Tag Archives: writing

Interview with Shelli Johannes, author of UNTRACEABLE + GIVEAWAY!

30 Nov

by Susan Dennard

You might have seen my book review for Untraceable on Sunday. If not, read it. This book is impressive–and its author, Shelli Johannes, is quite possibly even more impressive.

Why do I have such glowing praise for Shelli? Because she’s done something a lot of us are too scared to do: she has indie-published her debut novel.

But more importantly than that, Shelli has indie-published it right. She has approached it as a professional author who knows the industry, knows what readers want, and knows how to tell a damn good story.

If you want to hear more about her amazing and empowering journey, I suggest reading her blog series on it (which begins here). I was lucky enough to get an interview with Shelli about her publication process, and all I can say is: WOW. She is an inspiration to us all.

When you started writing Untraceable, what was the inspiration behind it?  A dream? A musical clip? Plain, old-fashioned brainstorming?

My husband came home one day from being in the remote woods for the weekend and said, “I was so far out–a terrorist camp could set up there and no one would ever know.”

The story started out called Grace Under Fire. And it was about terrorist cells in the wilderness (hides face from embarrassment). Years later, I got rid of the terrorist camp but kept Grace and the wilderness.

It actually came in the quarterfinals in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award of 2009. 1 of only 7 thrillers to make the list.

Wow–I did not know that about the Breakthrough Award! (Can’t say I’m surprised either ;)) And what a COOL way for a story to start…mine are always lame dreams, so I’m totally jealous.

What was the biggest challenge for you while writing UNTRACEABLE? 

Editing it. Back in 09, I remember agents HATING the terrorist angle but loving Grace and the overall setting (go figure :)) so I had to go back to the drawing board and rewrite the entire plot from scratch. I did that more than once. But that time was the hardest.

You’re taking a different, unique path for getting your book out there, and you’re really showing other writers how self-publish in a professional, and reader-focused manner. It’s obvious you care about your readers more than making some quick cash. When and why did you decide to indie-publish?

For a few reasons:

  1. I was tired of people telling me a contemporary thriller would not sell well to teens.
  2. I wanted to see if I could do it on my own and learn more about publishing process in general.
  3. I thought it would be fun to create my own thing my own way.

Because I was scared everyone would think I suck, I decided to blog about the process openly – the ups and the downs to see if I could help others decide if indie pubbing was right for them.

I also hear so much about the stigma of indie/self pubbing. I wanted to break through that barrier and create a high quality product I was proud of and show people that you can do it the right way.

Yeah, I think that stigma is starting to fade as more and more writers with high-quality stories take that route. All I can say is: GOOD FOR YOU! For having the courage and the determination to do this the “right way”.

Is there anything that, in hindsight, you wish you had done differently with UNTRACEABLE–either in the writing or publication process?

I’m having so much fun I wish I had done this a long time ago. I wish I had skipped all the unnecessary anxiety. But I believe everything happens for a reason and I am where I am supposed to be.

Too true–I’m a firm believer of that as well. What’s your next writing project? And do you think you’ll continue on the self-publication path with it?

I have a special edition of Untraceable coming out in Jan/Feb with a different ending. And I am putting out Grace 2 – called Uncontrollable early next summer.

Beyond that – I’m not sure. I have manuscripts that have almost been bought on my shelf. Who knows maybe I’ll pull another one out.

But I am writing a WIP that I would like to get an agent for down the road. I love the traditional pubbing process so I hope to do both someday when I am ready to jump back in the pit.

I think it’s so awesome that you’re interested in both approaches and that you want to try to tackle both. I would love to as well…one day…when I’m not so lazy.;) Honestly, though, writing all these books and self-promoting–it must take a lot of perseverance and hard work. What’s a typical writing day for you? 

I drop off my daughter at school around 8 and then hang with my son until I drop him off at preschool at 9. I spend about an hour on the Internet with emails, twitter, Facebook, catching up on blogs etc. I usually write from about 10-12ish. Then I catch up on emails again before I get my son at 1.

But this is not how it is all the time. Especially not right now.

Right now, I imagine your life is wrapped up in UNTRACEABLE promotion. In your spare time, though, what are you reading?

