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In the language of a recent Suits
episode, I'm a "grinder" rather than a "rainmaker." Writing doesn't come easily for me, and I spend countless hours staring at sentences and rewriting them fourteen times, only to discover that the first version was probably the best. I add layers, and subplots, and symbolism, and connect the dots through sheer hard grunt work.
Sometimes I hate
But then there are the rare flashes of brilliance that I swear don't come from me. The moments of magic when there's a muse on my shoulder. Or a miracle. Or all of the above. That's the part of writing that makes the rest worthwhile.
We all want more of those creative insights, but how do we get them?Read more »
We are thrilled to welcome author Stefanie Gaither to the blog this month as our columnist for Ask a Pub Pro! Stefanie is the author of the very popular and thrilling Falls the Shadow, with the sequel coming in 2016. She's here to answer your reader questions on unusual names for fantasy, how many books can an author squeeze into a series, the balance of fiction and fact for science fiction, and how many POV characters can make up an ensemble.
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.
Also, please do not forget next week's Happy Potter Birthday celebration! If you were inspired to write, or if your writing was any way influenced by JK Rowling, we'd love to hear from you! Please send a paragraph (or two) telling us how Harry Potter influenced your writing and you may be included in next week's celebration.
Email posts to AYAPLit AT gmail.com, and please put Happy Potter Day in the subject line. We'll let you know before July 31 if yours is one of the submissions chosen.
Author Stefanie Gaither on Character Names, Science Fiction Research, and POV
1) Writer Question: I'm worried about the names I'm creating for my WIP. My story is a fantasy, and the names I've envisioned sometimes have hyphenated endings to add a suffix meaning onto the name. But it seems that I've heard hyphens in names are frowned upon. I'm keeping the names very simple, even with the hyphens, so that it will not be confusing to the reader. Do you think that will work? Or would the use of hyphens be too off-putting? Would an apostrophe be better?
I actually just finished up a fantasy WIP of my own, so I understand the name struggle :) I don’t think that hyphens in names are immediately off-putting—so long as it fits the story and/or character. Other readers may feel differently, of course. If you’re really concerned about it, maybe there’s a way to compromise? Have their formal name hyphenated, but perhaps they go by a nickname that flows more easily for the reader?
Either way, one thing I like to do when figuring out names is to ask people unfamiliar with my story/character what comes to mind when I mention a person named “XYZ” or whatever; in your case, maybe write the name and then ask friends and fellow writers what immediately jumps into their minds when they see it—and if it’s in line with what you’re going for with this particular character, then you’re golden. Poll as many people as you can. Of course, not everyone will have the same answer, but it will give you a general idea of what the name you came up with is “showing” potential readers about this character—and whether or not they’re stumbling over things like hyphens.Read more »
Before we welcome our guest poster today, I'd like to request your participation in an exciting upcoming event the end of this month. Can you believe that it has been 18 years since Harry Potter was first released? So many authors whom I have had the pleasure to work with in these posts and on this blog have mentioned what an influence this magical series had on their writing. So, in celebration of Harry's birthday (and JK Rowling, who will turn 50!), we plan to host a special celebration for July 31!
If you were inspired to write, or if your writing was any way influenced by JK Rowling, we'd love to hear from you! Please send a paragraph (or two) telling us how Harry Potter influenced your writing and you may be included in our upcoming celebration. Email posts to AYAPLit AT gmail.com, and please put Happy Potter Day in the subject line. We'll let you know before July 31 if yours is one of the submissions chosen.
Now, speaking of the UK...our author today has written a charming serious set in Victorian London featuring a young lady spying for The Agency
, an all-female investigative unit. YS Lee put an enormous amount of research into bringing Mary and her London to life, and is here to share with us an inside look at some of the detail that goes into the recreation of an historical setting. Be sure to check out her most recent release at the end as this series sounds fresh and appealing (especially for someone recently bent on re-reading all of Jane Austen)!
Author Math, A Craft of Writing Post by Y.S. Lee
One of the things I find consistently surprising in historical fiction is how very long it takes to get from one place to another. My Agency series
(aka the Mary Quinn Mysteries in Great Britain and Australia) is set in London between 1858 and 1860. They’re too urban to make use of the railways that criss-crossed the country and a shade too early for the first intra-city underground trains (the Metropolitan Railway opened in 1863). Most of the travel in my novels takes place either on foot or by horse-power: carriages, cabs, and of course, simply riding on horseback. By 1858, there were also horse-drawn omnibuses that, like our present-day buses, plied regular routes through the city.
The climax of Rivals in the City
features a fair amount of running around between locations in central London. One of the first things I did when plotting it was create a chart showing the different sites, the distances between them, and how long it would take to move from one point to another. In order not to spoil the plot, I’ve renamed the locations after four of my favourite North American cities. This, of course, is a fiction upon a fiction; the real locations are London landmarks. Otherwise, here’s what my chart looks like:
Timing the final action
Distance in miles
Walking (in mins)
Running (in mins)
Horseback (in mins)
Vancouver to Toronto
Toronto to New York
New York to Montreal
Montreal to Vancouver
New York to Vancouver
I assumed an average running speed of about 6 miles/10 km per hour - a pretty fast clip for a woman burdened with heavy clothes on slick, inconsistently paved, and poorly lit urban streets (it’s after dark). But I’m talking about the women of the Agency, an elite detective firm. Not only are they in excellent physical form, they are responding to an emergency.
