Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Know Your Genre (PLEASE)

by Charlee Vale

I'm going to say something that will sound incredibly obvious, but based on my recent observations needs to be said.

If you are going to be writing books, you need to be reading books.

Seems fairly simple, right? I mean, when we want to study something, we generally read books on the subject. Math, science, painting, knitting, music, cooking, basket-weaving—WHATEVER. If you're serious about a subject, odds are you'll have either bought a book about it, gotten one from the library, borrowed one, or at least attempted to read one in the bookstore while you're waiting for a table at the cafe.

So why is it that people think they can write without reading?

I know this is a very large generalization. I apologize, because I know there a lot of people who don't do this. However, in the past month online, I have seen a huge influx of questions by writers—questions that would have painfully obvious answers if they were reading in their genre.

I see most of this happening with YA. People pop up with questions along the lines of 'Is it all right if my characters drink/smoke/do drugs/have sex in YA?' or 'I know I'm targeting this at young people, what exactly is acceptable here?'

At this point, those of us who write YA, and have read more books than we can count in the category, give each other exasperated looks. Because if you have read any number of YA books (even 10, even 5), you would most likely know that these things are okay.

This is the case with any genre. If you want to write it, you should read it. It's like doing research on your next basket-weaving project; you need to do research so that you know what you're doing when you set out to accomplish your task. I recommend reading 50-100 books in the genre you write, at least. This will teach you the rules for what's acceptable, what's expected, what is good form and what is bad. (Plus, if you find out you don't enjoy the genre that you're reading, then why are you writing it?)

Read, read, read. You'll save yourself a lot of trouble, a lot of mistakes, and a lot of headaches.

Charlee Vale is a Young Adult writer, photographer, and tea lover living in New York City. You can also find her at her website, and on Twitter, and most likely with her nose in a book. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

Revising with Scrivener!

by MarcyKate Connolly

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably caught on to the fact that I’m something of a Scrivenervangelist. I LOVE IT. It revolutionized my writing life in so many ways, but in particular, it streamlined and organized the way I revise.

So when I hear people on Twitter say things like, “Oh I love Scrivener for drafting, but I still revise in Word,” it Boggles. My. Mind.

And since I’ve been seeing this a lot lately, I thought I’d share with you lovely readers how I use Scrivener to revise.

When I get notes back from beta readers (or an editorial letter!), I divide them up into two buckets: Things Run Throughout the Book and Things That are Scene/Chapter Specific. (Lucky for me, my editor actually writes editorial letters like this, which is just one of many reasons why she’s awesome!) After reading them over, sleeping on them (not literally – you might get a paper cut!), and reading them again until they’re imprinted on my brain, I open up my Scrivener file.

Project Notes & Document Notes Feature
My favorite part of revising with Scrivener is the notes feature on the sidebar (on the right-hand side, under the Synopsis and General Meta-Data). You can toggle between Project Notes and Document Notes. 

Here’s why I love them:

Project Notes 
  • Used to track larger scope edits such as themes or threads that run throughout and need to be beefed up. If you have the Notes toggled to "Project," they will show up regardless of what scene you are on in the manuscript. 
  • Example: Good for when you need to add a character/theme, or add/remove a plot thread.

Document Notes
  • Used for individual scrivenings (that’s the official name of the text files in Scrivener) and notes specific to each chapter or scene. If you have the Notes toggled to "Document," they will change depending on what scene you are viewing. 
  • Example: I pasted the relevant notes from my edit letter for each chapter here

Why They Rock
  • Insta-reminder of what needs fixing that is constantly in your line of vision
  • Easy way to keep your revisions organized, so you don’t have to keep referring back to other documents. 
  • Easy to implement color coding for specific themes and such if you're just doing a read-through to plot out revisions.
Split Screen Feature
But wait! There’s MOAR :) Another awesome tool is the split screen feature. This is located right above the ruler and next to the sidebar.
You can split between two scrivenings vertically or horizontally. It comes in handy for moving pieces from one scene to another, or keeping a particular scene in mind that impacts the one you’re currently revising. It’s also very good for those unfortunate times when you need to rewrite a scene from scratch but want to reference the original. And if you store research or inspiration in your Scrivener file too, it’s a great way to keep those things easily at hand for reference.