Just finished The Pledge by Kimberly Derting and Fracture by Megan Miranda.

And any final words of advice or inspiration? 

Don’t give up. Let go of you ego. And follow your heart.

Leave a comment below for a chance to win not only an ebook of Untraceable, but also a copy of Escape Velocity and an ARC of Promise the Night.

It’s open internationally, and we’ll announce our giveaway winner on FRIDAY! ALONG WITH OUR BIG NEWS!

And Monday’s giveaway winner (for a copy of PRETTY BONES) is

Nicole Steinhaus!

Email us at letthewordsflowblog (at) gmail (d0t) com with your mailing address!

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

2 Nov

by

Vahini Naidoo

~~~

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.

Story Threads and Resonance

17 Oct

by Susan Dennard

~~

Note:

This post has been UPDATED

and re-posted on

Pub(lishing) Crawl!

~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. Her debut novel, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, is now available from HarperTeen. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

Differents Types of Romance, or My Love For You Can’t Be Labeled

21 Sep

by Susan Dennard
~~

When it comes to romance in YA (or really any novel), how the romantically-involved characters first meet is dictated very much by the type of romance you want to create. For example, what’s wrong with this picture:

Scene 1: Boy meets girl. They meet eyes; their hearts skip a beat. He comes over and is ridiculously swoon-worthy.

Scene 2: Boy picks on girl. She retorts with her own insults, and soon they’re quarreling.

Yeah, those two scenes sound like two different kinds of romance, don’t they? Scene 1 fits with #1 below, and scene 2 is more of a #2 from the list.

We may think our love is indefinable and vast and SO WONDERFUL it can’t be squeezed into a label, but…the truth is, like most plots, there is a little bit of formula to romance.*

*Note: romance–like any plot–doesn’t have to follow a formula. It just often does because those formulas WORK. Formulas give the reader expectations, and expectations heighten the tension by transforming the question from, “Is their the potential for love?” to “WHEN WHEN WHEN WILL IT HAPPEN? Just KISS already!” The plot keeps the characters apart when we know they belong together, and that builds a natural tension into the story.

Here are just a few examples of romantic plot lines and what’s needed when the characters first meet:

1. Love-at-first-sight? Then you’ll want some visceral reactions that show the heroine/hero’s initial reactions. Sex appeal, yes, but not explicitly so. A heroine might find her mouth dry and her stomach fluttery, and she might think about how good looking the hero is. Or maybe she’s just wondering why she is so compelled to speak to/see/be near this guy… She doesn’t know, but the reader does! (Ex: Hereafter by Tara Hudson)

2. It could be an “I HATE YOU” to “You’re not so bad” to “I luuurve you” romance. Then, the hero & heroine will probably get off on the wrong foot, immediately argue, and then kinda want to kill each other. Personally, I’m a fan of these romances (oh, Mr. Darcy, how I love thee!), and Something Strange and Deadly has some of this. The visceral reactions/attraction will come later, and that pesky hate thing is a great barrier to the final admission of feelings. (Ex: Star Wars, Han Solo and Princess Leia—best romance EVER!)

3. Maybe it’s a friendship-to-love romance. In that case, we’ll see the hero/heroine as Just A Friend, and we’ll move through the story as the MC figures out his/her true feelings. Again, the visceral reactions/attraction will develop as the story goes along. (Ex: The False Princess by Eilis O’Neal, The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting)

4. It could also be a long term crush turned to love if the MC has always loved the hero/heroine, or vice versa. When we first see the love interest, we also first see how the MC feels. If the MC desperately wants to kiss the boy, then the reader wants her to too–and we’ve gotta keep turning pages until it happens. (Ex: You Wish Mandy Hubbard, Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver)

5. Or it could just be a slow, natural relationship. The characters meet, find each other attractive perhaps, and their romance grows from there. The meet up will have just a slight element of attraction or maybe none at all until a few scenes later. (Ex: Paranormalcy by Kiersten White, Unearthly by Cynthia Hand)

What other romance meet-ups can you come up with? Please share!

~~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

One Book To Rule Them All

14 Sep

by Susan Dennard

~~

