Never Settle

In the seventh grade I had a Geography teacher who everyone was afraid of. I was told that he was strict and that the class would be especially difficult because he was teaching it. Naturally, on my first day of school, I was nervous.

My teacher had high expectations for a group of twelve year olds, it’s true, but they weren’t impossible to meet. You see, he told us he lived by a Japanese motto that said there is no such thing as perfection because whatever you do can always be better. It may sound harsh, but when implemented into his grading system it meant if he thought you deserved it, you could earn more than 100%.

You’d think that a perfectionist myself would hate a system in which you could never reach perfection, but I thrived off of it. It became a competition—what was the highest grade I could get? I spent hours on a project that many of my classmates spent minutes on. I worked hard and it paid off—there was more than one occasion when I received marks of 125% or more.  

Nostalgia aside, I think my Geography teacher was onto something. You see, he didn’t mean that our work would never be good enough for high marks, he meant quite the opposite—that we should never settle for just “good enough.” That we can always improve and we should never stop reaching for better.

You can apply this to almost anything, but as this is a writing blog, I’m going to apply to Butterbeer cupcakes. You can’t get better than that.

Kidding! Though those cupcakes look pretty delicious, I must say.

Err, anyway. Writing. Right.

Now before you think I’m contradicting what I said before about the Never-Ending Editing Syndrome (and I’m totally not), allow me to explain myself. Although editing is indeed the time that you improve your writing in whatever WIP you’re working on, I’m not talking about just one project.

When I say never settle for “good enough,” I don’t just mean a WIP (although that’s certainly part of it), I mean your writing as a whole.

I don’t care if you’re a NYT Bestselling author with six-figure advances. There is always room for improvement. Always. Your craft isn’t something you should ever allow to plateau—strive to improve every day, read books about writing, critique others work, have people critique your work, look for ways to pull your writing apart and make it better.

Every day is a day that you can get better at what you do. Never settle for enough talent, enough practice, enough anything.

You can always get better.

I read writing books all the time. And re-read them with highlighters. And re-read them again with different highlighters. What are your favorite books about the craft?  

Getting to Know Your Characters

Photo credit: Rob Ellis on Flickr
Looking back, a problem I had in many of my earlier WIPs was that all of my characters sounded the all of them, but most were definitely far too similar.
same. Ok, maybe not

I often didn’t recognize the problem until I was nose-deep in revisions, and by that stage it was very difficult to fix it. No longer was it a matter of tweaking dialogue here and there—the only way to correct it was to completely rewrite the character.

Not an enjoyable experience, let me tell you. Especially when it plagues more than one character. Oftentimes I didn’t do it; I started a new WIP instead.

So how can you avoid this? Is there any way to prevent flat characters in a first draft?

The answer is yes. And although I can’t guarantee your characters will be perfect the first time around (in fact, they probably won’t) taking a few extra steps before and while you write can help tremendously.

So! What am I talking about?

Do this BEFORE you write:

Interview your characters…about each other. One of the biggest problems I tend to have in the early stages of writing is voice. This is a significant issue since I often write in first person.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who has encountered this.

So! To remedy the everyone-sounds-the-same disease, let your characters tell you about each other. Even if you’re in the early brainstorming stages, you must have some idea of at least two characters. If you don’t, make up another characters, because you’re going to need them eventually.

Do you have at least two characters in mind? Good, now whip out a blank sheet of paper (or blank document) and label the top with your character’s name. For the sake of not utterly confusing you all, let’s say you have one character named Jimmy and another named Rachel. 

So, slap a nice, big, fat, JIMMY at the top of the page. Now ask yourself, what does Jimmy think of Rachel? and write down what he tells you exactly. Even if you’re writing your WIP in third person, I recommend trying this exercise in first. The nuances you get from discovering each character’s voice will be just as useful in third person as they will in first.

Now write let Rachel tell you about Jimmy. Do this with all of your major characters and note the differences in the voice. Maybe Jimmy curses a lot and uses a lot of short sentences. Or maybe Rachel speaks eloquently and thinks Jimmy is an uneducated moron. Or maybe the other way around. Go all out. Don’t let your characters leave anything behind. Promise them confidentiality so they don’t hold back. Write at least a paragraph.

You’ll get not only different voices out of it, but you’ll learn what the characters think of each other, which is particularly invaluable.

HINT: Are your characters being too nice to each other? Let Rachel rant about that time Jimmy pissed her off. It’ll be more fun to write and you’ll be surprised what gems turn up. 

