Archive by Author

Summer Posting Schedule

5 Jul

Just like the rest of publishing switches to a summer schedule, LTWF is reducing its posts for July and August. We’ll be posting MWF for the next two months, and there will be a number of guest posts from various authors and industry people…Enjoy the summer sun! 😀

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The Importance of Focus

21 Jun

by Kat Zhang

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Hi guys! Wow, it feels like it’s been forever since I’ve done a real post here! I’ve missed you guys 🙂 ❤

I’d like to start this post off by showing you two pictures. First, this one:

Not exactly a great picture, right? In fact, you could say it was downright bad. The lighting is awkward. The focus is all wrong. You’re not quick sure what you’re supposed to be looking at, and nothing looks particularly good.

Now let’s look at this picture:

Now, I’m not saying it’s award winning or anything, but it’s a whole lot better, right? The flower in the foreground is clearly the subject. It’s clear and properly lighted, while the background is blurred slightly, giving the viewer the idea of something being there, but nothing too distracting.

The above two pictures are of the exact same flower, and all that changed to make one picture rather terrible and the other pretty good was the focus (I’m not really talking in concrete photography terms here, so I’m including lighting in there).

The same goes for writing. A scene can pop so much more if you adjust your “lens” correctly and take the perfect shot. The subject itself doesn’t have to change. At the heart, it’s the same scene. But you draw out different elements and present them to the reader while keeping the rest in the background, just like how the second photograph drew the closer flower into focus while blurring the ones behind it.

Let’s start with an easy example. Say you’re writing a fight scene. Focus is especially important in action scenes because you want your prose to move quickly. You need to get the sense of tension and motion and adrenaline to your readers. Every line of description slows this action down. Remember that. But you can’t just turn the fight into: “Jim hit Drake and Drake slugged him back. Jim fell down. Drake jumped on top of him.” That’s boring, and your characters are floating in a vacuum. You do need a certain amount of background. The second picture doesn’t have a blank canvas behind the flower, it has a blurred scene. Paint a background in broad strokes, but keep the details tied to the action.

This isn’t only important, however, in action scenes. Any scene can be weighed down by a scattered focus, by too much description of unimportant things. Yes, it’s very important to situate your readers, to make sure your characters aren’t floating in a vacuum, but always keep in mind: 1) what are my characters paying attention to? This is especially important in 1st person and close 3rd. If your character is in mortal danger, she is most likely not going to be going into great lengths detailing her attacker’s fashion. 2) what do you want your reader to be paying attention to? Often, 1 and 2 are the same. But sometimes it’s not, especially if you’re trying to drop clues for the reader about something that the main character doesn’t know yet.

If you’re itching to describe something that neither falls under 1 or 2, that’s fine. But consider the length. Remember, every line is slowing down the action, the forward momentum. Sometimes you want to slow down the momentum. Other times, you need things to be going along as quickly as possible, and that is when you really need to start paying attention to focus.

Pictures above were taken by yours truly at the Botanic Garden in Madrid.

~~~

Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She is represented by Emmanuelle Morgen and her book HYBRID (currently undergoing a title change) is about a girl with two souls. It recently sold in a three-book deal to HarperTeen. You can read more about her writing process, travels, and books at her blog.

Perspective and Wonder

18 May

by Kat Zhang

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If you’re a visiter to my personal blog, you probably know that I left for Madrid, Spain yesterday and arrived this morning 🙂 Can’t say I’ve done much yet, but just walking around the city, it seems wonderful. And the weather’s fantastic. But you’ll have to go to my blog if you want travel posts; here on LTWF, it’s all about the writing and the story-telling (weeellll, not entirely true, lol). So what does my trip to Spain have to do with writing? Especially since I’ve barely gotten off the plane?

This: 

And this: 

And this: 

Yes, I have a bit of an obsession with photographing scenes outside plane windows. But it’s not just about looking at a pretty cloud or the way the sunrise looks from 4300 meters. It’s about a different perspective. It’s about wonder.

Perspective and wonder. Those are two very important things for a writer, I think–the ability to see something in many different ways, to look at something not just from your own perspective, but from someone else’s. To look at the cloud bank not as a 21st century girl who has been zipping around in planes since she was three, who should really be long jaded by the scene outside a plane window, but as a 14th century worker who can only dream of seeing what clouds look like from above, or as some nymph of the skies, who has seen nothing else her entire life–who sees this as home.

Well, I’m off to read my orientation packet and try to at least get a vague sense of the metro layout before I need to meet up with the other people tonight 🙂 I can’t wait to really explore the city: its museums, parks, shops, restaurants…

Perspective and wonder, right? :]

~~~

Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She is represented by Emmanuelle Morgen and her book HYBRID–about a girl with two souls–recently sold to Harper Children’s. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.

