Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Ask Your Characters Inappropriate Questions.

Like, those odd, personal things you talk about with your best friend. Or what you only reveal when you're tipsy. Things that are gross, taboo, or just plain random.

It helps to know these things about your characters, even if you don't include them in your book.
The dirty little secrets that aren't kosher to talk about or admit in polite company are what truly define a person.

Like, if they found a wallet on the ground, would they take the money inside?
Would they poo in a public restroom or at school/work?
Read someone else's diary/email?
Help someone who's dropped a pile of papers?
Do they take home the mini shampoo and soap from hotel rooms?
Believe in God?
Watch porn?
Eat expired food?
Have they ever stolen a magazine from a waiting room or shoplifted candy?
Are they open to trying new things... sexually?
Have they ever coveted a friend's significant other... or cheated on theirs?
Talked on the phone while on the toilet?
Would they hit a car and drive away if no one saw?
Pop a squat outside?
Get plastic surgery?
Lie to a priest?
Dine and dash?
Have an abortion?
Give money to a homeless person?
Tell their best friend to buy an ugly outfit?

Playing this game of Truth gives you some fun insights into who your characters REALLY are.

For more ideas for questions, check out this week's Postsecret.
(That's where I got that entertaining porn postcard.)

If you're feeling ambitious or artsy, you can even make a collage of Postsecret postcards that apply to your character. Or, like me, you can think "Wow that's a cool idea" ... and then laugh your butt off at the thought of actually having time to do something like that.

Have any other questions to add?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Introducing Your Characters, Disney Style

Disney movies have this pattern -- in the beginning, the main character has a song that says "This is who I am, and this is what I want."

It's the ultimate use of telling, not showing, but we forgive Disney because the music is catchy as hell. AND, despite the obvious purpose of the song, there's subtlety in the lyrics that gives us added depth.

After the song, the conflict is introduced, and it offers the character what he/she wants and names the price. Dun dun dunnnnn...

The Line-Up

Song: Just Around the River Bend
The Gist: I know there's more to life, and I want to seek it.
Quality Lyrics: 
"Can I ignore that sound of distant drumming
For a handsome sturdy husband who builds handsome sturdy walls
And never dreams that something might be coming?"
The Conflict: Enter John Smith and the Englishmen, who offer the adventure she wants, but possibly at the cost of her tribe and the land she loves.

Song: Belle (This title is soooo lacking.)
The Gist: I moved to a boring little stagnant town where no one understandssss me.
*Ok, Belle's my favorite, but that sounds a little bit like ... Bella. NOOOOOOOOOOO
Quality Lyrics:
"Every day like the one before
Little town, full of little people"
Townspeople: "But behind that fair facade,
I'm afraid she's rather odd,
Very different from the rest of us is Belle"
The Conflict: She can live in an enchanted castle... as a prisoner who's given up her only family.

Song: Part of Your World
The Gist: I'd so rather be a human than a spoiled mermaid princess.
* There are like 50 million little girls who would totally disagree.
Quality Super-Foreshadowy Lyrics:
"What would I give
If I could live
Out of these waters?
What would I pay
To spend a day
Warm on the sand?"
The Conflict: Sure, she can have the hot human prince. If she gives up her voice. And possibly her life.

Song: I Just Can't Wait to Be King
The Gist: Stop telling me what to do. Being the boss would be awesome and sooo easy.
Quality Lyrics:
Simba: "I'm brushing up on looking down,
I'm working on my roar."
Zazu: "Thus far a rather uninspiring thing"
Simba: "Oh I just can't wait to be king!"
The Conflict: He gets his wish... after his father's murdered by his evil uncle, and he thinks it's his fault.

Song: One Jump Ahead
The Gist: I steal 'cause I'm broke -- and thus nearly get killed by the authorities on a daily basis, but I take it in stride.
Quality Lyrics: (all of them. seriously.)
"I steal only what I can't afford.
That's everything."
People: "Oh it's sad, Aladdin's hit the bottom
He's become a one-man rise in crime
I'd blame parents, except he hasn't got 'em"
Aladdin: "Gotta eat to live, gotta steal to eat
Tell you all about it when I got the time"
The Conflict: He's granted three wishes, but none of them can win the heart of the girl he loves. Oh, and a badass sorcerer's trying to kill him.

