Archive | March, 2010

Dealing with Ghost Dogs: The Fine Art of Revision

31 Mar

by Lynn Heitkamp

~~

My writers’ group has decided that, collectively, we’re done working with animals — dogs, specifically.

This doesn’t mean we don’t love our furry friends.  Most of us in the group are devoted pet owners, and my own labrador retriever usually isn’t very far away from my computer when I’m working.

No, we mean fictional dogs.

You’ve probably heard the old saying that you should never work with children or animals and thought it doesn’t apply to fiction writers.  After all, we do most of our work in our heads, and with pens and keyboards, don’t we?  It’s not like we’re part of a live performance that can get derailed by a temper tantrum or an embarrassing scratch.  We’re the creators of our fictional worlds, and even the kids and the animals inside them are supposed to follow our lead.  Right?

Right?

Well…

Let’s just say my writer friends and I have had some issues with that.  We’ve discovered that projects that include dogs as characters tend to derail in very odd ways.

Our most egregious case of fictional dog misbehavior came in one of my own novels.  I had been writing and revising the project for nearly two years before I finally decided to print it off and let my family members read it.

The manuscript was riddled with errors, ranging from weird jumps in font types, to repeated chapters, but my family loves me and were willing to overlook them in their eagerness to see what I’d been working on in secret for so long.

And then came the evening when I was sitting across the room from my mother while she read my manuscript.  I was doing my best to ignore what she was doing.  I wanted her to experience the story on the pages, and didn’t think hovering over her shoulder, asking “What do you think?” every five pages would accomplish much.

But then she turned a page, and started laughing.  Out loud.

My heart warmed.  I fancied that there were quite a few amusing incidents in this story, and I was pleased to know that one of them had tickled another human being’s fancy.  I interrupted her to ask, “What part are you on?”

She laughed again and pointed down at what she had just read.  “He just reached down to pet the dog,” she said between chuckles.  “But the dog died in the last chapter!

Indeed.  I had committed one of the sins of cut-and-paste editing.  While rearranging the timeline of the novel, I’d moved an important conversation between my two main characters to a different point in the story, but I hadn’t remembered to account for all the changes that had happened between those two points — the most glaring of which was the tender death scene of said dog.  On my computer screen, scrolling up and down through pages, I’d never noticed the mistake, just as I’d never noticed my font issues or duplicated passages.

It has gone down in writers’ group lore as “the ghost dog incident,” and, though it was mortifying at the time, I did take away from it a valuable lesson.

Technology is great, but the human eye is better, especially when you’re editing.  Sometimes you have to actually have something in your hands to see what you’re doing.  Sometimes a Beta reader can save your story from a mistake that makes you cringe.

And some times, you just have to give up and say you no longer work with dogs.

~~~~

Lynn Heitkamp is the author of Thorn of the Kingdom, and several other novels on FictionPress.  She signed with Mandy Hubbard of the D4EO Agency in February 2010.  Despite her intentions, her characters still sometimes insist on keeping pets, but she’s learning to live with that.

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First-Draft-Phobia

30 Mar

By June Hur
~~

My worst nightmare has always been that I would wake up one day and realize that I was no longer a writer.

After sending in my Regency romance to an agent, I decided to start a new book. I rummaged my mind for the perfect story. When I found a possible one, I would be up all night planning it out, and would end up brainstorming the plot to death. The idea just wouldn’t be good enough. And so I’d search for another plotline. I’d brainstorm it to death. And on and on I’d move from one plot to the next. My critique partner told me I was trying too hard. And she was right.

The sad truth was this: After a year and a half spent on revising The Runaway Courtesan again and again—I knew how to edit a book, but had forgotten how to write one from scratch.

I have to thank K.C. Bryne for my state of overflowing enthusiasm to write again. A few days ago I met up with her at Starbucks after our English literature lecture. I told her the issue I was having, of how none of the plots were good enough. Her answer was simple: Write for the pure joy of writing, write for yourself.

Write for myself? I couldn’t grasp onto what the purpose behind writing just for the sake of writing was. Why write for the fun of it? Why waste my time? If I’m going to write a book, I wanted to know that it would be marketable, that it would be original.—This mentality was my stumbling block. My expectation for the manuscript was way too high for me to meet up to in my first draft. How was I to write if every sentence I typed out was expected to be a masterpiece?

The first draft of our book is like a rough sketch, a guiding map, to a work of art.

Observe a famous oil painter: the moment inspiration roars through him, he will sketch it out onto a canvas. And if we were to observe this sketch, one eyebrow would shoot up, and our reaction would be: What the hell is this? We would only see a mess of pencil marks.

Just wait. Be patient.

The pencil markings will disappear, as the brush strokes paint across the canvas, the darker shades first. And we will cringe with confusion—THIS, a masterpiece?

Once the paint dries a bit, lighter shades of paint will then be applied (…or so my art tutor told me).

Then more hours will pass, perhaps even days, as the artist mixes the colours, brushes it onto the canvas, in light or heavy strokes, in dots or blotches.

Then…

Voila.

A masterpiece has been created and it steals our breath away and brings tears to our eyes as we catch a glimpse of the divine beauty captured within each stroke of the brush.

But, with the perspective I had, placed into this analogy, I would have remained stuck on day one, sketching then re-sketching, getting nowhere. So the lesson I learned was: Do not expect a masterpiece by sketch number one. The point of the first draft is not perfection, but to capture the essence of that undecided, ambiguous yet beautiful story in your head.

Just write, write what your heart tells you to write. Your story, at draft one, might not be publishable. It might not even make any sense. But still—Just write! Worry about the plot holes, the grammatical errors, the character development, the theme, the marketability AFTER you have draft one. Don’t let that inspired imagination cool down while you edit paragraph one of your story over and over and over again. Let your fantasy unwind onto paper without being hindered by technicality—even though you might end up with a piece of trash that might require two years to revise. But the point, ladies and gentlemen, is to write for the pure joy of it.   

By Marion Boddy-Evans

~~~~~~~ 

June Hur is the author of The Runaway Courtesan. She is currently awaiting the response of an agent who requested her full manuscript. When she is not working on her next book, she can usually be found at a book shop, searching for a Great Love Story to read and analyze. You can follow her on Twitter or through her blog.

