Thursday, June 28, 2012

Could your story benefit from specific goals?

Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl went into writing Beautiful Creatures with a vision. A dare from teens they knew. The dare was this, write a book with the following things:

1. No vampires.
2. No whiny girl narrators.
3. Give the girl powers, not the guy.
4. Book must not be generic. (This should be a goal with every book, in my opinion!)
5. Specific setting, please.

(In other words, it sounded like the teens who dared them to write BC were sick of Twilight, lol. Anyway, the interview where I found the info on the dare can be found here.)

So, here's where I make a confession: I like paranormal romance, sometimes. Not Twilight crap. It has to, like the dare mentioned, not be generic. One of the reasons why I loved Timeless by Alexandra Monir was because it felt different from other books in the PR genre:

Timeless (Timeless, #1)
(Image source... BTW, isn't that cover awesome!?)
For one thing, the heroine, Michele doesn't just "curl up and die" (as the book puts it) when awful things happen. She does stuff. When her boy is in danger, she takes action. And did I mention that she can time-travel, not her boyfriend? Plus, the book has beautiful description. (Oh, and by the way, this is a book I feel like I can recommend on here! The close thing it has to swearing is stuff like taking God's name in vain, and if you're like me, you can just pretend they said "my gosh!" or something. I know we have a lot of conservative readers on here, so I try and be careful what I recommend. Other than that, no smut! :] Anyways...)

So yeah, I like the genre if the author can make the book feel unique. That's why, when planning my own paranormal romance, I went into it with my own goals:

  1. Must have a unique POV.
  2. Must have a specific setting, including mention of weather/decent description. (A challenge for me!)
  3. Must have a amazing storyline, not just be about the romance. 
  4. Like my two favorite paranormal romances, the female MC must not be whiny and she should be more powerful than the male.
  5. Main characters who do stuff, stuff doesn't happen to them. (Or at least 80% of the time they do stuff, 20% of the time stuff happens to them.)
  6. The main couple can live without each other, but are better together. 
  7. Must not be generic. (Note that a ton of stuff my on list springs from this rule.)
And that's all I can think of in terms of goals for my book at the moment. Do you guys have goals for your books? Do you think you could benefit from them? I think that this is really helpful--to close on the words of Margaret Stohl from the same interview above "...When you read a book, read it critically and think, “Did I like that, yes or no? Why didn’t I like that?” What were the components that made it interesting to you, because then you start to develop a perspective and I think that’s kinda the first thing to developing a voice which is more than anything something an author needs to have."

Monday, June 25, 2012

Writer's Depression

Taking a break from my series about learning from good books to focus on something very important: Writer's Depression.

All writers probably get insecure from time to time. I have. Probably you do, too. Anyway, this post has been brewing at the back of my mind for a while now. Basically, here's what happens:
You're reading your favorite book and once the 'wow, this is amazing!' thoughts are done, all you can do is thinking about how you're not as good of a writer as Author X, and never will be. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • You cannot compare your book to a published book. This isn't really my advice, it actually comes from Kami Garcia, in an interview. That had to be some of the most helpful advice I've ever read as a writer: Don't compare your work to something finished! Especially not something that has been gone over by the authors, beta readers, agents, publishers, etc 1 million times. A draft that isn't even done isn't the same as a published book. Pause to reflect on that before you go on. 
  • Even authors you love write awful first drafts. This ties into the interview I mentioned above, where Garcia says something like "I wish you could see what the original story was like, before we edited it." How humbling to know that one of my favorite books was awful when it was first written. I love that! Even more humbling, was when I told Garcia that I felt that way on twitter, she said that she finds it encouraging when authors she loves write bad drafts. 
  • Even really successful people (including writers) get insecure. A week or so ago, I watched Oprah interview Lady Gaga on her show Oprah's Next Chapter and one thing that shocked me was when Gaga said that she found Born This Way an intimidating song to write, and she had to imagine Whitney Houston singing it in order to write the song. Wow. I mean, no matter how you feel about Gaga, it's hard to imagine her feeling insecure, isn't it? I mean, this is a woman who isn't afraid to go out in public wearing meat.
  • Even authors you love have errors in their books. Including published ones. I've been rereading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone lately, and so far I've found two errors. And it's a published book and a bestseller, not to mention something that totally changed my life. Even J.K. Rowling is human. 
  • If you let someone read your book, they might like it. After a mass editing spree, I sent an unfinished book my mine to be read by a friend. I thought she would hate it, and that it would be too confusing for her to like; too this, too that. But she told me on Facebook she liked where it was going. 
  • If you find yourself hating your book, keep in mind that there was once a time you liked it. If you still hate it, put it away and come back to it. Reread it and then see if you like still like it. Often, I weed out the ideas I love from those I don't because the ideas I love are the ones that don't leave me alone. 
  • If you can, study other authors and see what makes them so good. I've been having fun doing with my series about 'What my Favorite Books have Taught me about Writing."