Song: Reflection
The Gist: I can't meet my family's expectations and be true to myself.
Quality Lyrics:
"Can it be
I'm not meant to play this part
Now I see
That if I were truly to be myself
I would break my family's heart."
The Conflict: She can become who she wants... if she runs away and pretends to be a boy.

Alright, so how does this help us as writers?

There's a clear pattern here that WORKS. Show what your main character wants, and put it in his or her reach ... while making that character sympathetic to your readers. Get the readers invested!

* It also helps if what the character wants is sooooo nearly impossible. Like, Ariel wants legs. Legs! And Aladdin wants to go from slum-poor to marrying a princess. And Mulan wants to overthrow cultural norms to be happy. No small things, here.

THEN throw every possible obstacle in the character's way, and make him or her sacrifice just about everything to achieve that dream. Voila! The beginnings of a great story.

What's your favorite Disney character intro song? I'm torn between One Jump Ahead and Just Around the River Bend.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

I Now Pronounce Thee... Incorrectly.

I devoured books as a kid. Multiple Sweet Valley High books per night sometimes. And heftier things, like Little Women and IT. My vocabulary was extensive, but my mental pronunciation wasn't always ... accurate.

I mean, think about it! I read words all the time, figured out their meanings via context clues, but once I got to "I Can Read" books, I never heard them spoken simultaneously.

Therefore, I knew there was a word "misled" --- but it took me until high school to realize that the "misled" in my books was the SAME as the word "MISS-led" spoken aloud.

How did my reading mind pronounce it in books?

I'd guessed that it meant "tricked," but I never actually connected the dots to the word "MISS-led" that I'd heard.

And don't even get me started on hors d'oeuvres --- I pronounced that "whores d'vores" for YEARS when reading it.

Lastly --- I read so fast that sometimes I transpose letters. Thus, Hermione Granger was "Her-moine" (like Des Moines, Iowa) until she phonetically pronounced her name to Viktor Krum in book four. Talk about a revelation!

Alright, don't leave me lonely in my embarrassment. 
What words do/did you mispronounce while reading?

^ Delish whores d'vores ^

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Because We're More Than Just Writers

We're teachers, newspaper-office managers, nannies, librarians, belly dancers, knitters, travelers, musicians, house-hunters, apartment-dwellers, sisters, daughters, granddaughters, step-daughters, aunts, wives, fiances, friends...

No, we're not each of us each of those things, but we each wear a lot of hats and have a lot of interests.

I'm lucky enough to be one of the teachers in our group. What's one of the best things about teaching? Yes, I do love my students, but I also love SPRING BREAK!!!

So, during Spring Break last week, I enjoyed some of my non-writing interests and gave a tour of NYC to two former students of mine from Okinawa. (They were also on Spring Break, and they flew up from Texas to check out the city.) How wonderful it was to see them again.

I also continued my sewing lessons with my mom and made curtains for our apartment. Now my completed projects include a tank-top, an apron, and three curtains. So fun! And useful! I have three more windows I'd like to make curtains for. I hope I don't wait til next Spring Break to do it.

Now, it's back to work this week--to teaching and to writing, and it feels good.

So...what are some of your different selves? OR, if you were to take a week long hiatus from working and/or writing, what would you do with it?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sourcebooks Launch Party Recap (cross-posted with Frankie Writes)

Ok so I promised I'd tell you more details about my night and include pictures...well...slight snafu...maybe. See, I took along my sister Eva (yes, I'm calling you out) totally convincing her that she should just drop everything and come to NYC with me at the last possible second for a publishing party (because I can be that persuasive) but I also made lofty promises of we can get food at One Lucky Duck--an amazing raw vegan take-away (we dabble in raw foods and go raw from time to time on top of being vegan). And with promises like that...she accepted! Anyway, despite walking west for awhile on 17th street when we were supposed to go east (yeah...), we made it there and got salads, raw cookies and smoothies to die for!!! I'm not kidding! Their smoothies=heaven.

But so here's the other thing I trusted Eva to take the pictures and secure them. And believe me, we took pictures. Lots of pictures. But...apparently, only 2-- 2 I tell you --actually exist. Possible her digital camera is haunted...or technology failed...but Eva, I am very suspicious of what happened to the other pictures!

Alas, I won't allow the lack of pictures to keep me from recapping (cough though it did for a few days cough). I'm a writer, right? So I can write it out for you and paint the scene.

