March 2

Plans for Extended Critical Essay (ECE)

For my upcoming semester at Spalding University,  I need to turn in a 20-30 page essay referred to as an Extended Critical Essay, or ECE,  Since I imagine three and a half-weeks between each draft wouldn’t be enough time for me to do all my research, reading, writing and edits, I am working on gathering all my information now.

I’m not sure what my topic will be on. I’m leaning toward writing emotion into a story or something on world building.  Maybe I can somehow combine the two…. How character’s emotions can help with world building in YA. I may decide to go in a totally different direction as well. But I’m hopefully giving myself enough time to do the research and come up with a final decision.

In fact, I plan to write mini-essays on the two topics while I am doing the research, with the hope that it’ll help me build material/resources for the ECE I will need to work on. I would love feedback from people as I make progress, differing opinions, suggestions on what other resources to look at, no matter what stage I am in during this endeavor.

My first step is to find the resources that will help me write the mini-essays and eventually the ECE. I would appreciate recommendations on:

  • Non-Fiction books/articles on Writing Emotion
  • Non-Fiction books/articles on World Building
  • YA Fiction that is a good example of one or both elements.
  • Any other resources that you think may be of interest/help to me.

Thanks in advance for your recommendations and comments.

November 18

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)

I have participated in NaNoWriMo for the entirety of November.  For those who don’t know National Novel Writing Month is when you try to write 50,000 words in 30 days.  This happens in November.

The month is over half-way over and I find myself ahead of schedule by a lot. I’ve never been ahead, in fact, with one exception, I’ve never hit the goal in the allotted time. I think the main difference from now and earlier years is that I’m not allowing myself to edit what I’ve written and I’ve wanted to write this book for a long time.

I don’t expect perfection when I take part in NaNoWriMo. When the goal is to write 1,667 words a day, you can’t expect anything near perfection. The goal, for me, is to get as much of the story written as possible by deadline. By not allowing myself to over think what I’ve written my stories develop more organically and I’ll often find more creative solutions to plot issues than if I took my time and thought my way through the issue.

Those are the positives.  The negatives are that I often end up with a lot of material I end up needing to delete and discard, because I didn’t edit and what I have doesn’t actually work well with the rest of the story.  I’ll find a plot hole the size of Wisconsin that needs patched up or eliminated some other way. And I often have a lot of rewriting to do so that I’m showing instead of telling.

My favorite thing about participating in NaNoWriMo is that the hardest part of writing–which used to be the easiest for me–writing the book is mainly done by November 30th.  I then get to start editing it, rewriting it and making it better. Yes, editing is easier for me now days.  Maybe that’s normal for writers–the editing becomes easier than writing new material.

This years novel is actually the beginning of what I was planning on being my sequel. With what I’ve written so far, I’m getting the strong impression that this “novel” won’t actually be long enough to be a novel. That I’ll, in fact, need to add what I end up with to the end of what I have written. Since what I have written isn’t technically long enough to be a novel by itself, this may be for the best. But I won’t know until I actually get everything written and then re-written and cleaned up.

If I do end up combining the two things together than I’ll have a lot of editing to do, including parts of the novel that I have had written a long time, simply because I’ll have more time to introduce concepts that I’m only now touching on in this “sequel” because it wasn’t relevant to what I’ve now written.  It’s amazing how much a few pages of writing, a simple challenge can change your writing.

I also enjoy the community, and encouragement that can be found on NaNoWriMo. There are write-a-thons available throughout the month where you can meet up with other writers to write. It’s a great opportunity to meet new people, and potentially new critique partners, friends and resources.  Prizes are given for hitting 50,000 words.

If you’d like to finish a book or see how many words you can reach by Nov. 30th, I’d urge you to try NaNoWriMo. Or, try to start from the beginning next November.

May 2

Guest Blogger Lynn Viehl: Same Playground, Different Games: How to Sustain a Novel Series

I would like to welcome Lynn Viehl to my blog. She is the author of 49 novels in 8 genres. She doesn’t have a website, but she does offer plenty of entertainment on her blog, http://pbackwriter.blogspot.com/.  Today she has written a fascinating article on Sustaining a Novel Series.
 
