On Writing a Synopsis Before the First Draft

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Like most writers, I despise synopsis-writing. It’s easily my least favorite part of the writing process, and one I tend to put off until I absolutely have to. Because trying to condense 60-100,000 words into a page? It’s tough. It’s ridiculously tough.

But I’ve been trying this new thing lately.

I’ve often heard writers talk about writing the synopsis before they write a single word of the manuscript. While this is something that never sounded particularly appealing to me (after all, synopsis writing = the tenth circle of hell Dante forgot to mention), I figured I’d try it out for a potential future WIP.

While I’m not currently done with this brainstorming/synopsis experiment, and it is absolutely more than a page (which I think is fine, considering this is the time to expand on ideas to turn into a book, not condense them), I’ve noticed a couple interesting things along the way.

Firstly, it’s been working surprisingly well as far as idea-generation goes. I’m a very linear writer—I tend to build up scenes and come up with ideas by working off of what I already know has happened—so writing a condensed, summary version of what I think will happen chronologically has definitely helped me come up with how to get from point A to point B, which is something I tend to struggle with while plotting.

Secondly, it is way easier to notice potential plot problems or places where I could tweak and expand when working on this summarized version. It’s actually kind of exciting, because I can look at the synopsis I have going and add a couple sentences a few pages back and voila! NEW PLOT THREAD. This synopsis brainstorming thing makes it so much easier to see macro issues and weave new plot threads in before I start writing, which will hopefully make revising easier in the future. I think.

All in all, the pre-draft synopsis has been a really fun experiment, and one that I’ll probably continue and do again in the future. And maybe, just maybe, having this early synopsis will make future synopsis writing a teensie bit less painful. Hey, I can dream, right?

Have you ever tried writing the synopsis before the first draft? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Writer @Ava_Jae blogs about the pre-draft synopsis and how it can help with plotting. #writingtip (Click to tweet)  
Have you ever written a synopsis before the first draft? Here's why you may want to consider it. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Feature #3

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All right! So as these things go, I’m going to start off by posting the full 250 excerpt, then I’ll share some overall thoughts, then my redline critique. I absolutely encourage all of you to share your own thoughts and critiques (after all, I’m only one person with one opinion), as long as it’s polite, thoughtful and constructive. Any rude or mean comments will be deleted.

Let’s go!
Genre/Category: YA Post-Apocalyptic 
First 250:

David paced the apartment, cradling his infant cousin. She had stopped crying, too exhausted and miserable to do anything but lie in his arms. Barely two weeks since her mother died and already he was struck with the horrible conviction that he had failed her. 
There were three cans of green beans but that didn't help: the baby was too little to eat canned food. He peered out the window. The streets were quiet right now, but he could smell smoke.  David didn’t want to go outside, but he had no choice—he needed to get formula for the baby. He could survive longer without food than she could. He fashioned a sling to carry his cousin, then packed his meager possessions: the cans of green beans, a can opener, a flashlight, a Swiss Army knife, and a photo album. 
He didn't need to be told about all the dangers that waited outside the complex’s iron gates. Every day, the air echoed with gunfire; thick, grey smoke rose. David took a deep breath and peered through the bars as the wind whipped through the gates. The sky was ash-grey—it smelled of smoke and decay. He reached for the Super's keys and stepped through the gates, making sure to lock them behind him. 
Though David had lived in this city since he was ten, he felt like a stranger, as he walked the twisting streets. He had been away too long, hiding with Mai in the Heavenly Hills apartment complex.

Okay, so an overall note that you (and other YA Post-Apoc writers) will hopefully find helpful: thus far, just about every time I’ve seen a YA Post-Apocalyptic (or dystopia that happens to be post-apocalyptic) submission, it’s started with characters thinking about how little food they have and how they need to endanger themselves to feed their families. This isn’t inherently bad, per say, but the problem is a) most times, it opens with the characters not doing anything, just thinking about how they’re hungry/don’t have food/need to do something etc. and b) it’s done a lot. Whenever you have an opening that follows a pattern often seen for the genre (or in general) it’s much harder for you to stand out, so that’s something to think about.

