Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Boys in Young Adult

So, normally I don't post about movie adaptations, not because I don't like them but because I'm pretty passive about them. When The Last Airbender came out many fans complained that the characters lacked the cultural diversity that gave the cartoon its flavor. To this, I shrugged and said, "So long as they can play the part." I get upset when Hollywood white-washes, but honestly, as long as they play the part and play it well, usually I'm okay with it.


However, this made me pause. This is the first image of Gale and Peeta for the Hunger Games movie:

Is there anything there that makes you pause? Take another look if you don't see it.

I get really sad when Hollywood casts adult actors to play teenagers. For the most part, women who are cast to play teenage girls can usually pull it off. Of course they look mature, but the costuming and make-up departments work to make them look younger, and they do a good job In fact, I thought Katniss looked rather cute. But the boys? They don't look like teenagers. Rather, several aspects have been accented that actually make them look older, but were done because it also makes them look "sexier."

Notice the lovely arm hair and bulging muscles. Gotta love Peeta's nice, firm chest.

News flash: teenage boys don't look like that. Even those that play sports and go to the gym every day don't look like that. Being a teenager means coming with a bit of awkwardness and scrawniness from the childhood they're leaving behind. Also: can I add that both Peeta and Gale come from District 13? A very poor district? And though Gale had some training and went out into the woods, part of Peeta's charm was that he was an underfed baker's son. He was the underdog. That was why it was so much more awesome that he won.

But I'm not here to complain about the Hunger Games movie. I'm excited about it, and will definitely see it, despite my reservations about casting. I'm here to talk about body image with boys.

When we hear body image, we first think of girls. After all, they are a huge target for media. But do we ever stop to think about the damage that images above do for boys?

First of all, what does this image say to boys? This says that underfed, starving TEENAGE boys should look this hot. That to be considered attractive by girls, guys need to have the tight muscles and unruly hair. Oh, and of course, they can never smile. ;)

Both in movies and in some young adult fiction, boys have become nothing more than a prop for the main girl. Their feelings are disregarded, their body is buff and unrealistic, and their role revolves around the girl. They seem to have no personality outside of their feelings for the girl.

Normally I ignore movie posters with the buff boys. Living in North America, you grow accustomed to the way the media portrays certain things, even if you don't agree. But I worry for the Hunger Games movie, because it has a direct tie back to writers in the young adult section. This movie poster props Gale and Peeta up as eye candy, pieces of meat to be ogled. I read and enjoyed the Hunger Games, and Peeta and Gale were so much more than that. Their roles in the story have since been reduced to "Team Gale" and "Team Peeta" as if their characters have no other worth than who Katniss would choose to be with.

Writers, editors, readers, agents, we all want to see more boys reading young adult. Not just to appeal to more readers but so boys can have a chance to enjoy fiction that they can relate to as teenagers. But how can they relate to propped up card-board cut outs who's only value comes from their role in the romance?

Yes, the media is heavy to blame here, and I can't blame Suzanne Collins or her agent or her editor for the way Gale and Peeta are going to be portrayed. They have no control over it. But the problem with boys stretches into the books as well. (I'm not saying Hunger Games does this.) Often we see boys in young adult fiction who have been reduced to the lowest common denominator. The nerd. The best friend. The bad boy. The token gay guy. More and more boys are being shoved into categories while at the same time writers are taking girls out of those categories and making them more unique and rounded.

We've got a double standard here. When we see a boy who is juggling two girls, do we side on "teams" and root for the girl we want him to pick? No. He's just called a "cheater" or a "player." And yet when we have a girl who is in the same situation, juggling two guys and being COMPLETELY UNFAIR ABOUT IT, we expect the boys to wait patiently while the girl sorts out her feelings. How is this fair? More so, how do we expect to lure boys into young adult if the male characters' happiness is solely dependent on whether or not he's chosen as the girl's boyfriend?

Where are the boys like Etienne St. Clair, who has a life and problems outside of Anna? Where are the boys like Christian, who doesn't even notice Clara despite how much she threw herself at him? Where are the boys like Tucker, who won't put up with waiting around until Clara figures her things out?