Status Selection
A neat way to keep track of where you are in revisions and what pieces need work, is to use the Status flags. These can be adjusted either under the General Meta-Data in the main drafting view or on the notecards view (right click on the Note card, scroll down to Status, and select the appropriate one). Scrivener comes with several default Statuses, but I like to add my own so I know where it is in the process. For example, I’ll label a scene I know needs work as "To Do," and the one I’ve gone over twice already as "Edited Draft." If I have to draft a new scene, I’ll flag it as "New Draft" so I know that while it’s complete, it will need some polishing.  And I must say, there’s great satisfaction to be had at changing a scene’s status to “Final Draft.”

And one last tip: you can keep a running “Cut Scenes” folder in your Scrivener Doc so all those little bits and bobs you love, but have to cut, are easily accessible in case you want to recycle them elsewhere.

While there are, I’m sure, about as many ways to use Scrivener to revise as there are people, these are things I personally find particularly useful.  Do you use Scrivener? If so, please share your tips in the comments!

MarcyKate Connolly writes middle grade and young adult fiction and becomes a superhero when sufficiently caffeinated. When earthbound, she blogs at her website and spends far too much time babbling on Twitter. Her debut upper MG fantasy novel, MONSTROUS, will be out from HarperCollins Children's Books in Winter 2015.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Tell me now!

by Brighton Luke

It invariably happens that whenever I try to watch a movie I’ve seen before with someone who hasn’t, they pepper me with questions about what is going on, what is going to happen and where they’ve seen that vaguely familiar looking actor before. (This rarely happens with books, mostly because the avid readers I know will cut you if you interrupt them while reading, so I tend not to be close enough to anyone reading for them to ask me anything.) Recently while watching a movie with a friend, she was glued to her seat and watching very intently, suspense was high, so high that she started asking me a bunch of questions. She begged me to know who was gonna die (it was very obvious something was about to go horribly wrong, but no idea what or who). When I answered her questions she visibly relaxed, then got up and made herself an ice cream sundae, eventually coming back in and proceeded to surf the net while half watching the movie.

I killed the movie for her. Then this past week I was watching the same movie with another friend (I’m gonna plead the fifth on which movie I watch so frequently, bonus points if anyone can guess though.) She also started asking me a bunch of the same questions, (all ones that eventually get answered in the movie except for if the mother had been in an episode of Will & Grace, she had) and I knew better now than to give anything away. She was very annoyed with me, but stayed invested in the movie. When the climax of the film happened and all was revealed her tear-filled eyes were riveted to the screen rather than cleaning up the ice cream sundae she spilled over the phone she’d been perusing Reddit on when the supposed gunshot/hammer crack in the movie she was only half watching startled her.

The when, where, and how of dispersing needed information in your writing is a key skill. Not enough information and your audience will be frustrated. You eventually have to give them the goods and reveal the secrets, but if you do it too soon then those secrets will not have the right impact. By the end of the movie both friends knew who died, who went to jail and who just wandered around aimlessly on a pier, but one of them had an emotional reaction; the other one had a sticky phone. The same information had vastly different impacts based on when and how they found it out.

You can’t help it if someone’s friend gives away all the secrets in your book beforehand, but you can help it if you do as the writer. Take the time to look at all the vital moments and information in your novel and figure out when each piece will have the most impact, and see if you have it all in the right place to deliver that impact. The order in which things happen and are revealed will greatly affect how the otherwise same exact story is received by readers, and how emotionally invested they will be in it.

Brighton is a movie-fiend who's learned his lesson about spoiling films for friends—even Jennifer Connelly movies, all of which he's seen more times than the rest of humanity combined. You can find him on Twitter, Tumblr, and motivating the procrastinators of the writing world here.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Writing for the Senses

by Charlee Vale

Everything in our life is interpreted by our senses. Sight, sound, taste, touch, smell. Sense of time. Sense of distance. I would even argue that our emotions are a kind of sense—interpreting to us our state of being. How else could we perceive them?

The magical and wonderful tool that is our brain integrates all of these senses so seamlessly that we barely even notice the differences between one and another sometimes. It's just a part of being.