Now the in-line notes:

David paced the apartment, cradling his infant cousin. She had stopped crying, too exhausted and miserable to do anything but lie in his arms. Barely two weeks since her mother died and already he was struck with the horrible conviction that he had failed her. I’m guessing you mean the cousin’s mother, but it’s not clear who “her” is in this sentence.
Another note on the first paragraph: as far as hooks go, I think this could be stronger. Yes, we feel a little sympathetic for David and his baby cousin, but as is, there isn’t anything there that really grabs me as a reader. Whether you want to achieve that by changing where it starts, adding more to the voice or something else is up to you, but I’d recommend testing different openings with betas to try to figure out how best to hook your readers.  
There were three cans of green beans but that didn't help: the baby was too little to eat canned food. He peered out the window. The streets were quiet right now, but he could smell smoke.  Two notes here: 1) What does it look like when he peeks outside? You give us auditory information (it’s quiet) and olfactory information (it smells like smoke), but what does he see? We don’t even know the time of day here. 2) This is a bit of a technicality, but how does he smell smoke if he’s standing inside? Is the window open? If so, is the air outside cold? Stifling hot? David didn’t want to go outside, but he had no choice—he needed to get formula for the baby. He could survive longer without food than she could. Do you think you could show us some of this information through his thoughts and actions, rather than telling us? He fashioned a sling to carry his cousin, then packed his meager possessions: the cans of green beans, a can opener, a flashlight, a Swiss Army knife, and a photo album. Can you give us more details? Are these new items? Rusty, old, falling apart items? A mix of the two? 
He didn't need to be told about all the dangers that waited outside the complex’s iron gates. Maybe not, but we do. Could you show us some of those dangers? Every day, the air echoed with gunfire; thick, grey smoke rose. David took a deep breath and peered through the bars as the wind whipped through the gates. Is this cold wind? Hot wind? The sky was ash-grey—it smelled of smoke and decay. He reached for the Super's keys and stepped through the gates, making sure to lock them behind him. Which are where? Hidden somewhere? In his pocket? Somewhere else? 
Though David had lived in this city since he was ten, he felt like a stranger, as he walked the twisting streets. He had been away too long, hiding with Mai in the Heavenly Hills apartment complex.

As far as this opening goes, I think you may want to consider starting a little later on. As is, the pace is a little on the slower side, and as I mentioned above, I think you could use a stronger hook. My guess is the pace increases as he wanders the street searching for food and something happens? Or something else, but I think it would benefit you to consider starting maybe a little later on.

If I saw this in the slush, I would probably anticipate a pass, but I think this is a relatively easy fix after you figure out where best to start your story, assuming you decide to change it. (In the end, of course, it’s absolutely up to you—it’s your story!).

Thanks for sharing your first 250, Jenny!

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

Twitter-sized bite: 
Writer @Ava_Jae talks pacing and choosing the right place to start your book in the third Fixing the First Page critique. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: 5 Things Writers Need

I read this guest post back in August about ten things you don't need to be a writer, and it inspired me to talk about the opposite. What DO writers need? I've got five things.

What would you add to the list? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
.@Ava_Jae vlogs about five things you need to be a writer. What do you think? (Click to tweet)  
Persistence, patience & support are 3/5 things @Ava_Jae says you need to be a writer. What do you think? #vlog (Click to tweet)

Book Review: OTHERBOUND by Corinne Duyvis

Photo credit: Goodreads
I always love when I read a book from a nice person on Twitter and it turns out that along with being really super nice, they’re actually totally awesome at the whole book-writing thing, too.

Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis is one of those examples.

Before I go into why, however, here’s the Goodreads summary:
“Amara is never alone. Not when she's protecting the cursed princess she unwillingly serves. Not when they're fleeing across dunes and islands and seas to stay alive. Not when she's punished, ordered around, or neglected. 
She can't be alone, because a boy from another world experiences all that alongside her, looking through her eyes. 
Nolan longs for a life uninterrupted. Every time he blinks, he's yanked from his Arizona town into Amara's mind, a world away, which makes even simple things like hobbies and homework impossible. He's spent years as a powerless observer of Amara's life. Amara has no idea . . . until he learns to control her, and they communicate for the first time. Amara is terrified. Then, she's furious. 
All Amara and Nolan want is to be free of each other. But Nolan's breakthrough has dangerous consequences. Now, they'll have to work together to survive--and discover the truth about their connection.”
So I began reading Otherbound thinking it would be a cool fantasy story with a diverse cast and an interesting premise. I was right, but wow, I didn’t realize how impressive this book would be.

