Saturday, March 26, 2011

YA Fiction Rules the World

It's rare that I find a book that I really connect with. Books that change me not as a reader, or a writer, but as a person.

I was going to write a review of FAT KID RULES THE WORLD to try and get back into the flow of writing book reviews, but I can't. Because I have just finished reading it, and it has successfully blown my mind. There's nothing left. Nothing.

When I find a book that truly touches my soul, I know for a few reasons. 1) Usually I've been reading the book non-stop or nearly non-stop. 2) I cry. Always. End of story. 3) I'm always left with a profound sense of.... something.

Whenever I find a book like FAT KID RULES THE WORLD I almost always devour it in one sitting, and afterwards I'm overcome with this amazing silence. I always hold the book to my chest, usually look it over in my hands, flip through some pages, and set it down. Then I sit back, heave a sigh, and just stare.

My mind is filled with silence. Yet at the same time, I'm thinking in overdrive. About life, and people and relationships and purpose and everything I could possibly think of. It's not happiness that I feel. It's a bittersweet feeling, but it's a good one. I'm heartbroken that the story is over, and I adore the conclusion. I feel like something's been taken from me. That I've lost an important part of myself, but gained another new side. It feels like I've hacked off an arm, but it's okay because I've just grown a tail.

It's not often I feel this way. It has to be a certain kind of book to fill me with such a bittersweet feeling. The last time I felt this I believe it was because I had just finished Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater. I devoured that book, set it down, and was overcome with this amazing happiness and grief and I just started crying for no real reason.

It's not just books that do this to me. The season five finale of Supernatural left me in a similar state (WHO CAN REALLY BLAME ME?)

Curt MacCrae from FAT KID RULES THE WORLD is the first character I've ever felt I've befriended. I've read a lot of books, but near the climax of this novel, I started crying. K.L. Going made me feel like I was there with Troy and Curt, and never in my life has a book ever struck me like that.

THIS is why I read. THIS is why I write. I don't do it just for entertainment, or escapism, or as a job or as a love affair even though they're all parts of what I love about stories. I read and I write because I'm forever searching for that elusive, bittersweet feeling when I put down a book and am overcome with a profound silence that I know is changing me even though I can't begin to imagine how yet.

I write because I'm searching to create this feeling. To share it. To connect with someone I may never see, or speak to, or know. I write because somewhere in my future a kid will be holding a copy of my book, just as I'm holding FAT KID RULES THE WORLD, and say "Thank you."

I read because I'm ever searching for that feeling. Like a drug addict searching for pills in the couch cushions. It makes me feel alive, and more importantly, it makes me feel connected to everyone around me.

So no, this isn't a book review of FAT KID RULES THE WORLD. But read it anyway. And maybe it will connect with you and maybe it won't. Maybe you'll connect with the lonely voice of Holden Caufield or the stubbornness of Katniss Everdeen. That's what's great about writing; it's all personal. It's all about you.

And for every single person who ever looked down their nose at YA fiction, who said it wasn't "real" writing, who looked at someone with a YA book in their hand and said, "aren't you a little old to be reading that?" I'd like to take a number from Curt's book and say, fuck off. If you look down on YA fiction, it's because you're too closed minded to see just how amazing it can be.



Thursday, March 24, 2011

Pitch Writing

Recently I had to delve into pitch writing, and I figured I'd blog about some of the things I learned. I've had half a brain this last week or so, which is why I've been avoiding blogging (even though I've had half a million different ideas for posts.) So if this post makes no sense, please feel free to pelt me with tomatoes.

Pitch Writing (And why it's not as scary as it sounds.)

For those of you who are unfamiliar with one-two sentence pitches, they're what are known sometimes as elevator pitches. Something quick to sum up your novel so that you won't bore the person you're talking to with too many details.

Ever been in a situation where a friend, family member or coworker (Or random stalker) turns to you and says, "So what's your book about?"

