Archive by Author

Intertextuality

23 Nov

So, a while back Julie had an excellent post on symbolism, and the impact it can have on your manuscript. Symbols and motifs are an excellent way to deepen your manuscript, to enrich it in order to enhance the reading experience. Another great way to do so, in my opinion, is intertextuality.

Intertextuality, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the term – like Microsoft Word, apparently, judging by the squiggly red underline I’m getting – is very basically the referencing of one text within another. None of us write in vacuums– it’s not just us and our laptop, or us and our moleskine journals. We either consciously or subconsciously draw and build upon concepts that have already been handled.

Too many references to past works can spoil things – it can make your work seem clichéd and derivative. But used properly, intertextuality can be an incredibly effective tool to deepen the themes and ideas in your manuscript, or to say something about your characters in a subtle way.  It’s subjective to both your personal preference and the style of the work you’re writing, how much of it you use.

Two great examples of using intertextuality to great effect, are John Green’s Paper Towns and Jandy Neson’s The Sky is Everywhere. In The Sky is Everywhere, Jandy Nelson references several things to underpin her text – the example that flows throughout the novel is Wuthering Heights, but that’s not the example I want to talk about – the purpose is quite obvious, to draw on a literary tradition of intense romances to strengthen the one in The Sky is Everywhere.

The references I do want to talk about crop up after the protagonist has become disillusioned with Wuthering Heights (since it ends rather tragically). She starts trying to list stories where lovers triumph – Love in the Time of Cholera and Jane Eyre, to be specific. These references tell us a few things about Lennie. For one, she’s clutching at straws with her love life, therefore the listing of literature For another, she’s intelligent, and lastly, she’s an optimist because despite being rather down on her luck she’s still seeking out hope.

In John Green’s Paper Towns, the intertextual references are more frequent and in depth. Green frequently quotes Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself. This does a couple of things – as with The Sky is Everywhere it establishes the intelligence of the characters. It also adds a literary edge to the mystery at the heart of the novel. More importantly, references to Song of Myself are used to reinforce Q’s character arc at various points in the novel, and also to emphasis the questions at the heart of the novel — such as whether we can ever completely know an individual other than ourselves.

One way to include intertextuality without negatively affecting the pace, or incorporating it in a clunky way, is to think about what purpose it serves – that is, what you’re trying to highlight. Is it character, theme, or plot? If you can focus your purpose, you should be able to deepen things with more ease.

Another way to be efficient about enhancing your manuscript in this way is understanding your character. Not every character is going to sound authentic referencing Walt Whitman, or Love in the Time of Cholera – some are going to reference Harry Potter, instead, or Shakespeare. Not every character will make these references explicit .

Ultimately, though, the best way to understand how much or little intertextuality you’d like to incorporate is to read widely. How much or little you include is likely to be subjective to you as a writer. So, do you find intertextuality effective? Do you like to use it in your own writing, and if so what are your tips for using it effectively?

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Vahini Naidoo is a seventeen-year-old writer, and  recent high school graduate who will be attending University at an as yet unknown location next year. Her edgy YA novel THE GNOME IS WATCHING is currently on submission to publishers. She’s represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

The Magic of Secrets

11 Oct

A really wise person – I unfortunately can’t remember who – once told me that secrets are at the heart of good fiction. At first, I had no idea what this was supposed to mean. But then I took a look at some of my favourite books and began to realise that the way tension was essentially developed was through the creation of a mystery – a secret – and the eventual revelation of that secret.

What’s absolutely crucial to whether or not the book works? How the author handles the timing of the pay-off, and plants clues so that the discerning reader can piece the secret together. There are a lot of different ways to do this, so I’m just going to use examples from a couple of novels I enjoyed that I think use secrets, or just simply hide information from the reader, really effectively (without spoiling the books too much!), to illustrate this.

So, take for instance Paper Towns by John Green, which is one of my all-time favourite YA novels. In this book the secret revolves around a character, Margo, who’s disappeared. The information that’s kept secret from us as an audience – where’s Waldo? I mean, Margo – is what actually generates the tension in the story. The characters attempt to discover this secret/mystery at the same time as the audience, and that’s a large part of what drives the plot. Green drops clues throughout the novel, and these clues are a perfectly placed reveal or pay off of those secrets, or mysteries, established earlier on.

