Thursday, September 30, 2010

Killing Off Characters

It has always been a monumental part of plot. I've done this myself, quite a few times. Now, you should be growing used to my over-thinking and over-analyzing. So today while I was baking cookies I began to wonder, Do we kill off characters because it's realy essential to the plot? Because we hate this character we've created? To mess with the reader's mind? Or just because we love that we can? 

And then – again, a result of having too much time on my hands – I went over a big portion of the books I've read recently and made a tab. Least I can figure, there's a death in every one, or very close to it, anyway. Death is a big part of our lives, yes, so is this what makes us tip our all-powerful typing hands?

How many of you have killed off a character? Was it a character you loved? Why did you do it? Just curious. I've examined my own reasons and I come to this conclusion: I kill off beautiful men. Why? Because I'm all about the drama. Which seems odd, right, because I'm always hosting a campaign against drama? Maybe writing is my outlet. I stay away from drama in real life but when it comes to my stories, I let it all out.

Or maybe I'm just bitter against beautiful men! Eh. Too deep for me as of right now.

Have a great week, guys.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Hey, I have no idea what I'm doing! 

I thought I was editing SPY CHICK. I mean, I am. Or was. Or something. I plotted out the first third of the book and started rewriting and got through the first couple of chapters and...

here's the thing: I have no idea what I'm doing. There are huge gaps of things I DON'T KNOW about this book. In the first draft it was fine because I was all LALALA FIRST DRAFT WHO CARES IF IT SUCKS!!!??? and just went type-type-type even when I hated it and had no idea where I was going.

Except, now that draft is over. And it's different because this is the editing process and I'd like to know more than I do. In the past there've been a few book ideas I've had that I haven't been able to write for years (yes, years) because that's how long it took me to figure out how to tell the story and what the story really was. I'm starting to think this might be one of those books and I might be better of just putting it on the back burner because it's not as if I don't have a zillion other stories I could be working on.

So, I need your advice. Should I set SPY CHICK on the back burner and try to think through all the things I don't know (her past, who the love interest is, whether a main character is good or evil, etc etc etc) while I work on other things? Or should I just struggle through a second draft that might not be any better than the first draft? (Honestly, right now I'm leaning towards the first thing.) (And this isn't a case of me not knowing how to revise... it's this book in specific I'm having trouble with, not revising in general.)

SO HALP ME, PLEASE!!!??? What would you do in this situation? Have you encountered it before? Do you have words o wisdom??

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Dialogue is awesome

Someone probably has mentioned dialogue already (if you did, sorry, guys!). I’ve been thinking about my writing style lately, though, and how my stories are incredibly character-driven. In Rain, the plot was pretty much secondary to the characters. In the story I’m writing with my friend Aud, the characters are absolutely the central focus. (However, in my newest story, they’re about equal. But anyway.)

In the aforementioned story-I’m-writing-with-Aud, there’s this exchange of dialogue...

“You should wear mascara,” I say, almost absentmindedly. I’ve said it before.
“I abstain for the greater good,” Nora returns. “The public just couldn’t handle it. Mascara and rectangle glasses, it’s a deadly combination.”

Just from this the reader has a sense of Nora’s character. There are some physical details that pop up; Nora wears rectangle glasses and probably has very pretty eyes, but light eyelashes. Also, Nora is witty and on the sarcastic side. In addition, there’s an idea of her relationship with the narrator—they’ve known each other for a while, probably are good friends, and are used to bantering.

That’s just one example of how awesome dialogue/dialogue tags/any conversation between characters can be. It’s generally showing-not-telling, giving a lot of information about characters--the best part!--and it’s more fun to read, anyway.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Harmony Switches to MG and Attempts to Write a Book in 5 Days

As I mentioned earlier, I write YA and my two WIPs are YA. But, neither of them have really been going anywhere lately, mostly because I haven't spent much time on them, but when a new idea that just happens to be MG (middle-grade) popped into my head last week, I said, why not?

One thing I've learned about my writing style is that when I start writing a book, I have to WRITE it. I can't start writing it and then get busy and not work on it for a few days or weeks because it'll never go anywhere.

So I've come up with a crazy plan. A crazy plan that I'm probably going to fail at. But that's okay.

I'm going to start and finish the book in 5 days. Aka Monday through Friday. Since it's MG, I'm going to aim for 25k by the end of the week. That's pretty much the lowest possible acceptable MG word count but I'm also one of those writers that adds a LOT in the rewrites so I figure it's a pretty good goal.

That ends up being about 5k a day. Crazy, yes. Possible, I hope so.

Keep in mind that I cyber-school, so I'm not in school for 8 hours a day and I have the ability to work ahead on my lessons, which I did. There are a few days where I'll have to put in an hour or two of school work in the morning and I do have a few hour-long classes during the week but for the most part, I'll be able to write from about 8:30 until 3:30. Of course, I'm going to schedule in a few breaks and lunch because it's impossible for me to sit still that long.

