Saturday, May 31, 2008

When Writing Kinda Sucks

...I'm at that point in my current WIP where I kinda have figured out where the story is going, but I'm just using the Internet as an excuse not to actually write because right now, it's hard and I'm lazy.

So I'm going to go get back to work.

Meanwhile, The Rejector has a great post on whether or not this blog (or any writer's blog) is actually worthwhile, and the comments have led me down the hyperlink trail to a couple of great new blogs.

And now I'm really going to get back to work. I've got to somehow figure out how I'm going to trap my main characters on an island in the Mediterranean inhabited by evil alchemists...

Thursday, May 29, 2008

5 Things I've Learned in 5 Years

So I was adding it up this morning, and I've been writing novels for five years. There's a big difference between the writer I was in 2003 and the writer I am now. Here's what I have learned in 5 years:

  1. Just because you wrote 200 pages doesn't mean you wrote a good book.
  2. Nothing is ever as good as it can be in the first draft.
  3. You cannot revise alone.
  4. If you still can't sell your book after revisions, rewrites, and a spit-polish, write another one.
  5. If you ever get to the point where the writing isn't worth it, just quit.

Let's hope I learn a little bit more about actually publishing something in the next five years!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Good Article

I will probably write something a little more on this article later, but right now I just found it so brilliant that I don't have any comments--I just wanted to share.

Rachelle Gardner's Blog Article on Creativity vs. Production


Voice can be the most important thing in a written work. Recently, I talked about voice when I reviewed Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series, and I've postulated before about how important voice is and yet how it cannot be taught (whether it can be learned, however, is a different matter).

One reason why Percy Jackson's voice shines through so well in Rick Riordan's books is because the book is written in a first person point of view. Because of the first person POV, Percy's phrases and attitudes can shine through even in the narrative and description.

However, in a third person POV, especially an omniscient third person POV, it becomes much more difficult to show voice. Voice is limited to dialogue (internal or external) and it becomes tricky trying to put the character voice into the description and narrative without having author intrusion.

So here's my question: What is a good book that shows voice but is told in 3rd period?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Finally--Some Good News!

OK, so my title makes it sound like the world's depressing (gas hit $4 a gallon in Charlotte today and my sprained ankle still hurts), but there's plenty of good in the world, and this article in Newsweek is just icing on the cake.
Contrary to the depressing proclamations that American teens aren't reading, the surprising truth is they are reading novels in unprecedented numbers. Young-adult fiction (ages 12-18) is enjoying a bona fide boom with sales up more than 25 percent in the past few years, according to a Children's Book Council sales survey. Virtually every major publishing house now has a teen imprint, many bookstores and libraries have created teen reading groups and an infusion of talented new authors has energized the genre.
And as if that's not enough, David Leviathan says that we're living in "the second golden age for young-adult books."

This gives me hope for the future!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Book Review: Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson Series

Since I've spent the past few days with my ankle elevated (as well as my anger--I hate being limited!), I've had little to do other than read or watch TV, and TV got pretty boring pretty fast.

Fortunately for me, I'd just received a big box of books from Scholastic--including the first three books of Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series!

I'd been holding off on reading this series. I know they're wildly popular and have reached the almost-impossible-to-reach MG/YA boy audience, but they didn't seem that interesting to me. The covers didn't grab my interest, and I had a hard time figuring out how a modern re-telling of Greek gods could be worthwhile. Retellings of fairy tales--I love them--but Greek gods?

Which just goes to show how wrong I can be.

This series is fantastic. I loved them so much, I've read one book a day for the past three days. They made me forget my throbbing ankle. They made me forget lunch. They made me forget to sleep. All I've done is read these books. I didn't want to put them down! You should have seen me hobbling down the hallway, one hand on the wall so I wouldn't fall over, the other holding the book in front of my face.

As a reader, I loved this book. As a writer, I wanted to know why--and how I could emulate that in my own writing.

1. Voice. Agents and editors talk about it all the time. It's something I struggle with, and something I suspect that all authors struggle with. Here's my conclusion: When I read these books, it wasn't just some random person telling me a story. It was the hero, Percy Jackson, telling me the story. Everything--from description to dialogue--was in his unique voice. He could write an essay on Steinbeck, and I could still tell it was his voice.

