I experienced something for the first time this year.
After turning in my second book to my editor, I found that I didn't want to write. Oh, I get lazy once in a while. Choosing to watch an episode of The Vampire Diaries or stalking Ian Somerhalder on Twitter instead of opening that Word document. But something about this was different, and I knew it. I had finished a contracted manuscript, there was still some summer left, and there was all this time to start something new. And I didn't. Because when I thought about beginning a new project, I came up with a complete and blinding blank.
It was a sensation that was worrying and awful, because ever since I could pick up a pen - or, in my case, a marker - I have been writing. I have had ideas. I have had this almost overwhelming need to create stories and get words down into something palpable. This August, though, I closed Microsoft Word and it stayed closed. There was utterly no desire to try again.
It led to sleepless nights and anxious messages to my fellow Lucky 13 members. Was I the only one dealing with this? Was it permanent? Had I finally run out of creative juices? Writing may not define me as a person, but up until that point it had been a huge part in who I was. Without it, I felt lost. Yet something kept me from actually doing it. Some part of me may have sought distractions, in new hobbies and spending time with friends and working.
Well, that's good, isn't it? someone might ask. Actually, yes, it was. Because I had been so consumed with finishing book two, these were things I hadn't done much of for weeks. Maybe months. I realize this makes writing sound like soul-sucking work. Honestly, some days, it can be. I've talked before about how grateful I am and how amazing it is to have a publisher. But with this comes the point where you don't get to write just when you feel like it or when inspiration hits, you write because your deadline is coming up and you have to make it.
So there I was, weeks of summer left. Normally I would seize this time and hurry to finish another manuscript before school started. Instead, I did everything but. After a while, the guilt and the fear got tiring, and I let it go.
Eventually I did figure it out. There wasn't an exact date or time that the answer occurred to me. It came gradually, in pieces and parts and feelings. I returned to the laptop and typed a few words. I did it again a few days later. And a few days after that. And now it's October and I'm so excited about a manuscript that I'm over halfway through.
So why didn't I want to write? What was the big answer? Simple: I was tired.
That's it. There was no deeper meaning to my lack of desire to write. I had put everything I had into book two and I was a battery that needed recharging. Maybe writers are prone to panic, or maybe it's just a select few of us. Several other of my fellow Lucky 13 friends felt the same way. So if I learned anything in all this, one lesson over the summer, it's that writers need breaks. We feel like we should be constantly creating or striving for a word count or typing "the end". And most months out of the year, that's true. If we go a stretch of time where we just watch TV and binge with friends, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. There should be no guilt. We are human, and though we are writers, it shouldn't be everything. It shouldn't suck us dry. It could be about balance, or it could be about taking that much-needed break.
And now I'm off to have lunch with some friends. Have a great week, everyone!
As a debut author, it's my first instinct to say yes. To every single interview, all the guest post requests, each and every giveaway. As a new writer with a new book, in a flood of well-established writers and books, I want to get SOME QUIET PLACE out there as much as possible. Which is why it was a hard-learned lesson, the fact that I can't do everything.
Sometimes we have to say no.
For a few weeks, it was chaos. I was attempting to respond to anyone mentioning me on Twitter, trying to say "yes" to all those e-mails, and all the while juggling school and work and having a life beyond my laptop. Then there was BEA and signings. Near the end of my trip, everything sort of buried me, and I cried. Actually cried.
This may seem dramatic or, frankly, idiotic. "Why not just say no in the beginning, or when things got to be too much?" you might be asking. Honestly, I have been. It was hard and I hate disappointing anyone, but it's necessary. I came to the realization that - though it's important to be available and get exposure for the book - there needs to be a limit. There needs to be time for me to actually write the next book and maybe watch a Vampire Diaries rerun. There needs to be time for Kelsey the person, along with Kelsey the author. Don't get me wrong, I adore being both. At separate times, simultaneously, every day. It's when I forgot to pause and take a breath that things got gnarly.
So if you did send me a request, and I turned you down, I do apologize. It didn't feel good to say no. But it was right. Because when we try to do everything, we end up wanting to do nothing. And that's not fun for anyone.
This is the day I've been working towards ever since I was, oh, maybe five years old. Even then, I was writing stories. Granted, the handwriting was horrible and the plot was pretty much nonexistent, but I kept at it. And now, all these years later, I can walk into a Barnes & Noble and find a story I actually wrote on the shelf. It's an overwhelming feeling, seeing that. Surreal and wonderful and terrifying all at once. I won't tell you guys about my path to publication - it's been told so many times before - so I'll just leave you with this:
Don't give up on your dreams. Even when it seems like it's never going to happen, it's just too far out of reach, keep going. Keep fighting and hoping and believing that something amazing will occur and the impossible is possible. Because something like this could come out of it.
Elizabeth Caldwell doesn’t feel emotions . . . she sees them in human form. Longing hovers around the shy, adoring boy at school. Courage materializes beside her dying friend. Fury and Resentment visit her abusive home. They’ve all given up on Elizabeth because she doesn’t succumb to their touch. All, that is, except beautiful Fear, who sometimes torments her and other times plays her compassionate savior. He’s obsessed with finding the answer to one question: What happened to Elizabeth to make her this way?