Finished? Awesome! Now…

Do this BEFORE and WHILE you write:

Create character sheets. These include their name, age, birthday, birth place, physical description, fears, hobbies, dreams, desires, family background, etc. etc. If you don’t want to make up your own, that’s fine, there are plenty of excellent resources out there. I highly recommend this blog post for a list of great writer resources and specifically The Novel Notebook for useful novel-building worksheets galore.

Links aside, character sheets are immensely useful for keeping track of trivia about your characters and avoiding the OH NO FLAT CHARACTER syndrome. Remember that even your minor characters have their own lives that can color what they do and make them more interesting.

CHALLENGE:  Fill out a character sheet for EVERY character. Yes, every character. That means even the taxi driver. Why? Because he has a family, dreams and fears too. And if you take the time to get to know him, he might just surprise you with something memorable.

Know your characters before you write, and I guarantee they’ll be much more fleshed out in your first draft than they would have otherwise.

Since we’re talking about characters, who are your favorite characters? You may pick as many as you like. 

Dystopia: The New Vampire?

With the last Twilight movies on the horizon and mounting hype over upcoming movies like The Hunger Games and Divergent, many are left wondering if dystopia is the new vampire.

For those of you who don’t know, here’s a quick definition of dystopia from

a society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression,disease, and overcrowding.

— n
an imaginary place where everything is as bad as it can be

[C19 (coined by John Stuart Mill ): from dys-  + Utopia ]

In summary, it’s the opposite of utopia. And its increasing popularity is more than evident on the shelves.

So in the sense that vampires are slowly going out of fashion and dystopia is building quite the fan base, I’d say that yes dystopia is the new vampire. However. HOWEVER. There is an enormous difference between the two genres that I think will set dystopia apart from the vampire craze that flooded bookstores not that long ago.

Before I go on, I want to say first and foremost that I’m not dissing any vampire novels. They had (and some still do) a huge following and it appealed to a large base of particularly excitable pre-teens and teenagers who snatched up more than a few of them. They were entertaining and people liked them, which is why they became popular in the first place.

So I give Twilight and the rest of the vampire books out there a lot of credit. They caught onto something that really resonated with people.

The only bone I have to pick with vampire novels is that a lot of them are the same. I’m not saying they all have the same plot (that would be an unfair generalization) but the vast majority of vampire books I glanced at in the bookstores went something like this: girl meets boy. Boy (sometimes girl) is a vampire. Boy loves girl but is afraid to hurt her. Girl thinks boy is mysterious and doesn’t care about the danger. TENSION.

Entertaining? Absolutely. But I got a little tired of it pretty quickly.

And that’s where dystopian is different. Whereas there was only so much you could do with a vampire story, a large range of dystopian novels are emerging. What makes dystopian different is that each story has a different society. Every novel has new challenges and new obstacles to overcome. Are there similarities? Of course, but there’s potential for a lot of variety.

For example: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (c’mon, I couldn’t write a post about dystopian novels without mentioning The Hunger Games at least twice). Basic plot involves a competition in which two teenagers from each of the twelve districts are forced to enter every year. The competition? Survival of the fittest. Last one still alive wins.

Now compare this to Wither by Lauren DeStefano. There aren’t any competitions here, initiations or factions. Wither’s focus is on something entirely different: genetic engineering gone wrong. In this dystopian novel, scientists accidently triggered a time bomb in every human so that women only live to the age of twenty and men twenty-five. As a result, girls are married off in the early teen years and forced to bear children in order to keep humanity alive.

I don’t need to go on to explicate the difference between Wither and The Hunger Games.

So what’s the point Ava? They’re different, so what?

In my opinion the end of the vampire age is coming because people got bored. The stories became repetitive and readers wanted something different. I think the vampire craze is coming to a close not because of a lack of talent or anything like that, but a lack of variety.

Dystopian is different. There can be huge variations and still fit within the realm of dystopia. Of course there will be repetition, but I think there's much more potential for variety than the vampire craze was ever able to offer.

And that will give it the momentum it needs to carry forward.

What do you think? Is dystopia just another passing craze? Will variety make a difference?

Judging Book Covers

Don’t judge a book by its cover. Yes, we’ve all heard it. I know when I read it, it comes out in a strange mocking sing-songy voice, since I used to say it that way when I was a kid. I don’t know why. I just did.

Anyway, we’ve all heard it but let’s be honest: every single one of us do just that. And it’s not a horrible crime that we should hang our heads in shame about; covers are there to pique our interest. To grab our attention. If it doesn’t, then it’s not doing its job.

In essence, covers are there to be judged. That doesn’t mean that if a book has a boring cover the writing is bad, but it does mean that cover designers put a lot of thought into what goes in a book cover and we can learn from them.

