How to Write Description Through Character

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While working on a WIP a couple years ago, my CP at the time pointed out to me that my teenage boy protagonist was having some rather un-teenage-boy-like thoughts. 

The problem was that some of the flowery analogies and purplish prose I had used were clashing with his voice, and she challenged me to ask myself if he would really think that. 

Since then, I have become much more aware of how my characters think and act, down to their choice of words and mannerisms. But one of the best aspects I took away from that CP comment, to me, actually applies to description. 

You see, when writing in first person, or even limited or close third, it’s very important to always keep the character in mind, but not just in the sense of getting to know them and perfecting their voices. You need to be able to climb into their heads and not only imagine the scene from their eyes in the sense of how they will react to their situation or their actions thereafter, but pin down what they notice when writing description. 

For a long time I thought of description as a sort of third-party affair. It was something I needed to include in order for the readers to understand where the action was taking place, but until my CP made that comment about my protagonist, I didn’t realize that it was much more than that. 

Because when you’re writing a story from a character’s POV, you need to filter the entire story from his or her POV. And that includes description. 

So when I talk about writing description through character, I mean that you need to think about not just what it is that you’re describing, but what your POV character would notice about it. 

For example, a poor character entering his neighbor’s run-down home would probably notice the smell of food cooking in the kitchen, or pictures on the walls, or some of the items scattered around the house. A rich character entering that same home, however, would likely notice how small everything was, the cracks in the walls, the peeling paint, and buckets for catching rainwater from the leaky ceilings. Their perspectives are different, and because of that, they would notice different details about the same place. 

This works the same way for character descriptions as well, in the cases of characters describing another character. Here’s a great example from John Updike’s short story “A&P”:
“She was the queen. She kind of led them, the other two peeking around and making their shoulders round. She didn't look around, not this queen, she just walked straight on slowly, on these long white prima donna legs. She came down a little hard on her heels, as if she didn't walk in her bare feet that much, putting down her heels and then letting the weight move along to her toes as if she was testing the floor with every step, putting a little deliberate extra action into it.”
What I love about this example (and the rest of the examples scattered throughout the text), is that rather than giving us a laundry list of descriptions, we get the full description from the POV character’s mind. The first thing he notices about this particular girl isn’t her hair or eye color, it’s her long prima donna legs and the way she walks. The whole short story is full of the kind of description through character I’m talking about, so if you’re interested, you can read the whole thing here

So next time you write a description from anything other than an omniscient POV, take the time to consider what your POV character would notice first, and what tidbits he or she may ignore. The extra thought may be exactly what you need to write an interesting, unique description. 

Do you write your descriptions through your characters? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
What is description through character and why is it important? Writer @Ava_Jae explains. (Click to tweet)  
Do you write your descriptions through the lens of your character? Here's why you should. (Click to tweet)

Urgency to Keep Reading: Does Your Novel Have It?

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A couple months ago, I entered the Pitch+250 contest over at Adventures in YA Publishing (a great contest by the way, that I recommend to all who have a query-ready MS). At the end of the contest, I received a scorecard ranking my entry by category, and one of the categories, I noticed, was “Urgency to Keep Reading.” 

I’d had a general sense for this aspect of writing before, but I’d never really put a name to it. Ever since I noted that category on the scorecard, however, I began to pay much more attention to it while reading. 

So what is the urgency to keep reading?

Whenever you see statements in reviews or blurbs like, “I couldn’t put the book down!” or “I was on the edge of my seat!” the reviewers are talking about the urgency to keep reading. It’s the element that has readers saying, “Just one more chapter” three chapters after they should have stopped, and it makes people stay up all hours of the night to finish your book. 

And I truly believe that it’s essential to the success of any novel in any genre. 

In order to create the urgency to keep reading in your novel, there are a few things you can do: 

  • Leave unanswered questions (until the end). Unanswered questions are a great way to keep readers interested. While you don’t necessarily need to string along the same question throughout the entire book, answering one question in a way that opens up several other questions is a great way to develop the plot, while still leaving readers to wonder how these new questions will be answered.

  • Put your protagonist in danger. Now, when I say “danger” I don’t necessarily mean risking your protagonist’s life (although it could be). Your protagonist could be in danger of losing a job, or a friend, or a dream—whatever it is, make sure it’s something that is dear to them. In some genres, this might mean your protagonist is in danger of losing his life, but in others, it could be a relationship or opportunity that’s at risk. The point is to raise the stakes so that the readers are not only cheering your protagonist on, but afraid that they may fail to save whatever it is that they are trying to keep.

