Monday, September 26, 2011

Choosing a Story Idea

Hey everyone, sorry I've been MIA from the blogosphere for the past week or so. I'm planning on catching up as much as possible, so I'll be going around to comment on posts I missed. Also: the amazing Peggy Eddleman gave me an award! Yay, thank you, Peggy! :D Definitely check out her fun, gorgeous blog if you haven't already.

In one of my previous posts, I talked about how I get story ideas, and I loved hearing from all of you about your sources of inspiration!

For this post, my question is: what do you do with all those ideas once you get them? How do you choose which one to focus on first?

I tend to be pretty good at recording potential stories. When I was younger, I got so excited whenever I got an idea that I didn't bother much with planning ahead. Instead, I'd jump right into writing the opening, whether by hand or in a Word document, and maybe make some rough notes about how awesome my character is.  (Sadly, that was usually as far as I got before I got stuck and moved on to a new, similarly plotless idea.)

Now, I keep track of story seeds in OneNote, which allows me to organize information in a hierarchy of notebooks, groups (which I treat as folders), sections, and pages. I have a separate folder for each story, and that's where I jot down my plot, character, and scene notes. Sometimes I'll find myself daydreaming about a particular story and adding to it that way; other times, I'll think of something cool and then find the story it'd fit into best (or, sometimes, start a new story folder).

So I guess you could say I like to brainstorm for multiple stories simultaneously. That's my way of dealing with the Shiny New Idea Syndrome: start a new file and add bits and pieces to it when inspiration strikes. It's fun to have different stories to think about, and if I come up with a concept I love but is totally wrong for my current project, it's satisfying to be able to find it a home elsewhere.

I like having lots of ideas, but I know it's important to pick one story to prioritize; my goal is to finish a manuscript, and that means choosing one idea and seeing it through to completion. Which brings me to my second question: how do you pick?

I wish I had an answer that was rational and helpful to others. The way I chose which idea to focus on is probably the opposite of what you're actually supposed to do. I mean, most people probably choose the idea they're most passionate about, or is the most developed, right? Here's how it works for me...

How Linda Chooses a Story Idea

1. Inspiration strikes! I have an awesome story idea! Yay! :D

2. *Starts developing plot and characterization, and dreams up a few scenes*

3. OMG it's going to be the BEST STORY EVAR! I even have a plot! So exciting! :D :D :D

4. Oh wait, I've never completed a novel before.

5. First novels usually suck, right? So if I want this story to turn out decent it can't be the first thing I write. :(

6. What to do, what to do?

7. No problem, I'll just have to become a better writer first so I can do my AMAZING STORY IDEA the justice it deserves!

8. *Stashes idea in folder labeled STORY IDEAS FOR WHEN I SUCK LESS*

9. *Thinks up new story for practice novel*

10. *Writes character studies and begins plotting*

11. Wow, I adore my MC! And her love interest! This is so fun! <3

12. Oh no, I like this story TOO MUCH. Argh, this is not supposed to happen! >=[

13. My awesome MC should totally have her story written by someone who knows what she's doing.

14. I guess that means I don't want this one to be my practice novel either. Hm.

15. *Stashes idea*

16. Next!

17. *Digs around in old files for another one*

18. *Blows off dust on old idea*

19. Ooh, this one seems interesting. I think it can work if I add in this one bit from that idea over there and this other thought from a few months ago.

20. Uh oh. The pieces kind of don't fit together.

21. What was I thinking?!

22. Ugh. I'm so stupid! Stupid stupid stupid.

23. *Brainstorms some more*

24. Wait... wait... omg I think I just managed to get them to make sense!

25. YES! I'm brilliant! This is going to be so amazing! Can't wait to write this!

26. But what if I ruin this story with my lack of experience???

27. *Pictures self inadvertently mangling lovely story idea*

28. *Bites nails*

29. *Whimpers*

30. *Glance furtively at stashed ideas*

31. *Takes a deep breath*

32. No! I will NOT repeat the cycle! I'm going to write this story even though I'm hopelessly in love with it and terrified of messing it up. I know it won't match up perfectly to my vision, and that will hurt, but it's ok. The important thing is to move out of this story-choosing limbo, get something finished for once, and learn from the experience.

33. Plus, my story will be awesome!

34. Ok, maybe not. But I'm sure I'll come up with more ideas later and probably adore those, too, so I shouldn't worry about ruining or using up my precious ideas. I can always improve the story later, if, after writing other projects and getting better, I still think it has potential.

35. Whew. I guess this one's the winner, then.

36. That wasn't so hard, was it?

37. Oh wait, I think the hard part will be actually writing...


So there you go, my lovely 37-step process for choosing a story idea. It's a bit ridiculous that I kept coming up with new ideas because I loved the other ones too much and didn't want to ruin them, but at least I've put an end to the cycle. And now I don't have to worry about not having any ideas!

But since my method is probably not too helpful to anyone else, here are some recent blog posts on the topic by other writers:

So, what about you? Do you work on multiple ideas simultaneously or just one at a time? How did you decide which idea to focus on? Feel free to leave me links to other blog posts on the topic!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Five Lessons from Camp NaNoWriMo

Now that Camp NaNoWriMo is over (and has been for two weeks), I thought I'd reflect on my experience. Never mind what my actual word count was; I assure you it's a pathetically abysmal figure. But even though I was nowhere near completing 50k, I gained a lot of insight about my writing process from the experience. Well, ok, there were some things I already knew, but since I was secretly hoping I would wake up one day and suddenly be able to churn out 50k of beautiful shining prose in no time at all, I had to re-learn some of those things. (Ha.) Here are some things about my writing I either learned or reconfirmed during the challenge:


1. I AM NOT A PANTSER
It's sad that this is even here, because I totally knew I'm a plotter at heart. (This is one of those things that, surprise, didn't magically change overnight.) I'm the type of person who likes to have at least some sort of plan, even if I decide to ditch the entire thing later. Not having a good grasp of the structure of my story made me feel antsy. I had some vague ideas of what was supposed to happen, but not organized or detailed enough that I felt comfortable drafting, which made it hard to move forward with the story. I wrote a lot of beginnings that didn't feel right, and I couldn't fix it because I wasn't sure how I wanted it to go in the first place. So I kind of got stalled and didn't know how to continue. :(

Tip for future Linda: Outline first! 
Well, first I have to brainstorm a lot of random stuff, but outlines are great for organizing information so my ideas aren't a giant mess in my brain. I'm trying all sorts of different plotting tricks, from synopsis-writing to note carding to plotting by spreadsheet. It's a lot of fun and I'll let you guys know how those methods work out for me!


2. DON'T LOSE FOCUS
The dumbest thing about the previous point is that I'd originally planned to use NaNoWriMo not to draft a story but to brainstorm for my outline, precisely because I knew I worked better that way. But somewhere along the way I forgot my purpose. Instead, I decided I should be writing the actual story because that felt like what I was supposed to be doing. That's what everyone else was doing! And then I realized I had no outline and started trying to make one up ASAP so I can write the story, even though the whole point of this particular NaNo was supposed to be brainstorming so I can come up with a solid outline later. *facepalm*

Tip for future Linda: Stick to your objective! 
I had a personal goal but then got confused, went off track, and started sabotaging my own efforts by trying to skip ahead. Next time I will be clear about what I want to accomplish and not change my plan for silly reasons, like impatience or wanting to be like everyone else or temporary insanity. (I still can't get over my own stupidity.)