OK! So...Eva and I got to Books of Wonder for the launch party about half an hour early, because we're cool like that and to meet my friend Faye who I met last November at Books of Wonder when I went to see Suzanne Collins, Scott Westerfield, Justine Larbalestier, Kristin Cashore and The Libba Bray!

Then I met Robyn Schneider aka Violet Haberdasher, the awesome author of Knightly Academy. We took pictures...(ahem) but there aren't any to show....but here's one of her youtube videos to give you an idea of how awesome she is!

Anyway our conversation kind of went something like this.

Frankie: OMG you write about Knights!

Robyn: Because Knights are awesome!

Frankie: OMG I write about Knights!

Robyn: Because Knights are awesome!

I'm pretty sure there was also some intelligent conversation in there as well as a comparison of our worlds--sooo different. But I started reading Knightly Academy and it's AWESOME because...well, Knights are awesome. And if Robyn and I have any say in it then Knights will be the new vampires. So meeting her was awesome (how many times can I say awesome you ask? the answer: a lot) and you can expect to see some interviews and a review of Knightly Academy soon on the FNC.

I also got to meet and talk with a few agents (SQUEEEE) and say hi again to David Levithan (the uber awesome editor/writer extraordinaire who coordinated the whole NYC Teen Author Fest) and talk to Joanna Volpe again (uber-cool agent I met with Donna at Janet Reid's workshop), said hi to Barry Lyga, saw agents Ammi Joan Paquette, Tina Wexler, Edward Necarsulmer IV, Barry Goldblatt (who might as well be the equivalent of seeing Brad Pitt and Kate Winslet in my eyes) and then rocked out to Tiger Beat--Libba Bray's band and...seriously, the girl can rock, sing, dance, write songs, whatever--she was amazing!!!!!!!!!!

And I got to see my friend Allary who not only has the coolest job in the world--she works at Books of Wonder, I know you're jealous (I am) but she also is David Levithan's student! SO jealous!

And of course, the stars aligned perfectly for the epic meeting of Frankie and LiLa!
 Aka Lisa and Laura aka the Roecker sisters aka made of awesome!
We finished up the night on a secret covert operation that involved Libba Bray and a video camera that was a lot of fun. I talked to Libba for a bit and she gave me even more inspiration to keep going with the writing journey  (because she rules) and then...we went home!

So all in all, it was a great party! I had a blast and I got some vegan cookies. What more could a girl want?
Now....back to revisions!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Interrobang: "The spork of punctuation."

With a tagline like that, how can the interrobang not be more popular?
It's cute, it's playful, and it would give punctuation to all of those pesky "surprised rhetorical questions" in your writing.

As of yesterday, I had no idea the interrobang even existed. Then one of my lovely office assistants, Sarah, asked me if I'd heard of it. I was flabbergasted.

Alright, not quite.
I just wanted to say "flabbergasted."
But I was pretty darn entertained.

According to the ever-so-official Wikipedia, the interrobang was invented in 1962 by Martin K. Speckter, the head of an ad agency, but it never became more than a fad.

The unpopularity of the interrobang brings me to a debate about the question mark/exclamation point combo punch in novels.
i.e. "What?!" or, alternately "What!?"

There's a slight stigma attached to double punctuation in the publishing world, though I feel that YA would be most accepting of it. Personally, I don't use it. To me, it's just a more subtle way to include "she exclaimed, questioningly" instead of "said." (I cringed typing "she exclaimed, questioningly.") I just try to show that a line is interrobang-friendly. Or assume my readers know.

But is it at the cost of effectiveness?!


Commence debate, please! And has ANYONE heard of the interrobang before?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Because today I needed a cute picture.

Her name is Zoe.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

True Life: I Have a Character-Driven Novel

Sometimes I envy plot-driven novels. They're so shiny and fun and ... what's that word? ... describable.

But then I read a book like Lauren Myracle's Peace, Love, and Baby Ducks.

Ok, technically, I listened to it on audiobook -- which I highly recommend, because the narration (by Julia Whelan) is fantastic.

Confession: When I first saw PLBD in a bookstore, I was like "What the heck is this book about?" Talk about a cryptic title. But I chose the audiobook on a whim. The best whim ever. And if someone asked me NOW what it's about, I'd most likely stammer and "um" a lot and eventually say, "It's about sisters. You MUST read it."

