An Announcement and a Break

Dec 7, 2011

So. Hi.

I've been remarkably absent from the blogosphere lately-- both posting and commenting. In fact, I've been remarkably absent from my computer at all. I haven't actually written anything for over a month. I bailed on NaNo when I realized at 15,000 words that it is practically impossible for me to enjoy pantsing a story anymore, along with other...things. All of this absentee-ism is due to the fact that it is remarkably hard to have any mental creative energy when my body is otherwise engaged in different activities of creation.

It takes a lot of energy to create a new little person.

I'm so excited to have baby number two on the way. The Kiddo is excited for a "buddy," and the Hubs tells me he is excited to be on our way toward having ten kids (HA! Not.). Other things that currently get me excited are sleep, eating my weight in crackers and animal cookies so I don't constantly feel sick, and sleep.

So. I'm taking the rest of my first trimester off from blogging completely. I'll be back here around early January with more posts about the oodles of writing stuff I've learned lately (you know, from all that not-writing...), and ready to see what all you other blog-y people have been up to!

So, my friends, in the meantime I'll still be on Facebook and Twitter. Enjoy the holidays, and see you in January!

An Interview with RaShelle Workman

Nov 28, 2011

Hey folks! I've got an interview for you today! RaShelle Workman recently released her book, Exiled, and I got the chance to read it as well as ask her a few questions. Exiled is a YA science fiction, so it caught my attention right away. I enjoyed the atypical love triangle-- one that didn't throw me into extreme frustration-- and the idea that love is deeper than just physical feelings. Here's a bit more about the book:

Stubborn, sixteen-year-old Princess Venus of Kelari wants one thing, to become immortal, that is, until someone exiles her to Earth, kills her irrihunter, and takes her family.
First she’s got to get home. But before she can return to Kelari, the Gods have commanded her to help an arrogant boy named Michael find his soul mate. Only she doesn't know the first thing about love.
Rather quickly, her inexperience with human emotion is obscured by other matters—alien-controlled psychotic teens that are out to kill her, and a government group that is set on capturing and dissecting her.
Worst of all, Venus will suffer a painful death-by-poisoning, thanks to Earth’s atmosphere, if she remains on the planet longer than one week. Still, Venus is a Princess and she's got a plan. Surely, with her help, Michael will fall in love with a human.
But time is running out and Michael is falling for the wrong girl—her.

What was the spark that started Exiled?
I’d watched a ton of movies where aliens come to Earth to invade the planet and take over. They always seemed to be these weird looking creatures. And I thought, being the romantic that I am, what if an alien (who looks a lot like a human) was forced to Earth and a romance ensued? That’d be interesting. So, I wrote about it. Hello, EXILED.

What do you enjoy most (or least!) about writing science fiction?
I still cringe a little at the genre: science fiction. When I began writing, I didn’t say: “Oooh, I’m going to write a sci-fi novel.” The story evolved based on a romance between a human and an alien. That being said, I loved creating the world of Kelari (the planet Venus, the main character is from), coming up with kelarian names, creatures, and a way of life. It was a blast.

What do you enjoy most (or least!) about writing for young adults?
Writing YA is so much fun. Teens years constitute big changes and writing a story based on that time in someone’s life is very interesting to me. Probably because I have two of my own.    

What are some of your favorite young adult or science fiction books?
Some recent fav YA books are REVOLUTION, HARRY POTTER, TIGER’S CURSE, PARANORMALCY, A MONSTER CALLS, THE HUNGER GAMES. Probably my absolute favorite sci-fi is THE HOST by Steph Meyer. The reason is that it was my first sci-fi romance.

What has been the most exciting part about choosing the indie publishing route?
The most exciting AND scariest part is that I’m in complete control. It’s my baby from start to finish. I get to collaborate with every part of the process. From the cover to the book trailer… The marketing, including swag, setting up reviews and advertising. Also, I’ve met some amazing indie authors, like C.K. Bryant and Ali Cross (the DC girls).  

And, just for fun, if you could invite one character from any sci-fi book/movie to Thanksgiving dinner, who would it be and why?
This is probably so lame, but Riddick from THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK. My intentions would be purely physical. I’d want to admire the beauty that is RIDDICK (aka Vin Diesel). Though I’d also ask about his life, too, just so I could listen to his low, sexy voice. Have you heard his voice? It’s like melted butter or creamy milk chocolate. Delicious.
            A sample of the Thanksgiving conversation:
I say to Riddick who’s seated across from me at the table. “Could you pass the yams?”
He smirks, picks up the bowl right in front of me, flexes his fabulous muscles and sets them down again. “Sure. Would you like anything else with those?”
I giggle and blush. “Um, yes I would.”
And then The Hubs says, “That’s it, Riddick! Get out! Get out, now!”
Riddick stands, slams his fists on the table. It grumbles and quakes under the weight. He gives me a full smile, flashing his gorgeous pearly whites, picks up the entire platter of turkey, and as he walks out the door says, "See ya, RaShelle. Happy Thanksgiving.”
And I melt like butter. 

Thanks for having me Shallee! 

Thanks for being here, RaShelle! For a bit more information, here's her bio, and you can find her at her blog as well. "RaShelle Workman  lives with her husband, three children, and three dogs. When she gets a quiet moment alone, she enjoys reading about faraway places. And, in case you were wondering, yes, she does believe there is other life out in the Universe."

How to bring out theme to give your story extra oomph

Nov 22, 2011

It's been a crazy month around here-- a lot crazier than I thought it was going to be, hence me being absent from the blogosphere even more than I thought I'd be. I'm sorry I haven't been around to your blogs much lately. I really do miss hearing thoughts and news from my internet writing buddies! Hopefully things will calm down soon, and I'll see you around a bit more.

In the meantime, let's talk a bit more about what I mentioned last week-- theme. I've often found that there are times when it feels like my story is missing something, like there's some important piece missing. It just falls flat. It might be bad, it might even be good, but it's never GREAT. When that happens, I've found that the main culprit is a theme that's either missing or not fully expressed.

Theme is a complicated but necessary part of every story. For me, I've found that theme is one of the things that tends to come more organically. Even when I plan things ahead of time for a theme, it changes (or becomes more specific) 90% of the time. So let's talk about how you can use theme to enhance your story, whether you plan it or let it come out on its own.

1. Know what theme is-- and what it isn't.

Theme isn't the "lesson" or message you're trying to teach your readers. You don't want to come across preachy, because people will get bored an ignore what you're trying to say. Theme is what your story is really about underneath the plot, and as such, it often comes out as a natural part of your concept or characters. For example, in my current story The Unhappening of Genesis Lee, the plot is about a girl whose memories are being stolen. A natural thematic extension of that revolves around identity-- how do you define who you are? By your past? By what people tell you? By what you feel, say or do?

2. Write out your theme, and try to phrase it as a question

It's often a good idea for your theme to be a question-- and you don't necessarily have to answer that question. You can explore the different facets of it, and leave your reader to make their own conclusions. That will have a much bigger impact on them than if you told them what the point of the story is. Let them find their own point.

3. Remember that there can be more than one theme-- but there is usually one main theme.

It's fine if you discover there is more than one underlying theme to your story. It's probably good, actually, because it's indicative of depth. But you don't want to be schizophrenic in your storytelling. If you're hopping from one theme to another, your reader isn't going to get a clear idea of what the story is "about"-- the theme. Let the little ones come out, but don't let them take over the story.

