Archive by Author

NaNoWriMo Advice: Your Work Doesn’t Suck…That Badly.

2 Nov

by

Vahini Naidoo

~~~

Since NaNoWriMo has just begun, I thought I’d do a post on writing speedily and efficiently without sacrificing quality. It’s not an uncommon sentiment on agents’ blogs that NaNoWriMo is the bane of their existence. The fear (and inevitable horror) of getting inundated with masses of unedited, quickly and poorly written novels, is palpable around this time of the year.

This is probably (definitely) not without reason, since one of the most commonly bandied about ideas when it comes to NaNoWriMo is that first drafts are crap. They don’t matter. You just have to force out the words. You can suck, and that’s okay. It’s okay to suck.

I almost completely agree with this. Suckage is just about the biggest part of writing – but sometimes, I think a healthy dose of egotism goes a long way. You can’t stumble through your draft, obsessing over the fact that you “suck” and then thinking that that’s okay. There’s a distinction there, to me. It’s okay to suck, it’s not okay to be hyper-aware of the fact that you suck.

Why, you may ask? Surely being aware of your general suckitude is a good thing?

In hindsight, I think it definitely is (and you really will have to edit your NaNo novel if you want to get a good final product), but not when you’re writing your first draft. Think about it this way, if you’re delivering a speech and you’re aware you suck at public speaking, you’re going to be super nervous. And if you’re super nervous, your voice is going to quaver, you’re going to stutter and stumble, and get swallowed up in gaping, potholes of pauses.

It’s the same thing when you’re writing. If you’re too self conscious about your suckitude, then your voice will hit the page warbling and off-key. It will ramble all over the place, and fail to seem coherent and consistent. In this case, you have to write with assurance, in order to ensure that your voice, at the very least, is consistent (although half your words may be redundant, your characters may make zero sense, and that subplot about the goldfish swimming about it’s bowl may not be the most scintillating…).

Writing like this, with poise and aplomb, as if you know what you’re doing even when you don’t (especially when you don’t), is the kind of attitude that gets you through a month like NaNoWriMo. So be aware of the fact that you suck, but don’t internalize it to the point where it affects your progress. Instead, push it to the back of your mind, and write with assurance.

And onwards and upwards with your word counts!

~~~

Vahini Naidoo is  a YA author and University student from Sydney, Australia. Her debut novel FALL TO PIECES, en edgy psychological thriller, will be released by Marshall Cavendish in Fall, 2012. She’s represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. You can read more about Vahini on her blog.

Advertisements

How Should We Handle Racially ‘Diverse’ Characters in YA?

24 Oct

There’s a question mark in the title of this blog post, because I’m actually not 100% sure where I stand on this issue. Hopefully I’ll have worked it out by the time I’ve finished writing this post. Hopefully.

So, diverse characters. There’s a definite push for more diverse characters in YA, lately, but given the controversies like the whitewashing of the covers of Justine Larbalestier’s Liar and Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix, it’s obvious that we’ve still got a long way to go. Of course, the need for diversity isn’t limited to race – we still need greater representation of the LGBT community in YA, for instance, and maybe even of boys – but for the purposes of this post, this is the area of diversity I’m discussing.

Lately, I think the issue with diversity hasn’t so much been the presence of it – Ari over at Reading in Color has so many fantastic recommendations – but the visibility of it and, more interestingly to me (since I’m clueless about how marketing works) the type of stories we need to tell featuring racially diverse characters. I feel as if there’s a bit of a schism in the YA community, especially amongst authors, over this. There are people who think that we need to tell stories the actively deal with issues of race, because they are still present and pressing in the lives of many teens today. And there are others who think that we need to have non-white characters whose racial background is simply another character trait.

I fall more into the latter camp than the former, but I don’t find either of these positions particularly satisfying. There’s a grain of truth in the first – yes, many teens today still face identity issues, or racial discrimination – but I find it an oddly reductive position to take. Can we truly, in good conscience, continually write characters whose every conflict, whose entire lives it often seems, are defined solely by racial politics? Surely not – for most of us (or for me anyway, I shouldn’t presume for others) – our social worlds are diverse and multicultural. Race is a thing – sometimes a big thing – that exists, yes, but it isn’t something that defines most individuals’ universes.