  • Keep your protagonist from reaching his/her goal (until the resolution). This is a big one. Regardless of your genre, every novel must have a protagonist trying to accomplish or reach some kind of goal. The plot itself is then the character’s journey to try to reach said goal. In some novels, that goal may evolve along the way, but the important thing is that whatever the goal is, it is out of reach throughout the large majority of the novel. By making your characters fail, often repeatedly, to reach that goal, you keep your readers hooked because they’ll want to find out how your character will manage to succeed. 

If you incorporate these elements into your novel, you’ll be well on your way hooking your readers, and keeping them interested throughout your book. 

What books can you think of that successfully utilized the urgency to keep reading? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Want to keep your readers glued to your book? Here's the secret to writing a novel they can't put down. (Click to tweet) 
Is your book gripping? Writer @Ava_Jae shares the secret to writing a book your readers won't be able to put down. (Click to tweet)

5 Places to Find Critique Partners

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So we all know just how essential critique partners are if you’re serious about your writing career, but as someone who has had to search for CPs several times, I understand that it’s not always easy to find them.

The internet to me, is like space—it never ends and it’s constantly expanding. And while there are hoards of writers scouring the depths of cyberspace, it’s not always easy to pick out a couple select few for the purpose of ripping each other’s work apart giving each other feedback. This is particularly difficult if you don’t know where to look. 

That being said, I’ve devised a list of five great places to help you satisfy your CP searching needs. 
  1. Twitter. I’m pretty sure Twitter has made just about every one of my helpful lists for writers, and for good reason. I’ve found three CPs off Twitter alone, and most times, even when I use other sites, I contact the potential CP on Twitter. Why? Because people tend to check Twitter a lot more often than they check other sites, and it’s easy to get quick up-to-date information across in 140 characters. Combine this with the fact that there are LOADS of writers on Twitter, and you have an ocean of CP possibilities. 

  2. Ladies Who Critique. This one doesn’t really help the men (sorry!), but for you ladies out there looking for critique partners, this is a great place to start. After filling out a profile that covers everything from your critiquing availability and expertise, to the genres you like to read and write in, you can search for other CPs by groups, genres, or just free scrolling. I’ve had success with this site too, and while it isn’t as active as I might like, it’s a great place to start your search. 

  3. How About We CP.This is a great tumblr run by fabulous literary agent Jessica Sinsheimer. Writers searching for CPs submit a quick profile that covers contact info (Twitter or e-mail), interested genres, how honest they like their critique, and a bit about the writer and their MS. The entries get posted for public viewing pleasure, and you can contact each other for future swapping purposes. 

  4. YA Writers RedditAs well as just being an overall interesting and informative place of discussion, this reddit run by the NYT Bestseller Beth Revis and a few other fabulous writers, had a CP connection post earlier this month and there are more planned in the future. 

  5. CP Seek. Just as the title indicates, this is a great forum full of writers searching for critique partners. Like LWC, it isn’t updated quite as often as say, Twitter, but it’s another great place to start your search.  
So those are my top five to-go places when searching for CPs, now I want to hear from you: where do you go to find CPs?

Twitter-sized bites: 
Looking for a critique partner? Here are five CP-seeking resources you may want to check out. (Click to tweet)  
Where do you go to find critique partners? Writer @Ava_Jae shares her top five CP-seeking sites. (Click to tweet)

Half a Million Page View Giveaway

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Those of you who follow me on Twitter or like me on Facebook probably have heard that Writability passed a major milestone over the weekend. That’s right—500,000 page views.


Even though I’d been watching the numbers climb steadily to the big half-mil mark, it still felt pretty surreal to break the 500,000-view milestone. I am humbled and truly thankful for each and every one of my wonderful supporters. 

Yes, that means you. Reading the post right now. Thank you. 

Rather than go on for a few hundred words about how amazing you guys are (which hopefully you already know) and how grateful I am (which I am), I’d like to show you my gratitude by giving a little something back. And thus, the giveaway. 

I like critiquing. I’ve done a pretty decent share of it, from full-length works to samples, to queries and pitches, and I like to think that my feedback is at least somewhat helpful. Every pair of eyes helps, right? 

As the large majority of you lovely people are writers, I’ve decided to offer a critique of the first ten pages of your WIP. It doesn’t have to be polished, or even from a finished manuscript—the only requirements are that the first ten pages are complete and there isn’t any erotic material in those first ten pages because that’s not my thing. 