4. Bring out the theme through both the plot and the characters.

As different events unfold in your story, how they work out-- or don't-- can have a big part of what you're trying to say. The choices your characters make, which often affect these events, are another way you can emphasize the theme. Like in Brodi Ashton's Everneath, the theme often also comes out as part of the character's personal growth arc. This is an effective way to highlight the theme, and lets the character's actions touch on the theme. Character's relationships and their individual strengths and weaknesses can be good places for different sides of the theme to be explored.

So, my friends, how do you find your theme? How do you bring it out in your story so that it makes the story more powerful? What are some books you loved that had strong themes that touched you?

Book Reviews for Writers: Strong Themes from Everneath by Brodi Ashton

Nov 16, 2011

Today, I'm excited to be part of the ARC tour for Brodi Ashton's awesome book Everneath! Here's the cover copy:

"Last spring, Nikki Beckett vanished, sucked into an underworld known as the Everneath. Now she's returned-- to her old life, her family, her boyfriend-- before she's banished back to the underworld...this time forever. She has six months before the Everneath comes to claim her, six months for goodbyes she can't find the words for, six months to find redemption, if it exists.

Nikki longs to spend these precious months forgetting the Everneath and trying to reconnect with her boyfriend, Jack, the person most devastated by her disappearance-- and the one person she loves more than anything. But there's just one problem: Cole, the smoldering immortal who enticed her to the Everneath in the first place, has followed Nikki home. Cole wants to the over the throne in the underworld and is convinced Nikki is the key to making it happen. And he'll do whatever it takes to bring her back, this time as his queen.

As Nikki's time on the Surface draws to a close and her relationships begin slipping from her grasp, she is forced to make the hardest decision of her life: find a way to cheat fate and remain on the Surface with Jack or return to the Everneath and become Cole's queen."

It takes a really intriguing paranormal for me to rave about it. This isn't a bash on paranormal; it's just that it's not always my personal taste. Some storylines really capture my interest, though, and Everneath did. I was so lucky to be part of the ARC tour. I read the book in one sitting-- that's how engrossing it was.  I loved so many things about the book (the characters and their relationships, the brilliant use of flashbacks that enhanced the pace rather than slowing it down, a cliff-hanger ending that STILL managed to be very satisfying), but one thing I really loved was the theme.

I think theme is one of those things we don't always use to our greatest advantage when we write. I guess it's hard to come up with easy blogging "lists" of how to enhance the theme of your book, but after reading Everneath, I had a few thoughts.

Brodi Ashton does a fabulous job of addressing the theme of redemption without being heavy-handed about it. One of the ways she did that was to tie it Nikki's character arc. As Nikki grows through the book and questions her own "redeemability," it brings the theme to the reader's attention without the author bashing you over the head or becoming preachy.

By tying the theme to the character so closely, it also makes the theme hit a strong emotional chord with the reader. Of course, this was made possible because Ashton did a great job of making you care for Nikki.

So, my friends, Everneath comes out January 24, and I highly recommend that you read it! It was one of my favorite books that I've read this year, and I can't wait to get my own copy.

Teen Tales: Teammates and the Importance of Small Victories

Nov 8, 2011

Teen Tales is a recurring feature connecting the YA experience to YA literature.

Over the last few months, I've gotten back into an old habit-- running. I'm now up to 2 miles a day in about 20 minutes without walking. I ran track in high school, and I've loved getting back into the running groove.

I actually started track in junior high as a lowly seventh-grader. I had no illusions about my greatness-- I was always a slow one. I ran on the distance team, putting in workouts of 2-5 miles a day. I don't remember anymore why exactly I wanted to do it, but I remember what kept me doing it for six years.

It was the team.

Every year, I had at least one "buddy" that ran about the same pace I did. We did our workouts together, encouraged each other, and huddled together under blankets eating saltine crackers at meets in freezing March weather. But it wasn't just my running buddy that kept me going. It was the whole team. Everybody encouraged each other, cheered each other on, and patted you on the back when you beat your "PR." (personal record) When my running buddy was gone one day, the fastest guy on the team held back his pace to mine for the entire 3 mile workout so I could have somebody to run with.

My goals in track were simple-- beat my PR every race, and never come in last. I managed that all through high school. There was one particular victory I'll never forget.

I raced the 1600 meter, or mile, every track meet. My last meet had given me a time of 7:32, but I'd been practicing new running techniques and got a pair of running spikes. When I got out on the track, I was nervous but excited. I ran like I've never run before. When they posted our times, I went to my coach and asked what I got.

He looked at his sheet and raised an eyebrow. "6:58," he said.

"What? No. That's not my time," I said, sure he'd read the wrong line.

"No, that's you." He grinned. "Nice job."

I had chopped over 30 SECONDS off my time in a matter of a few weeks. I was elated, and my team cheered with me. I didn't win-- I'd come in second-to-last, actually-- but I DID win by my own rules. And my team knew that. It was one of the most thrilling moments of my high school life.

That small victory-- every small victory, in fact-- helped push me on to keep practicing, keep racing. In literature, small victories are especially important. You obviously don't want your character to win right off. There's no story in that. But small victories along the way can help encourage both the characters and the reader to keep going.

Teammates are an important part of victories. Winning means so much more when there are people to cheer alongside you. When writing Devs, I had a fairly solid "team" of people around my protagonist. This didn't mean they were all buddy-buddy the whole time. In fact, the team dynamic was rather complicated, and they had to grow together in order to help each other. But they were there to boost each other and support each other through victories and failures alike. It strengthened the story to have a small contingent of people who were my main character's "team."

So, my friends, do you have small victories and team mates in your stories? How do you develop those character relationships? What about victories and teammates in life?

Five Steps for Generating New Story Ideas Out of Practically Nothing

Nov 3, 2011

In tribute to my came-up-with-it-in-ten-minutes story idea I'm doing for NaNo, I wanted to talk about story ideas. I'm not currently at a loss for story ideas, and I'm sure many of you are in the same boat. I get story ideas that just hit me out of nowhere.

But today, I want to talk about how to sit down and say, "I'm going to come up with a new story idea right now," and actually do it. In other words, turning the idea process into something conscious. Here's how you can come up with a story idea from practically nothing in mere minutes.

Really. You can. I promise.

I know what you're thinking.
Okay, maybe you're not. Maybe you're thinking, "Well, sure, a few ideas in a few minutes is nothing." Or maybe you're thinking, "A basic idea, yeah, but what about everything else to fill in the blanks?"

I've talked before about taking an idea and turning into into a story-worthy concept. I still stand by that post, but today, let's just talk about having FUN with your ability to create ideas.

Don't restrict yourself.

It doesn't have to be the greatest idea since Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game. You're not worrying about writing the Great American Novel, here. We're focusing on just writing A novel. Preferably one you think will be fun. So you don't have to find the IT concept or the IT character. I mean, Twilight is about a moody girl who falls in love with a vampire. Not the most original thing ever, and look where it went.

So let your imagination roam free. Which leads to...

Do something that lets your mind wander.

For me, doing dishes or taking a shower is great for lightbulb moments. Try doing something physical that takes no brain power, like running or vacuuming or whatever mind-numbing task you've been putting off. If your hands (or body) are busy, it's easy for your mind to play.

