The name of the game

July 31, 2009 at 3:38 AM | Posted in Writing, Writing Advice | 9 Comments

A name can make or break a book; sometimes, the name of a character is important for their character development. Take the main character of “Avalon High” by Meg Cabot. Being called “Elle” by Will (the main guy, if you haven’t read it!) makes him stand out, because no-one’s ever called her that before. Bella Swan in “Twilight” is defined to her classmates, at the beginning, as Isabella – and only when they speak to her do they realise she wants to be called Bella.

Sometimes, character names have particular meanings or associations: Professor Sprout in “Harry Potter” has a surname which clearly denotes her field of teaching; Professor Dumbledore’s surname is an old word for “bumblebee”, according to J K Rowling, which can certainly suggest something about his nature.

Names are important; people like to empathise with characters, and if the name doesn’t fit, they can struggle. So, how do you come up with the all important name for your main character if one doesn’t immediately jump out at you? Personally, names don’t often immediately jump out at me. In the series I’m writing currently, one character – Ella – had that name from the beginning. The main character, on the other hand, was given a randomly assigned name until the perfect one – Imogen – could be found.

For me, baby naming websites are invaluable (and yes, I am sure my parents would draw some interesting conclusions if they look at some of the things saved in my favourites which are research!). The ability to search through names with lots of different criteria is very useful, but if you haven’t any ideas at all, where on Earth do you start? First, pick a letter. One that you think could go well with your main character’s surname – if they have one yet. Then decide if you want a common name or an unusual one. English, Italian, French, German – what fits in with your MC’s history? Then trawl. Write down all the ones you like, create a shortlist. If you need a surname, some websites have great categories of surname-like baby names, which are great when everything you come up with alone doesn’t sound like a legitimate surname (or am I the only one who does that?)

Personally, I wouldn’t look too hard to a meaning that fits your character; if you happen to find a name with a meaning that fits your characters personality, then great – if not, then don’t worry. After all, our parents named us without having a clue how we’d turn out, so complicated name-meanings that will only mean something to the odd person who decides to search the name after having read your book are nowhere near as important as having a name that works for your character.

Another thing to think about is whether you want to be able to shorten the name. It was essential in “Family Portrait” that the name could be shortened, as I had already worked out the situations in which it would need to be shortened, and so a name that couldn’t have a nickname – or where all shortened versions were confusing/hard to pronounce/ridiculous really wasn’t suitable.

Finally, don’t underestimate your family and friends; ask them for their favourite names – you never know, one could suit your character perfectly! So, I’ll end with a question: what’s your favourite name – male or female? Have you used it for a character?

PS. If you’re one of those people who find characters’ names just pop up in your head along with the plotline, then I’m jealous!

–Becky (AKA Beckywannacuppateani)

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The C-Word

July 30, 2009 at 7:50 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

I’ve been thinking a lot about the c-word recently. No, not that c-word – I’m talking about college. My dad has most graciously crafted a color-coded chart of the fifteen (fifteen!) schools I will be applying to in the fall, with their national rankings in various subjects prominently displayed (like me, he is a little, er, obsessive detail oriented).

Right now, after spending a month in an engineering program there, my dream school is MIT (I know, I know, keep dreaming). Their science and engineering curriculum is unparalleled, they have the largest SFF library in the world, and their campus is full of nerds just like me. The one thing they don’t have? A nationally ranked English department. The same is true for several of the other schools I am considering.

“Well,” I try to reassure myself, “some people tell you it’s not a good idea to major in writing, anyways. It’s important to get broader exposure. And most writers need a day job to support themselves financially.” Decent arguments, but college is also supposed to be about planning for your future. Do I really want to move towards a future where I have to struggle to fit in writing between labs and physics problems at 2 am?

On the other hand, most people don’t have unlimited amounts of time in which to write. Attending a college with a non-English related focus could help me learn how to manage my schedule so that I can make a place for writing no matter how hectic things become. Many schools now offer the opportunity to take courses at neighboring universities that might be stronger in the humanities. And where better to gather new ideas for SFF novels – which is what I write, after all – than a cutting edge scientific research institution?

Has anyone else with (as my dad refers to them) diametrically opposed interests faced a similar conundrum? I would love to hear your thoughts. And just so this post isn’t entirely about my neurotic concerns, I will leave you with a quote from Meg Cabot’s blog:

“What should an aspiring author major in in college? A lot of people think the answer to this question is obvious (creative writing, journalism, or English), but to me it’s really not. I know a lot of writers, and very few of them majored in these things. I actually know more people who majored in these things who DO NOT write professionally than do. What does that tell you?”

