Mini Book Reviews 2: Spaceships and Faeries

As far as reading goes, this month has been pretty excellent. It has also been a month of sequels.

Photo credit: Goodreads
I mentioned I was reading The Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa last month, and as I’ve continued the series, I’ve been pleasantly surprised. The Iron King (the first book) was a good read, The Iron Daughter was interesting, but The Iron Queen simply blew my expectations out of the water and became my favorite of the series thus far. I’m now currently reading The Iron Knight, which has been different from the previous three in many obvious ways (such as a complete change in POV), but has been so far equally good, in my opinion.

As far as the series goes, what I said last month stands: the series is definitely targeted towards the female half of the population, with swoon-worthy characters, a couple love triangles and pretty eyes, and although there were a couple things that bugged me along the way (i.e.: a certain female protagonist who is lost without her man), the series certainly never gets boring, the characters are memorable and the faery world Kagawa created is just fantastic.

Now, the spaceships—or rather, spaceship.

I read and reviewed Across the Universe by Beth Revis in this post way back when, and as I thoroughly enjoyed it, I’d been waiting quite eagerly for the sequel, A Million Suns.

Photo credit: Goodreads
Well. Before I go any further, I’ll share with you the Goodreads summary:

Godspeed was once fueled by lies. Now it is ruled by chaos. It’s been three months. In that time, Amy has learned to hide who she is. Elder is trying to be the leader he’s always wanted to be. But as the ship gets more and more out of control, only one thing is certain: They have to get off the ship.

I’m not even sure where to start, because A Million Suns was simply amazing—so amazing, that I’ve told more than a few people that it’s one of the best sequels I’ve read thus far.

I think what I loved most about it was that it doesn’t read like a sequel—it was full of action, intrigue, slam-your-head-against-the-wall moments and mystery—can’t forget the mystery. The characters make mistakes, the love interest is far from perfect and with every solution, two more problems crops up until the climax.

In short, A Million Suns was a fantastic read and if you’ve read Across the Universe, you have to pick up the sequel. If you haven’t read Across the Universe I suggest that you give it a try.

What’s the best book you’ve read this month? Any recommendations? 

When Writing, Take Your Time

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We often talk about writing quickly, editing quickly, reading and revising and getting those word counts down as quickly as humanely possible.

We share secrets about how to write faster, how to make the most of our time as writers, how to go, go, go in a culture that only seems to be speeding up.

And sometimes it's not a bad thing, sometimes the difference between 100 and 1,000 words written in a writing session is directly related to mindset or strategy. Sometimes writing quickly is exactly what we need to finish our WIPs, especially when we're short on time.

But sometimes we need to slow down.

I've already written about how for writers, time is on our side, but I'd like to reiterate something that I think is important because it's something that's easy to forget: we all write at our own pace.

Each of us writers has our own journey— for some of us it takes a couple years to meet our goals, for others it takes over a decade. Some writers write four to five books a year, others take two or three years just to complete one novel. There are writers who self-publish immediately and writers who spend years seeking representation, even long after the advent of indie publishing.

What I'm trying to say is that it doesn't matter how much time it takes for you to reach your goal. It doesn't matter if it takes you a month or a year to write a first draft. It doesn't matter if you spend three years to bring your manuscript to the best it can be, while your writing buddy finishes in a couple months.

What matters is that you take all the time you need to write the very best work that you can.

When you see other writers speeding past you, don't let it get you down. When it takes much longer than you expected to finish your novel, while your family peers over your shoulder, don't let it bother you.

A writer's journey is not a race. It's not about who gets to the finish line first, or how many times they race around you on the track.

A writer's journey is about one thing: meeting your goals on your time. At your pace. At the time that's right for you.

So next time you feel tempted to rush through a writing stage, take a deep breath and remember to take your time. As long as you keep moving forward, one way or another, you'll meet your goals, too.

Have you ever felt like you were taking too long to finish a writing stage? What did you do to combat it?

Don't Be Afraid of Failure

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Throughout my time in the Twitter/blogosphere, I’ve seen a lot of talk about failure. For writers, failure could be any number of things, whether it’s failing to write a good book, failing to get x amount of subscribers/page views/followers, failing to sell your manuscript, failing to sell enough copies of said manuscript…the list goes on.