Start with anything.

Really. Anything. For Warped, I started with the idea for a setting-- a century-old hotel in San Francisco where I stayed while filming an international harp conference in college. I played with the idea, remembering rooms and banquet halls and creepy balconies. All I needed was that one idea, and things began to sprout. "What could happen in that place? Who would it happen to? Why is she there? Who's that creepy guy in the corner I keep picturing? What does he want?"

Use all the question words-- how, why, who, when, where, and what if?

Add anything else.

As your mind wanders, it'll probably come up with something you've been wanting to play with for a while. Or maybe something totally new, some weird thing or person you read about on CNN this morning. Add it to the starting idea, and let them mate. So what if they have nothing to do with each other? MAKE them have things in common. You're the creative genius here!

Fit your idea into the basic formula used for querying/logline writing: character, conflict, choice, consequence. 

Define each of these by using and expanding upon your idea-- you've got a character with a problem who has to make a choice or else DIRE BAD THING will happen.

Bada-boom. Idea is hatched. Now go write. Or outline, or whatever it is you prefer to do with a new story idea.

A few last tips-- don't be afraid to throw ideas away. Typically, the first ideas you come up with aren't the most creative ones. If you think of something better, throw that first idea out. Also, don't be afraid if you think your idea is too similar to XYZ BOOK by Most Popular Author. After you're done playing with the idea, it'll probably be pretty darn different.

So, my friends, remember-- the human brain was designed to create. Have confidence in your own creative brilliance! How do you come up with story ideas? Do you ever do it as a conscious process, or is it just a "hits me in the middle of the night/shower/drive down the interstate" kind of thing for you?

A Lesson in Keeping Writing Fun-- and I'm NaNo-ing!

Nov 1, 2011

I may or may not be crazy.

See, I've been having this problem lately. I've been rather discouraged with my writing, and frankly, a little bit sick of my current WIP, The Unhappening of Genesis Lee. I wrote to my amazing friend and crit partner Michelle to whine, and she gave me a great reminder.

Writing is supposed to be fun.

She encouraged me to take a break, write something new, and just have fun with it. You might say I took that to heart-- within about half an hour of her email, I had a brand-spankin' new story idea. And then I remembered it's almost November. Almost NaNoWriMo.

And with a big gulp, I signed up.

I did JuNoWriMo, so I know I can write that fast fairly easily. But November's a busy month for me, including Thanksgiving out of town at the in-laws. Nevertheless, having finished my current draft of Unhappening for my crit group full-novel review, I'm now launching into my new project for NaNo. I have a single Word doc of randomly jotted ideas, a few pictures to inspire me, and not much else.

I'm not going to stress about the 50,000 words in a month thing. I'm going to try for it, but my REAL goal this month is just to have fun. Forget plotting and character development and all the shoulds and shouldn'ts of writing-- I'm just going to let this thing explode in all its messy glory.

I'm a little giddy with excitement.

I do, of course, have a title-- Warped. And here are a few tidbits in pictures. Yeah, it's gonna be WEIRD. And adventurous. And fun.

 So, my friends, let the NaNo madness begin! Are you doing NaNo? Do you want to "buddy" me (my username is Shallee)? How do you keep the enjoyment of writing when you get stressed?

Happy Halloween...

Oct 31, 2011

...from my Cyberman pumpkin.

You're welcome, Doctor Who fans. :)

How to Write a Character's Voice-- Attempting to Define the Undefinable

Oct 27, 2011

Alrighty, folks, I seem to be back from the world of the internet-less. To celebrate, I'm doing a post I've been putting off for a while, 'cause it's a tough one.

It's one of those undefinable, hard-to-give-five-easy-steps sort of concepts in writing: voice. Not author voice, but character voice. You know, that thing that everybody says they want in a book but no one can say exactly what it is. I'm going to attempt to define the undefinable today, and attempt to give a few tips.

To me, voice is the character's worldview as expressed through their language

Yeah. And what exactly does THAT mean?

Everyone has a unique take on the world. Our experiences and inborn traits shape our perception of everything around us. Voice is how a character expresses that unique view. It can come out in the tiny things like word choice and sentence structure. But voice is about more than words and tone.

Yes, those are important parts of it, and sometimes I do a full draft just tweaking those things for my character's voice. But equally important is your character's thought process. When something happens, how does your character process it? What do they think about it? What do they connect it to-- something in their past? Something else in the world around them? SomeONE in the world around them?

Because a character's voice is shaped so much by their traits and backstory, it's important to know those things about your character. Take time to get to know your character. This means different things for different people. For me, it means an extensive character worksheet and spending pre-writing time trying to view MY world from the character's head. It also means discovering them through the story, so the voice often changes in subsequent drafts.

I am always asking myself WHY and HOW. Why is this character sarcastic/sweet/bubbly? How does her love of X,Y, or Z affect the way she sees the world? How do certain character traits (optimism/pessimism, dry sense of humor, impatience, etc.) come out in her voice? This helps me take a particular character's voice into a more definable realm, so I can purposely execute their voice instead of letting it be all over the place.

Here's a silly example. My son is in love with Winnie the Pooh. Each of those characters has a different "voice." They have their physical voice, of course-- what they sound like-- but if we just read words on the page from each of them, we'd know who they were without the sound. Pooh would likely be relating something to honey, because that's what he loves. Rabbit would be worried/irritated about something, because he's wound very tightly. Tigger would be excited, self-centered, and relate everything to bouncing, because that's his personality and love. Owl would tell a long-winded story relating the conversation back to his past, because that's what's important to him.

Of course, sometimes a character voice comes to you out of the blue. I have a character for my new WIP idea that is coming in loud and strong, and I hardly know anything about her. Which, of course, is where the "undefinable" part comes in. If that happens to you, run with it! But don't be afraid to expand and fine-tune it as you go.

So, my friends, don't be afraid to take "voice" beyond sarcasm and snark. And do tell-- how do you define the ambiguous term of voice? How do you pull it off? Do you have any tips that help you execute it?

image source

When life makes change necessary

Oct 21, 2011

So this week, I made a special purchase at Wal-Mart.

Little boy underwear.

The Kiddo has been showing signs of being close to potty-training ready, so I decided it was time to give it a shot. He was thrilled to death to have Mater from Cars on his butt, and wanted to wear the underwear right away. I explained the rules of going potty on his potty chair and asked him every 15 minutes if he needed to go.

I went in to make dinner, and heard him behind me. "Oh no!" he cried. "Water!"

Well. At least he peed on the kitchen floor.

The thing is, he didn't get that HE had been the one who made the "water" on the floor, so he's not quite as ready as I thought. We're still sitting on the potty chair a few times a day, but the underwear has been put away for a bit longer.

What the heck does this have to do with anything?

Sometimes, plans change. You start doing things one way, but life comes along and you have to make some changes. So as of next week, it's time for some blog changes.

At least until the end of the year, I'll be blogging twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I'll still be posting the same types of posts-- writing helps, Teen Tales, etc--just twice a week instead of three times. I'm also changing how I respond to comments. I love replying personally to your comments, but I also love going to your blogs, and it's hard to find time for both right now. So while I'll still respond by email to questions or comments that specifically need response, I'll mostly be responding to you by visiting your own blogs. I'll still be reading comments, of course, and I still love to get them.

