Discussion: Are You a Book Collector?

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Bit of shocking news for all of you today: I love books. I know, unbelievable, right? I wouldn’t have guessed, either. 

Ehem. 

I’ve sort of mentioned this before, but I’m a little weird about my book-buying habits. Why? Because about 97% of the time when I decide I want to read a book, it means I’ve also decided I want to buy it. This applies even to authors whose books I’ve never read before. 

The thing is, I don’t just love books, I love collecting books. My pretty bookshelves are basically my favorite thing and I never tire of adding a book to my shelf after I’ve read it (fun quirk: I won’t place a book in it’s alphabetical spot until after I’ve read it). 

I’m also kind of anal about the format, though. 

If I buy the first book in a series in hardcover, then I’ll buy the rest of the books in hardcover as well. Same goes for paperback. Or e-book. This sometimes means that I have to wait extra long to buy a book because the paperback doesn’t come out until well after the hardback (*cough* City of Heavenly Fire *cough), but even if it’s many many months away…I wait. Because there’s something about having all the books in a series in the same format that, I don’t know? It’s a quirk. It looks pretty. Sorry not sorry. 

Talking about book quirks is fun, so I want to hear from you guys: do you collect books? And/or do you have any book-related quirks? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
Writer @Ava_Jae shares some of her book buying quirks. Do you have any book-related quirks? Join the discussion: (Click to tweet)

Vlog: Why You Need Critique Partners (Really)

I once thought family members and friends were all I needed as far as critique partners go. I was wrong. And this is why. 
      

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts! 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Writer @Ava_Jae vlogs about why critique partners are so invaluable. What do you think? (Click to tweet)  
Do you REALLY need critique partners? Writer @Ava_Jae vlogs about why CPs are so important. (Click to tweet

Writer Bucket List Challenge

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So the super sweet Tammara Webber tagged me in a writer bucket list challenge thingie, and I actually really love her take on it—she wrote her bucket list as it would have been a couple years ago so she could check stuff off she’s already done. Which I think is awesome and that’s the way I’m going to handle it.

So if I’d written a writer bucket list a couple years ago (or any time before a year ago, really) this is what it would have looked like:

  1. Get an awesome agent. (Yay!) 
  2. Go to a writer’s conference. (More yay!) 
  3. Get a publishing contract. 
  4. See my book selling at Barnes & Nobles. 
  5. Make a living off my writing. 
  6. Becomes a NYT bestselling author (what, I can dream, right?). 
  7. Become someone’s favorite author. 
  8. Write someone’s favorite character. 
  9. Participate in a book signing. 
  10. Go on a book tour. 
  11. Be on a panel at a writing conference. 
  12. See one of my books adapted to film. 
  13. Live somewhere outside of the States. (Not really writing-related, but still). 

So those are the ones I can think of at the moment! Next up, I’m going to challenge my CP Vicki Leigh (whose book is coming out in A MONTH. What?) and NA author of adorableness Megan Erickson.

But I also want to hear from you—what items are on your writer bucket list? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
.@Ava_Jae shares her writer bucket list. What's on yours? (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Feature #4

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Okay! So as per usual, I’m going to start by posting the full 250 excerpt, after which I’ll share some overall thoughts, then my redline critique. I totally encourage you guys to share your own thoughts and critiques (I’m only one person with one opinion!), as long as it’s polite, thoughtful and constructive. Any rude or mean comments will be removed.

Okay? Okay. Let’s get started. 

Title: EXODUS 
Genre/Category: NA Sci-Fi (*high-fives*) 
First 250:  
It was his first blue sky in twenty years. 
All around him Roy Barrows heard the obnoxious chorus of slot machines and spilled coins, while tobacco smoke fogged the room and dizzied his head.  But what a view!  Roy was the only person stationed at the casino’s great window—a section of the enormous protective dome that enclosed the city—and he was the only one who seemed to care that a world existed beyond the card table and the spinning wheel.  Below him, on the other side of the dome, mighty ocean waves crashed against formidable cliffs, leaving white pools of foam sloshing around the jagged rocks at the bottom.  The captivating scene was just how Em had described it in a letter once.  But the sky was even bluer than her last picture. 
Two decades had passed since mankind left the planet.  With its dome Fortuna was the only terrestrial city left, and you needed bags of money or a job with the Protectorate government just to get there.  Though a Sentinel like Agent Barrows never got a day off, an assignment on the planet was almost as good.  Roy had been sent there for a light security detail to clear his head; and already, as he soaked in the scenery outside and the ambient tunes of a piano across the gambling hall, he was beginning to relax.  
At length the stage drew Roy’s full attention when the piano flourished and a deep voice announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, tonight’s entertainment: Emiline Gray!"

Okay, so my very first impression here is that nothing is really happening in the opening. Roy is admiring the view, thinking about the world history (more on that in a minute) and about to enjoy some kind of show. But as is, on the first page, all Roy is doing is sitting and thinking. Which is a bit of a problem. 

I always recommend that writers start with their characters doing something. Introspective openings often fall flat because they tend not to be the most interesting openings, and they also tend to lead to info-dumping. Which is the second issue. 