The last thing I’ll say is that I will actually critique your work. I’ve had friends and family ask me to edit something for them, then look horrified when I hand it back dripping in red ink, so if you enter the giveaway, please make sure you’re actually ready to receive a critique. There’s no harm in holding off if you’re not sure you’re at a stage prepared for that. 

This giveaway will be open for seven days and will close at midnight on August 1st. Good luck to all who enter (via the rafflecopter below), and thanks again for being awesome! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

4 Signs That Your Manuscript Isn’t Ready

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We all know that writing a book is hard, and in many ways, deciding whether or not your MS is ready for publication or submission can be even harder. It’s never easy to look at our work critically, and sometimes our own eagerness can cause us to overlook issues and release our work prematurely—or on the flip side, hold on to it for too long. 

While there isn’t a foolproof way of determining whether or not your manuscript is ready to release to the world, there are signs that your manuscript isn’t ready that are important to pay attention to.  
  1. It’s a first draft. I don’t care how incredible your first draft is, every book needs editing. Some WIPs need more editing then others, and if you happen to be among the lucky few who write very clean, polished first drafts, then it’s not unlikely that you won’t need a huge amount of editing. But every WIP can be improved, and if you release your first draft to the world, you’re doing yourself a great disservice. 

  2. You haven’t utilized critique partners. Confession: I queried my first three manuscripts before showing them to experienced critique partners. I did have some feedback, but as it wasn’t from experienced writers, it wasn’t as intensive as I needed—I just didn’t realize it yet. Unsurprisingly, those WIPs didn’t garner much interest because they weren’t ready. And I would have known that, had I utilized the power of the writing community.

    I’m telling you this, because I know how easy it is to edit your own work and think this is good. It’s ready. I know how easy it is to give your MS to a couple close non-writer friends and family and think that their feedback is all that you need.

    It’s not. If you’re serious about your writing career and want to make your manuscripts the very best that they can be, then you need critique partners. Learn from my mistakes: you don’t want a publishing professional to be the first person outside of your inner circle of family and friends to look at your manuscript. 

  3. Your CPs recommend major or widespread changes. It’s not fun to hear from CPs that you need intensive changes in your WIP, but if you have more than one CP suggesting widespread changes, it’s probably a good sign that your WIP needs more work before sending it out. 

  4. You suspect it’s not ready. We writers have pretty decent instincts when it comes to our work—we just tend to ignore them at times. If you’re fighting the nagging sensation that your MS still needs work, and you also fit into one or some of the other signs, you may want to seriously consider holding on to your WIP for a little longer. 

What signs do you look for when determining whether or not your WIP is ready? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Think your MS is ready for querying? Here are four signs that it might not be. (Click to tweet)
Four signs to look for when deciding whether or not to start querying your latest MS. (Click to tweet)

Writing a Novel in 15 Steps: From Initial Idea to Querying

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It occurred to me that while I’ve written several posts about the various steps that go into writing a novel from brainstorming to surviving the query trenches, I never really discussed the order, or the step-by-step process of writing a book from initial idea to searching for representation. 

While every writer works a little differently, I’ve decided to share my general process from start to finish to give you an idea as to what usually goes into polishing a novel to completion—at least, how I handle it. 

  1. The spark. This is the initial idea—the bubble of excitement combined with the whisper of a line, shadow of a scene, glimpse of a world, or wink of a character. This is the moment when you dare to think maybe this could be a novel and everything changes. 

  2. Brainstorming/Outlining. How you outline or brainstorm will depend on whether you’re a pantser or a plotter. I’ve done both sides of the spectrum, and I’ve found that I work really well by outlining with flashcards on Scrivener’s cork board, so after I’ve brainstormed some general plot ideas and I’m happy with what I have, I open up a new Scrivener project and start working. This is usually the step where I’ll decide whether or not the idea is novel-worthy.  

  3. First draft. Ahh, the first draft. The exciting, terrifying, wonderful, exhausting first draft. I’m a fast drafter, so this usually takes me anywhere from three and a half to six weeks, depending on the length of the WIP and whether or not I outlined. To me, this is in many ways the hardest part, because you are, in essence, making the clay that you will later refine into a polished story. Pre-first draft, all you have are a bunch of ideas, but post-first draft you have a novel

  4. Cooling off period. Sometimes, when I’m especially eager to get to editing, this step actually feels harder than the first drafting—even though it involves literally doing nothing. But the cooling off period is so important for reasons I’ve already talked about. I don’t recommend skipping this step, but everyone works differently. 