2. Layers. This book had a great story in and of itself. However, if you knew something about Greek mythology (and as a world lit teacher, I credit myself with knowing quite a bit) it added a whole new layer of fun to the book. If you didn't know all the backstory about the Greek gods, the story was still fun and nothing was really taken away (it wouldn't be confusing for someone not familiar with mythology)...but if you did know it, there was some laugh-out-loud moments.

3. Genre. I have long believed that the best kind of books are the ones that can make you laugh and cry. An adventure story doesn't need to be--and shouldn't be--all adventure. Through in something to make the reader laugh, through in a taste of comedy. Mixing things up keeps it real--and interesting.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


I've sprained my ankle. After the flu, and finals, and now this....ARGH! How am I supposed to do what I want, write, when I've got to worry about elevating my stupid ankle and get an ankle brace!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Don't Be a Nitwit

I'm from the School of Snark.

A year ago, the best thing to ever happen for struggling writers ended when Miss Snark put up her pointy high-heeled shoes and retired from the blogosphere. Still today, I wish there was a Snark Badge or Code Word or something to let editors and agents know that my skin has been thickened with gin and bites from Killer Yap. A year later (has it only been a year?!), I still know her website by heart.

The official tribute is here. I say, the real tribute is here, in the archives.

Long Live the Silent Snark.

A Sign of Changing Times

I began re-reading Doomsday Book by Connie Willis last night. Willis writes with a wonderful blend of science fiction, fantasy, and Jodi-Picoult-esque mystery. Doomsday Book was the first book of hers that I read, back in the days when I was in junior high and couldn't afford books, so I'd sign up for book clubs under different names just to get the "8 Free Copies!" for joining.

I digress. I've loved the Doomsday Book for a long time, but I loved it in the same way I love King Lear, not the way I love The Hero and the Crown. Let me explain. I read King Lear once, knew I loved it, and loved it so deeply I never had to read it again. The love was in me, and it remained in me, and every time I look on that bookshelf, I always remember that love for the book and don't need to pick it up and re-read it. A lot of the classics and more epic fantasy books are like that for me. On the other hand, there are some books, like The Hero and the Crown that I can read over and over again and never have my fill. I read The Hero and the Crown almost every year on my birthday. When I finished the third Harry Potter book, I flipped to the front and started again. It's like the difference between fine chocolate and cheap chocolate. I can savor a single Swiss truffle, or I can gorge on a pound of Easter candy.

So I hadn't read Doomsday Book since I bought it, which might have been a decade or more ago. I still know the plot: a girl from the future is sent to the Middle Ages, witnesses the Black Plague, and has trouble getting safely back. Meanwhile, in the modern world, a whole new kind of plague has broken out.

Here's the thing. The "future" of the book is the year 2054, which seems a lot closer this side of the millenium. And within the first 50 or so pages, the sub-plot of the modern plague is just starting, and the main character keeps going around trying to find phones so he can call people. It was so disjarring I had to stop reading. When I first read the book, I didn't own a cell phone, had never seen one outside of TV. Now, my high school students all have cell phone and there's lot of technology indicating that cell phones will continue to grow. But here in this 2054 world where time travel is real, cell phones aren't.

To me, it's a sign of how difficult it is to write in sci-fi. You can imagine the future the way you want to, but there will be elements of it--simple elements, like cell phones or iPods or DVD players--that are impossible to predict. When I create a world for one of my fantasy books, I have the luxury of making my own rules. Part of sci-fi is prophetic: given the world now, how can it be in the future? It takes thought, and good thought makes a better book. In Joss Wheedon's Firefly and Serenity worlds, the characters speak a combination of Chinese and English because at the apolcalypse of Earth when the people of the world flew off to different planets to live, those were the superpowers. That's taking today's real life--China and America being so powerful--to a possible future--Chinese and English merging into one accepted language. Now it seems innovative and clever...fifty years from now, China and/or America could fall from power and it will seem laughable. Or, more likely, there will be some new form of technology that will make the whole premise laughable. Maybe Al Gore will save the world of carbon dioxide emissions, world peace will be found, and we'll be living happily ever after on a perfect planet that will never be broken apart.