New LTWF Contributor

29 Mar

Hello!

They’re actually letting me post so I guess this means the secret initiation rituals are over. I’m honored to be joining the lovely and accomplished group of ladies here at Let the Words Flow. I am Jenn Fitzgerald and I’m twenty-two years old. I grew up in suburban Maryland and went to college in Virginia where I majored in anthropology. Nobody ever knows what anthropology means but that’s okay because I’m actually an archaeologist. I’m planning on entering a Ph.D program in archaeology in Boston this fall. Hopefully it won’t consume so much of my life that it interferes with my writing. I’m hoping there’s a way I can balance both. We’ll see how that goes.

Writing is my hobby and my addiction when it’s not part of my job. I’ve been writing in my spare time since I was in middle school, in snatched instants when an idea struck or late into the night when scenes wove together and demanded to be recorded. The first story I ever finished had vampires and was written in second person. Yes, it is as cringe worthy as you think. I spent several years writing mostly fanfiction and improving as a writer before I went back to working on original projects.

I started posting on fictionpress during college because I wanted to share my stories and because I wanted feedback on my writing ability. I also needed the feedback to motivate me to finish one thing instead of jumping from beginning to beginning and story to story. I can almost never work on only one thing at a time but I’ve been handling this by writing short stories attached to my main WIP on Fictionpress. I am also still updating and posting new stories there.

PRISCILLA THE EVIL is the reason I’m here. It’s the first book-length project I’ve finished since those silly vampires and I thought it was worth a shot trying to get it published. It’s about a girl named Priscilla who gets fed up with her life and decides that she’s going to be powerful and respected. Naturally, the only way to do this is by being evil. So, she declares herself an evil queen and sets out to acquire all the standard things evil people need, like a barbarian army, an evil dragon and dark castle. I’ve received a request for a full from one agent. Now I’m waiting to hear back from her and working on a synopsis for other agencies’ submissions.

~~~

Currently Reading: The Food of a Younger Land by Mark Kurlansky

QOTW: When Did You Know You Were Meant To Be A Writer?

26 Mar

This week’s QOTW comes from Pri, who asks:

I’m currently struggling over my aspirations to be an author and I was wondering: when did you realise you were meant to be an author?

~~~

I didn’t realize I wanted to be a writer until I was 11 or 12 years old. I’d always loved books, but it wasn’t until I read three books–SABRIEL by Garth Nix, THE HERO AND THE CROWN by Robin McKinley, and WIT’CH FIRE by James Clemens–that I realized I wanted to write them.

The realization that I COULD write them didn’t happen until a little while later–when I was cleaning my room one afternoon, and on a whim, put on my mom’s album for the score of the SWAN LAKE ballet. As I listened, totally transfixed by the music, I literally SAW things–stories that needed writing, characters that needed the breath of life. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to a religious/spiritual epiphany. I detailed that moment in my blog a while ago.

But it took several years after that–not until I’d been actively posting QoG on FP for a while–that I realized I wanted to be PUBLISHED. I actually heard the piece from SWAN LAKE that got my writing juices flowing just yesterday, and may or may not have cried when I remembered that 12 year-old girl in her room, her knees curled to her chest, realizing that she had to put her ideas down on paper.

-The Writer Who Just Landed Her First Book Deal!

~~~

After I had written a bunch of books. No, really. I started writing on fictionpress becuase it seemed like fun and something to do. It was several books in before I considered myself “a writer” and a couple of years before I really told anyone about it. I’d been writing for 3 years before I had the epiphany moment of wanting to be published.

I don’t know that I ever decided/knew I was “meant” to be published. Publishing is a business, and a hard one to break into. I just decided I didn’t care how many rejections I had and how long it took, that I was in it for the  long haul.

-The Writer/Literary Agent with Another Book Deal!

~~~

I don’t think I ever knew I was meant to be a writer. I think it just came to me. I grew up as an only child, without pets, with friends who constantly ditched me and parents that worked full times. I needed to do SOMETHING to keep myself occupied. So I told myself stories and played imaginary games. And once I learned that a writer was an actual job (I think I was 7 at the time), I declared I was going to be one. Then at 9, I decided I was going to be the next J.K. Rowling. That hasn’t happened…yet.

I think that writing is something that is a part of me and I will always be a writer, published or not published, because it is something I love to do. To me, writing is about the actual action whether or not anyone besides me sees it. I’m meant to be a writer in the sense that it is something I love doing, not making a career out of.

– The Writer Writing Her Second Novel

~~~

Being a published author is something I used to dream about when I was a little kid.  Of course, I also wanted to be a pop star, an artist, and probably Queen for the Day, too!

I’m not sure when I realized I had the itch to write.  I guess, at some point, I caught on to the fact that I was a book-a-holic, and when I read lots of books they gave me ideas for stories of my own. But I was young.  I remember being devastated that I didn’t win the school writing contest in the third grade, because I’d slaved over that manuscript!  lol.

– The Writer Who Just Got An Agent

~~~

To be perfectly honest, writing to me was a hobby until I finished the first draft of my novel, about a year and a bit ago. It wasn’t until then that I actually realized how much it meant to me, and I was hit with the full knowledge of what it meant to have an ending. Finishing it, even though it was only the first draft and extremely rough, was the most inspirational thing that’s ever happened to me in terms of writing, and also the reason I dropped math :).

