Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Wrap Up

I'm back! Hope everyone enjoyed their holidays. I enjoyed mine in Chicago with my Dad's side of the family. Everyone was there, from my 87 year old grandmother to my two year old cousin. We had 19 people crammed around the table the day after Christmas. Understandably, I didn't have much time to update my blog with all the people coming and going from the house. But now I feel refreshed and ready to take on the New Year.

Yep, at midnight tonight, 2014 comes to an end! So its only fitting, I think, to review my year. And, as it stands, its been one for the books.

This time last year, I sat at dinner with my parents, talking about New Years resolutions. My resolution was to finally get an agent. It was less than one month later that I got the call from my fabulous agent, Laura Zats. And a few weeks later, I officially signed with her.

It was a dream come true, and I happily would have called this year a win if that was the only thing that happened. But there were so many more surprises in store.

In the spring of this year, I finished my first year of college at Coe. During this time, my friend group in college truly cemented itself. In the first semester we were still all feeling our way around the new place, and though we hung out, it wasn't quite official yet. Now we're stuck together like glue, and I'm so grateful for them. I was also able to snag a roll in my college musical in the spring and it was one of my favorite shows I've ever been in.

Over the summer, I went on an Alaskan cruise with my family. There were twenty three of us in all and the company was as incredible as the view. I'm so fortunate to have gone on such an amazing venture with all of them. And as a bonus, the food was incredible.

I started my second year of college in the fall. With that came my most productive writing season and I wrote the sequel to HOUR OF MISCHIEF and rewrote my first ever book. To make things even better, I got another call from my agent, this time about an offer on my book.

This was a call I hadn't been expecting so soon. A call that I expected never to come even. I was so overwhelmed with happiness I could only say eloquent words such as 'oh my god' and 'wow' over and over again. One month later, I had officially signed with Curiosity Quills Press.

The year wrapped up with another wonderful Christmas with my family and a much needed break from school. And there are so many incredible things to look back on. Friendships that have grown closer, family time well spent, amazing vacations and, of course, a giant leap forward in my dream of being a published author.

On Friday, I'll be looking ahead to my goals for the new year. But until then, here's to 2014, a year to remember!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Lessons from Anime: Trigun

So today I want to talk about an anime that is close to my heart and a theme that is even closer. Violence is a big thing in American culture. We have a lot of it in our media and a lot of us are desensitized to its effects. Rare is the piece of media that comes along and presents a main character who is an awesome, gun toting badass… but also a pacifist. Hear me out. I’ll explain it to you.

In the genre of space western animes—and yes there are surprisingly a lot of them—Trigun is one of the most well-known. It centers on a man known as "Vash the Stampede" and two insurance company employees, Meryll and Milly, who follow him around in order to minimize the damages inevitably caused by his presence. However, most of the damage surrounding Vash is actually the fault of the bounty hunters in pursuit of the huge bounty on his head for the destruction of the city of July. But Vash cannot remember the destroyed city, and in person he is not the kind of guy to cause destruction. In fact he promotes love and peace, traveling around the planet and saving lives through non-lethal force. 
Love and Peace!
As the series progresses, more of Vash’s past is revealed and he must wonder if is idealistic pacifism can actually win out against the show’s villain, Knives, or if his idealism ever worked in the first place.

There are lots of awesome fight scenes in this anime. What sets it apart is that the main character is always working to prevent loss of life. It’s similar to Batman in a way, but it dives even more into the ideology of whether or not one can actually save lives without taking them. Many of Vash’s opponents certainly try to prove him wrong in often terrible ways. But what was important about his anime, to me, is actually changed the way I looked at things. In short, it made the peaceful option the cooler option.

I think a lot of middle school kids go through a violence and action phase. And I did as well. I thought that concepts such as an eye for eye were actually legitimate. But Vash’s absolute refusal to play by those rules… that was inspiring. You wanted him to succeed. Now that didn’t mean his views weren’t still questioned. Half the show wars over when it’s okay to take a life if it is ever okay. It’s thought provoking stuff for a show that starts out… kind of goofy.

Really goofy.

I blame this show and a few others for my hatred of some pieces of media. For instance, I really hated TAKEN. I was just kind of… violence for violence sake disguised as some 'noble' revenge plot. I wanted it for a more enriching purpose.

Trigun gave me a lesson in pacifism as an important ideal as well as how to explore complex idealism in conjunction with the real world. And it’s a lesson that continues to find its way into my writing today.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Writer's Tips: Filtering

Upon recently completing my first round of edits on HOUR OF MISCHIEF I feel compelled to blog about some of my writing weaknesses. It helps to know your writing weaknesses for future books. Then you can head them off at the pass. Today I'm going to talk about one weakness of mine in particular: filtering.

Don't know what that is? Well, filtering is a common problem, especially for people writing in first person. Take this normal sentence, "The dog ran." Simple and easy. Filtering adds a few unnecessary words to that. "I saw the dog run."