I don't know about you, but when I'm going along in my daily life, I don't, generally, narrate to myself what I'm feeling with my sensesI say generally, because there are some times when we do do this. We'll say, "Man it's hot!" or "I smell popcorn,"—but for the most part we don't.

There have been many times I have found while reading books, (and definitely in my own work, I am equally guilty) that most of the time things are described fairly intellectually. The character notes what they see, how they feel, what they are thinking. It's like reading a transcript of someone's experience rather than experiencing it with them.

This post came about while I was chatting with a friend about writing an action scene. She expressed concern that she felt she was using words/phrases like 'suddenly' and 'without warning' too much to indicate the pace and flurry of the scene. I told her she needed to focus on writing for the senses, but she didn't know what I meant.

Here's what I mean, and to illustrate, we have a little quiz!

If someone unexpectedly shoots a gun near you do you:

A. Think "That was a gunshot."

B. Duck.

If you stub your toe in the middle of the night do you:

A. Think about the fact that you stubbed your toe, acknowledge how much it hurts, and then hobble off for ice.

B. Grab your foot while shouting obscenities because it feels like you just broke your toe. Geeze, what did I hit with my foot?

If a person you are not attracted to tries to kiss you do you:

A. Analyze their approach and how repellent they are until they're so close you can barely avoid the kiss.

B. Push them away/step away immediately.

If you answered B to every single question, congratulations, you are CORRECT! (And the other good news is you are not a robot. Good for you.)

So if in real life, all of us would react with option B, then why do so many of our characters react like option A?

I find this very prevalent in action scenes, characters analyzing and absorbing far more of the scene around them than is physically possible. To a degree that's fine, we are after all telling a story. But part of telling a story is to make sure your audience is there.

I don't have any easy solutions for this other than awareness.

  • When you read, look for both good and bad examples, and see how you can either emulate or avoid those passages.
  • When you write, be aware of how your character is moving through the world, and how their senses are reacting. Is your character hot? Then don't say they're hot—say they're sweating. Are they sleepy? Look for how sleepiness affects the body and implement that.
  • Trust your audience. The people who are reading your books are human. They have senses. Odds are they know the signs you're describing. Trust that you don't have to dictate cognitive thoughts for every sensation. Don't worry—we'll get it.

Remember Newton's Law—Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. So let them react!

Charlee Vale is a Young Adult writer, photographer, and tea lover living in New York City. You can also find her at her website, and on Twitter, and quite possibly trying to revise a new and crazy story.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Super Cool!

by Matt Sinclair

“Super cool!”

It was a phrase I’d never heard my four-year-old daughter say before. I have no idea where she heard it. She jumped in place for a couple seconds, then zipped around the kitchen while I tried to put groceries away. She was a distraction to say the least, but I think her joy was easily the most thrilling distraction I’d had in months, if not years.

What was the reason for her excitement? We weren’t going anywhere special for vacation. I hadn’t bought her favorite meal for dinner. I hadn’t even given her a kiss on the forehead yet – not that it would have caused her to jump for joy; the girl won’t even talk to me on the phone.

No, this was the joy of Daddy arriving with new books to read.

I’d called from the library to determine which Berenstain Bears stories she had her heart set on. We were limited to two, however, since the series is on her school’s summer reading list – a list she has no idea exists, mind you. The ones she really wanted weren’t available. But when I arrived home with books, she danced and screamed and jumped and ran. I dare you to keep up with a happy four-year-old.

I don't when I last felt such joy over a book. Elephant’s Bookshelf Press just released our latest anthologies, and I’m certainly happy about both Summer’s Edge and Summer’s Double Edge, but as I pressed "publish" on the computer screen, I told my wife that it was happening. I did not jump in place. Granted, the corners of my mouth probably rose.

But I can’t get the image out of my mind: the sheer honest joy. New books! Super cool!