Friday, June 22, 2012

How to Write a Good Climax

Okay, so once again, I'm using this book as an example:

This book had a kick-butt climax for many reasons. Here are some:
  • Secrets are revealed. Like a traitor, for example. There are loads more, but I don't want to spoil it. But even the secrets have extra twists to them that make them unique.
  • There is a ticking clock. For both the bad guys and the good. They have to accomplish their goal by midnight, or bad stuff happens.
  • The authors took risks. They weren't afriad to do things that made me go "Whoa, what just happened???" And their other climaxes are just as explosive, in the other books in the series. I advise you to take risks, if you can. Do something the reader won't expect. And readers are used to predictable plots, so I advise you to be creative. 
  • They did something different, like switching the POV, which meant the reader went into book 2 sharing a secret with the MC's girlfriend and housekeeper. You, and those two are the only ones who know, for a part of book two, what really happened. Even the main character of #2 doesn't know. Which diffinately made book 2 interesting. 
  • The villains are bad. They don't hesistant to do things or hand out info that makes me go :O. Like, in the climax, there is a moment where I think (SPOILER): "WOW, how could a mother do something like that to her own child??? Killing her daughter's boyfriend! What a little #%@&*." Well, I wasn't swearing, but it made me want too. 
  • The characters use every weapon they can. Like I mentioned in my how to write a good emotional fight post.
  • Have stuff happen in your climax that the MC doesn't know about. This is the best tip I can give you. In the series I'm using as am example, in the following two books we are learning at least once per book secrets on what happened in the climax of the first book. How was this done? Well:
    • Characters are doing things that the MC doesn't know about. This ties into advice that Stephanie Morrill gave on her blog about every character thinking they are the main character. Have other characters do stuff. Don't have the MC know about it. Plan your climax before you write it. 
    • Things are happening that no one knew about or could have predicted. For example, in Beautiful Creatures, a bit of magic goes wrong in the climax... But no one realizes it until book 3. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

How to Write a Good (Emotional) Fight

Today, I was rereading Beautiful Chaos, by the same authors of Beautiful Creatures.

Beautiful Chaos (Caster Chronicles, #3)

Anyway, I was rereading of my favorite parts of the book--a fight between two of the characters, Lena and Liv. Let me give you some background so you can get why the fight is good (SPOILERS from Beautiful Darkness. Don't read the rest if you don't want to know!):

Basically, in the previous book, Lena thought that she was turning evil. She thought she had killed her uncle, and was feeling guilty.(Long story) Anyway, because of the lie she believed about herself, she started treating her boyfriend, Ethan, like crap. She ran off with another dude and her antihero cousin Ridley. (I know Lena sounds like a bad character, but trust me when I say she was going through a hard time!) Ethan, who is worried about her, chases after her with a smart girl named Liv and his best friend, Link. Anyway, in the book, Ethan, Liv, and Lena are at a party; Lena and Ethan now back together and Liv is trying to get over Ethan, who she fell in love with during the previous book. During the party, Ridley casts a spell to bring out the anger in everyone and that is when the fight happens.

Here is what makes their fight good:

  • Before the big fight scene, they are polite to each other on the surface, especially in front of Ethan. The words are polite, but even Ethan can tell that they want to rip each other to pieces. They say stuff like "How are you?" "Good." But by their nonverbal actions, you can tell they hate each other. 
  • Both of the characters are right. Both Lena and Liv have good points. Yes, Lena was awful to Ethan, which is Liv's point. But Lena's point was also right because she thought that she was turning evil. Her actions, though not good, were justified. In other words, in a fight, try and make both characters right. It will make the reader root for both of them, not just one. That will keep your readers united, and not saying stuff like "Well, I'm team Lena" or "I'm team Liv" when they fight. 
You could also, during a fight, have both characters be wrong, or be both right and wrong. Just know who you want the reader to cheer for. That said, make sure both have good arguments, don't make one person sound stupid to further the "right" person's cause. 
  • When the fight happens, Lena and Liv don't hold anything in. They tell each other exactly what they think of each other. And their insecurities show up. Stuff like:
Liv: You treated Ethan like crap. And did I mention you're self-centered and a really powerful Caster*?
Lena: I thought I was turning evil! And you're smarter and blonder than me, and have a British accent! And you stole the affections of my uncle! You take everything that is mine!
(Summarized, not the real dialogue.)

