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You Know You Live in a YA World When…

5 Apr

by Kat Zhang

~~~

I posted this over on my personal blog a little while back, but the general consensus was that the list really should be longer. Unfortunately, I’ve run out of fun ideas, so I’m asking all of you to help me out! Read MY idea of what living in a YA fic world is like, then give me yours! 🙂

~~~

Have you ever caught yourself wondering if maybe your life isn’t real? That out there, somewhere, someone is writing your story and…OMG, it’s a YA novel? Never fear! Just ask yourself if the following statements are true. Then you, too, can know for sure if you’re living in a YA novel world!

1. You have never, in your life, done a group/partner project that didn’t end in drama of some kind.

2. When you’re stranded somewhere, your crush just happens to show up and ask you if you need a ride. Bonus points if his car is something old that he fixed up himself, or something that he got handed down from his father/older brother/uncle that he apologizes for but that you find rather vintage and cute. Super bonus points if he sticks in a CD that you just happen to LOVE and you shout, “Oh, I thought I was the only one in the world who liked ____!” and the two of you Bond.

3. The waitress checks out your crush on your first date. Bonus points if she tries to leave him her number.

4. Your worst enemy likes the same guy. Bonus points if your worst enemy used to be your best friend years and years ago, before you two hit puberty and she went off to be a cheerleader.

5. Your mood swings change the weather. You don’t remember the last time you cried when it wasn’t raining outside.

6. Your parents always seem to ignore whatever you do until it’s convenient to the plot to ground you—I mean, until you’re ABSOLUTELY needed somewhere for something VERY important. (but then, isn’t that real life, too?)

7. If your best friend’s a guy, you’re either together by the end of the book (I mean, um…the end of…um…well, you know what I mean) or he’s gay. If your best friend’s a girl, she’s prettier than you are. Bonus points if she’s smarter/more athletic/both, as well.

8. Your grandparents are awesome. And quirky. And probably less conservative than your parents.

9. And finally, you know you live in a YA novel when your life is a constant stream of ups and downs, ups and downs, but you can afford to be completely chill because hey, you know you’ve got a 99.9% chance of everything working out more or less perfectly in the end 🙂

Do YOU live in a YA novel world?

(PS, please nobody be offended by this, ‘mmkay? I’m not pointing these things out to make malicious fun, and having these things in your story does not automatically make it stereotypical or cliche. And yes, I’ve used these things in my own stories, as well! 😛 )

~~~

Now it’s your turn! What else should be on this list? 😀

~~~

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–is currently on submission to publishers. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.

The Querying Flowchart of DOOM

17 Mar

by Kat Zhang

~~~

No, silly, it’s not actually “of DOOM,” but sometimes querying feels like it, no? (And besides, as writers, we’re obligated to be dramatic, right? What, that’s actors, you say? Pshaw!!)

Anyway, in order to ease the beginning querier into the query process, I’ve made a handy-dandy flow chart. Yes, it’s a very condensed version of the pre-query checklist…mostly because I only have so much patience with making little multi-colored text balloons. Also, there are no arrows. I know. Sadness. But look at it as a test of thy skill, young querier! If you can not master the maze that is the Query Flowchart of DOOM, then see it as a sign that you need more training before daring to enter the lair of the dragon–I mean confront Darth Vader–I mean query!

Are you ready to begin your test of skill??

Enter at thy own peril…

So? Did you make it? Are you ready to send out those queries? 😀

…and did you notice the two missing bubbles?

…because I totally did that on purpose as a further test of your skills.

yup

that’s my story, and I’m STICKIN’ WITH IT!

D:<

~~~

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–is currently on submission to publishers. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.

Friday Randomness

18 Feb

Soo… It’s that time again. (what time? No idea, really. I just couldn’t think of any other way to start this post.)

Kat here! Welcome to Friday Randomness. I really, really wish I could think of a word starting with the letter “F” that means “randomness,” because I am a big fan of alliteration, but no such luck 😦 Ah well.