Romance is great, but if your male characters are only around to prop up your female ones, you have some serious work to do. Boy readers will appreciate if you put the effort in, and so will girls. They want to know what's going inside their heads. Yes, girls enjoy seeing the cliched bad boy or best friend waiting in the wings for them, patient, nothing more than cardboard cut outs, but those are just guilty pleasures. If you move past that, your characters will be richer and your story will be so much better.



Monday, July 25, 2011

I Wanna Hear Yours: How Do You Plan Characters?

So right now I'm in the planning stage for my next WIP. It involves a lot of plotting, a lot of research, and a lot of character development.

For me, characters are probably the best and worst part of writing any story. Without lively and sympathetic characters, a beautifully written plot, world building and conflict has no meaning. If your characters are flat and uninteresting, who's going to want to spend any time getting to know them?

Unfortunately, characters are my worst subject. Developing characters, figuring out who they are, making them likeable... it's always been a challenge for me. And along my writing career I've developed a few tricks that I use whenever I have to start a book.

First, usually, I have to figure out where the character fits into the story. I'll use examples from my current planning stage. Most of them are pretty easy. Charlotte? Simple. She's my main character. Vern? Well, I know he'll end up as my love interest. Gaspar slides into the spot of her sponsor, and we have Aunt Cyn sliding in as a guardian.

Most of the time this is very easy, but every so often I'll get an image of a character, and have no idea how they'll fit into the story, only that they will play some part. Right now, that character for my untitled WIP is Dusty Dayton. Dusty is a very mysterious character. I have no idea how he's going to play out in the story, but I do know that he's necessary. I am a bit of an outliner, but not enough that I can see how his part will play out. So I don't know how he's going to fit in, but it will be interesting to see.

Now, I have my characters (And usually in this part I would name them.) And then I move onto developing them. How do I do this? Simple. Fill out this bad boy:

Ethnic Background:
Religion/Religious Background:
Health/Physical Condition/Disabilities:
Educational Background:
Ambitions, Aspirations, Desires:
Major Traits:
Minor Traits:
Character Flaws/Weaknesses:
Character Strengths:
Habitual/Favorite Expressions:
Habitual Mannerisms:
Fears, Anxieties, Hangups:
Attitude Toward Life:
Attitude Toward Death:.
Most Cherished Beliefs/Values:
Worst Habit:
Highest Hope:
Preoccupations, Worries:
Biggest Source Of Pride:
Biggest Source Of Shame Or Defeat:
How They Talk/Speech Patterns (Diction, Tone, Speed, Pitch):
Body Language/Posture:
Perception Of Others:
Reactions To Others:
Involvement With Objects:
Attitude Toward Opposite Sex:
How They Handle Crisis:
Memories, Dreams:
How They Protect Themselves--Fight/Flight/Freeze:
Public Persona:
Daily Habits:
Motivational Patterns/What Gets Them Going:
How They'd Describe Themselves:
Do They See Themselves As Happy/Satisfied?:
Do They See Themselves As A Hero?:
Sense Of Humor:
Feelings Toward Family:
Feelings Toward Friends:
Feelings Toward Enemies:
Philosophy Of Life (In A Phrase):

I LOVE this thing. I wouldn't know where I'd be without it. I didn't create it, I found it on a website, but it helps exponentially. This really helps me get into the characters's heads. I also do a little extra sketch work on the side, like their motivations, add in a bit of internal conflict, and how I think they should change over the course of the book.

It's a long process to go through it, but without it I know my characters come out flat, unchanging, and really unsympathetic.

So you've heard my process, now I wanna hear yours: How do you develop your characters? Do you have a process or do you just see how things go? Maybe your tips can help me find better ways to plan out my characters. ;)



Saturday, July 23, 2011

Writers and Negativity

So, recently I had a few friends ask me for a copy of my book, Shell. I have no problem of giving away copies of my book, but this time I chose to say no, because the book is currently on submission and I thought it would be best to wait and see if the book was published or not.

