Sunday, January 23, 2011

Slang and the fine line between sounding like a Tard or a Teenager

If you're writing YA, one of the most important things is to master the language. Teenagers can smell forced dialogue from a mile away, and it's a huge turn off. (Of course, it's a turn off for any novel.) Unless you master the balence between slang and realistic dialogue, you've not only decreased your chances of being published, but your chances of connecting with your readers.

Being eighteen, I think I have an understanding of teenage slang. At the moment, I'm in the middle of reading the Unidentified by Rae Mariz. It has a very interesting premise, and while I'm enjoying it, there have been a few things that have put me off, including some of the slang. Mariz does use replacements for swears and changes slang to fit in with her world. (The replacement I can remember off the top of my head was "Fawk off." )

I'm quite enjoying the book. Until I came to a passage in which the narrator, Kid, writes: "I lol'd."


Yeah. I lol'd.


.... Wait for it.


Hold on.


Okay. I'm aware that 'lol' has pretty much become a word all on its own. Teenagers and adults alike use it, and it's become a staple for online and text conversations. I know what Mariz was going with this, and for a lot of people it wouldn't even faze them. But I think there's a fine line between where slang should be used and where it should just be left aside in YA fiction.

For one, slang is always changing. What works one year won't necessarily work a couple of years later, when your book comes out. Not to mention what kids in Vancouver use isn't going to be the same as what kids in New Orleans use.

1) You need to make sure that if you choose to use slang, make SURE it is 100% transferable. Using bad slang messes with your dialogue and can pull a reader completely out of your story. There were times when reading the Unidentified when I had to stop and figure out what she meant. Sometimes I didn't even realize she was trying to use slang.

Mariz's use of lol doesn't break this rule, because as I've said before, it is extremely well known. But that wasn't the problem I had with her use of it. The problem I had was that she used it in her narrative. Even though this was in first person, I felt it was a real cop out on her end. First of all, I have never heard a teenager use "lol" in real conversation unless they were trying to be ironic. Not to mention the people that do use it to be ironic say it around their friends, not to themselves.

So where's the line with slang? What's okay to use in narratives (first person or otherwise) and what isn't? I think it comes down to two different kinds of slang.

--> Internet slang. Things like lol, rofl, emoticons, shortcuts like 'u' or 'w8.' Using this slang is very effective if your characters are texting, writing emails to one another or otherwise. It can be used in dialogue if your characters are trying to be funny. Nobody says "lol" out loud with their friends in place of laughing out loud. But if a friend makes a bad joke that nobody laughs at, a character that says "lol" in response could be seen as a jokster or sarcastic. I believe that internet slang should not be used in naratives. It's very rare that it can be pulled off, even in first person.

--> General slang. This is the most effective type of slang, and in my opinion, far more fun. Epic fail, boss, lame, gay, fag, ect. These casual words are effective in dialogue, texts, and narratives. This is also great for making up your own slang. (For example, in the Unidentified, the kids would say "Oh Google" instead of "Oh God" which I found was really awesome.) Of course, for making up your own slang to be effective, you have to really make it obvious that it is slang in this universe. You don't want it to pull your readers out of the story so they can figure out what the hell you're trying to say.

General slang can be used anywhere, and I highly suggest that if you intend to use slang. Internet slang should be reserved for texts, emails and so on. Kids don't use internet slang when they talk to one another. They don't think in internet slang. Think of IS as living in the fingers, whereas GS lives in the brain. A kid might think to themselves, "That show was so lame, dudes." Not, "lol it wuz so lame, dudez :D"

2) If you're going to use slang, make sure you know what you're saying. When a character has scored high on their favorite game, you don't want to have someone say, "Dude, that was fagalicious!" when you mean "Dude, that was epic!" (Not that I think anyone would mistake the two, but, you never know.)

3) And finally, less is more. Seriously. You don't need to overload on slang. Most teenagers talk like normal human beings. Slang is like swearing: peppered here and there can make it awesome, but too much and you've spoiled your whole manuscript.

The last thing you want to do is pull your readers out of the story. If readers understand what you're trying to convey and it doesn't faze them, consider it a success.



Thursday, January 20, 2011

I Wanna Hear Yours: Do You Lend Out Books?

Quick update on my pub status if any of you are still interested: We're going on submission any day now, and I just recieved an email last night asking me to revise my synopsis.

Kill me now.

I keep telling myself that this is good-- I really need to practice my synopsis writing skills. I can master this! I mastered query writing, didn't I?

God, kill me now.

Anyway, I wanna know your thoughts on lending out books. I think we've all done it, once or twice, and we've all been burned by having our books ruined or lost. A dear friend of mine is an obsessive book collector. She'll even buy books from a series she doesn't like because she has to have the whole series. She loves reading and I love her for it. But she 100% refuses to lend out books. She's been burned a few times in the past, and now she won't let anyone touch her books. Not even me. Yes, I know. Gasp.