If you're like me, you'll stand and stare blankly for a few minutes while going, "Uhm, well, uh... it's really complicated." If you're REALLY like me, when that question comes up you'd rather shove your manuscript in their face than actually try to explain it.

So this is where our pitch skills come in. I highly recommend writing one, because, let's face it, as a writer you're going to have to summarize your work for your friends and family, but if you want to be published and be in the biz, you're going to have to learn to summarize your work. For everybody.

To start, I think I have to reference Nathan Bransford’s pitch writing blog post. For me, this was a great place to start. I used his method to write pitches, but they just didn't have the right flavor. They were too bland. So I moved on from that and this is kind of what I got.

In a one sentence pitch, you do not have to name your main character, or the character's age. Most often this space is better for describing your character, because in a one-two sentence pitch, every word counts. So instead of using my character name "Adam Fenn" I could use "A dictator's son." That gives you a little bit of a different image of him than just a name you're likely to forget. However, if your pitch is already complicated, make it simpler by using a character's name instead. The most important thing about a short pitch is that it's concise, makes sense, and leaves the other person hanging. You want them to go "Oooh." after you've finished and leave them wanting more.

This brings me to my first part. What makes up a pitch?

I'm going to side with Nathan on this one and say:
--> Initial incident
--> Obstacle (Or further complications, or stakes, or whatever you can to raise the conflict.)
--> Quest (Or what your character wants.)

This can look pretty daunting. The first step towards writing your pitch is: identify these aspects in your novel. If your novel doesn't have an initial incident, then it's not the pitch's fault it sucks, it's your novel.

I'm going to write a pitch for my new WIP Crash, just to show you how this works.

Initial Incident: MC's brother-in-law is killed.
Obstacle: Hey look, the apocalypse is looming.
Quest: Saving his sister.

Once you've identified the parts of your novel, put them into a sentence. Don't try to make it pretty. Just shove all the parts together. If you worry about structure or making it a run-on, you'll never get your pitch on paper. Even if it's ugly, just make sure all the parts are there.

The death of Arthur's brother in law haunts him, and following the trail leads him to an angel and demon pair that inform him the apocalypse is looming. Not only is Arthur stuck saving the world, but he'll have to save his sister from the very thing that murdered his brother-in-law.

Not pretty, is it? Doesn't matter. All the parts are there. Once you have them down, arrange them into something that doesn't really look so bad. So this is what I come out with:

In the year 2223, Arthur Fenn goes looking for answers after the mysterious death of his brother-in-law, only to be ensnared in a centuries-old bet between Heaven and Hell. With the apocalypse looming, Arthur must get Heaven, Hell and Earth off their crash course, or risk losing his sister to the very monster that killed his brother-in-law.

It's not as pretty as it could be, but there it is. Let's break it down.

In the year 2223(Setting here, which is one of the things I think is important, especially if you're writing in an abnormal place.), Arthur Fenn goes looking for answers after the mysterious death of his brother-in-law(Initial incident), only to be ensnared in a centuries-old bet between Heaven and Hell(Obstacle).

(I could leave it there for a one sentence pitch, but to add in the quest, we bump it up to a two sentence pitch. They're easier in my opinion.)

With the apocalypse looming(Further complications, and flavor), Arthur must get Heaven, Hell and Earth off their crash course(Quest, or what he must do.) or risk losing his sister to the very monster that killed his brother-in-law. (Stakes, as well as showing WHY Arthur cares about all of this nonsense.)

So there you have it. Once you have all the parts, you can arrange it into a one-sentence pitch or two sentence. You can spend a long time polishing (I obviously didn't.) or not. I used Arthur’s name here instead of a descriptor, because I felt there was a lot going on, and I didn’t want anyone to get lost in what I was saying.

A few other tips. A pitch is about what happens. You don't want to be general. You want to show the events of your novel, not the theme, or the atmosphere, or whatever.