3. MOMENTUM IS KEY
At the beginning of August, I wrote every day for a week. I don't think I ever hit my daily quota, but it felt awesome to know that I was actually writing. (Never mind that I was basically writing a ton of crappy beginnings I would never actually use.) I was productive! I felt like a writer! It was amazing! And then... I got sidetracked. Writing was so fun I wanted to skip right over the brainstorming and outlining phases to the drafting phase (see point #1 about my denial of my plotter-ness). Needless to say, it didn't really work out (see point #2), and when I broke my streak I couldn't get myself started again.

Tip for future Linda: Don't stop writing!
I don't think someone has to write every day to be a writer, but I can see why it'd be really helpful when you're starting out. I'm terrible at daily routines despite how much I love the idea of them, but I do want to make writing a bigger part of my life. So I signed up for 750words.com. Right now I mostly write word vomits of whatever's on my mind (lots of rants and raves about recent reads [oh look, alliteration!]) but I'm hoping to transition to fiction [oh look, rhyming!] once I spend September doing what I was supposed to do in August; namely, brainstorming and building an outline. [Sorry about the ridiculous bracketed asides. I don't know what got into me.]


4. DON'T WORRY ABOUT PERFECTION
It is so, so hard to give my inner editor a temporary vacation (I don't really want to kill her; she'll be so useful during revision!). But apparently it actually is possible; just look at my previous paragraph. (Heh.) Anyway, everyone emphasizes how important it is not to worry about quality during a first draft, and while I could kind of see why, I also wonder, "But why not get it right on the first try so you don't have to spend so much time fixing it later?" I suppose I want to strike a balance. I don't want to write complete gibberish for the sake of word count, but I also don't want to get so hung up about quality that I never finish. It's painful to recognize how bad my NaNo writing was, but somehow it still makes me happy that I wrote those few thousand words during the challenge.

Tip for future Linda: Just write — you can fix it later!
I hate producing terribleness. It's annoying and discouraging and excruciating and utterly unavoidable when you're a normal person who hasn't written all that much, like me. (This is in contrast to literary geniuses who've been writing forever. There is a very slight chance that such luminaries may find it possible to avoid producing terribleness, and I wouldn't want to offend anyone.) I need to get it through my head that it's ok, that I need a huge quantity of thoughtful practice (which means no random banging of the keyboard), that everyone has to start somewhere, and that I can revise later. And that I will improve, if I keep at it.


5. SPREADSHEETS ARE AWESOME
This is the part where I reveal my geekiness. I love spreadsheets and graphs and metrics! I would use it to track every little thing in my life if I were disciplined enough to log everything (I'm not, but it doesn't stop me from trying). I still use spreadsheets to track personal finances and books I've read, though I've abandoned many others over the years. (Like the one that cataloged everything in my closet. I wish I hadn't stopped maintaining it; that one was pretty useful.) I made a word count spreadsheet for Camp NaNoWriMo, and even though I didn't do a great job of keeping up with my quota, I still enjoyed tracking my (pitiful) progress and admiring the pretty charts I made.

Tip for future Linda: Motivate yourself with metrics!
I really like how Savannah J. Foley tracks her daily and weekly word counts with a spreadsheet, and I'm totally making myself some spreadsheets for when I get to the drafting phase. It makes it easy to visualize progress, and I will be motivated to beat my goal so my graphs and charts look good. Plus, spreadsheets are fun! :D


Anyway, I might not have won the challenge, but now I have a better idea of what I need to work on in order to write more successfully. No more getting ahead of myself and losing focus and momentum! Easier said than done, of course, but I'm glad to be more aware of my issues and to get back to my general plan/schedule.

I don't think I'll be able to participate in the official NaNoWriMo since I'll be in Europe for half of November (so excited!!), but maybe I'll do a MyNoWriMo like Holly Dodson and challenge myself to writing 50k in October... or not. The thought of it kind of freaks me out. If I do, though, I'll be sure to review the awesome Krispy's Dos and Don'ts of NaNoWriMo — her tips are so funny and helpful!

How about you? Have you ever participated in NaNoWriMo? Are you going to this year? Let me know if you have any tips or resources to share!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Inky Linky Love 09.10.2011

I didn't get a long weekend for Labor Day, but never fear, I'm getting one this weekend! The Mid-Autumn Festival is on Monday this year, so I'm looking forward to getting the day off. Yay! We've been eating lots of delicious moon cakes, pineapple cakes, and mochi at work lately, since vendors have been gifting boxes and boxes of them. (My favorites are the red bean ones!) And we got cake on Friday to celebrate September birthdays. In the evening, I went with a few coworkers to eat in a bus. Seriously. This restaurant took out the seats, poles, and handles in old buses and put in tables and chairs. It was pretty cool. (Sadly, I didn't have my camera with me. :( Wish I could show you guys pictures!) But yeah. Lots of eating. It's not a real holiday unless it revolves around food, right? :P

In other news, S.L. Hennessy at Pensuasion gave me the Liebster Award! I was very encouraged by her kind words. Also, she recently signed with an agent, so be sure to send her some hearty congrats! :)

(Edit: Kate Coursey also gave me the Liebster Award! Yay, thank you, Kate! :D)

My favorite posts this week are kind of hard to separate into categories, so the links are not as organized this time around. But then I'm only sharing a handful, so that shouldn't be too big of a problem. I loved these thought-provoking posts, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

AWESOME LINKS

And that's it! Enjoy your weekend, and if you want to have a moon-viewing party, Monday would be a great time for it. ;)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Inky Linky Love 09.03.2011

Happy Labor Day weekend to those of you in the States! No long weekend for me. :( I think the Taiwanese equivalent was in April or something.

Anyway, some updates from me:

First, check out the gorgeous new blog button in the side bar! It was designed by the incredibly talented Carrie Butler, and I won it for following the directions for her giveaway. :) You can see the other buttons she made by clicking over to this blog post.

New meme on my Awards and Memes page: The Ten Random Facts Meme, which was passed to me by the awesome and hilarious Alz at A Nudge in the Right Direction.

Carrie also tagged me with the 7x7 Link Award (thanks Carrie!) which I'll get to once I have more posts in my archives. Maybe I'll do it for some sort of blogging milestone?

Ok, on to the links!

