First Story Part 2 – How To Write It

mood01So how do you get a 9-year-old to write a story? Sure, it’s hard to get his butt in the chair and actually write, but once there, what does he do? What have they taught him in grade 4?

Much to my shock, it’s actually quite a bit. And yet, it’s also quite simple.

Here’s the thing. There are hundreds and hundreds of books about how to craft a story. Seems everyone has an idea. Stephen King. James Scott Bell. Dilbert.

But looking at the 5 page hand out the teachers gave The-Youngest, it made me realize that sometimes it’s actually not that complex.

Forget the 400 page books on character. Forget the tomes on plot. Forget everything about what you’ve read. Here’s how to write.

Like you were 9 and you had nothing in your head on how to actually do it.

#1. Ask what if. It’s that easy. It’s the basics of story-telling. What if you were transported to the minecraft world? What if you were an NHL goalie and you were in a shootout for the Stanley Cup? What if you were a new Stepdad and spent most the time being constantly confused and bewildered?

What if we could bring dinosaurs back to life?

What if we could bring dinosaurs back to life?

All stories can start from there. All of them. What if Dinosaurs came back to life? Jurassic Park. What if a giant shark decided to attack a beach community? Jaws. What if there was a school for wizards and by writing about it, you could make billions of dollars? Harry Potter. What if women liked porn and bad writing? Fifty Shades of Grey.

See? If in doubt, start with what if.

#2 But where can you get the what if ideas? Try, Building Ideas With Memories. I call it mining your own life, but it’s the same thing. The-Youngest looked at what he did on vacation, what made him scared, what hobbies he had, what events in his life were important.

#3 Begin with Something Happening. In the case of The-Youngest, he had to follow “The night I followed the (blank), this happened”. So, “The night I followed the cat and the cat had to fight a dog.” Isn’t this the essence of how to get a story going? A character, in movement (following), another character, (a cat or turtle or bunny) when something happens.

So, what could happen in Minecraft? Or in an NHL game? Or to some poor stepdad who has no idea how to scorekeep?

After much thinking and talking with The-prettiest-girl-in-the-world, aka his mom, he settled on a minecraft story.

#4 Figure out who your good character is. Figure out your bad guy. What traits do they have? What defines them? Make notes.

Dark Knight succeeds mostly due to its characters

Dark Knight succeeds mostly due to its characters

All stories, yes, all stories, succeed or fail on their characters. Howard the Duck sucked so bad because, well, Howard the Duck sucked so bad. The Dark Knight succeeded because it had a tortured Batman and one of the greatest villains of all time, Heather Ledger’s Joker.

So, The-Youngest made himself a list of traits. (Interestingly enough, one trait was that the bad guy was good looking, while his good guy was ‘not good looking.’ Hmmmm. Interesting.

#5 When you write, use feeling words. It’s how we connect to the characters. We need to feel what they feel if we are to feel for them. Wait, does that make sense? It sounded good in my head, but whatever, think about how your character reacts to what happens. Not just physically, but emotionally. How does it affect them?

Annoyed. Scared. Disgusted.

He made a list.

#6 Use your senses. Smell. Taste. Sound. Sight. Touch.

This is to draw us into the world. A world with 5 senses becomes real. It becomes relatable. Now, I’m not sure he actually remembered this in his final draft, but it’s something to keep in mind when writing. Eating zombie flesh tastes yucky, right? Smells bad too, right? But how does it taste? How would it feel in your hands? What details are so totally gross that you can barely stand to look at it?

He may have forgotten about this one a bit. As do I.

#7 How does your story begin? How does it end?

I always know this, but I struggle with the middle. Still, as a learning tool, it’s vital. If you know where it starts, you can, uhm, you know, start, and if you know where the story is going, where it will end, you can throw things at the characters that prevent them from getting there. Until they do. The end.

#8 Then you write.

Seriously.

So he began with an idea.

What if someone hacked into his minecraft account and destroyed his valuable supply of diamonds, blocks of gold and stacks of ender pearls?

He worked on his characters, the good guys, Florence and Flo. He worked on his bad guys who had made a fatal mistake of leaving a small electronic trail F&F could follow and exact revenge.

He knew where he wanted to start, he used a few ‘feeling’ words, and he wrote a pretty damn good story.

It is here if you want to read it.

Nothing like a good minecraft story

Nothing like a good minecraft story

FLOYD AND FLORENCE’S MINECRAFT ADVENTURE

This is a story about how 2 cousins named Floyd and Florence helped the police capture Henry and Jerry. They are wanted all over canada for major robberies. Floyd is 15 and Florence is 12. Floyd is an expert minecrafter and Florence is a noob at the game. Florence is staying for the summer break at Floyds house.

