Monday, December 30, 2013

End of Year Review

Whew!  Can you believe that tomorrow is the last day of 2013?  It’s amazing how fast the year has flown.  But I’m excited for 2014 and I already have several New Year’s Resolutions already written down.

Since it is the holidays, I’m going to take the week off and then in January, the posts will start again.  I wish you all the happiest of holidays and the safest of travels (for those of you brave enough to go out in the weather!)

For those of you looking for something to read, here’s a list of a few of this year’s highlights:

And last but not least, a few of my personal favorites.

Have a Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

How to Choose a Book

This post follows the thoughts of the previous one.  We talked about writing titles and ones that catch our attention, and it made me think about how I choose books to read.  I’m a bookworm, and I always have been.  But I honestly can’t think of a set patter that I have when it comes to choosing a book.

I was one of those kids who loved to go to the library and choose random books off the shelf.  Okay, not just as a kid.  I still do it.  Though I haven’t gotten a library card since I moved here a year ago, which is quite a shame.  And something I need to rectify.  There’s nothing like the thrill of taking home a pile of books (for free!) and delving into them for hours.  I’m also the kind of person who doesn’t like to buy a book until after I’ve read it.  I’ve had buyer’s remorse once or twice, which has made me a bit hesitant to buy a book without knowing whether I like it or not.

When it comes to choosing a book, it’s hard to say what really attracts me.  Is it the cover?  The title?  Usually it’s a combination of them along with the blurb on the back of the book. 

But all of that’s about to chance.  I just got my first e-reader for Christmas.  I was one of those resistant to the e-reader and e-book because I loved the feeling of holding a book in my hands, smelling the pages, and the finality of closing the book when it finished. 

Of course, I still love the idea of holding books while I read, but more and more of my friends are publishing e-books and I want to support them.  And with the price of e-books it may be just between checking books out at the library and buying them in paperback. 

Of course, this means that I have to develop a whole new way of finding books.  Though they’re all laid out, it doesn’t quite look like a bookshelf to me. 

So how do all of you find e-books?  What’s a good process?  What about a book most attracts you?  The title?  The cover?

Monday, December 23, 2013

Creating Titles

There’s one aspect of writing that I really struggle with.  Well, more than one, but I’m able to overcome most of the others.  But when it comes to finding the right title to my novels, I usually come up blank.

To be honest, I’m not sure that I pay too much attention to titles when it’s on other books.  The only time I do is when it something like ‘The Goose Girl,’ which is the same title as one of my favorite fairy tales.  In fact, most of the time, I forget the title the moment that I set the book down (which tends to make it difficult to find again.)  I’ve had moments where I pick up a random book at a relative’s house, then forget what it’s called and end up searching for it for years.

But I digress.

When I’m writing stories, I never start out with a title.  Well, I did once but I never finished it.  Since I organize my stories by color I call them “the red story” or “white story.”  It takes me several drafts to finally get to something that I feel comfortable with, but I still struggle to find something that pops.

Do any of you have advice?  How do you come up with good titles that convey the idea of the story and draw the reader in?  What titles have hooked you?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Killing off the Parents

Like I’ve mentioned before, I love reading reviews and comments on movies/books that I’ve recently read and enjoyed.  Okay, even the ones that I don’t enjoy.  But it’s something that I do to see other people’s point of view.  I know what I liked about it, but I want to see both sides of it.  What didn’t work for other people?  Maybe it’s my way of leaning more about the audience, since usually I read books similar to what I write.

But there’s one comment I’ve been noticing more and more that almost makes me laugh.  There’s the complaint that in YA, there are too many stories where parents are ‘killed off,’ and that it gives children and teens the wrong idea that their lives would be infinitely better without their parents.

I’m sure we’ve all seen the complaints out there.  Harry Potter was orphaned as a baby, Tarzan was left in the forest when his parents died, Luke Skywalker was raised by his uncle and aunt… there are hundreds and hundreds of stories where the parents are dead or nonexistent.

And there’s a very good reason for that.  YA (Young Adult) writing is focusing on a teen (or young adult) as they mature and find themselves.  It’s about ‘coming of age.’  That’s usually the main premise of these stories.  The problem is, it’s very difficult to ‘come of age,’ or become independent and find oneself when they’re still treated like a child, or in the situation where someone does all the hard stuff for them.  Parents are the providers.  They’re going to protect and shield their children from the hard stuff as long as they’re there.  And that’s going to kill the story.

I’m not saying that the parents have to die, though that is the most convenient because it adds the emotional baggage of dealing with their death.  (And yes, I know how terribly morbid that last sentence sounds.)  There are other ways to do it.  Parents who are so involved in their careers that the young adult is practically independent already.  Or parents who have to travel so much that they’re never home.  There’s parents who are used as bait for the children to save (as in the Red Pyramid.)

So though it's not beneficial in real life, in many YA stories, the parents need to be nonexistent so that the main characters can grow and develop.