-The Writer Revising Her First Novel

~~~

My aspiration to become an author came gradually. I began writing because I couldn’t help it. It was my guilty pleasure. But as I grew up writing was no longer a “hobby” done out of pure entertainment for myself alone. It had become something much more important to me. I had opinions and beliefs that were demanding to be shared. Writing became my best tool for communication. I wrote better than I spoke. And then I was introduced to the publishing world through other writers and a bit of research. I didn’t know it existed before then. So yes. Realization came gradually.

-The Writer Who Got a Full Request

~~~

I’ve always been interested in the arts; and throughout my childhood, I claimed that I wanted to be an artist, or a dancer, or a figure skater, or an author. I’ve always loved to write. I didn’t have a sudden epiphany one day that I was meant to be a writer; but my love of writing has led me to where I am today. The decision to write wasn’t really a decision because it was just something I loved to do. The thought of becoming an author just comes from knowing that I want to share what I write with the rest of the world one of these days. And while I don’t plan on making writing my career, I certainly do hope that one day I can switch from calling myself a writer, to calling myself an author.

– The Writer Writing Her First Book

~~~

I was in about 4th grade when I realized that I wanted to write ‘some day.’ I was a complete book addict (in middle and high school I went through two books A DAY), so it was only natural that I would eventually want to create my own stories. Now, when I actually started calling myself a writer, that was a different story. I got into writing by making fan fictions for the Animorphs series and posting them on FanFiction.net. Yes, you heard correctly. These were glorious times for me; I was full of inspiration and adored these characters, was getting great reviews and generally enjoying the heck out of myself. Then, in 8th grade, I realized that I was spending a lot of time writing work that could never be published, and I needed to be working on my own, original material. Soon after the idea for Antebellum struck, and I was off, writing my first novel.

But I didn’t start calling myself a writer. No, writing was a confusing, emotional, inspiration-driven thing for me, and I often had no idea where the plot was going or what my characters were going to do next. School had always taught me that you have to have a plan, and an outline, and drafts, etc., and I wasn’t doing that AT ALL. So, I didn’t think that I was a real writer.

The turning point for me came after I read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. The story itself was interesting, but the author’s notes at the end are what really changed my life. Bradbury said something to the effect of he just follows his characters around and writes down what they do.

Suddenly, I knew. I knew there were others out there like me. And I knew that if Ray Bradbury did it, then it was perfectly okay for me to do it as well. From that day onward I called myself a writer.

-The Writer Waiting on Submissions

~~~

Audience, when did YOU know you were meant to be a writer?

Sex and Violence: A Writer’s Worst Nightmare

25 Mar

Vanessa Di Gregorio
~

If there is one thing I’ve been taught, it’s that sex scenes and fight scenes are the parts you keep an eye on, as both a writer and an editor (or crit partner). Why? Because sex and violence can make people uncomfortable. Because those scenes with sex and violence are difficult to write. It’s what most writers dread having to write sometimes.

So, we’ll start off with violence in books; specifically, those dreaded fight scenes. Chances are, if you’ve never written a fight scene before, you will write something nonsensical. People reading it might be completely lost and unable to visualize the scene at all. The flow and pacing might be too slow. It might lack the OOMPH you’re looking for.

The best way to remedy this? READ FIGHT SCENES IN BOOKS.

Don’t copy word for word, but take a look at how some books portray fight scenes. Heck, make some notes. If you read a book with a great fight scene, place a sticky note or a bookmark there; use it as a reference. But, some books might also have some awfully lackluster fight scenes; and I’m sure you all have come across some not-so-great scenes at some point in time. Writing a fight scene is so much more difficult than one would think. Watch fight scenes. Act them out in your living room. Think of how a body moves during a fight scene, and be varied. Don’t keep having them swinging punches; mention body weights shifting, balance; whatever you feel is necessary to make the scene not only make sense, but more engaging for your readers.

A fight scene consists of Action and Reaction.

He kicks, she stumbles back.
The action should come before the reaction.
She stumbled as he kicked her hard in the chest. While not a bad line, and certainly understandable, it might be more effective to write it this way: He flung his leg out, kicking her hard in the chest. She stumbled backwards, winded.

Now, I’m not saying that I’m brilliant at writing action scenes, but you get my point. The pacing is just that much more intense when the action comes before the reaction. If we find out that the character stumbles before getting hit, the pacing is different; the fight scene is no longer as intense, and it doesn’t impact a reader the same way. We can visualize it, sure (which really is the first goal of a fight scene; to have it make sense); but you also want to consider how tense your fight scene should be.

Short sentence are key. Long sentences in a fight scene can make it too complicated/convoluted. So, stick to the short and sweet. But be careful; you need to vary it a little bit. Don’t have all the sentences the same length.

Bad: She kicked. He blocked. She punched. He ducked.
Okay, so maybe that was a bit extreme. Here’s another example:
Bad: He could hear her approach. He turned and they faced off. She suddenly rushed at him.
Better: Footsteps echoed in the alley. He whipped around. A woman rushed at him, throwing a wild punch.

Vary your sentence lengths. Yes, the shorter the better; because then the flow and pacing is quick, as it should be for a fight scene. But you can see how having different sentence lengths makes it more interesting. If all your sentences are the same length, it can also interrupt the flow by being too staccato.

Now that we got through some violence, let’s talk about love (or lust) – and the even more dreaded sex scenes. Whether you are writing YA or Adult Fiction, chances are you might try to write a sex scene. My first suggestion? DON’T MAKE IT CORNY. Your readers should not be snickering while reading a passionate (or perhaps not so passionate, depending on the type of sex scene you are writing) love making session. It shouldn’t be painful to read unless you’re trying to make it awkward.