I'm a little different. I'm a book collector. (Not to her extent) I lend out books all the time, but only the books I love love love. I want to share that love, and have someone else I can talk about it with. So I lend out my books. And... then sometimes they don't come back. But since I'm a book collector, I will go out and rebuy the books that other people have lost, because I love them so very much. I don't worry about the money I'm spending-- for me to love it enough to lend it out, I really don't mind suporting the author twice over. Though I have limited who I lend my books out to people who I know will return them.

So, you've heard my ramblings. I wanna hear yours.

Do you lend out books?



Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Writer's Block

Hey everyone out there in interwebzland. I'm through revisions on Shell and am working on its sequel. Unfortunately I absolutely suck at beginnings, but I've gotten past the first few chapters and things are finally moving swimingly. Shell will be going on submission soon to editors, which is really exciting.

The only thing I have to say about the process so far is this: if you have to write a synopsis, consider shoving a railroad spike through your foot. I guarentee it's less painful.

Anyway, onto today's topic. Every writer in the world has heard of writer's block. That nasty plague that renders writers wordless. No one's really sure what it is, why it occurs or how to cure it, and many writers debate its existance. Normally I'm the first person to jump on the bandwagon and proclaim that writer's block does not exist. However, after I finished Shell, I was hit with what most people would consider a huge dose of writer's block. For about four months I couldn't produce anything productive. I tried to work on the sequel to Shell, that didn't work. I tried to write different projects, that didn't work. I tried BIC, I tried waiting for inspiration, I went for walks, wrote in other places, nothing would work. My brain was completely dead. And the worst part was I wanted to write, but when I sat down at my computer absolutely nothing would come.

I've had similiar afflictions in the past. Sometimes, after a few months, I would sit down and write and it would work. The words were back and I went back to work as if I hadn't taken any time at all. Sometimes if I sit down to a new project, I get writer's block. I'll try again and again, but when I sit down and develop my character or plotline a bit more, it all flows perfectly.

What is writer's block exactly? The McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine says: "An occupational neurosis of authors, in whom creative juices are temporarily or permanently inspissated." Sounds pretty acurate, right? But why do we get this block? What can we do about it? Why do so many artists of all kinds complain of a block when it comes to their work? Why do writers and painters get this block when accountants or marketers don't?

But accountants and marketers do get blocks. It doesn't matter what job you do, sometimes stress, emotion, outside influences or whatever make it impossible for us to do our jobs. Have you ever been at work, put your head in your hands and said, "I can't do this"? Whether it's stress from the job, from a sick loved one, if you're feeling down about relationship issues or if you have a mental illness such as depression it can be really hard to get anything done. But we trudge through, because at the end of the day we all need our paychecks.

But with artists, it seems to go to an extreme. We can't do anything. We can't function. It's driving us crazy because the drive to write is there, but there's absolutely no words that seem to work together. Every sentence is clunky. We don't feel right about anything. Why? I believe it's because artists, especially writers (though I say that because I'm not a professional in painting or music, in fact, I suck at all other forms of art) mostly work in the subconscious. Things just come to artists-- a painter catches a flash of a picture, a writer sees a scene. And as the painter and the writer work, snippets come to them. It develops largely in the subconscious while the conscious mind figures out what works and what needs to be tossed.

I'd like to think that when we're crafting a story, our subconscious knows how things should work. The "muse" (if you want to imagine it as a seperate entity from yourself) will stop working if there's something wrong with your writing. Every time I've gotten writer's block in the past, there was something going wrong. I was overworked/stressed, a part of my plot just wasn't working out, my characters weren't developed enough, I was starting from the wrong place in the story.

From what I've learned, writer's block isn't just a random affliction. It's your muse telling you that something is wrong with your story.

On the subconscious level, you know it's not working, but you haven't quite figured out what's not working. So your mind shuts down, you can't form sentence, and budda boom budda bing, you've got writer's block.

So my cure: figure out what's wrong. It could be that you're really overworked and you just need to wind down. It could be that something in your story just isn't jiving. Whatever the problem is, there's going to be a different way to solve it. That's why there's no easy cure to writer's block, because writer's block is a fancy way of saying "I have no idea what the f*cking problem is!"

Professional writers don't get writer's block as often as newer writers because they're so familiar with their stories and their craft that they fix the problem before their subconscious decides to give them a wake up call.

In order to fix your block, you need to become more aquainted with yourself as a writer. Figure out what's plaguing you, and how to fix it. And most importantly, never stop writing.



Friday, January 7, 2011

An update, and the winning query.

