Story Time: Paper Towns NYC Premiere!

When I woke this morning, my plans for the day involved going to work, maybe hitting a museum in the afternoon. You know. The usual.

Then I saw John Green had posted his Tuesday Vlogbrothers video. And in the video he mentioned that today was the big, fancy New York premiere of the film adaptation of Paper Towns.

Um. What.

A google search revealed they would be handing out wristbands to fans to get onto the red carpet, then afterward to get to attend the movie. But people had already been lining up for a couple hours when I saw all of this around seven, and I was supposed to be at work until one.

Ugh. So close, but oh well. I got ready for work and started the long walk to my subway station.

However, I was still thinking about the premiere. My boss is really awesome and had said I could take days off whenever I needed to. The question was less of whether or not he’d let me take the day off if I called, as much as if this would be a legitimate thing to take a day off work for.

I trudged another block closer to the subway. Pulled out my phone to call. Put it away. Took another few steps.

It came down to the fact that yes, there are plenty of movie premieres (I mean, I literally just stumbled across the one for Pixels last weekend). There would definitely be more I could attend in the future. But Paper Towns is one of my favorite books, and I adore John and Nat and Cara, and I’m only in New York for two months.

I texted a friend for help and she tipped me over the edge: At the very least, I needed to ask if I could do it.

So I called my boss, and of course he gave me the day off (because, as mentioned, he’s amazing), and off I went to get in line. (Slowly. Because said friend, who gave me the amazing advice of taking a risk and going to the premiere, also gave me the horrible advice of taking an Uber during rush hour instead of the train. I guess we can’t win ’em all.)

Finally, a little after ten, I arrived at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13 theater and got in line as number 246. A representative from Fox–the guy running the premiere–came by a little later to tell us that at that number, we were guaranteed to get onto the red carpet, although we were too far back in line for the movie. (No big deal.)

Everyone celebrated. They were supposed to hand out wristbands at eleven forty, so it was only a couple hours more, then we’d have a few free hours, then the premiere. IT WAS SO EXCITING.

Except, of course, that then everything fell apart.

People cut in line ahead of us. The people running the premiere ran out of wristbands because they hadn’t ordered enough for the three hundred people they’d promised to let in. (What even?) And, apparently unable to handle it all, the Fox rep left to “take a nap.”

The day dragged on, hot and muggy. Suddenly it was one PM, then two, then three. I needed to pee really bad. Pigeons lined along the edges of the buildings, apparently for the sole purpose of pooping on all the people stuck in the line below them. The fans who’d gotten wristbands paraded them past the couple hundred of us still stuck in line.

However, in the midst of this, some really awesome things happened that made the wait worthwhile. A woman working on the premiere came by with free water bottles for all of us (not that we could drink them, since it was so tricky to get to a bathroom, but still); I still managed to get all of the work I would have done at the office done, since I’d ended up with my laptop with me.

And more than anything, what made the all-day wait bearable was hanging out with the five girls in line around me.

Of the six of us, only two knew one another at the beginning of the day. But throughout the hours of harassing the security guards, complaining about the wristband shortage, and of course obsessing over Cara Delevingne’s eyebrows, we got to know one another.

When they finally brought out more wristbands around three thirty (they secretly had them the entire time, the jerks), we cheered and freaked out together like we’d known one another for years.


When they started splitting people into smaller groups to bring onto the red carpet, we refused to let them split us up. 

And we ended up meeting John, and Cara, and everyone else together.

John was super nice and took the time to sign absolutely everyone’s posters. So awesome.

Alex Wolff made eye contact with me and nothing will ever be the same.

A bunch of random celebrities showed up, including a certain couple models and, of all people, the freaking Property Brothers(!!).

We didn’t get to meet Nat, but the guy hosting the event did let him know we all wanted to go swimming with him, so there’s that.

CARA.

All six of us managed to get autographs from Cara and she even said hello to two of the girls. She’s so beautiful and amazing. I can’t. Oh my gosh.

The premiere was totally worth all the hours waiting in the heat, and I can’t wait to see the movie this weekend.
It’s funny how you can start out strangers at the beginning of the day and be friends by the end of it. And how something like making the mistake of taking an Uber instead of the subway can turn out not to be a mistake at all.

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Trust the Reader

This week has been busy. Thursday night I went to an LGBTQ YA panel at McNally Jackson, which was definitely one of the highlights of my summer. I got to see Lindsay Ribar (The Fourth Wish) and Michael Barakiva (One Man Guy), meet Becky Albertalli (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda), Adam Silvera (More Happy than Not), and Dahlia Adler (Under the Lights)–and also hang out with some kind of cool people.

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I mean Camryn, Amy, and Mark are all insanely cool. But John lowers the group average significantly. 

It was so great to get to see Amy again, and meet the others in person for the first time. It’s always so weird and awesome meeting internet people.

Friday I attended the ticker tape parade along the Canyon of Heroes for the US women’s soccer team, in honor of winning the World Cup(!!), followed by the ceremony at City Hall. (Of course I watched that part on the jumbotron from across the street, but still. Super cool.)

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Saturday I finally caught my first Broadway show of my two months in NYC: a matinee of Hedwig and the Angry Inch with Darren Criss. Afterward I read in Central Park for the rest of the evening. (I like it here.)

IMG_9358Aaand now I’m back at work for the week (although I still found time to check out the Strand yesterday and start reading Go Set a Watchman, so yay).

ANYWAY. Now that I’ve gushed endlessly about my week: This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post.

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Between internships and helping friends, I’ve critiqued a good number of stories at this point. Probably somewhere between twenty or thirty full novels, along with who knows how many novel openings, random scenes, and short stories. And through all of these, one of the things that I’ve noticed is that writers generally have a tendency to over-explain things to the reader.

I’ve talked before about trusting the reader, but always as more of a smaller part of a larger picture. But this is important, so I figured it was time it got its own post.

If you’re a writer, chances are you’re also a reader. And if you like to read, chances are you’re a pretty awesome person. And if you’re a pretty awesome person, chances are you’re also, you know, not unintelligent.

And what does all of this together mean?

Chances are, you’re trustworthy.

I don’t mean this in, like, the traditional “you can trust that there human with your innocent, adorable, very kidnappable children” kind of trustworthy (although, chances are, readers are also not the type of people who would run around offering candy to random five-year-olds, because hello, why do that when it would cut into your reading time). But I do mean that readers are trustworthy in the way that we don’t need absolutely everything explained to us in explicit detail.

This is often easier to figure out from a macro perspective than a micro one. You don’t have to go through the step by step process of your protagonist getting ready for the day for us to understand that things have happened between her waking up and leaving for school, right? That’s common sense.

Despite this, a lot of the writers for whom I’ve critiqued–especially those who’ve given me the privilege of reading their earlier drafts–haven’t expanded this idea to the micro level in their writing. The line-by-line level.

The reader doesn’t need the author to explain that “he fell down.” Down is the traditional direction of motion when you fall, so the word “fell” inherently implies a movement downward. (If “he fell up,” it’s a different story, because it no longer follows the traditional meaning of the word.)

Similarly, we don’t need to know that a character “screamed in horror” if she’s just spotted herself in the mirror for the first time after a bad makeover, or that someone “wrinkled his nose at the smell” while taking out the trash. The scene dictates these things already for us.

Descriptions like these bog down writing, because they’re redundant. The reader doesn’t gain anything from them, so instead they work against the writing. Make the scene run slower; make it feel less interesting; make it easier for the reader to get distracted. (These words are basically empty calories that don’t even do you the service of tasting good.) (Like those crappy potato chips you eat so you won’t look pathetic at a party where you don’t know anyone.)

Of all the issues writers can run into, I think this is one of the hardest ones to fix. Not because it’s an inherently difficult issue to pinpoint (see examples above), but because it’s easy to second guess yourself.

The manuscript I was revising the past year was neck deep in redundancies like these and I thought that because I had learned how to recognize them, I’d be able to get rid of them SUPER EASILY. But then I started wondering, “Will the reader actually get what I’m saying if I don’t point that out, though?” and “What if it’s not obvious enough?” and “What if the sentence is confusing without this?”

It’s easy to be afraid of messing up. When you over-explain things, you know you’re in the clear. No matter what, the reader will get what you’re saying. But you also run the risk of losing the reader to boredom, or annoying the reader, or any number of things.

So, I took a chance and cut all my little “explaining” descriptions. Sent the MS to my critique partners.

And while occasionally someone had a question about what I meant by something, or wanted more of an explanation behind an action, generally they didn’t miss those redundant explanations. At all.

Readers want your writing to make them feel smart. You know this–you’re a reader. So make them feel smart by treating them like they’re smart. (Spoiler: they are.)

Let us fill in the blanks. Allude to things. Tell us steps A and C and let us figure out step B. Be careful not to lay too many hints to what’s going to happen next, because chances are we’ve already figured it out.

Trusting the reader is key. It allows the reader the chance to find a plot twist surprising; to flip through your pages at a hundred miles an hour, because the writing flies by; to fall in love with your characters and world and you.

Books are about trust. By picking up a book, readers take a risk. They choose to trust an author.

Trust them back.

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Thanks for reading!

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Red Herring 101

How is it already Wednesday?

My family met up in Washington D.C. for the Fourth of July this weekend, which was really cool. We got to see all the big monuments, watch the parade (from in front of the IRS building, but whatevs), and ogle the fireworks as they lit up Lincoln. We saw the flag Francis Scott Key wrote the “Star Spangled Banner” about, ate lots of unhealthy (and delicious) food truck food, and ultimately had a really good time.

I’m not going to see my mom again until Ch1Con–and my dad or brother until the very end of August–so it was nice to get one last hurrah with them this summer.

Since then, I’ve been on my own in NYC, mainly just working and trying to get my life in order. Things should maybe settle down a little bit soon, though? (I’m so looking forward to the weekend to finally get this insane list of tasks done.)

Anyway, this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post.

So, I have a fascination with the red herring. It’s one of my favorite plot devices, because it’s so CONNIVING. The author purposely leads the reader astray.

Also, it appears in basically every genre (because every story is a mystery, remember?).

ALSO, it’s become weirdly difficult to execute.

There are a lot of bad red herrings in the world, these days. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a book and immediately been able to predict the ending based on the fact that the red herring/actual culprit-love interest-etc. combo was too formulaic. (This isn’t a bad thing, per say. It just makes me sad because now the book is less interesting.)

The problem with the red herring is that the usual, simple approach of executing it (X seems like bad guy, but it’s actually Y) HAS become formulaic. You can only read one formula so many times before you catch onto it.

So now, to avoid this issue, authors are getting craftier. Creating layers of red herrings. Making you question EVERYONE.

I love this. It’s impossible to tell how many layers the author has intended, so you don’t know if you’re being paranoid, suspecting Random Character C, or if you actually aren’t looking far enough and the true culprit is Character E.

When I was revising a YA thriller over the winter, I ran into the “this is too formulaic” issue myself. So I thought through some of the plots of my favorite, unpredictable books and tried to decipher what those authors did that made their red herrings so wonderful.

This is what I came up with.

Paint in More than Just Red

Your red herring can’t just be there to be a red herring. While you can use a character as a plot device, you can’t use a plot device as a character. So develop your red herring. Make him/her a real, breathing person the reader will come to love or hate. Paint that red herring in a thousand colors.

Utilize Multiple Red Herrings

As mentioned, this is a really nice trick. Don’t just provide your reader with a single red herring, but multiple. One red herring is easy to figure out; three or four or five is not.

And make some of these red herrings subtle. Don’t make it obvious that you’re trying to lead the reader to believe that person’s evil or whatever. Make the reader believe s/he’s being clever by suspecting one of these people, when the true culprit is still lurking in the shadows.

Inspire Doubt

You don’t want any of your red herrings to be too obvious, because that feels cheap. So, inspire doubt. Give your character reason to believe so-and-so might actually be the bad guy, only for the evidence eventually to lead back to the original red herring (only your character doesn’t realize).

The reader knows to look past the characters your protagonist suspects. If the protag no longer suspects someone (but that person still seems suspicious), there’s a good chance your reader will start believing that character’s the real deal bad guy.

This is also a way you can go about introducing the REAL real bad guy. Have your protagonist suspect him/her at the beginning, but have credible reason not to as the plot progresses–then BAM at the end when everything shakes loose and s/he truly was the antagonist.

Don’t Be Afraid to Be Subtle

Readers are smarter than authors often give them credit for. If they’re invested in a mystery, they will pick up the subtlest of clues in order to unravel it. Which means that anything at all NOT subtle becomes glaringly obvious.

So, to Recap

Don’t be afraid to be subtle. Trust your reader. Make your red herrings real characters. Inspire doubt and use layers.

And, more than anything: paint your pages red.

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Thanks for reading!

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Put the Ordinary in Extraordinary

Today was my first day at the office! I was only there for a few hours, so it was a pretty chill first day, but it was cool. And now I am exhausted.

And I don’t have much else to say, so let’s dive right into this week’s Wordy Wednesday, shall we?

This week we have a writing process post.

I’ve talked a lot about character development on the blog–primarily because it’s not something at which I’m naturally, well, at all decent. But I’m learning to make my characters more complex and realistic, and in the process I’ve learned a number of ways to go about doing that. Currently the one I’m looking at, in particular, is putting your character in “ordinary” situations.

This can range from thinking about what your character would purchase at the grocery store to what she would do in those last moments awake at night to how he would handle getting a cold. What would she do if she found twenty bucks on the street? What would he order at a fast food restaurant? (Which fast food restaurant would be his favorite? Would he even eat fast food?)

It’s these ordinary, everyday things that make up so many of the little pieces of our personalities. And they’re what make it so that we can relate to one another.

Like, thinking back on my interactions with friends in the past week or so, the main things we have discussed are:

a) Opinions on current events (gay marriage, the confederate flag, etc.)

b) Opinions on pop culture stuff (Jurassic World, Taylor Swift’s open letter to Apple, etc.)

c) Opinions on food (Chipotle, breakfast, etc.)

My friends lead diverse lives. Everyone’s off studying abroad or working somewhere unique or taking classes this summer. We have different backgrounds and live in different places and, ultimately, are insanely different people. But these ordinary things bring us together.

If your character has super powers, that’s awesome. That’s a good jumping off point for getting someone to pick up your book. But the reader can’t relate to that.

On the other hand, if your superhero protagonist has nasty allergies or acts like a five year old every time she sees a cute dog or is addicted to House Hunters? Those common, ordinary characteristics transform your character into someone I’d not only like to let save my city, but with whom I’d like to be friends.

Running with the superhero example, let’s think about superheroes: Superman is a really difficult hero to work with nowadays, because he’s too perfect. He doesn’t have those ordinary quirks and flaws that define humans. People have trouble relating to him, so he’s losing popularity.

Who is popular right now? The Avengers. What makes the Avengers so popular? Not their powers, but their banter and weaknesses and interactions with the every day. (Steve Rogers has trouble understanding twenty-first century technology. I understand that.)

The situations you put your characters through don’t necessarily need to go in your novel. You don’t even necessarily have to write them out. You just need to consider them. Let complexities develop organically. Think about how your extraordinary characters would go about doing the ordinary.

The point is that five thousand, million, billion little things go into making us who we are. Let your characters have those same kinds of complexities.

Maybe next time your hero is saving the world, he should crave shawarma.

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

Welcome to New York

Hey! Sorry for the silent blog all week. Things got a little crazy my last few days in Michigan.

HOWEVER. I AM NOW IN NEW YORK CITY.

My mom and I flew here Sunday afternoon, I moved into my apartment yesterday, and I start work tomorrow. Everything is busy and big and just slightly different from what I’m used to (like the grocery store doesn’t have my favorite kind of cheese, but it has five thousand others I’ve never heard of? I don’t understand?).

Since we’ve had a couple free days before I start adulting, we’ve been touristing it to the max. Sunday night we hung out in Times Square, ate at John’s Pizza (because always), and saw Inside Out at the massive AMC over that way. (Btw: It made me cry. So bittersweet and funny and wonderful.)  Monday we mostly spent moving me in, but in the evening we took the bus to Manhattan, walked around a bit, and ate dinner in Rockefeller Plaza. (The statue was lit up rainbow! Whoohoooo.)   

Today we took the subway way out to Coney Island. We walked along the beach, splashed in the waves, rode lots of rides, and ate so much unhealthy food I don’t know if we’ll ever recover.   

  

 All in all it’s been a really great few days. Fingers crossed my first day at the office goes well!

~Julia