One book to rule them in all, and in the greatness bind them!

So, I got this idea from Molly O’Neill’s blog, and it’s such a COOL thing to think about, I wanted to share it here. That is:

If you could only ever publish one book (or one more), what would that book be about?

She calls it the One Book To Rule Them All (it’s a LORD OF THE RINGS reference, btw), and I knew instantly what mine would be. Which in turn, made me stop and consider why that one book isn’t the book I’ve already written or plan to write next.

The answer is pretty straightforward: I’m a coward. I fear I can’t do the concept or the genre justice. I fear that I do not have the skills needed to execute what I would want to be my crowning story.

And no, I won’t tell you what that idea is–what my One Book To Rule Them All is about. Suffice it to say it would be middle grade and so deliciously magical (though with no actual magic or fantasy in it) and brimming with atmosphere you would think about it long after you close its covers.

Well…that’s my dream about it anyway. Clearly, I don’t consider myself up to the task of actually producing that. YET.

What about you? Do you have an idea for that One Book To Rule Them All? Or do you even have an idea like that in mind? If so, what keeps you from writing it now–or have you written it?

~~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

Coauthoring A Novel: Part Two

7 Sep

by Susan Dennard (and Sarah J. Maas!)

~~

As Sarah said Monday, the casual idea of coauthoring a book didn’t become a REAL idea for months. And then the actual world-building and novel-writing happened in a matter of weeks.

We were pushing out two to three scenes a day and letting go of our egos (because how else can you let someone read your first draft? It’s scary!). And as we wrote, a new thought weaseled in: What if this is actually good enough to publish? What if…what if…we could show this to our agents?

It was like tossing a grenade into the fray. Suddenly, we weren’t on fire for our own enjoyment—we were infernos of writing madness. There’s something about imagining your book as a REAL, published novel that motivates like no other.

But, all the excitement and dreaming big aside, here’s where you have to remember the fourth rule of coauthoring: writing is a business. Never forget that deciding to SELL a book adds a new dimension to your project—and it also puts more emphasis on being 100% transparent with each other. Why? Because now Sarah and I were talking money. We were talking about the path of our careers. Now we were looking at our writing schedule as a business plan.

And now, we had to bring in our agents.

So we notified our knights-in-shining-armor, Sara Kendall and Joanna Volpe of Nancy Coffey Literary and Tamar Rydzinski of the Laura Dail Literary Agency. We told them we were coauthoring a book, we were really excited about it, and gave them the rough pitch.

Insert Awesome Agents Stage Left.

Without even waiting to see if we could produce something good, our agents were SUPER enthusiastic about the project, and moved right on to the next step: meeting each other. For an actual coauthored novel to sell, both sets of agents need to be involved constantly.  Everyone is CC’ed on emails, phone calls go out at the same time, and the entire process is completely open and honest.

(Also, it is super exciting. I get to work with a new agent (albeit temporarily). Now there are three possible names in my inbox that make my heart go KAPOW.)

Sarah Chimes In: Getting our agents on board was one of the most harrowing and exciting moments for us. Sooz and I were absolutely honored—and thrilled!—that they trusted us (and our work) enough to move ahead so quickly! And, as Sooz said, it’s SO awesome to closely work with another agent! I’ve admired Sara and Jo for so long that working with them still feels a bit surreal.

We wrote up a detailed synopsis of the entire book and we sent it to our agents before their first lunch date. Funnily enough, the agents instantly recognized—from the synopsis alone—which author (me or Sarah) wrote which character. Even in the synopsis, our voices and unique approaches to storytelling were obvious!

So now that we had our agents in the loop and doing their thing, Sarah and I set to revise our shiny new novel. But I was nervous. Now I was telling Sarah something was wrong with her scenes. Gone were the days of gushing praise—we had to sharpen our claws and get honest.

And so what is the fifth rule of coauthoring? Don’t take it personally. This is one of those obvious lessons we all KNOW we should feel with our novels. We all say our skins are thick from years of criticism, but if anyone out there can say they honestly don’t feel the slightest sting the when someone points out their mistakes, then raise your hand (I want to meet you because you’re clearly not human).