Naturally, people get huffy when you say no. They don't understand why I wouldn't want to. Suddenly, they think I'm in it for the money.

This baffles me every time I hear it. I guarantee no writer will ever say this. If I was in life for the money, I would have gotten into business. Or marketing. Or tried my hand at driftwood sculpting. Writers DON'T make that much money. Most writers don't make enough to live on. Not, "Oh, I'm not paid enough." More like, "I HAVE $12 DOLLARS AND I HAVE TO PAY MY ELECTRICITY BILL AND RENT."

Yes, there are writers who make it big. And honestly? NOBODY REALLY KNOWS WHY. People pretend to know why Harry Potter was so big or how the Twilight phenomenon came about. They nod their heads and smoke their pipes and say, "Mm, yes, we expected that to come along. Precisely as anticipated."

The truth? Nobody knows what makes a bestseller besides: write a good story. So, those writers that do enter into this world to make money? You have a better chance of winning the lottery. And odds are it won't leave you cursing out your laptop when it breaks down and you're under deadline.

So, writers? Honestly, not in it for the money. Even YA writers, even though there seems to be a strange misconception going around the YA writers are "trend writers" and are "trying to chase the popularity of YA right now."

Uh, no.


*clears throat* No.

Are you a writer? Yes? Are there types or writers you don't have respect for? Maybe they're YA or MG authors. Maybe they're mystery or romance writers. Maybe they're nonfiction writers. If there's a certain *type* of writer that you look down on, then I'm sorry for you.

As writers, we have a great community. And that community should be supportive. We are NOT in competition with each other. Even if you think we are, we're not. Someone who picks up a YA fantasy book but ignore yours? They like YA fantasy, and odds are they may pick up your book too. Between genres? We're not at war with each other, and we need to stop acting like it.

No matter what you write, you work hard at it, and we can't compare writing a MG fantasy to an adult contemporary. There is no comparison. They both have pros and cons and they're both not easy. If you compare genres or "difficulty level" of types of writing, then you are no different from children holding up their picture and saying they did better to a parent who really doesn't care.

It may seem like writing romance or a children's book or a contemporary is easy, but that's because it's our job to make it look easy. Writers get good at what they do so it seems effortless. But it's not. And as fellow writers, we should understand each other's pain.

Which leads me to another point. Writers who dehumanize agents and editors, saying they only want what's hot, who are only interested in money, who are plain "rude" for rejecting them, come on. I shouldn't have to say this. There are plenty of agent/editor blog posts where they say WE ARE HUMAN. WE LOVE THIS JOB. WE DO WANT YOU TO SUCCEED. Agents and editors are people too, people who LOVE this business, otherwise they wouldn't be in it. Like writers, agents and editors are usually sensitive people, because many of them are writers themselves.

This business is tough, and sometimes you need to rant. It's hard to deal with rejection and waiting and the struggle. But it's absolutely intolerable if you decide to take out your frustrations on agents, editors, or fellow writers.

We are not in high school. We are not dealing with office politics. We are all grown-ups here, and sometimes certain writers need to get their heads out of their asses and realize they are not the only people who love this business. Realize that writers write what they are called towards, even if you don't enjoy their genre. Agents and editors are doing the best they can, and they don't want to be rude. They don't like sending out rejection letters, but they cannot feasibly represent every author who emails them.

And I think this brings me to my point of this post:

If you are a writer that brews negativity, that just can't get over their spite and jealousy for fellow writers, that thinks agents and editors only care about money, this is your warning.

Get over yourself, or get out of this business.

The road to publication is long and frustrating, and if you're negative about the business, it will only drag you down. It WILL alienate you from your fellow writers. It WILL make editors less inclined to work with you. It WILL put off your agent. You will drown in this business. The thing about writing (and art in general) is there is a lot of put downs, and a lot of roadblocks. And if you can't pick yourself up and move on, you will never get anywhere.

So if you're a negative writer, look at yourself and ask: is this where I should be? Is the joy I get out of this worth dealing with all the bad things?