Writers often fall into the use of clichés, or use inappropriate names for body parts that can either be completely and utterly ridiculous, or just plain offensive. Sex can be both, if it’s your intention to do so. But most authors trying to write sex scenes aren’t trying to make you squirm in outrage (or laugh outright). So here is a list of things to consider when you come across an intimate scene between your characters.

Avoid euphemisms. They can end up being really tacky, funny, and just plain awful. Unless you are trying to be ridiculously funny, avoid body part euphemisms. In fact, why mention the naughty bits at all? I’m not saying you shouldn’t, but really, there are so many other body parts. What about the small of her back, or some trembling hands? You could even just say that she reached for him and you would get the point. So, if at all possible, avoid words that might make you laugh. You can be explicit without being… well… explicit.

Make your sex realistic. Are two teens going all the way for the first time? Well, I’m not sure if you remember what your first time was like, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the greatest session of love-making ever. Sex can be boring or unsatisfying for your characters. It doesn’t always have to end with the ultimate climax. But when a sex scene is earth shattering for your characters and boring/unsatisfying for your reader, well… you have a problem.

People do not talk like porn stars
. Unless you are writing about porn stars, your characters should in NO WAY sound like them. Again, it is tacky. And funny (in a sad, this-is-hilarious-even-though-it’s-not-meant-to-be sort of way). No one talks like them during sex; porn is over-the-top. Your sex scenes shouldn’t be.

Don’t forget to use all the senses. Sex (like any intimate scene) shouldn’t just be purely physical. There are sounds and scents and tastes. And it doesn’t have to be obvious, like a shuddering moan or something. Think of all the little details: her strawberry lip gloss, or the sound of the bed sheets ruffling.

So now, hopefully when you go off to write about sex or violence, you’ll find some of these tips helpful. Have your critique partners pay particular attention to these scenes when they read your work. And just keep writing them. Don’t shy away from these scenes because you don’t know how to deal with them. Practice writing; you don’t necessarily have to show it to anyone, but the more you practice, the better. Once you feel comfortable, then write the scene for your manuscript. Look over the scenes after; often, these are the scenes a writer will write, and then not edit/revise. Sure, it might be embarrassing, but if you can’t read it, then why would anyone else? Believe in yourself and your skills as a writer; you never know what you can do until you try.

~~~

Vanessa is an intern at The Rights Factory, a literary agency located in Toronto. She is also enrolled in a publishing program, and is trying to figure out where in the world of publishing she wants to end up in. Currently, she is working on a YA fantasy novel and a Children’s non-fiction series.

In Defense of the ‘Easy Way Out’

24 Mar

by Biljana Likic

~~

Writing has often been described as an insatiable need; the writer has a feeling so immense they feel incomplete until it’s transferred onto paper. That, I’ve been told, is the reason so many people dedicate their lives to writing. It’s like an addiction. And it’s extremely potent; I know quite a few people that would feel like they had no purpose if they couldn’t write.

I think that’s fantastic. As a victim to this need, I can vouch for others that sometimes there’s nothing more satisfying than reaching the point in your story where you finally get to write the scene that sparked it all. Because that’s often how it starts: some part of your piece whinges and whines in your head, wanting out. It could be a whole scene, or it could be a repeated motif, or sometimes just a powerful sentence that you want to see in print. It’s something you feel is so important for others to know, that you’d be genuinely disappointed if you couldn’t tell them.

It’s actually quite poetic.

The problem is, writing, along with other professions like acting, film-making, and even visual artistry, has a bit of a bad rep. It’s becoming the ‘easy way out’. People are becoming actors or writers so they can take a fast road to fame. Stuff is being done quickly and shoddily just for the income. Hardly anybody cares about the art anymore.

That was the argument my friends had the other night, when we, (like all normal teens,) were talking about art and its purposes. More specifically, we were talking about bad art; things you wonder how they were ever made, or who was convinced to shell out that much money. One of my friends has become so disenchanted with Hollywood that she said she wouldn’t care if all the actors were replaced by holograms, because at least that way they’d be of better service to the community; you know, if they were out building houses or fixing broken electricity poles.

I disagreed. Heavily. Can you imagine life without human music? Without real people acting on stage or film? With pictures and drawings that were only computer-generated? Granted, I’m not doing her argument much justice; she was only arguing this for the bad art. But it’s generally only bad if you do it for the money—and sometimes not even.

I do think that some people, writers included, are ridiculously overpaid in what they do. In some parts of the music scene, a few presses of a button is considered a song, and as soon as it’s declared so, the cash starts flowing in provided it’s catchy. George Clooney just has to appear in a movie and it’s a success. But think about it; if the purpose of the art is to entertain, hasn’t that been accomplished? Even when the movie is rip-roaringly bad you can watch it to laugh at it. I’d call that entertainment. So really, even the bad art can be good.

The biggest problem I had with her side was that she was suggesting that all this was the easy road, even when the art is good, just because there’s less studying involved and you don’t have to worry about math, or whatever.

Yes, some people go into showbiz or publishing because they think it’s less work (and they are in for a nasty surprise), and sometimes they’re even convinced that that’s all they could ever do (which I always thought was utter bull; if you know how to put away a file, you know how to be a secretary). That’s when the art can be bad; when there’s no heart in it. Others though do it for the authentic feeling of accomplishment, of the total liberation, however momentary, when one is in the act of reliving and recounting a story through sheer expression of real human emotion. It’s something utterly inexplicable. And not everybody can do it. I will be the first to tell you that. I’ll stand right beside all the teachers and leaders and famous people who try to be friendly and encouraging, saying “Everybody’s an artist,” and tell you that No, not everybody is an artist, because not everybody cares, and not everybody can do it. I’m not trying to be mean, or vicious, or pompous or whatever; I really do believe this. Just the fact that I had that conversation with my friends proved this. I found myself defending Date Movie, for crying out loud, because yeah although that movie is a piece of crap, somebody somewhere found it hilarious, and just because you and I can’t see the merit in it, or have a severe difference in taste, doesn’t mean that we can shoot it down. The quality of art is completely subjective.

So if you want to be a writer, and you write because you need to write, do it. And the next time somebody tells you that your life’s work is pulp fiction, or not deep enough, or won’t do well with critics because it’s only funny and not heart-wrenching and tear-jerking, tell them, very politely, to eff-off.

If you are a writer, if you are an artist, what you do will have merit. Not everybody will like it, but then again people are built for arguments and criticism anyways. Anyone can say, “That book sucks.” Not anyone can write it. You don’t know who it can change, who it can touch, whatever their age, gender, or literary preference may be, because at the end of the day, even the dime-novels are still worth the dime. You might not be out discovering the cure to the latest flu strain, but you will still be improving somebody’s quality of life, no matter how briefly. And that is the purpose of art.

So take that, math and science. We’re needed as much as you are.

I end with a quote from Tom Stoppard’s brilliant play, Arcadia.

“[Don’t] confuse progress with perfectibility. A great poet is always timely. A great philosopher is an urgent need. There’s no rush for Isaac Newton. We were quite happy with Aristotle’s cosmos. Personally, I preferred it. Fifty-five crystal spheres geared to God’s crankshaft is my idea of a satisfying universe. I can’t think of anything more trivial than the speed of light. Quarks, quasars – big bangs, black holes – who gives a shit? How did you people con us out of all that status? All that money? And why are you so pleased with yourselves? [sic] If knowledge isn’t self-knowledge it isn’t doing much, mate. Is the universe expanding? Is it contracting? Is it standing on one leg and singing ‘When Father Painted the Parlour’? Leave me out. I can expand my universe without you. ‘She walks in beauty, like the night of cloudless climes and starry skies, and all that’s best of dark and bright meet in her aspect and her eyes.’ There you are, he wrote it after coming home from a party.”

Try getting a computer to write that.

