I leave for LaGuardia in an hour, but I somehow managed to finish packing early, so now I’m just sitting out on my balcony, waiting.
I love this balcony. I’ve loved reading and eating and napping and writing on this balcony. I’ve loved watching sunsets and wondering at the activities of the neighbors in the apartment building across from mine and wishing on planes. I’ve loved dreaming and planning and working here.
But in one hour, this balcony will no longer be mine.
That’s what I hate about goodbyes. Less the leaving as much as the losing.
Wandering Times Square after my last Broadway show last night, this place that had come to feel like mine suddenly–wasn’t. I felt like I was already walking through a memory.
There was the movie theater where Mom and I saw “Inside Out” our first night here. There was John’s Pizza, whose carryout I literally lived off of the week leading up to Ch1Con. There was and there was and there was.
The desire to go out and do something new and reckless was so strong it could have carried me off my feet. But it was late and I was tired and I still had more packing to do.
It’s funny the things you become sentimental about when you realize you’ll never have to deal with them again: The tourists crowding the sidewalks making a eight block walk take eight times as long as it needed to, trying to get from Broadway and 50th to the Times Square – 42nd St subway station. The overcrowded 7 train followed by the too-loud Q60 bus that comprised my hour commute home. The weird banging from the air conditioning unit of the apartment above mine as I fell asleep.
And I honestly don’t really know how to put into words how much this summer has meant to me and what leaving this place feels like. (The best I can do is that it’s like a sucking in my chest. Like New York and I bonded at some point while I’ve been here and now a plane’s going to rip us apart.)
And I’m trying not to get TOO melodramatic about this all, but I also want to remember what this feels like, because I want to remember how much I love this city and how I need Future Julia to come back.
And it kills me that the world isn’t going to stop when I leave. Other people will sit on my bench in Madison Square Park, and cool events will happen that I will be too far away to attend, and other people will get to stare at the Empire Stae Building day in and day out. And I won’t be here.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Ann Arbor. And I’m excited to go back. I just–also kind of don’t want to leave New York?
It’s kind of a miracle, being able to be selfish about these sorts of things.
But anyway, here I sit on my balcony. Watching the sun move across the sky. Wondering if the neighbors in the apartment building across from mine will notice when I’m gone. Wishing on planes that someday one will carry me back to here.
This past week has been insanely busy. Wednesday, a couple friends and I hit the Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland exhibit at the Morgan, then Hannah and I saw Finding Neverland on Broadway (and met Matthew Morrison whoo!). Thursday Hannah and I saw a show by the Upright Citizens Brigade. Then Friday morning we left for a weekend staying with Hannah’s extended family in the Hamptons, where we swam and ate good food and learned to play backgammon.
Amagansett is officially gorgeous.
Back in New York City Monday, I spent the afternoon in Central Park, visiting the zoo and the Balto statue, then grabbed dinner and hung out with Ch1Con team member Ariel. Yesterday I wandered the Flatiron District for a while and spent the afternoon reading in Madison Square Park. Aaand today I hung out by Gramercy Park for a while, then made one last visit to the Strand and the High Line before finally hitting Laduree for the first time this summer.
Five-year-old me is proud of this moment.
It’s funny, because looking at the past couple days, mostly what I’ve been doing is wandering and reading in pretty places. I had all these grand plans for my last week in New York City, involving hitting all the big touristy things I haven’t done yet this summer. But I’ve realized that all I really want to do is enjoy the little things I’ve loved about New York one last time, like the hum of the city around me while lying in the grass in Madison Square and the dry, warm scent of paper and glue filling my lungs while getting lost at the Strand.
It’s the little things, I’m realizing, that you fall in love with about places. And I am going to miss all these little things, so desperately, when I leave on Saturday.
But in the meantime: this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post. And in honor of my last day of my internship being tomorrow (well, last day interning in person anyway), let’s talk about an issue I’ve noticed in quite a few of the manuscripts I’ve critiqued this summer: properly constructing character arcs.A “character arc” is how a character changes between the beginning and ending of a story. Usually it focuses on one trait that somehow comes to define your character, and it is due to resolving some sort of issue with that trait that the character manages to overcome whatever the plot throws at him/her in the climax.