 Floyd helped Florence make a tree house. Florence learned how to place a block, how to hit, how to move, how to mine and how to craft. Together they created a giant castle with a moat.They have 3 double chests full of diamond blocks. These are super hard to get.

One night when Floyd is out with Florence at mc donalds, SOMEONE BROKE IN TO Floyds back door and went straight after the computer. They put it in their bag and they left. Henry and Jerry (the bad guys) hacked into Floyds computer and got on their server. They destroyed Floyd and Florence’s castle but they accidently left a sign there saying where their campsite is on the server. Floyd and Florence were very upset at first but then remembered that they had a backup laptop hidden in the basement.

While Florence is asleep Floyd goes on to the backup computer and gets the server. He follows the sign Henry and Jerry put there and he finds their camp site and gets their stuff back. Floyd sets up a trap at the camp site so when they go in their big main shack it will blow up. The trap is also a virus. It tells the police where they live.

When the police get to Henry and Jerry’s they arrest them. They find $3,000,000 worth of stolen things. Floyd and Florence get rewarded $1,000,000 and really good laptops. Floyd and Florence bought a lot of NERF GUNS and video games. Their parents let them play Minecraft any time they wanted.

the end

I was so proud of him. The ending even made me laugh.

It’s amazing what your children can teach you. In this case, it was to remember, at the end of the day, a story is pretty simple (and writing one can even be fun!)

Describe description

Joe’s Post #165

potterWell, it’s time for me to do a series. Every book I write I envision as a trilogy so I’m all about coming up with one idea and making a ton of books from it. Like JK Rowling. Only she’s super successful.

Anyway, for the next few weeks, I want to look at the basics. Plot. Theme. Characters. Dialogue. Pacing. And the toughest nut for me to crack – Emotion. Not that I’ll give you any great advice (I’ll leave that for others), but I want to explore those topics a bit. As a writer.

First up (you guessed it) – Description.

For some people, description comes easy. Like Joe Montana throwing a football. Or Donald Trump insulting people. Or the Canucks losing.

For me, it’s a struggle. I want to move on with plot and character and if the reader can’t see what’s in my head, then that’s their problem, not mine, right?

One day, Apple or Google or that Elon Musk robot will invent a virtual book that downloads what’s in the writer’s mind. Until that day (and God help me if they don’t put some sort of adult content filter in there), I have to come up with decent descriptions of my characters and the places they inhabit.

Drawings might work, sure, or fancy-schmancy photos but (sadly), not many best sellers come with pictures. At least until I write one…

So that leaves me having to come up with settings that ring true.

If you want to check out a few authors who have recommendations on this, check out the links below, but let me tell you about how I get the job done.

My 4 rules on it are…

  • Setting MUST be seen through the eyes of your character. I mean, look at how an undercover cop would walk into a restaurant. He’d look for exits, people not donutssupposed to be there, and donuts. An interior decorator might notice how the the blood pooling on floor clashes with the green and yellow checkered floor. An erotic novelist might notice the hunky guy working in the kitchen, shirtless from the heat, his six pack glistening with sweat while he washes his giant cucumber. (Like in life, we all see things differently.)
  • I must have a photo or painting of the place, or have visited it myself. A picture is good, and even with google maps, I can haul out all sorts of interesting details. But nothing beats being there. Why? Because I can get an idea of the other things that matter in good description. Smells. Sounds. The feel of a dusty brick. The taste of penis shaped peppers. Whatever. If I am there and using my writing brain, then I can create something that’s real, because it is real.
  • dorothyIf there aren’t pictures or I can’t be there (like going back to ancient Egypt), then I will read what other novelists have written. Want to know what the roofs of Florence were like in 1724, then read Dorothy Dunnett. But be careful, you have to trust the source. I’m not convinced everyone’s done their homework, I mean, movie-wise, look at Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood. It’s frigging painful.
  • chekovIt’s all about bringing a world to life, so I do my best to add small details. Like my man Chekov said…

So that’s how I get it done. Or at least try to.

I can rely on my imagination, but unlike a friend of mine who can picture a whole scene in her novel like a movie in her head, my mind is a disorganized jumble of images and thoughts. Do I have to pick up the kids? What are my key plot points? What’s that song I keep hearing in my head? Where did I leave my iphone? What characters will be on stage in this scene? What themes will I forget about? Who was that half-naked woman that I looked up because of, ah, research?

No room for organized description, you see. Reality is my only hope.

So… How do you do description?

Links

11 Secrets to Writing Effective Description (cuz 10 isn’t good enough)

3 Must Know Ways for Creating Meaningful Settings. (K.M. Weiland includes my most difficult of writing challenges  Emotion!)

Stephen King (though he pretty much says ignore everything I just said and write, dammit!)