I’m not here to talk about all the different ways a writer could fail, because quite frankly, we writers—hell, we as a people in general—tend to be pretty hard on ourselves when it comes to chasing our dreams and goals. Any hiccup, speed bump or letdown could be in one way or another interpreted as a failure.

Failure is a natural part of life—it’s a testament of the risks we’ve taken, they’re battle scars impossible to avoid throughout our lives and in the end, they leave us all the wiser.

But there’s this one particular failure that many writers are afraid of, one that has killed novels before they had a chance to live, one that has thwarted dreams and left many-a-writer feeling unworthy of the title.
By and large, writers are often afraid of writing badly.

I see it all the time on Twitter—writers who want to write, who have this goal, this dream of finishing their manuscript, who have put some words down and see others speeding ahead to meet their daily writing goals…and yet they hesitate. They look at the words they have so far and they pause. They say things like “I’m stuck,” or “I just can’t write today,” or “Maybe I’ll write later.”

And I recognize it because I’ve been there—because at times, I still find myself there. For me, the fear or writing badly is at its worst just before I start a new novel—that lingering whisper that looks at the plot I’ve thrown together or the first words I’ve scratched onto paper and sneers while it says the words: your writing sucks. They’re the doubts that crawl in and say, you can’t really write that—it’s going to be terrible.

For others, the fear of writing badly kicks in part-way through the story. It doesn’t matter when it kicks in though, because the result is the same: a seeming inability to write.

Something you need to understand—something I occasionally need to remind myself of—is this fear of failure is a lie. It’s a trick, because by being so afraid to put down a word, you’re already failing. By not writing anything at all, you lose by default.

Something you need to understand is it's infinitely better to have 80,000 words of a mediocre story than nothing at all.

Something you need to understand is even if you have to toss those 80,000 words and rewrite the whole thing entirely, even if the manuscript ends up in the bottom of a drawer, even if the words are so awful you’re embarrassed to show even your closest friends, you haven’t failed at all.

You haven’t failed because you wrote something; you created something, something that no one else could create the way you did. And maybe it’s ugly, and maybe it’s not the way you imagined it, but none of that matters because with every word you write, with every chapter you string together, with every novel you finish—terrible or not—you learn something. Those 80,000 words didn’t write themselves—you learn from the process just as much as you learn from reading and studying the craft.

The fear of failure is a lie, because you cannot fail, not really—you can only learn from your experience. And maybe you learn that you went about it the wrong way, or that you really need to study how to write dialogue, or that you’ve possibly written the most cliché-ridden antagonist in the history of terrible antagonists, but you learned something. And you’ll take whatever you’ve learned with you as you write the next book, the next short story or poem or whatever it is you write.

When you’re afraid of writing badly, don’t be. Put the words down and let them be God-awful and know that it doesn’t matter. These words are yours and one way or another, you’ll learn from them.

So go forth and write, friends. I’ll be cheering you along the way.

Also, read this beautiful post, DON’T BE AFRAID TO WRITE A BAD BOOK, from Tahereh Mafi, which basically covers everything I didn’t, and then some.

Has the fear of writing badly ever stopped you? What do you do to combat your writing fears? 

The Problem with Love Triangles

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Now before you pull out the pitchforks and light the stake, let me say I enjoy love triangles as much as the next person. It’s fun to choose a side on the Katniss-Peeta-Gale argument and even though I’m pretty sure I know who won the Meghan-Puck-Ash war (The Iron Fey series, for those of you wondering), it’s been fun to read about it, and it’s no secret that the Twilight phenomenon benefited greatly from the infamous Bella-Edward-Jacob love triangle (hello Team Edward and Team Jacob shirts).

But as of late, especially in YA novels, it seems that love triangles have become somewhat of a prerequisite—a cliché, even. Many novels follow the girl has male best friend/meets new boy/but best friend has loved her all along/oh but the new boy is so hot/but the best friend/but new hot guy!- plot, and hey, I’m certainly not complaining about it—as I said before, love triangles can certainly be one of the guilty pleasures we like to read, but it makes me start to wonder…are they becoming overdone?