This doesn’t mean only one of your character’s traits matters, or that other traits don’t come into play with the plot. But–in general–the overall focus will be on one, maybe two. (For a really obvious example of this sort of thing, look at Pride and Prejudice.)
The concept behind character arcs is simple enough, but they can be strangely hard to get right. So, here are a few of the defining characteristics of a character arc and how to write one.
Should Follow Dramatic Structure
A character arc is basically a subplot specific to your character. So, like all plots, it should at least loosely follow dramatic structure.
By gradually increasing the tension surrounding the character arc until you reach the climax (using stuff like the inciting incident and rising action), you draw your reader in and help make your character more relateable and interesting. (After all, no matter how cool your plot is, the reader won’t care unless s/he cares about the characters.) For some help with figuring this out, try plotting your character arcs on a dramatic structure chart.
Example: Let’s say your story is a romance about a girl who’s afraid of commitment. She’d start out dumping a good guy due to this fear, then a series of events would show us her meeting a new guy, him convincing her to give him a chance, them slowly falling for each other (but all the while her carrying her fear and it growing inside her, etc.)–until something happens where she ditches the boy out of this fear, only to find the strength within her to give him a second chance at the climax so they can ride off into the sunset together.
Your Story Begins When the Character Arc Does
This might sound like an obvious one, but if the growth your character experiences is him overcoming vanity, he should already be vain when the story begins. This isn’t something that should wait to present itself at the catalyst or the turning point at the end of act I or something. It needs to be there, on the page, from page one.
Obviously there’s a good chance your character existed before he became vain, but the story didn’t. Whatever trait you choose to focus your arc on, it needs to be something that defines your character from the very beginning, so it’ll matter more when the transformation of the trait defines the climax.
Should Both Influence and Be Influenced By Plot
As mentioned, a character arc is basically a one-person-centric subplot. Because of that, like all subplots, it should both influence (and be influenced by) your overarching plot. Except more so if you’re dealing with your chief protagonists, because their character arcs, in part, should be the plot.
For example, back to that romance about the girl afraid of commitment: Without that fear of commitment, we wouldn’t have a plot. The plot (her getting together with the boy) revolves around her getting over her fear in order to resolve itself. However, if it weren’t for the plot (the relationship with the boy and, in particular, whatever happens that leads her to temporarily ditch him), she never would get over her fear in the first place.
Plot and character arcs are a symbiotic relationship. They can’t survive without one another.
(Almost) Every Character Should Have an Arc
Obviously if someone’s in your MS for five seconds, an arc is unnecessary. But all your supporting characters–protagonist and antagonist alike–should have some semblance of arcs. Even if said semblance is subtle. Even if your MS is in first person POV and your narrator doesn’t notice some side character’s arc (and thus the reader doesn’t really see it).
The point is that every character should be thought out enough–be real enough–to have an arc.
And there you have it. A few of the elements that go into writing character arcs.
Thanks for reading!
P.S. Sorry this technically went up on Thursday! WordPress and I had a bit of a spat.
So a quick list of things that happened this past week:
Saturday, Hannah and I checked out Summer Streets (basically, they shut down seven miles of Park Avenue in the morning for people to explore). We rented bikes and rode them from one end almost all the way to the other, which was simultaneously a beautiful trip and also way too hot to be good for our health. Despite the latter, I still HIGHLY recommend this if you’re ever in New York on a day when they put this on. (The end we didn’t get to also had a zip line and Slide the City and stuff set up. You had better bet I’m coming back someday.)
That evening, we also splurged and saw The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which was INCREDIBLE. Oh my gosh. Like I cannot get over how good it was.
Sunday we grabbed brunch with another friend on the upper west side, checked out a street fair, then sprawled in Central Park for a couple hours—and sometimes I have to take a step back and remind myself that yes, this is actually my life right now, because little eleven-year-old Julia who dreamed of New York City wouldn’t be able to handle it. (I love Ann Arbor and I’m excited to go back in a couple weeks, but also I’m going to miss this city so much.)