So. I thought it might be a fun exercise to look at what have been touted as the best book covers (according to the interwebz) and see what they have in common and how they reflect the book. I spent hours looking at book covers and choosing my personal favorites.

Here are two that caught my attention.

*All summaries and covers found on Goodreads*

Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen

“The football field is a battlefield.

There's an extraordinary price for victory at Oregrove High. It is paid on - and off - the football field. And it claims its victims without mercy - including the most innocent bystanders. 

When a violent, steroid-infused, ever-escalating prank war has devastating consequences, an unlikely friendship between a talented but emotionally damaged fullback and a promising gymnast might hold the key to a school's salvation.

Told in alternating voices and with unapologetic truth, Leverage illuminates the fierce loyalty, flawed justice, and hard-won optimism of two young athletes.

Ok. So now let’s look at the cover. The sports theme is reflected in the lettering, which is very similar to the typeface you see for Varsity letters. The RAGE in LEVERAGE is in red while the rest are black—which suggests the violence and anger that the summary mentions. The overly-veiny arm hints at the steroid abuse, while it’s raised in a fist pump (GO TEAM) which goes with the sports theme.

The cover is simple, but effective, and reflects elements of the novel.

All in all a good cover. Let’s look at another one.

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman 

"Set against the gorgeous backdrop of Rome, Tom Rachman's debut follows the topsy-turvy private lives of the reporters, editors, and executives of an international English-language newspaper as they struggle to keep it - and themselves - afloat.

Fifty years and many changes have ensued since the paper was founded by an enigmatic millionaire, and now, amid the stained carpeting and dingy office furniture, the staff's personal dramas seem far more important than the daily headlines. Kathleen, the imperious editor-in-chief, is smarting from a betrayal in her open marriage; Arthur, the lazy obituary writer, is transformed by personal tragedy; Abbey, the embattled financial officer, discovers that her job cuts and her love life are intertwined in a most unexpected way.

 Out in the field, a veteran Paris freelancer goes to desperate lengths for his next byline, while the new Cairo stringer is mercilessly manipulated by an outrageous war correspondent with an outsize ego. And in the shadows is the isolated young publisher who pays more attention to his prized basset hound, Schopenhauer, than to the fate of his family's quirky newspaper.

As the era of print news gives way to the Internet age and this imperfect crew stumbles toward an uncertain future, the paper's rich history is revealed, including the surprising truth about its founder's intentions.”

Now the cover!

I like to start with the typeface because that’s a really important decision that isn’t made lightly. In this case, the curvy, handwritten-like feel of the typeface fits with the less-than-perfect feel of not only the title, but the summary. The small stack of hand-bound newspapers is pretty obvious: the book is about a family newspaper trying to stay alive. The black backdrop is simple and draws attention to not only the title and the author’s name, but the focus of the cover (the newspapers) below it. It also suggests the “uncertain future” of the newspaper as you can’t see much its surroundings.

So I only did two in an effort to keep this short, but if it’s popular I might consider doing more in the future (yes? no?). That’ll be your call, my fair readers.

Regardless, I think these two are good examples of how every element should relate back to the book, and how even the simplest covers can draw attention.

What do you think? Would these covers catch your eye? Do you think they’re effective? What are some of your favorite book covers?

Loss of a Legend

FIRSTLY I am guest blogging on Thea Atkinson’s awesome blog about brainstorming! Actually due to the popularity of my brainstorming post here, it’s being reblogged there. BUT if you haven’t read the brainstorming post you totally should (it’s got some fun ideas and random bursts of sugar)! And if you HAVE read the Brainstorming post you should pop on over to Thea’s blog anyway because she’s amazing!

Yup. So go do that. I’ll wait.

Back? Ok excellent. Moving along, now.

SECONDLY the Harry Potter awesomeness is still going on this week. There’s a super awesome SCAVENGER HUNT and BURIED TREASURE TO BE FOUND. Ok, maybe not the treasure. But there ARE prizes. Excellent ones. So if you haven’t already, you should check it out.

THIRDLY this is a blog! And I have a post. It’s about Borders.

I love Borders. I feel like I grew up there, between its shelves. I love everything about it—the cool (but not overwhelming) quiet, the new book smell, the rows of brand new books, the cafĂ©, the lounge chairs…

Especially the new book smell. They should bottle it and sell it. Or make a new book-smelling candle. Or something.

Right, digressing.

As I’m sure many if not all of you have heard, Borders has fallen and will soon be a memory like the Discovery Channel Store and Linens N’ Things. It’s a tragic loss.

I sort of summed up my thoughts in a tweet yesterday:

Yeah. Just think about that. It’s a tragedy.

