Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Everneath by Brodi Ashton - Review!!!

So I'm an awful person. I was supposed to post this review yesterday, but, being me, I forgot entirely. So here's my (one day late) review of EVERNEATH, by Brodi Ashton (Jan. 24, 2012).



Last spring, Nikki Beckett vanished, sucked into an underworld known as the Everneath. Now she’s returned—to her old life, her family, her boyfriend—before she’s banished back to the underworld . . . this time forever. She has six months before the Everneath comes to claim her, six months for good-byes she can’t find the words for, six months to find redemption, if it exists.

Nikki longs to spend these precious months forgetting the Everneath and trying to reconnect with her boyfriend, Jack, the person most devastated by her disappearance—and the one person she loves more than anything. But there’s just one problem: Cole, the smoldering immortal who enticed her to the Everneath in the first place, has followed Nikki home. Cole wants to take over the throne in the underworld and is convinced Nikki is the key to making it happen. And he’ll do whatever it takes to bring her back, this time as his queen.

As Nikki’s time on the Surface draws to a close and her relationships begin slipping from her grasp, she is forced to make the hardest decision of her life: find a way to cheat fate and remain on the Surface with Jack or return to the Everneath and become Cole’s queen.


All the words are underlined and I have no idea why. Eh. Screw it.


So I should start off this review by saying that I'm not a huge fan of paranormal romance, nor love triangles. I never got into Twilight and I generally skip over the PR-saturated section of the YA market. For me, EVERNEATH was the exception. I immediately identified with the protagonist, Nikki, who is a breath of fresh air in her lack of Mary-Sue-ness. She's not perfect, but she has enough interesting qualities to make her jump off the page. I also found her relationship with her family very interesting.

When it comes to plot, EVERNEATH takes the well-known myth of Persephone and puts a modern spin on it. Ashton manages to combine both Greek and Egyptian mythology into a single story arc...I loved the references to myths and historical events, since these connections really helped drive the book home for me. The idea that a modern girl might someday take the place of Persephone as queen of the underworld - and that Persephone wouldn't like it - made for a fascinating collision between contemporary and ancient literature.

Now for the romance. Once again, I'm not a huge fan of love triangles, but this one worked for me because of the nature of Nikki and Cole's relationship. Nikki and Jack are obviously in love, or at least in like (I'm kind of a cynic when it comes to teen romance). With many paranormal YA stories, the heroine is in love with two guys who each personify different attractive qualities, and she spends a great deal of time angsting over her choice. This is why I hate love triangles....they make the protagonist sound whiny and unlikable. "OMGZZZ, two amazing guys are in love with me and will do anything to have me! My life sucks! Whatever shall I do?" And I'm like, "Yeah, your life is pretty damn hard. Get over it." With EVERNEATH, Nikki obviously likes Jack. They have a wonderful and healthy relationship (hard to find in YA). But she's simultaneously drawn to Cole (semi-spoiler...revealed during the book's prologue) due to the teensy fact that they spent a century as a single being, sharing thoughts and memories as he fed off her. Kind of hard to top that when it comes to personal connection. I empathized with Nikki...she doesn't want to care about Cole, but she can't help it.

My one issue had to do with the ending, and honestly, it's simply because I don't like cliffhangers. I prefer books that stand on their own feet, so to speak. EVERNEATH ends on a big cliffhanger....if cliffhangers are your thing, you'll love it.

EVERNEATH was truly a pleasure to read. I loved the story, the characters, and the romance, and I recommend to all readers who enjoy a fast-paced YA novel. Eagerly awaiting Book 2.

Rating: 9.8/10


CLICK HERE FOR BRODI'S BLOG


**I just typed "recommend" as "reccommend." It took me a good three minutes to figure out why spell-check was freaking out.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Writing Complex Antagonists

I'm a huge fan of complex antagonists. All too often I read a book with an interesting protagonist, interesting secondary characters, and a plot that rocks, but the antagonist just doesn't live up to my expectations. This problem seems to occur more in fantasy...antagonists who are Evil for the sake of being Evil.

That's the thing about characters: they are, by default, more interesting when they're human. I'm not necessarily talking about biology....I mean human in terms of psyche, emotions, and depth. Humans aren't simple or one-dimensional. We are multi-faceted, with varying degrees of good and bad displayed at any one time.

When I go about creating my antagonists, the one thing I try to remember is love. Love is a universal emotion. Everybody wants to love someone, and to be loved in return....I'd go as far as to say that love is the most powerful and primal human desire. Even "bad" people like Mao and Hitler desire affection. After all, where would we be without human contact?

I try to remember this whenever I write a villainous character. Who do they love? Have they suffered the loss of a loved one? Who loves them? What was their childhood like? Thinking about questions such as these helps me create more multi-dimensional antagonists. Although I love the Harry Potter books, I don't find Voldemort to be a particularly interesting villain because he is "evil" from the start. Even as a small child there isn't an ounce of love or compassion inside him, and he doesn't care about receiving affection from others. It just isn't realistic. Tom Riddle was once a person, after all. This is one aspect of the Harry Potter universe that I feel JK Rowling left unexplored....what makes a person evil? Why does Voldemort commit such atrocious acts of violence? You cannot paint the world in shades of black and white. All people are capable of horrible deeds, just as all people are capable of good deeds, and an antagonist should have a reason behind their so-called "evilness".

Remember, none of the world's great "villains" thought of themselves as evil. I think we can all agree that Hitler did terrible, terrible things, and probably suffered from pretty severe mental illness, but I guarantee you he didn't hide out in a dark room going "MUAHAHAHAHA MY EVIL SCHEME IS WORKING." Misguided and delusional as he might've been, Hitler actually thought ethnic cleansing was the answer to the world's problems. When I write antagonists, I ask myself, "What does this person see when they look in the mirror?" How is their perspective different from the protagonist's? Do they believe themselves to be acting for the common good?

Depth is the key to a good villain. Strong protagonists are essential to any novel, but your antagonist should be equally developed. This will create a balance that enhances every aspect of the story.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

An Interview and Stuff

Hey guys. I hope you are all having a spectacular, fantabulous, superkalafragalisticexpealidocious week. (Spell check is telling me that I spelled "superkalafragalisticexpealidocious" wrong.) I have one more final tomorrow and then I'm FREEEEEEE!!!!!!! Seriously though, finals week does awful things to your brain....last night my roommate locked me in the closet, and our conflict escalated over the course of three hours into a full-on tickling/hitting/biting war. That's right, we regressed from college students to five-year-olds. And I have the bruises to show for it.

Anyways, I just thought I'd let you guys know about the interview I did over at Leigh Covington's blog. She was awesome to host me and I had a ton of fun! If you get a chance, go check out her amazing questions and my (somewhat less amazing) answers.

I've decided to do DecembroWriMo. Short for December Writing Month, which really doesn't have the same ring to it as NaNoWriMo, but whatever. Since I spent November working on revisions for my agent, I'm writing a new book over the holidays! That's right, a new book! A shiny new book with new characters and new plots and NEW EVERYTHING! (Don't judge me. I've been working on revisions since April....I'm literally dying to start something new.) I also just received a package in the mail from my writing buddy and business partner Taryn Albright. As if I needed another reason for her to be my FAVORITE PERSON EVER, she sent me chocolate and books and a notebook and NAIL POLISH, people. As I always say, true friends don't let friends go without nail polish.