Yesterday I finally made it over to Books of Wonder, which completely lives up to the hype. Such a good selection of every type of children’s literature, and so many signed books, and I got to listen to little kids squealing with excitement over in PB while I ogled the YA (which is always a nice thing). I’m trying to limit how many books I purchase right now, since I need to keep my suitcase under fifty pounds (aaand I’m kind of supposed to be reading school books, to get ahead on my work for fall semester)—but I did cave and pick up a signed copy of Damage Done by Amanda Panitch. (Quick story on that: once upon a time I was in the same pitch contest as Amanda—X-mas in July, way back in the yesteryear of 2013—and while my entry was lucky enough to get a few nibbles, hers absolutely STOLE THE SHOW and got SIXTEEN requests and I’ve been obsessively following its publication story ever since.)
And, finally, last night Hannah and I met up again to grab dinner at Ellen’s Stardust Diner, where we listened to all the amazing performers and stuffed ourselves until our stomachs felt like they were going to explode. (Like, it’s going on eight AM and I’m still a little over-full. What a wonderful and terrible thing.)
Note that so much more happened in the past week than I’ve listed here, but I don’t want to bore you too much with the details of my life. But in essence I’m going to need to sleep for a month when I get back to Michigan. (Only another week and a half left in NYC. They’re going to have to tear me away.)
Onto the reason we’re here today: This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post.
I’ve been reading a lot this summer. A LOT. Between reading manuscripts for work, and trying to get ahead on reading for my literature class this fall, and all the free time I’ve had on the subway, I’ve read eighteen books since arriving in New York a month and a half ago. (And I’m a slow reader. Imagine what I could do if I was a fast one.)
I’ve also finally begun feeling more inspired to write again, and I think this is in no small part due to what I’ve been reading. Which is to say: I’ve been reading a really wide variety of books. Wider than I normally do.
So, here are the types of reading I’ve been doing that have helped inspire me to write and why.
Rereading Your Favorite Books
I’ve read Anna and the French Kiss approximately a billion times. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that I absolutely adore that novel and will probably reread it a billion more times in the future.
Rereading it this summer, I really paid attention to what makes me like it so much. Anna’s voice, and the way Stephanie Perkins weaves subplots together, and the descriptions of Paris. This is a great exercise, because it shows you what kinds of things you most connect with in books so that you can better learn from them and work on those sorts of things in your own writing. (Plus, it gives you an excuse to read your favorites again, and who’s going to say no to that?)
Reading New Books in Your Genre
I’ve also been reading a lot of new books in my genre. Now, I write thrillers, which luckily still leaves me with a broad range to read, but also means a lot of thrillers are VASTLY different from mine. This is okay, because what I connect to depends less on setting and the specifics of the plot as much as the overall structure and feel of the story. (Example: An Ember in the Ashes. Totally different from anything I’d ever write, but still a thriller and still BRILLIANT.) What makes me keep turning the pages? Why is this scene exciting? What makes this mystery so unpredictable?
Although I could think through questions like these with books I’ve read before, I’ve found that it helps to look at some fresh blood too. Keep up with what’s new in your genre and all that.
Also: reading new books is a great way to get inspired. Who knows, maybe discovering a new twist on the whole red herring thing is exactly what you need in order to work out how to handle the red herring in your own novel as well.
Reading New Books Not in Your Genre
I don’t write contemporary/realistic fiction, but I’ve been reading a lot in that genre this summer. And that’s good, because you can learn a ton from books that have next to nothing in common with what you write.
As mentioned, I love the voice in Anna and the French Kiss, so I really paid attention to that while rereading it. However, it’s also important to read new books in genres other than your own. All books have baseline similarities between them, like voice, plot structure, character arcs, etc.–and although these things may all manifest themselves differently depending on genre, you can still find things you like about them in other genres to apply to your own writing. And the really great part about doing this is that you’ll likely find things established authors in your genre aren’t doing as much, so they’ll be even more unique as you figure out your own twists on them.
