Saturday, March 17, 2012

Know your Writing

Whoa. Been a while. *blows dust off blog* How're all my lovelies out in the blogsphere tonight? It's been a while since I've posted anything, but it's not because I haven't been doing anything. I've finished ZAP, my YA steampunk with dragons, and got the crits back from Le Agent. I'm waiting to dive into it, but first up I'm finishing Riot, my YA thriller/sci-fi/I don't know what the hell it is. These two books have soaked up my attention for quite a few months. They're very different, and I've learned a lot from both of them. Mostly about the importance of knowing your novel. It seems like a pretty basic things for writers to do, but I don't think writers are diving deep enough into the story. They don't realize that as the creators of these worlds, writers should know absolutely every detail.

ZAP was a first attempt for me. Not necessarily my first steampunk, but definitely the first time I'd written a book so clean. It was heavily a romance, (new) and had a girl MC, which is often unusual and frightening for me. It's a tale of first love, competition, family, and dragons. There's lots of action, lots of characters.... and a lot of issues.

Riot, on the other hand, is a first person, present tense (new) novel from the POV of a boy growing up in Colorado. There are NO supernatural elements (new) and it's almost contemporary the way it's coming out. (new) It's the night to ZAP's day, dealing in edgy content, mucho death, and some nasty POVs on some touchy issues.

ZAP just came back from the agent with a lot of edits. It's a fun story, but it's not perfect. I spent a total of six months writing, editing, tweaking, and reading over ZAP, and by the time I sent it to Michael, I got a tepid, "I like it, but yeah, no." It can be salvaged, but it will take another whole draft and a hell of a lot of rewriting. The trouble is, I knew something was wrong with the foundation of the story when I was writing, and then editing, I just had no clue how to fix it.

Riot, though it's still being written, is a much more solid book. The characters are stronger. The plot makes more sense. It's all around a better book, and I have confidence it will go far. I haven't had such feelings for a book since I wrote Shell, the book that won me my agent.

So I've been thinking over these last few days: what am I missing? What component do Shell and Riot have that's missing from ZAP? And then it hit me.

With both Shell and Riot, I spent at least two months planning before writing anything. I planned out characters, I planned out the settings, background info, foreground info. I did research, I planned out some of my scenes, I did a bit of outlining. Granted, I did all this with ZAP. What I didn't do with ZAP was acquaint myself 100% with my story.

I didn't know every detail of ZAP's world. I didn't know every little thing about my MC. I knew most of it, but when it comes down to it, most of it doesn't isn't good enough.

As an author, no one knows our books better than ourselves. It's our job as the story's creator to know the world we're building, know the characters-- every little detail.

I couldn't tell you what Charlotte's (ZAP) favorite color is, because I didn't take the time to get to know her, her motivations, her dreams, her passions. I didn't look at where she came from or tried to think of how she reacted to events in her past. What did these events do to her? How has that shaped who she is now?

Whereas Riot? Ask me anything about my main characters. You could ask me what their favorite fish is, and I could tell you. I don't have to know every detail about the boys, but I do have to know them well enough to make an educated guess on what it would be.

So writers, here's my tip: Know your writing. If you think you know everything you can about your book, its characters and its rules, then ask a friend to test you out. Explain your book and have them ask questions. Anything from the functions of your world (How do the people get food? How do they travel?) to what your characters like to do for fun. You should be able to answer pretty much anything they ask you. If you can't-- especially to big, vague questions like "what is your character's biggest dream?" then you have more work to do.

I wrote ZAP when I wasn't certain on it, and it led to big problems. But starting Riot and Shell, I knew what I was writing, and it made the words-- and confidence-- flow a hell of a lot easier.



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