Don’t worry, I’ll come back to this thought later.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Writing Under Stress

Recently, I’ve been put under quite a bit of stress.  And I’m having a hard time dealing with it.  It’s something that’s affecting all aspects of my life – sleeping, eating, working, and basically functioning.  I’m one of those people who don’t thrive under that kind of pressure.  Choosing a college, taking the SAT’s, Finals, clinicals, taking boards, finding a job… Those are all kinds of things that I can’t control.  And really, that’s what I struggle with.  If I can’t control the stress, then I don’t know how to deal with it.

I have found ways to de-stress myself.  Things that help me remove myself from the situation.  Things like sitting at the piano and banging on the keys until I’m too tired to think anymore.  Or baking.  Sometimes even cleaning. 

But there has always been one sure way of removing stress.  At least for me.  And that’s writing.  Escaping into a new world, where everything I’m struggling with doesn’t exist, helps me remove myself from myself.  If that makes any sense.  No matter what my trials are, I always know that theirs are worse.  And that’s because I make it so. 

It’s that little matter of saying, ‘I’m having a hard time at work?  Let’s see how you deal with an entire town burning your house down.’  I think the characters overcome more trials when I’m stressed just because I need to see it work out for someone.  I can put them through whatever it takes as long as they can work through it at some point.

What are some of the trials you’ve put your characters through?  Do you find writing stressful or a way to de-stress?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Writing for an Audience

This week, I sent my NaNoWriMo novel to my alpha.  (The best alpha in the world!  She never minces words if she doesn’t like something.)  Her response has been making me grin like an idiot all week.

“That was a November well spent.  I loved it!  I haven’t gotten much done the last couple of days.”

I love it when I get criticism because it helps me know what I need to improve, but I also like comments like this.  Because ultimately, I am writing for an audience, though to be honest, I’m not sure when that started to happen.

When I first started writing, I was just for me.  I wrote the stories because they were in my head, screaming to get out.  But sometime recently, I started to realize that these stories were something to share, not to hold onto. 

The audience, or the reader, is really the soul of the story.  Without someone to read it, what’s the point of writing it?  Who’s going to fall in love with the characters? 

I love my stories, but I’ve analyzed them too much, paid too much attention to every single word, the syntax and the sentence lengths, that sometimes I forget about the magic that created it.  Whenever I have a reader who enjoys my work, it renews my desire to keep writing, to enjoy the magic of creating and diving into a new world.  

What do you do to keep up your enthusiasm when you're writing?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Fairy Tales and Childhood

Last week, my husband and I went to see Frozen.  I am a huge Disney fan, and when I saw the trailer, I was incredibly excited, especially when I found out that it was based off of the story of the Ice Queen.  I was curious to see how they would do it, especially since it didn’t look like they were following the main plot points as much as they usually did.

To say I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I loved the small twists that gave a nod to Han Christen Anderson’s original.  I won’t mention them here, just to prevent spoilers. 
One of the things that I love to do, especially when I read/watch something that I really enjoy, is to go online and read others’ reviews on the topic.  Usually I don’t post my own, but I like to see both sides of the story.  And for some reason, I like to read the negative reviews, to see what sections were a bit less satisfying for others. 

What surprised me the most about these negative reviews were two things: One it was considered a ‘good effort,’ but nowhere up to par with the Disney classics like Lion King or Little Mermaid.  The other complaint was that the score was less than thrilling with ‘forgettable’ songs, except for one.  And if you’ve seen the movie, you know which one they’re talking about.

So I’ve been thinking about that quite a bit recently.  What made those Disney movies classics?  How is it that most of the new movies are considered subpar when compared to them?  Is it the animation?  Is it the music? 

As I was thinking about this, I talked to one of my sisters about it, and how much I enjoyed it.  I began mentioning that the story meant so much more to me because I loved the story of the Snow Queen, and I loved seeing it expanded in the way that it was.  She mentioned to me that maybe I enjoyed it so much because I knew the story.  I was already familiar with the characters – to a specific point.  That’s one of the things that Disney is most famous for.  They take classics that everyone has grown up with – Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and give it a new spin.

Why is there such a surge in fairy tales in the movies?  Yes, I’m sure it has something to do with copyrights, but I think it also has to do with the fact that fairy tales are almost universally a part of everyone’s childhood.  It touches them in ways that perhaps a new story won’t.  How many people read a classic from their childhood and immediately get a flood of nostalgia?  I think that’s one of the reasons that the Polar Express and Where the Wild Things Are became movies.  Not because they were that long or good of stories, but because they touched the viewers in a way that a new story might not have.

So when I see critics of Frozen, I wonder how many of them know the actual fairy tale.  It’s not as common as a story like Beauty and the Beast, or even Rapunzel.  I think Rapunzel received much higher praise, just because it was a well-known fairy tale with a unique twist.

Now, for the second question, I’d like to take this just a bit further.  The songs were heard by critics, aka adults.  How many of those adults, comparing the score to classics from the Lion King, were children when watching those classics?  I went back and compared the music.  I know that this is all very subjective, but I think that if the Lion King were to come out for the first time, it wouldn’t be as well received by our critics as it was back then.  Those songs aren’t just a representation of ‘good music,’ but they’re also a representation of our childhood – a time that seemed simpler, when things were happier.  So how could anything else compare? 

