Tag Archives: Vahini Naidoo

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

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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!

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

2 Nov

by

Vahini Naidoo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And onwards and upwards with your word counts!

~~~

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

Your Characters Should Exist in Time

26 Aug

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preaching in YA

9 Jun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And we set off bullshit detectors.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Recommendation: I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

18 Apr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can you resist an opener like that?

~~~

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

Crits for Water

4 Apr

Today we have the great pleasure of sharing a charitable cause with you!

Crits for Water is fundraiser headed by Kat Brauer in which writers can donate money in exchange for manuscript-critiques.  Several LTWF ladies have donated critiques–in fact, this week you could win a crit from our very own Vahini Naidoo!

Kat, who is both the coordinator and primary critiquer, currently lives in Japan, teaches schoolchildren English, and writes amazing (we can vouch for the amazing!) YA novels.  We were lucky enough to snag a few minutes of her very valuable time to pester her with a few questions about this whole shebang.

So Awesome Kat, why don’t you tell us what exactly Crits for Water is…

It’s a fundraiser for charity: water. The general idea is that in return for donations that provide folks in developing nations clean water, writers get their work critiqued by published/agented authors, agents, or editors. Kat-Crits (er, crits by yours truly) are available at any time throughout the campaigns duration–where $1 = 250 words.

What inspired you to set up this enormous (but amazing!) fundraiser?

Two things. First, I love charity: water. An estimated one billion people don’t have access to clean, safe water. Many people actually walk hours upon hours each day to get water that will give them hepatitis, e-coli, and other water-borne diseases. That’s ridiculous and really flabbergasting to me, when my (safe!) water source is about ten feet from me at all times.

charity: water is committed to providing that water. They also look at the water issue as a whole. They provide sanitation classes, create community boards that must include women to help teach those classes and maintain the clean-water projects. And all public donations, 100 percent, go straight to the field. They’re very transparent about costs, and that pleases me immensely.

Second, I want to help writers. It’s an opportunity to improve one’s writing and network while saving lives. Also, I really wanted to make these opportunities available to writers whose pockets aren’t so deep as a lot of the auctions for charities often go–which is why I’m doing “random drawings” as well.

You are the primary “critter” in this fundraiser. What’s your critique style?

Generally speaking, I read for characterization and pacing issues first, as those are what pop out in smaller, chapter-like excerpts. As I’m reading, I tend to do pretty intense line-edits if I feel that’s necessary. Sometimes I’ll read excerpts twice. Once for more broad, plot, characterization, pacing type issues, and another time for line edits.

Once I do the readings, I set the excerpts aside for about an hour and ponder whether my initial comments were justified. Then I sit down and type up notes. If there are specific, broader issues, I try to come up with ways to fix it. Even if my ideas won’t work for the writer’s vision of the book, I figure it’ll help them brainstorm other ideas to address the issues.

Finally, I’m all about BALANCE. One of my most common addendums to my comments is “Don’t go crazy with this!” Yes, we should try to avoid passive voice, adverbs, and filter words where necessary, but that doesn’t mean avoiding them completely! Working too hard to avoid such writerly pitfalls will probably make your work more awkward than including them sparingly.

What industry professionals are contributing critiques?

Well, you can view the whole list on my blog. But aside from the fabulous group of YA/MG and romance authors, so far nine agents and two editors are also contributing critiques (sometimes more than one!). They’re all rockstars. Folks like Jim McCarthy, Joanna Volpe, Laurie McLean, Sara Megibow, Chris Richman, and Editorial Anonymous. Many of them are also providing random drawings for their crits in addition to auctions, which I’m very happy with.

The list is constantly growing, too, which just astounds me. People are so generous with their time, and I’m honored that such a large group of people have agreed to help with this project.

Now, these “Super Sekrit” giveaways…can you give us a hint as to what kind of swag they include?

A hint? But the point is that they’re SEKRIT. But okay. The current one running has a Japanese theme–I live in Japan, and I know a lot of us have Japan on our thoughts at the moment. Part of it is also CUSTOMIZABLE, which I think is rocking.

I’ll also do some of books and like writerly things, and one will be water-related. All are awesome, and all are worth $50+. There will be four giveaways total.

Finally, any last words or Sage Writerly Advice to impart?

Is it corny to end with a quote? Well, I’m gonna anyway.