And you really should read it, like, if you're a girl
or if you've ever been a girl
or if you've ever not had a crush on the guy you should've had a crush on
or if you have a complicated relationship with your sister
or if you sometimes look at the world around you and wonder where the heck you fit in.

It's that awesome.

Here's the official description: Growing up in a world of wealth and pastel-tinted entitlement, fifteen-year-old Carly has always relied on the constancy—and authenticity—of her sister, Anna. But when fourteen-year-old Anna turns plastic-perfect-pretty over the course of a single summer, everything starts to change. And there are boys involved, complicating things as boys always do.

Peace, Love, and Baby Ducks spoke to me. Within its deceptively simple and delightfully readable pages, it drew me in and I just felt this aching truth within its words. It made me smile and sometimes laugh and one morning on my way to work I teared up a little at an emotional part.

Aside: You know how everyone talks about all-important "voice"? Lauren Myracle has it. It makes this novel wonderful.

Peace, Love, and Baby Ducks makes me proud of what character-driven novels can achieve. What I hope my novel will one day achieve. Easy descriptions be damned.

What's your favorite character-driven novel?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Body Finder Release Day!

Honorary FNC-er Kimberly Derting's debut YA paranormal thriller The Body Finder releases TODAY!

Yayyyyyyyyyy Kim! Congrats!

We were lucky enough to score an ARC of The Body Finder, and here's our co-review.
PLUS, Kim stopped by for an interview with us!

About The Body Finder:

Violet Ambrose is grappling with two major issues: Jay Heaton and her morbid secret ability. While the sixteen-year-old is confused by her new feelings for her best friend since childhood, she is more disturbed by her "power" to sense dead bodies—or at least those that have been murdered. Since she was a little girl, she has felt the echoes that the dead leave behind in the world... and the imprints that attach to their killers.

Violet has never considered her strange talent to be a gift; it mostly just led her to find the dead birds her cat had tired of playing with. But now that a serial killer has begun terrorizing her small town, and the echoes of the local girls he's claimed haunt her daily, she realizes she might be the only person who can stop him.

Despite his fierce protectiveness over her, Jay reluctantly agrees to help Violet on her quest to find the murderer—and Violet is unnerved to find herself hoping that Jay's intentions are much more than friendly. But even as she's falling intensely in love, Violet is getting closer and closer to discovering a killer... and becoming his prey herself.

What are you waiting for? Go buy a copy!

* Have you read The Body Finder? What did you think?

Monday, March 15, 2010

How to Choose Your Next Project Via a Nifty Househunting Metaphor

So you're finished writing and revising your latest novel. Maybe it's going out on submission. Maybe it'll live in a drawer. Hellooooo, square one. You're back to a word count of ZERO. What's next?

Understanding what you want and need from your next writing project is the first step toward actually starting it. Trust me, it's easy to procrastinate. That blank page is scary!
And if you have more than one sparkly almost-idea, it's natural to be torn. But choosing an idea worthy of a novel-length commitment will help you see this new project through -- and hopefully save you time and agony in the long run.

Since our engagement, my fiance and I have spent countless hours searching through hundreds of homes for the one we want to buy ... and let me tell you, no matter how many episodes of My First Place and Property Virgins you watch, you're soooo unprepared for how tough it is.
BUT ---- silver lining time! ---- weighing a ton of super important home-buying factors made me realize how similar the househunting process is to the idea-choosing process.

1. The Listing: So you have this idea -- but should it be a novel? It's a huge investment, after all. Sometimes an idea becomes nothing more than an idea, just like when you check out a real estate listing for a home...but don't take the next step.

2. The Drive By: Some ideas deserve a little more thought, like when you drive by a home that's on the market to give it a closer look.

3. The Showing: And the ideas with the most potential -- that's when you schedule a showing. And maybe even a second or third showing after that. You dive into your idea, picture yourself living there for the foreseeable future. Is it worth making an offer?

Factors to Consider:
What can you afford to spend? Writing a novel requires sacrifices -- sleep, sanity, leisure time, etc. That's why you must be passionate about your idea. If you're unwilling or unable to make the commitment, then it's not the right idea for you, no matter how grand.
Are you comfortable with the structure of the plot, with the flow of the story? Are there limitations to the story or is there potential for growth?