CRAFT

CHARACTERIZATION

MISCELLANEOUS

Enjoy your weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

If All Else Fails, There's Always IdeaMart

Sorry I haven't been as good with posting lately. I meant to get this posted over the weekend, but that didn't really work out. Oh well, better late than never, right? ;)

"Where do you get your ideas?" It's a question I come across in a lot of author FAQs and interviews. Popular answers include "my brain," "life," "everywhere," or, with a dash of irony, "that grocery store around the corner." I know it's a vague question, one especially difficult to answer for people who are constantly inspired, and yet I can relate to that sense of curiosity regarding writers' creative processes. I love reading posts about how people write. Sometimes I try to steal one or two of their tricks, and other times I just marvel at how personal and idiosyncratic the writing process can be. So here's my take on how I get story ideas, for those of you also fascinated by the writing process. I'm hoping this post will come in handy when I'm a rich and famous author and get asked that question all the time! ;)

When I was younger, my story ideas centered around characters I wished to be. I've mentioned before that I loved pretending to be a magical princess with my friend and sister, and we spun stories about our adventures that I tried (unsuccessfully, I'm afraid) to knit into a novel. Later stories I wrote featured wish-fulfillment protagonists, such as a recent graduate from the mages' university, a shape-shifter with golden eyes, or the new girl in town who wins the heart of the hottest guy in school (so yes, I can understand the appeal of Twilight).

I didn't stop daydreaming when I got older, but I did stop trying to turn them into stories for a while. By the time I began to consider writing again, my story ideas were no longer inspired by fantasies wherein I was a special snowflake. Instead, real life intruded, and traumatic emotional experiences became my muse.

Of course, "traumatic" is subjective. I'm fortunate enough to live a life that has been, for the most part, happy and trouble-free. I have not experienced the death or severe illness of a close friend or family; I have not been abused or assaulted; I have never been in want of food, or shelter, or love and support.  I am beyond grateful for the blessed life I live. Any difficulties I've encountered seem trivial in light of all the good I enjoy, but they nevertheless evoked emotional struggles that were real and significant to me. They marked me and forced me to grow. They inspire me to write.

There was the time I lost a close friend due to my own flaws. Maybe I deserved it, but it hurt, so much, to feel that I wasn't worth a second chance despite my apologies. It pained me that someone whose opinion I highly valued had deemed me irredeemable and found my worth as less than the obstacle of my imperfections.

There was that crisis of faith in my sophomore year of college, when I grappled with guilt and doubt and fought surrender. I tried to ignore the internal battle because I couldn't see how I could ever force myself to choose. It seemed impossible.

Or the time my family was on the verge of falling apart, and I hated myself for not being powerful or brilliant or strong enough to fix everything that was wrong. I cursed my helplessness and drowned myself in despair, unable to bear the burden I'd placed upon myself.

Small, perhaps, in the grad scheme of things, but these and other experiences mattered to me and shaped who I am. I saved up those feelings of hurt and anguish and anger, and amplified them by imagining greater stakes and harsher consequences. What if someone's crisis of faith could cause a war? How does someone face a responsibility, too great to bear, that could mean the life or death of hundreds? What would force someone to fight through feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness to save the world? Those heightened emotions become the heart of my stories, the dark moment my protagonists must face and conquer.

Some things flow easily from that kernel. Theme, for one, is closely tied to the greatest struggle the protagonist must face. I also consider what traits, values, personality, and experiences would make the decision the most difficult for someone, and thus flesh out my main character and her arc. These elements can influence certain worldbuilding decisions, and a few plot points come to mind, too, as the dark moment must be triggered by a crisis and bring about a climax and resolution.

Other aspects of developing story ideas are difficult for me, though. High-concept premises would be one; I try to come up with a cool-sounding idea separately and see if it can fit with any of the stories I want to tell. Settings have never been my strong suit, either, and beginnings tend to be nebulous since I essentially start with the ending.

I wonder what it says about me, that most of my story ideas come from inflicting an intensified version of my personal struggles on a figment of my imagination. Maybe I write as a form of therapy, as Biljana at LTWF does with her fiction. It's my way of writing what I know, and I hope that I can become skilled enough to take my readers on an emotional journey with my words.

So, enough about me. I want to hear how other writers come up with story ideas. Are you consistently inspired by certain observations, experiences, or media, or is it different for every project? What usually comes first when you get a story idea? How does that influence the way you develop the story? Feel free to leave me a link if you have a blog post on the topic!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Inky Linky Love 08.20.2011

Everyone was too busy with WriteOnCon to notice my lack of a post this week, right? :P I'd seen WriteOnCon around the blogosphere before but had no idea what it was. I was totally missing out! Once I found out how awesome it is, I deprived myself of sleep in order to go through all the vlogs and articles from last year, haha. Here are my favorite posts from this year's WriteOnCon, as well as some other blog posts I enjoyed recently.

 WRITEONCON
  • Jodi Meadows on How to Write a Synopsis: love her idea for a verbal diarrhea pre-drafting synopsis!
  • Taran Hudson on Pacing: her Chapter Sandwich is a good trick for making sure there's lots of tension and excitement
  • Kendra Levin on Your Own Hero's Journey: how to balance your writing with everything else in life
  • Carrie Ryan on Revision: great tip about starting with the big picture before looking at detail
  • Martha Mihalik on Building Believable Romance: love her point that romance doesn't have to be stated directly
  • [Vlog] Lisa Schroeder on Novel Beginnings: great point about being intentional with your starting point
  • [Vlog] Lindsey Leavitt on The Debut Year: omg she's so adorable!
PLOTTING
  • Marina Cohen wrote for Let the Words Flow about how thinking = plotting. I feel so much better about all the time I spend daydreaming!
  • Jennifer Hubbard talks about why middles are marvelous. I think openings and endings are incredibly difficult for me, too!
  • Patricia C. Wrede says you need to know where you are in order to determine if you can get to where your destination. Great analogy for plotting and knowing your story.
CHARACTERIZATION
SETTING/WORLDBUILDING

In other news, I've realized that I should've spent more time plotting and planning before diving into Camp NaNoWriMo. I make a terrible pantser. But participating forced me to think about my project more and I've made a lot of progress in figuring things out (if not actual word count), so I'm glad I signed up! 

I keep thinking up potential plot events and scenes, but because I hate how everything feels like a muddle in my head, I bought a ton of note cards and sticky notes in order to storyboard the plot. I'm hoping that organization and getting the structure down first will provide a smoother writing experience down the road. I'm excited to see how it goes! I'll blog more about whether the note card method worked for me once I've gotten a chance to try it out.

Oh, and here's an interesting post from Slate about how to write faster. Are you a Beethovian or Mozartian drafter? I bet you can guess which one I am!

Friday, August 12, 2011

YA Romance Pet Peeves

Some of my friends say I'm a cynic, but I say it's only because I am a true idealistic romantic at heart. I love reading about romance. I want to follow along on a character's love life and vicariously experience the thrill and giddiness and sweetness of budding love (probably because my own love life isn't so exciting). I want the romance to be something I can admire and aspire to — something that feels real and solid and steeped in truth, even if it is fiction. I want to root for the characters as they spend time together, find that they complement and strengthen one another, and commit to the effort necessary for the relationship to blossom. It makes me so happy and gushy when I come across a YA romance like that!

I suppose I love true romance too dearly to have much patience for the obsessive, lustful infatuations that frequently pass for romance in YA these days. And so I thought I'd share a few my pet peeves when it comes to YA romance. Of course, this is entirely based on my personal reading preferences, so your mileage may vary. It's not a particularly unique or ground-breaking list, but maybe you'll find yourself nodding along with a few of these points. Or shaking your head vehemently. (Feel free to speak out in the comments!)