Program for today: two books I want to read SO BAD and then “Who the LTWF girls would be if we lived in a steampunk world.”

The following books aren’t really “recommendations” per say, since I haven’t actually read either of them, but they’re definitely ones I want to read soon!

In no particular order:

DELIRIUM by Lauren Oliver

Before scientists found the cure, people thought love was a good thing. They didn’t understand that once love — the deliria — blooms in your blood, there is no escaping its hold. Things are different now. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the governments demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Holoway has always looked forward to the day when she’ll be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy.

But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable: She falls in love.

I’m in love with this concept. I love, love, love “what if” books like this. What if Love was a disease? What if it could be “cured”? I can’t wait to see how Oliver handles this.

ON THE JELLICOE ROAD by Melina Marchetta (just JELLICOE ROAD in the US)

My father took one hundred and thirty two minutes to die.

‘I counted.

‘It happened on the Jellicoe Road. The prettiest road I’d ever seen, where trees made breezy canopies like a tunnel to Shangri-La. We were going to the ocean, hundreds of kilometres away, because I wanted to see the ocean and my father said that it was about time the four of us made that journey. I remember asking, “What’s the difference between a trip and a journey?” and my father said, “Narnie, my love, when we get there, you’ll understand,” and that was the last thing he ever said.

‘We heard her almost straight away. In the other car, wedged into ours so deep that you couldn’t tell where one began and the other ended. She told us her name was Tate and then she squeezed through the glass and the steel and climbed over her own dead – just to be with Webb and me; to give us her hand so we could clutch it with all our might. And then a kid called Fitz came riding by on a stolen bike and saved our lives.

‘Someone asked us later, “Didn’t you wonder why no one came across you sooner?”

‘Did I wonder?

‘When you see your parents zipped up in black body bags on the Jellicoe Road like they’re some kind of garbage, don’t you know?

‘Wonder dies.’

I have a feeling this is going to be one of those books I devour and then spend the next week mourning my own prose, which will look like kindergarden babble next to the kind of writing in the book. Maybe that’s why I’ve put it off so long, hahaha. Soon, though. As soon as I have time, I am getting my paws on this.

And now…! Who the LTWF girls would be if we lived in a steampunk world? Susan put up a quiz on her blog recently, and a good number of us took it! Here are our results!

Kat: No-nonsense, Tough-as-nails Officer

Sarah: No-Nonsense, Tough-As-Nails Officer

Savannah: Downright Bonkers Scientist

Billy: Swashbuckling Airship Pirate

Susan: Inventive (and slightly befuddled) Tinkerer

Vanessa: Swashbuckling Airship Pirate

Jenn: Perfectly Polished Aristocrat

Vee: Swashbuckling Airship Pirate

Sammy: Swashbuckling Airship Pirate

Go take the quiz and let us know what you get!

World-building

4 Jan

I’m making the slow and sometimes rather painful transition from a full-on pantser to an outliner. The changes aren’t just about the outline, though. I used to be on much more of a need-to-know basis with not only what was going to happen in the book, but with the back stories of my characters and my worlds.

Sometimes, I’d start writing an entire book with no more forethought than a single scene. A single conversation. Hmm…. Okay, so there’s this boy hidden in a tree, trying to keep quiet as this mass of white-hooded figures glide through the woods below him, moving to some unheard music. Suddenly, one of the figures stops moving. It’s a girl, snapped out of some kind of trance. She begins freaking out, trying to push out of the mass of humanity around her. The boy watches, mystified and helpless…and that’s it. I know nothing else, not even the character’s names or why they’re in the woods or what the heck is happening with the girl or the white-hooded people.

It was a fun way to write, and I loved learning about the story as I wrote it, developing the plot and the characters as I went along. But it was a tangled process, and more often than not, I’d get caught up in one mess after another, write myself into corners, and realize that I don’t really know the motivations behind my character’s actions or the laws of my world.

