatever, just WRITING FOR THE SAKE OF WRITING, and go create. For the joy of it!
*Own your truth, speak your truth, and become brave enough to write about the things that terrify you the most to talk about.
*Don't dumb down words or ideas. Respect language. It's incredible.
*All writers, whether it's your first manuscript ever, or you're Judy "Prolifika" Blume, go through a perpetual pendulum swing, between excitedly exclaiming I CAN'T BELIEVE THIS CAME OUT OF MY BRAIN and a depressed disappointed "i can't believe this came out of my brain." There are days where we all feel like untalented hacks. All of us. And it's really important to remember this. If you didn't, you probably wouldn't be a writer. So cut yourself a break, go do something that makes you happy, such as a hot tub, a hot sake, or hot stones.
Photo credit: Leo MoretonQ: What are you excited about these days?
I'm excited for these spectacular Pacific Ocean sunsets every single night! I'm excited to read Kay Yeh's book THE TRUTH ABOUT TWINKIE PIE! I'm excited to be writing on two new preschool animated originals. I'm excited for karaoke, wigs and sunglasses, glitter-toes, oysters, using the word "smidge" more, and sea-frolicking with my dog Polly Pocket.
I'm excited my book Snoozefest came out this week, and that it has an anthem performed by Chubb Rock, and for the Pajama Party Snoozefest Boozefest I intend on throwing to celebrate. I'm excited about a new 2 book co-author deal with the amazing Martha Brockenbrough and the legendary Arthur Levine. I'm excited to see/conference with/laugh with/write with/ and dance with all my beloved book people and SCBWI-ers again, and for all the incredible books everyone has coming out right now (including YOU, Debbie! Cannot wait for WHERE ARE MY BOOKS!).
Thanks so much for asking me these questions 3 on inkygirl.
Book birthday doodle I did in celebration of the Snoozefest launch
For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.
If you're writing contemporary, you've got it easy regarding setting, right? No need to research for historical accuracy or imagine and detail a whole new world. Ah-hem. Jaye Robin Brown, author of No Place to Fall, is here today to share with us how we all -- especially those writing contemporary -- can use setting to great effect in our novels. Thank you, Jaye!
Using Setting for Tone in Contemporary YA: A Craft of Writing Post by Jaye Robin Brown
Sometimes I feel a bit like a cheater for writing contemporary young adult fiction. I don’t have to make up elaborate structures of law, or create lands, or mythical animals. There’s no need for mechanical knowledge of space ships or the why’s and how’s of a black hole. It’s just what it is. The here and now.
Writing contemporary comes with its own set of challenges, though. The biggest being that your readers, though they may not know the setting exactly, will know the rules of the land. So what are some of the tricks to sink them so deeply into your story they forget to look for familiar landmarks? There are many—your characterization, a zipping good plot, a smoking love interest—but perhaps the quietest and most subtle of the tools available is your setting.
In my debut, No Place To Fall
, I wanted to show Amber Vaughn’s small mountain town as both suffocating and freeing. She desperately wants to leave but it’s also a bit of a cocoon for her. The scenes where she feels the freest, she’s out hiking looking at vistas. The scenes where she’s fretting, she’s down low, surrounded by small minds with no view out. Simple, yes, but it might not have been a conscious choice in the early stages of my writing.
Here’s a trick. Take a really generic setting. Let’s say, your neighborhood grocery story. Now take a few different genres, contemporary romance, contemporary suspense, contemporary horror. What would be the things in each setting you would choose to write about? What would your MC notice?
For example, in a contemporary romance, maybe she’s picking up two oranges at chest level when her love interest walks by (there’s a meet cute of awkward!). Or she sees an elderly couple giving each other a sweet peck on the lips, the love light still in their eyes. It’s sunny outside, the light is good in the store, and everything is clean, glistening, and smells great (the bakery!).
In your contemporary suspense, maybe the fluorescents are flickering, maybe the lines are too long and too slow, maybe the one item she needs isn’t available or is expired. Maybe she barely misses slipping on the just mopped floor and the guy with the wet floor sign leers at her. For horror, you’d take the same sorts of things as suspense but amp up the fear factor, beady-eyed live lobsters in a tank, bumping into a display of gruesome Halloween masks, etc.
In short, your setting shouldn’t be a Barbie house to set your characters inside of and move them around and make them talk and interact. Your setting should be as dynamic and alive as all the other hard won parts of your novel. Each setting, each change of scenery, you have an opportunity for carefully thought out details. Why choose something random when you can choose something to enhance and highlight the tone and mood of your story or scene?
So next revision pass, focus on your setting. Are there places you can draw the mood out more? Objects or background moments that can serve as symbolism or metaphor for your main character? Setting is a gold mine of opportunity to take your story even deeper, especially if you write contemporary fiction.