Same Playground, Different Games: How to Sustain a Novel Series by Lynn Viehl

The difference between standalone books and novel series can be expressed in playground terms. When you were a kid and met a bunch of other kids at a vacant lot who just want to play one impromptu game, you stayed for a couple hours.  You may or may not have met them again for another game there or somewhere else;  generally there was no expectation or commitment required.   That’s a standalone playground.

When you put in the time to find the perfect place where you and a group of friends you organize can meet and play games together on a regular schedule,  you don’t meet once and then never come back.  Even if you play different games, you keep returning — and that’s a series playground.

This is not to say that the standalone novel is in any sense inferior; both types of books offer different challenges and appeal, and in their own respects both are very tough to write.  I’m a career series writer so that’s where lies the bulk of my author experience, but I’ve written a few standalones and believe me, they’re no stroll through the playground.

In order to write and sustain a novel series you need to devote a lot of time, effort and creativity in building a universe and a cast of characters who can generate multiple book-length stories and inspire readers to keep coming back for more.  No matter what genre you write in, there are some elements that are common to all series books.  Naturally everyone has their own opinion, but here’s what I think they are:

Multiple conflicts:  your series should have at least one very large, difficult-to-resolve conflict, and many other smaller, easier-to-resolve conflicts.  Usually this big conflict is what drives the series, connects the books and provides continuity.  The smaller conflicts drive the individual novels within the series, often by spinning off or being related to the series conflict.  While they don’t have to be resolved in one book, they shouldn’t eclipse the series conflict.  They should also contribute something to moving along the big conflict before they’re resolved.

Multi-story Cast of Characters:  Your series cast doesn’t have to number in the hundreds, but you do need enough characters to carry the story through several books.  Generally I start with a pair of protagonists who are central to the series and the series conflict, and build other characters out from them.  In my books, everyone has some kind of connection to the series protagonists.  Other writers use casts of characters who are all related to each other (the family tree approach), or who work through chronological timelines (generational stories in the same setting) or who deal with episodic conflicts (as in mysteries where you have the same PI solving different puzzles in each book.)

Expansive World-Building:  You don’t tell the same story over and over in a series, but you generally do have to stay in the same universe.  This is why it’s important to build your worlds not only well, but craft them with the potential for expansion.  This is not strictly about setting, either; you can invent one haunted house and use it as the setting for a dozen books — but to keep your reader interested it had better be a complex haunted house, with lots of mysterious rooms and multiple ghosts and different conflicts that have to be resolved or you’ll just end up telling the same story multiple times (i.e. a nice couple moves into haunted house, are scared witless, uncovers tragic secret, battles bad ghost, makes terrible sacrifice, barely escapes with their lives, etc., aka the cliché haunted house story.)

Another vital aspect of series writing is to build a universe that you as a writer want to creatively explore for years.  This because unless you can knock out ten series novels in twelve months you may be spending years writing in this universe.  If you lose interest, how do you think the reader is going to feel when you start phoning it in?  One of my series continued for eight years, another took me twelve years with a four-year hiatus in the middle.  Altogether between the two series I published twenty-seven novels and novellas, but thanks to putting in the time to creating universes I wanted to write in with conflicts that challenged me and characters who fascinated me, I never once got bored.

Series length is also something you need to think about in advance.  I’ve written long, mid-size and short series novels, and the one thing I’ve learned is to always have a series exit strategy prepared.  You may generate so many sales with your series that your publisher will let you write as many books as you want.  For most of us pros, that doesn’t happen — eventually sales and new readers decline and a series plateaus or drops off the radar.  Some writers are fine with not finishing series, especially when a publisher decides to end it before the author is ready to pack it up.  I think series readers deserve closure, though, and I’ve always tried to give mine that when I know I’m writing what will be the last book in a series.

Nightbound, the third and final novel in my Lords of the Darkyn trilogy, is one of those stories.  While I can’t say I’ll never write another Darkyn novel — in Publishing, anything is possible — I am putting the universe on hiatus for now to see if reader interest will sustain another trilogy.  If not, I have my new Disenchanted & Co. urban fantasy series kicking off this fall, and yet another series currently in development.  Which brings me to my final piece of advice — don’t grow too dependent on any series you write, but try to give yourself the creative space and permission to build new universes and tell their stories.  You might find the games you play in your next series playground attract even more of a crowd than the last.

