Spontaneous Novelling

January 30, 2010 at 6:00 AM | Posted in Writing | 7 Comments
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Many people like to write a plan before starting a novel. This has its many benefits, like you have less chance of ending up with untied ends and confusion in plot muddling. There are, however, some more rebellious subjects among the writing nation (including moi) who are either too impatient (me), work better without a plan, or just like to ‘go with the flow’.  Many who have gone without a plan know that it most probably will take more drafts to create a flawless draft this way.

However, there are more extreme aspects than just ‘winging it’ altogether. How about if you went through a whole novel never knowing what the ending would be, what would happen in the middle or who the person in question would meet along their journey? I know – it sounds über-scary to me, too, but wouldn’t it just be darn awesome to see what it would end up like?

That is why I propose an idea for the whole concept of novel writing altogether, or just as a writing excercise: forget the page-by-page-plan, forget the random musings you thought would be a good idea earlier, forget that you have an urge to give a character a shiny new Mini Cooper. Start not knowing anything at all.

What I think would be a good idea is that, before writing a novel, you get so many people to write down characters/plot points, or just even single nouns on their own. If everyone writes an idea down on a slip of paper, you can pick a piece out one-by-one, and include each point as they are chosen.

The outcome? Well, it could go either way:you could end up with a best-selling, most unique novel of all time, or you could end up with a load of garbage. The main point is that it breaks you out of a routine – it makes you broaden your horizons to new ideas.

So, bloggers – are you ready for the Spontaneous Novel challenge?

-It’s-Magic!/Becky/bexmagic

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On Perceived Snobbery

January 22, 2010 at 11:25 AM | Posted in Op-Ed, Writing, Writing Advice | 6 Comments

So my schedule this semester rocks. I’m taking two English classes – Myths of Britain and Intermediate Fiction I – an Arabic class that is turning out to be way cooler than I thought it was going to be, and my very last general curriculum requirements. It makes me ecstatic. Because after this semester (or so the hope goes) the only classes that I will be taking are classes that I want to take and am not required to take. I will be filling up my mind with all these lovely things that I want to fill my mind up with. Like I said – it makes me ecstatic.

But something about my creative writing class hasn’t been sitting well with me for the last couple of classes. I couldn’t figure it out, not for the life of me. My professor is pretty kick ass, my classmates are pretty amazing. There is nothing wrong with this class.

Except, you know, writers are snobs.

Now, before you all jump on me with all kinds of indignant shouts and protests, let me finish! Or correct myself. Writers have a reputation of being absolute snobs. When a person who is not a writer thinks of a writer, they imagine the starving artist, the person who has a superior insight into the human condition, the person who has been gifted by some divine light to put life on a page for all (or some) people to view with a renewed sense of being.

But I’m a writer, and I certainly am not any of those things. I have a talent (maybe) but I practice, a lot. I read, a lot. And I don’t think I have a superior insight into anything. I write what I know, what I feel and what I learn. I write what I imagine, what I fantasize and what I imagine other people fantasize. And I don’t like being put into a category that is elitist and snobby.

And that’s what bothers me most about this class. Because, accidentally (or purposely), the professor and my classmates have put themselves up on a pedestal. They have decreed (yes, it is a strong word) that they and their writing colleagues and better, in some form or another, than the common man. And that doesn’t sit well with me.

Do you guys ever feel that way? Am I weird to feel this way? Please – do tell!

Posted by Sumayyah (Cross posted to The Raven Desk)

Interview with Literary Agent Natalie Fischer

January 18, 2010 at 1:31 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

Today we are happy to have the fantastic Natalie Fischer of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency with us to answer a few questions! Enjoy the interview, guys.

TWFT: What factors played into your decision to be a literary agent? Had it always been an interest of yours?

NF: I’d originally set out to be a writer! I started writing middle grade novels when I was eleven, bought Jeff Herman’s Writer’s Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents, and started sending off (horrible) queries. By the time I was fourteen, I had my first contract with a Literary Agency(which didn’t pan out, but was great experience!), and had decided that there was no other world for me than the publishing one. So, if I couldn’t write…I would sell!

