Fixing the First Page Feature #9

Photo credit: Auntie P
Time for the ninth first 250 critique! As these things go, I’ll start by posting the full first 250 excerpt, after which I’ll share my overall thoughts, then my redline critique. I encourage you guys to share your own thoughts and critiques in the comments (because, as I’ve said before and I’ll keep saying, I’m only one person with one opinion!), as long as it’s polite, thoughtful, and constructive. Any rude or mean comments will be removed.

Here we go!


Genre/Category: YA Dark Fantasy

First 250:
“When I closed my eyes, I could almost forget everything around me. 
Music has a way of grabbing you by the shoulders, of playing your heartstrings and rippling shivers throughout your whole body. Of slowly levitating you away from where you are, a mere suggestion of transcendence. The notes that echoed throughout the room were like fading promises of impossible things, and you believed them and let them take you wherever they wished. 
But then the music ended. I opened my eyes, realizing everyone was as they should be, sitting quietly in their places, as if the melody had not reached deep inside and grabbed at their core. The whole room was still, frozen in anticipation. I could still hear the notes that lingered in the air… but soon they were gone, taking the eerie feeling away with them. 
There was a moment of silence. Then, as the man slowly lifted his fingers from the white keys of the piano, everyone let out a joined sigh, as if they finally had permission to breathe. A couple of hours before I could never imagine someone having that kind of power over so many people, a musician or not. Apparently neither had the others in the concert hall. But now… 
The sudden round of applause interrupted my thoughts. I stood up as so many others did and joined them gladly. Just as promised, this had been a concert I wouldn't soon forget.”  
So my initial impression is this is okay, but it’s not really grabbing me. The second paragraph (or the first full-length paragraph, however you look at it), felt to me like it was trying a little too hard. This is actually pretty common—sometimes, I think, writers get so caught up in trying to make their writing sound beautiful and insightful that it starts to read a little stiff and…prose-y. I’m not sure I’m explaining that well. Basically, when writing starts to read like writing (rather than when the reader doesn’t notice the writing), it becomes noticeable.

The other thing I noticed is there isn’t much tension or conflict here. Granted, conflict isn’t absolutely 150% necessary in the first 250, but I do tend to like to at least see some sort of hint of a problem (even if it isn’t the problem), because otherwise, unless the voice immediately grabs me, I tend to lose interest.

Now for the in-line notes!
When I closed my eyes, I could almost forget everything around me. This, to me, is not a strong enough opening line. This sentiment of closing one’s eyes are shutting out the world is pretty commonly used, and so it doesn’t really have much impact or immediately draw my interest. 
Music has a way of grabbing you by the shoulders, of playing your heartstrings and rippling shivers throughout your whole body. Of slowly levitating you away from where you are, a mere suggestion of transcendence. This is a specific example of what I mean by sounding prose-y. The notes that echoed throughout the room were like fading promises of impossible things, and you believed them and let them take you wherever they wished. I like the bolded part and I think it’s nice, but on the first page, combined with the rest of the paragraph, it still reads like trying to sound like beautiful prose.
But then the music ended. I opened my eyes., realizing eEveryone was as they should be, sitting quietly in their places, as if the melody hadn’t not reached deep inside and grabbed at their core. Two notes: first, I removed “realizing” to get rid of the filtering in this sentence. Second, the bolded section, to me, also reads prose-y to me. The whole room was still, frozen in anticipation. I could still hear the nNotes that lingered in the airbut soon they were gone faded, taking the eerie feeling away with them. Rather than talking about the “eerie feeling” and the melody reaching inside other people, I want to get in your POV character’s head. How does this feeling make your protagonist feel physically (as opposed to theoretically, in this case)? The narrative, so far, has been pretty distant, which overarching statements about music and what it can do, but I haven’t seen much from your protagonist. I think especially in openings where not a whole lot happens, deep POV can be a great way to draw readers in, but it’s missing here. 
Also, I removed “I could still hear the” because filtering, and “they were gone” and “away” to condense a little and improve the flow of the sentence. 
There was a moment of silence. Then, as the man slowly lifted his fingers from the white piano keys of the piano, everyone let out a joined sigh, as if they finally had permission to breathe. Condensed to cut down on wordiness. A couple of hours before I could never imagine someone having that kind of power over so many people, a musician or not. Apparently neither had the others in the concert hall. But now… 
The sudden A round of applause interrupted my thoughts. I stood up as so with many others did and joined them gladly. Here, your protagonist is telling readers about how they feel, but I’m not feeling it. I want to experience what your protagonist is experiencing, but in order for readers to do that, we need to see more from the protagonist and really get in their heads. Just as promised, this had been a concert I wouldn't soon forget.”
Okay, so having read this a second time, I’m wondering if this is starting in the right place. This is a YA Dark Fantasy, so my guess is maybe something foreboding or bad happens shortly after this in the same scene. If that’s the case, this may be okay, but I’d still like to see hints of that right from the beginning, even if it’s subtle. Right now, with absolutely no tension or conflict on the first page, and a voice that isn’t really pulling me in, I would probably skim a couple pages, but would be leaning toward a pass.

