On Writing Through Everything

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Not too long ago, one of my lovely Twitter followers asked me how I made myself write through college in order to complete Beyond the Red. And I immediately knew it wasn’t an answer I was going to be able to fit in a tweet or two. 

So…I’ve mentioned this before, but I didn’t actually start writing with the intention of getting published in college. I started young. Like, pre-HS young. And I had pretty serious ambitions of getting published as a teen, but that didn’t happen, which is fine, but anyway.

The point is, for me, by the time I started college, I’d already developed a habit of writing. I wrote during all of my free time, I finished homework early so that I could write, I wrote during class—I was writing or thinking about writing all the time. So when I started college, it really wasn’t all that different. 

For Beyond the Red specifically, I wrote it over a summer. If I remember correctly, I started just as my college semester ended, and drafted, revised, CPed, and revised again until I started querying in September. 

Ultimately, I wasn’t, and I’m not, doing anything different from any other writer. All it comes down to is developing a habit and sticking to it.

The thing is, no matter when you start writing, there will always be other things that could take time away from writing. Homework, job work, kids, adult responsibilities, family issues, emergencies, health problems—the distractions and responsibilities that require time are just a part of life. If your aim is to write, and write professionally, you have to learn how to write even when you’re at your busiest. This means getting up early to write, or staying up late to write, or writing on your lunch break or instead of watching Netflix. 

It also means writing when you don’t want to. And writing when you feel uninspired. And writing when you’re tired, or would rather be doing something—anything—else. 

I’m not going to pretend it’s always easy, because it’s not. There are days where writing feels like dragging yourself through mud. But ultimately, if writing is your dream and telling stories is what you love, I think you’ll find that the good days and the end result are more than worth it. 

But the only way to get there, of course, is to get your butt in a chair and write.

What do you think? How do you juggle writing with your other responsibilities?

Twitter-sized bites:
How do you juggle writing with your other responsibilities? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)  
.@Ava_Jae says if you want to write professionally, you'll need to write when you don't want to. What do you think? (Click to tweet)

Writing Tip: Don’t Be Afraid of Said

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NOTE: Today is the day! If you've been curious about Beyond the Red's cover, you need be curious no longer—the cover is NOW live on YA Books Central's blog! And I have it on good authority there miiiiight be something ARC-ish you guys can win. YAY! 

So every once in a while I come across writers online who mention trying to avoid “said” in their writing. And I’m not 100% sure how this not-so-foolproof advice started, but I suspect it has to do with avoiding repetition in writing.

As I’m sure many of you know, a common critique in any sort of writing is the accidental repetition of certain words and phrases. Usually this comes through with writer ticks—everyone has a couple crutch words or phrases that they often unconsciously insert into their work while writing, and the ticks often even change manuscript to manuscript. That’s normal and easy to fix, and yes, should be adjusted particularly when it happens often enough to draw attention to itself.

“Said,” however, is not usually a word you have to worry about overusing. To a point.

When it comes to writing dialogue, "said" is a somewhat magical word because it’s largely invisible. The only time it really becomes noticeable is if too many dialogue tags are used, for example:
“Hello,” Mary said.
“Hello,” Bob said.
“How’ve you been?” Mary said.
“I’ve been great, and yourself?” Bob said.
“We’re using too many dialogue tags,” Mary said.
“I think you’re right,” Bob said. 
You get the idea.

Now, that’s not to say that you can’t (or shouldn’t) vary up dialogue tags—to avoid situations like the above terrible example, you do want to drop dialogue tags, use action tags, and when relevant, use tags other than “said.” But generally, it’s best not to get too fancy with dialogue tags because anything that isn’t “said” (or a dropped tag altogether) draws attention to itself.

For example:
“Hello,” Mary uttered.
“Hello,” Bob pontificated.
“How’ve you been?” Mary inquired.
“I’ve been great, and yourself?” Bob articulated.
“These dialogue tags are a little distracting,” Mary communicated.
“I think you’re right,” Bob concurred. 
Again, you get the idea.