Hey everyone. Everything with Michael is going swimmingly. We're working on edits for my manuscript, and we're expecting to go on submission by about February. We're also drawing up synposises for this book and for its sequel. Still all a little surreal, but I think it's finally starting to sink in.

So, I thought I'd show everyone the query that won my agent as well as the stats that got me there. This was probably the quickest querying experience I've ever had, which is good, as I'm impaitent as hell.

So, I wrote about eighteen queries in the search for the perfect query. And I'm not being witty, either, there was about eighteen complete queries written, not counting the ones I started and then abandoned. When I did send out my queries, I sent out five. This was mostly to test my query, see if I would get any bites, and if no agents responded to it, I would go back and rewrite it. UGH.

So I sent out five in the first day, at about nine am. (I did send another one a few hours later.) Michael was the first one I'd queried, because of his wonderful thread on absolutewrite here.

So, Michael responded to my query in a few hours. The rest a couple of days later. Out of the six queries, here are my stats:

Offer: 1
Partial request: 1
Rejections: 3
No response: 1

Of course, that no response could turn into something, but I'm not going to wait on pins and needles. Anyway, I recieved the partial request today, which I had to email them back and tell them I was sorry I couldn't send anything, as I've already accepted representation elsewhere.

Now, I know a lot of you are probably freaking out about the stats. This is NOT the norm. Most writers send out quite a few more before they get picked up. The books I've shopped around before this were brutalized with rejections and every once in a while, I would recieve a full or partial request. The only reason I'm still not querying for this is because Michael snatched me up really quickly, which I am very grateful for.

Now, the winning query:

Dear Mr. Michael Carr,

Eighteen-year-old Adam Fenn, heir to the Compound’s seat of power, is perfect. At least, he thought he was, until an assassin tears open his stomach and reveals he’s more metal than man.

In Adam’s world, perfection is everything, and the artificial organs that keep him alive mark him as anything but. Terrified he’ll be deemed imperfect and put to death, Adam flees the Compound’s Walls and embarks on a wayward journey to Heaven. He’s positive the power of Heaven can make him human—if it’s real. But the road is littered with dangers, including starvation, insanity, and the imperfect, who just may decide Adam’s more useful to them dead.

When Heaven starts to look like a lie and revolution stirs, Adam must free the Compound from his father’s tyrannical rule or let perfectionism destroy the new life he’s built for himself. But Adam’s not sure he can go back, because going back means facing his father—facing himself—and finally learning the truth behind the Compound, the Walls, and his family’s twisted past.

SHELL is a young adult dystopian novel complete at 93 000 words. I am interested in working with you because we spoke briefly on Absolute Write in your forum “Agent Q&A” and was very impressed that you would volunteer your time to help writers out. As per your guidelines, my first five pages are pasted below.

Thank you for your time and consideration, Mr. Carr. I hope to hear from you soon.


Katie Carson

Even though it won me my agent, I'm STILL not happy with it. Ever the writer's life, eh? I think the main reason it garnered interest is because my opening pages were posted with it, and I'm quite fond of them.

So, take from this what you will. Hopefully you'll all land yourself with your dream agents soon.

Happy querying!


Sunday, January 2, 2011

Starting 2011 With good News

So, as many people do at this time of year, I spent my new years getting drunk and hollering at the top of my lungs come midnight. All in all, a pretty good night.

But the good news would come tomorrow morning at about 10 am, while I was depserately trying to sleep off my hangover.

On Dec 31, I sent out my first batch of queries. I didn't expect anything, as most agents are away on holidays. But at 1:30 I recieved an email from Michael Carr from Veritas Literary, who wanted to see my full manuscript. So, of course, I think nothing of it, send it out, and wait with fingers crossed.

While desperately trying to sleep off a hangover, I recieved a call from Michael. I missed the call, but when I pulled myself from bed, trudged to my email, I found something from Michael there. I just mutter, "This guy's fast" thinking that it was yet another rejection letter.

You can imagine my surprise when the email talked about how Michael was sorry he missed me and would try calling again at about noon.

I flipped. I think I did a literal backflip somewhere in there.

My best friend/beta reader was with me at the time, and we shared one of those screaming, jumping hugs that you only see in really bad cheerleader movies. I gathered my thoughts, prepared what I wanted to say, and waited for the call.

I think I about had a heart attack when the phone rang. I picked it up, fumbled, and managed to say hello. We spoke for forty-five minutes about my book, the marketing strategy, edits he had for it, future projects. I felt like I was in a daze. He did a lot of talking, about who he wanted to shop it to and whatnot. I think I just stood there with a stupid grin on my face.

He was very professional, very wonderful, and I'm happy to have Michael as my agent. We've got everything signed and after a few minor revisions, we're going to shop it to editors.


This feels so bloody surreal. It's happening. I'm a big girl now. :D Dreams do come true sometimes.