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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.

Author Spotlight: Christopher Mannino

Christopher ManninoInterview by Michelle Lynn 

  • Hey Christopher, thanks for doing this. We’re all pretty excited to learn more about the man behind the brilliant world of deaths, so let’s get started. First, can you tell us a little about your books?

 

School of Deaths and Sword of Deaths form the first two parts of a trilogy called The Scythe Wielder’s Secret. The final novel, Daughter of Deaths, will release in 2017. In School of Deaths, a young girl named Susan is pulled from her home in Maryland and brought to the College of Deaths, where she’s forced to train to become a Death, Reaping souls from the Mortal World to the Hereafter. She learns that she’s the first female Death in a million years, and faces sexism and bullying from all her peers. She eventually forms a group of close friends, and as the series progresses realizes that her presence in the World of Deaths is no accident. A war between the ancient original reapers, the Dragons, and the Deaths is about to erupt, and Susan’s right at the heart of the conflict. In Sword of Deaths, Susan and her friends find an ancient artifact that may help in the oncoming confrontation. In Daughter of Deaths, the Dragons attack, and Susan and her two closest friends undertake an epic journey across three worlds hoping to save the Deaths.

 

  • You’ve written some great character that people can really identify with. Who’s your favorite?

 

I really like Frank, and the arc his character goes through, progressing/maturing from the first book through the end of the series. I also intentionally paralleled Susan’s arc to Frank’s.

 

  • As a woman, I loved Suzie. Girl Power! She’s the lone girl character of any importance. As much of a dream as that would sound to most girls, I’m sure it created some problems or unique situations when writing? Can you tell me about that?

 

Yes! In the very earliest draft, the sexism wasn’t even an issue. The main character was Billy, and the College was co-ed. However, as I worked on the book, I wanted to increase the main character’s isolation, and that led me to realize that the overwhelming majority of grim reaper portrayals are either men, or are parodies. I wanted to make a female Death who wasn’t a parody, and was a strong heroine in her own right.
However, as a man, writing in a girl’s point of view, particularly a teenager’s, can be problematic. In one scene in book one, Susan has her first period. It’s an intentional scene, both in terms of the fact that it sets her apart, and also it serves as foreshadowing for several events. I wrote the scene, then gave it my wife to help me re-write it, and later had two female beta readers pay special attention to it, but I’ve still had students tell them that scene in particular made them a bit uncomfortable.

 

  • So, death, huh? Your characters are training to be grim reapers. Does spending so much time dwelling on death get exhausting?

 

Death’s the only absolute certainty in life. While the book has extremely dark undertones, I intentionally kept the tone light, particularly in the first two books. The focus in my series isn’t really the reapings or the occupation, it’s the world that the reapers live in. From a social justice perspective, the Deaths in the book are not the horrors, the sexism and racism are. For me, and for the characters, the focus is on what we can do in our lives, not a fear of what might happen after.

 

  • Personally, I love dragons. So, I was pretty psyched when I read your book and realized they were going to play a part. How do you find a new take on such a popular and often done creature?

 

I love dragons too, and it was fun to write about them. Especially in Daughter of Deaths, when we see the world of the Dragons up close, I think you’ll find extremely different dragons than usually appear in fantasy or elsewhere. For me, the series has an underlying theme of addressing sexism, bullying, and racism. As one of the races, Dragons became a non-homogeneous collective. I think too many stories lump all dragons together as being one certain way. I think each dragon would have its own issues and own society.

 

  • Were there alternate endings that you considered?

I always knew exactly how this series would end. However, without giving anything away about the end, all of the plot strings wrap up, but the door’s left open a crack.

 

  • These days, there are so many amazing books out there. What authors have inspired you to write?

 

My favorites growing up were Tolkien, Asimov, and Pratchett. They were my initial inspirations, joined later by authors such as Gaiman, Rowling, and Ken Follett.

 

  • What age were you when you started writing?

We were given an assignment to read three books, then pick an author of one of the three and copy their style. My three were: “The Lord of the Rings”, “The Mabinogion” (A Welsh myth cycle- I used the four book Evangeline Walton translation), and Robert Holdstock’s “The Hollowing.” This, while half the class chose “The Cat in the Hat” as one of their three. I ended up writing a short story in Tolkien’s style about the Ents searching for the Entwives. It was my first written story, and I’ve enjoyed writing ever since.

 

  • Do you ever experience writer’s block?

 

I honestly don’t believe in writer’s block. I have trouble progressing at times (extremely rarely), but since I get so little time to write regularly, I have to be efficient about my writing time. I don’t have time for writer’s block.