About the Author:
Jaye Robin Brown, or Jro to her friends and family, lives in the mountains outside of Asheville, North Carolina. A dreamer by nature, she knew life wouldn't be complete until she was surrounded by land, horses, dogs, and one cantankerous goat. When not writing or playing on her fourteen acre farm, you can find her in the art room at the public high school where she teaches.Website
About the Book:The Sky Is Everywhere
meets This Lullaby
in No Place to Fall
(HarperTeen), Jaye Robin Brown
's poignant debut novel about family, friendships, and first romance. As good girl Amber prepares for her audition at the North Carolina School of the Arts, her relationship with her best friend’s older brother gets more and more complicated. When the bottom drops out of her family’s world in an afternoon, Amber faces an impossible choice, being there for her family, or following her dream as an artist.Amazon
-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers
There was a post last week that fascinated me when I read it. Mary Carroll Moore, and author, editor, and book doctor, and her blog post How Do You Start Your Chapters for the Most Punch? Some Simple--and Surprising--Structure Tips for All Genres suggested that editors don't read the first five pages a manuscript anymore, they only read the first two. She further suggested that:
"We readers have gotten impatient. Or publishers are gearing toward a new generation of readers, the movie-goers? Our brains have changed, certainly, and we may not be able to hang in there for seven chapters before something happens."
Is that true, do you think? There's certainly some research to back up the idea that we've become so used to skimming information online that it makes it hard to settle down to deeper reading. There's even been suggestions of starting a SLOW READING movement akin to the SLOW FOOD movement.
But this issue of skimming for key words and concepts has implications beyond just how people read. It might have implications for the success of how books are written, and bought, and sold, and for their success online. Look at the number of blockbuster YA series that are being written by very young writers. Is it because they know who to connect to younger readers? Might--*might*--this explain why some over thirty authors feel like they have a hard time breaking through?
If we innately don't read the same way any more, has the way that YA books are set up changed from ten years ago? From twenty years ago?
According to Mary Carroll Moore, until recently books began with character or setting with a hint of the story question. In contrast, she suggests that 90 percent of modern stories begin with an event. She suggests examining stories to:
"Look for a dramatic event that causes conflict for someone and has the potential to make big changes in the storyline."
COMPULSION is a mix of romance, contemporary story, and fantasy. It's the story of three teens-- lost girl, a girl who has become unpleasant due to circumstances beyond her control, and a boy who's ready to do anything to escape the confining expectations set out for him. Together, these three have to save themselves and their families and resolve a magical situation a thousand years in the making.
This has to be a slower burn than most fantasies because Barrie begins as a lost, grieving, and ordinary girl with just one very small bit of magical ability. In fact, it doesn't begin as fantasy at all. I started COMPULSION as magical realism, kicked it up to paranormal, and then finally drop into full-fledged contemporary fantasy. And at the end of the first book in the series, we've barely scratched the surface.
Even so, when we meet Barrie in the first chapter:
- She is abandoned in an airport by herself after being orphaned, because her aunt, who she never knew existed until her mother's will was read, doesn't come to meet her.
- She lies to her godfather about the fact that she's been abandoned, thereby giving herself no safety net or way to have him help her.
- She goes off in a taxi to figure out what's going on with her aunt without knowing what kind of a reception she will get when she gets to the plantation her family has owned for three-hundred years--a plantation she never knew existed.
- She uses her family gift for finding lost things to return the taxi driver's wedding ring.
- She discovers that her finding gift connects her to Watson's Landing as if that's where she's supposed to be.
- The gate to the plantation may or may not have opened magically to admit her.
- She finds the mansion falling apart and her aunt sitting on the front steps crying, having evidently broken down so badly that she lost all sense of time.
Sarah J. Maas' upcoming A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES opens with a Feyre, a nineteen-year-old huntress who lives in a fantasy world on the edge of a magical land. Feyre has heard rumors of magic and the Fae, even if she hasn't encountered them herself. She's a skilled hunter. She has killed before and has no compunction about killing again to save herself and her family. In the first chapter:
- Feyre has ventured further from home than she normally dares in chase of deer, who are being pushed further and further away as the forest dies. She and her family are a week from starvation.
- She finds a doe that would feed her family for a week or more, but a wolf is after the same deer.
- The wolf kills the deer and she in turn kills the wolf, who makes no effort to avoid being killed by Fayre's special arrow of ash and iron.
- It isn't until after the wolf is dead that Feyre is sure the wolf isn't one of the wicked fairies who lay waste to entire towns and who may or may not have been spotted in the area.
- She skins the wolf and carrying the pelt and dead doe, she retreats toward home.
The beginning stakes and character arc inception for these books are very different. Barrie could no more kill someone--or something--than she could fly at this point. She could be any girl. She's lost and she has to find her strength and her place. She will, but she hasn't started at that point.
Mary Carroll Moore is right in that both these books start with an inciting event and questions to draw the reader in. But I don't think the takeaway here is that readers are less patient. Some are. Others aren't.
Young adult readers have more competition for their time now, sure. But chiefly, they have more choices. They gravitate toward particular types of stories, the same way that they gravitate toward their favorite sites on the web and their favorite shows on television. Adults do too.
As writers, we should never dismiss readers or underestimate them. At the same time, we shouldn't give up or assume we can't get away without explosions, enormous body counts, or huge starting stakes. Readers will find and recognize the stories that speak to them, but not every story will speak to every reader.
On the other hand, no matter what you think of attention spans or book "fashions," whatever the pace or starting stakes of your story, you'll end up with more reader engagement if you:
- Set out the stakes early. (Barrie has no where else to go. Feyre is a week from starvation. )
- Start with the story question. (Will Barrie find a home/family? Will Feyre be caught and killed by the fey?)
- Keep your main character in the forefront by engaging her/him in activity. (Barrie transports herself to Watson Island. Eyre hunt a deer and kills a wolf.)
- Reveal character and special abilities through action as much as possible.