I’d like to clarify that I’m well aware there are many YA novels that avoided the love triangle completely—Divergent by Veronica Roth and Across the Universe by Beth Revis are two examples I can think of off the top of my head—but the more I see the best friend/new guy love triangle, the more I’ve started to realize that it has indeed started to become a cliché.

The problem with love triangles, my friends, is that they’re becoming predictable.

I’m not saying that this means we shouldn’t write any more love triangles, or that love triangles are bad in any way. What I am saying is if you do decide to write a love triangle into your story, you might want to ask yourself how your love triangle is any different from the others already out there. I challenge you not to rely on your first plotting love triangle instinct—I challenge you to push beyond the best friend/hot new guy cliché. Ask yourself what the purpose of your love triangle is—what are you trying to show your readers?

A strength, I think, of love triangles is it shows something we don’t often like to talk about—that love is messy. Love isn’t this neat little thing we can put into a box and tie off with a ribbon—love is confusing and exhausting and it has a mind of its own and sometimes love is wonderful but sometimes love is cruel. Love triangles show us all that—they show us that we don’t always know as much about love as we originally planned, that love can create a wonderful relationship, yes, but sometimes love hurts because it doesn’t always strike both ways. Sometimes, (and in the case of love triangles—always) there will be someone left out.

To me, that’s the purpose of love triangles, but until we break out of the formulaic relationships that many novels have fallen victim to, that message—that purpose—gets lost in the mix. Rather than a story about love, it can quickly become another generic boy-meets-girl-meets-boy scenario, and although they’re fun to read, they don’t always hit home.

I like love triangles, and when done correctly I think they can add a powerful dimension to our stories. But don’t let your characters become part of another formula—show us their relationship means something more.

What do you think about love triangles? Are they amazing? Are they cliché? What’s your favorite love triangle from a novel?  

How to Be Happy

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I try to be an upbeat person.

Remaining positive throughout the day isn't something that comes naturally to everyone— as I'm a rather realistic person, it certainly doesn't come naturally to me. But over the course of the last couple years, I've learned a few secrets about being happy that have shifted the way I look at things.

As it turns out, being positive isn't necessarily related to external events. We all have our bad days, bad weeks or even months. Writers, especially unpublished writers, often struggle with keeping a positive attitude during the years it takes to hone the craft, write book after book and find publication. The life of writers is difficult, and being happy can often feel like an impossible task.

But it's not impossible.

Change Your Thinking

Happiness, as it turns out, is much more closely related to the way we view events rather than the events actually taking place. Good things that happen to us don't make us happy —the fact that we interpreted the event as something good is what makes us happy. The same goes for unhappy events —it all depends on the way we view them.

I read a post by Michael Hyatt a little while ago titled, "How a Shift in YourVocabulary Can Instantly Change Your Attitude." I highly recommend you take a look at it, but if you don't, his post basically capitalizes on what I'm talking about here: you dictate your own happiness.

In the post, Mr. Hyatt talks about the importance of having an attitude of gratitude, and reflecting that gratitude in our vocabulary. Rather than saying, "I have to go to work," for example, he suggests you say, "I get to go to work." This shift immediately turns a negative connotation (I'm going to work because I don't have a choice) to a positive one (I'm so blessed to have a job I get to go to).

For writers, it could be the difference between "I have to edit today" and "I get to edit today." Or "I have to write today" versus "I get to write today."

This is just one example of how changing our thinking can immediately make us more positive.

Smile Often

Do we smile because we're happy, or are we happy because we're smiling? This is a question that scientists have struggled over for years, but research today seems to indicate that smiling can make you happy.

It's hard to smile when we're upset, tired or stressed out, but if you force yourself to hold a smile a couple times a day, even when you're not feeling particularly happy, I think you'll find it much more difficult to hold your unpleasant mood (and really, why are you trying to hold onto that, anyway?)

Start Your Day with Gratitude

Try to start your day by listing three things you have to be grateful about. This is a habit I'm still trying to get into, but I think it's a great idea because not only does it force you to think about something positive first thing in the morning, but it starts to train your brain to look for things to be grateful about —something, I think, that is essential for a positive attitude.

These are just three ways writers (and everyone else) can inject a little more happiness into their lives —and who doesn't like an extra dose of happiness?

Have you tried any of these techniques? What do you do to maintain a positive attitude?