Granted, Paper Towns is a mystery so it’s obviously going to revolve around some kind of secret or quest. But, I can point to another wonderful contemporary YA novel that does this (not a mystery) Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler, one of the books at the centre of the recently Wesley Scroggins book-banning debacle. The tension in Ockler’s story is driven by a secret as well. The main character, Anna had a relationship with her best friend’s brother, Matt. Except, Matt died before they could tell her best friend about this relationship. So now Anna’s stuck hanging out with her best friend, thinking about her brother, having this huge secret hanging over her.

Ockler’s reveal? Pitch perfect. The secret comes out in the climax. There’s is so much pay off here, because throughout the novel this secret has been eating away at Anna, forcing her into herself, and then bam! it’s out in the open, is having drastic consequences on the dynamic between the girls, but on the up side Anna is finally allowed to grieve.

But it’s not just YA novels that use the magic of secrets and mysteries to generate tension. Jane Austen uses them in a super-effective way in Pride and Prejudice. I think this is best illustrated (and yeah, I’m spoiling this one totally, because I’m just making the assumption that you’ve all read Pride and Prejudice or at least seen the BBC series or movie) by the situation with Wickham and Elizabeth. Wickham seems to reveal a secret – that Darcy was a horrible man, willing to completely disregard the wishes of his father – which fuels the tension for a large part of the story and results in a climactic scene where Darcy proposes, and Elizabeth reveals that she knows his ‘secret’. Then Darcy in epistolary form reveals another secret – that Wickham was a predecessor to politicians ie a really good liar – and that generates a ton of inner conflict and tension for Elizabeth. So really, Austen is brilliant as always and has layered her secrets to maximise tension.

Obviously secrets aren’t all there is to fiction, and you have to add more layers to your story, but next time you’re trying to discover what the heart of your story is (for instance, when you’re trying to come up with a good pitch or query), or  even trying to inject tension into a scene, you may want to ask yourself: What’s the secret?

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Vahini Naidoo is a recent high school graduate from Sydney, Australia. She’s the author of several YA novels, including THE GNOME IS WATCHING, which is currently on submission to publishers. Her work is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette at the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. You can find out more about her over at her blog

Providing Useful Critique

22 Sep

by Vahini Naidoo

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I’m going to be totally honest – when I first started critiquing other people’s work, I was bad at it. In fact, that’s an understatement. I was awful. I’d write stuff like, “This is good. Yeah…I feel pretty unhelpful”.

So, in order to spare anyone else the pain of knowing that they’re not critiquing well, and to spare any writers from critiques like my initial ones, I bring you a sort-of idiot’s guide to critiquing a manuscript.

Anyway, my biggest problem was that I’d regularly stop and ask myself this question: What right do I have to be critiquing so-and-so’s work?

The answer to this question is every right, so long as you’re a reader. Thinking that you don’t have the authority to critique is really counter-productive to providing helpful feedback, because you lose the confidence to truly make not of the mistakes you catch. When a scene is confusing, you assume that it’s your fault, not the writer’s and so on. In other words, you won’t be totally honest with the author because you’re limiting yourself.

And the first step towards critiquing a manuscript is a willingness and ability to be straight-up with the writer about what you think. Even if you don’t feel particularly qualified – and you are! – you have to deliver your critique with clarity and honesty .

My other problem? I never really tried to accommodate the writer’s needs.

My awesome fellow contributor, Kat, wrote a post on Monday about critique partner relationships. She mentioned that all of them are different.

My mistake was not recognising this, and just diving straight into reading a manuscript. Instead, I should have been asking the author what they were specifically looking to fix with this revision, or whether there was anything that they were worried about, or felt wasn’t quite working.

Often, people are quite specific. They’ll tell you that an agent told them that their prose isn’t quite shining, even though their premise is great – and that means you focus on the nitty gritty little stuff. Or they’ll tell you that they’re worried that their character arc isn’t coming full circle, or something, and you’ll know to focus on that.

It can be really helpful to dive into critiquing a manuscript and have some clear direction. So, if you can get that out of the author, that would be step number two.

But what if the author says something like, “Just looking for general stuff” or “Not really sure” or, worse still, “Everything”? Then what, huh?

