Writing Excellent Villains Round-Up

Photo credit: Annoying Noises on Flickr
So Halloween is next week, and so is NaNoWriMo, which means now is the perfect time to talk about villains. Right? Right. 

But first, story time. 

Once upon a time, baby writer Ava thought that in order for villains to be truly villainous, they had to be super 666% evil with metaphorical twirling mustaches and maniacal laughing fits that they practiced in their (evil) mirrors. She was convinced that the best bad guys were just that—super dripping-with-evil bad. 

She was wrong. By a lot, really. 

As it turns out, I’ve found that some of the most interesting characters, whether antagonist or protagonists, aren’t completely good or completely evil—they’re gray characters. And so I wrote a post on writing gray characters

It’s also important, when developing and writing your characters, especially if you want them to feel “real,” is to figure out what they want and what their motivation is—something, I think, that’s especially important for protagonists and antagonists. It also helps to know what your characters are afraid of, because yes, even your villain has fears, too. (Or at least they should). 

Finally, I’ve learned along the way that if you don’t love your villain, chances are your readers won’t love him (or even remotely like him), either. 

Also, for fun, here are my top five favorite villains.

Now go forth and write excellent villains! 

What tips do you have for writing great villains? 

Twitter-sized bites:
In preparation for #NaNoWriMo & Halloween, @Ava_Jae shares helpful links for getting your villains right. (Click to tweet)  
Brainstorming your antagonist for an upcoming WIP? Writer @Ava_Jae shares helpful links on writing villains. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: From Contest to Book Deal

It's Tuesday vlog time! And today I'm sharing the quick version of my journey from being a runner up in a blog contest to getting a book deal. Woot! :D

Twitter-sized bite: 
Writer @Ava_Jae vlogs about her journey from blog contest to YA book deal! (Click to tweet)

Discussion: Do (Scary) Books Scare You?

Photo credit: jomudo on Flickr
So it’s nearly Halloween! And as is tradition, I’ve barely touched on Halloween-y posts at all, so I’m remedying that right now. With scary things. Sort of.

When it comes to all things horror, I’m a massive chicken. I refuse to watch horror movies of any kind and to this day often look at the floor during particularly spooky trailers in the movie theater. Probably the scariest thing I’ve watched is Supernatural (because hellooo Jensen Ackles) and I haven’t even finished the first season yet. So.

My point in mentioning all this is I have a very low tolerance for scary things. And yet I’ve yet to be scared by a book.

To be fair, I haven’t read all that much horror (with exception to Ten by Gretchen McNeil and House by Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti which were fun). I have, however, read many adult Thrillers by Ted Dekker, which remain my favorite of his works and were indeed rather eerie. (I mean, creepy serial killers and corpses galore? Yeah).

And yet...I can’t say that I’ve really had a situation where I was reading a book and I felt terrified. Creeped out? Sure. But most of the time when I’ve read something that was supposed to be scary, my brain interpreted it more as exciting and intense than anything else. And well, I like exciting and intense, so I’m not complaining. But maybe I'm reading the wrong books? Hmm.

But now I’m curious. Am I the only easily scared person who hasn’t been scared by a book? Have you had any books scare you? (If so, which?)

Twitter-sized bite: 
Have you ever been scared by a book? Join the discussion & share your spooky reads on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet

Fixing the First Page Giveaway 5

Photo credit: koalazymonkey on Flickr
It’s time again! For another first page giveaway! Yay!

The first page critiques have been fairly popular, so I’ll keep doing them as long as people keep entering. :)

For those who missed it the first time and second and third and fourth time, the Fixing the First Page features is a public first 250 word critique. Using the lovely rafflecopter widget, anyone interested in winning a PUBLIC (as in, featured in a post on this blog) first page critique can enter.

For an example of what this critique will look like, here's the last Fixing the First Page post (and the one before that and the one before that and the one before that).


  • ONLY the first 250 words will be critiqued (up to finishing the sentence). If you win and send me more, I will crop it myself. No exceptions.

  • ONLY the first page. I don’t want 250 random words from your manuscript, or from chapter 3. If you win the critique and send me anything other than the first 250 words of your manuscript, I will choose someone else.