Starting so young, and receiving so many rejections of my own, has given me such wonderful insight to the entire process writers go through. When I see a submission, I see it not just through my eyes, but through the writer’s as well. Because of this, I will always hold a soft spot for new authors, and will always want to be as helpful as possible no matter what my final decision may be!

TWFT:  How important is a perfect query in the publishing industry? How often do you personally read “perfect” queries?

NF: I don’t think this “perfect query” exists. There are certainly better ways to write one (our Facebook site gives a solid template), but no matter how well it is written, if the agent reading isn’t looking for something in that genre, it’ll be a pass. The reverse is also true; I’ve requested manuscripts from some horribly butchered queries if I saw promise in them.

I’d say I get a good query every 60 submissions. But I’ve requested up to fifteen from those 60. In short, the perfect query isn’t the most important part; doing your homework on agents (finding which are really a perfect fit), and having good writing and a solid story are. (Our agency requests the first 50 pages for this very reason. If we see even one line we like in a query, we’ll see if the writing hooks us.)

TWFT:  There is a debate about mentioning one’s age in a query. Do you prefer to see the age of prospective clients in a query letter, especially if they are teenagers?

NF: Absolutely. This is a personal preference, however; as I mentioned above, I started querying on my own at such a young age, that whenever I see a teenager writing me, it makes me WANT to love their work!

Interesting to know your opinion!

TWFT:   Do you look for anything specific in projects you may choose to represent?

NF: I look for what I’m interested in (I’m very specific in my bio on AW!). But past that, it’s really if the story “clicks” with me, which is impossible to predict. Romantic, historic, and more fantastical projects do have a tendency to “click” with me the most…

TWFT: Why would you choose a young adult project? What attraction do you have for teen fiction?

NF: I love to read it. I find it largely underestimated by many adults, which is a shame, because the young adult genre is just as dynamic and engaging as the adult. YA books have the potential to inspire, haunt, and influence more than any book I’ve read as an adult, and I love this aspect. I want to help bring the current generation the books they’ll remember so lovingly later in life.

Also, the people in the Children’s Lit side of publishing are just so friendly…

TWFT: What would you tell a teenager who asked you for advice on how to break into the industry?

NF: It would depend if the teenager wanted to write or go into publishing.

For writing, I would tell them to read as much as they can in their writing genre, read all the tips they can get their hands on on grammar, style, and how to format submissions, and get as much feedback from RELIABLE readers as possible — moms just don’t count – and NEVER GIVE UP. No matter how many rejections pour in, keep writing books, keep perfecting your style and talent, and you WILL succeed.

For publishing, the best way to break in is to intern. Start with editing a school (or college) newspaper or magazine, then see if there are any literary agencies or small presses in your area that would be willing to have an intern around. Most publishing internships are unpaid, but this is definitely not a get-rich-quick kind of business. It takes years to build the kind of connections and knowledge you’ll need, so start where you can!

Great advice! Listen to her, guys!

TWFT: Are there any authors not represented by your agency that you wish you could work with?

NF: None come to mind. There are many, many authors I love (far too many to even try to list), but the first thing that really comes to mind for this question is: new, talented authors incredibly open to suggestion and willing to keep working with me, no matter how long it takes…

TWFT: On your AbsoluteWrite profile, you say that “most people don’t know” you are a writer yourself. Did you ever have thoughts of writing a novel of your own?

NF: I think I answered this one above…yes! But I’m so incredibly dedicated to my clients, I just don’t see how I would find the time…I suppose I satisfy my writing urges by being so involved with the projects I take on.

Can’t argue with that, but let us just say the industry is missing a fantastic addition.

And TWFT’s official interview question: What is your favorite jelly bean flavor?

NF: Oh man…can I have two? Tutti Fruti and Bubble Gum. And Rootbeer. And Cinnamon. And yes, Black Licorice.

Excellent choices!

Thanks a bunch for the interview, Natalie!

Race/Karla

Swamped by Backstory

January 17, 2010 at 9:46 PM | Posted in Writing | 3 Comments

It happens to me all the time.

I’ll be writing away, happy as a clam, and all of a sudden Character A, who’s really only a minor character, will waltz in and dump enough backstory on me to write a book.