To make matters worse, there’s this internet rumor going around that all Borders will be closed this Friday. It gave me a near heart attack when I heard it. THIS FRIDAY? BUT SO SOON!

So I went to Borders and asked about it. Good news is the guy I talked to said they’d probably be open for about a month or so since that’s how long liquidation usually takes. Evidently the only thing happening on Friday is the decision of how to liquidate the stores.

So. If you are fortunate enough to still have a Borders near you like I do, you need not panic. If my informant is right (and I sincerely hope he is), you have a month to relish in the last days of Borders' awesomeness.

Then when the liquidation sales hit, you also have time to go stock up on those books you’ve been wanting to read. Silver lining.

Bad news, is in a few months, Borders will be a memory. And that’s a sad thing indeed.

R.I.P. Borders. We’ll miss you. 

Top Five Favorite Harry Potter Moments

It’s a bittersweet time for Harry Potter heads. With the final movie at long last released, it feels like a decade of magical moments has come to a close.

But! Do not despair, my friends! A group of totally awesome Harry Potter fans such as myself have put together a ridiculously awesome blog hop this week, all featuring Harry Potter posts! *GASP* What’s more? There are prizes! A scavenger hunt! And a Twitter hashtag! OHMYGOODNESS!

So! You should totally check it out because the prizes are super fantabulous and technically you’re already checking it out since this is the first blog post of this week’s Potter blog hop (ooo, tricked you a little there. I know, sneaky.)

Err, anyway, back to the blog post…

Although there may not be any new moments to look forward to, there are certainly moments that will live on forever on the page and on the screen. In honor of the closing of an era, I’ve amassed my top five. Originally it was ten but…the post was just too long.  

(*SPOILER ALERT* If you haven't read the books OR seen the last movie yet then...GO WATCH THE MOVIE AND/OR READ THOSE AWESOME BOOKS and come back. :D)

So! In chronological order! 
  1. "Yer a Wizard, Harry.” The moment it all began. How could I not include this in my list of favorite HP moments? Not only was our introduction of Hagrid epic, not only is Harry given his first glimmer of hope in over a decade, but by the end of the chapter, Dudley has a (well-deserved) pig tail. COME ON.
  2. Welcome to The Burrow. You’re probably wondering why the introduction of The Burrow is on here and our first look at Hogwarts isn’t. Don’t get me wrong—reading about Hogwarts for the first time was incredible. A magical castle hidden way where lucky little wizards and witches get to live ten months of the year? Epic.

    But The Burrow gave us a glimpse of normal wizarding life. We learn about the chores of the magical folk (like de-gnoming the garden), we watch Mrs. Weasley put together a dinner with flying pots and pans and magically boiling sauces and—best of all—the Weasleys are so accustomed to it they consider it absolutely normal, while Harry (and the rest of us) flourish in its specialness.

    I think it’s easy to see why The Burrow is one of Harry’s favorite places. I know it’s definitely one of mine.

  3. The map’s message to Snape. There’s really not much explaining on this one. This is one of my all-time favorite Harry Potter moments. I read Prisoner of Azkaban four times and I laughed every time I reached this part. It really speaks for itself:

    'Mr. Moony presents his compliments to Professor Snape, and begs him to keep his abnormally large nose out of other people’s business.'
    Snape froze. Harry stared, dumbstruck, at the message. But the map didn’t stop there. More writing was appearing beneath the first.
    'Mr. Prongs agrees with Mr. Moony, and would like to add that Professor Snape is an ugly git.'
    It would have been very funny if the situation hadn’t been so serious. And there was more ...
    'Mr. Padfoot would like to register his astonishment that an idiot like that ever became a Professor.'
    Harry closed his eyes in horror. When he’d opened them, the map had had its last word.
    'Mr. Wormtail bids Professor Snape good day, and advises him to wash his hair, the slimeball.'” (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban—Chapter 14—Snape’s Grudge) 

  4. Fred & George vs. Umbridge. I think everyone remembers this moment, even if you only watched the movies. Fred and George have never been more epic.

    So!' said Umbridge triumphantly. Harry realised she was standing just a few stairs in front of him, once more looking down upon her prey. 'So--you think it amusing to turn a school corridor into a swamp, do you?'

    'Pretty amusing, yeah,' said Fred, looking up at her without the slightest sign of fear…
    …'You two,' she went on, gazing down at Fred and George, 'are about to learn what happens to wrongdoers in my school.'
    'You know what?' said Fred. 'I don't think we are.'
    He turned to his twin.