I think this could be really great and I like the idea of starting with a concert gone wrong (assuming it does go wrong), but I think it’s important for us to get more deeply into your protagonist’s POV, so that we can really experience what the protagonist is experiencing and readers will hopefully be more drawn in from the start because of it.

I hope this helps! Thanks for sharing your first 250, Diana!

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

Twitter-sized bites:
.@Ava_Jae talks the importance of deep POV in the 9th Fixing the First Page critique. (Click to tweet)

How to (and Why You Should) Eliminate Filter Phrases from Your Writing

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As my critique partners and betas I’ve traded with know all too well, I’m rather sensitive about filter phrases. The more I work to try to eliminate them from my writing, the more I notice them in other people’s writing (including published works), so when I get the chance to critique, I frequently slash them from sentences or encourage the author to slash them for their sentences. 

I am aware, however, that not everyone knows what I mean when I rant about filter phrases, so read this article by Chuck Palahniuk

Have you read it? No? I’ll wait. Yes? Read it again. Seriously. 

I have linked to this article so many times that all I have to do is type “chuck” in my Google chrome search bar and the article comes up before I even hit enter. To say that I think this article is important is basically the understatement of the year. Why? Because it totally changed how I look at my writing. 

In case you don’t read it, filter phrases are phrases like thought, knew, remembered, realized, smelled, saw, wondered, felt, etc. that distance the reader from the narrative. Why? Because they are, essentially, filtering the events through writer-speak. They’re a form of telling and a surefire sign for you, the writer, that you could make that sentence stronger. 

Let’s try a couple examples so you know what I mean. Filter phrases are bolded.

Meh: I heard something creak behind me and I wondered if I was being followed.  
Fixed: Something creaked behind me. Was I being followed?  

Meh: As I turned the corner, I saw him sitting against the wall, his face buried in his arms. I thought he was crying, but then he looked up at me, smiled, and I heard him say, “Hey.”  
Yay!: When I turned the corner, he was sitting against the wall, his face buried in his arms. Was he…crying? But then he looked up at me and smiled. “Hey.”  

So obviously these aren’t perfect examples, but hopefully you get the idea. 

Now, this isn’t to say that you can’t ever use filter phrases, or that a couple filter phrases here and there will ruin your book. Like all things in writing, there are certainly situations where filters can work. 

However, by and large, filter phrases are really overused, and if you take the time to hunt them down and replace them with deeper POV, I think you’ll find that your writing will be much stronger for it. 

What do you think? Do you try to avoid filter phrases in your writing? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
Do you use filter phrases? @Ava_Jae talks how to spot them & why you should remove them from your writing. (Click to tweet)

Discussion: What Does Your (Owned) TBR List Look Like?

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So it’s March 25, and I’ve read eighteen books so far this year, which I’m 99.9% is a new record for me. I’m seven books ahead of schedule in my reading challenge (I don’t know how this happened, exactly, but voila!), and I’m in the middle of two books right now.

And yet, my TBR list of books that I own is pretty intimidating. In a good way. But uh, it’s a lot. (And let’s not talk about the TBR list of books I don’t own, but want rather badly—that list is out of control.)

I’m pretty positive I won’t read all of the books I own before the end of the year. But despite that, I’ll continue to buy more at every opportunity (and will do so with a smile on my face. Some might call it an addiction. I call it a passion).