So, my friends, I have some questions for you now. Anything you'd like to see more or less of on here (Teen Tales, writing helps, personal stuff, writing progress)? Any writing questions I can address in a future post? Would you prefer an email response to your comments, or a visit to your blog?

The difference between rewriting and editing

Oct 19, 2011

Rewrites are like zombies-- they eat your brains.

Or at least that's what it feels like. I'm buried in rewrites for TUGL, and with my bit of leftover brainpower, I've been thinking about the difference between rewriting and editing.

After I finish my first draft, it feels overwhelming to look at it and know what to do with it. It's such a mess, where do I start? While it's tempting to play with sentence structure and tweak a certain scene and rewrite that awkward description, I leave those alone. At first.

Because here's the thing about rewrites: they're BIG. Even with the fairly extensive outlining and character building I did before I started TUGL, I have changed a lot of the structure of the book in rewrites. I cut over 5,000 words in my last rewrite alone, including entire scenes. I added new words as well, fleshing out a character arc that was practically non-existent. I'm planning on completely changing a scene near the end, and adding another one. On the whole, I've changed probably 30% of my book since the first draft.

Do you guys ever watch Extreme Home Makeover? Most of the time, they just do interior decorating. But sometimes, they add a wing, or knock down walls. I saw one where the house was such a disaster, they knocked it down and rebuilt the entire house.

Big rewrites are like that. You have to look back at your goals and refocus the story around them. You have to rebuild the entire book so it all points in one direction, instead of splatting on the page.

When I think of editing, that's  more like doing interior decorating after you build the house. Do I need to tweak this scene so it has more tension? Reword and shorten sentence and paragraph structure? That comes AFTER I make changes on what the character's goal is in this scene, and how they reach it. 

I used to think rewriting meant purely interior decorating. I hardly touched characterization after the first draft. My scenes stayed in the exact same order, and I rarely chopped or added to them. I had lovely painted walls, but it was the most sprawling, weak structure you'd ever see. The basic big picture stayed the same, and nearly 99% of the time, that big picture is going to be flawed in your first draft.

Author Aprilynne Pike once said that while you're working on your craft and trying to get published, one of the best things to do is dedicate SIX MONTHS to rewriting your book. If it's going to take six months, it's going to take big changes. And small ones, too. If you want someone to buy a house, interior decorating is important-- but you don't want the house to fall down around them, either. 

So, my friends, how do you approach rewrites and editing? Can you make bigger changes to build your dream-book? How do you know what things need to change?

This is why shiny new ideas are so hard to let go

Oct 14, 2011

So I sort of maybe kinda had a new story idea I've been working on for a few days. I'm still doing revisions on TUGL, but this new story is so. freakin'. cool. And I just haven't had the willpower to do anything but start planning it. It's tentatively titled Fixer, and because I always like to have a face for my ideas, here's the mock cover:

[image removed]

It wasn't that long ago (while finishing the first draft of TUGL) that I had another shiny new idea called Perception. But Fixer is going to take precedence at the moment. The characters, storyline, and setting are flowing so much more clearly for that one. I'm not giving up on Perception, but it's going to need some more time to percolate.

Here's what I love best about shiny new ideas: they're shiny. And new. They haven't been spoiled yet by my failed attempts to try to tell the story. It's taken four drafts and will probably take several more to get TUGL to the place where I want it to be. But with a shiny new idea, I still have the big, vague, beautiful picture that hasn't gotten tangled up with details yet. I can see exactly what it can be, and what I want it to be.

I do love the writing and rewriting of the story, because I love hammering out the story so I can make it what I first dreamed of with that shiny new idea. But it's always exciting to be in that place where the story is exciting and new and perfect because it hasn't been written yet.

So, my friends, have you had any shiny new ideas lately? Do you love them or hate them? How do you deal with them?

Teen Tales: Liar, Liar

Oct 10, 2011

Teen Tales is a weekly feature that connects the YA experience with YA literature.

I was 19 and in college. I had hilarious roommates-- and a pet frog that needed a supply of live crickets every week. The closest pet shop was a tiny, privately-owned place. After a while, I started to dread going there.

And the dread was my own dang fault.

See, the first time I ever went, my roomies and I were in a giggly sort of mood. The kind that makes you do stupid things. For example, when we walked into the store, I pretended to have an English accent. Apparently it was fairly convincing, because the clerk asked where I was from.

I lied.

I made up this whole story about how I was from Darbyshire (why, no, I wasn't at all obsessed with Pride and Prejudice) and had come here to go to college. Not a far-fetched story, as I actually had a friend from England who was here for school.

But here's the problem with lying in a place you intend to frequent: the same people work there all the time. That same clerk was there almost every time I went back, and more employees got to know me as the British girl who came for a weekly cricket supply. Because of course the best thing to do was to KEEP lying and put on the accent, instead of just admitting it was a joke.

I got sick of it. After a few weeks, I went to a different pet store. Relieved I could use my own voice again, I walked in and asked the clerk for crickets. He paused and gave me a strange look, then bagged them up for me. After a minute, he said,

"You know, I used to work for another pet store. I remember you."

Oh no.

"But the thing is, I remember that you had an English accent."

Totally and completely busted. He was the first clerk I had met, the one I told all the biggest lies to. I gave a nervous laugh and a stammering explanation about it being a joke, paid for my crickets, and ran. Of course, my roomies all had a good laugh.

99% of the time, lying comes back to bite you in the butt. And that's why it can be such a great tool in YA books. Teens lie as jokes, they lie to make themselves look better, they lie to get out of trouble, they lie to get out and have fun. (Well, adults do too, but let's focus on YA here.) While in real life you can occasionally get away with a lie, in books your character should nearly always get caught somewhere along the way.

See, a lie is sort of a Chekov's gun-- you don't usually put it in the book unless you're planning on blowing it up in the character's face. It can be a great tool for having the character's world entirely crushed. (We writers are mean like that.) It's a very realistic and humanizing thing to have a character lie and be caught, and can add to the stakes, the climax, and the characterization of your book.

So, my friends, what's the worst (or funniest) lie you've ever told? Did you get caught? Have you ever written a character that lies? Did they get caught?

A Few Little Things to Announce

Oct 7, 2011

My friend and fellow writer Darren Hansen has launched a new website called inkPageant! If you're looking for a place to share your blog posts, and enjoy blog posts from other writers, this is the place for you. It's a great gathering place for blogging writers. And there's even a contest going on! Who could say no to Amazon gift cards?

In other news, I started a YouTube channel! The goal of the channel is to share videos on writing aids, meditations for creativity, YA book trailers, general funny/awesome stuff, and have playlists for my WIPs. If you're interested, feel free to check it out.

And that's all I've got today, folks. Grocery shopping is calling my name. Blech.

Something's Gotta Give: How to Decide what to Cut from your Novel

Oct 5, 2011

I'm in the cut-obscene-amounts-of-unnecessary-crap stage of my rewrites. In the last two days, I've cut around 2,000 words from the first 100 pages of TUGL (and added just a tad too, so it flows cleanly). You'd think it'd feel horrible to cut out so many of my hard-earned words, but it actually feels really refreshing to cut out the dross and find the story underneath.