Who knows? All I'm saying is, enjoy your sci-fi now, while the possibilities presented in it are still possible.

Another Contest

Just your friendly contest announcer, adding that Nathan Bransford is doing a dialogue contest on his blog.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


For the pitch contest I mentioned earlier, here are some ideas for pitches:

For Babbletongue: Mina's not an ordinary teenage girl, but she finds out how un-ordinary she really is when she learns she has hidden magic...magic that might be enough to save the universe from an evil megalomaniac, but won't be enough to save the person she loves most.

For The Red Thread: When Chloe finds herself on another world, she realizes that the hardest thing won't be finding a way will be convincing her brother to come back home with her.

What are your ideas for pitches?

Pitch Contest

Donna Earnhardt, a fellow SCBWI-Carolinas member is holding a Pitch Contest at her blog. I'm going to enter...why don't y'all? :)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Future of Publishing

As an unpublished writer who works diligently to become published, I keep my ears open to any important things in the market. Having been working on writing and developing professionalism for over 5 years, I am fully aware that, at this point in the publishing industry, self-publishing is not a viable option for me, someone who wants to be a successful writer.

However, this article at Galley Cat is intriguing.

It's about how Sramana Mitra (what a great name!) believes that Amazon will shape the face of publishing. Basically, she says that the way publishing currently is, is unfair (i.e., the author does all the creating, but gets a small slice of the profit pie). Amazon, she believes, will change all that.
"Let's say, in the new world, Amazon becomes the retailer, marketer, publisher and agent combined and takes 65% of the revenues, offering 35% to the author--we end up with a much better, fairer world."
This interests me. It sounds great...but in the same way that communism sounds great (it's brilliant on paper but fails in real life). It would be wonderful if there truly was one source for publishing and publishing was streamlined enough to provide a direct connection between author creation to publishing to the consumer.

But that can't work. First, the entire reason why self-publishing fails as a viable market for novels that want to be a part of mainstream America is because there is no filter between author and publisher. As much as I hate to say it (because it's kept me out of publishing), there's a very important filter between the author and the published book: an editor. Even if Amazon were to take over the publishing world, all that would happen is either a) a massive number of crappy books flood the site, making it impossible for the reader to find anything worth reading except for the few books that Amazon marketing pushes on you, or b) Amazon will develop a system of acquisitions, editors, etc., that will make it essentially the same as current publishing.

The long and short of it is that there is a surplus of writers. Everyone and their momma wants to be a writer...and self-publishing means that once Joe Schmoe actually puts the words on paper, he can immediately put it in print. If I'd put my books into print before revisions, they'd be worse than they are now--and so would anyone else's. Revision is part of the business.

Here's another scary quote:
Over the next few years, Amazon likely will use its power to build direct relationships with authors and gradually phase out publishers and agents. It will first go after the independent print-on-demand self-publishers and get the best authors from that world. Amazon will then take on the large publishers.
Amazon has already done this by requiring any self-pubbed book to publish through their company, BookSurge. And Amazon's already taken the first steps in building "direct relationships with authors" in their ABNA contest...which heavily promoted the BookSurge company as well. Whether or not it Amazon really will try to paint the big-house publishing world a bright, shiny communist red, it does seem to be taking over the independent (read: vanity) publishing world quite efficiently.

Don't get me wrong: I love Amazon. I try to buy from my local book seller, but they close at 7 (who closes at 7?!) and their books are over-priced. Most of my purchases are from Amazon or Scholastic (I love being a teacher). But the idea that Amazon is trying to take over the publishing world is crazy, it just might happen.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Creative Writing 101, part 4

The last section on what I learned from Kurt Vonnegut, in which I analyze his 8 Basic Rules of Writing and how that can be reflected in my own writing goals.

Here's something that I never knew about Vonnegut's writing tips, until I started doing some research. He had a corollary:

The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964). She broke practically every one of my rules but the first. Great writers tend to do that.

And here’s the most important thing to Vonnegut’s rules. Great writers don’t need rules—they just write. If, in the end, the reader enjoys and values the work, nothing else matters.

My goal in writing: Forget about the rules...just write the best possible thing I can ever write.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A little good news....