Wow. There is some extreme capitalization and parentheses abuse going on in this post.

What about all you guys? Editing your NaNoWriMo creations? Working on a new project? Or do you plan to spend the holidays in the bliss of a food-induced coma?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Finals

Basically....




.....this is my life.

Don't get me wrong, college is wayyyy easier than high school, but finals still aren't fun. My brain's like wait.....I was supposed to learn this stuff? Like, long term?

I'm one of those people who gets really nervous before a test. I usually deal with this by eating lots of candy, which is not the most healthy option, especially when I have a final for every class. Writers tend to get nervous as well....I remember waiting for agents to respond to my query, and it was absolutely awful. When I go out on submission I'm sure it'll be the same way.

So what about you guys? How do you deal with nerves?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Writing an Ending that Rocks

For me, writing the end of a book has always been the easiest part of the entire process. I usually have the climax set up from the beginning, so by the time I get to it all the details are resolved in my head and I just can't wait to get them down on paper.

I think there are five aspects of an amazing ending. My favorite books have all five, some have two or three, and some (series in particular) may only have two. These are what I strive for whenever I write the conclusion to a story.


1. The Twist. A sudden reveal, an exposed secret....plot twists really help make the ending of a book interesting. Here I'd quote Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. When Harry walks into the room with the Mirror and sees Professor Quirrell instead of Professor Snape, it shocked most readers out of their seats. (Figuratively. Unless you actually did fall out of your seat, in which case literally.) It was the biggest OH SNAP moment of the book.

2. Physical Action. Let's face it, a climax would be boring if characters just stood around talking. Physical action is essential to move the plot along. In Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass, the climax involves an elaborate escape plan, the main character almost getting ripped in half by sadistic religious scientists (all Catholic-Inquisition-style), and blowing up a detainment building in the middle of Arctic nowhere. The physical action is very effective and well-paced.

3. Emotional Action. Every good main character should have an emotional journey. A climax needs to expand upon these emotions, and the character should face mental barriers as well as physical. I know opinions are divided over Mockingjay, the final book in the Hunger Games trilogy, but in terms of emotional impact the climax is perfect and moving. Katniss gives up everything to protect her sister Prim, but in the end she can't save her. It's a sad and dismal ending, to be sure (although the last chapter does give some hope for the future), but the emotional climax is far more effective than a climax merely based on action.

4. Resolution. Honestly, I'm not a huge fan of series in which books end on complete and total cliffhangers. I think, in order to create a good climax, there needs to be some measure of resolution. Again, I think the Harry Potter books are particularly good at this. They leave you salivating for the next installment, but every book contains its own individual story, and all the major points of these stories are wrapped up by the end of the book. They satisfy readers' curiosity as well as hinting at events in the next installment.

5. Unity. I think this is the hardest part of a climax to nail: combining physical action, emotional action, themes, etc into an ending that wraps up all (or most) loose threads. Authors who can come up with a climax in which a single event relates back to all these things (i.e., the character's emotional journey and physical journey come to culmination in one arresting moment) create the most satisfying and emotionally wrenching climaxes. Here I'd quote Ptolemy's Gate, the third and final volume of the Bartimaeus trilogy. Author Jonathan Stroud pulls off the absolute best climax and resolution I've ever read. For those of you who don't know, there are two main characters in the Bartimaeus Trilogy, and Stroud manages to converge both characters' emotional and physical journeys, as well as the book's overall themes, into a single final instant that's absolutely perfect in every way. Stories are made up of multiple threads, but the very best climaxes spin these threads together into a moment that can be used to summarize the book as a whole.


So there you have it. Those are five points that (in my opinion) contribute to an amazing climax. Do you guys like writing your own endings? Do you find them difficult, or easier than the beginning and middle? What do you think makes a good climax?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Writerly Instinct

We all have what I like to call a writerly instinct. Whether consciously or subconsciously, we know when one of our projects is ready for submission, be it to agents or editors. The trick is to become aware of such instincts and learn to listen to them.

I want desperately to be published. But at the same time, I want my first book to be the absolute best it can be.

As many of you know, I have two books in the works. I'm not feeling so great about one of them....I've done multiple revisions, but my writerly instincts tell me it's not quite there. One of my biggest fears at the moment is getting that story published. It's not good enough to measure up to my own personal standards. That's the thing about us perfectionists....we hold ourselves to the highest level of achievement, and when we don't reach that level we get frustrated and angry.

Someday, hopefully soon, my book will reach a level at which I'm satisfied. I'm closer with one of my projects than I've ever been before....after this round of revisions, perhaps I'll finally feel it's good enough to send out. There's also the possibility that I'm just paranoid.

What about you guys? Can you tell when a project is ready?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Swearing in YA - A Teen's Perspective

Ah, swearing. A semi-hot-button issue. Today's post will be short, as it's one in the morning and I have a math test to study for, but I just thought I'd comment on swearing in YA fiction.

Personally, I'm fine with a bit of swearing. I swear on occasion (probably more than I should) and I don't have a single friend who doesn't swear. Quite honestly, it's part of being a teenager, and I'd wager that 95% of teens have sworn at one point or another. There will always be exceptions to such a generalization, but for the most part swear words are consistently present in day-to-day high school life.

Here's the thing: as an author, you write from your main character's perspective. What your main character chooses to do and say does NOT necessarily reflect your own beliefs. For instance, my main character steals a human child every year for a ritualistic sacrifice. Does this mean I condone sacrificing infants? Of course not. My main character is not me, and I am not my main character. At times, I feel readers (parents in particular) have a hard time separating the two.

If you write a book from the perspective of a girl who's dabbled in drugs, odds are she swears. Sanitizing all her language will reduce the authenticity of your work. Trust me, readers will notice. On the other hand, forcing a character who otherwise wouldn't swear to use foul language (usually in an attempt to connect with a teenaged audience) will feel just that: forced. Immerse yourself in your main character's thoughts. What would she/he say? Write from your character's perspective, regardless of your own moral values. A writer who lets his or her own beliefs overtake the organic actions of a character is compromising the impact of the project.

On a forum the other day, one of the commenters said something along the lines of, "There are always ways to avoid swearing. Authors only swear when they can't come up with a more creative/intelligent way to express feelings." Now, could an author come up with a more creative and less vulgar way to say "fuck you?" Certainly. But would the character in question purposely abstain from using the word "fuck" in order to avoid foul language? Doubtful, in the case of most teenagers. Any attempt to censor language at the expense of a character's individual voice does a disservice to the author and the reader.

I've also heard parents express concern that teens will "pick up on" swearing in YA, and thus use the words themselves. This may be true in select cases, particularly younger/less mature teens, and I think it's appropriate that some parents help select what their children read. But by the time teens enter high school, they're surrounded by swear words all day. Anybody who says otherwise is kidding themselves. Considering the amount of foul language teens hear regardless of what they read, swearing in a YA novel is not going to change whether or not they swear. Most kids are smarter and more self-assured than adults give them credit for.