By reading books in other genres for the first time, you open yourself up more to those sorts of realizations. It can be difficult to pick out things like that in books you’ve read before, because you already have preconceived ideas from previous reads. But with a new book, you’re just a blank page waiting for inspiration to strike.
Rereading Books You Don’t Like
We all have those books we absolutely despise. And I’m not saying, necessarily, to reread those. (Because that constitutes a form of cruel and unusual punishment.) But maybe pick up a couple books you had to slog through for school, or that you found just kind of generally annoying, or whatever it was and give them a second chance.
I’m currently rereading The Great Gatsby, which I know objectively is a, well, great book. But I found it boring and difficult and weird back when I had to read it in sophomore year honors English, so when I found out we’d be studying it in my lit class this fall, I was less than thrilled.
Currently, I’m fifty pages in and loving it.
Sometimes you just weren’t ready for a book the first time you read it. Other times, when you reread, your initial reaction sticks. Either way, rereading a book you don’t like can be a great exercise in opening your mind to old ideas you’d previously rejected, or at the least studying what you don’t like about those books so you can avoid those things in your own.
Reading in General
The most important thing is to read. Open yourself to new reading experiences. Really pay attention while you’re reading (while it should be fun, you should also be learning).
Soon, someone might be reading your own book for inspiration.
Thanks for reading!
PS. I promise the now very belated Ch1Con recap will go up soon! It’s mostly written. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to finish it in the next few days. Thanks for being patient! <3
I am once again exhausted (New York is truly the city that never sleeps), so I’m going to have to make this post short. But I promise I’ll recap Ch1Con soon!
While I was in Chicago, Hannah arrived in town for her own internship, so we’ve been hanging out a lot the past couple days. Yesterday we went to the SNL 40 exhibition, then ate way too much food at an Irish pub. Today we wandered the area around my office and made a stop at the Strand, then split up so she could get dinner with another friend.
My plan was to take the train from Union Square to Grand Central, then walk from there to a restaurant I wanted to grab takeout from for dinner, but of course I managed to walk the wrong way out of Grand Central AGAIN and I ended up two blocks from the UN before I realized. So then I was like, “Why not,” and went the rest of the way, then walked all the way from there back to the restaurant (which was like a mile and a half and totally justified how much fried food I just ate).
All this to say: New York is lovely and I am loving it and I don’t think I will ever get over the sight of the skyline all lit up against the inky blackness as I take the train back to Queens in the evening. And on that subject: this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a poem.
Magic is the way
the towers rise one above
the other like endless rows of
needles piercing the sky,
pinpricks bleeding light,
reflecting the stars
We are so small,
but we made these things,
brought these beams of
starlight to earth,
and so we are not insignificant
There’s something dizzying
about looking up, like the
sky is spinning away from me,
lifted so high by its skyscraper
tent poles; but it’s worth it
to look at the
Chrysler Building, or
Empire State Building, or
so many others, any of the others,
and know that someone saw blank space,
and imagined the stars
They built these things with steel and glass and glue,
right here, they built them
so close the windows are cold against my palms,
shining day and night,
puzzle pieces tied with wire
Our constellation tells the legend of how
manufactured stars are no less beautiful
for their forgery
and we are more beautiful
for wishing upon them
Thanks for reading! (And now I’m going to go pass out in bed.)
Hey there! So, I am exhausted after Ch1Con this weekend, and my internet’s out (once again) so I can’t write from my laptop, and overall I am realizing there is just no way I’m going to be able to get a real post up today. Sorry!
Here’s a picture of my uncle’s dog passed out after breakfast on Friday to help make up for it.
Tomorrow I leave for Chicago for Ch1Con. I’ll be both going to the airport and flying by myself for the first time ever, and I’ve never been to either the airport I’m flying from nor the one I’m flying to. (Basically, I’m feeling very adult-y right now. Also, based on how many times I managed to get lost today going to places I’ve been to a billion times, like there’s a good chance I’m going to find a way to mess this up.)
Before then though, we’ve got a Wordy Wednesday. This week’s post is a song I wrote a few years ago.