Still, I hesitate to embrace the second position, either. It frequently stems from, I think, from some misguided notion that, “My friend is Latina/Chinese/Indian/whatever and no one in my social circle cares! No one around me/where I live is at all racist, so race shouldn’t be a factor at all in my character’s life. It’s as irrelevant as the colour of his/her hair!” or sometimes, even more compellingly, “But I’m Latina/Chinese/Indian/whatever and no one in my social circle cares! My race hasn’t played a big role in my life at all!”. Ultimately, I don’t find these claims very convincing, because issues of race manifest themselves in several spheres of our lives so insidiously and often without our knowledge or permission.

Whether it is known to them or not – and it’s perfectly possible that it’s not known to them – most people have probably been affected by their racial background. If you want specific instances of these insidious manifestations of racial privilege and power, there was this really cool woman, Peggy MacIntosh, who drew up a list of privileges that she, as a white woman, possessed:

“I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.
I can swear, or dress in second-hand clothes, or not answer letters without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty or illiteracy of my race.
I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.”

I speak here as a writer, and as a reader, when I say that representations of racially diverse characters that do not include race as a facet (a facet, that is all, not a totality) of a character’s life and not simply a physical trait, will seem to carry a ring of untruth about them (unless they’re set in fantasy worlds, where race is irrelevant, or in future utopias/dystopias/whatever). And I think it’s really exciting that books that promise to do this are starting to emerge – for instance Sarwat Chadda’s Ash Mistry Chronicles – to let non-white people star in Harry Potter-style stories, rather than just narratives dealing with racial issues.

Oddly enough, and this is something that is never really mentioned in posts about race, I would also really like to see characters of white backgrounds also have race included as a facet, an important facet, of who they are. Whiteness is so often and harmfully rendered invisible, creating an impression that it is normative, the standard. White people are people. Other people are their racial group label.

This centrality of whiteness, or the privileges that come with it, are never examined in fiction –an author with some sleight of hand could demonstrate awareness of the issues even if their characters remained ignorant of them (and there is no real reason why all characters must remain ignorant of them). I think that as long as we champion the ‘differences’ of other races, while seeing whiteness as invisible (and therefore normative), we’re going to continue entrenching the ‘otherness’ of non-white people. It’s this mentality that has probably led to several readers automatically visualizing characters as white, or to the rampant exoticism in ‘multicultural fiction’ – I, for one, do not enjoy reading pages upon pages of description of the awesome spices used to flavor the awesome foods.