Novel Writing Help  (with some good examples)

Word Painting (more cool ideas)

What you never knew about bestsellers

bestsellers

Silk’s Post #126 — Okay, okay … this post really should be titled “What I never knew about bestsellers.” Maybe you’re even more of a book trivia geek than I am, and all this is old hat to you, but look at it this way: I got you to read this far on the slightly dubious claim of my title’s hook.

That should be your first clue that the hallowed term “bestseller” is a bit of a trickster.

Poking around the net for blog fodder today, I had one of those “I wonder” moments that often turn into deep wormholes of hypnotic surfing. What exactly is a bestseller? Surely there are some sort of defined metrics, like gold or platinum records in the heyday of the music business.

After all, there are a lot of books on the shelf that are labelled “bestseller” right there on the cover. They must have qualified for that claim somehow, right? Sold a certain number of copies … or flew off the shelves at some measurable rate of speed … or sold more copies than some defined group of other books.

I mean, you can’t just call your book a bestseller without something to back up your claim. Can you? The truth-in-advertising squad would drag you off to the hoosegow. The book police would revoke your license to write, and possibly speak harshly to your publisher. You’d be outed online as the heinous fraud that you are, and Amazon would drop your title like a bag full of snakes.

Yes, I know. I’m a hopeless dreamer when it comes to thinking words actually mean something.

The whole topic of “bestsellers” is filled with fascinating mystique, myths and interesting surprises. In fact the term itself, according to our old friend Wikipedia, is quite modern:

“‘Bestseller’ is a relatively recent term, first recorded in print in 1889 in the Kansas City newspaper The Kansas Times & Star, but the phenomenon of immediate popularity goes back to the early days of mass production of printed books. For earlier books, when the maximum number of copies that would be printed was relatively small, a count of editions is the best way to assess sales.”

But in the days when copyright laws barely existed, publishing was something of a free-for-all, apparently, and piracy was rampant. (As late as the mid-1800’s, America was still essentially an open domain in which even popular authors like Mark Twain couldn’t rely on royalties as a source of income). In such an open marketplace, it’s doubtful that anyone effectively kept track of who printed, sold or bought how many of what books.

Today, of course, things are different. We live in a world of bean counters and computers. Surely somebody must know the sales numbers behind modern bestsellers.

Yes, well. It seems to be a matter of perspective. And lists.

Many, many lists.

Fiction lists, non-fiction lists, genre lists, lists of children’s books, hardcover lists, paperback lists, trade paperback lists, indie lists, consolidated lists, Amazon lists, Publishers Weekly lists, and the granddaddy of lists, The New York Times bestseller list.

Many of these lists use their own particular, even proprietary, methods of ranking bestsellers based on a variety of sources. Some use both wholesale and retail sales. Some use sales only from certain kinds of outlets, such as independent bookstores. Amazon has created its own closed universe, which ranks books hourly based solely on sales on their own website. The New York Times method for bestseller rankings is apparently as closely guarded a secret as the Coca Cola formula.

So, yes. Everything these days is tracked and measured, but it seems ranking bestsellers is often as much an art as a science. And of course, there’s also the promotion factor. Show me a ranking list of anything and I’ll show you 100 interested parties whose job it is to get their “property” further up the list – whether it be an athlete, a political candidate, a car, a liveable city, a recording, or a bestselling book. Did I say 100 promoters? I meant 1,000.

But in all this swirl of rankings, there must be some magic quantity of books you have to sell to be called a “bestseller” – some numerical threshold. A million? A hundred thousand? Surely not fewer than that. After all, not one of the seven Harry Potter books sold less than 50 million copies. Even Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time sold 10 million copies. And that’s a science book, for crying out loud!

Still, my inner skeptic is suspicious about the sheer number of books that claim bestseller status. Either the sales threshold is lower than might be expected, or there’s an astronomical number of books being consumed these days. Or perhaps the “bestseller” designation on many books is, well, a bit of a stretch to be taken with a grain of salt.

A little digging yielded scant, but surprising results. Here in Canada the numbers are famously depressing, or elating, depending on whether you’re a glass-half-full or a glass-half-empty person. Reportedly, if you sell a total of 5,000 copies of your book you can call it a bestseller!

In the US, the stakes are higher, and typically factor in both number of books sold and the speed at which they’re moving. By some accounts, you need to sell 9,000 copies of your book in the first week of its release to hit the New York Times bestseller list. However, the blogosphere is full of discussions about such sales thresholds, with some claiming that it’s possible to achieve the Nirvana of NYT bestsellerdom with sales of just 5,000 books per week. This set bestselling author and blogger Tess Gerritsen to wondering whether anyone in America is reading books these days. “When a mere 5,000 book buyers determine the top sellers in a country of 300 million people, the industry is in trouble,” she wrote.