  • I will actually critique it. Here. On the blog. I will say things as nicely as I can, but I do tend to be a little blunt. If you’re not sure you can handle a public critique, then you may want to take some time to think about it before you enter.

  • Genre restrictions. I am most experienced with YA & NA, but I will still accept MG and Adult. HOWEVER. If your first page has any erotic content on it, I ask that you don’t enter. I want to be able to post the critique and the first 250 in its entirety without making anyone uncomfortable, and if you win and you enter a page with erotic content, I will choose someone else.

  • You must have your first page ready. Should you win, you need to be able to submit your first page within 48 hours of my contacting you to let you know you won. If 48 hours pass and I haven’t heard from you, again, I will choose someone else.

  • You’ll get the most out of this if it isn’t a first draft. Obviously, I have no way of knowing if you’re handing me a first draft (though I will probably suspect because it’s usually not that difficult to tell). I won’t refuse your page if it’s a first draft, but you should know that this critique will likely be of more use if you’ve already had your betas/CPs look over it. Why? Because if you don’t, the critique I give you will probably contain a lot of notes that your betas & CPs could have/would have told you

  • There will not be a round 2 (unless you win again in a future contest). I hate to have to say this, but if you win a critique, it’s NOT an invitation to send me a bunch of your revisions. I wish I had the time available to be able to look at revisions, but sadly, I don’t. If you try to break this rule, I will nicely say no, and also remember to choose someone else should you win a second contest. Which would make me sad. :(

So that’s it! If you’re okay with all of the above and would like to enter to be the fifth public critique on Writability, do the thing with the rafflecopter widget below. You have until Wednesday, October 22 at 11:59 EST to enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Should You Query That New Agent?

Photo credit: Helga Weber on Flickr
So you're doing your agent research to find the perfect agent out there for you and you come across an agent who is new to the industry. Because you're a super savvy writer, you know the importance of research and finding agents with some experience and a good reputation, but how do you handle new agents?

Do not despair, my savvy writer friends! New agents can be totally fabulous as long as you know what to look out for.

Some questions to ask while researching (in addition to other research questions) include:

  • Where did this agent get his/her training? This is super important. Most agents intern at a literary agency (or two) before they become agent assistants, then finally begin taking on clients themselves, and quite frankly? If they don't go through that process, I would be wary. The lit agency internship/assistant position is where new agents learn tons about the business, about making connections, about everything involved in being an agent. Without this vital experience, they'll be left without connections and relationships with editors and other industry people (the importance of which really can't be overstated) as well as the training that goes into becoming an agent.

    Remember: anyone can call themselves an agent and accept queries. It's up to you to do your research and make sure they're legitimately qualified to do so. 

  • What is the reputation of his/her agency? New agents, understandably, aren't going to have many sales. This is to be expected—after all, they're new to the business and sales take time. That being said, the agency that they're working at should have a nice resume.

    The great thing about agencies is the agents can often work with each other/get tips from each other/build off of each other's expertise. This is especially helpful for new agents who could use the extra support.

    This is one of the many reasons why new agents who start their own agencies are an enormous red flag. So when you're looking at new agents, make sure you take a look at the reputation of the agency they're working at. 

Now you may be wondering why you should query new agents when there are so many excellent experienced agents out there. I've got some answers for you there, too.

Pros of new agents:

  • Actively seeking new clients. Here's the thing with experienced agents—many of them have a full client list, which is fabulous, but it also means they're going to be MUCH pickier when looking at queries (assuming they're open to queries at all, which isn't always the case). New agents, conversely, are still building up their client list and thus are often willing to look at more and consider manuscripts that might need a little more work (though this is not an excuse to not edit your manuscript. Don't do this. Ever). 

  • More time per client. This is related to the last point, but there's another plus side to having an agent with less clients, namely, that they have more time available to spend with each of their clients.

    Now that's not to say that agents with full client lists don't have time for their clients, but it DOES mean that you often have to be patient because, c'mon, you're one out of thirty-someodd people all vying for one person's attention. And each of them have books for polishing/submitting/contracting/selling/whathaveyou.