I assumed a horse trot of 7-8 mph, since poor road quality and night-time visibility again make it impossible to canter. With horseback, I also needed to allow tie-up time and the need to rest or change horses. Riding turned out to be not much faster than running, but riding made it possible for a character to arrive at an important location looking respectable.
As it worked out, the time elapsed for a series of important messages to be relayed was:
- 57 minutes: for a character to run from Vancouver to Toronto and back again
- 41 minutes, plus delays while tying-up a horse: for a character to ride from Toronto to New York, and then from New York to Montreal
- 30 to 35 minutes, plus time for marshalling and instructions: for a large group to walk quickly from Montreal to Vancouver
This left me with a space of 2 ¼ hours, the minimum period of time my heroine, Mary Quinn, would be alone in “Vancouver” after sounding the alarm. It turned out to be the perfect window of time to allow her to take action, imperil herself, yet receive help at just the right moment.
I love this kind of concrete plotting, and wonder if any of you do the same. How do you work out timelines, near-misses, and rescues?
About the Book:In a tale steeped in action, romance, and the gaslit intrigue of Victorian London, Mary Quinn’s detective skills are pitted against a cunning and desperate opponent
Mary Quinn has a lot on her mind. James Easton, her longtime love interest, wants to marry her; but despite her feelings, independent-minded Mary hesitates. Meanwhile, the Agency has asked Mary to take on a dangerous case: convicted fraudster Henry Thorold is dying in prison, and Mary must watch for the return of his estranged wife, an accomplished criminal herself who has a potentially deadly grudge against James. Finally, a Chinese prizefighter has arrived in town, and Mary can’t shake a feeling that he is somehow familiar. With the stakes higher than ever, can Mary balance family secrets, conflicting loyalties, and professional expertise to bring a criminal to justice and find her own happiness?Amazon
About the Author:
Y S Lee was born in Singapore, raised in Vancouver and Toronto, and lived for a spell in England. As she completed her PhD in Victorian literature and culture, she began to research a story about a girl detective in 1850s London. The result was her debut novel, The Agency: A Spy in the House
. This won the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s inaugural John Spray Mystery Award in 2011.Website
-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers
I was reading an interview with NYT Bestselling author Tess Gerritsen over on Novel Rocket, yesterday, and she mentioned that her favorite piece of writing advice is to focus on the character's predicament. I love, love, love that, because it actually addresses four different aspects of your WIP.
In one fell swoop, you can nail the core of your character, the movement of your story, the place you start it, and how you tell it.
- Start by putting yourself in your character's head. What's her problem? What no-win predicament does she find herself in? Journal this, just as a rough paragraph or two or three, writing as if she is screaming at someone for putting her in that situation. Let it all loose. Imagine the confrontation, all the emotion, the frustration, the desire to move forward and fix something.
- Examine that thing that she has to fix and establish the consequences if she fails. Brainstorm why she wants to fix it and jot it down your on one page in a notebook, note software program, or on a Scrivener entry. Why does she need to fix the problem? Why does she have no choice to act to change that situation?
- What is your character willing or forced to give up to fix her predicament? Add a second page to your notes. Write down what is most important to your character. Explore what defines her view of herself, and how this predicament effects that. What wound from her past or weakness of character is going to make it harder for her to repair the problem? What unexpected strengths can she find along the way that will help her?
- Now build your plot like dominos. Once you have a pretty good grasp on the predicament itself, it's relatively easy to make a timeline of how the problem, the person who created that problem (or personifies it) and your character intersect. You can build your plot as if it's inevitable: this happened, your character reacted, because your character reacted, this other thing happened, and so on. One thing leads directly to another.
- Next, taking into consideration who your character is, find the place in the timeline, or right before what you've jotted down, where the problem first rears its head. This could be something that your character did that set the problem in motion, or something coming in from outside to shake things up, but there has to be a change. This is where you're going to begin your story, on the day that is different, with the first domino. Write down what that incident is.
- Finally, put everything together to set up the story. Your opening has to show the inciting incident, suggest the story problem, and jump start the action, but you also want to foreshadow your character's strength and the weakness that is going to hold her back. You want to give us a hint of the personal lesson she will have to learn in order to get out of the predicament she's facing.
That's it. When you look at it from the standpoint of the character's predicament, every aspect of the story comes together. Whether you're a plotter or a pantser, and regardless of whether you're writing a fantasy or sci fi novel, a romance, a contemporary, or virtually anything else, these six simple steps will help you get enough information to structure it in a way that will let it feel like it's writing itself.
This Week's Giveaway
An Ember in the Ashes
by Sabaa TahirHardcoverRazorbillReleased 4/28/2015
I WILL TELL YOU THE SAME THING I TELL EVERY SLAVE.
THE RESISTANCE HAS TRIED TO PENETRATE THIS SCHOOL COUNTLESS TIMES. I HAVE DISCOVERED IT EVERY TIME.