They both sense that the key to Elizabeth’s condition is somehow connected to the paintings of her dreams, which show visions of death and grief that raise more questions than answers. But as a shadowy menace begins to stalk her, Elizabeth’s very survival depends on discovering the truth about herself. When it matters most, she may not be able to rely on Fear to save her.
“Haunting, chilling and achingly romantic.”—
"An utterly original, compelling story—with maybe the most irresistible love interest of all."—
New York Times
bestselling author of the Evernight series
"...teens will find this a haunting and fresh psychological thriller."—
It’s not unusual for someone, especially an aspiring writer, to pick up a book in the store and say, “I can write better than that! How come I’m not published?”
That aspirant is looking at only one of vital C’s of authorship—CRAFT. Writing craft, like pottery or painting, is a skill learned through study, apprenticeship, and practice. Developing facility with words, sentences, paragraphs, scenes, and story arcs requires a combination of observation, book learning, constructive criticism, and day after day effort. It’s been said that you have to spew a million words of junk before you become a writer or spend 10,000 hours, the usual threshold for expertise. It’s true that strong writing craft is (usually) necessary to becoming a published author, but it’s not sufficient.
COMMUNITY is the second C. Although putting words on paper/screen usually takes place in isolation, it’s essential to join the larger community of writers. First, they understand what you are going through—goals, dreams, setbacks, frustrations, triumphs, etc. In your journey to publication, you’ll need shoulders to cry on and palms to high five (either in person or over the internet). Other writers, whether behind or ahead of you, are qualified to help you improve your own work through thoughtful feedback. And beyond that, they will link you to opportunities—calls for manuscripts, speaking gigs, drinks with an agent or editor at conferences, and eventually guest blogs about your work.
COMMITMENT is the third C. I mentioned the proverbial million words. I mentioned the daunting ten thousand hours. We’re talking years. Besides committing to putting in the time (butt in chair), you need to commit to putting in the dollars to attend conferences, and you need to commit to putting yourself out there for hurt feelings and rejection. I had a writing workshop instructor/role model who set himself the goal of getting 500 rejections. That’s serious commitment.
Originally, I thought those three C’s covered it, until I realized there were more indespensible elements along the route to publication.
Number four: CORRECTIVE LENSES. And by this, I mean you need to have a sustaining vision of why you are putting yourself through this long apprenticeship and where you hope to end up. Corrective emotional lenses will help you see a rejection letter as proof that you finished something and sent it out. You’ll see that form “no thanks” letter with a handwritten positive comment as a huge win—someone has taken an interest in you. You’ll see the “not quite, but do send me something else” as a badge of success for you as a writer instead of a failure for that particular story.
Number five: CHOCOLATE is an absolute requirement—or whatever rewards you give yourself. External rewards from the industry are few and far between. You have to compensate by rewarding yourself—for trying, for losing, for winning. Just for showing up to your blank screen. Just for putting a query in the mail. This is the one case where everyone who plays deserves a trophy. I had a deal with a writer friend that whoever had the most recent rejection was treated to lunch by the other one. Talk about an incentive to submit!
Finally, the sixth C is COFFEE, figuratively speaking. You’ll need to develop ways to recharge a tired soul. It takes a lot of energy to get started in writing, a lot of energy to keep going, and even more energy to break in. And after that? Well, it takes a ton of energy to see it all the way through to the day your first book hits the shelves.
Carpe diem. C’s the day.
As a preteen, Liz Coley was hooked on science fiction thanks to alien Tripods, space-time warping tesseracts, and a Martian maid named Thuvia. Her science fiction short stories appear in Cosmos Magazine and several print anthologies. While self-publishing the time travel/alternate history/Mayan end of the world novel OUT OF XIBALBA, Liz received “The Call” that all aspiring novelists dream of. PRETTY GIRL-13, her debut novel with HarperCollins, will be published in the US and in nine translations on five continents in print, ebook, and audiobook formats. Liz lives in Cincinnati, OH with her husband, her teenaged daughter, and an elderly orange tabby by the fire. The older two boys have moved on to college and graduate school. When she isn't writing, Liz enjoys singing, photography, tennis, and cooking.
Find Liz on her website, Twitter, or Facebook.
About the book
Reminiscent of the Elizabeth Smart case, Pretty Girl-13 is a disturbing and powerful psychological mystery about a girl who must piece together the story of her kidnapping and captivity.
Angie Chapman was thirteen years old when she ventured into the woods alone on a Girl Scouts camping trip. Now she's returned home…only to find that it's three years later and she's sixteen-or at least that's what everyone tells her.
What happened to the past three years of her life?
Angie doesn't know.
But there are people who do — people who could tell Angie every detail of her forgotten time, if only they weren't locked inside her mind. With a tremendous amount of courage, Angie embarks on a journey to discover the fragments of her personality, otherwise known as her "alters." As she unearths more and more about her past, she discovers a terrifying secret and must decide: When you remember things you wish you could forget, do you destroy the parts of yourself that are responsible?
Liz Coley's alarming and fascinating psychological mystery is a disturbing - and ultimately empowering page-turner about accepting our whole selves, and the healing power of courage, hope, and love.
I want to establish, before I get into this post, that the majority of my family is amazingly supportive. Questions they ask range from, "When can I buy my copy?" to "You're going to sign it, right?". They like all my posts on Facebook and give me I'm-so-happy-for-you hugs that almost hurt when we see each other. So I know what it's like to have an awesome family behind me in this venture.