I think a lot of writers include filtering because it seems more intimate to their point of view character. It connects the character to the action. But we're already IN the character's head. We know they are the one seeing it. So it just adds extra bulk to the sentence that isn't needed. Cutting out the filtering actually brings us closer to the character because we aren't constantly reminded that they are the one telling the story.

How do you check for filtering in your manuscripts? I recommend using the lovely 'find' button in word and typing in various filtering phrases, including: I saw, I heard, I thought, I wondered, I believed etc. Chances are, you can cut most of these phrases out and it will leave you with an overall tighter manuscript.

I'll talk more about my writing weaknesses in future posts. In the mean time, what are some of the traps you fall into? Do you overuse certain words or indulge in passive voice? Let me know in the comments!

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Work is Never Done

Editing is hard. Not just because it involves ripping your book apart from the inside out and completely rewiring the words you worked so hard to piece together. But because its never really finished.

No matter how many times you edit your manuscript, you always find something you wished you changed or handled better. Going through a new round of edits this past week I ended up completely rewriting a romantic encounter between my two leads because I didn't like how I originally wrote it. That's after reading over my book some thousand times.

And, from what I've heard, this madness doesn't stop after you get published. Even J.K Rowling announced that she regretted the way she handled the relationship of Ron and Hermione just this past year. And those books are the best sellers of best sellers. The point is, nothing is ever going to be perfect.

And that's okay. Because no writer is perfect. We all have room to grow and learn. Some days we love our work and some days we want to hit the delete button and start from scratch. I've gone through all kinds of ups and downs on HOUR OF MISCHIEF from thinking 'this is the best thing I've written' 

To 'why did I write this and why does anyone like this book at all'. 

Its a slippery slope, being a writer.

But if you put your best foot forward, if your passionate about your work and if you're always open to the advice and encouragement of others, you'll go far. No matter how many edits it takes.

Friday, December 5, 2014

When Characters Take Control

Sometimes characters just don’t listen. They’re a bit annoying like that. You have them on track in their story. You know everything that is going to happen to them. And suddenly they decide that they don’t want to go that way. They want to take a sharp left and veer off onto a totally separate adventure. An adventure you did not approve of. Why do they always seem to do this? After all, the writer creates the character, right? We should have full control over what they do!

Well, it doesn’t quite work like that. After a certain amount of writing, characters develop a distinct personality of their own. They seem to come to life as you write them. Which is awesome on one hand… until they start getting rebellious.

So when is it right to listen to our characters and deviate from the original plan?

Well it all depends. Sometimes, the characters are wrong. Their deviation is just a flight of fancy that has nothing to do with the real story. Its there for fun, but its not what needs to happen. In that case, right a few extra scenes outside of the manuscript to get their rebellion our of your system. Then they can get back to work.

But sometimes… the character is right. This happens to me most often with romantic sub plots. My characters tend to know their love lives better than I do, and more than once, my characters have decided they don’t want to end up with their original love interest. It happened in the first novel I wrote. It happened in the novel I wrote with my friend, which I’ve talked about in previous posts. In those cases, my characters were right. Switching the pairing helped a lot with character development and the plot of the story. And it meant I could stop arguing with my characters for a bit.

Most recently I had a near incident of a non-canon ship trying to set sail in the current book I’m writing. In this case, I put my foot down. Because, by god, I do not want to do a love triangle. They are so hard to pull off, I wouldn’t even be able to do it. So how did I solve the situation? I gave one of the rebellious characters a new love interest to pull him away from my canon ship. And you know what? I’m super excited about the new character. He’s kind of a bad ass and I can’t wait to use him.

The point is, even if you don’t indulge your characters, its good to listen to them. It might lead you to unexpected places that make your story even better. Characters might be rebellious, but as long as you pay attention, you can control them. Because in the end, the decision is yours… mostly.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Slushpile Musings: The Liar Revealed

Let’s talk today about a cliché as old as time and a particular pet peeve of mine. Trust me, you’ve seen this one done in some movie or book or another. I like to call it: The Liar Revealed.

The concept is simple enough. At the beginning of the story, a major character tells a white lie for selfish reasons. Then all throughout the story, the lie keeps getting bigger. This sort of plot relies on this lie to build tension as we all wonder when its finally going to be revealed. When it is, the lie creates a lowest point as often times the deceiver is cast out of his group or denied because of their deception.

I get why this cliché exists of course, especially in media for young children. It has a good message at its heart. Lying is bad and can have damaging consequences. Fair enough. But there are a few reasons why I despise this plot device. And I’m going to talk about them in relation to a movie you might have heard of: Bug’s Life.

1. The tension is predictable
Even though we’re not entirely sure when the liar will be discovered we know it will happen. This trope has been used so many times, we can predict it step by step. The liar will be discovered and cast out but then they will realize that they can overcome the lie and return for the glorious climax to save everyone. And then they are forgiven. There is very little variation on this structure and yet movies and books keep giving it to us, expecting it to be satisfying.

The moment Flick starts pretending the circus bugs are warriors, we already know where this is going. And waiting for the inevitable result.

