Kill This Character: The Bitchy Cheerleader

| Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Today's Tune: Bitch

This concept came to me when I was considering characters that really didn’t work for me, and why they didn’t work. By way of a disclaimer, let me add here that this is only my opinion, of course, and is colored by my own preference.

One of the more important ideas to remember in characterization is to avoid cardboard, stereotypical characters. The same old character we’ve seen a hundred times could become someone new and interesting with some artful tweaking. Here I’ll talk about a character that doesn’t work for me, why I wasn’t taken by them, and what would make them more appealing to me. Onward!


Kill the Bitchy Cheerleader!

Who this character is: Well... she's a bitchy cheerleader. Or prom queen, or mean girl, or rich girl. The running theme is she's popular and she's a vicious jerk for no real reason. No one calls her on it, and all the girls around her are both terrorized by her and secretly want to be her. Often she's the girlfriend or recent ex-girlfriend of the male lead, who suddenly realizes he actually hates girls like her and really wants a sweet, quirky art student, despite the fact that he dated bitchpants for three years or whatever.

Why this character doesn't work for me: Soooooooo cliche. Oh wow, the captain of the cheer squad is a blond bitchaholic. Seen it.

Other than the glaring been-done-a-million-times-ish-ness of this character, the other major sticking point for me is how it paints the stereotypical picture of outcasts/nerds = always cool and kind, populars/jocks = always assholes. The world isn't black and white. Don't play into these tired stereotypes. Yes, there are often popular kids that make a sport of making fun of the "less fortunate." But there are some serious jerks in the unpopular crowd, as well. And some of the populars are popular because they're genuinely smart, good people.

Sometimes cheerleaders are actually - gasp! - really sweet girls. And sometimes the edgy art student with the blue hair is a snarky, nasty-mean butthead.

How to make this character work: Think outside the box. Skew the perception. Maybe your protagonist is actually the one making value judgments on a person before getting to know them. Avoid the outcasts vs. populars dichotomy. There can be social circle crossover if you allow it.

Let a cheerleader be popular because she's smart, nice and funny. Make the bitchy girl one of those elitist "I'm so uncool that I'm actually cool" people. Watch Drive Me Crazy. Totally cheesy flick, but it shakes up the perception of "popular always means jerk, unpopular always means awesome."

I don't mean to say that a popular kid shouldn't ever be a bully. That character works for a reason - it's realistic. However, it's also realistic that not everyone in the in-crowd is a terrible person. Throwing in a bitchy cheerleader to increase tension is kind of lazy. You can do better.

And in case you were wondering, no, I was never a cheerleader ;)

let the truth be known.

| Monday, March 29, 2010
Today's Tune: Floating Vibes

Oh, yay, Monday. Was is it about Monday's that makes them the bane of a 9-5ers' existence? Oh, right. The back to work thing. Grumble.

Before I get into revealing my 6-lies-1-truth from my last post, I'm going to give a shout-out to Livia Blackburne and her Alternate Version Blogfest! It's set to take place on April Fool's Day, and seems like a fun way to stretch your writing muscles in a way they don't normally stretch. Premise: take a scene from one of your current works, and post it alongside an alternate version written in a different style, or voice, or genre! In Livia's example, she rewrote a scene from her YA fantasy as a steamy romance. Fun!

Okay, now here is the truth behind the lies. You were all wrong, neener neener :)

1.) I was literally born with a broken heart. They had to do emergency surgery just after I was born to repair a ventricle that wasn't quite fully formed. I'm fine now!

This one got a lot of votes! Sadly (or... not so sadly?), it's a lie. I was born perfectly healthy. But my father was the obstetrician that delivered me!

2.) I have owned a pet hedgehog named Chewbacca. My mom wanted me to name him Dostoevsky, but I declined.

TRUTH! I really did have a hedgehog named Chewbacca (Chewie). He unfortunately passed away last year, and I miss him a lot.



3.) At one point, my dad was Mr. T's golf partner. He lives in our hometown.

Awesome, but not true. Although Mr. T's son was in my brother's graduating class and we saw him at the graduation, so the part about him being from my hometown is true :)

4.) I studied in France for one year while I was still figuring out what the heck I wanted to do. My French is still terrible.

Not true at all, though I wish it were. I never really wanted to go to France very much until I swung by Southern France on the tail end of a Mediterranean cruise, and it is just stunningly, amazingly beautiful. And the French are not nearly as snooty as we're led to believe.