Swearing must be deliberate. It must be an accurate representation of the character, and the situation should warrant such an expression of intense emotion. I think it's entirely possible to write a clean YA novel with an authentic ring. However, in my opinion, there is most definitely a place for swearing in many YA stories.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Teen Eyes Discount for Small Business Saturday

Happy Holidays! And, of course, everyone's favorite holiday is Black Friday, and its offshoot holidays, Cyber Monday and Small Business Saturday. Teen Eyes definitely qualifies as a small business, and we're offering 20% off any service booked through the end of November (11/26-11/30).

You can redeem your critique at any point within the next three months. Keep us in mind as you finish up your NaNos and shop for gifts.

Thanks to everyone who has used Taryn or my services in the past three months, and we hope to help many more of you in the future!


***I copied this post directly from Taryn's blog. Yes, I'm just that lazy :).

Friday, November 25, 2011

A CONTEST! Plus my favorite YA book covers

I've always loved looking at pretty book covers. One of my biggest fears is that I'll get stuck with a cover I hate....what if it's ugly or colored wrong or just plain blah? I think many writers worry about their covers, so I thought I'd do a post with some of my favorite YA book jackets. Keep in mind I have very specific tastes when it comes to covers....I generally prefer asymmetrical covers with human figures, usually creepy/ethereal in some way. I'll also be holding a contest for one of the books listed below. Blog/tweet/comment on this post, and the randomly selected winner will get to choose a book from this list, which I will mail to them.


Wither - I'm pretty sure this cover appears on most lists. The image is gorgeous, and the lines really pull it all together.


The Unquiet - I have a thing for water and reflections.


The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer - This image is awesome in general. The entwined human figures are so interesting and beautiful and creepy, and once again the water just makes it.


The Treachery of Beautiful Things - For some reason, I absolutely love how the chains of flowers become part of her skirt.

The Near Witch - Lace. Enough said.


The Water Wars - Like I said, I'm a fan of the ethereal. The face is unremarkable on its own, but the eyelashes turning to water really drew my attention.


Shattered Souls - This cover has everything I could ask for. It's got a human figure, it's somewhat creepy, the image is abstract/ethereal, and I love the coloring.


The Sharp Time - My love of reflections strikes again.


Frost - Man, one of my all-time favorite covers. So creepy, so beautiful.


Fracture - REFLECTIONS EVERYWHERE! I find the position of the figure interesting, as well as the color scheme.


Folly - Again, one of my all-time favorites. I love how creepy and gorgeous this cover is.

Everblue - Her hair is supposed to be underwater, but the reflections look very strange, and I love the interesting patterns it creates. Also, love the contrast of her red hair with the blue.


The Dead-Tossed Waves - The image, the angle, the ocean....awesome cover.


Texas Gothic - Don't know where the smoke's coming from, but I'm intrigued.


Corsets and Clockwork - Did I mention I have a thing for clockwork?


Breathe - Love the bubbles, the position of the face, and the color contrast.


The Name of the Star - Love her dress, her hair, and the ghostly figure in the foreground.



So what are you guys' favorite covers? What do you look for in a good cover, and what's your dream book jacket?

The contest to win one of these books will be open until December 2, 2011. At that point I will choose a random winner, who may select one book from the list above (if the book hasn't yet been released, the winner might have to wait a few months to receive their prize). Here's the scoring system:

+1 for commenting on this post with your email address
+2 for following
+4 for tweeting
+4 for blogging
+4 for facebooking
+1 for adding up your points (correctly) in the comment section

Hope y'all enter!

<3

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

On giving advice

One thing that I tried to stay away from during my early blogging months was giving advice. For some reason, doling out advice as if I were "experienced" felt pretentious, especially given my age. Why would adult writers listen to anything I have to say?

As an unpublished writer, I've never seen myself as adequate enough to give advice to others who are unpublished. But lately I've been ignoring my long held rule. After all, I enjoy reading advice posts from other authors, even if they aren't published or agented yet. We all learn things during our writing journeys, and sharing tips and tricks allows us to connect with one another.

It's hard to shake that pretentious feeling. Even so, as I read the blogs of other aspiring authors, I find advice that's both inspiring and incredibly helpful. What do you guys think? Do you take author advice more seriously if it's written by a published author, as opposed to an unknown? Do you place greater value upon the posts of bestsellers compared to the posts of small-press authors?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Mental Blocks

When I do revisions on my manuscripts, I tend to hit a mental block toward the very end, with only a few hours of work left to go. I'm in such a place right now. I know exactly what I need to do to fix the manuscript (so it's not technically "writer's block"), but no matter how hard I try I can't seem to make myself complete those last 3-4 hours.

The human brain is interesting, to say the least. Obviously I want more than anything to have a book published. One might therefore assume that I want more than anything to finish my book, so I can send it off to my editor. But I can't. My brain wants it, but my body won't respond, and I can't focus long enough to do what I need to do. This happens with every single book I revise. Those last few hours are agonizing, as if my fingers have grown too heavy to move.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that most writers encounter mental blocks at one point or another. How about you guys? Are there specific times when you feel blocked, or does it happen at random? Do you ever feel like you can't write even though you know exactly what needs to happen in your story? How do you deal with mental block?

I've spent the past two weeks trying to finish up what should've taken me less than a day. What's wrong with me?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Distance via Noveltee(n)

I'm sure all of you have heard authors, agents, or editors give this advice: take some time off from your manuscript before a big revision. Whether it's two weeks or two months, distance provides a renewed perspective that will make it easier to execute the needed changes.

Thing is, writers are impatient people. I'm impatient. We want to go out on submission now, we want to query agents now, we want a book deal now, now, now, now! I've had an agent since late April and we're just now preparing to go out on submission. Why so long? Distance.

I took a good three months away from my book before I went back to do a big revision. I mulled over the plot, the characters, and the overall structure, and I made some changes that entirely altered the story. It's so much better now than it was. And if I hadn't waited, if I had let my impatience rule me, I don't think I would've had the perspective to figure out what changes the story needed.

So here's my advice for unagented authors especially, since I know how tempting it is to revise quickly and send out queries. Take your time. After you get notes from a critique partner or a beta reader, spend a few weeks just thinking about them, brainstorming how you can alter your story to fix the identified problems.

Distance and perspective are key. If you're serious about a writing career, waiting a few more weeks to send out those queries shouldn't matter.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Killing children, not just babies

The people who contact Taryn and I for our Teen Eyes editing service tend to be very receptive to criticism. After all, that's what they're paying us for, right? I've been pleasantly surprised by their responses to my feedback, and amazed at their maturity.

Let's face it. Getting criticism sucks. It's great in the long run, but the moment when you read a note pointing out a major plot flaw in your manuscript, or a note condemning one of your characters, can be one of the most difficult moments to bear in your writing career. I've done a fair amount of revisions with both my agent and my editor, so I'm here to tell you now:

It doesn't get better.

You won't just be killing babies; you'll be killing children, teenagers, even, fully formed scenes and subplots and perhaps even characters.