Here are just a sample of some of the books at the top of said list:

As I’ve spoken to a rather large sampling of bookworms online, I know this happy epidemic of buying or borrowing books despite owning many many many unread books is a laughably common thing. And the funny thing is, the more I read every year, the more the list grows (probably because I buy books more quickly? I don’t know).

As this seemed like a rather fun discussion, I thought I’d turn the table over to you guys. Do you have an owned TBR list? What are some of the books on the top of yours? 

Twitter-sized bite:
What does your owned TBR list look like? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Giveaway Winner #9!

Photo credit: Kris Kesiak Photography on Flickr
Another rare double post to announce the winner of the ninth fixing the first page feature giveaway! Ready? Set?

The winner is…


Yay! Congratulations, Diana! Expect an e-mail from me shortly.

Thank you to all you lovely entrants! If you didn't win, keep in mind that I'm part of a team of authors giving away nine query + first five page critiques over on this giveaway here! And, as always, there will be another fixing the first page giveaway next month, so keep an eye out! :)

Vlog: Sex & Swearing in YA

Is it okay to have sex, swearing, drugs, and more in YA? I share my thoughts on this frequently debated question.

What do you think? Are controversial themes and elements acceptable in YA? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Are sex & swearing okay in YA? Writer @Ava_Jae weighs in her thoughts on this controversial topic. #vlog (Click to tweet)  
Are controversial themes and elements acceptable in YA? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Book Review: THE BODY ELECTRIC by Beth Revis

Photo credit: Goodreads
As is my general MO with book reviews, I like to start with the Goodreads summary, and so here it
The future world is at peace. 
Ella Shepherd has dedicated her life to using her unique gift—the ability to enter people’s dreams and memories using technology developed by her mother—to help others relive their happy memories. 
But not all is at it seems. 
Ella starts seeing impossible things—images of her dead father, warnings of who she cannot trust. Her government recruits her to spy on a rebel group, using her ability to experience—and influence—the memories of traitors. But the leader of the rebels claims they used to be in love—even though Ella’s never met him before in her life. Which can only mean one thing… 
Someone’s altered her memory. 
Ella’s gift is enough to overthrow a corrupt government or crush a growing rebel group. She is the key to stopping a war she didn’t even know was happening. But if someone else has been inside Ella’s head, she cannot trust her own memories, thoughts, or feelings. 
So who can she trust?”

Right! So as I’ve mentioned before and will probably mention again, Beth Revis is one of my all-time favorite YA Sci-Fi authors. I very much credit Across the Universe for showing me I actually really like YA Sci-Fi and dual POV. Anything she writes is basically an instal-buy for me, but you can imagine how excited I was when I won a signed, limited print edition (aka: VERY excited). 

While I did find the opening to be a little on the slow side, the rest of the plot more than made up for it. I generally expect action, explosions, swoons and lots of twists from Revis, and in those respects, The Body Electric did not disappoint. I was expecting some sort of Inception-type elements, which were definitely present, but the twists in the book went so beyond what I was expecting and I really enjoyed the direction the book went in. 

The Body Electric is very Sci-Fi with a fascinating futuristic world set in Malta (which was totally fun to read about) with ties to the Across the Universe series that were really fun to come across. Between cyborgs, androids, nanobots and more, I was totally immersed in The Body Electric’s otherworldy-yet-not-unrealistic setting. As a bonus, the protagonist is a PoC and there are several PoC secondary characters, which was really nice to see. 

I did notice that there were quite a few filter phrases throughout the work (which, to be honest, is more of a peeve I only notice because I’m a writer), and I did feel that the villain near the end bordered on a little too unequivocally evil—I tend to prefer my villains to be more nuanced and, at best, even somewhat sympathetic. But those flaws in no way ruined my enjoyment of the novel. I’m giving The Body Electric 4/5 stars, and I recommend it to those who like YA Sci-Fi rife with plot twists. 

I can’t wait to see what Revis comes up with next! 

What have you been reading lately?

Twitter-sized bites: 
.@Ava_Jae gives 4/5 stars to THE BODY ELECTRIC by Beth Revis. Have you read this twisty YA Sci-Fi? (Click to tweet)    
Looking for a twisty & exciting YA SF read? Check out THE BODY ELECTRIC by Beth Revis. (Click to tweet)

Rejection Doesn’t Stop

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Some tough love today.