I'm a little anxious to get started (I'm writing this Sunday afternoon) so I'm going to spend some time today outlining and brainstorming so I hopefully don't get stuck. This is definitely going to be an adventure!

(P.S. I'll be blogging about my process every evening at my review blog.)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Saturday Worries

Or: A glimpse into Saturday’s psyche

If there’s one thing we as writers do very well, it’s worry. Well, and procrastinate. (Facebook games, anyone?) But worrying is right up there, too.

I sometimes joke that I have a “list” of worries. While this isn’t quite true, there are a lot of things that I worry about in the back of my head. I worry that I won’t ever get an agent (even though I’m not even querying yet). I worry that if I do get an agent, I won’t get published.

I worry that if I get published, people won’t like or understand my characters, that they won’t buy the book, that (if it’s le WIP1 that gets out into the world) a certain character will be bashed, that my old high school/library will ask me to speak or something. (No, seriously, this terrifies me. I hated the high school I went to and I work at the library.)

I worry that people won’t like me.

Since I semi-like le WIP1 and I have friends who have told me they like it, I worry that WIP2 won’t be as good. I worry horribly that it’s not any good (even though I tell myself revising is a very good thing). I worry that my voice won't sound any different from project to project, that I'll just be writing the same voice over and over again.

I worry about all these things and many, many (many) more, but I don't believe I'll ever let myself stop writing, or stop trying to get my work out there in one way or another. I pretty much constantly have someone "talking" in my head, and I don't know how not to write.

So I don't let these worries get to me too much. (Some amount is good, I think, because it keeps you from getting a big head.) And I keep writing.

What are some of your biggest worries? What do you do to handle them?

Peace and cookies,

Friday, September 24, 2010


When I was first starting to write, I would send some of my writing to one of my older friends, Megan, who I met through an online book club. I eventually called her my "writing teacher" because she'd always give me prompts and help me open my eyes to the bigger picture. Especially with descriptions.

When I think about a scene, I think about what the characters are doing. How they interact with each other, their vulnerabilities and their personalities and their wit or depth. That's usually always what springs to my mind first. I love characters.

But something else that's important - very, very important - are what the characters are doing. When you talk to a friend, you don't just stand there and talk. You bite your lip, take a sip of your drink, play with a pen, put your hair behind your ears, nod your head, smile, put a sweater on. People are animate. So it's important you not only know how your characters interact, but what they're doing and where they are.

One of the exercises Megan had me do was write a description about a room. Not just a general description, but include every facet of it. Obviously, a book with every facet of every room the characters are in would be very, very annoying. But take this picture for instance:

If I were to describe it, I could talk about the bed or the splotches of paint on the wall, looking like a kid on an acid trip blew a wad of paint bubbles. It looks like a kids' room definitely designed by an overzealous adult. This could be the room of a teenager who hasn't had the design changed since she was a toddler, right? I could just have my characters in a room sitting there talking, but I could bring that scene even more to life if I set a picture for the surroundings. If I plant them in this room - one playing with the
stuffed elephant, Ellie, on the bed; one drawing back the pink drapes and watching a thunderstorm while talking about her sister's sickness; the other sitting on the floor and flicking the abstract lamp on and off, absentmindedly listening - things get more interesting.

What I'm trying to say is, a setting needs characters and characters need a setting.

That room would just be a paint-spotted kid's room without characters to fill it with life. And those characters would just be people, not bringing their life into a setting that highlights their personality. Settings just making everything more...realistic. And making words seem like they're alive, with fictional characters becoming real, is one of the most beautiful things about writing.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


“Ted Hughes gave me this advice and it works wonders: record moments, fleeting impressions, overheard dialogue, your own sadnesses and bewilderments and joys.”
Michael Morpurgo

I'm going to do this. I'm going to get a notebook and then I'm going to write down the things I see. Like that girl and that guy in the Starbucks today, who sat across from each other talking for an hour then got up and hugged tightly before the girl left. I notice things like that, like the fact that I couldn't tell if they were just friends or if they were a couple, but either way it was obvious by the way they acted that they were something, that they were important to each other.

The young couple I saw once, in Home Depot, who started slow-dancing near the paint samples.

The little girl at the mall, walking her tiny puppy on a leash and shrieking with happiness when the dog pulled her ahead and she ran to catch up with her mother. That pure, untainted moment of happiness on a sunny day.

I notice things like this, all the time, and I always love it. There's so much beauty and wonder in the world, if only you can notice it. There's sadness and anger and bitterness too, of course, but that stuff stands out. It's the good things that are easier to ignore, to pass by without paying any attention to. I like these things, I like to remember them, because even if that particular scene never makes it into anything I write, the feeling of it is always there. I like for my stories to have that feeling of happiness, of lightness, of a dandelion (my favorite flower, shuttup I know it's a weed) growing wild, the first star twinkling at night, laughing so hard with a friend that you can't breathe and your side hurts, or watching some crappy television show with people you like and making fun of it the entire time. I love that stuff. I love the feeling of it and holding onto that feeling, trying to insert it into the words I write and the stories I invent.