Cutting is a necessary part of rewrites, but the real question is, how do you know what to cut? I sometimes agonize for days/weeks about whether a certain scene or paragraph or line needs to go. Here are a few tips on deciding whether or not to chop.

Read the section you're concerned about and ask yourself, does it do more than one thing?
Every single line-- possibly ever single word-- in your book needs to have more than one purpose. So does every scene and chapter. Does it add characterization and move the plot forward? Does it set up the setting while building tension? Does it give us voice in the midst of action? Great! But if you've got sections that do only one thing, it needs to go. Or maybe it can stay, but it needs another element added to it. That's up to you.

Take it out. Literally cut it out of the document and paste it in another one.
I do this one quite frequently. When the section is actually GONE from the book, it's a lot easier to look at what's left and ask yourself  if anything is really missing. If the story can go on without that section-- keep it out. If you think you do need it, look hard at WHAT you need. What particular element is essential to the plot? To understanding the character? To being grounded in the world? Then ask yourself if you can lift that element and put it somewhere else. You'll find your pacing can improve quite dramatically if you do that.

"But I love this part!" is never, ever, ever, ever a reason to keep it.
That doesn't mean you have to cut out everything you love. But if the scene is only there because you think it's hilarious or dramatic or amazing, and it doesn't really add to the story as a whole, it needs to go. This is "killing your darlings." It's possible, as just mentioned, that you can take some of the elements you love and put them elsewhere. But you might just have to chop the whole thing. Take comfort in the idea you can always add a "deleted scenes" section to your website for future readers someday. :)

When I have to cut, I always ask myself one thing: is this serving the bigger purpose of the story, or holding me back from what I really want to say? When all else fails, this question can solve the problem.

So, my friends, how do you decide what to cut from your WIPs? Do you like cutting, or do you find it emotionally wrenching?

Teen Tales: Pranks-- the funny and the not-so-funny

Oct 3, 2011

Teen Tales is a weekly feature connecting the YA experience with YA literature.

I'm going to go out on  limb here and guess that I'm not the only one who played pranks on people as a teen.

The best prank I ever played was actually in college, but I did some other silly ones in high school. Usually, these were in connection with school dances. See, where I come from, you can't just ask someone to a dance face to face. You have to be all cutsey about it.

One of my girl friends wanted to ask another friend of ours to Preference, and she came up with a diabolical plan. With his mother's permission, we sneaked into his bedroom while he was at football practice. We had four rolls of toilet paper. He had a small room. It was significantly more awesome than this picture.

Why we thought toilet-papering a guy's room was a hilarious way to ask him out, I'll never know. But it was, at the time. That's the fun about pranks-- while you're doing them, they're the funniest thing in the world.

Unless, of course, you're on the other end of the prank.

For example, my extended family once had a family reunion at a lake. My grandpa had a "water buoy," which was basically a motor on an inner-tube that pumped oxygen down a thin hose and into a scuba mask. It was so much better than snorkeling.

I was enjoying a dive, held under the surface by a weighted belt, when my oxygen suddenly cut off mid-inhale. I barely had any air in my lungs, and I was about fifteen feet under. In absolute panic, I forgot to pull the lever to drop my weighted belt as I struggled toward the surface. Finally, I broke the surface and ripped off my mask.

My cousin floated next to the water buoy, my air hose in her hand. Kinked.

Not. Funny.

Teasing and pranking can have a good place in YA lit. Not only is it something we can all connect to, but it can be a great way to portray characters and their psychology. What does the character find funny? Do the other characters get a kick out of it too, or do they get upset? Why does the character pull a prank on another-- is it just a joke, or is it meant to be cruel or embarrassing? How does a character react to a prank being played on them? Character relationships and psychology can be illustrated brilliantly through a simple prank.

So, my friends, have you ever played a prank on someone? Have you had a prank played on you? Have you ever used it in your writing? Does the word "prank" no longer sound like a word because I've used it so much in this post?


What scares you more than anything-- and how can you use it to enhance your writing?

Sep 30, 2011

I'm now happily hacking away at a fourth draft of TUGL. Sometimes, though, when my mind wanders, there's another story in the background that wants to be played with. Two of them, actually. I have vague ideas for them, but no real plot or character arcs. It usually takes me a lot of musing to come up with the plot that works with the idea I want.

I play the "what if" game to help me, but I also do something else: I remind myself of all the things I'm afraid of in life. When I come up with a plot that addresses my own fears, it tends to be a stronger story. 

Even little fears can help me come up with something. For example, I'm terrified of ants (I know, lame-- but they attacked me as a kid, so it's a psychological thing). Writing a story about killer ants sounds like a SyFy channel special, though. 

So I dig deeper. Seeing a single ant on the sidewalk doesn't faze me. It's the swarm that gets me. The writhing mass of tiny bodies that move as a single organism, crawling up my legs, biting me everywhere...I'm literally cringing as I write this.

Basically, behind my simple fear of ants is a fear of thousands of malevolent creatures acting as one for their own nefarious purposes. How do you defeat a swarm like that??

And voila. That's a fear I can use in my writing.

So, my friends, what are you scared of? What's the real fear behind the simple object? Have you written a story that involves one of your fears?

What if your book shares a title with another book?

Sep 28, 2011

So while I was on my little break last week, my friend Reece interviewed me! You can check out the interview here.

Also last week, I got an email from a crit partner, and it brought up something that was a recent frustration for me. The problem? Titles. Not coming up with titles. (That's a pain in the rear in its own right.) But what happens when you find a perfect title, and then it turns out another book has the same one, or a similar one?

With my current WIP, I found a quote that fits the book PERFECTLY. And from that quote, I got the perfect title: The Unhappening of Genesis Lee. I came up with it months ago, right at the beginning of my planning process, and got a little giddy about it. Then someone burst my bubble.

Literally two days after I picked it, I heard about a new book coming out (in fact, it came out yesterday!). You may have heard of it too. The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer. Argh! The titles aren't the same, not exactly. And there are plenty of books that are "The ___ of ___." But the similarity of Unbecoming/Unhappening made me very pouty. (Not that I'm dissing Michelle Hodkin. The book sounds awesome, and I can't wait to read it.)

Her book is published. Mine is not. What's a girl to do?

Not worry about it, that's what.

I'm not saying to give your book a generic title that twelve other books share, and if your title is similar to too many others, maybe you should change it. But when you find the title that expresses your book, that hints at tension, that asks a question, that makes people want to read more-- keep it. If it ever gets published, it could likely change anyway, but you can still use a catchy title to get an agent's attention.

Some books have similar titles, there's no getting around it. In fact, Aprilynne Pike just announced the fourth book in her series that shares a title with another book-- also very popular-- that's coming out around the same time. The books are different enough, and Aprilynne says the title fits so perfectly, that it can work.

So, my friends, has this ever happened to you? Did you change the title, or keep it? How do you come up with your titles?

Teen Tales Guest Post: Jenny Morris on Unrequited Love

Sep 26, 2011

Teen Tales is a weekly feature connecting the YA experience with YA literature. Today, we've got a guest post from Jenny Morris! Here's a little about her before we get started:

I am 6 of 7 children and have lived in 3 of the 4 A’s states, but I currently call Oregon my home. In an alternate reality, I would have been a totally cool Rock Star or a Ninja with Wings, who saved the day. But, in this reality I put pen to paper and I pretend. I am a wife, mother, and I hope one day, a published author.