Matt Sinclair, a New York City-based journalist and fiction writer, is also president and chief elephant officer of Elephant's Bookshelf Press, which recently published Summer's Edge and Summer's Double Edge, which are available through Smashwords (SE) (SDE) and Amazon (SE) (SDE), and include stories from several FTWA writers. In 2012, EBP published its initial anthologies: The Fall: Tales from the Apocalypse, (available via Amazon and Smashwords) and Spring Fevers (also available through Smashwords, and Amazon). Matt blogs at the Elephant's Bookshelf and is on Twitter @elephantguy68

Monday, July 15, 2013


by S. L. Duncan

This week, Robert Galbraith was revealed to be a pseudonym for J. K. Rowling, the true author of THE CUCKOO’S CALLING, a book that ‘debuted’ with Little Brown’s Mulholland Books on April 30th, 2013.

Until the unmasking, the book had sold a mere 1500 copies. Decidedly bad news for any book at a big publisher.

Apparently THE SUNDAY TIMES of LONDON, which must have reporters lining its halls, begging for stories to report, decided to investigate how a debut novel could have been so confidently written and broke the story. Starred, for instance, and quite gloriously, by Publisher’s Weekly, which insists of its ignorance about the whole ruse. A careful trail of not-so-loosely connected evidence sent our intrepid reporter bounding through London (did Dan Brown just roll his eyes?) back to Little, Brown, where it was discovered that the editor of THE CUCKOO’S CALLING was, coincidentally, the same editor of THE CAUSAL VACANCY, Rowling's other Little Brown novel. Of course, there are no coincidences, and this great mystery ended with the revelation of the Harry Potter scribe as the author beneath the cloak of invisibility.

Now, whether or not you believe this all seems a bit too good to be true, what does seem to be honest is how the book performed on the market without a big name to push sales. It is true the book received good reviews. And a star from PW always helps to sell books. Yet, at the end of the day, the book only sold 1500 copies. Or 499, if we’re going by Neilsen Bookscan.

After the revelation? THE CUCOO’S CALLING sits at#1 on nearly every book list out there.

What we’ve just been subjected to is an amazing experiment for the publishing industry. The Debut vs. The Name (where quality of the story and writing are equal). And it seems there is an amazing separation of the two. Take note, because if you are a debut author, this is the hill you’re climbing. You could write like J. K. Rowling – hell, you could be J. K. Rowling – and regardless of your talent, or the brilliance of your tale, you may be happy to get 1500 copies of your book out the door.

So without a name to rely on – and something tells me “Robert Galbraith” wasn’t exactly making the blog rounds – it falls back to us as the author to build a voice for our books on the market. Publishing, it seems, is a slow handshake. A molasses introduction to win readers over and gain their trust, until one day they can just look at your name and know yours is a book they’d like to read.

What does remain constant, debut or superstar (and everywhere in between), is the need for quality in the work. So write hard, friends, and pay attention to all the wonderful advice on this blog about what you can do to make your work stand out.

And if all else fails, legally change your name to Stephen King or something.*

*That’s probably bad advice.  

S. L. Duncan writes young adult fiction, including his debut, the first book in The Revelation Saga, due in 2014 from Medallion Press. You can find him blogging and on Twitter.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Be Like Nike—Just Do It

By Charlee Vale

It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to write about today, and on the suggestion of our own R.C. Lewis, I'm writing about what's most on my mind about the writing process at the moment. I hope you'll find these wandering thoughts helpful.

If you're one of my Critique Partners, you've probably heard the title of this post from me. Probably more than once. It's a favorite phrase of mine when trying to get people past their fears to doing actual writing.

I'm here to talk about a slippery thing today, and something I'm currently struggling with: motivation.

The reason it's slippery is because it always seems to pop up at the most inconvenient times. When you have time to write isn't the time you'll want to. No, the time you'll want to is when you're the busiest and won't be able to. Isn't that the way of Murphy's law?

But what about when you do have the time? When you have those precious hours of free time and you can write. But there's also a new episode of Game of Thrones calling your name, or possibly new music, maybe a TV movie (Like the ever popular SyFy hit SHARKNADO).

Here's the truth: Writing books is hard.

Of course it is, Charlee. We already knew that!—I know you did, but let me say it again. Writing books is damn hard. Finishing books is hard. Sometimes just sitting down to the computer or picking up your notebook will be the hardest thing you'll ever do. But if you want to write, you've still got to do it.

Whatever you need to do for motivation, do it. Find a way that works for you. If you need to make sure you have a dessert-like treat after a set word count, make sure you stock up on cupcakes or candy.

