Monday, February 28, 2011

One Book, So Many Opinions

I just got home from a program at my library where about 30 people, from ages 15-60, gathered to discuss a book. It was the first of four meetings and I have to say, it was extremely interesting.

Why? Because every single person in that room had a different opinion about the book. Me, I hated it so much I couldn't finish it. Both librarians and the two high school teachers that were there disliked it as well, though for different reasons. About half of the room either liked or LOVED it but they all liked different things about it. Some people were just meh about it. An hour and a half was dedicated to discussing this ONE book.

ONE book, with thirty DIFFERENT opinions, ranging from hatred to love. It's kind of hard to believe but it's one of the things that's so interesting about literature.

Every person takes something different away from every book.

It's why we, as writers, cannot let the fact that one beta reader doesn't like our story or that one agent rejected it or five editors rejected it or that someone else doesn't like the idea.

It's impossible to please everyone.

It's something that I've always known but tonight really proved that for me and showed me how different the opinions really can be.

Who knew so much could be learned at the library.


Saturday, February 26, 2011

Saturday Gets Back to Basics

Or: It's 5am when I'm writing this and I can't sleep. Also: This flashlight sucks

I think, if I'm not mistaken, one of the most commonly asked questions from newer writers to more experienced writers is, "How do you write a book?" The simple answer is, "You just do," but that kinda sucks as an answer, doesn't it? So. I was thinking that maybe if I broke down the process of how I wrtie, it might help some of you out there in Frustrated Writer Land.

With me step one is an idea. Usually it's inspired by a dream I've had (but not one my stress nightmares, because in those everyone dies bloody, violent deaths, and that isn't quite what I want to be writing about.) For the sake of this post, let's say I had a dream about the dish that ran away with the spoon.

For those not familiar with this nursery rhyme, it goes:

Hey, diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon.
The little dog laughed to see such sport,
And the dish ran away with the spoon.

In this case, the dish and spoon running away would probably be the scene I dreamt about. I'd write it down as soon as I woke up, because I do with a lot of my dreams, but it'd get stuck in my head and I wouldn't be able to stop thinking about it. So, I'd wonder. How did they get to that point? Who are they?

(Now, usually, the dish is potrayed as female and the spoon male, but a.) I like to do things differently from other people sometimes and b.) when I think of forks and spoons, forks just seem like boys, so let's just say that in my dream, the spoon was a girl and the dish was a boy.)

Now. We have a main character - the spoon. (Just roll with me here.)

This is step two. There are any number of character profiles and questionaires you can fill out, and while those can be helpful at certain stages, I don't use them at all at this stage. I find that, for me, the best way to develop a character is to dive in and write a few scenes from their POV. (Main characers. Not side characers, because I have trouble head-hopping, so I stick to writing from one MC's point-of view.)

For me, this is also a good way to tell how well I can write in their heads. If an idea isn't ready to be written, the words don't feel right.

This is getting long, so how about we continue it next week? What does the beginning of your writing process look like?

Peace and cookies,

Thursday, February 24, 2011

But What if They Read It?

I've been thinking about this a lot lately and I thought I would share my thoughts with you all. I'm 14 now and I would like to try and get an agent by the time I'm a senior in high school. It probably won't happen but a girl can dream, right?
There is this lingering fear that if I actually do get published when I'm a teenager- people will actually read it. I'm not scared of people reading what I write, I'm scared of family reading what I write.
I curse in my novels.
Some of my characters curse like sailors.
But that is just how they are.

People who are non-writers don't really understand that if I have a character who drops the f-bomb every other word, I can't censor them. Speaking of experience, when I censor a character so they don't curse or say a certain thing, it messes them up.

You guys, my grandparents might read what I publish.
They probably will read my books if they get published.
The thing is- I don't say "bad words" much in real life. I don't want my parents/grandparents/parents friends/cousins to read what I write and then be shocked that I know a curse-word!

Teenagers curse.
They make a lot of sexual innuendo's.
They are annoying, self centered, and confused.