Now to the post!

It was my sophomore year in high school, and I’d just started my first job. He was tall, with feathery brown hair. His hazel green eyes popped, because of his naturally tan skin, and he had WAY kissable plump limps. We made pizzas together, and he had my heart. Too bad his heart wasn’t available.

During the 9 months I worked with him, I analyzed every detail of our interaction with one another. I made excuses to stay late, if he had the late shift. Every glance or smile confirmed that he really wanted to be with me, he just couldn’t bring himself to hurt his girlfriend.

Then one glorious night, my co-worker and co-crusher, (I didn’t know that part until just a few weeks ago) told me that he broke up with his girlfriend. Finally, my guy with kissable lips was free. So, the next time we worked together, I made sure I stayed late. And we sat in his baby blue VW bug, and talked. What did we say? I have NO idea, but it ended in a kiss.

There is much argument as to who initiated this kiss. He swears that sweet little Jenny Sue, attacked him and made him kiss her. It was all a haze though, so I can’t argue with him. I just remember leaning in, and bam, we were kissing.

Why the argument? He only broke up with his girlfriend for a day. They were already back together. Oh, poor little Jenny Sue.

In my teenage girl mind, little things added up to so much. Each smile, conversation, that deep look he gave me with those hazel eyes. The way he laughed at my silly jokes, as he touched my arm. They all added up to mean he liked me.

Did this guy ever like me? Or did he just like to flirt? I wanted him to like me. So, that’s what I believed. I wanted him to kiss me, and that’s what happened. But, he stayed with his girlfriend. So, I guess he didn’t really like me, did he?

How do I apply this to my writing?

All the little things people do add up and become the story. When I’m reading a book, I love when the author allows the little things to tell the love story. You can use your MC’s perception of an event, as an amazing tool. Sometimes perception is EVERYTHING.

*I e-mailed my co-worker/co-crusher to ask what color this guy’s eyes were, and she informed me that she ran into him a few weeks ago. Guess what? I totally dodged a bullet with that one.


Sep 19, 2011

In June and early July, I wrote between 2,000 and 4,000 words a day and had a finished first draft in 7 weeks.

In July, August, and September, I have worked for 2 to 4 hours a day and completed three revisions of that first draft.

I'm a little tired.

So, my friends, there will be no writing--and no blogging--for me this week. I'm burned out, and ready to recharge my batteries.

I'm planning to try a few new recipes, clean my house thoroughly, take my son to the aquarium, and dig through ancient photographs and family trees to work on a family history project. I'm pretty excited about all of it-- even the cleaning.

I hope you all have a great week, and I'll see you next Monday!

Have you ever lost your writing document?

Sep 14, 2011

I backup my writing ALL. THE. TIME. I'm completely paranoid that the evil hard drive demons are going to eat my story and I'll go to pull it up and it won't be there. So for backup, I have a thumb drive, an external hard drive, and I email myself copies frequently. I don't want to lose my story.

I think the paranoia stems back to an experience I had when I was eleven. Back then, I wrote my stories in notebooks with pictures of unicorns or kittens on the cover. I was in sixth grade, and sixth graders (being oh-so-responsible) got to work in the school store during lunch if they wanted. I thought it was awesome. I got to be all professional and sell pencils, erasers, and candy to other kids for 25 cents.

And I got to work on my story when nobody came in.

But I didn't work in the school store alone. There were always two of us, and one day the boy I was working with STOLE my story. Okay, so I'm still not entirely sure of this. But I ran an errand to a teacher, and when I came back, the boy was gone and so was my notebook. I was in a complete panic. I tore apart the store, and cried when I got home. How could he be so mean?

Two days later, when I was working with the same boy again, I showed up to find my story notebook sitting in plain sight. The boy didn't even look at me, but I gathered the story gratefully in my arms and didn't put it down the rest of the day.

I like to think he started reading the story while I was out of the room and loved it so much he had to take it home to finish it. Most likely it was just a prank. But after that, I started writing on the computer and backing up everything on floppy disks.

So, my friends, have you ever lost your story to hard drive demons or mean sixth-grade boys? Did you get it back? How do you backup your own writing?

How to create a character's personality

One of the hardest things for me in writing is character development. I write a lot of blog posts about it, probably because I'm constantly trying to learn more about it so I can improve my characters. Today, I wanted to share something I do at the very beginning of character creation to come up with a starting point for my character's personality.

Keep in mind this is only a baseline. It's two small parts of my character worksheet, which is like ten pages long. And I've gradually discovered that the best way to find out who my characters are is to write about them. Still, these two tips help me a lot, especially when I have NO IDEA who the heck these people are before I write about them.

One of my first baselines is the color code. Basically, it's a personality theory that breaks people down into four colors: red (the power-wielders), blue (the do-gooders), white (the peace-keepers), and yellow (the fun-lovers). It sounds a bit Divergent-esque, but it's actually quite helpful. The point is that people have traits of all of these colors, and usually are stronger in one or two of them. If you go here, you can see the full breakdown of what each color means.

I start by deciding what two colors are strongest for a particular character, and list what particular traits from a color they have. Then I pull a few traits from the other colors. This gives me a quick list of personality traits that are both complimentary and contradictory, so my character starts out just a little bit complicated.

My next baseline is the Meyers-Briggs personality indicators. There are 16 "types" of people, according to this personality test, all of them listed at the link. I do MB second because once I have the color code basics, it can give me enough of a hint of my character to guide my choice in their MB test. I pick one of the MB types and highlight certain traits within that type that stand out in my character.

And voila! My character is no longer a complete blank face to me. With these two (very) basic points as a foundation, I can build the rest of my character until they drip with tree-dimensionality.

So, my friends, what are your preferred character-building techniques? How do you create characters from the early beginnings of the story when you don't know much about them?

Teen Tales: The Fear and Strength We Take from Tragedies

Sep 12, 2011

On September 11, 2001, I was a 17-year-old senior in high school. When I got to school that day, friends asked if I had heard about the planes crashing into the World Trade Center. What a tragic accident, I thought.

For my first class of the day, I tutored students with special needs. When the teacher turned on the TV in the corner, all work was forgotten. I still remember the fear that tightened my stomach when the words "terrorist attack" were mentioned. Someone had done this on purpose. I could hardly understand how anyone could be so evil.

Jacob, the student I was tutoring, started fidgeting, confused by the changes to his schedule and the images on TV. I explained that bad people had crashed airplanes into buildings in New York. He cocked his head, a puzzled look on his face.

"Why?" he asked.

Why indeed.

In my journal a few days later, terrified of the just-announced "war on terror," I wrote, "This is not pretend. This is not a game. This is not something that will end quickly. This is not a movie. This is my life. It is fear, and anger, and grief. But most of all, it is real. And now, all I can do is be American, be brave, be strong, and always, always be close to God."

Yes, I was afraid, like so many people. I was only 17, and I lived a happy, simple life untouched by tragedy before that day. September 11th taught me what fear meant. But it also taught me to be strong in the face of it. It taught me that the only thing I can do when fear strikes is to fall to it or fight it.

So, my friends, in life and in literature, let tragedy teach us to take be brave in the face of fear. May God bless America, and the victims and families affected by the attacks of September 11, 2001.

What is your favorite word?