  5. First read-through. I’ve found that the first read-through can either be crazy exciting, or horrifically disappointing. Either way, if you intend to release this novel to the world, the first read-through is unavoidable, and very important. I take notes when working through my first read-through and usually read it in a medium that doesn’t allow me to edit, like printed off or exported as an e-book. 

  6. Second draft. Whatever notes I made in the first read-through—now it’s time to implement them. This is where I try to address major issues like plot problems, continuity errors or novel-wide enhancements that are needed to make the book semi-presentable. 

  7. Read-aloud. I read aloud to my oh so lucky (and extraordinarily generous) first reader. Technically, you don’t need to read to anyone to get the benefits from reading aloud, but my first reader gives me a little extra feedback to help gauge what still needs fixing. The main point of the read-aloud, however, is to feel the flow of the writing, catch errors and gauge what’s working and what isn’t. I try to pay attention to where the pacing is off, where the dialogue sounds strange and where it’s easy to put the book down. 

  8. CP swap/cooling off period. I’ve talked about how important beta readers and critique partners are, and this is where they first come into play. Once I’ve gone through the aforementioned steps and I’m relatively satisfied (meaning I’m aware it’s nowhere near perfection, but I’m not embarrassed to share it), I’ll let my CPs know what stage the book is in and start swapping chapters or whole manuscripts. This also acts as a cooling off period, because I’m spending some time focusing on something else (ergo: the CP’s MS). 

  9. Third draft. Now that I have feedback from a couple CPs, I’ll start incorporating the changes into draft three. Depending on how the swapping goes, I may do this simultaneously with the CP swap (in which case I sort of skip the second cooling off period), but this varies case by case. 

  10. CP swap/cooling off period (again). For some final feedback to see how well the revisions did (or didn’t) work. 

  11. Final edit/polish. Using the final feedback and my own discretion, it’s now time for the final polish. This is where I tend to get nit-picky about word choice, placement of analogies, awkward wording and paragraph length. Sometimes, this can be the most intensive editing step, because it involves analyzing every single sentence. 

  12. Synopsis/query/pitch drafting. The polish is done! Yay! Now for my favorite step—synopsis and query drafting. This tweet basically sums up my feelings for this step.
    Yeah. And for those who are interested, here’s what you’ll want to avoid when drafting up that query. 

  13. Synopsis/query/pitch critique. I’ve talked about the importance of query critiques before, and now is the ideal time to do them. If you don’t polish your query, publishing professionals may never read the words you worked so hard to make shine. 

  14. Research potential agents to query (assuming you want an agent). Pretty self-explanatory. I like lists, so I make a list in a spreadsheet with information like what agency they work for, how I’m going to personalize the query, and average response time. I also use the same spreadsheet to keep track of rejections/requests after I’ve sent out queries. 

  15. Release to the world/seek distractions. Once you’ve hit “send,” it’s time to sit back, relax, and try to focus on just about anything else. 

Then, of course, when you’ve finished with that novel, it’s time to start all over again with a new one. Welcome to the life of the writer. 

So those are my fifteen steps—now I want to hear from you. Do you do anything differently?

Twitter-sized bites: 
One novelist's process of writing a book in fifteen steps—from the first idea to the first query. (Click to tweet
How to write a novel from the initial idea to querying, condensed into 15 steps. (Click to tweet)

Are You a Writer?

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Some of you may remember a post I wrote way back when titled Ten Indisputable Signs That You’re a Writer. It was a list post I wrote for fun, detailing some quirks that many writers share in common, and overall I had a pretty positive response from you lovely readers. 

Sometime after I posted it, however, the intro of the post was stripped out and someone re-posted it on several sites, and it eventually ended up on tumblr where it exploded a little. Long story short, the version of the post that became popular was a version without the intro, and so my fun list started to sound like a list of qualifying characteristics that you must have to be a writer. Which wasn’t my intention at all. 

I cleared it up to the tumblr community and it all got worked out in the end (yay!), but it made me realize that there are a lot of people out there who believe that there are some sort of lofty requirements to being a writer. 

I want to nip this lie in the bud right now. There is one requirement to being a writer.

Do you know what it is? I bet you can guess. 

The only question you ever need to ask yourself when wondering if you qualify for the title of “writer” is this: do you write? 