The world building and magic system alone makes the unique world of Otherbound so very interesting—I’ve never seen a magic system quite like what Duyvis put together in Nolan and Amara’s intertwined worlds, and it was totally refreshing to see a fantasy world where there are consequences to magic use (can you say FINALLY?). Combined with the intricate details of the cultures (yes! more than one! thank you again!) and norms of Amara’s world and the totally fascinating epilepsy-not-really-epilepsy-like attacks Nolan gets in his reality when slipping into Amara’s world, and it all makes for one really interesting story.

I will say that there were some aspects of Amara’s world that confused me and/or I had trouble grasping, but all in all, the world building was really well done and I totally admire the way Duyvis wrote Nolan and Amara’s worlds.

Oh, and have I mentioned the diverse characters? This made me so happy. Nolan is a latino amputee with “epilepsy” (and even though we know it’s not epilepsy, the way Amara’s world affects him in a way that totally breaks your heart) and Amara is a mute bisexual girl. Not only that, but the full cast beyond the protagonists are so very diverse and it really was an extra bonus in an already fabulous book.

I totally recommend this book to those who enjoy YA Fantasy, and I look forward to more books from Duyvis!

Twitter-sized bites: 
.@Ava_Jae gives 4/5 stars to OTHERBOUND by @corinneduyvis. Have you read this unique YA Fantasy? (Click to tweet)   
Want a diverse YA Fantasy w/ unique magic & fabulous worldbuilding? Try OTHERBOUND by @corinneduyvis. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Feature #3 Giveaway Winner!

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Quick off-schedule post today to announce the winner of the third fixing the first page feature
giveaway! Are you ready? The winner is…


Yay! Congratulations, Jenny! Except to see an e-mail from me very shortly. 

Thanks to everyone who entered! I'll have another one next month, so keep an eye out! :) 

How to Write Awesome Kiss Scenes

Photo credit: °]° on Flickr 
Stop time.
Stop the world.
Stop everything for the moment he crosses the room and pulls me into his arms and pins me against the wall and I’m spinning and standing and not even breathing but I’m alive so alive so very very alive
and he’s kissing me.” 
Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi (Pages 316-317)
My characters like kissing. Some more than others, but amongst my characters at least, it’s a well-known fact that kissing is fun.

Kissing, as it turns out, is also fun to write (coincidence? I think not), but when someone on Twitter asked me for tips for writing good kissing scenes, I realized I’d somehow managed to neglect this topic here on Writability. What. An. Oversight.

I’m remedying that right now.

When it comes to books, kissing scenes tend to be significant for one reason or another. Whether it’s a first kiss, a make up kiss, a crap we shouldn’t have done that (but we really wanted to) kiss, a love-declaring kiss or a kissing because we have to but wait I actually like this kiss (or something else entirely), kissing, in novels, tend to be pretty big turning points for characters.

The best kisses, I’ve found, are rife with meaning. What makes them so fun to read and write isn’t just that the characters are mashing their lips together (though don’t get me wrong—that’s fun too), it’s the implications behind the kiss. Whether it’s the yes! Finally they’re together! or noooo you two aren’t supposed to make out! what makes kissing so fun to read and write is that it means something.

Now, that’s not to say that your characters can’t ever kiss just to show affection, or because they just can’t keep their faces off each other (both are valid reasons for lip-smooshing). But chances are, in writing and in reading, the kisses that get the most page time and in-depth description are the ones that are significant for one reason or another.

As far as the actual writing and description of said kissing goes, it really depends 100% on you and your book. Whether you’re writing YA, NA or even Adult, how much description you go into completely depends on what you’re comfortable with and what’s right for the book. Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge, for example, completely glosses over the kissing and sex, barely getting into any description at all—which is totally okay. Ignite Me and Unravel Me by Tahereh Mafi, meanwhile, go into way more description and include a lot of metaphors and poetic language and those make out scenes last several pages. Let it be known Ignite Me and Unravel Me have some of my favorite YA kisses ever. Which is why I shared that one above.


The important thing to pay attention to while writing kiss scenes is what the kiss means for your characters (especially your POV character). If your character is kissing some random stranger at a party and thinking about what a terrible kisser the partner is, that’s just as important to note as a love-declaring let’s be alone together kiss. Even if your characters don’t know what this kiss means, just that they’re kissing and they like it (or not), it’s important to get that across to your readers.

So next time your characters start getting it on, make sure you take some time to think about the significance behind their physical togetherness. Oftentimes an extra spike of meaning into an already awesome kiss can be exactly what you need to take it to the next level.