 

  • Do you work with an outline, or just write?

 

 

In the past, including for The Scythe Wielder’s Secret, I used what I called an image outline. I’d start with a concrete idea, and then develop a series of images. Many of the art pieces on my SITE are images from my image outline, that I later described to my cousin (the artist). I have vivid pictures in my mind, like photographs, and know I want them to be in the story, but don’t necessarily know how they’ll connect- I just write after that.

However, the more I write, the more that’s starting to change. I’ve been working on my current novel by outline sections of about six chapters at a time, still connecting the image outline, but less by the seat of my pants. At the same time, I’ve already started a detailed outline of the book I’ll write after that, including eleven pages of pure plot outline, and a thirty page glossary of places/characters. This is new for me, and we’ll see how it impacts the writing.

 

  • Our characters become like friends to us. Some of the time we spend more time with them than we do with the people in our lives. Do you ever get sad when you realize that the characters that you’ve created aren’t real?

 

But they are real. As long as we can imagine them, they’re real in a sense.

 

  • We all want the ability to do the extraordinary. Sometimes writing allows us to do just that. If you could have any power in real life, what would it be?

 

Shape-shifting! It covers most of the other powers I’d want, including flight.

 

  • If you could have any accent from anywhere in the world, what would you choose?

 

Indian

 

  • Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?

 

I did not want to self publish. I queried hundreds of agents and publishers, before eventually finding the publisher who printed the book. It took me about a year to find a publisher, and then another year to go through the editing process.

 

  • If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?

 

I’ve learned a lot about both writing and publishing since my first book came out, and definitely feel that I’ve grown as an author significantly. There is a sport called boskery that appears in the first two books. While I do think it adds to the novels, I’m not sure I would include it at all if I was to write them over again.

 

  • Can you tell us about your upcoming book?

 

Two years ago, Susan Sarnio was brought to the World of Deaths.

Fighting sexism and bullying, the first female Death helped reinvent the College.

Now, her friends journey deep into the heart of enemy territory, hoping to rescue her. Ancient secrets come to light. The horrifying truth behind Susan’s arrival in the World of Deaths is at last revealed. War erupts between Dragons and Deaths, and the fate of three worlds hangs in the balance.  Daughter of Deaths, the epic conclusion to The Scythe Wielder’s Secret releases in 2017.

The final novel in the trilogy is told from the same three points of view as book two. The series has now moved completely from light fantasy (Harry Potter/Percy Jackson style) to epic fantasy (Lord of the Rings/Eragon style). There’s a lot that happens in book three, and the end just may shock you.

 

  • Criticism can be the hardest part of being an author. How do you deal with it?

 

It hurts, but you move on, and focus on the positive acclaim you’ve gotten. In the end, I write because I have stories to tell. Not everyone will want to hear them, but the stories still need to be told.

 

  • There has never been a better time to be a writer. The publishing world is wide open and more books are being published than ever before. Do you have any advice to give to writers thinking about jumping in to this crazy world?

 

Never give up.

 

  • Do you have any strange writing habits?

 

I like to write with Pandora on- I play film scores, or trailer music such as Audiomachine.

 

  • And finally, for some fun – Dogs or Cats?

 

BOTH- although I only really like cat sized dogs. (I have a shih tzu)

 

  • What is your biggest fear?

 

That someday I’ll meet Susan on one of her colleagues for real. J

 

Thanks for joining us, Christopher.

 

Don’t forget to check out the exciting world of deaths in The Scythe Wielder’s Secret!

 

An Interview with Author Michelle Lynn

Interview by Bethany Wicker

It’s time for another author spotlight! Up this week is Michelle Lynn, author of four of my favorite books. Time to learn more about her.

 

So, you have four published books. What are the titles of your work and can you tell us a bit about them?

 

I do! The Dawn of Rebellion trilogy is a dystopian story about two sisters trying to find their way in a desperate future. The US has long since been destroyed and is now controlled by different factions. The UK controls Florida with their slave camps. When Gabby, the older sister, is taken to one of these camps, Dawn must do everything she can to save her. What she finds in this strange land is not what she expected.

 

Choices is quite a bit different. It’s a contemporary romance, but its message is deeper than a simple love story. It’s really about breaking free of other people’s expectations and discovering what will make you happy. It’s the first in a four book series. The second, Promises, will be released in March.

 

 

There are so many great ones to choose from, especially with two different series, but who’s your favorite character from your books?