If the answer is yes—guess what? You’re a writer. No really. That’s it. 

This is why I don’t agree with the term “aspiring writer.” It’s also why it really hurt me to see people responding to my stripped list post with I guess I’m not a writer. I wanted to reach through the interwebs and hug those people and tell them that if they write and they love to write, then they’re writers. 

You see, there isn’t a panel of highbrow writerly judges that look down their noses at so-called would-be writers and tell them that they aren’t writer enough. As long as you write, there is no such thing as not being writer enough. 

You don’t need to be published to call yourself a writer. You don’t need to have written for x-amount of years or completed several novels (or even a single novel, for that matter). You don’t need to have a successful blog, or a witty Twitter, or hoards of fans to be a writer. 

All you need is your words and your love for language. All you need is a keyboard or pen and paper and the determination to keep writing, even when no one knows or cares that you love to write. 

All you need is you and the courage to say, “I’m a writer.” 

Because that, my friends, is the only requirement that matters.

Now tell me: Are you a writer?

Twitter-sized bites:  
There's only one question you need ask when wondering if you're a writer. Do you know what it is? (Click to tweet
There's only one requirement for being a writer—do you meet it? (Click to tweet)

How to Edit in Passes

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As I work on the second draft of my newest WIP, I’ve decided to try something a little different while working on my edits. 

I’ve mentioned in the past that I like to be pretty organized when I tackle my edits, and I often employ editing lists to help me to capitalize on that organization. Even with the list method, however, editing can quickly become exhausting, and so this time around I wanted to focus on a method that would allow me to get through my edits without burning out. 

And so I decided to enhance the list method with focused passes. 

You see, oftentimes the biggest issue with editing is that writers start to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the edit at hand. Most times there will be several things to fix in any given draft, but the focused pass forces you to tackle one problem at a time. 

Basically, the idea behind a focused edit pass is to go through your WIP with one goal in mind. Maybe it’s to authenticate dialogue, or expand on your setting, or fix a major plot hole, but whatever it is, you go through your WIP and fix that one problem, until whatever it is is cohesively worked out throughout the entirety of your WIP. 

For example, say you’re adding a character. Using the focused pass method, you would go through your WIP from beginning to end, adding all scenes, mentions and effects that character leaves, and you ignore all other problems while doing so. It isn’t until you’ve fully integrated the new character into your WIP that you move on to the next problem—and again, you focus solely on the new issue. 

Ideally, I recommend starting with the most difficult fix and moving on from there, because once you’ve fixed the big problems, everything else will feel easier in comparison. 

So far, I’ve found that isolating the issues and focusing on them one at a time has allowed me to handle the issues without being overwhelmed. And when you’re neck-deep in edits, that can be quite a blessing. 

How do you handle your edits? Do you try to tackle everything chronologically, use passes, or another method? 

Twitter-sized bites:  
Do your edits leave you feeling overwhelmed? Here's a quick tip to help avoid writer burnout. (Click to tweet).  
Is your list of needed edits enormous? Here's how editing in passes helps one writer keep focused. (Click to tweet)

Writing Tip: Describe with Telling Details—Character

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On Wednesday, I covered the importance of telling details when writing description for settings. Now I want to discuss an equally important type of description that also relies (when done well) on the same kind of details.

I’m sure you’ve all come across a passage, whether in your writing or someone else’s, in which a character was meticulously described from the specific tint of his eyes to the size of his nose and the make of the shoes on his feet. And chances are, the description started to lag and didn’t really leave a lasting impression, despite everything the writer threw at you. 

The problem wasn’t that the character wasn’t described enough, in fact, it was the opposite problem—the character was drowning in so much description that nothing could stand out and leave an impression. 

That’s why a few telling details are always better than paragraphs upon paragraphs of listed descriptions. If you use too much description, your readers won’t be able to pick out what physical markers are unique to your characters—but by utilizing a couple telling details instead, you’ll paint a picture of your characters much more effectively.

Let’s take a look at some examples. In both excerpts, the respective protagonists are seeing a love interest for the first time, and both authors do an excellent job characterizing them with just a couple specific details.  
“A boy was staring at me. 
I was quite sure I’d never seen him before. Long and leanly muscular, he dwarfed the molded plastic elementary school chair he was sitting in. Mahogany hair, straight and short. He looked my age, maybe a year older, and he sat with his tailbone against the edge of the chair, his posture aggressively poor, one hand half in a pocket of dark jeans.” 
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, pages 8-9.
What really seals the description here? To me, it isn’t his mahogany hair that makes the image—it’s his “aggressively poor” posture and the way his long form dwarfs the plastic elementary school chair. Those are the kinds of details that you want focus on when describing your characters. 