Revisions Live Chat!

12 May

Hey guys! Remember, the chat is at 9pm Eastern Time, today. Or well, “today” here anyway… It’ll last about 2 hours, if the past chats are anything to go by, so drop by if you’re late, but we’d love to have a good group at 9, too! 😀

Click Here to Enter Chat!

Film and the Written Word

10 May

I love film.

Yeah, okay, that might seem like an odd thing to say on a blog pretty much dedicated to writing and novels and such, but it’s true. I adore film. I’m nuts about costuming and lighting and how they build sets. I could spend days analyzing the color schemes they use for the characters’ clothes and the meaning of every facial expression the actors portray.

I love the technical side of film-making, so it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that I’m really into watching commentaries, especially director commentaries. I like to hear what they’d meant for every scene. Why did they choose that particular angle? Why that kind of lighting?

If you know me at all, you probably know that I’m a bit of an enormous Firefly fan (TV show by Joss Whedon, for the uninitiated). I’m actually in the middle of watching his commentary with Nathan Fillion (actor who plays the hero of the show) about the show’s pilot. Yes, I paused the video to type this article up. What can I say? When I get the urge to write something, all else must stop.

There’s so much I’ve learned about writing from film. Some of it, yes, does come from reading film scripts. But a lot of it comes from commentaries like this. It’s a beautiful thing to hear someone break down their story for you, and I wish authors had the same opportunity. Am I the only one who would pay to read some kind of “author commentary”? Maybe a book that had the regular story text but had author’s notes stuck in in a different color or in footnotes or whatever? I think that would be amazing.

In the mean time, though, I guess I’ll stick with director commentaries.

One thing I’ve learned is the physicality of a character. I’m a great lover of dialogue. It’s something I put a lot of focus on—a book or TV show or movie with unrealistic dialogue will turn me off like nothing else.

I admit, though, that my focus on dialogue sometimes leaves me with characters who say too much but forget to express themselves through their actions. I’m not talking about big actions, like showing a guy is brave by having him lead the assault or whatever. I’m talking about little things, like a touch on the hand or a shifting of the weight or a hug between two characters when one simply goes limp.

But if TV shows and movies have taught me anything, it’s the art of saying as much as you can with as little as you can. Every look is loaded. Every movement counts. If it’s not important, it’s left on the cutting room floor.

In general, good books are the same way. In my revisions, I muddle around, moaning and groaning about the little details. But then I watch a well put together movie and all of a sudden, I remember the big picture. Wasteful dialogue? Gone. Cute but meaningless scene? Cut.

I think it was actually Joss Whedon who once mourned the cutting of some scenes from his movie, Serenity, but in the end said that they had to be sacrificed to that all-powerful god of story-telling: Momentum.

That really hit a cord with me. I’d been struggling with the pacing in HYBRID for a while, and this really helped me figure things out. It also helped me figure out what was “wrong” with many of the stories I’ve read but put down or not enjoyed.

A story needs momentum. Things must move ever forward. Yes, the reader/audience needs time to breathe and reflect, but things can never grow stagnant.

That is the most important thing. Of course, a story that’s all plot momentum and no character interaction or emotional attachment, etc, doesn’t tend to do well (though I’m sure we can all think of a story or two that is exactly that and still manages to do just fine in the eyes of some…)

As always, it’s a balance. Writing, I’m coming to learn, is an everlasting struggle between saying too much and saying too little. One is as bad as the other, but if you manage to hit that perfect spot…

Well, you get something rather magical.