Be specific. Show what makes your novel special. What makes you different from all the other aspiring authors out there? What makes your book interesting?

Your pitch should reflect your novel. If you're writing something light and humorous, add some humor to your pitch. If your novel is dark, reflect that. Adding little bits like hints at setting, or otherwise, can help separate your novel from all the others out there in novel-land.

Well, I think that's all I have to say on the subject. Honestly, pitch writing can seem hard but it's a hell of a lot easier than writing queries.



Saturday, March 12, 2011

Happy Moments

Besides some things in my non-write life that I'm stoked about (OMG! Job interview in like... an hour. SQUEE!) not much has been happening. Which lets me focus on working (note: fighting ) with my WIP. Today I finished another chapter ( 33K in and still rollin') and when I got to the end of the chapter, I placed in a high moment for my characters, which is my FAVORITE kind of writing.

I know. WTF? I don't write comedy. I don't write happy go lucky stuff. If you've been following my blog, you'll know I'm an optimist with a fascination with war, famine, death, racism, sexism, and the like. And I incorporate them all into my novels. I like dark stuff. I love conflict.

But it's because of that love of conflict that writing high moments is so wonderful.

I'm going to backpedal on the terminology here. Partly because my lingo may or may not be made up by yours truly.

A "high moment" in a novel is when your character (usually your POV character) is at a moment of extreme joy. They've gotten the girl! They've won the game! They didn't die fighting the giant sand worm! It's a moment when your characters are happy, despite the shit you've hurled at them left and right.

A "low moment" in contrast is... you guessed it, just the opposite. When your characters are beaten down, depressed, angry, just not around a happy camper.

I throw a lot of crap on my characters during the events of my novels, so naturally, they spend a lot of time down in the dumps. But in my writing I've found it's absolutely important to include high moments. Where your characters crack jokes and just enjoy themselves for once. They don't have to be long. The one I just wrote was about two paragraphs long, and it was two characters who had just survived a car crash. One cracked a joke and then they couldn't stop laughing. It was a high moment for them. They were happy to be alive. They found anything funny because they were so relieved that they made it.

High moments can be silly. They can be funny. They can just be ridiculous. A high moment in another novel I wrote included the characters beating each other with wet clothing.

I think I need to stress this now, however: High moments are for your characters, not for your readers.

I'm not making sense? Well, that's because I never make sense. Observe:

“Morning Seth,” Arthur said, breaking off his conversation with Dahlia and climbing to his feet. He looked stupidly bright for so early. Damn morning people. “How’d you sleep?”

“Coffee.” Seth pulled open the cupboards and began to shift through them.

“Did you want breakfast?” Arthur asked.

Seth leveled his stare on him. “Coffee.”

“We made tea, if you’d like,” Dahlia said.


This is a scene from my novel. Is this a high point? No. Will the readers be amused? Of course. This is purely for reader benefit to add a little lightness to the scene so the reader isn't dragged down with the darkness of a lot of what happens in the novel.

This is opposed to:

“If it wasn’t for you, I’d be some sort of… of toy to that thing back there. You’ve saved me from a fate worse than death.”

A wicked glint shone in Molly’s eyes. “I said thank me, not go full on chick-flick.”

The joke was lame, but it succeeded in pulling a smile from Arthur. The joy was addicting and it soon spread into laughter. Arthur couldn’t say whether it was the elation of escaping the crash, of being alive, or the need to distract themselves from the heartache ahead, but soon he and Molly were laughing until tears rolled down their faces.

This isn't as amusing to the reader. They may not find Molly's bad joke that funny, but that's okay. They don't have to. What this scene is supposed to do is not only lighten the darkness a bit, but also instill a sense of fondness in the reader. If you've done your job as a writer and your characters are sympathetic, then this should instill them with a caring for the characters. You feel more likened to them. It's bittersweet, because the reader knows that they're not going to be happy anytime soon, but you feel glad that they could have a few moments of happiness before things go to hell.