 

This is tough, but I’d have to say Gabby. She doesn’t always do the right thing, but she would do anything for the people she loves. Her story is a tragic one. I also love Jason from Choices, but that’s for a simpler reason. He’s just the perfect book boyfriend.

 

 

What was it like shifting from a more action-y book like Dawn of the Rebellion to an endearing romance one like Choices?

 

Refreshing. After I finished the final book in the Dawn trilogy, I was mentally exhausted. For a while, I tried writing other things and then would stop because I couldn’t find my creative mojo. So, I decided to try a light romance. It ended up being anything but light, but it wasn’t so draining and I found that I loved it.

 

 

Were there alternate endings that you considered for either of the series?

 

Not for Dawn. With Choices, I had a different ending written, but then one of my beta readers told me it sucked. I needed the tough love because she was right. So I rewrote it and the new one felt right.

 

 

What authors have inspired you to write?

 

Sooo many. I’ve always been a huge fan of fantasy and my favorite is Robin Hobb. There’s also Stephen King. I actually don’t like his books – at all – but he is an inspiration. If you read interviews by him, he’s a genius when it comes to technique and, more importantly, motivation.

 

 

What age were you when you first started writing?

 

I know most people want to hear that I’ve been writing since I was young and it was all I’ve ever wanted to do. The truth is that I hadn’t written more than school assignments until I was 24.

 

 

A dreadful thing: writer’s block. Do you ever experience writer’s block? If so, how do you work through it?

 

For me, it’s about motivation. There are a lot of times when I just don’t want to start writing. I have to force myself to sit at my computer until something comes. It usually does.

 

 

Everyone has different writing styles. Do you work with an outline, or just write?

 

I just write. I’ve tried to outline, but stories have a way of taking on a mind of their own so any outline would end up being obsolete.

 

 

As an author, you can become attached to your characters. Do you ever get sad when you realize that the characters that you’ve created aren’t real?

 

Haha – this is a weird one. But, truthfully, yes. They’re truly special people. But, then I look at some of the people whose traits I’ve imbued in my characters, and realize that parts of them are real.

 

 

So, fun question to break things up. If you were a super hero, what would your name be and what power would you have?

 

I totally want to be able to fly. I have a disability that impacts my walking so that would help. Lol. I don’t know about a name.

 

 

If you could have any accent from anywhere in the world, what would you choose?

 

Australian, hands down. A few of the people I’ve become good friends with lately are Australian and they’re always saying awesome words that I don’t know the meaning of.

 

 

Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?

 

I didn’t really have any. I didn’t send it to any publishers because I didn’t yet know if I’d even finish the series. I just put it out there – probably earlier than I should have.

 

 

Which series was more fun to write or was it an equal feeling between Choices and Dawn of the Rebellion?

 

They were very different and both fun – but, I’d say Dawn. The action scenes were great. And everything that happened had these huge consequences for the entire world. But, I feel like Choices and its sequel are my best writing to date and that thought alone makes them special. I’m very proud of my newest book that’s coming out next month.

 

 

So, we’re all looking forward to it, so can you tell us about your upcoming book?

 

Promises is about Maggie and Elijah, two minor characters from Choices. Since they were kids, Elijah is the only person Maggie could count on in her messed up life. She went from a drunken father to a drunken husband, all while Elijah stood on the sidelines as her best friend/emotional support. It’s been a few years since Maggie’s marriage blew up and she is finally ready to see what’s been right in front of her the whole time. Only, things aren’t that simple. There are secrets that Maggie has been keeping from Elijah. As those start to come out, their relationship may not be the same.

 

 

As an established author of four books, do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

 

You have to love it. If you don’t, then quit right now. It isn’t easy. Some days it downright hurts. If you’re not doing it because you love to write, you won’t make it.

 

 

Do you have any strange writing habits?

 

I have to write at the same time every day. For two hours every morning. If I try in the afternoon or evening, I can’t do it.

 

 

Time for some random questions to spice things up. What toppings do you like on your pizza?

 

Pepperoni. I know. Boring.

 

 

Are you a dog person or cat?

 

Both. I like a house full of animals – including a bird.

 

 

What is your biggest fear?

 

Never getting over my disabling illness and having a normal life.

 

 

What’s your favorite pastime besides reading and writing?

 

Watching hockey. Can’t get enough of it!

Author Spotlight: Lauren Mayhew

laurenmayhew-page1 (1)Written by

L J  Higgins and Michelle Lynn

 

It’s that time again where you get to meet another one of YA Author Rendezvous amazing authors. Lauren Mayhew is the author of Reality is in a Dream and we can’t wait for you to learn more about her and her book.