Sarah Chimes In: This is definitely a moment where trust comes into play, too. We had to trust each other to see the things we couldn’t, trust that the other person wouldn’t get upset if we pointed out something that needed fixing, and trust that our friendship could survive through it all. You’re not on opposing sides—you are a TEAM. What happens to one person affects the other. And whatever gets thrown your way, you face it together.

So I had to not fret over hurting Sarah’s feelings, and I had to not wince when she let me know if something I’d written just wasn’t working. I read the entire MS, wrote up a master list of all the problems we had—plot holes, character inconsistencies, etc., and sent it to Sarah. We talked in depth about the issues, and then…

BAM. The hurricane was back. No feelings were hurt at ALL—in fact, seeing the problems somehow drove us to want to fix them. We were determined to reach the book we’d initially set out to write. We’d revise two, three, or more scenes a day and swap. And within a week, we had a new book to show for it.

Now Sarah took charge. With the big problems fixed, there were still all the little issues to fret over. Line edits, pacing, infodumps, etc.  She read the whole novel and with track-changes pointed out everything that needed fixing…

And then we were done.  Well, scratch that. We were done enough for a critique partner.  Sarah and I both firmly believe that sending your agent an un-critiqued manuscript is unprofessional. We had read the book so many times by then, it was all blurring together—we couldn’t see the mistakes any more. An external set of eyes was the only way to spot the remaining problems (and to verify that this book we thought was the Greatest Novel Ever Written was actually any good at all).

Once we got the feedback from our CP, we incorporated her ideas, sent the book through one more strenuous wringer of line edits, and then…we held our breaths, crossed our fingers, and sent the darn thing to our agents.

Insert montage of Susan banging her head against the desk and groaning, Sarah frantically picking all the polish off her fingernails, and both girls writing panicked emails saying “WHAT IF THEY HATE IT?”

Sarah Chimes In: Way to expose my nervous habit, Sooz!!! 😉 Seriously, though—while we waited to hear what our agents thought about the ms, we were pretty pathetic. It felt kinda like the moment of truth—what if all our hard work was for nothing? What if we had to go back to Square 1?

The sixth rule of coauthoring is to be available when your buddy is freaking out because you will certainly have your own fair share of freaking out.

Fortunately, our agents didn’t hate the book—they actually loved it! And fortunately, they were all in agreement on what needed changing and twisting and fixing.

Flash forward a month and a half (oh my gosh, it’s only been a month and a half?), and Sarah and I are just finishing what we hope will be our last big picture revisions before the Submissions Fairy deems us okay for editorial eyes. Every new round of revisions is like that initial grenade, and we work furiously for a few days, send the newest draft to our agents, and then conk out for a week of recovery (just kidding. Sort of.).

Sarah Chimes In: Not gonna lie: It’s like a writing hangover.

Every time there’s some new excuse to work on this book, my heart does a little dance because this means I get to skype with Sarah for 3+ hours and babble about our fantasy world (much to the chagrin of our husbands). I love to talk about my writing—like LOVE it—and being able to talk about my writing with a writer…and with a writer who is writing the same thing?? BLISS!

So, hopefully one day in the not too distant future, this novel will make its way to some publishing inboxes and pique some acquisitions editors’ eyes, and you can promise that when that Big Deal Day comes, we will let everyone know—because the third rule of coauthoring is to have fun, and the seventh rule is to share that fun with the world!

~~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

~

Sarah J. Maas has written several novels, including QUEEN OF GLASS, a YA fantasy retelling of Cinderella that will be published by Bloomsbury in Fall 2012. She is repped by Tamar Rydzinski of the Laura Dail Literary Agency, and resides with her husband in Southern California. You can visit her blog here, and follow her on twitter.

Coauthoring A Novel: Part One

5 Sep

By Sarah J. Maas (and Susan Dennard!)