Ultimately, what I’m tentatively suggesting is that the way we should handle racially ‘diverse’ characters (and I’m including whiteness as a part of that diversity), is by incorporating race as a facet of their lives, but not the totality.
But guys, to be honest, my opinions on this still aren’t concrete. I’m open – and really interested! – in hearing other people’s thoughts, and continuing to inform my own. So how should we handle racially ‘diverse’ characters in YA?

~~~

Vahini Naidoo is  a YA author and University student from Sydney, Australia. Her debut novel FALL TO PIECES, en edgy psychological thriller, will be released by Marshall Cavendish in Fall, 2012. She’s represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. You can read more about Vahini on her blog.

The Importance of Writing Unrealistically

5 Oct

Books are frequently lambasted for their failure to adhere to a realistic world view. Chances are you’ve seen a review that faults a book for just this, and it seems a valid point of criticism when the book is contemporary fiction, grounded firmly in our world. Things get slightly more confusing when the book is fantasy, or science fiction, or dystopian. Surely, you think, in a world full of werewolves who practice necromancy, realism is not of the utmost importance?

Well, it is and it isn’t.

I think often when people use the term “unrealistic” in this sense, what they really mean is “illogical” and of course, no matter what you’re reading a firm sense of logic needs to underpin the story. Or, if it’s magical realism, a shifting sense of logic that leaves the reader breathless and dazed, but not entirely confused. Sometimes, though, people really do mean, “unrealistic” and I think that’s indicative of the value we place on handling subject matter ‘realistically’.

I think this value is misplaced. There is no reason why we should have to adhere to the laws of reality while writing fiction. If, say, we set a story in London or San Francisco does our writing have to incorporate every single detail of those cities? Can we only work with what those cities have, or can we add our own elements? I would say no to the first question and yes to the second.

Only conventional realist wisdom keeps us bound to maintaining the ‘realism’ of the setting we choose – because none of the settings described in our stories are actually real. They’re a part of our storyworld. We’re using them to enhance something about our story. Sometimes, that can indeed be achieved through the sheer, realistic depiction of a place.

But, on occasion, we’re trying to do more than just sketch a place vividly. Sometimes, we resort to unrealistic language because we’re trying to personify a place. For instance in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things the months in Ayemenem are described as being “brooding” the “nights…are suffused with sloth and sullen expectation”.

Other times, we resort to unrealistic representations because we’re trying to stir up a certain emotion in the reader, by using a very particular aesthetic. It’s not my favourite technique, but the Romantic movement was famous for its use of pathetic fallacy – the mirroring of a character’s emotions in the weather. So yes, a story could be set in London during Winter, but if a character’s happy – you bet a ray of sunlight is dancing about there somewhere. Is this unrealistic? Yes. Is it bad? I don’t think so.

Fiction doesn’t aim to present the real, although some fiction does aim to present an alternate reality, in which the reader may puzzle through the problems that confound them in daily life. Fiction aims to generate emotion, to connect to something in you, through the sheer beauty (I use beauty to encompass a lot here – not just pretty language) of its aesthetic. And that goal is sometimes better served by breaking away from the purely realistic.

I’ve discussed the need to write unrealistically largely through the lens of setting, but I believe that writing unrealistically at times is crucial for the development of other elements of a successful novel, too. It’s all too easy to see why this is the case for plot – our lives don’t move in plot structures, they are not neatly tied up stories.

And while it’s somewhat more difficult to notice on the surface with characterization, it’s clear that some of the most engaging characters, some of the ones we relate to the most, are larger than life (think Chuck Bass, although I’ve only seen the TV show of Gossip Girl), or have traits that would be rare and ‘unrealistic’ given their context (think Elizabeth Bennett).

Writers adhering to reality isn’t what draws readers to fiction – in fact, it’s often our divergences from that reality that make storyworlds, both contemporary and fantasy, so enticing, our characters so engaging, and our plotlines so enthralling.

~~~

Vahini Naidoo is  a YA author and University student from Sydney, Australia. Her debut novel FALL TO PIECES, en edgy psychological thriller, will be released by Marshall Cavendish in Fall, 2012. She’s represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. You can read more about Vahini on her blog.

What do you guys think about writing unrealistically?

Please Lose Sight of Your Plot

28 Sep

I’m not a plot person. I never have been. As a reader plot is, and has been since I was a child, no more than background noise to me. If you’d asked my eleven-year-old self to summarise Harry Potter for you, I’m pretty sure I’d have said, “It’s about a boy wizard,” not, “It’s about an ordinary boy who goes to this awesome magical school and is pitted against the forces of good and evil!”. For me, a character is a story in and of themselves and the sequence of events, no matter how awesome, always plays second fiddle.

As a writer, my inability to be seriously invested in the events of a story has been a bit of a shortcoming. I’ve learned to use the people around me to overcome this issue. Friends occasionally veto ridiculous, plotless story ideas of mine — the one about a boy who really, really wanted to be a tree is a good example of this, or the novel featuring a girl who sat about reading poetry all day. Beta readers and crit partners will tell me if my story wanders all over the place, adhering to no evident structure. Even in the final stages of edits on FALL TO PIECES, my editor’s asking me to cut internal monologue, or needless imagery to move the story along.

In my more recent writing, however, perhaps as a result of going through this processs, I’ve found myself doing the polar opposite: over-emphasizing plot (for me, anyway). I make spreadsheets and timelines of events. I try my best to adhere to a three act structure. This is a good thing, in some ways, because it does keep the story moving along. But plotting (I should say over-plotting) has also proved to have some vampiric tendencies, sucking the lifeblood from my stories and sapping my enjoyment of the craft.

The events that looked so awesome in my timeline are reading as completely flat on the page. The characters are reading like caricatures, whose motivations make little sense. My drafts, sometimes, read like synopses rather than novels. It took me forever to figure out that over-emphasizing plot was doing me no favors. That obsessively plotting really didn’t suit me as a writer, or the stories I was trying to tell.

I don’t think the over-plotting phenomenon is unique to me, either, based upon some of my reading experiences. Often, when I’m reading really thrilling books with plots that speed along, ratcheting up tension in just the perfect way, something will happen, something big, like a character death, and this person will not be grieved, their death will not be reflected upon. Onwards with the plot!