Editing is a ruthless process. With LIKE CLOCKWORK, I cut several major subplots, drastically reduced the role of one character and increased that of another, and added a subplot that entirely changed the story. And I'm only on the first round of revisions. Nothing in a manuscript is fixed; as authors, we cannot get attached to our initial vision of a story, because it will invariably change with time, distance, and feedback. It's something I struggle with constantly, although I'm always happy with the result of my revisions.

So ask yourself: can you handle this? Can you handle killing your babies and children and teenagers? If you're serious about publication, the answer should be yes.

Revision sucks. We push through. And in the end, our books come out that much awesomer (which is not a word, but I'm using it anyway).


Monday, November 14, 2011

Prepping for a novel

As I've mentioned several times on this blog, I'm a huge fan of outlining. I go through chapter by chapter before I even start a novel and write out everything that's going to happen. This method obviously doesn't work for everyone, but for people as organized as me, outlines are a must.

So how do I outline? Well, the plot-based part of an outline is rather straightforward. Once I write a brief paragraph summary for each chapter, I lay them out in a chronological line to see where the climax, resolution, inciting incident, etc. fall. This gives me a visual of the novel's pacing. The inciting incident should occur within the first thirty pages, and the climax, generally, happens about 3/4 of the way through the book. There are definitely exceptions to this rule, but it's nice to see your novel laid out in front of you.

Secondly, I work on character sketches. I'd say these are the most important. Write out all pertinent information, including age, physical characteristics, family, friends, hobbies, dreams, goals, secrets, primary emotions, and reactions. Reactions are of the utmost importance.....how does this character react to different situations? Try writing at least one scene from the viewpoint of each of your major characters, even if the book itself isn't from their point of view. This will help you get a sense of their voice.

Lastly, relationships. I do at least a page of outlining for every relationship between every major character, whether it's a friendly relationship, a familial relationship, or a romance. When I finally start writing, these pages are a guideline as to how characters will interact with one another.

So there's my outlining process. For those of you who do outline, do you deviate from my method? Any tricks to share?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

BECOME

So, as I mentioned Friday, my good friend Ali Cross released her first YA novel, BECOME, on 11/11/11! Congrats, Ali! As part of the Most Awesome Blog Tour Ever, Ali will be joining me today on Weaving Colors to talk briefly about BECOME while I rave on and on about her amazingness.


BECOME
by Ali Cross


Sixteen-year old Desolation Black wants nothing more than to stay in Hell where it’s cold and lonely and totally predictable. Instead, she’s sent back to Earth where she must face the evil she despises and the good she always feared.

When Desi is forced to embrace her inner demon, she assumes her choice has been made—that she has no hope of being anything other than what her father, Lucifer, has created her to be. What she doesn’t count on, is finding a reason to change—something she's never had before - a friend.

Now, where to begin? I first read BECOME back in July when Ali asked me to give it a look and provide feedback. By the end of the first page I was hooked. Not usually a huge fan of paranormal romance, I devoured BECOME in a few sittings, despite working full time and editing my own story.

Desolation Black, or Desi, is one of those protagonists who grabs your attention from the start. She is by no means perfect - in fact, I'd describe her as a morally ambiguous narrator, a girl who struggles with her own inner demons and desires. She makes mistakes - some of them huge - and often chooses the wrong thing, but her heart is ultimately in the right place when it comes to protecting the people she cares about. Ali accomplishes what few authors can - she creates a character the reader can sympathize with, but who still does an astonishing number of bad things.

Another of my favorite characters in BECOME is Lucy, a friend and mother-figure who protects Desi from the moment they meet. Like all characters in this story, Lucy isn't perfect - she works as a prostitute and is known for being sexually promiscuous. She's human; flawed, but still likable. I fell in love with Lucy and her character literally jumped off the page.

BECOME's plot offers plenty of twists and turns that you will never see coming. With simple, gorgeous prose, Ali has a unique voice that really captures the thoughts and feelings of teenaged Desi. Desi's struggles really resonated with me; like all people, she's often confused as to which path to take, although her choices tend to have larger consequences than most. Although the story is one of good and evil, Ali paints all her characters in shades of gray; Desi, the Devil's daughter, may have evil inside her, but it's ultimately the choices she makes that define who she truly is. The story is well-paced with nonstop action, and the romance is 100% fulfilling. I got shivers when I finally finished. Ali is amazingly talented, and this story surpassed my wildest expectations. Fully recommended for anyone who's a fan of the YA genre.

If you're interested in purchasing BECOME, you can find it on Amazon.com in both paperback and e-book versions.


Ali....she's so pretty :)

And now for a short interview with Ali!

1. BECOME deals with some dark topics, such as the good and evil that exists within all of us. What made you decide to write about such things?

I sort of feel like I don't have a choice--it seems all my books deal with the imperfect part of our nature. Even when I try to write happy-go-lucky stories, say for middle grade readers, they always end up dealing with some sort of internal struggle with our darker side.

2. What made you decide to self-publish? What has been difficult about the experience, and what have you enjoyed?

I decided to self-publish because I believed the time for my story was now, and since it wasn't getting picked up by traditional means, it would be quite a while before I could try again. I felt I needed to strike while the iron was hot, so to speak. I think the most difficult part about self-publishing is giving up the dream of the traditional route--and learning to feel proud of my choice and not like my book or myself were second rate because I self-published. The best part? Having so much creative control over the process. Everything was done to my specification and that's pretty awesome!

3. Will there be sequels to BECOME?

YES! The second book, DESOLATION, will be out in the spring! I have a third book planned that will finish out this particular part of my main character's story--but if readers enjoy the world and characters I think I could probably write some more. :)


4. What was your favorite part of writing BECOME?

My favorite part of writing BECOME was probably the discovery process--I like to plan the bones of a story, but I discover my characters through drafting. Sometimes characters are different than I first think they are and they surprise me. A lot like people in real life!

5. What is your favorite candy?

We're talking candy here, right? Not chocolate? :P In that case, my favorite candy would be Mike & Ike's! Love those things :D


There you have it! Thanks for joining us, Ali, and I hope everyone out there enjoys BECOME!!!

Friday, November 11, 2011

A few things

First of all, congratulations to my friend Ali Cross, whose novel, BECOME, releases today! Ali is so talented and I absolutely loved BECOME. Be sure to pick up a copy when you get the chance! You can find it on Amazon.com in paperback and in e-book format. Here's the description:

Sixteen-year old Desolation Black wants nothing more than to stay in Hell where it’s cold and lonely and totally predictable. Instead, she’s sent back to Earth where she must face the evil she despises and the good she always feared.

When Desi is forced to embrace her inner demon, she assumes her choice has been made—that she has no hope of being anything other than what her father, Lucifer, has created her to be. What she doesn’t count on, is finding a reason to change—something she's never had before - a friend.



Second, the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards are officially open, including the PUSH Novel Contest! All you teens out there should definitely enter....the awards are excellent.

That's all for now. I know I've been an awful blogger lately, but I hope to get back to regular posts next week.