~~~

Seven months ago, if you had asked me about whether or not I’d ever coauthor a book, I probably would have just scratched my head. It was something that SOUNDED cool, but seemed really, really hard to do well—not just the writing aspect, but also the emotional and business sides of it. Though I was fairly certain that if the right person came around, and if the right idea struck us, it could be a fun thing to do.

Enter Susan Dennard.

We’d swapped novels before—I had read Susan’s stunning debut, SOMETHING STRANGE & DEADLY, and she’d read both QUEEN OF GLASS and A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES (my “Beauty and the Beast” retelling). We both loved each other’s work, and had an instant friendship back when Sooz joined LTWF in October 2010, and had jokingly talked about one day writing a book together. The problem was that we didn’t have any idea WHAT to write.

Sooz Chimes In: If you think about it, it’s pretty daunting to come up with an idea two writers agree on. We’re all used to being 100% in control of our stories, our characters, and our worlds. Not to mention Sarah’s books are very different from mine—at least in terms of world or genre…

Then, one fateful day—February 8th, 2010—inspiration struck. We can’t yet explain WHY that date is so important, but let’s just say that a simple: “What if?” question turned into a “Holy crap…that’s an idea for a NOVEL!”

The thing is, neither Susan nor I had ever co-written a novel—and didn’t really know the first thing about it. We knew almost right away that the novel would be dual POV about two sisters. Which meant we each would be writing half a novel, essentially (though this actually doesn’t mean there’s any less work involved). But things like coming up with our world, plot, and characters—things like outlining and writing a synopsis…we had to figure out how to do all those things TOGETHER.

First rule about coauthoring a novel? Be flexible. Be open with your ideas, be open to suggestions, be open to learning how someone else’s creative process works, and what inspires THEM. And be crystal-clear when communicating.

Once we had a basic idea of our book (and by basic, I mean it was still “What if we wrote X?”), we began brainstorming. Every day. For a few weeks. We’d talk on skype, on gchat, over email. Most of the brainstorming went like this:

Sarah: So what if we did THIS?

Sooz: Ooh!!! That sounds so cool! But what if we did THIS?

Sarah: OMG. YES. And what if we added THIS?

Sooz: And then that could tie into THIS!

Sarah: Or we could go THIS route…

Sooz: Or THIS route!

Sarah: You are a genius because then we could tie it in with THIS.

Sooz: I know. And OMG—YES.

We even roughly outlined the first six chapters, but after weeks of brainstorming, we ran into a slight speed bump: when would this novel be set? We had originally envisioned steampunk, but given Sooz’s debut has steampunk elements, we were hesitant to also make ours a steampunk book. We both knew from the start that if this was gonna work, we’d have to be clear about what we wanted—about what was working for us and what wasn’t.

Sooz Chimes In: Like Sarah said, because SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY is an alternate history with gadgets and because I’m not allowed to write a new book that would compete with it, it seemed like our original envisioning of this coauthoring project wasn’t gonna fly. So I straight up told her, “My no-compete clause limits me. Would you be willing to look at different settings?”

And though it was frustrating to realize that our steampunk setting might not work, it was also a great sign that we were getting this communication thing down—we both felt that the decision to avoid the steampunk route was the right one. Without being brave enough to voice our opinions—and open enough to hear them—the project could have fallen apart right there. But then things like edit letters and revisions and other projects came along, and before we knew it, our little project got set on the back burner.

Weeks went by, and to be honest, we didn’t think of our little project all that often. But then one day out of the blue, one of us said: “So, I’ve been thinking about our little project…What if we set it in THIS setting/era?” And the other one said: “…Well, maybe not THEN, but what about a few years before…?”

What followed then was explosion of creativity that I don’t quite have words to describe. We had our setting, and our two heroines, and a villain—for the next few weeks, we built the world. The thing about co-writing a book is that you BOTH need to agree on EVERYTHING. In a hurricane of brainstorming, we built a world from the ground up—a world that we absolutely adored. One book became a trilogy.

Maybe we had it easy. Sooz and I come from the same geekdoms. STAR WARS, INDIANA JONES, various anime…we loved the same novels. We knew, inside and out, the kind of sources we were drawing from, and knew our target audience. And because we were so familiar with the same things, it made getting on the same page way easier (example: I mentioned wanting a “That’s no moon…It’s a space station.” kinda shout-out moment, and Sooz knew exactly what I was talking about.).