I was sort of doing things backwards. Instead of cause and effect, I was writing the effect first and then scrambling to figure out the cause. Sometimes it worked out great. Other times, not so much–especially if the world was complicated.

Enter the world-building document. I’d had “random notes” documents before, and moleskines are always handy, but I’ve recently put together my real world-building document. Now, I didn’t even start working on it until I was well past my first draft, but my second world-building doc is for an unfinished WIP.

I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to go about making a doc like this. I like to write about worlds unlike our own, so I start out by outlining all the important history of this world. Basically, what has happened in the past that leads up to events in your books? This section doesn’t directly mention my characters, only the world they live in.

I then have sections for each of the main characters and write their backstories. What has happened in their lives to make them them? What motivates them to perform the actions they undertake in the novel proper? How did they get to be where they are?

I don’t know about you, but I actually adore this kind of stuff, so I can go on for 10k just in the world-building doc alone. I never thought it would be so useful–not only for checking up on facts to make sure they stay straight in the book, but just to make things more concrete.

I had nebulous ideas about much of the history and backstory included in my world-building doc, but typing it all out really helped me see where the potential plot holes lay and where I needed to strengthen motivation or some such. Plus, it was so much fun!

I highly recommend it 😀

~~~

Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She is represented by Emmanuelle Morgen and spends most of her free time whipping HYBRID–a book about a girl with two souls–into shape for submission to publishers. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.

 

3 Things to Do While Querying

28 Dec

How many of you guys out there are querying or planning to query soon? It’s an interesting process to say the least—full of ups and down and random jerks sideways (just to keep you on your toes, you know).

There’s checking your email fifty times a day, squealing every time an agent responds and going into a) an Omg-I’m-SO-excited dance or b) a Whaat?-but-but-but… pout fest depending on the contents of the email. There’s the memorization of the mailman’s delivery times, if you’re one of those who send queries by snail mail. And there’s lots and lots of query-stress venting to writer friends who smile and try to be encouraging and tell you to CALM DOWN, you just sent that full three days ago, of course Agent Awesomesauce hasn’t read it yet.

But mostly, there’s just a lot of waiting. A looott of waiting. Days and days and weeks and weeks of waiting…kind of like how you’re waiting now for me to stop blabbering and get to the point of this article.

…which is: (ahem) Three Things to Do When Querying.

Number 1: Sleep on everything.

No, not literally. I know at least one of you out there had a Huh? moment. I’m not recommending you develop a sudden habit of conking out on department store bed displays or subway benches.

What I mean is, don’t make any hasty decisions. Wrote a batch of queries today? Resist the urge to send them all off immediately. Sleep on it, then re-read them the next morning with a fresh mind and see if there are any grammar/spelling mistakes. Make sure you’re addressing the right person, too. That always helps with the whole Make a Good Impression thing.

The same goes for any substantial reply you make to an agent. A few hours usually won’t hurt anything, and it’ll help keep you from regretting hastily penned responses. At the very least, wait fifteen minutes or something. I don’t know about you, but anything I write tends to be more coherent and rational if I’ve had sixty minutes to ponder it, versus one.

Number 2: Research some more agents

This will keep you busy and help dull the insatiable appetite you’ve probably developed for all things publishing related. Use Querytracker and AgentQuery until you can navigate them with your eyes closed. Follow #askagent and #askintern and #queries on Twitter.

Find an agent who sounds great for your book? Read any interviews they’ve done. Check out their agency’s website. See if they tweet or have a blog. Research, research, research. Then craft a query to suit their interests—while remaining true to your story, of course.

Number 3: Work on your next book

You’re going to need one. I don’t remember who said this, or even the exact words he said, but it rings true to me: “I want to be a writer, not someone who has written a book.” Okay, so we can argue all day long about who gets to be called a “writer,” but that’s not the point. The point is, keep writing! If you find Mr./Ms. Perfect Agent and get signed, then yay! you’re ahead of the game for book number two! If, for whatever reason, your current book fails to attract any offers, well, you’ve got another project in the works.

Any other tips from those of you querying? If you haven’t started yet, what are your thoughts/apprehensions about the matter?

And finally, good luck to all!