Sep 9, 2011

I have a kind of love affair with words. Obviously. I'm a writer, aren't I? My husband teases me sometimes when I use a word he doesn't know, or just one that isn't commonly used in conversation. I love learning new words, and along with that, I love learning languages. Here are my favorite words in all the languages I know (or have attempted to learn):

Spelunking: the exploration of caves

This word just feels cool on the tongue. Plus, I have gone spelunking several times, and there is something amazing, creepy, and just plain adventurous about being buried in a mountain/underground.
Spelunking with the hubs and some friends.

Lavabo: sink

I took French all through high school, and had nearly enough classes in college for a French minor. Sadly, my French skills have dwindled quite a bit in the four years since I last took a class, but I still love the way ANYTHING sounds gorgeous in French. This words is one of the earliest in my vocabulary, and is still a favorite.
Not in France. (San Francisco-- a tale I shall have to tell sometime)

Ketseketse: small-small/very small

I took lessons in this Ghanaian language from an amazing teacher. Even though many people in Ghana speak English, it helped so much to know Fante, especially in teaching. The kids also loved it when I read Fante-- it's very simple to pronounce all the words, but most of the time I had no idea what I was saying. I love this word because it's just fun to say (kitsee-kitsee, said very fast), and people laughed when I used it to explain how much Fante I could speak.
3 ketseketse students who fell asleep on me mid-lesson. I promise, this wasn't staged.

Utsukushii: beautiful

My husband first said this word to me when we were dating (he lived in Japan for 2 years and speaks Japanese fluently). I managed to tease the meaning out of him before I attempted learning Japanese myself. It makes me smile every time.
Me and the hubs. Love.

I took two semester of Swahili in college, but I'm going to bow out of that one. I don't remember a single word except for "Jambo," hello.

So, my friends, what about you? What is your favorite word in any (or many!) language(s)?

How to write emotions so the reader cares: Lessons from 13 Reasons Why

Sep 7, 2011

Since I talked about the importance of showing authentic emotions on Monday, I wanted to talk about how to actually do that in your writing. I'm by no means an expert on this; I'm still learning a lot about how to not only portray the emotions your character is feeling, but how to get the reader to feel them too. We all know the rule of not telling: "I was sad" just doesn't cut it.

So what do we do, then? I recently read 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher and it packed an emotional wallop I won't soon forget. I figured we could do some analyzation today. So, first step: read the first chapter here (click "Look Inside" over the graphic). It's only four pages, and it'll help the analysis below make sense.

Now, let's take a look at the techniques Asher uses to get the emotional ball rolling right from the get-go.

Have other characters react to your character, or show their actions in contrast to your character's

Let's look at the first line:

"Sir?" she repeats. "How soon do you want it to get there?"

The simple use of the word "repeats" is brilliant. It implies that Clay, the main character, was not listening. His mind was distracted enough that he didn't answer a direct question. Immediately, before we even know what's happening or even the main character's name, we know that something isn't right.

Through the first few pages, the contrast between the clerk's cheerful obliviousness is a stark contrast to Clay's own actions. She jokes about him not having enough coffee while he thinks despondently that maybe not drinking the coffee would be better, so he doesn't have to wake up. Notice he doesn't say something like, "it would hurt too much to wake up." He says, "maybe it's the only way to get through the day." This thought implies his hurt using the next technique:


A character's internal thoughts are one of the biggest and most helpful things for portraying their emotions. This is also a big place for reader's to connect to those emotions.

Most of the time when we think, it's not in blatant terms. For example, where Clay could have been thinking, "I hope Jenny gets this and it hurts her as bad as it did me," we get instead a few lines of him wishing he had waited to send the package so Jenny could have another day of peace-- though she doesn't deserve it.

This train of thought is natural, and it does several things at once. We understand Clay himself is not at peace because he knows Jenny won't be at peace either. And we feel the bitterness in the final line. She doesn't deserve peace. Does he? Guilt and sorrow well up from those lines, even though the words themselves are never mentioned.

Physical beats

This is the most common way for most writers to show their character's emotions. Are the shocked? Let their mouth drop open. Are they irritated? They cross their arms and tap a finger on their elbow. The problem with this is overdoing it. I use it like crazy in my first drafts, and have to go back and do a lot of revising. Because if you use these too much, they become cliche.

But you can't deny that emotions do have a physical effect on us, which is why physical beats are still an effective tool. In Clay's case, he has a headache. And again, the author doesn't just say, "his head pounded with the pain." In the second line, Clay rubs his forehead and comments that "the throbbing has become intense." We know he hurts physically, and it mirrors how he hurts emotionally.


This is another powerful tool. Don't let the name deceive you, though; it's about more than just what you see. An image can involve many senses-- in fact, it works well if it uses more than one. But images also work best if they're fairly simple, so don't overcomplicate things by throwing in too many sensory details unless the situation calls for it.

In the last few paragraphs of chapter 1, Clay imagines the path he feels he can barely walk that leads to school. It zips past like a camera zooming in on something, until at last we see the object: the empty desk of Hannah baker. Because of the technique used, and the building of emotions up to this point, the image of the empty desk is haunting to the reader, because we know it is what haunts Clay. It's the focus of his pain, the reason behind this mysterious package he has sent. One simple image clarifies the situation behind his pain, just a bit, so the reader can empathize. We understand.

And once we understand, that's when we hurt, too. This is the last key to getting your reader to invest in your character's emotions. They have to understand. They need information on WHY your character feels this way, even if they barely have a glimpse.

So, my friends, what techniques to you use to show character's emotions and get readers to care? Have you read 13 Reasons Why (you really, really should)? What books do you love that helped you feel the character's emotions?

Teen Tales: The emotional firestorm of developing an identity

Sep 5, 2011

Teen Tales is a weekly feature connecting the YA experience with YA literature.

What is it about being a teen that makes EVERY. SINGLE. THING. exaggeratedly more excruciating? A snide comment at school made me cry later that night. A second glance from a cute boy sent me into ecstasy. Failing to complete a math problem elicited tears of agonized frustration.

A lot of people roll their eyes and blame hormones. Which, I grant you, probably play a part. But I think there's more to it than that. Teens are at a point in life where they're developing their sense of identity. We looked at the world, and ourselves, with more open eyes. So of course, we took everything around us personally, because our focus was ourselves.

That snide comment didn't just mean that girl was mean or in a bad mood, it meant I might be the person she accused me of being. The glance from the cute boy must mean he was in love with me, and therefore I should be in love with him. The failed math problem meant I was a failure. At the time, those things struck right to the heart of the fragile self I was trying to create.

And because I was so deep in developing that self, it was hard to see anyone else-- which led to the "no one understands" syndrome. In fact, as a teenage poet, I once vented my anguish on paper. Behold:

Loneliness do not depart, stay another day.
Loneliness my only friend, do not go away.

No one understands me, nor do they even try.
They just leave me all alone, even if I were to cry.

So all alone I'll sit, until my days will end.
Loneliness do not depart, loneliness my only friend.

I smile a little when I read this now, because it expresses a slightly ridiculous concept. I was not alone; I had an incredibly supportive system of family and friends.

But the thing is, I remember writing that poem. I remember sitting on my bed with the pink blanket and feeling so desperately sad and lonely that I cried onto the paper as I wrote. It seems overly emotional now, but at the moment, it was very real. And for that reason, I find it hard to laugh at myself.