IF YOU ARE WORKING WITH THE RESISTANCE, IF YOU CONTACT THEM, IF YOU THINK OF CONTACTING THEM, I WILL KNOW
AND I WILL DESTROY YOU.
LAIA is a Scholar living under the iron-fisted rule of the Martial Empire. When her brother is arrested for treason, Laia goes undercover as a slave at the empire’s greatest military academy in exchange for assistance from rebel Scholars who claim that they will help to save her brother from execution.
ELIAS is the academy’s finest soldier— and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias is considering deserting the military, but before he can, he’s ordered to participate in a ruthless contest to choose the next Martial emperor.
When Laia and Elias’s paths cross at the academy, they find that their destinies are more intertwined than either could have imagined and that their choices will change the future of the empire itself.Purchase An Ember in the Ashes at AmazonPurchase An Ember in the Ashes at IndieBoundView An Ember in the Ashes on Goodreads
I have exciting news! Want to know the title for the final book in the Heirs of Watson Island trilogy? Head on over to Elizziebooks.com. Liz has my first ever video about Compulsion and the title, plus a great new giveaway. There are two additional places to win a necklace and T-Shirt, and you might even find a Persuasion teaser along the way. : )
There's also a grand prize, and you'll be automatically entered to win it when you enter any of the three T-shirt giveaways. But if you'd like even more chances to win, keep an eye out here, and on my Facebook page. I'll be posting a separate Rafflecopter in a little while!
And finally, don't forget. There's a new Compulsion for Reading bag of books this month!
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What About You?
Have you wrestled with this kind of an approach to writing your story? Are you a plotter or a pantser, and is this too much or too little planning for you?
As a reader, do you like stories where the plot feels inevitable? Can you think of an example of a book that read like the characters never had any choice but to do what they did?
We welcome author Amy K. Nichols to the blog today. Amy's here to help us shape up flabby dialogue to tighten our pace. Be sure to check out her upcoming release, While You Were Gone, at the end. Welcome Amy!
Blah Blah Blah: How Dead-End Dialogue Kills Pacing and How to Get Your Story Back Up to Speed by Amy K. Nichols
Of all the problems writers face when revising, one of the most elusive is pacing. Locking into the internal engine of a story can be tricky. We writers tend to overthink our scenes, distrust our instincts, and underestimate our readers. Then we compensate by adding more words, which only gums up the works. As a result, our stories sputter and lag, groaning under the weight of all the stuff we’ve crammed into them. Our critique partners return chapters with comments like, This section drags, This part lost my interest, What’s the point here
Ugh. Fixing pacing problems can seem like an unwieldy process. Where do you even begin?
I suggest with dialogue.
In my experience there are three common dialogue problems that result in bogged-down pacing: white noise; perfect questions, perfect answers; and stating the obvious. The good news is, because dialogue stands out visually from the rest of the text, it’s easy to isolate and revise each section individually. Even better news is, each of these problems is pretty easy to fix. Here’s what to look for, and suggestions on getting your story back up on track.
Sometimes your characters get to chatting and say a whole lot more than what needs to be said. The result is a slew of words that act like white noise or static, adding nothing to the story. When revising dialogue, look for repeated questions and dwindling comments. For example:
Character 1: Did you watch the finale of Game of Thrones?
Character 2: The one with Snow?
Character 1: Yeah.
Character 2: Yeah.
Character 1: That was crazy, huh?
Character 2: Totally crazy.
Character 1: Yeah.
Authentic character voice is good, but keep in mind that just because people actually talk like this, it doesn’t necessarily make for good reading. Here’s how you might revise such an interaction to keep the story moving:
Character 1: Did you see what happened to Snow on Game of Thrones?
Character 2: Yeah. That was crazy.
Character 1: Totally.
Done. It gets the information to the reader while keeping the authentic voices of the characters. All you’ve lost is the extraneous white noise that slows the pacing. Regardless of whether your dialogue is gripping or inane like this (hopefully it’s gripping), trimming away the excess takes away the drag.
Perfect Questions, Perfect Answers
The second thing to look for are instances where characters continually ask the exact questions necessary for getting information across to the reader or so the next plot point can take place. In other words, a sequence of perfect questions followed by the perfect answers. This is a really easy pattern to fall into, especially in early drafts when you’re trying to figure out the story. We think we’re being crafty, using dialogue to convey information and instigate action, but when your characters always say all the right things at all the right times, it actually stunts the story. It’s like when your windshield is too dry and your wipers make that awful bbbbrooooarromph
noise. For example:
Character 1: Want to go to the movies tonight?
Character 2: That would be great. I’ll pick you up at six.
Character 1: Want to get dinner after?
Character 2: Sure. We can go to Bucky’s Burgers.
Character 1: Isn’t that where Brian works?
Character 2: Yeah. Maybe he’ll see me and ask me out.
Okay, hopefully your writing is a lot more compelling than this, but still, you can see the problem. Perfect questions followed by perfect answers. Sometimes info dumps lurk in these exchanges. There’s nothing in dialogue above that can’t just be shown through the action and progression of the plot. The characters go to the movie, get dinner after, see Brian, and he asks Character 2 out. The work is done visually rather than through stilted dialogue. If you absolutely must keep the exchange, pare it down.
Character 1: Movie tonight? Bucky’s after?