5.) I have a paralyzing fear of dogs. If one comes near me, I can barely breathe and have to leave the vicinity. Sorry, doggies.

Nope! I love dogs! Not as much as I love cats, but I still hope to have one someday.

6.) I'm allergic to chocolate. Worst. Allergy. Ever. I have to eat carob :(

Man, how sad would this be? Thankfully, not my allergy. I'm allergic to shellfish something fierce, though.

7.) I used to be a serious ballerina. I competed and was going to go to an academy and everything. But! I was too short/stocky. And my turnout was horrible.


Well, I did take ballet lessons for a short time, but I was never a "serious" dancer.

Ta daaaaaa!

happy friday.

| Friday, March 26, 2010
Today's Tune: Black Horse and the Cherry Tree

Awards day! Yay! It's been a good week for awards/contests for me. Not only was I given two awards by the lovely Christi at A Torch in the Tempest and Lindsey at Dangerous With a Pen, but I won a contest for a signed book over at Aprilynne Pike's blog! This week is awesome.

First, I'll post my award from Christi:



I like it. I am definitely a looks-for-the-silver-lining sort of person, even when it's super hard to find.

And here's the award I received from Lindsey:



For this one, I'm supposed to tell you six lies and one truth, and you guess which is true! Here we go.

1.) I was literally born with a broken heart. They had to do emergency surgery just after I was born to repair a ventricle that wasn't quite fully formed. I'm fine now!

2.) I have owned a pet hedgehog named Chewbacca. My mom wanted me to name him Dostoevsky, but I declined.

3.) At one point, my dad was Mr. T's golf partner. He lives in our hometown.

4.) I studied in France for one year while I was still figuring out what the heck I wanted to do. My French is still terrible.

5.) I have a paralyzing fear of dogs. If one comes near me, I can barely breathe and have to leave the vicinity. Sorry, doggies.

6.) I'm allergic to chocolate. Worst. Allergy. Ever. I have to eat carob :(

7.) I used to be a serious ballerina. I competed and was going to go to an academy and everything. But! I was too short/stocky. And my turnout was horrible.

There you have it! Can you spot the truth amid the lies?

I've lost track of who's already done these and who hasn't, so... if you haven't picked them up yet, feel free to nab them! :D

Happy Friday, all.

what YA means to me.

| Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Today's Tune: Everything Is Alright

I received a few memes awards from Christi at A Torch in the Tempest and Lindsey at Dangerous With a Pen (thank you ladies!) that I’ll be posting on Friday since I already had a post planned for today. So keep an eye out for my one-truth-six-lies :)

Today, I’d like to talk about what YA means to me.

I have always been drawn to middle grade and YA lit, and luckily I was born at a time when it’s always been around for me. I devoured anything by Madeline L’Engle, Tamora Pierce, Philip Pullman, Bruce Coville, Christopher Pike, and of course, J.K. Rowling. Many of my favorite books by these authors came out when I was in jr. high and high school. I liked “adult” literature as well (George Orwell and Kurt Vonnegut come to mind), but YA and MG held a special place for me. I couldn’t stop reading them, even after I’d read them several times, or I was “too old” for a certain novel.

My MG and YA reading choices greatly shaped my current literary preferences, as well as what I choose to write. As a preteen and teenager, I loved fantasy, adventure, sci-fi, mystery, slow-boil love stories as a subplot… I still love these stories. And now I write them, as well.

This is what draws me to YA – these are stories that, if done right, stick with a person for a lifetime and may have a hand in shaping a teensy bit of their personality. I won’t go so far as to say that we ultimately emulate our favorite characters from literature and television, but if a character strikes a chord in us, there’s a reason. They have a personality trait we admire, they always have a snappy comeback, they’re brave in ways we strive to be, etc.

Adolescence is a relatively new phenomenon in the grand scale of humanity, and as our lives get longer, so too do the stages of our lives. Most of us are no longer forced into adulthood at 14 by necessity. We have time to explore, to learn, to grow. This can make for stronger, more self-aware adults. YA literature reflects this. It is full of coming of age, journeys, and finding our inner strength. When YA characters finally reach that precipice just before “growing up,” many have achieved some clarity to prepare them for the next stage of their lives.