When authors do this (me included) they may be keeping their external plot afloat nicely, but they’re compromising the emotional core of their stories. The ultimate goal of fiction is not to take a reader from Point A to Point B. The ultimate goal of fiction is to create something with an interesting aesthetic, that generates emotion in the reader. When we fail to do that, we are really, truly failing our readers.

It’s a failure that I’ve suffering through these past few months, but have finally moved past. I scrapped the timelines and went back to focusing on meaning and characters. For me, it’s easier to get my words down and then whittle them into a plot shape, than to try and force them into a plot structure. Others work differently — plotters, I envy you your talents.

Nevertheless, for the sake of readerly pleasure I think that every writer has to lose sight of their plot. Not all the time, just now and again. Because I think it’s in those uncalculated moments that readers will truly be able to lose themselves in the story.

What do you guys think about the importance of plot?

~~~

Vahini Naidoo is  a YA author and University student from Sydney, Australia. Her debut novel FALL TO PIECES, en edgy psychological thriller, will be released by Marshall Cavendish in Fall, 2012. She’s represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. You can read more about Vahini on her blog.

Your Characters Should Exist in Time

26 Aug

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of books with characters that have felt ever-so-slightly flat. On the surface it seems as if these characters have been constructed perfectly — they have likes and dislikes, flaws and strengths. My poor brain has been working overtime trying to figure out what’s wrong, what crucial element has been missing in these characters.

I think I’ve finally figured it out. The missing element, the thing that’s holding these characters back from truly popping on the page? Time. These characters were defined purely through their relationships to the things around them. They seemed to have near non-existent histories and were unaware that such a thing as the future existed.

I think one of the easiest traps to fall into with characterization, especially of protagonists, is to view their identity through a purely material lens. “Oh,” the clever author says, “he/she is intelligent, and must therefore own a lot of books about quantum physics!” I actually think that this kind of material characterization is okay, and in fact really good in most cases. It’s active, it involves the character doing something. Namely, reading books about quantum physics.

Characters who have material interests in the present are not necessarily bad or poorly developed. On the other hand, if the material crutch that an author leans on is, say, the kind of clothes or make up the character chooses to wear — I get a little bit more leery.

If clothing, and buying clothing is a big part of the story then that’s a-okay. It’s exactly like the earlier quantum physics example — it involves the protagonist doing something. But. If clothing is simply used as lazy characterization — a way to slot the character into a certain archetypal mold — then as a reader? I get annoyed.

To be clear, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t describe your characters’ clothing. It can add to characterization, can set up that initial archetype — I think for instance, Harry Potter’s skinny frame along with the baggy t-shirts and sellotaped glasses was a good initial character set up. What I am saying is that this shouldn’t be where your characterization ENDS.

I’m saying that you need to move beyond the material.

It’s hard to stop defining your character by the things that they possess, and to start defining them by the things that they do. It’s even harder to get beyond the things that they do, and hit at who they truly are. When asked, “Who is that woman?” A standard answer in our society would be, “Oh, that’s Nancy. She’s a nurse”. The conflation between what we do — job wise especially — and who we are is there on a lot of levels.

And of course, what we do does feed into who we are.

But I think there is a certain fabric beneath that exterior, a fabric of self that is defined in time rather than in things-done or things-owned. A character is not just the sum of all their parts. They’re the sum of all their parts, and all the parts they used to have but are no longer in their possession.

Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. Say a character is presently a very, very confident person. Perhaps over confident. But when they were younger, they were a shy, self-conscious, overweight boy. That element of their past will be taken with them through their life.

It’s the same for less defining moments. Childhood trips, lame inside jokes with friends, ways of texting or speaking that seem so embarrassing to you when you’re older, modes of thinking that you outgrow. Sometimes, it’s the most insignificant things that stick with people, lingering ‘ghost’ parts of their sum.

So you need to weave your character’s past not necessarily into the story, but into your character, into the way that they approach and respond to their world.

And it’s the same with the future. The character needs to have some kind of expectation for the future — it doesn’t need to be a complex plan of any kind, it can just be a feeling “bleak” or “happy” or “bittersweet” or “messy”. Or it can be more specific like “wedded bliss” or “career security” or “ten kids” or “first woman on Saturn”.

Humans are decoders. We’re constantly trying to work this life out, constantly making both minor and major plans — not having a character be aware that there *is* a future would seem odd, to me. Let your character guess at the future, as if trying to predict an upcoming plot twist in a novel. Let what they see or predict influence them, whether for good or ill.

This doesn’t mean that your characters need to spend a lot of time obsessing about their past, present and future and how all three relate to each other. Good, rounded characters seem to display awareness of this dynamic very naturally.

For instance, in the last book I read, Hannah Moskowitz’s Invincible Summer, the main character’s story story is structured around four summers. You don’t see the time that passes between those summers, but that time bumps over into Chase, the protagonist. The pull of the past on him– those idyllic summers from when he was younger — and his absolute terror of a future  and where it will take him, and his falling-apart family, adds a lot of weight to his characterization. For me, more so than if he’d been given a whole slew of hobbies.

So, this is a post to say that our characters are dynamic beings who exist in time, who are constantly changing. I think that acknowledging this dynamic is one of the keys to creating a well-rounded, compelling character.

What do you guys think? Is time an important element of characterisation? If so,  how do you incorporate it into your stories?