I also know what it's like to have someone close to you decide they're not going to be so supportive.
See, back when I wrote Some Quiet Place, I didn't make any official decision to write what I wanted to write. I just did. The words flowed onto the page, and there were no thoughts about what was right or wrong or what other people would think. The story was all that mattered. So when all was said and done, there were some passages among the pages that my conservative family might not approve of. There's some swearing, some steamy moments, some violence. And when I chose to warn someone of this, the response was not positive.
It was the first time someone had ever told me they would not read the book. It was the first time someone had ever expressed how disappointed they were in me for making this choice. And it was the first time I realized that something like this could happen to me. It may not end here. It could happen again.
And that's something I need to prepare myself for.
I could make things easier for myself. I could go back and remove those words, those kisses, those painful confrontations. It would definitely make conversations less awkward during Christmas. It would also make my signings even more special, looking up and seeing that person in the crowd.
But I can't. I won't.
Because the point of writing a story is making it as real as we can. As raw, as poignant, as effective as we can so that not only have we done justice to these characters, but to the reader, as well. Granted, there are amazing stories out there without all those elements people may disapprove of. But they're not my stories. I may not have made a conscious choice when I was writing it, so I'll make one now. I love my family. I always will.
I'm just not going to change my art or my beliefs for anyone.
My mind has been on romance lately. Partly because that one holiday is coming up, and party just because. There are millions of songs and books and movies on this, and my recent challenge has been to come up with a love story that's somehow unique. After all, no one wants to invest themselves in these characters if I don't even care about how they end up, right? If they're bored, so is everyone else. So I've come up with some simple methods to keep in mind while I'm writing. Ready?
1. Give them an obstacle, something that keeps them from being together.
We all can't resist those star-crossed lovers. I think pining for someone is part of the process. It builds the anticipation, the need, the want. It gives us those scenes where the characters teeter on the edge, drawn to each other despite everything that's telling them it's impossible. Some good examples of this? Jace and Clary from The Mortal Instruments series. Rose and Dimitri in the Vampire Academy series. Tris and Four in the Divergent series. And do I really need to mention Edward and Bella from that one book none of us have heard of? Obstacles equal pain, longing, determination or devastation, and a hunger for more.
2. Give them flaws.
I know I say this in all my writing posts. Flaws, flaws, flaws. Honestly, I think it's a character's most important aspect. You've probably come across the perfect cheerleader in a story, or the perfect student, or the perfect athlete. White smiles and perfect bodies and bland personalities. In other words, boring. This applies to romances, too. Couples - especially young couples - fight. They struggle. They make bad choices. No one has a case of instant, perfect love. Those flaws are what make things real.
3. Make those steamy scenes... steamy.
99.9% of the people reading your book aren't going to get hot and bothered by, say, He lowered his face, coming closer and closer. She held her breath in anticipation. His smell was intoxicating. Then... he gave her a peck on the cheek. Whew, someone turn on the air conditioning. I almost couldn't handle that, it was so intense. Uh, no. Come on. Give these poor lovesick people a wall to slam into, make the rain come down, give us a glimpse of unrestrained passion. I may be going a little overboard with this, and for that I apologize. It's late and I've had quite a bit of coffee.
This has been on my mind lately, since pretty much all of my writing is suspenseful. There's such a fine line between making a scene or a moment terrifying or just... cringe-worthy. So here are some methods we can all use to make our stories truly horrifying (note word choice here, hee-hee).
1. Make sure your main character is running around in a skimpy nightshirt.
Seriously, this is critical. I don't care where your main character is or what she's doing, whether she's bolting from bed or a busy restaurant. She's got to be wearing a near-transparent, so-short-we-can-see-pretty-much-everything t-shirt. She can't be wearing shoes, either. It's just a given. I don't care if this has been done a million times. It's the only way your chase scenes will be good. It's classic.
2. Don't allow your character to make any intelligent decisions.
You know the term, "T.S.T.L."? Too stupid to live? No such thing! So what if your main character decides to sneeze during that hushed instant the killer is listening for her? So what if she decides to run down the middle of the road, in plain sight? Who cares if she doesn't call the police, for some freaking reason? In horror books and movies, it's expected that our main characters will be in such a panic there's no chance for her to use her brain. Why don't you just throw her in front of a bus, for good measure? That will really throw your reader off.
3. The ending shouldn't make any sense at all.
Say you're writing a murder mystery. You've filled the plot with twists and turns, you've taken us on this merry chase and it's finally come down to the big moment. The huge reveal. And then... it turns out a unicorn has been killing everyone. How great is that ending? No, you can't make the villain some guy we've been eyeing, who's a logical choice. You can't even make it someone mildly unexpected. It has to be just stunning. Forget unicorns. It's Frankenstein, come alive from the pages of his book! No, it's a mummy. No, no. It's you.
When I was
first working on the manuscript that would eventually becomeSkyship Academy: The Pearl Wars, I knew from the start that the story I wanted to tell was
too big for only one book. In fact, halfway through the draft, I’d determined
that the series would have to be a trilogy - very much a beginning, a middle
and an end. The struggle, then, was to make the first book stand on its own in
order to interest agents and publishers. Luckily, when the manuscript did find
a publisher, I signed a two-book deal, which meant that at least two thirds of
my trilogy was secured.
