Fixing the First Page Feature #15

Photo credit: Dominic's pics on Flickr
So tomorrow is October and I, for once, am so ready for the new month (September, I'd like to say it was nice knowing you, but I musn't tell lies). And! End if September means a fixing the first page critique for you guys so here we go! 

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 do this.


Genre/Category: YA Fantasy

First 250:

"Music beckons the soul from its darkest places. That’s what Demeriz, Samana’s Wanderer-Sister had told her yesterday. Silence surrounded Samana now. The meager glow of the scratch glass torch held by the Flairian warrior behind her and the other slaves couldn’t penetrate the vast cavern’s black corners or the hatred in her heart. 
Scrape, scrape, scrape. The wide bone plate she held in both hands rubbed the dry cave bowels, and grit showered her bare toes. She imagined the caverns sheer side as the face of Chief Highest Skies. Since when did Wanderers get dragged into these mines and put to work with Oonans? Anger locked her jaw and clogged her throat; her fingers tight on the tool. She wiped away bits of her black hair and the fine dust that clung to her temples and neck with the back of her wrist. 
A triumphant shout rang out and a flash of pure light filled the space. Samana twisted to look for its origin, and was promptly shoved back around by rough hands. 
'Keep working flairmaid,' growled Great Claw, her guard. The name suited the way he treated his squad of workers; like a sharp talon digging into their flesh. 
Samana snarled under her breathe. How dare he lay a hand on a fellow Flairian. She may be an orphan, but Demeriz had been her family. Tears welled up Samana’s eyes. Where was Demeriz now? Was she forced into these spirits-abandoned shafts of nothing?"

Interesting! I'm definitely getting a lot of world building without info-dumping upfront, which is fantastic, but I do think the first thing I'm noticing is there are a lot of names/proper nouns: Demeriz, Samana, Wanderer-Sister, Flairian, Chief Highest Skies, Wanderers, Ooonans, Great Claw—all on the first page. I'm wondering if maybe there's a way to spread these out a little more, because by the end of the excerpt, it all felt like a ton at once to me.

Still! I do think this is an interesting start. Let's take a second look:

"Music beckons the soul from its darkest places. That’s what Demeriz, Samana’s Wanderer-Sister had told her yesterday. This is a nice image, but honestly I don't see how it relates at all to the rest of the page. My guess is it'll get referenced again later on, but because I'm not seeing an immediate connection, it makes me wonder if maybe another hook would be more effective. Silence surrounded Samana now. The meager glow of the scratch glass torch (Very cool image) held by the Flairian warrior behind her and the other slaves couldn’t penetrate the vast cavern’s black corners or the hatred in her heart. So this here is emotional telling. I've already written a post about how to write emotion effectively, and this is definitely a situation where I think we'd benefit from seeing the emotion and how it affects her rather than being told it's there.
Scrape, scrape, scrape. The wide bone plate she held in both hands rubbed the dry cave bowels, and grit showered her bare toes.  So great! Love this imagery. She imagined the caverns sheer side as the face of Chief Highest Skies. Since when did Wanderers get dragged into these mines and put to work with Oonans? Anger locked her jaw and clogged her throat; her fingers tight on the tool. This is close! If you could rewrite this sentence without using "anger" you'd have a great example of shown emotion here. She wiped away bits of her black hair and the fine dust that clung to her temples and neck with the back of her wrist. 
A triumphant shout rang out and a flash of pure light filled the space. Samana twisted to look for its origin, and was promptly shoved back around by rough hands rough hands promptly shoved her back (adjusted to make the sentence more active)
'Keep working flairmaid,' growled Great Claw, her guard. The name suited the way he treated his squad of workers; like a sharp talon digging into their flesh. Nice.
Samana snarled under her breathe. How dare he lay a hand on a fellow Flairian.? She may be an orphan, but Demeriz had been her family. Right now, I have no idea what this means. What does Demeriz have to do with the way she's being treated? How does Demeriz being her family change anything? I know this is something you'd probably explain later, but I have trouble sympathizing with her in the next sentence when I don't really understand the connection. Tears welled up Samana’s eyes. Where was Demeriz now? Was she forced into these spirits-abandoned shafts of nothing?" That said, this is written really well. I like the balance between Samana's emotion and her thoughts. I think we just need a tad more clarification so that the readers understand what's going on and thus can really feel for Samana.

As I said above, I think this is really well done and just needs a tad more so readers can really delve into the story and connect with your protagonist. You're almost there! If I saw this in the slush (and, you know, it fit what I was looking for) I'd keep reading. Overall, great job.

Thanks for sharing your first 250 with us, Emily!

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

Twitter-sized bite:
.@Ava_Jae talks showing emotion and gradual world building in the 15th Fixing the First Page critique. (Click to tweet) 

Vlog: How to Name Your Characters

Naming characters can be fun! But also sometimes frustrating and confusing and time-consuming. So I'm sharing my top character-naming tips. 

What resources and methods do you use to name your characters?

Twitter-sized bite:
Ready to name your characters, but not sure where to start? @Ava_Jae vlogs her top character-naming tips. (Click to tweet

Here We Are

I said I wasn’t going to write a post about what happened on Twitter Friday evening, mostly for the sake of my own emotional and mental wellbeing, but then I woke up on Saturday and saw what the vast majority of people were walking away with and…well. 