If you're a visual person like me, you may need to find a way to chart your progress so that you can see your novel grow as you write.

Give yourself a time limit to write certain amounts of words, do writing sprints with friends. Be strict about it and make sure that you can both stretch yourself and accomplish your goal. Don't cave just because it's hard.

The number one thing I can tell you about writing, is the AIC factor. That is Ass-In-Chair. Putting in the time to write your book is the only thing that will get it done. It won't write itself. Don't wait for a magical bolt of inspiration to come to you to write, just write. If you do it long enough, something will come.

Whatever stage of the process you're in—drafting, revisions, polishing, querying. Nothing substitues for cold hard time. That may take some sacrifices, it may not, but don't wait for something to happen without you. Make the choice to sit in the chair every day. It's all any of can ever do.

Charlee Vale is a Young Adult writer, photographer, and tea lover living in New York City. You can also find her at her website, and on Twitter, and sitting in her incredibly comfy office chair...drafting. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Why Networking Is The Best Thing That Ever Happened To You ... If You Bothered

by Mindy McGinnis

Present Mindy sometimes gets really frustrated with Past Mindy, because Past Mindy was kind of an ass. You know the type—convinced of their genius, confident they're the next big thing, ready to knock over old ladies and eat puppies if that's what it takes.

Except I would never eat a puppy.

In any case, Past Mindy made a big mistake—she was only interested in people above her in the pecking order, people that could actually get her places. Past Mindy wasn't interested in joining writers' communities and hob-nobbing with people on the same level as her. Why would she be? They can't help. They aren't in positions of power.

This is part of the reason Past Mindy was never published.

Present Mindy realized after ten years of rejection that maybe she wasn't so awesome (130 form rejections on a single manuscript had a hand in that) and decided that maybe it wouldn't hurt to talk to some of the other people hanging out in the query trenches, and see what they had to say about the whole experience. And maybe even (gasp!) ask some of them for some feedback on her writing.

That was kind of a smart move. Present Mindy learned from the best. Then unpublished author Sophie Perinot (The Sister Queens) pointed out that I had no idea how to actually write a query. Fellow YA Query Hell residents R.C. Lewis (Stitching Snow, Hyperion, 2014) and MarcyKate Connolly (Monstrous, HarperCollins Children's, 2015) gave Present Mindy fantastic feedback on quite a few manuscripts, even convincing her after a few years (yes, really—Past Mindy does sometimes resurface) that a particular novel would actually read much better written in present tense. They were right, dammit.

Not only have fellow published authors helped me mold my writing, but other connections have opened pathways that wouldn't have existed otherwise. Knowing fellow FTWAer Matt Sinclair has given me an outlet for my short stories through the independent Elephant's Bookshelf Press. I've got the anchor short in Spring Fevers and a snarky little existentialist one-act in The Fall (psst ... watch for a new release in the seasonal anthologies series here in a few days).

But it goes past the printed word. The people that I've met through networking with fellow unpubbeds has given me a boost in so many ways—from a friend's husband who designed my site for a fraction of what someone else would have charged me, to a fellow author who wrote a teacher's guide for Not a Drop to Drink and the friend of a friend who then designed it, to the fantastic work that an amazingly talented unpubbed author has put into my trailer for Not a Drop to Drink ... all of these people have cut me a deal, helped me out just to be nice, or returned a favor.

That's the value of networking: never underestimating the worth of those standing next to you.

Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. Her debut, Not a Drop to Drink, is a post-apocalyptic survival tale set in a world where freshwater is almost non-existent, available from Katherine Tegen / HarperCollins September 24, 2013. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire and contributes to the group blogs Book PregnantFriday the ThirteenersFrom the Write AngleThe Class of 2k13The Lucky 13s & The League of Extraordinary Writers. You can also find her on TwitterTumblr & Facebook.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Tackling the Infamous Editorial Letter

by R.C. Lewis

You've queried for years with more than one manuscript, and finally signed with an agent. That agent submits to editors—maybe one round, maybe several, maybe moving on to another project—and finally sells your book to a publishing house.

You're going to be published! This is dream-come-true material, right?

Indeed. But to get there, you must survive the editorial letter.