~~~

Vahini Naidoo is  a YA author and University student from Sydney, Australia. Her debut novel FALL TO PIECES, en edgy psychological thriller, will be released by Marshall Cavendish in Fall, 2012. She’s represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. You can read more about Vahini on her blog.

Preaching in YA

9 Jun

When you write YA, and you’re at all connected to the online community, you often see people who are new to the genre asking questions like, “Can my main character hold a gun?” “Can my characters have sex?” “Can they drink?” “Can they have drugs?” and “Can my main character swear?”

The more experienced writers cry, “Jesus. Freaking (perhaps something less polite, if they happen to write ‘edgy’ YA ;)). Christ. Have you read any YA? Ever?”

It’s an understandable reaction (I know I react like this sometimes), but I think the people with those questions are less naive/time-wasting than we often think they are. In light of the recent WSJ article (which is horrible, so I’m not even linking to it, and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, resist your google fu. It’s not worth the time. And no, this is not another blogpost about the article), it’s clear that a lot of people believe that the purpose of YA is to teach. To illuminate the right path for the youth of today.

And my question to you guys is, should YA be didactic?

The knee-jerk answer is, of course, NO. We always hear agents and editors and everyone else in the world saying, “No messages. No morals. Don’t preach, tell a good story first and foremost”. But I’ve always taken that to mean, don’t overtly preach. Theme, to me (subtly explored theme, anyway) is a huge part of what makes a book transcendental. REVOLUTION by Jennifer Donnelly (which is awesome. You should read it if you haven’t) wouldn’t have the same flavour without the theme at the heart of it: brutality rules the world, but not necessarily us as individuals.

Beyond this, beyond me thinking that a theme is a truly important thing to have and subtly explore (it’s not like Donnelly is like, “HERE IS MY THEME, TAKE THAT READER,” every two pages), I think that there are contradictory messages even within the writing community on whether or not messages are important. I mean, there are a lot of people who want to see CONSEQUENCES to every. single. action.

They want to see the girl who drinks occasionally have something bad happen to her as a result of that drinking. If the kids have sex, even just once, there MUST be a baby. Or an STI.

If someone takes drugs, it must be made clear, clear, clear that DRUGS ARE BAD. BAD. BAD I TELL YOU. Maybe the character can become an addict and wind up in the gutter and then work their way back to being a ‘normal’ person. If a character speeds, they’re obviously going to be involved in a car crash.

I’ve seen a lot of people, within the community, argue essentially that if we DON’T show these consequences, we’re neglecting our responsibility to our audience. That we’re teaching them bad things, and they’re impressionable, and we shouldn’t do that. And that kind of attitude betrays us, because it shows that no matter what we say, a lot of us think that YA has a didactic purpose.

I disagree (you guessed it, didn’t you? It was like an overly foreshadowed plot point that you could see from chapter one) with this attitude, completely, however. Firstly because, you know, I am a teenager in real life (I know, another shoddily foreshadowed plot point. It’s in my bio and all). And I know other teenagers.

And guess what? Sometimes, we’re irresponsible. Does the kid who speeds always wind up in an accident, or get a ticket, or lose their license? No. Does the kid who drinks always wind up an alcoholic, totally alienating everyone around them, losing everyone’s respect? No. Does the kid who takes drugs wind up an addict, or have a really horrible come down, or something else terrible? No. Does sex (unprotected) always lead to a pregnancy? No.