Next example:
“I turn toward my new husband. My cheeks are hot; I know they will be blotchy and shining with sweat when he lifts the shield from my face.  
He releases my hand. I clench it into a fist to keep from wiping it on my terno. I see his fingers on the hem of my veil. They are brown and thick with short, clean nails. Not scholar’s hands, like Master Geraldo’s. He lifts up the veil, and I blink as cooler air floods my cheeks. I peer up at the face of my husband, at black hair that sweeps back and curls at his neck, at brown eyes warmer than cinnamon, at a mouth as strong as his fingers.” 
The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, page 14.
What I love about this excerpt is that our very first impression of her new husband isn’t his stunning good looks—it’s his fingers and clean nails as he grasps her veil before lifting it over her face. I also love the way that Ms. Carson reminds us of his fingers by comparing the strength of his mouth to the strength of his hands at the end of the paragraph.  

So those are two examples of excellent use of telling details while describing characters, but now I want to hear from you. Do you use telling details when describing characters? Any examples you’d like to share from your work, or books that you've read?

Twitter-sized bites: 
Do you use telling details to describe your characters? Here's why you may want to. (Click to tweet
Are you drowning your readers in description? Here's how to make your character descriptions pop. (Click to tweet)

Writing Tip: Describe with Telling Details—Setting

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I've often found that you can tell a new writer from an experienced one by the way they handle description. 

New writers often feel as though they have to describe everything. They go on paragraph after paragraph (or even several pages) going through every last minuscule detail of every setting (and/or every character), oftentimes stopping the action altogether to paint a perfect picture of the character’s surroundings. 

To be fair, it’s an easy mistake to make, and one that I readily admit I made with my first novel. You see, writers understand how important it is to paint a picture for the reader and make the setting come alive. What many new writers often mistakingly believe, however, is that they must describe the hell out of everything in order to make the readers see. 

But the truth is, that’s not the case at all. You don’t need to describe everything in order to create full images for the reader—you just need to describe a couple important telling details. 

What I mean by important telling details are specific aspects of your setting that embody the spirit of the surroundings. Ideally, you’ll want details that appeal to all five senses (although you don’t need to use all five at once). 

Because I’m about to re-read Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo before reading the sequel Siege and Storm, I thought I’d show you a great example of an effective description of one of the many places the main character Alina encounters in the richly decorated world that Ms. Bardugo created. And I’ve bolded examples of telling details: 
“For a moment, all my fear disappeared, eclipsed by the beauty that surrounded me. The tent’s inner walls were draped with cascades of bronze silk that caught the glimmering candlelight from chandeliers sparkling high above. The floors were covered in rich rugs and furs. Along the walls, shimmering silken partitions separated compartments where Grisha clustered in their vibrant kefta. Some stood talking, others lounged on cushions drinking tea. Two were bent over a game of chess. From somewhere, I heard the strings of a balalaika being plucked. The Duke’s estate had been beautiful, but it was a melancholy beauty of dusty rooms and peeling paint, the echo of something that had once been grand. The Grisha tent was like nothing I had ever seen before, a place alive with power and wealth. 
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, page 40. 
One paragraph. That’s all Ms. Bardugo uses to describe the bulk of the Grisha tent, and yet I think we can agree that by the end of the paragraph, you have a great sense of not only Alina’s current surroundings, but how it differs from the surroundings she’s accustomed to (ergo: the Duke’s estate). 

The fact of the matter is, you don’t need very much to build a rich setting. You just need to describe a handful of the right details and let the reader fill in the rest. 

What are some of your favorite settings from books? Do you remember any of the telling details that made it stand out to you? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Is describing everything necessary to paint a rich setting for the reader? One writer says no. (Click to tweet).  
What are telling details and why are they important? Writer @Ava_Jae explains. (Click to tweet)

New Adult: Here to Stay?

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If you keep an eye on the publishing pulse, or otherwise are a writer on Twitter, chances are you’ve heard of the emerging categorization of New Adult. 