Lynn Viehl has been generous enough to offer a prize pack to one lucky winner.  The backpack is from Target, and includes the three books which she’ll sign for the winner, the green handmade journal and matching memo book (both crafted by The Book Whisperer on Etsy), and a fun sword-pen she found at BAM.
To enter, leave a comment.

Edited: Giveaway is now closed. The winner will be announced at Midnight May 5, 2013 MST.

April 4

Writing Screenplays: Initial Challenges

The semester hasn’t even officially started yet and I’m challenged.  Before school starts, Spalding has their MFA students send in samples of their work.  The samples are put into similar categories: screenplays with screenplays, Children’s books with Children’s books, Memoirs with Memoirs, etc.  The categories are divided into groups of students.  I think Fiction has the majority of the students so they need multiple groups, where as Children’s and Young Adult writing had so few in that category that everyone was put in the same group.   Everyone then receives a  copy of the samples the students in their group sent in.  Once they receive it, they read and critique the pieces.  The more notes you have on the individual piece the better off you’ll be when it comes to giving the face-to-face critique during residency.

So, what have I been doing?  Preparing my sample for residency.

I could have chosen to try Fiction this semester instead of screenwriting. Fiction is closer to the YA genre I write and I read a ton of it.  Their’d be some changes, some differences, but nothing compared to what I’m enduring trying to get this screenwriting script worked out.  I knew Screenwriting would be a challenge because it is so different from what I’m use to writing, and I wanted to challenge myself, not have an easy semester.  I’ve proven what I’ve always suspected: Screenwriting and Novels are very different animals.

Not only is the formatting different but so is the way you think of how you write. Screenwriting, so far, seems to allow for far more telling.  I’m not needing to describe the emotions of the characters, add thoughts or numerous other things. I tell a lot instead of show. For example, in my screenplay, I have:

Regan: (Incredulous)  You’re husband?

In a novel, I’d write it a different way.  Adding more details so you saw and heard Regan’s emotions instead of being told them.  In that way, screenwriting is easier for me.  Because the emotional aspect of the story has always been a tad harder for me to write than other things. However, I feel like the story is naked without some of the more common elements I have in even my most basic drafts.  It’s unsettling and goes against several instincts.

I think I did okay with my scripts. But I’ll find out for certain how I did when I get on campus and receive my critiques from my peers and mentors.  No matter how I actually did on the screenplays, I know this will be a learning experience that will hopefully help me with my novels.

March 23

Good Things Can Make Your Writing Stronger Too

As a writer, I know the importance of receiving a good critique from an honest eye. I appreciate the comments I get, the suggestions on how to make my work better, perhaps too much.  When I’m receiving critiques, I often find myself skipping over the complimentary stuff, almost ignoring it completely and focus on the “may improve” suggestions.  That isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate the occasional “Good Job” written on the manuscript, but it’s a secondary desire to improving my writing.

This, unfortunately, has caused problems for me, mainly when I try to critique someone else’s writing. I try to give those I critique what I want most–ideas on improvements. I will, on occasion, put a “Great Job” on the page, but those are extremely rare, mainly because I understand that the best way to improve is to get critiques and work on improving the area of confusion. This has left some people disheartened, even some who I believe to be talented writers.   As an MFA student, I am required to give critiques to classmates–a mixture of good and how to improves.  Although I’m good at identifying what needs improved, I really have problems thinking up the positives in the work to mention.  I’m not sure why, other than I’ve never really focused my attention on the positives I received during my reviews.

I can absolutely love a story but when I write something up, I’ll start listing the negatives, what bothered me about it and what I thought needed changed–even if what I’m reviewing has already been published.  This works out for me as well, since that lets me know what kind of things I need to avoid if I’m going to write a book in a similar genre.  Then, when I’m done, the  few positives I listed  beside the (possible) super-long list of negatives appear miniscule, pitying and/or may be invisible.

Recently I’ve read a book where the author pointed out that identifying the positives and negatives in a work can be beneficial to ones writing. The negatives I’ve already mentioned, will let me know what to avoid, what I don’t like, etc.  The positives, however, will let me know what I need to do more often.   For example, I nailed a description on page 32.  By knowing that, I can try using the same method used to get that description to create other great ones.  In that way, I’m improving skills that I’m already decent at, not just improving things that I’m poor at.