In my day job, I'm a high school English teacher. Part of that job is teaching kids how to write, and they're tested by the state yearly.

We got the scores today.

Out of roughly 110 kids who I taught this year, all but 14 passed the writing test!

As someone who wants to be a published writer, it makes me smile a bit to know that I helped teach these kids become better writers themselves.

Creative Writing 101, part 3

Continuing with what I learned from Kurt Vonnegut, in which I analyze his 8 Basic Rules of Writing and how that can be reflected in my own writing goals.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

If I was going to argue with Mr. Vonnegut on anything, it would be this one. M. Night Shyamalan doesn’t do this. Wicked, Lovely didn’t do this. The Princess and the Hound didn’t do this.

But the above examples also prove Vonnegut’s point, in a way. People don’t go to see Shyamalan’s latest movie because of the story—they go for the twist. I will never count Wicked, Lovely or The Princess and the Hound as one of my all time favorite books...because there was a point, near the end, with each of these book when I was only reading in order to find out what happened. I didn’t care about what happened to the characters, I didn’t have an emotional relationship with the story. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. I wanted to know the answer to the question, but I didn’t feel anything. I had as much attachment to these stories as I do to a crossword puzzle.

Then look at almost every cheap romance novel out there. I’ll admit they are an occasional guilty pleasure for me. When I pick up a romance, I know that Girl will, by the end of the story, be with Boy. A good romance doesn’t keep me wondering if that will happen, it makes me so involved with the story and characters that I can’t wait to just witness the inevitable. You know every Disney movie will end happily, but part of the happiness you feel is in watching that happy ending you already expect. You don’t have to be obvious (that would be boring), but it does help if the plot isn’t driven by the question, what will the resolution be, instead of the desire to witness the characters within the resolution. My goal in writing: Tell a story that people want to read not to find out the ending, but to satisfy a desire to witness the ending.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Creative Writing 101, part 2

Continuing with what I learned from Kurt Vonnegut, in which I analyze his 8 Basic Rules of Writing and how that can be reflected in my own writing goals.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

This is the easiest of all the rules for me. I’m a big fan of starting in media res and jumping straight into the action. By the end of my first chapter in my revised novel, the heroine has found out about her magical powers and has begun her quest. In the first sentence of the novel I’m currently revising, the heroine is in a strange new world and figuring out how she got there. My problem isn’t starting near the end. My problem is making the facts clear. Maybe I start too near the end, but sometimes my readers get lost, wondering how my characters got there, who they are, what they’re like. My goal in writing: Start the novel with action, but don’t forget about establishing sympathetic characters so the reader actually cares about what happens.

6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
I’ve got to up the ante on this one. I’ve had my sentimental book*, and now I’m ready for real writing. My problem stems from the characterization versus plot problem. I have a story in mind, but in my current work in progress, I’ve not got real characters. So, when writing, I think about how to get to the end result of the plot, without thinking about how everything directly reflects on the characters. My goal in writing: Focus more on the characters—let the characters drive the plot, not the plot drive the characters.

*sentimental book: a writer’s first book, or most personal book, or the book they first thought might actually get published. Either way, it’s a book that the writer feels so connected to, he’s not willing to do to many structural changes to it. The writer is blind to criticism on this book. For me, it was Babbletongue. I loved it so much, I wasn’t willing to change anything, even the character’s names...and it took writing another book that I wasn’t emotionally attached to for me to set aside my feelings.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
This is another one I don’t have trouble with. If nothing else happens in my writing career, I will know that at the very least I have written something that pleases one person. My momma.
My writing goal: I don’t have to try to please the world, but a little marketability would help.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Just a Thought...

In reading Pub Rants, Agent Kristin Nelson had this to say about how she edits her client's work:

Sometimes it needs a bit more work (in plot or character—never in voice or in the quality of the writing)...
I've been contemplating this for a while, and here's my conclusion:
  1. A writer must write a story that focuses on a combination plot and character.
  2. If plot/character needs to be fixed, that can be fixed with critique groups, editing, etc.
  3. A high quality of writing is necessary to be published.
  4. Writing quality can be fixed by a good class.
  5. A writer's viability comes from voice.
  6. Voice cannot be taught.