Editing Technique: Lists

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So, I have a confession. You may or may not have noticed due to the abundance of organizational/ list- type things floating around this blog, but I am, indeed, a list person.

I write lists for everything— I have an ongoing To-Do list with sub-lists prioritized by date on my iPod (the 2Do app is fantastic, for those of you who are interested), I have a list of every blog post ever written on this blog ever (also known as the mysterious Blog Directory), I make shopping lists, blog post idea lists and when I'm editing, I have a list for that, too.

The editing list is, in my opinion, one of the best lists for writers of all. I know that's a lofty claim, but hear me out.

You see, while writing is a very right-brain creative process, editing is very much the opposite. As Ernest Hemingway said, "Write drunk; edit sober," or, as I've also heard it said: write hot; edit cool.

The creation process of putting words to the page for the first time, of creating that first draft and fleshing out new characters and plots is entirely different from the analytical, detached process of editing— or at least, it should be. Writing is a passionate process— writers need to be excited while fleshing that scene out for the first time. We need to love our words and dive head-first into the story. We need to be, as Hemingway might have put it, drunk with our words.

The editing process, not so much. Editing requires distance and analytical measurements of what works and what doesn't. While editing, writers need to be able to take a look at their work as objectively as possible and try to separate themselves from the work so that the weaknesses and ugly bits are more apparent. Editing is the territory of the left brain.

Thus, editing is the perfect time for lists.

When looking at a mountain of rewrites and problems in your WIP that needs fixing, the editing process can quickly become disheartening and overwhelming. Progress can be difficult to measure— what's one edit when you have two hundred pages dripping with red ink? Writers often feel as though they're fighting a losing battle, and many of them simply give up.

It's no wonder so many writers hate editing.

But it doesn't have to be overwhelming— in fact, with the right tools, it can be downright exciting. The elusive list is an example of such a tool, and if you haven't before, I challenge you to give it a chance.

Next time you're editing your WIP, make a note of all the things that need fixing. Maybe there's an opportunity for an extra scene after chapter 5 that could better explain the antagonist’s motivation— add it to the list. Maybe you messed up and forgot that your secondary's father's name is Jim, not Josh halfway through the novel and you need to fix it— add it to the list. Maybe you're way too dependent on certain words, or your character voice needs some tweaking, or you accidentally made your antagonist bald with a moustache (it happens)— add it to the list.

If you're feeling super ambitious, or you just like organization like yours truly, you can divide your list into sub-categories like "Character Development," "Minor Fixes," "Tying Things Together," etc. It doesn't matter how you organize it really, do whatever feels most natural for you.

Once you've completed your list, you may be tempted to be terrified by the sheer size of it. Don't give in to it. Take each list item one at a time— maybe your goal is to finish two or three list items a day— once you've completed an item, check it off or cross it out. I think you might find there's something strangely satisfying about checking off list items you've completed.

If you take each item one at a time, you'll soon find that you've accomplished much more than you might have thought possible. Keep working and it won't be long before you have a long list of ways you improved your manuscript— which, if you ask me, isn't such a bad thing to have.

Have you ever employed the list method in your editing? What other editing techniques have you tried?

How (Not) to Write the Perfect Query Letter

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I've noticed that there's been an astonishing lack of posts about the elusive query letter on this blog. I suppose there are a few reasons for that—namely, that when I figure out how to write the perfect, foolproof query letter from heaven, I'll let you guys know—but considering the huge role query letters play, especially for writers who want to go the traditional route and would like an agent, this really must be remedied.

So. The query letter isn't an exact science—in fact if you check out the interwebs, you'll find a lot of conflicting advice not just from writers, but from agents, which can really be rather confusing when you're looking for some solid query-letter-writing advice.

So naturally you end up here. Right? Right.

In a similar flash of brilliance that led me to write my How to Write a Masterpiece post, I have in fact unwittingly stumbled upon a chest of infinite query letter wisdom, that I feel compelled to share with you guys. You're welcome.


  • Begin with Dear Sir/ Madam/ Agent/ You Awesome Person, You. First impressions are everything, and what better way to start off one of the most important letters of your writing career than with a general sir/madam opening?