Here are the things I'd want to avoid in my own reading and writing:

Love at First Sight
I know some people believe in love at first sight, but I'm not one of them. I don't think love is something that springs up out of nowhere the second you lay eyes on someone. Attraction? Intrigue? Fascination? OMG-I-think-this-person-might-be-The-One? Sure. But until the characters get to know each other on a deeper level and have a relationship built on something other than physical attraction and chemistry, I'm skeptical about their "love." True love, in my opinion, needs a foundation of trust and commitment, and that takes time to nurture.

Lust-Based Relationship
This is part of the reason I'm not sold on love at first sight. Physical attraction is a wonderful thing in a relationship, but it shouldn't be the only aspect. After all, appearances can be deceiving, and people are so much more than their looks. Sure, I've harbored crushes on guys who had more looks than substance, but I never kidded myself that it was love. I prefer reading about protagonists who are more self-aware and realistic. If a heroine declares herself in love with a guy because he is just soooo incredibly hot, fails to mention any other reason, and never realizes how shallow she's being, she will lose major points in my book for being superficial.

Obsessive Mooning
Another reason I hate reading about purely lust-based relationships is that I don't want to read the protagonist talk about "his dark, brooding eyes" or "his ripped muscles" or "this inexplicable connection between us" or anything else along those lines FIVE MILLION TIMES in the same book. And if she must think about him, why can't she think about something else besides his looks or how she's so mysteriously drawn to him? Why can't she be blown away by his kindness? His integrity? His courage? His intelligence? Why can't she admire those traits and be inspired to cultivate them?

Lack of Personality
Because some protagonists can really use a bit of self-improvement. I know some authors write with an everygirl in mind so the reader can slip herself into the place of the heroine, but personally I prefer reading about heroines I can admire and learn from. Sometimes I wonder why every guy in certain novels is infatuated with the protagonist when she doesn't seem to do much of anything. I want to know that the guy loves the protagonist for her strengths and personality and admirable traits. I want to see these traits in her thought process and actions, not by authorial decree.

Excessive Angst
One major tip-off that the protagonist has no personality would be if she spends all her time angsting about her relationship(s). As much as I love reading about romance, I'd prefer if the heroine has other things going on so she's not spending every. waking. moment. thinking about her love life. I'm not particularly interested in spending time in the head of a character who lets thoughts of a guy take over her entire life (particularly if she just met him). Even worse if it's a constant reminder that her relationship is made of nothing but lust and insta-connection.

Love Triangles
Protagonists in this category are the most likely to be guilty of the previous point, because two guys = double the angst. I know lots of people like to indulge in the fantasy of being fought over by two hot guys or cheer for a favorite team, but I'm not a fan of love triangles. It can be done well, I'm sure, but it's been overdone to the point that I'm relieved when a novel doesn't boast one. There are so many things that can go wrong with love triangles (and by "go wrong" I mean "annoy me to death"). I think it's awful when the female protagonist leads on two guys. I hate finding myself on Team Other Guy because I want to see him happy but I know he's doomed by the author not to be. And when compounded with other things on my list, the entire situation is likely to make me want to destroy something in frustration.

Betrayal
To me, this is the worst part of love triangles. I cannot stand reading about betrayals of a friend or a significant other and, worse, being expected to root for the guilty party. I know people make mistakes, but I wish there were more characters who did the right but difficult thing by telling the truth and facing the consequences, rather than giving in to their passions and then trying to hide it by lying to loved ones. I am a big believer in the importance of commitment, honesty, loyalty, and communication in relationships, and I find it hard to apply the label of "love" to anything that lacks those elements. That goes for friendships, too.

Selfish, All-Consuming Passion for No Reason
Basically, this sums up my gripe with many YA romances. Characters meet, fall in lust, become entirely obsessed, and throw everything else to the wind. They can't see anything else but each other, and make decisions without considering the bigger picture of other things going on in their lives, or caring if they will hurt the people closest to them, or taking into account the consequences of what they're doing. Or maybe they do think about it, but selfishly decide that their "love" trumps all. I get so annoyed with these characters I want to shake them and tell them to open their eyes and think about what they're doing. But I'm sure they wouldn't listen anyway. Sigh.

Examples of Classic Romances I Can't Bring Myself to Love
Since I don't want to bash any recent YA novels by name, I decided to list classics as examples (ok, I may have cheated on the last one). I know these are all widely-beloved stories and have heavily impacted our culture, but I cannot stand the romances in these works. Of course, you may feel differently about them, and if you do, I'd love it if you share why in the comments!
  • Romeo and Juliet: I have no idea what they saw in each other besides physical attraction, and their double suicide was tragic in its wastefulness and not my idea of romantic at all.
  • Tristan + Isolde: OMG I hated the movie version. I yelled at the characters for being so selfish and superficial and for betraying their king, who adored both of them. (I think I kind of alarmed my friends with the intensity of my frustration.)
  • Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot: Similar to the above. Another love triangle and betrayal of someone loved and admired by the lovers (well, depending on the version, I guess). Anyway, just not the kind of story I enjoy. 
  • Twilight: I think this is enough of a cultural phenomenon to count as a classic. Plus it's the one that spawned all the paranormal angsty love triangles so popular in YA right now. I neither liked nor hated the first book, but I couldn't get myself through New Moon without wanting to strangle Bella multiple times. So I never read the sequels.

Further Reading
  • Enjoy reading long rants? Here's one I wrote on my personal blog called In Defense of the Good Guy, in which I complain about how the romance plays out in the DreamWorks animated film, Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (contains spoilers).
  • Here's a great post from Beth Revis about obsessive love versus true love. She makes thoughtful points about both, and I definitely recommend reading it for an interesting perspective on romance in YA.
  • Rachel Stark at Trac Changes talks about how YA romances affect teen girls and the kind of romances she'd want to acquire as an editor.
  • Sarah Furlong Burr at Starving Novelist writes about her pet peeves in Harlequin romances. Not about YA, but some of her points still apply.
  • Lisa Shroeder gave tips for writing great YA romance with the acronym CUPCAKE in this vlog for WriteOnCon 2010. Spot-on points for how to write amazing romance.
  • Want to know what guys think of YA romance? Here's a fun post by Bryan at Boys Don't Read on love triangles. (Thanks for the great link, Adam!)
  • I can't seem to stop myself from adding more links! Fun post by Nicole at WORD for Teens on Disney princesses and love. It's DISNEY! How can you not go check it out?


Anyway, those are my thoughts on the subject. Now I'm really curious about what you think! Do you also get annoyed by the issues and examples I've listed, or are there some you actually quite enjoy, and why?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Inky Linky Love 08.07.2011

Oops, kind of late with the linky post this time. But since I'd banned myself from Google Reader for much of the week, I had hundreds upon hundreds of posts to wade through, and that's basically what I spent yesterday doing. I think next week I'll go back to checking the reader when I have a spare moment; it's too daunting to tackle so many at a time.