(You may deal with this earlier if you have a highly editorial agent. Self-publishers may deal with it if you hire an editor to do something broader than a line-edit. Most of this applies pretty equally.)

First, what is an editorial letter? Pretty much what it sounds like. The editor discusses various aspects of your manuscript—some that they love, and some they think could be improved. I've heard of them running anywhere from one page to 20+, but many seem to hover in the double-digit range. Different editors will have their own approach. Mine broke it down into sections: Characters (with subsections for each major player), Romance, World Building, Plot Development, an overarching element specific to my story, the Aftermath, and (since mine is a retelling) connections to Snow White.

Our job as writers is to take this document and use it to help us revise our novel to beyond-brilliance. (Because we made sure it was already brilliant before it got in the editor's hands, right?)

Like everything else in writing, there's no one right way to tackle this hefty task, but here are my suggestions from my own experience.

  • Don't Panic. When reading a lengthy edit letter, it's easy to have moments of, "Why did you even buy my book if you hate it so much?" The editor doesn't hate it. The editor loves it. But the editor wants it to be the very best novel it can be. That's a good thing.

  • Bask in the Compliments ... Briefly. They may be out there, but I haven't yet heard of an edit letter that didn't have a decent amount of "I loved this, and here's why." Take a minute to enjoy that. It helps me get a feel for the good things that should be preserved as I revise. But then it's time to set that aside, roll up our sleeves, and get to work.

  • Engage Your Voice (Part I). I opened a copy of my letter and inserted my own comments in a different color. Sometimes my editor posed questions, so I laid out the answer for myself. Sometimes I wrote down my first gut-reaction on how to address an issue. ("What if my characters did this? ... Or maybe this ... Oh, wait, THIS!") In a few rare instances, I disagreed about something. So I wrote down why, and tried to think of ways I could address the editor's concerns without making the change suggested.

  • Engage Your Voice (Part II). Most editors will invite us to chat with them if we need clarification or want to bounce some ideas around. In my experience, they mean it. After doing my own commentary on the letter, I found I knew what I wanted to do with most of it, but had follow-up questions on a few points. ("If I changed it so Event A happened this way instead, would that resolve Issue X?") My editor was happy to brainstorm, and my anxiety went way down once I knew she liked my ideas.

  • Two Heads are Better than One. Sometimes an editor will suggest changing something that we feel would be detrimental to the core of the story. If you're a people-pleaser like I am, this can be a very uncomfortable feeling. Before approaching your editor, it might help to discuss it with your agent or a trusted critique partner. They can help us voice our thoughts and reasoning in a professional manner so we don't result to a four-year-old's response—"No, you can't make me!" Or they might help us see what we're too emotionally invested in the story to realize.

  • Break It Down to Bullets. You may find your own method for this, but I found it easier to digest the edit letter's suggestions when I boiled them to very brief To-Do-List form. ("Insert mention of Character A sooner." "Clear up consistency issues between X and Y.") Editors give a lot of reasoning in their letters, which I found great for helping me understand, but once I get it, I just need a note of what to do about it. A lot of my To-Do gets drawn from my inserted comments or the ideas I bounced off my editor.

  • Remember that Elephants Get Eaten One Bite at a Time. This one is taking some practice for perfectionist-me, but I have to accept that I'm not going to get everything taken care of exactly right on the first pass. You'll have to find the way that works for you. Maybe one issue at a time, biggest to smallest. Maybe grouping similar issues and tackling them together. For me, I do a pass taking care of whatever jumps out most at me, then see what else I need to catch by going through my To-Do list more systematically. Sometimes things jump out at me, and I have an idea, but I don't feel like I want to handle it right then. That leads me to ...

  • Leave Yourself Some Breadcrumbs. As I make my revision passes, I leave margin comments with ideas I'm not quite ready to incorporate and will deal with later. Often it's something I want to insert into the story, but I'm not yet sure where the best place for it is. I know I'm done when my To-Do list is all checked off and I don't have any comments left in my manuscript.

Remember that an editorial letter's job is to help you take something that's already pretty awesome and make it even better.

Do you have any tips or questions about dealing with an editorial letter? Share your thoughts in the comments.