Character 2: Sure. I’ll pick you up at six.
You can use dialogue to set up the action to come without telegraphing what the plot will be. Keep it simple. Keep it moving.
Stating the Obvious
The final problem to look for when revising is sections where your characters say what they already know solely for the reader’s benefit. Writers do this when they question their ability to communicate the story, and/or when they underestimate the readers’ ability to comprehend it. Passages of dialogue that state the obvious cause readers to roll their eyes and think, We already know this
! (Well, that’s how I react anyway.)
If you come across a character stating the obvious, ask yourself the following questions:
- Has any of this been shown in previous scenes or chapters?
- Does this section of dialogue advance the story?
- If I cut this dialogue, will the reader be lost or confused?
If you answer these questions and still feel you need the exchange, revise the section to be as quick and snappy as possible.
Along the same lines, keep an eye out for info dumps. This is when a character (or in some cases, the narrator) stops the story to explain something, such as a character’s backstory or the technical specifications of a spaceship. Because info dumps act like a pause button on your plot, any momentum you’ve built up to that point will be interrupted. When it comes to info dumps, the rule of thumb is to wait as long as possible to include them. Only do an info dump when your reader is so curious and so wanting the information, they’re willing to put up with the interruption.
While fixing pacing can feel like a huge undertaking, starting with these three dialogue problems can be a quick way to jump-start your story and get it moving again.
About the Book:
Eevee is a promising young artist and the governor’s daughter in a city where censorship is everywhere and security is everything. When a fire devastates her exhibition—years in the making—her dreams of attending an elite art institute are dashed. She’s struggling to find inspiration when she meets Danny, a boy from a different world. Literally.
Raised in a foster home, Danny has led a life full of hurt and hardship until a glitch in the universe changes everything. Suddenly Danny is living in a home he’s never seen, with parents who miraculously survived the car crash that should have killed them. It’s like he’s a new Danny. But this alternate self has secrets—ties to an underground anarchist group that have already landed him in hot water. When he starts to develop feelings for Eevee, he’s even more disturbed to learn that he might have started the fire that ruined her work.
As Danny sifts through clues from his past and Eevee attempts to piece together her future, they uncover a secret that’s bigger than both of them. . . . And together, they must correct the breach between the worlds before it’s too late.Amazon
About the Author:
Amy K. Nichols is the author of YA science fiction novels Now That You’re Here
and While You Were Gone
, published by Knopf. She holds a master’s in literature and studied medieval paleography before switching her focus to writing fiction. Insatiably curious, Amy dabbles in art, studies karate, tries to understand quantum physics, and has a long list of things to do before she dies. She lives with her family outside Phoenix, AZ. In the evenings, she enjoys counting bats and naming stars. Sometimes she names the bats. Visit her online at www.amyknichols.com
-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers
I'm about to spill one of my worst kept writing secrets, by which I mean that I'm going to talk about why I include a lot of the kinds of scenes that legendary agent and author Donald Maass, whose many books about writing I usually agree with in their entirety, says to leave out of a novel. What kind of scenes are those? The ones that take place in kitchens, living rooms, and cars driving back and forth. Let's call them the everyday scenes.
Now it's true that these scenes are the ones that usually are left out of successful novels--especially young adult novels. Why? Because they tend to be low-tension scenes. Scenes where people are sitting around talking and not much is happening.
But low action doesn't have to mean low tension. Novels aren't necessarily about action; they're about conflict. And conflict can occur anywhere. That's what a lot of writers overlook, and it can result in low-tension (aka boring) action scenes as well as scenes that end up being just two characters talking.
There are many valid reasons to have those everyday scenes, though. Which means it's a good thing there are easy ways to beef them up so they engage instead of disengage your reader.
Read more »
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.
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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
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
This is a repost of an early post I did for AYAP. Unfortunately, I lost my beloved Auggie yesterday, and I'm having trouble focusing today, so I'm going to revisit this instead of writing something new.
Conflict is always good.
It's good for our characters, and it's good for us as writers. Pushing ourselves through the hard scenes, the hard revisions, the tough first drafts, that's conflict. Overcoming conflict in ourselves and our writing forces us to become better at our craft the same way conflict forces our characters to become better, stronger, more interesting to our readers. And just as our characters don't always choose the right fork in the road, it often takes trial and error--and an eventual alignment of whatever planets guide our writerly feet--for us to find the right path through a story.
As writers, we learn by reacting to a set of stimuli: a book read, a scene written, feedback received, or perhaps just the right combination of all of the above. Our characters learn because we put them in conflict with an antagonist, stick their butts in moral or mortal danger, and force them to fight their way back out. Learning how to do that to our characters credibly is the greatest thing we writers can learn. Because, in the end, for us and our characters both, fiction comes down to the credibility of stimulus and response.
From the first page we write, our main character must want or need something specific. She either has a goal or a problem. The antagonist, on the other hand, wants something that will prevent the main character from getting what she wants. The battle between the two will wage, nearly equal, until it results in a climax that pits all the strength of one against all the intelligence and cunning of the other. How do we, as writers, get them to that point though? That's the trick.