But wow, there are so many beautiful posts on the writing journey in the blogosphere lately. These amazing writers are open about the struggles and challenges that accompany being a writer while being incredibly inspiring with their perseverance and hard work. I hope you'll check out these posts if you haven't already:

AWESOME POSTS ON THE WRITING JOURNEY
  • S.J. Kincaid wrote a beautiful post on Ellen Oh's blog about why she wouldn't have changed anything about her writing journey, despite being obsessed for years with a manuscript that would never be published.
  • In a similar vein, Natalie Whipple recounts her journey to publication on Adventures in Children's Publishing, sharing her struggles and heartaches and how she fought through them.
  • On her own blog, Natalie explains why she's not jealous of Kiersten White's successes and how to deal with jealousy in general.
  • Speaking of which, Kiersten is amazing as well. This week she wrote a post on talent versus hard work and why both are important. 
  • And the fabulous C.J. Redwine wraps everything up — the journey, the hard work, the success, and how to handle others' good news — in this post on what it feels like to get a book deal.

Amazing articles, right? And here are posts on everything else. It kinda kills me to throw them all together instead of organizing them into separate categories as I usually do, but if I did that I would mostly have only one link per category, and that would annoy me even more. Thus, this compromise:

EVERYTHING ELSE

Oh, and there's a new tab under my header, featuring awards and memes I've been tagged with. It's entirely Carrie Butler's fault that I had to make one of those. Thanks for thinking of me, Carrie! Though I'd appreciate a less awkward one next time. ;)

In other news, I am still horribly behind on Camp NaNo. But I don't feel all that guilty about it, haha. I think the best part about participating is learning to develop a consistent writing habit, so even if I don't make it to 50k (I'm pretty sure I won't), I'm happy as long as I'm making some progress on my WIP and knocking out a few hundred words every day.

Hope your writing plans are going better than mine, and have an incredible weekend! :D

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Villains

I'm a little bit (ok fine, a LOT) behind on Camp NaNoWriMo, but since I'm dying from my self-imposed Google Reader ban, I thought writing a post would help take the edge off blogosphere-withdrawal. At least I'm producing words, right? Can't wait until the weekend when I'll let myself catch up on blog posts (all several hundred of them — yes, I peeked a few times) regardless of word count!

I'm always on the lookout for great articles about villains and antagonists since I have such a hard time with them. I really liked the amazing Jodi Meadows' post about Villains You Like because it resonated with me and got me thinking more about the different types of villains out there. Here are some of my thoughts:

Generic Villainous Overlords
When I was in elementary/middle school, this was the kind of villain I thought up with my friend and sister. We'd play pretend and spin stories where we were magical princesses rebelling against an evil stepmother (so original, I know). I think she also had an evil sorcerer ally.

I've since discovered that evil villains out to take over the world for no good reason tend to fall flat and be utterly boring, so I'm glad I know better now. Imagine my surprise when I came across one in a recent debut! The one-dimensional villain actually claimed "I'm evil" as sole motivation for world domination, dashing all my hopes for an interesting and nuanced antagonist. It was hard not to groan or roll my eyes. (Oh well, the book pretty much nosedived into terribleness halfway through, anyway.) So yeah. No clich√©, boring evil villains, please!

Sympathetic Villains
I guess it was so shocking to encounter such a lackluster villain because it seems that sympathetic antagonists are all the rage these days. And for good reason — characters that the reader can relate to are so much more engaging than cardboard cut-outs, no matter where they fall on the good/evil spectrum.

One way to add complexity to a villain is to give him or her a redeeming quality, vulnerability, or troubled past. A villain with motives that are understandable, or even almost noble, would make the protagonist's inner struggle that much more difficult (and who can say no to more conflict?). And who knows, maybe the villain actually thinks he or she is doing the right thing, even if the protagonist strongly disagrees. Jodi's example was Magneto from X-men: First Class; he's a likable character with an understandable motivation, but he's a villain because he wants to exterminate normal people (something I imagine most people would frown upon).

We (as in magical princesses) did later try to do this for our evil stepmother character. We decided she was our late mother's adopted sibling (heaven forbid we're related to her by blood!), jealous of our mother all her life, in love with our father, and basically out to take for herself everything her gorgeous, saintly sister ever had. Oh fine, I guess our attempts to bump her up to "sympathetic" wasn't all that successful, but we did try to give her some personality and motivation. (I think evil sorcerer remained irredeemably evil, though.)

Villains You Love to Hate
I think this might be where our poor evil stepmother ended up. These sorts of villains are dastardly, selfish characters who, through some twist of fortune, ended up with more power than is good for them to have, and then proceeded to annoy the heck out of everyone else. And you can't wait until this villain is defeated because he or she is just so despicable and pathetic. Not to mention rather useless once stripped of power. (I think they tend to be pretty wormy. You know, like Wormtongue from Lord of the Rings and Wormtail from Harry Potter. What is it about worms?)

These villains are probably best as irritants in the path of the hero and not as the Big Bad. I think I'd get pretty frustrated if the protagonist is fighting someone like that for an entire book. But maybe it's all in the execution?

Villains with Flair
These characters are not-very-nice people who become fascinating on the strength of their personality. Not a literary example, but I adored Regina George in Mean Girls. She's a lying, cheating, manipulative b— ah, witch who insulted and played everyone around her. But her confidence, charm, and determination to get what she wanted made her a lot more fascinating than Cady, the actual protagonist. (Plus, Rachel McAdams is gorgeous!)

Or take Artemis Fowl. He's a kidnapper who exploits the fairies for money and amusement. But because he's so brilliant, we can't wait to see what he has up his sleeves, even kind of hoping he'll succeed despite the fact that what he's doing is so wrong. It also helps that he's the main protagonist.

[*EDIT: Thanks to lovely comments from Mike and CanaryTheFirst, I think I'd put Artemis and their examples in a new category: Villains as Protagonist. What do you think?]

Villains can become attractive despite their moral flaws if they have personality traits the reader can admire. The danger with these villains is that they may steal the spotlight and become more interesting than the protagonist, so you'd have to make sure your protagonist is up to the challenge! I think it'd be a lot of fun to write such a character. :)

Villains that Give You Nightmares
These are the sadistic, genius serial killers of pure unadulterated evil. The crazed monster from the underworld who delights in bloodlust. The creepy clown, or alien predator, or that girl with the long hair crawling out of the TV... ok, I seriously need to stop before I scare myself witless.

Why? Because I am a total wimp. (I assure you, it pains me to admit it.) I avoid horror flicks and books as much as possible; even thrillers might be too much for me. I have an overactive imagination and do not appreciate having images of menacing evilness roaming my mind at night. So while others might love reading or writing about this sort of villain and enjoy the thrill of being thoroughly scared, I'm afraid (har, har) they're not for me.

Not-a-Villain
Of course, not every book has to have a villain. Some stories have antagonists that are made of sunshine and loveliness, and so sweet you want to gag — except their goals happen to conflict with that of the protagonist. Or maybe the antagonist isn't quite that innocent, but more morally ambiguous than outright evil. A lot of antagonists fall into this category, but it's fun to think about evil characters once in a while and consider how to make them interesting to the reader.

What other types of villains can you think of, and which ones are your favorite?