Every once in a while, I’ll get an e-mail from writers who say they’re having trouble with rejection, or scared of rejection, or getting tired of rejection, etc. These are feelings, I think, that just about every writer can identify with. After all, rejection is never easy to handle, especially over and over and over again.

Unfortunately, if you’re a writer, that’s too bad.

I hate to sound callous or cold, because I get it. I do. I’ve dealt with close to a decade of writing-related rejection and I expect more in my future. Rejection sucks. It’s exhausting and eats away at your confidence and motivation and it’s really hard.

It’s also inevitable.

The truth is, for writers, rejection never goes away. Not after you get an agent. Not after you get your first book published (or publish it yourself). Not after you publish five, ten, twenty novels. Rejection will always be a part of the writing life. Always.

Before you get an agent, rejection will come from agents in answer to query letters. Many writers see hundreds of rejections before they sign with an agent. It’s normal. It sucks. It’s reality.

After you get an agent and you go on submission, rejection will come from editors in answer to submissions. Many writers wait for months and see rejection after rejection before they sell their book. Some writers don’t sell their first book on submission at all. It’s normal. It sucks. It’s reality.

After you get a book deal or self-publish your first book, rejections will come from readers in the form of bad reviews. All writers get bad reviews. Many of them. It’s normal. It sucks. It’s reality.

It doesn’t matter how successful you are, or how many books you publish, or how popular your books become—rejection doesn’t stop. And yes, it’s hard, but the truth is, one way or another, writers just have to learn how to deal with it. That’s really all there is to it.

The good news is other writers understand. When you get agented, your agent understands. There are people around you who you can go to when rejection starts to feel like too much, when it weighs you down and makes it hard for you to continue.

But most importantly, I think, is to remember you’re not alone. All writers deal with rejection over and over and over again. And while it’s absolutely hard to handle, I like to think that with a little support and a lot of determination, it’s manageable. Eventually, at least.

What do you think?

Twitter-sized bites: 
"The truth is, for writers, rejection never goes away." (Click to tweet)  
Having trouble with rejection? @Ava_Jae shares her thoughts on this inevitable part of the writing life. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Giveaway #9

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The end of March is approaching which means it's time for the next Fixing the First Page post! Woot!

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

For an example of what this critique will look like, here's the last Fixing the First Page post.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So that’s it! If you’re okay with all of the above and would like to enter to be the ninth public critique on Writability, do the thing with the rafflecopter widget below. You have until Tuesday, March 24 at 11:59 EST to enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Vlog: 5 Things to Know Before Getting an Agent

Ready to start querying agents? Here are five things you should know as you prepare to start working with a literary agent.


If you aren't agented, are there any here that surprised you? If you are agented, what would you add to the list?

Twitter-sized bite: 
Want to get an agent? @Ava_Jae shares 5 things you should know as you prepare to start working with one. (Click to tweet)

How Important is Originality?

So not too long ago, while scrolling through my endless tumblr feed, I came across this answered question posed to the New Leaf Literary tumblr by an anonymous person:

So, right. Originality.

I haven’t read Red Queen yet, but this discussion often comes up when a book blows up big time, and I think it’s an interesting one to consider. Just how important is originality?

It’s no secret that The Hunger Games starts off very much like “The Lottery.” Twilight was hardly the first popular vampire book, Fifty Shades of Grey was originally Twilight fan fiction, and Harry Potter was not the first book about wizards or boys in boarding school.

So why did they become so popular? There are a lot of reasons to be sure, but a large part of it is very much what the lovely person behind the New Leaf Literary tumblr said: they took “certain elements that have been done before and [spun] them around a little and present[ed] them in a different way.”

Photo credit: martinak15 on Flickr
Guess what? There are a lot of books out there that could be presented as Hunger Games meets x. Or Divergent meets y. Or Game of Thrones/ Star Wars/ Orange is the New Black/ The 100 meets xyzabc. And you know what? That’s okay, because each of them take those familiar elements and incorporate them in very different ways. They’re similar without being too similar; they show us the familiar and twist it with something new.

This is why book comps can be so great in a query—they show agents and editors the potential marketability of a project by showing something familiar readers have responded to in the past mixed with whatever your spin is.