- Build the story world as you go, slivering in the details of place as needed.
THIS WEEK'S GIVEAWAY
Want an ARC of A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES? Fill out the Rafflecopter for a chance to win!
A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSESby Sarah J. MaasA thrilling, seductive new series from New York Timesbestselling author Sarah J. Maas, blending Beauty and the Beast with faerie lore.When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she's been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.Perfect for fans of Kristin Cashore and George R. R. Martin, this first book in a sexy and action-packed new series is impossible to put down!a Rafflecopter giveaway
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Have attention spans changed? Do you need action in the first few pages? Stakes? Are fast pace, character, or setting more important to you? Or do you like a blend of all three?
Few writers approach revisions with as much love as the initial creative process. But not author Elizabeth Langston. She joins the blog today to give us a fresh, and much appreciated, perspective on how to really dig revisions. And we get to help Elizabeth celebrate the cover reveal of her upcoming book. Congrats, Elizabeth, on a fabulous cover for Wishing for You! Check it out below!
I Heart Revisions: A Craft of Writing Post by Elizabeth Langston
I love revisions. Maybe that’s freakish, but it’s true. For me, edits (no matter how many rounds) are fun! I’d rather “fix” a second draft than write the first.
So today, I’m sharing three of my favorite revision techniques to try with your next draft. I’ve included an exercise with each, plus examples from my book I Wish
.Rediscover the heart of the story
What is the point of your book? What is its “North Star”? Whenever you feel frustrated or distracted during revisions, it helps to have clarity on the emotional core—the heart—of the manuscript.
In one sentence, can you capture what the protagonist strives to achieve or needs to discover? You don’t have to share the sentence with anyone else, so it can be as corny, sweet, or idealistic as you like. The heart of the story
can be whatever helps you—the author—to stay focused.
Write your sentence on an index card, put it in a teaser, or make it your computer’s background. Just have it front and center, so you’ll always know where your story is headed.Exercise
: Write the heart of your story in one sentence. If you can’t think of something original, then:
- borrow a proverb (“slow and steady wins the race”)
- use a movie quote (“there’s no place like home”)
- fill-in-the-blank (“[protagonist] discovers that _________________”)
Example:Witness scenes from all perspectives
Read through key scenes multiple times, once from the perspective of all major characters present.
I do this for the emotional, intense, story-changing scenes. I start with the “least” important character there. What does this character know before the scene begins? What does s/he observe in the scene? What does s/he smell, hear, taste, and feel? Does her dialog or reactions reflect her true emotions? Does his presence contribute something important? If not, could the character be removed from the scene?
Once I’ve allowed a character to affect the scene (or not), I go through the scene again in the head of the next character—and then the next, revising as I go.Exercise
: Pick an important scene (from your 1st or 2nd chapter) with at least 3 characters, such as friend & hero & heroine. Get into the friend’s head and experience the scene, especially using all of his/her senses. Is anything missing from the narrative or dialog?I WISH
Example: Lacey argues with Grant (the genie) about her depressed mother—in front of her mother. In the first draft version, Mom says something vaguely hopeless to Lacey after Grant leaves.
I wanted to be part of my mother’s solution. I wanted her children to be the reason for the miracle. “Why does it have to be a stranger who helps you get better?”
“Grant isn’t a stranger.” Her voice sounded weary. “He doesn’t remind me of Josh.”
It was the first time I’d heard her use my stepfather’s name in months. “What does Grant do that I haven’t done?”
“Nothing. It’s just different with him.” Her fingers reached out to smooth my hair. “You don’t get to be a kid anymore, and I can’t even promise when that’ll change.”
When I reread the scene through Mom’s eyes, I realized that she felt regret for how her depression was affecting her daughter. So I let Mom reveal her regret through dialogue.
I wanted to be part of my mother’s solution. I wanted her children to be the reason for the miracle. “Why does it have to be a stranger who helps you get better?”Give all relationships an arc
“Grant isn’t a stranger.” Her voice sounded weary. “He doesn’t remind me of Josh.”
It was the first time I’d heard her use my stepfather’s name in months. “What does Grant do that I haven’t done?”
“Nothing. It’s just different with him.” Her fingers reached out to smooth my hair. “I’m sorry, baby. You don’t get to be a kid anymore, and I can’t even promise when I’ll be able to be the adult again. I’m just…sorry.”
When I’m in the first round of revisions, I don’t analyze the subplots; I analyze the protagonist’s most important relationships. I write a mini-description of how each of her relationships evolve over the course of the book—ensuring that I address their status at the beginning, middle, and end of the story.Exercise
: Pick a secondary relationship, such as between the MC and a teacher or employer. How do they feel about each other on page 1? On the final page? Does their relationship arc flow smoothly? Should it?I WISH
Example: When the story opens, Lacey has isolated herself from practically everyone. By the end, I wanted her to have happy or hopeful connections to all people who are important to her.
- Grant; Mom; brother; best friend; former crush: All of these relationships had clear arcs. I only had to tweak and smooth.
- Estranged friend: Lacey remained estranged from her best friend Sara—start to finish—in the first draft. I decided to bring them to more a civil place by the end of the book—which required 2 new scenes.
- Deceased stepfather: Lacey is angry with her late stepdad for leaving a mess in her lap. In the first draft, her anger never went away. But really, she needed closure. I added a new chapter so that Lacey could release her pain and remember how much she’d loved him.
