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Let’s talk about the opening line of your book. The first thing to know about “first lines” is that they are not going to make or break you. Sure, it’s a lot of fun coming up with great ones. But as long as the first line makes someone want to read the second line, and that line makes you want to read the third… you’re on the right track.
The second thing to know is that the opening line might be the very last thing you write before your book is finished.
That said… don’t you just love a great opening line?
The fun thing about writing a book is that you get to choose what kind of opening line you want, what type of sentence appropriately sets up your book. You can choose to set a stage or create a setting. You can reveal a character. You can drop the reader into the middle of a scene. You can introduce conflict. You can have your character speak a line of dialogue. There’s no one right way to do it.
Today I looked at some of my favorite first lines from novels, and asked myself why I liked them. I found each one appealed to me for a different reason. It might have:
- been clever
- been thought-provoking
- brought an immediate smile (or stab) of recognition
- struck me as poignant
- painted a really cool word picture
- set up an intriguing mystery
- introduced a character I want to know better
- made me laugh
- drawn me into an unfamiliar world
- used words in a beautiful way
The one thing they all have in common is they make me want to read more. They immediately draw me into the universe of the novel by the unique voice that first line begins to establish.
One of the trends lately is to come up with stunningly clever first lines, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But not every novel requires one of those. Some need a more understated approach.
Some say the best first lines introduce conflict right away. I believe that can be true, but it’s not the only way to write a first line. Most of my favorites give a small hint that something is going to go wrong, or something already has gone wrong.
There’s no formula for a first line. It should elicit interest, pique something in the reader, speak to their heart or their intellect or their funny bone. It just has to work. Some of the best opening lines stand remarkably well on their own, having enough meat to allow you to chew on it awhile.
Here are a few popular opening lines from famous novels:
Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.
~ Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (my favorite first line ever)
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
~ Jane Austen, Pride & Prejudice
If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.
~ J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.
~ Anne Tyler, Back When We Were Grownups
The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.
~ William Gibson, Neuromancer
Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.
~ Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway
All this happened, more or less.
~ Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five
Dr. Weiss, at forty, knew that her life had been ruined by literature.
~ Anita Brookner, The Debut
There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.
~ C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
A story has no beginning or end; arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.
~ Graham Greene, The End of the Affair
What is one of your favorite first lines?
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The post That All-Important First Line appeared first on Rachelle Gardner.
We all lie. We may not admit it, we may not even know it, but we do. And those of us who are loudest to proclaim our honesty are often those who lie the worst. All we have to do is look at the current political campaign with a clear eye to see human nature in all its brutal glory. There are candidates so convinced of their superiority that they can't see or (at least admit) the complexity of any issue or implementation. Other candidates are so eager to achieve a goal that they will bend the truth in any way necessary. Still others have studied what to say to sway voters to the point where they can hardly find their own voices, and others are so mired in proclaiming that the system is broken that they cannot offer viable solutions. And for every message, there is a willing ear who is able to tune out the doubts and filters that automatically alert us to the lies.
Why is that?
The reasons are as unique as fingerprints. Each of us measures truth according to our own individual barometers. Our definitions of truth bend and flex in ways that shield us from the lies we cannot bear to face. That's what makes us interesting as human beings, and that, also, is what makes for fascinating characters in fiction.
Fascinating Characters Are Wounded Characters
Whether we are writing commercial fiction, or literary fiction, or something in between, we have to understand the importance that wounds and self-protection mechanisms play for both our characters and our readers.
Wounds make our characters:Read more »
If you've ever read one of our own Martina Boone's books, you know that she rocks emotion. So, who better to listen to if you're seeking to add more emotional depth to your writing. We're revisiting one of Martina's old craft posts today that will help you do just that. Read how Martina will take you from bland writing to something deeper...even with zombies!
Writing Deeper: A Craft of Writing Post by Martina Boone
"Beware of clichés. Not just the clichés that Martin Amis is at war with. There are clichés of response as well as expression. There are clichés of observation and of thought – even of conception. Many novels, even quite a few adequately written ones, are clichés of form which conform to clichés of expectation." ~ Geoff Dyer
Books are about what happens and why. But what keeps us turning pages is our desire, our need, to know how the protagonist feels about it and how those emotions will make her respond.
Think back to when you were a kid. What books kept you up with a flashlight under the covers? What books lately have kept your heart racing long after hubby was snoring happily beside you? Chances are, it wasn’t just high-action and shoot-em-ups. For me, at least, that compulsion to find out what comes next isn't the result of chases or explosions, it comes more from emotional resonance, from an MC whose response is honest and prompts her to make decisions that lead to new complications and new decisions. That’s when I fall in love. THAT'S when I connect.Read more »
We are lucky today to present you with a guest post by not just one but two amazing authors! Laura and Melinda are the dynamic writing/editing duo behind the Roswell High series as well as some Buffy the Vampire Slayer novels. Together, they have double the insight into plotting and outlining. We hope you'll find some inspiration from their post. And be sure to check out their upcoming release, Sanctuary Bay, at the end!
Outlining With a Partner: A Craft of Writing Post by Laura J. Burns & Melinda Metz
To outline or not to outline?
For us, that's not really the question. Each of us has written one book on our own without doing an outline first. That's all it took, in the 15+ years we've been writing. Once through without an outline was such a horrifying experience that we've never done it again. You'll notice that we said we did it "on our own"—as in, Melinda did it on a book she wrote by herself, and so did Laura. Together, we've never made that mistake. That's probably one of the best things about being writing partners. We didn't have to learn this lesson the hard way!Read more »
I remember a few years ago, the quest for voice was like the search for the Holy Grail. You'd think that would get easier after you'd sold and written a trilogy, wouldn't you?
Spending a lot of time in one character's head makes it just as hard to switch up as it does to start from scratch as a beginning writer. Possibly it's even harder because you've got the weight of expectation, the gremlin sitting on your shoulder looking at the screen and shaking his furry head derisively at every awkward sentence. After you've sold a book, you should know how to do it, right? It should be easy. Right? RIGHT?
Read more »
So I've been thinking about voice and its relationship to story. And honestly, I think that often, voice is the story. But not the bald, bare bones story that anyone can give you.
Voice is the secret side of the story, the insight. The narrator who invites you in and cuts himself open to lay bare the things we really want to know.
Voice can lift a small or mediocre tale into something that has you wanting to prop your eyes open with toothpicks so you can finish the last few chapters, or it can make a brilliant story blah. And I'm not talking about the writing.
Repeat after me. Writing and voice and story are different.
We wish to give an especially warm welcome today to our guest blogger, Alexander Gordon Smith. Not only did he bring some great writing advice to share, but HE ALSO BROUGHT HIS BABY! I know you'll join with me in congratulating Gordon on his beautiful new arrival not only because she's just so adorable (check out pic below), but because she also inspired this wonderful post you're about to read. If you've had kids....or any other schedule altering lifestyle change...then you'll greatly identify with what Gordon's about to share.
And, Gordon, we're so glad you brought Elspeth along...and that she didn't get punted!