When it came to writing the sequel, Crimson Rising, I approached the book
thinking that it was going to be much easier to finish than the first. I mean,
I’d already established the world and characters. I’d mapped out the
overarching story, at least generally. I knew much more than I did coming into
that first book. It should be easy, right?
Well, I was selling the process short. I’ve learned now, having written both
the second and third in the trilogy, that it really only gets more challenging.
That’s not to say that the process is unpleasant, because there are so many
upsides, but it was, for me, a very different process than The Pearl Wars.
It seems like so many series, both in print and
on screen, take a nosedive with that second installment. I did not want to be
one of those series, which meant I not only had to match the quality of the
first book, but I had to surpass it. This was a constant goal (and sometimes
bane) when I was writing Crimson Rising. I wanted to include everything that
made the first book great, but make it bigger, tighter and more rewarding for
the reader. I also didn’t want to repeat myself. I’d already pulled readers
into the world of Skyship Academy with the first book, so there wasn’t that
initial hook available to me anymore. I needed to do something a little
different--take things in a new direction while still moving the overarching
Okay, great… right? It all sounded so easy in my head, but the practice of it
was a constant struggle to one-up myself, develop my characters further, and
add to the mythos of the universe that I’d created. Luckily, the ending of The
Pearl Wars gave me a great jumping off point. For those of you who have read
the first book, you'll know that the ending adds a philosophical/moral undertone
to the series that wasn't necessarily there before. I definitely wanted to
explore that and go a little bit "darker" in the second book.
in, I also knew that while the first book was a lot of necessary build-up,
Crimson Rising would blow things wide open. It would start off with a bang and
keep going full-throttle from there. That’s what really kept me going. When I
think of sequels that really worked, I always go back to Terminator 2: Judgment
Day. Not a book, I know, but to me it’s really a beacon of what it looks like
to improve upon an original in the sci-fi world. This was a huge inspiration in
the crafting of this book and something that I kept returning to. Having that
inspiration was a great help.
I could never pick a favorite between the first two books in the Skyship
Academy trilogy, but I can say that those who enjoyed the more action-oriented
parts of The Pearl Wars will love Crimson Rising. Now onto the third and final
entry! And here’s an exclusive preview: take everything I just wrote and
multiply it times three. Nowthere's a
When he was a young boy, Nick James’ collection of battle-scarred action figures became the characters in epic storylines with cliffhangers, double crosses and an unending supply of imaginary explosions. Not much has changed. The toys are gone (most of them), but the love of fast-paced storytelling remains. Working in schools from Washington State to England, Nick has met thousands of diverse students since graduating from Western Washington University and braving the most dangerous job in the world: substitute teaching. Luckily, being dubbed the “rock star teacher” has granted him some immunity. He currently lives and teaches in Bellingham, Washington.
So it's been a little over two months since I announced the fact my book will be in print. It's been fairly quiet since then. Well, my brain won't shut up. So not in that respect. I've discovered that as with most things, there is a process to go through after something like this happens. Something so wonderful and huge and life-changing. I know I haven't talked much about it, but as you read on, you'll see why. Basically, because I don't have anything particularly coherent to say. Still.
At first - and I'm not quite sure it's worn off yet - I was just in a state of shock. Did this really happen? There has to be some kind of mistake. In the midst of all my euphoria, there was a small part of me that felt as if it was too good to be true, that the entire thing wouldn't happen. Don't get your hopes up, I secretly told myself. But the days went by, and there was no "Sorry, we realized your book isn't as good as we thought it was" or "Ha! Just kidding!" e-mails. The deal went up on Publisher's Marketplace. I told the world. Then I got the editorial letter. So... okay. It's happening.
Wow. It's really happening. Okay, so, this really did happen. (And this thought circles around in my brain until it becomes meaningless.) Okay. All I need to do now is focus on revisions and make this the best book it can possibly be. Nothing hard or complicated.
But then... I comprehend the truth of what I'm doing. I'm revising a book so everyone can read it. My mother. My friends. My professors. What if it isn't good enough? Yes, I'm still overjoyed. That doesn't stop the fear. It may seem melodramatic - believe me, I'm irritating myself with all these insecurities - but I think this is pretty normal. I hope it is. The intensity of this stage comes and goes.
Now, I haven't actually gotten here yet. This is where I want to be, this is where most authors get. I think, the closer I get to the book being out in the world, or maybe just as time passes, I'll reach it. The idea of people seeing my work - loving it or hating it - isn't something I will constantly wonder about. The feeling of unworthiness. I'll just be purely excited and content that this happened.
So there you have it. You all now know what the inside of my head looks like. It's embarrassing, a little, but it's real.
I hope you guys like the book! Guess we'll find out in eleven months or so.
I was always really curious about this big, ominous-seeming thing. The editorial letter. I'd read blog posts, tweets, Facebook posts. Some were ecstatic, some resigned, some neutral. I know that every one is different in regards to length and detail. How could it not be? All manuscripts and editors are different. But I finally have one of my own, and I can tell you guys what mine is like.
Yes, you read that right. It might seem boastful or optimistic, but it really is just an amazing thing. Someone loved your book so much they made all this time and effort to make it better and put it out into the world. They painstakingly combed through every page with just as much care and attention as the one who wrote it.