Here we are.

For those who didn’t see the blowup, the general recap is this: one of my Twitter friends, who I’m not going to name because I don’t want them to get stuck in the middle of a blowup again, started asking some questions about the way diversity talks have gone in the YA community specifically, and the message that has come out of many, many blowups over time.

Because that conversation was starting, it felt like the right time for me to talk about something that’d been on my mind a lot. And so I did.

Ultimately the tweets were read out of context, and not everyone saw the whole thread which lead to a host of misinterpretations, and assumptions were made about the people talking about the issue (which wasn’t just me) so it got kind of ugly. I didn’t even see all of the ugliness because thankfully most it I wasn’t tagged directly in. I know people were talking about me and others who brought the conversation up. I know many were upset about the generalizations made about us, as was I. I don’t know the full extent of the ugliness because I didn’t need that on my stress levels so I didn’t go looking for it. I honestly just don’t want to know.

But by and large, the responses I did get? In mentions, in DMs, in e-mails—it was from writers who are either a) marginalized and afraid to tell their own stories, b) marginalized and afraid to tell anything but exactly their stories (as in writing about other marginalizations = terrifying) or c) not marginalized, but not wanting to perpetuate monolithic books and feeling like they aren’t allowed to do anything else. Everyone was feeling like it’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation—not because you'll get ripped apart if you don't write diverse books (because honestly? You'll probably be fine) but because a lot of writers don't want to keep perpetuating that monolith. Which is basically what my tweets were about.

But you guys, this ripple effect that is already present? These writers—and it’s heartbreaking to see how many fit into those categories above—there are so, so many of them. And nearly all of them were writers I know who care about honest, respectful representation. Writers who are diversity advocates, many of whom have been on the receiving end of bad/nonexistent representation. Writers who I know would do the research, would write as respectfully as they can, would find beta readers to help them, would and do listen listen listen.

This post is for you.

On Saturday morning, I scrolled through my tweets and read blog posts responding to the situation like this and this one, and read e-mails expressing the above that broke my heart. And I thought about one of my WIPs that I love so very much, that I wrote to the best of my ability, that I sent to readers and betas over and over and over to try to make it as authentic and respectful as possible. And I thought about whether I would’ve done anything differently, whether I wished I’d written it in a monolithic Safe Mode and the answer was obvious. No. Not for a second.

Of course, that doesn’t make the possibility of it getting published one day any less terrifying. But here we are, and now we have a choice.

We can write Safe. We can write monoliths. We can say, “if I’m stuck either way, I might as well go the way with less backlash.” For some of us, that’s a choice.

But honestly? I don’t think that’s a real option for me anymore, at least, not right now. Because on Friday night, when the responses were overwhelming and my anxiety was starting to hyperfocus on That WIP and on Every Element Ever in my work, the choice of going back to monolithic manuscripts felt like the only thing that might alleviate that anxiety.

And yet, the thought of going back to that made me so sad. Like, sinking-heart sensation, actually-getting-upset-at-the-thought sad. Because I don’t want that. Because I don’t want to perpetuate these worlds where disabled, neuroatypical, non-white, nonbinary, QUILTBAG—minority—characters don’t exist.

Because seeing my anxiety on the page in Fangirl and OCD Love Story, and a Latino character who doesn’t speak Spanish well in More Happy Than Not meant something to me.

Because not seeing chronically ill characters, except in narratives where they die or are miraculously not sick at the end still means something to me.

Because I’m a chronically ill, anxious, light-skinned Latina tomboy who buried her own identity and assimilated for so long, and I can’t go back. I won’t go back. This matters too much.

So here’s what I’m going to do.

I’m going to write as honestly and respectfully as I can. I’m going to listen and listen and listen. I’m going to read #ownvoices books, and I’m going to listen to critique, and I’m going to keep finding betas to help whether I write my own experience or not, and I’m going to learn. And maybe I’m going to mess up anyway, and if that happens I’m going to listen and listen and listen and absorb as much as I can so I can do better. And then I’m going to keep writing.

And on the days when even that feels like it’s not enough, when my anxiety says why are you doing this to yourself, I’m going to take a step back and talk to my friends who get it. Who have reached out to me and said, “I’m here.” And I’m going to listen. And I’m going to learn. And I’m going to write.

And maybe one day, if I keep going, if I keep writing as honestly and truthfully as I know how, someone will see themselves in my work. And maybe, just maybe I’ll find out about it, and you know? If that happens to just one person, the stress will be worth it. The fear will be worth it.

This is me, promising to you, to do my best. This is me, acknowledging to you, that I’m not perfect and I might mess up. This is me, promising to you, to listen, and learn, and do better if that happens.

But I’m not going to stop talking about it, and I’m not going to stop writing about it, because it just matters too much.

And to those of you who are with me, I’m here for you. I see you. And if you ever need to talk, my inbox is open to you.

How to Write Transitions

Photo credit: Geraint Rowland Photography on Flickr
So a few days ago a funny thing happened where two people suggested basically the same post, on two different social media channels. One requested a post, one requested a vlog, and I ultimately decided a post would be more suited for this question, so. Here we go. 