Fixer-Upper: A rough, awkward nugget of an idea that needs a little---or a lot of---TLC. 
New Construction: This novel jumps into your brain fully-formed and beautiful.
Move-In Condition: This solid idea has a few gray areas you'll have to work out as you go.

Some people want a cozy country home, but others want a sprawling mansion. Just remember, the more rooms you have... the more rooms you have to clean. Unless you can afford a maid.
Will your idea be a small stand-alone or book one in an epic fantasy series?

Potential for Building an Addition
So you're comfortable with your happy little only child novel... but you want to know that, if you changed your mind in the future, you could give it a baby brother or sister sequel.

What's the market like? Is your idea too similar to other books already published? Does it stand out from the trends?

Your "One Thing"
What's your dealbreaker? Does the house need a spacious kitchen? A walk-in closet? A park-like backyard? Alternately, is it a automatic "no" if it has old windows or only two bedrooms?
Maybe you're sick of writing third-person novels, and your next idea MUST be first-person. Or you want a male main character. Or a murder mystery plot. Sure, maybe you'll be ok with another third-person story in the future, but are you willing to invest in one now?

Walking Away: Sometimes you just have to say no to a house. Sometimes saying no hurts.
Time to shelve the idea to reconsider at a future date. You can't force it to be for you, no matter how badly you want it!
Putting in an Offer: You analyze, you agonize, and you comparison shop until you're ready to give up altogether. But then you find that house that tells you it's yours. Maybe it's not exactly what you envisioned, but there's some harmony to what you see that makes you know that this is worth the investment.
This is the idea that calls to you, standing out among the crowd. THIS is your next novel!

The Inspection
Sometimes the inspector finds small problems that you're happy to live with and fix yourself. Sometimes the inspector finds a horde of termites that are eating your dream home from the inside out.
Before you 100% commit yourself to this future bestselling novel of yours, it's helpful to get a second opinion. Even if the person isn't a professional, a second pair of eyes might find a huge flaw that could suddenly be a dealbreaker -- or that person's eyes will widen in awe as they proclaim your idea the most incredible thing everrrrr, and totally worth the investment.

Most of the time, the "perfect" ideas/homes aren't as perfect as they seem. Shoddy construction, maybe? Often you'll find that the unexpected homes are your biggest contenders. Choosing the right idea for you takes patience. Don't be afraid to write a couple chapters or a rough outline ("go to showings") and see how an idea fits. Just believe that you'll find it!
I Googled "inspiring picture" for this one.

Your turn! (Because I'd very much love to hear what you think.)
What's your new idea experience been so far?
Got an idea metaphor that's better than mine?
Anyone else househunting out there?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Acts of Genius: The Hook

The other morning, I was listening to the radio as I drove into work. It went to commercial, and I zoned out the noise of the ads. But then, I heard something. Not just a commercial, but a genius idea. The kind of idea that makes you say out loud, "Well done." (At least, I did.)

What commercial did I hear?

It was for a new flavor of Doritos, called Doritos Burn. The ad was a phone call from a guy to an emergency operator because he'd just eaten Doritos Burn and his mouth was on fire and he couldn't stop it. The operator instructed him to go get a bottle of Pepsi Max Cease Fire. Apparently Pepsi Cease Fire is specifically formulated to counter-act the burning spiciness of Doritos Burn.

Like I said, GENIUS. Now, I'm all for indie this and local that and support your nearest mom-and-pop store, but when a huge corporation comes up with a genius idea, well, I have to applaud. I'm still a sucker for Doritos, and sometimes on a weekend or when I try to forget that I'm supposed to eating healthy, I'm grab a bag of Doritos and a soda. But the flavors change. But imagine if you were a person who did that on a regular basis, and bought the Doritos Burn flavor. Suddenly you'd ALWAYS be buying a soda with it and it would ALWAYS be Pepsi Max Cease Fire, because why would you buy anything else?

Something else I find genius is Lady GaGa. Note I didn't say "someone else," because I don't really see Lady Gaga as a person. Not because she dresses weird and often reminds me of an alien, but rather because I think she's branded herself in such a brilliant way. If you search on Youtube for Stetanfi Germanotta, you can find an old talent night video of her (in college, I believe) performing two self-composed songs for piano that are reminiscent of Tori Amos/the soft side of Regina Spektor. (That is, of course, assuming that that video is actually of her, which so far I haven't heard rumours otherwise.) Now, Regina Spektor and Tori Amos are doing quite well for themselves as chicks-with-pianos, but I'm sure there are thousands of equally talented young women trying to break into the music business who never will. Or they will, but certainly will not reach the level of fame that Tori Amos or Regina Spektor have. Because the truth is, chicks-with-pianos is a niche music market (that I totally love) whereas candy-catchy pop songs infiltrate the minds of even those with the finest musical taste.