Pulling the reader by the heart from the beginning of the book to that climax, scene by scene, is the key to successful writing. Ultimately, a book isn't about beautiful descriptions or sparkling prose. It's about action and reaction, which is all a response to conflict.
I like to reread craft books. I usually try to get through one a month, even if it is one that I have read before, because I get something new out of it every time. Just forcing myself to think about craft in a new way gives me time to think about whatever story I am working on from a different perspective. This weekend, I picked up Jack M. Bickham's SCENE AND STRUCTURE, which approaches conflict from the approach of both logical and emotional stimulus and response.
Although Bickham focuses largely on scene, he also starts covers the cause and effect sequences that form the smallest elements of a story, the individual steps that begin to build the climb toward the climax. From the first scene in the book where the protagonist's journey begins with a the inciting incident, a stimulus, we writers have to provide a sound motivation for every action by every character. The more deeply motivated we can make the goals or problems, the more satisfying we can make the reader's experience, and ultimately, the more the reader will care about the outcome of the dilemma.
Even less likeable characters are readable and redeemable so long as they are striving for something they desperately care about. One of the basic tenets of creating a powerful story is that the protagonist must want something external and also need something internal one or both of which need to be in opposition to the antag's goals and/or needs. By the time the book is over, a series of setbacks devised by the antag will have forced a choice between the protag's external want and that internal need to maximize the conflict. The protagonist must react credibly to each of those setbacks, and take action based on her perception and understanding of each new situation.
Bickham points out that credibility results from understanding the stages of response. Character reaction, like human reaction in general, has four individual parts. As writers, we don't necessarily have to put all four on the page at any given point in time, but what we do show we have to put in the proper order. First the stimulus, then:
- the character's visceral emotional response,
- her unconscious knee-jerk physical action,
- her decision to act, and
- her initiation of conscious action or verbal response.
If we violate that order, we dissipate the tension in our sentences by creating a tiny, niggling disquiet in the mind of our readers, a sense that there is something wrong that can pull them out of the story and suspend disbelief. But as long as we follow the logical sequence, we can build from the initial opening action to the end of the first disaster. What disaster? The obligatory disaster at the end of every scene that answers the basic story question of whether or not the protag will get what she wants, the turning point of the scene that all those stimulus/response pairs lead up to as part of the two primary building blocks of story.
As Bickham defines it, every scene has to break down to the protagonist:
- striving to achieve a goal,
- encountering opposition (conflict), and
- smacking into disaster.
The disaster can fall into one of three categories that answers the basic question of whether the protag can achieve her goal or overcome her problem. Obviously, the answer can't be a simple yes, or we would stop the story in its tracks. Therefore, the answer to the question can only be:
- yes, the protag gets what she wants, but accepting it means she will have to get over an even bigger hurdle or face a moral dilemma,
- no, the protag won't get what she wants
- not only will the protag not get what she wants, but now something even worse will happen because of what she has done.
Obviously, any of these three choices will need some getting over and regrouping. A lesser character might give up. But being the resourceful, engaging heroine readers will love to read about, our protagonist won't be daunted for long. Instead, she heads right into the sequel in which she:
- experiences an emotional response to the disaster that just occurred,
- picks herself up and recovers from her setback,
- discovers she faces a choice with no clear-cut fix-all option, and
- ultimately decides on the lesser-of-the-evils next course of action.
Which of course, gives her a new goal, which leads to new conflict, and results in yet another disaster. This active, dynamic structure pulls us through the book because we never have the opportunity to forget that the character is working for something. It applies on the book level, on the scene level, and on a micro level within the scene. At any point, we can leave out one or more aspects of response or scene or sequel. We do not have to show them all on the page. But we, as writers, do need to know that they did occur and how they ended. Even if we don't show them to the reader in real time, what happened must color future responses and actions.
Bickham also suggests that readers expect the scene/sequel structure, that like the order of the responses to a stimulus, the need for a sequel is so ingrained that niggling doubts will creep into the reader's mind if we leave one out. In essence, he is suggesting that we will leave the reader more likely to question and suspend disbelief if we shortcut their unconscious expectations.
That doesn't mean he suggests structure is inflexible. Within certain limits, we can make up our own. What I think he is inferring throughout the book, or at least what I took away on this read-through, is that the more that we deviate from the norm that our readers expect, the stronger we have to be as writers. Learning how far we can stretch, how far we can push ourselves? That's one of the best, and hardest, parts of the journey.
Reading SCENE AND STRUCTURE this time through, it occurred to me that if I go back to my WIP and examine every line as part of either a stimulus or response, I will very quickly see where I have inserted tangents. Sometimes, tangents are necessary. Just as sequels slow down the pace of a story and give a reader a necessary respite in which to regroup, breathe, and take stock of what is going on, sometimes a brief description or internal thought within a scene is a welcome break that can actually help ratchet up the emotional tension. In other instances though, it can dissipate the tension and make the scene collapse. I'm always looking for better self-editing tools, and I'm wondering if I've found one with the stimulus/response test.
What do you think? Do you notice scene/sequel as you read or write? Consciously or unconsciously? Do you pay attention to stimulus/response pairs, and do you think that test would work to help spot extraneous material and an imbalance of action/dialogue to description/introspection on the page?
Maybe it's one more way to approach those pesky areas that slow down pacing.