My agent and I went through revision after revision before sending it out, wanting it to shine so brightly that the editors would be blinded when they opened that word document. (Okay, that may be a tad melodramatic. But it's more fun this way.)
Anyway, one of my editor's comments was that he had noticed that the manuscript was in good condition. I still admit to being slightly apprehensive about that letter. I'd heard of authors getting ten, twelve, or even twenty-pages of suggestions and tweaks and changes.
Yet, when I opened my e-mail one morning and found that letter waiting for me, there was nothing to be afraid of. Three pages. Three pages of kind, encouraging - and, most importantly - accurate notes. Editors aren't as pushy as the movies make them out to be, as bad as that sounds.
I didn't realize going into this how much would be up to me. Maybe I'm really, really lucky. Maybe the next editorial letter will really be twenty pages. But it's not something to dread. Not only does it mean that we're just that much closer to seeing our stories out in the world, it's full of compliments and changes that will only help improve the writing.
So, the point of this post. Editorial letters are good. I can't wait for the next one.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. For now, I've got my work cut out for me.
My very first boyfriend went by the name of Ramsey Welsh. I was eight years old. We were at summer camp, and apparently I caught his eye during the singing and clapping part of the evening. I still remember what I was wearing: a hideous purple t-shirt and some jeans. I hadn't bothered to brush my hair that day.
Even though he noticed me, his attention wasn't reciprocated. Not then, at least. However, the next morning he sent his friend over to my friend. The message was simple: "Will you go out with me?"
No boy had ever liked me before. Not that I can remember, at least. I still remember the way my heart leapt and my stomach fluttered. The messenger-boy pointed out Ramsey to me in the lunch room, and our eyes met. He was small - much shorter than me - with blonde hair and blue eyes. He had a cute smile. Without exchanging one word, I agreed to be his girlfriend.
So many stories begin in the middle, just like that week at camp. What I mean is, there's no build-up. No gradual getting-to-know-each-other, clammy palms and hesitations. Maybe it's part of being a teenager. Maybe slow love is part of growing up. In so many of the books I've read lately the characters spot each other across a crowded room and boom. They're willing to die for each other. All I know is, if I were thrown into a situation where I had to choose between myself and some hot guy I've just met, I might look and him and go, "Uh, who are you now? And why should I take a bullet in the chest instead of you?" Of course, that could be only me...
Is this just young adult? Is there anything wrong with it? I honestly don't know. In certain circumstances I know I've gotten a bit irritated, but usually I can just roll with it if the story and the writing is good. (Of course, I may end up eating these words later if I decided I need to incorporate some instant love in one of my own books.)
What are your thoughts on instant love?
Oh, and you might be wondering what happened with me and Ramsey. Did we ever speak? Did we dare to meet under the moonlight and sneak a kiss? Uh, no. What we did do was exchange gifts we bought in the camp gift shop: a bracelet for me, a hackey-sack for him. Yeah. I know. I think he smiled at me and said, "Thanks." I blushed and darted back to the safety of my friends. The week went by - a week of shy smiles and quick glances - and camp drew to an end.
I dumped Ramsey.
Why, you ask? Because the romance was gone. My little eight-year-old heart wanted more. I returned the bracelet, and Ramsey returned the oh-so-significant hackey-sack. But don't worry, I didn't break his heart. He immediately gave the bracelet to my friend Sara. And asked her to be his girlfriend.
If you talk to an agent or an editor - whether they're thinking of offering you a contract or just making conversation - this question will come up. Probably. Most likely. Almost certainly. This is not bad! In fact, it's great. The only thing you have to make sure of is that you are, in fact, working on something.
I've learned the importance of always having a project to work on. Even if you've just finished a manuscript! Publishing is about two things: now and next. It's a safe bet that if you're chatting with someone in this business, you've got something to offer now. Do you have the next? It doesn't matter if you're not published yet. Whether you're waiting to hear back from an agent or waiting on notes from your editor, you should be writing. We all should be writing.
That's what we do, right?
What are you working on now? I love getting this question. One, because it's always fun to talk about your work and have someone actually be interested in what you're saying. And two, because it holds so much potential. Potential that this agent or editor might want to see this story, potential that it will be the best thing you've ever written.
Sometimes we might hesitate about opening a brand-new W.I.P. But I honestly think it's a necessity. Even if you've recieved bad news about your other story, or you're in revisions, anything - my advice is to start something new. Just have something else. An idea, a seed, a sentence.
Because when you're asked that question, you're going to want to have a good answer.
Good is such a vague word, but I felt like the title was already getting too long. Anyway, I know this topic has been covered in every way, shape, and form. But if I let that stop me from writing a blog post I'd be hard-pressed to come up with anything. You'd be reading a blog about how I make my tea in the mornings or the intricacies of my dog's mannerisms. Which aren't that intricate. Pant, sleep, and follow me around the house. Getting off topic! I'll just dive right in.
1. Come up with a unique hook.
The reason every post on this mentions a good hook is because it is one of the most important aspects of those first pages. It's the first sentence the reader absorbs, it sets the tone, and it (hopefully) makes them want to read more. Sometimes I'll come up with eight different hooks for one story to make sure I have the best one. Here are a couple hooks for stories I've set aside. Idied on the day before Christmas. Or, Mom begged us to stay home that weekend. While I'm not saying I'm any kind of authority on this, I'd like to think my hooks have some oomph to them. That's what people look for. Just a little oomph.