Can I put aside my anger and frustration and jealousy and love what I do?

I want you to succeed. But if you're just going to drag everyone else down into your pool of negativity, then you can go succeed elsewhere, because we don't want you here.



Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Revision Notes

I've embarked on the painful and arduous task of editing Crash, which in its final word count is 136K. I've just done my initial read through and I realize this is going to be tough. Not only do I need to shave off 16K AT THE LEAST, but I also have to add things in. Not to mention the airtight, swift plot leaves little elbow room. I know editing this book is going to be like sawing off an arm and a leg.

I know there are lots of other writers out there struggling with revision. Revising is a lot like playing hide and seek blind. You have no idea what's ahead unless you walk into it, and it's impossible to determine how well you're hidden until you're found, (or not found). In the end, you just have to go by feeling.

It's easy to get stressed about revisions, especially when you have notes from an agent/editor/beta reader. Revisions hit the same nerve as rejections, because either way someone is sitting down and saying, "There's something wrong with your manuscript." And it can hurt. Every writer, on some level, wants their manuscript to be perfect. And even though revision notes may begin with "I really like this..." it's the "but" that follows that stings, even in a minor, miniscule way.

So when you get those revision notes, what do you do? How do you know the agent isn't going in a completely different direction than you want to? How do you know if your editor isn't misunderstanding your book? How do you know if your beta reader is just bat-shit crazy?

For the most part, it's easy. For some edit notes, you read them and it's like a light goes off. "OF COURSE THAT'S WHAT I SHOULD DO HOW COULD I NOT SEE IT BEFORE OMIGAWSH YOU'RE A GENIUS." And then there's less happy moments. Notes that you grimace at, knowing the workload involved, but grudgingly admit it's probably a good move. And then there are others. Ones that you're really not sure will make your book any better. It just sounds like a lot of work for work's sake. And then there are some that MAY make the book better, but you really would rather not make the changes, for one reason or another.

When stepping into uncertain pastures, sometimes it's good to take a day or two, or maybe even a week or two, to think about it. Whoever gave you those revision notes isn't expecting you to finish in a day. Take some time. Figure out a game plan before charging forwards.

When you're faced with suggestions you aren't necessarily against, but aren't sure will actually do anything, sometimes it's easier to do a taste test. If the suggestion is something concrete, like adding scenes with two characters together, write one. Read through it, see how you feel. And then read it in context. Start reading a chapter or two before the scene and read through until one or two chapters after. How does it read? If you're STILL not sure, try another scene. And another. Read through. How do you feel about it NOW?

When it comes to the last type of revision, the one you're not sure about but you don't want to do, often this comes down to killing your darlings. Killing your darlings is hard, and sometimes it's for the best. If you're like me, and you have to axe your favorite part, then sometimes it's better to save the passages or lines or whatever in a blank word document. If you're lucky, you can use those parts again in different forms.

And if this is the case, and you're reluctant to murder your babies, then seriously, my best advice is to take the plunge. Just test drive it out and see how it feels. When it comes to killing your darlings, most writers would rather step back and say no, their emotional attachment making it difficult for them to decide whether to keep it or toss it. Because of this, it’s best not to think of it. Just try it. The good thing is you can always change it back if you decide that just doesn't work for you. So long as you save a document for each draft, or at least have a system for saving old versions of your work, you're golden.

And honestly? Sometimes you'll find agents/editors/beta readers who really don't know what they're talking about. Maybe they want to go in a completely different direction than you do. And sometimes you just need to put your foot down and say no. Sometimes you had it right all along.

So what are your revision tips? I need some help getting through my own editing rounds, so any advice is really appreciated!



Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Customer is Always Right

So, as some of you might already know, (but most of you probably don't) I work part time in a real estate office. My mother works as one of the brokers and so all my life I've been surrounded by the lingo and the business, so working as a reception was really easy for me. But as a writer, I started to think about the difference between a real estate agent and a literary agent. When you break it down, it seems like they do similar things. They represent their clients to sell something on their behalf. They work with contracts and act as a go-between between the biz and their clients. They do everything you can imagine and only get paid when the job is done.