With that realization, I’m hoping that I can write up a more balanced review/critique every time I write one.  I don’t imagine this will be easy.  I’m almost blind to the positives in someone’s work, especially if the piece isn’t something that makes me go  “BEST BOOK EVER!!!”  But I think that learning to balance the positives and the negatives in a review or critique will serve both the writer and I better.  I may need help reaching this goal. And if my dear readers have time, I would appreciate a nudge whenever I focus too much on the negative. Remind me that I want to try thinking up more positives.  Lately, I feel like the latest books I’ve reviewed have come across as negative, when in fact I may have enjoyed the book.  And if you have any questions as to whether I liked a book or not, let me know.  I’d be more than happy to clear that up.

So, don’t do what I’ve done for years, ignore the positive and learn from the negative.  The positives in your writing could make you a stronger writer too.

What about you?  Do you focus on the negative?  The positive?  What about when the comments are from someone else and directed at your own work?

February 22

How to Write a Great Beginning

For those of you who follow me, you know I participate in a lot of workshops available at SavvyAuthors. I’m currently taking a class on how to write a great beginning and one of the assignments was to find two great first sentences, two great first paragraphs, two great first pages. Afterwards, comment on why we think they’re great. I thought this was a great exercise and should share the results with you. Later, when we discuss what makes a bad beginning, I may share those results with you as well.

1st Sentence:
The box was a mystery, and for that reason it was the most exciting gift Mary had ever received.
New Orleans Legacy by Alexandra Ripley, Historical, Adult
Comments: This is the very first sentence in the book. I know for a fact that the box that Mary is excited about is going to have a huge impact on her life. What, though, could a box do to change a person’s life?

2nd first Sentence:
Family Secrets are like terrible birthday gifts.
After Midnight by Lynn Viehl, YA
Comments:I really wanted to actually use this as a page, but decided the first sentence worked well enough without the full page. I find the comparison unusual. Secrets = terrible birthday gifts? And I’m curious about what secrets she has. And why they are so terrible.

1st Paragraph:
I close my eyes, hoping he won’t come tonight. It’s later than usual. I hope he’s given up, or just gone, and I can finally sleep. Cool air blows through the window, and I marvel at my bravery. Or stupidity. It’s opened just a crack, no more than an inch. But until tonight I’ve kept it closed, so I know he’ll be wondering what it means.
Uninvited by Amanda Marrone, YA
Comments: This is actually one of the few books I bought solely on the first paragraph. I found myself reading through the entire page than the chapter and was like….I need to buy this thing. The first paragraph intrigued me. I feel a connection with the girl’s apprehension right away and I’m curious as to who he is and why she doesn’t want to see him. Also, why does he persist in whatever he wants?

Second 1st Paragraph:
Darius looked around the club, taking in the teeming, half-naked bodies on the dance floor. Screamers was packed tonight, full of women wearing leather and men who looked like they had advanced degrees in violent crime. Darius and his companion fit right in. Except they actually were killers.
Dark Lover, by JR Ward, Urban Fantasy, adults
Comments: This one I wasn’t so sure about using. I bought the book because of the one page excerpt at the beginning of the book and not for the actual beginning. We get a good description right off. However so many Urban Fantasy novels start in a similar way. A dance club, half-naked people, etc. What really intrigued me though was the last line. They were actually killers. What kind of killers were they? Did they kill humans? Vampires? Some other boogey? It made me curious enough to read the next paragraph and then the next….

Full Page:
Have you ever had such a horrible day that you wondered why your mother didn’t just eat you at birth like a gerbil does and spare you the hassle?
We’ve all had days like that. I’ve had a lot of them–way more than my fair share if I want to be whiny about it (which I don’t because I try really hard not to be a whiner), but none can compare to the day I accidentally opened a demon portal with my zit cream.
Oh, yeah. I did. Would this happen to anyone else? Probably not. But for me, Kenzie Sutcliffe, it is totally typical. If there is mud to step in, ketchup to squirt on my shirt, or a volleyball to be hit on the head with, I will manage it. What can I say? It’s a gift.
Demon Envy by Erin Lynn, YA
Comments: I was stalking this author before this book comes out. She usually goes by Erin McCarthy but since this was a YA book she decided to use Erin Lynn. Since I trusted her as a writer, I bought the book without really looking at it. But I absolutely love Mackenzie’s voice in this story. She sounds very teenagery and we immediately know what the major plot will revolve around.