But when we look at these movies – for children – with the eyes of children, something surprising may occur.  This isn’t our childhood anymore, but it is theirs.  In ten year from now, I’m almost positive that songs from Frozen, Tangled, and all the movies coming out will be considered the ‘classics.’  While the songs that we grew up with will be considered ‘old.’  In fact, I’ve already seen that happen with some children that I’ve worked with recently.  

What do you think?

Friday, December 6, 2013

Setting Goals

Can you believe that we're now in December?  I can't believe by how much has happened this year.  But as I look back, I realize that it's because I'm finally setting clear goals, especially when it comes to writing.  This year, I decided to make writing a priority, and I'm amazed by how much I've been able to accomplish.
This year, I've revised my Red WIP twice, written two new novels, joined writing groups, both online and in person.  I started this blog and joined social networking sites, met other writers and made some great friendships.  I think that's more than I've been able to do in the past decade.  It's pretty amazing, and I hope to continue to increase my productivity next year as well.

So now, I'm working on setting goals for next year, using December to look at what I've been able to do this year and what I want to do next year.  It's an opportunity to focus on what I want to accomplish, and I'm still working on the list.

When setting goals, it's important to try new things, to expand our abilities in what we do, but it's also important to remember not to set unrealistic goals that make us feel like failures if we don't accomplish them.  There's always a balance.  And if there is a goal that seems achievable, then it might be a good idea to break it up into bite sized goals that can be built one on another.

For example, I would like to work towards publishing now.  I have a MS that I feel is ready to be sent out.  This year, I've edited it quite ruthlessly, and had numerous betas tear it apart as well.  It's been torn apart and put back together and I'm really happy with the way that it's turned out so far.

But just making a goal of getting published isn't going to set me in the right direction.  It would probably help me to use the month of January to research literary agents, write (and revise!) a killer query and synopsis.  I have to know the steps to accomplishing my goal if I even want to start out.  Otherwise, I'm setting myself up for failure.

It's still early in December, but I think it's important to think about those goals and resolutions for 2014.  What do you plan on accomplishing?  How do you make sure that you accomplish your goals?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Contractions: Yes or No?

I just finished NaNoWriMo last month, and it was an exhilarating experience.  Of course, just like any other, there are positive and negatives, but I feel that the positives greatly outweighed the negative. 

And while participating, there’s the chance of hearing advice on how to increase word count if you’re nearing the end of the month and you still haven’t gotten quite there.  Advice like giving your character two names as a first name.  Or deleting contractions, making them two words.

Now this advice I find very interesting because that’s exactly what I did the first time I wrote a novel.  It was set in an older time period, so I assumed to make it sound ‘older,’ I should delete all of the contractions.  I also thought it would make my character sound more sophisticated because she's royalty.  Basically, I made it sound stale and stiff.

Dialogue is something that flows naturally, and yes, there are some people who may not use contractions as often, but more often than not, they’re going to escape at some point.  And when writing narrative, it’s incredibly dull to read something that doesn’t have any contractions at all.  I’ve read some drafts for betas who have left out contractions and I found it difficult to feel pulled into the story.  It almost felt as though I was being held at arm’s length. 

This post is short because I want to know your opinions.  When you read, do you notice contractions at all?  Do you think that not using them sounds more formal or more ‘writerly?’

Monday, December 2, 2013

Pulling Your Reader Out of the Story

Have you ever read a really great book that made you think: “This would be absolutely perfect, except….”
I read a book like that recently.  It was a fantastic book, full of emotion, tugging at the heartstrings.  It appealed to my nursing side as well as my writer side.


I really wanted to overlook it.  I wanted to pretend it wasn’t there, but I couldn’t.  The author made a mistake.  He forgot his own timeline.  A chapter jumped forward in the future, then he had to scramble backwards and for a second, it took me out of the story.  I was confused about the timeline of the plot and I couldn’t figure out why the author had jumped like that.

I hoped that I had made a mistake, or that I read it wrong.  So I reread it.  But I wasn’t wrong.  There was a continuity error that not only pulled me out of the book, but it also dropped my opinion of the story because no matter how much I liked the book, there will always be that nagging whenever I think about it.

When writing a story, there’s so many elements that go in, setting, characters, objects, etc.  There’s a lot of stuff to keep track of.  But it’s the small details that we need to pay attention to if we want to keep our readers engaged.  Small things make the difference.  Has the main character already learned another character’s name?  If not, then he/she shouldn’t use their name. 

In one of my stories, I have a character wear a necklace.  In several first drafts, she carried it with her everywhere, but in later drafts, she gave it to someone else to keep.  But I had one scene where she still had it with her. One of my betas pointed it out to me, asking how she got it back.  Such a small detail, but it pulled my beta out of the story.

Anyone else noticed this before in their own writings or books you’ve read recently?