    New agents aren't initially juggling as many clients at once, so many of them have a little extra time to devote to each of their clients. And that's pretty sweet. 

Cons of new agents:

  • Less experience. I mean, obviously. But as I said above, they can make up for this by learning from their fellow agents in the agency, so as long as they're part of a reputable agency, this isn't too terrible, really. 

  • Other cons...um...that's all I can think of, really? 

Writer's Digest has really great New Agent Alerts that can be an excellent place to keep an eye out for new agents looking for clients. And also because I'm biased and I have a special love for one particular new agent, if you write Young Adult, New Adult (all genres, but mostly romance), Adult romance or picture books, you should check out Rachel Brooks' submission guidelines because she's really wonderful and actively building her client list right now. She also tweets a lot of helpful writerly tips.

Okay. I'll stop gushing now.

Go forth and query those new agents!

Have you/will you query any new agents? Why or why not? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Debating whether or not to query a new agent? @Ava_Jae shares some helpful agent researching tips. #pubtip (Click to tweet)  
Should you query that new agent? Writer @Ava_Jae shares her thoughts. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: 5 Ways to Become a Better Writer

It's Tuesday vlog time! Being a writer isn't easy, but here are five ways to help you improve your skills.

Related links: 

Awesome Industry Blogs: 

What tips do you have for improving your writing skills? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Are you a writer? @Ava_Jae vlogs about five ways to improve your writing skills. (Click to tweet)  
Trade critiques & edit your WIP = 2/5 ways writer @Ava_Jae suggests for improving your writing. What would you add? (Click to tweet

Book Review: WE WERE HERE by Matt de la Peña

Photo credit: Goodreads
Wow. So I’m not really sure where to start with this one, so I guess I’ll start where I always start, with the Goodreads summary: 
“The story of one boy and his journey to find himself. 
When it happened, Miguel was sent to Juvi. The judge gave him a year in a group home—said he had to write in a journal so some counselor could try to figure out how he thinks. The judge had no idea that he actually did Miguel a favor. Ever since it happened, his mom can’t even look at him in the face. Any home besides his would be a better place to live. 
But Miguel didn’t bet on meeting Rondell or Mong or on any of what happened after they broke out. He only thought about Mexico and getting to the border to where he could start over. Forget his mom. Forget his brother. Forget himself. 
Life usually doesn’t work out how you think it will, though. And most of the time, running away is the quickest path right back to what you’re running from.”
I have to say, We Were Here by Matt de la Peña has to be one of the rawest books I’ve read in a while—and I loved it. Miguel’s voice comes through so clear, and it’s so different from any other YA voice I’ve read, and it really fits the tone of the novel perfectly

I’m going to give an example because I love it that much: 
“You know how when you’re a kid and you get a new bad-ass rubber football for Christmas, and the morning it takes a few minutes to remember why you’re so excited? It’s like that for me, only the opposite. When I wake up, everything’s normal for a while. I’m just plain Miguel. And then suddenly it hits me what I did. It punches me right in the ribs. It screams in my ears how everything isn’t normal anymore, it’s fucked.” —pg. 125.
I mean, wow, right? 

We Were Here is written in a journal-like format, but Miguel makes a point of saying he’s not going to talk about feelings, he’s going to write exactly what happens to him. And so we learn about Mong and Rondell (who, I have to say, are extraordinarily memorable and interesting side characters), and how he ends up on the run, and the events that unfold as he and the guys are trying to get to Mexico, and the pacing is so on point—I was totally hooked from the beginning. Which is pretty great, because I don’t usually like diary/journal entry-type formats. 

I could ramble about the many things I enjoyed about this book, but instead I’m going to recommend you guys check out this fabulous YA read for an example of incredible, raw voice alone (though that’s not the only thing to praise). I really enjoyed it, and I’m rating it a five out of five. 

Twitter-sized bites: 
.@Ava_Jae gives 5/5 stars to WE WERE HERE by @mattdelapena. Have you read this raw YA Contemporary? (Click to tweet)  
Looking for a gritty YA read w/ great pacing & memorable characters? Try WE WERE HERE by @mattdelapena. (Click to tweet)
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