  • Include a photo of yourself, your three cats and your pet parrot. How can any sane agent say no to your parrot's adorable face?
  • Declare your book to be the next Harry Potter/ Great Gatsby/ The Catcher in the Rye/ Hunger Games. This shows the agent that two things: 1) you like to read (or you at least know the names of uber-popular books) and 2) you're very confident in your work, and confidence is key!
  • Make sure your query letter is an attachment. I mean really, who types their query letters in the body of the e-mail anymore, anyway?
  • Send your query letter via Twitter. Bonus points for fitting your query into 140 characters!
  • Send your query letter to the agent in a long list of agent e-mails. Not only do you save yourself the time of sending each e-mail individually, but now the agent knows who they're up against.
  • Include the full manuscript as an attachment with the query letter. You already know they're going to want to read the full, anyway. You're just saving them the extra time of having to e-mail you and ask for it!
  • Include lots! Of exclamation points!!! And sentence fragments! And typos! Yay!!!!
  • Include a blurb from your mother. No self-respecting agent will even look at your manuscript unless it has the Mommy seal of approval.
  • Write a book that's 200,000 words long. Instant approval.
  • In fact, send the query letter before you've even finished writing the book. Fully written manuscripts are overrated, anyway.
  • Query three different manuscripts in one query letter. Not only does this increase your chances of the agent possibly liking one of your manuscripts, but they also know you're a prolific writer. Win-win.
  • Call them immediately after you send it. You know, to give them the heads up that your fantastic query letter is on its way and they should probably stop whatever they’re doing to read it immediately.
  • Send your query letter to every agent at the agency simultaneously. One of them are bound to like it, right?

There are actually many more ways to write the perfect query letter, but this post would be ridiculously long if I gave you all of the query-writing secrets. Besides, I want to hear from you guys: what query letter secrets do you have to share?

* DISCLAIMER: By "perfect" query letter, I mean absolutely horrendous don't-you-even-think-about doing this in your query letter. You know, in case my sarcasm didn't come off as obvious as it did in my head. 

5 Writing Myths

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Not too long ago I wrote two posts covering ten writing truths that I thought were important to discuss broken up into bite-sized part one and part two posts.

Today I’d like to talk about the opposite end of the spectrum—the myths that many of us, especially early in our writing careers, have probably fallen for or perhaps are even still tempted to believe. These myths are created by Hollywood, by too much news coverage of the exceptions, by well-intentioned hopes, overly-optimistic dreams and inexperience.

But these myths are just that—myths—and although they sound nice on paper, the sooner we accept that they aren’t real, the better.

The Writing Myths:

1. The overnight success story. Nathan Bransford wrote a really fantastic post covering this myth much more succinctly than I could, but the overnight success stories that you hear about all so very often are largely lies. Writing a book takes time—months, sometimes years—and chances are the first book that you publish won’t be the first book you ever write (more on that later). It takes time to hone your craft, to learn the ins and outs of writing, to develop your voice and learn how to write a solid plot and then learn the proper way to market it all when you’ve finished. J.K. Rowling spent years planning out and writing Harry Potter and received dozens of rejections before getting published. Amanda Hocking also spent years building her craft and receiving rejection letters before making it big in the self-publishing world. The list goes on, but in short, don’t believe the overnight success story.

2. Your debut novel = your first novel. No.

I mentioned this in first bullet, but nine out of ten times, your first novel will not be your debut novel. Debut is a tricky word, because it sounds like it’d be your first novel ever and when publishers announce an author’s “first” novel, it often sounds like it’s the first one the author has ever written but with few exceptions, that’s largely not the case. “Debut novel” means the first novel that you’ve ever gotten published. It’s your debut into the world of published writers—it’s usually not the first novel you’ve ever written. Chances are the first and second and maybe even third and fourth novels you’ve ever written are going to be sitting in a drawer somewhere when you get your “first” book published. It varies from writer to writer, but it usually takes more than a single manuscript to really hone your novel-writing skills.

3. All the author needs to do is write a book. That’s a nice thought—but not quite. Authors write books, then edit, then rewrite, then edit more, then they market their books—whether it’s on Facebook or Twitter or tumblr or book tours or YouTube—all the while working on the next book, and reading other books, and trying not to entirely disappear from the social media world while buried under a heap of editor notes.

And that’s not even getting into just how difficult it is to write a book in the first place.