You know, when people take risks like this? There are rarely BIG EXPLOSIVE consequences. In my opinion, it is not irresponsible to not have consequences for these actions. It’s just being honest. And as a reader, I find it refreshing when the characters can smoke and drink and have nothing too bad come of it the vast majority of the time (Looking For Alaska, The Absolute Value of -1).

I think we need a diverse range of representations of these things. We don’t always have to hammer our readers over the head with the DRUGS ARE BAD message, or the SEX IS BAD message, or the ALCOHOL IS BAD message. We can sometimes, and in certain stories (and I think these stories are so valuable, and have a place, for sure. I write them, sometimes), but it doesn’t pay for this to always be the case, because we just wind up with shelves full of didactic stories that are not true to life.

And we set off bullshit detectors.

And okay, since I’m making a habit of being more confessional in my blogging lately, I’ll admit the other reason I worry about didactic narratives: I don’t know anything. I mean, that’s not true. I know a lot of things about maths (okay, not really…) and literature and art and the way people talk to other people, and what all those facial expressions mean.

But I haven’t figured out the world, and I don’t think I ever will figure out the world — not now, not when I’m a hundred. Oscar Wilde once said, “I am not young enough to know everything” and seriously, when I’m a hundred, I think I will be truly old enough to say that I know shit all.

I don’t write from a place of moral absolutes. I don’t write from a place of knowing and wisdom. I write from a place of uncertainty. I try to write as honestly as I can, and I avoid didactic narratives, because I have nothing to be didactic about. And I give my readers what I can. Instead of offering all the right answers, I offer, I hope, all the right questions.

And isn’t that better? Even for those of us who do know things? Isn’t it better to give our audience questions, and let them think on those questions, rather than to force the answers down their throats? To let them think on those questions, and reach their own conclusions, no matter how vastly different than ours they are?

So those are my thoughts on being didactic in YA. What do you guys think?

~~~

Vahini Naidoo is  a YA author and University student from Sydney Australia. Her currently untitled debut novel, en edgy psychological thriller, will be released by Marshall Cavendish in Fall, 2012. She’s represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. You can read more about Vahini on her blog.

Book Recommendation: I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

18 Apr

Markus Zusak rose to prominence with the success of his lyrical and intensely emotional novel The Book Thief, and obviously, when Zusak shot to fame I was thrilled that a writer I had loved since I was twelve was getting some much deserved attention – but sometimes I feel like his other novels get ignored, when they’re also absolutely stellar.

In particular, I Am the Messenger is amazing, and spoke to my heart. I went back and read this book again, recently, and like The Book Thief, I Am the Messenger has prose that stuns with its vibrancy, humour and emotional depth. In a pitch-perfect voice, Zusak expertly twists together phrases that sit so well in the mouth of his average, slightly lower class suburban protagonist, giving them a zinging beauty. Every single scene is memorable, and there’s a profundity behind the words despite how casual and effortless it all seems.

Here’s a summary of The Messenger, snatched from goodreads:

Meet Ed Kennedy—underage cabdriver, pathetic cardplayer, and useless at romance. He lives in a shack with his coffee-addicted dog, the Doorman, and he’s hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence, until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery. That’s when the first Ace arrives. That’s when Ed becomes the messenger. . . .

Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary), until only one question remains: Who’s behind Ed’s mission?

Winner of the 2003 Children’s Book Council Book of the Year Award in Australia, I Am the Messenger is a cryptic journey filled with laughter, fists, and love.

The plot of  I Am the Messenger is creatively structured, around a set of heroic missions, in which Ed has to deliver certain messages. The book plunges to the depths of human suffering and the heights of redemption, never sugar-coating and never sliding and never sliding into melodrama. Without spoiling too much, we see families cracked wide open by abuse, and the way random acts of kindness can be everything to those experiencing poverty. It’s dark, this book, but funny, too, and at times it slips into an almost surreal quirkiness and self-reflectivity.

I Am the Messenger has one of the best endings I’ve read in YA. It fits perfectly, pushing through the page with resonance, inspiring the reader on to greater heights in their everyday life. You’d never notice it while reading, because the story is so entrancing, so expertly crafted, but this book is social commentary at its finest. Witty, and refreshingly bittersweet, rather than unrelentingly dark and nihilistic.

And now that I’ve raved for a while, I’ll leave you with the first few lines:

The gunman is useless.
I know it.
He knows it.
The whole bank knows it.

How can you resist an opener like that?