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Odds and Ends 07.31.2011

Not exactly a linky post, just random stuff I wanted to share:

ONE

I got a bloggy award from Yahong! Thanks for your kind words and all-around awesomeness. :)


TWO


I think it's absolutely insane. I'm too much of  a wimp to sign up, but I do kind of want to give it a shot. Maybe 24 hours would be more doable? I don't know. I meant to try it yesterday but got sucked into TV tropes and didn't find my way out of it until hours later (and look, I am such a good friend I'm not even linking you). On second thought, maybe I really, really need to participate in this marathon. The internet is a dangerous, time-sucking, productivity-wrecking thing, I tell you.

Sigh. I think the only way I can do this is if I cheat and let myself use email. But then I will see blog comments and Twitter mentions (at least I turned off Facebook notifications) and gchat, and Google Reader is only a click away and I'll want to comment on stuff, and... yeah, I can see why it'd be a slippery slope. I guess I'll have to think about it some more.


THREE

Krispy somehow talked me into doing CampNaNoWriMo (basically NaNoWriMo in the summer, which I think works a lot better for me than November). 

I seriously have no idea how that happened. Um, hello, self, are you completely crazy?? This is not going according to plan. I do not have a nice, detailed outline. I have no idea what I am doing. I have never completed NaNo before despite my previous (and very pathetic) attempts. I am sure I will fail.

But you know what? It's ok. I already have quite a few ideas for what happens in the beginning, middle, and end of my story, so I'm not starting with a total blank. I'll mostly be using NaNo to develop my ideas. There will probably be a lot of messy freewriting, things out of order, random scenes, and ramblings on worldbuilding/backstory stuff that nobody needs to know but me. Afterward, when I've discovered most of the things I want to say, I'll organize all my ideas into an outline and use that to write a draft that actually reads like a story. (Who knows, maybe I'll do that for the official NaNo. :P) So I guess it's not that far off my plan. I'm just brainstorming more intensely and starting to write a bit sooner. 

And even if I don't make it to 50k words, or only manage to generate a ton of junk, I think it'll be a good learning experience. I'm terrible at commitment and discipline, so this is a good challenge for me.

So yeah, August will be pretty crazy. I'll still be posting at least once a week (at least, I hope to), and I might also post writing updates. We'll see.

What are your writing goals for August? Any tips for turning off the internet or writing 50k words in a month? Anyone want to join me? :P

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Critiquing

When I wrote this post last week, I had no idea I would be asked to critique again before the end of the week! I felt incredibly honored to be asked and was glad that I'd been thinking about how to be a better critiquer, but I still think I wasn't as encouraging as I'd hoped to be. Definitely something to work on.

A couple weeks ago, I agreed to look at my friend's med school personal statement for her. It wasn't the first time this year; another friend had asked the same thing a month ago, and I'd looked at hers, offered several comments about what could be improved, then returned it with a note along the lines of "Great job! A few tweaks and you're there." (Although she did later tell me that she was shocked by the amount of comments I gave her, despite my encouraging note at the end.)

So I was hoping this time would go that smoothly too. But as I opened the document and began to read, my heart sank. She'd asked for feedback on awkward sentences, unclear sections, and rough transitions, but her essay needed a lot more than line editing. In my opinion, it would take a major content/structure overhaul for it to become an effective essay.

I'm pretty sure nobody ever likes to hear that their writing isn't working. And I didn't relish being the one to tell her, either. At that moment, I wished I were one of those readers who always found everything perfectly fine, and said so. It would make things sooooo much more comfortable for everyone involved.

Unfortunately, I am not one of those readers, and I thought it was more important that she knew the truth, even if her feelings got hurt. So I resigned myself to my task and drafted a long email to (hopefully) prepare her for the comments I was going to make on her essay. Things like, "I'm not doing this to hurt you, but to help you improve your essay," "take a deep breath before you read my comments," and "I know this will be hard to swallow, so brace yourself."

Then I annotated the document with comment bubbles everywhere. I wrote down my thoughts and reactions as I read and commented on almost every sentence; by the time I was finished, the comments I made added up to be much longer than her essay.

I attached the document to the email I'd already drafted, edited what I'd written, typed in her email address... but, in a sudden fit of — thoughtfulness? restraint? sleepiness? —  something, decided to wait until the next morning to send it to her.

And I am very glad I did. I tend to be straight-forward and blunt when critiquing. Combined with my critical eye and high expectations, my comments can seem harsh even when I don't mean for them to be. I have to work at being encouraging; I tend to forget to point out the good parts until the end, when I realize I need to balance my comments with praise so I don't get stabbed to death by the writer. (Not that it would've been easy for her to do so, since I live on the other side of the Pacific. But still.) Some people may process criticism fine this way, but I knew it would have been too much for my friend to handle.

So. Good thing I didn't send it. But then what? I couldn't lie to her, or give her the silent treatment. She needed to know her essay wasn't working, and why, so she could improve it. But how could I do it without making her hate me?

Fortunately, things turned out ok. I talked to her on gchat and tried to figure out where she was in her writing process, and whether she wanted to hear what I thought. I then went over the essay with her through IM instead of sending her my comments, which allowed me to rephrase my comments more gently.

I was alarmed when she got defensive at first, but as I moved on, she came to understand and agree with many of my points. I pointed out why certain sections wasn't working, made suggestions for revision, and helped her brainstorm new ways of spinning her stories so they conveyed what she meant. (I also told her to get lots and lots of second opinions.)

I was so relieved when she said that she appreciated my efforts and knew that I was pointing out the flaws not to put her down, but to help her. Yay, crisis averted! I really do need to learn to be more encouraging though. And I should put my work out there more often, too, so I know how it feels to be on the receiving end of critiques.

[While we're on the subject, here are some great posts I came across regarding critiquing and being critiqued: James Killick offers a few tips in his post on how to write critiques that don't kill (or get you murdered, heh). Beth Revis wrote a post on how to critique that made me glad I'm nit-picky and honest about my thoughts. For those being critiqued, Jane Lebak at the Querytracker.net blog writes about how to argue productively with critiques (hint: not with the critiquer).]

Anyway, the whole thing made me wonder how people deal with similar situations in the writing world. 


What do you do if you discover the manuscript you'd agreed to critique for a friend needs a ton of work? Do you use the sandwich method and try to balance criticism and praise, or are you brutally honest?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Inky Linky Love 07.23.2011

Time for another link roundup post! (I know they're kind of random. But at least they always show up on a Saturday?)

Lots of amazing worldbuilding links, since they inspired many of my thoughts in my last post. Be sure to check them out, as well as the other writing posts I found thought-provoking or helpful:

WORLDBUILDING & SETTING
  • Sherwood Smith at Book View Cafe wrote an insightful and in-depth post about worldbuilding, internal consistency, and things that pull her out of the reading experience. Definitely made me want to write a secondary world that's logical, despite how much work it is!
  • Steven Popkes, also at Book View Cafe, applies evolution to the movie Avatar and comes up with some interesting conclusions. Great thoughts about how flora and fauna of your world should make evolutionary sense.
  • Juliette Wade posted a TTYU retro about how descriptions should have relevant support structures. Love her points about keeping the viewpoint character in mind and slipping in the worldbuilding subtly.
CRAFT
PLOT
  • I adore the INTERN's posts on breaking down The Hunger Games! I love that book and I enjoyed reading her analysis of what makes the book so addicting. Part one is about structure on the sentence/scene/chapter level, and part two is about video games (yes, really).
DIVERSITY
  • Kate Hart does an amazing job of creating cool info-graphics to analyze the covers of 2010 YA novels in her post, Uncovering YA Covers: How Dark Are They? The answer to her question? Not very. In fact, they tend to be overwhelmingly white. I'm hoping there will be more diversity in YA in the future!