Bestselling author and entrepreneur Danielle LaPorte, whose blog reaches 200,000 readers, decodes The NYT list with an insider’s eye. Her introduction is as revealing as it is entertaining:

“Powerful. Elusive. Mysterious. Coveted. Nonsensical. Magical. Antiquated. Leading edge. This sums up most opinions of The New York Times bestseller list. It’s an ever-evolving system of measurement and reward that publishers and authors toil to understand and optimize. Writing an amazing book is a very small part of achieving a ‘bestseller’.”

On Amazon, the bestseller numbers are, if such a thing is possible, even more obscure. This monster outlet – acknowledged to be the largest bookseller in America – is now thought be responsible for about 30% of all print book sales, with some estimating that an average of about 300 copies sold per day will get you on Amazon’s top five list.

Award-winning author Kailin Gow, who has learned the art of tracking her own bestsellers on the lists, tried to explain it all in a piece for Fast Company, titled “What Being a ‘Bestselling Author’ Really Means.”

I confess that everything I read merely confirmed what I already deeply suspected: the entire business of “bestseller” rankings is opaque to mere mortals. And maybe deliberately so.

Because there’s dark side to all this.

If you can scratch up the investment money to do it, you can buy your way onto a bestseller list. Seriously. It doesn’t come cheap, because the basic strategy is simply to buy up a sh*tload of your own books. Fast. Enough to spike the sales per day or sales per week figure into bestseller territory. There are even book promotion consultants who’ll engineer it for you, for a fee. Sound far-fetched, even creepy? It’s happening, baby.

But let me end on a high note: a list of the bestselling books of all time – books that have sold at least 50 million copies. FIFTY MILLION! This list is full of surprises too. But be forewarned: such a list is pretty hard to verify, and it no doubt comes with some major skews. For instance, published lists I found never included books of a religious nature, whose distribution is difficult to track (the Bible is usually thought to be the best selling book of all time, with estimates of over 5 billion copies).

I wonder if any of these authors went out and bought a few million copies of their own books just to become known as mega-bestsellers?

  • A Tale of Two CitiesCharles Dickens (1859) – 200 million (estimated)
  • Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien (1954-1955) – 150 million
  • The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1943) – 140 million
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling (1997) – 107 million
  • And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie (1939) – 100 million
  • Dream of the Red Chamber, Cao Xueqin (1754-1791) – 100 million
  • The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien (1937) – 100 million
  • She: A History of Adventure, H. Rider Haggard (1857) – 100 million
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis (1950) – 85 million
  • The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown (2003) – 80 million
  • Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill (1937) – 70 million
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling (2005) – 65 million
  • The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger (1951) – 65 million
  • The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho (1988) – 65 million
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J.K. Rowling (1998) – 60 million
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling (1998) – 55 million
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling (2000) – 55 million
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling (2003) – 55 million
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling (2007) – 50 million
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude, Garbriel Garcia Marquez (1967) – 50 million
  • Lolita, Vladimir Navokov (1955) – 50 million
  • Heidi, Johanna Spyri (1880) – 50 million
  • The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, Dr. Benjamin Spock (1946) – 50 million
  • Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery (1908) – 50 million
  • Black Beauty, Anna Sewell (1877) – 50 million
  • The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco (1980) – 50 million
  • The Eagle Has Landed, Jack Higgins (1975) – 50 million
  • Watership Down, Richard Adams (1972) – 50 million
  • The Hite Report, Shere Hite (1976) – 50 million
  • Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White (1952) – 50 million
  • The Ginger Man, J.P. Donleavy (1955) – 50 million
  • The Bridges of Madison County, Robert James Waller (1992) – 50 million
  • Ben-Hur, Lew Wallace (1880) – 50 million
  • The Mark of Zorro, Johnston McCulley (1924) – 50 million

 

 

 

Shake it, baby, shake it

Joe’s Post #102

Shake It, Baby, Shake It.

Or rather, ‘Shake it up.’

gwdtPaula’s post this week hit on an important thing. Shaking it up. She used The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo as a great example of a character that’s about as far from vanilla as rocky-road mixed with cherry-garcia.

Wait, hold on, I suddenly need to grab some ice cream for some reason.

Ok, I’m back.

Here’s the thing. As new writers, we simply have to find a way to be better. Practice alone isn’t enough. Not in this day and age. Maybe in any day and age.

So it got me a-thinkin’. And when I gets me a-thinkin’, I start looking around on the interweb to find me some good ideas and maybe somethun’ that’s kinda cool.

And this is what I found. It’s an interesting idea. A way of rethinking how to do a character’s journey.

5 Stages of Grief.

five-stages-of-grief

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ok, it’s for scripts, but the idea is sound.

Who would have thought to take your characters through the 5 stages of grief?