Happy writing and revising,
I love theme. For me, it is the hub of the wheel around which the story turns...after you write a compelling story and discover what that theme is, that is. That's why I'm so happy to welcome author Claire Caterer to the blog today with her excellent insight on why theme matters and how to judicially weave it into our stories.
As another Harry Potter fan, I've known Claire on Twitter for a while and am so glad she gave me an excuse in this post to include some Potter gifs! Her new book, The Wand and the Sea, releases in just a few days. Be sure to check out her giveaway for it at the end of the post!
Thoughts on Theme, a Craft of Writing Post by Claire M. Caterer
Hands down, this is the best question I’ve ever gotten from a student during a school visit:How do you decide what your theme is going to be?
Bless those students! They learn all the right terms—character, setting, plot, denouement, and yes, theme. So they want to plug all those things into their stories. Just tell me where to put the theme, they say, and I’ll install it.
I’d like to say I had a crackerjack answer ready for this kid, but I stammered out some lame version of what I later thought hard about and decided to write down here. I have the feeling that kid will never read this, but at least he got me thinking.
How do you decide what your theme is going to be? Short answer: You don’t.What the Heck Is a Theme?Theme
is the Big Idea of your story. It begins with a broad idea like unrequited love
, corporate corruption
, or good vs. evil
. From there, the theme boils down into a statement or idea that the author is trying to make about that broad idea: Better to Have Loved and Lost Than Never to Have Loved at All. One Person Can Bring Down a Bad Company. Standing Together Against Evil Is Worth the Sacrifice. You get the idea. You might want to check out this handy list of 100 Common Themes here
.Why All Themes Sound Like Clichés
Themes are universal truths that everyone can relate to. Take Coming of Age
, for instance. Everyone reading a COA book has either come of age, is going to come of age, or is in the throes of it as we speak. That doesn’t make it a bad theme; on the contrary, that makes it something your reader is sure to understand. The trick is to put your own twist to it. Have you ever thought about Gone with the Wind
as a coming-of-age story? Scarlet grows up from a bratty, spoiled teenager to a grown woman who figures out some serious stuff. She may not ever face the popular clique in her twenty-first-century high school, but a lot of the lessons are the same.Can You Have More Than One Theme?
Absolutely. Complex stories come at you with lots of different issues. In the Harry Potter
series, a weak, good person takes on a supremely powerful evil force. (Same theme as the David and Goliath story, by the way, and Star Wars
, and about a thousand others.) There’s some coming-of-age-ing going on too. There’s Professor Snape’s character arc, which is a Sacrificing All for Love theme. And several others as well.The Trouble with Themes
All writers want their work to mean something, but if you’re looking for the theme while you’re writing, you’re doing something wrong. And if you decide what the theme is going to be before
you start writing, you’re really doing something wrong.
Example: I’m going to write the story of Racism in the Deep South. Really? I’m already bored. It’s not that stories of racism can’t be interesting (The Help
, To Kill a Mockingbird
), but if you begin with that broad paintbrush, you’re likely to write something clichéd. Racism in the Deep South will have you trotting out all the well-worn tropes: the belittlement of some good-hearted but proud black woman; a girl getting pelted with tomatoes as she walks into an integrated school; a young man is threatened by a gang of whites. These things did happen and continue to happen, but with that giant billboard of THEME blinking in big neon lights over your computer, you’ll have a hard time making them unique.Plot vs. Theme
Plot is closely related to theme, because once you summarize the plot, you often see the theme emerge. Corporate Corruption Nearly Proves the Downfall of a Young Idealistic Attorney (The Firm
). Theme? It’s Okay to Break a Few Rules to Bring Down the Bad Guys. (Also known as The End Justifies the Means.) But again, if you come up with that tagline or summary first
, you have to force characters and situations and settings into that mold. And in thinking up your characters, you’ll have to find the Evil Corporate Hotshot, the Idealistic Young Attorney, the Spunky Girlfriend Who Plays the Role of Conscience—ugh. I’m bored again. These are archetypes, not people.So, What Do You Do?
Instead of searching out a tagline, plot summary, or theme, try writing a story about people first. Everyone’s different, and I know some people start with plot or setting, and I can’t argue with that. But character had better be close behind, because the best plot in the world can’t save a story peopled by cardboard cutouts. If readers can’t identify and engage with the characters, your big, deep theme won’t mean a thing to them. In fact, they probably won’t get far enough in the book to figure out what the theme is.
Find something compelling about your
character in your
story. Are you writing about someone who doesn’t fit in? That could be boring and faceless unless your character is Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games
) or Harry Potter or Charlie from Perks of Being a Wallflower
. Come up with that person, and even if the theme is common—the Lone Hero Makes a Stand or Good Conquers Evil—the story will be powerful.So … How Do Decide What Your Theme Is Going to Be?
You don’t. Your theme picks you. You write the most honest, real, go-to-the-gut story you’ve got in you. You people it with complex characters. You put them in impossible situations. Then, when you’re all done, look around. The theme will emerge out of the story like one of those Magic Eye 3D pictures
.And Then What?