<3

Monday, October 24, 2011

Thanking people

Oftentimes when I finish a novel, I like to go through the back section and read the author's acknowledgements. Writing a book is hard (I'm sure I don't have to tell you that) and I think acknowledgements are of the utmost importance. We all have people who've helped us, or changed us, or made our writing better. So today, I'm writing my own set of "unofficial" acknowledgements to thank those who have made a difference in my writing life.

First of all, to my family, who've dealt with my writerly freak-outs and neurosis. I would especially like to thank my mom, who reads drafts in record time whenever I ask her.

To my extended family, the most supportive, eclectic bunch of people you'll ever meet.

To all my friends, especially Coco Holbrook and Kita DeMare, who believed in me.

To my wonderful critique partners, beta readers, and writing friends: Liesl Shurtliff, Taryn Albright, Ali Cross, Melanie Jex, Celesta Rimington, and my WIFYR groups. You guys are all amazingly talented writers and such wonderful people! Taryn gets an extra mention for being my business partner-in-crime, and a fellow teen :).

To my roommate, Caitlin Mckelvie, who puts up with my weirdness, and who makes sure it takes me FOREVER to finish revisions by constantly distracting me.

To all my English teachers, especially Kate Arch and Carolyn Turkanis, who supported my creative writing from the start. Thanks must also go to Mindy Thompson, my high school English teacher for three years running.

To Carol Lynch Williams, for the wonderful conference she puts on every year and her amazing dedication to aspiring authors.

To Alane Ferguson, for being the first author who really believed in me, and for introducing me to my agent.

To my agent and editor, who are both awesome.

To everyone at PUSH and the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers.

To my blog readers - I know I'm behind on commenting on all your blogs, but I have been reading, and I promise to be better in the future! I'm so grateful you're even remotely interested in what I have to say. Thank you all so much!

I feel like I'm forgetting tons of important people. If I left you off, I'm sorry! I'm writing this post in math class, so my attention is somewhat fragmented :).

Who are you thankful for?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Climbing Mountains

Disclaimer: I know the formatting in this post is messed up, but I can't get it to work right. Sue me.


When I was younger, I was that kid.

You know, that kid.

The one who's always climbing trees and rocks and buildings and freaking parents out.

So last week, while camping with friends Caitlin, Alex, and Nick, Nick and I decided to climb the side of the canyon opposite our campsite. It was basically a mountain, with sheer rock walls that reared high above the canyon's bottom.

Alex said, "You can't climb that."

Nick and I said, "Yes we can."

Alex said, "It's bigger than it looks. Trust me, I spent two months in the wilderness last year. You're not going to be able to climb it."

Far from deterring us, Alex's skepticism just made Nick and I more determined to reach the top. I've had a similar experience with writing before, as I'm sure many of you have. There are people who will encourage you to give up. They'll say, "You're never going to get published, the market is too bad. And even if you do your book will flop. Why not choose a more lucrative career?" Whenever someone takes this attitude with me, I simply smile and shake my head. Why? Because I'll show them. I'll get published someday, and my book won't be a flop. I use their doubt as motivation to keep writing.

Nick and I encountered setbacks on the mountain, which took us several hours to climb. It was (as Alex had said) larger than it looked. We ended up forcing our way through patches of bushes, resulting in this:


And climbing rock walls where a single slip meant certain death, such as this:

As Nick so kindly reminded me, "Don't worry, if you slip, you'll just die."

The hike was long and we forgot to bring water, and if it weren't for Nick I doubt I would've completed it on my own. He pushed me to keep going. Building off my tenuous writing metaphor, Nick is like my critique partners and writing friends. They encourage you to continue writing, no matter how down you might feel, and they push you to make your story even better. In the end, Nick and I reached the top of the mountain and tasted sweet victory:



Writing a book is like climbing a mountain. It's hard, it hurts, and it's all uphill, but when you reach the top there's no better feeling in the world. There will be people who encourage you, and people who tell you to give up. My advice for today is to use both of these to your advantage. When someone doubts your ability to complete a book or get published, allow their skepticism to motivate you. Prove them wrong. And when someone comforts or encourages you, recognize how lucky you are to have writer friends who understand, then use that friendship as a stable foundation for your writing life.


I just read back through this post and it sounds really stupid. Oh well. I'm posting it anyways :). How was everyone's week?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Gone for the week

That's right, it's my University's Fall Break and I'm headed off into the mountains with some college friends for five days. Should be interesting....I've been camping with 19-year-old guys before, and they never fail to do something absolutely ridiculous.

Anyways, I won't be blogging until next week. Hope everyone's doing well!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Laziness

Behold:


I feel like this picture says quite a lot about writers. We all have days when we feel lazy....we don't want to write, revise, or think about our stories. But I also think this picture applies to the revision process itself. Sometimes, there is an aspect of a story that I, as the author, know doesn't quite fit, but I'm too lazy to go back and change it. I think to myself, "Nobody will notice. That info dump on page three? It's basically invisible, hidden by sharp dialogue."

We all do this.

Stop right now.

I know it's hypocritical for me to say this since I do it myself, but I think it's something we can all work on. Don't be lazy. Don't settle for anything less than perfection. Expect more of yourself. And even if you do ignore that info dump on page three, your critique partners will spot it from a mile away, and then you'll finally be forced to confront it. This is one of the huge things I've noticed as an editor at Teen Eyes - when I make suggestions, the author oftentimes already suspects what I'm going to say. They know what's wrong with their manuscript, but they hope they can slip by without fixing it.

Laziness leads to plot holes and character inconsistencies. It's just a downer all around. This month, my goal is to be less lazy.....get stuff done, revise meticulously, and never settle for less than my best.

I hate to be cliche, but the old saying is true: you are the greatest obstacle to your own success.

Monday, October 3, 2011

What is high-concept?

I've been told by agents and critique partners that I'm a high-concept writer. I think most people have a general idea what "high-concept" means, but I thought I'd do a post on it since it's an interesting way to categorize your story.

In the most basic sense, high-concept means you can summarize your story in a one-sentence pitch, which clearly identifies how your story differs from others of the same genre. For instance, the Hunger Games is high-concept: A young girl replaces her sister as a contestant in the Hunger Games, a nationally-televised event in which teenagers are forced to kill each other. High-concept is easier to pull off with fantasy/dystopian/sci-fi, but it's also possible in contemporary, as with Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why. On the other hand, low-concept novels rely upon character development and stylistic elements to stand out among the myriad of books published each year. If you're writing a book about a woman caught between a lifeless marriage and a new, passionate romance, the execution better be damn good and stylistically unique, because otherwise there's nothing to distinguish it from other books with the same premise.

"High-concept" and "low-concept" change based on what's already out there. While a love triangle between a human girl and two hot, mysterious, otherworldly boys might once have been high-concept, these days it's been done so many times you'd have to come up with a completely different take on the story through execution. This scenario is now low-concept.

One of the reasons I think I'm a high-concept writer is because I start with that one sentence pitch. Many writers begin their stories with characters or scenes, and they build from there, structuring their entire story around one initial stroke of inspiration. I come up with an elevator pitch, then formulate characters to fit the story. I don't think either way is better, although coming up with a one sentence summary from the start certainly makes query writing easier.

