Wordy Wednesday: Not Writing

Hey there! Short post tonight because I owe you like five different recap posts (and the less time I spend on this Wordy Wednesday, the more time I’ll have to finally catch up on those). Sorry!

However, quick recap of what’s happened in the past couple weeks:

  • Road trip! Hannah and I celebrated our graduation with a road trip to Nantucket. (And I’ll recap it very soon, fingers crossed!)
  • Physical therapy! I went in to get my knee and shoulder looked at and the therapists have all concluded at this point that, structurally, my body is very screwed up, so it looks like I’m going to be in physical therapy a few times a week for the next couple months while they try to fix me. (Upside: maybe no more pain soon?!)
  • And that is it. In large part because the events of the past few days, mostly in Orlando but also elsewhere, have honestly been too much for me and I kind of just shut down for a bit there. I can’t put into words what I’ve been feeling, and I’m not even connected to what happened, and I can’t (and don’t want to) imagine what those who are involved are feeling. It’s just… no. This isn’t okay. This is so very much not okay.

Anyway, this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post–about, well, not writing.

While I’m not actively working on a draft of a novel right now, I am working on doing my reverse outline (as part of Zero Drafting) for The Novel That Refuses To Be Named. I’ve been working on this for a little over a month and a half now, and I’m up to something like sixty pages of handwritten notes (and I am very far from being done). The amount of time I’ve been dedicating per day so far has ranged from 12+ hours, when I really get sucked into it, to only a few hours, when I’m pushing through a rough patch.

So: that’s been my life for over a month now. Constantly in the heads of my characters, in their world, not doing a ton in my own world.

Then it came time for my graduation road trip with Hannah and, with it, the horrifying realization that I wouldn’t be able to outline for hours on end during the week of the trip because (gasp) I’d be too busy having fun.

This honestly was a concern for me at this point two weeks ago. Like, I was excited for the trip of course–we’d been talking about going on a road trip for over a year–but also WHAT IF I TOOK A WEEK OFF FROM WORKING AND ALL MY IDEAS DRIED UP AND I NEVER FINISHED MY NOVEL?

Then we actually left on the trip, though, and I began enjoying myself, and I realized my fears were entirely unfounded–because instead of having fewer ideas, it was like each mile of highway our car ate up gave me another. And while I didn’t spend the week actively outlining, by the end of it I’d figured out sooo many things about The Novel that I wouldn’t have been able to at home.

All this to say: sometimes it’s good to put down your pen and paper and go be part of the world.

Who knows, the solution to your next plot dilemma might be buried (like mine) on a street on a bike ride to a lighthouse in Nantucket.

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Falling Back in Love with Writing

I spent this past weekend home with family and some fun things happened during that:

  • Friday night, my cousin was an extra on Hawaii 5-0! Super proud to be able to say I knew him when. (He played a SWAT officer. Check it out.)
  • Saturday I went to afternoon tea with my mom and aunt and grandmom at this place that was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland-themed. It was super fun and if you’re ever in Michigan and looking to have a tea party, I highly recommend it: www.madhatterbistro.com
  • Aaand finally, Sunday, we did our annual family 5k! (Well, my mom, aunt, and I did. My dad did an entire half-marathon because, unlike the rest of us, he’s actually athletic.) Then that night we sat out on our back patio and watched the eclipse while eating caramel apples and listening to the crickets, which was a perfect last dose of summer before the weather turned cold this week.

  
All in all, a very good weekend (even though I spent the entire thing not being able to breathe out of my nose).

Now, it’s Wednesday—which means, you guessed it: Wordy Wednesday time.

This week we’ve got a writing process post.

I haven’t talked about it much on here yet, because it’s still so small and who knows if it’s actually going to go anywhere, but for the past couple months I’ve been working on a new WiP.

This has been really hard for me, because writing has turned into such a strange thing over the course of college: I haven’t finished a novel since freshman year and almost all the writing I’ve done since then has been for something (school or NaNoWriMo, mostly) rather than for myself. (Like, I’ve been writing because I’m required to turn in x-amount per week or whatever, rather than because there are actually certain ideas and characters I’m dying to work on.)

It’s weird starting something just because I feel like it. No deadlines. No word or page count requirements. Just a Word document and me and what little time I can carve out of my week.

It feels good, in a weird kind of way. Like when you’re working out and your muscles start to burn and you know you could stop if you chose to, because no one is requiring you to do this, but you keep going out of sheer force of will. If you’re running a marathon or something, you know you have to keep going because you’re required to. But no one’s requiring anything of this, or me.

I’m finding that it’s important to have projects like this. I get so burned out writing things out of obligation rather than want. After a while, the words simply stop working.

Writing just-for-fun, on the other hand, is reminding me what it’s like to WANT to write. What it’s like to really like it, again. It’s been so long since I wrote for myself that I’d honestly forgotten, and remembering that sort of thing—actively feeling that sort of thing—is so, so important in creative industries like this.
Doing something creative for school, or a job, or even an activity as simple as NaNoWriMo is dangerous. It’s easy to run yourself dry. To lose that spark that made you want to take up writing (or whatever it is you do) in the first place.

I’d gotten to the point this summer where, if people asked me if I was a writer, I just kind of shrugged and said something along the lines of, “Technically? But I haven’t written anything in a long time.” Which isn’t true—in the year leading up to this summer I’d written 50k of a novel, about half a play, at least a dozen short stories, the first act of a screenplay, and over a hundred blog posts. But I’d written all of those out of feeling like I needed to, rather than wanted to, and that made all the difference. “Writer” had become a job description—a surface description—rather than something I was at my core.

Of course, it’s also important to have the projects that do have strings attached. Because they pull different things out of you, they stretch different muscles. It’s good to work under pressure—it teaches you to really create something out of nothing, to work through blocks and climb over walls. But not everything can be that way. It’s just not sustainable.

So, I’m learning to write for fun again. I’m re-teaching myself what it is to enjoy things like blogging and NaNoWriMo, which used to be projects I did for fun but that had started to feel like chores.

I don’t want to lose writing. It’s too important to me. I’ve put too much into it and care too much for it. With this WiP, I’m doing my best to take writing back. I’m going to make it my own again.

If you’re going through a similar process right now—if writing has started feeling like a chore rather than something you do for fun—hang in there. Take some space, take a breath, and remind yourself what you loved about writing when you began. Try to get back to that. You can. You will.

We’ll make it through together.

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Write Yourself, But Different

I’m having a kind of bad day. It’s not even that bad, it’s just that things have been so good lately that anything at all negative happening feels like a punch to the gut. Primarily: I went in to donate blood for the first time today and they rejected me.

This might not seem like a big deal, except that I’ve never weighed enough to donate blood before, but due to my love of Christmas cookies this holiday season, I finally hit a hundred pounds, so after years and years of waiting, I signed up to donate at the university’s next blood battle. I spent the past few weeks trying to keep my weight up, taking iron supplements, staying hydrated, etc.

Today I went in, read over all the warnings and rules, waited a half hour, then finally got my interview to make sure I was eligible. And the lady rejected me. Because apparently, according to the American Red Cross, I HAVE CANCER.

Please note: I do not have cancer. Right now I don’t even have pre-cancer. But because I’ve had dysplastic moles removed in the past few months (the most recent surgery being a couple weeks ago), the lady interviewing me decided that I was so cancer-ridden I couldn’t donate. Try again in a few months. You know, as long as I haven’t died between now and then.

Nothing against the American Red Cross. I get it. You don’t want me sending Melanoma-laden blood to some poor, unsuspecting soul. But I don’t have Melanoma. I’ve never had Melanoma. THE ENTIRE POINT OF HAVING THOSE MOLES REMOVED WAS SO THAT I WOULD NOT GET MELANOMA.

I thanked the lady for her time (the full thirty seconds it took for her to reject me), walked outside, called my mom, and promptly burst into tears.

So yeah. That’s how my day’s been going.

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

I used to be really careful about making sure the protagonists of my stories were super different from me. They’d have different interests, personalities; they’d go through situations vaguely similar to ones I’d experienced, but still different enough that no one could claim they were at all autobiographical.

Then I started taking creative writing classes, and started needing to produce a billion and one short stories a semester, and I ran out of stuff that Wasn’t Me to write about. Pieces of me crept into my characters and plots more and more, until finally last semester I gave up and started writing basically literally about my life: A girl and her friends study abroad over a summer at Magdalen College, Oxford; a girl longs to move to Europe; a girl has to say goodbye to her high school theatre company. And this semester it’s gotten even worse: a girl deals with (of all things) the potential of getting Melanoma and dying; a girl is depressed and doesn’t know how to handle it or get better*.

What all this has taught me is that it’s much easier to write about yourself than people who are vastly different from you, and the stories that have significant elements of yourself in them (at least for me) generally turn out better, because they’re personal. Theatre was my life in high school, and I couldn’t imagine my life without it, so graduating was scary and difficult. I’m terrified of getting cancer, but that’s something I don’t like to focus on; writing that story gave me an outlet for my fears in the midst of several surgeries on my arm to remove moles that had become dysplastic out of nowhere.

But at the same time, where I started out writing these stories with the goal of writing pieces of myself, I realized as I went that these characters were also, still, vastly different from me. Their own people with their own problems and histories and futures. The girl in the theatre story has no idea what to do with the rest of her life, when her entire life up until this point has been theatre. (I did have a pretty solid idea of what I’d be doing after high school. Because while theatre defined so much of me, writing did just as much.) The girl in the cancer story is half-Mexican (I’m supes Caucasian) and dreams of going to Julliard for violin (I tried violin once; pretty sure half of Michigan is still recovering).

These stories are better for how they’re different from my life. They let me explore these other identities, helped me see the world beyond myself, and in turn led to a much more interesting portfolio.

All this to say: Write yourself, but different. You learn, and your stories benefit, from both the parts that reflect you and the parts that open a window into other people’s lives.

After all, we are defined by both the parts that are the same as everyone else and the parts that are different. And we–and our characters–deserve to have both.

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

*For the record: I’m fine. I was in a pretty, you know, not-so-nice place this time last year. But I’m fine now.

Wordy Wednesday: Clothing Your Characters

So, I’ve been semi-putting off writing this post all day. Which is why, once again, it is now practically too late to still count as Wednesday. But so much is going on right now, and I’m getting worried about getting everything done in time, and all I want to do with my life is lose myself in cheesy YA beach reads and have time to watch a movie without having to work during it. (I know. I have shallow, shallow wants.)

No more putting off the Wordy Wednesday in favor of things that don’t need to get done until tomorrow night anyway, though. The winning option for this week was writing process, so today I’m going to talk about clothing your characters, or using fashion in your fiction.

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I don’t know about you, but I am quite possiblyaddicted to ModCloth. Their stuff increasingly composes my wardrobe. On top of this, my critique group likes to play this game in which we try to outdo each other by finding the ugliest clothes on the site, I have an ongoing wishlist of items I’d love to purchase if I ever have the money, and I spend a kind of crazy amount of time ogling all the gowns and shoes I will never have reason to wear (because who doesn’t want to pretend they have a ball to go to, right?).

The other day while scrolling through the party dresses, I came across one that absolutely screamed, “OLIVIA. OLIVIA WOULD WEAR THIS.” (Olivia being the reluctant assassin protagonist of one of the novels I’m working on, Cadence.) It was crazy how much that dress looked like Olivia. I could picture her scoping out a ball full of corrupt businessmen and politicians from the edge of the room, lips stained red and a gun strapped to her thigh.

Intrigued, I searched for dresses that some of the other characters would pick and, sure enough, I found others that matched their personalities just as well as Olivia’s did.

Olivia’s party dress is royal blue and fairly plain, with a swoop neck, intricate back, thick straps, and a flowy, knee-length skirt. Practical but feminine. A color that’s bold, but wouldn’t stand out in a crowd.

Another character’s dress is soft pink, with a sweetheart neckline, a short, flouncy skirt, and lots of lace. It shows off how she’s very outgoing, sweet, and girly, but also sophisticated.

A third is short and tight–a rick, dark shade of plum. This is another outgoing character, only this one’s the other side of the coin: instead of sweet, she is sarcastic. She’s whiny, flirty, haughty; a slow burn. Open with her affections. Passionate about her friends. More interested in how she looks than how practical it would be to run in stilettos.

The important thing to note here is that, over the course of Cadence, we only ever see one of these three characters actually get to choose clothes, and even then it’s only street clothes. The rest of the time they’re all in various uniforms. But just looking through ModCloth, I can tell you what each of these characters would think of any particular article of clothing.

Figuring out what your characters would wear in different situations, and what they’d think of different types of clothes if they saw the pieces in the store, is a great way of getting a grasp on the larger traits of your characters’ personalities.

We all have different goals for what we want our clothes to do for us. Some people like to wear bright colors, and others like dark, and others are all about pastels. Some people want to let their quirkiness shine; others want to keep up with the latest fashion trends; others want to be able to pull something on as quickly as possible without having to worry about whether this-shirt-goes-with-these-pants or not.

Maybe your character has volleyball practice after school and she doesn’t want to take the time to change before it, so she wears a t-shirt and sweats all day. Or maybe your protag wears Toms all the time because he likes to help people (and we ALL KNOW that’s why you wear Toms, right?).

I can tell you that Olivia hates wearing skirts, because they’re impractical; loves Converse, because they’re tennis shoes but also look nice enough to wear places; and has a thing for bright colors, because they’re such a contrast with the plain black uniform her organization makes her wear.

Basically: Olivia is practical, but craves the opportunity to be impractical without worry. And this is something I wouldn’t have figured out without her clothes (and my ModCloth addiction).

So, peruse ModCloth for yourself. Ask yourself what your different characters would think of some of the pieces on the site. Put them in an imaginary scenario and figure out what clothes they’d pick and why. Really think it through.

After all, you never know when your characters are going to have to attend a ball. You don’t want them to have nothing to wear.

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A reminder to anyone who wants to write a guest post or do an interview for while I’m traveling, you have until the end of Friday, June 20th to email those to me at jbyerswriting@aol.com. Show me your beautiful words!

 

~Julia

PS. It’s after midnight again. Sorry! I should be more on top of things again beginning, like, three months from now.

Wordy Wednesday: Open with a Bang

Sorry today’s post is coming so late! (And, you know, after midnight. So technically Thursday.)

Things are really hectic right now. On the upside: The Night Before Our Stars is tomorrow! (Or today? I never know what to say this time of night.)

Anyway, this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post about how to write openings that keep readers reading.

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I’ll admit, I am not the best person to talk to you about how to open a novel. I am notoriously bad at finding the right place to start, or introducing characters in unique and interesting ways, or any of the number of other things that make for good opening pages.

However, I do seem to be halfway decent at one thing: keeping people reading.

Your opening scene has a lot of work to do. It should introduce your lead cast (or set up for meeting them), give an idea for both the type of story and where it’ll take place, and give readers a feel for the tone and overall conflict that they’re stepping into. On top of this, it has to do all this in such a way that gets them to read on to the next scene, and this (in my personal opinion) is the most important part.

1. Don’t let your characters play nice.

While generally you’ll want to open your story in the sort of “before” period (aka: before things go crazy), it’s also important to remember that readers don’t want to watch things go right. That’s boring. You haven’t earned a reader sitting through things going right yet (that’s your reward for putting your characters through hell–nothing should go right until the end of the novel).

So: just because everything hasn’t exploded yet, doesn’t mean something can’t be wrong. The easiest way of doing this is to build tension between your characters. (This is also a great way to develop personalities early on. If something’s eating at your protagonist, and it’s causing tension between her and those around her, it shows the reader a lot about who they are. The opening chapter of Divergent by Veronica Roth does a good job of this one.)

2. Let the conflict boil.

This sounds simple, but something I’ve seen a lot in manuscripts I’ve critiqued is writers introducing problems in the first chapter (great!) then resolving them before chapter two (not so great).

Prepare yourself: this is about to turn into a prolonged and convoluted metaphor on boiling water.

So, let’s say you put water (characters) in a pot (your story). Then  you turn the burner on. The heat from the burner represents the problems your characters must face. The more problems your characters face, the closer they–like the water–get to boiling. And boiling is good.

Boiling is conflict. Boiling is enthralling. Boiling = the reader not being able to stop reading.

So, why would you get your water all hot and boiling–then turn the burner off? If you do that, you can’t cook your delicious pasta (yeah, I don’t know; I lost myself like half a metaphor ago).

Basically: If your chapter ends with the immediate conflict resolved and no other conflict already in action to replace it, the reader will lose interest.

Fiction is conflict. Something must always be wrong. If you don’t have any conflict left, then you’re at the end of the story.

Examples of openings that let their conflict boil: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater and The Maze Runner by James Dashner.

3. Give your characters purpose.

This goes hand-in-hand with utilizing conflict in your opening. (Notice a theme yet?) The next worse thing after not having residual conflict at the end of your opening is not having a purposeful protagonist.

Don’t let your characters sit by on the sidelines. If your protagonist doesn’t play a key role in your opening scene, either you’re not writing the right scene or you’re not writing the right protagonist.

Get your characters up and doing something. We don’t want passive observers. Movement and decision-making are the lifeblood of a successful opening.

(Unless, of course, you’re writing about someone who starts out a passive observer and must throughout the story learn to be something more. In which case your best bet is to draw attention to the downsides of passivity in your opening, rather than having your character right away making decisions and doing things.)

A couple of my favorite novels that open with purposeful characters are Across the Universe by Beth Revis and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

4. End with juicy information.

A super easy way to get the reader to continue past the first scene or chapter is to have the protagonist reveal some sort of surprising, unexpected information at the end of it. Maybe he’s been hiding in the shadows all day and boom: turns out he’s a vampire. Or she’s been going on and on about how delicious the toast her dad used to make was and actually, by the way, someone murdered him and they never found out who. (Or you could also instead find out she’s a toaster. Who knows. It’s going on 2:00 AM and my brain shut off like four hours ago.)

I remember I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You by Ally Carter doing this well.

5. End on a cliffhanger.

Ending with a cliffhanger is different from ending with an info drop, because it requires throwing something out there that your protagonist isn’t expecting. Maybe her plane veers towards the ground or the police are on his doorstep with handcuffs and no hints as to why he’s under arrest.

A cliffhanger puts the reader and the protagonist on the same level. They’re both experiencing the shock of what’s happening. It opens opportunity for the reader to sympathize with the protag, and if the reader connects with your protag, s/he’s much more likely to flip to the next page.

Great cliffhanger endings to openings: Of course The Hunger Games. And, to continue with the Ally Carter examples, Heist Society has a pretty solid cliffhanger at the end of Chapter One.

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Do you have tips for writing openings that keep the reader reading? Let me know in the comments!

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~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: YA as a Category

Today is Laundry Day. I haven’t done my laundry in like three months because I own an intense amount of clothing, which means I can get away without washing things often. But it also means that now that I AM finally running out of, like, underwear and socks, I have three months worth of clothes to stuff in the washer. Which is such a first world problem, I can’t even.

So, as a break from all of that, here I am with your Wordy Wednesday. The winning option for this week is Writing Process. Let’s talk about young adult fiction, shall we?

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The term “young adult,” or “YA,” refers to writing that targets kids approximately ages thirteen to seventeen. Generally the protagonists are between the ages of fifteen and seventeen and YA books focus on themes like personal identity and finding one’s place in the world. Right now it’s a huge industry, with millions of copies in print of hits like the Twilight Saga, the Hunger Games trilogy, the Divergent trilogy, and The Fault in Our Stars.

Teenagers aren’t the only ones who enjoy YA, though. The reason it’s grown into such a big thing is because younger kids enjoy the books too. As well as people long past their teen years.

And for some reason, this is a problem. I’m only twenty, but already for a couple years now people have been telling me–in the way one instructs a sick friend how to get better–that I am too old for YA. Too good for it. Wouldn’t it be better for me to read something intellectually stimulating? Something actually well-written, with serious thought put into it and dynamic characters and complex plots?

My instructors at school rock and have been instrumental in improving my writing, but some of them (despite how intelligent they are) somehow are members of this bandwagon too. When a short story of mine won the young adult category of a contest last year, one of the first reactions I got was to say my writing was “too good” for that. Why hadn’t I entered it in the literary fiction category? Didn’t I know I didn’t need to limit my potential by tossing my stories in a worthless children’s category, where writing not good enough for adults goes to die?

Because obviously, since some YA fiction is poorly written, it all is. Since some YA isn’t as worthwhile as some adult fiction, all of it isn’t. And obviously no one would choose to label their writing as YA when other options existed. How distasteful.

I believe part of the problem, here, is that a lot of people think of YA as a genre, not a category.

Genre refers to something specific about a work. If a novel is science fiction, it’s full of technology that could potentially exist but doesn’t currently. If a short story is a romance, it has, you know, ROMANCE.

And of course within these things, you also have sub-genres. But genre, when it comes down to it, is a pretty specific label about what you’ll find in a story.

Category, on the other hand, refers to something broad. Think picture books or adult fiction. Category refers not to the style of the writing (literary, commercial, etc.) or what the setting will be (high fantasy, historical, etc.) or what the plot will revolve around (romance, western, etc.). It refers to the target audience.

Picture books target little kids. Adults fiction targets adults.

And yes, this means YA fiction’s target audience is teenagers. But since when is it a good idea to judge a story’s worth based purely on the age of its target audience, or someone for wanting to read about characters going through a different life phase than s/he is? A western may be about a twenty-five-year-old cowboy, but that doesn’t mean it’s inappropriate for an eighty-year-old cat lady to read it. That doesn’t mean she won’t benefit in some way from it.

But back to the point I’m trying to make: YA is a category, not a genre. Which means that, just like in adult fiction, it’s full of so much variety it’s difficult to process. Just like adult fiction contains both literary fiction and scifi–genres that function independent of one another–so does YA.

So, some books are “good”; some are “bad.” You’ll enjoy some and hate others, and find some intellectually stimulating and others to be really good beach reads (both fantastic reasons, by the way, to read).

Yes, you tell me The Hunger Games isn’t worth my time because the love triangle is cliche or the writing is more tell-y than you prefer (valid points, although I personally adore The Hunger Games). But saying I shouldn’t read the book simply because it’s YA, and some YA is poorly written or idiotically frivolous, is not a sound reason. That’s like saying I shouldn’t wear the color blue because you once saw a really hideous blue shirt.

We limit ourselves and our understanding of not just books, but the world, when we oversimplify things. You can’t stuff The Twilight Saga, the Hunger Games trilogy, the Divergent trilogy, The Fault in Our Stars, and aaaaall the rest of YA fiction into a teeny tiny box marked “genre.” They don’t have enough in common to fit. But by giving the space and understanding of a category–as diverse and complex as the rest–you have a much better chance.

Being a snob about disliking YA doesn’t make you more intelligent or “mature.” It simply means you’re missing out on the opportunity to read some great books (that just so happen to target teens).

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~Julia

PS. Countdown to BookCon: TWO DAYS!!!

Wordy Wednesday: Strengthening Your Supporting Cast

I take my last final exam of sophomore year in two and a half weeks.

Between now and then, I have to attend fifteen classes (if you include my choir concert and non-“final” finals), do two astronomy projects, take two medieval lit quizzes, write a psych paper, and keep up with internship work. And attend orientation for Oxford. And finalize a lot of things for Ch1Con. And register for fall semester classes. And other stuff.

Basically, I keep being like, “Oh, look! Summer begins in two and a half weeks! IT’S SO CLOSE AND BEAUTIFUL!”

Then I remember everything I have to do before then, and I go into Panic Mode.

Meanwhile, in what little free time I haven’t spent watching Netflix keeping my brain from imploding this semester, I’ve been busy with novel revisions. One of the things I need to work on in this draft is keeping the characters other than my narrator/protagonist:

a) realistic, and

b) interesting

A character not being realistic and a character not being interesting are two different symptoms that ultimately boil down to the same problem: Right now, a lot of my supporting cast is there simply for the sake of advancing plot.

While it’s good, obviously, for your supporting cast to act in ways that move your story forward, it’s also important to remember they’re not plot devices–they’re characters.

So, some of the things I’m going to be doing in these revisions in an effort to strengthen my supporting cast.

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Write Out Back Story

One of my characters right now is very well-developed in my mind. Unfortunately, since I know so much about him in my head, I didn’t realize how little of him is actually on the page. (That is, you know, until someone pointed it out THANK GOD).

This character’s in a lot of scenes, but I don’t reveal much about him within those. So, step one to fixing this problem: Open a new document, and actually write out the character’s back story. Talk about history, family, friends, enemies, quirks, goals, motivations, etc., etc. Then add some of this to the novel itself. Not enough to bog down the text, mind you. But enough to make the character three-dimensional.

I’ve found that writing things out rather than just letting them ruminate in my head helps me solidify and keep track of details, and this in turn makes it easier to figure out how to flesh out the character on the page.

Chart the Character Arc

I mentioned writing out a supporting character’s goals and motivations. It’s also helped me, with this particular character, to chart his arc for the novel.

A character arc follows the same basic model as a plot arc, with inciting incident, catalyst, rising action, climax, and falling action. Each character should have a primarily goal he’s going after in the novel, along with some smaller ones–just like the novel overall has both a central plot and subplots. When charting, focus the arc on the character’s primary goal and how he changes throughout the story in order to finally either reach it or fail to.

(On this topic, remember that a good supporting character isn’t static. He needs to develop and change due to the events of the novel. It isn’t necessary to outright state how the character has changed, but he does need to change.)

Read from the Supporting Character’s POV

This is a really good way of shifting from a supporting character acting simply as a plot device. Find all the scenes she’s in and read them back to back. What’s her motivation in each scene? What does she mean by each line and movement? How does her arc play out across the lot of them? Everything should be justifiable in the character’s mind. If she snaps at your narrator, it had better be because it affects not just your narrator’s arc, but hers as well.

It’s also important to know what each character’s doing when s/he’s not in a scene. Remember that each character’s life continues beyond the page.

Write from the Supporting Character’s POV

This is a great exercise for getting in a character’s head, if you don’t already know what her feelings and aspirations are really well. I’ve previously both rewritten scenes from other characters’ perspectives and written new scenes that take place off the official page of the novel, and am planning to do more of both as I work on this revision. Rewriting an already existing scene is better for in-the-moment stuff, and writing new scenes is better for learning bigger things about characters.

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I’ve gotta go write that psych essay now, but if you want more writing-related posts, vote for the “writing process” option in the poll below.

86This picture is not weird in the least.

What are some of your tips for bringing your supporting cast to life? Do you ever struggle with making your secondary characters realistic, too?

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Common Wording Mistakes

My family went skiing up north over the weekend, during which we took a walk out on Lake Michigan to check out the frozen waves, and this happened:

Debating between quoting “Surfin’ USA” or “Let It Go.” The struggle is real.

I also climbed through ice caves formed by waves that had been in the middle of crashing as they froze, and tried sliding down a wave (“tried” being the operative word, here–my butt is yet to forgive me), and we went just a little bit crazy running around and geeking out about the sunset.

Now, though, I’m back at school with a freakish blizzard going on outside. (Seriously, Nature, WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE? THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE.)

In honor of the five thousand papers I need to write now that classes are back in session, this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post about common wording mistakes and how to avoid them.

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The Difference Between the Ground and the Floor, Etc.

Did you know the ground and the floor are actually two different things? If you did: Congrats on being above the curve. If not: now you do.

The ground is generally anything outside, while the floor is generally anything inside. The ground is generally something like grass or dirt, or–if you’re wiling away the days ’til spring in the Midwest like me, right now–lots and lots of freaking snow. The floor is generally hardwood or carpet or cement or tile or any other sort of surface that is inside (this includes dirt floors–if you’ve got a roof over your head, you’re inside, and therefore it’s the floor, not the ground).

Calling the floor “the ground” is like calling the ceiling “the sky.” It unfortunately just doesn’t work that way.

And on this topic: “the ceiling” and “the roof” are also two different things. The ceiling is inside the building, while the roof is outside it (kind of like how the inside of that thing that connects your body to your head is your throat, while the outside is your neck).

“Premiere” and “Premier” are Two Different Words

A “premiere” is the opening event of something, like a movie or play. A “premier” is something that is the best at what it is. So Terrible Blockbuster Movie might premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a premier movie.

Dialogue vs. Dialog

If it’s speech, it’s “dialogue.” The only time it’s “dialog” is if you’re referring to something like a “dialog box.”

You Affect the Effective Effect

“Affect” and “effect” aren’t interchangeable, but people often think they are. The difference between them is that “affect” is a verb, while “effect” is a noun. So you can affect the effect. The easy way of telling these two apart is that “affect” begins with an A, like “action.” If you want to say that something works well, use “effective” with an E, because this is an adjective (so it’s similar to a noun).

On the other hand, then there’s affect and effective’s love child, “affective.” Affective refers to how something affects emotion. (Ever heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder? It’s “affective” because the moody weather makes you depressed, thus affecting your emotions.)

Lead in the Present, but Led in the Past

“Lead,” as a verb, refers to guiding in the present tense. Hear that? Present tense. Although you spell it similar to “read,” which is the same in both the present and past tenses, “lead” doesn’t stay the same when it becomes past. Then it becomes “led.”

Know Your Quantities

I’m not entirely certain how to explain this one, so let’s start with an example of a quantity mistake: “They both had an ice cream cone.” This sentence might seem all right on the surface, but look a little closer and you’ll find that it signifies that two people (they both) are sharing one ice cream cone (an ice cream cone). If you mean to say that the pair of them had two ice cream cones, one per person, then you actually mean to say that, “They both had ice cream cones.” (Note, however, that I’m sure you can find better ways of phrasing that sentence than that, too. Because it still sounds kind of awkward, right?)

Good vs. Well

This is probably the most common mistake of all the ones in this post. How often do you hear someone say that she’s “doing good” in your day-to-day life, right? But this isn’t a proper use of “good.” Good is an adjective, while well is an adverb. So only use “good” in conjunction with nouns, and “well” in conjunction with verbs.

For example, if you do a good job (adjective, because it expounds on the noun), you’ve done it well (adverb, because it refers to how you do the verb).

I vs. Me

People generally have this one down when talking about themselves in the singular (so like “I ran to the store” or “he ran to me”). However, put your first person perspective into a list situation, and suddenly it’s next to impossible to get it right. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been critiquing a manuscript and come across something like “Bob and me ran to the store” or “he ran to Bella and I.”

Knowing whether to use “I” or “me” in a list is really easy: just take out the other names and see how you’d do it normally, as if you were the only person involved. Then add the other names back in and POOF–you’ve got it.

Need a little more help? Remember to use “I” when you’re the one committing the action and “me” when someone else is doing the action to you. So those two examples from above, done properly, would be, “Bob and I ran to the store” (because you’re the one doing the action) and “he ran to Bella and me” (because he’s doing the action to you).

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 My laptop’s about to die, so I’ll end there for today. What are some of the wording mistakes you find (or make) a lot? (I know I use “good” improperly when talking, like, ALWAYS.)

Want me to share more writing-related tips? Vote for “writing process” in the poll below and let me know what you’d like me to talk about in the comments.

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~Julia

Wordy Wednesday (“Be An Agent of Chaos”)

Wednesday: In which Julia is exhausted and stressed and has far too much to do. (Welcome to winter semester, 2014.)

I’m actually not doing too bad right now–it’s just that a lot of things that should have been easy this week have turned out massively complicated and I’ve kind of just given up on them at this point.

(Por ejemplo, I ordered almost all my text books off Amazon this semester so I wouldn’t have to go out in the cold to get them–because COLD–but between my own stupidity and Amazon having a glitchfest, we managed to mess up my shipping address to the point that it was unrecognizable and they shipped everything to various, different wrong addresses, and now the shipping companies are all doing different things with my packages to try to fix it. So while I’ve managed to get two of my text books by correcting the messed up address with UPS, apparently USPS is sending another of them back to the seller, so I don’t even know if I’m going to end up getting it or if I’ll have to buy a new book and still pay for the old one or what, and WOW this is messed up.)

Anyway. Outside of all the unnecessary stress, this semester’s going pretty well so far. I like all my classes, and I am SO HAPPY I decided to do choir this semester. I haven’t done anything performance-based outside of Youtube videos in over a year (incredible, I know), and while I’m sure I’ll talk about the reasoning behind that decision someday, finally getting back into the rhythm of rehearsals and learning music and performing was one of the best decisions I could have made for myself this year.

The thing I was most excited for yesterday in choir, weirdly enough, was group warm ups. We had our first group warm up in class last night and I had so much fun with it and it was just so relieving. As dramatic as it sounds, it was like not realizing that I’d been drowning until I had air again. I’ve known that something was off, not having a performing-related activity in my life here at college, but I didn’t realize quite how much so until I dove back into it (I’m mixing up my water metaphors now–lo siento).

So yeah. I’m pretty happy about choir (and truly, all my classes in general–this semester’s going to be a lot of work, and not all of it is going to be fun, but it should also prove interesting).

One of the better things that happened this week: Hannah, Emily, and I got to meet Laurie Halse Anderson! She’s the author of Speak and a bunch of other books, and seriously, if you have an opportunity to go to a Laurie Halse Anderson event (tour schedule is here), GO. She’s such a great speaker.

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post about keeping a story interesting all the way through.

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(Warning ahead of time that if you don’t do well with stuff that’s a little bit graphic, don’t watch this video.)

This video is from The Dark Knight, one of my favorite movies (available for purchase here). In this clip, the Joker tries to convince Harvey Dent (aka Two Face) to become an “Agent of Chaos.” Basically: don’t let things go according to plan, and see what happens.

As writers, we find ourselves with a similar task. Nobody’s going to read a book  in order to watch everything go according to plan–that isn’t interesting. No, they want to see those plans fail. And the bigger the failure, and the more significant the change in direction for both the plot and characters, the more interesting the reader will likely find it.

Remember that a character (or at least a driving force) has to fail in any given situation–when you get to the point in the dramatic structure at which the hero (temporarily) gives up? The hero’s plan fails, then, while the antagonist wins. When the hero DOES win, overall, at the end? Then it’s the antagonist’s plan that fails.

It’s the failure of something to happen as we believe it should that causes interest, which then causes someone to sit up and pay attention. Think about the news–plenty of wonderful, “normal” things happen constantly, but we never hear about them in newspapers or on TV. Instead, we hear primarily about the sensationalized horrible stuff, and then occasionally something that’s good, but in such a way that it’s unexpected–so say a someone puts on a really kickbutt marriage proposal. That’s something that ultimately hasn’t gone by society’s plan, because most proposals aren’t Youtube fodder. Therefore: interesting.

In this way, your story should function like the news: lots of bad things for the majority of it keeps tension high, followed by the really super good thing (saving the world or whatever) at the end. And by keeping your protagonist, and therefore reader, on his or her toes for the majority of the story with all the protagonist’s plans failing, you also ultimately make the good guys’ success at the climax seem like an unlikely (although, of course, expected) outcome; when enough bad is present, it becomes harder to not sensationalize the good (which is a good thing to do in stories), because such a sharp contrast exists between them.

Be an Agent of Chaos in the lives of your characters. While you don’t want your story to go completely off the rails, you also don’t want to let your protagonist keep everything under control all the way through. Several separate lines of tension should run through a story at any give point in time in order to keep the reader hooked, wanting to know what happens next. When you resolve one problem, you should always create another. It’s when someone succeeds against the most impossible circumstances that a reader gets the best payoff at the end.

A really great example of events not going as planned in order to lead to a satisfying ending can be found in the first Back to the Future movie (purchase it here).

This clip shows just one part of the chaos that ensues during the climax of Back to the Future. Literally NOTHING goes as planned, and it gets my heart pounding for just that reason every time I watch it. Marty and Doc have to overcome SO MANY obstacles to get Marty back to the future and solve all the subplot problems–if it were easy for them to accomplish all this, the movie would work, but it wouldn’t be nearly as thrilling and entertaining.

Within our own lives, the general human instinct is to crave control. We like it when things go according to plan and when we have reasons to be happy. Fiction is our opportunity to face obstacles and find lives thrust out of orbit without actually having to experience any of it first-hand, ourselves–and when the hero’s plan does work out in the end, after how ever many obstacles he or she finds blocking the path, this offers us a sort of relief, and hope for ourselves: that although things do sometimes spiral into chaos in our lives, like the protagonists of our favorite stories we can succeed despite the obstacles and regain our control and happiness. While bad things make the news, good things do too.

So, make things interesting in your story. Be an Agent of Chaos. Introduce a little anarchy and see what happens.

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Note before you vote in the poll: If you vote for “writing process,” please, please, pleeeease give me ideas in the comments to write about. If you vote for this option, I assume it’s because you want me to talk about something writing or publishing industry-related, but I have no way of knowing which topics you want me to cover unless you tell me. I love doing these posts, but I’m sure they’d be much more beneficial to you if they were actually about, you know, what you want them to be about, right?

So give me suggestions. I’d love to hear them. Thanks! [End of PSA.]

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~Julia

PS. Yesterday was Hannah‘s 20th birthday! Please join me in wishing her a great year. 😀

Wordy Wednesday (“The Publishing Industry for Non-Writers, Part 2”)

You’ll never guess who I met yesterday. Like seriously, YOU WILL NEVER GUESS. (Or you probably will, if you’ve liked my Facebook page. But whatevs.)

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Oh yeah. That’s right. Erin Bowman, Sarah J. Maas, Kat Zhang, and Susan Dennard.

Yesterday, Mel and I attended the Young Authors Give Back tour’s Michigan stop, hitting up both the writing workshop and book signing, and let me just say: You should be jealous. Because it was such a great experience.

All four of the authors were totally nice and down-to-earth, and they were willing to talk about anything you asked (including favorite TV shows, which is obviously a VERY writing-related topic).

It was a fun, educational day, with more than just a sprinkling of inspirational also thrown in there. If you ever have the chance to meet one of these women, I highly recommend taking it.

Links to their books:

What’s Left Of Me by Kat Zhang

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Taken by Erin Bowman

Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is another post about the publishing industry. Last week I tackled the basic process for writing a book and getting an agent, which you can read here. This week I’m going to talk about what happens once you do have a literary agent (based on what I’ve learned from watching others go through the process, because–unlike querying–I’ve unfortunately never had the opportunity to learn what it’s like first-hand).

Here we go: The Publishing Industry for Non-writers, Part 2: From Agent to Book Deal

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Revising

[Picture found here.]

All agents work a little (or a lot) differently from one another, but generally what goes down once a lit agent and you have signed on to work with one another is this: The agent edits the book, you edit the book, the agent edits the book, you edit the book–basically, you get that sucker as perfect as the two of you can make it. Some agents don’t like to edit with their writers, others are totally hands-on and won’t go on submission (hang on, I’m getting to what that means) without ripping the novels they represent to shreds a few times over. They’re all different, and part of what goes into making the decision of which agents to query, and which one to (hopefully) eventually sign with, is knowing how hands-on you want your agent to be in the editing process.

In general, here’s the difference between working with editors and agents on editing a novel: When agents are editing, they’re looking more for the “big issue” problems, like plot points that aren’t working or characters who fall flat. When editors are editing, they’ll also look for those things, but in general, they aren’t going to give out a contract for a book with these sorts of problems, because they expect them to already have been fixed before the manuscript hits their desk. Instead, they’re looking for the little things–make sure that the descriptions are stellar, the pacing is perfect, the dialogue rings true. That sort of stuff.

Once the agent thinks the book is as good as it can get, you move on to the next step in the publishing process:

Going On Submission

[Picture found here.]

Going on submission, or “on subs” (or any of the other thousand and one nicknames the process has), is very similar to querying–only, this time, the one doing the work is your agent, and the people you’re trying to make fall in love with your novel are editors at publishing houses.

This process can last anywhere from a day to several months. Generally, your agent will pick out a selection of editors they know at a selection of imprints* and then send them a pitch letter, which is basically a modified query letter (how is it modified? us non-agented folks may never know). If an editor is interested, they’ll request to read the manuscript. If they absolutely fall in love with it and want to publish the novel, one of several things can happen:

a) If the editor has enough leverage, they can offer on the book right away. This is the most no-fuss way of getting a book deal, but it’s not as likely to happen as:

b) The editor will prepare a proposal outlining why they think your book rocks and [insert name of cool publisher here] should write you a check, and then take it to a meeting with all the other bigwigs at their imprint and go to bat for you, trying to convince everybody else that your book is worth the risk. If they all agree to publish you, then boom: you’ve got a contract. Or, in the really incredibly nerve-wracking cases:

c) More than one editor (meaning: more than one imprint) can offer on your book, which leads to an auction of sorts. Having your book go to auction doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s particularly amazing or will sell a million copies or anything like that, but it does mean that, in general, you’ll get a better deal than if only one person offered on your book, because it means you can be choosy and push for getting more out of your contract.

… So, if everything goes really well and an editor loves your novel, that’s what happens. But, even with a kick-butt agent, the likelihood of landing a book deal is still pretty low. A good agent sells about one in every four projects they pitch to editors. That means that even if you beat the odds and sign with a lit agent, you’re still only looking at a 25% chance that your book will ever end up in stores (and that’s if you’re with a really. good. agent).

The nice part about your book not selling, though, is that your publishing dream doesn’t end there. Writers are always writing. We’re always working on new projects, spiffing up old ones, and dreaming about future ones. So your first book didn’t sell? Then your agent and you will get to work on your second one. That one doesn’t sell either? Then it’s on to the third. It can be a disheartening process, but seeing your book on shelves at the end of the day–I have never once heard someone say that it wasn’t worth all the struggle.

If an editor does offer on your book, then:

Negotiating the Deal

[Picture found here.]

This is where, more than anything, it’s important to have a good literary agent. They understand all the legal mumbo jumbo going on in your contract, and they’ll fight for getting you the best deal possible from the publisher. A contract can be for a single stand-alone book (aka: a book that is not a part of a series), or for all three books in a trilogy, or for five books, or ten, or two, or whatever else happens to go down while you’re negotiating everything. The contract dictates the size of your advance (basically, the money you get paid right out of the gate, just for choosing to publish with them), your royalties (how much money you get paid for every copy of your book sold), and a whole lot more.

(If you want to know exactly what goes into a contract, this page has a lot of great info.)

Something to know about advances and royalties, and how much authors get paid for their books in general: Most advances aren’t very large. Every once in a while, you’ll hear about the Wonder Writer who got a 6-figure advance, but that hardly ever happens, and getting a 6-figure advance doesn’t mean squat about how successful the book is going to be in the long run. In general, authors make less than minimum wage off their writing. Once you figure in how many hundreds of hours go into putting a novel together, that kind of stings.

The majority of authors aren’t just authors, but also doctors and librarians and mechanics. It is next-to-impossible to make a living off of writing. It’s something that you really do have to do out of pure, unadulterated love, rather than a yearning for fame and/or fortune. Because neither of those things happen very often.

It’s worth it, though, if you are that writer who’s in it purely for the sake of writing.

Once you’ve signed the contract, it’s a life of stressed-out deadlines, and outlines, and manuscripts bleeding red ink for you. But it’s also one where you get to walk into Barnes and Noble and see your book sitting on a shelf, right there next to all the authors you admire and adore. And how great is that?

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Want to know more about the publishing industry? Vote for the “writing process” option in the poll below, and the next time I’m around for a Wordy Wednesday (which, mind you, won’t be for another couple of weeks), I’ll talk about what happens after you’ve signed on the dotted line.

In the meantime, my vacation begins next week, so starting with the next Wordy Wednesday, the posts going up on this blog will be guest posts, written by fantastic readers just like you. How awesome is that? If you’re interested in writing a guest post, there’s always space to add someone more to the roster, so just email me your post (on basically anything you want, as long as it isn’t Fifty Shades of Anything), at: jbyerswriting@aol.com and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can! I just need all guest posts in my inbox by Sunday night.

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~Julia

*What is an imprint, you ask? It’s sort of like a college within a university. For instance, you can go to the University of Michigan (so that’s your university), but your specific college can be Literature, Science, and the Arts; or Music, Theatre, and Dance; or Engineering. Your publisher might be HarperCollins, but within HarperCollins you could be with any one of their 30+ imprints, from Avon Romance, to Zondervan, to Katherine Tegen Books.