While there have been many definitions and speculations on what exactly the category entails floating around the internet, I’ve found the one off NA Alley to be the most helpful: 
“Typically, a novel is considered NA if it encompasses the transition between adolescence—a life stage often depicted in Young Adult (YA) fiction—and true adulthood. 
Protagonists generally fall between the ages of eighteen and twenty-six, though exceptions may apply. NA characters are often portrayed experiencing: college, living away from home for the first time, military deployment, apprenticeships, a first steady job, a first serious relationship, etc.”
For more information on what NA is all about, check out their full “What is New Adult?” page, which has a great explanation. 

Far more interesting than the actual definition of the category, to me, has been people’s opinions on NA (which range from we don’t need it to where have you been all my life?) and people’s expectations of where NA will go from here. 

Right now, NA has been pretty focused on contemporary romances such as Cora Carmack’s Losing It and Faking It, Jamie McGuire’s Beautiful Disaster and Tammara Webber’s Easy, which is fine, but I’d love to see it expand to other genres—and I truly believe that it has the potential to do so. 

But as agent extraordinaire Suzie Townsend said in her post on New Adult and different genres, where the category goes from here will depend entirely on the readers. And to me, that’s an exciting prospect. 

The eighteen to early twenties segment has always been difficult to break into—a large part of the reason most of the characters I’ve written about until recently are about seventeen. Many publishers were convinced that readers didn’t want to read about characters within that age bracket, and so it went largely ignored for a long time. 

But now self-publishing has changed that. The massive success of self-published NA novels has brought attention to the previously unmarketable age range, and now people are starting to pay attention. 

In essence, readers have created New Adult, and whether or not it evolves and grows will depend largely on readers’ reception of this new category. 

And to me, that is something very special. 

What do you think? Is New Adult a fad, or will it continue to grow and change? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Do you think New Adult is a fad, or is it here to stay? Join the discussion at @Ava_Jae's blog! (Click to tweet)

Why one writer thinks readers are making New Adult something special. (Click to tweet)

5 Ways to Support Your Favorite Authors

Photo credit: Mark J P on Flickr
Not too long ago, I wrote a post on how (not) to be an awesome fan, in which I detailed ways to make your favorite authors extraordinarily (un)happy people.

Today I'd like to take the opposite approach and talk about some real ways to support your favorite authors, and become the kind of fan that every author wants and appreciates.

So without further ado, here are five ways to support your favorite authors and be a great fan.

  1. Write honest reviews. This doesn’t necessarily mean good reviews, although it can. Honest reviews, the ones where you share the good and bad and what you really thought about the book (without rudeness, that is) are the best kind—readers believe them because you’re not just raving madly about their awesomeness (not that there’s anything wrong with that), and writers more times than not appreciate your honesty.  

  2. Let them know you enjoyed their book. Twitter is perfect for this, because it allows you to directly contact authors and let them know that they’re appreciated with just a couple keystrokes. Naturally, this doesn’t mean you should spam them (please don’t spam anyone), but a quick note saying that you really enjoyed their book may be just what they needed to hear that day. 

  3. Spread the word. Did you like the book? Then tell people about it! Word of mouth is one of the best marketing tools out there, and what’s fantastic is that it works exponentially—you may tell one person about it, who may then go on to tell two others, and each of them may go on to tell a few more. Before you know it, your favorite author has a dozen new fans just because you told one person how much you enjoyed their book. 

  4. Buy their books. I know it’s not always possible to buy every book from every one of your favorite authors, and that’s ok (as long as you’re getting it from legal means, that is). But every book you buy, whether e-book or print, is a monetary vote of support for the author, and for traditionally published authors, sales play an important role in determining the future of their contracts.

  5. Give their books as gifts. Obviously this only works if the recipient of the gift is a cool person who loves books, but this is a great way to not only make a reader you care about happy, but to possibly give your favorite author a new fan. And that’s a win-win all around. 

Have you done any of these to help support your favorite authors? What other suggestions would you add to the list? 

Twitter-sized bites: 

Do you support your favorite authors? Here are five easy ways to do so. (Click to tweet
Do you want to show your favorite authors how much you appreciate them? Try some of these easy steps. (Click to tweet)

YA: It’s Not a Genre

Photo credit: ginnerobot on Flickr
I imagine the title of this post may have some lovers of Young Adult novels arriving with pitchforks and calling down fire and brimstone from the heavens, but hold your horses, because it’s not what you think.