One of my favorite authors, Natsume Soseki, wrote in his fab book Kokoro (The Heart of Things), “Words are not meant to stir the air only. They are capable of moving greater things.”Authors are artists. Our work is commentary on the human condition, what humanity implies, even if we don’t mean it that way. I love the way that the online writing community has come together time and time again to prove that our words can move greater things–be it Brenda Novak’s charity auction, Write Hope, or the romance community’s Operation Auction. I’m deeply humbled that so many people have reached out to help me with this effort–though I think I’ll give most of the credit to charity: water for being fantabulous. 😄

So yeah. You guys are great. That’s all.

~~~

So there you have it!  What are you waiting for?  Get thee to the Crits for Water page and start donating–surely you can spare a single dollar, right? 🙂  And be on the look out for guest critiques from our members: Sarah J. Maas, Kat Zhang, Susan Dennard, and Vahini Naidoo!

Word Choice

28 Mar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, how do you guys choose your words?

~~~

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

Patience

15 Feb

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

Writing often seems like it’s a waiting game.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your methods for remaining patient and motivated?

~~~

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

The Magic of Secrets

11 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~~

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

LTWF Anniversary…What A Year It’s Been!

7 Oct

By

 

Sarah J. Maas

 

~

Looking back to last year, it’s hard to believe how far this blog has come in just twelve months.

When I got the idea for Let The Words Flow, I had very few writing friends—fewer still from FictionPress. The FP friends I did have didn’t know each other—didn’t know that there were others out there, struggling to make the leap between FP and publication.

The only proof I had that you could make the jump was embodied in Mandy Hubbard, our resident rock star, who supported this group from Day 1. I knew that if Mandy was on board, we’d have a degree of credibility—Mandy, with her multiple book deals and oodles of success, was our poster child for all that we could accomplish.

But there had to be more of us out there—there had to be other FP people with book deals, or agents, or querying agents. So I looked. I looked and looked, browsing through the profiles of other FictionPress “Greats.” And I found a few—enough to start a blog, if they would only join Mandy and me.

I still remember the terror and anticipation of sending out those initial emails to potential contributors—I remember praying that any of them would respond to me.

After all, very few of us were friends—in fact, most of us had been fierce rivals on FictionPress. We never talked, and if we ever came across each other, it was in fan-run contests that did nothing but increase the tension between us. We were all islands surrounded by a sea of adoring fans.

You can’t imagine my surprise when all of them not only replied to me—but they all accepted my offer to join LTWF.

The biggest surprise came from Savannah J. Foley not only accepting the offer, but being absolutely thrilled to join the group. She’d been one of my biggest rivals on FP—QUEEN OF GLASS and WOMAN’S WORLD were always matched up against each other in contests. But it was our similarities, not our past differences, that bonded us: we both had agents, and had both started submissions to editors. Though she had a ton of potential, I had no idea—none—that she would become not only a close friend, but also the solid foundation upon which LTWF would be built.

I will admit, initially, I was swamped. I managed a lot of features on the site, and would often bolt upright in the middle of the night to realize something needed fixing. We only posted three days a week, but it was enough to keep us all busy. We survived the initial few months, and our readership grew more and more every day—we actually had readers! We had people who were interested in our journeys, people who were having journeys of their own—people who were interesting and brilliant and oh so lovely.

One of those people was Biljana Likic. A long-time friend of mine from FP, Billy is a bit of a child prodigy—though she was only 17 at the time, her writing was  (and is!) incredible. At the risk of sounding like an old person, Billy showed a tremendous amount of potential. She’s also wonderful person—funny, kind, and clever, and she brought a much-needed burst of humor and fun to the group dynamic when she joined in January of 2010.

With Billy on board, we had enough members—and enough readers—to start posting more frequently. We dared ourselves to start posting five days a week. I fretted over that (when am I NOT worrying?), wondering if we could possibly keep it up, and how we could keep our readers interested. I also wondered if we had enough diversity in the group—there were plenty of aspiring writers in LTWF, but what about the other side of the desk? What about aspiring agents and editors?

That answer came in early March, in the form of Vanessa Di Gregorio, an aspiring writer attending a publishing course, but also an intern at a literary agency with dreams of working in publishing. The other side of the desk didn’t look so empty anymore. Of course, we had no idea that being on the other side of the desk would later be the way we got hooked up with prizes for all of our giveaways, or that she’d become the Grand Dame of our Saturday Grab Bag posts and book reviews. Or that she’d be the one to revamp our site and become the ghost behind our twitter account, taking it from 50 or so followers to over 450 followers (and counting)!

