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BIG NEWS ANNOUNCEMENT!

2 Dec

By

All The Ladies At LTWF

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So, for a while now, the ladies of LTWF have wanted to find a way to take this site to the next level. Since LTWF started in fall 2009, we’ve grown and grown and grown, both in terms of our wonderful community and in terms of our own personal development. It has been exciting and exhilarating and one of the greatest experiences of our lives.

But a few months ago, we asked each other: what if we changed things up a bit? What would we have to do to take LTWF as it stands and make it into something bigger—something even more awesome?

So we talked. And talked. And talked. Many skype chats, google documents, and email chains later, we all agreed:

In order to grow, we had to undergo a major transformation. We’d have to take the best parts of LTWF and shape them into something new.

And to do that, we’d have to leave LTWF behind.

Not the community, not our contributors, not the openness of the site, but two things:

Our name, and our “Fictionpress authors only” background. Both of those things are closely tied—our LTWF name CAME from the FP website. And now that we’re no longer keeping our ranks closed to the FP community, it made little sense to hold onto the name.

So, today is the last day of Let The Words Flow.

Or, LTWF as LTWF. After today, we’ll be closing down the site until January 9th, so we can have time to organize, to recharge, and to make sure our new site is in order.

And on January 9th, we’ll be launching…

We’ll have our own domain name, a brand new look, and some new, amazing members. We’ll have a new structure, new content, and a new focus. All of us in LTWF will be there—and even though our wordpress site will no longer be active, we promise that none of the closeness and intimacy will be lost in the transition.

We are so, so phenomenally excited for the change to Pub Crawl. We’ll be spending our launch week introducing our new members, who are all fabulous, warm, and talented people. And we’ll be doing a MONTH of giveaways (from ARCs to critiques to agent pitches) when we launch in January.

So, this is our last post on this site. And, in honor of that, we thought we’d do one final Question of the Week—one that we hope you guys will participate in as well.

But before we get to that…

Thank you all so much for your support, for your enthusiasm, for embracing us—for making this into a community that we’re proud to be a part of. For making LTWF into a home for aspiring and published writers. For celebrating with us, commiserating with us, for laughing and crying with us. Thank you for two years of memories—two years that have changed all of us in every possible way.

Thank you—thank you from the bottom of our hearts. It has truly been an honor.

And to quickly announce Wednesday’s GIVEAWAY winner:

Kulsuma!

Email us at letthewordsflowblog (at) gmail (dot) com!

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What has Let The Words Flow meant to you?

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 I don’t think there are enough words to describe exactly what LTWF has meant to me. I’ve tried to write this at least six or seven times, but I couldn’t seem to fit in everything I wanted to say. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that, try as I might, there is just no way to properly express how I feel about this place, these ladies, and all of you.

LTWF scooped me up a year and a half ago, just as I was beginning my internship. It was my first real publishing job, and they’ve since guided me to where I am now. I’ve learned so much about this industry and writing because of them, and I could not be more grateful for their help and insight. Not only did they keep me focused on my career, they’ve helped me hone my writing skills, and I can safely say I’m a better writer because of these ladies.

But more than that, LTWF has meant unconditional friendship from some really incredible people. They’ve been there to support me in all of my crazy schemes, from numerous writing projects to graduating to moving to New York. LTWF has meant late-night skype dates, far too many inside jokes, and weird emails that never fail to make my day. These ladies have become some of my closest friends, and I’m so excited to move forward with them. As amazing as LTWF has been, Pub Crawl is going to be even better!

LTWF, I raise my glass to you.

–Sammy Bina

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 What has LTWF meant to me…wow… That’s such a hard answer to condense into words. All I can say is that joining LTWF was without a doubt the best thing that happened to me in the last year. Better than getting an agent and better than getting a book deal. Like Kat said, it’s so much more than just a writing blog… These girls and you readers are my best and dearest friends, and I wouldn’t know any of you if it weren’t for LTWF. How can that not mean the world to me?

I don’t want to get too sentimental because then I might start crying, and no one wants that (I am quite literally the world ugliest crier). So I’ll do this instead:

Once upon a time, there was a girl who had no idea what she was doing. When she saw her favorite blog was taking applications, she said, “What the hey? Worst thing that happens is that I don’t get in.” But she did get in…and she found something she had never expected–never even believed possible from “just a blog”.