Don't Punt the Baby: A Craft of Writing Post by Alexander Gordon Smith
Hi everyone! It's an absolute pleasure to be back here on Adventures in YA Publishing! I have been looking forward to writing a Craft Friday post for a while now, and I had planned exactly what I wanted to say. Then life flung a spanner in the works. Well, not so much a spanner as a 9lb 8oz baby with the sleeping patterns of a walrus (Google it!) and the lungs of a soprano. It's pretty awesome, but it means I'm sitting here with said baby splatted across my chest a day after the deadline for my post trying to plumb the depths of my sleep deprived (depraved?!) mind for whatever it is I'd wanted to talk to you about. Read more »
One of the books I’m working on now is a full on fantasy. Beyond the first, wild sweet rush of the initial chapters where I didn’t know anything but the broadest strokes of where the heck I was going, I had to figure out the inner workings and clock pieces of the world. Honestly, that’s true of anything you write.
It may not seem like it, but whether the worlds are contemporary and non-magical or something entirely fantastic and unfamiliar, the process of creating where your characters live and how they became who they are is essentially the same.
It can be daunting to think of everything at once, and if you're like me, doing the step-by-step can feel like it's going to hold up the creative process. When it comes down to it, there are four groupings of information that can act like keys to open up your story.
The Differences in Time, Place, Weather, and Atmosphere: Of course you want to know the basics, but instead of asking yourself an endless list of questions about how your every aspect of your world looks, smells, sounds, and feels in real life, you want to know how the people who live there make it different and made it their own. Know the big picture things, sure, but then then focus on the details that make it personal and make it unique, as well as on the way in which the characters see these details. Think about how the details change during the seasons and how that impacts them the rest of the year. Consider the small questions you wouldn't normally think of, and that will help the big things snap in place.
The Discriminators in Economy, Technology, Religion, and Social Structure: The place in which the characters move involves how they are positioned in society and everything that entails. But it’s not just a matter of thinking how and where they get their food, shelter, and clothing, or even what they believe, but also how they pay for it. What are the jobs and hobbies or extra activities that take away or add resources? It’s important not only to think about what is available to purchase or barter, but what isn’t. What can’t your characters afford or have? Why and how do they make do? What would happen if something changed? How do those who have feel about those who don’t have, and vice versa? How do different characters or factions within society believe in different things and how does this make them feel about each other? What are the biggest discriminators in your story? What creates allies and enemies?
The Recent or Upcoming Change: Obviously something has changed, or you have no story. Something is brewing. But why? What caused the situation? What could have avoided it? What would or will make it worse? And how would solving it make something else go so awry that it would be a nearly impossible decision between the two?
The Past Change and Differentiation: In fiction as it life, there is planning, but there is also luck—both good and bad. Nothing is wholly uniform and nothing goes entirely according to plan. For each of your society as well as your characters, things have gone awry or unexpectedly at some point in the past. Something that set them on some path that wasn’t the one they would have logically chosen. What was it? For what reason? By whose design? How do they feel about it? What does it change for the future and how do different factions from within the story benefit or lose from this?
There are no hard and fast rules, no insert tab A into slot B instructions, for how to create a world, contemporary or otherwise. But a fantasy world must be as complete as the real world in which we live, and the contemporary world of your characters must reflect all the aspects of the world that they’d encounter.
What Do You Think
For me, the best way into a world is through the characters. Once I know what’s important to them and how they live their lives, I can begin to push the boundaries of their immediate world out, and then start to squeeze them walls of the world back in around them.
The push and pull, the squeezing of worlds and characters, that’s what shapes them both. The harder we squeeze, the more we temper them and develop something truly unique and strong.Building a fantasy world? Here are some resources you might find useful.https://onestopforwriters.com
First and foremost, for all things setting and character, not to mention a lot of other things, try the collaboration between the authors of the Emotion Thesaurus and the Character Thesaurus and the creator of Scrivener for Windows. It’s fully searchable by keyword and concept and gives you an enormous wealth of tools and libraries.http://donjon.bin.sh/fantasy/world/
Want a map generator, fantasy name generator, or medieval demographics generator—or a few other things? Here you go.
About the Author
Martina Boone is the author of Compulsion
, out now in the romantic Southern Gothic Heirs of Watson Island trilogy from Simon & Schuster, Simon Pulse. Illusion
, the final book, will be out in October of 2016. Martina is also the founder of AdventuresInYAPublishing.com
, a three-time Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers Site, and YASeriesInsiders.com
, a site dedicated to encouraging literacy and reader engagement through a celebration of series literature. She's on the Board of the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia and runs the CompulsionForReading.com
program to distribute books to underfunded schools and libraries.
I keep reminding myself of the above as I'm working on the first draft of my middle grade novel.
If you like the image above, I've made it available as a free print-ready PDF in my For The Love Of Reading resource (where you can find lots of other print-ready posters and activity sheets).
I was asked the plotter versus pantser question while I was on an author panel at the Young Adult Keller Book Festival this past weekend (YAKFEST) (which was wonderful!), and as usual I felt a little deer-in-the-lightsish. And my answer, as usual, is that I'm a plantser.
Plotter + Pantser = Only Mildly Prone To Face Plants
I often do a very brief synopsis
just to get to know the premise, plot, and characters, and then I go ahead and write what I used to call and outline following the basic idea of three-act structure or the hero's journey
, except that it's really a discovery draft where I work out what happens in the story and follow the characters to see where and how they
want the story to go. I don't restrict this to follow the synopsis, but knowing my basic structure helps me keep from getting stuck or stranding.
During the audience Q&A at YAKFEST, we were also asked about finding our way into character, and how that played into story. My answer there also fell squarely into a combination of planning and organic development while writing.
Rough Character Sketch >> Partial Draft of Book >> Deeper Worksheet >> Rest of Book
In other words, I know a little bit about my characters going in, then discover more as I write about a third of the book, then I go ahead and crystallize what I know via a character worksheet
, before going on to write the rest.
Part of the reason that my process seems to have settled in this weird gray area between planning and pantsing is that my stories are commercial with a literary flavor, driven by both plot and character rather than one or the other. But then there's also the one truth that all writers need to know:
Read more »
One of the questions authors are most often asked is "Where do you get your ideas from?" If you're like me, it's easier to answer where you DON'T get inspiration. Ideas shoot out at me from everywhere I go and everyone I see. Which is why I try to always have a notepad of some sort, whether paper or electrical, with me always. And my kids have made a joke of rolling their eyes and groaning every time they hear me say, "that would make a good story!"
I believe that, as writers, we have trained our minds, opened them, widened them, attuned them, to be receptive to these ideas that flutter about in the aether. Inspiration is there for one and all, but we creatives are the ones who notice and care. However, sometimes the trick is knowing which idea is fluttering by to catch our attention, and which should be released back into the wild for another writer. Not every idea I've had is my story to write. It's taken me several ears as a writer, developing and honing my voice and themes, to know which ideas to cherish and which to pat on their head and send them back on their way.
New York Times Best Selling Author Jennifer Donnelly is here with us today to share some of the ideas she captured and coaxed into a story that became her newest release in the WaterFire Sage - Dark Tide. Be sure to check it out at the end of the post. And please share in the comments how you corral all your inspirations!
The Flows of Inspiration: A Craft of Writing Post by Jennifer Donnelly
Inspiration for DARK TIDE
, and the entire WaterFire Saga, comes from some pretty strange places.