4. Authors do everything alone.  Rachelle Gardner wrote a fantastic post on the help that traditionally published authors receive, but in short, traditionally published or not, authors absolutely do not do everything alone. We get help from readers and editors and book designers and agents and marketing specialists and copyeditors because it takes a lot more than just one person to write a book and get it out there. Writers can’t do everything alone, and the great part is that we don’t need to. There are others out there willing and able to help—we just have to go out there and find them.

5. After publishing one book, money starts raining on the author. I think most of us know this isn’t true, but especially nowadays I think it’s important we accept this one.

Yes, there are always exceptions—we’ve all heard about the debut authors who start off with a bang and immediately jump into the New York Times Bestsellers list, with a very nice advance sitting in their bank account. It happens.

But by and large, it doesn’t happen. In today’s world, advances are shrinking and publishers are more careful. An author’s career (regardless of how successful they were with their debut) isn’t based on just one novel—it’s a combination of every novel they ever publish and for most of us, it’ll be a slow climb. There’s a reason so many authors have a second (and sometimes third) job, and it’s not just because they’re bored sitting at home.

Writing takes time. Publishing takes time. Making a living off of writing usually takes a lot of time.

So those are my five writing myths. What would you add to the list?

Why I Love to Edit

So a few days ago, precisely one month after finishing a draft of my WIP, I had the pleasure of tweeting this:
Although many of my wonderful writer tweeples responded with glee, I got more than a couple of messages that went along the lines of err, I don't know, Ava. Editing? Want to do mine for me? *wink wink* 

It got me thinking. 

Once upon a time, long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away, I used to hate editing. It's not that I thought it unnecessary—I knew it was necessary—I just couldn't stand the thought of re-reading something I wrote half a dozen (or—God forbid—more) times. I'd already done the hard work of getting the first draft down, did I really want to spend months or years flipping things around and cutting passages and adding new things and re-reading re-writing re-reading re-writing? 

Over the course of trunking many-a-novel, I learned the hard way about the importance of editing—real editing, and I realized that if I was going to bring the fullest potential out of my stories, I had to learn to love to edit. Period. 

Surprisingly, saying ok, I need to love editing now didn't magically make me start to love to edit. What did change my opinion of editing (and this is a little surprising), was editing the same WIP over the course of two and a half years. 

I'll admit, initially I got pretty sick of it, and when I discovered after a break from the WIP that it needed complete re-writing after a couple of rounds of edits already, I resisted the process. I didn't want to re-write it—it would take weeks, and then I'd probably need to edit it again and what if it needed more re-writing after that? 

I rewrote it. Then something weird happened. 

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As I looked over the WIP again, I realized it was entirely different from the first draft—no, no just different, better. Sure, it still needed work, but it was improving, I could see it improving right there in front of me. I knew it was better, and to be entirely honest, it felt great. 

And suddenly, editing wasn't so bad after all. 

When I didn't like editing, I was looking at it all the wrong way—I thought of it as this extra step, this horrendous extra task that inevitably meant more hard work and when I sat down in front of the computer I thought, ugh, I have to edit today. 

What I didn't realize is that editing is so much more than that—it's a chance to refine your work, to really make your writing shine, and once you start to see your work evolve, well, it can be kind of fun. 

I'm not saying editing isn't hard, time-consuming work—it absolutely is. What I am saying is that the way you look at it can largely change your experience. 

Let's face it, if you want to be a writer, you're going to be doing a lot of editing. Whether it's editing your first or second or fifth or fifteenth draft, editing your query letter or synopsis or author bio or blurb, editing your first book or your twentieth book, the life of the writer is an endless cycle of writing and editing and editing and writing. 

It's part of the process, and it's a step that you can't skip. So if we have to do it anyway, we might as well try to enjoy it, right? 

What do you think? Am I crazy for loving to edit? What are your favorite and least favorite parts of the editing process?

Writing Dialogue with Purpose

"Characterization is an accident that flows out of action and dialogue." —Jack Woodford

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It's often said that poorly written dialogue is one of the first signs of a new writer —whether it's an error in the way it's punctuated, an abundance of non-said dialogue tags or clunky, unrealistic speech, dialogue can make or break your writing.