So there you are—3 techniques to consider when you’re revising a manuscript. I borrowed and modified these ideas from a craft book called: Second Sight: An Editor's Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults
by Cheryl B. Klein. I highly recommend this book.If you have suggestions for other books on revisions, leave us a comment!
About the Author:
I'm Elizabeth Langston, and I write Young Adult (YA) magical realism. Whisper Falls
is a time-travel series set in 18th- and 21st-century North Carolina. The I Wish
series features a "genie with rules." The first books in both series are on sale for 0.99 through February 15th at most e-book retailers. See my blog (http://authoretc.blogspot.com
) for details.
I live in North Carolina, USA and work in the computer industry for my day job. I have two college-age daughters and one geeky husband. At night, when I'm not writing, I'm watching TV (dance reality shows, Outlander
) or reading (and that is all over the place.)Website
About the Book:Wishing For You
(I WISH #2): Avail Oct 2015
With high school graduation only months away, Kimberley Rey is eager to discover what her future holds. The next big decision is rapidly approaching--where to apply to college. But this choice is complicated by a memory disability. How will her struggles to remember affect her once she moves away from home?
Help arrives through an unexpected and supernatural gift. Grant is a “genie” with rules. He can give her thirty wishes (one per day for a month) as long as the tasks are humanly possible. Kimberley knows just what to ask for—lessons in how to live on her own.
But her wishes change when she discovers that a good friend has been diagnosed with a devastating illness. As she joins forces with Grant to help her friend, Kimberley learns that the ability to live in the moment—to forget—may be more valuable than she ever knew.Wishing for You on Goodreads
| I Wish on Amazon
| Whisper Falls on Amazon
I am thrilled to welcome Mindee Arnett to the blog today. When I first started blogging and Tweeting, she was one of the first writers to welcome me in. Mindee is an incredibly talented and prolific writer, and I envy her ability to have 2 series going simultaneously. She's here today to share with us some of her secrets behind how she does it all. And I, for one, look forward to checking out the resources she recommends. Thank you, Mindee!
My Writing Process…Lately: A Craft of Writing Post by Mindee Arnett
The last five books I wrote—The Nightmare Affair
, The Nightmare Dilemma
, and The Nightmare Charade
—were all written in more or less the same way, using an approach I like to call a “pantser who stops for directions.” Basically, this means that I didn’t outline, but I also didn’t just rush through the first draft pell-mell. I took my time, contemplating events carefully along the way.
I’m happy with this approach. It works for me, and I’m sure to keep using it whenever I’m drafting. However, with my latest two projects I have made a turn toward the dark side. Yes, you heard me right. I have become an outliner.
But wait, let me qualify that statement lest my little pantser heart breaks—I have become an outliner out of necessity. With the conclusion of both of my series, my agent and I decided to submit my next projects on proposal. Now, what all a proposal entails varies by agent, writer, and editor, I believe, but for us it meant opening chapters plus a detailed outline. Given that I had never in my life written an outline, I had no idea what constituted a detailed outline, so my agent helpfully provided two examples and said, something in between would work. The first example was four pages, single-spaced. The second was 35 pages, double-spaced. Although both were helpful in their way, that made for an awfully large margin.
I knew I needed help. Normally, I don’t have a clue what’s going to happen in a book until I’ve written the first draft. That first draft is
an outline. It’s a way for me to discover the story, spending hours and hours with the characters and the world. But now I needed a short cut, or at least a semblance of a shortcut. There really is no way to get the same depth of discovery in an outline that you’ll get in a draft. But that’s okay. For a proposal I just needed to get the bones. The flesh and heart and muscles of the story could come later.
I decided to check out a book my writer friend Kristina McBride had recommended to me months before—The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller
by John Truby. One reason why I chose this book to help me write an outline is because it’s primarily focused on screenplays, and screenplays, it’s always seemed to me, are stories boiled down to their spine. Also, one of the tools I have relied upon in the past is specific to screenplays, too—Michael Hauge’s Six Stage Plot Structure. You can find all sorts of examples of this online. For my prior five books I used this plot structure as a road map to help me gauge where I was in the novel while drafting. It was particularly helpful with word counts. Most of my novels come in around 100k, so using the plot structure, I tried to make sure I hit that 50% mark, the “Point of No Return” at about 50k. But more on this Six Stage Plot Structure in a minute.
What I found in Truby’s book were techniques to help me think about my story as a whole and how to flesh out the key parts without doing any actual drafting. And those techniques did help, although they weren’t enough on their own. I ended up using the Six Point Plot Structure as well. But together the two tools were enough to help me generate a decent outline. What follows is a breakdown of the process I ended up using.
- Idea Generation. It goes without saying that before you start a writing project you need an idea, preferably a good one, or at least an idea good enough to sustain a whole novel. I don’t really have any tips for this step or any insight to offer save this—good ideas require two parts. My author friend Jody Casella likes to say that stories are like fires. Just as it takes two sticks to spark a fire, it takes two ideas to spark a story. I sort of love this symbolism, and I think it’s definitely true. I know for me, the two ideas is critical. One idea sometimes feels like it’s enough, but when you get down to writing it, nothing happens. That’s the difference. For example, consider the movie Home Alone. The first idea in this movie is simple and promising: young boy is left home alone over Christmas while family travels to France. At first this seems like enough to be getting along with, but it’s not. It’s not until you add the second idea—two incompetent robbers are planning to rob the neighborhood over the holidays—that you get a story with legs.