Once upon a time in your writing class, or on Twitter, or in a writing book—whatever—you read and heard over and over about the importance of showing rather than telling. “Remember, show don’t tell!” you heard over and over and over, until you pretty much had the words branded to your brain. 

You may remember, if you’ve been around Writability for two years, that I once wrote a post about when is a good time to tell (rather than show). And this right here—the passage of time—is one of those times when telling is key. 

So PSA: readers do not need to know what your characters have experienced every single moment of every single day until the story has ended. The lulls in the day, the passages of uneventful weeks (or months!) is something that as writers we need to learn to navigate without putting our readers to sleep. 

The key, honestly, is the easiest transition in the history of transitions: you skip the whole thing and sum it up with a phrase or sentence. 

Some phrases that are useful with this kind of transition include:

  • [Passage of time] later… —A month later…
  • After [passage of time] of [what’s been going on]… —After three weeks of falling asleep in the back of class…
  • The next [passage of time]… —The next day… 
  • [Protagonist] has been [doing whatever] for [passage of time]. —I’ve been passing out in math class for three weeks.

So on and so forth. 

The key to think about when writing these transitions is to answer two questions: 
  1. How much time has passed? 
  2. What do my readers need to know about what happened during that time? 

Sometimes, as is often the case with shorter passages of time (an hour, a day, etc.), the answer to the second question is nothing. That’s when “The next day” or “Three hours later” work perfectly without any further explanation. 

Oftentimes with longer passages of time, however, readers need just a little information to fill in that gap. Usually you can fill this in in under a sentence (as per the example of “After three weeks of falling asleep in the back of class”) and then move on to whatever is happening in the present. Sometimes, when a little more has happened during that time, but not enough to merit writing it out scene by scene, a few sentences of summarization can fill in the pertinent information before you move on to the important now stuff. 

Last thing you’ll want to think about is whether you make the transition in mid-chapter (usually after a scene break, but sometimes without even that) or at the start of a new chapter. Both can work, and honestly I think it just depends on how you structure your chapters and where the transition fits in naturally. CPs can help you figure out whether you’ve structured your transitions in a way that flows or not. 

Once you’ve done all that, voila! You’ve now skipped over the boring part of your protagonist’s story. A+.

Do you struggle with transitions? What tips do you have? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Not sure how to handle passages of time in your WIP? @Ava_Jae breaks down how use transitions. (Click to tweet
Not sure how to skip a day/week/month, etc. in your WIP? @Ava_Jae explains how to use transitions. #writetip (Click to tweet)

POV Choices in YA

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For many years now, as a writer I’ve been drawn to first person narratives. All but one (my first) of my many WIPs were written with “I”s and “me”s and to say that I’ve devoured a ton of first person YA narratives over the years is an understatement.

As of late, and for a while now, first person has become super popular in YA (I’m guessing Twilight may have something to do with this, given that it was the first first-person YA I’d ever come across and that series was kiiiiinda a big deal, but don’t quote me on that) though it is absolutely not the only POV option out there. So as a writer trying to decide which POV to use, how do you make that choice?

Let’s take a look at your options.

First person:

“This is worse, so much worse, than them seeing some stupid drawings. 
(Self-Portrait: Funeral in the Forest
But Zephyr’s not saying anything, he’s just standing there, looking like his Viking self, except all weird and mute. Why? 
Did I disable him with my mind?” 
-I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, page 5

I suspect first person is so popular now in YA especially because it gives a direct access to the emotional and tumultuous minds of teen protagonists, with the opportunity of a boatload of voice to boot. It’s easy enough for readers to transition into because we generally think in first person, so it feels as though the readers are really in the protagonist’s head, rather than being in a story. I find it an effortless POV to slip into while writing, and it frequently just comes to me naturally which is why I tend to use it so often, but that’s not necessarily the case with everyone.

Second person:

“You’re going to get out. You’ve beaten her. You can find Mercury. You will get three gifts.

But you’ve got to keep going.

You’ll be at the end of the loch in a minute.

Doing well. Doing well.

Not far now.

Soon be able to see over into the valley, and—” 
-Half Bad by Sally Green, page 12

Second person POV is the POV we all learned in middle school not to use. I remember my English teachers telling us second person POV was pretty near pointless to attempt because it was too easy for readers to pull out of the narrative (along the lines of I'm not doing what the book says I'm doing), and generally, second person POV is very rare in YA.

Now while I've yet to come across a YA written entirely in second person (the example I gave above uses sections of second person narrative, but is primarily written in first person), that's not to say that it can't be done. It would, however, probably be super difficult, given alone that readers just aren't used to it. (And honestly? Noooo idea how that would sell, publishing-wise.)

All of that said, you may want to play around with second person if you'd like to try a raw, immediate, and unsettling POV that'll keep your readers on the edge of feeling like everything is a little off. 

Third person: 

“Walking to school over the snow-muffled cobbles, Karou had no sinister premonitions about the day. It seemed like just another Monday, innocent but for its essential Mondayness, not to mention its Januaryness. It was cold, and it was dark—in the dead of winter the sun didn’t rise until eight—but it was also lovely. The falling snow and the early hour conspired to pain Prague ghostly, like a tintype photograph, all silver and haze.”

-Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor, page 1

So I frequently mention voice when talking about first person, but the truth is the third person YAs I’ve read are also really really voice-y. Like the above. Mondayness and Januaryness and that imagery and—

I should probably stop fangirling and talk to you about third person perspective.

In terms of distance, third person perspective is slightly more distant to readers in that they aren’t plopped right in the POV character’s head—instead, they’re fed the story through a narrator, who, depending on how the POV is written (third person limited vs. omniscient, for example) will filter the story through that particular characters thoughts and feelings like first person, but through a separate narration.

That was confusing. Third person can do just about everything first person can do, but can also pull back more than first person can (though it doesn’t have to).

So what POV should you use? The truth is, it’s totally up to you to decide what feels most natural for the story (and for you). But the above are some things you may want to consider when deciding. If you experiment and read widely, you’ll figure out what’s right for your manuscript.

What POV do you prefer to read/write?

Twitter-sized bite:
Brainstorming a new WIP idea and not sure what POV to use? @Ava_Jae breaks down your options & things to consider. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Giveaway Winner #15!

Photo credit: Genna G on Flickr
Super quick pre-post post today to announce the winner of the fifteenth fixing the first page feature giveaway! So here we go!


The winner is…


Yay! Congratulations, E.G.! 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! :)

Vlog: 4 Mistakes I Made as a New Writer

I made a lot of mistakes when I first started writing, and now I'm sharing them with you so hopefully you don't make the same ones. Enjoy!


Have you made any of these mistakes? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Writer @Ava_Jae vlogs about mistakes she made as a new writer. Have you made any of these mistakes? (Click to tweet)  
"It was really hard for me to let go of the expectation of getting pub'd as a teen." —@Ava_Jae on new writer errors. (Click to tweet)

End of Year Goals

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So we have a little less than fifteen weeks of 2015 (those of you who were enjoying bliss ignorance, I apologize), so I thought it might be fun to start thinking about things I’d like to do before 2016. Call them resolutions or goals or just things to look forward to, but here are my goals for the rest of the year.

  • Finalize the #YAFantasyWIP. This is my NaNo manuscript from 2013 (yes, the one I wrote stupidly fast), so it’s been a long time coming, but I’ll very shortly be embarking of the last couple rounds of revision for this manuscript. Seeing how much this WIP has developed from first draft to pre-final revision draft has already been totally amazing, so I look forward giving it the final shine it needs.

  • Start working on a new project after #YAFantasyWIP revisions are 100% complete. Because I’m going to need a distraction when that project is done to keep me sane. Heh.

  • Finish (and beat) GR reading challenge (only four books to go!). My Goodreads reading challenge goal was fifty books this year, and it looks like at the rate I’m going I’ll very easily surpass that. My goal is to hit fifty and keep going—just to see how many I can squeeze in before the end of the year. :)

  • Finish second to last semester at college. Considering I just started school again three weeks ago, this feels like a weird goal. But it is, crazily, something that will happen before the end of the year! 

  • Write 800th blog post (21 to go). Pretty self-explanatory, so…yep. 

  • Post 80th vlog (ten to go). It’s kind of incredible to me that this is even a plausible goal, and yet! Boy, does time fly…

  • Make five diet-friendly meals/desserts I’ve never made before. Due to my medical stuff, I have a ridiculously strict diet. But! It means I’ve learned to cook, and though I’ve been lazy lately with the stuff I’ve been making, I think this is a good goal to have. Because most of the time I really like the new recipes I try out. So. Food.

  • Get Beyond the Red ARCs. I guess this is unfair to set as a goal since it’s mostly out of my hands, but this is a thing that will happen before 2016! And that’s exciting. And I can’t wait. :D

What end of year goals do you have?

Twitter-sized bite:
Writer @Ava_Jae shares some goals she has before 2016 arrives. What end of year goals do you have? (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Feature Giveaway #15

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You guys. You guys. We are not halfway through September, I can't. I just. How?

Anyway, good news for you because it's time to get ready for the next Fixing the First Page giveaway! Yay!

For those who’ve missed it in the past, 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.


  • 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'm 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 fifteenth public critique on Writability, do the thing with the rafflecopter widget below. You have until Tuesday, September 22 at 11:59 EST to enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Do You Have to Write Diverse Characters?

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If you're involved in the online publishing/writing community at all, then chances are extremely likely you've heard about the We Need Diverse Books initiative and ones like it, like diversifYA, Diversity in YA, Gay YA, Disability in Kidlit, and many others. Hell, if you've been to this blog more than a few times, you've likely seen me talk about why representation is important to me, and more recently, about the importance of chronic illness rep in YA.

What I'm trying to say is as of late, there have been a lot of pushes towards encouraging writers to write diversely and readers to read (and support) diverse lit. And you know? A lot of good has come out of it. There have been books with marginalized protags getting huge marketing budgets and promoted to the masses, which is incredibly awesome. There have been writers coming together to try to write as respectfully and realistically as possible. And probably most importantly: there's been more visibility of representation in literature.

Of course, we still have a long way to go, but there's been progress. And progress is awesome.