    'George,' said Fred, 'I think we've outgrown full-time education.'
    'Yeah, I've been feeling that way myself,' said George lightly.
    'Time to test our talents in the real world, d'you reckon?' asked Fred.
    'Definitely,' said George.

    And before Umbridge could say a word, they raised their wands and said together:

    'Accio brooms!'

    Harry heard a loud crash somewhere in the distance. Looking to his left, he ducked just in time. Fred and George's broomsticks, one still trailing the heavy chain and iron peg with which Umbridge had fastened them to the wall, were hurtling along the corridor towards their owners; they turned left, streaked down the stairs and stopped sharply in front of the twins, the chain clattering loudly on the flagged stone floor.

    'We won't be seeing you,' Fred told Professor Umbridge, swinging his leg over his broomstick.
    'Yeah, don't bother to keep in touch,' said George, mounting his own.

    Fred looked around at the assembled students, at the silent, watchful crowd.
    'If anyone fancies buying a Portable Swamp, as demonstrated upstairs, come to number ninety-three, Diagon Alley--Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes,' he said in a loud voice. 'Our new premises!'
    'Special discounts to Hogwart's students who swear they're going to use our products to get rid of this old bat,' added George, pointing at Professor Umbridge.’” (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix—Chapter 29—Career Advice).

  5. Dudley’s goodbye. This by far is one of my favorite moments in the entire series, so I was a little disappointed they didn’t include it in the movie. Nonetheless! After all the hell Dudley put Harry through over the years, I was astounded (and thoroughly amused) by this final goodbye in book seven.

    “Dudley raised a large, hamlike hand to point at Harry.
    ‘Why isn’t he coming with us?’
    Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia froze where they stood, staring at Dudley as though he had just expressed a desire to become a ballerina.
    ‘What?’ said Uncle Vernon loudly.
    ‘Why isn’t he coming too?’ asked Dudley.
    ‘Well, he—he doesn’t want to,’ said Uncle Vernon, turning to glare at Harry and adding, ‘You don’t want to, do you?’
    ‘Not in the slightest,’ said Harry.” (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows—Chapter 3—The Dursleys Departing)

    What makes this moment even better is that just a little while later, Dudley admits he doesn’t think Harry is a waste of space and *gasp* shakes his hand. Brilliant.  

  6. Neville kills Nagini. Ok, so I lied. There’s six. But I just couldn’t leave this out. What made this so epic was that Harry didn’t deliver the final blow to the Horcruxes—Neville did. And who deserves to be a hero more than Neville? Let me answer that for you: no one.

    From scared, chubby little first year to rebel leader and horcrux-killing hero, Neville wins MVP in my book. 

 So that’s it guys, my top six. What are your favorite Harry Potter moments?

Be Genuine

“Every author in some way portrays himself in his works, even if it be against his will.” –Goethe

Be yourself. Two words most of us have heard since kindergarten, repeated endlessly almost to the point of cliché.

But the funny thing about those two ever-repeated words is that out of all the writing tips I could think of, this one stuck out to me the most. And it’s not just a writing tip really, it’s a life tip.

Be genuine.

But what does that have to do with that super-awesome fantabulous quote at the top? you wonder. It’s simple, really.

As the quote says above, parts of yourself will evidently end up in your writing (or any other art form, really). It’s inevitable. For writing, it’s in the cadence of your words, the essence of your story, the life of your characters—it’s intertwined into the very fiber of your work.

So if you’re trying to “improve” yourself by pretending to be someone you’re not, it will also, inevitably, show in your writing. It’ll come out stilted, forced and unnatural. People will notice.

For some people being genuine comes naturally—as it should. For others, it’s intimidating. There’s the fear of rejection and the fear of being viewed as a fake (even though you’re truly trying to be just you), to name a few.

But friends, being open and being yourself is key. In your writing. In your workplace. In your life.

Don’t be afraid to be honest in your writing—someone will taste its truth and it will resonate.

Don’t be afraid to be real on your blog, your Twitter, your tumblr, whatever your social media savvy is—your personality is what will make it special.

Don’t be afraid to be you—you are special, you are unique and no one else can do you better.

And for fun…favorite quotes! GO!

Making the Connection: Author-Reader

Photo credit: New Media MK on Flickr
So you’ve gone through your manuscript and you’re sure your characters are making the connection. They’re alive—smart, funny, stupid at times (and they’re NOT any of these). They make you laugh, cry, and scream in frustration. Good. You’re halfway there.

Now you need to make another connection—one that many writers (as many of us are introverts) struggle with.

The Author-Reader connection.

I don’t need to tell you how the world has changed in the last ten years alone. You already know that there used to be a time when authors wrote books and chose whether or not to connect with their readers after publication. If they did, they’d go on book tours and sit through hours of book signings and the especially nice ones would conduct interviews and host book readings.