The first stage – Denial. This is not something I need to work on. Not ever. I’m that good … and yet when I applied it to my character it kicked up a scene to a whole different level. Ok, I haven’t written the scene, yet, but I have changed my outline and it packs a lot more of a whallop!

Especially the idea that the bigger the stakes, the more the character has to deny it.

Hmmm. That’s pretty cool, actually.

Second Stage – Anger. Again, something I am personally quite familiar with, especially when some person freaking slows down in the freaking fast lane to less than the freaking speed limit so they can check a freaking text they got from their freaking boyfriend that showed a freaking cat freaking sitting in a freaking bowl.

But for writers, I think this stage is about the big emotional payoff to whatever got them started on their adventure. Anger works, but so do other emotions. In my case, though, yup, kicking the anger up really made it seem like it mattered more. Like mattered a whole hell of a lot!

Why oh why do I persist in writing characters who are afraid of emotion? Hello, Dr. Freud, paging Dr. Freud.

Third Stage – Bargaining. If I don’t have to do this one, will it be ok? Probably not, but I had this in the outline so I’ll just think how I can kick it up a notch.

Fourth is Depression – or the protagonist’s darkest moment. Hey, if your story doesn’t have that, add it in. I saw another book that asked, what is your antagonist’s greatest moment? They can be, and usually are, the same thing.

d and hNot always, though. To me, Harry Potter’s darkest moment (spoiler alert, spoiler alert) was when he found out that Dumbledore knew Harry’s fate all along, a moment of personal betrayal so great it hollowed out my chest.

But if you can find a way to shake up that dark moment, when despair threatens to overwhelm a character, when all seems hopeless and you just found out your dad is Darth Vadar and your friends have been captured and will likely be tortured to death, yeah, find a way to do that.

Lastly – Acceptance. At the end, in the middle, even in the beginning. That catharsis of letting go can be powerful. I mean, hey, Luke Skywalker literally lets go.

Like the article says, all of these stages can be in any order or can occur over and over, again. It’s just a really clever way of shaking up a character in your story a bit.

Any other insights on how to shake it up, baby?

More ‘It’

Joe’s Post #95

I am often accused of beating a dead horse.

Well, I’m too old to stop. I want to continue to look at the ‘it’ factor.

Karalee said it might be imagination and I thought, you know what, that’s not a bad observation, especially when we’re talking books over movies. 50

Great books stir us. Fan fiction gets written. Like when E.L James read Twilight, (and drank a few glasses of wine, me thinks) it inspired her to write 50 Shades. Blogs get posted (hey, just do a search for blogs on Harry Potter  and you’ll see what I mean ). Debates get started (whole forums are filled with Game of Thrones arguments and for the record, Tyrion IS THE BEST CHARACTER in the series, ok, the best!) Costumes made.

Wait, what, we all don’t make costumes?

Paula talked about ‘it’ from a writer’s POV, like what makes her want to write. And what motivates her to write is history. Her own. Others.

I totally get that.

Silk, wrote about ‘it’ coming from the heart and even, god bless her, quoted the economist. She’s bang on, as always. ‘It’ has to come from the heart.

And that makes me realize, we’re all kinda talking about the same thing, about where ‘it’ comes from both from us as reader and writers. hope

It’ inspires us.

Characters, setting, plot, laughter, tears, hope, fears, whatever.

For a book to have ‘it’, it must make me want to do something. It must spark my imagination. I want to talk about it, write about it, live in that world…

hobbitWhen I stole the Hobbit from my brother and read it, it inspired me to write hobbit fiction, learn dungeons and dragons (yes, I am that nerdy), and make more maps than a coked-up cartographer. When I read books like Sean Slater’s Striker series, or the Jack Reachers, or The Wheel of Time or LeCarre’s spy novels, I wanted to write books like that.

But writing can inspire us in other ways. It can make us better people. (and by that I mean wear a kilt after reading Outlander). It can make us think about things we hadn’t thought about. (I must have looked up every aspect of Mars after reading the Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury – however, the less said about all the maps and pictures I drew the better.) It can make us do things we’d normally not try (Bill Bryson made me want to travel and fall down a hill, oh and make maps.)

So, every book I’ve ever written has been inspired by someone else’s book.

And I want to write a book what will inspire others to write about my character’s backstory, or the world before or after my book takes place, or what would happen if my protagonist wore a kilt and loved to bind girls with silky ties?

A lofty goal?

Sure.

But why not try?

Now, lemme think. Has my book got anything that will inspire anyone to do anything?

The most amazing YA book insight of all time

Joe’s Post #71

dr hoAre you ready for such an insight? Something so amazing it will be like Dr. Ho’s secret for weight-loss, migraines and dementia combined with Monty Python’s meaning of life?

It came to me last night as I lay in bed, eye still twitching from a day spent dealing with used car salesmen. I was reading Quarantine, a terrific book that is basically Lord of the Flies on steroids. (See, why can’t I think of a quick pitch like that?!?!) It’s not like a lot of the YA books I’ve read recently and that got me to thinking.