Which, of course, is exactly what I’m doing. I’m just not writing that book.

Even though that book sounds pretty darn interesting.

And that thing they just told me does sort of relate to something in the current story, and it is really a cool tidbit of information, and it wouldn’t be too hard to just mention – STOP.

Step away from the keyboard.

Is that really relevant? Does the reader really need to know that Minor Character A had a pet rock named Angus?

No, they probably don’t.

Maybe this is just me, but I constantly have to remind myself that certain scenes and/or conversations may be superfluous. They add to my already-astronomical word count and no matter how interesting they may be, they don’t really do much to advance the plot.

Of course, backstory is all well and good when presented properly. When dealing with an MC or another major character (like the LI), revealing a bit of the character’s backstory can be good for the book. But when minor characters start inundating us with their life stories, things get bogged down. And when things get bogged down, readers get bored.

So, I have developed a list of rules to keep myself from plumping up my word count any more than I already do.

  1. I shall have two* and only two major characters**. If the character who is telling me about the time they stuck a bead up their nose in preschool is not one of those two characters, then what they are telling me should probably not be included in the story. Even if the bead-in-nose story had a really funny ending.
  2. If the bead-in-nose story does belong to one of my major characters I will still think carefully before including it because it may so happen that it is still irrelevant and not entertaining enough to warrant the page space. Signs that it is relevant include the event providing some explanation as to why something in the current story is the way it is, and/or having had a longstanding effect and thereby contributing to the character’s current mental state/personality/character traits. (i.e. character’s severe phobia of things entering his/her nasal region)
  3. The only time a minor character’s backstory may be mentioned is when it directly relates to and/or affects the course of the plot. (i.e. When Minor Character D can ever-so-conveniently pick the lock on the dungeon door at a crucial point in time*** because her parents were locksmiths, it is acceptable and even advisable to have mentioned this previously via some witty anecdote or amusing scenario.)
  4. If the backstory is irresistibly interesting and the character it belongs to absolutely will not shut up, I will write it down in a separate document and save it there. This way my character(s) will hopefully be happy and I will have their backstories stashed away in case I ever need to refer to them.

* Adjust this number to suit each individual book
** Major characters are characters who are present and active for at least 75%**** of the story.
*** Disclaimer: having a minor character save the day at a crucial point in time may not be the best way to go about things, plot-wise.
**** I made that number up.

And that’s it. Hopefully I’m not the only one who ever has this problem. :)

– Becca Cooper (AKA Elusive)

Do you have what it takes?

January 16, 2010 at 8:00 PM | Posted in Editing, Reading, teen fiction, Writing, Writing Advice | 5 Comments

Are you supposed to be writing?

Now, don’t expect a happy encouraging post here. The job of this little post isn’t to assure you you can “do it.” It is to make very clear that some people just can’t.

We’ve all come in some kind of contact with them. We either know them personally, have heard of them, or… shock… read their (sadly) published novels. They are the ones that make us say “Hey, listen, the people who are meant to do this don’t need you taking up our agents’, editors’, publishers’, readers’ time. We have a hard enough job as it is.”

These are the people that have no business writing.

They are the ones who have grand ideas of what writing a novel is. They proclaim to the world that in a year or so they’ll have enough life experience to write the next great American novel but, in fact, it is simply that they don’t have the natural inclination to start as soon as the story hits them.

They pretend that the moments of writing must be perfect… the laptop computer must be new or the notebooks unsullied with grocery lists or the new pens have the smoothest writing in dark bold ink.

They bring hot beverages and soft music, to smother themselves in the writing mood they pretend must be there.

They are the ones who think writing a book is an easy way to make money from home, just write and submit. Unfortunately for the readers, these non-writers sometimes succeed.

Their ideas of writing fiction are simply fictional.

These are fakes who want to get noticed, not writers who live and breathe their characters, and how these characters are affected throughout a novel. We talk to our characters as if they are real, play the music that fits their moods, torture ourselves for hours at the desk chair telling their stories. We are the real writers, be we published or not.