That's it for this time. Have a great weekend!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Settings and Worldbuilding

I got a bit distracted with the excitement of winning a blog giveaway last week, but here I am, back to blathering about stuff I like and don't like to see in novels. So far I've talked a bit about protagonist and plot... what's next? Ah, yes. The setting.

Patricia C. Wrede wrote in her blog post, Big Three Redux, that most writers can easily pick out their strongest and weakest suit among the three biggies of character, plot, and setting. When I read that, I immediately thought, "She is so right! I bet I'll totally suck at setting." (I did not, however, think I had any strong suits to speak of — because I'm just super humble like that. :P)

When I think of settings, I think of those long descriptions I skim so I can get to the good parts — you know, action, dialogue, things happening. I only need a general gist of where the scene takes place, and my mind fills in the rest. I mean, cool settings are neat, but they don't make or break novels for me the way fascinating characters or mind-blowing plots do. So yeah, I don't pay much attention to settings. Which means I probably won't be good at conveying my mental image of a scene to readers. Definitely something I'll have to work on.

But there's more to setting than making sure scenes don't take place in a void, now that I think about it. After all, why else would I be so drawn to fantasy, if not for the secondary worlds full of magic or talking animals or unfamiliar cultures? Why am I so excited when aspects of a secondary world are not only fun and quirky but also clever and sensible? I might not be very enthusiastic about flowery descriptions of rooms and landscapes, but I find worldbuilding fascinating (probably why I adore Juliette Wade's blog).

And a little intimidating, too. I mean, have you seen this list of fantasy worldbuilding questions?? And readers expect everything to make sense and be internally consistent! (Well, I kind of do, at any rate.) Every plot point I think up results in tons of implications about how thing work in the world in which the story is set, and getting them all to form a cohesive whole, with plausible causes and effects, can be so overwhelming that the task seems impossible.

Still, that doesn't stop me from dreaming of crafting a fantasy secondary world with its own histories and cultures, and then having the world evolve over several books. I'm not a fan of trilogies or storylines that require multiple books for resolution, but you know what I think would be super exciting? A series of standalone companion novels that take place in the same world, though in different eras. I'd want to see how technology and magical knowledge advance, how fashions and speech patterns change, how borders and international relations shift. I want the characters' actions to affect not just themselves, but the characters that live in the world after them.

Of course, none of those things should take center stage; they'd be part of the worldbuilding, and only recognizable to those familiar with other books in the series (ideally, that is). Character and plot should still take center stage (since they matter more to me), but I'd love for there to be subtle references and connections. Like if one character's joke becomes the basis of a popular idiom generations later. Or if a decision made by a character in one installment effects the tense political climate in a book set years after the incident. Or if an innovation that defeated the villain in one book brings about drastic changes in the lifestyles and attitudes of the people who came after. You get the idea.

Doesn't that sound fun? But, alas, this will probably involve wayyyyy too much work. There are authors who have pulled it off, but when I think of the outlining and planning ahead and research and familiarity with the social sciences required... I think I'm crazy for wanting to make things so complicated. But hey, as long as I'm dreaming, might as well dream big, right? :)

Despite my grand plans, I'm going to start small. I've already decided the one non-negotiable thing about the world I'm going to create for my characters: it will be a world where people who look like me exist, and matter. And we'll see how things go from there, based on what I learn about the world from the plot and characters.

Hey, this might actually be fun! Well, until I hit a wall while trying to fit everything together and then want to pull out my hair. But I'll worry about that when I get there. :P

How about you? How much attention do you pay to settings when you read? Do you enjoy worldbuilding?

Friday, July 15, 2011

OMG! (and, Why You Should De-Lurk)

Interrupting my series on vision to say: OMG I WON A BLOG GIVEAWAY CONTEST!

Ok maybe you think it's not a big deal. But it's NATALIE WHIPPLE'S contest! :D And this is the first time I've ever won a blog contest in my life, so I'm super excited because I never thought I would win one. YAY!

I could not believe my eyes when I saw my name in that post. I stared at it for a long time to make sure it said what I thought it said. And then I scrolled through all 300+ comments on the contest post to make sure there wasn't any one else with the same name. And then I stared at the post some more, while thinking lots of calm and sensible thoughts such as "OMG OMG OMG" and "is this really happening? to me??" and "OMG I get to email Natalie!"

Seriously, the part I was most excited about was emailing Natalie. I know I probably could have emailed her at any time in the past two years I've been reading her blog to let her know how much she inspires me, but I've only started commenting on blogs recently... and I'm still a bit nervous when it comes to talking to someone as popular and amazing as she is. It just feels so different being invited to email her with a legit reason, you know?

So I wrote her an email. And honestly the first half of it was pure fangirling about how much I admire her. (I wonder if she gets that a lot?) 

And you know what awesome thing happened after that? SHE WROTE BACK. *squeee* :D

Ok, I know I'm starting to sound crazy because, duh, of course she'd write back. But still! I hadn't thought that far. It definitely put a huge grin on my face. And of course I wrote her back and gushed about her some more.

Which brings me to the part about de-lurking. You should seriously consider it, if you are currently a lurker. (No, I'm not just saying that to get more comments on my blog. But I certainly wouldn't mind if you want to comment! Hehe.) 

First of all, if you never de-lurk, you will never know the joy of winning a blog contest with a comment. That should be obvious. The second thing is, if you lurk for a really long time and finally start talking to awesome bloggers you've been cyber-stalking for years, you will not be able to stop yourself from behaving like a fangirl/doing something dumb because you're nervous/generally making a fool out of yourself. Because all those comments you wanted to make but never did? Yeah, no way they're going to organize themselves all nice-and-quietly so you can express them in a sane and thoughtful manner. Not after all those years of repression. No, my friend, they will burst out of the breaking dam, pour out in a waterfall, and rush happily away — to freedom! — and it will look so fun your dignity will decide to tag along, too. Whereas, if you'd been commenting all along, you wouldn't have that problem, see?

So yeah. Important things to consider, there. Of course there are also other reasons for de-lurking, like building relationships with people, supporting your favorite bloggers, getting your name out there, etc., but this post is mainly a Public Service Announcement concerning the specific hazard of excessive gushing.

Now excuse me while I go refresh my email. :D

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Inky Linky Love 07.09.2011

Three weeks is way too long to go without posting one of these! There are so many great blog posts, but since I don't want this to be too overwhelming, I narrowed it down to a more manageable number of links. Hope you enjoy these posts as much as I did!