What makes a good YA book?

The answer? The amazing insight I had?

It varies.

Ok, I know that’s not an answer, but yet it is. Here’s the thing. A good YA book doesn’t always have to have a dystopian theme. It doesn’t have to have a female character as the protagonist. With or without a bow. It doesn’t have to be 64,000 words. Or 120,000 words. It doesn’t even have to be all light and airy.

That’s not to say there aren’t some guidelines. See the Dummies’ guide. But the more I read, the more I realize that a good story is a good story. No rules. No have-to’s. No restrictions.

city of bonesYou want sex. There’s books out there like that, some pretty hard core. You want violence, well, no big surprise, but they are out there as well. You want books about abuse and drugs, or about angel spawn and demons, or about loss and love? All there.

The key, at least for me as a reader, an old, kinda wrinkly reader, is that I have to have a few things that work. I chose all YA books off the best-seller lists (I mean, why not, all those authors are doing something right) and so clearly these books speak to them young’uns as well.

So, it varies what makes a good YA book. Like any book. But if anyone wanted to know my opinion, based on nothing more than reading a few books and having an ego that thinks everyone wants to hear my opinion, here are a few suggestions for anyone writing for that segment.

1) Big ideas help. Hunger Games. Huge. Kids killing kids so they can feed their districts. Oh, how I would have loved to see how that one was pitched.

2) Things have to happen fast.  Quarantine. Hunger Games. Read them both. Take a look. Plenty of other great examples out there but these rock. I think that more than adult fiction, YA fiction needs to grab it’s readers by the throat and not let them go.

imagesCAUTN5WE3) Character matters. Of course it does. How could it not? Take a look at Celaena Sardothien (I know, I know, that’s not an easy name to get your mouth around) from Throne of Glass. Or if you want to go all old-school, look no farther than Harry Potter (a mid-grade novel that stole the hearts of YA readers as well).

4) Voice, my friends, voice, voicie-voice McVoicie. All good novels have it. YA needs it even more. Voice is attitude. Voice is character. Voice is what sets one novel apart from another (and usually a best seller from one that gets rejections).

5) Anything goes. Oh, you doubt me? Read the Book Thief. Yes, it’s YA and one of the most beautiful and haunting books I’ve ever read. But boy oh boy, does it break the rules. Or look at Divergent. It starts with a character looking in the mirror (and who amongst us has to be told to NEVER do that?). Or even the other books I’ve cited. Harry Potter, a midgrade book that sold billions. Hunger Games, a book about children killing children. The list goes on and on.

So, as I prepare to send off my queries and pages, I have to keep this in mind. It shouldn’t matter that there isn’t a book like mine for that market. In fact, I think THAT should be a selling point. It shouldn’t matter that I’ve broken some rules. It shouldn’t even matter that it’s a wee bit longer than most.

All that matters is story – and I hope that I’ve written a good enough one.

To grab any reader.

Someone smarter than me

don0027t-leave-me---final-cover

Joe’s Post #49 — As much as I love my CHEWASS system, I wanted to pass along something I read in Writer’s Digest. It’s from one of my fav writer guru’s, James Scott Bell. He has a much bigger brain than me.

The whole article is here. The 5 Biggest Fiction Writing Mistakes (& How to Fix Them). It’s awesome. But let me look at his 5 points for a moment.

1) Happy People in Happy Land – One of my earliest realizations. Was Harry Potter happy in Potterland? Nope. Was Katniss? Nuh-uh. Even Frodo, living in an idyllic little hobbit town wanted more, wanted adventure. So, all my stories – all my characters- always begin with something bad happening. Something that will change their world.

2) A World Without Fear – Another great suggestion. He talks about the fear of death, but I think fears drive us as much as hope sometimes. I love confronting my characters with their fears, smashing their hopes, threatening their lives or those that they hold dear.

3) Marshmallow Dialogue – So easy to spot in other people’s writing. So hard to spot in your own. Best advice, read it aloud. It’s embarrassing sometimes, but very useful.

4) Predictability – Ah ha. Another Bell gem. I started using this one on my rewrite right away. It’s such great advice. How can you make a scene just a little bit unpredictable? How can you challenge the reader to really, really read your story (without, you know, being all confusing and stuff?)

thCA7NKPBW5) Lost Love – Oh this is a good one. He talks about yearning. “We yearn because we feel a lack, a need, a hole in our souls. So yearning is about connection.” Brilliant. So, thought I as I drank my forth glass of wine, what do my characters yearn for? Not their ‘want’, their goal, their driving force. What, deep down, do they need in life? That made me think a lot more about my characters and the more I thought on it, the better my characters became. Try it out on your characters and see what happens.