But at the same time, there have also been internet uproars related to the causes, usually surrounding poor (or even harmful) representation, whether in a book, on a panel, etc. Which is understandable, because poor representation needs to be discussed and pointed out. But at the same time, it can be scary as a writer trying to write a diverse cast in a respectful way (or as a writer trying to decide whether or not they should write diverse characters at all), to see that. There have been authors chased off their social media accounts after getting slammed over not-so-great representation in their books—which is probably every writer's worst nightmare.

Stemming from all this comes a sort of guilt or pressure to write diverse characters. Writers sometimes come across diversity talks and walk away with guilt for not writing a diverse cast. So the question is sometimes asked: do you have to write diverse characters?

The short answer? No. Including diverse characters in your book is not a requirement—furthermore, it's unlikely anyone will shame you for writing a book without any minority characters. It happens all the time, and by and large, goes unnoticed from readers who aren't looking for it. You won't be branded a jerk, or unworthy of writing, or anything like that if you don't write books with a diverse cast.

That said, you might decide you want to take a risk and write a diverse cast into your book anyway. Not for the sake of diversity (which is something I see people say, and oh, does it make me cringe), but for the sake of reality. As Mary Robinette Kowal put it:

Because our world? It's not a monolith. We live in a world full of unique people of all races, ethnicities, body types, levels of ability, levels of neuro(a)typicalities, sexual orientations, genders, socioeconomic classes, and religions. So if you choose to write a book without a diverse cast, know that you're not writing a world reflective of our own. Which is okay. You're allowed to make that choice. But it is a choice.

I guess what I'm trying to say, is out of all of these initiatives, no one is saying you have to write a diverse cast in your book. But maybe they're saying to pay attention to the world around you. Maybe they're saying realize that white, cis, heterosexual, middle class, able-bodied, neurotypical, athletic people aren't the only people with stories worth telling.

But is it a requirement to write diverse characters? Not really. But in my experience at least, the more you pay attention to the world around you, the harder it becomes to write worlds that aren't reflective of that reality.

What do you think? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Is it a requirement to write diverse characters? @Ava_Jae shares her thoughts. (Click to tweet)  
Writer @Ava_Jae says you're not required to write diverse characters, but you might decide you want to anyway. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: How to Juggle Writing & School

So for many of us, school is now in session! Which means all the extra, easy-to-find free time for writing is no more. So what do you do when you're a writer who goes to school? How do you juggle the two? Today I'm sharing my top tips picked up through writing through high school and going on five years of college.


What tips do you have for juggling writing with school or work?

Twitter-sized bites:
Struggling to juggle your writing with school or work? @Ava_Jae vlogs about her top five tips. (Click to tweet)  
How do you find time to write a book while at school or working full time? @Ava_Jae vlogs her top tips. (Click to tweet)

Are Your Characters Too Passive?

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So one of the critiques I’ve received a few times on WIPs I’ve been revising this year is centered on my characters. Specifically, characters who aren’t active enough.

Now, by “not active enough” I don’t mean that they didn’t exercise enough (though I mean, that might be the case too, but anyway). When you get the critique that your characters are too passive, it usually means they’re being reactive far too often. Things are happening to them, and they’re reacting to what’s happening, but they aren’t acting as agents of change. Which can quickly become a problem.

Now the good news is after getting this critique on two different projects, I’m now being super extra careful when plotting future WIPs to make sure that doesn’t happen again (because surprise! This is so much easier to fix when your book is a bunch of bullet points and flashcards). Bad news is if you get this critique on an existing, written manuscript, you’re going to have to roll up your sleeves and do some heavy lifting to fix it if it’s a widespread problem.

So how do you fix passive characters?

  1. Consider where your protagonist is reacting where they could be taking action. Depending on how widespread the issue is, this may be after a certain point in your manuscript, or something you’ll need to consider throughout the plot. Either way, pick some major points where your protagonist could be creating change and jot them down. 

  2. Be open to making big changes. This is important because when you change the way your characters behave, particularly when you’re giving them more agency to make change, well, there are going to be changes. But being afraid to revamp part or most of your plot will prevent you from making the fixes you need, so the best you can do is accept right now that there will possibly be large changes that you’ll need to make. And that’s okay. 

  3. Ask yourself, “What decision can my protagonist make that would create a change?” Brainstorm several ideas until you come up with something that makes sense for your plot and you’re happy with. Some ideas you come up with might sound ridiculous, but don’t filter—just write down whatever you come up with and filter them later. While ideally you want to go with a change that will weave into your existing plot well, as I said in the last point, don’t be afraid to go with something that’ll require a little legwork. Ultimately, you want to go with whatever will make your story the best that it can be—and sometimes that means a lot of work while revising. 

Have you ever encountered this problem, either in your own work or in a book/movie/TV show?

Twitter-sized bite:

Are your characters too passive? @Ava_Jae talks how to fix this problematic issue. (Click to tweet)

On Trying Something New

Photo credit: R'eyes on Flickr
One of my New Years Resolutions for 2015 was to try something new—and it’s something that I intend to keep as a yearly goal. Because thinking back over the last couple years at the many new things I’ve tried, I have to say, thus far I haven’t regretted anything. *knocks on wood*

Back in 2011, for example, I tried Twitter and Blogger, which has turned out pretty splendidly. And last year I cut off my hair (best presentation decision ever), and tried YouTube and I’ve been so blown away by the positive response there—not only have a found an audience of totally new people I hadn’t interacted with, but they’ve been some of the most enthusiastic about book stuff. Last year I also changed my sleep schedule so that I’ve adjusted to waking up between 5-5:30ish, which has increased my productivity output like whoa.