This is why I think Lady Gaga is a genius. I don't think she actually buys into this whole pop-music scene--I think it's simply a genius marketing ploy. She knew the best way to get into the business and she did it. Did she "sell out"? Maybe. But I'm sure if it's really selling out if she's taken this on as a type of theatre or farce and simply milking it for all that it's worth. It's like the crazy outfits--does she love wearing them? I'm sure she does. But does she do it seriously, or because she knows it's going to make everyone's head explode? Probably for the attention. Even the name, Lady Gaga, comes from the Queen song, "Radio Gaga", which is about how all the pop music on the radio is silly & idiotic, like baby talk. Secretly subversive pop star name? I think it might be! Plus, let's all just admit it...her songs are awesome for cranking up when you're in the car.

So what do Lady Gaga and Doritos Burn and Pepsi Cease Fire have to do with each other? Or for writing, for that matter?

They're all ideas that have an awesome hook. And, as we all know, the hook can often be the key to having a good story and having a great story. The hook doesn't always mean it's a good book, or top-notch writing. But a lot of times a solid hook can cause you, the reader, to look past all that (or look past Lady Gaga's crazy lyrics or the ridiculousness of having to buy a specific soda to eat a specific brand of chips) and just enjoy the ride.

What other good hooks are out there that you know?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Beauty in the Ordinary

I was at our local indie bookstore the other day looking for a birthday gift for our 4-year-old friend, when I discovered Wabi Sabi, written by Mark Reibstein and illustrated by Ed Young.

Wabi Sabi is about a cat who lives in Kyoto, Japan. Well, it's actually not about the cat, but the cat is the main character. It's really about wabi sabi, the Japanese sensibility of finding beauty in the ordinary and imperfect aspects of life.

The book is uniquely beautiful, with pages that turn from bottom to top rather than right to left, and collages of all sorts of materials that create vivid and textured illustrations. Haiku in English and Japanese weave in and out of the narrative to create a wonderfully rich experience for readers.

Wabi Sabi is one of those picture books worth having on the shelf whether there are children at home or not because it really speaks to the heart of the universal human experience--the ordinary and the imperfect, and it's got me thinking about the wabi sabi in my own life:

The mittens I knit this winter each have a hole where the thumb meets the hand, but the flaws signify that the mitts are hand-made and soul-full rather than machine-produced.

The ground outside is squishy and muddy, and it signals the nearness of spring here in southeastern Pennsylvania.

My story, Ojiisan's Gift, is up for grabs. The querying has begun; I'm on the long road that I hope will end in publication. Will I find beauty in this process that is bound to be wrought with rejection and disappointment? I decided a few days ago that I will revel in it. At the very least, the journey and the inevitable rejection will remind me that I'm alive and that I'm surrounded by people who love, support, and inspire me. That's significant. At best, if I am patient and unyielding, it will eventually lead to the realization of my dreams--this book and many others in print. That, too, is significant, though perhaps not as much so as the former realization.

As I look to end this post which vacillates from book review to contemplative and self-motivational writing, I want to ask two things of you: Will you check out Wabi Sabi by Reibstein and Young the next time you're at a bookstore? In the meantime, will you share a thought or two on the wabi sabi in your own life? Let's end this week with gratitude.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What Color Do You Want Your Story To Be?

So, awhile back the FNC had their very first-ever write-in, where we gathered for a lot of food, a lot of laughing, and a little bit of writing and critiquing. Something that came up during the critique session was a fun little metaphor that I'm going to share with you, because I think it's something that every writer can find useful.

The metaphor begins with the question: what color do you want your story to be?

First, you need to imagine your novel (or picture book or board book or easy reader or short story) is a bowl of clear water.

Got your bowl? Awesome.

Now, think about the elements of your story. Is there romance? Adventure? Angst? Mystery? Is your WIP a comedy, a tragedy, a paranormal romance, a fantasy, a sci-fi, contemporary, urban, etc?