I’ve touched on this before. Now I’m really going to dive into it.

Things are different, my friends. Long gone are the days when the Author-Reader connection didn’t begin until you had a book on the shelves. Now it doesn’t matter. Thanks to social media, you can begin to build relationships with your future potential readers now. It doesn’t matter if you have a published book or an agent. Hell, it doesn’t even matter if you’ve finished writing your first novel. When it comes to forging that connection, you can’t start too soon.

It took me a while to grasp that. I read this post by Nathan Bransford and protested the notion for months. But who would want to follow me? I thought. I don’t even have an agent looking at my work. I’ve never been published.

Who the hell would read a blog post written by me?

Well, as it turns out, at least 68 of you. Plus many more Twitter followers than I ever thought I’d have.

Things are different now, fair readers. I have at least one book in my TBR pile that I discovered not because of raving reviews, but because I thought the author was an awesome person. I should read her book, I thought, not because of a stunning blurb or a gorgeous cover, but because I liked her as a person. The fact that it did have an amazing blurb was a bonus.

The time to make a connection with your readers is now. I don’t care what stage of writing you’re in. If your eventual goal is to be published and you aren’t reaching out to your potential future readers, you’re missing out.

Start now. Don’t wait.

Take it from someone who was, at first, too scared to jump in. People will be interested to hear what you have to say, I promise. Go out there, just be you, and your personality will shine through. People will see it and they’ll gravitate towards you.

Then, before you know it, you’ll have a nice boost to your confidence as well as a circle of wonderful new friends.

What stage of writing are you in? Have you started forging your Author-Reader connection? If so, what reservations did you have before jumping in?

Making the Connection: Character-Reader

So first and foremost (and I really need not say it) there have obviously been a few changes to the blog. I sorta, might of spend all day yesterday redesigning it. What do you guys think?

I now have pretty buttons that link to my tumblr and deviantart, which really need more attention. I'll be working on that (pinky swear!). But I figured I'd let you guys see my artsy side.

Now! Onto the writerly stuff: the post.

I think one of the most important accomplishments of the writer (or any other artist, for that matter) is the connection.

There are two types of connections that I’m going to cover in the next two blog posts:
  1.          The Character-Reader Connection
  2.        The Author-Reader Connection
As you can see by the title, I’m focusing on the first.

What establishes the connection between the character and the reader is hard to define. For first person, I think a lot of it has to do with voice. I hesitate to say that it’s easier to create a connection when you’re writing in first person because if the voice isn’t right, the connection won’t be made. It’ll feel fake, stilted, and worst of all*shudder*—forced.

Third person may take a little longer to establish the connection (since you’re starting right off the bat a step farther from first person by describing the MC as “he” or “she”) but I wouldn’t call one easier than the other. They both have challenges you’ll need to overcome to create that spark.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you what to do with your character to create the connection, though, because I’m still figuring it out myself.

I WILL tell you, however, about some character types that serve as immediate turn-offs that will sever that connection in an instant.

  •       The Whiner. You know that person who never shuts up about every minor problem they’ve ever encountered EVER and just goes ON AND ON about it until you want to SLAP THEM IN THE FACE WITH A FISH. Yeah. Don’t let your character be that person.
  •       The Wimp. I’ll offer a small exception to this one: your character may start off as a wimp, but he better not be one for long. Readers have a low tolerance for wimps. This applies to both girls and boys, and I’d say especially girls. Because no one wants to follow a female protagonist who’s waiting for the next Prince Charming to save her. Save yourself girl, and kick Prince Charming in the nads. It’ll make the story a lot more interesting.
  •       The Jerk. I’m not saying your character has to be nice to make a connection—some of the most interesting characters aren’t. What I AM saying is your character has to be nice sometimes or else the readers will tire of his badass attitude. Here’s a little secret: every badass has a soft side. If he says he doesn’t, he’s lying. Go find it.
  •       The Pessimist (or the Emo Kid). I’m mean to my characters. Very mean. Once they start going emo on me, I hit them upside the head with a fish. Their pessimism is not welcome here. Like many of the other traits, this is acceptable for a phase, but nothing more than that.  I have one character who tries to commit suicide. Guess what? It doesn’t work. Not only does it not work, but he realizes what a moron he was being (with some help from his friend) and mans the hell up. That’s all the emo-ness I will tolerate and he doesn’t do it again for fear of death by fish slap.
Readers need to like your characters at least a little bit in order to connect with them. You want your reader to cheer for your MC and groan when he/she does something stupid. Without the connection, your characters will fall flat and your readers will move on to something else.