- Exploratory first chapter. Once I have my two ideas, I write the opening chapter. Beforehand I will name my main characters, and I usually have a vague idea about their personality, but not much. What I do know at the beginning is the sense of conflict—the “what’s at stake.” This is something I’ve worked out at the idea generation stage.
- Seven Key Steps of Story Structure. If the first chapter went well and I have an idea for the next chapter, I will start to work on the Seven Key Steps of Story Structure outlined by Truby in Chapter 3 of his book. I won’t go into detail here, because they’re in the book, but these steps are:
- Weakness and Need
- New Equilibrium
- Six Stage Plot Structure. While I’m working on the Seven Steps, I will also be thinking about the Six Stage Structure with a goal of filling in the key points of the structure—especially the Point of No Return, the Climax, and Change of Plans, etc.
- Back and Forth plus Character Web. This stage is just a repeat of steps 3 and 4, and I will also start working through Chapter 4 of Truby’s book, which is all about identifying the character web. The cool thing I’ve discovered about these two approaches is that they work on different, but complimentary levels. Truby’s Seven Key Steps are all focused on character motivation, and on the deeper thematic elements at work on your story. Hauge’s Six Stage Plot Structure are focused on events, on the what happens. Together, they make for a solid approach to outlining.
- More Chapters. If I make it this far—if I’ve successfully identified all Seven Key Steps of the Story Structure, and at least the Climax of the Six Stage—then I know that I’ve got enough for a whole book. But I also know that I’m going to need some awesome opening pages. I go back to chapter one, make any changes I need to based on what came out of the steps above, and then I’ll move on to chapter 2. And then chapter 3, and then…
- Write the Outline. Eventually, I will get far enough into the draft that I know it’s time to start working on the actual outline. I always do this last, because I hate it. Fortunately, the exercises I’ve worked through make it easier, doable at least, but the process is still just the worst. Nevertheless, I still complete the task. To my shock and amazement, the first time I did this, my outline ended up being fifteen double-spaced pages long! Hell has never come so close to freezing over.
- Submission. Once I have an outline and some polished opening pages, I will submit them to my agent. She’s already seen the pitch for the story and probably the opening chapter, but she will need to review again. Most likely she’ll have comments that I will need to work on. But eventually, the proposal will be in good enough shape for us to submit to my editor.
And there you have it. My process as it exists today. Maybe it’ll work for you and maybe it won’t. But no worries. Give me a few months and a few new projects and I’ll come up with a new process. That’s the coolest thing about writing—it never gets routine. Always be searching for a new approach.
About the Author:
Mindee Arnett is the author of two young adult series: The Arkwell Academy Series
, a contemporary fantasy from Tor Teen (Macmillan), and Avalon
, a sci-fi thriller from Balzer+Bray (HarperCollins). She has a Master of Arts in English literature with an emphasis in Creative Writing. She lives on a horse farm in Ohio with her husband, two kids, a couple of dogs, and an inappropriate number of cats. She’s addicted to jumping horses and telling tales of magic, the macabre, and outer space. Find her online at www.mindeearnett.com
About the Book:
Jeth Seagrave and his crew are on the run. The ITA, still holding Jeth’s mother in a remote research lab, is now intent on acquiring the metatech secrets Jeth’s sister Cora carries inside her DNA, and Jeth is desperate to find the resources he needs to rescue his mother and start a new life outside the Confederation. But the ITA is just as desperate, and Jeth soon finds himself pursued by a mysterious figure hell-bent on capturing him and his crew—dead or alive.
With nowhere to run and only one play left, Jeth enters into a bargain with the last person he ever thought he’d see again: Daxton Price, the galaxy’s newest and most ruthless crime lord. Dax promises to help Jeth, but his help will only come at a price—a price that could mean sacrificing everything Jeth has fought for until now.
The conclusion to the story Mindee Arnett began in her acclaimed novel Avalon
is a dangerous journey into the spaces between power and corruption, life and death, the parts of ourselves we leave behind and the parts we struggle to hold on to.Amazon
-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers
We hear it all the time, “start with action.” I see the results of that every month in the First Five Pages Workshop, where writers have heard it so often they automatically think they have to start with a murder, a car crash, or an explosion to get someone’s attention.
But here’s the thing. Every novel has its own speed, and its own readership. There's no one-size fits all solution.
The critical aspect of pacing for any novelist is control—knowing why you’re making the choices you’re making and knowing how those choices will affect your readers. Compulsion
, for example, starts slowly to build the world and the sense of disorientation my main character feels as she slips from the everyday world into a world of magic. But as she becomes immersed in that magic, the pace picks up.
- Not every part of a book should be paced the same. As a rule of thumb, adding description and slowing down the pace can create suspense. But as you get to the action, the scenes where the main character’s adrenaline and danger level shifts into high, there’s less room for description, thought, dialogue, and anything that doesn’t contribute to immediate survival.
- Let pacing build and release, rinse, repeat. Then ratchet it even higher. Working toward a mini climax at a turning point, and then slowing down again allows the reader to catch their breath. At some point, if you don’t release the tension, the reader will grow too weary to care much by the time you reach the climax.
