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Why the Agony of Writing for Teens is Worth It

Girl reading a book on the floor.Written by K. R. Conway

Writers can become burned out.

I don’t mean the hyperventilating, “OMG I have no story ideas!” type of burn out. I mean the grind of the words, the constant push to out-write your last book, the stiff necks, the time crunches, and the piecemealing of a life outside of your characters’ worlds.

You try to balance the requests from bookstores, the demands to meet deadlines, the desperate need to spend time with your family and your children, and (for many of us), the 9 to 5 of a day job as well.

Novel-writing is the ultimate act of endurance, with a finish line that seems to never fully reveal itself. And once you have finished one story, polished and in print, you immediately are looking to churn out the next book.

I started to feel the burn out when I was finishing up CRUEL SUMMER.  In the past 2 years, I had churned out close to 300,000 words related to the UNDERTOW series. Let me tell ya – that’s a lot of freakin’ words!

I’ve worked as a writer since 1999, and in all those years, I never got burned out as a journalist. But in all those years, I didn’t have the fans I have now. And they are like – HARDCORE FANS. They burn through those 300k words in just a couple of days, because they can’t put the book down. Because they must keep going, or they will obsess about Eila and her crew all day long, which is great and all, but I start to panic and think, “I need to get another book done for them, like, YESTERDAY!”

And my fans are voracious readers. I often get messaged that this kid or that kid has read STORMFRONT in a day (112k words) or that they are re-reading UNDERTOW for the 5th TIME! I don’t even think I’ve read Undertow cover to cover more than twice, and that was when it was in its editing phase! Some fans buy EVERY cover version, because they must have them all (0_0)

So, when I start to feel the burn out lurking in my life, I remember those fans. Those that flip out so entirely over the characters, that their Christmas lists are loaded with Undertow stuff.

I don’t get to usually see fans outside of book events, but the other day I saw one reading my book, and what I saw filled me with determination to work even harder.

You see, I drive a school bus during the day, filled with my target audience. While I can only really see the tops of kids’ heads when I drive, I do have to walk to the back of the bus when I pull up to the middle school to unload. The other day, while I walked to the back of the bus to disengage a warning button, I saw one girl sitting and reading, oblivious to the fact that we were at the school. At first I didn’t pay much attention, but then I did a double-take.

I knew that font.

I knew that line.

She was reading STORMFRONT. I didn’t bother her, but kept going and unloaded the bus, but she hung back, sliding into the seat behind my driver’s one. “This is so unbelievably awesome,” she says to me. “I was up from, like, 8 to 11 last night reading. And I reread Undertow over the weekend, but OMG. I love this!”

I thanked her and blushed a tad, thrilled she was enjoying it.

At the end of the day, I drove her home with a bus full of half-crazed teens. I was focused on getting the kids home safely and not losing my mind, so I wasn’t really paying close attention to what she was holding as I unloaded at her stop. But as I saw her walk away, I realized she had gotten off with the book tucked under her arm. I watched, floored, as she walked towards her home, Stormfront in her hands as she read.

She wasn’t on her phone. She wasn’t hanging with the other kids and talking. She was lost inside my book, living alongside my fictional characters, reading as she walked. Suddenly that lurking burn-out vanished and I remembered why I write.

I do it for teens like her, who want to fall so entirely in love with a story that their own reality tumbles away.

I write for the fans, and in turn, they are my creative jolt.

They power me past the burn out.

They are my army and my saving grace . . . and I pledge my undying loyalty to their awesomeness

Writing Techniques to Set You on the Right Track

Writing Techniques to Set You on the Right Track - Beth Rodgers

Written by Beth Rodgers

I’ve always wanted to be a writer.  So, I’ve picked up some book writing techniques over the years that I have always used to my benefit, and I hope to help you use for your own benefit.

Even as a little girl in elementary school, I wrote journal entries describing the desire I had to be an author.  Journal entries are especially helpful for those writers who are lost in their own writer’s block and need more techniques to get them out of it.

The main issue that I encounter in my own writing is introductions.  I most always end up pleased with my choice of title or opening paragraph, but they give me more trouble than they’re worth.  So, I sometimes come up with or search for story starters and poem starters as a means of helping me think of beginnings.

When I was in middle school and early high school, I was in love with the idea of learning how to write a story (I still am!).  I had fun.  Writing wasn’t a chore; it was a pleasure.  I loved learning how to write a story, an anecdote, and other styles that teachers would provide.  It was also enjoyable to increase my knowledge of literary terms, including learning to define words like “anachronism” and consider how to use those devices within my writing.  It is because of these early experiences that I feel I have garnered some expertise in the matter of book writing.  

When eighth grade rolled around, I parodied the pop culture phenomenon that was Beverly Hills, 90210 and wrote my own version: Lathrup Village, 48076.  