There are some similarities, but what I've noticed in the last year and a half that I've been working as a receptionist, is that literary agents and realtors are very different kinds of people (duh. I have a point, I promise.)

As a receptionist I hear my share of the gossip, and I deal with a lot of crap that comes through. And I see when clients get mad, and it's ugly. When something the realtor does or doesn't do angers their client, often we hear about it. Often I hear about it, and every time it happens I'm astounded at the rudeness of people. Of course they're not mad at me-- I'm merely a casualty-- but because I'm a part of the office the realtor works under, because I'm part of the company, I hear my share of crap too.

If something doesn't go a client's way, they're indignant. They're pissed. And suddenly they don't have to be nice to anyone. Suddenly it's their shit show and everyone has to be part of it.

Why does this happen? Simple. We've been ingrained all our lives with the rule: The customer is always right. And in a way, they are the customer, and they should get what they want. (within a limit. I'm not excusing anyone's rudeness here.)

But people seem to mistake literary agents for realtors. When (most of the time new, uneducated) writers think of literary agents, they immediately think something similar to a real estate agent. And in this respect they're very, very wrong.

Realtors and literary agents are very different when it comes to their clients. To a realtor, a client is a customer. To a literary agent, a client is a partner. When we hear horror stories from agents who talk about how badly some writers have treated them, I can only think that these writers are under the impression that they're customers, and therefore have a right to complain when they feel they didn't receive the service they wanted. But if writers were merely customers, agents would sign every writer that sent them a query.

Literary agents sign writers for careers. We brush ourselves up and put out our best work because we want to work with them, not hire them. The same goes for editors. They want to work with us, as partners. Yes, they're making money off our work, but we're all making money off the work. Just because the writer wrote it doesn't mean the agents or editors didn't work just as much, on edits or subbing it or going through contracts, ect. Every person works to make a finished product that will get everyone a nice meal at the end of the day.

Writers: stop and think. If you have contact with an agent or editor, at any time, anywhere, stop and ask yourself: would I behave this way at work? Would I talk to my boss like this? Am I talking like a customer, or as a partner? Acting like a customer can turn around and bite you in the ass. Not only will you end up rejected, but agents talk. Editors talk. And if you think they won't remember you, you are very, very wrong.

At the end of the day, if you're not sure, just be polite. Even if you are uncertain about things with the agent/editor, or you have a problem with their suggestions, talk to them about it, and be nice. Because at the end of the day, we're all people, and we all need to be treated with a little respect.



Monday, July 4, 2011

Good News, Everybody!

If you thought the title in Professor Farnsworth's voice, I tip my hat to you.

So, some good news comes this way! I know I haven't been blogging much lately, and that's partly due to the summer and me being crazy busy, but also due to me buckling down and writing like a madman. I should be back to myself again, so never fear!

Which kinda brings me to my bundles of good news.

--> I FINISHED CRASH. WOOOOHOOOO. I'm a fast writer. Normally it takes me 3 months tops to finish a 100K book. Crash took 7 months, and ended up at 136K words. I have a lot of editing to do on that one so I'm far from through with it, but still, exciting!

--> Which brings me to my next bit of news. I get to start on my new project!! It's a YA steampunk with DRAGONS. I can't say more than that, though. You'll have to wait for any further details. ;)

--> ALSO, I'm up on Goodreads. If you would like to follow my reviews and keep more tabs on what I'm reading, you can friend me there. I will friend back. I will still be posting reviews on my blog, but I will be posting half-reviews on Goodreads that I won't be putting here. What are half-reviews? They're the books I got half way through but couldn't finish for one reason or another. I don't consider them full reviews, and it's really just what I didn't like about the book.

If you're following me on Twitter, you will still get updates for when I post both full reviews and my halfie reviews. So if you don't want to deal with following me a million different places, it's best to just follow me on twitter.

I think that's it! Hopefully my blog posts will get back to their regular frequency and I can go back to normal now.

Happy 4th of July to my American readers, and for everyone else, happy Monday. ;)