– DK

The wrap-up!

July 28, 2009 at 2:08 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

So you’ve almost finished your book. Well, all but that last, final scene you have no idea how to write.

The wrap-up is your ending. It doesn’t have to be happy. It doesn’t have to be horribly sad, either. The goal is to make sure that your main character has changed/evolved throughout the novel, and what’s brought them to that conclusion is something they wouldn’t have done a few months/years/weeks/days back, at the beginning. Was there a love interest at the beginning? The MC can still keep him/her at the end, if their relationship has changed. Was there a horrible mother/sister/popular cheerleader? She doesn’t have to change, as long as the main character understands the reasons why she’s so evil.

This is the time to tie up the loose ends of subplots, etc.

Your ending can be whatever you want–but it has to resonate with the reader long after they’ve put it down. Some examples of endings done wonderfully: Looking For Alaska (Green), Tomato Girl (Pupek), Prep (Sittenfeld), Rhymes With Witches (Myracle), and Stargirl (Spinelli).

After all, the goal of writing YA is to describe what the hero has learned through their journey.

– linda

Outlining v Winging it

July 27, 2009 at 8:32 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Outlining. Outlining is something everyone does differently and which most writers have a strong opinion on. Some people insist that winging it is the only way to go unless you want to stifle your plot irreparably, and others say that unless you know exactly what’s going to happen then your WIP will be a higgledy-piggledy mess of tangents and confusion.

Of course, there’s always the middle ground, whether that involves having a rough idea of where you want to go but not planning how to get there or outlining the main plot in detail but leaving room for new scenes, new character developments and subplots.

I think that whether you outline or not is quite a personal decision, maybe even one which reflects the order (or lack of order) in your life and the way you prefer to go about things. Everyone has a way which suits them and which works best for them: just because one person prefers a certain way, it doesn’t mean that everyone does. There are lots of ways of getting to say, London, but all of them get there eventually. Does it really matter what the process is when you will all end up with the same product?

Personally, I’ve actually tried winging it, outlining and the middle road. With my first, uncompleted trunk novel, I had no outline at all. I didn’t even know where I was going and I world-built as a went along, leading to many inconsistencies. That novel was a pile of mismatched, random scenes with no connection, no direction, and no plot. Every time I sat down to write, I spent at least half of the time I had set aside for writing thinking what could possibly come next.

My second, also uncompleted, also trunked novel, I made a list of every scene I wanted to include and wrote a paragraph about what I wanted to happen in it. I found that marginally better than my previous method, but it was too confining and gave my characters no room for growth and my subplots no chance.

With my latest two novels, one completed and one about to be completed, I found my perfect method. I knew my plot, the summary, but I left myself room to evolve and change within those loose borders. I wasn’t stifled, and I wasn’t cut adrift.

So I think what I’m trying to say is that everyone should just try and find what is right for them. It might take a while, but everyone’s different and there’s no other way of knowing except for trying things and seeing if they work.

So what do you do, and why do you do it?

-Metaphor

Summer Camp

July 26, 2009 at 10:49 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

I know what everyone is thinking: ‘summer camp? This isn’t a blog about summer camp! It’s about writing. Man, this andrew guy is du-umb.’ Well, maybe that last part was overkill, but you get my point? Anyway, summer camp does have at least something remotely to do with writing.

I just got back from a summer camp, I was there for an entire month. It was my sixth year there, and it is my favorite place in the world. The camp was called Falling Creek Camp for Boys, nestled within a little valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains near the North and South Carolina border. I had so much fun. But also, I had a lot of time to think. About what, you ask? Well, mainly my book(s). I had three SNI’s (shiny new idea, for those avid bloggers who come across this from time to time) while I was there and had some really good ideas for my WIP. And, when I got back three days ago, I was deprived of writing and I’ve written five thousand words in those three days. And, when I went to camp, my WIP was on the decline. The plot wasn’t going where I wanted it to go, the feel to the whole thing seemed messed up. Then I spend a month at camp and now I’m back in the game. I’ve straightened out the plot and rewritten some parts that aren’t so great.

So, here’s my advice to all you people out there. When you’re working on something, it can be anything, not just a novel, and it begins to suck, take a break for a while. If it’s a paper and it’s due in a week, forget about it for a day or two. It’ll help. I promise.