I talked about this with my critique group the other day and it's fascinating to see how we all think differently. My stories start out like this: A pair of conjoined twins living in rural India are believed to be the reincarnation of the Hindi god Ganesh, but when one twin dies, the other must deal with the loss of her sister and the villagers' sudden hostility. With this premise in mind, I sculpt characters and refine plot points/themes. However, the other members of my group often started out with a specific character, or a conversation between two characters, and then went from there. Although there are no hard and fast rules, I think the way you initially imagine your stories affects whether or not they're high-concept or low-concept.

I love both high-concept and low-concept books....I actually envy people who can write a good low-concept story, because I think it's often harder than a high-concept one. What about you guys? Are you a high-concept writer or a low-concept writer? How do you start your stories?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Why I don't tell people I'm a writer

Inspired by Taryn's post a few days ago, here are some reasons I don't tell people I'm a writer:

"Oh, you wrote a book? Is it published?"
"What's your book about?"
"Do you make billions of dollars like JK Rowling?"
"Are you going to be rich?"
"What's your book about?"
"You sold your book! Congrats! Will it be out next month?"
"How did you come up with the money to hire your agent?"
"What's your book about?"
"Is it like Twilight?"
"Is it like Harry Potter?"
"What's your book about?"
"Will you give me a free copy when it's released?"
"Is your publisher going to send you on a country-wide tour?"
"How do you find time to write?" (I MAKE time b&%$^#!)
"What's your book about?"

Me: DX *&*&#(()^%$$^%!@#&^*%*&)#$*()@#*

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Review of Teen Eyes!

Check out this awesome review of Teen Eyes by Ian Hiatt:


Thanks so much, Ian! And thanks to all you people who've supported us in starting this business. Taryn and I <3 you all.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Middles - via Noveltee(n)

So we often hear writers talk about beginnings and ends. Your beginning is of the utmost importance - it's what originally hooks an agent, editor, and eventually reader. It serves as the foundation of your novel. The end, on the other hand, is what a reader takes away from your story. Without a good climactic scene, the ending of your book may feel like a let down.

But what about the middle? Personally, I've always felt that I'm all right at writing beginnings and ends. What I really struggle with are middles. How do you keep up the tension in a story while continuing to develop character relationships? How do you introduce plot twists without it seeming forced?

Take a book like Lord of the Rings. As epic fantasy, it follows a plot line that consists of multiple small incidents leading up to a bigger one. In the Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo and Sam must escape the black riders, make it through the old barrows, survive a trek through the wild with Strider, traverse the dwarven mines, and thwart the Uruk Hai sent by Saruman. Each of these incidents function separately from the others, like a series of trials. This goes back to the work of Campbell and the idea of a hero. Frodo's journey follows a "quest" structure typical of Tolkien's genre.

Harry Potter, on the other hand, employs different tactics to make the middle of the books interesting. Instead of smaller, separate trials, the Harry Potter books generally focus on a single overall mystery, and the characters uncover pieces and clues as the books go along. The books also employ subplots surrounding the characters' romantic lives and struggles in school. It is more character-driven than Lord of the Rings; although the fantasy aspect draws readers in, so too do the typical teenage problems of Harry, Ron, and Hermione. It is, in a way, a more complex method of increasing tension than the methods employed in Lord of the Rings. Of all the Harry Potter books, Goblet of Fire follows a structure most similar to that of epic fantasy.

I think the key to making the middle of your book interesting is to never let the tension dissolve. No matter what's going on, you need to have some kind of suspense, be it romantic, physical danger, school-related, or a mystery. There are large sections of Harry Potter in which nothing Voldemort-related happens. Voldemort is an obvious source of tension, so JK Rowling compromises with different problems. Tension doesn't have to be all dragons and wars; there are more subtle forms that will still hold your readers' attention. Epic fight scenes and immediate danger are easy ways to build suspense, but generally speaking, too much danger in a book will feel forced and fake. In writing a good middle, the key is discovering how to build up subtle tension whenever there's a lull in the action. Identify your characters' inner struggles. Use their emotions to drive suspense in the story, and you shouldn't have any problem hooking your readers from start to finish.

What about you guys? Do you struggle with beginnings, middles, or ends? How do you deal with these issues?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Awards

The other day, Randy Lindsay gave me the Liebster Award on his blog. Thanks so much, Randy! This award has made the rounds and I'm pretty sure many of you have received it, so hopefully I'm not re-gifting it to anyone.



Here are my five Liebster choices - blogs with under 200 followers:

1. Abby over at Something to Write About, whose blog is just absolutely fantastic.
2. Tina over at Tina Moss's Blog.
3. Mary over at Waibel's World.
4. Jenny over at Jenny's Imaginary World.
5. Linda over at Wistfully Linda.

You guys are all awesome! When you get a chance, go check out their blogs.


Next, Abby presented me with the Versatile Blogger award. Thanks so much, Abby! The award stipulates I must share seven things about myself with all y'all, so here it goes (I don't think my answers are nearly as good as Abby's):


1. When I was little, people used to mistake me for a boy.
2. I obsessively fold triangles out of tape. Last year I TA-ed for one of my English teachers, Ms. Thompson. She had to keep her tape away from me because I would fold triangles without even thinking about it.
3. I wish I could still do competitive gymnastics. 
4. In 9th grade, my soccer team was staying in a hotel for an out-of-state tournament. We snuck into the outdoor pool at one in the morning for a late-night swim. I hoisted myself out of the water, and my too-big swim shorts came off (and yes, I was wearing a bathing suit underneath). Because it was dark we couldn't find my shorts, and in the morning they were gone. We never found them.
5. I want to go back to Africa more than anything.
6. I don't like people knowing about my writing, and I hate talking about writing with people who aren't writers themselves. There are so many stereotypes surrounding writers and I hate how people assume things about me simply because I like to make up stories.
7. I have a fear of smelling bad.


So there you have it! I'd like to pass this award along to Gaylene Wilson over at {Unwritten}. She's a great blogger and you should definitely go stalk her!

That's all for today!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

New website - plus a 10th grade haiku

Teen Eyes has a new website! You can check it out here: http://teeneyeseditorial.blogspot.com.

So back when I was in 10th grade AP American History, my best friend and I would sit together and giggle and pass notes throughout the class. By March our teacher was sick of us. She decided to make up a seating chart, effectively separating my friend and I, so in protest we decided to write a haiku. The haiku remained on her whiteboard for several weeks. It's pretty brilliant, if I do say so myself:

I like where I sit.
I do not want to move now.
Please don't make me move.

And to make it more legit, behold:


I'm getting back to regular, writing-related posts tomorrow. Can't wait to catch up on all you guys' blogs!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

HELP!!!!

So did any of you attend WriteOnCon? If so, do you remember an article about promoting yourself in which the author mentioned a blog post that contains suggestions as to how to self-promote during the 10 years before your book releases?

I thought I read this post at WriteOnCon, but I could be mistaken. I planned to go back later and follow the link to the blog post mentioned (it was a post by some author...Lisa? Laura? Something like that) but I couldn't find it. If any of you have come across such information, would you please let me know? It's been bugging the hell out of me for the past week.