In the third paragraph you immediately start giving us a mini-history on Roy’s world, and I don’t personally feel that this is the right place for it. While openings need some grounding information, it’s much more effective to spread that information out and show us as much as you can through dialogue, action, thought, etc. By telling us everything upfront (or a lot upfront, like you do here), you’re essentially pausing the action to give us background information, then starting with the actual action, which is especially problematic in openings because you need to catch the reader’s attention as quickly as possible, and giving us a mini-history lesson on your world isn’t the most effective way to go about it. (Don’t worry—this is something a lot of writers have a tendency of doing with early drafts. You are most certainly not alone). 

Now the in-line notes: 

It was his first blue sky in twenty years. I’m a little torn with this first sentence. On one hand, you’re giving us world information in a subtle way, which is nice, but on the other hand, looking at the abnormal sky is a relatively common opening with Sci-Fi/Dystopian/Post-Apocalyptic novels. This isn’t a bad opening, but I think you could do better. 
All around him Roy Barrows heard the obnoxious chorus of slot machines and spilled coins, while tobacco smoke fogged the room and dizzied his head.  While you have some really nice imagery here (I particularly like the tobacco smoke fogging the room), you’re filtering here a little with “[he] heard.” Chuck Palahniuk wrote an excellent article that completely changed the way I look at filter phrases, and I super recommend you (and everyone reading this) read it if you haven’t already. (As my CPs well know, this is an article I throw at them all the time). Because it’s brilliant. But what a view!  Is he looking at something other than the sky? What else is in this awesome view? Rather than telling us about how amazing it is, it'd be much more effective if you showed us. Roy was the only person stationed at the casino’s great window—a section of the enormous protective dome that enclosed the city—and he was the only one who seemed to care that a world existed beyond the card table and the spinning wheel.  You say “the city,” but what city is this? This would be a good place for some specific grounding details. Below him, on the other side of the dome, mighty ocean waves crashed against formidable cliffs, leaving white pools of foam sloshing around the jagged rocks at the bottom.  The captivating scene was just how Em had described it in a letter once.  But the sky was even bluer than her last picture. If this is the first time Roy’s seen a blue sky in twenty years, then I’m guessing he’s not from this city? So where is he from? What kind of sky is he used to? I don’t recommend you give us a huge info dump or anything, but maybe comparing this view to what he’s used to briefly would help us better understand Roy’s world. 
Two decades had passed since mankind left the planet.  With its dome Fortuna was the only terrestrial city left, and you needed bags of money or a job with the Protectorate government just to get there.  As I mentioned above, I think it’d be more effective to show this information instead, if possible. Though a Sentinel like Agent Barrows never got a day off, an assignment on the planet was almost as good.  As opposed to what? Roy had been sent there for a light security detail to clear his head; and already, as he soaked in the scenery outside and the ambient tunes of a piano across the gambling hall, he was beginning to relax. Wait. If he’s supposed to be security…why is he relaxing? Shouldn’t he be fully alert to his surroundings and looking for a threat? And what is he protecting, exactly? (Again, if you show us this information, it’d be much better than telling us).  
At length the stage drew Roy’s full attention when the piano flourished and a deep voice announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, tonight’s entertainment: Emiline Gray!

The biggest red flag to me is, as I said earlier, nothing much really happens in your opening. Combine that with the mini-info dump, and I would probably be anticipating a pass if I saw this in the slush. I think you can probably fix this by possibly starting a little later in the scene, and by taking the information you tell the reader in this opening and showing us instead. In the end, of course, it’s 100% up to you what changes you do or don’t make (remember—it’s your story!), but those would be my recommendations. 

Thanks for sharing your first 250, Nathan! 

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 choosing the right place to start your WIP & filter phrases in the 4th Fixing the First Page crit. (Click to tweet)

How to Make Up a Language for Your WIP

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So I’m a pretty huge nerd.

Over the course of several years, I’ve had more than a couple WIPs that take place in a made-up world, whether an alien planet, some alternate fantasy realm or something of the like. And on three different occasions that I can think of at the moment, I decided that those worlds or peoples deserved their own languages.

So I made them up. You know. For fun.

(I also thought it’d be fun to take Japanese as an elective in college because LANGUAGES, but I digress).

If you’re like me and decide at some point you’d like your made up world or culture to have a language of their own that you will actually put together, then you may be wondering where to start. And since I’ve had some experience with this, I figured I’d share some of my process:

  1. Decide how in-depth you want to get. Just because you’re making up a language for your book doesn’t mean you have to develop enough to become proficiently fluent—but it also doesn’t mean you can’t if that’s what you want to do. Generally, I like to work out very basic syntax, phrases and words that I’ll need for the book right up front, and then develop more as I write the book and need more words in context. Meanwhile, I have a very good friend who is basically a language master and works out conjugations and more advanced syntax and can put together whole sentences in her made up languages like nothing before I’ve had time to figure out “he” and “she.” So. Your mileage may vary. 