- Provide conflicting goals for characters, and never give your main character what she wants—not, at least, without piling on the complications in compensation. If she succeeds, there has to be a “but” to her success. If she fails, occasionally let her fail so spectacularly that she not only falls on her face, she also loses her dog and breaks her leg so that she can’t go after it. Go ahead. Be mean. Once your character succeeds, there’s no reason for a reader to keep reading, unless you provide that reason.
- Make the motives clear to support your character’s goals and elicit sympathy and connection. If you don’t show how the character responds to failure, the reader will be hard-pressed to understand or “get” the character, and it’s going to be hard for them to engage in the book and feel like the failure mattered, or to be interested in the next attempt to win.
- No matter how slow the pacing, use conflict to immerse the reader in the story. Tension is what pulls the reader into the page, and tension comes from conflict, whether on a large scale or a smaller one. The more aspects of conflict you can incorporate (one character against another, a character against himself, etc.) the more you create an immersive reading experience.
- Use unanswered questions to build a sense of urgency. Make sure there are always new questions introduced when providing a revelation, and seed tension into a story on every page. And always end a scene or chapter with new unanswered questions to keep readers engaged.
- Use the “rule of three” in to provide structure and take advantage of hard-wired story “intelligence” that readers have developed. After millennia of storytelling, the human brain has grown used to certain conventions, and the “try, try, try” technique is one that can work at the novel structure level, at the “act” or movement level, or a the scene level.
This week's giveaway:
Compulsion was long-listed for the SIBA Book Award from the Southern Independent Bookseller's Alliance this week, so I'm in the mood to celebrate. How about another mystery box giveaway? Four books and/or ARCs, mix of old and new. Sound good?
Your Two Cents
Any thoughts on pacing? Do you struggle with it in your novels? Do you get tired of the books that go at light-speed from start to finish? Or do you need that non-stop adrenaline rush? Leave a comment!a Rafflecopter giveaway
I love meaty craft posts, don't you? Especially when the author takes the time to deeply explain a technique that I am struggling with in my own writing. As awareness is rising among many authors for the need to write characters that represent the diversity of reality, I'm sure that I am not alone. Author Christine Kohler joins us today with her fabulous analysis of when and how to incorporate dialect and foreign words into our stories. Thank you, Christine!
Weaving Foreign Words Seamlessly into English Language Text by Christine Kohler
Imagine you open a book and one character's dialogue is in a foreign language that you do not read. What would you do with the book? Probably close it and not read the story. I know I would, because it would frustrate me not to understand one side of the conversation.
Now imagine you open a book and one character's dialogue is peppered with foreign words that you don't understand. You sort of pick up the gist. But you're still not real sure what the character is saying. At best, you're turning to the glossary in the back of the book. At worst, you're looking up the foreign words online. Depending on how heavy the foreign words are, or how confused you get about what the character is saying and what is going on in the story plot, it is very likely you still might give up and put the book down.
Best case scenario, imagine you start reading a book and one character's dialogue is peppered with foreign words that you don't know; however, the foreign words are in context of actions and thoughts (interior monologue) and narrative that give clues and even rephrase the words in English. The story moves you through the foreign words in a way that you understand without having to look them up in an outside source or glossary. That's what I'm going to show writers how to do in this article.Writing Resources
First, though, it is difficult to discuss writing foreign words without talking about voice and dialect. I recommend you read on my blog Read Like a Writer the article "11 Tips on Writing Authentic Dialect."
Writing foreign language dialogue for a character is more than just using foreign words. In Developing a Written Voice
(Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Co., 1993), Dona Hickey, a professor at University of Richmond, names five stylistic features that transfer voice from the air to the page: (Hickey, P. 23)
Dialect based on POV
- Sentence patterns
- Sentence length
- Word choice
- Word placement
Dialect in narrative voice should be very light. It can be heavier in dialogue. In general, the older the character the heavier the dialect and foreign language. This is because the older character is more likely to be a first-generation immigrant to the United States, and may have less education in a US school.
My novel NO SURRENDER SOLDIER is written in two different dialect point-of-views--a 15-year-old Chamorro, Kiko, and a Japanese soldier, Seto, who has been hiding in the jungle for 28 years after WWII ended. The story takes place on Guam in 1972, during the Vietnam War. The Chamorros and Guamanians speak Pidgin English. The Japanese soldier speaks Japanese and very little English.
I made a stylistic decision to put all of Seto's first-person dialogue and interior monologue in italics since he is speaking and thinking in the Japanese language. The narrative in Seto's chapters is in third person and not italicized.Terms of Endearment
One thing I believe writers should do when writing about a specific culture is to use the proper terms of address, especially for family members. I had a little problem in that in Chamorro the word "Nana" means mother, whereas, in the United States mainland "Nana" means grandmother. I got the idea to include a page before the prologue with "Chamorro terms of address" from Linda Sue Park's Korean WWII novel WHEN MY NAME WAS KEOKO. Neither of our historical novels include glossaries in the back of the book, which shows the actual foreign words are not abundant. However, many books do have foreign word glossaries in the back.Example: Words in Context
Let's return to that best case scenario where foreign words are in context of actions and thoughts (interior monologue) and narrative that give clues and even rephrase the words in English.