2. Make the first scene pivotal.
What I mean by this is, make the first scene a change in the main character's life. If you're writing a contemporary, start with something as drastic as a death or intriguing as meeting someone new. Examples of amazing first scenes are Beth Ravis' Across the Universe. It begins with the main character's family "freezing" themselves in preparation for waiting for a ship to land in three hundred years. Wow, that was not as simple as I tried to make it sound. Anyway, here we have a science fiction novel, and it begins with a monumental change - or event - in the main character's life. That's what we should all go for. Again, oomph.
3. Use a narrative that makes the reader feel like everything is a secret.
When I write, I like to picture someone tucked under some covers, holding my book close to their face. Make the voice intimate, vulnerable yet resolved. Even a weak character is going somewhere and needs some kind of strength. Maybe they just aren't aware of it. I use fragments - gasp! - and refer to aspects of the main character's life the reader doesn't yet know about. The thing about telling a story is that it needs to belong to someone. Does that make sense? When agents and editors are asked what they are looking for in a novel, it's almost always voice. This is how I accomplish a good voice.
Yes, my methods are repetitive and pretty basic. But they work. I know my strengths, and I usually have strong first pages. Now, the middle and the end are another story...
I want to talk about something serious today. Every writer is different, so maybe this hasn't happened to you. But if it has, I feel closer to you then ever. What am I babbling about?
Writing a book that sucks.
I think our instincts tell us the truth while we're writing. Most of the time we just ignore it, right? Thinking it's first-draft jitters or the shiny new idea trying to pull us away. I hate to tell you this, but sometimes the book we're working on so hard... really isn't good. That sounds so harsh or even cruel. Since I decided a long time ago that this blog would show you my journey and all my lessons - and this post applies to me like every other - I'm not going to tell anyone otherwise.
That doesn't mean you should give up.
I can't stress that enough. Because guess what? I finished the story that was so horrible one of my favorite betas told me, "You can do better than this, Kelsey." I finished the story that put a stone in my stomach as I typed, that whispered to me I'm no good, I'm no good, I'm no good.
What was the point? Why bother? To tell you the truth, one of the reasons was because I'd gotten so far I didn't want to stop. It seemed like a waste, putting so much of myself into one document and then just... forgetting about it. So I pushed through until the end. I tried to resolve the story for these characters and for myself.
That wasn't the only reason, though! Another was because I was still learning. What to write, what wasn't working, how to write, why I was doing this whole crazy thing. I learned that I have great betas, because they aren't afraid to be honest with me. I learned what is more of a challenge for me, and thus, what I need to work on.
And do you want to know a secret? Hearing the horrible suspicion cemented - that this was not, in fact, my best work or even good work - was not the punch in the gut I thought it would be. It gave me a sense of... relief. Okay, everything is all out there. This story needs more tweaking than Julia Robert's eyebrows in her early days. My worries were on the mark, which means I have good instincts.
Which leads me to another issue.
Don't delete it.
This was one of the first things my beta said to me after I read her comments. She's right, of course. Every story, no matter how bad, has potential. The ability to become something more. Maybe not right now, or even in the near future, but it's there. I plan on putting it on the back burner and letting it simmer for a while. As times goes on, I might think of new ideas or ways to make adjustments. I'm not a bad writer, and the story isn't over. It was just another struggle that has been put on pause.
So where do I go from here? The answer, for a writer, is simple. You open a brand-new Word document, crack your knuckles, and get to work.
There are moments in life that you never forget. Some might seem insignificant, a trivial, fleeting space in time not even worthy of remembrance.
One such moment for me was when I was eight. I was visiting my aunt and uncle's farm, and somehow I found myself sitting up on a gigantic horse. I was timid, and my grip on the reins was weak and trembling. Instead of loping in a circle, the animal kept making a beeline for the gate and butting against it. "Why does he keep doing that?" I asked with a perplexed frown. I didn't have the courage to steer the horse in another direction.
My uncle was leaning on the fence, his hands dangling in front of him. "Because you let him," he answered simply. As if it was so obvious. The brim of his hat shadowed his face, but I sensed his expectation. I wanted to live up to what he believed I could do. So, steeling myself, I tightened my grip on those reins and tugged the horse away from the gate.
There is a point to telling you this. Whenever I reach that spot in my writing where the plot seems bland and the characters paltry, I think of that day. Being a dramatic person, I jump to thoughts like, I suck and this sucks and the world sucks. But then those words come back to me, always consistent in my uncle's straightforward way: Because you let him.
The story is mine. Anything that happens comes from me. If the plot is weak, I let it become weak. If the characters are flat, I let them become flat. It may sound like some kind of god complex, but it's all in my control. I let it. This is my drive, my motivation. I don't think of this story being in print one day, or anyone else reading it. I think of what I'm capable of. Where I can take these imaginary people and events.
It was the first day of my junior year in high school. I walked into an unfamiliar classroom with my books clutched to my chest. The teacher I would soon know as Mr. Carlson sat at his desk in the corner of the room, glancing up now and then to smile cheerfully at the students walking in. At first glance he seemed to be nothing more than an average man with gray hair and thick glasses. But after he gave us a brief introduction and proceeded to open Of Mice and Men to read aloud, I learned that he was, in fact, anything but average.