This post is assuming that you've already perfected the grammatically correct way to punctuate your character speech and your characters are speaking naturally, rather than sounding like they're reading off lines from a script. You see, even after you've mastered the basics of dialogue writing, there are still many more aspects to look at when writing or revising character speech.

One of the most important things you can do when looking over your novel's dialogue is determining its purpose.

In our everyday lives, people blabber on for no particular reason. We talk about the random and the ridiculous with little direction, we go off on long-winded, completely unrelated tangents and some of us are even guilty of talking for the sake of talking. In real life, those things happen.

In your books, those things must never happen.

Menial how's the weather conversations are perfectly acceptable in the work place or at the dinner table, but the moment your characters start talking about the beautiful sunny day outside or the delicious breakfast they had, red flags and buzzers should be going off in your mind.

I'm sure most of you have heard the Alfred Hitchcock quote: "Drama is life with the dull parts taken out." The axiom doesn't only apply to drama and plot, however, it also applies to dialogue.

One of the best writing tips I've ever read on the subject is this: character speech is an action. Our characters' every action must have a purpose, and that includes every line of dialogue they speak throughout the course of the novel.

So what does that mean?

Next time you're revising your writing, take a close look at the dialogue. With every line that comes from your character's mouth, ask yourself if what they said was necessary. What would happen if you removed that line? Would the conversation still be understandable? Would it miss anything? Chances are if the scene can go on without repercussions after removing the line, you probably don't need it.

But how can you tell if the dialogue is necessary?

Dialogue must accomplish one of two things: 1) move the plot forward or 2) develop character. If your dialogue isn't doing either, it's time to either cut it or rewrite it with one of those goals (or even better—both) in mind.

Well-written dialogue moves smoothly, develops character and leads the reader forward through the plot. What are you accomplishing with your dialogue?

Mini Book Reviews

I haven’t done a book review in a while for a couple of reasons, but I thought it’d be fun to give a couple of short book recommendations based on what I’ve been reading as of late, rather than writing many separate reviews for every book I read.

So! Based on what I’ve read so far this year, the first book I’d like to recommend to you is The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson. Before I get into what I thought about it, here’s the Goodreads summary:

Photo credit: Goodreads
“Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness. 
Elisa is the chosen one.  
But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She can't see how she ever will.  
Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.  
And he's not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies seething with dark magic are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people's savior. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.  
Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young.  
Most of the chosen do.”

So I don’t usually read high-fantasy, but I gave this one a shot and I’m certainly glad I did. The Girl of Fire and Thorns really surprised me. Elise, the protagonist, defied the gorgeous-model-like-looks that many YA novels feature, and starts off, in fact, as a rather overweight teenager with a remarkably low self-esteem. That in itself caught my interest and following her story and watching her develop as a character was a real treat. I’ll admit that some of the more fantastical elements took a little adjusting, but The Girl of Fire and Thorns surprised me with many-a-plot twist that I definitely didn’t see coming (which is a rare thing, I might add) and actually got me to exclaim out loud while reading…twice.

In my book, that means I really enjoyed it, and thusly I recommend it to you.

The second book is actually a series that I haven’t finished yet, but judging by the first one and a half books, I can already tell it’s a series I’m going to have to finish.

What series, you ask? None other than The Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa. The Iron King is the first of the series and this is the Goodreads summary:

Photo credit: Goodreads
"Meghan Chase has a secret destiny; one she could never have imagined.  
Something has always felt slightly off in Meghan's life, ever since her father disappeared before her eyes when she was six. She has never quite fit in at school or at home. 
When a dark stranger begins watching her from afar, and her prankster best friend becomes strangely protective of her, Meghan senses that everything she's known is about to change. 
But she could never have guessed the truth - that she is the daughter of a mythical faery king and is a pawn in a deadly war. Now Meghan will learn just how far she'll go to save someone she cares about, to stop a mysterious evil no faery creature dare face; and to find love with a young prince who might rather see her dead than let her touch his icy heart."

First and foremost, I’d say this is definitely a girl book and although there are a couple of things that irked me along the way, I’ve really been enjoying the series. Once again, it’s a little out of my normal reading genre (and the first faerie book I’ve read since Artemis Fowl) but after seeing it repeatedly mentioned on Goodreads I thought I’d give it a try and now I’m hooked. The faery world Kagawa created is just remarkable, there’s never a dull moment in the plot and the characters are memorable, to say the least.