This year I completed my resolution in August, when I took a train to Chicago all by my lonesome and attended a conference as an author for the first time—an event that is pretty much the highlight of my year so far.

So those have all been amazing experiences that I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t pushed myself to try something new. But I also think the same kind of experimenting can be really beneficial in writing, too.

I’ve found the one of the best ways to figure out how you work best, to improve your writing and to expand your writer toolbox, so to speak, is to try new things. Whether it’s plotting when you’ve always been a pantser, experimenting with your sleep schedule, trying a new strategy for revising, or reading a new genre. Or maybe it’s playing with multiple perspectives for a first time, or writing in a genre you haven’t played around with yet, or writing a protagonist that's somehow different from others you’ve written before. But that whole don’t knock it till you’ve tried it thing is true, even with writing, because you really don’t know how well or not a new technique or writing experiment will work for you until you’ve given it a chance.

So I encourage you to take chances with your writing. Do something different. Write that crazy book that you don’t think you can pull off. Try NaNoWriMo for the first time. Play around with that new revision technique or plot development. Just don’t let “I don’t think I can do it” stop you; after all, how do you know if you haven’t tried?

Have you tried something new (writing related or not) this year?

Twitter-sized bites:
Writer @Ava_Jae says you should experiment and try new things with your writing. What do you think? (Click to tweet
Have you tried something new this year? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

So You Want to Write YA Thrillers?

Photo credit: @lattefarsan on Flickr
So next up in the So You Want to Write series, a genre that I quite enjoy and am quickly realizing I don’t read nearly enough of: YA Thrillers.

What is it?

YA Thrillers are fast-paced stories, often (but not always) about either a protagonist who ends up in the sights of a killer or a protagonist who winds up on a dangerous revenge-spree. Either way, there’s bound to be a body count, a ton going on, very high stakes (usually the protagonist’s life) and lots of twists and turns that’ll keep you guessing.

Pros/Cons of Writing YA Thrillers:


  • Hasn’t had a major boom (but isn’t dead either). The lack of a major boom thing is actually a pro because it means it’s not oversaturated (or about to be oversaturated). It seems to be selling well enough, best I can tell, so the state of the publishing market shouldn’t be a deterrent. 

  • Fast-paced and very twisty. If you like writing twists and quickly paced books, YA Thrillers may be the sweet spot for you. 

  • High stakes. Personally, I’ve always found high stakes fun to write, and more times than not the protagonist’s life is on the line in YA Thrillers. So again, if that’s something you enjoy writing… :)


  • Complicated balance. A big part of Thrillers is to keep the reader guessing, which can often be tricky to write. How do you drop enough clues and red herrings for the ending to make sense without it being obvious? That’s a question you’ll have to navigate carefully as a YA Thriller writer. 

Recommended Reading:

As I have said before and will continue to do so: you must read the genre you write in. It is so important to keep up to date with what’s selling, what’s been written, what’s been overdone, etc. and the best way to do that is to read as much as possible.

Note: Aside from Far From You, I haven’t read any of the below, but they sound great. And they’re YA Thrillers, at any rate.

Helpful Links:

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

Twitter-sized bites: 
Thinking about writing YA Thrillers? Writer @Ava_Jae shares some tips, recommendations and more. (Click to tweet
Do you write YA Thrillers? Share your experience at @Ava_Jae’s So You Want to Write series. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: What if Your Writing Sucks?

This vlog isn't as mean as it sounds, I promise. 

Writing is hard, and dealing with self-doubt about our writing is even harder. It's not at all uncommon for writers to think their work isn't really that great—so what do you do then?


How do you handle self-doubt about your writing?

Twitter-sized bites: 
"Once you see the flaws in your can start to work toward making it better." #vlog (Click to tweet
"You aren't any better or worse than anyone else for taking longer or shorter to get your skills publication ready." (Click to tweet
Worried that your writing isn't any good? @Ava_Jae vlogs about why that conclusion is actually a good thing. (Click to tweet)

On the Lack of Chronic Illness Rep in YA

Photo credit: e-Magine Art on Flickr
I’ve been thinking lately about chronic illness representation in YA. Or rather, the lack thereof.

There’ve been a few reasons why it’s on my mind, most obviously because I’m a chronically ill young person myself, and less obviously because I keep hearing about books with disabled protagonists who end up cured/not actually sick after all at the end and it’s just so frustrating.

I’ve already written about why the Miracle Cure is such a problem, both on and off the page, so this post isn’t about that.

This post is about the lack of representation because I’m tired of books with chronically ill characters ending one of two ways: they die (and their deaths are So Tragic), or they’re cured (because how else can they have a Happily Ever After?).
This is the message we’re giving our chronically ill kids: your stories are only worth telling if you die or have a miracle.

This is the message we’re giving our chronically ill kids: you can only be happy if you aren’t Sick.