What books have some of your favorite kisses? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
"What makes kissing so fun to read and write is that it MEANS something." #writetip (Click to tweet)  
Do you have kissing in your WIP? Writer @Ava_Jae shares some tips on getting those romantic scenes right. (Click to tweet

On Prioritizing Your Time

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Sometimes, life gets busy. There’s work, schoolwork, parenting work, house work, writing work, marketing work and life stuff, sometimes all rolled up into a week, or a day. And sometimes, finding the time to get that writing work done can be a massive struggle. 

It inevitably happens to all of us at some point or another. 

The key, I’ve found, to consistently keeping up with everything and finding time to write is to carefully prioritize your time. I tend to break things up by hard and soft deadlines. 

My hard deadlines are ones that I need to have done by a certain date. This is usually something that someone else is expecting, whether it’s school work, internship work, a revision, pre-scheduled blog posts/vlogs etc. These are deadlines that generally, I can’t move. If I miss them, there will likely be repercussions. 

Soft deadlines are ones I usually set myself. These are deadlines that I’d like to get done by a certain time, but if need be, I can move them. These are tasks I can put aside for a day or two without having to worry about it. 

Hard deadlines I try to get done first. Because I’m a person that likes to schedule my days, I usually have a to-do list of things that need to be done and things I’d like to get done. I often make sure to check off all the hard deadline items first before I worry about the soft deadlines. 

This is something I had to learn the hard way: the fact of the matter is, some days, writing can’t be a top priority. Some days there’s too much life stuff and work stuff and family stuff and health stuff and everything else to make much writing progress, and you know what? That’s okay. You don’t need to kill yourself to get your daily writing in and you don't need to write every single day to call yourself a writer (really). 

Because other days you will have the time, or some time at least, and those are the days where you can really capitalize on that time to get writing work done. You just have to make sure to get your butt in the chair and do it. 

Do you prioritize your time to try to get your writing work done? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
"The fact of the matter is, some days, writing can’t be a top priority." (Click to tweet)  
Writer @Ava_Jae shares some tips on prioritizing your time and fitting writing into your hectic schedule. (Click to tweet

Vlog: Do You Tell People You're a Writer?

So I've started doing this thing where when I meet people in person, I tell them I'm a writer. And this is why you might consider doing the same: 

Do YOU tell people you're a writer? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
.@Ava_Jae vlogs about why she's started telling people she's a writer. What do you think? (Click to tweet)  
Do YOU tell people you're a writer? Watch @Ava_Jae's vlog and join the discussion. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Giveaway 3!

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Time for another first page giveaway! :D

You guys seem to be enjoying these first page critiques, so I’ll keep doing them as long as people keep entering. Yay!

For those who missed it the first time, the Fixing the First Page features is a public first 250 word critique. Using the lovely rafflecopter widget, anyone interested in winning a PUBLIC (as in, featured in a post on this blog) first page critique can enter.

For an example of what this critique will look like, here’s the last Fixing the First Page post (and the one before that).


  • ONLY the first 250 words will be critiqued (up to finishing the sentence). If you win and send me more, I will crop it myself. No exceptions.

  • ONLY the first page. I don’t want 250 random words from your manuscript, or from chapter 3. If you win the critique and send me anything other than the first 250 words of your manuscript, I will choose someone else.

  • I will actually critique it. Here. On the blog. I will say things as nicely as I can, but I do tend to be a little blunt. If you’re not sure you can handle a public critique, then you may want to take some time to think about it before you enter.

  • Genre restrictions. I am most experienced with YA & NA, but I will still accept MG and Adult. HOWEVER. If your first page has any erotic content on it, I ask that you don’t enter. I want to be able to post the critique and the first 250 in its entirety without making anyone uncomfortable, and if you win and you enter a page with erotic content, I will choose someone else.

  • You must have your first page ready. Should you win, you need to be able to submit your first page within 48 hours of my contacting you to let you know you won. If 48 hours pass and I haven’t heard from you, again, I will choose someone else.

