So You Want To Write YA Contemporary?

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It’s been a while since I’ve updated the So You Want To Write series, and apparently I never wrote about writing a YA Contemporary, so! Here we go.

What is it?

YA Contemporary novels are what is often described as “Realistic Fiction.” Except for young adults—that is, teens. These feature a world, that for all intents and purposes, is our own and usually takes place in the present, but occasionally jumps back a decade or two (but not much more than that.) There is often (but not always) some kind of romantic subplot, and sometimes (though again, not always) they are what are known as “issue books.”

The main tenant, however, is teenagers dealing with something in our world.

Pros/Cons of Writing YA Contemporary:

Pros:


  • Popular at the moment. After the explosion known as The Fault in Our Stars, YA Contemporary got a hugenormous boost, which has not only lead to a boost of new YA Contemporary novels, but also of many more YA Contemporary movie deals, which personally I think is pretty darn awesome. So right now, YA Contemporary novels are selling really well, which is fabulous, but also has a down side which I’ll get to below. 

  • Very good for diving into difficult topics. If you’re a contemporary-minded writer who’d really like to dive into a difficult topic that feels important to you, YA Contemporary is a great place to do it. Not only are those kinds of books actually selling rather well, but it also allows you to create books that could be cathartic for teens who have experienced whatever you’re writing about, or a great point of discussion for those ready to learn more. 

  • Will probably never go completely out of style. While I do think the genre is on the verge of slowing down a bit (more on that below), I kind of tend to think that books about life and reality will never completely go away. This is an opinion, of course, and I could be totally wrong, but contemporary novels have been around forever and I don’t think they’re going anywhere. 

  • Opportunity to explore teen life as it actually is today. Teen lives are rich and interesting and wonderful and painful and everything in between. And if exploring that in our world is your bread and butter, this is the genre for you.

Cons:

  • Popular at the moment. Right, so, downside of writing in a genre that is currently popular is chances are very likely you’ve already missed the wave. It also means there are still a lot of people trying to sell their YA Contemporaries in a very crowded market, but…I mean, the rest of YA is equally crowded. So. 

Recommended Reading:

I’ll keep saying this forever and ever: you must read the genre you write in. It is vital—vital—to understand what else is being published, what’s selling well, what’s not, what’s been done, what works, what doesn’t. And the only way you learn this is by reading what’s being published now.

Note: I’ve either read, want to read, or have heard amazing things about the books listed below.



Helpful Links:

Do you enjoy reading or writing YA Contemporary? Share your experience!

Twitter-sized bites:

Thinking about writing YA Contemporary? Writer @Ava_Jae shares some tips, recommendations and more. (Click to tweet)

Do you write YA Contemporary novels? Share your experience at @Ava_Jae’s So You Want to Write series. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Feature #14

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It’s nearly September and despite my extra long summer, I’m still not emotionally ready to go back to school. But! End of the month means it’s time for the next fixing the first page critique, so yay! 

As per usual, 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.

Let’s go! 

Title: SWIM

Genre/Category: YA Contemporary

First 250:

"I learned how to swim before I learned how to walk. 
That’s what they do, when you’re born a couple of blocks from the beach. They teach you young. 
And I swear I still remember it. 
My father’s hands, big and warm on my sides, suddenly gone. 
That moment of freefall, of panic—I can’t do this­— 
And then— 
Legs kicking, arms flailing, but swimming, really swimming on my own. The tang of the sea on my tongue. Emerging gasping, coughing, into sea spray and sunlight. Grinning so big I thought I’d never stop. 
The joy of it all. 
I dream about it, sometimes. I smile in my sleep. 
And then I remember. 
Remember why I don’t swim anymore. 
I stop smiling. 
I wake up.



Chapter One

The spring of my senior year in high school, my mother brought a kitchen knife into the bathtub with her. 
She didn’t cut deep enough, not nearly, they said. But she’d been drinking, and she lost enough blood to pass out. Her head slipped under the water, and if her neighbor hadn’t found her, she would have drowned. 
I wasn’t with her. No one was. My parents divorced when I was in the seventh grade, and I moved away with my dad. 
We sat in the hospital waiting room, my dad and I, not speaking. 
The doctor suggested that after she was released from the psychiatric ward, it might be a good idea for someone to live with her for a little while."