This is the message we’re giving our able-bodied kids: Sick kids are Tragic Figures there to teach you to Appreciate Your Lives.

I asked Twitter for suggestions for books with chronically ill (not terminally ill) characters who aren’t cured at the end, which got a ton of RTs (thank you, Twitter!). For the sake of the post, I was looking specifically for physical illnesses, if only because there's a lot out there on mental illnesses (which is awesome!), but I rarely see anything about chronic physical illnesses, thus why I started looking for it. Anyway.

After help with investigating from @KatiTheWriter and @rachelacantor, and a lot of digging, I ended up with twenty-seven published books, plus one forthcoming. Thirteen were published between one and three decades ago—most of which are about diabetes—and five of those were part of a series. A few that I’m not counting were published around the same time and had die/died in the title so I think you understand why I’m not including them. So if we’re counting YA published within the last decade that isn’t death-focused, we drop down to fourteen.

Fourteen YA books published within the last decade with chronically ill characters. That's not even one and a half a year. Of them, half are about diabetes or epilepsy (which seem to be the most common two chronic illnesses covered in YA). And I haven’t read many of them, so I have no idea how they end. I hope not with a Miracle Cure or a death, but I don’t know.

Are there others out there that I missed? Very possibly. But the fact that it was so darn hard to find twenty-seven books published over the course of twenty-nine years really speaks to how much of an issue this is. It shouldn't be this hard.

And it sucks. It sucks knowing that with very few exceptions, the only times chronically ill kids get to see themselves represented is when they’re getting one of the messages above. Because what does that say to them about their worth and how the rest of their lives will look?

This isn’t okay. We need to do better.

I want chronically ill protagonists saving the world and having adventures while dealing with their illness.

I want chronically ill protagonists falling in love and learning that every part of them is beautiful, even the Sick parts.

I want chronically ill protagonists who handle their illness in realistic ways. Who have their Happily Ever Afters without a cure. Who are badass and sick simultaneously because the two aren’t mutually exclusive. And I want them in YA books, because chronically ill kids get the message that they shouldn’t be sick while young ALL THE TIME and just. I’m so tired of it. So, so tired of it.

There isn’t a quick or easy solution to this. But these messages are so damaging and hurtful to kids, and it’s so disappointing to me that it hasn’t been addressed.

We have an amazing community. We can do better. We have to.

Note: Since many have asked, here's a list of the YA books I found that have some chronic (not terminal) illness representation. Though I did research as much as I could, it's likely that I've missed some. I've not read most these, so I don’t know if their endings disqualify them with a Miracle Cure or a death, or in the case of epilepsy, I'm not sure if all of these are illness rather than injury-related (if you know either of these things, please let me know and I’ll remove it and update the post accordingly). Also, many of these older ones especially are very outdated (both in how the illnesses are viewed and treated), I have no idea if the representation is respectful (so please be careful), and not all of these books were rated highly because of other book-related issues. So with that caveat:

(1986) The Babysitter’s Club #1 Kristy’s Great Idea by Ann M. Martin—Diabetes***
(1987) Edith Herself by Ellen Howard—Epilepsy***
(1988) The Babysitter’s Club #13 Good-bye Stacey, Good-bye by Ann M. Martin—Diabetes*
(1988) When Dreams Shatter by Lurlene McDaniel—Diabetes
(1989) The Babysitter’s Club #28 Welcome Back, Stacey! by Ann M. Martin—Diabetes*
(1990) Jodie’s Journey by Colin Thiele—Arthritis
(1995) The Babysitter’s Club #83 Stacey vs. the BSC by Ann M. Martin—Diabetes*
(1995) The Babysitter’s Club #87 Stacey and the Bad Girls by Ann M. Martin—Diabetes*
(1995) Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Alden R. Carter—Diabetes**
(1995) All the Days of Her Life by Lurlene McDaniel—Diabetes**
(2000) The Last Book in the Universe by Rodman Philbrick—Epilepsy***
(2003) Sweetblood by Pete Hautman—Diabetes**
(2004) Song of the Magdalene by Donna Jo Napoli—Epilepsy***
(2006) Last Dance by Lurlene McDaniel—Diabetes**
(2007) The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie—Epilepsy, Hydrocephalus***
(2007) Zane's Trace by Allan Wolf—Epilepsy***
(2011) Throat by R.A. Nelson—Epilepsy***
(2012) Parallel Visions by Cheryl Rainfield—Severe asthma
(2013) My Life After Now by Jessica Verdi—HIV
(2014) Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling by Lucy Frank—Crohn’s Disease***
(2014) Top Ten Clues You’re Clueless by Liz Czukas—Diabetes***
(2014) The Summer I Found You by Jolene Perry—Diabetes***
(2014) Inland by Kat Rosenfeld—Undefined chronic pulmonary illness***
(2014) The Islands at the End of the World by Austin Aslan—Epilepsy***
(2015) Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt—Autoimmune disorder***
(2015) The Way We Bared Our Souls by Willa Strayhorn—Multiple Sclerosis***
(2015) Because You'll Never Meet Me by Leah Thomas—Epilepsy, Cardiomyopathy***
(2016/17?) Unfolding by Jonathan Friesen—Epilepsy***

*According to TBC wiki.
**Found off YALSA’s Diabetes in YA Fiction for National Diabetes Month post.
***Found on Disability in Kidlit’s GR shelves.