  • You’ll get the most out of this if it isn’t a first draft. Obviously, I have no way of knowing if you’re handing me a first draft (though I will probably suspect because it’s usually not that difficult to tell). I won’t refuse your page if it’s a first draft, but you should know that this critique will likely be of more use if you’ve already had your betas/CPs look over it. Why? Because if you don’t, the critique I give you will probably contain a lot of notes that your betas & CPs could have/would have told you

  • There will not be a round 2 (unless you win again in a future contest). I hate to have to say this, but if you win a critique, it’s NOT an invitation to send me a bunch of your revisions. I wish I had the time available to be able to look at revisions, but sadly, I don’t. If you try to break this rule, I will nicely say no, and also remember to choose someone else should you win a second contest. Which would make me sad. :(

So that’s it! If you’re okay with all of the above and would like to enter to be the third public critique on Writability, do the thing with the rafflecopter widget below. You have until Friday, August 22 at 11:59 EST to enter!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

On (Not) Making Assumptions About My Characters

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The first eight novels I wrote featured white, able-bodied, neurotypical, cisgendered, straight protagonists and love interests. It makes me more than a little cringe-y thinking about it.

Over the years, the internet (namely Twitter and tumblr) and campaigns like  #weneeddiversebooks, Diversity in YA, DiversifYA and Disability in Kidlit really opened my eyes to the assumptions I was making about my cast of characters without even realizing it. And for that, I’m seriously grateful.

It used to be, when I started brainstorming characters, I never really gave much consideration to their race, health, sexual orientation or gender (beyond the binary, at least). It’s not that I was deliberately cutting diversity out, it just hadn’t even occurred to me that there were more options to consider.

Now I make a point not to make any assumptions about my characters before I start brainstorming. By keeping an open mind, I’ve been able to come up with a way more diverse cast of characters for my more recent WIPs, something that’s occasionally scary (because representing minorities well is just as important as representing them at all) and pretty exciting.

Diversifying my work is something that’s become increasingly important to me, but I think the other side of the coin is to make sure you buy books with diversity in them—after all, not supporting the diversity that’s already out there is pretty counterproductive.

So some great books with diversity that I’ve read (or whose series I’ve started to read) and recommend include:

Also on my TBR list: 

Now I want to hear from you—do you have any diverse recommendations for me? And have you ever made assumptions about your characters?

Twitter-sized bite: 
Do you make assumptions about your characters while writing? @Ava_Jae talks diversity and keeping an open mind. (Click to tweet)

Guest Post: Moral Ambiguity in New Adult: We’re Not in Middle Earth Anymore

Photo credit: Goodreads
I've got a really special post for you guys today! The brilliant Sarah Harian, author of NA Sci-Fi THE WICKED WE HAVE DONE (which you may or may not remember I completely raved about), graciously agreed to write a guest post for Writability. And it's a pretty fantastic one, if I do say so myself. 

Take it away, Sarah! 

Two and a half years ago, I did a pretty crazy thing. I finished my fourth manuscript, and my first manuscript to feature a bunch of pretty awful characters. This story ended up being my debut New Adult novel, THE WICKED WE HAVE DONE.

In the book, ten criminals enter a technologically advanced prison to be judged for their crimes. Several of these characters are somewhat redeeming, or at least, I think they are. But they are killers. Some feel nothing for what they’ve done. Some still feel anger against those they’ve killed because they murdered out of revenge. Others feel guilty for the manslaughter they committed.

My narrator, Evalyn, is a rarity out of all the criminals she enters the prison with. While she was the one to pull the trigger, killing an innocent man, she was forced into it by a villain who threatens her with the life of her best friend.

But Evalyn’s guilt is misplaced. She doesn’t feel guilty about the life she took. She feels guilty that, even after she committed murder, her best friend still dies. When admitting this to another character, he tells her that she did what she had to do and not feeling guilty is okay, and Evalyn sort of believes him.

The reactions to Evalyn’s internal struggles have been very polarized. Some readers have told me that, in her shoes, they could see themselves doing the same thing and feeling the same way. Other readers think that Evalyn is a terrible person and deserves to rot in jail for an eternity.

As for me? Well, I don’t know how I feel about Evalyn’s misplaced guilt. As the author of the character, you’d think that I would, but I don’t. And that’s okay.  Evalyn is morally ambiguous. While her true feelings are on display for the reader, real people have the luxury of hiding when they feel shame, or guilt, or when they feel sorry for themselves. Evalyn doesn’t.

To me, part of being a new adult is facing the concept of moral ambiguity. That’s not to say that all twenty-somethings feel indifferently about murder, because that obviously isn’t the case. But I know that my own coming-of-age consisted of the realization that the binary of good and evil rarely exists.