She found community, support, and fun. She met new people through comments and chats. She learned lots and lots and lots from the other LTWF-ladies and she learned even more from the LTWF-readers.

And the days passed and the blog posts piled up and she thought, “Surely I should be sick of this by now? Surely after a year, this whole blogging thing would feel stale…?” But it didn’t…and then she realized why: LTWF is a community of writers and readers. Pub Crawl will be a community of writers and readers. These are people who live their lives around STORIES. And there are always new stories to experience and always new stories to share. How can that ever get “stale”?

And so, the girl set out to write the next post, to make the next friend, and to tell the next story…

See you on the flip side!!

–Susan Dennard

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 The last time we talked about what LTWF meant to us, my answer was pretty long. And all I can think of is, how do I top what I said last time? How do I not repeat myself?

And so I’ll keep things short and sweet (hopefully). LTWF has meant meeting amazing people, geeking out over books, and being part of an amazing community. To all the girls at LTWF: You’ve become some of my closest friends, and I’m forever grateful to be able to spam you with emails at ungodly hours, talk via Skype, and make delicious cookies (here’s looking at you for that last one, Biljana).

To all our readers: You have all been awesome, whether you’ve been the constant commenters, the silent creepers, or the ones who sent emails with suggestions / cool links. You’ve made LTWF worth it; worth all the late-night scrambling, hours and hours of blog post writing, and endless tweets. Without all of you, LTWF would’ve been nothing – and I hope you all move with us over to Pub Crawl in January. We’ll be bigger and better, but we’ll still be nothing without you. Cause in all honesty, LTWF has been a community of amazing people – and without people to talk to, us girls would just be talking to ourselves. So thank you!

–Vanessa Di Gregorio

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 What has Let the Words Flow meant to me? Others have used analogies to answer this (almost impossible to answer!) question, so I hope no one minds if I use one more.

When I was in college, there was a specific place on campus where I knew I could always find a friend or two. To my friends and me, this was “our spot,” and whether a half dozen of us were there or just two, it was always the place I felt welcome and understood. When I moved on from college, having a place like that was one of the things I missed the most. It had been so wonderful to know that – whether I had five minutes or five hours to hang out – I had a little sanctuary where I knew I would find people who really “got” me.

For me, Let the Words Flow has become a virtual version of that cozy spot on campus. I always know I will find friends at Let the Words Flow, whether those friends are the other bloggers or our fantastic readers. I know I will find wonderful conversation in the comments! I know that whenever I come to LTWF, I will find like-minded people who know what NaNoWriMo means, who don’t think I’m crazy because I have a two foot high stack of unread books beside my bed, and who will always encourage me to keep going toward my writing goals. Let the Words Flow has been a cozy sanctuary to me, and I feel so fortunate to have found it.

I look forward to Pub Crawl, in part because I know that this sanctuary will still be there, but also because I know it will be fresher and broader, and that I will meet even more wonderful writers and readers. Can’t wait!

–Julie Eshbaugh

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 The mentality of being a part of LTWF is incredibly hard to describe. It’s a group of friends, but it’s also a responsibility. We talk constantly, but we also work, and so I suppose it’s sort of like being in school 🙂 The ladies of LTWF are not only my friends, but my classmates, and they’ve given me an education I could never find in any college or university. I like to think I bring a little something to the table, but the truth is they have mostly been MY teachers. Being in LTWF changed my life in a big way. I had an agent but was still a hopeless noob. I didn’t know anything behind the scenes of the big, scary publishing world, and didn’t have the resources to learn. LTWF changed all that. It made my writing career an intimate and REAL part of my life, where before it had been a secret hope and dream.

LTWF was the only safe place I could retreat to during some of the most difficult times in my life. I am so eternally grateful to my friends here for their warmth and wisdom. We are SO excited to be adding our awesome new members and expanding our audience with a new website and brand. It is our hope that we can reach and assist more writers than ever before, and yet… and yet… I will definitely miss saying LTWF and how easily the acronym flows from under my fingers. This was the best time, you guys. Thank you so much for letting me be here.

–Savannah Foley

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 It really is hard to put into words. I can’t imagine life without these people. They listen to me rant, they laugh at my (stupid) jokes, they commiserate with me when frustrating things happen, and they support me to no end through griefs. In return I try to do the same. We share in our joys and sorrows. People throw around the word “family” but that’s truly what this feels like. Losing them would be like losing family.