Anyone who so much as peeks at my Goodreads shelf can see that I love YA. Out of the fourteen books I’ve read thus far this year, eight of them were YA novels, and out of the twenty-one I read last year, fourteen were YA. I also love writing YA, and the first thing I do upon walking into Barnes & Noble is beeline it over to the Teen section, so I think it goes without saying that I’m a YA junkie. (It’s not a problem. I can stop whenever I want to—I just don’t want to).

So when I say that YA isn’t a genre, I’m not trying to insult anyone, or somehow degrade the wonderful world that is YAtopia. I’m actually talking technicalities.

YA, like MG, Adult, and I suspect NA as well (although that’s another post all on its own), are all categories. They describe a target audience and expectations of general themes threaded throughout the books. For YA, that means a protagonist between the ages of thirteen and seventeen, and a sort of coming-of-age theme, to start. That’s a super simplified version, and there’s more to YA, but for the sake of not drowning you in information, let’s leave it at that.

Within each of those categories, there are then genres: Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Romance, Contemporary, Horror, Historic, Thriller, Mystery, etc. And within those genres, there are sub-genres: dystopia, epic fantasy, paranormal romance, urban fantasy, contemporary romance, regency, post-apocalyptic, psychological thriller, the list goes on.

All of the books within those genres share close similarities; all paranormal romance involve some sort of creature or supernaturally-enabled love interest; dystopias involve some sort of future society, usually with an extremely controlling (and often evil) governmental system; epic fantasy involves swords and horses, and occasionally magic and otherwise magical creatures.

But within the category of YA, the books are markedly different. The Fault in Our Stars is nothing like The Hunger Games, and Graceling is nowhere near similar to City of Bones. What brings them together is the general age group of the protagonists and the coming-of-age theme woven throughout their respective stories. But they’re certainly not the same genre.

So those are my thoughts on the categorization of the wonderful realm that is YA, but now I want to hear from you: do you consider MG, YA or Adult a genre? Why or why not? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Is YA a category or a genre? One writer shares her thoughts on the matter. (Click to tweet
Are MG, YA and Adult genres? Join the discussion at @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Do You Read E-Books Faster than Print Books?

Photo credit: wck on Flickr
After reading three e-books in a little over the course of a week, it occurred to me that as of late, I’ve developed a tendency of reading more quickly when I use my e-reader. 

To confirm my suspicions, I did some quick math (or rather, had Excel do some quick math) and measured how many days on average it took me to complete an e-book and a print book, using the data Goodreads had from books I’ve read thus far this year. 

I wasn’t surprised to find a big difference between the two. 

On average, it took me 15 days to finish reading a print book. With e-books, however, my average was five days. 

I knew, however, that e-books were sometimes shorter than their print counterparts, so I broke it down further to determine how many pages a day I read on average with each. Again, the difference was undeniable: 46 pages a day with print books, and 79 with e-books. 

What I really found interesting, however, was that if I averaged these statistics with my reading average over the course of a year and a half (ergo, my reading stats from 2012 and this year so far), my averages were much more comparable: it took me an average of 12 days to finish a print book and nine days to complete an e-book. The difference was still there, until I factored in the pages; 59 print pages per day versus 58 pages per day with e-books. 

So what happened between last year and this year? 

For the longest time, I treated my e-reader with as much care as I did my print books. You see, I’m a little OCD when it comes to my beautiful books, and I’ve always been very careful to keep them clean and undamaged. I treated my e-reader much the same, until I started to realize more recently that my little e-reader is sturdier than I gave it credit for. 

Most times I read with my NOOK Simple Touch, so it’s not as delicate as an iPad or tablet. This realization allowed me to start carrying my e-reader around a little more often—I’d prop it up while eating, for example—something I’d never do with a print book, God forbid I got food on it. 

So I suspect that may be part of it, but I think the other part is an active attempt on my part this year to make more use of free moments to read. Combined with the ease of reading off an e-reader (sliding my finger across a screen versus flipping a page, which really shouldn’t be a big deal but it does make for easier single-handed reading), I’ve started to find that on average I breeze through e-books a lot faster than I do their print counterparts. There are exceptions, of course (i.e.: reading The Fault in Our Stars in two days, or Unravel Me in three), but overall, e-books seem to be winning the speed race. 

I don’t know if this is a trend that will continue with me, as it’s something that seems to have really developed over the course of the last six months, but I found it interesting nevertheless. 

And so I’m curious: do you read e-books faster than print? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
One writer's findings when comparing her print and e-book reading statistics. (Click to tweet)  
Print versus e-books—do you read one faster than the other? Join the discussion at @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)
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