Here is the important part: young adult literature is not about writing down to children because they can’t handle “adult stuff,” and they’re too silly to care about “real” literature. Teenagers, much as we may try to deny it, are not children. They have moved past childhood into the murky gray area before adulthood. It’s a pivotal point in our modern social development when we don’t quite know everything, but we’re open to exploration and becoming who we’re going to be as adults.

I love this. I love this time when experiences are still new and powerful, but we’re wilier than our naïve childhood counterparts. This is what I write for – this developmental stage that has all the potential in the world to pave the way for the rest of our lives. It’s hard, it’s painful, it’s wonderful, it’s magic. I want to capture that in fiction and speak to it.

When I write, I try to view teenagers less as kids and more as equals. I don’t want to treat them as though their viewpoints don’t matter, or like they need to be scolded and fenced in because they’re still children. I want them to know they’re powerful; they’re in control of their own lives, even when they feel trapped. I want them to relish the freedom of youth while looking forward to the potential of adulthood.

This is what young adult literature means to me. This is why I write it.

party gorillas love semicolons.

| Monday, March 22, 2010
Today's Tune: Gorgeous Behavior

I've been trying to be pretty regular about updating my blog, and while I'm posting a few times a week, I don't really have a set schedule. So! I've decided I'm going to start aiming for Monday-Wednesday-Friday updates and see how that works :)

For today's Monday update, a few humorous grammar-and-writing related links for you.

How to Use a Semicolon

10 Words You Need to Stop Misspelling

How to Use an Apostrophe

Twitter Spelling Test!

Also! They have POSTERS!

And just for fun! 10 Things You Need to Stop Tweeting About

P.S. - www.theirtheretheyre.com More vitriolic than necessary, perhaps, but makes its point.

rewind: hook me in.

| Friday, March 19, 2010
Today's Tune: Wash Away

I'm going to be super lazy today and repost an entry I wrote months ago, because I'm tapped for ideas at the moment and busy with a Big Project (not writing related). So, here's something about hooks!

***

Hooks, as we all know, are the gateway to our story. They're the opening line or lines - the collection of words that are supposed to pique interest and suck the reader into reading beyond the first page. There are a ton of books (probably literally) on hooks and how to write them, what makes a good one, etc., and I thought I'd give my own personal spin. I've selected several hooks that spoke to me personally, and I'll be musing on why exactly they captured my attention.

I'll start with a big one: dropping your reader into the middle of an action already in progress. In media res. Here are some examples I particularly enjoy.

"The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed."
- The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger by Stephen King

"There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife."
- The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

"Once upon a midnight dreary, as I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door."
- 'The Raven' by Edgar Allan Poe

This is a classic hook. Your reader is placed right in the middle of the action, and left with questions they want answered. Who is the man in black? The gunslinger? Who's holding the knife, and why? WHO'S AT THE DOOR??? It's a highly successful way to draw the reader in and get them to keep going. They want to know what's going on. So now that you've got them, you have to keep the interest high, or else they may become bored or frustrated.

The next hook is one I like to think of as the "Fairy Tale" hook. It has a "Once upon a time..." quality to it. Examples:

"Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small, unregarded yellow sun."
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

"Somewhere in la Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing."
- Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

"If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth."
- The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

I know, right now you're thinking "lol Catcher in the Rye, what." But it has the feel of what I'm going for with this type of hook. They all give a feeling of storytelling - the narrator is settling down and is going to tell us a story. At least, this is what they say to me. "Once upon a time, there was a whiny phony named Holden..." Anyway. This hook works because it's familiar. We've all been told a story at some point or another that started this way. "Gather 'round and I'll tell thee a tale." We assume it's going to be something interesting, so we stick around. The question is, "Why are we following this man from Spain with the lance and shield? What's special about him?" Read on to find out.

Another hook that often sucks me right in is a hook that immediately shows me I'm dealing with a world nothing like my own.

"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit."
- The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

"It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."
- 1984 by George Orwell

"Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen."
- The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

Right away, I'm thrust into a new world, and I want to know about it. Fantasy novels often start like this. Being as into fantasy as I am, I am interested in hearing about this new place. What is a hobbit? Why does he live in the ground? Why is the clock striking thirteen? Clocks only go to twelve in my universe! Why does Lyra have a daemon, and what is it for? These hooks are often grounded in the familiar, but throw in an element that lets us know we're dealing with something otherworldly, and they do it right away.

Last one I'm going to talk about is the one I think of as the "Lead In." It bears some similarity to the others, but isn't quite as fleshed out.