Creative Writing 101

You know a quote has power when you read it once and it stays with you for years. That’s how Kurt Vonnegut’s Creative Writing 101 stuck with me (especially rule #3). Because I’m having such trouble with my story, I decided to look up these rules again. I'm going to reprint the "rule" he had, and how that changes my goals.

So here’s what I learned from Professor Vonnegut.
1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
Obviously, the stranger is my reader. How can I ensure that I’ve not wasted my reader’s time? To answer this, I asked myself, as a reader, which books I felt not only didn’t waste my time, but enriched my life...and which books were the exact opposite. The answer is simple: if a book made me think, I enjoyed it. If it was too obvious (read: cliched) or if I didn’t care about the characters (read: the characters did stupid stuff no one would ever really do), then I felt as if it were a waste of time. My goal in writing: make characters the reader cares about, and make a story the reader thinks about.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
Believe it or not, I struggle with this one. Silly, I’s the easiest one on the list, but one I struggle with. In many of my works, my female leads aren’t just straight-forward and blunt, they’re downright snarky. Recently, my critique group led me to the realization that I was trying to give my readers House, but they were getting Hitler. So my goal in writing: give my lead characters more depth down so they’re not hated.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
This is one that I think I—and every writer—should focus on. Motivation is so often lost. When a writer wants to show something dramatic or give a hilarious one-liner, they often forget about the character. It’s the dance of plot versus characterization, and usually plot wins. Even with minor characters, there should be some sort of desire. The key is not to tell the reader “He wants this,” but to show it. My goal in writing: Have characters whose actions, reactions, and choice of speech are so strong that the reader knows what the character values and desires.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
This is the idea of plot versus character again. Stating it in this way makes you tighten your focus more. Every sentence must have purpose: plot or character. So when you describe the setting, there should be a purpose to it based on these. In a recent revision, my main character is outside and observes the nature around her...and then reacts to the nature in such a way that her feelings about her situation in life are revealed. The nature description serves a purpose. (This, by the way, is where I think Tolkien and Hawthorne and Melville failed.) My goal in writing: Cut away all fluff, and make sure relevance is in every passage.

...more on this tomorrow, as I explore Vonnegut's other rules of writing.

Monday, May 12, 2008

3 Good Men: Characterization

First of all, just a question to the universe: how am I supposed to get anything done now that I have a Wii? It is brilliant and fun!

So anyway....

This mother's day, we actually did something for my father: We watched the 1997 movie Tombstone. It's awesome. Afterwards, I was talking about it with my husband, and realized that my favorite character in the movie, Doc Holiday, reminded me of my favorite character in another TV series, Firefly, Captain Mal Reynolds. And they both reminded me of another character, Dr. Who.

Why do I love these characters so much? What do they have in common?

All three of them are men who do the right things for the right reasons...but they're not afraid of doing the right things for the right reasons in the wrong way. Example: Captain Mal's friend is being held hostage. The criminal has a gun to his friend's head, and says if Mal doesn't drop his weapon, he'll kill the girl. Without blinking, Mal draws his weapon and shoots the bad guy in the head. Quick as lightning. He knew the right thing to do was save his friend...and he did so without hesitation.

All three of these men are funny, but serious. Dr. Who is sometimes slapstick funny; all of the characters are clever and witty in conversation. But when things turn serious, they all have powerful, strong emotions. They easily shift from funny to serious. After a few one-liners in the last episode of Dr. Who, the Doctor turns to his companion, Donna, and clearly explains why he has to let thousands of people die--in order to save generations of people in the future--and how he has to live with that decision. Doc Holiday jokes with everyone, even his enemies, and has the ability to break up a fight with a few funny lines, but when his friend is in danger, he rises to the occasion and fights with him, despite the pain of his fatal illness, TB.

All three of these men are human: they try to be good, they're sometimes bad. They make mistakes. There's little wonder that all three of these characters have had episodes or scenes in which they make the wrong choice and are miserable about it. They create their own misery through pushing others way, making bad choices, or living with a guilty conscience.