  2. Decide what you want to model your language after. Do you want this language to flow like romance languages or sound more guttural and harsh like germanic languages? Will their language be made up of characters that represent phonetic syllables and/or ideograms (i.e.: many asian languages) or will it be about stringing letters together to make up sounds? Will they have the same sounds as your native language, or will they have more (or less) sounds? These are all questions you want to have some idea of an answer to before you even begin to attempt at creating words and sentences. 

  3. Think about how your language will be written (if at all). I’ve found that learning how a language is written can be a hugenormous help in learning a language, and made up languages are no different. If the culture does indeed use written language, how is their alphabet structured? Will it be like the English Latin alphabet where every letter has a sound and you string letters together to make different sounds? Or will it be more like Japanese hiragana where every kana equates to a sound (i.e.: ka, ko, sa, se, etc.)? Or will it be more like Japanese kanji where the kanji can represent entire words in their own right? There isn’t a right or wrong option, but deciding this ahead of time can really help you develop the sound and structure of the language. 

  4. Create a reference document. This is going to be your language bible. I like to use Excel because spreadsheets lend themselves really well to this kind of thing, but what format you do is really up to you. The important thing is that you put all of your made-up language-related notes in this document. 

  5. Start with the basics. After I’ve figured out the sounds and alphabet and I’m ready to start creating words, I like to start with subjects and possessives (I, you, he, she, my, your, his, hers, etc.) At this point, there isn’t really a right or wrong—the thing to think about is to make sure that the words you create sound like they fit together. Spanish doesn’t sound like Japanese, and Korean doesn’t sound like English, and Dutch doesn’t sound like French for obvious reasons—they’re different languages with different sets of sounds and you need to make sure that the words you create sound like they belong in the same language. This often requires verbally sounding out gibberish, and your family members or roommates may look at you weird, but hey! You’re a writer. It’s okay. 

Bonus:

  • Take many language courses/study several languages. Over the course of many years, I’ve taken classes in Spanish, French, Italian and Japanese. I’ve also listened (and memorized) music in Korean, Romanian and Swedish. I can’t speak any of them perfectly (or even close to it, for most of them), but studying and paying attention to all of those languages has helped me so much when I’ve sat down and tried to create my own. Learning how different languages are put together, conjugated and created can go a long way in teaching you how to put together your own language, and I couldn’t recommend it more. 

Do you have any tips for language creation?

Twitter-sized bites:
Thinking about making up a language for your WIP? Writer @Ava_Jae shares some tips on language creation. (Click to tweet)  
Want to make up a language for your WIP but don't know where to start? @Ava_Jae shares some pointers. #writetip (Click to tweet)

Vlog: Why I Don't Have Guilty Pleasures

It's Tuesday vlog day! 

So someone asked me what my guilty pleasures were in terms of reading. And this is (the more eloquent version) of what I said.


Now I want to hear from you: do you have guilty pleasures in terms of books, TV shows, movies, etc.?

Twitter-sized bites: 
.@Ava_Jae says guilty pleasures "perpetuate this culture of shaming people for what they like." What do you think? (Click to tweet)  
Writer @Ava_Jae vlogs about why she doesn't have guilty pleasures. What do you think? (Click to tweet)

Do You Make Playlists for Your WIPs?

Photo credit: William Brawley on Flickr
Once upon a time, (over two years ago, if we’re being specific) I wrote a post about my music-listening habits while writingAt the time, I listened to a lot of Pandora (specifically a K-pop station based off SHINee) and generally upbeat music.

I’m not really sure when that changed, but as of late, I’ve started doing this one band per manuscript thing. Or almost one band, anyway.

For my NA Sci-Fi, I listened to Imagine Dragons' Night Visions album on repeat, while occasionally switching to 30 Seconds to Mars’s Love Lust Faith + Dreams for more intense, dark scenes.

For my YA Fantasy after that, I listened to Fall Out Boy’s Save Rock and Roll album (again, on repeat).

For my NA Paranormal after that, I listened to a ridiculously huge Maroon 5 playlist (thanks to Spotify, I didn’t have to choose an album). Also on repeat.

And lastly, for my most recent YA Sci-Fi, I listened to Muse on repeat (mostly their The Resistance and The 2nd Law albums, with a couple other songs thrown in there).

I also started listening to music while editing, something I used to not be able to do at all, though mostly dancey upbeat music with few lyrics, like Swedish House Mafia. And that’s been a little less consistent.

At any rate, I noticed that by listening to the same band, it helps me get into a singular focus mode and I'm not often jarred out of it by a random song, which sometimes happened on Pandora (though Spotify ads were still a thing). Any song that I noticed distracted me I removed from the playlist and it wasn’t an issue again.

Maybe it’s because the songs all have a similar sound (after all, same band tends to have a similar tone throughout their music, particularly within the same album) or maybe it’s because my brain started associating those particular songs to that particular WIP, but I found it really helpful to have that same playlist going every time I wrote (and weirdly, I didn’t get sick of it—I actually still like all of those albums and bands).

I know, however, that some people even set out specific playlists for specific types of scenes, or create mixed playlists for their WIPs, and I’m curious—do you make playlists for your WIPs? If so, how do you put them together (and if not, why not)? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
Do you make playlists for your WIP? Why or why not? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)
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