As anyone who’s been to one of my readings knows, one of the biggest was the work of the designer Alexander McQueen, but another mad genius who has also been a huge source of ideas is Rene Redzepi, the chef behind NOMA in Copenhagen, one of the world’s best and most out-there restaurants.Read more »
We are absolutely thrilled to welcome New York Times Bestselling Author Beth Revis to the blog today. Beth is here to share some exciting news -- she's celebrating the release of the first book in her three-volume series of writing advice. Paper Hearts includes hard-earned insight into writing, publishing, and marketing. Not only is Beth sharing a giveaway with our readers today, but she's got some good advice on working with and as a critique partner.
DON'T MISS OUT ON THE GIVEAWAY AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS POST! And remember all orders of Paper Hearts made before November 15 from Malaprops will come with a special gift--more details below!
Paper Hearts by Beth Revis
|You can win a journal with this cover!|
I wrote Paper Hearts
for the writer I used to be. The questions I used to have plagued me when I was starting this career path. How do I get to the end? What's the proper way to structure a novel--is there even a proper way? How do I make my book stand out from all the other ones on sub?
Now, fifteen years, eleven unpublished books, three New York Times
bestsellers, one self published book, and countless hours working on craft and working with other professionals, I think I finally have the answers that I needed way back then.
Unfortunately, I can't travel back in time.
But what I can do is try to help others. I've been compiling articles on the things I've learned about writing, publishing, and marketing for years, first informally on blog posts, then more collectively on Wattpad. After hitting 100000 reads, I realized that I should take Paper Hearts
more seriously...and that I had not one book, but three.
Fully revised and expanded, the Paper Hearts series will feature three volumes, one each on writing, publishing, and marketing. Paper Hearts, Volume 1: Some Writing Advice
will be out on November 1, with the other two following in December and January.
Preorder it now from: Independent Bookstore
Your enemy is the blank page.
When it comes to writing, there's no wrong way to get words on paper. But it's not always easy to make the ink flow. Paper Hearts: Some Writing Advice
won't make writing any simpler, but it may help spark your imagination and get your hands back on the keyboard.
Practical Advice Meets Real Experience
With information that takes you from common mistakes in grammar to detailed charts on story structure, Paper Hearts describes:
- How to Develop Character, Plot, and World
- What Common Advice You Should Ignore
- What Advice Actually Helps
- How to Develop a Novel
- The Basics of Grammar, Style, and Tone
- Four Practical Methods of Charting Story Structure
- How to Get Critiques and Revise Your Novel
- How to Deal with Failure
- And much more!
BONUS! More than 25 "What to do if" scenarios to help writers navigate problems in writing from a New York Times Bestselling author who's written more than 2 million words of fiction.____________________________
Remember: if you pre-order the print copy from my local indie bookstore, Malaprops, you'll also get a chapbook of the best writing advice from 12 beloved and bestselling YA authors included in your order for free!
____________________________WHAT IS A CRITIQUE PARTNER RELATIONSHIP?
When you’re working with critique partners, remember: it’s a relationship. It’s give and take. You read someone else’s manuscript and they read yours. A lot of times, people are primarily focused on getting their own notes back. You want to find out what to do to fix your manuscript. All you care about is getting your notes back. That is not how this works. A critique partner requires the give and take. First, it’s rude to expect free editing from a writing buddy without giving anything in return. But also? You will learn just as much by giving notes than getting them. Maybe more. It’s just a fact: We don’t see our own common flaws. We don’t understand what it’s like to identify problems in our own work until we see them in others. Don’t just seek critiques. Give them. Give the most constructive criticism you can. Study the manuscripts of others to see where they failed and where they succeeded. You will unconsciously absorb what makes a manuscript work and not, and you’ll see better how to avoid and fix those flaws in the future.
REASONS WHY IT’S AS IMPORTANT TO GIVE CRITIQUES AS IT IS TO GET THEM:
- You develop your own skills as you critique others—you become better at spotting your own mistakes as you make them. It’s far easier to understand why something doesn’t work in a manuscript than when you see someone else making the mistake rather than yourself.
- It helps you understand your own critique. Things like “the pacing is slow,” “the characterization is weak,” are vague and hard to truly understand until you find it for yourself.
- It puts you in “critique mode.” Writers are creative people. But critical analysis of our own work is an entirely different skill set from writing. Critiquing others helps you build the skills to critique yourself.
- It helps you see the common mistakes within manuscripts. I highly recommend that you go to sites that offer contests to critique the opening of a first scene, a query, etc. Read 20 people’s first scenes in a row. You’ll see the common mistakes that you will want to avoid to stand out. (“Miss Snark’s First Victim” and this blog commonly hold such contests, often with a prize of an agent read for the top person.
- You get better at critiquing. Critiquing doesn’t go away when you’re published—it just becomes more professional as you start working with more professional writers. Don’t be a newb. Get your practice in now.
- It helps you forge connections with your peers. The publishing world is actually very small. Make friends now. I met most of my critique partners before I was published, and they’ve been great friends and peers as we all moved up the publishing ladder.
In short, being a critique partner who both gets and gives critiques will make you a more professional writer who is capable of writing better works.
About the Author: Beth Revis is the New York Times bestselling author of the Across the Universe trilogy, as well as The Body Electric, Paper Hearts, and the forthcoming A World Without You. She lives in the Appalachian mountains with her boys: one husband, one son, and two very large dogs.
Please welcome author Ryan Graudin to the blog today! Ryan joins us to answer your questions for our Ask a Pub Pro column, sharing her thoughts on how to learn the craft of writing, guidelines for writing an alternate history, and questions regarding marketability. She's also celebrating the release of her new book, Wolf By Wolf. Be sure to check it out below!
If you have a question you'd like to have answered by an upcoming publishing professional, send it to AYAPLit AT gmail.com and put Ask a Pub Pro Question in the subject line.
Ryan Graudin Answers Your Ask a Pub Pro Question:
1) In developing your own writing skills, which have you found to be more useful? Writing books? Workshops? Critique partners? None of the above? I don't have a lot of money to spend and would love to know where to get the most bang for my buck.
I’ve always known that I’ve wanted to write, so I had the good fortune of taking lots of writing classes/workshops from high school on. That being said, you should not have to spend lots of money (or any at all) in order to hone your writing skills. Reading is the most important tool! The more books you read, the more your brain automatically ingests the structure of stories and narrative! Even after years and years of practice, I can automatically see improvement in my own writing if I’m reading a really amazing book. Another thing I consider essential in the writing process is feedback. Critique partners, beta readers, workshop groups, editors… you need those extra eyes if you really want your writing to shine. You shouldn’t have to pay for the first two. CPs and beta readers can be found pretty easily on websites like querytracker.net and absolutewrite.com
2) I'm writing an alternative reality historical and am not sure what the accepted norm is for how much to deviate from the true history. Are there general accepted guidelines for how much of the story can deviate from history vs how much to keep true?
What a timely question! My alternate history novel Wolf By Wolf
just made its way out into the world! In terms of guidelines, there’s no hard and fast rule out there. I would say the most important thing to keep in mind while writing alternate history is that you have to make your world believable, or at least, help your reader suspend their disbelief. Think about the implications of the historical events you’ve changed; both large scale and small. My take on alternate history was to envision a world where the Axis Powers won WWII. In order to do this effectively, I had to research not just the time period, but the hypotheticals surrounding it. The theories of military strategists on how Hitler could have defeated the Allies. I also had to do a lot of research on Hitler’s vision for the world once he won—a New Order that, thank God, never came to pass. I then had to take what I knew and weave it into my narrative in a way that would make sense to the reader. As long as you allow your reader to believe in the world you’ve created, you’re doing your job! Deviate away!