Your writing does not have to be yours to be inspired by you.  You make it what it is.  Find ways to pull the most useful items you have and use them to structure your own writing.

As time went on, young adult stories seemed to fit me to a tee, as I was a young adult myself. Junior year of high school was the year that cemented my desire to be a full-fledged author, as I wrote my first novel that year.  I used tips and techniques that my junior year English teacher provided me with, as well as some of my own that I had garnered from my own writing experience.  One of these tips was to watch for redundancy.  Learning to make sure that you are not becoming overly repetitive with what you have to say is important in any type of writing.

My first novel started out as a short story I had written my sophomore year.  When first assigned, it had to be 3-5 pages, and about anything we wished.  I wrote about the most unpopular boy, a main character named Phillip, who likes the most popular girl, Susie, while dealing with his best friend moving away, and gaining a new best friend while using quick wit and a caring manner.

Little did I know I would continue this young adult novel-in-the-making my junior year and add in new  characters, along with some surprise return character cameos who served to further complicate the never-peaceful teenage lives that the main characters constantly led.  

This just proved all the more that conflict sells.  People enjoy reading about the trials and tribulations of others and possess a desperate desire to see how it all turns out.  

My use of character development, conflicts, twists and turns, and a passion for my subject matter are central pieces of the puzzle that make up the book writing techniques that I use.  

TV and movies serve to delineate this point all the more.  As an avid TV and movie viewer, I am constantly spotting potential book writing techniques and strategies that writers use to keep their audiences at the ready for anything that might possibly occur.

Some TV and movie writers like to start at a season or series finale, or with a particular scene, and work backward to what they feel will be the best starting point.  Others remain mysterious and keep you guessing to see what will happen next.  This is useful in TV writing, but is prevalent in movie scripts, as they have a shorter amount of time in which to tease you with potential scenarios and keep you guessing to find out which will actually come to fruition.  

It’s amazing to look back on shows that have been on for years or have gone off the air already, and realize that the whole plotline, or at least the vast majority of main ideas, have definite ties back to the very first episode of that series.  A great example of this can be found when watching the pilot episode of Friends.  If you have watched most or all of that series, re-watch the pilot and see what I mean.

Going back in time a bit, the astute Ben Matlock and Lieutenant Columbo solidified the power of a few key phrases and wording styles as they investigated their cases and solved them with barely any trouble.

Perspective is very important in writing, especially when writing from a specific point of view.  You have to be able to see what you read, watch, and write as positive, negative, happy, sad, or a gaggle of other emotions in order to truly know that you have tried every angle to make your writing shine.

So always view your writing as a glass half full.  Watch TV and movies to see and hear the masters at work.  Read your favorite authors to investigate for yourself how great minds work.  Write a novel, book, play, or even a doctoral thesis.  Use techniques that you have learned and that you are learning as you are in the process of writing.  Open your mind and see all the possibilities that writing offers.

ABCs of Writing: Part 1

ABCs1

Written by
Beth Rodgers

When learning to write, we start with our ABCs.  They provide components that make writing easier.  Peruse the following words and explanations about how to use the alphabet to promote your writing craft; then check back next month for the rest of the alphabet!

Ammunition.  My reservoir of writing techniques serves as my ammunition to get the ball rolling.  I work to come up with new ideas to share with myself as I work on my writing.  Ammunition does not only have to be construed negatively.  People hear it and think of guns and violence.  However, in this case, it’s meant as the driving force behind my writing.  Each new idea I consider is part of the ammunition I’ve made a stockpile of as I pen my thoughts.

Bravery.  I’m not afraid to take risks.  I want to stand out and make my writing shine.  I make a point of including conflict to make endings more magical.  My characters struggle through dilemmas and emotions; they also consider ways to overcome struggles.  Sometimes that isn’t possible, and that’s what makes for more emotional, substantial details that lend themselves well to pulling at readers’ heartstrings and making them feel deeply for my characters.

Collection.  I have a large collection of books, poetry, websites, etc. I use when I feel stuck.  I read books in my chosen genre, and I make a point of learning more about authors by analyzing why they chose to write a certain way, why they made their characters act certain ways, etc.  It is important to see the paths others have taken in order to learn the craft well.

Decisions.  Making decisions can be hard, not only in life, but in writing.  Even when writing fiction, the reality of the writing must set in as you embrace the lives of the characters and realize you must make decisions that affect the outcomes of their lives.  Remember that creating conflict isn’t the worst thing, as there must be some sense of urgency throughout your writing in order to make it realistic.  You might have your readers suspend disbelief, but you also might want them to feel grounded in reality.  Pick your moments wisely, and make the most of your writing as you do.