Take this quiz to see if you are really a writer or are writing a novel for reasons other than ones you should…

And I say it here: I’d rather be a real writer and never be published, than a fake one who forces the readers out there to read my garbage. But that’s just me… sadly.

A Message from Monica Gellar

January 15, 2010 at 7:05 PM | Posted in Life, Writing, Writing Advice | 5 Comments

Who is this lady that is not you? you all may ask. That is Monica Geller. And she has a message for all you college writers that are returning to school. She knows that you have your time cut out for you. You’re probably taking four (or five, if you’re really insane) classes. You might have a job that sucks ten hours out of your week. If you’re really cool, you probably have to go to the gym at least once a week. Then there’s friends (please, tell us who invented them?). And papers. And studying. And of course, your highest priority, the writing.

But how do you plan on balancing such a hectic lifestyle. How will you do all of that, sleep, eat and keep a tight grip (or loose, your choice, really) on your sanity.

Monica Geller is here to solve your problems with a simple suggestion. PLAN. Preferably with a color coded schedule that works in bathroom breaks, snack breaks and eating times (sleep is flexible). Because if you do not plan, at least a little, you will never have time to do anything of value or merit. Your life will be one huge mess after another  and you will never get anywhere.

So Monica Geller implores you to planSchedule. Have a vague idea of what your day is going to be like. Or all is lost. Really.

Posted by Sumayyah (Cross posted to The Raven Desk)

What’s in a name?

January 15, 2010 at 12:37 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Imagine this.  You are at the racetrack and two horses come out.  Both look exactly the same.  Same size same gait same everything.  For the sake of argument lets say that they are genetically modified clones of each other.  The announcer comes up and labels the first as Bandit’s creed and the second as Slow and Steady.  This announcer tells you nothing else but his name but you’re already building conclusions.  You will be one of two camps.  You will either go for Bandit’s creed assuming that he is the fastest thing since overnight express mail or you will remember the old story of the tortoise and the hare and give Slow and Steady a chance.  Without knowing anything about them you have formed a judgement on them.  Now in reality horse racing is far more sophisticated but none the less a great deal of betting revolves around the name.

This is an asset that can be used to give your reader an immediate gut feeling about the character.  Think about star wars.  Say Jabba the hut and my mind thinks large, bubbly, and gross.  Hear the name Han Solo and I think about a guy who is an individual who always follows his own way (at least initially).

You could use this phenomenon to your advantage in the opposite way.  You could reverse it you it as a way to trick the reader.  Remember in Buffy when we were introduced to a vampire called Angel?  The reader wonders is this guy a good guy or a bad guy and you immediately have them hooked.

But names alsp clue the reader into so much more, ethnicity age, date of birth, or surprise the readers when they learn their actual data.  It’s all about hooking people and getting them to think that a character will behave a certain way before ripping up their preconceptions and keeping them riveted the whole way through.

Now far be it for me to tell you that a name will be the be all or end all for a book.  But next time you go through your manuscript looking at your characters names ask yourself are you using the names pre-conceptions to its greatest advantage.

So Twfities and loyal readers… How do you choose names for your characters??

~Alyce

Outta the Mouths of Babes

January 14, 2010 at 7:05 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

When it comes to the Young Adult genre, language is important. In a book, you can’t have a teen talking like a 30-old-year-old woman, just like you can’t have a 30-year-old woman talking like a teen. It’s weird. So you have to use the right teen wordage – otherwise, it doesn’t sound authentic. As an example:

What? Oh, my god. Seriously? Crap. Yeah, I’m pretty much screwed. Life is, like… lame.

Let’s see how these words can transform a piece of literature into a truly great piece of YA literature.

It was pretty much the worst time ever and, yeah, the best time ever, it was like an age of wisdom, but everyone was stupid, it was the epoch of belief, but it didn’t make any sense, life was great, life was lame, everything was totally perfect, everything was made of crap, and oh my God, it was seriously screwed up.

True, I’m exaggerating here. Do teens really talk like that in everyday life? Most of us skew towards the more adult side of the spectrum. Ever-hyper narration can get annoying.