Twitter-sized bites:
"I want chronically ill protags saving the world & having adventures while dealing w/ their illness." (Click to tweet)  
The lack of chronic illness representation in YA is a problem—and @Ava_Jae explains why. (Click to tweet)

Do Writers Need Social Media?

Photo credit: Cakehead Loves on Flickr
So as many of you know, and I have said here before, I am all over the internet. Twitter, tumblr, Blogger, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest—I use pretty much everything except Google+ (though Google+ automatically made me an account anyway because…Google).

I occasionally talk about platform building and tips for specific social media sites, but in online communities that can easily become overwhelming (and really time-consuming) and is sometimes volatile, the question is often asked: do writers really need social media?

In today’s day and age, unless you’re a massively huge bestseller, a lot of the responsibility to market your books is on you—the writer. And unsurprisingly, a lot of that marketing happens online via various social media accounts. But how involved and engaged does a writer need to be online? Honestly…I’m not sure.

Social media does undeniably help, and authors who engage online have the opportunity to connect with fans and find new ones. Authors like Tahereh Mafi, Maggie Stiefvater, V.E. Schwab, Lindsay Smith, Dahlia Adler, and Megan Erickson I’ve either read or have on my TBR shelf because I liked them online first, and so I checked out their books. And probably 90% of my TBR shelf is based off online recommendations, word of mouth (online), and social media buzz around a book.

That is to say, as far as marketing goes, social media works.

But there are, of course, down sides. Social media takes up a lot of time, online witch hunts are terrifying, and there’s a lot of negativity online that’s been known to trigger stuff for some writers and even pushed them into social media breaks of varying lengths. Which is understandable because your health—emotional, mental, and physical—comes first.

I think, nowadays, it’s hard for writers to get by without any social media, but how much you engage online is totally up to you. Some writers keep social media at a distance and only really update for major news and occasional shares. Other writers like myself are much more involved online and engage directly with fans, readers, and other writers. How involved you are and how many social media branches you use is totally up to you—the more you use the more people you can potentially reach, but it does require a balance because a) you have books to write and b) the aforementioned sometimes negative atmosphere online.

All in all, I think while some social media is at least partially necessary for most writers, the how much totally depends on the person. Do whatever feels most natural for you and you should be just fine.

How much social media do you use? 

Twitter-sized bites:
Do writers really need social media? @Ava_Jae shares her thoughts. (Click to tweet)  
How much social media do writers really need? @Ava_Jae says it depends on the person. What do you think? (Click to tweet)

On Repetition in Writing

Photo credit: B Tal on Flickr
“I’ve tried so hard to stop thinking about him.  
I’ve tried so hard to forget his face. 
I’ve tried so hard to get those blue blue blue eyes out of my head but I know him I know him I know him it’s been 3 years since I last saw him.” —Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, page 42
Repetition in writing is a funny thing.

When done intentionally, repetition can be a really powerful tool. Oftentimes it’s used to show emotional or psychological turmoil on the POV character’s part, or it’s used to emphasize something, or show a character hyper-focusing on something (i.e.: Adam’s “blue blue blue eyes” in the excerpt above). But what I like about it is it can be a very effective and subtle tool that subconsciously gives certain messages to the readers.

When done unintentionally, or when it’s overused, however…not so much.

Like many things in writing, a lot of this is going to be subjective. Some people just don’t like repetition in writing ever, which is fair. Other people like myself think it can super effective when done correctly. Many have no idea how to even tell if they’re doing it “correctly” which is fair, because, again, subjective, and also writing is hard.

So how do you know where on the spectrum your repetition lands?

Two things to think about:
  1. Make sure your repetition has a purpose. Like whenever you break a writing rule, it needs to be done with purpose. Think about why you’re choosing to repeat that phrase or word or whatever the case may be and know the reason behind it. If it’s deliberate, repetition can work—just make sure that it is, indeed, deliberate.

  2. Make sure you don’t overuse it. And like any stylistic effect in writing, repetition can very easily be overdone. Remember: the more you use a particular stylistic effect, the less power it has when you use it. Think about spicing your work with stylistic effects like repetition—just don’t overspice your writing.
Ultimately, you’re not really going to know if your repetition is working or not until you get outside feedback—and even then your feedback may conflict a little (which is why I recommend you try to work with odd numbers, so you can always side with the majority). But if you use it carefully and thoughtfully, this can be a really powerful tool to add to your writing arsenal.

Have you ever used repetition in your writing? Do you like it when you see it in books? 

Twitter-sized bite:  
Is repetition okay in writing? @Ava_Jae talks balancing this stylistic tool and making sure it has a purpose. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: Why I Revise in Passes

Revisions can easily become overwhelming, so today I'm sharing a strategy I use to keep on task without ever feeling like it's too much. AKA: the magic of revising in passes.


Do you revise in passes?

Twitter-sized bites: 
Overwhelmed with revisions? @Ava_Jae vlogs about lists, color-coding, prioritizing, and revising in passes. (Click to tweet
Do you find revisions overwhelming? @Ava_Jae vlogs about why she revises in passes. (Click to tweet)
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