Thanks in advance!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Five stages of revision

Denial - My critique partners just don't get it. They don't understand what I'm trying to do. This story is obviously perfect, and if they can't see my brilliance then that's their problem. Who cares if it's exactly the same as Twilight?

Anger - Why did they have to be so harsh? They're wrong! They suck! I'm never working with them again! My vampire is sexy and that's all that matters!

Bargaining - Okay....I'll cut the vampire-human-hybrid-baby out of the story, but there's no way I'm removing her sparkly vampire boyfriend. No. Just no.

Depression - I'm an awful writer. My critique partners hate everything about my story. I'll never be any good and I'll never get published.

Acceptance - Fine. I guess I really should cut out the vampire-human-hybrid-baby and the sparkly vampire boyfriend. Back to the (metaphorical) drawing board.


Hopefully I'll get back to regular first page critiques next week....it's been crazy lately, what with moving into my new house, so I haven't had time yet. Sorry to everyone who has been waiting!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Want to learn more about Teen Eyes?

If you're interested in learning more about me, Taryn, and Teen Eyes, hop on over to Melodie's blog where she interviewed us Thursday and Friday. Thanks so much, Melodie!

On a different note, I'm moving into my dorm this week, and thus I haven't had much time for blogging. But I'll be back in a few days with my regular (or not) posts!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Querying Mistakes

So first of all I wanted to start off this post by announcing that my critique partner, Liesl Shurtliff, has signed a deal with Knopf/Random House for her debut novel RUMP!!! I've known about the deal for almost a month but she hasn't been allowed to release it publicly until today. I'm sooo excited for her, and RUMP is the most adorable MG story I've ever read (also, it's perfect for both boys and girls). Head on over to her blog to check it out!

Today I'm posting about querying mistakes. I queried two books at the same time (it's a long story) and made a few mistakes, although I researched extensively before sending them out so most damage was kept to a minimum. That said, I have a lot of writer friends who have made querying mistakes, and I've talked to agents about them as well.


Here are some things to avoid:

1. Never query prematurely. I know it's tempting to send out emails the moment you finish your book, but don't. Wait a while. Revise. Rewrite. Do this a few times at least before querying.

2. This may be my personal opinion, but I prefer to send out a bunch of queries at one time rather than doing small batches like many writers. Why? Because sometimes agents offer quickly. I know writers who sent out a "test batch" of queries before querying the agents they actually wanted. What if someone from your test batch offers, and you still haven't queried the agents you really want? What if an agent from your first batch offers when the agents from your third batch have just barely received your manuscript? The third batch agents are going to feel like they weren't given a fair chance to review your work.

3. Don't obsess over the query. You should to some extent, but I have writer friends who've spent weeks writing draft after draft of their query letter. These days, most agents ask for sample pages along with a query letter, and if anything you should focus on your first few chapters. Even if your query isn't stellar, odds are an agent will request more based off awesome sample pages (after all, it's the actual writing that counts).

4. Never compare your book to a bestseller.

5. No opinions. For instance, never describe your book as "heartwarming."

6. MAKE SURE you've addressed your query to the right agent. I made this mistake once (I copied and pasted a query into an email but forgot to change the name). Believe me, agents don't like emails titled "Dear Agent."

7. While you're querying, keep writing. Try not to focus on the rejections/requests because there's no way to tell how things will turn out. Just keep working, and if your book doesn't garner an agent you'll have a second project to send out.

8. Never respond to rejections. If you get a personalized letter with editorial suggestions (I got two of these), feel free to send a polite (albeit brief) thank you.


So there you have it. Is anybody out there querying at the moment? If you have tips/tricks to share, feel free to post them in the comments!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

YA Romance

So the other day I skimmed through Breaking Dawn. I've never been much for paranormal romance, and thus I'm not a huge fan of Stephenie Meyer, although I appreciate how she's expanded the YA genre and paved the road for other authors. For those of you who live under a rock, Bella and Edward get married in the fourth book.

One of my close friends is a hopeless romantic. She says I'm cynical, but honestly, I have a hard time buying teenaged romances in which seventeen and eighteen-year-olds are portrayed as soulmates. The human brain continues to develop into a person's early twenties. Teenagers change a great deal from one year to the next, both in terms of intellect and emotional maturity, and I think you would be hard pressed to find an eighteen-year-old who's ready to consider marriage. Even living in Utah, where many people get married at a young age, I don't know a single person my age who plans on marrying in the near future.

I've been told I'm mature for an eighteen-year-old. I get along with adults, I have older friends, and my adolescence passed with relatively little drama. Most of my friends have boyfriends, and I would consider them above average when it comes to emotional maturity and intelligence (for the most part). But the reality is, teens don't really think about marriage all that much. It's far in the future. Lightyears away. We think about college and boys and parties and sex (even if we aren't having it), but an informal poll of PIKOF (People I Know On Facebook) shows that marriage is the last thing on our minds. Perhaps this is a recent change; after all, thirty years ago women didn't go to college nearly as often, so once out of high school they settled down and started families. But our culture has shifted in recent years and people are getting married later and later. Again, this may sound cynical, but (generally) I don't think kids my age have the necessary level of self-awareness and maturity to experience "true love." We're still growing, learning, and trying to figure out who we are.

When writing romance in YA, you have to be careful with how far you go. Most people enjoy a good love story, but keep in mind your characters' ages, and try to write from the perspective of a teenager rather than an adult.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Contests!

The Teen Eyes manuscript critique contest ended last week, and Taryn and I are happy to announce the winner! I will be reading Heidi's manuscript. Heidi, expect an email from me personally, and I will give you instructions as to how to submit your manuscript.

Also, my GIANT CONTEST involving five YA/MG books (one of which is an ARC of the next Carrie Jones novel) will be going on until August 22. Click here to enter!

That's all for now! I'll be doing another first page critique tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

To outline or not to outline?

So while I was in New York a few weeks ago, my BFF Kita and I spent a day wandering through Central Park. For those of you who haven't been there, Central Park is HUGE. That, coupled with my directionally challenged-ness (yes, I did just invent a word), made for a rather interesting adventure involving a fountain, iced strawberry lemonade, and random dancing roller-skaters.

(A photograph, in which we appear deceptively calm and un-lost)

My inner-control freak started spazzing out when I realized we didn't know how to get where we wanted to go. I'm the kind of person who needs a map. Directions. Something reliable, so I know I won't be stuck wandering around in Manhattan for the next forty years. Kita, on the other hand, seemed content to just start walking. She placated my anxiety-induced freakout (she's used to them by now), and we ended up finding our way back to the hotel without dying/falling in the lake/peeing in the bushes due to lack of proper facilities.

Our brief period of Central Park shenanigans got me thinking about outlines. Kita writes her own stories, and she works entirely by the seat of her pants (pantsers, as they are commonly referred to). I, on the other hand, am an outliner. Unlike Kita, I need to know where I'm going and exactly how to get there. I usually write out a chapter-by-chapter summary of the entire story before I even start the first sentence.