R.C. Lewis teaches math to teenagers—sometimes in sign language, sometimes not—so whether she's a science geek or a bookworm depends on when you look. That may explain why her characters don't like to be pigeonholed. Coincidentally, R.C. enjoys reading about quantum physics and the identity issues of photons. You can find her on Twitter (@RC_Lewis) and at her website ... at least, you can when she's not in her revision cave.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Tips for a Series Bible

by Jemi Fraser

I'm in the process of working on two different contemporary romance series and thanks to some brilliant blogger about a year ago, I've created 2 bibles for each series to help me save my sanity. I wish I could remember which blogger posted about this - if it's you, give yourself a shoutout in the comments!

If you're writing a series, you know how hard it is to keep track of the little things. Here are a few of the things I've had to ask myself:
  • what's the name of the sheriff's wife?
  • does the gossip maven wear glasses?
  • what's the name of the hardware store?
  • who's the crazy guy who believes in aliens?
  • what's the meaning of the horse's name?
  • what's the name of the bay off the northwest of the lake?
  • what's his favourite fudge flavour?
I use spreadsheets to keep track of the information (I love my spreadsheets!!). If you don't use spreadsheets much, you might want to try it for this. I use Excel (comes with Word), although I've used Calc (Open Office) & Quattro Pro (Corel) in the past - they all work well.

One of the advantages of a spreadsheet is the ability to have different sheets within the same file. Currently I have 4 sheets for each series. Within each sheet I use the columns to create categories to help me quickly find the info. Here are my current choices:
  • novels (title, main characters, season, major settings)
  • main characters (name, nickname, love interest, height, hair/eye colour, body type, personality basics, job, quirks, food (faves, hates, allergies...), vehicle, important stuff)
  • minor characters (books they show up in, job, connection to main characters, significant other, physical description, personality basics, important stuff)
  • locations (building name, type of business, owners, moose (you'll have to read the series to find out about that one!), location in town, exterior description, interior description)
I may add more sheets and/or categories in the future, but for now this works to keep it all straight. Of course, if you want to try it, the categories may need a little tweaking depending on your genre and writing style.

It does take a bit of time to set it up - and it's SO much easier if you remember to add information to it as you're drafting! - but I think it's well worth the time you invest. Searching through your ms or multiple mss for the info you need is a big time waster - even with the Find feature. Much easier to open your spreadsheet!

If you write series, do you use a bible? Do you have any tips to add?

Jemi Fraser is an aspiring author of contemporary romance. She blogs and tweets while searching for those HEAs.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Female Friendships in Fiction

by Riley Redgate

I've come to notice, recently, a curious deficit of solid friendships between women in fiction. In fact, I think I've started searching for them subconsciously, and only realized how rare they actually are when I saw the recent comedy The Heat—which, by the way, is a hilarious buddy-cop comedy. Distressingly enough, friendships of the between-X-chromosomes-only variety seem to be overwhelmingly riddled with drama involving Y chromosomes, the rule to which The Heat was a refreshing exception. In fact, I'm having difficulty coming up with a literary friendship off the top of my head that fit these two simple criteria: 1) two non-related women are friends, and 2) they do not at some point in the book fight over or about a male. I find this rather disconcerting.

One caveat: I don't read a lot of women's fiction. But should I really have to delve specifically into a genre that's so heavily gendered that it's named "women's" in order to find strong female friendships? I don't think so. I certainly don't have to read male-gendered genres to find male friendships, although it could be argued that there really isn't a specifically male-gendered genre, just genres that seem more stereotypically masculocentric—crime, action, etc. There is certainly no "men's fiction" section at Barnes & Noble.

Anyway, a lack of girlfriends falls under a larger umbrella of problems. For anyone who hasn't heard of the Bechdel test, it's a misleadingly simple test to run on any work of fiction: do two female characters, at any point during the work in question, have a conversation about something other than a man? An alarmingly high volume of books and films don't pass the test. It's not necessarily an indication of a feminist work—Iron Man 3 passes the test, for instance—but it sure is interesting that this is even a question, in our modern age.