"The year that Buttercup was born, the most beautiful woman in the world was a French scullery maid named Annette."
- The Princess Bride by William Goldman

"All children, except one, grow up."
- Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie

"It was a pleasure to burn."
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

These are the hooks I read and then think, "Okay, you got me, I'll bite." They raise the immediate question of Who? What? Why? Who is the child that doesn't grow up? Why is it a pleasure to burn? Why are you telling me about Buttercup and the most beautiful woman in the world?

In writing all that out, I've come to a conclusion as to what hooks speak to me personally: those that make me ask a question that I want the answer to. "Who is that? Why are they doing that? What story are you going to tell me? What's happening here?" Now, these aren't the only sorts of openings that reel me in. I will start and keep reading a book that doesn't have a great hook, but great hooks really stick in my mind. And then I write blog posts about them.

Also, I'm not every reader. I like to read, and I'll try just about anything once, even if I end up hating it. Other people aren't that open. They want their attention grabbed and kept. You need a powerful hook to do that. You want someone who picks up your book to open the first page to see if it grabs them, and then not put it down. These are some effective methods of doing that, and are some that I often try to incorporate into my own work.

Think of the hooks that grabbed you, and ask yourself why. Then try a similar tactic with your own writing. What hooks speak to you?

bleeding violet.

| Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Bleeding Violet Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is weird. Delightfully, unabashedly weird.


Take a bipolar and hallucinatory 16-year old and drop her into the only town on the planet where the paranormal activity out-weirds anything her troubled mind can think up, and you have the setting of this novel. Hanna battles her own inner ghosts while dealing with the very real monsters of Portero, Texas. However, none of this compares to her struggle to obtain the love of a mother that abandoned her as an infant.

This novel is very dark and graphic. Language, sex, violence, gore, homicidal rage, mental illness, suicidal tendencies - all are prominent throughout the text. That said, I found this story engrossing. Despite the very heavy themes throughout, Hanna is engaging, even charming. Obviously very troubled, but engaging nonetheless.

Reeves' style is sometimes lyrical and very easy to read. There were a few passages where descriptions felt out of place to me (a girl's pink skirt "fluttered prettily" while she was weighing down a murderous flying monster), but most of the language flowed well. The characters are engaging and all have signature quirks. My one qualm is that one of the primary antagonists, the Mayor, isn't introduced until near the end of the novel, and falls a little flat of what she's been built up to be. Most of the other characters are quite well done.

Though there is a good deal of gore/violence here, there is also Hanna's quest to be loved. After the death of her father, she's longed to feel a strong emotional connection to another person, and she searches for it desperately in a mother who is by all appearances cold and unfeeling. One of the main pulls of this story is Hanna's desperate struggle to achieve even the smallest glimmer of affection from her mother, or from anyone.

I can see opinions of this book varying widely based on personal taste and any triggering issues readers may have. Hanna displays a very blasé attitude toward sex, death, and blood that some will find unnerving or distasteful. She also has a long list of mental issues which may or may not be portrayed accurately. I personally found the novel unique and enjoyable, albeit disturbing, but I could easily see where other readers might be turned off. If any of the aforementioned issues are likely to upset you, I'd advise passing on this one.

If you feel you can handle the themes and you are interested in a unique paranormal YA novel with a fresh voice, try this one out.

brian hearts melissa.

| Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Today's Tune: I Think I Love You

So, as I mentioned yesterday, I originally thought the "PG Love Scene" challenge meant a cutesy middle-grade first kiss sort of scene, so that's what I started writing. I scrapped it when I realized what I was *really* supposed to write about, but I liked the scene so much that I finished it. It's a little on the long side, but here it is :D

I haven't had time to go through and give it a proper proofing, so bear with me if there are any errors!

***

Today’s the day.

My hands are so slippery with sweat by the time I get to U.S. History that I’m positive I’m going to drop the CD case I’m holding. I’m the second one into the classroom after the period bell. Most of the other kids like to act like dorks out in the hallway until the last possible minute, but there’s one girl sitting in the corner. She’s reading something with a purple cover and not paying attention to me. Good.

I drop my backpack and practically sprint to Melissa’s desk. It’s empty, of course, but I can almost see her sitting there with her perfect curly hair and her amazing green eyes. She’s laughing at a joke I told, and her dimples are the best thing in the world.

Come ON, Brian. Focus! Stick to the plan, remember?