So what about you guys? Do you notice things like this, or is it just me? Do you keep track of them? Do you love the quote at the top as much as I do?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Apparently, writing words doesn’t equal saying them.

I’ll admit, I’m a thesaurus addict. When I’m writing I love to use the thesaurus to find even better or stronger or weaker, even, words to describe something. The smallest differences between words can create the largest differences between visions for me. It also helps build a huge vocabulary.


There’s a difference between knowing words and knowing how to say them, as I’ve found out. Multiple times. At one point I was reading aloud a section of Rain at BookFest PA and I got to the word “beige.” In my mind I read it as beejsh—you know, with jsh being the J sound in Jaques. (And I got that part right.)

“…a beige dress…” I read, and a motion caught my eye. It was my friend Katie, shaking her head and giving me a weird look. I spared her a look of my own before finishing the reading. After I was done and back at my table, she came over with her arms crossed.

Beejsh?” she demanded.

“Um,” I said, “yes?”

She pursed her lips. “It’s bayjsh.”

“Oh,” I said. She shook her head again, and went on to grumble about past pronunciation offenses I’ve committed, which include “botanic” and “queue.”

The moral of this semi-rambling story: thesauruses are great. But look up a pronunciation before you actually say your new words.


Harmony Forgot It Was Monday

I meant to do a post yesterday. I even started to write one. But the truth is, my mind is very far from writing at the moment. I'm currently on Cloud 9. I'll come back soon, promise.

In the time being, what's the best writing advice you've ever received?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Saturday Plots Eeeeeeevil

Or: Saturday just likes saying Eeeeeeevil.

So remember last week when I talked about my difficulties with beginnings? Then remember Thursday when Kelsey posted about beginnings and middles?

(You don't? Okay, I'll remind you.)

I got stuck around 8k. Probably some part of that was because I was sick and cold medicine makes my brain foggy, but in the end, I was still stuck. Completely, utterly, oh-my-goodness, what am I doing, what the heck do I do now, stuck.

The process of dealing with it went something like this: I whined on Twitter. I cleaned my spare room. I whined on Twitter. I cleaned my bedroom. I whined on Twitter more. I cleaned a little bit of the kitchen counter where I throw stuff when I come home and it collects into a disaster zone. I whined on Twitter some more.

Then Sarah Ockler tweeted something and I remembered this post, which has helped me so many times in the past.

So here's my take on that.

You can click the image to enlarge it, but it's not the best picture. Here's how it breaks down:

The dark purple numbered cards: Things that had already happened. Not in any great detail. Usually about one sentence, each card may or may not make sense to anyone but me, but it works.

The green numbered cards: Scenes I've written that aren't in le WIP yet, one per line.

The magenta numbered cards: When that all was done, I thought about my WIP and I thought about what I wanted to happen and wrote it down. This didn't really need to be done on an index card, but it was way less intimidating to do it on an index card than on a piece of paper or a word document. Plus, that way I can keep it close while I'm writing.

So, that's all for this week. Sorry it's a little short (again) but I went to a craft show today and I'm exhausted.

Peace and cookies,

Friday, September 17, 2010


Since I'm posting this at 11:45 PM on Friday afternoon EST time, I thought I'd talk about something a writer is oftentimes very good at: procrastination.

I mean, honestly. That movie was totally research. And really, I definitely needed to go out to lunch because you never know when your character will and you definitely have to check out pictures of that hot guy in that one tv show because he looks just like one of your male characters.

The good thing about writers is that they're creative in their excuses.

The bad thing about writers is that they're creative in their excuses.

Myself included.

The best way to get over procrastination, though, is to sit your ass down and write. There are a ton of programs that shut your internet off for an allotted time, so all you can do is write without being distracted by the shiny, shiny internet. Or, you know, you can always turn your router off or shut your wireless down. It might sound a bit like closing your air passages, but it'll be okay.

See what I'm doing here? Sitting down and writing, even though it's uber late and I'm exhausted and I just watched a movie that inspires A LOT of question marks (Repo: The Genetic Opera) and I almost forgot today was Friday.

Why don't you go do that, too? Sit down and write. Like, now.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Beginnings Are Fun, Middles Are Not

How did Thursday roll around so fast? How is this possible? All week I've had the mental note: Write your post for Y.A. Lit Six! And now it's late Thursday night, I'm brain dead, and I don't know what to post about. So, as usual, I revert to something that's been on my mind: Beginning a novel. Maybe I've written about this before, but here we go again. This will just be an expansion on rants and the possible methods to overcome.