I guess the point of this blog was that even during the rewrite stage, even after writing one or two novels, I can still learn something. I can still do better. I can still add something more to my writing to make it sing.

Dark and Dangerous

Image courtesy Pando Hall Magnus

Image courtesy Pando Hall Magnus

Helga’s Post #31 — Today, I spent my time on something naughty: I buried my nose in EROTICA.

Inspiration came via email from Kobo. They recommended two new titles for me. The first, which I am looking forward to read, is Khaled Husseini’s new novel And the Mountains Echoed. If it’s as good as The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, then his legions of fans, including me, will be in for a treat.

The second title Kobo recommended for me (for reasons unknown) was ‘Entwined With You’ by Erotica queen Sylvia Day. Never heard of her? Take note of her accomplishments:

#1 New York Times and #1 international bestselling author of more than a dozen award-winning novels sold in thirty-nine countries. A reader favorite across several genres, there are millions of copies of her books in print worldwide. She has been nominated for the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Author, has won the RT Book Reviews Reviewers’ Choice Award, and has been nominated for Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA award twice.

I was intrigued. I was also in search of a topic for today’s post. So I started reading those ‘Look Inside’ freebie sample pages that Amazon offers.

Wow!

When I got to the end, I sat back, trying to decide if I should take a cold shower or get seriously depressed. Or start laughing out loud. The shower would be the obvious option if I wouldn’t be a writer. Seriously depressed is not my personality, so that left ROFL (‘rolling on the floor laughing’ for people of my generation).

Because, if you are a writer in a genre other than Erotica, reading the stuff will amuse you  no end (unless you are a fan of the genre, in which case writing style is irrelevant).

Think about it. We are trained, brainwashed, indoctrinated, beaten into submission, whatever, to follow some pretty universal writing rules. Such as, ‘Show, don’t tell.’ Or ‘Avoid adjectives and adverbs’. Reason being, they are your interpretation of the facts. You, the writer, should not have to do that if you present the right facts.

We pay good money to learn that stuff. It’s drilled into us from the day we start writing fiction.

It seems though that breaking the rules is quite okay for publishers of Erotica. In no way am I passing judgment on the genre. It’s good fun to read now and then if you’re able to suspend judgment on style. But I am intrigued as to how many books are published that break those rules we’ve been taught to avoid like the plague.

Not surprisingly, men are often big supporters of their wives reading the stuff. As some Erotica websites claim, husbands may be cowering under the sheets while others are writing thank you letters to these authors who have inspired their wives to turn into veritable pussycats in bed. Or tigresses. (Shades of the the fifties and sixties?)

E L James’ Fifty Shades Trilogy has sold more copies to date than the Harry Potter series (and counting). Even people who had no previous interest in contemporary romance have jumped upon (or are thinking about it) this runaway train and delving into the naughty tale of BDSM.

Help me out here, please. What does that tell us about the book publishing industry? Or (I really, really hate to pose this question), about readers? Wished I knew. What I do know is this: If I would submit chapters of my work similar to some of the books published in the genre to my critique group, they would shoot me down without so much as an apology. Instant death. Go hide below your desk and shame on you. If you survive your justified suicide attempt, go back and fix your garbage. And re-submit again without your boisterous shit and your adjectives and adverbs, and your characters no one can relate to, because they may as well live on some distant planet.

We can’t argue with success, though. I concede that I may be naïve (privilege of a certain age). Perhaps Erotica gets a ‘Get Out of Jail Free Card’ when it comes to writing rules. Whatever. It does make me ponder a fundamental question though, which one of my favorite bloggers I follow has raised:

‘Is publishing a book more important than writing the story I want to tell?’

Ah, oh. Not an either/or question. Because if we want to tell a story, by its nature, we want people to read it. And if it’s not published, that ain’t happening. But that’s a topic for another post. So in closing, for your titillating pleasure, here are some Erotica excerpts from Reflected In You (they refer to the same man):

– His glorious shoulder-length mane of inky black hair

– He was a testament to leashed power. There was no need for him to shout when he could get people to quake in their shoes with just a look or a tersely spoken word.

– At the ridiculous age of twenty-eight, he was one of the top twenty-five richest people in the world.

– I was positive he was the hottest man on the planet. And he kept photos of me everywhere he worked.

– He turned, pivoting gracefully to catch me with his icy blue gaze.

– Dark and Dangerous. And all mine.

– Those sculpted cheekbones and dark winged brows, the thickly lashed blue eyes, and those lips… perfectly etched to be both sensual and wicked.

– That look conveyed how hard and deep he wanted to fuck me – which he did every chance he got – and it also afforded me a glimpse of his raw, unrelenting force of will.

– The soft rasp in his smooth cultured voice was nearly capable of making me orgasm just listening to it.