Okay! So, very first thought: we don't need the prologue. I'm guessing it's there to try to be a little foreboding with the protagonist (who...reads as a girl to me? But it's not specified) remembering why they don't swim anymore. But honestly, I don't feel like we're getting information that's vital to know on page one—I'm assuming the swim thing is going to come up again, considering the title, and I think the same information could probably be conveyed later on throughout the prose. On a smaller note, there are also way too many single-sentence paragraphs in the prologue bit—remember, the more you use a stylistic writing effect (like a single sentence/word paragraph), the less impact it has.

As far as the opening for the first chapter goes, starting with so much exposition is a little risky. The first line I think could work—it's definitely attention grabbing—but I don't really feel like I'm there with the protagonist because the whole opening of the chapter is being summarized. I think it'd be more effective if we slipped into the protagonist's POV and saw the scene start to play out sooner.

Now for the in-line notes:

"I learned how to swim before I learned how to walk. That’s what they do, After all, when you’re born a couple of blocks from the beach,. T they teach you young. 
And I swear I still remember it. Any way you could transition into the next paragraph without using the filter ("remember")?
My father’s hands, big and warm on my sides, suddenly gone. 
That moment of freefall, of panic—I can’t do this­Aand then— 
Legs kicking, arms flailing, but swimming, really swimming on my own. The tang of the sea on my tongue. Emerging gasping, coughing, into sea spray and sunlight. Grinning so big I thought I’d never stop. 
The joy of it all. 
I dream about it, sometimes. I smile in my sleep. 
And then I remember. Remember why I don’t swim anymore. 
I stop smiling. 
I wake up. 
Reading this a second time now, I'm about 99% sure I'd cut this if I were editing.


Chapter One

The spring of my senior year in high school, my mother brought a kitchen knife into the bathtub with her. Nice first line.
She didn’t cut deep enough, not nearly, they said. But she’d been drinking, and she lost enough blood to pass out. Her head slipped under the water, and if her neighbor hadn’t found her, she would have drowned. 
I wasn’t with her. No one was. My parents divorced when I was in the seventh grade, and I moved away with my dad. 
We sat in the hospital waiting room, my dad and I, not speaking. 
The doctor suggested that after she was released from the psychiatric ward, it might be a good idea for someone to live with her for a little while.  This could be a good spot to transition to playing the scene out—with an actual line of dialogue of the doctor saying exactly that. Or you could transition right before this by getting into your protagonist's head as they sit next to their dad in the silent room. How do they feel? What thoughts are running through their head? Is the awkward silence something normal for them and their dad? How long has it been since they've seen their mom? This is all stuff you could give us in your protagonist's POV that could help us connect to your MC."

Okay, so you'll notice there aren't a whole lot of line edits here, and that's because the writing itself works for the most part—I'd just recommend being careful to vary your paragraph and sentence length, because I'm seeing a lot of short paragraphs and sentences right from the start. The main issue I'm seeing here, however, is what I mentioned above—the prologue feels unnecessary to me (and, to be honest, I don't think it's as good a hook as the first sentence of chapter one anyway) and I'm not connecting to the protagonist because all I'm getting here is exposition.

I think if those adjustments are made, this could be a really powerful opening with some very emotional content right up front. But as is, if I saw this in the slush, I'd pass.

I hope this helps! Thanks for sharing your first 250 with us, Mary Kate!

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 exposition and varying sentence/paragraph length in the 14th Fixing the First Page critique. (Click to tweet)

Book Review: FAR FROM YOU by Tess Sharpe

Photo credit: Goodreads
So I’ve had Far From You by Tess Sharpe on my TBR list for a while, and Twitter’s been telling me pretty much forever to read it, so I was pretty delighted to finally have the chance to pick it up. And now that I’ve read it? I see why Twitter so adamantly demanded I take a look.