~~~

Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She is represented by Emmanuelle Morgen and spends most of her free time whipping HYBRID–a book about a girl with two souls–into shape for submission to publishers. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.


 

Book Recommendation: Eats, Shoots, and Leaves

22 Dec

Hello, my name is Kat…

(Hi, Kat)

…and I am a Grammar Nazi.

Yes, it’s true. Well, perhaps not in the traditional sense. I make mistakes plenty of times; I certainly break the rules of grammar when style and context call for it; and God forbid I become that guy who mercilessly hounds others for missing a comma (Or…I try not to!). But when all is said and done, I have a great love for those little squiggles and lines that organize our sentences.

So when I found Eats, Shoots, & Leaves, I was in love. It combined my two favorite things–grammar and snark!

How can a grammar lover not adore a book that details “the weapons required in the apostrophe war”? (for those of you interested, the list includes correction fluid, big pens, guerilla-style clothing, strong medication for personality disorder, and a gun)

At the most basic level, Eats, Shoots, & Leaves is a book for teaching grammar. But while I learned one or two new things and had a few more affirmed, if you’re really looking for a nitty-gritty rule-book, I recommend The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. Eats, Shoots, & Leaves is so much more.

It details the history of the comma, waxes poetry on the semicolon, and calls the ellipsis “the black hole of punctuation.” And all throughout every page runs the wonderful, never-too-serious voice of the author. This book is anything but dry, and I heartily recommend it to anyone who always wondered about the correct use of an em-dash versus an en-dash.

Oh, and why the title Eats, Shoots, & Leaves?

Here’s the joke:

A panda walks into a cafe. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and proceeds to fire it at the other patrons.

“Why?” asks the confused, surviving waiter amidst the carnage, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

“Well, I’m a panda,” he says. “Look it up.”

The waiter turns to the relevant entry in the manual and, sure enough, finds an explanation:

 

“Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots, and leaves.”

~~~

Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She is represented by Emmanuelle Morgen and spends most of her free time whipping HYBRID–a book about a girl with two souls–into shape for submission to publishers. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.



The 51 Steps to Editing

15 Dec
by Kat Zhang
~~~
Having critiqued a number of manuscripts and received critiques in return, I think I’ve gotten the Critique Email Response down to a science. Here, in exactly 51 steps, is how the average writer* reacts. 

*in this case study, “the average writer” is a compilation of exactly 1 writer. Me.

1. Send out manuscript
2. Wait
3. Wait some more
4. Get very friendly with your inbox
5. Have mini heart attacks every time you see “Inbox (1)” (man, that right there just ramped up my heartbeat a few bpm…and I typed it myself)
6. Convince yourself that nobody loves you
7. Realize how dumb that is
8. Bug other writing friends until *they* tell you how dumb that is
9. Wait some more
10. Receive notes
11. Cheer!
12. Actually open notes
13. Read
14. Read again
15. OMG
16. How did I not think of that??/That’s the coolest idea EVER/WHAT, how did that not come across??/Eeeeek/That DEFINITELY needs to go in the story. Likerightnow
17. Brainsplode
18. Recovery mode
19. Read notes a couple more times, taking notes on the notes
20. Organize notes on notes under a select few headlines, like “Improve characterization for character A” and “Give more hints that Agent Kazoooski is a mole from outer space”
21. Cut “mole from outer space” subplot entirely
22. …add it back in
23. Brainstorm in trusty moleskine, telling yourself that there are no stupid ideas
24. Prove yourself wrong
25. Very wrong
26. Coffee/chocolate/carbs/other forms of comfort
27. Read through manuscript, despairing of ever changing anything without screwing up what’s already there
28. Read through notes again
29. Read through notes on notes
30. Save manuscript under a new document name (Manuscript_version97833283)
31. Take a deep breath and—
32. Ooh, lookie who’s on skype!
33. Spend the next three hours talking about anything and everything but the editing you should be doing.
34. Distract thyself from the task at hand
35. Repeat
36. Repeat
37. Repeat
38. Break something small and insignificant
39. Open manuscript doc again.
40. Have a staring contest with your own words
41. Damn.
42. They beat you.
43. Delete a couple out of spite. Hey, that felt kinda good.
44. Delete some more.
45. Hmm, might need something to replace those words…
46. Type a little something. That’s not half bad, right? Try a little more.
47. Freak out and stop.
48. Fiddle with what you already have on the page until it feels right. With regained confidence, revise deeper.
49. Emerge from editing cave 36 hours later realizing you have a test the next day and you can’t even remember what chapter you were supposed to study…or which subject.
50. Ah well.
51. At least you got some editing done!