By that point, it seemed only natural to add Jenn Fitzgerald to our ranks in late March. Another aspiring author, Jenn spends her days living out one of everyone’s childhood dreams: working as an archaeologist. Her adorable MG novel brought a bit of a change from our usual YA fare, and her determination to keep querying and writing, despite digging all day long, made her an inspiration.

At this point, we found new members left and right. We had people applying to be in the group. That absolutely blew my mind.

In the group itself, the number of emails back and forth skyrocketed. Communicating with my contributors was no longer a daily thing, but an hourly one. Girls who I had once seen as my enemies were my confidantes and cheerleaders. I’ll never forget the joy of sending an email to them, announcing my book deal with Bloomsbury—and I’ll never forget crying in my car as their replies showed up on my blackberry. Sharing that moment with them was one of the best moments of my publishing journey thus far.

In the wake of getting a book deal, one of the congratulatory wishes I received was from a FP writer named Julie Eshbaugh—who sent me a message to say that LTWF had inspired her to keep querying, and that she now had an agent. She was so passionate about the group (and had received multiple offers of representation!) that we knew she had to join us. So, in early April of 2010, she did. And she meshed perfectly.

With so many members, we no longer had to worry about filling out the calendar. In fact, we were all so eager to post that we added another day of posting, and in May, we kicked off our Saturday posts.

Swamped with pre-wedding preparations, I had to step back a bit from my LTWF duties. I wondered if this group—which I had once managed all on my own—could function without me for a few weeks. Well, to my delight, it could—and it did. The site that I had struggled to maintain months ago was suddenly a well-oiled machine—people had assumed responsibilities without even my asking. Realizing that it had become a community-run blog was one of the proudest moments I’ve ever had.

One of the members who would later become a huge help was Kat Zhang. She submitted an application that blew us all away—not only was she querying agents with a wonderful manuscript, but she was also an amazingly talented spoken word poet. We had tentatively discussed not taking on any more un-agented new members, but Kat’s humor, kindness, and brilliance won us over. We knew it was only a matter of time before she landed an agent. And this September, she did. Kat claims she didn’t cry the day she got the call, but I think a few of us cried enough on her behalf to compensate.

After Kat joined, we had a dilemma: did we have too many members? Were our readers getting detached from the warm, cozy atmosphere of the site? It would take a truly incredible member to get us to change our mind. We found two.

Sammy Bina originally joined us as a month-long guest contributor, though by the end of week 1, it was pretty apparent that we had to have her forever. An intern at a literary agency, Sammy brought invaluable advice to our readers regarding all aspects of the querying process—and as an aspiring, querying writer, she was also a contributor our readers could connect with. More than that, Sammy was also a part of the wildly-popular Plagiarism Haven group, and many of her readers became LTWF regulars. If you attended our latest livechat, you’ll know that she’s a firecracker, and provides us with endless hours of entertainment (which is obviously the most important thing she could do!).

The last member to join our ranks was Vahini Naidoo—who came to us just days after accepting an offer of representation from an agent (after receiving multiple offers)! Not to mention, she’s still in high school (way to make us all feel bad, Vee!). Hailing from Australia, Vee took LTWF from a North American group to a truly international one, and her dry sense of humor melded beautifully with our group dynamic.

Had you asked me a year ago if I knew that the group would become so large, and so diverse, I would have laughed. When I started the blog, I had high hopes, but I never thought farther down the road than a few months. Now we think in years.

One of the exciting new features that we’ll be adding is our free online creative writing course, which will begin in February of 2011 (details soon to come)! We’re also planning tons of livechats (next month: querying!), adding some new members, and we have a few more surprises up our collective sleeve.

But we wanted to do one more thing—just to say thank you to the readers who have helped make this blog such a success.

In honor of our one-year anniversary, we’re going to be giving away nine gift baskets customized by each LTWF member! On Saturday, we’ll post the official contest announcement/sign-up, but gift baskets will include contributors’ favorite books, moleskine notebooks, and much, much more!

Because we owe it all to YOU. We never could have added new members—we never would have met each other—if we didn’t have readers coming back every day, asking us QOTWs, entering our contests, and turning this blog from a dream into a reality.

A year ago, that’s all this blog was—a dream. A dream that we weren’t the only FictionPress people trying to get published. And if there’s any moral to this post—to this blog in all its entirety—it’s that you are not alone.

I think that’s what took us all by surprise: despite years of rivalry on FictionPress, we are more similar than any of us realized. We are not alone. We are no longer islands.

Thank you all for proving that.

~~~

Sarah J. Maas is the author of several novels, including QUEEN OF GLASS, a YA fantasy retelling of Cinderella that will be published by Bloomsbury in late 2011. Sarah resides with her husband in Los Angeles. You can visit her blog here.