But before I go on, the Goodreads summary:

“Sophie Winters nearly died. Twice. 
The first time, she's fourteen, and escapes a near-fatal car accident with scars, a bum leg, and an addiction to Oxy that'll take years to kick.  
The second time, she's seventeen, and it's no accident. Sophie and her best friend Mina are confronted by a masked man in the woods. Sophie survives, but Mina is not so lucky. When the cops deem Mina's murder a drug deal gone wrong, casting partial blame on Sophie, no one will believe the truth: Sophie has been clean for months, and it was Mina who led her into the woods that night for a meeting shrouded in mystery. 
After a forced stint in rehab, Sophie returns home to a chilly new reality. Mina's brother won't speak to her, her parents fear she'll relapse, old friends have become enemies, and Sophie has to learn how to live without her other half. To make matters worse, no one is looking in the right places and Sophie must search for Mina's murderer on her own. But with every step, Sophie comes closer to revealing all: about herself, about Mina and about the secret they shared.”

Okay. So firstly, I really like thrillers, and I also really like when the protagonist is part of a marginalized group, especially if it’s one I can relate to like a character with chronic pain. And that’s initially what drew me to this book—because trying to find YA with characters who deal with chronic pain? Not so easy.

What I liked: Sophie deals with disability (among other things), including chronic pain that causes her to limp, and she still kicks ass. I want more of this. I want so much more.

Otherwise, Sophie’s chronic pain is very different from mine, largely because hers is caused by an old injury from a bad accident and mine comes from chronic illness—but of course that’s not at all a fault of the book. It just means I still haven’t found a YA with a depiction of chronic pain I can really relate to.

That said, what I really liked was there wasn’t a miracle cure. Not for Sophie’s injury, not for the chronic pain, and not for her addiction, or her trauma. Far From You does a really fantastic job not sugar-coating reality—it acknowledges that long after the book, Sophie will still have a limp, will still have to deal with a lot of trauma, and will always struggle with addiction. And for that alone, I’m giving Tess Sharpe a massive internet high-five.

AS FAR AS THE ACTUAL PLOT GOES, I really enjoyed this. The mystery surrounding Mina’s death was fascinating, and I love books that keep you guessing, like this one. I had a few theories about who was at fault, but the twist got me—that said, I sort of felt like I mostly didn’t guess because I’d pretty much forgotten some people existed. Maybe my fault. Maybe the book’s fault. Eh. Not a big deal. Overall, Far From You is an exciting book that’ll definitely keep you interested.

Finally, it was really great to see a YA protagonist who is explicitly bisexual, but whose sexuality isn’t necessarily the main focus of the book (though coming out books are definitely important, too).

Overall, I really enjoyed this one, and I definitely recommend it to those looking for a fun, twisty YA Thriller.

Diversity note: Sophie, the protagonist, has a limp from chronic pain caused by a car accident years prior, struggles with drug addiction (opiate painkillers), and is explicitly bisexual. Mina, her best friend/sort of girlfriend was not out, but she was lesbian.

Have you read any great YA lately? 
.@Ava_Jae gives 4/5 stars to FAR FROM YOU by Tess Sharpe. Have you read this twisty YA Thriller? (Click to tweet)  
Looking for an exciting YA Thriller w/ a disabled MC? Check out FAR FROM YOU by Tess Sharpe. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: 5 Signs You're a Writer

A fun vlog on five common characteristics of writers. :)



RELATED LINKS: 


Can you relate to any of these? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
Writer @Ava_Jae vlogs about five common characteristics of writers. Do you recognize any of these? (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Giveaway Winner #14!

Photo credit: Jessica Cross on Flickr
Quick pre-vlog post today (the vlog is still coming—don't worry!) to announce the winner of the fourteenth fixing the first page feature giveaway! *drumroll*

The winner is…

MARY KATE!

Yay! Congratulations, Mary Kate! 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 (in SEPTEMBER—how??), so keep an eye out! :)

On the Creation Process (or Why I Prefer Revising)

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If you read my blog here with any frequency or follow me on Twitter, you probably know that I haven’t written any new projects for a while, because I’ve been heavily into revision mode. You probably also know that I did a thing last year where I wrote two new manuscripts back-to-back even though I already had another manuscript waiting to get revised, which is why for the past eight months I’ve been revising and revising and revising.