When I was a teenager, I read a lot of novels about good versus evil. The distinction of good versus evil in Harry Potter is obvious even in the descriptions. At the peak of their battle over the wizarding and Muggle worlds, Dumbledore is a gentle old man, and Voldemort is an ugly monster. In The Lord of the Rings, Mount Doom is described as having “fiery depths,” depicting hell. Orcs and the Nazgul are heinous, ugly creatures. The Chronicles of Narnia brim with biblical metaphors, making it obvious for young readers to tell who is good and who is bad.  Those who are pure of heart are the ones who defeat the darkness, and all others fail.

Right and wrong and good and bad are often hammered into us at a young age. As a kid, I had a guilty conscious and was full of shame every time I did anything wrong. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I opened myself up to debating the reality of good and evil. I had to force myself to come to terms with the fact that the people I deemed good weren’t as perfect as they seemed, and those I thought were bad or evil were complex human beings who loved and dreamed and had feelings just like me. That even though I didn’t agree with their life choices, they were still people. They were a thread of humanity, and their stories shouldn’t be disregarded.

I believe that New Adult is a perfect category to explore this deconstruction of the good and evil dichotomy. Often, a person’s coming-of-age brings the disillusionment of black and white, but this doesn’t have to be a negative thing in terms of creating honest narratives. New Adult is an opportunity for readers to spend time with antiheroes and antiheroines, and come to terms with the fact that maybe a character doesn’t have to be as pure of heart as Frodo Baggins to carry the ring all of the way to Mount Doom. 

Sarah Harian grew up in the foothills of Yosemite and received her B.A. and M.F.A. from Fresno State University. When not writing, she is usually hiking some mountain or another in the Sierras, playing video games with her husband, or rough-housing with her dog.

Twitter-sized bites: 
To @sarahharian "part of being a new adult is facing the concept of moral ambiguity." What do you think? (Click to tweet)  
Writing morally ambiguous characters? @sarahharian shares her experience with THE WICKED WE HAVE DONE. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: Don't Be a (Book) Pirate

So once upon a time I thought I published a vlog but it turned out I didn't. Oops! Anyway, here's formerly-last week's vlog (now this week's vlog). Sorry!

Today's topic: pirates like Edward Kenway are awesome but book pirates are not. And this is why.

Happy viewing! 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Ever feel tempted to pirate a book? @Ava_Jae vlogs about why it's not the victimless crime it appears to be. (Click to tweet
Why pirating books = telling the author "I don't think your years of hard work are worth anything." (Click to tweet)

Balancing Action with Quiet

Photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar on Flickr
It happened again! I got another lovely question from one of you wonderful readers, who are always so good of pointing out what I haven’t yet written about. (That’s a good thing, by the way. Please continue).

Anyway, today’s question:
I've seen you talk about finding your inner sadist when writing and allowing your characters to fail once in a while. I was wondering: what do you think about allowing peaceful scenes in every so often? A lot of books I've read definitely have beautiful moments, but often they're interrupted and cut short. I've been wondering if it's possible to balance the bad things with beauty, and use peace as a tool for character development. I'd love to hear your thoughts. 
So it turns out, I’ve gotten so caught up in writing about being mean to our characters and pacing and what not that I maybe forgot to talk about the other side of the high-octane balance—the slower, peaceful scenes.

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I love writing action-y books. The more fighting, blood, fatal wounds, deaths and near-death experiences, the better. I’ve been known to blow things up and set things on fire just because I was getting bored with a scene.

That being said, even in really exciting, edge-of-your-seat-type books, you need to give your readers (and your characters) some time to recuperate.

Quiet, peaceful and even beautiful scenes are absolutely essential to even the most exciting plots. Readers, like your characters, can get tired of non-stop action if it’s really non-stop. Without slower moments to balance out the faster, crazy-exciting scenes, you can very easily end up with reader burnout. Not to mention the shock and intensity of action scenes fade the more you use them—like any writing spice, the key is not to overdo it.

Now, that’s not to say that the quiet scenes should be boring—even when there isn’t active, injury-producing conflict going on, it’s important to make sure you have some sort of tension throughout the scene. But these slower scenes can be a great time for character development and introspection, as long, of course, as it’s well-balanced.

What do you think? Do you use quiet scenes to balance out more intense moments? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
Do you use quiet scenes to balance out more intense moments? @Ava_Jae writes about the importance of balance. (Click to tweet)

Stop Overthinking and Just Write

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I follow a lot of writing tumblr blogs that answer craft-related questions for writers. Just about everything from  how can I improve my first chapter to when is the best time to query to how do I write x-type of character gets asked, but I’ve been noticing as of late that the questions have gotten pretty darn specific.