~~~

Vahini Naidoo is  a YA author and University student from Sydney Australia. Her currently untitled debut novel, a YA psychological thriller, is scheduled for release from Marshall Cavendish in Fall, 2012. She’s represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. You can visit Vahini over on her blog or twitter.

Word Choice

28 Mar

When you think about it, all writing comes down to word choice. Yes, there’s all of that big picture stuff like characterisation, plot, and setting – but what the reader is able to deduct about these things is a product of the cumulative knowledge that comes from reading several sentences, which are made up of many, many words.

So. If words are our building blocks, we have to ask ourselves: How do we use them to the greatest effect?

The primary aim of a novel is to elicit an emotion in the reader. One of the ways we can keep readers turning the pages, then, is to make the emotion as clear as possible. And one of the best ways to do that? Through the details and words we choose.

So,  let’s say, that we have a protagonist who is Angry in Scene A. This character is walking down a city street, maybe, after a fight with the most important person in their world (whoever that may be).  How does the character take notice of their surroundings?

The character’s angry, so everything they notice right now is probably going to irritate them. If this character were me, I’d be taking special note of annoying people yelling ridiculously inappropriate things into their phones (What?! Carrie has an STD. OMFG!). I might notice that barely anyone is giving money to the homeless guy on the corner of the street (us people, so generous, hey). Someone might accidentally stub their cigarette out on my arm. It’s so wonderful to feel as if you’re an ashtray.

All of these details/things that are happening will paint the world as an ugly, uninviting place at this particular moment (if a character was happy, in the same setting you could focus on the way the city is bursting with life, colour, perhaps some groovy – yes, I did just use that word — music).

But, how do you go beyond just picking the right details? How do you manipulate your actual word choice to reflect and accentuate the emotional lens of your character? If you’re writing in third person, it’s especially important to be able to use word choice to tell your reader about characters’ emotional states. After all, your narrator can’t just come out and say, “I’m so angry, right now” (although this would probably be lazy writing in first person, anyway).

One of the best ways to do it is to focus in on the verbs and adjectives that you’re using. In the scene I mentioned earlier, think about the way the character would view the people around them on the street. Would they be “walking” or “strolling” or “shoving” ? I vote for shoving. Would the people on the mobile phones be “speaking” “talking” “yammering” or “yapping”. I think the latter two are better choices.

Focusing on your adjectives can be really helpful as well. Let’s examine the possible ways we could describe, say, the music floating out of a store. We could use “bad” or we could use “average” or “typical” or “stupid” or “terrible”. Most of those options are okay – “bad” “average” and “typical” don’t have much emotional resonance, though – it just depends on the voice of the character. Still, you don’t want to be describing this music as “soft” or “delicate” or “beautiful”, because that would be counterproductive to trying to convey the character’s angriness.

These are fairly simple things, yet you’d be amazed the number of times I notice point of view characters using words that seem to imply they’re super happy in extremely sad scenes (both in my writing and in others’) and vice a versa. It’s such an easy thing to slip-up on. Looking over word choice, and strengthening where possible, can really notch up the emotional intensity of a manuscript. It can be the difference between flat emotion, and emotion that leaps off the page.