The key, of course, is to remember that you don’t want to write a rip-off of something else. Besides the obvious moral issue, that’s not what anyone wants, and that’s not going to sell. Instead, x meets y references elements of those comparisons.

I’m going to use my book as an example. When I was querying Beyond the Red, I pitched it as The Girl of Fire and Thorns on a technologically advanced alien planet. I wasn’t saying that I plucked Elisa from the world Rae Carson created and threw her into a sci-fi setting (I didn’t). Instead, I was referencing similar elements—an otherworldliness, a desert setting, and monarchies/rulers. There are similarities without going anywhere near the line of “too close.”

Stories inspire stories, and when you dig down to the heart of a narrative, many of them have been told time and time again. That’s to be expected, and it’s okay because readers gravitate to them over and over again.

So I guess the point I’m trying to make is not to stress if your book has some similar elements to another story, or if a book releases that sounds somewhat similar to the one you’re working on. As long as your book isn’t too similar (i.e.: has the same plot, or you purposefully lifted characters or something that you would obviously know wasn’t you—that's called plagiarism and is so not what I'm talking about), you should probably be in the clear. If anything, it may even help you in the long run.

What do you think? How original are original ideas?

Twitter-sized bite:
How original are original ideas? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Favorite Online Writerly Resources Roundup

Photo credit: Brendan Lynch
So as many of you have probably gathered, I spend a lot of time plugged in. Like, probably more than I should. Which means I’m all over the internet all the time, basking in social media sites of all things writerly and publishing.

And so, when someone kindly suggested I share some of my favorite resources, I thought a roundup was in order.

Without further ado, here are my favorite online writerly resources, and why I love them.

For motivation and progress tracking: MyWriteClub
MyWriteClub is still in beta, but I use it constantly when I’m making any sort of progress—whether revisions or drafting. It’s a nice little community where you can keep track of all sorts of customizable progresses with charts and what no, and I wrote about it here.  
Point is, it’s very motivational and has the added bonus of very nice charts, which I’m basically addicted to know. Très recommended. 

For querying: QueryTracker
I obviously don’t use this anymore as I’m done querying, but I did find it very helpful when I was querying. It’s a great way to keep track of your queries and find literary agents to submit to, and as a bonus, it recently got a new facelift. 

For pitch contests: @brendadrake, @AuthoressAnon (Miss Snark’s First Victim) & @Michelle4Laughs 
These lovely ladies frequently host contests for writers searching for representation. I got my agent through one of said contests, so I can tell you first hand it works. Plus, they’re all very nice. Definitely follow them if you’re on Twitter! 

For writing & publishing tips: chasingthecrazies (@atrueblood5), Writers Helping Writers (@AngelaAckerman & @beccapuglisi), & The Daily Dahlia (@MissDahlELama).
All of these blogs (and their respective creators) are fabulous for slightly different reasons. Chasingthecrazies has loads of agent interviews about what they look for in the first five pages, as well as other great writing tip posts. Writers Helping Writers is chock full of great information to (as the title says) help you with your writing. The Daily Dahlia has so much really fantastic information not only on writing, but on pre- and post-publishing tips and information about the industry and supporting other writers and…yeah. You should check it out. 

For diverse representation education: We Need Diverse Books (@diversebooks), Corinne Duyvis (@corinneduyvis), Marieke Nijkamp (@mariekeyn), Disability in Kidlit (@DisabilityInLit), DiversifYA (@_DiversifYA), Diversity in YA (@diversityinya), & Gay YA (@thegayYA).
If you care about diverse representation and want to learn more about why it’s important and how you can help, make sure you follow basically everyone listed above. Each of them share really valuable information about different aspects of diversity and they’re all super insightful. I’ve learned a great deal from them. 

For book recommendations/reviews: B&N Teen Blog (@BNTeens), Rich in Color (@Rich_in_Color), IceyBooks, The Midnight Garden
Not sure what to read next? Looking for some book reviews? The above blogs have really fantastic reviews and recommendations for loads of books. Definitely recommended! 

