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Archive for January, 2011

Creating Great Storylines

In a recent interview, I was asked about my process for creating stories. I wish I had one definitive answer for that question, but I don’t. I sat back and thought about it for a few hours and realized that – that could be an interesting blog post. How do you come up with great storylines?

Let me just say that I don’t ever sit around trying to come up with ideas. If I did that, nothing would ever come out of it. My brain simply isn’t that organized. The stories tend to come when they want to. Ideas pop in and out without any rhythm or understanding. I could be driving in my car, sitting in a restaurant, listening to a friend’s story, taking out the trash, then BOOM, I’ve got something brewing in my mind. I actually got the storyline for my novel from a conversation at FaerieCon. I was talking to a woman about faerie lore and the plot just came to me.

Storylines have also been known to come out of my dating years. I didn’t meet my prince charming until I went through a considerable amount of frogs and really-close-to-but-not-the-right-one-for-me guys. I hated it when I was waiting for my husband to come along, but now I’m grateful for it. So much can come out of those years of your life. It’s rich with ideas if you just think about it. One of the main characters in my novel actually came from a guy I went on one date with. We decided that we were better as friends and are still close. In my novel, Rowan is very emotionally guarded. I can see pieces of my friend in him. If you don’t know who Rowan is then keep checking my ‘excerpts’ tab. He periodically shows up there.

Other times, I get ideas in my head based on something really crazy I did. You know, those moments in your life that make you cringe to think about. I’ve had situations that I wished I’d handled differently. If I could do it all over again I’d be cooler or smarter or sexy. Or, maybe I went over-board and acted like an idiot. I dwell on these moments, replay the situation over and over, and sometimes they turn into stories. I have this great romantic scene in my novel that falls into this category. The scene goes the way I wished it had in my real life.

In closing, I’d say that great storylines can come from anywhere. As an aspiring writer, you really only need to look at yourself for inspiration. Life experiences make the best stories.

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Your novel will live or die by the believability of your characters. Why, because your characters sell your story. They take you through each scene and the plot develops through their experiences. They have to be well rounded so that they capture your audience. Here’s a few key points to keep in mind when creating fictional characters.

1. Character Development
Your characters have to evolve along with the plot or it doesn’t work. Try to think about life in a general sense. Friendships and romantic relationships take time to develop. Some more quickly than others but never all at once.
Also, steer clear of one dimensional characters. Your hero cannot be without flaws and your bad guy cannot be all bad. That’s just not human. Think of yourself for a minute and make a list of all your best/worst personality traits. You have some on both sides, right? Well, so should all your characters.

2. Use Imagery
You have to write using your five senses: sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch. I’m sure you’ve all heard writers say, “show me without telling”. That’s what that phrase means. Allow your readers to go through the experience with your characters.

Some examples:

• Don’t just tell me he touched her face. Tell me what her skin felt like when he touched it?
• Don’t tell me his breath stunk. Describe what his breath smelled like?
• Don’t tell me they ate dinner together. What did they eat? What did the food taste like?
• Don’t say your character is a slob. What is your character wearing?

Let the reader figure out an opinion themselves. That’s how good writing works. You give them the clues and they make up their minds.

3. Know Your Characters
Before you can write a novel, you need to know your characters as well as you know yourself. Not their storylines – them. What are their likes and dislikes? What are their favorite foods and pet peeves? What about their physical traits? You need to know everything about them so that you know how they will react in situations. Try giving them a birthday. Why? Because every astrology sign has a list of character traits that includes strengths and weaknesses. Use them to help you develop your characters personality. May sound silly, but give it a try.

4. Dialogue
This is extremely important especially in the young adult and middle grade markets. Teenagers and children have their own lingo. If you get the language wrong then it will kill your novel no matter how good your story happens to be. Most importantly, don’t try to explain the whole story in the dialogue between two characters.

Bad Writing Example:

Henry said, “Carla, I know you are feeling this way because six months ago you lost your father in a car accident and feel personally responsible.”

No one talks like that and your readers know it. Simply put, you have to do better than that. The easiest way to pick up on this is to pay attention to how people talk in conversations. Go sit somewhere and people watch. If that doesn’t work then think about the conversations you have with your co-workers, friends, significant other, etc. Use that knowledge to help you with your character dialogue.

I know that all this may sound daunting, but writing isn’t easy. The best advice I can give is to say that you need to read a ton especially in the genre you plan to write in. The more you read, the better you will understand the art of writing. Good luck and Happy Writing.

You can check out some of my other articles for writers here: Articles for Writers

Thanks for the Picture: Shirt

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The end of the year has left me reflecting on my own writing journey. Like most, it’s still ongoing with plenty of bumps and bruises along the way. Some stops I expected and others had me turned completely around. I’ve learned a ton and I’d like to share my experience with you. At the very least you can get an idea of how things work and how they don’t.

In September 2009, I completed my first young adult fantasy novel. This was a major high for me. I’d never written a novel before so achieving this goal meant everything. Afterwards, I took a break from writing to query agents and learn about social media. This was about the time I started attending writing conferences and taking online courses.

January and February were two tough months for me because that’s when the rejections started to arrive in my email inbox. I’d say over the next several months I received around 35 total. I imagine taking a bullet would feel similar because you’ve invested so much of yourself into a project and it hurts when the response is negative. This was when I found myself at a crossroads. Do I self publish with hopes that the agents/publishers are wrong, shelve my manuscript and move on to another, or quit writing all together?

I went against all my choices and decided to research. I wanted to understand the agency’s decision to decline my novel. I also wanted to get a better understanding of the YA market. So, I went on Amazon and bought every young adult fantasy novel on the NYT bestsellers list. The next several weeks were all about reading the forty or so books I’d purchased. After my reading, I decided that the agents were right. My book wasn’t that interesting. I’d say I had peeks of interest, but not enough to stand out in the crowded YA fantasy market.

By May 2010, I decided to split my time between an idea I had for a book and a website. Through my research into social media, I found that I needed to create an audience for myself. But, how do you develop an audience if you don’t have a published book? I decided to create a website that catered to all the great books I’d been reading and to aspiring writers like me. I teamed up with my fantasy website Yoda, Will Kalif, to create the YA Fantasy Guide.

We decided the website would feature book reviews and recommendations, literary agents and author interviews, articles about writing, and contests. The biggest surprise of the year came from the popularity of the website which has surpassed even my expectations. We’ve been able to land some amazing interviews and really reach out to fans of our genre. Now I’m getting emails from publicist and agents hoping to get their clients featured on my site.

The end of 2010 left on a positive note. I’ve received interest from several agents regarding my second novel. Nothing’s happened yet, but I’m very encouraged. My message to all aspiring writers is to keep moving toward your dream. For most writers, it takes years. My journey started three years ago. Don’t get discouraged by rejections. Instead, focus on your writing and storytelling. Always strive to get better at your craft. Don’t forget to use the information that’s out there and take part in the writing community. If you take anything out of this post then let it be this: Never Give Up!

You can check out some of my other articles for writers here: Articles for Writers

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