I’m not done with that, but I have started brainstorming and plotting something new. And even though I probably won’t write it for quite a while, I convinced myself that plotting it out now would be a good exercise.

I haven’t changed my mind, necessarily, but boy. I forgot how difficult it is to create something out of nothing.


Plotting, for me, I think is the most difficult part of the writing process, because that’s the time when I have literally nothing to go on besides a few vague ideas. That’s when I have to take a sentence and a few bullet points of fragments and blow it up into a full, plausible outline. And to be honest, it takes a lot of staring, (spinning my chair), and asking myself, “Okay…now what?”

This usually takes several days for me, at a minimum. And I have been making progress, which is great, but wow it feels like slow going. Still! Progress is progress.

The next step, of course, after finally finishing the outline is the first draft, which is probably tied for “hardest part of the writing process.” Though at least when it’s time to first draft this project, which will not be immediately, I’ll have something to go on.

But all of this has kind of been a concrete reminder of why I’ve really come to love revising so much. Because yeah, revisions are a ton of work, but taking what I already have and expanding it, and pushing it to its limits, and delving into the details and layers and nuances? It’s fascinating. And it’s so exciting because that’s the step where the distance between the cool story I imagined and the story on the page becomes smaller and smaller. That’s where I really start to see the story reach its potential—and become even more than I first thought it would.

And to me, that process never stops being totally incredible and worth the hard work.

But first I have to figure out where the story is going. And then I have to write it. And as difficult as those steps are, they all become totally worth it, too.

What’s the hardest part of the writing process to you?

Twitter-sized bites:

What's the hardest part of the writing process for you? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet
Writer @Ava_Jae says the hardest part of the process for her is plotting and first drafting. What do you think? (Click to tweet)

On the Waiting Thing

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NOTE: Hi, all! Once you enjoy this post, I'm also over at Adventures in YA Publishing talking about the essentials of a pitch. Feel free to stop by and say hi! :) 

I think I knew, intellectually, that getting agented or getting a book deal wasn’t going to end the waiting game. The publishing world is one that forces people to develop patience—or at least teaches them how not to go crazy while being impatient. Or find really good distractions. Or something.

But writers do a lot of waiting.

  • We wait between drafts before revising. 
  • We wait to hear feedback from critique partners. 
  • We wait to hear back from agents while querying. 
  • We wait to hear feedback from our agents when sending them a new manuscript. 
  • We wait to hear from editors while on submission. 
  • We wait to be able to announce happy news when we get it. 
  • We wait for publishing contracts to be negotiated after verbally agreeing to have your book published. 
  • We wait for $ to come in after contracts are signed. 
  • We wait for edits to begin. 
  • We wait to see our cover comps. 
  • We wait to be able to share the final cover with the world. 
  • We wait for the next round of edits. 
  • We wait for our box of ARCs to arrive. 
  • We wait for early reviews and blurbs to come in. 
  • We wait for the fated day of finished copies to arrive. 
  • We wait for release day. 
  • And we do it all over again with the next book. 

Probably that doesn’t even cover all of the waiting, but it’s a nice chunk of the prominent waiting writers do.

I think maybe I hoped that waiting post-agent and post-book deal would be a little easier because at least I’d know what was going on, buuuut turns out that’s not entirely true either. Kind of like pre-agent and pre-book deal, I have a general sense of Things Happening, and know the landmarks of the general process, but when people ask me specific questions about the future, I usually can’t give anything more than an estimate. Which is fine. Because if there’s anything taking eight years to get agented has taught me, it’s how to be patient.

I think probably the funniest realization I’ve had so far with this publishing thing is how much things change and yet, you as a writer don’t really feel any different. The waiting stuff still feels pretty much exactly the same, and granted while I’ve got some extra exciting things to look forward to (yay!), the in-between part is still very much about keeping distracted while waiting.

Best distractions of course are other projects. Or breaks, when you need them. Or books. Or catch up work or a million other things. But ultimately waiting is something that we, as writers, have to learn to deal with. Because no matter what stage of the process you’re in, there will always be more.

What do you do to distract yourself when waiting?

Twitter-sized bite:
Writer @Ava_Jae says the waiting game never really changes. What do you think? (Click to tweet)
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