I don’t mean specific like what’s the best way to do this element, I mean specific like how do I write a gay Native American character with a speech impediment specific. (Note: that was a made up example).

Here’s the thing: we writers often tend to get caught up in the details. We fret over sentences and misplaced commas and we overthink our characters and plot and every minor detail we can analyze, we probably analyze it to death. It’s an easy trap to fall into, and while a little bit may be okay to let slide (hell, a little can even be kind of helpful), if you overdo it, it can easily become a way to procrastinate the actual writing part.

The secret to writing is writing. Really. That’s it.

When it comes to writing certain types of characters, the only thing you really need to remember is no matter what your character is like, whether they’re a girl, boy or somewhere in between, straight, gay, bisexual, asexual, white, black, brown, able-bodied, disabled, neuroatypical or not, they’re people first. They have dreams, fears, wants, dislikes and personalities that are entirely separate from whatever other traits you give them, and as long as you remember that you’re writing a person, not a disability (or sexuality, or ethnicity, or whatever), you'll be off to a great start.

Now that’s not to say research isn’t important (it absolutely is). It’s also not to say grammar and formatting and those easy-to-obsess-over details aren’t important (they are). But by far, the most important thing is to get that book written—after all, you can focus on those obsession-worthy details while revising.

So if you’re working on your first draft, or haven’t quite started yet, and you find yourself overthinking the details, take a breather. Relax. Then get writing.

Have you ever caught yourself overthinking before or during a first draft? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
"The secret to writing is writing."#writetip (Click to tweet)  
"You're writing a person, not a disability (or sexuality, or ethnicity, or whatever)." (Click to tweet)  
Have you ever caught yourself overthinking before or during a first draft? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Book Review: HALF BAD by Sally Green

Photo credit: Goodreads
So when Half Bad by Sally Green was first released, I heard a lot of people on Twitter raving about how amazing it was. And so I made a mental note to check it out. 

Fast forward several months, I bought the book, read the first couple pages and immediately knew I was going to love this one. 

But before I go on! The back cover copy (or…inside flap copy? Anyway): 
“Wanted by no one. Hunted by everyone.  
Sixteen-year-old Nathan lives in a cage: beaten, shackled, trained to kill. In a modern-day England where two warring faction of witches live amongst humans, Nathan is an abomination, the illegitimate son of the world’s most terrifying and violent witch, Marcus. Nathan’s only hope for survival is to escape his captors, track down Marcus, and receive the three gifts that will bring him into his own magical powers—before it’s too late. But how can Nathan find his father when his every action is monitored, when there is no one safe to trust, not even family, not even the girl he loves?” 
Okay, so I’ll start by saying I haven’t read a book about witches that I really loved since Harry Potter. Not that there aren’t any out there (there are), but one hadn’t really caught my interest until Half Bad

Well. I was on the fifth page when I realized this was very likely going to be a new favorite. And I was right. 

First and foremost: THE VOICE. If you’re a YA writer looking for a great example of powerful, immediate, raw voice, pick up this book immediately. Nathan’s voice is so real and intense and I honestly could not have loved it any more. 

Secondly: the second-person POV. There are indeed sections of second person POV, including the opening, which I was pretty surprised to read. But holy wow, it worked so well! Ms. Green broke the rules on this one, and it really really worked. 

Now the characters and the plot. Half Bad has you question right from the start who the good and bad guys are. There isn’t a clear-cut this person is good, this person is bad element, which I absolutely adore because gray characters, to me, are so much more realistic and interesting than morally 100% good/evil characters. 

What made all of these even better was the pacing—even in the flashback sections that show us how Nathan ends up caged—are full of tension and conflict and events that had me racing through the book to find out what happens. 

Overall, I absolutely loved Half Bad. It’s now one of my favorites and I can’t read to get my hands on the sequel, Half Wild. If you like dark, intense YA Fantasy, I couldn’t recommend this one any more. 

Have you read HALF BAD?

Twitter-sized bites: 
.@Ava_Jae gives 5/5 stars to HALF BAD by @Sa11eGreen. Have you read this intense YA Fantasy? (Click to tweet)  
Looking for a dark, exciting YA Fantasy read? Try HALF BAD by @Sa11eGreen. (Click to tweet)

Keep Your Characters Moving

Photo credit: Dr. Mark Kubert on Flickr
One of the very first elements I work out when brainstorming a new WIP is what my protagonist’s goal is. This, to me, is one of the most important elements to work out early in the process, because it’s largely what drives the story forward. 