[Capo 5 – G, C, Em, C]
I remember the way you’d look at me
The way you inspired silence,
that rang of eternity
I remember snowball fights
and the rain that fell, endlessly
and you always danced
You were wild and you were calm
You were safe, your hugs were warm
You were everything I wanted to be
I craved that smile that said, you were proud of me
If you’ve ever seen that episode of Gilmore Girls where Lorelai leaves a billion messages for herself at the inn, because they’re getting ready to open and she’s super stressed out, and she drives everyone crazy–Yeah. That’s me right now, with the conference this weekend.
I’ve found that no matter how much legwork you put into an event, things will ALWAYS come up in the last few days leading to it. So I’m currently juggling a thousand last minute questions and mini emergencies, between speakers and volunteers and, oh yeah, attendees. And while so far my team and I have been able to handle everything (THANK GOD for the Ch1Con team), I keep panicking that something’s going to slip and the entire conference will come crashing down because of it. And I so, so don’t want that to happen, because all of these awesome people are coming and I want them to have the best experience possible. And yeah.
At the same time though, we’re doing the best we can. I am SO EXCITED to finally see this thing we’ve been planning for over a year now come to fruition. And more than anything, I’m blown away by how much support we’ve received this year, how many attendees have decided to give us a chance, and how many great new memories people will hopefully make this weekend.
I trust my team. I trust the work we’ve put into this and the love we have for it. So here goes.
Chapter One Young Writers Conference, 2015: We’re coming for you.
As mentioned in my last post, I’ve been spending a little time every day “adventuring” since I arrived in New York City. Most of this has been around Manhattan, but over the weekend I also visited Ocean City, NJ and Sarah Lawrence College with a couple friends, both of which were wonderful and a nice break from the constant chaos I’ve grown used to.
It’s funny getting some distance from New York after being here for almost a solid month, because you really do stop noticing how busy and loud it is after a while. And then the moment you get back after time away, even if it’s just one day? SENSORY. OVERLOAD. I made the mistake of going through Times Square a few hours after getting home from Sarah Lawrence, and my head almost exploded.
Weirdly, it’s worth it though. For all of its annoying parts (how long it takes to get anywhere, the way Queens occasionally smells like a horse farm, tourists being, well, tourists), New York is an amazing place to live. There’s always something to do, you can’t turn the corner without running into a food truck, and the entire city is just so full of energy.
I wrote a kind of very rambly/gushy poem about it this afternoon, while hanging out in Madison Square Park. I figured I’d share it for this week’s Wordy Wednesday.
I am sitting
in my favorite place
in all of Manhattan
(Isn’t it crazy,
having a favorite place?)
and it’s on the
far right side
of the second bench from the left,
overlooking the Empire State Building
in Madison Square Park
with the tree
and the fountain, and
the scent of Shake Shack grease
and lobster rolls.
It is 94 degrees outside,
so sunny it burns away the clouds,
the last wisps punctured against
the points of the skyscrapers,
and I am hot, with skin so much browner
than any other summer
(although I’m still unreasonably pale,
because the city is this weird
inside out space where
everything happens outdoors,
And it’s stupid
to sit here, just
when I could be doing a thousand things
anywhere else on this island,
but all I want in this moment
is the thrum of the people walking by
and the taxis on the street
and the knowledge that
I am here
I am here
I made it
I am here.
I dreamed this moment
so many times
I have to close my eyes
to believe it’s real.
One of the things I’ve been focusing on this summer is not wasting days.
I feel like this should always be a goal, but it can get hard during the day-to-day shuffle. Sometimes you’re truly just going to have too much homework, or paperwork, or whatever kind of work to be able to go off and do something fun. But since I’m only in New York City for two months, I’m doing my best to not fall into that same old pattern.
This doesn’t necessarily always mean going out and having a grand adventure. (That sounds exhausting.) But I am trying to do at least one thing for myself every day. Maybe I go to a museum or read in the park; maybe I watch a movie or get frozen yogurt with a friend.
For example, I spent yesterday afternoon exploring the Guggenheim and Central Park. I got ice cream. I read by the sailboat pond. I let myself relax in the midst of everything.
The point is that I do something that makes me happy. Every single day.
And yes, this is slowing my usual productivity a little. But I’m enjoying my summer in this amazing city, and that matters too, right?
So, try it for yourself. Try to do one thing a day for the simple sake of making yourself happy. Let’s not waste any more days.
So, obviously the Paper Towns premiere yesterday was a highlight of this week. However, I got to do some other fun stuff too since last Wednesday. Thursday I explored the High Line park for the first time, which was as gorgeous and cool as everyone says it is. Then Friday Camryn (yes, that Camryn), Ariel (yes, that Ariel), Ariel’s best friend, and I went on a pizza tour of New York, then to the Hunger Games exhibition in Times Square. (Yes. That exhibition.) And it was all amazing.
We learned so much about the making of the Hunger Games film adaptations, saw so many costumes and props, and nerded out in general over the series.
I also spent a few hours this afternoon in the Museum of Natural History, then read in Central Park, and I hope I never fall out of love with this city (not that that’s probably even possible).
This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post. (Thanks to Ariel for suggesting the topic!)
If you’ve ever queried a novel you hoped would become the first in a series, you’ve probably heard about the myth of “series potential.”
Basically, while you can hope someone will pick up your novel as a series, you can’t pitch it as that, because it sounds cocky. (Also, you know, it’s just easier in general to sell a single book than a series when you’re a debut author.) So instead you have to pitch your novel as being a standalone that you could expand into a series, if someone really wanted you to.
This is easier said than done, though. A book that stands alone that could also naturally flow into a longer series is like a cat that could also be a dog. (They’re things that look similar on the surface, but are very, very different at their cores. So now try smashing those into one thing. You get a whole new species.)
Of the five novels I’ve completed, I wrote three with the hope that they’d parts of series. These are some of the ways that I’ve gone about writing with “series potential.”
Make the Novel Stand on Its Own
This is the most obvious thing, and also one of the most important things for series in general. The novel needs to be able to stand on its own, with a plot that resolves and completed character arcs. It should follow dramatic structure. It shouldn’t read like the prologue to another book. It really does need to work as a standalone.
Every novel you write should read like it is the story you mean to tell. Maybe you’ll get lucky and get to make that story one element in a larger picture. But when you zoom in so the first novel is all you see, it shouldn’t feel like you’re missing something or looking at the wrong place.
Leave Loose Ends
On the other hand, you also need to make the reader want more. So, leave loose ends–just not in any way central to the story you’re telling. Maybe you leave a very minor subplot unresolved and touch on it again right towards the end, to remind the reader it’s there. Or maybe your protagonist’s character arc is complete at the end, but it’s clear s/he still could do a lot more growing in the future.
You don’t want a big cliffhanger ending. But you do want the cliff to be right there waiting, should the agent/editor choose to push the series over the edge.
Hint Towards More
This corresponds with leaving loose ends, but is slightly different. Whereas loose ends hint towards something specific, it also helps to hint towards the potential of more books in general.
I know this is a movie (and at this point kind of a dated reference; goodness, I’m getting old), but let’s look at The Incredibles. It’s a really solid example of a standalone with series potential.
At the end, the Incredibles meet the Mole and we get that shot of the heroes going off to work. It gives us an idea of the direction their lives are going and the fact that they could potentially have more stories to share in the future. However, it doesn’t give us anything specific; we know a future movie wouldn’t be about them facing the Mole, because:
a) we’re already seeing him at the end AND (and the “and” is the important part here)
b) it’s not some big “aha!” plot twist that we are
This tells us that the Mole doesn’t matter. He’s a stand-in for super villains in general, letting us know that facing many more people like him will be the fate of our heroes.
This kind of ending is the epitome of “series potential,” because it promises your protagonists have future stories to share without making the promise of sharing them.
Aaand yeah. That’s all I’ve got for tonight.
What are your tips for writing a standalone with series potential? Is there anything I missed?