Generally, this is something I don’t really worry about while first drafting—I just use whatever dialogue or action tags come to mind. But for those of you who worry about overusing said, particularly in the first draft, I encourage you not to worry about it. While there’s absolutely always a balance to aim for, if you find yourself reaching for the thesaurus to look up another word for “said” you may want to hit the pause button.

What do you think? Do you worry about overusing “said”?

Twitter-sized bites: 
Worried about overusing “said”? Writer & assistant editor @Ava_Jae says not to be. #writetip (Click to tweet
When it comes to writing dialogue, @Ava_Jae says "said" is invisible. What do you think? (Click to tweet)

Vlog: How I Plot

You asked, I answered: today I'm breaking down my plotting process. 


RELATED LINKS: 


Twitter-sized bites: 
"I look at my outline as a guideline rather than a strict rulebook." —Writer @Ava_Jae on plotting. #writetip (Click to tweet)  
Not quite sure how to start plotting your book? Writer @Ava_Jae vlogs about her process. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page #13

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Somehow, we’re nearing August, which is somewhat terrifying and also how is this summer nearly over? Yeesh.

Anyway! We’ve got this month’s first page critique all set up! As these things go, I'll start by posting the full first 250 excerpt, after which I'll share my overall thoughts, then my redline critique. I encourage you guys to share your own thoughts and critiques in the comments (I'm just one person with one opinion!), as long as it's polite, thoughtful, and constructive. Any rude or mean comments will be unceremoniously deleted.

Here we go!

Title: STARBOUND

Genre/Category: Adult Fantasy

First 250: 

“Evening memos never brought good news, and I could smell one in my mailbox. The once beloved sweet, gassy smell of barrel-printing was now the odor of tightened belts and knotted purses. I picked up the page and hissed as the edge sliced the pad of my little finger. 
I sucked my finger and read an order to discharge 30% of my Mental Recovery patients by next week, to prepare for the legions of soldiers returning home from the war. I'd have to choose as if anyone in a bed now was staying in a hospital for the cuisine and ambiance. Who was too mad to leave? Who was sane enough to go? 
I stuffed it in my coat pocket, jogging downstairs and out the front door. 
An Autumn breeze kissed my cheeks, a friend I hadn't met in years. The evening air had a streak of Winter in it, a promise of frost on the grass in the morning and nothing at all of Laneer's everlasting Summer and gunfire. Home. For a moment I believed it. I'm home. 
The heavy door of the hospital swung shut behind me. I lit a cigarette and curled my hand around it to hide the tell-tale light of the burning end, shifted to put a graystone pillar between me and the tree with the best line of sight to the front door. I grimaced at my foolishness, but the band of tension along my shoulders eased. 
Sixteen men. I had to choose them and send them home.”

What an interesting start! Overall, I think this is really well-written, and I like the tension we get right from the first sentence. The conflict is established right away, we get a hint of world building without an info dump and we feel right away for the protagonist, who seems to be a decently nice person stuck in a tough situation. The main tweaks I’m noticing are in-line adjustments (and small ones at that), so I think this is pretty good shape. :)

Let’s take a look at in-line edits:

“Evening memos never brought good news, and I could smell one in my mailbox. Not a huge deal here, because it kind of works, but I still think this could be more visual if the filter phrase was removed and the sentence was re-worded slightly. The once beloved sweet, gassy smell of barrel-printing was now the odor of tightened belts and knotted purses. Great imagery, here. Very evocative. I picked up grabbed the page and hissed as the edge sliced the pad of my little finger. 
I sucked my finger and read an —the order read to discharge 30% of my Mental Recovery (Is this capitalized for a reason?) patients by next week, to prepare for the legions of soldiers returning home from the war. I'd have to choose as if anyone in a bed now was staying in a hospital for the cuisine and ambiance. Who was too mad to leave? Be careful with the implication of craziness—having a mental illness/disorder does not equate to being crazy, and a lot of people take offense to the implication/stereotype. It's not a great thing to perpetuate. Who was sane enough to go? 
I stuffed it in my coat pocket, jogging downstairs and out the front door. 
An Autumn breeze kissed my cheeks, a friend I hadn't met in years. Is there a book-related reason the seasons are capitalized? I’m not sure. The evening air had a streak of Winter in it, a promise of frost on the grass in the morning and nothing at all of Laneer's everlasting Summer and gunfire. Home. GREAT world building here, and I absolutely love the imagery of an everlasting summer and gunfire. Gorgeous. For a moment I believed it. I'm home. 
The heavy door of the hospital swung shut behind me. I lit a cigarette and curled my hand around it to hide the tell-tale light of the burning end,. I shifted to put a graystone pillar between me and the tree with the best a direct line of sight to the front door. I grimaced at my foolishness, I’d like to see this reworded a bit. Why is it foolishness? Is her smoking outside foolish? Hiding behind the pillar foolish? What exactly is going on in her head? If we can see her chastising herself internally with some thoughts, it’d be much even more powerful than what you have here. but the band of tension along my shoulders eased. This is nice, though. I like this. 
Sixteen men. I had to choose them and send them home.What will happen to the men she sends home prematurely? I think it’d be good to get a hint of that in here somewhere, just so we truly understand the stakes.

Overall, as I said, I think this is really well done and the tweaks are minor. If you’re careful with wordiness and give us a bit more of a hint on the stakes at play here, I think you’ll be completely set with this first 250. If I saw this in the slush, I’d keep reading!

I hope this helps! Thanks for sharing your first 250, Angela!

Would you like to be featured in a Fixing the First Page Feature? Keep an eye out for the next giveaway!

Twitter-sized bite:
.@Ava_Jae talks vivid imagery and setting the stakes in the 13th Fixing the First Page critique. (Click to tweet)

A Basic Genre Index (Part Two)

So part one of the genre index was a success! And I promised you guys part two, so here it is. I know this doesn’t cover every genre ever (there are wayyyyyyy too many, especially if you go into subgenres and subgenres of subgenres!) but I do think these two posts cover the major ones. I hope.

Enjoy!

Mystery
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Oftentimes (though not always), these involve a body and figuring out who is behind it. Sometimes it’s many bodies. Often it features the detective (whether an actual detective or someone just taking on the role of detective) trying to solve the case. These tend to be spooky and exciting and usually end with a confrontation between the killer and the protag and sometimes blend with Thrillers. Even when it doesn’t involve a killer though, there is some kind of mysterious circumstance that the protagonist is trying to puzzle out. And the stakes are often high.

Examples: The Good Girl by Mary Kubica, The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith, Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver, The Dead Key by D.M. Pulley, All the Little Pieces by Jilliane Hoffman, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel. (Others)



Historical Fiction
Credit: Sweet Carolina Photography (Flickr)


As the title would suggest, this is fiction that takes place in the past—the real past, that is. (Otherwise you’re talking Historical Fantasy, which is related, but not quite the same.) The past can be anything from BC times to medieval times, to Tudor-era or Regency or something else. Generally, it’s a time period that’s considered historical though, and of course the story that takes place isn’t true.

Examples:
The Help by Kathryn Stockett, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson, Atonement by Ian McEwan, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory, The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan, The Notorious Pagan Jones by Nina Berry, Tangled Webs by Lee Bross. (Others)



Contemporary Romance
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This is romance that takes place today! In our world. With no supernatural creatures or superpowers. Romance is at its heart (as opposed to non-romance Contemporary), and these are stories that could actually happen.

Examples: Trust the Focus and Make It Count by Megan Erickson, Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, Days Like This by Danielle Ellison, Second Position by Katherine Locke, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, When We Collided by Emery Lord, The Sound of Us by Ashley Poston, The Night We Said Yes by Lauren Gibaldi, Last Year’s Mistake by Gina Ciocca, Hello, I Love You by Katie M. Stout, The Revenge Playbook by Rachael Allen, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han. (Others)

For more info on writing (NA) contemporary romances, check out this post.



Erotica
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This is romance that is super steamy and explicit. The focus, here, is the sex. Without the sex, there isn’t a story (unlike most Romances where sex emphasizes the story, but the story wouldn’t fall apart without it, necessarily). If you’re looking for a sexy read that doesn’t spare any details, this is where you want to go.