 

What are the titles of your work and can you tell us a bit about them?

My first book is called ‘Reality is in a Dream’ and it’s part of the Liliana trilogy. I am currently writing the second book in the series called ‘Mourning Memories’.

Reality is in a Dream follows a girl called Liliana who we meet on her 16th birthday. From the moment that she wakes up, strange things start to happen in her life. Not only does she start dreaming about family members that don’t exist in the waking world, she realises that she has powers she never knew about. We follow her over a year, as she tries to figure out what is real and who she can trust.

 

Were there alternate endings that you considered?

Initially, Reality is in a Dream was going to end without the epilogue. I was going to use the epilogue as the beginning of Mourning Memories, but it wouldn’t have worked. It would have made the beginning of Book 2 drag a little.

 

What age were you when you started writing?

Whenever we were asked to write a story or a poem at school, I remember getting really excited, so I know I was interested in writing from a really young age. I don’t think I came up with a big story line for a novel until I was about 15 and I started writing properly when I was about 17 or 18 I think.

 

Do you ever experience writer’s block?

I have had writer’s block for most of this year. I think I got so caught up in trying to promote my first book, as well as going to work full time, that I struggled to find the time to write. That meant I wasn’t in the writing head space I was in for writing my first book, so I’m still struggling to get back into it.

 

Lauren Mayhew - Reality is in a Dream PlanDo you work with an outline, or just write?

I usually havea beginning and an ending in my head, so I start writing straight away. Then I get to a point when I realise that I have no idea what happens in the middle of the book, so I then write a plan. It’s basically a bullet point list of the book in sections. I end up writing notes on it everywhere when I think up something that needs to be added in. It ends up being quite a mess, but I understand it.

 

If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?

I would definitely take my time and not rush into it the way I did. I got so excited about it all, I didn’t do any research. Now I know about beta readers, so my second book will be done a lot more professionally!

 

Can you tell us about your upcoming book?

It’s hard to talk about without giving away the twist at the end of the first one! All I can say is that Liliana’s parents kept a big secret from her about herself. She finally begins to understand the true reason why Duana wants her above all others with powers.

 

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?

On the first book that I ever started writing (a love story which may never be completed!) someone read the first three or four chapters and basically slated the whole thing. They said that I should delete everything that had been written so far and start the story from then on. I would have accepted their comments had it not been for the way they ended it – “Hope this helps!” I cannot begin to explain how angry this made me!

 

The biggest compliment would be from my boss’ 11 year old daughter, Sophie. The first time I met her she got very excited at the fact that I was writing a book. When it was released, she read it in one sitting, loved it and started telling all her school friends that she personally knew an author.

 

Do you have any strange writing habits?

I write everything by hand, some might think that’s strange nowadays considering the amount of electronic devices we have to type things up, but I really struggle to write straight to a computer.

 

I also write down the date each time I start writing. Don’t ask me why, I have no idea!

 

Dreams can be difficult to write. In Reality is in a Dream, you’ve managed to make the dreams a major part of the story without breaking the action or boring the reader. What made you want to tackle such a big challenge?

Firstly, thank you!

 

For me, the dreams were basically half of the story. Without them, I would have had to do a lot of information dumping on the reader and long explanations between Liliana and Justin, as she started to remember more and more about Samson and Asher. That would have slowed the story down a lot more.

 

It just made more sense to write it as dreams so that the reader was finding out this information at the same time as Liliana. That way the reader is more involved.

 

I also tried to make sure that the dreams added significance to the story and gave important information. So many dreams in books are pointless page fillers and I wanted to avoid that!

 

If you were a super hero, what would your name be? What costume would you wear?

I’d love to be able to have the power to tell if someone was telling the truth or lie. It might not sound like a great power, but I know of a few politicians who would be quaking in their boots! I think the obvious choice for a name would be Truthsayer. I’m not a big fan of dressing up, so I’d probably just try and blend in with everyone else.

 

What people are saying about Lauren Mayhew and Reality is in a Dream:

 

“Telling a story like this requires an expert hand. When you have to use your mind to know the points when we’re in the “real world” and when we’re not, and Lauren Mayhew did a very good job of this. The characters were well-developed, and Liliana herself was a good lead character, a typical teenage girl trying to solve an unsolvable puzzle.”

“The writing kept me enthralled and wanting to read more which is all I can ask of any book. At its heart, this book was romantic- about people trying to find their way back to each other. What better story is there than that? I can’t wait to read more.”

 

Check out Lauren Mayhew’s page on YAAR to learn more!

 

 

 

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