So, how do you guys choose your words?

~~~

Vahini Naidoo is  a YA author and University student from Sydney Australia. Her currently untitled debut novel, en edgy psychological thriller, is scheduled for release from Marshall Cavendish in Fall, 2012. She’s represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. You can visit Vahini over on her blog.

Patience

15 Feb

Patience. As a writer, it’s one of the most important qualities to have. Why? Publishing is often slow. There are some people who get agents and book deals lightning-fast, but for most, it takes a while. You wait for agents to respond to you when you query, you wait while you’re on submission to publishers, you wait for your editorial letter(s), you wait for your book to finally be released.

Writing often seems like it’s a waiting game.

Beyond all this stuff, though, there’s the most important reason why you need patience: Patience allows you to approach your own writing with diligence. It means that you take your time with revisions and don’t rush into querying. It means that you make your story as clean and perfect as you can before you send it out into the world. And that is absolutely invaluable.

To be clear, I’m not saying that you should write slowly. Writing a novel in ten days is as legitimate as writing a novel in a year. I’m simply saying that you should write (or revise, if you’re a messy drafter) as well as you can. That you should do things properly.

Let me bring you anecdotal evidence of why patience is good, by demonstrating why impatience is bad. When I first began looking into getting an agent (fifteen! Stupid! Disaster! That about sums up the experience), I committed the cardinal sin of querying without having a finished manuscript. Miraculously, my query letter (terrible) garnered a request almost immediately. For a full.

I wrote around 40,000 words in eight days or so (yes, this did nearly kill me), and sent off a crappy first draft version of my manuscript. The agent came back saying that my opening was good, and my concept was good, but the middle was like wading into a bog, my ending weak, and my prose unpolished in several spots.

I’m amazed that I got feedback at all, considering the state of that draft. My impatience had cost me, big time. I re-read the material I’d sent out and was super embarrassed that I’d sent something this terrible out. In fact, I’m kind of embarrassed just writing this – I made a lot of query faux pas, but this was definitely the worst. In case you’re wondering, definitely don’t EVER do something like this.

So how do you remain patient, when writing, or revising, when you really just want to get things moving along? When you want to have written, rather than to write?

I think it’s really quite easy: keep yourself motivated and inspired.

Ways to keep inspired vary between individuals, obviously. Personally, I find that music keeps me inspired. I maintain playlists that grow longer and longer as my novels progress, even though there are usually only one or two songs that I play on repeat when I write.

I also find it really helpful to read work that I find completely blow-my-mind amazing. Doing this makes me thoroughly jealous, because even though the novels, poems or short stories I read are usually nothing like my own (it’s time for me to admit that I will never recreate Pride and Prejudice), it’s just so damn good. And I want my work to be that good. I want it to resonate with readers in the way that my favourite books resonate with me. So I funnel all of that writerly jealousy into patiently and diligently crafting my books.

Others like to draw, search for visual inspiration on sites like tumblr, write with friends to keep motivation levels high,  or write poetry about their characters.

Finding a way to be patient with the process of writing and revising is essential. Because when you’re loving every second – well, almost every second, because there are always going to be ups and downs – that you’re writing, you’ll develop your work properly instead of impatiently rushing to type the words, “THE END”.

What are your methods for remaining patient and motivated?

~~~

Vahini Naidoo is  a YA author and University student from Sydney Australia. Her currently untitled debut novel, en edgy psychological thriller, will be released by Marshall Cavendish in Fall, 2012. She’s represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. You can read more about Vahini on her blog.

Woohoo! LTWF is on a roll!

13 Dec

Susan shared some AWESOME news with you guys the other day, and now I’m going to share some of my own…drumroll…my book’s sold!!

Seventeen-year-old Vahini Naidoo’s untitled debut, about a girl trying to come to terms with her best friend’s recent suicide, and to understand what part she and her friends may have played in the event, to Marilyn Brigham at Marshall Cavendish, for publication in Fall 2012, by Ammi-Joan Paquette at Erin Murphy Literary Agency (NA).

You can read more about it over on my blog , where I pretty much happy dance all over the place, and post pictures of cupcakes, and on my agency website.

Do you know what this means?! I’m going to be an Apocalypsie! With Sarah and Susan! Wooohooo!

And now to get to the part of the post where I assume the role of an Oscar winner and begin to thank everyone. I’ll try and keep it short and sweet (the full version is on my blog), but I  must mention that my  agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette, has been amazing. Without her guidance, insight and absolute faith in my work, this would never in a million years have happened.

I also want to say thanks to the lovely LTWF ladies (ahh, too much ‘l’ alliteration!) for all their support. These guys have been so willing to commiserate with me when I’m whining about rejections and revisions and whatever else. Without them, I probably would have gone somewhat crazy during the submission process.  And lastly, to you readers! For all the interesting comments and pearls of wisdom that you guys impart in our comments section. I’m so glad to be a part of such a stellar community 🙂

~~~~

Vahini Naidoo is a seventeen-year-old author from Sydney, Australia. Her currently untitled debut novel, an edgy YA thriller, will be available from Marshall Cavendish in Fall, 2012. She’s represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette at the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.