Wordy Wednesday: Keep Going

First off: links you should check out!

  • Registration to attend the 2015 Chapter One Young Writers Conference has opened! And we’ve announced three of our five speakers, including YA author Kat Zhang (The Hybrid Chronicles, HarperCollins)! Aaand our next live Youtube chat is tomorrow (Thursdsay, February 19) at 8:00 PM if you’d like to join us. Check it all out on the Ch1Con blog: www.chapteroneconference.com
  • People have been responding to my Liebster Award tag nominations! Check out Hannah (of Hannah and Julia’s Vlog)’s post here, Ariel (of Ch1Con and TCWT)’s here, and Kira (also of Ch1Con and TCWT)’s here. (Also: Kira nominated me to complete the tag again, so watch out for that.)
  • Also, Ariel wrote this hilarious post on procrastinating from writing and I highly suggest it for if you are in the midst of procrastinating from writing. Find it here.
  • And finally: my arch nemesis John, aka the head of Teens Can Write, Too!, wrote a post about surviving waiting (in relation to, like, querying) that includes a picture of a bunny with a pancake on its head and it is beautiful. Find it here.

And now that we’ve gotten all of those out of the way: I had a super busy but awesome weekend (opened registration for Ch1Con Friday afternoon and hosted a potluck in the apartment Friday night, spent Valentine’s Day in Detroit with one of my lovely roommates and our moms, and Sunday celebrated my dad’s birthday because I wasn’t home for the actual day). And since then I’ve had a billion classes and two writing assignments and a midterm. So yeah. I’m really tired and ready for the week to be over, but also really content with how things are going right now.

It also helps to come home–as in back to U of M–Monday morning after a weekend away to find your roommate’s done this to the bathroom door between your two rooms:

door

Hannah, stop being amazing.

I feel like this sign (and the “Room of Requirement” sign leading into the area that contains our bathroom and bedrooms and the “This Way to the Ministry of Magic” sign over our toilet) is the perfect transition to today’s Wordy Wednesday topic: All those words on our signs are manmade, whether they refer to real places or fantasy worlds or random phrases. They all exist–and matter–because someone had an idea one day and pursued it.

It’s easy to get discouraged. To see someone else’s success and feel inadequate in comparison, or to put in a ton of hard work and realize it still isn’t enough, or to wonder if it’ll ever be your chance to be the one with the celebratory tweets about book deals and starred reviews and awards.

So many people have done so many great things in the world. Joining them starts feeling crowded. Impossible. Like success is an Olympic event for which they’ve already awarded the medals.

I was feeling a teeny, tiny bit bad for myself tonight, I’ll admit. I’ve been doing this Writing Thing for a long time now. I finished my first novel in middle school and have been querying projects almost constantly since sophomore year of high school. And while I’ve been lucky and am so, so grateful to have had a lot of smaller successes along the way, with contest wins and small-time lit mag publications, I don’t have that New York Times bestseller thirteen-year-old me figured I’d have under my belt by now. Heck, I don’t even have an agent.

Then, in the midst of my pity party for one, a friend who’s critiquing one of my novels right now messaged me on Twitter to tell me how much she’s enjoying it. And it’s funny how sometimes someone says exactly what you need to hear without knowing you need to hear it.

And what getting that message reminded me is that it matters. What you’re doing, what we’re all doing: It matters.

Sometimes it gets hard to remember–other people’s success can be blinding–but if we keep working, keep putting ourselves out there, keep dreaming these big, impossible, irresistible dreams, we will make it someday.

We all have the possibility within us to do amazing things. Instead of being frustrated by others’ success, it’s important to remember that those people have felt just like us and been in the same places as us before. We all have our low moments and high points and it’s all worth it, from the best to the worst, in the end. We can do this. We will do this.

The really great thing about the publishing industry is that it isn’t like the Olympics*. There isn’t a medal podium where only the three best writers in a genre get recognized while the rest of us go home disappointed. There’s space for all of us. We can all be successful.

Keep going.

You never know when you’re going to create the next Narnia or Hogwarts. (Or Canada. You could always create the next Canada.)

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

*Not saying that I don’t love the Olympics, because I freaking adore the Olympics. It’s just that it must suck to go all the way to the Olympics and come in fourth, you know?

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Wordy Wednesday: Shoot the (Fictional) Gun

So, a couple things:

First off, the Chapter One Young Writers Conference‘s 2014 keynote speaker Amy Zhang’s YA contemporary debut FALLING INTO PLACE came out yesterday!! (That was such a mouthful, wow.) It’s SO GOOD, and I’m not just saying that because I know Amy. You need to read this book. I couldn’t put it down all day and was basically walking around in a fog whenever classes forced me to.

Find FALLING INTO PLACE on:

Also, make sure to stop by Amy’s website, because she’s giving away some cool FALLING INTO PLACE swag on her blog right now!

Second off, Ch1Con‘s about to kick it into high gear with about a thousand announcements in the next few weeks, so BE PREPARED for the onslaught.

Third off, this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post. [Trigger warning: I’m talking about triggers today.]

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I woke up this morning to an email from the police that there was a man with a gun in the chemistry building and the campus was going into lockdown. This didn’t affect me much since I was, you know, still in bed and live off campus. And almost instantaneous to me seeing the original Emergency Alert email, they sent out the All Clear, anyway. So everything was fine. Just a fun little disruption to our day. (That’s sarcasm on the “fun” front, my friend.)

It turns out the “gunman” was just a Navy ROTC member with non-weaponized equipment (aka: a gun filled with concrete so it isn’t dangerous), returning said equipment to the ROTC office. In the comment section of an article about the incident, someone groused about everyone needlessly freaking out because someone carried a gun through a class building without their knowing whether it was a working gun or the man had an intention of shooting anyone with it.

I’m not going to go into my stance on whether or not people should be allowed to own guns right now, but this comment really bothered me, because after everything that’s been happening on campuses across the United States, I think the general assumption (and the one that helps keep students safer) is that if someone has a gun with them in a place guns are not meant to be fired, there’s a good chance it’s not good.

After all, the purpose of a gun is not to humbly sit there, bullets within it, not touching the world around it. The purpose of a gun is to shoot things.

And if it’s not shooting something, it’s not fulfilling its purpose.

Thus, by this definition: an unconcealed weapon in the chem building is something we should react to first and ask the carrier questions about second. (Seriously. Who’s going to walk up to a guy with a gun outside a college classroom and be like, “Yo. What’cha got there? You planning on shooting anyone with that today?” NOT ME.)

This inherent (and what I believe to be intelligent) response to seeing someone with a gun (you know–reacting by assuming s/he’s going to shoot it) is also really important in stories.

If someone carries a weapon of some sort into a scene–be it a gun, or a knife, or some really juicy gossip–it can’t just Be There. It has to be there for a purpose. A gun in a scene is a promise that someone is going to shoot it. And if someone doesn’t, that becomes a broken promise to the reader. And when you break promises to the reader, bad things happen. (I’m not going to go into the bad things. The first rule of Reader Club is you do not talk about Reader Club.)

This rule about weapons applies to more in fiction than only things characters can use to hurt each other. It applies to everything. Did your protagonist just comment on a pretty picture? That’s great for the moment, but for it to be great for the story, you need the fact that you’ve drawn attention to the picture to mean something in the long run. Maybe there’s a clue to the mystery hidden in the picture. Or the picture has some sort of symbolic resonance that you come back to during the climax.

What matters is that it matters.

I was thinking about this today, not just because of our non-weaponized “gunman” (poor, poor Navy ROTC member), but because yesterday I had this opposite-of-an-epiphany moment in which, for no apparent reason in the middle of one of my film classes, I realized I have this paragraph in the middle of the climax of the novel I’m revising that makes no sense within the scene.

It’s information I need to share, and it comes out in a realistic way, but it isn’t important to the scene it’s in.

So while that scene is important to that information, that information is not important to that scene. And it can’t work,that way.

It’s a reciprocal relationship. Everything needs to make context in a scene (your reason for bringing a gun) and everything in a scene must be important to the scene (shooting the gun). And all of this, ultimately, needs to be important to the overall story (the results of shooting the gun).

Every word you write is a promise to the reader. Like a real gun, the purpose of your fictional (or metaphorical) gun is to shoot it.

So, shoot the gun.

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Thanks for reading!

 

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Make Those Suckers Cry

Hello from Tuesday! My programme’s taking us all to Wales for the next few days, so I’m writing this post while packing and trying to figure out what exactly counts as “fashionably late” for Bar Night. (The college is currently hosting two things: a service in the chapel for visitors and a party in the bar for students. This is clearly a good combination.)

Anyway: life here at Oxford has fallen into a bit of a routine, with afternoon tea when it’s someone’s birthday, overly excited trips to Blackwells when we need new books for class, and punting whenever it’s not too hot but also not too rainy (a weather condition it is difficult to come by).

Saturday, after getting back from Harrogate, some of us got Thai food for lunch and saw Boyhood at the Phoenix Picturehouse in the evening. Sunday we went on an Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland-themed walking tour of the city and I wrote a paper about the importance of hobbits in Middle Earth. Then Monday was classes and one of our formal Monday night dinners (complete with croquet and champagne), and today I went to class (where we discussed Christianity and linguistics in Tolkien’s work), had cream tea with about half the programme to celebrate a birthday, and bought Christmas gifts for my CPs. And now, in a moment, I’m off to Bar Night.

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is another writing process post based off stuff we talked about in class. (Ish. Not as much as last week. But, ya know, I needed a way to intro this and all that.)

Warning: Harry Potter, Divergent, Hunger Games, Random Middle Grade Books, and Lauren Oliver Books in General spoilers abound.

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In real life, I literally will not hurt a fly if I can help it. In fiction, if a story (minus light, feel good stuff) doesn’t deliver at least one good character death, I AM NOT HAVING IT.

This is less because I enjoy my favorite characters suffering as much as that I am a masochist when it comes to my reading experience. I want to feel something. I want to laugh, I want to Feel the Awk, I want my heart to pound, I want my hear to stop, I want to accidentally “Awww!” in public, and yes: I want to cry.

Character deaths can be useful in accomplishing about half of these. I’ll let you take bets on which ones.

This is because different types of character deaths exist. Not, like: the antagonist poisoned one character and another died from a natural illness. (Although, of course, that’s also a thing.) It’s more like you can write deaths in different ways to accomplish different effects.

1. The Shocking Death

Unless a character already has a death sentence on his head (cancer, prophecy, etc.), chances are his death is going to be unexpected to the reader. This is why a character death will seem so much worse the first read through than in subsequent rereads.

Shock is an easy emotion to instill in a reader. You literally need only pull the death out of “seemingly” nowhere. JK Rowling used this type of character death frequently throughout the Harry Potter series. Basically: her character deaths worked essentially as plot twists, with only side focuses put on them for character development and to add momentum to the plot.

Unfortunately, putting your largest emotional focus for a death on its shock value makes it less emotional for a reader who knows it’s coming. (Story time: I didn’t read any of the Harry Potter books until several years after Deathly Hallows had come out, so I already knew about all the deaths and they didn’t affect me a ton. Except one. NOBODY. WARNED. ME. HEDWIG WAS GOING TO BITE IT. I have never cried so hard for a fictional owl.)

2. The “Pity the Living” Death

(I’m giving up on not making absolutely everything a Harry Potter reference from here ’til the end of time. Sorry not sorry.)

This is the type of death in which you draw the reader’s focus away from the actual tragedy of death itself and instead place the focus on the survivors. These are the characters left behind; the ones who must now grieve; the ones who must keep going despite what’s just occurred.

A solid example of this comes from Divergent, in which Tris’s mother sacrifices herself for Tris–but directly afterward, Tris has to keep moving and fighting. She has no chance to properly think through what’s happened or grieve. It’s the type of death that makes you feel more sympathetic towards, and worse for, those left behind than those who’ve done the leaving.

3. The Unfair Death

This is the death where the character has done so much and tried so hard to save herself, but she dies anyway. Or someone else has been trying hard to keep him alive. Or she had so much more to potentially give the world. Or he quite simply didn’t deserve to die in the manner that he did.

Suzanne Collins does this type BRILLIANTLY in Mockingjay, when the rebels kill Prim. The entire reason that the plots of all three books in that trilogy exist is that Katniss wants nothing more than to protect her sister. Then, in the end, what it takes to end the conflict–what would finally make the world safe for her sister–is her sister dying.

4. The Accidental Death

This is similar to the Shocking Death, but different in the fact that it’s random. I feel like a Shocking Death generally involves an opponent of some kind. Maybe your character’s in a battle or she’s been duking it out with her arch nemesis. An accidental death, on the other hand, is something that just happens to happen. He steps into the street without looking or there’s a peanut in her salad. It’s a reminder to the reader that life is fragile and anything at all can happen.

This type of death presents itself a lot more in stories for younger readers, I’ve noticed. Primarily middle grade and chapter books. Good examples come from Walk Two Moons and A Taste of Blackberries.

5. The Sacrificial Death

This is my favorite type of character death. It’s the one in which the character goes into a dangerous situation knowing she won’t be coming back back–knowing she doesn’t necessarily NEED to do it, only someone else will get hurt if she doesn’t–but she does anyway. Lauren Oliver does this beautifully in both Before I Fall and Delirium. There’s just something so beautiful and haunting and intriguing about sacrifice.

Of course, all character deaths have some amount of each of these elements mixed in, but when writing a death, it’s generally a good idea to have an idea for the type of emotional response you’d like to evoke in the reader.

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What types of character deaths have you noticed? What types make you react the most? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks for reading!

 

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday (GUEST POST: “The Last Lecture”)

Hey there, dear blog reader! Julia here to let you know that I am currently out of town and, because of that, unable to write blog posts myself. In order to keep Julia the Writer Girl alive while I’m gone, some great writers are helping me out by penning guest posts. Totally sweet and awesome of them, right? So, let’s give a big round of applause for today’s guest poster, Shelby Moore!

Shelby recently watched Randy Pausch’s famous lecture on achieving your childhood dreams and was super inspired by it, so she decided to write this post.

Shelby: Your post is just as inspirational to me as Pausch’s lecture, and I’m sure readers will feel the same. Great job with this, and good luck with writing! You’re so talented. 🙂 Thanks for being a guest blogger!

If you’d like to contact Shelby, you can check her out at her blog or email her at: shelbymoorewriting[at]aol.com .

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“I’ve always wanted to write a story, but…”

I don’t have the time.

I probably don’t have talent.

Nobody will like my story!

I’ve never written for fun before.

I’d rather watch TV/read XX book/play XX video game/etc. right right now.

[Insert limiting excuse here.]

How many of you have ever told yourself any of the above?  I certainly have!  But why do we talk ourselves out of writing?  It’s not terribly hard in comparison to so many other things – martial arts or brain surgery, for example.  Writing a novel is really quite achievable, as long as you are dedicated to writing a little bit every day.  All you have to do is put butt to chair and pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).  Even if what you write is awful, it’s better than nothing at all!

While growing up, I loved to write.  Sometimes I got in trouble because I was neglecting my homework in order to work on a story!  Ever since I could hold a crayon, I have dreamed of sharing my stories with the world.  However, recently I was telling myself that I was too busy to write, that I had too many other things to worry about.  I went without doing any creative writing during my first year at college.  I really missed it.  When I got home about a month ago, I decided it was time to start again.  I made this resolution because of a lecture which I watched at the request of my mother.

“The Last Lecture: Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” is a lecture given by Randy Pausch at Carnegie Mellon University a few years ago as he was dying of pancreatic cancer.  It is also one of the most inspiring and uplifting speeches I have ever heard, and I’ve listened to more than my fair share of speeches during my lifetime.

Pausch doesn’t talk about his impending death.  He focuses instead on the dreams he had as a child and how they have become reality over the course of his life.  His lecture could apply to almost any area of life, but here are eight things that I got out of it which relate to writing:

  1. It’s ok to daydream.  You can get some of your best ideas while daydreaming.

     

  2. Have goals and write them down so you don’t forget them.

     

  3. Don’t limit yourself in your goals.  If you think small, you’ll never find out what big things you can achieve.  Some of Pausch’s dreams seem nearly impossible for an average guy to fulfill, but he never doubted what he really wanted, and it paid off eventually.

     

  4. Be free to express your personality and creativity.  Pausch talks about painting his own room when he was a kid, and some of the things he painted.  He put whatever he wanted on his walls!  We should feel free to write the story we want to write, and surround ourselves with the things that inspire us.

     

  5. “You’ve got to get the fundamentals down, because otherwise the fancy stuff isn’t going to work.”  You may have the greatest, most exciting idea for a story, but if you don’t use punctuation and spell everything wrong, it’s not going to go anywhere!  Take time to hone your skills.  Take time to revise and edit.  Take time to make sure the fundamentals of writing are in place, and that is when your story will truly become a great one.

     

  6. Learn from the advice and criticism of those who have gone before you.  Speaking of a hard day at football practice, Pausch said:

    “When [practice] was over, one of the assistant coaches came over to me and said, ‘Coach Graham rode you pretty hard, didn’t he?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’  And he said, ‘That’s a good thing.  When you’re screwing up and nobody’s saying anything to you anymore, that means they gave up.’  That’s been a lesson that stuck with me my whole life.  When you see yourself doing something badly, and nobody’s bothering to tell you anymore, that’s a very bad place to be.  Your critics are the ones telling you they still love you and care.”

    Sometimes, we are hesitant to write or show our finished writing to others because we are afraid of what they will say.  We should actually be grateful for the critique people give us.  Time is valuable.  Your critique-ers and beta readers obviously think you are worth their time, otherwise they wouldn’t bleed all over your precious story with their red pens.

     

  7. Sometimes your dreams won’t get fulfilled in quite the way you expected.  Pausch discusses that one of his childhood dreams was to be in zero gravity.  He ended up riding in an airplane which flies in parabolic arcs, creating about 25 seconds of weightlessness at a time for the passengers.  You may set out to write a novel and find that you end up with a book of poems.  Or you may start out with a plain ol’ fiction story and somehow end up with a sci-fi story set in another century!  Or maybe your writing debut isn’t a best-selling novel like you imagined – maybe it’s a small piece in a literary journal.  These are all successes.

     

  8. There will always be brick walls in our way, and “sometimes those walls are made of flesh.”  Pausch relates a story of trying to get permission from his superiors to take a sabbatical at Disneyland as an Imagineer.  You may be trying to find an editor, or querying agents, or attempting to self-publish right now.   You may be running up against “brick walls made of flesh” as people turn you away.  Don’t let the rejections put a halt to your dream.  Pausch adds, “Remember, the brick walls are there for a reason.  The brick walls are not there to keep us out… they are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”  Find ways to get around the brick walls.  Others have achieved their dreams, so why not you as well?

In conclusion, if you want to write, do it!  Stop making excuses and start making your dream a reality.

If you haven’t already seen “The Last Lecture: Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”, I encourage you to do so.  The entire lecture is only an hour, and it is an hour well spent.  You can watch it for free on YouTube.

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How great is Shelby, right? Again, you can check out her blog HERE or email her at: shelbymoorewriting[at]aol.com .

Talk to you as soon as I’m back from vacation–I can’t wait to tell you all about my trip!

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~Julia