You can just leave it alone, but you can also play up your theme once you see it coming out in bits and pieces. You might play with symbolism, or plant foreshadowing that echoes the theme. Is that wand symbolic of Harry’s power? What happens when it breaks and he doesn’t have it anymore? Does it further his Coming of Age, or does it impede it? Spin out those threads to see where they lead. Don’t dress up your theme billboard in neon lights—no reader wants to be blinded by the Big Theme—but you might put a small spotlight on it here and there. Bring it into high relief in places, and then back off.
Let the theme arise naturally out of the people and their situation, not out of your brain. All life events have themes if you look for them, and your story, after all, is just that: A life. Or many lives. Leave the theme-chasing to the lit scholars and fifth graders. They’ll find it if your story resonates.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
A year has passed since Holly, Ben, and Everett discovered a fantastical realm called Anglielle, where magic is outlawed and those who practice it are hunted. Now, on their return, they find their friends imprisoned and the alliance scattered. Ruthless King Reynard and the sorcerer Raethius are determined to find the very Adepts they exiled in the first place—but why?
It’s up to Holly and the boys to sail to the Isle of Exile and find the Adepts first, but that means enlisting the help of the Water Elementals and a pirate captain with a private agenda. Everett is obsessed with a mysterious locket with a mind of its own, and somehow, no matter where they go, a sinister black-sailed schooner appears on the horizon. With no one to teach her, can Holly master Elemental magic in time to save the Adepts of Anglielle?Amazon
| Barnes & Noble
| Books a Million
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Claire M. Caterer lives in the suburbs of Kansas City, where she spends most of her time writing down the adventures of her imaginary friends. She loves chocolate, dogs, and occasionally, chocolate dogs. The Wand & the Sea
is a sequel to her first novel, The Key & the Flame
| Goodreadsa Rafflecopter giveaway
-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers
We are so pleased to have Ellie Sipila join us today to answer writer questions as part of our Ask a Pub Pro series. Ellie is currently editing for Fitzhenry & Whiteside in Canada, but has also worked for other publishing houses as well. I've been fortunate enough to have Ellie edit my work and value her professional eye for detail and sympathetic, insightful feedback. But not only is Ellie an editor, in her alter-ego, she's also Kat Hawthorne, author of The Boatman, which recently released.
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.
Editor Ellie Sipila on Screenwriting to Tighten Prose, Antiheroes as Protagonists, and Romance in YA -- An Ask a Pub Pro Post
Reader Question 1) I've heard that writing a screenplay can help a writer improve their plotting for a novel as the pacing has to be so tight for a screenplay. Do you know anything about this and what advice would you offer?
Great question. Here is a little known fact about your friend Ellie (otherwise known as Kat Hawthorne): I wrote the screenplay for an online RPG called Fearless Fantasy
. (SHAMELESS PLUG, here's the link
). Let it be known that I had never in my life before this written for the screen. So when the creator of the game approached me with the concept and asked me if I could write a story around it, I thought…okay, no problem. I’m a writer, I can do anything. Frankly, I thought it would be a simple task. I mean, there is no need to even write tags, dialogue, action, or otherwise – that’s like, less work. All you have to do is tell a story through the character’s words. Easy, right?
Screenwriting is very different from prose writing, just as poetry writing is different from prose writing. The most challenging part of writing for the screen for me
was learning to trust in the animator (or actors as the case may be). You see, I had my own ideas about how the characters should say a thing, the inflection and intonation, but those ideas did not always gel with the way the voice actors thought they should be said. I could not direct that but for a little in the screen manuscript, though of course I had full control over that in my prose writing. This was a strange and frightening revelation for me. That, in my opinion, is the greatest difference between writing prose and writing for the screen. You can write the bones, but the fleshing out is up to someone else.
Also, if anyone has read my work (HAVE YOU??) you will know that my style is very literary. I like to describe things, often in great detail. But…not only does this not work in screenwriting, it is flat out discouraged. Actors are paid handsomely to put the words into context., the director has an opinion too. The writer must let them earn their keep. The writer is not the most important one in the screenplay equation.
If you really want to tighten your prose, write poetry. Or better yet, write flash fiction – now there’s a challenge! Write a complete story with a fully formed arc in exactly 97 words. Then, take that mentality to your novel manuscript. As an editor, I am well known for my ability to reduce an 80k word manuscript to a 60k word one. I am dead serious. Dialogue tags are not often needed. You can often use an action to both give some life to your scene and to name the speaker. Seriously, try it. Rather than saying, “he said” at the end of a phrase over and over, show the character doing something. Two birds; one stone.
Here’s an example:
“Why, that’s ludicrous!” After reading Ellie-Kat’s comments on the Adventures in YA blog, the reader slammed the book closed, causing a great waft of dust to slip up his nose. He sneezed once and then again, the force of which reopened the book. “What do you mean I shouldn’t use ‘he said’ so much? That’s, like, a staple!”
2) I'm writing an historical novel and am considering using a timestamp at the beginning of many scenes as the novel spans quite a bit of time. Are there guidelines for how I should or should not use them? Is it acceptable to write the time in at the beginning of a scene like this?