Literature in general is meant to be a vicarious, cathartic experience, allowing us to feel things we wouldn't normally feel in the course of everyday life. In YA fiction, with YA protagonists who feel everything so keenly, there is more opportunity to take the reader along for a torturous, heart-wrenching, and hopefully soul-healing ride. That is, as long as we authors both remember those emotions, and do our best at expressing them in our fiction.

So, my friends, what are your most emotional teen memories? What YA books have you read that took you through emotional hell and back out again? What emotional firestorms do the characters in your own writing have to deal with, and how do you get those emotions across?

What are your favorite childhood movies?

Sep 2, 2011

So I have an almost two-year-old son. He's a wacky ball of fun who is starting to throw tantrums express preferences for certain things. Some of those preferences are coming out in the shows he likes to watch, and I love laying out a line of movies on the carpet and watching him decide if he'd rather watch Cars or How to Train your Dragon.

Neither of those is his favorite movie, though. When my mom gave us The Goonies a few months ago, the Kiddo caught a glimpse of it and was hooked. He requests it all the time now. I feel kind of guilty letting him watch it (the kids on that show swear a lot more than I remembered...), but he loves the adventure, the music, and especially the character Sloth.

I love it for all those things, too. It's a movie I grew up on, and it's one of my favorites from my childhood. (So is the original Ninja Turtles, the Kiddo's other favorite movie.)

So, my friends, what movie(s) do you love that were a part of your childhood?

How to write a book readers can't put down: Using scenes and sequels

Aug 31, 2011

I've been working on revisions of my current WIP, The Unhappening of Genesis Lee, for a month and a half now. Because I did so much plotting ahead of time, I haven't needed as many large-scale changes to this book plot-wise, which is awesome. Of course, that doesn't mean the plot is perfect. My individual scenes, especially, need to be tighter, more focused, and to lead naturally from one to the other. I tried out a new method to make this work, and it has been one of the most helpful revision tools ever.

Have you ever heard scenes referred to as action/reaction types, or scene/sequel types (same thing, different terms)? I had, but I never knew how it really worked. Basically, every scene in your book will be either an ACTION (scene) or REACTION (sequel), and the scenes should always alternate. (Action -->reaction-->action, etc.) There are some handy graphics here so you can get the big picture.

An ACTION scene has the following components: a goal, a conflict, and a disaster. The goal, obviously, is your character's need/want/objective for that specific scene. The conflict is what gets in your character's way. The disaster doesn't always have to be a disaster. Either your character doesn't get what they want (if they do, the book is over), or they DO get what they want, but something else happens-- they learn they need something else, or the thing they get isn't what they really wanted, etc.

After the disaster, of course, your character needs to react-- hence the REACTION scene. This is made up of the reaction, the dilemma, and the decision. The reaction is your character's immediate response to the disaster. It starts with the emotional response or feeling, then a reflexive action, followed by a rational thought/speech/action. These three elements don't ALL have to be there, but they should ALWAYS be in that order.

After the initial reaction in the reaction scene (I know, confusing), comes the dilemma-- the disaster in the last scene created a problem, so now what? Your character needs to make a decision, which leads to an action. Wait, an action? As in an action scene? Fancy that! We've come full circle.

My approach to this was to take out a notebook and go through my chapters one by one, making sure the cycle flowed, and writing out each part of the action/reaction sequence for each chapter. I found that each chapter isn't necessarily its own action or reaction scene. Sometimes, a single chapter was a full action/reaction sequence (or even 1.5 or 2 of them), with either the action or the reaction being quite short. Sometimes, a scene would stretch for more than one chapter. But ALWAYS, I made sure they cycled from one to the other.

If done right, the cycle of action/reaction should flow seamlessly throughout your book. And, if done right, it will make it almost impossible for readers to put your book down! After each disaster, they'll need to know how the character deals with it...and after each decision, they'll want to see what action the character will take next...and soon it's 3 a.m. and they've read your book all night.

So, my friends, have you ever used the action/reaction/scene/sequel process before? Do you have other tips that make it impossible to put your book down? What book have you read recently that you just couldn't stop reading?

Teen Tales Guest Post: Michelle Merrill on Making Mistakes

Aug 29, 2011

Teen Tales is a weekly feature connecting the YA experience with YA literature. Today we have a guest post from Michelle Merrill! I actually went to high school with Michelle, who is now also my awesome critique partner. Here's a bit about her:

"I'm a wife to the best husband, a mother to the cutest kids, an aspiring author, an avid reader, a friend, and a daughter of God. I absolutely love to watch old movies, eat anything sweet, and play my music way too loud."

And now, to her post!

Teens make mistakes. They do funny things. It happens to everyone. And sometimes those funny things come with boys. Let's face it, boys are funny. And weird. And, yes, hot. And lots of other things. We like some and we dislike others.

So what happens when one that we dislike asks us on a date?

Say no, right?

Well, if you did, you were/are much better than me. See, that would've been the nice way to avoid the date.

After multiple excuses of why I couldn't go on a date with Bob (not real name. Duh!) I finally caved. Yeah, what was I thinking? I couldn't stand the kid. Mostly because I thought he was a sly flirt that thought he could get any girl. Nuh uh. He wasn't getting me.

Then why did I say yes? Who knows? My friends drilled me about it. My guy friends!And initially it was those same friends that helped me sabotage the date. Yes, I just admitted it. And I can't believe I did that! Me. Innocent, nice, blah blah blah. Me.

So for the two hours before the date, we planned.

The date was a movie and dessert. I wore an ugly outfit, put on too much blue eye shadow (which I NEVER wore), and added a giant puffy coat to keep personal contact to a minimum.
And what does Bob's friend drive? An old two door (TWO DOOR) sports car. And where am I sitting? In the back seat with Bob. Gross.

Bob tries to tickle me. I give a fake giggle and move away. FAR away. Well, as far as you can go in the tiny backseat of a two door sports car.

At the movie I share the popcorn, but my hand went in and out fast. In the bowl, in my mouth, in my pocket. Fast. No contact. I don't even remember the movie, but it was long.

Then after the date we went to Wendy's for dessert. High class, I know but it's high school. Don't judge the poor kid. I would've chosen the same place. On our way there, Bob scoots closer. Too close! Breathing is hard at this point. So I make up some excuse to call my dad on his cell phone (yeah, the one time I actually got to take it). My dad knew that if I were to call, it was his cue to save me. So he had me repeat each word. It went something like this.

"Oh no, Dad. Are you serious? I have to come home already? Can I just stop for a quick dessert at Wendy's? Yeah? Awesome. I'll be home right after."

Thank. You. Dad.

And what could be worse than your sisters and friends "showing up" at Wendy's to have dessert at the same time? Ha. Nothing, it was awesome. And then they left right before us and waited on the porch for Bob to bring me home. It was a great drop off. Literally drop off. I think there was a quick hug at the car.

So the plan worked. Beautifully.

But why do I still feel bad about it? Not just bad, horrible. I think I even felt bad before I actually went on the date.

Because it was mean. Downright dirty. Rude and insensitive.

But that's what teens do. They make mistakes and learn. I can honestly say I NEVER sabotaged another date.

What mistakes are your character's making? More importantly, what are they learning from them?

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