This is what defines a good character. Even if these men are different--a Western hero, a space captain of the future, and a guy who's not even human--but all three of them have similar key traits that make them memorable characters. It's been years since I saw Tombstone, but I could still quote the line: "I'll be your huckleberry." I've seen Firefly and the accompanying movie Serenity many times, but I still gasp when Mal shoots the criminal, or laugh when Mal messes up his relationship. I'm continually on my seat when watching Dr. Who every Saturday on BBCA--I can't wait to see what dramatic situation he'll get in, and how he'll handle it was blase wit and heart-wrenching drama.

A good character is memorable. A good character is human. A good character makes us want to make our characters like him. I wish I knew Mal; I wish I was best friends with Doc, and I wish Dr. Who would land in my front yard and take me on an adventure. And I wish that when I write a character, I can make someone as wonderful, mysterious, witty, and complex as these.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Making the Hero's Journey Work for You! (and by you, I mean me)

You'd think that, considering I'm an English teacher who has taught her students about the Hero's Journey and how it applies to Gilgamesh and Theseus for, oh, 8 semesters and roughly 700 students, I'd have thought about how it applies to my own novel.

But noooooo.

Thanks again to PJ Hoover for putting her version on the web. I've been stuck around page 80 in my current WIP for awhile now, so I've decided that I need to do some sort out outlining or something in order to get it going! I've invested too much time, thought, and energy to abandon these characters (and I'm dying to find out what happens to them!).

So I'm trying out the Hero's Journey outline.

I realized that I've gotten all the way through Act I, with a tentative doorway of no return.

  • Introduce the Hero's World: Check. Regular teenage world with a magical twist.
  • Call to adventure: Check. Regular teenage girl wants in on that magic thing.
  • Hero may ignore call...but she won't.
  • Hero crosses threshold into a dark world: Check. Girl realizes that magic has a price.
DOORWAY OF NO RETURN: Lead is thrust into main conflict in a way that keeps him there.
  • Maybe. Kinda. My girl becomes determined to participate in magic in order to help someone else, and she's not going to give up and forget about this goal. So, yeah, I've got a doorway. Sorta.
So onto the real work.

I've got some vague ideas for Act II, the second doorway, and Act III. But they are very vague. I'm having the most trouble, I think, with Act II--various encounters with forces of darkness. I kinda-sorta know that the girls is going to be gradually exposed to darker and darker magic, but how I'll show that...that's where I'm lost.

Even if this hasn't completely solved my writer's block, it has at least helped me identify what I need to focus on. I've got my heroine a good third of the way through the journey--I've just got to figure out how to torture her and raise the stakes a bit more :)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Revising and Outlining

Seems like everyone's doing it now. All of my critique group is in the midst of it, and many of the writers on the blogs I read are doing it, too.

After eating gallons of chicken noodle soup and finally starting to feel better, I've turned my thoughts to revising as well. For my finished ms., The Red Thread, it's just a matter of work. But in my current WIP, I'm stuck at about page 80.

After reading about outlining from hipwritermama, and seeing PJ Hoover's Hero's Journey outline that she used, I decided that the only way for me to become unstuck was to try out an outline.

I've not done an outline since my second ms. I used to outline everything...but then I found out that the thing I like about writing is discovering what happens to my characters...and if I outline, I figure it out without writing then I don't write it.

But I'm hoping that a looser strategy than point A leads to point B leads to point C will enable me to think through this writer's block without making me bored with my own story.

Here's hoping!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


blegh. flu for the past four days. so sick, not only do i miss work (yay!) but i've not been able to string together a coherent thought.

i'm going to crawl back into bed now.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Getting it right...

I haven't a clue who said it, but I remember reading somewhere that when dealing with SF or fantasy, you've got to show differences instead of tell them, i.e. say the door slid open with a whoosh instead of saying that the electronic door opened. It comes down to presenting the details as common, every day facts instead of announcing how brilliant and clever you are with description that, if the world was real, would not be necessary at all.

I kept that in mind with my most recent revisions. I gave the fantasy world a small, red sun and told how the whole planet is smaller.

Then I stopped. What if a small red sun means the sun's about to go supernova or a smaller planet means the gravity's all whack? I immediately emailed a physics expert friend and asked, and checked my email about a dozen times until she replied. Fortunately for me, a smaller sun would just be a little colder (and can be fixed by making the sun be closer to the planet) and a smaller planet would be OK as long as the core is denser. In order to be accurate, I feel as if I should at least mention the core, and my friend had a great idea in linking the core to the magic of the world.