Examples: Changing His Game by Megan Erickson, Beautiful Bastard by Christina Lauren, Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James, Rush by Maya Banks, Up in Smoke by Tessa Bailey, The Best Laid Plans by Tamara Mataya, Strings by Kendall Grey, Crash into You by Roni Loren, The Siren by Tiffany Reisz, Fast, Fresh, and Hot by Eliza Madison. (Others)


Contemporary
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Like Contemporary Romance, these books in our world and could actually happen—the difference is that the romance (if there is one) isn’t necessarily the glue that holds everything together. These books cover other issues that are the point and may or may not have a romantic subplot (versus a romantic main plot). They also tend to be really voice-heavy and memorable for the writing itself.

Examples: I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio, Made You Up by Francesca Zappia, Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton, Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon, Between the Notes by Sharon Huss Roat, Love May Fail by Matthew Quick. (Others)


Magical Realism
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So this is probably the hardest one to define. The way I understand it, Magical Realism is similar to Contemporary in that it usually takes place in a world very much like our own, but there’s an extra something that couldn’t be real. Maybe the something is a curse, or a chance to re-do your day, or a magical substance in an otherwise normal town. Think of it as Contemporary with a twist—but the twist can’t be so huge that it becomes Paranormal or Fantasy. It’s a fine line.

Examples: Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King, The Status of All Things by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton, Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende, Landline by Rainbow Rowell, Every Day by David Levithan, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby. (Others)

Twitter-sized bites:
Do you find genres confusing? @Ava_Jae breaks down more common genres in part two of her genre index. (Click to tweet)  
Mystery, Historical Fiction, Magical Realism and more—how well do you know your genres? (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Giveaway Winner #13!

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Quick off-schedule post today to announce the winner of the thirteenth fixing the first page feature giveaway! *drumroll*

The winner is…

ANGELA MAYFAIR!

Yay! Congratulations, Angela! Expect an e-mail from me shortly.

Thank you to all you lovely entrants! If you didn't win, as always, there will be another fixing the first page giveaway next month, so keep an eye out! :)

How to Write a Synopsis (Sorta)

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  1. Realize you can no longer put off writing your synopsis. 
  2. Open up a Word doc. 
  3. Write “[INSERT TITLE] Synopsis” at the top. 
  4. Center it. 
  5. Change the formatting of the post to Times New Roman, point 12 font. 
  6. Tap your fingers on your desk. 
  7. Compose a tweet about how much you hate synopsis writing. 
  8. Feel validated by the groanings of fellow writers agreeing with you. 
  9. Go back to your synopsis.
  10. Copy and paste the first two paragraphs of your back cover copy summary—just for inspiration!
  11. Rewrite a single sentence.
  12. Open up the book document and scroll through the scenes to jog your memory.
  13. Go back to your synopsis.
  14. Write a few sentences.
  15. Delete a few sentences.
  16. Compose an e-mail to your agent or CPs, debating whether or not a synopsis is really necessary.
  17. Delete the e-mail.
  18. Grovel at your desk.
  19. Go get a snack. You’ve worked hard. It’s lunch time.
  20. Back to the synopsis.
  21. Write a blog post about how to sorta write a synopsis.
  22. Pound it out, one sentence at a time, until you finally—finally!—get into the zone.
  23. Eventually get to the end.
  24. Cry tears of joy.
  25. Then weep tears of despair—because your synopsis is three pages too long.
  26. Agonize over condensing your synopsis until it fits on two to three pages.
  27. Agonize more over creating a one page version.
  28. Send it to critique partners who have read the book and pray they don’t suggest changes.
  29. They suggest changes.
  30. Make said changes, declare it COMPLETE and vow never to write another synopsis again. You know. Until the next book.

And for some real advice, check out this ridiculously amazing synopsis post from Susan Dennard that I basically go to every time I need to write a synopsis.

What tips do you have for synopsis writing?

Twitter-sized bite:
Writer @Ava_Jae shares how to write a synopsis in thirty steps. Kind of. (Click to tweet)
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