The shared history book is in its usual spot in the basket beneath her chair. I yank it out, open the front cover, and slip the slim jewel case inside. It’s a mix CD full of the greats – “My Girl” by The Temptations, “All You Need is Love” by The Beatles, “I Think I Love You” by David Cassidy. Classics I know will make Melissa smile.

I’ve just managed to get the book back under her desk when other students start trickling in. My heart is beating somewhere up around my tonsils as I walk back to my desk. Then she walks by. She smells like Mom’s daisies and her dress is my favorite shade of green and I can’t breathe. How am I supposed to get through 55 minutes of this?

It seems to take her forever to finally reach down for her textbook, even though Mr. Perkins has been droning about Thomas Jefferson since the bell rang. When she pulls out the CD, I feel like I might die. I can’t see her face, but I can see her sneak the CD into her bag where she fumbles around for her portable player. She pulls the bag closer and brings an ear bud to her ear.

The minutes fall off of the clock like pebbles, each one rattling in my skull. I keep from going crazy by watching Melissa’s flip-flop bounce to the beat of the music. Her toenails are blue today.

At last the bell shrills, cutting off Mr. Perkins in the middle of his lecture. He yells something about reading chapter nine over the shuffle of everyone picking up for the next class. I don’t move. I’m pretty sure I’d fall over if I stood up.

Oh man. Melissa’s staying behind. She’s walking up the aisle with the CD in her hand. She’s smiling and I swear if I open my mouth my heart’s going to fall out. I stare at my hands. Anywhere but her.

“Brian?”

This is it. My mind is blank, but I can’t ignore her, so I look up and…

She’s not looking at me. She’s looking at a desk behind me.

Oh no. Oh no no no. Not him.

“Brian? Did you make this for me?”

And then I hear him. Brian Rogers. That sleaze. “Uh, why? Did you like it?” I can almost hear him flip his stupid skater shag out of his eyes.

She gives him the smile. The smile that was meant for me. “It’s so sweet! Thank you!”

“No problem. I knew you’d, you know, enjoy it.”

“Do you… want to walk to our next class together?” Melissa blushes a pretty rosy pink. I’m sure my face is a nice shade of green.

“Totally,” he says, and I wish my legs and vocal chords would work so I could stand up and deck him and yell “YOU LYING SACK!” But I’m still paralyzed.

And then they’re gone, and I’m still stuck here with Mr. Perkins while my dream girl goes with the biggest sleazemo in our class. How could I just sit here and not say anything? What is wrong with –

“Brian?”

I jump at the sound of my own name. It’s the girl from before class. The one who was reading the purple book. She’s got a coffee-brown bob of hair and a little gap between her front teeth. I think her name is Kim.

“Oh. Hey.”

Kim chews her thumbnail and thinks a minute. Then she says, “I saw you. You know, before. I know you’re the one who gave Mel that CD.”

“Yeah, well. I guess when she saw ‘From Brian,’ I wasn’t the Brian she thought of.” And boy, does that make me feel like crap.

Her cheeks turn the exact same color Melissa’s did and she keeps bunching and loosening her fists. She looks kind of like how I feel, actually.

“You would have been the Brian I thought of.” She says it very softly, so that I don’t register her words right away.

Before I can react, she glances over at Mr. Perkins, who’s bent behind his desk, and leans in to press her lips firmly against mine. A jolt goes straight through my brain. When she stands up again, her eyes are wide and scared.

“OkaywellIguessI’llseeyoulaterbye,” she says in one breath before bolting for the door.

A billion thoughts are going through my head right now, but only one sticks out: Man, that was a way better idea than a mix CD.

I grab my bag and run after her.

“Kim, wait up!”

beating the system.

| Saturday, March 13, 2010
Today's Tune: You Are What You Love

We aspiring writers are always looking for a way in - a way to beat the system. The good news is we're on the right path. The fact that you're here means that you're making an effort to extend your knowledge of writing and publishing, and to network.

Er, by "here" I mean the writing/publishing blogosphere and social network, not my blog in particular. Although I am pretty rad.

Learning about the industry we want to be a part of and how best to appear professional and like we "get it" is a big step in our journey. Unfortunately, the bad news is there's no easy in. There's no "beating" this system. We just have to play, give it our best game, and hope it's enough.

We ask a lot of questions. Which POV do agents hate the most? When's the best time to query? What will make me stand out? How do I make my writing more marketable? How do I get an editor to give me the time of day? Are adverbs always forbidden? Will dialogue tags mark me as an amateur?