I don't want my family members to think of me differently because of what I write. This is a fear that has haunted me for years. I seriously don't know how to get over it. Do you ever get over it?
Let's discuss this in the comments, dear readers.
Am I the only one who has a fear of my elders reading what I write and thinking I'm crazy?

The Hook

Some might say that the hook is the most important part of the story. It's definitely at the top of the list. There are three things that I always like to make sure of when I'm thinking up a beginning. Usually if I stick to these, my hook is good.

It should be unique.

There are thousands of stories, thousands of books. So many plots, characters, settings. This is one of the few things that we as writers can make completely different. Use a sentence you've never seen before at the start of that first chapter.

It should jump out at the reader.

Obviously, it needs to be gripping. A hook that – excuse the gory image – digs into the reader and permanently scars. Something that's startling, something that will keep that person thinking. Drag them into your world suddenly. Create intrigue. You have that, and of course that person is going to keep reading.

It should set the tone.

One of my favorite quotes is that there are no original ideas, just original voices. When we write, I think that a little part of ourselves goes into the words, no matter who the character is. And each human being is special. We all speak our own ways, have our own gestures, our own vocabularies and thoughts. Those are transferred to the page. So whoever the character is that you're creating – headstrong, timid, sad, angry – leak it into those sentences.

A hook is hard, like all the rest of it. But I think that no matter what stage a writer is at – just beginning, years of experience, published – we can all make a fabulous beginning just by trying. Happy writing, everyone.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dialogue Tags

Ever want to write your dialogue in list format? By that I mean, have a conversation be written as:
Person 1: Yadayada
Person 2: Yahblooh
Person 1: Blosh!
Person 2: Bloshblosh.
"Yadayada," P1 said.
"Yablooh," P2 agreed.
"Bloshblosh," P2 added.

I think there are advantages and disadvantages to both. However, do the disadvantages to list-dialogue carry more weight than the advantages? Dialogue tags often add action and description that create the setting or introduce character traits about the two in the conversation. But if the setting and characters are already well established, or if the descriptions could be worked into the dialogue itself, would the list be more effective?

I found a short conversation in one of my old stories. Here it is in both formats.


“What is so urgent?” Henry asks, falling into step beside me. We enter the store, and cool AC washes over me.

“Ah…look at that bottle. Zombie repellant. Only one dollar,” I say unconvincingly.

“The only effective Zombie repellant is a large shotgun and quick feet,” Henry corrects, successfully distracted.

“The stuff here is weird,” I observe for probably the millionth time.

“And useless.” Henry bends over to examine the zombie repellant, and next to it, a crystal ball. “This isn’t even real crystal, or glass.”

“I think it’s supposed to be a snow globe.”

“No, it says crystal ball. Besides what use is a snow globe?”

“I’ll let you ponder that.” I move away and try to find Grandma. She finds me instead.

And without tags:

Henry: Oh no, this AC is freezing. I can feel my epidermis growing numb. Kristyn, what is so urgent?

Me: Ah…look at that bottle. Zombie repellant. Only one dollar.

Henry: The only effective Zombie repellant is a large shotgun and quick feet.

Me: Right. So apart from that, nothing urgent at all. The stuff here is weird.

Henry: And useless. This 'Crystal Ball' isn’t even real crystal, or glass.

Me: I think it’s supposed to be a snow globe.

Henry: No, it says crystal ball. Besides what use is a snow globe?

Me: I’ll let you ponder that.

So what do you think? Which works better for this conversation?


Monday, February 21, 2011


One of the things we're supposed to be doing for the Guatemala trip is keeping a journal, both about the things we're doing and feeling leading up to the trip and while we're on the trip. That got me thinking about the importance of journals to writers.

I've heard more than one writer say that the journals they kept as a teenager has been a life-saver when it comes to writing for YA because it helps them remember the small things and the emotions of being a teenager. Often, keeping a journal is the one piece of writing advice they offer up to every teenager.

So do you keep a journal?