So that’s it! What are some of your favorite writerly online resources? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Looking for some online writerly resources? Writer @Ava_Jae rounds up her favorites. #writetip (Click to tweet)  
Motivational tools, writing & publishing tips, book reviewers, & more! @Ava_Jae shares her favorite writer resources. (Click to tweet)  

It Doesn’t Matter When You Start

Photo credit: Nick-K (Nikos Koutoulas) on Flickr
So I saw this post floating around the internet last week in which some ill-informed person basically came out and said if you don’t start writing when you’re in high school, you’ll never be published/aren’t a real writer/something along those lines/blah.

I hope that anyone reading this blog knows that’s laughably inaccurate, but just in case: no, it’s not even close to true.

Here’s the thing: some people do start writing with the intention of being published in high school, or even before high school. And you know? That’s really cool. I give virtual high-fives and pats on the back to those teens because it takes more sacrifice than you might think to start pursuing a writing career that early on.

But those people are not the majority of writers. Not even close.

There are plenty of writers who don’t write their first book until college. Or until they’re in their thirties. Or until their kids have left for college. Or until they’ve retired.

None of them are wrong. None of them are lesser than those who started earlier in life. None of them are more or less “real” of a writer than the other, and believe it or not, their chances of getting published have absolutely nothing to do with their age.

I know I’m probably preaching to the choir, here, but generalizing, inaccurate statements put out to discourage people just make me really ragey.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: every writer has their own journey. Some writers indeed start in their early teen years and get published before they turn twenty—others start at the same time and don’t get published until they’ve graduated college. Some writers start in their twenties and get published a few years later. Some start after the birth of their first kid and get published five or ten years later. The possibilities are literally endless and how quickly someone gets published, or how successful they are after they’ve published has absolutely nothing to do with how old they were when they started writing.

You know what does matter? The writing.

That’s it.

If your dream is to be a published author, and you’re fifteen, or thirty-seven, or fifty-eight, or eighty-four, your age is irrelevant. What matters is that you’re dedicated, and work hard to improve your writing and your manuscript, and study the publishing industry, and read, read, read, and have patience. What matters is that you don’t stop until you’ve seen your dreams realized.

Age isn’t important. Your writing is.

What do you think? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Writer @Ava_Jae says it doesn't matter how old you are when you start writing. What do you think? (Click to tweet)  
Writer @Ava_Jae says when it comes to getting published, age is irrelevant. Do you agree? (Click to tweet)

Vlog: On Writing Messy Characters

Are your characters too perfect? Today I talk about writing my favorite types of characters: the ones that are messy, raw, and real.

Do you write messy characters? What are some examples from books/TV/movies, etc.?

Twitter-sized bite: 
Are your characters too perfect? @Ava_Jae vlogs about writing messy characters & why you may want to consider it. (Click to tweet)

How Not to Get Overwhelmed with Revisions

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So once upon a time, I wrote a YA Fantasy for NaNoWriMo crazy fast, put it away for a year and a half, then pulled it back out, revised it, and sent it to critique partners.

And then my critique partners, being the awesomely insightful ladies they are, sent me back their notes. And, um. There were a lot of notes. Like, maybe a little more than I was prepared for.

And that didn’t include the tracked changes. Activate panic mode.

I knew right from the start there was no way I’d be able to tackle all of these revision notes at once, especially since they were all over the place—I had notes on character, plot, pacing, worldbuilding, writing, etc. To try to tackle everything at once would’ve been a recipe for disaster.

And so, I edited in passes

After importing all of my new comments into Scrivener, I did a preliminary round of edits to remove notes that were really easy to fix. These were comments like you used this word three times on this page and you have a typo here. Each note took under a minute to check off, and after going through everything I had 332 notes left.

Much more manageable. But these notes weren’t easy fixes anymore, and I knew I’d still have to split them up if I wanted to give every element (character, plot, etc.) its due.

So now that I was down to 332 notes, I went through and color coded them. Purple for worldbuilding, blue for plot/pacing, red for character, orange for voice/writing, and yellow for miscellaneous. I then counted them up to see how many notes I had for each and came up with this:

Now that I had an idea of what needed the most work, I prioritized and separated them into different passes.

  • First pass: Character (125 notes)
  • Second pass: Plot, Pacing, Voice and Writing (131 notes)
  • Third pass: Worldbuilding and Misc. (72 notes)
  • Fourth pass: Polish

This is where color-coding the comments came in handy, because while I was doing my first pass, I was able to easily ignore notes that weren’t related to character (AKA: any note that wasn’t red). Same for the second pass, and by the third I only had purple and yellow notes left.