Interesting question. I have seen this done before (for example, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus
features the time stamp at the beginning of each chapter, as does Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries
– both arguably quite successful books!) but to be honest…as a reader, I don’t always grasp the importance of the dates, particularly if there is a degree of jumping ahead and jumping back in time. The dead honest truth is that numbers are not my forte – they don’t tend to stick with me. I can’t even remember my own phone number. I imagine I’m not alone in this. (I’m not alone in this, RIGHT?)
This is just my opinion because there is technically nothing wrong with including time stamps as you’ve suggested. But…unless your manuscript is in journal format, I would personally prefer a character to mention the time jump somehow – have it worked into the narrative. Of course, your particular manuscript may be perfectly suited to time stamps, in which case you should definitely use them. So to sum up, it depends on the context, but use them knowing that they may not stick with every reader (AKA, don’t depend on them to get your message across. Guaranteed at least a few of your readers will miss the point).
Sorry this is not a particularly definitive answer.
3) How difficult do you think it would be to sell a YA that had no romance thread whatsoever?
You know...it's no secret that I am not a fan of romance. I find it very exciting that authors such as yourself are considering moving away from the worn out mandatory kissing scene in your YA manuscripts. High fives all around. That said, as with many other genres, YA readers expect at least one mushy scene in their books. Therein lies the problem.
The current trend is definitely toward romance in YA. However, there are some wonderful YA books that don’t have any included, such as James Dashner’s The Maze Runner
, and Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief
. It’s possible, my friend, though perhaps yet a little cutting edge.
In honesty, for a great long while, romance in YA was almost a prerequisite. However, I am hopeful that we are now on the leeward side of that
stiff wind. The times, they are a-changing (much to my infinite glee). I think, if your story is strong enough, you can scrap that concept of mandatory romance in YA altogether. And then when your book publishes, as a non-fan of romance, let me know because I want to read it. :D
4) I'm considering an antihero as my main character for my new WIP. Do you know of any YA novels with an antihero that you could recommend I read?
Um, well... Joe Abercrombie’s recent Shattered Sea trilogy (considered YA in the UK but unfortunately classed adult here in North America) features several characters back-stabbing one another (literally and figuratively, of course, as is common in Master Abercrombie’s work) including the main characters, who may or may not be “heroes” of a sort. Kinda depends on how you look at it. These are a little gory though and there is some questionable language used (though not much in these particular books), so if you’re not in the mood for that, keep looking. Consider yourself warned.
I’m not sure how you’d classify this, but if you were to look at any DC comic book, you’d find several fine examples of antihero as protagonist, and many of these were written for the YA-aged reader. Okay, maybe not any
one of them, but many of them feature characters that are not at all against the idea of revenge or vendetta, and the readers are right there alongside them. You may be breaking some new ground with this concept, and indeed your challenges will be many, most specifically writing an effective antihero that your readers will like
and that they will connect to. But I don’t think it’s impossible. Actually, I think it sounds rather interesting.
I say go for it. And again, when you’re done…
About the Book:
Isabel Wixon is weird. Not only does she see dead things, but her list of friends consists of a talkative ventriloquist’s dummy and the gentlemanly spider that lives in her hair. Real friends? Too hard. Inventing friends is much easier.
Inventing the Boatman—a terrible monster that lures kids into a strange sleeping sickness and never lets them go—probably wasn’t one of her better ideas though. Amazon
| Barnes and Noble
About the Author:
Ellie Sipila attended Ryerson University for copy, stylistic, and substantive editing and then went on to earn a specialization in editing books intended for young people (picture books, middle grade, and young adult). She is a member of the Editors' Association of Canada and the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Under her pen name, Kat Hawthorne, Ellie is a multi published author with two novels, eight pieces of short fiction, four poems, and one screenplay out in the great wide yonder.
Ellie has the great joy of being a house editor at BookFish Books LLC, though she is currently on a short term sabbatical to chase her dream of being an in-house editor at Fitzhenry and Whiteside Limited. There, she whiles away her hours reading submissions, substantively editing contracted manuscripts, and trying not to drool on her keyboard so astounded is she that she has landed such an awesome job.
Oh, and she's also a wife, a mom, a cellist, and an all around geeky chick.Website (author)
| Website (editor)
-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers
The lovely Angela Ackerman wrote a brilliant post last week about characters with secrets
, and she was kind enough to mention Compulsion
in it. The got me thinking about why both readers and writers love secrets, and it led me to an epiphany that's going to change how I approach character development.
I'm starting a new book outside of the trilogy. A brand new book with brand new characters. Isn't that bizarre? This week, I turned in the final book of the trilogy. I'm trying to spend my days not hyperventilating while I wait for my agent and editor to chime in. It's such a bittersweet moment. I'm done, but I'm also done
. I'm going to miss this world and these characters. I know
them so well. I know their secrets, their hopes, their fears, their vulnerabilities
That's the key. Secrets make us vulnerable. The people who know our secrets are the ones who hold our sense of self-worth, our relationships, our very futures, in their hands. But the people who know our vulnerabilities and handle them with care, the people who see the ugliness in us and like us anyway, those are the people who come to care about us. Those are our friends.
A reader can forgive a character almost anything as long as they understand why
that character did what she did. They want to see the character be vulnerable.
Vulnerability is what creates connection. So how do you use that to create a riveting character?
Read more »
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
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.
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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
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
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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