And we get answers to all these questions. Answers that vary, because opinions on all these topics vary, and no rules of art are set in stone. Certain things are a given - obviously spelling, grammar, and punctuation can make or break a writer. But when we get to the more abstract, everyone-has-a-different-opinion stuff, it's up in the air.

We all want the easy answer. We want the answer that's going to tell us, straight-up, do this and you WILL be published. This is how you break in. It's guaranteed if you do it this way.

But no matter how hard we search, we will never find that answer. It doesn't exist. If there were a formula to landing an agent, or a book deal, or a bestseller, or a million-dollar franchise, we'd all have one. All we can do is take the myriad advice that's available to us, decide what we feel is most applicable to our own style and skill set, and put ourselves on the line.

You might be able to "cheat" your way into this system, but it's highly unlikely. Unless you're Hilary Duff or know someone in publishing with enough sway to get your book in the door no matter what. As for the rest of us, we're not going to make it without work. Hard work. And even then there's no guarantee.

Speaking of which, I should really get off this blog :)

Butt in chair. Write. Query. Get rejected. Write more. Query more. Repeat.

death becomes us.

| Thursday, March 11, 2010
Today's Tune: I Will Follow You Into the Dark

There’s an article from the Guardian that’s been floating around Twitter and the blogosphere that I found very intriguing. It discusses the “new” trend of dead and dying protagonists in YA lit.

The author of the article makes some interesting points. Is it just the general teen obsession with the macabre? Searching for meaning when one of their own is torn away from them? A darker tint to life due to the current state of the economy and general world outlook?

I don’t necessarily think that YA is growing darker than it’s ever been before, as there have certainly been some powerfully morbid books for and about teenagers released over the years – Christopher Pike’s horror-thrillers, V.C. Andrews’s disturbing dramas, even The Catcher in the Rye. However, there has certainly seemed to be an upswing in the new novels released where we’re hearing a story told from beyond the grave.

My personal theory is that death is something that affects all of us, and something we will all eventually have to go through. Barring becoming self-repairing eternal cyborgs, anyway. We all try to cope with it in our own way and make sense out of the unknown, which is really what death is. We all have our theories, but no one really knows what death holds. I think many of these stories are born from those wonderings. What if there’s an afterlife, but it’s not what we think? What if it sucks? What if we get a second (or third, or fourth) chance?

Stories of this nature are especially pertinent to teenagers, who 1.) often think they’re invincible, and 2.) sometimes fear death that much more than the rest of us because there’s so much they haven’t experienced yet. I’ll admit it – as a teen, I was terrified I’d die before I’d kissed a boy. Then terrified that I’d die a virgin. Then terrified I’d die before college, or before telling my crush how I felt, or before falling truly in love, or before learning to drive, or before living.

When friends my age died, it was devastating in more than one way. I’d lost a friend, which was awful in and of itself, but underneath that there was this horror that I was also mortal. If my friend could be taken by death, so could I. There was so much they never got to do, and it could have been me.

But what if they weren’t really gone? What if *I* wouldn’t really be gone? It’s a comforting thought when dealing with confusing feelings about death. In these times of war, televised violence, natural disaster, and other brushes with our mortality, it’s only natural that death is lingering at the back of a lot of minds.

As the article states, death is supposedly the worst thing that can happen. Once you’re dead, what else have you got to fear? These sorts of novels, dark as they are, are almost comforting in a way. The worst is over, and we can take away its power over us by talking and reading about it. We can learn to fear it less.

This is especially interesting to me because my own writing tends to be a little darker. Death, redemption, corruption, the true meaning of good and bad – these are all big themes in my writing. I try to hash out my own feelings on these topics through fiction. In doing so, maybe my eventual readers might find something to connect with. Something they can read and go, “Yeah, I get that.”

What say you, readers? What do you think of the trend of teenagers telling their story post-mortem?

your thoughts on YA lit.

| Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Today's Tune: Relator

I had a rather large work order assigned to me last week, so I've been pretty swamped on the day job front. This, in addition to being sick last week, has left me feeling pretty URGLE BLURGLE, if you know what I mean. You do know what I mean, right?

So today is question and answer time! I'll ask questions, and you get to answer and maybe inspire a new post for me to write. WHO'S LUCKY? YOU'RE LUCKY! ;)

In all seriousness, I'd love to hear what you all have to say about these topics. You don't have to answer all of these, I know there are a lot!