Me, I keep one on and off. I'll write in it all the time for months straight then forget about it for a while. Right now, I'm probably about 30 pages from finally filling up my first-ever diary - one that I started way back in '07. I think as I get older, I've started to write more faithfully in it and I'm actually really excited to be able to go out and buy another one.

I write about all kinds of things in it - what I did that day, how I'm feeling, anything that's going on with my family or friends...sometimes I use it as a de-stresser to make a list of everything I plan to accomplish the next day. That may not help me in the future when it comes using my journals to improve my writing but it definitely helps me sleep better at night.

If you have a journal, how faithfully do you write in it? What do you write about?


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Saturday Finishes a Book

Or: What the heck do I do now?

So I don't know if you noticed, but I kinda forgot to post last week. (I'd like to pretend that you all not only noticed and missed me, but you just weren't the same without my post, but I know that isn't true. XD Anyways, back to my story/excuse/whatchamacallit.) I totally almost had most of a post written and everything, about things you can do to help when you get stuck.

And then... well, then I most forgot it was Saturday, honestly. I think I had a headache, so I went to bed early and forgot to do my post. So, sorry about that. But! I have news. Not huge news, but news nonetheless.

I finished my WIP. *holds for applause*

No, I'm just kidding. But I did finish the second draft of my WIP. 51,903 words. I've been working on it since November, this draft since about mid-December, early January. This draft is a LOT better than the last, and I'm a lot happier with it. So what happens now?


Well, first came cleaning. Because my house was a total mess and when I'm not writing, that bugs me. Then blogging, because my blog has been so neglected. Poor thing. So definitely blogging. (Still working on that.)

But then, I am going to do a light round of revisions. Mostly making sure all my characters has last (and *cough* first) names, cleaning up any messy sentences, padding out the more skeletal scenes. Nothing really major, but since it's the first time I've really read through it, it does take a bit long.

After that, I'll send it off to my wonderful betas and crit partners and let them tear it apart.


What fun.

Peace and cookies,

P.S.: Don't forget to enter our contest!

P.S.S.: Also, I'm going to have an announcement... soonish. Not a huge announcement, but a small, neat one. Stay tuned!

Friday, February 18, 2011

When There Just Isn't Enough Time

Time Management!

This is something I have trouble with, because, let's face it- high school students and writers both love to procrastinate. And Hey! look, I'm both.
Some of you may be thinking "Zoe. Come on, your homeschooled. You have plenty of time to write. Psh, you've got all day!"
To the people who say that, I say no I don't. You are wrong.

I'm not trying to make excuses for not writing (well... maybe I am).

The truth is, I haven't written anything but reviews and essays for the past few weeks. But that's ok. I don't personally believe in writing every day. It works for some people, but it just doesn't work for me.
But I have also come to the point where I want to write. I really, truly do. I just seem to be stuck on what to write about. Which WIP to work on, or if I want to start a new one.
And here I was, going to write about time management. I suppose I should get back to that.

Time Management. Procrastination.
I strongly believe in making time to do the things I enjoy. It may be reading, writing, or watching Pretty Little Liars (oh my gosh you guys- that show is so addicting!). But it's sometimes hard to make time to do that sort of stuff when school, work, sports, and other things can get in the way.

Even if you don't write every day, like me, I think that people should try and make time every day to do something writing related. Outline, Blog, anything.

But let's face it- I am also one good procrastinator.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Making the Time

Recently I've come across a problem I haven't really had to deal with before. I took on a second job in addition to my full-time position, and now I find I have no time or energy to write.

My typical day: Alarm clock shrieks, and I smack it every ten minutes until I absolutely have to go. I wake up, shower quickly, go to work, and immerse myself in phone calls and paperwork. I finish the first job and head to the other, serving food and coffee and trying to learn the ropes. One we're closed and my shift is finally done I get in my car, drive the half hour to get home late, and barely manage to eat a few bites before falling right back into bed to start it all over again.

I haven't written a word for a few days now. For me, this isn't normal. If I can't get these stories out of my head, I'm not happy. Now I sit in my office and think about those characters, silently apologize to them for not being able to tell their tales. I stand in the kitchen at the restaurant and nod at the customer, all the while wondering if I'll have the stamina to open my laptop when I get home.