I’m off to watch the rest of this commentary, then. Then maybe I’ll try to get in a little revising. Gotta keep searching for that sweet spot :]

~~~

Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She is represented by Emmanuelle Morgen and her book HYBRID–about a girl with two souls–recently sold to Harper Children’s. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.

QOTW: Emotional Scenes

6 May

This week’s question is from Nicole, who asks:

How do you write deep emotional characters and events using the show and not tell method.?

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To write anything in a SHOW method instead of a TELL, you’ve gotta first understand the difference.  Compare:

“Why did you do that?” I yelled as we stood in the kitchen. I was furious he had cheated on me.

to:

“Why did you do that?” My words came out screechy and filled the entire space of our tiny kitchen.  Howdare the bastard cheat on me–how dare he!  I clasped my hands to my chest because if I didn’t, I knew I’d slap him.  Oh man, how I wanted to slap him.

Notice a difference between the two?  Which one pulls you into the character’s feelings more?  Telling involves summary–condensing all the feelings and thoughts and actions into a few words.  Showing, on the other hand, involves sharing specific feelings, describing sensory details, and pulling the reader directly into the scene.

Another example:

Carrie was determined to find her brother, Mark, in the wharf riots.  She had to see tell him their mother was dying.  But the riots were against people like here, so she would have to be brave.

VERSUS

Carrie knew she had to tell her brother, Mark.  She couldn’t let Mother pass away without him there to say goodbye. But she also knew the only way find him was to go straight into the riots at the wharf–the riots protesting people like her.  The riots that had already killed fourteen members of her clan.

But she had to do it.

So with her jaw set and her chin tipped high, she marched from her mother’s sickbed and to the front door.

Of course, showing doesn’t always have to be longer (i.e. more words) than telling.  Here’s one more example:

In my bedroom, I typed quickly.  It was raining outside.

VERSUS

The rain hit my bedroom window, a staccato descant to my furious typing.

Another thing to remember: sometimes you want to tell. Sometimes telling carries more weight or is more appropriate–it’s up to you to decide when. 🙂

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Sooz is pretty much a genius and took the words right out of my mouth. Listen to her.

(yes, that’s my answer)
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Susan gave an amazing answer! There’s just one small thing I want to add… some of my favorite moments in books is when we come to a realization of truth where the MC realizes that a character they trusted has a dark secret, or had betrayed them in the past. In those moments, the author never has to tell us the significance of this revelation; we already know, because we’re familiar with the relationship and story surrounding these characters.

That’s something to keep in mind; when your characters are reacting during the climax of the plot, you don’t have to re-explain why the MC is upset, you can just show their reactions, which mirror the reader’s.

~~~

The only tiny thing I could think of to add to Susan’s brilliant answer is an example of when you might want to tell instead of showing.  The best example I could come up with of that situation would be in THE HUNGER GAMES when Katniss feels like crying but fights to hide her emotions. In a case like that, if the writer doesn’t tell us what Katniss is feeling, we as readers have no way of knowing the conflict between her thoughts and her actions.
 Other than that example, I cannot add a thing to Susan’s great explanation.  Great answer, Sooz!

~~~

How do you tackle showing, not telling, emotional scenes?

LIVECHAT: May 12th 9pm ET

1 May

Heeey guys! It feels like it’s been forever since we’ve had a livechat. Maybe that’s because I missed the last one 😉

But we’re planning one for Thursday, May 12th at 9m ET. An online time-converter-y thing tells me that this actually turns out to be 1 am on Friday, May 13 in GMT. Here’s the site to help you do your own time conversions, if need be 🙂 And hopefully I haven’t messed anything up, because to be honest, I’m terrible with time zones.

I think most of you know the drill by now. On the day of the chat, a post will go up with the link to the chat room. All you need to do is click and you’re in. You’ll be a “guest,” and need to choose a name. Comments WILL BE MODERATED, so there might be a small lag between when you type something in and when it shows up.

The topic of the day will be Revising! Revising with critique partners, revising with an agent, revising with an editor, revising with yourself because it just makes you happy…etc 🙂 You guys can come ask any questions you’d like, or just hang around and chat with us about anything and everything revision-related.

In the past, the chats have usually lasted about 2 hours, and they do tend to be much busier toward the latter parts, so if you really want us to spend time on your questions, I’d recommend getting there early. Once the real chat starts, we’ll be moderating questions so they’ll be in a queue and address them one at a time.

If you can’t make it to the chat (we hope you can!!), there will be a transcript up for just about ever, so you can always read it. If you click on the Live Chat tab up top, you can take a look at our previous chats. Some are sillier than others; just a warning 🙂

Alright, I think I’ve gone on long enough. See you all the 12th!!

QOTW: Favorite Books

29 Apr

This week’s question is from Chantal, who asks:

I’d like to hear what each LTWF girl would choose as top 5 best books they’ve read in the past year, minus the one’s that have already been mentioned in reviews.

We didn’t all manage to come up with five, but here are our favorites!

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In no particular order:

TEXAS GOTHIC by Rosemary Clement-Moore (not out until this summer)

FIRELIGHT by Sophie Jordan

THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman

SOULLESS by Gail Carriger

ARCHANGEL by Sharon Shinn

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11 Scandals to start to win a Duke’s heart (Sarah Maclean)

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Septys

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LIFE AS WE KNEW IT by Susan Beth Pfeffer

WORLD WAR Z by Max Brooks

TOMORROW, WHEN THE WAR BEGAN by John Marsden

THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman

BEFORE I FALL by Lauren Oliver.

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THE BOOK THIEF by Marcus Zusak, THE CHEESE MONKEYS by Chip Kidd, JANE EYRE by Charlotte Bronte, THE ATONEMENT CHILD by Francine Rivers, WHEN YOU ARE ENGULFED IN FLAMES by David Sedaris

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INCARCERON by Catherine Fisher

THE POISON DIARIES by Maryrose Wood

I AM THE MESSENGER by Marcus Zusak

FARENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury

PERSUASION by Jane Austen

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Finnikin of the rock, Game of Thrones

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A Hat Full of Sky, Terry Pratchett

In the Hand of the Goddess, Tamora Pierce

Night Watch, Terry Pratchett

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Mine would be ON THE JELLICOE ROAD by Melina Marchetta, REVOLUTION by Jennifer Donnelly, LIKE MANDARIN by Kirsten Hubbard, FALL FOR ANYTHING by Courtney Summers and THE PAIN MERCHANTS by Janice Hardy.

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I always recommend my faves, but there ARE a few I’ve read recently that I haven’t yet had time to write reviews for: THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE by Alan Bradley and THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS by N.K. Jemisin

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Oh, gah…this is always so hard!! Ummm…I adored THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE (yes, I did review it but I have to put it anyway!) I liked CEREUS BLOOMS AT NIGHT a lot (very beautiful language. Very not YA). To be honest, I haven’t done as much leisure reading as I would have liked this past year…Need to fix that! Ooh, yes THE BOOK THIEF. I second that one.

Man, I know I’m going to come back to this post tomorrow and rage about how I forgot like twenty books I loved. I always forget the books I’ve read when people ask this sort of thing 😦