In all honesty I think most writers are outliners. Some of us outline more extensively, while others map out basic plot points/character arcs. Many writers object to the use of outlines because they feel it inhibits their creative abilities. Therefore, I've compiled a few tips for outlining, which have helped me personally when writing books.


~Go chapter-by-chapter. Make sure every chapter and scene has a purpose, whether it's furthering the plot or developing character traits.
~Map out each individual character arc, noting key transformative points.
~Identify your book's beginning, climax, and end, then work from there.
~Try to merge plot with character development....create a plot that provides an organic vehicle for character growth.
~Don't be afraid to make changes! This is why I don't outline too extensively....a paragraph describing each chapter provides the backbone of the story, but gives me leeway to make changes as the story develops. An outline is a guide, not a completed product. Just as a book changes from rough draft to final draft, it will most likely change from outline to manuscript.
~Take a few weeks to let the story stew in your head before writing it all down. This can help you work out plot kinks before you even put pen to (metaphorical, if you're using a computer) paper.
~If you run into problems, brainstorm with trusted writer friends.
~Outlines are great for preventing writer's block. I used to work without them, and my stories meandered in random directions with dropped subplots and characters. I'm not saying you can't write without an outline (I know people who can), but for many writers, outlines provide much-needed support when your muse takes an unexpected vacation.


So what about all of you? Do you outline? Are your summaries extensive, or are they merely brief descriptions of major plot points?

Hope everyone's having a wonderful week!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Critique Groups

Critique groups are one of the best resources a writer can utilize. I myself have a critique group, as well as a pool of trusted beta readers who look over my manuscripts once they're complete. With critique groups I definitely prefer to meet in person, because once suggestions have been made about a particular manuscript we can all sit around and brainstorm possible solutions and ways to improve. I find dialogue, the back and forth between writers discussing a particular piece, is the best way to get out of your comfort zone and come up with an original way to make a story the best it can be.

That said, accepting criticism is difficult for the best of us. I myself have a very hard time with it. Of course I recognize that my manuscripts need work, but when you've put so much effort into one project, hearing other people tear it to (metaphorical) pieces is a lot to handle. My critique partners are wonderful; they hit the perfect balance between critical and appreciative. They list the things they liked, the things they didn't like, and how improvements might be made.


Some tips for critiquing:

~Be honest, but not harsh. Start out by talking about the things you did like, then list some negative aspects, then finish with your favorite part of the manuscript.
~Offer up suggestions to fix the problems you identified. Even if the person you're critiquing goes in a different direction, having suggestions can help get their creative juices flowing.
~Brainstorm! Talk about the problems in each person's manuscript, and try to get to the root of the issue. Is a character acting strangely or in contradiction to their previous actions? Is there a pacing problem?
~Don't go with your immediate reaction. When someone critiques your work, take a few minutes to think about it. I objected to the idea of changing my manuscript to first person when my editor initially suggested it. However, after a few hours of considering the story and my own notes, I realized changing it to first person would make the story much better.
~Don't argue.
~Just remember, even if critique sucks now, you'll be grateful in a few weeks when your manuscript is a million times better.


Now go out and find yourself a critique group!

Friday, August 5, 2011

First Page Critique - David

Just a short reminder that my giveaway of Fablehaven, Eyes Like Stars, Graceling, Skin Hunger, and an ARC of After Obsession is still going on! Click here.


Today's first page submission comes from David, who happens to be one of my favorite writers on the Internet! He became my first follower (true story) after we met at LTUE in 2010.


The Excerpt:

The skirt of Celesia’s nightdress curled with the midnight breeze. It was dark outside her bedchamber, alone on her balcony, with only the stars and faint moonlight to guide her steps. Waking up in the middle of the night was not uncommon for her, but this was a little different.

She did not remember climbing out of bed.

THUD!

It came from the courtyard below, a sound that made her sick.

“ARRGH!”

Startled, Celesia leaned over the balustrade. There was a shattered lute on the ground, and a young man, holding his calve with both hands. When her eyes adjusted, her breath was lost.

It was Prince Owen, her latest suitor.

“My leg!” He glanced straight into her eyes. “YOU BROKE MY LEG!”

Celesia held a hand over her mouth. What have I done?

The chamber door flew open. Below the frame stood her father, King Lýnivad the Third, dressed in a silken nightshirt. His peppery hair looked a bit frazzled. “Was that you screaming?”

“It’s Owen!” Celesia pointed outside. “I think he tried to invade my room!”

Lýnivad dashed to the balcony, his gray eyes widening at the injured prince. A few guards arrived, knelt by Owen’s side, and assessed the situation.

“Tend to him!” Lýnivad shouted, “and be quick about it!”

The king turned and glared at Celesia from the corner of his eye. She pressed her back against the wall, wanting to slip inside the cracks. This was not the first accident to befall a prince within their castle, nor was it the second—but it was certainly the worst.

“How did he fall?”


What I liked:

First of all, I think your writing is very strong. Your descriptions are lovely ("curled with the midnight breeze") and technically speaking your grammar/punctuation is spot on. In addition, you have wonderful sentence variation and syntax (one of my pet peeves is when writing doesn't flow well due to syntax). Obviously I haven't read more than a page of this, but I feel like you started the story in the perfect place. I was hooked by the second paragraph, and the last few lines about princes being involved in accidents also drew my attention. I already have a sense of who your main character is and I would definitely read more based on this excerpt. Most of my comments are nitty-gritty details, because overall I feel this first page is quite strong.


My critique:

~"It came from the courtyard below, a sound that made her sick." I don't know enough about the sound she heard to understand why it would make her sick. For instance, a thud could be the sound of someone dropping a book or a box, which wouldn't cause her to feel nauseous. Obviously it's meant to be a falling body, but I think you could make this clearer by adding a line of description to clarify the sound or by giving us insight into Celesia's thoughts the moment she hears it.

~“ARRGH!” Did Celesia shout or did Owen?

~"There was a shattered lute on the ground." Try to avoid using "to be" verbs as much as possible, as they're weaker than other verbs. I would suggest changing this to "A shattered lute lay on the ground" to eliminate the "was."

~"When her eyes adjusted, her breath was lost." Avoid passive voice by rewriting the second half of this sentence.

~"Celesia held a hand over her mouth. What have I done?" This part confused me a little bit...you imply that Celesia pushed Owen or somehow caused him to fall, but this is never mentioned earlier in the page when she's walking along the balcony. I know she doesn't remember getting out of bed, but she seems lucid enough at the beginning of the page, so I don't see how she wouldn't notice if she accidentally bumped or pushed Owen over the edge of the balcony.

~"Lýnivad dashed to the balcony, his gray eyes widening at the injured prince." I'd change this to "his gray eyes widening at the sight of the injured prince."

~"The king turned and glared at Celesia from the corner of his eye." I'd cut out "from the corner of his eye" since he addresses Celesia in the next paragraph. If he's speaking to her, he's most likely looking her full in the face. Also, it's very difficult to produce an adequate glare when you're looking at someone out of the corner of your eye.


Overall I really loved this. Again, most of my comments are small details, and structurally I think it's a very strong beginning. I'd read on!


For those of you interested in a first page critique, you can email your submission to katay444@gmail.com. Thanks David!