If this is something we're really passionate about, we need to make the time.

This is something I'm good at. This is something I enjoy doing. And if I can't even spare a few minutes to sit down and write a few words, I know that something isn't right. I shouldn't have to blink sleepily at the screen or down five cups of coffee. Maybe for some of you, there is no other way. I truly admire you for your dedication. But for me, I have a choice, and writing is that choice.

So I think I'm going to back out of this second job, and get back to the writing.

This post isn't to make anyone feel sorry for me, or offer me advice. I know that there are so, so many others who have it tougher than me. The point of this post is to express how important it is to do something we love. Even if some of us don't have the time, we have to make the time. Late at night, early in the morning, on our sick days or the holidays. If you can, cut  back on those work hours. Live life. Do this one thing you enjoy most. Because life is too short not to.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Hey, guys! Guess what? We hit 100 followers! (109 now, actually. Cool!)

So, we got together and decided that we needed to celebrate, and the best way to do that? A contest, of course! So here's what's up for grabs:

First prize: A signed copy of Rain by our very own Kieryn Nicolas, a custom header/button combo made by the lovely Katie from KD Designs (who made our gorgeous blog button) and a full manuscript critique from all of us.

Second and third prizes: A custom blog button from Katie (see how awesome she is?), and a critique of your first chapter by all of us.

To enter, fill out this form! While comments are appreciated, they won't be counted towards the contest.

To win Rain, you must be in either Canada or the US. Everything else is open to everyone. If someone not from Canada or the US wins the first prize, Rain will become part of the second or third prize. This'll be open until... let's say, March 15th, 2011.

(By entering, you confirm that you are thirteen or older. You also agree to respect that Katie's paying customers come first, meaning you might have to wait while she finishes up other things. Katie's awesome, though, so it's probably only be about a 7 day wait. As well, she won't use copyrighted images and sizes must be provided.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Mean Quality

During some down time after a chem quiz, I started drafting dialogue for a scene in my WIP. I later passed the notebook to my friend and asked, "Does this conversation flow well? It seems a bit rushed."

My friend read it, said, "I think it flows fine, but...this character sounds really mean. You might want to change the wording or something."

I took the notebook back and reread the conversation. As I did I realized that, meanwise, I didn't see anything I felt like changing. Yes, an important character the main character is supposed to be very, very fond of sounded mean, but I wanted it to sound that way--mean.

So my response to my friend was, "He's supposed to mean. Because, well, he's a jerk."

"So why does the main character like him?" my friend asked.

I told her hopefully it would be more clear in the story. Because, while I don't think characters should take other characters being jerks lying down, I recognize that real people have both good and bad sides. And good people might just let their bad/mean sides show. Like...say...Snape, anyone? (Yes, I chose to play the Harry Potter Trump Card.) But what do you think? Outside the writing prowess of J.K. Rowling, can a mean character be a good character?


PS-- This weekend I announced the release of my next book!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Time Management

This isn't completely related to writing but it's not unrelated either. As writers, most of us teens, with lives outside of writing, we have to become skilled at writing in the spare moments and prioritizing things.

I've already mentioned that this year, my number one goal was to put experiencing life before writing. And, today, I took a big step towards that goal.

I got a job.

Yes, a job.

It all happened really fast - I dropped off my application this morning, got a call for an interview two hours later, went to my interview at 3, got hired, and I start work at 10:30 tomorrow. Then I had to run to JC Penney to get pants because apparently I don't own a single pair of khaki or black pants.

So now I'm sitting here all nervous and excited and ahhh.


I don't know how many hours a week I'll be working, probably somewhere around 20, but it's going to be time that could otherwise be spent writing. Sure, the money is going to be great, I definitely need it for Guatemala, but I'm nervous about having even less time to write.

I guess this is where time management and prioritizing come in, right?

So for all of you that balance school, work, and all your other activities with writing, how do you do it?


Friday, February 11, 2011


Some people like to outline their novels. I get it, I really do. It's just not my style.