3) For a YA to sell well, does it have to have a strong romance? Can a relationship based on best friends or siblings sell well?
I love exploring relationships between siblings and best friends! I think the reason romance is so popular in YA is because that being a teen usually involves a romance/infatuation of some kind. (I know it did for me!) That being said, don’t write something into your story just because you think it will help the book sell. Teens can tell when you’re being disingenuous. Write the book you
want to read, and chances are that teens are going to want to read it too!
4) I've been working three years on a YA dystopian that I love! Now, that I'm almost ready to submit, I hear no one wants them. Is this true? A critique partner suggested I try to switch it to an alien scifi. I think I could do it, but would that help its marketability any?
Unfortunately, I do think that most agents and publishers are avoiding dystopian. This often happens when the market gets too glutted with a single genre. For a dystopian to do well now, it would have to have a really, truly strong and original hook.
Go with your gut on this one. If you feel that alien scifi is the way you need to take the story, then go for it. If you feel that you love the story so much and don’t want to change it, then keep it the way it is. Changing a story just so it will be marketable has rarely worked out in authors’ favors.
About the Book:Her story begins on a train.
The year is 1956, and the Axis powers of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan rule. To commemorate their Great Victory, they host the Axis Tour: an annual motorcycle race across their conjoined continents. The prize? An audience with the highly reclusive Adolf Hitler at the Victor's ball in Tokyo.
Yael, a former death camp prisoner, has witnessed too much suffering, and the five wolves tattooed on her arm are a constant reminder of the loved ones she lost. The resistance has given Yael one goal: Win the race and kill Hitler. A survivor of painful human experimentation, Yael has the power to skinshift and must complete her mission by impersonating last year's only female racer, Adele Wolfe. This deception becomes more difficult when Felix, Adele's twin brother, and Luka, her former love interest, enter the race and watch Yael's every move.
But as Yael grows closer to the other competitors, can she be as ruthless as she needs to be to avoid discovery and stay true to her mission?
From the author of The Walled City
comes a fast-paced and innovative novel that will leave you breathless.Amazon
About the Author:
Ryan Graudin grew up in Charleston and graduated from the College of Charleston with a degree in Creative Writing in 2009. She is the author of Wolf By Wolf
, The Walled City
and the All That Glows series. She resides near Charleston with her husband and wolf-dog. You can find her online at www.ryangraudin.com
-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers
Happy Friday the 13th! But we usually don't think of this date as a happy one, do we? No, we associate Friday the 13th with dark places and scary events. And that darkness and fear is a very necessary part of being human...and telling a story.
Years ago, whenever I was creatively procrastinating upon a tough job at work, or doing my best to avoid a task that involved conflict, a guy in my office would give me some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten in life: Go where it’s scary.
The only way to work through the problem, to get to the other side, is to face it head-on. Whimping out and avoiding it, as I liked to do, truly didn’t do me any good. It just prolonged the pain.
I’ve always remembered my colleague’s advice, and that phrase, “Go where it’s scary,” comes to mind whenever I find myself dragging toward something I dread but know I must do. This is especially true with my writing. Being the polite Southern girl that I am, I often hesitate to inflict conflict upon my characters, or even worse, have them confront and deal with their innermost pains and fears.
As in life, confronting and traveling through our fears is an essential part of being human, it’s even more so with our characters, our heroes. And no part of story construction addresses “go where it’s scary” more directly than the approach to the innermost cave of the Hero’s Journey.
The Hero's Journey
The Hero’s Journey and its Abyss, or Inmost Cave, is a concept described within Joseph Campbell’s groundbreaking The Hero With a Thousand Faces
. A comparative mythologist, Campbell studied myths separated by continents, centuries, and cultures and discovered that most shared a basic framework, the hero’s quest, which he broke down into 17 steps. Christopher Vogler, a scriptwriter and film producer, simplified Campbell’s work into 12 steps in The Writer’s Journey
, making it more accessible to writers and the film industry. Campbell’s and Vogler’s Journey have been used in storytelling in everything from Star Wars
to About a Boy
to Harry Potter
At the heart of the Hero’s Journey is the sending forth of the hero from his home clan to begin a series of trials and temptations that lead to his victory over their adversaries, which culminates in his triumphant return with a reward that enriches the clan as a whole. You can see why this basic story structure would have primordial appeal to the human psyche — it is how any human unit, whether that unit be a clan, a family, or a nation — has survived and prospered throughout millennia.
The Abyss is the point in this journey where the heroine approaches her most intense conflict, her Ordeal. It is in the innermost cave that she must face and conquer both her outward foe and her own personal demons. Cave analogy harkens back to our days when the darkest places we had to fear held deadly creatures that often lurked deep in the places we called our homes. The abyss, or underworld, was the place of loss, where all bodies must eventually travel…that final, unknowable journey.
Whether in the underground, snake-filled “Well of Souls” where Indiana Jones recovers the ark but loses it to the Nazis, or the lonely, cave-like home of Will Freeman in About a Boy
where Will must confront the emptiness of his life, to the underground chamber beneath Hogwarts where Harry confronts Voldemort and the loss of his parents in Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone
— modern storytellers are still going underground/deep into their cave to set their Ordeal.
In the abyss, the hero meets death and triumphs over his deepest fears, which symbolizes his death to his old life and resurrection to the new. Victory is won — whether that triumph is achieved through vanquishing the antagonist or through atonement with his Shadow. Or, as Joseph Campbell said, “It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure
And if our hero can do it in a story, then we can do it in real life. We live vicariously through our hero’s success. If done well, when the book is closed or the movie concluded, we then feel equipped to go back into our life and confront our own demons and monsters. This is the heart of catharsis, and this is why the bestselling books and best remembered movies are those where the hero triumphs over a tremendous obstacle with deep, personal ramifications. It does not matter whether those obstacles are pitched on the intensely personal level or the high-stakes world-wide scale.
As writers, we must remember to send our heroine into the heart of fear. She must go where it’s scariest for her to venture, face those fears head-on, triumph and be forever changed. Only in this way can she return to her world to enrich her clan and ultimately we the writer and our reader.What abyss have you or your character recently faced and conquered? Picture credits: National Geographic, Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces and Warner Brothers’ Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
About the Author:
Born and raised in North Carolina, Susan Sipal had to travel halfway across the world and return home to embrace her father and grandfather’s penchant for telling a tall tale. After having lived with her husband in his homeland of Turkey for many years, she suddenly saw the world with new eyes and had to write about it.
Perhaps it was the emptiness of the Library of Celsus at Ephesus that cried out to be refilled, or the myths surrounding the ancient Temple of Artemis, but she’s been writing stories filled with myth and mystery ever since.Website
You are all in for a real treat today. Elizabeth Hall Magill is here to share a very thoughtful post on how to craft a story with a genuine feminist perspective, which for Elizabeth means getting into the very heart of a character, unvarnished by societal assumptions. I especially loved her point on the rich space between the narrator and character -- the bold there is mine. Welcome Elizabeth!