Energy.  Never lose the vivacity and excitement you have when you begin writing something.  Stay on the writing rollercoaster, and let it take you on all the twists and turns it can.

Freedom.  Write to your heart’s content.  You can write a novel-in-verse or a short story that chronicles the top news headline.  You can write an idea for a unique TV pilot.  You are at liberty to make revisions, additions, and concessions within your writing until it’s to your satisfaction.

Gravity.  Stay grounded.  Even if you are writing fantasy or science fiction, don’t go so far as to be totally unbelievable.  You want to convey comprehension, and this may be lacking if you get too into ridiculous notions that readers aren’t apt to understand.  If you do choose to write silly, ridiculous stories or poems, great!  Just make sure the context is right.  Don’t write in this way if you haven’t prefaced your work to make it comprehensible.

Happiness.  Enjoy what you write.  Laugh at your jokes.  Employ descriptive words and phrases.  If you’re not happy with your writing, how can you expect anyone else to be?  Obviously, concessions can be made if you feel it’s for the best, but you’re the one doing what you love.  Make it a happy experience.  The rest will fall into place.

Instinct.  Use your instincts.  Intuition is a strong tool, and if you feel something is right or wrong for your story, trust yourself.  However, it can’t hurt to make a note of what you choose not to include, as you never know how it might come in handy in the future.  If you don’t write it down, you’re more likely to forget it.  Keep all your thoughts, as you never know when they might become useful and creatively stimulating in a way you never considered.

Jello.  This may sound silly, but when you make jello, you leave it in the refrigerator for a while before it becomes solid.  Until this happens, it’s liquid.  At that stage, it is not ready to eat, but when it takes on a more solid form, it becomes edible and tasty.  The same is true of writing (except the edible, tasty part – unless you’re thinking metaphorically).  Your writing needs to be worked on before it can become a solid structure.  You want to make sure you focus on all details necessary to make your work well-rounded.

Kin.  Work on characters.  Outline their physical characteristics and personalities.  The way someone acts is equally, if not more, important in some instances than the way he or she looks.  A character’s personality can be equated to someone readers know, and this will give them a vision of what they think the character looks like.

Lifestyle.  Writing should be a part of your daily lifestyle.  It is one of the most important ideas that gives creative license to write what you know and love.  Learn to think outside the box and see the world, your writing, your characterization, your emotions, and everything else in new, glorious ways.  Let your lifestyle become your motivation to notice more.

Market.  Be sure you market your writing appropriately.  Don’t attempt to sell a children’s fairy tale to an adult romance publisher.  Also, set your sights on the right demographic.  Consider who will read it.  Be certain that the words and phrases you use are at least somewhat specific to that demographic so you meet the needs of the people you’re most trying to impress.

More ABCs are forthcoming next month, but as you learn your own writing alphabet, consider the possibilities I’ve already presented.  There are so many places to go with your own writing; you just have to keep your eyes open.

Creating a Fantasy Supervillain

Written by
Christopher Mannino

As a speculative fiction writer, I’m always looking for new and interesting creatures. Often villains and magicians in fantasy have special abilities, things they do that are beyond normal,and might be terrifying.

Imagine, for instance, a creature with visual omnipresence. Omnipresence means that you can exist everywhere at once, able to see and witness everyone and everything. Unlike an omnipotent character, who knows everything, an omnipresent character would be able to see everything themselves. It’d be impossible to keep any secrets from this godlike ability, because everywhere you go, whether sleeping or awake, the character’s there, watching. Imagine for example, Sauron with visual omnipresence- he takes one look at the Ring- book’s over in chapter one. Same thing with Voldemort, President Snow, Darth Vader- you get the idea. Even in history this idea is terrifying. Want D-Day or the next drone strike to be a secret? What if the villain sees everything all the time? In nearly all fiction, the protagonists do things the villains aren’t aware of. Crafting a story around this feat is daunting.
Let’s make this super-villain more three-dimensional. As of now, he just has a superpower, albeit an impressive one. Imagine the villain also has a supernatural means of transportation. While he’s still able to see everything anywhere, he can’t actually get to places without traveling. We won’t let him fly directly, that’s too Marvel Universe for us, so instead we give him a flying car. Yes, he can hop on a flying car and travel rapidly to any location in the world. How fast? Let’s assume he can get anywhere he wants within a single night, even making multiple stops. Scared yet? This character can see everything, and now get anywhere within one night. It’s like having a TARDIS with the viewfinder always switched on.
The guy’s still not interesting enough, though. Let’s give him some minions. All villains have them. This character’s got dozens of them- all enslaved to his will. They do whatever he says all year round, making anything he asks for. Yeah, now we’re cooking, a character with visual omnipresence, able to travel anywhere within a night, who has a horde of servants.
Now we need to stop focusing on the evil/supernatural aspects and give our character some personality. President Snow and his blood breath and love of roses, Darth Vader’s persistent asthma and respirator- that sort of thing. Hmmm… well, let’s start by making the character fat. Too many villains are really thin and gaunt. It seems the skeletal look usually frightens people, so let’s make our character as chubby as possible. In fact, give him nice red cheeks, almost comical looking.
Let’s also give him a backstory. Maybe he used to be a farmer. Yes, he was a farmer long ago, before things went terribly wrong. His mother used to say “Plant, plant, plant! Plough, plough plough!” He’s never forgotten the last thing his mother demanded, asking him to hoe the fields, right before the accident. To this day, the guilt around her final words consumes him, and he can’t stop repeating them.
This character, by now, should be truly terrifying. Let’s take a look at what he might look like, if an artist was to draw a rendition:

Click HERE to see an artist rendition.

And no, I won’t even get into the obsession with little kids. That’s too frightening, even for me.

Songs to Write to!

Written by
Lauren Mayhew

I know everyone is different when they write and some people like to work in complete silence, whilst others have to have music playing. I personally, cannot write in silence, but if I play familiar songs, I find myself singing along to them and not doing any writing.

I do find a lot of inspiration in music though – I don’t steal people’s lyrics, if that’s what you’re thinking. I simply mean that certain songs evoke emotions that make me want to write certain things.

Below are a few certain scene types in all books and a few songs that I think are great to write to and get you in the mood to create something epic! I’m trying not to be too obvious with this, so no Titanic theme tune here! (The names of the songs also have links to their YouTube videos!)

Romance/ Love Scene:

Over and Over Again by Nathan Sykes
Always by Bon Jovi
AND every Adele song ever written…

Battle/ Fight Scene:
Ash and Smoke from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Soundtrack (Actual Battle Scene)
Call the Police by James Morrison (More of an argument song)

Comedy/ Light Hearted Scene:
Little Joanna by McFly
The Lazy Song by Bruno Mars

Death Scene:
Hi & Low by The Wanted
Close Your Eyes by RHODES

Uplifting Scene OR if you, as a writer, need some motivation:
Wings by Little Mix
I’ll Be Your Strength by The Wanted

I know there are many more generic scenes than this in a book, but I thought I’d pick out a few that are used most often. I’d love to know what you listen to when writing!

Lessons Learned from Authors

2410-153219Written by
Paul Briggs

Most of what I know about writing I learned from other writers. Sometimes they were literal teachers — my creative writing instructor at Washington College was a novelist named Robert Day — but usually I learned from reading their works and seeing what they did right or wrong.

One lesson came from a writer at alternatehistory.com: Never put the same tragedy in the backstories of two different characters, or it will turn into a running joke. (The writers of Avatar: The Legend of Korra could have profited from this.)

From Orson Scott Card (yes, really): This is something Card learned from a teacher named Francois Camoin: “When you have a word embodied in a story, the word itself should never appear.” Card applied this to his short story “Eumenides in the Fourth Floor Lavatory.” To pick an example everyone’s likely to be more familiar with, read The Runaway Bunny and notice how the word “love” isn’t in it.

From Harlan Ellison: That thing you think is too controversial to write about? Go ahead and write about it. Ellison once wrote a short story, “Croatoan,” about aborted fetuses surviving and growing in the New York City sewers. It got pretty much the reception you’d expect. He survived.

From H.P. Lovecraft: Know your strengths and weaknesses. Lovecraft couldn’t write dialogue that sounded like people talking, so he seldom wrote dialogue at all.

From Arthur Machen: Never write a paragraph so long it doesn’t fit on the page. When I tried to read those extra-long paragraphs of his, it felt like my eyeballs were holding their breath, if that makes any sense.

From Vladimir Nabokov: If you use a word the reader isn’t likely to know, make sure they can guess it from context, or at least find it in the dictionary. I’m still a little irritated over that phrase “lithophanic eternities” in a crucial passage ofLolita. My best guess is that a lithophanic eternity is supposed to be better than a non-lithophanic one.

From Naomi Novik: The rule “show, don’t tell” doesn’t apply to everything — just the things that matter. Carefully violating it can be a good way to draw a distinction between the details of a scene that are actually important and that the reader should remember, and those that are just there to make the scene feel complete. I learned this from reading a paragraph in which Novik described a conversation in terms of social dynamics without once quoting anybody or saying what they were talking about. Try reading Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death,” and notice how detailed he is in describing the suite of rooms, and how vague in describing the revelers.

From Terry Pratchett: A humorous tone throughout most of a novel doesn’t take away from its ability to handle serious matters — in fact, it can make the serious moments all the more poignant.

From Harry Turtledove: It’s better to create one complex and interesting character than a hundred that are barely sketched out. (Turtledove has done both.)

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