Sit in a room with a bunch of writers you've never talked to before and talk about writing. Almost always, the topic of outlining comes up.

I like to think writers in two categories- those who outline, and those who don't.

I don't outline my novels because when I do, I always seem to stray away from what my outline says. There are pro's and con's to not outlining, so I'm going to talk about those today.

The Pro's-

- Your characters really have a chance to let their voices show, because they aren't being stuck to a "script" of sorts.
- Freedom! This is a big thing with me, because I love breaking the rules. Since there is no outline, there is no rules. It makes me feel like I can breath more while writing.
- Less planning means I can start writing right away. I have this fear that if I don't start writing my story as soon as I get the idea, by the time I am done with outlining- the idea won't be fresh and might parish in my mind.

The Con's-

- You get stuck. A LOT. I always find myself wondering what to write next.
- Wild characters who like to party. Since there is no outline, the characters aren't tamed and then they rule the story.

Even though not outlining causes me loads of grief, I still can't bring myself to outline when writing.

Do you outline? What are your thoughts about it?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Waiting Game

When it comes to being patient, I'm not so great. When something's on my mind, it tends to stay there no matter what I do. But being a writer is all about waiting, unfortunately, so there's really no other option but to get used to it. I've come up with a few methods that distract me fairly well.

1. Write something else.

This is number one because it's so important. Maybe this project you're submitting or querying isn't going to work out. If you eventually decide that this project should be put on the back burner for a while, you'll need something else to put out there. Not to mention the fact that practice makes perfect. Even if you've written what you think is the most amazing novel to ever be written, you'll keep getting better the more your write.

2. Clean.

Do all those things you put off while you were writing The Book. Ugh. I know that after I finished mine, I turned around to face a mountain of laundry, a lonely little dog, work, and so much else. So rather than plunging head-first into a shiny new idea, I forced myself to tie up some ends that had loosened in my absence.

3. Develop your online presence.

Start a blog. Twitter. Facebook. Anything just to meet other writers out there and learn about the world of reading, publishing, writing. I met all of my betas online. Yours could be waiting. Also, it doesn't hurt to build a bit of a platform for that wonderful day when you can announce your book will be in stores, go buy it!

4. Hone another skill.

I've always wanted to learn piano. So, one day, I opened the phone book and found a teacher. I was the oldest student by far, but it turns out I have a knack for it (if I don't say so myself.) Of course, now those lessons have gone on hold since life took over, but I will begin again, soon. I hope. No, I will. Is there something you've always wanted to learn or do? No time like during the lull of a book on submission or a query in an agent's inbox.

5. Just relax!

I wouldn't recommend relaxing too long, but hey, we've earned it, right? We sat down and spat out 50,000+ amazing words. We created this incredible thing. Why not sit back for a day or two and watch reruns of Friends?

Like I said, these are only distractions. But we all need our distractions at one time or another.

Have a great week, everyone!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Judge a book by its cover?

I was doing a cover survey the other day and I was surprised, again, at how many I didn't like. And how, with the few I really liked, I REALLY liked them.

Recognizing what I don't like is way easier than pinpointing what I like in a cover. For example, I'm not a fan of covers that have a pale girl looking morosely off camera, with some hot, brooding guy in the background. One, all of these covers look the same to me. And two, I have guyfriends, and I see those guyfriends at school, in classes where I might take out a book to read after finishing an assignment. This may be ridiculous, but I'd feel a bit ridiculous reading a book with some hot model leering at some pale girl on the cover. (Even though I may like the story itself.)

But what I like, that's tough to describe. How about I show you a few of the ones I enjoy?

These aren't even necessarily my favorite books (though many of them are). Off the top of my head, they're my favorite covers.

What books do you think have awesome covers?...and why?

(announcement soon. Biding my time. :D)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Those Light, Fluffy YA Books

I have a confession - I love those light, fluffy YA books. You know, the ones that are slightly predictable, usually end happily, and involve some sweet boy, but are the perfect book to curl up with when you're having a bad day. Teen chick lit, one might call them.