How to Craft a Story with a Feminist Perspective: A Craft of Writing Post by Elizabeth Hall Magill
A couple of years ago, I had the good fortune to meet Sherman Alexie, author of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
, when he won Longwood University’s John Dos Passos
prize. Mr. Alexie offered to read the first chapter of my novel, which I was about to revise. I knew my revision would be a feminist one—it would include an awareness of class, race, and gender privilege that reflected my recent work—but I wasn’t sure what shape it would take. Mr. Alexie gave me the perfect place to begin, a line on the sixth page of my manuscript: Seth didn’t hate his father’s money—he just hated his father
I would never have thought to begin with that line. But when I considered it, I realized the line framed the story perfectly—the novel is about a group of UVA students struggling with loss, grief, and growth. A story that unravels from a fulcrum of white, upper-middle-class privilege. To begin with a line that acknowledges that privilege meant I was off and running with my feminist revision.
But why a feminist revision? And what does that mean, in a practical sense?
In the four years since I’d written the novel, I’d gone from believing the word feminist
was tainted with disdain for men and condemnation for women to understanding that it held freedom. Feminist writing taught me why motherhood was harder than it had to be and why I never felt pretty enough. It exposed my own assumptions to me—assumptions I made because I was white and middle-class and hadn’t had to think beyond front-page headlines. It allowed me to find sisters I thought I’d never have and release cultural baggage that weighed me down.
I needed to bring this awakening to my fiction—I needed more characters in my book, from more backgrounds. I needed to cut through the assumptions I’d made unconsciously. I needed my protagonist—a young woman named for a goddess—to fully understand the meaning of self-ownership, and claim it. I needed to help my readers see what I’d seen.
But how to do all that and remain true to good storytelling? No one likes to read a book that feels like a treatise. And many people have unexamined assumptions as a result of living in a patriarchy, just like I did. Exposing these assumptions can be a real-turn off, and painful to boot. Sure, literature is supposed to make us face pain, as well as entertain us and make us think. But how to do that in a story, and let the story lead?The key is tucked into the space between narrator and character.
In nonfiction, the words are always and only mine. But in fiction, the words sometimes come from the mouths of people who are nothing like me—people who are, and must be, completely separate from me. Regardless of the story’s point of view, the writer is shaping it, making choices about what, where, when, how, and why.
In this space between narrator and character, the writer can show the reader characters and events from a perspective that the characters don’t have. This is the perfect place to play with ways to bring a feminist consciousness to the story. And I’ve found a few strategies that work well:
A patriarchy is full of assumptions about people—poor people are lazy, no one group of people is more privileged than another, and all women experience sexism in the same way, to name a few. These assumptions are a form of bias, shaping our perceptions of each other on an unconscious level.
By allowing characters to be fully themselves within the context of their daily lives—a bisexual woman after a breakup, a black teenage boy out for a walk—you can expose the harmful assumptions of patriarchy. The feminist term for living daily life while dealing with whatever patriarchy sends your way is lived experienc
e. And fiction is great at depicting lived experience.
You can also allow a character to demonstrate an assumption and then counter it directly, either through the character’s growth or through other characters. Alexie does this at several points in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
—Junior is constantly realizing what assumptions he’s made about the white kids at his new school, and exposing the ones they’ve made about him.
Play Against Stereotype
Stereotypes are an insidious form of bias, and they’re prevalent in our media. Stereotypes reinforce the assumptions of patriarchy—the dumb blonde, the asexual Asian man and the compliant Asian woman, the hypersexual angry black woman and the stoic black housekeeper—our culture has a ton of them, and they all negatively impact the people they claim to portray. So play against them—create characters that don’t fit into their stereotypical boxes.
The writers for the movie Big Hero 6
have this one down-pat: each of the main characters plays against stereotype while poking fun at it. You can play against stereotype in subtle ways, and with minor characters, as well: in my revision, I needed a surgeon, and she became a black woman rather than the usual older white man. Another character has shown up, a male theater major—maybe he’ll be straight, or bi. Maybe someone will think he’s gay, and he’ll have fun with the assumption.
Teach, Don’t Preach
This is just another way of saying show, don’t tell
. Your readers don’t want a feminist lecture—they want a story with a heartbeat. So give them one. One of my favorite ways to teach feminist consciousness is by showing female desire.
The sexual perspective—in movies, in advertisements, in books, in short stories, in poems—is overwhelmingly heterosexual and male. So mix it up—make a woman’s heart beat fast as she is near someone she’s attracted to. Describe the gut-wrenching lust, the biceps or breasts, the gorgeous eyes, the sunlight on hair. Let desire be human, and centered in the female.
I’ve done this in my own work, describing my protagonist’s reaction when she meets her future boyfriend. And I love the way Martina Boone portrays female desire in Compulsion
—our experience of Eight is firmly rooted in Barrie’s physical reactions. When we see feminist principles—the female gaze, and female self-love and self-ownership—in action, they become normalized.
This is the beauty of feminist fiction: it exposes us to ourselves while telling us a story we can’t put down. It gives us—all of us—back to ourselves. And it does so not by lecturing, but by using the space between narrator and character—a space that, like everything about storytelling, is part logic and part magic.
About the Author:
Elizabeth Hall Magill has been blogging about feminist issues at Yo Mama
since 2011–posts have been featured on BlogHer (Spotlight BlogHer) and Miss Representation’s Sexy or Sexism campaign. Her essay "Jesus and Sophia" appears in the anthology Whatever Works
, edited by Trista Hendren and Pat Daly, and her work has appeared in Role Reboot
and on the news site .Mic
In addition to revising her novel and writing short fiction, Elizabeth is currently researching and writing a nonfiction book entitled American Sexism: Questions and Answers
. You can find her blog on Facebook
or follow her on Twitter: @LizHallMagill
-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers
We're thrilled to welcome author Joshua David Bellin to the blog today as our monthly Ask a Pub Pro! Joshua is here to answer your questions on what exactly is an unreliable narrator and how to craft one, how to creatively recycle character types, and the pros and cons of using Book X meets Book Y in pitches. He's also giving away a signed copy of his recent release, SURVIVAL COLONY 9, with the winner also to receive a copy of the sequel, SCAVENGER OF SOULS, when it comes out next year. Be sure to check it out below!
If you have a question you'd like to have answered by an upcoming publishing professional, send it to AYAPLit AT gmail.com and put Ask a Pub Pro Question in the subject line.
Ask a Pub Pro: on Unreliable Narrators, Recycling Characters, and Mashup Pitches by Joshua David Bellin
Hi readers! I’m thrilled to be here on Adventures in YA Publishing to answer some of your questions. Enjoy, and at the end of the post, check out the cool giveaway I’m offering!
1. I keep seeing agents and editors ask for unreliable narrators. I know a bit about what this is but am not real clear. Can you explain what an unreliable narrator is and why they are so popular?
Unreliable narrators come in all forms, but the basic idea is that they’re narrators the reader can’t fully trust. This might be because the narrator lacks important information: for example, the narrator might be suffering from memory loss. Or the narrator might be a young child whose perceptions of the world are immature. The narrator might have a mental illness that leads her/him to misrepresent reality. And so on.Read more »
In many ways, there's nothing more humbling than becoming a traditionally published author. Not only do you have critique partners giving you feedback about what's wrong with your books, you also have to work with your agent and editor, and sprinkling gold stars all over your projects is not their job. They're supposed to pick what you turn in apart and help you make it better. And then, of course, there are readers. They bring things to your work that you never imagined or envisioned, and that's the way it's supposed to be. Once a book is out in the world, it belongs to them. Hearing from them can be the greatest joy you'll have as an author.