Once you have the big elements of your story settled, assign them each a color. For this example, I will make up an adventurous comedic fantasy that I will call All the Little Unicorns. (No comments. It's my story, after all!)

So, Little Unicorns is adventure, comedy and fantasy. I'm going to make adventure blue, comedy green, and fantasy red.

I put a drop of each color in the bowl.

Now, in real life I would've just created weird brown-ish water. But in writing life, what I've done is made a bowl that's equal parts three colors. Lovely and balanced.

Next, I'm going to think about the characters of my story. What kind of people (or unicorns) are they? What are the character traits? What makes up their personality?

Once you have that information in front of you, wash, rinse, and repeat.

Let's imagine my MC is a girl name Lovelia (like I said, MY STORY.) Lovelia is always cracking jokes, so I put in a drop of green. She's also the heroine in my story, so a drop of blue for her adventurous spirit. She also reads minds and can move objects without touching them and grows wings in chapter 37 and her half-brother is an elf. So that's--let's count--4 drops of red for all my fanstatic elements.

Taking a second look at my bowl, I'm noticing that things are looking pretty red right now. I've got a lot of fantasy, and all those red drops look like they might be bullying my adventuring blue and laughing-out-loud green.

But that's okay. Let's keep going, because I still had more drops to add.

I've thought about the genre and my characters, but of course, I still need to add in the plot.

So. Plot.

For me, the plot of All the Little Unicorns is that Lovelia journeys across a magical land to rescue the baby unicorns that have been stolen by an Evil Lord because the unicorns bring laughter and joy to the land, and without them everything is boring and grey. In my head, I imagine it to be a fast-paced, funny read with a sweet sword fight or two stuck in for good measure. BUT, I'm not doing this based on the story in my head, but by the story on the page. So I check out my book.

It turns out that I haven't written a joke in fifty pages, and there's only been one sword fight. But I have had her read the minds of four different people and move a dragon over a bridge with her mind, and enter a dancing competition with some drunken elves she met along the way, plus she's got this mega crush on this character I didn't intend on writing.

So now I add one drop for comedy (one and a half, maybe, those drunken elves are pretty sweet), one drop for my sword fight, and 3 drops for fantasy. Plus, now I need to pull out the yellow and add a drop for romance--something I didn't even consider when I started writing Little Unicorns.

I'm going to stop here, because my bowl of water is getting pretty full. Let's check my final count. Remember, I started out balanced--1 blue, 1 green, 1 red.

But I ended...
--3 drops adventure
--3.5 drops comedy
--8 drops fantasy
--1 drop romance.

Hmm. So that story I had in my head, the comedy/fantasy/adventure I was imagining had come across so beautifully on the page? Turns out it's totally unbalanced. I've gotten out of hand with the fantastic elements and ignored the other parts of my story that felt really important in the beginning. Plus, I've started adding concepts I didn't even want in the first place, like romance.

So what does this all mean? Do I hold down the delete key for 200 pages and start over? Or take a chainsaw to my WIP and carve out all those drunken elves and dragons and mind-reading sequences?

Not necessarily. But it does mean I need to take a good hard look at what's going on in my story. Ideas evolve. I know that one well--when I started my WIP my main character was 12, lived on a farm, and wanted to go to a finishing school for noble ladies. Now, she's 17, and finding out she's the key figure in a rebellion against an evil King. A little bit different, right? Right. And that's okay, as long as I keep the balance going. It can't just be about the evil King, just like it can't just be just about the mind reading.

This color trick can also work on a smaller scale--maybe you have a chapter that's not working, or a character that feels flat for some reason.

What color do you want YOUR story to be?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The LA Times takes note: Adults who love YA lit

Another link worthy of sharing!

Check out yesterday's LA Times article on the adult appeal of today's YA.

We're taking over the world!

* I discovered this via my lovely Publishers Marketplace daily email. Signing up is free!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Defending YA, Stiefvater Style

If any of you haven't read Maggie Stiefvater's post defending YA lit to all narrow-minded naysayers, you're missing out!

It's snappy and well-argued, and I kinda wish I could keep a copy of it on me at all times to hand to the doubters. It's that awesome.

But do we expect any less from the marvelous Maggie?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Contracts: Demystified! with agent Edward Necarsulmer

Super Agent Edward Necarsulmer (of McIntosh & Otis) gave a great presentation at SCBWI NYC explaining contracts in layman's terms -- and I just happened to be there!