~~~

Biljana Likic is an aspiring author, currently revising her first novel, TIME IS A FUNNY THING. She’s in her final year of high school, waiting and waiting to graduate, finish university, and finally have all the time in the world to write. You can visit her blog here, and check out her work on her FictionPress account.

BIG NEWS!!!

22 Mar

Okay, so this is pasted from my personal blog, but I just wanted to share the big news with you guys, too!!!

-Sarah

~

So, I’ve been daydreaming about today  for a long, long while.

And by “a long, long while” I mean over eight years.

It’s actually really hard to type right now, mostly because I’m trembling (and maybe crying a little bit), but also because I have no idea how to phrase this other than…

QUEEN OF GLASS WILL BE PUBLISHED BY BLOOMSBURY!

It’s too early to have a release date, but we expect it to be late 2011/early 2012!

I seriously cannot express enough how THRILLED I am right now. Bloomsbury has published so many books that I absolutely adore, and when my agent gave me The Call, I just…well, I’ll show you how I felt.

Yes, show you. Because after I stopped hysterically crying and laughing, I managed to clean myself up and turn on the video camera.

Warning: I’m an emotional person. And I cry in this vlog. A lot. But this was how I felt immediately after receiving The Call. No retakes, no edits. This is just me, literally processing everything.

In case you don’t have time to watch, I just wanted to quickly thank some people–without whom I wouldn’t be here today. (Please bare with me for all of this…I’ve been dreaming of this moment for a while, and might not get a chance to do this again)

To my parents, thank you for reading me fairy-tales, and never telling me that it was unrealistic to believe in them. To my brother, Aaron–thank you for enduring a big sister who often kicked you out of her room to write. To my friends: thank you for understanding that some nights, I couldn’t go out, but forcing me to go with you, anyway.

A massive thank-you to Mandy Hubbard–because the email you sent me in 2008 changed my life, and gave me that push out the door.

And to everyone at FictionPress…There aren’t enough words in the English language for me to properly thank all of you. I said it in my vlog, and I’ll say it again–this moment belongs as much to you as it does to me. You have no idea what your encouragement and support have meant to me. I am eternally grateful, and love you all.

I’ll post later this week with all of the details about what comes next (short answer: lots of work!), but for today…today, I’m just gonna savor this moment a bit longer.

So, here’s to proof that hard work and dedication can pay off. And here’s to the next leg of the journey!

~~~

Sarah J. Maas is the author of several novels, including QUEEN OF GLASS, a YA fantasy retelling of Cinderella that will be published by Bloomsbury in late 2011/early 2012. Sarah resides with her fiancé in Los Angeles. You can visit her blog here.

Question of the Week: Crit Partners

19 Mar

This week’s QOTW comes from Samantha W, who asks, “I’ve been seeing you guys mention critique partners a lot… But this is the first time I’ve actually heard of them. How do you find critique partners? How many should you have? Etc?”

 ~~~

A critique partner (or CP) is simply someone that you share your work with and they give you a critique (not a review). CP’s are usually dedicated to their tasks, and are your friends who are writers or readers. It’s important to find a CP whose opinion and tastes you trust, and who you can speak openly to. An ideal CP will be honest with you about your bad work, and be able to offer suggestions as to what you could improve. My former critique partners have included my friends who like my work, and were able to act as test audiences, but I’ve found that the best CPs are writers themselves. I think you’re allowed to have as many as you like; I know of people who have 2 or more, but I would be careful in recruiting a whole bunch of people to critique your work, because they are doing you a favor and you want to be sure that you have time to appreciate them for what they’re doing for you 🙂

The Writer Waiting to Hear Back From Her Agent About Another Project

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Critique partners are absolutely, totally vital– at any stage. I have an agent and three editors I work with, but NONE of them will see my writing until at least one critique partner has gone through it and I’ve addressed any of their issues. And keep in mind, I’m multi-published so somebody thinks I know what I’m doing. 😉

I found my critique partners in the blogosphere– I’ve been on LJ for a long time and have connected with a lot of writers. You can also find them on message boards like “absolute write” or verlakay.com (if you write YA/MG) or through a professional organization like SCBWI, RWA, SFWA, etc.