Personally, I love starting a new book. (Really, that's all I do.) Everything is so full of possibilities and fresh, new ideas. I have this beautiful notion built up in my mind that this will be the novel that I finish next, that this novel will be perfect and beautiful and riveting. Agents won't be able to turn me away. Everything will come together perfectly, the characters will be real and endearing like Elizabeth Bennet or Edward Ferras (Can you tell I adore Jane Austen?) Yada, yada, yada. I hit a hard wall of reality when I come to...

...the middle. The middle of the novel. Oh, how I loathe you. Really, just to put it bluntly, you suck, middle. This is supposed to be the most amazing part of the story. The meat in the sandwich, so to speak. This is the part that the incredible plot weaves together and claws at the reader, forcing them in. Why, when I have the beginning and the end all planned out, does the middle defeat me so easily?

Just a few methods that have worked for me. One, I run to a friend. Crying and shrieking like some kind of mindless cave woman, I thrust my story at them and whimper, "How? How do I do this?" Usually that outside perspective - something I've preached about before, so I'll keep this to one sentence - gives me some new direction. Two, I listen to some amazing music. You guys probably all have your writing music all picked out. I myself enjoy Yiruma.  And then, for method number four - last resort, something I really never do - I give the story a break. I shouldn't even put that as a method, because if I leave a story for a while, chances are, I won't go back.

I keep saying it like a broken record, but this really is one thing I've really learned as a writer.  Keep going. No matter what, no matter how horrible the story turns out to be after the last word is written. Because after the first draft of that novel is completed, you can only move forward.

What do you guys do when you hit your middles?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


First, some announcements for anyone who's interested in my writing life:
I finished the first draft of the sister story.
I'm now working on revising the spy book (known, for now, as SPY CHICK). It's kind of killing me.

Watch out, world, I'm about to say something mind-blowing.

STAR TREK: TOS HELPED ME FIGURE OUT THE END OF MY NOVEL. Not the one I just finished, or even the one before that, but the last novel I queried. A contemporary YA about three cousins and a boy next door, a novel where the ending just didn't quite fit. It was one of those stories where the ending seemed perfect, but it just wasn't. It just didn't work, for whatever reason, and I could never figure it out.

And then, in the midst of Trek-obsession, it dawned on me, seeming so incredibly obvious, the way things always do when you finally figure them out.

But that's only the beginning. The fact is that, from cheesy reality shows (which, honest, I rarely watch) to earth-shattering dramas, television inspires me. I have story ideas inspired by How I Met Your Mother, Star Trek: TOS, Lost, Food Network: Cake Challenge, Psych, and, most interesting of all, The Bachelor. (I swear I only watched one season of it.) And, though SPY CHICK wasn't exactly inspired by Get Smart, I'd be lying if I said the show isn't an influence.

I just love television. My top three fictional characters aren't from books; they're from shows that I love. The stories I obsess over (and, trust me, I do a lot of obsessing) are mostly ones that have played out on the television screen.

There's just something about TV that fascinates me.

I like that characters grow. That relationships grow. That stories that would have seemed impossible and insane in the first season are the natural course of things by the fourth. I like the fact that season finales surprise us, that pilot episodes open us up to a world of possibilities, that sometimes it's predictable and sometimes it isn't and sometimes shows jump the shark. I like that shows, some of them at least, are able to inspire such rabid fandom and obsession in people, such a connection to characters and storylines.

And I think there's a lot to be learned from television, at least from the perspective of a writer. How to set up a relationship, a group, introduce a storyline. How to begin. How to end. How to write dialogue. Watch Friends to learn about group dynamics. Gilmore Girls or Parenthood to write a family dinner. The third season of The Office for a great love triangle. Sometimes the way television is written doesn't - can't - translate to novels. But sometimes, maybe more often than we think, it can.

Does television inspire you? Are you also a TV fangirl? What shows are you looking forward to this fall?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

How Homework Helps

Ha! That title got your attention. No, I don't really think homework is good. I do not suggest you spend hours on homework in the hopes that it will improve your writing. I myself HATE homework. (Except English sometimes.) (Because Tale of Two Cities is actually an awesome book.) (And I love Sydney Carton.)


Say you do have to do homework. You can use this as prime motivation for thinking about your story! How, you ask? Well. There are times when I need to expand on a scene, or think of a scene, or more about a character, and when I sit down to think about it, I'll find myself drawing blanks. I get my best ideas when my mind wanders, and apparently I can't always force my mind to wander. It has to be unintentional procrastination.

If you're like me, then use homework to your advantage. Once you have a pressing idea your mind probably won't let it go, so once you start reading about the Renaissance something will trigger a thought and that thought will trigger a different thought and pretty soon your mind will be wandering right down Story Idea Lane.

The point is, homework is a good device to use to induce unintentional procrastination.
(But then you still have to do the homework.)