Today, though, I'd like to talk about a different kind of joy. The joy of collaboration with another author you respect. I'm having the opportunity to work with Erin Cashman on a new project, and I can honestly say it's the most fun I've had writing in a couple of years.
If you've ever thought of trying a collaboration, you may wonder if it's right for you. After all, we've all heard the disaster stories from other writers. So how do you know if it's going to work?
Here are a few simple questions to ask yourself. You'll need to answer them honestly!
- Are you a control freak who has to have everything your way? If you are, make sure your writing partner isn't.
- Are you convinced that every word you put down on paper is perfect? If you are, you probably aren't ready for publication yet, much less ready to work with a partner.
- How will you divide the work? Does one write all the draft chapters while the other fleshes the out or edits, or do you each write alternating chapters? Are there multiple POVs that make it easier to divide and conquer?
- Are you and your partner working under a similar sense of urgency and able to provide the same type of time commitment and level of experience? If not, you'll want to have a frank conversation about expectations and the split for potential income with respect to contribution. You might be able to work things out, but you need to know for certain whether someone has a warped perspective before you start.
- What will you do as you individual projects interfere? Getting edits back on a solo project, family emergencies, and a lot of other things can end up derailing forward momentum. How are you going to handle that? Will the other keep working? Or wait until you're both ready to go? And how do you accommodate this financially or make up the time?
- Are you both willing to keep working until you're certain you're both happy? If one of you thinks a project is done many drafts before the other is content with it, you're going to run into trouble.
- Are you both coming to the table with a sense of the market, what's current, and what it takes to succeed in the current publishing environment? It's great for an established writer to help another writer along, but it's easier if you are both at least familiar with what's being published and what current editors (and readers) are buying.
- Who will handle the sale for you? It's easier to pick one agent to handle the project rather than having both agents tangled up in it. Not every agent is going to be okay with that, though. It's always best to know up front.
- Can you envision working together for years and years? Because honestly, especially with a trilogy, a collaboration can be a multi-year commitment. You want to make sure that you're confident your friendship will not only survive, but also thrive. After all, projects are one thing. Friends are infinitely more important.
About the Author
Martina Boone is the author of Compulsion and Persuasion, out now in the romantic Southern Gothic Heirs of Watson Island trilogy from Simon & Schuster, Simon Pulse. Illusion, the final book, will be out in October of 2016. Martina is also the founder of AdventuresInYAPublishing.com, a three-time Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers Site, and YASeriesInsiders.com, a site dedicated to encouraging literacy and reader engagement through a celebration of series literature. She's also on the Board of the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia and runs the CompulsionForReading.com program to distribute books to underfunded schools and libraries.
A creative tip for writers and illustrators: Every so often, take the time to look at things around you differently than you normally would. Sounds like a glib cliché, I know, but I encourage you to really give it a shot. When I'm walking through a familiar area or doing something I've done a zillion times before, I tend to take my surroundings for granted. Every once in a while, I force myself to stop and really look at something or someone. I mean really LOOK. If I have the time, I sketch or write about it in my notebook. If I only have a few minutes, like when I'm waiting in a grocery line, then I make it a mental exercise. I also do this through my found object art and encourage young people to do found object art for the same reason.
Since I consciously started doing this, I have found my work showing the benefits. I'm sharing this tip here in hopes that it might help some of you as well.
How you can apply this principle in your illustrations: Before settling on a way of illustrating a scene, experiment with different perspectives and other ways of interpreting the text. Feel free to use one of my brainstorming templates. Do more art just for the fun of it to keep yourself from falling into a rut. Doodle, experiment. Remind yourself you don't have to show anyone what you're drawing.
How you can apply this principle in your writing: Avoid describing people and things in clichéd phrases ("she was fit as a fiddle" etc.), take the time to make your characters and stories unique, don't chase trends. Carry around a notebook and jot down phrases, descriptions, ideas, names. Brainstorm. Write every day; it doesn't have to be for a book project or something you want to get published. Write for FUN. Experiment with poetry (you don't have to show anyone); I find writing poetry makes me more conscious of word choice and the sound of the words. Read what you write out loud; read in a different voice, at different speeds.
Do you have your own creativity boost techniques? Feel free to share them below in the comments.
Author A.L. Davroe joins us today to discuss the important issue of physical imperfection in characterization. Many of us as writers struggle with the need to create characters who are not perfect in looks, personality, or health, and who reflect real-life diversity, including physical. A.L. created a strikingly different sort of Cinderella character and is here to share why and how.
Why I cut off my character’s legs, why I gave them back to her, and why I didn’t focus on her recovery by A.L. Davroe
One of the things that sets the main character of Nexis
, Ellani Drexel apart from other YA heroines is that she has no legs. I did this on purpose. I took a character who was at a severe disadvantage from the get-go and made it ten times worse for her.
I originally did this wholly to fulfill a need to have a Cinderella character who loses legs instead of shoes and gets really cool ones to replace them. So, I started writing Nexis
, put Ella through the ringer and then it blew up into something way bigger than the Cinderella story that it was meant to be.
I took away Cinderella, the prince, the fantastic new legs. But, I kept the missing ones.
And I did it to make a point.
And my point is that we take things for granted.
When we’re young we tend to focus on the small petty things. Things like acne and having the same prom dress as someone are monumental and life-altering to us. And, while they are truly things that shape us, they aren’t very big when you look at them in perspective. But, we eventually learn what real trauma is. It’s a coming of age trope that’s common in YA, but I wanted to take it one step farther.
Often a YA heroine’s male counterpart loses something physically and the heroine has to deal with that. It’s creating adversity for her, but not putting her under attack.
Sometimes she loses a body part that’s not as important – a finger maybe. It’s awful and makes the reader sympathize, but it doesn’t often create too much hardship to the main character in the long run.
Sometimes she loses only one of something – an arm or an eye perhaps. It’s very hard to deal with losing one leg or one arm. Now, imagine how much harder it is to not have either?
Often she’s set upon and her body or psyche are somehow broken – be it from rape or a physical attack. These are equally as awful, for certain, but I feel like these have been done and, in some instances, in bad taste (don’t get me started on rape as a plot device).
Sometimes she loses something important and the book becomes all about it – an issues book about loss and recovery, breaking and coming back together.
But let’s face it, the girls who read issues books are often not the ones reading swashbuckling adventure. And I think that both sides are missing out by not reading the other. Why can’t we have both issues AND adventure? These are things that happen in adult novels, so why not YA novels too?
I chose the loss of the ability to walk because I think that, as humans, we take for granted our ability to walk upright. To explore, to see new things, to run, jump, play. To look someone in the eye… I wanted to explore the harsh reality of suddenly not being able to get up and go to the bathroom -- of sometimes having to wet your pants. I wanted it to be poignant and real. Because this happens to some people and we don’t think about it often, nor do we understand just how hard their lives become by this loss – to be trapped in an immobile prison.
I’m certain that some people are going to be like, “Well, why did you give her legs in the game? What about the legs at the end?”
My answer to this is simple: Because some issues are deeper than their solution. Leglessness is an issue that Ella has to learn to deal with in the book. Her desire to have legs in the game – to be something other than what she is – is a subtle hold-over of her desire to be like everyone else. It shows that even though we may progress so very far beyond something, there is still a little voice in the back of our head whispering all the insecurities. It’s evidenced in her inability to meet Guster in Real World because she’s not whole. And it’s what drives her to cause a huge problem at the end of the book – just to have those legs she wants so bad.