Just don’t go too crazy– I know people who will have 5-8 people read their work and that’s just going to paralyze you– you can’t make everyone happy or address every comment. And as a last tip, it should really be a writer– not your BFF or your Mom. Someone honest and unbiased.

The Writer with a Book  Deal Who Recently Became an Agent

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Like others have said in their answers, critique partners are necessary. They really help you understand what your writing is like, things you may not catch yourself.

Critique partners should be comfortable with each other enough that they can really tell you what is wrong with your story or novel. Although there are some critique partners that are asked to critique lightly versus others who are used to really pinpoint what is missing from or wrong with your novel.

You can find critique partners, like Mandy said, online at Verla Kay’s, Absolute Write or even your blogging website. You can also find them in a writing group you may be in. What if you liked what X said about that paragraph in your story? Why not ask them to critique the full thing? See what happens. You never know!

The Writer Working on her Second Novel

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Finding a good critique partner is like finding a good boyfriend. Sometimes harder. But anyways, you need someone that you can trust, first and foremost. Once you’ve found a potential CP using the great resources my LTWF peeps suggested, exchange a bunch of emails, chat online, talk about your projects, etc.–before you send them your material. A lot of writers are afraid of getting a CP out of the fear that someone will steal their work. Stop being afraid. Just use common sense. These days, it’s pretty easy to check out people online–do they have a website/blog? Are they on twitter? Do they have other writer-friends? Is this someone that seems legit? There’s no harm in checking out your would-be CP before you commit.

Be honest with each other from the start. Clearly state your expectations, and come to an agreement about how you would like your feedback to be received. Are you someone who likes your criticism sugar-coated, or do you just want to have your work ripped apart?

You have to embrace the criticism as much as the praise, and if you find your CP’s comments to be upsetting, it’s not THEIR fault. You need to let go of your emotional investment in your work when you receive criticism from your CP. You’re both in this to improve, and that won’t happen if you ONLY want to hear good things about your stuff. It’s not personal. Don’t be afraid of someone finding a gaping plothole in your story, or that your characters are 2D, or some other major thing. Think of it as a lifesaver: how would you feel if you ignored those things, and then queried agents only to have them point out the same stuff?

That’s not to say that you should accept every comment your CP says. Sometimes your CP can be wrong–this is a subjective business in a lot of ways, after all. Let your CP’s criticism sink in over the course of a day or so. Think through the changes they suggest. But remember that your CP can see your work more clearly than you can (without the emotional attachment). But if your gut advises you not to listen to them, then just keep the suggestions in the back of your mind.

 A great way to do before committing is to do a test run.  Agree to swap the first 3 chapters of your stuff. When you exchange feedback, you’ll just KNOW if the person jives with you (much like you KNOW when your significant other is The One). Just remember to be clear on what kind of feedback you want to exchange!

And a final word of advice. Even when you and your CP become friends, don’t let it cloud your criticisms. I know from experience that sometimes you get to a point in your CP relationship when you feel bad telling them that their book needs serious work. But it doesn’t help anyone to hold back your true opinion, and doing so can really deteriorate your CP partnership. While you should be sure to remember that someone’s dreams and hopes are wrapped up in the work, don’t forget that you should be honest.

The Writer Waiting on Submissions

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I’ll be honest here. My first draft was crap–lovable crap. My second, third, fourth, fifth…..tenth, eleventh draft was not in it’s best shape. I thought my story couldn’t get anymore polished. I thought it was perfect. But then came the critique partners. They were mainly writers my age who helped out with grammatical/spelling/phraseology errors. Then a year ago I met a lady in her early thirties through Authonomy.com. She read the seven chapters I had posted up on that site, loved it, and offered to critique it. Since then she has made a whole-world-of-a-difference to me. I could cry at the thought of the crazy number of hours she devoted to my manuscript, The Runaway Courtesan.

The reason why she is SUCH a wonderful CP is because she is honest. She took on the most exhausting task of focusing on the plot/character development. This is how the critiquing went: She sees an inconsistency in my hero’s feelings for the heroine, starting from Chapters 1-9, so she sends me a revision letter with pointers on what stood out to her as being out-of-character. I revised and sent the 9 chapters back to her. She reread it and then read on, editing along the way. Then she reached Chapter 20 and sent an email bluntly saying that she had to suspend her disbelief while reading the climaxing scene that ALL the following ten chapters revolved around. I realized that she was right, that I had been avoiding this truth, because I just DID NOT want to revise anymore. But with her encouragement, after brainstorming with her, I decided to do a big time rewrite. Months later I sent her my rewritten draft. She actually went back to Chapter 1 again to get a better flow of my story. My troubles didn’t end there. My book had tons of other issues to fix. But she continued to work with me, on and on until the day I finally sent my full manuscript to the agent.

So my answer would be: Before searching for a CP whose specialty is in grammar and spelling, you need to find a CP willing to pour hours into focusing on the structure and character development of your story. It is asking for a lot, I know. Which is why I found myself in the position of offering to critique my CP’s work as well. I don’t think I was half so helpful. I found myself pointing out minor issues in an otherwise Charles-Dickens-esque novel.