Second full page:
Roman Draganesti knew someone had quietly entered his home office. Either a foe or close friend. A friend, he decided. A foe could never make it past the guards at each entrance of his Upper East Side Manhattan townhouse. Or past the guards stationed on each of the five floors.
With his excellent night vision, Roman suspected he could see much better than his uninvited guest. His suspicions were confirmed when the dark silhouette stumbled into a Louis XVI bombe chest and cursed softly.
Gregory Holstein. A friend, but an annoying one. The vice president of marketing for Romatech Industries tackled every problem with tireless enthusiasm. It was enough to make Roman feel old. Really old. “What do you want Gregori?”
His guest whipped around and squinted in Roman’s direction. “Why are you sitting here, all alone in the dark?”
“Hmm. Tough question. I suppose I wanted to be alone. And in the dark. You should try it more often. Your night vision is not what it should be.”
How to Marry A Millionaire Vampire by Kerrelyn Sparks, Urban Fantasy, Adult
Comments: This one I think originally caught my eye because of the title. Was she like a gold digger who wanted a millionaire and ended up with a vampire who happened to be a millionaire? No. Not at all. But that’s what caught my attention first. The excerpt at the front of the book intrigued me but the first page sealed my fate. It shows Roman’s personality at the beginning of the book, the humor Kerrelyn Sparks frequently uses in her books and made me curious: why would he need so much security? What’s described in the first paragraph sounds excessive, even for a foreign diplomat.

What do you think of my choices?  And what books would you use as examples in this exercise?

October 27

What are you doing in November?

I’ve been participating in NaNoWriMo for years and last year was the first time I actually “won”.  NaNoWriMo, for those who don’t know, stands for National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write 50,000 words in the month of November.I participate every year in this great challenge, and though I may not always reach the goal of 50,000 words in 30 days, I always have fun participating.

If this sounds like something you might be interested in you can learn more and sign up (It’s free) at NaNoWriMo.org.  If you want to add me as your writing buddy go ahead.  You’ll find my NaNo page at http://www.nanowrimo.org/en/participants/avikar. I’ll do my best to add you to my buddy list.

Right now I’m debating on what to write on for this years novel. Should I work on Lorenne’s story?  This time combining the two stories I’ve written in separate years to make a completely different one and see if this one sticks?  Or should I work on the sequel to “Shadowed,” which I have very little planned and nothing written. Or I may try something completely different.  Cockroaches saving the human race anyone? Does anyone here have a preference on what they’d like to see me do? I’d be interested to hear comments you have.

Although I’m not sure of a lot of things when it comes to NaNoWriMo right now, like what I’ll be writing, if I’ll win or if I’ll even be able to start on time, I do know that I believe that a Non-Profit organization that helps build communities in classrooms, coffee shops, libraries, and living rooms all over the world and help the inspiration flow for me and thousands of my fellow novelists will need some funding to reach all their goals and make next year’s NaNo even better.  So, for the month of November, I am Fundraising money for NaNoWriMo.   To help me raise money, go to my donation page.

Thanks for your generosity and support.
Also, if you want to help, but want to get something more out of it than a Thank You, NaNoWriMo does sell merchandise that does help them get the funding they need. https://store.lettersandlight.org/merchandise  Be honest, even if you’re not a writer, who can resist the prospect of having a 2 GB USB Bracelet?
September 23

End of Semester is Coming

So some of you may already be aware that I am working on my last packet for this semester.  I won’t be able to attend school for the fall semester, which starts in November.  However, I plan to attend the next spring semester–late May.  By all appearances, second semester students are strongly encouraged to try a different focus for a full semester.  So, instead of taking in YA next semester, try memoir, poetry, screenplay, playwright, adult….  I’m leaning toward Screenplay.  I’ve just heard a lot of great things about that program and it would be different from what I currently write.  I think Adult writing would be too much like YA for it to show me a different way of writing in a significant way.  So I thought I’d ask readers to recommend books or screenplays to me.  Partially so I can keep posting reviews on this blog.

Any genre will do, though I would prefer YA novels for books.  And I have no idea what I’d want Screenplay-wise so I leave that to readers to suggest.

Also, I know, I owe a book review on City of Bones still and two more critical reviews.  Those will be coming shortly!