I'd never heard someone take on each voice of each character and give it an individual twist. Mr. Carlson was animated. He made George Milton sharp and irritated. He adapted Lennie in a slow and childish way. It was like watching a one-person play, and the story came to life as he read it.
The next day I overheard a group of kids talking about Mr. Carlson in the hallway. One boy was louder than the rest as he sneered and mocked Mr. Carlson's rendition of Lennie Small. Suddenly a hush fell over the group, and, frowning, the boy spun around to discover that Mr. Carlson was standing quietly behind him. The boy's eyes went wide and he swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing up and down. The teacher didn't say a word. He just looked at the students for a moment, and then turned his back to go into the classroom.
One by one we each followed him and slid into our seats. I wasn't sure what to expect. Would he read the story in a mundane tone? Would he change the voice for Lennie to something tame and typical? We waited. Mr. Carlson opened the book and adjusted his glasses. He didn't look up at us. He opened his mouth... and that same dumb, enthusiastic narrative came out.
To most, the impact of this wasn't substantial. For me, however, it had the effect of a tattoo: significant and permanent. When it came to the books we read and the lesson plans Mr. Carlson used, the value added to my education wasn't more than any other teacher. It was the small moments like that day in the classroom, when he'd chosen to disregard his student's ridicule, that stayed with me. I've always swayed to other's opinions of me. Mr. Carlson didn't even bother to acknowledge the disdain. Was it because he just didn't care? Or because his passion for the story overrode any opinions others might have of his narrative? I believe it was the latter.
His passion spurred my own, and Mr. Carlson is a huge reason I love literature today.
I just finished watching King Kong. Probably one of my favorite movies, seriously. Even though it wasn't the first time I had seen it, I still can't tear myself away from the screen. If you haven't watched it yet, I won't ruin it for you, but from the point they get to the island, every scene is sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat-bite-your-nails intense. Which brings me to the point of this post.
Lately my mind has been on pacing. Right now I'm working on a story that has quite a few character-driven scenes, rather than plot-driven. After watching the movie, I feel like this story is, well, boring compared to the nonstop action of King Kong. But the stories are so different. Which is more intense? A battle scene? Or an argument between two lovers? Maybe there's no difference between the two.
And maybe this is me thinking too much into it, but even if I wanted to incorporate some kind of action scene into a contemporary, would be nothing compared to the intensity of Kong's island? Creatures and guns don't belong in some stories. This could be a good thing. When someone picks up a book about relationships and real life, that's probably what they're looking for. I can give the reader the kind of intensity that belongs here. Unrequited love, hospital drama, the unraveling or strengthening of friendships.
So, in conclusion. My story isn't boring, it's just different. There's a whole new aspect to intensity when it comes to what could actually happen, in contrast to the impossible.
What do you think? What's more intense? Characters or plot?
Today I am so excited to have Ryan Graudin stopping by the blog! Her book sounds amazing and I'm pretty sure she's going to be one popular author. Which is why it is so cool she's doing this guest post, because then I can tell people, "Uh, I know her. She totally did a guest post on my blog." Anyway. Thanks for being here, Ryan!
When she’s not writing and drifting around the globe, Ryan Graudin enjoys hunting through thrift stores and taking pictures of her native Charleston, SC. Her novel LUMINANCE HOUR, the story of a Faery who falls in love with the prince she’s forced to guard, is due out with HarperTeen in 2013. You can learn about all of these things and more at http://ryangraudin.blogspot.com. You can also follow her on Twitter at @ryangraudin
When I was a senior in high school, I used to do my homework at my parents’ kitchen table. One afternoon, as I was distinctly exasperated with my workload of Honors Physics and AP English assignment, I looked over at my mom and asked, “Will there be any homework in college?”
She just stared back with a dubious look. Years later, when I was balancing the reading of four separate English classes and a writing fiction class, I would think back on that moment and laugh. How could I ever have thought that there wouldn’t be homework in college?
Well, revisions are kind of like that too. When you first finish the rough draft of your manuscript you probably jump around the house for a day or two in jubilation (I know I do). Somewhere inside those 48 hours the sinister realization sinks in that your manuscript has flaws. Flaws that cannot stay. Flaws that must be fixed.
That’s when the real work begins.
It took me four months to write the first draft of Luminance Hour. It took me two major revisions (as well as countless smaller ones) to find my wonderful agent. Once I signed with Alyssa, I tempted the vain thought that maybe the bulk of the work for the manuscript was behind me. *insert evil laughter here* A few weeks after she signed me, Alyssa sent me a four page revision letter for my manuscript, pointing out the weaknesses of my story and showing me how to fix them. We went through two rounds of this before it was shipped out into the wide world of editors.
Surely. Surely now the majority of labor to snap this story into shape was behind me now.
I was fortunate enough to get my manuscript picked up by HarperTeen and work with editor Alyson Day. My revision letter arrived in my mailbox on December 19th. It wasn’t so long, only four pages (I have friends whose letters are twelve + pages long). But within those four pages was a month and a half worth of work (compared to my agent’s four pages, which took about three weeks to fix).