Next up on Wednesday: The Author-Reader Connection.

What characters do you think made the best connection? The worst? What do you think attritubted to your connection or lack thereof? 

To Be Read: The Ever-Growing List

So since I thought I might change things up a little, I decided to talk about books. Specifically, my to be read pile.

Because I write YA, it should be no surprised that my favorite genre to read just so happens to be YA. Specifically dystopian or paranormal. Something about those genres gets me excited every time, provided it has a decent story behind it.

Have I mentioned I’m a little picky with what I read?

Anyway, here we go. My TBR pile. I got all the pictures and summaries off of Goodreads. 
  1.        Across the Universe by Beth Revis
    “Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

    Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone - one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship - tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn't do something soon, her parents will be next.

    Now, Amy must race to unlock Godspeed's hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there's only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.”

    I picked this one up at Borders and was drawn in immediately. Something about the nasty, painful procedure that makes you “frozen cargo” and the first person POV pulled me in. The book alternates in POVs between Amy and Elder (I’m assuming her future love interest) and though I found that a little jarring, I think it still works. From the little bit I read, anyway. I suppose I’ll find out.

  2. 2.    Matched by Allie Condie
           “Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what  to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander's face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate . . . until she sees Ky Markham's face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black.

    The Society tells her it's a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she's destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can't stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society's infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she's known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.”

          I read the first page of this one at Borders, too. I like the voice, and I’m a sucker for the occasional love triangle. Looks interesting and I currently can’t get enough of dystopia so…added to the list!

  3.        Forbidden by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee (September 13, 2011)
    “A terrible truth has been revealed to one man: the entire human race has been drained of every emotion except one— fear. To bring life back to the world, Rom must embark on a journey that will end either in his own demise or a reawakening of humanity. But to bring love and passion back into existence will also threaten the powers of the world with the revolution and anarchy that had nearly destroyed them previously.

    After happening upon a journal through strange circumstance, Rom's world is shattered. He learns that humanity long ago ceased to "live," that it exists today in a living death of emotions. In a terrible risk, Rom exposes himself to the vial of blood folded into the old leather of the journal. His change is fearful and fraught with mind-bending emotion. A once-pious observer of the Order's passionless statues, he is filled with uncontrollable impulses. He is filled with love.

    He is undone, terrified, and alone in the desolate world.”

    Ok, I was ready to preorder this one before I even knew it was about, but that’s because Ted Dekker co-authored it and well…I’ve mentioned my Dekker obsession before. ANYWAY. This book isn’t out yet, but I seriously can’t wait. I’ll be preordering it without a doubt.

  4.        Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi (November 15, 2011)
    “Juliette hasn't touched anyone in exactly 264 days. The last time she did, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette's touch is fatal. As long as she doesn't hurt anyone else, no one really cares. The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old-girl. Diseases are destroying the population, food is hard to find, birds don't fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong color. 

    The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors are whispering war- and The Reestablishment has changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she's exactly what they need right now. 

    Juliette has to make a choice: Be a weapon. Or be a warrior.

    Sadly, the cover hasn’t been released for this one yet, but I am very excited about this. Dystopian novel AND paranormal elements? C’mon, that’s like combining my two favorite genres in one. IN ONE. Needless to say, I’ll be preordering this one, too.

  5.          Insurgent by Veronica Roth
    Ok, ok, I know it’s a little presumptuous to put this on my TBR pile before it has a blurb or a cover, but Divergent was just that amazing. I loved it and as soon as there’s a release date for Insurgent, I’ll be preordering it. 
So for the sake of not drowning you in a ridiculously long post, I’m ending it there, even though there ARE more.

Now! The fun part! I want to know, peeps, what’s in YOUR TBR pile?

How NOT to Edit

First and foremost, I had the pleasure of guest blogging about Harry Potter on the awesome Lyn Midnight’s blog yesterday. Considering it was my FIRST GUEST POST EVER, the feedback was truly humbling. I also learned that guest posting is fun and I would TOTALLY do it again. YAY GUEST POSTING!

SO. Now that I got that out. On to today’s blog post!

I made a mistake when approaching my very first read-through with my very first manuscript. I made this same mistake more than a couple of times with later manuscripts, too.

I edited.

Now, now, I know that doesn’t seem so bad, but hear me out.  I wasn’t just editing during my first read-through I was *shudder* line-editing. You know. Like you do to the final, polishing drafts.

It’s not that I didn’t know you were supposed to tackle the big things first—I knew that. But I had a pen in my hand and a stack of paper on my lap and the temptation was just too much. I saw something I didn’t like. I marked it up with my pen. I thought I did a good thing.