You stare at your computer screen and burst into tears, obviously. Just kidding 🙂

If the writer doesn’t give you direction you have to follow through with the third step in any case. That is, you have to read the manuscript – I know, I know, I’m a genius.

It’s important to know, at this stage, to know what kind of critique you like to give. Do you like line by lines? Or do you like to make more general comments? I’ve found that if I try to give detailed line comments on more than a chapter, I often find myself unable to get through the manuscript. This is because I’m incredibly nitpicky, and detail-oriented and will often write 6000 words worth of comments on 3000 words.

I’m pretty sure that this kind of over-critiquing is not helpful to either the author, or the never-ending piles of homework lying in wait for me.

So that’s me, I don’t give line by line critiques, although you might. I focus on the macro stuff, and I tend to think that even if you do focus on the micro and give a line crit, you need to give the writer a sense of how the manuscript stacks up overall for the critique to be truly useful. After all, someone can have seriously awesome prose and be completely unable to plot.

One of the mistakes I often made when giving this overall critique to a writer, was not being thorough enough – I’d just forget to talk about entire aspects of a manuscript. For instance I’d say something about the characterisation, but the plot would totally slip my mind.

 In order to be more thorough, you should probably carefully think through the big elements of a novel. That is, character, plot, setting, and depending on the manuscript, theme. Thinking through those elements, and really asking yourself whether there was anywhere it could have been improved allows you to spot more potential areas for improvement.

Final tip? Sometimes you need to think about things for a while. I finished a mind blowing manuscript two weeks ago, and initially I couldn’t think of anything to say. The author was firing on all cylinders – she had characterisation, a great plot, a wonderful voice and prose that was both beautiful and evocative.

But I gave it a week, and reconsidered the manuscript. Then I sat down and wrote her a two page critique – the manuscript is still mind blowing, and is probably already publishable, but there were areas there that could be improved upon. I just needed time to see them.

Lastly, so that you can all SEE for yourselves that different readers work in different ways, and also get some shining examples of how to give good critiques, check out THE BETA PROJECT. It’s a blogosphere experiment where six blogging writers critique one brave author’s first page, and post it so that everyone can get a handle on different critiquing styles. Check out the critiques from  Cory , Kate, Meredith, Sarah, Windy and Raven.

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Vahini Naidoo is a high schooler who eats instant noodles like she’s already in college. She writes contemporary YA novels and is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette at the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. You can find her over at her blog.

Introducing the Newest LTWF Contributor, Vee

6 Sep

                                                    

Hey everyone!

I’m super excited to be here! Hopefully I can contribute something worthwhile to this already wonderful community.

My name is Vahini Naidoo, but everyone calls me Vee. I’m seventeen years old and I’m from Sydney, Australia. I’m currently in my final year of high school – only a month to go till graduation, woot! – and after that I plan to pursue something at University, hopefully somewhat writing related. My ultimate goal for life beyond University is to live in a castle. I also have some plans for world domination. Standard stuff, you know.

I’ve been writing since forever. I think I wrote my first novel at ten, and I wrote really weird songs about the correlation between Wingdings and the meaning of life for my never-got-off-the-ground band when I was thirteen. However, I’ve only been writing seriously for the past two years after being kick started by the brilliant thing that is NaNoWriMo (anyone out there doing it this year?). At first, I posted my unrevised NaNo attempts on Fictionpress without any intent of getting them published, however as time went on I found that I wanted to seek publication.

I queried for a long time before receiving three offers of representation this April. I decided to sign with my awesomesauce agent Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Two of my books – THE COLORS OF SKY, a contemporary YA about one girl’s mission to find Heaven on Earth and THE GNOME IS WATCHING, about a girl who repeatedly re-enacts her best friend’s suicide in order to find out why her friend did it, with tragic results (and yes there actually is a garden gnome in it!) – are on submission to editors. I’m currently working on an untitled manuscript about locker wars and etch-a-sketch mysteries, which is pretty fun.

I look forward to contributing to the blog and getting to know you readers!

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Vahini Naidoo is a high schooler who eats instant noodles like she’s already in college. She writes contemporary YA novels and is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette at the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. You can find her over at her blog.