And that’s not even touching on the sheer amount of information I’ve soaked up in the past few years, on writing, on editing, cutting, querying, the industry, not even close to covering the people I’ve met, the friends I’ve made over random online interactions…

It’s really gotten to a point where I can’t imagine my life without it. I don’t know where I’d be right now. Probably still angsting over whether it’s financially prudent to be a writer :P.

Thank god for these people and this community :). I’m really excited to continue this trend in PubCrawl! 😀

–Biljana Likic

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 It is insanely hard for me to describe what Let The Words Flow has meant to me in just a few paragraphs. It’d be hard to explain in a few PAGES.

When I started my road to publication, I had very, very few friends in publishing. In fact, I’m pretty sure that for a while, Mandy was my only friend I had that was agented and (soon to be) published. I used to read author blogs and twitter feeds and wish—with all my heart—that I had wonderful writer-friends, too. Sometimes, it felt like I was on the outside, watching this wonderful world through a window. Though it might not have seemed that way at the time, there were moments when I felt really, truly lonely.

LTWF changed all that. Ever since LTWF started, not one day has passed where I have ever felt alone. Since LTWF started, I have never felt like I was on the outside, looking in. Since LTWF started, I have always felt like I belonged.

I have had many, many friends in my life, but I can say—without a doubt—that the friends I have made in LTWF are the friends of my heart. The ones that I’m fairly certain I couldn’t live without. They make my world a far, far better place. They make me a better person.

So, more than learning about the industry, more than learning about writing, I’d say that LTWF has meant unbreakable and irrevocable friendship. And no matter what happens on the road ahead, I will be forever grateful for it.

Sarah J. Maas

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 Vahini Naidoo: A year ago, when we did a similar post, I said something to the effect that LTWF meant home to me. It meant community. It was, to stretch a thin analogy comparing books to babies yet further, the community required to raise my book babies. At the time, I meant that very, very sincerely, and I still think it’s true. LTWF is a home, a haven on the internet, but over the past few months I’ve come to realize that LTWF also means something else to me. This blog doesn’t just represent home, comfort and safety. This blog represents growth. This blog is about all of us, writers and readers, aspirers and dreamers, at different stages of progress coming together and learning and growing. This blog is an adventure, fun and exciting and awesome, and I have to say that you guys (both my fellow bloggers and readers) are the best companions a girl could hope for.

So that’s what LTWF is to me — a journey. One that I hope you’ll share with me, and the other LTWF ladies, as we transition into Pub Crawl.

–Vahini Naidoo

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 I cannot *believe* it’s been a year and a half since I first joined LTWF. On one hand, how did time pass that quickly?? On the other, what do you mean I haven’t known these girls half my life??

When I joined back in Spring of ’10, I didn’t even have my first draft of WHAT’S LEFT OF ME finished. My entire writing/publishing since then–finishing that first draft, revising, querying, agent offers, more revision, submissions, selling–is utterly tied to the girls here at LTWF. They were my first critique partners, the first people I told about anything exciting that happened. They taught me so much about writing and about publishing and made me believe harder than ever that getting publishing *now* was doable.

I also now count them among my closet friends, and that’s even more important to me.

Being a part of LTWF opened my eyes to the vast network of writers and readers on the internet. I’ve met so many awesome, amazing people through LTWF–and from all over the world! You guys have all been so fantastic, and I’m so glad to have met you.

So, what has LTWF meant to me? Friendship. Support. Links to crazy things on the internet. Skype chats after midnight–I could go on 🙂

Here’s to continuing all that as Pub Crawl!

–Kat Zhang

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To All Our Friends, Old And New:

Thanks For Everything.

Love Always,

The LTWF Girls

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QOTW: 2012 Debut Author Challenge!

11 Nov

Hi, everyone! (And Happy 11/11/11!)

In case you haven’t seen it yet, The Story Siren just launched her 2012 Debut Author Challenge!

A few of us have participated in previous years, but we are ESPECIALLY excited this year because LTWF has FOUR (4!!!) members with debut novels!  Susan Dennard (SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, out 7/24/11), Sarah J. Maas (QUEEN OF GLASS, Fall 2012), Vahini Naidoo (FALL TO PIECES, Fall 2012), and Kat Zhang (WHAT’S LEFT OF ME, Fall 2012)! Hooray!!!