What I didn’t realize was that I might as well have carved out the final details to a rock. I forgot about the big things—the characters that needed tweaking, the scenes that needed cutting, the situations that sounded a million times better in my head that needed COMPLETE re-writing. Instead I was fixing awkward sentences and descriptions I didn’t like.

Then—even worse—I was moving on like it was ready for betas.

GOOD NEWS is I now see the error of my ways and vow to NEVER do that again. *phew!* I also decided to write a blog post about it to warn you awesome people about this trap. The first read-through is not a place for line edits.

Let me say that again: the first read-through is NOT a place for line edits. DON’T DO IT.

I’ve developed a method for myself to make sure I don’t fall into it again. It’s simple, really, and it acts as a laser crossbow to that tricksy little trap. TAKE THAT! HEE-YAH!

Eh-hem. For the first read-through I now keep a notebook and a pencil beside me. When I see something that needs fixing (and I DON’T mean an awkward sentence, that’s for later edits so RESIST, MY CHILDREN, RESIST!) I write it down in my notebook. I make a running list. See how long I can make it. The longer the better, really, because it means I’m being nitpicky which is what I want when I’m picking apart my WIP.

Because in the end, each fixed bullet point will make the new draft THAT much better.

SO! When you’re reading that shiny new WIP for the first time, remember to look out for the BIG problems. The characters that need fleshing out and the evil plot that upon second glance is actually a little bit ridiculous. Yeah, those bad boys. They need a butt-kicking first.

Then you can worry about making that manuscript sparkle.

Have you ever fallen into the line-editing trap? What tips do you have for the first read-through? 

Cooling Off

Finishing the first draft of a WIP is exciting. It’s that time when you jump around the house screaming OMG GUYS OMG I JUST FINISHED MY NOVEL LET’S HAVE CUPCAKES and then you have a baking extravaganza with lots of confetti and chocolate icing.

What? Don’t look at me that way. You know that’s totally your fantasy, too.

Anyway. If you announce the completion of your first draft on Twitter and I see it, I’ll throw virtual confetti at you because that’s just what I do. Wait. That’s not the point I was trying to make. Where was I?

Oh yeah. Upon completing the first draft, writers tend to have a lot of energy. We’re (usually) amenable to a day off, but our minds are already thinking about the editing and what it’ll be like to have it TOTALLY DONE FOR REALS. Oh, the excitement, the terror, the EXCITEMENT!

So it’s not surprising that I see this on Twitter all the time: I JUST FINISHED MY WIP CAN’T WAIT TO EDIT TOMORROW.

To which I slam my head against the keyboard and scream something incoherent reminiscent of a dying cat and a giggling goblin.

It’s tempting to begin editing your newly finished WIP immediately. I know. Even waiting a week is hard because you want more than anything to dive back into it and make it shine. But if you really want to get the most out of editing, if you really want to be able to see the flaws so you can stomp them out early, then guys you need a cooling off period.

This is not optional. In order to really edit your work you need to distance yourself, and that’s pretty difficult to do when you finished your WIP yesterday.

I wait a minimum of a month. During that month I distract myself with other things. This too, is important. If you spend your cooling off period thinking about your WIP, you haven’t done anything but waste your time, because you haven’t distanced yourself at all.

But AVA, you say. What am I supposed to do for a WHOLE MONTH? Do not despair! Distraction month can be great:

  • Read a book. Or two. Or four. 
  • Write a book. That’s right, start a new COMPLETELY UNRELATED story. No sequels. NO SEQUELS. Sequels make you think of the WIP you’re trying not to think about and that’ll just give you a headache. 
  • Watch movies. Lots of them. Like, ridiculous amounts. I don’t know about you, but movies give me awesome ideas. Plus they’re just pretty sweet in general. 
  • Go outside. Let’s face it, you’ve been writing probably a while now. When’s the last time you just chilled outside without thinking about your WIP? That’s right. Now get some sun on that pasty skin.
  • Spend a day with friends and family. They missed you. Just don’t talk about your WIP. That’s against the rules.
  • Travel. If you can, anyway. But if you get the opportunity, go for it. At the very least, you’ll make your Twitter friends jealous and you might get some inspiration for a new idea. 
  • Dance! DANCE MY PRETTIES, DANCE! Err…I mean…dancing is good for you…or…something. IT’S FUN! 

You get the idea. The possibilities are endless; just do something that’ll take your mind off your WIP.

THEN, in a MONTH, guess what? Vacation’s over. Now get back to work.

What do you do during YOUR cooling off period?
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