Now, I know you're all like, "Donna, if someone wanted to publish my novel, I wouldn't CARE what the heck was in the contract."

Here's the thing: when the glow of the shiny new author-publisher relationship wears off and you realize you just traded months (ahem, years) of blood/sweat/tears/sanity for a year-long fruit-of-the-month club membership and a bag of Swedish Fish, you'll be a little upset.

Or maybe not.

Either way, I wrote a summary of his talk, and it can be found at the ever-so-excellent Guide to Literary Agents blog.

PS - Contracts sound like a snooze-fest, but they're not -- PLUS, it's super important that you understand what's what in all that lingo -- that's your novel baby it'll be talking about one day!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Writing Rituals

When we moved into a two-bedroom apartment back in September, I was excited to finally have space for an office! But it takes a while to get settled and organized in a new place. Nearly six months later, our office is finally more than the "junk drawer," as my sister called it, that it was for the first several months of our residence here, and I now have a little room of my own in which to write fiction!

Well, half a room, anyway. I do have to share it with the Aussie, after all.

My corner:
(Isn't it sweet! The black square beside the chair is one of those ribbon boards--kinda like a bulletin board, but w/o tacks. I'm gonna hang it this weekend.)

His corner:
(He doesn't use it much.)

Our shared corner:
(Love that chair!)

The corner yet to be tackled:
(We have a bit of work to do yet.)

So...why the pictures of my personal space? Because I want to discuss writing rituals, and it's in this space that the writing happens.

My writing life has picked up over the last couple months. Writing is becoming a priority and a part of my weekly schedule rather than something that happens if I'm lucky. I've noticed lately that I have developed a few writing rituals--things I must have in place while I'm writing.

First, I always have a candle burning on my desk.

Second, I have cup of tea in my cute tea cup, poured from my cute tea pot.

Third, I always use the light on my desk rather than the overhead light. The desk lamp casts a soft warm glow.

With these elements combined, I've been enjoying many fruitful writing sessions lately.

What are your writing rituals?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Princess Jasmine: A YA Character Study

It's baaaaaaaack! It's been way too long since we did a Disney-fied character study, and today is Jasmine's turn.

Why Jasmine? She's a Disney princess, but NOT the protagonist. (Hi, Aladdin! We love you!) The story isn't hers, so I get to analyze her as a secondary character and love interest.

(This prospect makes me gleeful. I'm such a nerd.)

Princess Jasmine 411.
She prefers flowy, stomach-baring outfits.
Her best friend is a tiger.
She's not too street smart.
She's mom-less with a kindly-but-suffocating dad.
She's SO over d-bag rich boy princes.
She's going stir-crazy in that palace.
She rocks the incognito look.
She's not afraid of heights. Or pole vaulting.

The pluses. Jasmine has one of the strongest personalities of the Disney princesses, so it's no wonder that Aladdin falls for her. She stands up to her father and refuses to marry someone she doesn't love. Despite her luxurious upbringing, she doesn't care about class or wealth. And she's a saucy little risk-taker. Seriously! A guy's all like, "Hey, wanna check out the back seat of my magic carpet?" and she's like, "Why not?"

* Did anyone ever notice that Aladdin and Jasmine's first kiss happens way earlier than any other first kiss in a Disney cartoon? And it almost happened the first time they met. Feisty lady!

The negatives. Despite her inherent awesomeness, Jasmine doesn't really develop as a character in the movie. If this were a novel, I'd want to see a shift in her personality. I mean, Aladdin finally begins to accept who he is, but Jasmine ends up the same person as when she started. And suddenly having a live-in boy toy means she's ok with her humdrum palace life? (Honestly, you can argue with me here. I forget the other two movies. Maybe her social calendar evolved a bit?)

I'd love to know... Are there no other rich girls around to be friends with? (No offense, Rajah.) And when did her mother die? How did it affect her? What does she do all day in the palace? Why is she smart enough to figure out that Prince Ali is Aladdin, but too stupid to realize her hopelessly inept father is being sorcerized by Jafar?

AND are Rajah and Abu jealous that Iago can talk...
 but they can't?
(They're totally up to something.)

And because this is what you've probably been waiting for the whole post...

Ok, what are your thoughts on the great and beautiful Princess J?
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