-andrew

The Network: Kind of like the Matrix, but not

July 22, 2009 at 10:16 PM | Posted in Agents, Authors, Life, Publishing, Queries, Writing Advice, YA | 5 Comments

Networking. It is by far the scariest word in the publishing world. Query? Oh yeah – the word “query” makes amateur novelists break into a cold sweat. Speak the name of a writer’s dream agent and she gets inevitable goosebumps. But nothing compares to the dreaded N word.

I was terrified of this “networking” concept mostly because I had no clue what it meant. I had a vague idea that it involved stalking well-known writers, sending them candy and pink paper hearts, and begging them to be my friend. This idea appealed to my inner fangirl, but not my sense of dignity, so I eventually decided against it.

Instead, I started a blog.

At first it was a bit of a joke. “Right – because the world really wants to read about a college kid’s journey to publication.” And at first, no one really did. A comment here, a comment there – mostly from long-time friends or family members. I shrugged it off and decided that my original assessment was correct. Nobody cared.

And then an extraordinary thing happened. I stopped caring too. At least, I stopped caring about the popularity of my blog, and I started paying more attention to other things. Like the other amateur writers blogging their way through the publication process. Like the talented teens who were pounding out their first query letter for a fabulous fantasy novel. Like the debut authors hosting contests on their websites. I started talking with these amazing people. I started commenting on their websites, celebrating their victories with them, promoting their books.

And they returned the favor. My blog suddenly had readers. I had friends helping to edit my manuscript, giving me agent advice, asking about the status of my WIPs. In short – I was networking.

The internet has made the world a very small place. Nowadays you don’t necessarily have to go to conferences or live in New York City to make contacts in the publishing industry. Sometimes it’s as simple as reviewing a debut author’s book, or offering to critique a friend’s manuscript, or editing a new writer’s query letter. Sometimes it’s simply about looking beyond yourself and asking what you can offer the world. You might be surprised what you receive in return.

~Kristin

A Brainstorming Cheat Sheet

July 22, 2009 at 10:41 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

When thinking about what to write today I was completely stumped. I imagine I was having similar feelings to what newspaper journalists have three days before a deadline having nothing interesting happen at all. But then I remembered, I am not a journalist, I am a writer and it got my thinking, where do I go for QUICK inspiration.

 
If you ask a lot of writers what inspires them they are going to say life. I would say exactly the same thing, but in reality it’s not completely true. While an initial spark can be started by something as simple as a street performer or a television advertisement. I flesh out my ideas using the faithful friendly neighbourhood internet.

 
So for this article I thought I would share some of the websites that I used to get a fuller picture of my idea’s. Don’t get me wrong. I know some of you will put a pen to paper having a full idea in your head, but for me this initial ‘fleshing out’ process sends my minds into offshoots which is always helpful in forming an interesting story.

 
My current work in progress (Corded Bars), stemmed from a story I had heard in passing about the origin of the boy scouts. The basics of the story see an Army guy teaching boys the arts and morals behind warfare in an attempt to teach them to be good people or more extremely help carry information in the war effort. This idea got me thinking and the first place I go when I’m thinking is Wikipedia.

 

Now if you are like my high school teachers who equate Wikipedia with the devil of scholastic research then I remind you that at this stage I’m just searching for ideas. And when you are just dying to figure out an idea Wikipedia is the take four steps and roll again card in monopoly. In essence: Who cares how factual it is? You’re just mulling over ideas! (Although I give Wikipedia credit, they’re pretty close on a lot of things).

 
My search began at scouts and using the links embedded in the page led my too a chap known as Lord Baden Powell, a few steps later and I was at Espionage. And from a single story and Wikipedia I had a basic idea of what I wanted in my story.

 
But Wikipedia isn’t just useful in those areas. I wanted to know what a specific desert was like. It didn’t really matter about the specifics, but wanting to be close enough to factual as I could warrant researching I scanned Wikipedia. And from the description I was able to produce a description that seemed accurate without too much work.
But enough about plot and setting and all those things you have to research on Wikipedia. What about characters. I generally sketch my characters before I name them or even give them personality points. It helps me get a sense of who they are. However, as I am generally abysmal when it comes to sketching I resort to face generators, doll makers and picture sites to find my characters. Of course generally you can only find human looking characters on these sites so those of you who decide my make a new species may be stuck with drawing or crawling over Deviant Art.

For me the easiest way to make your perfect character is Morphthing.com its morphs celebrities together to get your perfect character. One of my MC’s is a combination of about 16 different guys. This website does however generally lead to having a complete set of perfect looking Main characters but it’s just a guide. Another site that’s popular among my author friends is Newfaces.com this one is more a search for people who look similar to your characters as you can’t change them to suit.