Here is an example in the prologue (P. 6) of NO SURRENDER SOLDIER
(Merit Press, 2014):
… Besides, if things did not go well in battle, Seto knew what his superiors required of him. To die honorably, and go the way of the cherry blossoms. He looked at the bayonet on the end of his rifle and swallowed hard against what felt like a peach pit stuck in his throat. He had pledged to die in battle for Emperor Hiro Hito. But could he commit hara-kiri like a true samurai?
Notice in the paragraph above that I never added a separate sentence or clause that defines hara-kiri
. It's not necessary to even use the word suicide, or to describe in gruesome detail how samurai committed seppuku
, disembowelment. It's enough for the reader to know that hara-kiri
will lead to Seto's death.
Also take note in that paragraph the saying, "To die honorably, and go the way of the cherry blossoms." I use this wording "go the way of the cherry blossoms" quite a few times throughout the story. I made a stylistic decision to make Seto's language poetic more than adhering to how a Japanese speaker might sound. As many Asian languages do not have articles like in the English language, I tried to leave articles out where it enhanced the poetic dialect.Example: Words Requiring Direct Translation
Some foreign words require a direct translation for the reader to understand. Here are two different passages in NO SURRENDER SOLDIER
where I handled the translations in different ways. The first passage (P. 13) in Chapter 1 is Kiko's mother waiting on two Japanese tourists. Grandfather (Tatan) had just offended them:
Nana scurried toward the counter and apologized to the Japanese girls, while bowing her head and shoulders repeatedly. “I am so sorry. Dozo. My apologies. Dozo.” She gave the girl change.
In the passage above it is clear that the Japanese word "dozo" means "sorry" and "my apologies." This passage also reveals that Nana speaks Japanese (at least a little; later the reader learns students were taught the language in school during WWII), and that she knows Japanese customs such as bowing. Earlier in this chapter Nana would not bow, even though it would have been a polite courtesy to her Japanese customers vacationing on Guam.
The reason all of these parts are so important as a whole is because creating a character of a different culture and language is deeper and wider than just giving the character an ethnic or foreign name and throwing in a few foreign words.Example: Direct Translation Set Off by Em Dashes
This next passage (p. 20) in Chapter 2 is from Seto's point of view. I rarely use this technique of a direct translation set off by em dashes, but in this case I did not want to lose the continuity and flow of the action, or the internal monologue showing his emotions and reactions. At the same time, I felt that many readers would not know what kamikaze
means. I would caution against using this em dash technique except in a pinch when it fits. (Like a pinch of pepper! Or, pepper in a pinch.)
Deception and trap, indeed, Seto had thought at the time. Ha! Japan could not lose with its kamikaze—divine wind—Buddha’s blessings, and the divine Emperor himself ordering the war. Time dragged on. Shellfire ceased. Bullet sniping silenced. Seto became disheartened; Japan must have lost the war.Read Widely From Well-Written Novels
As for how heavy or light to make the Pidgin English dialect, Newbery-winning Richard Peck advised me to read Graham Salisbury, who also writes Pacific Islander literature. Peck said, read well-written books in the place and era you are writing and model the masters. I would add, read how dialect is written in books within the past five years. In particular, I found Blue Skin of the Sea
by Salisbury helpful. I've also critiqued with a Hispanic writer and so studied Pam Munoz Ryan's novels.
Besides reading other children's lit books with foreign language peppered within English language text, I recommend reading literature from authors in the language of your characters. For example, to create the tone and cadence of Seto’s voice in NO SURRENDER SOLDIER, I read gothic poetry from Akinari, an 18th century Japanese poet.Finally -- Don't Confuse Your Reader
In conclusion, I leave you with these reminders: Story first. Clarity is imperative. If the reader stumbles over words repeatedly he will throw the book down unfinished. It is better to include no foreign words in your story at all than to frustrate English-only readers.
However, if you can pepper foreign words in skillfully, and make the general meaning understandable within context, then foreign words are one more tool in a writer's arsenal to capture authenticity in voice, dialect, and culture.
About the Author:
Christine Kohler is a graduate of the University of Hawaii, then lived in Japan and Guam, the setting for her debut novel NO SURRENDER SOLDIER, Merit Press (Adams Media/ F+W Media), 2014. She worked as a foreign correspondent for the Pacific Daily News and Gannett Wire Service, covering the West Pacific. She later worked as an editor and copy editor for the San Antonio Express-News, a Hearst daily. Besides being a journalist, Kohler worked as a media specialist in PR and marketing, middle and high school teacher, and writing instructor for the Institute of Children's Literature (ICL). She has 17 children's books published. Kohler now lives in Texas.
The American Library Association nominated NO SURRENDER SOLDIER as a Quick Pick for reluctant readers. NO SURRENDER SOLDIER was also awarded a bronze medal by the Military Writers Society of America.Website
About the Book:
A young man, an old soldier , and a terrible injustice. Should the punishment be death?
Growing up on Guam in 1972, fifteen-year-old Kiko is beset by worries: He’s never kissed a girl, and he thinks it’s possible he never will. The popular guys get all the attention, but the worst part is that Kiko has serious problems at home. His older brother is missing in Vietnam; his grandfather is losing it to dementia; he just learned that his mother was raped in World War II by a Japanese soldier.
It all comes together when he discovers an old man, a Japanese soldier, hiding in the jungle behind his house. It’s not the same man who raped his mother, but, in his rage, Kiko cares only about protecting his family and avenging his mom – no matter what it takes. And so, a shy, peaceable boy begins to plan a murder. But how far will Kiko go to prove to himself that he’s a man?
