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.