So that about covers it. Happy reading!

What’s the best book you’ve read this year so far? 

Will Print Books Become Obsolete?

Photo credit: shutterhacks on Flickr
After reading a particularly interesting NPR article on why we should stop having e-book vs. print book arguments, and a post from agent Rachelle Gardner on what will happen to book signings in the age of e-books, it has occurred to me that it's not so far-fetched to think that one day, print books may indeed become obsolete. That's not to say that it's particularly likely that it'll happen any time soon or that we should all brace for the book apocalypse, but it's something, I think, that we need to increasingly consider a possibility.

Now, imagining a world without print books is, for some people, not far removed from imagining some sort of horrific dystopia. A world without print books is a world without bookstores—a world without a new book smell, or the crinkle of turning pages, or the subtle yellow tint of an aged book.

A world without print books is a world without real, physical bookshelves—except in the homes of those old-fashioned book collectors who scour the web for a limited-edition print copy of their favorite novels.

A world without print books is a world where everyone must charge their e-readers at night or else risk not being able to read the next day due to a low battery. It's a world where no one can know what you're reading just by glancing at the spine in your lap, a world where book signings, indeed, become a tad more complicated.

Note that I did not say a world without print books is a world without reading or a world without authors.

You see, because a world without print books is something else, too—it's a world where children don't have to lug twenty-pound book bags to school or must use textbooks that are falling apart because it's too expensive to replace them or even must hide what they read because what would their classmates think if boys were caught reading girly books or vice versa?

A world without print books still has, ironically enough, print books on the market—they're just harder to come by and a tad more expensive. Owning a print copy of your favorite novel isn't commonplace—it's special. It means you took the time to get your hands on a limited-edition print copy, it means you are one of those slightly eccentric and mostly archaic book collectors (which is a title, I'm sure, that you wear proudly).

Yes, it's painful to imagine the closing of bookstores or the diminishing of book signing events and it's hard to look at our bookshelves and think that those paper things we took for granted all those years may one day be much more difficult to come by.

But just as people continued to listen to music long after the digital revolution in the music industry, people will continue to read and authors will continue to write. The written word will still be out there, and those stories we've learned to fall in love with will continue to be created and published—and really, isn't that the point?

Let me get this straight: I love print books just as much as any other book collector—I love adding books to my shelf and seeing those beautiful, colorful spines line up neatly next to each other as much as the next person. I love the new book smell, I love the feeling of turning the pages and looking at the texture of the page and how the text was laid out and even how the font that the publisher chose fits with the tone of the novel.

I love all of those things, and it's sad to think of a world where those nuances will no longer be appreciated.

But a world without print books is not the end of the world. There will always be something to read, new stories to immerse ourselves into and new characters to fall in love with.

I hope not to live to see a print-book-free world, but if I do, I guess I'll be one of those crazy book-collector types who hunt down those special limited-edition print copies like it's nobody's business. And I guess I'll proudly add it to my bookshelf while the younger members of my family roll their eyes at me.

Because although print books may one day become obsolete, they will never lose their place in our hearts. 

Yet Another Reason You Should Blog

Photo credit: cambodia4kidsorg

I read a little while ago on Michael Hyatt's blog that he found he sometimes didn't know how he felt about a particular topic until he blogged about it (unfortunately I can't find the specific post...sorry!). I thought that was interesting and it raised some questions in my mind.

Questions like: do we blog because we know about something or do we blog because we want to know about something?

Questions like: do we blog to teach others or do we blog to teach ourselves?

After some thought, I like to think that I came up with an answer because for me at least, the answer is both.

Truth is, I've learned just as much from blogging as I hope you have from reading my posts. Writing blog posts—from creating better villains to the usefulness of tumblr for writers—forces me to sit down and think about the topic until I can think about it clearly enough to share with you—my amazing readers.

In essence, I've come to realize that blogging is just as educational for the blogger as it is for the reader.

But I have a feeling I'm not the only one who's come to this conclusion, and I want to hear from you guys.

DISCUSSION: For those of you who blog, would you say that you’ve learned from your blogging experience? For those of you who don’t, would you say you’ve learned from reading blogs?

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