2. The Consequences are Unnecessary
The ants in Bug’s Life cast Flick out because they discovered the people helping them are circus bugs and not warriors. So even though said circus bugs have saved lives at this point, fought off a bird and have come up with a plan to effectively stop the grass hoppers, OH, well they’re not certified warriors so they should be sent away. We can afford to be PICKY in this situation of all out war. You told one lie and even though the good things you've done far outweigh the risks, you get to leave! This makes no sense because… no matter their identity, they were helping. But they toss them all out on the basis of a white lie that didn’t mean anything. I know that kids are supposed to know they shouldn’t lie but the character’s actions defy logic!

3. The Consequences aren’t Lasting
The Liar Revealed cliché goes even farther because the consequences are never lasting. By the end of the movie the hero is almost always forgiven because they did the right thing. We KNOW they’re going to do this in the end. So the entire ‘low point’ of the story feels cheap and unnecessary. And worst, its predictable.

This cliché has been done to death to the point that every time a character lies toward the beginning of a story, I brace myself for the paint by numbers pay off. This device can work if the characters don’t linger on the lie to long and decide to push it aside for the greater good, like, you know, the ants in Bug’s Life SHOULD have done. But otherwise it gets tired real fast. If you rely on this cliché as a plot device in one of your manuscripts, make sure the consequences and ensuing events are warranted and put a twist on the old trope. Otherwise I’ll be rolling my eyes to the finish line.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving Joys

Happy Day After Thanksgiving everyone! I've recovered from my food coma (mostly) unscathed and am ready to function like a normal human being again. I always love Thanksgiving for the food and family of course, but my family has a particular tradition that I enjoy more and more with each passing year. After dinner is over, we go around the table and say what we are thankful for. EVERYTHING we are thankful for. I live in a family of talkers so you can imagine it takes about an hour. But that's kind of a wonderful thing that we're all grateful for so much. Graciousness, I think, is one of the often over looked virtues in this world.

So today on the blog, I would like to talk about what I'm thankful for this year. And boy is there a lot.

I'm thankful for my family. My family has always been entirely accepting of me and my dreams. They have never doubted my aspirations and they have always encouraged me to work hard. My parents were not my friends growing up. They were parents. They set limits. They pushed me. They called me out when I did something wrong. They held me to a high standard. And because of that, I have always strived to reach my full potential.

I am grateful for my siblings, especially for the close relationship we have. I don't fight with my siblings. We get along. We have meaningful discussions. And they're so different I learn something different from both of them. They are some of my biggest fans and I couldn't ask for a better older brother and sister.

I am grateful for my grandmother, now 87 years old, who was able to visit us this Thanksgiving. She is truly a remarkable woman, brilliant and strong. She relates to every one of her grandchildren despite the age gap and never talks down. I am so lucky to have her in my life and I hope to have her in my life for many years to come.

I am grateful that my family is still together and close, as so many families aren't. Divorce rates are high in the US. There are a lot of families split in half. I am so lucky to be a part of a family that is whole.

I am grateful for my friends, both from high school and college. They all get me, some way or another. They understand my loves and interests. They fangirl with me over shows and books. They stay up late talking with me. Some of them write with me. And we are never put off by our weirdness. We are a large group of odd artists who fit together perfectly. And a special shout out to my roommate who I could not do without.

I am grateful for everything that has happened this year in my writing career. I am grateful for my agent, Laura Zats, who picked me out of the slushpile and saw some potential in my book. Even though it needed copious editing. I'm so lucky to have her. I am grateful for my book deal with Curiosity Quills Press. Though I have only worked with them a short time, they have already been so friendly and communicative. I appreciate that and look forward to good things in the future.

I am grateful also, for all the stumbles that have led up to this time. I am grateful that I was rejected so many times for my first book only to find the perfect match with my second. I am grateful that it took so long because everything worth having takes time.

I am grateful for the improvements in my anxiety, and more than that, I am grateful that I have anxiety. A lot of my friends right now are going through the same rough patches I did, and sometimes it helps to able to say 'I know the feeling. I know it isn't alright right now. But it will be.' Its hard for people without anxiety to understand it, so being able to comfort my friends has been a huge blessing.

I am grateful for God most of all, and for his guidance in my life and the blessings I don't deserve. He is good through the struggles and the joys.

And of course I am grateful to all of my readers out there. Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Joys of Outlining

I'm a happy writer today, because last night I got a pretty detailed outline written for book 3 of my HOUR OF MISCHIEF series. Which is good because for awhile I only had a vague idea about what was going to happen. And since outlining has put me in such a good mood. I think I'll write a post about it today!

I think I've written about outlining many times on the blog in various other posts, which might put a few pantsers off. Hey, I respect pantsers. I have NO idea how they can start a story and just write without knowing the ending. This is a foreign concept to me. And honestly, if pantsing works well for you, go for it.

But today I'm going to talk about all the things outlining is good for and why I am such a die hard planner. So, let's jump in!