~~~

Which books have been your favorites this past year?

Love Letter to Writing

15 Apr

by Kat

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I want to write today about writing. I just finished reading another writer’s interview, and she said, as have so many writers before her, that writing is a need for her. A passion. Something she has to have like breathing. Something she can’t live without. And I nodded and agreed and went on to finish the interview.

But then I thought about people I’ve spoken with, ones to whom I’ve explained my need for writing, and they’ve sort of just laughed or were plain confused by it and told me so. And I realized that there are probably people out there who read about writers saying these sort of things and don’t actually believe it. They feel like it’s just hyperbole, like when people say “I LOVE chocolate. I couldn’t LIVE without chocolate.”

Okay, so maybe there are actually people who feel about chocolate like I feel about writing, and I just don’t understand because I don’t love chocolate like they do. But that’s the point. I don’t feel the same way, and so when people say “I can’t live without chocolate,” I think they’re just exaggerating.

Well, this post exists to explain that when I say I have to write like I have to breathe, I’m not exaggerating as much as people might think, and I know this is true for others, as well. The super-literal part of me has to say that hello, yes, I’m not being ENTIRELY truthful. Yes, of course, if forced to by pain of death or whatever, I could live a perfectly fine life without writing. No, writing is not exactly like food or breathing.

But I’m not just throwing out hyperbole either. I love traveling. I love biology. I love puppies and musicals and dance and singing and reading and the high after a long run. But not like I love writing. Not like I need writing.

I write when I’m happy and need to share. I writing when I’m bursting with excitement and feel like I couldn’t even sit down unless I released some of that feeling into a poem. I write when I’m depressed or angry or frustrated. I write to figure out what I’m feeling. To better define who I am. To better understand what I’m doing in this world. And that is not a tiny bit of exaggeration.

Being a writer is a part of me, always. I shatter a plate in the school cafeteria, and even as the embarrassment rises, I’m noting down the flush in my skin and the feeling in my nose and the thoughts running through my head so I can contribute them to my next depiction of embarrassment. I have the best day of my life, and I’m taking mental notes of how this feels, on how the whole day shines a bit, on the exact feelings I get when I share the news. Is this weird? I don’t even know; I’ve been automatically doing it so long.

Not writing creatively for more than a week drives me crazy. I get antsy. I think my patience gets shorter. It’s like being claustrophobic. I’m used to living two or even three lives at once. One suddenly feels too small.

And when I say—when any writer says—that we live in the worlds we create, we are not lying, either. At least I’m not. My characters are very real and very dear to me. Not psychological-thriller-movie-about-schizophrenia real, not even imaginary friend real (I’m not sure—I never had a true imaginary friend), but real in a way I can’t quite explain. Yes, I realize perfectly well they’re figments of my imagination. But you try spending more than a year, maybe MUCH more than a year, thinking about certain figments of your imagination, about their pasts and their futures, analyzing their motives, their dreams, their relationships with one another. Do you spend that long thinking about many REAL people?