What your protagonist wants, of course, will largely depend on the genre. In a YA Contemporary, your protagonist may want to find love or fit in with his/her peers, in a Sci-Fi they may want to survive a dangerous environment or save humanity from something devastating. Whatever it is, figuring it out early on, then keeping it in mind while you write is essential to keep a story developing. 

Why is it so important? Well, let’s think about it. 

Without some sort of goal, your protagonist has no reason to do…well…anything. If Harry lived a perfectly happy life with the Dursleys, he probably wouldn’t have been so desperate to go to Hogwarts. If Katniss didn’t care enough about her sister to take her place in the games, she never would’ve volunteered and started a revolution. If Tris had fit in with Abnegation, she never would’ve joined Dauntless and uncovered the truth about Divergence. 

Without a goal, there isn’t a story. 

This is something that’s really important to remember while you’re writing. I find that oftentimes, when a story starts to lag or the pacing grinds to a halt, it’s because the protagonist has lost sight of their goal. After all, if they’re no longer aiming to accomplish something, how is the story supposed to continue? 

The answer? It won’t. 

What tips do you have for keeping your characters moving?

Twitter-sized bites: 
"Without a goal, there isn't a story." #writingtip (Click to tweet)  
Do you know your characters' goals? Here's why writer @Ava_Jae says it's so essential. (Click to tweet)

Write What You Want to Read

Photo credit: Colton Witt on Flickr
“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write
it.” —Toni Morrison 
Two years ago, I started a post with this very same quote. It was about reading what you want to write (something that I still think is important), but I want to talk about the actual quote itself. Or, specifically, the advice behind the quote.

Being that I’ve been involved in the online writing community for several years now, I’ve heard a whole lot of writing advice over the years. And my favorite, next to finish the book, comes from that quote above—write what you want to read.

It almost seems obvious. I mean, of course we’d write what we want to read, otherwise what’s the point? But when you’ve got a finger on the publishing pulse, sometimes writing what you want to read can be a little scary—especially when you hear what you really want to write isn’t really selling right now (or worse—it’s selling like crazy now, which means by the time you finish your book and are ready to query it, it very likely won’t be).

And I mean, it is scary. Terrifying, even. Because what if you put in all that time and effort into a novel that doesn’t sell?

As someone who has done that many many times over, let me tell you what will happen:

  • You’ll be disappointed. 
  • You’ll be really disappointed. 
  • You’ll put that manuscript aside, work on something else and completely fall in love with it. 
  • You’ll learn from your experience and be a stronger writer because of it. 

Also, here’s what won’t happen:

  • You won’t die.
  • Your hopes and dreams will not spontaneously combust into a raging ball of fire.
  • You won’t lose your ability to write.
  • You won’t love your shelved manuscript any less (probably).
  • Your previous manuscript won’t disappear into a black hole, never to be found again (I mean, unless you want it to, in which case you won’t mind).

So if you think about it, your worst-case scenario really isn’t that bad. You’ll have written something that you loved, that will always have a special place in your heart, and it’ll always be there waiting for the day when you’re better prepared to share it with the world. And also, you’ll be a better writer.

Writing something you don’t want to read, in contrast (as in, writing something you think could sell, but you aren’t necessarily uber-psyched about) is almost guaranteed to lead to this:

  • A slow, agonizing writing process that your heart isn’t really into.
  • An even slower, more agonizing editing process that your heart definitely isn’t into.

And maybe you’ll finish it. Maybe you’ll edit it and query it. But chances are, anyone who reads that manuscript will be able to see that you weren’t really into it. And even if it does on the off chance sell, do you really want your debut to be something you don’t even like all that much?

Personally, I can’t imagine working on something for as long as hard as it takes to get a book to publishable quality if I didn’t love it. It sounds like it’d be a pretty effective punishment for something, to be honest.

Writing is meant to be enjoyable (most of the time). It’s meant to be a way to turn the stories and characters and worlds in your head into something tangible, something you can share with others.

But if you want other people to love your work, you need to love it first.

So sure, pay attention to what the market is like in the publishing world, because it’s absolutely important to be informed and aware. But when it comes to writing books? Write what you want to read and forget about the rest.

Do you agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Twitter-sized bites:
Writers, do you write what you want to read? Join the discussion at @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)  
"If you want other people to love your work, you need to love it first." (Click to tweet
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