1) Outlining lays down the track

This is an obvious one. Outlining gives you a path to follow that will take you to where you're going. And for fast drafting especially, I find this useful. If I know where I'm going, I know where to focus in early scenes and it helps me pace my story better from the get go. That way there's a lot less huge structure edits to do after the first draft is done. Because structure edits are hellish. It also helps to see the end goal, It makes me power through the words, even when I'm hitting a block. And speaking of which...

2) Less writer's block

It helps to know what scenes you need to write because then you're not left sitting at your desk wondering 'what am I supposed to do now?' True you might be stuck at your desk one day not wanting to write anything even if you KNOW what's coming, but at least you know what you have to do. You aren't lost in the black pit wondering if there's even a story to tell. I know that feeling. That's why I vowed never to start a story without an outline again.

3) Outlining helps with Story Structure

You've probably heard of a lot of different structures. The three act structure, the heroes journey, there are a lot of ways to pace your novel, but really only a few that work really well. Even if you are a pantser, when it comes to editing, you really need an outline to figure out where your major story events stand. Does your inciting incident come to late? Is there enough build up to the climax? Do you have a lowest point? Does your middle have a lot going on or does it drag? These are all questions that need answering, and whether you choose to do it in the first draft or second is your choice. Though personally, I think its easier to tackle in the first draft.

However you write, outlines will always come back around. And while some may choose not use them, I think they are one of the most valuable tools in a writer's arsenal.

I guess it doesn't hurt that outlining makes me feel really organized and happy. But that's just personal.

Happy Writing!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Slushpile Musings: Why Agents Only Rep Specific Genres

Why do so many writers send their manuscript to agents who don’t represent their genre? Its just a waste of time for both parties. Despite what some people might think, the submission guidelines are not the pirate code from Pirates of the Caribbean. They are, in fact, rules to be followed.

Sometimes I think these mix-ups happen simply because a writer doesn’t do their research. But I think some writers make the mistake of thinking that their manuscript will be so good that the agent’s genre preference doesn’t matter. So to dispel this way of thinking, let’s talk about why agents represent specific genres.

1. Connections
When you get an agent, it’s the agent’s job to find someone to publish the MS. If they’ve been in the business a long time, or they’re new agents with an established agency, they have certain connections. That is, editors they go to first with projects. These editors specialize in certain genres just like agents do, partially because the publishing process is very different depending on the genre. Agents specialize in genres because they have strong connections built up with publishing houses who publish the same. If you send them something they don’t represent, they might not know the best way to get it published. Simple as that. Look for an agent who knows your genre and your audience. They’ll be the best match.

2. Specialization
Agencies have different agents for different genres and categories. Some agents represent young adult, some adult. Some represent speculative fiction and some represent contemporary. There is often an overlap, but an agency tries to cover a lot of different genres with different agents. That way a writer looking to query the agency can find a good match. An agent who doesn’t rep adult fiction might very well read adult fiction. But its not what they represent for their job. Again, pick your best match. That’s what will take you far.

In the end it’s all about passion. Agents read ALL KINDS of books. But they have preferences and certain tropes that really stick with them and tickle their fancy. An agent reps a certain genre or type of book because they have to LOVE the book. Not just enjoy reading it. They have to love it enough to read it over and over again and champion it as it goes to publishers. They need to want to fight for it. And they can’t do that for a genre they don’t love no matter how good the book is.

Bottom line: You want someone to fall in love with your book. There are many reasons agents only represent specific genres but the other thing is, there are agents who love your genre. Great agents. Seek out the ones who will be passionate enough to champion your book. It will work out best for everyone in the end.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

From First Draft to Book Deal

Two days ago, I was allowed to officially break my silence on the most amazing news ever. I've signed a book deal with Curiosity Quills Press for my YA Steampunk Fantasy novel, HOUR OF MISCHIEF. It is slated to be released in Fall of 2015 and I couldn't be happier. But the road to publishing is a long journey. And the only way to properly illustrate that journey is with Disney gifs. And as an extra challenge I only used one from each movie. So with that, I present to you, my journey from first draft to book deal.

When I began writing HOUR OF MISCHIEF I was in the trenches with my first ever novel. But that book wasn't getting any requests so, at the time, I was feeling something like this:

I'm seventeen and I haven't been published. Its all over for me! *dramatic sob*

To distract myself from the black pits of despair, I decided I had to start working on something entirely new. So I pulled out a short story from the previous summer that I had been wanting to turn into a novel.

And when I started writing, I was surprised how easily the words came.

Feeling the words
Of course there were also days like this...

Kill me
But by the end of the month I had completed a first draft that made me proud.

So of course I locked it away in a folder for two months and din't allow myself to read it. Until, on that fateful day in December...

Funny how two months can change your perspective on your writing. I looked at most of my words like...

And the world building was especially hard. It took me ages to figure out how to make it work.

But finally I had edited it to the best of my ability. So off it went into the querying trenches again. Unsurprisingly I was feeling a bit like...

I also submitted to a bunch of contests to get my stuff out there. I didn't expect anything, especially after what happened with my first book. But then, a surprise! Partial requests started rolling in.