– Confronted with that breathtaking face framed by that lustrous dark hair, I felt my knees weaken just a little.

– I was pretty sure he owned a significant chunk of Manhattan.

– He was outrageously gifted in bed. And he knew it.

– The paparazzi followed his every move.

– With a soft groan he sealed his chiseled mouth over mine.

– He straightened, shrugging off his brooding sensuality and instantly capturing me with his severe intensity. So mercurial – like me.

– His luxurious living room; his private elevator; his black Bentley SUV; a quick glance at my Rolex (all in one paragraph)

– Long enough for his brow to arch over his piercing blue eyes.

– He caught me in his fierce blue gaze.

– He purred, sprawled against the seat with the predatory insouciance of a sleek panther who’d neatly trapped a mouse in his den.

Excited yet? Take a cold shower. Or ROFL. Whatever your inclination. Either way, this genre is the ticket to riches if that’s what you’re aiming for. And you won’t have to worry about adjectives and adverbs. LOL.

I’ll have the red herring, please

redherring

Helga’s post #15 — We’ve all been there before, right? Reading that murder mystery or thriller or watching a movie in that genre: Smartass detective thinks he’s got bulletproof proof that the guy he suspected from the beginning is the one who is guilty of all the blood spilled and evil deeds galore. But, there’s still half of the book or movie left. What’s the author or filmmaker gonna do for the next 200 pages or 55 minutes to the end? Give themselves taps on the shoulder? Did they really think it’s that easy to fool their readers / audience? That said, would readers / audience sit back halfway through and congratulate themselves, saying, yup, yup, I know how it will end.

Of course not.

You see, what the writer really intended was a red herring. Not just that. Our famous writer wants it to be a red herring buried inside another red herring. Like a double cross within a double cross or a triple cross in a spy novel or movie. Even a quadruple, quintuple… you get the drift.

And what if you are the author, writing that murder mystery or producing that movie?

Writers beware! Do not make the mistake of assuming your readers are imbeciles. They might quite possibly have a higher IQ than yourself. They can read between the lines. They can figure out what you, the writer intended before you crafted that scene.

Avoid the obvious solutions. Your readers can smell a rat from far away. Avoid setting them up to swallow your equally obvious red herrings hook, line and sinker.

Because in the end, it’s you, the creator of that red herring who has been fooled. They figured it out long before you thought you’ve hidden your golden egg. False foreshadowing, or any other deliberate deception, will do a lot of harm. Like to the sales numbers of your next novel. Because it’s betraying your readers. Breaking that invisible trust.

Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy

Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy

But if red herrings are put to legitimate use, they are a great tool for the writer. By definition, a red herring is a false clue that leads readers or characters towards a false conclusion. An example can be found in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, in which the character Draco Malfoy is planning an attack against someone in the Hogwarts,  presumably Harry, which turns out to be a red herring.

May you hook the perfect specimen of that sneaky creature. And I herewith proclaim, with sincerity: Even with the clock ticking ever louder towards the finish line, I am still looking for that perfect little fish in my novel.

1-a-Murder-mystery-solved

Traitorous doubts

(Or How To Lose A Day of Writing)

Joe’s Post #8 — 

Number of pages written to date: 125

Number of movies seen: 1 (Flight)

Number of pages I should have written today: 10

Number of pages written today: 0 (reason below)

Pies eaten: 0

This week: I could see it coming.  A wall.  A big one.  Thick and tall and very, very wide.  I tried to ignore it, but the faster I went, the farther down the road I sped, the larger it loomed.  I spun the wheel, braked, swerved, then wham, bang, crash, clink, clink, clink.

I’d hit a wall.

AKA: writer’s block.

How did I hit it?

One simple question.

Had I made the right POV choice?

Oddly, it was something the other writers have written about this week.  YA, like most genres, has rules.  One of them is that it should, but doesn’t have to be, written in 1st person.

It’s actually a style I’m quite comfortable with, but one I didn’t choose for this book.  Why?  I have three stories to tell and two of them would get left out if I went only with 1st person POV.

But then the idea of 1st person POV wormed its way into my head like some sort of vile maggot.  Now I know there is a ton of dead tissue up there for the thing to feed upon because as the day wore on, the more I tried to get back to 3rd person POV, the more the maggot of doubt grew.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are books out there that use 3rd person POV.  Harry Potter, for goodness sake.  Wings.  The Inheritance Cycle.  So maybe I’m just bugging on this too much, but like it or not, that doubt ate at me all day.

Maybe it’s part of the process.  Maybe there are some days where I need to question my choices, to reinforce the decisions or reverse them.  But I hate that doubt.  Hate it!

Hopefull, by tomorrow, I will have resolved the issue one way or the other, but today, oh man, today, I lost a day of writing because of a single nasty bit of doubt.