You can find out more information about the 2012 Debut Author Challenge on The Story Siren’s website, and you can also see (and vote on!) the list of debuts here on Goodreads!

So, in honor of the 2012 Debut Author Challenge, we thought we’d share the debuts WE are most excited about!

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 If I had to pick a debut that I’m desperate to get my hands on, it’d have to be CINDER by Marissa Myer. The hype around the book, the cover, the sheer coolness of the story–I WANTS IT. Like STAT.

Susan Dennard

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 I’m really looking forward to Jodi Meadows’s debut, INCARNATE, (who can see that gorgeous cover and not want to open the book?) as well as TEMPEST by Julie Cross, because I’m a sucker for time travel stories. LOVE AND LEFTOVERS by Sarah Tregay also looks like something I’d like to read!

Julie Eshbaugh

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 A few of the books I’m super excited for have been named already, so I won’t go through them again. One that hasn’t been mentioned that I’m really intrigued by is THE SELECTION by Kiera Cass. The cover is gorgeous, and I admit it…I’m a sucker for books where girls get dressed up in ridiculously fancy dresses, hahaha. I’m also looking forward to CRACKED by K.M. Walton, because it seems like it’ll be an interesting and edgy contemp.

Kat Zhang

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 Ditto on INCARNATE and CINDER! They look absolutely incredible. I’m also reallllly pumped for SHADOW & BONE by Leigh Bardugo–I had the privilege of reading an early draft and it was SO stunning. I can’t wait to read it again–and to hear what other people think! And UNDER THE NEVER SKY by Veronica Rossi, BORN WICKED by Jessica Spotswood, SCARLET by A. C. Gaughen, and STORM by Brigid Kemmerer look fabulous, too!

Sarah J. Maas

~~~

What about YOU GUYS? How many of you are participating in the challenge? And what 2012 debuts are YOU most excited for? Inquiring minds want to know!

The Great Big Post of Querying

12 Aug

So, recently, a reader emailed me asking me how I went about querying and finding my agent. I’d actually meant to put up a post about this a long time ago, but the old post included my actual query, which, now that I look at it, is rather spoilery…

I will, however, go through some of the tools I found most helpful and give a basic outline of how the process went.

I started writing my query letter literally a month or so before I sent out my first email (I didn’t snail mail any queries), and then I revised and revised and revised and revised some more. I sent it to critique partners, read it to friends, etc, until I’d whittled it down to about three paragraphs that made sense, got to the heart of the conflict, and gave the reader just enough world building. 

During this time, I was collecting a list of agents I’d like to work with, too. Many of these names I got from blogs, since I’d spent so much time reading agent blogs to figure out how to put together a query letter in the first place. Some I got from contests (I got my agent Emmanuelle’s name from Miss Snark’s First Victim’s Secret Agent Contest!).

 Wherever I got the names from, I checked to see if they had blogs or twitter or anything like that. Not everyone does, and that’s fine if they don’t, but if they do tweet or whatever, sometimes you can get an idea of what they’re looking for. I know the internet’s not the best way to make a judge of character or anything, but sometimes you can get a sense of how someone’s like to work with.                                                      .
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Also, a check on querytracker (I did a whole long post about that here) never hurt, either. There’s also www.agentquery.com, but I didn’t use that as much. However, they usually list a number of links to interviews and such that the agent has done, and those can be really helpful. 

Publisher’s Marketplace does require a subscription fee, but it’s not too bad and if you have a membership, you can see what’s been sold by whom and to whom. Which is handy if you’re looking to see who has, say, a really good track record in cozy mysteries or something. Not all sales get reported to PM, though, and some are reported late, so it’s not an end all be all source. 

The Absolute Write forum (or water cooler, as they call it) can be very helpful, too. Many agencies have their own thread in the Writers Beware subforum, and you can search a particular agent’s name to see what sort of experience other writers have had with them in the past. Often, you’ll even see a few people announce that they’ve recently signed on with said agent. The smaller agencies sometimes have rather lackluster, seldom-visited threads, though…which doesn’t at all reflect on the quality of the agency. 

Finally, I got a TON of help from just other writers. The girls at LTWF were an enormous help, as were other friends I made online, who gave me advice about everything from manuscript formatting to query-letter-writing.

I sent out queries in really small batches, since my overall list was pretty small. I ended up signing with Emmanuelle after about two months (longest two months of my life. Truly, lol), but I suppose if I hadn’t gotten any offers after a long while, I would have had to widen my search a little. 

In the end, everybody talks so much about query, and there’s a ton of advice out there (even about the best day of the week or the best time of day to send a query—as a literary intern, I’m just going to say…at least at the agency where I work, this is not going to matter in the least), but in the end, there’s only so much you can do. And writing a really strong story trumps most of the other stuff anyway 🙂