But there comes a point when you can’t do any more brainstorming—when you have to bite the bullet and start writing.

Doing that—deciding to put words onto paper—was perhaps the hardest part so far. We decided to each take a character and write their POV in alternating chapters. After we’d write a chapter, we’d swap those chapters and read through them so we’d be on the same page about pacing and plot development. Initially, it felt like a game of chicken: who would be the first one to write their chapter? Worse: who would be the first one to SEND their chapter to the other?

Confession: Sooz is way braver than me and sent her first chapter before I sent mine. And it was so good that I looked back at the first chapter I had written and CRINGED. And then worried that Sooz would find my first chapter so freaking horrible that she’d realize working with me was a terrible mistake and suggest we not do it.

Sooz Chimes In: Sarah is being ridiculous. When she sent me her first chapter, I got chills…and then freaked out because I had already sent her mine and in comparison, hers was SO much better. I told her what I thought, and she laughed and told me how she felt—next thing you know, we were both feeling pretty confident about our scenes and chomping at the bit to get out more!

Second rule of coauthoring a novel? Embrace your belief that your co-author is writing better stuff than you—and writing faster and more of it. It becomes a powerful motivator.

Seeing Sooz produce such stellar stuff made me push myself. It kept me on my toes. It challenged me to write the very best that I could—it made me demand excellence from myself.

Sooz, like me, is a fast worker. We can both write well over 5k words in a day if we’re focused. Seeing Sooz churn out chapters made me not want to let her down—I wanted to match the quality and quantity of work she was producing. Best of all, these weren’t negative feelings—it was liberating. Inspiring. It was an adrenaline rush and a sugar high and like going 0 to 60 in 7 seconds. I woke up every morning eager to get to work, and went to bed every night dreaming of the next day’s scenes.

We finished our rough draft in two weeks. And then began the process of revision—which is a process that Sooz will talk about in our next article on co-authoring.

Third rule of coauthoring a novel? Have fun.

I keep telling people that this summer has been one of the busiest of my life, and it has. But it’s also been one of the most fun I can remember. Every day, I got to wake up and work (via skype, email, etc) with my best friend. We got to giggle about the guys in our book, or go on wild tangents about Boba Fett or my obsession with Ancient Aliens or the alien-raccoon-demon hybrid dwelling in my attic. Or one of our dogs would bark, and the other would bark in response, and we’d have to stop working for 5 minutes to allow our pups to have a doggie skype session.

We started off just writing this book for the hell of it. Just to have a grand time and write about some of the things we love and wish we could do. But it didn’t take long after we began writing before we asked another question….

“…What if we tried to get this book published?”

~~~

Sarah J. Maas has written several novels, including QUEEN OF GLASS, a YA fantasy retelling of Cinderella that will be published by Bloomsbury in Fall 2012. She is repped by Tamar Rydzinski of the Laura Dail Literary Agency, and resides with her husband in Southern California. You can visit her blog here, and follow her on twitter.

~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

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?

~~~

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.

Holding Yourself (and Your Writing) Accountable

22 Aug

 

by Susan Dennard

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I’ve talked about productivity before. About how BICHOK is one sure-fire way to get your writing where it needs to be. About how focused practice is the only way to get better.

But what about those times when your self-motivation (if you even have it to begin with!) starts to flag?

What about those days where you spend four hours at the computer and write all of 4 words?

Yeah, it’s kinda like that.

On those days, my friend, it’s time to seek help elsewhere. It’s time to find SOMEONE ELSE to hold you accountable.

I mean, think about it: when you were in high school, you got your work done (or I hope you did…). Maybe it was at the last minute or maybe it wasn’t always your best work, but you finished. Why? Because someone else expected you to.

So why not put a dose of SOMEONE ELSE in your writing life?

It’s easy. Find another writer (or as many as you want!) and agree to talk regularly, share your goals, and check in often to make sure you’re staying on track.

For example, right now, the Let the Words Flow ladies are sharing their daily word count goals. In the morning, we all email how many words we want to type out before night…and then that night, we email to say how much we actually wrote.