Breaking it up like this made revisions much easier to handle (and, just as importantly, not nearly as terrifying to think about). Not only did it allow me to really hone in and focus on improving one element at a time, but as a whole, I think it made the whole process a lot more enjoyable than it might have been otherwise.

What do you think? Have you ever tried revising in passes?

Twitter-sized bite: 
Are revisions overwhelming you? Writer @Ava_Jae shares how she breaks down the revision process. (Click to tweet)

Pitch Tip: Make Your Stakes Personal

Photo credit: Stephen Burch on Flickr
So I’ve been working on Twitter pitch critiques all week, and I’m not sure how many I’ve read, exactly, but it’s been a lot. And while I’ve spoken quite a bit about the essentials of a good pitch and making stakes clear before, there’s one related aspect that I sort of glossed over. I’m fixing that now, because to be honest? It’s pretty essential.

I’m talking about making your stakes personal. To your protagonist, that is.

Many times, I’ve seen pitches with stakes that are mentioned, but it’s unclear why it matters. For example, take this (completely made up) pitch:

When a serial killer abducts Michael, it’s up to Johnny to save him before Michael becomes Victim 13. 

I frequently see pitches about the protagonist needing to save someone from certain doom, but like the fake pitch, it’s not always clear why it matters to the protagonist. In this case, what is Michael’s relationship to Johnny? Is he Johnny’s brother? Best friend? Boyfriend? Husband? Is he just another random person, but it’s up to Johnny because Johnny is the detective tracking down the serial killer? There are loads of possibilities here, but without the specifics, pitches like these fall flat regardless of how big the stakes may seem on the surface.

Repeat after me: we must know why the conflict matters to your protagonist. 

Another pitch type I see revolves around characters having to save the world. On paper, this sounds like it’d be a really solid set-up for high stakes, but the truth is, personal stakes have a much greater impact than macro-stakes. Saving the world is great, but saving a loved one, or a child, or sibling, is so much more powerful.

The thing to remember is if we don’t know why the conflict matters to your protagonist, then the stakes (that is, what your protagonist has to lose) fall flat. So next time you’re working on a pitch, I encourage you to take a good, hard look at your set-up and make sure it’s absolutely clear why the conflict is so important to your protagonist.

After all, if your MC doesn’t care, why should your readers?

What do you think—are personal stakes important in a pitch? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Working on a query or pitch for your WIP? Writer @Ava_Jae says to make sure it's clear your stakes matter to your MC. (Click to tweet
"We must know why the conflict matters to your protagonist." —@Ava_Jae on pitching your novel. (Click to tweet)

Book Review: THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER by Michelle Hodkin

Photo credit: Goodreads
Welp, it’s another day of everyone telling me I need to read something, and I say I will, and then I don’t forever, and then I finally do, and everyone was right. So. 

I finally read The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin, you guys, and you haven’t read it, you should probably do so.

Here’s the Goodreads summary:

“Mara Dyer believes life can't get any stranger than waking up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there. 
It can.  
She believes there must be more to the accident she can't remember that killed her friends and left her strangely unharmed.  
There is. 
She doesn't believe that after everything she's been through, she can fall in love.  
She's wrong.”

I actually don’t think the summary does it justice, to be honest, because while there is romance (and Noah is a fantastic book boyfriend), that isn’t what did it for me with this book.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a total sucker for unreliable narrators—Unbecoming absolutely takes full advantage of Mara’s extremely unreliable narration (and I’m not spoiling anything to say so). I was quoting Mockingjay’s “real or not real?” throughout the book, there are twists galore, and the paranormal/supernatural aspect was so perfectly creepy. And I was totally impressed with all of that, and then I reached the end, and now I seriously need the sequels, which I will be buying together. And as an added bonus, I appreciated the incidental diversity integrated into the cast.

My one peeve was more of a writing quirk than anything else: there are a ton of filter phrases, which honestly is something I see all over the place, but I noticed it more than usual for some reason while reading Unbecoming. That said, it in no way ruined the reading experience for me, and it’s a super minor flaw that most people probably won’t even notice. So.