Her getting legs in the game doesn’t solve the problem of her needing to deal with not having them in real life. And her getting replacements in real life doesn’t solve the problem of her still needing to deal with the fact that she is not whole. And this issue will continue to haunt her throughout the series as her legs keep getting given and taken away from her. Is this mean to do to Ella? Perhaps, but by continually being put into and taken out of the fire, Ella will become stronger – like a finely honed sword. Ella is a character who embodies the metaphoric struggle of dealing with loss and trauma. It keeps rearing it’s ugly head, but every time you battle it, you’re stronger and more well prepared for the next bought.
Another question I get from readers is, “Why don’t you realistically portray Ella having to learn to use her prosthetics?”
Rest assured, I’m fully aware of how difficult it is for an amputee to learn to use a prosthetic to the point that Ella so freely does almost immediately after receiving them. I have two reasons for not covering this reality in the book. One is the simple reality that, while unrealistic seeming, it would have taken too long. This story spans over a year and the end of the book needed to happen in rapid succession. Two is that this book is futuristic with incredibly advanced technology and it is my hope that one day amputees will be able to receive prosthetic limbs that will allow for a turn around as rapid as Ella’s. While the book doesn’t deal with the poignant reality of the adjustment period required of learning a new prosthesis, it’s also not an “issues” book, it’s an adventure story so I need to focus on advancing the plot not the person. Though, I think Ella does a good job of both!
ABOUT THE BOOKNexis by A.L. DavroePaperbackEntangled: TeenReleased 12/1/2015
In the domed city of Evanescence, appearance is everything. A Natural Born amongst genetically-altered Aristocrats, all Ella ever wanted was to be like everyone else. Augmented, sparkling, and perfect. Then…the crash. Devastated by her father’s death and struggling with her new physical limitations, Ella is terrified to learn she is not just alone, but little more than a prisoner.
Her only escape is to lose herself in Nexis, the hugely popular virtual reality game her father created. In Nexis she meets Guster, a senior player who guides Ella through the strange and compelling new world she now inhabits. He offers Ella guidance, friendship…and something more. Something that allows her to forget about the “real” world, and makes her feel whole again. But Nexis isn’t quite the game everyone thinks it is. And it’s been waiting for Ella.Purchase Nexis at AmazonPurchase Nexis at IndieBoundView Nexis on Goodreads
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
A.L. (Amanda) writes both YA and adult speculative fiction. She prefers revisionist tales in paranormal, romance, Steampunk, and fantasy. She is the author of Salvation Station
(adult psych horror), The City Steam Collection
(adult psych horror), For Your Heart
(YA Paranormal Romance) and her YA Sci-Fi novel, Nexis
, is coming out with Entangled Publishing December 1, 2015!
By day, Amanda lives in Connecticut with her two feline hench-creatures. She's a terrible blusher, has a weak spot for cuddly animals, loves Laffy Taffy and Cadbury MiniEggs, and she's a huge advocate of alternative healing methods. Amanda also wears purple shoes and corsets...Though not always in the same ensemble. She's a Capricorn, a Hufflepuff, a bit gothic, and a few nuggets short of a Happy Meal. Amanda also suffers from Resting Bitchface Syndrome (RBS), so even though she might look like she'll tie you in a knot if you come near her, she's more afraid of you than you are of her (see blushing problem above).Website
-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers
We're so thrilled to welcome Shaun David Hutchinson back to the blog today. Shaun is an author who's not afraid to explore the darkest depths of his story and the pain of his characters. Today, Shaun gives us some insight into how he gets his characters to speak in such strong voices...by listening and letting them speak through him. After you enjoy his post, be sure to check out his upcoming release below, We Are the Ants.
Let Your Characters Speak: A Craft of Writing Post by Shaun David Hutchinson
Voice. It's my strength as a writer. I struggle when it comes to plotting and I'm definitely no Melina Marchetta when it comes to prose, but character voice is my jam.
Understanding character voice requires understanding your characters. Who they are, where they come from, the experiences that have shaped them. Think about who you
are. You are the sum of your experiences. Of the years and hours that you've lived through. The things you love, the things you fear, the moments that terrified you, and the ones that broke you to pieces. You are a patchwork quilt. Each new experience informs how you view the world. The same goes for your characters.
The difference between you and a character is that you are always living in the present. Your past is always behind you. When it comes to a character, you have to develop their past. Where did your character grow up? What fascinates them? What scares them? Are their parents divorced? Are they religious? Did they grow up in a religious household? Were they read to as children? What are their comfort foods? What informs their worldview? What were their favorite toys as kids? No detail is inconsequential.
When I was three or four (it changes depending on who I ask), I nearly electrocuted myself when I found a screwdriver and attempted to take apart the clothes dryer in our garage. It seems like a silly anecdote, a funny little story. But here I am at 37 and one of my favorite things to do is take apart and repair machines. I view them as problems to be solved. And I view most things that way. Whether it's computer code or a troublesome plot or even people. I look for ways to take apart and fix the world around me. I can trace how I approach the world all the way back to my near-fatal experimentation as a toddler. That one incident informs how I view the world.
My next book is called We Are the Ants
, and it's about a young man named Henry who thinks he's an alien abductee. His world is chaos, so he clings to science as a way to bring order to his world. Everything he does is viewed through that scientific lens. He imagines the past as viewed from far flung stars. He considers the gravitational force between himself and the boy he's making out with. Science is ingrained in Henry's voice. It's who he is.
Creating an authentic character voice is about more than speech patterns and slang—those things are important, however I remain skeptical about the use of slang, which can quickly date a book—it's about creating an authentic character and then allowing that character to speak honestly. Before you can discover the world through your character's eyes, you have to discover your character. You have to set aside your own voice, your own experiences, and let your character do the talking without reservation, without hesitation. Let them speak their
truths, warty sentiments and all.
How you get to know your characters will depend a lot on how you write. I'm a pantser, so I get to know my characters over countless drafts, allowing each new discovery to shape the narrative. If you're an outliner (and I envy those of you who are), you could write a history of your character before you begin. Maybe journal entries written from their point of view. But whatever method you choose, you'll have to get to know your character before their voice can begin to shine through.
In my opinion, character voice is one of the most difficult aspects of a book to get right. It requires getting out of your own head and seeing the world through the eyes of another person. Slipping into their skin and thinking about how they view the world, how they would react, what they would say in each and every moment. But I also believe it's the most important part of a book, and worth doing well. Don't try to speak through your characters, let your characters speak through you.
About the Book:
From the “author to watch” (Kirkus Reviews
) of The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley
comes a brand-new novel about a teenage boy who must decide whether or not the world is worth saving.
Henry Denton has spent years being periodically abducted by aliens. Then the aliens give him an ultimatum: The world will end in 144 days, and all Henry has to do to stop it is push a big red button.
Only he isn’t sure he wants to.
After all, life hasn’t been great for Henry. His mom is a struggling waitress held together by a thin layer of cigarette smoke. His brother is a jobless dropout who just knocked someone up. His grandmother is slowly losing herself to Alzheimer’s. And Henry is still dealing with the grief of his boyfriend’s suicide last year.