***

Do you read young adult literature? If so, why? What draws you to it? If you don't read it, why not?

Do you ever feel weird for enjoying YA? Why?

Are there certain topics you feel are too much for teen readers to handle?

Are there certain subjects you feel aren't broached often enough in YA?

Which YA character type would you like to see less of?

Which would you like to see more of?

When you think of YA, what pops into your head right away?

What was the last YA book you read? What did you think?

Kill This Character: The Guy's Girl

| Monday, March 8, 2010
Today's Tune: Light & Day

This concept came to me when I was considering characters that really didn’t work for me, and why they didn’t work. By way of a disclaimer, let me add here that this is only my opinion, of course, and is colored by my own preference.

One of the more important ideas to remember in characterization is to avoid cardboard, stereotypical characters. The same old character we’ve seen a hundred times could become someone new and interesting with some artful tweaking. Here I’ll talk about a character that doesn’t work for me, why I wasn’t taken by them, and what would make them more appealing to me. Onward!


Kill the Guy's Girl!

Who this character is: This one almost kills ME to kill, because when she's done well, she can be great. However, she's often done poorly, and comes off as phony at best and insulting at worst.

This character is a girl who is best friends with a boy. Or multiple boys. She doesn't have any girlfriends, because she thinks girls are like, totally vapid and only care about makeup and junk. She has MORE IMPORTANT things to think about, like helping her boy buds with their quirky guy websites or watching kung-fu films or falling in love with her best friend and then angsting a lot when he doesn't feel "that way" about her. So then she has to prove OMG SHE REALLY IS A GIRL, HELLO. And not only is she a GIRL, HELLO, she's his ideal girl and he just couldn't see it this whole time.

He never really wanted the boobalicious blond, he wanted his gal pal! She's so much cooler that GIRLY-GIRLS anyway.

Why this character doesn't work for me: My main source of distaste for this particular character stems from the fact that her attitude often implies that girls are dumb and guys are awesome. And she, by default, is awesome because she's more of a guy than a girl. Except she's always heterosexual, and she always falls for one of her "buddies." Usually there's some big scene where she learns how to "be a girl" and then the love interest finally sees that OMG, she has, like, BOOBS. HOW DID I MISS THIS?

I've written about this sort of thing before, so I'll try not to go on too long ;) This character is cliche. She's never as special as she thinks she is. She discounts all things stereotypically female (makeup, clothes, small talk, chick flicks, whatever) and values all things stereotypically male while ignoring the fact that she is female, and is essentially devaluing herself. She can never and will never be "one of the guys," much as she'd like to pretend. Especially when she's vying for the romantic attention of "one of the guys." She's willing to throw away everything she is, everything that she claims made her so different from other girls, in order to win his affection.

The Guy's Girl is essentially a caricature of why male is good and female is bad, unless of course we're talking about getting physically romantic. Then all bets are off. But every other girl on the planet is still a catty bitchy stupid airhead, of course.

How to make this character work: Very carefully. Heh. It's not out of the question for a girl and boy to be friends, and it's definitely not unusual for feelings to develop in that situation. What we want to avoid is falling into the trap of "I don't hang out with girls because they're STUPID. They don't GET IT. They're JEALOUS because I'm friends with the guys." This is in and of itself a display of the behavior that this character supposedly hates: stuck-up cattiness.

An easy solution would be to give this character a female friend that she actually gets along with. A girl who isn't portrayed as a lame-o makeup obsessed bimbo. There are always other women out there similar enough to us that we can get along, no matter how non-girly we are.

Another solution would be to break out of the cliche: she likes a new guy. Or the best guy-friend she falls for doesn't reciprocate, and she has to deal with the emotional fallout of a ruined friendship. Maybe she even gets to be friends with her best bud's new flame - the girl she originally hated, but now realizes is pretty darn awesome and she can see why he's into her.

I guess a more appropriate title for this one would be "Kill the Girls-Are-Stupid-And-Guys-Are-So-Much-Better Girl." But that's very long, so I'm stickin' with what I got!

holy wow.

| Saturday, March 6, 2010
Today's Tune: Wash Away

So did you hear about Harper Teen paying seven figures for a debut author's trilogy? Yeah. What the what. Just a guess, but I think we may have the next Twilight series on our hands. Nobody pays that much for a series they don't intend to market the bajeezus out of. Interesting premise. I'll likely pick it up, if for no other reason than to answer the burning question of "OMG WHAT KIND OF STORY GETS HARPER TO PAY SEVEN FIGURES? HOLY CRAP."