What does YOUR list look like?
~~~

Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She is represented by Emmanuelle Morgen and spends most of her free time whipping HYBRID–a book about a girl with two souls–into shape for submission to publishers. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.


The Write Way to…

2 Dec

I used to have a Way I Write, and I was more or less proud of it. I was not a plotter, I wouldn’t touch an outline with a ten foot pole, and I never separated my story into chapters until the entire thing was finished. I also wrote my stories out of order, writing the scenes I could picture perfectly at the moment and then going back later to connect them and flesh things out.

Well, the last bit is still true, anyway. The others have slowly but surely changed over the last few months.

I’ve seen posts encouraging people to find their own way of writing and to not ever let someone else telling them they’re doing it wrong. In many ways, I agree. If it works for you, go ahead and do it. I love hearing about different people’s ways of planning and executing a story simply because they are often so very different.

But I think we need to remember, too, that just because you have a Way to Write now doesn’t mean it can’t change. I know I got so caught up in defining the ways that I write that I didn’t let myself explore other people’s methods as much as I could have. Who knows? You might find a new way of writing, one that works even better than the last.

Here are some methods I’ve encountered. I don’t use all of them, but I’ve tried most of them!

Outlining:

  • Outlining using flash cards, one scene per card
  • Outlining using colored sticky notes, one scene per note. One color for plot events, one color for character development milestones, etc.
  • Outlining chapter by chapter in summary form
  • Outlining like an ADHD goldfish with a love for shiny things (scribble down a three page outline. Realize three pages into story that you are going to be diverging from your outline. A lot. A lot a lot.) …in other words, how I do it 😀

Character development:

  • Fill out character forms (Adventures in Children’s Publishing has some great, very detailed ones) <— I love the idea of this, but have NO patience for it…
  • Write up tons and tons of backstory that fills up entire binders and is longer than the book itself
  • Interview your characters (I would do this, but my MC for HYBRID would clam up and my MC for the wip would look at me like I was crazy and then just…leave)
  • Write 1st POV snippets from all your character’s POVs, even the minor ones (I do this for characters who don’t have the POV but need to have their voices fleshed out)
  • Write present tense biographies for all your characters and read them in your head with all the solemnity of those History Channel guys with the deep voices (guilty)

Brainstorming:

  • Stare at a blank page and write down, stream of consciousness, whatever comes to mind that’s even vaguely related to the story (it works, too!)
  • Read other books in your genre until you’re inspired (done and done)
  • Bug your CPs on gchat until they agree to brainstorm with you. You’d be surprised how the ideas start flowing more easily once you’re talking to someone else about it (*raises hand*)
  • Write where in the story you are at the top of a blank page, write where you need to get at the bottom of the page, and try to build a bridge of events from one point to the other (works even better if you get fancy and start doodling actual bridges)
  • Watch TV and vegetate (heck, I’ve done just about every kind of brainstorming there is to do!)

Well, I think that’s enough for now. Hope some of these ideas catch your eye and help next time you need a new way to tackle a problem. Any other issues you’d like me to write up a list of methods for? 🙂

Any methods for tackling the above that work for you?