High moments should be spaced throughout the novel. Right after a mildly tragic event is good, but if you really want to hit the reader where it hurts, put it before a major tragedy. In another novel I have a scene where two characters are arguing about swear words (makes sense in context, I promise) right before one of them dies. It's amusing on the first read through, but on the second it's sad, because you know this is the last time they'll have fun together.

Even if you're not writing YA, these high moments are important. Because your characters are people. They have happy moments and sad moments and they're going to try to make the best out of their situation. They help create reader sympathy. If your characters are dorky and are messing around, they're going to connect well with your dorky readers.

Find dark spots in your manuscript. Are they heavy dark spots? Place a happy moment beforehand. Are they just bumps in the road for your character? Try it afterwards. Read it all together and see what works and what doesn't. Experiment, because writing is hands-on learning. Your characters, and your readers, deserve a pick-me-up every once in a while.



Friday, March 11, 2011

Hey, It's Just a First Draft

There should be a disclaimer on this blog somewhere that since I'm a writer I will hopelessly abuse metaphors.

Anyway, I just thought I'd talk about something that's been haunting me for a while. Hopefully that'll help clear it from my head.

Writing is like a relationship. Each book is like a new relationship, but writing itself is like a the record of your love life. It's just a long term thing, whereas each book is like a summer fling: great, but eventually it'll come to an end. Hopefully a good one.

In every relationship, there are ups and downs. The book that's currently on sub was like an up point of the relationship. It felt like I couldn't do wrong with it. I loved every moment of it. I wouldn't shut up about it. I was truly, one-hundred percent in love. This didn't mean it wasn't a lot of hard work, but compared to some other books I've written in the past, it was a breeze.

Now I'm working on the second book in the trilogy and it's... shall we say, not as great.

It's not you, book, it's me. You see, I just got out of this great relationship, and, well, I'm not sure if I'm ready to commit again.

Time and time again I've said Shell was the best thing I've ever written. And it was up until that point. But I never wanted it to be the best thing I'll ever write. I want to use Shell as a place where I can learn and grow from. I never want to stop learning and working on my craft. But I feel as though I'm suffering from a case of fear of failure. I'm terrified this book won't live up to the first. I've got a typical case of Sophomore Blues, which is common after writers find some success with an agent/editor.

And objectively speaking, I know my sequel is good. If I detach myself (which I can do for a few moments in time, much like holding my breath) then I can see its merits. But most of the time I stare at it and think, "This is terrible. I can't do this. It'll be horrible and everyone will hate me." I've torn apart the beginning about eight or twenty times now. I finally have something that I'm at least satisfied with, and I can't seem to look past the little imperfections and just write the story.

My inner editor is going off the rocket. So how do you handle a psychotic inner editor? Much like you'd handle a psychotic ex.

Get the hell away from it.

This may be easier to do with a psychotic ex, not so much an inner editor, but the concept is the same. Whenever I'm struggling, I move my writing space. Usually that's to a different desk in my basement (I have three.) If that doesn't work I go and work at the table upstairs. (The light from the windows helps sometimes.) And then if that fails I usually leave the house. I go out to the mall, or the Starbucks by my place. (Although the Starbucks has internet, which is always a good thing to avoid when struggling with writing.)

Something about moving really seems to help conquer that inner editor, at least for a while. I went to my favorite place in the mall the other day, where I plugged in my iPod, watched the people pass me by, and wrote. And I got a lot done. It was fabulous. For a while I forgot about the pressures and thought, "Hey, this is just a first draft."

It's hard to conquer that voice that says you're not good enough. Sometimes you just need a change of location. Or for someone to look at your work and say, "It's good." Or taking some time to be alone and think about your novel.

But the great thing about this line of work is that everything is subjective. What's gold to one reader is trash to another. And as long as you understand what's good and what's your inner editor trying to sabotage you, you'll be fine.



Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Not-So-Nice Guys

I'm fighting with my WIP at the moment, so we're taking a break. At the present moment, I'm watching South Park and making one of my lovely dollies.

Anyone who knows me, knows I LOVE LOVE LOVE South Park. I could talk for hours about what I love about this show, but let's save that for another day, shall we?

Instead, we're going to talk about Eric Cartman. I linked to his wiki page there for a couple of reasons. 1) if you feel like actually delving into his character, I'm never against that. 2) More importantly, scroll half way down the page. Cartman has a section labeled "Criminal record." Because of how long it is, I'm going to do just a brief summary:

--> Murder
--> Vandalism
--> Manslaughter
--> Murder by proxy
--> Attempted Murder
--> Attempted Genocide
--> Assault
--> Smuggling
--> Theft/Obstruction of Criminal Investigation
--> Violation of firearm laws/threatening with a deadly weapon
--> Arson
--> Hate Crimes
--> Kidnapping and False Imprisonment
--> Terrorism
--> War Crimes
--> Piracy
--> Breaking and Entering
--> Hit and Run
--> Blackmailing/Framing/False Evidence
--> Torture
--> Fraud/Plagiarism
--> Rape
--> Forceful confinement
--> Vigilantism.

Jesus. You know, I was only going to list a few, but I figured I might as well throw it all up there. Granted, he's had fourteen years on the air to build up his criminal record, but considering he's only nine years old, it's still pretty impressive.

Now, I hear a lot of new writers worry about writing bad characters. Characters that may be villains in a different book. And honestly, half the time they couldn't compare to the stuff Cartman's done. And yet South Park is still on the air, a large part of that is thanks to Cartman.

South Park has characters like Kyle or Stan that viewers can sympathize with. Cartman, however, appeals to our darker side. We want to watch what Cartman will do next. More so, we want to know why he does what he does, which is why episodes like Tsst and Fishsticks do so well. They delve into Cartman's psyche and reveals that he doesn't do this because he doesn't have a conscience, he does it because he thinks he's doing the right thing.

I want to see more characters like Cartman. I want to see the darker side treaded on, especially in young adult. Teens are exposed to things like drugs, violence, sex, gangs, abuse, self-mutilation, suicide, ect. Teens aren't babies. They've been exposed to the darker side of life and it's fascinating.

So write more dark characters, but if you're going to do it, then delve into the why. That's what makes villains and anti-heroes so amazing. The why. Are they like Cartman, who believes he's doing the right thing? Is she aware that she's walking a fine line between insanity and the norm but is tempted anyway? Does he lack the ability to understand the difference between right and wrong? Does she lack empathy?

Murderers, rapists, deranged psychos, they were all teenagers once. Delve into their heads, find out what makes them tick. Don't just get into the darkness that they create, but the darkness within. Throw controversies and the fear of stepping on people's toes aside. Write dark characters who are honest and true and you will create something special. And even if we don’t sympathize with the character, we’ll be fascinated by them and drawn deeper into the story to see just how it’ll come to an end.



Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Things to do while on sub

1) Beat your head against the table and call it writing.

2) Consider joining an opera. Decide you can't sing and join the circus instead.

3) Circus is not as fun as previously advertized. Jump on a trampoline instead and pretend you work for the circus.

4) Charge people to watch you jump on said trampoline.

5) Eat a bagel.

6) Make a list of things to do while on sub.

7) Consider actually doing things on said list.

8) Decide your time is best spent eating another bagel.

9) Eat said bagel.

10) Hang up every rejection letter you've ever gotten on the wall.

11) Decide that's too depressing and go back to the trampoline scheme.

12) Become an astronaught.


14) Eat another bagel.

15) Write?



18) Paint.

19) Make more pointless lists.

20) Eat another bagel.

21) Assasinate Charlie Sheen.

22) Blame the assasination on the dog.

23) Get a dog to blame the assasionation on.

24) Eat another bagel.


26) Buy more bagels.