Monday, September 13, 2010

The "I Haven't Written in a While" Blues

It's official. I have the "I Haven't Written in a While" blues.

When I first start writing, I write everyday. My wordcount soars. I'm so excited about the story that I just have to get it out. Then, I get past the few beginning scenes and start pushing my way into the middle. As long as I keep writing everyday, I'm okay. But once I don't write for a day and then another day and another, things get icky. I just don't care anymore.

I want to get the story finished. I want to get to the climax. But that excitement I felt when I opened my WIP every day? It's gone.

So when I do sit down to write, I find myself procrastinating instead. And sure, I could force myself to write but then I feel like I have no clue where I'm going, having been away from my WIP for a while.

The obvious treatment is to write every day and then hey, I wouldn't have a problem. As much as try to follow that, life keeps getting in the way.

So I'm currently left with a manuscript that needs to be written and not a whole lot of excitement about where I'm at.

Has this happened to you? What do you do?


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Saturday Caught a Cold

Or: Saturday has no idea what to write in this post.

So maybe I'll just babble. I'm currently a few thousand words into a new WIP (work-in-progress) and it's hard. Let me tell you, I am not a glamorous writer. I whine on Twitter about my characters (dumb stubborn characters), I make fun of the names that Behind the Name's Random Name Generator comes up with... I had more, but the Nyquil is getting to me and I'm getting distracted.

Right now, though, my biggest problem is getting to know a new MC (main character). I spent a good two months in the head of someone whose voice was very strong. She had serious issues, hobbies almost as soon as I "met" her, had music preferences (she loves The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, likes Megan McCauley, loves Bat for Lashes and makes fun of Glee music but secretly loves the cover of Total Eclipse of the Heart - no, seriously), and was like a fully developed person by a few hundred words in.

In this WIP, the character is slower to let me know who she is. Her hair has gone from long to short, I'm not entirely sure how tall she is (it's important!), I don't know her last name, her parents' names...

So how about you guys tell me your tips for starting a new WIP! Because I'm fading and I have no ideas for a real post. This is a tiny bit of a cop-out, but I'm sick so you guys will forgive me, right?

Peace and cookies,

Friday, September 10, 2010

Secondary Characters

Main characters are important. They're the people who tell the story, who let you into their mind and allow you to root around in there. But equally important, in my opinion, are secondary characters. The best friend who has an addiction to tennis or the cousin who loves anime or the uncle's friend who works at a candy shop. When I read a book, I don't want just the main character speaking to me. I want every.other.character to show their flesh and blood, too. And I want to do the same thing when I write.

I want people to see my secondary characters and wonder what their life is like. Wonder what they do when they're not around the main character. Wonder what their favorite movies are and how they do their hair in the morning and what their dog's name is. I want all of my characters to seem authentic and real.

I know some authors who write scenes from their secondary characters POV - stuff that wouldn't end up in the book - just to understand their personality more and make them come alive. I think that idea is brilliant. The more time you spend in your characters world and the more details that come together, the better off the book will be.

And I'm not saying every single character should be full-fledged: the girl sitting behind your MC in history class, who has no relevance to the story, doesn't need a full chapter on her life. But if you give her a tiny detail, like the fact that she has a tattoo of a sea turtle on her neck, it makes them more dimensional and adds to the realism.

So next time you're writing and you throw in a character that's in your MC's ballet class, think about their own story. Who their parents are and what their hobbies are and where they work and what their favorite kind of candy is. Make them breathe. Your story will be better for it.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Action Scenes

How do I make it chaos, but not total chaos? One of the most difficult scenes to write is, hands down, an action scene. An action scene can fall under a lot of categories: A chase, an argument, a battle—basically anything that surrounds a big crowd of characters or even just two, if the writer shapes it that way. The balance between describing too much and too little is extremely delicate.

There’s so much going on in an action scene. Fighting, looking, speaking, moving, reacting, watching, thinking, feeling. And if you go all-out and want to describe this from more than one point of view, I really don’t envy you the task. You have quite a challenge ahead of you. But how to describe what’s in your head without making the page look like one big gnarly mass of random ugly?

Being Kelsey, I always revert back to the list. Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I suggested making a list in creating a character and in plotting out your novel. The same goes for this. I may sound like a broken record, but this is something that really works for me, and for those of you who haven’t tried this strategy, maybe it will work for you, too.

So. Action scenes. Where to begin on the list? Say you’re writing a battle scene between a bunch of… werewolves. No, not werewolves—something unique. Say you’re writing a battle scene between a bunch of… dogs and geese! (The reasoning behind this is that this morning I looked out my window and saw our dog trying to play with one of the geese. The thing was honking like it was being murdered; quite hilarious.) Anyway, dogs and geese. First off, I would write down the characteristics of both parties. Dogs have teeth and claws. Geese have beaks and wings. Keeping this in mind, I would choose a main adversary for my main character.