If all else fails I would use a doll maker. Doll makers create animated style characters and can help you when you want to experiment with different styles for the person. Should this character be gothic or should this character be a classic trackies and a shirt person. No doubt the character will look good in either (It’s a doll they are supposed to) but you will more than likely have a different reaction. Of all the doll makers available I suggest using Elouai.com and its multitude of doll makers. You can make anything from a Greek God to a Harry Potter character and the graphics allow for a manipulation of a wide variety of emotions, either way they helped bring out my Punk Rocker Jordyn and my disciplined but visually stunning Kate.

Overall these sites helped guide me into my characters. Whether they just helped me visualise or express what was already stuck somewhere in my subconscious I can’t really say, but they proved themselves as an invaluable resource.

So what exactly have I been saying in this big ramble of a blog. Well basically when you have an idea, don’t sit there racking your brain for inspiration or for the world to provide you with the whole back story and plot too. You should run at your idea, grab hold and drag it if necessary. Just explore the possibilities and use every website and application to your advantage.
As always I would love to hear your thoughts. Have any websites you use for ideas, feel free to share :)

~Alyce

Interview with Tina Wexler

July 21, 2009 at 12:50 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
Tags: , , ,

I’m very excited to introduce Tina Wexler, literary agent at ICM, who I recently interviewed. Let’s give her a round of applause!

Would you mind giving us a quick bio of yourself and what you’re looking for as an agent?

I moved to NY to get my MFA in poetry after graduating from Wheaton College in Massachusetts.  After cutting my teeth on subright sales at the Ellen Levine Literary Agency/Trident Media and the Karpfinger Agency, I joined ICM and started signing my own clients.  I’ve been with ICM since 2003.  I live in Brooklyn with my husband and two cats.  (I’m a shameless cat person, though I should probably leave that off.)

These days, I continue to look for great middle grade and young adult fiction, though I’m also expanding the non-fiction side of my list (narrative non-fiction, memoir, pop culture, pop science, beauty/self-help, food narratives).  I tend to gravitate towards contemporary stories, though I wouldn’t shy away from a great paranormal historical.  Mysteries, thrillers, love stories, school stories, tall tales, spoofs…I’m open to it all so long as it has a unique hook and a strong voice.  The only thing I tend to avoid is high fantasy; I like my fantasy grounded in this world.  I am not looking to take on picture book authors at this time

What made you want to become an agent?

I wanted a job that would feed my creative side while also taking advantage of my business acumen.  Business acumen?  Err…That sounds horribly boring. But it’s true. I wanted to work with authors; I wanted to talk books; I wanted to help make careers happen.

What is one piece of advice you’d like to give aspiring writers?

Take your time.  Too often I read manuscripts that come to me too soon.  To drag out a tired cliche: you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

What would you like to tell the teen writers out there that are looking to be published?

You write because you love it, because you can’t NOT write, and that’s a beautiful thing, your passion for writing.  Don’t let the quest for publication ruin that for you EVER.

What catches your eye in a query?

An original premise, a great voice, both.

On the other side of the coin, what are three big turn-offs in a query letter?

Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of query letters that don’t tell me anything about the plot. I can’t figure it out. I’m being pitched a story, but the writer won’t tell me what the story is–though he assures me it’ll be a great read!  Baffling.  I also don’t understand why so many queries lead with a negative: “I don’t know why you’d want to read this…I’ve been rejected by 25 agents…I don’t really know how to write a query letter” (despite the hundreds of websites dedicated to explaining how best to write a query letter).  I’m also not fond of being addressed as Sir/Madam. Go figure.  “Dear Ms. Wexler” always works, or if you’ve heard me speak at a conference or know me from somewhere else, “Dear Tina” or some such variation is nice.

How many queries do you receive each day, approximately?

10-20

How do you feel about re-queries and resubmissions?

I don’t mind re-queries so long as the writer mentions that they’ve queried me before for a different project.  If it’s for the same project, I’ll want to know what they’ve changed about the manuscript/why they are trying my again.  Usually, if I’ve read a manuscript and passed on it but have specific thoughts on how it could be revised, I’ll share my specific ideas and invite the writer to resubmit should she opt to incorporate [at least some of] my suggestions.  So of course in those situations, I welcome a resubmission.

What are the top three things you look for in a manuscript?

A distinct narrative voice, a great story, and characters who will stay with me long after I’ve finished reading.

When you call a writer to offer representation, what do you usually like to discuss?