All the rules of writing are always about being original, about not being predictable, and developing characters, plot, etc. But do all of those rules apply to the "chick lit" of YA? I mean, I'm not saying that every book should follow the same formula or that I don't love it when something turns out to be less predictable than I expected but...does it make the book bad if it's all just light and sweet fun?

Personally, I don't think so. Some books are meant to be dark, to make the reader think and cry and become emotionally attached but as important as those books are, I think it's important that we have the lighter, slightly predictable books. It's all about having a mix, right?

And yes, this is all on my mind because one of my (many) WIPs is light and fluffy and I plan on having a lot of fun with it!

So, what's your opinion? What are your favorite teen "chick lit" books?


Saturday, February 5, 2011

Q&A With Saturday

Or: I'm sick and this is a prewritten post. Previously: Twitter people are crazy, but I love them.

Q1. What is your name?
2. What is your quest?
3. What is the average airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?

(From @JenniferBWhite)

A1. As far as you need to know, Laina. ;)
2. Uh… wait… I have one. To do good deeds and never stop until I succeed. (No one is going to get that reference. Go watch this.)
3. 42.

Q: Will you make me some coffee? Whilst you do that, tell me, what's your fav type of YA novel?

A: I totally agreed to. My favourite type of YA is mostly paranormal. I like a good contemporary as much as the next person, but I have a bit less patience with them. Paranormal speaks to me. This is also why I haven’t finished a contemporary novel, I suspect.

(From @MiaHayson)

Q: 1. Which little place marker do you pick when you play Monopoly?

A. Our monopoly board didn’t have the car, money bag, or the train and my mom always took the top hat. I was usually the thimble or the guy on the horse because he “plonked” really well when you put him down. I would totally have been the train if we had that.

(From @JenniferBWhite)

This is where I start to suck. I expected to have more time to build this post... but I ended up needing it now. So... how about you ask me questions now and I'll answer them?

Peace and cookies,

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Three W's

I’m not too picky when it comes to the where, what, and when. If I’m at work and I think of a great line or an idea for something, I’ll grab a scrap of paper and scribble it down. If I’m in the car on some highway, I dwell on it until I either get home and work on it or manage to find another scrap of paper.

But if I can choose the three W’s, it usually happens in the kitchen. I'm too lazy to whip out the camera and give you guys the actual thing, but it's an average kitchen with windows all around and the living room adjacent to it.

Also, when it’s really, really late and the dark kitchen gets a little too scary for me, I write in my bed. This usually doesn't last long since my laptop tends to overheat and I just get so sleepy.

I usually prefer to have a cup of coffee on hand and some music playing. And when I’m really planning on sitting there for hours – or until my backside goes numb – I’ll light a candle. No idea why; it’s just something I’ve discovered that I enjoy. Sometimes when I’m stumped I’ll just stare at the flame like it’s some kind of spirit that’s going to whisper, “This is what you should do…” Not creepy at all, I know.

Just a fun tidbit. This is the song I played over and over while I was writing my last book:

It just sets the mood, doesn’t it? Sort of whimsical, definitely magical, and entirely inspirational. What are your three W’s?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Hello My Name Is

I love adding new characters. Introducing a character who plays a major role in a minor way is like a little inside joke to me. I'm in the background going, "Tee hee, the guy who's complaining at the checkout counter is the murderer. But you don't know it and now you're thinking about frozen carrots, hahaha." Generally I like my introductions of those such characters. They're subtle yet just-enough-stands-out-to-notice.


There is one character I've been having difficulty introducing lately: the love interest. How much description is necessary? Should it be another subtle introduction, or one that stands out? How much of their character should come through in the first interaction?

In Rain I didn't have that problem. In my last WIP, I hemmed and hawwed a little about that particular scene, but worked it out quickly enough. In my current story, I'm past the initial introduction, and still trying to decide if there's Too Much Intro or Not Enough Personality and et cetera.

What are your opinions on introductions of major characters (particularly the love interest)?


PS Keep an eye out...big news coming soon from my direction!