And the list begins. I would write out a brief paragraph, a battle surrounding just my two characters. Then I would do the same for several other paragraphs, these being different battles for different characters. So now I have several separate battles, none of them confusing because they’re really simple; there is only one dog and one goose to keep track of.

It’s putting them all together on the page that’s the tricky part. If you’re writing from first person, you have to tie all these together and make your main character notice these other battles. And your main character obviously can’t watch the entire length of another battle, being in one herself/himself. So you separate small snippets from the other paragraphs—make these very small—and slowly integrate these into your main characters point of view. Example: As I bring my wing down on the mutt’s head, I hear one of my friends crying out in pain. I swivel to the left just in time to see a dog tear into Beaker’s side. The mutt I’m fighting takes advantage of my distraction; I feel his teeth closing in around my neck.

Dogs and geese fighting is very serious, obviously. And I feel like this entire blog post is chaos, in my trying to explain how to control the chaos. Ironic. So that’s the gist of how I write my own battle scenes. Maybe something else works for you. We all have our niches. But I thought this might help out those that struggle with the chaos.

If some of you are dealing with this exact problem, I have two recommendations for you. Authors that handle writing an action scene beautifully. Suzanne Collins in The Hunger Games, and Annette Curtis Klause in Blood and Chocolate. Not only are these excellent books, but you can learn a lot from them reading through the battle scenes. If any of you have any more suggestions for the rest of us, feel free to comment.

See you guys next week! Oh, and I’m hosting a giveaway on my blog. Check it out if you like free books.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


You guys, I apologize. It's 9:30 Tuesday night, I'm in a post-Mockingjay haze still (I finished it Monday), and besides that my head is a serious mess right now. Trust me, nobody wants to read anything I would have to say right now.

So instead I'm just going to do a linksy-roundup, because there have been some really awesome posts in the YA-litosphere lately.

First, this, by Hannah Moskowitz, asking What are we doing to YA? And by "we" she means us. The internet people.

Next up is Ally Carter's decidedly more uplifting take on the online YA community. I'm not sure if it was meant as a reply to Hannah's post or not, but here it is, the crazies.

Also, the fabulous Sarah Ockler has two fascinating posts up. This one, about killing our fiction with reality, and a great Mockingjay discussion for anyone who's read it. (Even if, like me, you disagree with her and absolutely loved the book.)

And just in case you've missed it, Adele from Persnickety Snark talks about what bothers her in YA romance.

Once again, I'm really sorry about this fake out post. Next week, I swear, I'll have something better.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Covert Writing

I carry two notebooks in my backpack. Well, I carry closer to five, with composition notebooks for different subjects, but I have two spiral bound notebooks. One has the boring stuff; history notes, math assignments, lyrics of songs that I have stuck in my head, reminders to myself... The other one, though, has the good stuff.

I call it my Covert Writing Notebook. (Yes. It has to be in that font.) I use my Covert Writing Notebook to combat Boredom. Like in Subject X, when my teacher has us mindlessly copying notes, I'll race ahead with my sloppy handwriting, and covertly switch notebooks to a fresh page in my Covert Writing Notebook and have at it.

Hey, as long as your pencil is moving, it's pretty easy to get away with.

Today I Wrote Covertly and got almost an entire page done. In cursive. (I'm training myself to write in cursive, because my print is so horrible. At least cursive looks neater by default.) It's a great way to kick-start a difficult scene. When you're sitting at home on the computer, with a million distractions--twitter, facebook, email, brownies--it's hard to concentrate on actually starting that scene. But once you're in class, with those distractions gone--what else would you do? Actually take notes? That's crazytalk--it becomes easier to come up with a great way to start. Then once you get home you just have to copy it into the computer, and you're already in the middle and ready to keep rolling.

Which is what I plan to do now. (Be quiet, Homework.)

[Note: I'm not necessarily advocating not paying attention...]


Monday, September 6, 2010

How I Critique Manuscripts...

...or Harmony forgot it was Monday.

One of my favorite things about having writing friends is that I'm often given the chance to read their work and offer my opinion on it. Sometimes these opinions can take a novel from pretty dang good to amazing and help turn the manuscript into something an agent is willing to take a chance on. Now, I'm not saying this makes me amazing or anything. Because it doesn't. It's the writer that's amazing and deserves the credit but there comes a point when we can't find all the flaws in our own writing and need someone else to point them out.

I love being one of the people to point them out. But, the first time I did it, I had no clue what I was doing. Now, I have a method. It varies slightly for every manuscript but here's my basic process:

1.) I read through the entire manuscript, almost as if I were reading a book. If something sticks out to me, I write it on a sticky note but at this point, I'm not specifically searching for flaws.

2.) Once I finish my first read-through, I start typing up a general overview of my feelings. I try to start out with some positive but genuine comments, then point out some things that make a difference through-out the story and effect the novel itself. Things I mention in this include characters or plotlines I feel could be developed more, possible changes to the plot, comments on the romance, and other things.