~~~

Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She has recently signed with literary agent Emmanuelle Morgen and spends most of her free time whipping HYBRID–a book about a girl with two souls–into shape for submission to publishers. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.

 

Books I’m Dying to Read

27 Nov

Click Here to enter into the livechat once it’s 3pm EST!

~~~

Hey guys! Kat here 🙂

I don’t know about you, but life has been pretty hectic over here, and it’s only going to get crazier as we get into the holiday season (more importantly, final exam season!). In the whirlwind of tests and classes and work and revising, my reading has gone by the wayside a little. I think I’ve read more manuscripts in the past few months than I have actual books!

I love my CPs’ manuscripts to death, but there are some books I’m dying to get my hands on, too.

First up is UNWIND, a YA by Neal Shusterman. I actually have this book and everything…I even read a few chapters a while ago and then was forced to put it down for some reason and never got the chance to pick it back up. But I will, because it sounds absolutely fascinating!

The Second Civil War was fought over reproductive rights. The chilling resolution: Life is inviolable from the moment of conception until age thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, parents can have their child “unwound,” whereby all of the child’s organs are transplanted into different donors, so life doesn’t technically end. Connor is too difficult for his parents to control. Risa, a ward of the state is not enough to be kept alive. And Lev is a tithe, a child conceived and raised to be unwound. Together, they may have a chance to escape and to survive.

The next book isn’t really fair, I guess, because it hasn’t come out yet, so I’m really just teasing you. But I want ACROSS THE UNIVERSE by Beth Revis. It’s also YA.

You can find the first chapter here, and CA Marshall, who got her paws on an ARC (can you say jealous??), gave the book a great review, here.

Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone-one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship-tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn’t do something soon, her parents will be next.

Now Amy must race to unlock Godspeed’s hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there’s only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.

Here at LTWF, we cover mostly YA and MG books, but I’ve been reading more and more adult lit recently, and my next two OMG-READ books fall under that category.

THE ROOM by Emma Donoghue. It’s told from the point of view of Jack, and if you look up the book trailers they have for it on Youtube, they’re absolutely chilling in their innocence mixed in with the sinister. My campus bookstore is currently teasing me by having this book at a 20% discount…sigh…

To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It’s where he was born, where he and his Ma eat and play and learn. At night, Ma puts him safely to sleep in the wardrobe, in case Old Nick comes.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma it’s the prison where she’s been held for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for her son. But Jack’s curiosity is building alongside Ma’s desperation — and she knows Room cannot contain either indefinitely. …

Told in the inventive, funny, and poignant voice of Jack, Room is a powerful story of a mother and son whose love lets them survive the impossible.

And finally (but certainly not least!) THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE by Aimee Bender. I’ve read some of Bender’s short stories before, and her use of magical realism is very interesting. I’m not sure how it’ll translate to an entire novel, but I’m eager to find out.

On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein, a girl at the periphery of schoolyard games and her distracted parents’ attention, bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the cake. She discovers this gift to her horror, for her mother—her cheerful, good-with-crafts, can-do mother—tastes of despair and desperation. Suddenly, and for the rest of her life, food becomes a peril and a threat to Rose.

The curse her gift has bestowed is the secret knowledge all families keep hidden—her mother’s life outside the home, her father’s detachment, her brother’s clash with the world. Yet as Rose grows up she learns to harness her gift and becomes aware that there are secrets even her taste buds cannot discern.

Well, those are just four books in my LONG list of books-to-read. Hope you guys have more reading time at the moment than I do 😀

~~~

Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She has recently signed with literary agent Emmanuelle Morgen and spends most of her free time whipping HYBRID–a book about a girl with two souls–into shape for submission to publishers. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.