Nonetheless, experiment with inserting some verbiage like this into your writing if you don’t already. Especially with contemporary, a casual phrasing here or there (or everywhere, if that’s your style) is great. As long as you don’t overdose, yeah – it helps with nailing down the teenage voice, an area in which even teenage writers sometimes encounter problems.

Pretty much, you gotta like, get this lame thing. Seriously, right? What do you think?

~ Emilia

Handwriting Vs. Typing

January 9, 2010 at 9:49 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 22 Comments
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We’re living in the technological age, where everything is computerised and everything pretty much grinds to a halt if that technology fails or there’s a power cut. It seems technology has become a big part of the publishing world, too: e-books, agent blogs, facebook and twitter, writing forums. But when it comes to the actual writing – BIC (Butt In Chair), pounding out the words – time, what do you prefer? Typing your masterpiece, or sitting down old-style with a pad of paper and pen?

I’m really interested. Are teens more likely to use the computer, or does it depend on personal preference? Personally, I think it’s all about what works best for you. For me, typing is almost always my preference. I type faster than I handwrite most of the time, and I can barely read my own handwriting at the best of times. I also find the words flow much better when I sit in front of my laptop. Sure, the temptation to self-edit is always there, but I just have to make sure I don’t angrily delete any words when it feels like it’s all going wrong. There’s also the plus that it’s easier to edit once you’re done if it’s typed, and easier to print or email to betas/agents/publishers/random friends who bug you for excerpts etc.

I can see the benefits to handwriting novels too, though – although if you handwrite the whole novel you’re almost definitely going to have to type it all up at some point, which adds time onto the whole process. Handwriting is great for focused, no-distractions writing – the problem with using a computer is that old evil The Internet. It’s ever-so-tempting to just check up on facebook/twitter/absolute write/wordpress etc – I’m definitely living proof of that. With a pen and paper it’s much harder to be distracted. It’s also often more versatile – it’s easier to take a pen and paper on a train, to write on it during your lunch break, to take it on long car journeys (those where you’re a passenger, not the driver, of course.)

So, those are generally the two options for those who are crazy enough to decide to write a novel. (I’m going to class using a typewriter as being typed…although it’s kind of like handwriting since the temptation of the internet isn’t there.) But which do you prefer – and what are your reasons? I’m sure I haven’t covered them all in this rambling post – which, for the record, I typed rather than handwrote – so maybe comment and let us all know. You never know, you might persuade someone to try the other method!

~ Becky

Book Club ~ We All Fall Down

January 5, 2010 at 10:59 AM | Posted in Life, Reading, teen fiction, Uncategorized, Writing, YA | 2 Comments

Now, I know some of you have been looking forward to a review of We All Fall Down for this month’s book club post. Perhaps a Twifty will post one in the review section of this site soon. But for this post I thought we should instead take a moment to remember the author.

Robert Cormier, born in Leominster, Mass., once described himself as “a skinny kid living in a ghetto-type neighborhood wanting the world to know that I existed.”  For writers like us, getting the world to know we exist is pretty darn important, but I don’t think anyone should take Cormier’s quote and think that is all writers desire. There is power in the story that is stuck in your head, stories like We All Fall Down, an edgy read that leaves nothing out in pursuit of telling the story Cormier imagined. Sometimes, there is nothing we can do but let that out on the page. And very few of us do it as well as Cormier.

As to why he tunneled this energy into young adult fiction? He wanted to show us the “strength of young adults—their resilience, their ability to absorb the blows teenage life delivers.”

Mr. Cormier died on November 2, 2000, but he’ll be forever remembered by young adult writers everywhere.

On the lighter side, some things you might not know:

He wrote a book called “I Am The Cheese” and thus wins Race’s award for most fantabulous book title.

The Chocolate War, one of his most beloved books, has a sequel, called Beyond the Chocolate War.

When you try to Google his name and first start to type “Ro…” Google Chrome immediately assumes you want to search for rotten tomatoes.

Now, this is a book club post and when you end your moment of silence for Robert Cormier take a look at this book down here. I know for a fact is it a popular read and I hope you all have fun with it. Look for the next book club post near the beginning of March!

The Book Thief.

Photos from here and here.

Quotes and info taken from: site.

Race

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