This doesn’t mean that I know every single detail about every single character I’ve made up, but it does mean that the details of the better developed ones seem to float in some nether-space, and when I need to know one of them, I’m pinning it down rather than making it up.

I’m probably talking to the utterly wrong audience here. You probably wouldn’t be here reading this blog unless you were a writer yourself, but maybe you’re not, or maybe you know someone who doesn’t quite understand—who thinks that we’re wildly exaggerating when we gush about our need to write. Which is perfectly normal. People exaggerate all the time.

But this, at least for me, is not exaggeration.

~~~

Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She is represented by Emmanuelle Morgen and her book HYBRID–about a girl with two souls–recently sold to Harper Children’s. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.

Slipping in Character Description

11 Apr

by Kat Zhang

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How much physical information a writer should put in about his or her characters is a pretty well-debated topic. Some readers like to have everything about the characters described the very first time they show up. Others just like to have the basics—hair color/length…eye color…tall or short…slim or heavyset. Others don’t care about physical description at all and like to have a blank canvas to draw their own mental picture of the protagonist and minor characters.

I’m in the middle. Well, actually, to be honest, I wouldn’t mind a super-detailed description of every single character. I’m a very visual reader, and I like books that allow me to see the scenes in my head like a movie. That’s basically how I write, too, except the other way around. I see the scene like a movie in my head, and then I describe it on paper.

Trouble is, there’s really no way you can describe everything. It would slam the action to a halt, and while I say I like detailed explanations, I know that a book that is actually full of them would drive me crazy. So what’s a writer to do?

First off, remember your voice. This is especially important for first person and close third. You’re not just describing someone, you’re seeing them through someone’s eyes. Everything they notice or don’t notice should make sense. Think about what you notice when you see someone. You don’t meet your friend for lunch and run over their entire outfit and the eye color and hair length before saying hello, right? You might notice if they’ve recently had a haircut or if they’re wearing a skirt when they never wear skirts or something, but otherwise, you probably won’t even notice their clothes.

However, it is nice to let the reader know some physical description of the characters, so you’ve got to find ways of subtly slipping it in.

This is an example of just describing someone:

He was tall, about 6 foot 1 with short blonde hair and blue eyes. Also, he wore a white shirt with horizontal blue shirts and camouflage-patterned, baggy cargo pants. His shoes were heavy boots with thick soles, and he had a ring on his ring finger that was just a band of polished gold.

A couple things that could be improved on this description. Right now, it’s sort of just sitting there. Whatever was happening before the protag saw this guy has ground to a stop while you, the writer, describe his appearance. Weaving your description into the story’s flow of action can improve it a lot. So can spacing out the description so the reader’s picture of a character is built little by little. Of course, if you take too, too long, the readers will start filling things in on their own, and it might be a bit of a shock if, ten chapters in, you describe your love interest as having green eyes and the reader has imagined him as having dark brown ones.

So let’s try weaving the previous description into some action:

He waved to her from across the room, and when she smiled back, started making his way through the crowd. She bit back a laugh when he stumbled; he’d used to be graceful, but the recent growth spurt had added a foot to his height and an ungainliness to his walk.

“Hey, soldier boy,” she said when he was in hearing distance. “Nice pants.”

He grinned, automatically looking down at his baggy camouflage-pattern cargo pants. Along with the heavy boots and the crew cut she bet had taken a lot of convincing on the part of his mother to make happen, he looked almost like he’d stepped out of one of those Army Strong pamphlets her older brother used to bring home. Only his preppy white and blue striped shirt broke the image.

“Laundry day,” he said, still grinning, and ran his fingers through his hair. Probably had to get used to how short it was. She was about to say something back when she noticed the flash of the ring and choked on her words.

Right, so not the best material out there (I probably wouldn’t usually try to cram so much physical description in at once), and I missed out on some of the detail in the first example, but this way, the story didn’t stop completely. Yes, I used more words overall, but we also got a bit about the guy’s age (teens if he’s recently grown a foot in a relatively short period of time), about his relationship with the girl (close enough for her to tease him and him to smile), about their families (she’s got an older brother who was/is interested in the army; his mother wants his hair short, and he disagrees), and about the ring (she hasn’t seen it before).

I’ve got lots more to say about things like this, but I think that’s enough for today 🙂 If you guys are interested, though, I’ll continue the series during my next post!

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Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She is represented by Emmanuelle Morgen and her book HYBRID–about a girl with two souls–recently sold to Harper Children’s. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.