I can assure you that simply knowing the other ladies are gonna see my daily progress really pushes me to keep TYPING! And, if for whatever reason one of us is flagging, we all shoot out upbeat emails–and when I’m the one behind, that support REALLY helps me get back on track.

So if you’re finding you need a bit more motivation in your life, I challenge you to find another writer who’ll hold you accountable and send you lots of smiley faces when you need ’em.

Is this something you would ever do? Or do you already have someone like this in your writing life?

~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

Thinking = Plotting

18 Aug

A Guest Post by Marina Cohen

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I’m often asked how long it took me to write my first novel. It’s an easy enough question. You’d think the response would be fairly straightforward, right? Not so much. In fact, by the time I’m finished I’m sure people wish they hadn’t asked.

I start by saying it took me six months to write my first novel—because that’s how long I spent hammering away at the keys of my old computer to turn the idea floating around my head into pixels. Most smile, satisfied with that response, but then I tell them I’m not finished. I go on to say it took me nine more months to rewrite the exact same story—just to get it right. This is when they begin to nod politely and back away. Hold on, I say. I’m not done yet. I spent another four years editing, revising, submitting, getting rejected, revising some more, editing again, re-submitting, getting truckloads of rejections, before I finally got my very first contract. And then it took another year before I held my novel in my hot little hands. At this point they turn to run but I give chase. Wait! That’s not the whole story! You’re going to miss the most important part! Because before my fingers ever grazed a keyboard, I spent ten years thinking.

Ten years.

Thinking.

Huh.

So what exactly was I thinking about? Well, my plot, of course.

For me thinking is synonymous with plotting. Even now, five novels later, I need to think out my entire story before I can begin to write the first word. There are all sorts of different plotting graphs and styles, but honestly, it all boils down to thinking.

My family has gotten used to it—that glazed look in my eye, the vague responses, the rich scent of burnt toast filling the air when my brain has abandoned the real world and entered the world of my current work-in-progress.

Now, I’m not a meticulous plotter in the sense that I don’t sketch out every chapter, nor do I use charts or configurations. But there are elements I must work out in my mind, or the idea just goes into a folder to revisit at a later date. Here’s what I need to know prior to writing:

  1. What’s the inciting incident?  What propels my MC off their path and spins them in a totally different direction? Of course this incident can be subtle, but I like to make it something quick and dramatic to hook readers.
  2. I must know how my story will end. This is critical, so that I can work toward setting up the climax and ending, building it, moving toward it with every detail. If you don’t know how your story will end, you can plod forward, but I think you may end up doing a fair amount of re-writing. I like to have a twist ending—something readers don’t see coming. And I also like to connect my ending in some significant way to my inciting incident.
  3. I divide my plot into three chunks—that three act structure I’m sure you’ve already come across. And each chunk ends in its own climax, spinning the story in a different direction again, but bringing the reader that much closer to the ultimate climax.
  4. Finally, it’s important to remember that plot does not simply refer to the events of your story. It’s also (and in some ways more importantly) about the emotional journey of your character. Who are they at the start of the story and how they change as a result of the events of the story.

Now, even though I have all this in my mind, when I sit down to actually write my story, more often than not, it takes unexpected turns. Characters I hadn’t imagined muscle their way into my manuscript uninvited—and it’s usually these surprise twists and characters that I end up loving the most.

So I sit. And I think. And I think some more. I think while I cook and clean and shop—but never while I drive, er, ’cause that would be dangerous. Ahem.

I think while I’m awake. I think before I go to sleep. And I even think in my dreams—which, by the way, often provides me with the best answers to my plot problems!

So the next time you’re just sitting there staring off into space and someone asks you what you’re up to—you tell them not to disturb you. Can’t they see you’re busy plotting your next incredible novel?

~~~

Marina Cohen is the author of several works of fiction and non-fiction for both children and teens, including three middle-grade novels: SHADOW OF THE MOON, TRICK OF THE LIGHT, and CHASING THE WHITE WITCH; and two teen novels: GHOST RIDE and MIND GAP. GHOST RIDE (Dundurn Press, 2009) was voted Honour Book of the 2011 Red Maple Fiction Award.