Which just goes to show, you've got to do some research, even if you make the whole world up!

Friday, May 2, 2008

My new favorite quote about YA

From the Publisher Weekly's "Think Future" Panel Debate:

Writing for teens involves a stripped-down technique, Alexie said. “You tend to write more like Hemingway than Faulkner. More like Emily Dickinson than T.S. Eliot. It’s not a matter of more complex thoughts, but the number of adverbs and adjectives. In the adult world, the number of adverbs and adjectives can be confused with great writing.” Martin put it another way: “Teen books are like adult books, without all the bullshit.”

Naming Magic

As I revise The Red Thread, I put some serious thought into naming magic. This was also a topic of much debate in my critique group. Some felt that magic is magic is magic and should not be renamed to be anything else. Some felt that there is a fine distinction between, for example, magic and magyk. I believe magic can--and in some cases, should--be renamed.

There is, to me, a difference between fairy and faerie. I know faerie is just a twisted spelling on fairy, but it seems more grown up to me. I associate fairy with Tinkerbell and fairy tales; I associate faerie with darker stories like Wicked Lovely or Tithe.

Likewise, I see a difference between magic and magyk. Different spelling, but different connotation, too. Magic makes me think of men in capes sawing women. Magic seems fake to me. In fact, the only time I've ever liked "magic" was in Harry Potter...where spells with unique names take precedence over the word "magic."

In my story, I used alchemy because I was going for a similar idea as Full Metal Alchemist, where magic has a price--there has to be an exchange (for example, of elements) to make it work. This is crucial to the story, because what Chloe doesn't know is that there was an exchange involved with her. So I have a specific set of rules for my magic--you have to exchange something for something else. You can't just wave a wand a poof! it happens.

Technically, it is still magic. I'm going to argue that magic in Baloria is very similar to science. That's where the "scimancy" word came up for me. If I use the word magic, I'm going to have Bo explain how magic = science in their world.

But...the term does not appeal to me. When I hear "magic" I think of easy, wave your wand stuff, and I don't want that connotation. The lesson Chloe must learn is that everything has a price. There is no one simple, easy answer.

And there is no one simple, easy name for magic.

Thursday, May 1, 2008


I've decided that the single most important issue in writing is making the reader care. It's not something I've put a lot of thought into, to be honest. It came about through working in my critique group.

I've never worked in a crit group before...and boy, do I wish I'd started sooner. I don't know why I didn't before. Guess I couldn't really think of how to find one, and didn't bother looking to hard for one. As it is, Wunderkin sort of fell in my lap, and nothing--not my mama saying nice things about my writing, not my college professor saying mean things about it--nothing has been as beneficial as swapping 50 pages with 5 other people of all ages and tastes and seeing what they think.

I sent them Babbletongue first. I've had issues--it's a pretty unique, creative idea, but people either love or hate the MC, Mina. My crit group was mostly on the hate side--they didn't "get" why Mina was acting the way they did. When my turn came around again a month later, I sent the first fifty of The Red Thread. They had trouble with the in media res beginning.

To be honest, though, I didn't really get what was wrong with my writing, until I started analyzing theirs. I'd read one of their works and write in a comment--"Why's this character acting this way?" or "This is too random!" or "I hate this character!" These characters were doing such random things for no apparent reason...and when things happened to them, I didn't care one bit!

...and then I realized what was wrong my characters. I had them doing random things for no apparent reason and had yet to realize that the reason was because I'd not made my reader care yet. This may be something all writers struggle with, I don't know. For me, I knew my characters, I cared about them, I knew why they acted the way they did. But I forgot about making the reader care. I forgot that just because they were on paper, they weren't alive. I had to show my reader what made my character special, or they would never care what happened to her, never understand why she acted--or didn't.

My problem was that I focused on the action of the plot (I love a fast pace), but I let the characters be left behind. It's just as easy to lose readers by focusing on the characters and ignoring the plot. This isn't really an issue of character or plot--it's an issue of creating sympathy--or at least empathy--within the reader for something in the text. Whether the reader cares about what will happen or cares about the character, the important thing is that the reader cares.