Unbecoming is twisty, eerie, unintentionally takes advantage of my fear of swamps, and I absolutely enjoyed it. Definitely recommended for those of you who like creepy book with trippy plots that leave you wondering what the hell just happened.

Have you read this fabulous book?

Twitter-sized bites: 
.@Ava_Jae gives 4.5/5 stars to THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER by @MichelleHodkin. Have you read this creepy YA Para? (Click to tweet)   
Looking for a twisty & eerie YA read? Check out THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER by Michelle Hodkin. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: How to Handle Tough CP Feedback

So you've traded with critique partners and now you have their feedback...and you have a lot of work to do. Today I'm talking about the very real reality of how to handle tough CP feedback.



What tips do you have for handling tough CP/beta feedback? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Not sure how to process tough CP feedback? Writer @Ava_Jae vlogs about her process. (Click to tweet)  
What do you do when your CP feedback requires a lot of work? Writer @Ava_Jae vlogs some tips. (Click to tweet)

Surprise #PitMad Pitch Critiques!

Photo credit: Jorge Quinteros on Flickr
So this year’s #PitMad event is a week from today (so on 3/11/15), and I’m on Spring Break which means extra time which means I’m doing one of my favorite critique events right here on Writability. 

For the first time in about a year, I’ll critique your Twitter pitch right here in the comments from today, March 2nd to Thursday, March 5 at midnight. (Or rather, I’ll critique late night Thursday ones on Friday, but they will be critiqued if they're posted before midnight).

Some rules!

  1. You must read this post on how to write a great Twitter pitch, FIRST. Granted, there’s no way for me to check, but I’m going on honor system here. The reason this is pseudo-mandatory is because I promise it’ll help you with Twitter pitch basics. And my past experience says I tend to refer people back to that post a lot.

    Bonus: read this post on the top 5 Twitter pitch mistakes I saw during #PitchMAS

  2. Pay it forward by critiquing at least THREE other pitches. Two reasons for this: first, it’s just plain nice and second, it’ll help you figure out what works and doesn’t work in a pitch (which you can then apply to your own pitch! yay!). Also, you'll be more likely to get critiques from people other than myself, as well as my critique. Which is good for everyone. :) 

  3. You may post as many pitches are you want, HOWEVER, I can only promise to get to one per person. I will do my darnedest to try to get to them all, but these events have gotten pretty hugenormous in the past, so I can’t guarantee I’ll get to every single pitch if you post more than one.

    Related: if you post more than one, please post them in separate comments (unless they’re super similar, i.e.: which version do you think is better?). This makes it easier for me to critique and get through the pitches in a more organized fashion. 

Helpful tips:

  • For examples of winning pitches (i.e.: pitches that got requests), check out this awesome round-up from a past #PitMad event from Carissa Taylor.

  • For tips on the event itself, look at this post (and also don’t do this. No really. Don’t).

  • You can check your character count without accidentally tweeting here.

  • UPDATE: Alyssa in the comment recommended this really awesome post from my agent sister Diana Urban about what #PitMad is with great tips, and it includes a downloadable spreadsheet where you can schedule your posts and it automatically counts your characters. It's pretty fabulous. Check it out! 

  • Don’t forget to save room for your genre, category and the hashtag! A quick rundown:

    PB = Picture book
    MG = Middle Grade
    YA = Young Adult
    NA = New Adult
    A[genre]/Adult = Adult

    SF = Science Fiction
    F = Fantasy
    UF = Urban Fantasy
    PNR = Paranormal Romance
    CR = Contemporary Romance
    WF = Women’s Fiction
    HisFic = Historical Fiction
    SpecFic = Speculative Fiction

    Others I've frequently seen written out/abbreviated to the best of the writer's ability.

And that's it! Let’s see those pitches! :) 

UPDATE 3/6/15: While I will not be critiquing pitches posted after midnight on 3/5/15, feel free to keep posting pitches and critiquing each other! The forum has been super lively and awesome, so I've decided to keep it open. Happing critting! :)

Twitter-sized bites: 
Are you entering #PitMad? Get your pitch critiqued before next week's event! (Click to tweet)  
Thinking about entering #PitMad? Get a free pitch critique from author/assistant editor @Ava_Jae here. (Click to tweet)
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