3. ) Then, I go back to chapter 1 and do a chapter-by-chapter critique. I usually stay away from those that need line-by-line critiques so what I focus on in this is pointing out unrealistic dialogue, confusing moments, if anything gets boring, as well as my favorite parts and lines that specifically stick out to me.

That's my general process, though I will tailor it to meet the specific needs of the writer. I also always remind them that what I say is purely my opinion and leave it up to them to take it or leave it.


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Dude! Here's The Story!

Or: Saturday needs to keep her facts straight.

But first!!
Ask Saturday
Jordyn (aka Wednesday) asked: What genre do you write? I mean, I know it's (mostly) YA but do you only write paranormal/supernatural or anything?

I do mostly write YA, though I've dabbled in adult novels but I don't quite have the voice down for that... and YA is more fun. :P I love paranormal and supernatural, and that tends to be my niche. I've had a couple contemporary ideas, but the voice never quite clicks. Maybe one day, though!!

Now, on to my post!

I am in the middle of revising le WIP1 at the same time as writing le WIP2. Which, of course, means I'm going absolutely crazy, because WIP1 and WIP2 are very different. WIP1 is darker, a little more emotionally draining. (And my MC curses like a truck driver. I do not curse at all.) WIP2, so far, is light but more challenging in different ways. (And the MC in that one does not sweat. At all. She's weird.)

But anyways.

As I said, I'm revising le WIP1 (which is called Spyder and from now on will be referred to as such because this WIP1 WIP2 stuff is giving me a headache). This is my... fourth round of revisions, I think. This last round was like the real, serious kind of revisions, fixing passive sentences, killing dialogue tags and adverbs, all that stuff that makes your writing stronger.

And I noticed something. I'm not always very good at being consistant with my facts. Even in WIP2, I noticed this. One of my characters went from having short hair to hair down to her waist with no explanation. Whoops.

This is okay in a first draft, but in revisions, it really need to be fixed. One of the things I did while revising Spyder was create a character fact list. I started this round of revisions (after a couple round of revisions where mostly I made sure everyone had last names, only two hands, and three demensions) and started a document where, as each character was introduced, no matter how small they were, I wrote down their name and, briefly, every fact about them that I stated as I stated it.

But Laina! You say. (don't you remember I can hear you thinking?) Isn't that, like, writing the book all over again?

Nope. But if you're totally confused, it's not you, it's me. I wrote this on a day that I woke up at 3am and was up til 8pm. Here's an example of what mine looks like.

Jane Doe
  • Sixteen
  • Brown hair, brown eyes
  • Short
  • Likes to cook
  • Shoe addict
  • Dating John Dear
(Don't make fun of my made up names. And yes, Jane Doe sounds like a bit of a fluff ball, but I'm not fleshing her out anymore than that.)

If she were a real character, I would include important ages, food preferences, anything that I said in the book and might need to fact check later.

The reason I do this later is so that I don't have to search through the book to find things I've said, and my character's reactions won't be totally off-base. Supposed I say Jane Doe is an awesome cook. If she cooks dinner for John Deer, I know that it should either be successful or empasized how out of the ordinary it was for things to go badly.

I find that since it's in list form, it's more clear and obvious when things don't match.

And that's another one of the things I do to keep myself (sort of) sane while revising! How about your revision tips? Share 'em in the comments!

Peace and cookies,

P.S. If you liked the Ask Saturday thing, keep the questions coming!
P.S.S. Did you like the Ask Saturday thing? Would you prefer it like this or below the post, like... where I'm talking now?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Record Your Life

Something I've learned over the years is to always have pen and paper handy (or, in my case, a cell phone.) If you're out in a graveyard with some friends and an idea hits you - as it did me, recently - you need to pop something out and write it down. I just save a note on my cellphone (but, um, always write it down in a notebook later - in case you're an uber klutz and break your cellphone like me!)

I always think I'll remember those details later, but brains are fickle things. Unless something jolts your memory, that idea will get blanketed by the weather and movies and that cute guy in your lit class.

Say you have an awesome dream: take out that notebook. Dreams allow you to experience things you don't actually experience, which is awesome for writing. My dreams are very vivid, so when a tsunami's coming to eat my town, I actually feel that terror. And when I'm a famous rockstar, I actually feel that fame. Your dreams let you into a world that has no limits and opens parts of your brain and imagination that you wouldn't have if you were awake. So, yeah, write that stuff down when you wake up and are lucid enough. Because that stuff is good.

I have tons and tons of story ideas written down - a lot of them I won't write a full book about, but I may incorporate it in another. Some take up all of my attention until I write a scene or two down. Some I look back on and think "REALLY?" But I know I will sit down with a lot of those ideas and write them out. And if I hadn't recorded them, they'd be lost in the crazy vortex that is my brain.