Partial requests are kind of like fairy dust
And then, partial requests actually turned into full requests!

It was one amazing thing after another. And then one day, against all odds, I woke up to an email from one of the agents who had my query. She wanted to schedule a call. THE call. Unsurprisingly I was like


And I danced around the room with my friends.

Just not this gracefully
I finally accepted representation from that first agent who scheduled a call, Laura Zats. And we set to work immediately on preparing my book for submission. She was very good about pointing out other plot holes in my work that I needed to paste together.

And she was usually right.
But finally, when the manuscript was in top form, we started sending it out on submission. To publishers. Oh god, oh god, oh god.

Another waiting game began, this one even more tense than the last.

Keep cool, keep cool, keep cool
There is so much waiting in the publishing industry. So of course I distracted myself with other things. And then one day my agent called me again. She said we had an offer.

Uhhhh... what?
She had to say it about three times before I finally got it. But once I did I was like

Of course it was still super secret until it was official, so I couldn't say anything to anyone.

Which was terrible because I was bursting with the news.

So much waiting in the publishing world
When I finally got the okay, I broke my silence two days ago with a cry of pure happiness. 

There's the obligatory Frozen clip. You thought I'd skip it, didn't you :P
Everyone was super supportive and congratulatory. And even now, I still feel like I'm flying.

This has been quite the journey. I've imagined getting to this point for so long and I met my fair share of rejection and disappointment along the way. The journey still isn't over, but I am officially going to see my books in print some day. And that is a victory that will stick with me for a long time.

Thank you so much for everyone's well wishes and congratulations. And if you're still in the trenches, keep working at it! Your own Disney gif success story could be just around the corner.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Writer’s tips: Pinterest and the Visual Writer

I adore Pinterest. I also hate it. And can you really blame me? It is both a magnificent tool for brainstorming and character development and a ginormous time waster. I mean I can say I’m gathering images for my book and developing my ideas but I’m also just looking at pretty pictures.
But I’m not here to berate Pinterest for stealing hours of time away from me. I’m here to praise it for its help with the idea stage of the creative process.

I am a visual reader. Being a lover of film and theater all my life, I like to picture books in my head, not just read them. It’s an amazing feeling to get so lost in a book that you forget you are even reading words. My mind starts subconsciously painting the scenes for me. I am a visual reader and I am also a visual writer. I love finding little images that remind me of my characters. Finding images that suit my ideas really helps spur them on and encourage me to start, finish and edit projects.
If you are a visual writer as I am, here are a few Pinterest tips to help you cultivate your ideas in the midst of your procrastination.

1. Make a board for each book. A lot of people have writing boards for general book inspiration but if you put ALL your writing related pictures on one board, it will get cluttered really fast. Book boards work much better if you keep it to one book idea per board. Its more organized and its easier to identify a theme between the pictures. It looks prettier, honestly.

2. Whenever you are stuck on a scene, head to Pinterest and start pinning images that relate to the characters you are dealing with. Get lost for awhile in a maze of pictures and maybe your mind will get unstuck. Or maybe you’ll spend two hours getting lost. Either way, your book board just got a whole lot fatter

3. Use Pinterest for inspiration. Not feeling any of your current book ideas? That’s alright. Go browse random art boards and see what jumps out at you. Maybe a picture will spark an idea and send you down a rabbit hole to a new writing adventure. Pinterest is great for that kind of thing but also annoying when you already have ten other ideas. It’s a mixed bag.

4. When all else fails: look up delicious recipes. This is actually a horrible thing to do for your productivity. But, on the other hand, it involves awesome food.

So there you go. Simple tips for the visual writer on Pinterest. Get writing and, if you can’t find the motivation, get pinning! And if you're interested in writing and general nerdom, follow me on pinterest here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Slush pile musings: Meeting the Love Interest

So we need to have a talk about subtlety. When I am reading through the slushpile and I stumble across a submission, I like to see a certain degree of subtlety in the story telling. It should go without saying that I don’t want to predict every move the author will make. I want to be taken along for the ride and be surprised with the characters.

You probably know some of the basic tips to be subtle in your opening pages. Show don’t tell, no info dumps etc. But there’s another mistake a lot of writers make that really should be addressed. The intro of the love interest.

The short version: I do not want to know from the second I meet a character that they will be ‘the love interest’. It makes me groan and roll my eyes. Especially given the context in which some of these characters are introduced.

The long version: Okay, so your character… let’s call her Jane… is moseying about her everyday life. Being ordinary and unaware that an adventure is about to begin. Suddenly a bunch of thugs come after her. They’ve been sent by some mysterious villain to apprehend her. She runs, terrified for her life, and tries to make an escape. Clearly this is a tense situation and all Jane is thinking about is surviving.

But then this guy appears. Either he’s helping the main character or maybe he’s one of the guys chasing her. Let’s go with the first option. The new character busts in and says, ‘follow me!’ Jane does. But as she runs after him, fearing for her life, she can’t help but notice how pretty his eyes are and how strong his jaw is and how his face lights up when he gives a crooked smile.