~~~

Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She is represented by Emmanuelle Morgen and her book WHAT’S LEFT OF ME is about a 15-year-old girl fighting for her right to survive in a world where two souls are born to each body and one is doomed to disappear. It recently sold in a three-book deal to HarperTeen. You can read more about her writing process, travels, and books at her blog.

Writing the 2nd Book in a Trilogy

18 Jul

by Kat Zhang

So, I’m almost done with the first draft of my outline for Book #2. Considering I just turned in my edits for WHAT’S LEFT OF ME (eee! New title still makes me all tingly, lol), it may or may not be a little early to be working on the outline, but somehow, I suspect not. Either way, considering I go just a little bit crazy when I don’t have something writerly to be working on (especially when school isn’t in session and ready to distract me with physics and spanish and american politics), I don’t really have much choice in the matter.

The outline will need to be cured of about two or three good-sized plot holes before it’s in a state to be shown anyone. Not to mention the line “I will think of something appropriately sweet and non-cliche eventually, haha” is probably going to be replaced at some point. Yeah.

But overall, I’m pretty darn satisfied with the whole thing, and so very relieved that I am. Of course, we’ll have to see if my agent and editor and the rest of the team at HarperTeen are satisfied before it’s full sails ahead for my starting to write the actual book, but I personally can’t write a book unless I feel a certain soul in it, and I think I’ve found the right one for Book #2 of the Hybrid Trilogy.

To be honest, I’ve never written a trilogy before. So this whole process has been very much a learning experience as I try to figure out what constitutes a good sequel, especially when it also has to serve as the bridge between books 1 and 3.

I decided early on that I wanted to steer away from a common complaint people have about second books in a trilogy—that they’re the weakest ones. The ones with the least excitement. That they often only serve to put things in place for book 3. I hope that this book 2 comes to stand on its own as a story in and of itself—of course strongly connected to the other books, but no lesser than its fellows in terms of plot or characterization or excitement.

This is probably all way early to talk about considering WHAT’S LEFT OF ME is still a good year away from publication, but I’d like to keep a record as I go on writing and editing and outlining this series—both for myself and for whomever else is actually interested. So as of today, the first draft for the outline for Book #2 is just about done. I’ll let you guys know when I actually start the first true words of the manuscript.

I’ll die of excitement. I swear 😉

~~~

Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She is represented by Emmanuelle Morgen and her book WHAT’S LEFT OF ME is about a 15-year-old girl fighting for her right to survive in a world where two souls are born to each body and one is doomed to disappear. It recently sold in a three-book deal to HarperTeen. You can read more about her writing process, travels, and books at her blog.

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.

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.

Love Letter to Writing

15 Apr

by Kat

~~~

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

~~~

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!

~~~

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.

HYBRID has sold in a 3-book deal to HarperCollins!!

8 Apr

Omg. Wow, of all the days to wake up late! Excuse me if I blabber like a fool a bit. I honestly didn’t expect the PM announcement to go up so soon (awesome agent, much?), and when I woke up to an inbox of people emailing me to say congratulations, my just-woke-up-no-coffee-yet brain wondered what was going on for a moment!

But luckily for all involved, I’m more or less thinking straight now. So yes! HYBRID was sold in a 3-book deal to Harper Children’s!!

If I let myself keeping going, I’m just going to keep going and going and going, so for everyone’s sakes, I’m just going to direct you to my private blog for the details.

I do want to say here, though, that I’m SO SO GRATEFUL for my fellow LTWF girls, who have been SO supportive and SUCH GREAT CPs and JUST AMAZING AMAZING AMAZING x 100000 I couldn’t have done it without you girls. I mean it 🙂

And THANK YOU to all of you, as well! I’ve loved chatting with you all and laughing at stupid jokes and talking about the finer points of writing. Thank you for caring about the advice a 19-year-old nobody gives about writing 🙂

❤ you all!

~~~

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.