I often start by sharing why I was so taken by their manuscript, why I think I would be a great agent for them.  We’ll talk a bit about ICM, what ICM can offer, and what I specifically bring to the table.  I’ll explain my business style and try to get a sense of how we’ll work together best. If I think their manuscript needs tinkering, I’ll discuss my thoughts on revisions to see if we’re on the same page.  I also like to know what else they are interested in writing/what else they are working on, since I’m looking at that phone call as the start of a long career together.

And finally our traditional question, what is your favorite flavor of jelly bean?

Pink grapefruit.

Thanks so much to Ms. Wexler for taking time out of her agenting schedule to join us for this great interview!

Research

July 19, 2009 at 1:48 PM | Posted in Writing | 2 Comments

You’ve got the perfect Shiny New Idea (SNI) and you are raring to go. The characters are taking over your life, desperate to be written (please, please, please tell me this doesn’t just happen to me!) and yet you have one problem. There’s something in your story that you don’t know all that much about. Maybe it’s the country you want to set it in; maybe it’s the Main Character’s favourite hobby, maybe it’s the meaning of your Main Character’s name. There’s often something you need to research – so, how do you go about it?

For me, the issue was adoption. In ‘Family Portrait’ and its sequel ‘Snap Shot’, adoption is essential to the story – but I wanted to get it right, make it realistic. Obviously, if you write fantasy then it’s a little different, as you get to make up your own rules, but research may still apply – old myths and legends that you want to incorporate, perhaps. For contemporary and historical fiction, it’s important to get any bits you don’t know much about right – how annoying is it if you read a book and know the writer hasn’t actually got a clue about, say, English schools?

The internet is a great place for research, but it gets confusing. Where do you start? Well, for me, Yahoo Answers (and similar websites) were very useful: you can get real life experiences that can answer your specific problems. People can be very helpful – recommending websites, books and telling you their own stories.

Then, start trawling through recommended websites. Create a folder in your favourites for all your research, and copy and paste important things into a word document so that you don’t have to go through all the sites again for the info you need. Hunt down books, if you need to, on Amazon: get cheap second hand copies. It’s often a lot easier to get your info from books, as it will be solely on the topic you want – the internet is packed with irrelevant information!

Finally, if you don’t know it all, just write: you can always edit later. It’s important to get the details right, but there’ll be nothing to get right if there’s nothing written. When I started with ‘Family Portrait’, the adoption details were extremely sketchy: I hadn’t a clue of the time frame of adoption, or what sort of follow-up visits there’d be, so I just started writing. Then I went back in and added some references to the amount of time it had taken, a chapter where the social worker visited.

To sum it all up, what I’m saying is get the facts right, but don’t let them hinder your creativity. Getting everything perfect is what those numerous edits are for! I hope this little ramble about how I research helps someone out there, or makes someone feel like it’s normal for characters to take over your life =]

Action Scenes

July 19, 2009 at 8:57 AM | Posted in Writing, Writing Advice | 5 Comments

So yesterday I had to write an action scene. I knew nothing beyond what I wanted the result of this action scene to be. I figured that the rest of it would just kind of come flying out of my fingers. You know, like those really magical scenes were your characters are talking to you and you’re like ‘I got this!’ or something. Yeah – for some reason, it didn’t work out quite that way. So, for all of you who are in the same boat (the one called ‘I can’t write an action scene’) I’ve come up with a way that might help you out.

Action Movies: Youtube is your friend here (and I don’t say that often). Search up action scenes from the good action flicks like Elektra, the Matrix (all three), and so on. These fight scenes will help you come up with description. Especially if you know absolutely nothing about fighting.

Kick-ass Music: This is not necessarily crucial, but it works for me. Awesome, loud, rock out music really helps with writing the action scenes. It helps me get into that adrenaline high mindset that (I imagine) a person going into a fight might have.

Choreography: The stunt directors in the movies do it and you should to. Go in with an idea of who’s fighting who, how, and when. Even if you’re not going to write a play by play, have it in your head. It’s super super helpful to know exactly what’s happening so that you can transfer it better to paper or screen. Really. Honest. No lie.

Write, write, write: I know this seems kind of obvious, but when you’re stuck in the depths of despair it isn’t. Once you’ve got the music, done your research and mentally choreagraphed the action scene write it. Write it however many times you need to get it right, but get it down. You’ll notice what’s wrong and what’s not working. But if you never get it down, you’ll never get past the scene and get to write the rest of the awesome stuff.

That’s pretty much all I could think of to help with writing these tricky scenes. If you guys have suggestions of your own, please share. The rest of us would love to hear! :)

~Sumayyah

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