Yes, I know you aren't always supposed to have people say what they think, but people tend to forget about, or not care about, politeness during a fight.

*Casters are a race of humans with superpowers. Like witches, but with a twist. Lena is capable of controlling the weather. 

  • They use every weapon they can. The fight turns physical and Lena even uses her weather powers, making it rain. And Liv might not have powers, but she still tries to fight back as hard as she can, trying to hit Lena and kick mud at her.
  • The authors included good dialogue. Example:
Lena: You really think this is a spell?
Liv: No, I think we always fight like dogs at parties.
Lena: There you go with being smart again.

(Summery, not the real quotes.)
  • The fight has a good ending. Lena and Liv end up calling a truce and Liv finds love with someone new. Lena even gives a dance ticket to Liv so that Liv and her new love can go to a school dance. (In a twist of irony, she falls for the boy Lena ran away with. Go Liv/John! :D) Note that the "good ending" doesn't always have to equal "happy" if you want to have a sad twist. 

In case you can't tell, I like studying books I love in order to figure out how to improve my own writing. In fact, I plan on doing several more post on what this series has taught me about writing, including how to write a good climax. :)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

How to Write Good Description

Yes, I know, a post on this from me? Yeah, well, I was reading a scene from Beautiful Creatures this morning, and I realized something I liked about Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl's description: They don't just say "Ethan sat in the chair." (Like I would, lol.) They give details:

  • A brief mention of who owed the chair. (Ethan's mom.)
    • How she got it.(A gift)
    • Why the gift was given. (good grades at college.)
  • How the chair makes Ethan feel, physically. (It's not a chair that feels relaxing.)
  • How the chair makes Ethan feel, mentally. (It makes him feel closer to his mom, who has died.)
  • Later on in the scene after commenting on some other scenery, Ethan mentions that, overall, being there makes him think of his mom holding him as a boy. (A childhood memory.)
Beautiful Creatures, page 421, hardback edition. (So you can look it up. I'm not sure if posting direct text is allow. There's also another good bit of description on the next page, about a recipe of Ethan's mom's,)
You guys get the idea of that, right? Here's how it would work applying it to a room in my house(So you can see this applied to actual writing, not just me giving a summery and page number to a book.):

Allison walks into the living room, or as her family calls in, the non-living room because of how much time was spent there. Her eyes catch the big mirror with the gold-colored trim that her parents got as a wedding gift thirty years ago. She walks up to a tan chair that she finished reading one of her favorite books, Beautiful Creatures, in. Despite that fact that the chair is also thirty years old, it's comfortable. She sits down in the chair and eyes one of the couches in the room. It has big purple and white vertical stripes. Allison can't remember a time without that couch. When she was little, it had the ugly stripes, but until recently it had a red cover. After her nephew, Jack, had been born, her mom had taken off the cover, to reveal the stripes again. Although her mother said it was because she was tired of the red cover-up, Allison couldn't help but ponder if the real reason was she didn't want to get baby pee on the cover, mom is now using the couch as a changing table for Jack.
Her eyes fall on the floor, remembering playing with American Girl dolls there with her friends. She could still remember having talks with her friends about how the doll's character would say things "in the books." Even as  a child, Allison had respect for books. 
Finally, Allison leaves the room, unable to stand the annoying clock with the swinging pendulum in the corner. She wishes her mom hadn't put batteries back in the thing, because she can't stand ticking clocks--something her mom finds relaxing. Allison winces, everything in that room is old or annoying--or both. Her parents sure can be cheap when it comes to decorating. 

Okay, so ignoring some of the flaws with the writing in this scene, let's break the scene down.

  • The living room is called the 'non-living room' because of how much time is spent there. The room has a nickname.
  • I didn't just describe the old mirror, I stated it's age and how my parents got it.
  • I mention the color of an old tan chair, a memory I associate with it, and how it feels physically. 
  • I mention the ugly couch that my mom is using a changing table, that's its been around all my life, etc, etc.
  • I mention childhood memories, like playing dolls with my friends. I even mention a bit of what I was like as a little girl.
  • I mention what I can hear (the clock) and how it makes me feel (annoyed) and how it makes my mom feel. (relaxed.) Try and include how things make other characters feel, too, if you can; it can help show things about their character.
Well, this gives us a problem... What if the character is arriving to a new place? Well, perhaps I will cover that in a blog post soon!