Ah, and next to honesty, it is soooo important that your CP is utterly IN LOVE with your book. Or they’ll tire of critiquing midway. They have their own lives to live, after all; they probably have their own books to work on too. So yes. Love and Honesty makes an unforgettable critique-partner.

The Writer who Got a Full Request

~~~

There are a number of ways to find a CP. And in many ways, they’re like your editor (and can really help you as a writer become more comfortable with critiques, cuts, changes, etc). I have friends who are writers, and it’s a wonderful thing because I am able to feel comfortable with showing my work to them. But at the same time, they know that they need to be looking at my work not as friends, but as critique partners. And I always ask them to be brutally honest. Sure, I might mope around for a bit, but I’ll know that they have my best interests at heart.
 
A great way is to join a writers group. You’ll be able to find CP’s very easily this way. Writing sites/forums are another great option. Just remember to not freak out when you get a lot of criticisms; take them in stride. And you can always disagree if you REALLY feel strongly about something, and keep it the way it is.
 
You also don’t need to have a lot of critique partners; often, one is enough (although 2 or 3 isn’t that bad either). But don’t have too many, because it will be far too confusing then (and probably too overwhelming).

The Writer Writing Her First Book

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Thanks for your question, Samantha!

Remember, if you want to ask us a Question of the Week, click on QOTW at the top on our links. We mostly answer questions in order, unless there’s something really pressing at hand.

Beginnings: The Myth of ‘Begin with Action’

18 Mar

by Savannah J. Foley

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Recently I read a blog post at WritersDigest.com that discussed the #1 myth of story beginnings: You MUST open with action.

 The point of the article is clear: Action without context is just as worthless as background story without action.

 The key to beginnings is to introduce two things: 1. Characterization. 2. Plot/Theme.

 Notice that nowhere in those first two requirements is ‘action.’ I think that the myth of ‘you must have action’ stems from a misunderstanding between action and plot. If you go with the general advice of ‘you must start with action,’ then shouldn’t every story begin with gunshots, murderous chases, and exploding spaceports? Because most don’t.

 So, let’s discuss what you DO need to start your story with, beginning with Characterization:

 Characterization

 From the beginning, you must immediately answer the voiced or subconscious question in your reader’s mind: Why should I care about this character (or these characters, as it may be)? If I have to follow someone for 100,000 words, I damn well better like them, even if they’re designed to be ‘unlikeable’ (Marvin the Robot, anyone?).

 If your characterization comes through clear and strong on paper then I’ll be naturally drawn to your character and want to stick around to enjoy them and/or see what happens to them.

 Example: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card:

 “I’ve watched through his eyes. I’ve listened through his ears, and I tell you he’s the one. Or at least as close as we’re going to get.”

 “That’s what you said about the brother.”

 “The brother tested out impossible. For other reasons. Nothing to do with his ability.”

 “Same with the sister. And there are doubts about him. He’s too malleable. Too willing to submerge himself in someone else’s will.”

 “Not if the other person is his enemy.”

 So much characterization was conveyed in this short paragraph. Immediately I want to know who it is they’re talking about. I want to meet this character and learn more about him.

 There’s not much action in this beginning; actually, the first chapter is dialogue from unnamed sources (how much more anti-action can you get?), but this beginning is ripe with characterization, and thus it is a good beginning.

 Plot/Theme

 The other way to start a story is through clearly and creatively introducing the plot or theme. I say plot/theme because sometimes you get a plot without a strong theme, or you get a theme without a strong plot, and both are okay.

 As a writer who tends to slide more into the ‘literary fiction’ side of things, I’m particularly fond of the ‘introduce the theme’ beginning. Common examples of these are the dramatic prologue (love love love!) or the artistic description of a single, symbolic object, etc.

 Example: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison:

 (All 3 chapters are excellent examples of Theme introduction, but I’m going to skip the first chapter and head to the second. If you want to know why I skipped the first chapter, you can read the intro to this book here at Amazon)

 Quiet as it’s kept, there were no marigolds in the fall of 1941. We thought, at the time, that it was because Pecola was having her father’s baby that the marigolds did not grow. A little examination and much less melancholy would have proved to us that our seeds were not the only ones that did not sprout; nobody’s did. Not even the gardens fronting the lake showed marigolds that year. But so deeply concerned were we with the health and safe delivery of Pecola’s baby we could think of nothing but our own magic: if we planted the seeds, and said the right words over them, they would blossom, and everything would be all right.

 (This is also the book that contains my favorite phrase of all time: Nuns go by, quiet as lust.)

 By reading the paragraph above you can clearly tell that this is going to be a rich and dark literary novel, full of the human condition and childlike innocence thwarted. All from one paragraph.

 If you’re a theme-lover like myself, this book is pure gold, and it’s obvious right from the first paragraph.

 Action

 So, now that we’ve explored two good examples of beginning with characterization and plot/theme, let’s explore the benefits of alternative to action by looking at bad action.

 The worst thing you can do is open by confusing your readers. If they don’t ‘get it’ within a few paragraphs (yes, paragraphs, not pages!) they’ll put it down and that will be that. Action must have context!

 Now, I was hoping to provide an example of a book that opened with totally confusing action, but books that open like that are not good books, and thus I probably put them down after a few pages and have forgotten them. So, let’s make something up:

 Aidan rolled to his feet and fired off a shot at the advancing Duke, activating his MicroShield just in time to fend off the blastwave from the Duke’s proton-launcher.

 “Balthazar, get me out of here!” He yelled over his shoulder to the Moore fiddling with the rusty engine of the blimp.

 “Aidan, behind you!” screamed Sasha Eskanova, and Aidan ducked as the claws from a leaping panther grazed his ears.

 Aidan karate-chopped the oversized housecat as it morphed into a pack of ninja assassins.

 “Time to go!”

 Cannons roaring in the distance, Aidan, Sasha, and Balthazar leapt aboard the USS Titan’s wake, lifting into the air as the cavalry advanced over the hill, muskets blazing.

 Umm… just what exactly is going on here? There’s too much action and not enough back story, especially with the clashing mix of historical clue-ins.

 Read this next bit very carefully: Action without context is pointless.

 Remember that, and you’ll do fine. 🙂

So, readers, what do you think? Do you know of any books where the author pulled off beginning with action successfully?