Based on a historical incident, No Surrender Soldier
is the story of a boy grappling with ancient questions of courage and manhood before he can move on. Amazon
-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers
View Next 25 Posts
Today we welcome one of the founding members of #WeNeedDiverseBooks to the blog. Author Stacey Lee shares some great tips for writing delicious dialogue...though I have to disagree with her on one thing: I LOVE plotting! Thank you, Stacey, for making us all hungry for some Ben & Jerry's!
The Word on Dialogue (Read If You Like Ice Cream): A Craft of Writing Post by Stacey Lee
Of all the elements that make up a book, every writer has one that, like a favorite toy, is just more fun to play with. One of my critique partners loves writing internal monologue, while another goes bananas over world building. Everyone has her thing. (Except for plotting. No one really likes plotting.) My thing is dialogue.
Dialogue is to story what peanut butter is to Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby ice cream – the magic ingredient that makes the whole tub disappear in one sitting. Those little bits of peanutty goodness keep you wanting just one more taste, one more delicious chapter. Dialogue breaks up the monotony of what would otherwise be a pint of boring vanilla.
Dialogue also helps flesh out each character’s personality. We should learn a lot about someone by what they say and how they say it. Last, dialogue moves forward plot. Consider this example from the Princess Bride:
Westley: “Hear this now, I will always come for you.”
Buttercup: “But how can you be sure?”
Westley: “This is true love. You think this happens every day?”
These simple lines tell us a lot about Westley. He’s romantic, heroic, and he has a sense of humor. The plot also progresses. We know that Westley will come for Buttercup, and anticipate that reunion.
Now that I’ve impressed you with the importance of dialogue, here are my five hot tips for working with it.
1. Give information via dialogue
. Because dialogue is such a multi-tasker, better to give information via dialogue than through narration. If you find you have paragraph upon paragraph of text, try transforming it into dialogue. You get bonus points if you break up dialogue with action or internal monologue. Back to that container of Chubby Hubby, no one wants to eat a full tub of only peanut butter. Unless of course you’re on a bad date and need an excuse not to talk. Not that this has ever happened.
Here’s an example of transforming narration to dialogue using the characters from my novel UNDER A PAINTED SKY
, which is narrated by the main character, Samantha.
We study a handsome firearm with a sharp nose, lying on the chair. The grocer Mr. Trask kept one just like it in a cigar box by his register. I never even held one before, but maybe Annamae has. I just hope I won’t shoot myself in the foot.
Transformed to dialogue interspersed with action and internal monologue:
I point to the firearm. “That’s a Colt Dragoon.” Mr. Trask the grocer kept one just like it in a cigar box by his register.
Annamae frowns. “You know how to shoot that?”
“Only how not to shoot my foot.”
Better, right? The story becomes more active with the dialogue, we get a sense of Samantha and Annamae’s personalities, and we are more likely to remember this information than if it came in the middle of a text heavy paragraph.
2. Cut dialogue tags where possible
. Let the action and context show you who is speaking. Dialogue tags can overwhelm a scene, and disrupt the flow of the narrative. In the above example, no dialogue tags are used. The reader knows who is speaking because of where dialogue is placed, or even because of particular speech patterns. Back in the old days, the books we read used dialogue tags, and so that’s how we thought it was done. Thankfully, styles have changed for the better.
3. Give every character his or her own unique way of speaking
. This could be through dialect, word choice, speech length, slang, etc. A common beginner’s writing mistake is when everyone comes out sounding exactly alike. The pattern of speech should reflect the character’s personalities. Are they confident or shy? What is their sense of humor – dry, cheesy? Are they optimists, or pessimists? Idealists? A good writer will be able to convey who is speaking simply by how they speak.
Let’s do a mini exercise. Say a character needs to use the bathroom. How would the following characters express this need? I will do the first two, and you do the last.
Yoda: “A leak, I must take.”
Princess Leia: “I happen to like nice bathrooms.”
4. Make every word count
. It is possible to overdo dialogue. No one likes to listen to long, boring speech. Readers do not need to know every word your character says, just the important ones. SCBWI Executive Director Lin Oliver once said, “Dialogue should be the conversations you would want to eavesdrop on, not the things you tune out.”
5. Sound natural
. The goal is to approximate speech you hear in real life. You don’t have to use full and complete sentences, and sometimes your dialogue may not even be grammatically correct (e.g., see Yoda example in #3). But the more realistic your dialogue sounds, the less you risk your readers being pulled out of the story. If you struggling with dialogue, write for content first, then edit so that it sounds natural.
Stacey puts down her pen. “Now let’s all have some Chubby Hubby together!”
About the Author:
Debut author Stacey Lee
is a fourth generation Chinese-American whose people came to California during the heydays of the cowboys. She believes she still has a bit of cowboy dust in her soul. A native of southern California, she graduated from UCLA then got her law degree at UC Davis King Hall. She plays classical piano, raises children, and writes YA fiction. As a founding member of the grassroots #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement
, Stacey is a highly vocal participant in a discussion that is making waves within the publishing industry. As their legal liaison, she has participated in and/or moderated diversity panels across the country.Website
About the Book:Missouri, 1849
: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician--not an easy thing if you're a girl, and harder still if you're Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush.
Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.An unforgettable story of friendship and sacrifice--perfect for fans of Code Name Verity.Amazon
-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers