Thursday, January 30, 2014

On Writing Rules

The internet is loaded with blogposts, forums, and interviews that re chock-full of advice and "rules" about writing well. However, for every ten-or-so writing advice posts, you will also see a post that states "No rules are concrete. Do what's best for your book." With all of this contradictory advice, how do you know when it is or isn't okay to break a "rule" or disregard some advice?

For many of us, our gut reaction is to assume our book is the one is different from all the others, and that other people's rules and advice don't apply to it. (Either that, or we think of a best-selling novel that doesn't follow this rule. If that author can get away with it, why can't you?) But obviously, we're biased. We understand our own book better than other people ever will. But we also need to consider how our readers will react, which is impossible with our personal bias.

So how do you really determine if a rule applies to you?

1. Can I think of a way to edit my story to so that it follows this rule/piece of advice? A big reason we shy away from advice is that it's inconvenient--anything that asks us to go back to the drawing board means more work. And if you don't immediately know how to make the proposed changes, then it's only natural for you to want to ignore this rule.

But what if you actually thought it through? What if you took a day or so to reflect on this advice and think of a way you could change your novel to make it work?

That brings you to number two.

2. Would these changes make your novel better? If it would, make the changes. If not, don't make the changes. If other people think it will make your novel better and you don't? Well, that's up to you, I guess. Personally, I believe in staying true to my own preferences, but that doesn't mean I can't find a way to strike a balance between other people's opinion and my own.*

*Even though it doesn't seem like it, I'm seriously trying to lessen my use of italics and one-sentence monologues. Maybe not quite to the degree that Ifeoma would like (awkward laugh), but I am trying to be more conscious of my monologuing habits.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Review of Control, by Lydia Kang (recommended)

Control was a fun book, and there were two elements I really liked:

1) The science. There are too many YA books out there that villainize science in the name of plot, most of which are written by authors who know absolutely nothing about what scientific research actually looks like. Not the case with Control. The main character loves science, and the author actually knows her way around a laboratory.

2) Some of the plot elements were kind of cool. There was at least one action-y scene in a drug-hazed club room.

Unfortunately, this was also a very flawed book. If it wasn't for reason #1, this book would be entirely forgettable. These were the elements of the story that left me unimpressed:

1) Over-reliance on character archetypes: the plain, unsexy female protagonist, the attractive bad-boy love interest, the kooky girl, the vegan slut, the low IQ teddy bear (though I did like the latter two characters).

2) Attitude towards sex and beauty: I wouldn't go so far as to accuse this book of slut-shaming. Yes, the protagonist is judgmental about beauty products, flirting, and slutty clothing, but not to the point where she (or the author) treats conventionally beautiful characters with disrespect. What did annoy me, however, was how often the protagonist whined about how plain, boring, and unattractive she was.

3) The worldbuilding: Shaky and underdeveloped. Also, the way states were named was really tacky.

4) The villains: Meh.

There were also some elements of the story that actively bothered me:

1) The love interest. In the first half of the book, Cy scared me. He angered easily, showed absolutely no respect for any of the characters, and had a penchant for destroying other people's belongings. Of course, the protagonist was able to overlook that just long enough to notice how attractive he was. Now some background: I'm not against the abusive, over-controlling love interest trope in novels. What bothers me is when that behavior is shown to be attractive, or worse, when that behavior conveniently disappears halfway through the novel. Assholes don't stop being assholes when they get a girlfriend. Likewise, even true love won't make anger management issues disappear in less than two days. If your love interest's personality pulls a 180 after the first kiss, that's a sign of bad character development.

2) Zelia's disorders are inconsistent with her abilities. I don't care how special she is--there's no way you're going to convince me that a girl with a severe respiratory disease can scale a 1000-foot building. And can a girl with underdeveloped ovaries really experience sexual attraction? (No seriously? Can she? I have no idea. If you happen to have knowledge or insight on the matter, please let me know, because I'm really curious.)

3) I think the author sometimes tried too hard to show that Zelia has a scientific mind. (At one point, she comments that all humans are technically cannibals since the atoms of the earth are recycled from one living being to another. That's the sort of insight that a middle schooler might find profound, but for someone like Zelia, that should be kind of a "duh" thought.)

Monday, January 27, 2014

Why "Modern Day GAME OF THRONES" Won't Work

I recently saw someone on the internet mention that she was writing a YA contemporary Game of Thrones set in modern day. I don't know whether she plans to make it an actual "re-telling," or if it's basically just a story involving a lot of political intrigue, but either way, the idea makes me angry.

A real story is inseparable from its setting. Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire is a story that runs on feudalism, traditional ideas of gender, honor, and inheritance, and magical history. It's a story of wide-scale conflict, with competing factions from several different parts of the world, all with their own agendas and motives. It's not the type of story where you can simply pick up the basic plots and characters and stick them in an American high school. (I mean, sure, I'm a fan of School of Thrones and all, but that's because it's a silly parody of high school movies that's full of clever homages to Game of Thrones and Mean Girls, not because it's an impressive work of art in and of itself.)

Exactly what elements from this story is the author planning on incorporating into her novel? What sort of political intrigue is she planning? It had better not involve Student Council. (My personal philosophy of YA contemporary novels: Do not expect me to take it seriously if it centers on a furious battle for Student Council and/or Prom Court. Even as a teenager, I would have rolled my eyes.) Or maybe it involves real politics? Maybe a senator's kid discovers that the vice president is banging someone he shouldn't be banging, and thus there's a huge outcry about whether or not this person can be sworn in after the president's death. I mean, yeah, you have political intrigue, but a) political leaders having affairs and engaging in dirty business isn't something that's exclusive to Game of Thrones, and b) it'll be very hard to center this story around teenagers.

Honestly, I wish people would stop relying on other people's stories for ideas and instead come up with their own.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

WIP Marathon Check-in #8

Last check-in: 1000 words into re-writing chapter 8 (22,700 words)

Currently: Finished the first scene in chapter 8. I'm about 1600 words in, but I'm having trouble figuring out what to do with it.

As a result, half of my writing this week involved later scenes that I never got around to writing in the last draft. I made a lot of progress on those chapters, and I'm only about 5 scenes away from the end of the novel.

WIP issues this week: The second scene of chapter 8. Originally, there was a big fight scene at the beginning, but due to the changes I made to the first scene, there is less of a necessity for a fight. I'm not really sure what to do at this point:

Reasons not to write the fight scene:
-this scene doesn't transition into it well
-my word count is already too long
-it's mostly between secondary characters (This is more of a reason other people wouldn't want me to write the fight scene. Personally, I place an enormous amount of value on my secondary characters.)

Reasons to write the fight scene:
-there was a lot of buildup to it, and you can't just build up to a fight scene without including a fight scene
-revealing the secondary characters' magical abilities (some will come into play later on)
-a couple elements of that fight are necessary to further the plot

What do you guys think?

What I learned this week in writing: A friend sent me this:

What distracted me this week while writing: classes, Foreign Gods, Inc., blogging (I finally reviewed The Edge of Normal), being tired, etc.

Friday, January 24, 2014

New Adult Project: "The Edge of Normal" by Carla Norton (recommended)

Goodreads Summary:

In many ways, Reeve LeClaire looks like a typical twenty-two year old girl. She’s finally landed her own apartment, she waitresses to pay the bills, and she wishes she wasn’t so nervous around new people. She thinks of herself as agile, not skittish. As serious, not grim. But Reeve is anything but normal.

Ten years ago, she was kidnapped and held captive. After a lucky escape, she’s spent the last six years trying to rebuild her life, a recovery thanks in large part to her indispensable therapist Dr. Ezra Lerner. But when he asks her to help another girl rescued from a similar situation, Reeve realizes she may not simply need to mentor this young victim—she may be the only one who can protect her from a cunning predator who is still out there, watching every move.

From the author of the #1 non-fiction bestseller Perfect Victim: The True Story of the Girl in the Box comes a novel that draws you into a chilling and engrossing world. With powerfully gripping characters and an ending that is a masterpiece of deception, Carla Norton's The Edge of Normal is a stunning debut thriller. 


So...I've been on a long unintended hiatus (read: busy and/or lazy), and a conversation on twitter reminded me that it's about time I put my Reviewer Pants back on.

I grabbed a copy of The Edge of Normal at BEA, read it last fall, enjoyed it, and then never got around to reviewing it--which is a travesty, because I think a lot of people will love it.

The Edge of Normal is an NA thriller (well, not "officially" NA) that combines a mystery/suspense plotline with a story about overcoming trauma. The protagonist, Reeve, was kidnapped ten years prior to the story and held in captivity for four years. The six years between her ordeal and the beginning of the novel give her enough distance that she can function (somewhat) in society, but she is still very much on the road to recovery.

What I loved about this story is Reeve. Yes, she is a victim of her past--but that's not where her story ends. She is a smart, driven, and most importantly, capable protagonist. Seriously, if you're looking for a strong female character, you have one right here.

(Also, fun fact: This book has (gasp!) no romance. Why? Because it doesn't need any.)

My one issue: Although the antagonist was very cunning, I didn't find him as intimidating as I expected. His habit of referring to other characters by elementary school nicknames sometimes made it difficult to take him seriously.


Other New Adult Project Reviews

Saturday, January 18, 2014

WIP Marathon Check-in #7

Last check-in: 200 word into chapter 8 re-write (21,900 words)

Currently: 1000 words into chapter 8 (current word count = 22,700)

WIP issues this week: No major issues.

What I learned this week in writing: My main writing problem is actually sitting down to write. I used to tell myself that I'd write when I got home, after that day's responsibilities were taken care of, but that strategy isn't usually successful--for one, because I'm tired, and for another, because "I'll write later" can mean anything from "I'll write as soon as I get home" to "I'll write after I've browsed the internet" to "I'll write after dinner" to "I'll write at midnight." Usually what happens is that I don't end up writing anything at all.

Lately, I've been finding more time to write in the mornings--when I'm more productive and when I have a foreseeable time limit. I actually looked at my schedule and figured out which days I'd be able to write and which I wouldn't. This week, I only had two writing days (three if you count today, but I decided to take care of blogging first), hence the low word count.

What distracted me this week while writing: This was the last week of our neuroscience course, so I had two exams and a presentation.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

WIP Marathon Check-in #6

Last check-in: Finished editing chapter 6 (15,800 words)

Currently: Finished editing chapter 7 (5900 words). Started re-writing chapter 8 (200 words). (Current word count = 21,900). Also, I figured out how to solve a sticky plot issue at the end of the last draft.

WIP Issues this week: This week has been less about dealing with issues and more about solving them. When I re-wrote my second chapter, I knew that I would have to re-write another scene to make it more believable.  I've only just begun the re-write, but I really like the change. It's more urgent and feels less like a set-up.

I also started writing/outlining the plot point at the end of the last draft. Basically, I needed to get my character to a certain city (within a day or two). This character doesn't know her way around the magical world, and she can't read in their language, so maps are out of the question. The character is living with someone who wouldn't want her to leave, so she'd have to work her way around him. What I figured out was a way to bring a third character back, so that this third character can help my protagonist. I'm really happy with this development, since this third character is an important confidante for my protagonist, and she doesn't get nearly enough screen time in the second half of the story. This solution allowed me to (very quickly) solve both problems.

What I learned this week in writing: You absolutely need a critique partner. Why? Because writing isn't about showing-off; it's about communicating. No matter how brilliant, unique, complex, and tightly-woven your plot, characters, world-building, and writing style are, you need to make sure that the stuff in your head is getting through to the reader. The "hints" you give aren't always as clear as you think they are.

So thanks, Ifeoma, for helping me figure out some stuff that wasn't getting through.

What distracted me this week while writing: Back to classes. Most of them are lectures this semester, so I don't have to attend a lot of class. (Our school records all lectures.) This means I can write in the mornings, when I'm most productive. I've started doing that this week. It's great for my writing progress and less great for my grades. (Also, I read Control and finished the first two seasons of Once Upon a Time. Don't make fun of me.)

Sunday, January 5, 2014

WiP Marathon Check-In #5 (NEW YEAR UPDATE)

Things I’m glad I did in 2013: I started med school, finally moved out of Jersey, went to BEA, wrote the first draft of a scientific review article, got back into horseback riding, and added 20,000+ new words to my WIP.

In 2014, I’d love to: Finish the WIP!

Last check-in: Finished writing/editing first 5 chapters (12,800 words)

Currently: Finished editing chapter 6 (current word count = 15,800 words)

WIP Issues this week: Mostly, I just haven't been motivated to write much this week.

What I learned this week in writing: Most of my writing this week was simple edits, so I don't feel like I learned that much.

What distracted me this week while writing: Lots of things. Went out with friends. Doctor's appointments. Let my friend convince me to come to an overpriced NYE show with a mediocre headliner who didn't even show up because of snow in Cleveland, so instead we had to listen to some god-awful annoying DJ play Nelly and other shit music. (On the bright side, my friend paid for my ticket, so it wasn't entirely my loss.) Classes started on Thursday, and I've been watching them online. I drove back from St. Louis yesterday. Also, got back into Once Upon a Time (still shitty, but at least season 2 has a plot--don't judge).
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