I got to thinking about female friendships, honestly, because I found the friendship in The Heat alarmingly noteworthy. I say 'alarmingly' because a story where two women are friends really shouldn't have to be noteworthy. I also realized that while our culture has a specific word for close-knit male friendships—bromance—it has no female equivalent, which upset me until I realized that given the lack of fictional friendships that would fall under that umbrella anyway, we don't particularly need a female equivalent yet. This upset me further. (I was thinking the popular term "girl-crush," but it doesn't really work as an equivalent; it implies idolization rather than an actual deep human link.) Look at the broad array of fascinating, nuanced friendships between men in fiction: Jay Gatsby and Nick Carraway; Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee; Kirk and Spock; Harry Potter and Ron Weasley; Sherlock Holmes and John Watson; Seth and Evan from Superbad (yes, er, that one in particular is fascinating and nuanced). That was right off the top of my head, and yet I'd be hard-pressed to name one female friendship that has the level of widespread adoration that these bromances have collected.

Inevitably, when girls are portrayed as friends, it hops right back to the Bechdel Problem: they bond over men, rather than inherent traits in themselves. Male characters rarely have this problem. For instance, Tony Stark and Steve Rogers from the Avengers team start out as having issues with each other in the recent film because of Tony's sass and comedic immaturity and Steve's overdeveloped sense of duty/loyalty. They clash initially, but through fighting the villain's troops, each comes to appreciate the other's strength and courage, and they become friends. Not even a whisper of a romance being slightly relevant to their bonding.

By contrast, many fictional female characters seem isolated, turned into islands who have an inability to relate to other women except via the relationships they have with men, and an inability to relate to men except in the eventual context of romance. Even Hermione Granger in Harry Potter, one of my favorite characters of all time, has a sad deficit of onscreen interaction with other ladies. This is partially because of the close-3rd narration from Harry's perspective, of course, but it's still disheartening to see her most noteworthy interaction with another girl her age being the typical jealousy (over Lavender Brown getting together with her crush). And to address a recent YA trend: personally, I find it crippling and largely unnecessary for great characters like Katniss Everdeen, who are strong in and of themselves, to be yanked into a love triangle situation, in Hunger Games' case with a (male) best friend and a (male) survival mate. I really never stopped wondering why she needed to have a romantic interest in her best friend at all—and while her friendship with Rue was fantastic, Certain Plot Events promptly removed that as a factor.

Don't get me started on removal, either. The erasure of a healthy, strong, or even competent mother figure is almost hilariously prevalent in YA (although admittedly this extends somewhat to healthy father figures, too). Dead, missing, or neglectful mothers, or mothers who fall into easy stock character territory, comprise a vast majority of the moms I've read, but that is actually another issue entirely. The romanticizing of dead or missing—and, therefore, totally inactive/helpless—women is even obvious from YA cover art. Check out this brilliant, thought-provoking article on the issue, complete with a plethora of dead-girls-in-pretty-dresses examples.

I think part of the reason girl friendships are so rare is that society is only just starting to adjust to the notion of women with agency, who can be strong and important and psychologically fascinating on their own. It's still depressingly easy and accepted for writers to fall back on the notion that femininity equals passivity, and if an author does happen to do that, it makes it tough for female friendship to be as engaging as two more active characters' friendship would be. As such, since society at large is still trying to catch up with the concept of active women, we as writers have a responsibility to help them along. I'd argue that the most important questions we ask about our characters is how accurately they represent real humanity, which means we need to remember the importance of including ALL realistic situations, like, say, supportive lady friendships that can stand alone. Otherwise we face the glum potentiality that all literature will have the same types of characters and relationships in the spotlight until kingdom come, when there's no reason for other characters not to have the spotlight too.

Meanwhile, I'm going to make it my new side project to come up with a catchy girl equivalent for "bromance." If you have a suggestion, I'd love to hear it in the comments!

Also, if you can think of an awesome girl-bromance, please do leave that in the comments too, to restore some of my faith in humanity. (Bonus points if one of the ladies involved is a person of color or not heterosexual.)

Riley Redgate, enthusiast of all things YA, is a bookstore-and-Starbucks-dweller from North Carolina attending college in Ohio. She is represented by Caryn Wiseman of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Sporadically and with occasional weirdness, she blogs here and speaks with considerably more brevity here.