NOPE! Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. This is not a thing you notice in an intense situation. I don’t care how his green eyes sparkle in the sun. Attractiveness is not on your character’s priorities right now.

I have seen this happen in both the slush pile and in published books. The MOMENT the love interest is introduced, I know they are the love interest because the MC looks at them and thinks ‘damn they’re hot’.

My most recent encounter with this trope happened in a published book. Within the first few pages, the MC meets BOTH of her love interests. I knew they were her love interests because of what a big deal she made about how good looking they were. And I mean a BIG deal. Problem was, she had just been dragged from a horrible prison and has no idea whether or not she is going to live or die. Clearly THIS is a good time to contemplate eye candy.

Its annoying to me because it feels so unnatural. I’m not saying attraction at first sight isn’t a thing. And I’d say that in a lot of romance novels, this attraction is warranted. I mean, that’s what the novel is about. You know who the MC is getting together with and you want to see that sexual tension from the first. Twilight, believe it or not, does this reasonably well. Bella is sitting in a school cafeteria. When the hot vampire enters the room, she probably doesn’t have much better to do than contemplate how good looking he is.

But when there are HIGHER stakes involved? Its not a priority. Hunger Games did this well. I knew who the love interests were going to be but Katniss was not concerned with it for...most of the series. When you give me something like dystopian or fantasy, I don’t want to be hit in the head with the main couple. I want it to happen gradually. I want it to feel natural and like a real relationship.

One of the fastest ways to earn a rejection from me is pointing out the ‘oh so pretty’ love interest within moments of meeting them. If that doesn’t fit your genre, don’t do it. Chances are, your protagonist has more important things to worry about than dating.

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Soundtrack for Writing

Remember when I actually did those Sunday Soundtracks post? So do I. Good times.

Yeah, I kind of fell of the bandwagon with those. But I do want to talk about writing music today. Specifically, making a soundtrack for your writing.

I have so many playlists on youtube for my various projects. There are similar songs that seem to make it on the list, but each playlist has its own feel to get me in the mood for writing specific books. I have playlists with fight scene music and playlists for softer scenes. Playlists with instrumental music and playlists with words. Some playlists are for full books and some just for specific characters. But why do I love making them so much, and why should you?

Simply put, music is an important part of my life and of many people's lives. It’s a universal language. It can represent so many different things. And I actually think that some music is the closest we get as a human race to perfection.

But dramatics aside, music doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. In fact, that’s what’s so great about it. But if you like music it can be a wonderful tool for your writing. Say you’re stuck on a project and you don’t know where to turn? You can pull up the playlist you made for the project and give you a listen. It might inspire you and give you the motivation to keep going.

Music can also help you to visualize a scene so you can better describe it. That’s why I love my fight scene music. It gets my blood pumping and my fingers flying during the scene. Whatever the music does for you, its always fun to make a playlist!

Some bands that make frequent appearances on my playlists include- Skillet, Florence and the Machine, Two Steps from Hell, Les Friction, Icon for Hire, Disney music, and a variety of soundtracks for movies and anime. What are some of your favorite writing tunes?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Getting the Right POV

So let's say you're writing a story. Its coming along great and all, for a little while at least, but at one point you just get stuck. We've all been there. And while there are a lot of reasons for the evil presence of writer's block, one in particular might come as more of a surprise.

In some cases, you might just be writing from the wrong point of view.

Maybe its not a problem with the story itself. The world could be well crafted and the plot tight. All of the characters, including your MC, could be perfectly interesting. But maybe they're just in the wrong place to shine. Maybe you're just not observing your story through the right eyes.

Point of view makes a big difference in the direction of a story. J.K Rowling, for instance, did herself a big favor when she wrote about the wizarding world through the eyes of Harry Potter. Because Harry was new to everything, he had a lot to learn and the audience was able to learn along with him.

Suzanne Collins wrote the first third or so of Hunger Games both in third person and first person POV before deciding to take a more personal approach and rooting her story directly in Katniss' head. Both J.K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins made the right choice for their stories.

So what's the right choice for yours? Well, for one thing, that's up to you. First you have to decide which character will tell the story best, especially if you plan on a limited point of view. Maybe you want to tell the story from multiple views or maybe just one, but whatever the case, your point of view characters will determine how the reader sees the world of your book.

Let's take a look at a few possibilities of point of view and their advantages.

First Person Limited- This can be an excellent and extremely difficult POV to write from. On one hand its very personal. We relate very closely to the character and see everything through their eyes. It often allows for more experimentation with the character's voice as well. However it does limit the views of other characters and, if the reader doesn't like your main character, they'll have an extremely difficult time getting into the rest of the book. Examples include- Divergent, Twilight, Hunger Games, the Gallagher Girl Books, The Fault in Our Stars, etc.