What was in this letter you ask?
An editor’s first revision letter usually addresses “big picture” issues, such as plot, character arcs and world-building. My letter helped guide me through the development of two separate characters. It also addressed the romance in the book and its pacing. All of these were things I agreed with and was eager to make work.
I finished these revisions on February 10th and sent them back to my editor. She’s reading them now with red pen in hand, getting another letter ready for the second round! From my understanding, the second round of edits focuses on smaller things—individual scenes. There is also a line-edit, where your editor goes through the novel line by line and focuses on language (awkward sentences, repeated words, etc.).
But wait. There’s more!
If you’re lucky and your revisions get approved after the second round, then you will go on to copy-edits. Copy editors check your story for grammatical, cultural and historical accuracy. In my case, they will probably tear my story apart for American words and turns of phrase (my characters are all British).
After copy edits, the author has to read through the galley of the manuscript and look for typos (those pesky things are everywhere!). Then, and only then, is the book finally out of the writer’s hands.
Oh hold on! Don’t forget you just finished the rough draft of your next novel!
I think it’s safe to say, a writer’s work is never done.
There are a ton of blog posts out there on how to write, what to write, and everything in between. This is an odd post for me, because I'm promoting... well, not writing.
I don't know if it's just because revisions drained me, or because school and work are so consuming, but I haven't written anything new for a while now. Not even on the blog! Author Elana Johnson just explored this today, too. What she said rang so true with me: I don't force myself to write everyday. If I don't feel like it, I don't. I'll feel the writing tug again. But right now, I'm not. And so I'm not writing. Sometimes it's okay to just be a person too.
I think sometimes writers feel this pressure to write, just because it's what we're good at. It's what we do. Sure, we also love it, but sometimes too much of something can destroy that. Pushing ourselves is only good to a point. I remember my mom used to say that balance was so important. As kids have a tendency to do, I ignored it, thinking there was no such thing as writing too much. I get what she was saying, now.
Not that I'm done writing, of course not! I just need to take a step back and let the passion build again. Do the mountain of dishes. Go grocery shopping. Read a book. Catch up on Supernatural. You may have noticed that I haven't been by the blog in a while. Right now it's all about the balance. I do check the sites I follow every morning, and I miss you all, but I'm taking a few days. When was the last time you did the same?
Authors are asked over and over, "Are your characters based on anyone you know?" Usually the answer is no. Sometimes I wonder if the question should be altered slightly to get a different answer. What if they were asked, "Are any of the scenes in your book based off real-life experiences?"
While it would be quite impossible for, say, a girl to meet a boy who sparkles in the sun, it is not impossible for her to fall in love with a boy in biology class. Granted, authors are people with wild imaginations. But sometimes I do find myself wondering if anything in their writing is the slightest bit personal. Does the author truly know what heartbreak feels like, based off this dark description? Does the author really know how to play a piano with such melancholy that the listener is tempted to weep?
There have been a couple instances during my writing that I have, in fact, drawn off my own memories to make a scene more vivid. To give you an example, I'm going to tell you a short, embarrassing story.
In my small town, there aren't many bookstores. So when I first moved here I selected my favorite and frequent it quite often. Over time I noticed a man who works there... well, let's just say that he's easy on the eyes. Very, very easy. When I'm not immersed in finding that next riveting book, I catch myself sneaking sideways glances at him. (Hmm. That sounds a little stalker-y. But I promise, I have no idea where he lives. And I've only snuck one picture of him on my cell phone... kidding.) Anyway, I have never learned anything more about him besides the fact that he is efficient at running my credit card through the register. I never wanted to learn anything more, really. He was a part of my bookstore experience. So much so that I associated him with only with the store, as if he didn't exist anywhere else.
One day I was running errands. It was a wet, windy day, and I was muttering under my breath everything I needed to get done. (What? You don't do that?) Eventually I ran into the post office, and I imagine I looked like an asylum escapee with my rat's nest hair and wild eyes. I ran smack into someone, scattering the contents of my purse everywhere. Before the boulder could offer help I scooped everything up and shot a quick apology their way. Then I happened to raise my gaze.
The Greek god was staring down at me. My heart stuttered in shock. "You work at the bookstore!" I heard myself blurt.
Poor guy. Clearly startled, he blinked. "Uh, yeah..." he began after a moment. Flustered, embarrassed, I gave him a quick nod and promptly left. Forgetting that I had gone to the post office in the first place to actually mail something.
It occurs to me, dear readers, that I sound pretty crazy. Understand that normally I'm not so... strange. I hope. Maybe. You might have to ask my friends. There was just so much to do that day, and my mind was somewhere else, and how had my Greek god left Book Olympus? The idea of it sounds stupid, perhaps, but I'm hoping it makes sense to someone out there.
Is there a point to telling you this? Why, yes, there is. The point is, I returned to the manuscript I was working on and discovered an opportunity to recreate the scene in the post office. My poor character found herself face-to-face with someone she hadn't been expecting, and she proceeded to spout the most obvious statement in the history of obvious statements. Mortifying but lively, no? It was still so painfully present in my mind that when my betas later read it, they laughed.
Don't be afraid to put a little of yourself in the story, sometimes! Don't hesitate to incorporate your own emotions when the opportunity arises. Because once in a while, you may be pleasantly surprised.