Even just writing how one moment feels, while you're sitting out in the sun and a hawk is flying in the sky and you're drinking lemonade out of your nephew's sippy cup because no other dishes are clean and life feels great. You probably won't experience that exact moment again, and sure - it's in your brain for nabbing - but only when your subconscious brings it up. If I wasn't writing this blog post, I wouldn't have brought up a scene like that, filed away in some part of my brain. But if I had written down exactly what it felt like, those memories and feelings would be fresh and I could pull from that at any time.

And I'm not saying record EVERYTHING, because you have to live. But if life hits you in the face or when you think about something from a different perspective or you see a beautiful, rusty gate or something, jot it down. Believe me, you'll be grateful later.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Outside Perspectives

There was a time - a couple years ago, give or take - I hated showing my writing to anyone. I was self-conscious, I was superstitious, I was overcautious. I wrote all the time and my work piled up with no one but me to read it. It was kind of sad, really; if anyone tried to peer over my shoulder, I would hurry and close the window on the computer screen. That's how shy I was.

And then there came a time when I realized that work is meant to be read. I'd finished a novel but I knew it was nowhere near ready to query. But I could only edit the manuscript myself so much. I couldn't go any further in building my skill without some outside feedback. So I got online and posted some of my work anonymously, just to see the response I got.

It was amazing. Not in that everyone loved my work, because some didn't, but I learned so much. I recieved constructive cirtisim that without which I would never have seen aspects of my voice and writing that needed improvement. Tons of comments and observations that was like looking at a painting I'd seen a thousand times before but suddenly saw differently. 

The point of today's brief blog post: You need to show your work to someone. A friend you go to school with, your mom, a contact online. Outside feedback is so, so important to both your story and your writing. It really is hard to see the flaws in something you've created. Fresh eyes are both fun and necessary to making your work better. I know it's hard for some people. I know a lot of you don't have this problem, but for those of you that do, it's actually quite easy to overcome. Just put yourself out there.

Have a great week, everyone!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


(you may want to read this post, by Monday, first)

I didn't go to my high school graduation. I didn't go to Prom or attend any high school parties. Much to my dismay (I love high school football), I didn't even attend any football games. I'm behind the curve in nearly everything, from romance to academia. I've had one sort of boyfriend, never been kissed, and never been on a real date. I haven't had a close-knit group of girl friends, gone on a road trip just for the heck of it, or lost someone I love to death. I'm now in college and I still live at home instead of a dorm or apartment. I'll most likely never be in a sorority and I've never gone to a college party.

There's a lot I haven't done. Cornerstone experiences that have, some way or another, passed me by. Years ago, this used to bother me. How was I supposed to write a believable couple, a girl going off to college, or a story of grief? It bothered me that there were so many things, so many very normal things that I hadn't done, that for this reason seemed to be "off-limits" for my writing.

And then something changed and I wish I could tell you what it was, but I honestly don't know. Maybe it was that I moved (and you guys, omg the move was a big deal) and was suddenly writing so much more (hello, I had no friends). Maybe it was that I'd grown up a bit and had more experiences (though they certainly weren't the typical ones). Maybe - and I really like this theory - I'd just gone through so much crap that writing about things I'd personally experienced seemed boring. And beyond boring, if you looked deeper there were experiences I couldn't write about yet, ones I had no words for and ones I still can't find the write words for.

I wanted to write stories. Make stuff up. I wanted to experience the lives of other people, even if those people were fictional, and especially if their stories weren't the same as mine. And at the same time I wanted to live my own life, have the experiences I was ready for and wanted to have. I didn't want to have a boyfriend or hang out with people I didn't care for purely for research purposes. Those are the wrong reasons.

So I wrote about things I had no idea about. A girl who ran away from home. An alcoholic mother and the daughter dealing with her. Substantial, requited romantic relationships. I wrote, and still do write, about whatever the heck I feel like telling a story about. I don't query all of it, I don't even edit or keep all of it. It's definitely not all super great stuff.

But I don't hold back. I write about things regardless of the experience I have with them. I step into the character's shoes and write their story knowing that it's not my own, knowing that the experiences and life and emotions this fictional person has are -- while very much a part of me -- not my own.

What we need more than experience, I think, is empathy, imagination, and passion. If you don't care about your character's story, if you think romance is silly and people should wait until they're 25 to date because they're far too immature before that time, then yeah, maybe a teenage love story isn't what you should be focusing on. If, on the other hand (and looking at a different topic), the complex emotions surrounding adoption fascinate you even though you're a biological only child who isn't planning to adopt, then by all means write that story. It's what you care about. It's the story you can write best.

I firmly believe, as simplistic as it is, that fiction is about making stuff up. And if you make stuff up that resonates with people even though it's nowhere close to your own life? Kudos. (And if you don't? Try again. Again. A dozen times, a hundred times, until something clicks.)