Multiple First Person- Like the previous POV, this allows you to get personal with your characters, but this time with multiple characters. This can help you see the story from multiple different angles, as well as give readers options if they happen to not like one of your MCs. But, on the other hand, its very hard to pull off multiple first person POV without all of the characters sounding the same. Differentiating voices takes a skilled hand. Examples include the later books in several series, including Matched, Divergent, and the second Percy Jackson series I find a lot of books don't attempt this until after the first book. But that doesn't mean it can't be pulled off. Legend by Marie Lu does a great job with it.

Third Person Limited- This isn't quite as personal as first person point of view, but it allows a bit more flexibility and its still possible to get a lot of voice out of this. But since it is limited, it still restricts you to how your MC views the story. Examples include Harry Potter, of course, Wrinkle in Time and Cinder but there aren't, I find, a lot of third person books that don't jump heads a lot. Harry Potter is one of the few limited third person books that sticks to one head.

Multiple Third Person Limited- Boy is this a common one. While not being personal, it allows you to cover a wide range of characters and tackle the story from mutiple angles. Now, pulling off too many characters and keeping them focused and interesting takes practice, but this is the favorite style of many writers. Examples include: Mistborn, Vicious, Inkheart, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Night Circus, The School for Good and Evil, The Gone Series, A Song of Ice and Fire and about a million other books.

Third Person Ominpotent- This style has been fading as it was much more common in older works. Its a kind of impersonal style, told from a perspective removed from the main character but it can work if in the right hands. Examples include Les Miserables, Lord of the Rings, and a Series of Unfortunate Events.

So what style works best for your book? You might have to try out a few to figure it out. But once you do, it'll be worth it. The POV of a story can make all the difference.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Season of Speed Drafting

Its the final day of October, known better to most people has Halloween. But besides being a time to dress up, binge watch Halloween classics and eat as much candy as humanly possible, this is my one day break between one speed draft and another.

For the past three years now, I have written two manuscripts every time fall rolls around. I don't know why. For some reason I get really productive in the fall, particularly in October and November. So I take advantage and speed draft like the wind.

My first drafts, which I have taken to calling 'crap drafts' aren't pretty, as you might have guessed by their nickname. They are rife with telling, they over use weak verbs like 'was' and the conversations often prattle on past their welcome. But that's okay. Because its a first draft. And at least I have something to edit rather than nothing at all.

I have always been a fast drafter since I wrote my first novel sophomore year of high school. For years I never finished anything until that April. The words came so fast I had written a full book in one month. That, I discovered, was the key. In order to combat my frequently changing interests, I had to write as quickly as possible before my passion left me.

So I guess you could say I'm the kind of writer who is made for Nanowrimo. It works perfectly with my method of writing. And though it might not be for every writer, I STRONGLY recommend at least giving Nano a whirl. It can be a very rewarding experience.

So what am I working on this November? I'm completely rewriting my first novel. That's right the manuscript I wrote when I was just fifteen is getting a full on reboot. I'm excited about diving back in and discovering new things about my characters along the way.

So do you plan on doing Nanowrimo? What project are you going to work on? Let me know and happy writing!

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Dreaded Sequel

So last year I got myself an agent for my Steampunk Fantasy MS HOUR OF MISCHIEF. Now I’m writing the sequel, SEASON OF WIND, because you know, it might be important down the line.

My thoughts on the matter? Sequels aren’t easy. You have to properly continue the story while still developing an original arc, expanding the universe and adding in new characters. And not only does the sequel serve as a follow up to the first book, but it usually has to make the story much bigger.

Because readers? They always want bigger and better. Give a reader an awesome thing? They want MORE of the awesome thing. They want it bigger and better and awesomer. 

Proper representation of myself when I finish a book and the sequel isn't out yet.

That's the difficulty a lot of writers face when they write a good first book. They have to then live up to the expectations of the fans. I mean, imagine JK Rowling's fear when writing the seventh Harry Potter book. Most of the world was watching and dreaming up all the possibilities. And readers, especially huge fans, have very high standards. Its a tall order to fill. And then of course it completely lived up to those expecations (And I will fight anyone who disagrees.)

So how does one make things bigger and better and awesomer?

Well, let's think about Hunger Games. In theory, it does everything right. The series started out as a small conflict. Katniss’ conflict. But as it expands to Mocking Jay, it involves the fate of all of Panem. A lot of speculative fiction novels take this approach by making things bigger and better with each novel. And for a lot of people, this worked. They loved the series more and more as it went on.

And now the movie is coming out so yaaay

Some succeed. Harry Potter, for instance, grew in quality and scope throughout the series, ending with the best book in my opinion. Others struggle. For instance, I did not like Mocking Jay. It felt rushed and slow at the same time and I didn’t like the execution of a lot of key moments. But, you know, I'm still hopeful about the movie.

But what is the true secret to the amazing sequel? Honestly, it’s hard to say. Its kind of an elusive task. I think the best way to live up to the first book of any series is to expand upon the things that made the novel work as well as add new elements to keep the story fresh. Whatever the case, don’t lose the initial spark of your story. Because that’s what will make the sequel shine. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Writer's Tips: World Building

World building is like a dragon. It’s fun of course. I mean, who doesn’t love dragons? They’re pretty much the most awesome thing that doesn’t exist. You know what has never made a story worse? The dramatic reveal of dragons. Just ask these two shows:

But dragons aren’t all fun and games. They’re huge, for one thing. They cause a ruckus and the burn down houses and armies. They’re really hard to control. And you have to do it just right or you could end up crispy bacon.