I've been pretty lax on the blogging front this week. Sorry! Seasonal changes mess with my body something awful. I am a California girl; I'm not built for major temperature shifts! BLEARGH. But on the plus side, YAY SPRING!

I have other entries planned for later in the week, including another Kill This Character. STAY TUNED AND JUNK.

EXPLETIVE IN CAPS!

check out kidlit.

| Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Today's Tune: Scar

I'm home sick with a cold today (uuuuuuugh), so I'm afraid I'm not super fun. But! I did want to post a link to KidLit for your perusal. It's a blog written by Mary Kole of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, and it's always got something fun and informative about publishing with a children's/YA bent.

She recently held a Novel Beginnings contest, and is currently posting the winners with her comments about why the openings hooked her. Very cool and informative. The Honorable Mention and Third Place winners are up, and the others should be posted in the next two weeks, so keep an eye out if you're interested!

on critiques.

| Monday, March 1, 2010
Today's Tune: Since U Been Gone/Maps (cover)

Critique groups have taken over my life, I think. Reading and listening and note-taking and explanations and discussion and revision and occasional wounded egos... I'm fairly certain this stuff is coming out of my pores.

Critiquing is tough, both for the critique-er and the critique-ee. There are so many things to keep in mind! How to come off gently, how to keep defensiveness in check, putting suggestions through a filter, all that. In order to get the most out of critiquing, there are certain things to keep in mind.

For critique-ers:

Be kind, but don't be flimsy. We don't want to be a complete asshat, so we of course avoid attacking or mean phrasing, a la "Wow, that passage totally blew. You DO know that the passive voice is weak, right?"

At the same time, it really doesn't do the recipient any favors not to be firm in our suggestions. I've been known to do this. Oops. If we say, "You know, I liked this a lot! I kind of got a teensy bit confused here, but it might be just me. You could maybe try clarifying, but totally up to you! Don't feel like you have to!" I think (I hope!) it's more or less a given that the writer doesn't have to do squat if they don't want to. This response gives them the impression that it's not the writing, it's the reader. If it's no big deal, why change it?

Gushing is great (yay, you liked it!), but unhelpful. When we read something we adore, we want to tell the writer so! "This was AWESOME, I LOVED this part!" This makes the writer feel ten feet tall and is lovely to hear. But remember that a critique group isn't just about lavishing praise. It's also about improving. So give the praise, but also help a writer find their weaknesses so that they can be even MORE awesomesauce.

On the flip side, don't be totally negative. When all you have to say about a piece is, "This didn't work for me. Strengthen this. Cut this. Your adverbs are over the top. Why is this character even here?" It can really do a number on the writer and make them feel like a failure. Criticism is important (and, really, kind of the point of critique), but cushioning the blow goes a long way toward receptiveness.

Don't half-ass your critique. If you didn't have time to read ahead and get a good grasp of the piece, or you really don't have much to say about it, be honest. Just say you're sorry, but you didn't have a chance to give it the going-over you wanted to. It's not very fun to have someone pick at a few superficial spots in the work because they didn't fully read it.

For recipients:

Listen. Try not to respond to critiques as they're being given. The point of critiquing is to get a sense of what readers are going to think of your work without your input. It's so tempting to go, "No no no, that's not what I meant!" But that's just the thing - if people aren't getting it, there's a reason. After you release your work into the big bad world, you're not going to be there. Plus, it can be offensive to the reader to be interrupted and talked over while they're giving their opinion.

In addition to this, be mindful of going into "I don't care if you don't GET IT, I'm KEEPING IT" mode. Which brings us to...

Don't get defensive. Some of the critiques might sting a little, but unless the reader is really being an unreasonable jerk, they aren't trying to be offensive. They're trying to help. It's not personal. They're judging the words on the page, not you. Even if it feels like it.

Work on your filter. Don't immediately leap to change a passage every time someone comments on it. Some things are going to be a matter of opinion, and you are the creator. Ultimately, what you say goes. You have to learn to filter the advice you can use from the advice that doesn't work for your piece. But that doesn't mean you should scrap everything you don't agree with. Take it all in, let it roll over in your mind for a day, and THEN decide if it has merit.

I'm still working on a lot of these points myself. It's a ride, that's for sure. Heh.
 

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