The Consequences of a Story

18 Nov

I’ve been watching a lot of TV lately, despite not actually owning a TV (my dorm room is so small I hardly have room for my dresser, desk, and bed). Thank goodness for the internet.

I was never a huge TV series person. We didn’t have cable when I was a kid, so the Saturday morning cartoon deal wasn’t much of a possibility until I was almost too old for them, and to be honest, I was a lot more excited about getting Animal Planet than I was about finally getting some good cartoons. Then I all but fell out of watching any TV at all at the beginning of high school.

But in the past couple of months, I’ve gotten into a few series, and I’ve decided that in order to make myself feel better about watching way too much of them, I’m going to call it research. And to further justify this, I’m going to write an article about it—because saying it (and publishing it for the world to see) makes it so, right? Right.

To be a little more serious, you really can learn a lot about storytelling from TV. But I’m going to focus on just one aspect today, and that’s story consequences.

There are two broad categories of TV shows in my mind: those that practically reset every episode, and those that carry a strong story arc. In the first kind, what happens in an episode stays in the episode. Godzilla comes and stampedes Walmart. Next episode, it’s all built up again. Flying monkeys of doom kidnap the mayor, but he’s always rescued by the end of the hour and no one ever mentions the incident again. In the second kind, the events of one episode impact, to some degree, all the ones after them. Actions aren’t self contained. The hero gets shot in episode one, and three seasons later, he’s still got the scar.

I probably shouldn’t be referring to these as categories so much as two ends of a spectrum, because most shows fall somewhere between the extremes. TV shows have that sort of leeway. Most of the time, however, this isn’t true for novels.

Now, there are the super long series, the ones that run for twenty or thirty books and hardly anything ever changes. But most series (and definitely most stand-alone books) don’t have this luxury. If something big happens in chapter two, readers are going to feel cheated if it’s forgotten about by chapter ten. If it’s big enough, it should have repercussions even in book two.

Repercussions and consequences give your story weight. Everything big that happens in your book ought to affect your characters in some way, not just at the moment, but for the rest of the book. I’m not saying that every tiny thing ought to plague your character forever, but really try to make sure you’re letting each event have the proper emotional and physical consequences.

This is an extreme example, but say you need your character to get badly beaten up or even tortured in one scene. If he’s dancing the tango a chapter later (and there wasn’t some major time jump), then we’ve got a problem. It might be my medical side peaking through, but I find myself rolling my eyes every time the hero of a TV show gets the crap beat out of him, hard enough to break ribs, but ends the episode without a single bruise. Or when something highly emotional happens (a death, for example), and the sadness lasts all of two minutes before it’s time to forget all about it.

Sometimes, I know I get so caught up in the plot side of things that I forget my characters aren’t automatons. Plot might dictate that they need to get from point A to point B after character C dies, and they have to do it quickly, but I have to remember to consider their emotional state. Are they going to want to be going somewhere? If not, how are they convinced? If they’re guilted into it or angered into it, what are the repercussions of that? Is this going to harm their relationship with character D? How badly? Does this mean that when character D asks the hero to do him a favor at the end of the book, the hero going to tell him to go stuff it? And is that going to end up in character D getting in some serious trouble with the local gang, resulting in the story’s climax, where the hero has to go save him?

Ok, so that got a little out of hand, but you sort of see what I mean? I’m a big believer in a story growing organically out of the choices made by the characters, which are affected by the events of the story, which, in turn, are oftentimes influenced by the choices made by the characters. This leads to a much richer story.

At the end of the day, TV shows are different from books, and what’s accepted on the screen sometimes isn’t accepted in print. But both, I think, benefit from making sure story events carry weight.

Well, how was that for an article? Good enough to justify watching more TV? 😛

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Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She has recently signed with literary agent Emmanuelle Morgen and spends most of her free time whipping HYBRID–a book about a girl with two souls–into shape for submission to publishers. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.