World building is the same way. If you have a fantasy novel, your world is huge but you have to control what information the reader gets and how and when they get it. And if you reveal too much or don’t reveal enough, the world will start blowing fiery plot holes in your novel.

Training dragons isn’t easy. And neither is world building. So here are a few tips to make it a little easier.

1) Make sure YOU know your world. 
Before you start writing the first draft, make sure you have a handle on what your world. Everything about your world. Even if it doesn’t come into the story, it might subtly effect how you write in a good way. It could affect word use or character development without ever having to be explicitly stated. If you  know the world, it could lead to some excellent showing instead of telling. And that’s exactly what you want.

2) Link your story to your world building
So how does your world then effect your story? The hard part of world building is finding the elements that relate to the plot and connecting them. You have to strike just the right balance of information and plot to make it seem believable and subtle. Sometimes you’ll be tempted to talk about parts of world that don’t really matter to the plot. Restrain yourself from this. Too much world building that isn’t plot related will slow down your story and make it a difficult read.

3) Avoid info dumps
Everyone knows this one. Info dumps are the poison of pacing, often slowing a story to a dead halt just to talk about something the writer thinks is cool and important. It might very well be cool and important. But it needs to be spread evenly throughout the story. That way the reader can digest your world slowly and not feel like they’re taking a history class on it.

4) Add in passing details
Passing details are good. Short little elements that can be expressed in a sentence. They might not have a ton to do with the story but they can help flesh out the setting and world without distracting too much from the plot. Little details give the world an extra level of realism.

5) Cut the ones that slow down the story
But the moment the details start slowing things down or feel too random: cut them out. Your story doesn’t need them to shine.

And that’s the gist of world building. It’s difficult, I know, but owe so rewarding. A great example of an amazing world builder is Brandon Sanderson. All of his stuff is incredible so check it out if for some reason you haven’t already.

Like I said, it’s a dragon, but dragons make everything better in the end.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Lessons from Anime: Kino's Journey and Haibane Renmei

There’s something to be said for a small story. We don’t hear a lot about them, do we? No, it’s the big, bombastic, highbrow stuff that publishers go for. The blockbusters, so to speak. Small stories are like the quiet indie films of books. Sometimes they get wide spread recognition but often they slip between the cracks.

But I’ll tell you, when a small story can hook me, I’m hooked.

So today on Lessons from Anime: I want to talk about two animes with a small story but a big purpose and why they work.

The first is Kino’s Journey. It’s the story about Kino, a traveler, who tours the world with her talking motorcycle Hermes from place to place, never staying in one location for more than three days. On the way he learns a lot about philosophy, human nature and life itself. The story revolves around the principal of ‘This world is not beautiful, and therefore, it is.’ That’s it. The story is a series of vignettes but each is very poignant, showing us a new side of this vast and interesting world.

This story isn’t exactly big but it is beautiful. The messages it imparts, both simple and complex are important, interesting and always unique. It’s one of my favorite animes for this reason.

Haibane Renmei has a continuous storyline. It’s about a group of girls who have died and are now in some sort of ‘afterlife’ trying to make their way in the world. That’s all I can really say about it. It’s just about the afterlives of these girls and how they find peace. It’s not about them coming to grips with their old lives because we never find out why they died. That’s not the important thing. It’s a really hard show to describe and recommend, as you can see, and yet it’s just so good. It’s quietly powerful.

Maybe the reason small stories don’t sell is because they are harder to describe. Harry Potter is easy. It’s about a boy who finds out he’s a wizard and goes to magic school. Hunger Games is about a dystopian society in which every year, 24 kids fight to the death in an arena, gladiator style. Both of these books good but they are easy to pitch to your friends. Small stories? It’s hard to emphasize what makes small stories great.

Of course, I’ve been using visual examples for small stories. Kino’s Journey and Haibane Renmei both have wonderful art and camera angles going for them. Books don’t have that luxury. So how do small stories stand out?

The first way is language.

Language is the key to hooking the reader into a small story. From the very first page, a writer must fight to keep their readers going, whether with voice or pure imagery. Beautiful writing can carry a reader all the way through a story that doesn’t seem big.

The second way is purpose. Even if the story is small in comparison to others, there must be an end goal. There must be a reason for the story. And, preferably, it should be a powerful reason. That is what will make the read feel worthwhile.

The third way is character. Often times, when a story is small, the characters have to shine. In both of the animes I mentioned, the characters are engaging and sympathetic. Kino especially is one of my favorite characters in any anime. If the characters latch onto the reader's heartstrings, they'll follow them through any plot, big or small.

Writers with a smaller story to tell have a more difficult time. But if done just right, a small story can become big in the minds of readers. And there is something very beautiful about that.