Wiping the slate clean sounds like a pretty good choice to him.
But Henry is a scientist first, and facing the question thoroughly and logically, he begins to look for pros and cons: in the bully who is his perpetual one-night stand, in the best friend who betrayed him, in the brilliant and mysterious boy who walked into the wrong class. Weighing the pain and the joy that surrounds him, Henry is left with the ultimate choice: push the button and save the planet and everyone on it…or let the world—and his pain—be destroyed forever.Amazon
About the Author:
Shaun David Hutchinson is the author of The Deathday Letter
, The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley
, and We Are the Ants
, and the editor of the school shooting anthology Violent Ends
. He lives with his partner and dog in South Florida and watches way too much TV.Website
-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all those celebrating! As another year winds down to a close here at Adventures in YA Publishing, we'd like to celebrate by sharing with you some of the choicest tidbits from our fabulous craft of writing guest bloggers of 2015. No matter how long we've been writing or how many books we've sold, writers can always use reminders of the craft techniques we've learned, or perhaps, catch a new idea we've not considered that will help us shape our next story.
So, after the presents are opened, the food enjoyed, and the family and friends held close, sit back with a cup of something warm and spicy and review these craft points below to help you ponder where you are in your current WIP and where you want to take it in the new year. Then, be sure to come back next Friday, New Year's Day, for part B of our Best Craft Tips of 2015 from Adventures in YA Publishing!
From: The Infamous Arc. How much do characters really have to change? by Madeleine Kuderick
Regarding character transformation:
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.Read more »
Happy New Year!
The whole team here at Adventures in YA Publishing join together to wish you all a very productive and happy 2016. We are sure that many of us today are formulating not only our resolutions for work, home, and self, but also for writing. As you think over what stories you hope to complete this year, perhaps it is a good time to give some thought to reviewing the craft that makes your story the best it can be.
So, please enjoy these tidbits below from the insightful craft posts our wonderful guest bloggers have shared throughout 2015. And be sure to check out last week's Christmas Day post of Best Craft Tips of 2015 from Adventures in YA Publishing, part A.
From: Character is Not Plot by Brian Yansky
So basically all of this is just to make the point that plot should be looked at as an opportunity. How? Here are a few ideas: Read more »
- Plot should have progression. You should see movement all along toward some resolution.
- Plot should make promises from the beginning and fulfill them in interesting and unexpected ways-- as Brandon Sanderson has written.
- Use what happens to deepen theme as in To Kill a Mockingbird.
- Sorry characters—be, as Vonnegut says, a sadist toward your characters. Create situations that test your characters.
We are thrilled to welcome editor and author Erin Rhew to the blog this month as our columnist for Ask a Pub Pro! Having worked with Erin, I'm amazed at how she tirelessly juggles so many hats. Not only is she an editor and the social media whirlwind for BookFish Books, but she's also the author of The Fulfillment Series, with the last book, The Fulfillment, releasing in just a few days!
Erin's here to answer your reader questions on how to brand yourself across genres, whether to send your own cover art in with submissions, and facing the fear of writing to a group younger than your age. Be sure to check out her newest release below!
If you have a question you'd like to have answered by an upcoming publishing professional, send it to AYAPLit AT gmail.com and put Ask a Pub Pro Question in the subject line.
Ask a Pub Pro with Erin Rhew
1) I've heard the advice that if you want to build a fan base, you need to brand yourself. But my ideas don't all lend themselves to one category or genre, though they all have some similar themes. I'm wondering if you can brand yourself writing across categories and genres but by always exploring a similar type of story question or theme. Or even a similar type of story?
That’s a great question! When branding yourself, it’s important to remember you’re branding YOU, not a specific book or genre. If you have a cause that’s important to you or a theme/message you’re trying to disseminate, you could certainly include information about that in your branding. For example, let’s say you want to bring attention to animal cruelty. As you blog, perhaps blog about that particular topic once a month or so. Highlight and promote charities you feel exemplify the work you’d like done for animals.Read more »
I’m starting a new WIP, which is really exciting for me. I finally have the story nailed down, and now I’m writing actual pages. That’s both exhilarating and terrifying. I’ve been writing Barrie’s voice for so long that I wasn’t sure how hard it would be to slip into a new character’s head and speak in her words.
I’ve had a number of people ask me about “finding their voice,” so maybe it’s time to visit that question again.
The first thing that I have to say is that there is a difference between author voice and character voice. The author voice is something that expresses itself unconsciously across multiple works. It’s what enables someone to recognize an author’s work regardless of what they’re writing about. That’s not a bad thing. It’s similar to the way that we can identify the voice of a friend on the telephone. Author voice is unique and largely unconscious. It comes from your life, education, and point of view, and it includes:
Read more »
Something AMAZING is about to happen, and if you are a writer, it's going to make your life much easier.
One of the VERY first posts that I wrote for Adventures in YA Publishing way back in 2010 when this blog was new was about an incredible website that I had found with an incredible tool for writers to help create richer, more realistic stories: The Emotion Thesaurus. It was this brilliant resource that let you choose an emotion and find the right body language, visceral response, or internal reaction to help express what a character was feeling or doing in response to a particular situation. Then the site owners, Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, added to the site to make it better and better. They added a Setting Thesaurus, a Character Thesaurus, a Weather Thesaurus, and a whole collection of helpful tools.
Fast forward a couple more years. Angela and Becca published the Emotion Thesaurus in book form. Then they added two volumes of the Character Thesaurus. They racked up awards and sales so fast you'd have said it wasn't believable if you hadn't seen it. And now, working with one of the developers behind SCRIVENER, tomorrow they will unleash One Stop For Writers™
, a brand new website. It will not only have The Emotion Thesaurus fully realized and searchable online, but all the other thesaurus as well. All in one place. Here's what you get:Read more »
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We're thrilled to welcome New York Times Best Selling Author C.C. Hunter to the blog today. She's here to share with us some wonderful insight into how to fully utilize your setting. Be sure to check below for her upcoming release in the Shadow Falls series: Unspoken!
Put Your Setting to Work: A Craft of Writing Post by C.C. Hunter
Setting. It’s just things, just the backdrop, just descriptions to prevent the reader from feeling like they are in a blank room, right? Wrong. If you aren’t putting your setting to work, then you are missing out on a great opportunity to add layers of richness to your work.
Where we are and what surrounds us helps define who we are. The same goes for your characters. Setting shows character. Our homes are supposed to be decorated in a way that expresses our unique style and personality. For sure, it expresses our incomes. What does your character’s home say about them? The clothes we wear are reflections of our personalities and even our moods. What do your heroine’s clothes say about her?
Let’s say you are writing a scene, and you show your character sitting down at a table, and she pushes something aside to make room for her glass of tea. Wait, is she drinking tea, or is she drinking a beer? Or is it hot green tea with a touch of mint? Or is it a glass of expensive red wine? Maybe a glass of wine that she just poured out of a box container? Or is it a Mason jar filled to the brim with Jack Daniels? Now, what does she push aside to make room for this drink? Is it her to-do list? Her Smartphone that her job requires she keep close at all times? Is it a stack of unpaid bills? A stack of romance novels? A gardening magazine? A magazine article on how to please a man in bed? Pictures of the cruise she just returned from? Her unsigned divorce papers? An unopened letter from her mother she hasn’t heard from in twenty years? Or is it a Colt .45? Read more »