~~~

Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Antebellum (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress. She has written five novels, owns her own freelance writing company, and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Antebellum is currently out on submissions. Her website is www.savannahjfoley.com, but she updates more frequently on her livejournal.

Why the Ideal Man is Not Quite So Ideal

17 Mar

Vanessa Di Gregorio
~

For an intern at a literary agency, there is nothing more annoying than opening up a manuscript, thinking it has potential, and seeing the story veer off into something that doesn’t work – and having this something be the same with almost every other single manuscript. And what is this annoying thing that just doesn’t work? Male characters who are attractive.

What do I have against attractive men, you ask? Well… nothing really, I suppose – except when it comes to writing; then, pretty much EVERYTHING is wrong with attractive guys. You see, the majority of partials that I read are YA. The majority of books I read on my spare time are YA. Savannah has mentioned an epidemic; this one that I’ve come across is frightening (and I’m sure you’ve noticed it, too). I’m talking about the Twilight epidemic that is attractive male figures.

Okay, so I will be the first to admit that I enjoyed reading Twilight (except for the last book; more on that another time). But the aftermath of Twilight has led to a genre of YA that is beginning to all look the same: paranormal romance. Now, I like some paranormal romance every now and then. I’m not trying to bash it. What I am going to bash, however, is the constant stream of weak female and/or plain Jane protagonists who meet sexy yet nice males that make me want to gag. I’m talking about the Ideal Man.

Here is what I think is wrong with this picture.

  1. Everyone is doing this. And I mean EVERYONE. It’s like… Harlequin for teens (not bashing Harlequin either, but I think YA paranormal romance shouldn’t ALL be so harlequin-like). And it’s starting to get a bit old.
  2. Why do these guys need to be drop-dead gorgeous? No, seriously. WHY?! Think about this for a second. Does this make them more likeable? Or more talented? Or a better person? Physically, sure… but that isn’t the only reason a girl should end up with a guy. Looks fade (unless you’re a vampire – and I don’t even want to go into the whole cliché vampire thing now). Is it necessary for them to have this inane ability to make females go weak in the knees, or salivate upon looking into their eyes? No (unless they are evil and attempting to brainwash your protagonist with lust in order to rule the world… or something). It really isn’t necessary to mention their drop-dead good looks if they aren’t causing women to actually drop dead.
  3. Chances are, that uber hot guy with the dreamy green eyes is pretty 2-dimensional as a character. Gorgeous AND sweet? Uh… Idealistic much? Okay, so maybe there are gorgeous guys out there who aren’t pricks. But chances are they aren’t perfect. They aren’t eco-friendly AND smart AND nice AND super sexy AND good cooks AND in love with the average-looking female protagonist. They need to have flaws. Every character needs to have flaws. ESPECIALLY the good-looking ones. It’s the only way to make them complex and INTERESTING.
  4. And if they aren’t nice? Well, why do I need to know that he’s attractive? If you’re writing realistic/urban YA set in high school, then go nuts – that’s what high school is: staring at and comparing hot guys. But if you’re writing sci-fi or fantasy or whatnot, then why do I need to know how super good-looking he is? Answer: I DON’T. Really. I don’t mind physical descriptions (as long as they aren’t mentioning his “muscular arms” as he leans over a counter). If I need to know that he’s muscular (ie. he is a trained fighter, or it makes him intimidating or something), then fine. That makes sense. If you’re writing Harlequin, then fine. But otherwise, let’s calm down with the obvious “sexy” descriptions. It can make your writing a bit tacky.
  5. Did I mention just how boring perfect guys are? YAWN.

I mean, isn’t personality SO much more important anyways? Sure, let us know that he’s blonde with blue eyes and that he has a slight build – fine. But don’t then say that, “she tried not to notice his attractiveness” or, “she was at a loss for words – he was gorgeous”, or something equally as ridiculous. COME ON. Seriously? I DON’T CARE. In fact, 9/10 times I’ve come across a super gorgeous guy who leaves the female protagonist speechless or whatever, I’ve been turned off and end up saying that I think it needs a rewrite before it is resubmitted (the one exception was because there was a good reason for his attractiveness – it added to the plot). The whole “ideal guy” is getting very old, very fast. And is too cliché. If there isn’t a reason plot-wise to mention how attractive he is, then don’t. I’m sure by the end, if he ends up being the romantic love interest, we’ll all think he’s gorgeous. We just don’t need you spelling it out for us. We’re not dumb. We get it.

So the “Ideal Sexy Male” is not always so ideal. It will probably make your story a lot weaker than it is, and will make your characters a lot weaker than they are. And not just your sexy male character; your female protagonist will also be a much weaker character if all she notices the first time she meets said gorgeous boy is his attractiveness. There needs to be SOMETHING other than his abs or his eyes.

So I want everyone to do me a huge favor, and just stop with the attractive guys already. I don’t need to know, and your readers don’t need to know. Your work will be so much better without him.

~~~

Vanessa is an intern at The Rights Factory, a literary agency located in Toronto. She is also taking courses in a publishing program, and is trying to figure out where in the world of publishing she wants to end up in. Currently, she is working on a YA fantasy novel and a Children’s non-fiction series.