CHARACTERIZATION
  • So if you've been following these linky posts, you may have noticed that I am drawn to posts about villains/antagonists. Janice Hardy wrote one using the newest X-men movie as an example. Even more amazing? I actually watched that movie! That's pretty amazing, since the last time I watched a movie in theater was New Year's Day, when I watched Tangled with my sister.
  • Judith Tarr is Book View Cafe's resident horse expert, and she wrote a post on the fine art of horse arranging. It provides a fascinating look into how social groups change depending on the members. Awesome implications for complex relationships between your (human) characters, as well!
  • Jason Black at Plot to Punctuation wrote a super cool post on four ways to generate conflict between your characters — using Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series! Great stuff.

PLOTTING

WRITING LIFE
  • Chuck Wendig keeps writing these amazing (though profanity-filled) 25-things posts. He makes a lot of great points in the list of things to know about writing a novel. Yeah, I suck at the momentum one. It's kind of depressing to be stuck at #2.
  • Tawna Fenske is not only hilarious but thoughtful as well. I can very much relate to her post on not being a machine —  I've wished so many times that I could program myself to do what I want me to do!

FUN
  • If you need any evidence that Tawna's posts are comedic gold, check out her post on her housemates' plan to use her dog as a chick magnet.
  • And while this isn't from a writing blog, this post on picking your battles is too hilarious not to share. Three reasons you have to read this post: GIANT. METAL. CHICKEN!

Oh, and HUGE congrats to Natalie Whipple for selling her books! I've raved about her before in a previous link roundup post and I am so, so thrilled for her. She is an inspiration. Go read her story on the process and offer your congratulations!

Have a great weekend!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Plotting and Series

So I meant to take this one little break, and before I knew it, three weeks flew by. That's forever in blogging time! Thank goodness I'm not the only one on a summer hiatus lately (even though it doesn't really much feel like summer to me since I still have work. Oh summer vacation, how I miss you!).

My last post was supposed to be about my vision on protagonists, although I did kind of get carried away talking about other stuff. This one is about plot. But since Chantele's post on series triggered a strong reaction from me (from, ah, quite a while ago), I figured I'd talk about that here, too.

Most of my favorite novels earn that distinction on the strength of the characters — ones that make me laugh and cry and worry and wish to be as much like them as I can. They engage my emotions and make me care despite my general attitude of apathy.

But there are also novels that I love for stimulating my mind. I adore logic games and riddles and mysteries and intricately-woven narrative threads; I admire, so much, those masterminds who are brilliant enough to craft a complex puzzle as well as an elegant solution, and unfold both in just the right way to blow my mind.

I don't know if I'm brilliant enough to do that, yet. One of these days I want to write something with a non-linear plot, but I figured it's not ideal for a first project. So at the very least, I will make sure that any plot point I dream up is plausible (given the rules of the world), makes sense, and has a clear cause and effect. It bothers me so much when I read books that have plot holes or elements that just don't make sense to me.

And I also prefer reading about intelligent, observant characters. So many times I've read a book and guessed a twist or reveal ahead of time, then have to endure a character's surprise when he or she finally figures it out. The disconnect tends to pull me out of the narrative and make me think less of the character.

That's why it impresses me so much when I come across a book that's unpredictable on the first read, but when considered in retrospect, every event is logical, adheres to all the rules that were provided in the setup, and culminates in an ending that ties everything together in an inordinately clever fashion.

And oh, the ending. It's so important. One that I find unsatisfactory can ruin the entire book for me (an unhappy one, for example. Yes, I'm a sucker for happy endings). If I make it through a novel, I want closure and contentment when I put it down.

That's one reason I tend to dislike trilogies and series. I cannot stand cliffhanger or unresolved endings. It's bad enough that it seems as if all penultimate books must have one by default, but a lack of a satisfactory resolution in the first book pretty much guarantees I won't want to pick up the next one. I much prefer series where the books are companions, so that each stands alone (even better if they can be read in any order). That way, readers get to dive back into a world and maybe even catch a glimpse of favorite characters while enjoying a brand new story.

Trilogies seem all the rage in speculative fiction, and I understand the appeal. It can take multiple books to catapult a series to blockbuster status, and multiple books allow for more in-depth setup and worldbuilding. Still,  I haven't encountered many series where I loved every single installment; sequels tend to be disappointing. Reading a story that spans multiple books is more of an investment, which means the pay-off better be worth it — and I tend to lose interest partway through or find that the resolution fails to live up to my expectations. I'd rather read standalones and choose my favorites √† la carte than as a set/saga/series. Of course, there are exceptions, but here's my general take: standalones with companions, please.

Anyway, these are a few of my thoughts on plot. What are your pet peeves? How do you feel about trilogies and series?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

For My Fifteen-Year-Old Self

This is the first post in a series about creating a vision of what I want to write, as mentioned in my novel-writing game plan.

I've loved reading for as long as I can remember. My favorites as a teen were YA fantasies, and I still adore them now. I always dreamed of escaping to a magical world, having swashbuckling adventures, and living happily-ever-after with a swoon-worthy guy as the heroine of my own story. I figure the next best thing is penning (or typing, I guess) a YA fantasy novel myself, and write the story I've always wanted to read.

Thus when it comes to envisioning the kind of books I want to write, I already have my target audience in mind: my fifteen-year-old self. I was (and remain) a picky reader, and much of what I want to write is shaped by my reading preferences.

First, the protagonist. I idolized those strong, brilliant heroines I read about; I wished so much to be more like them, or to be part of their world. And yet a part of me felt it was impossible. As often as I fantasized about magically falling into their stories, I knew could never belong — I would be grossly out of place with my East Asian features.

I felt this even as a kid, when I played make-believe with my sister and childhood friend. We pretended to be magical princesses fighting to save our beloved kingdom from our wicked stepmother. Our alter-egos never looked like us, not even when we wanted a break from being princesses and pretended to be their maids (and best friends, of course). They were all blondes or brunettes or redheads with eyes the color of emerald, or sapphire, or steel. Because really, it would be ridiculous to have brown-eyed, black-haired Asian girls living in a medieval fantasy world... wouldn't it?

Almost all of the heroines I admired as a teen lived in worlds composed solely of people who looked nothing like me. I hated feeling I could never be a part of the worlds I loved so much, that I could only aspire to be like the characters in Asian historical fiction or Chinese mythology — who, at times, felt foreign and exotic to me, with values and worldviews that had but little in common with my Asian-American ones.

There were a lot of pseudo-European fantasylands; where were all the pseudo-Asian ones? Or, even better, where were the books where the protagonist happens to have Asian features, set in a fantasyland that's not based entirely on ancient China or Japan?

I know these books exist now, thanks to the increasing diversity of YA. And I am so, so grateful for the authors writing those novels. I admire them to pieces.

But to be completely honest, so far I haven't been able to find a book with an Asian protagonist that I can connect with deeply, despite how much I want to adore those books. It is completely unfair to the authors, because I think that, after so many years of longing, I've built up a specific ideal of the book I wish I could have read as a teen — and the books I read are the authors' visions, not mine. The only way to fix this is to start writing my own, so I can stop comparing the books I read to what I wish they were, and enjoy them for what they are.

That is why I'm going to write — for myself, because there are stories I want to tell; because, after all those years of reading, I want a story that belongs to me: a story that my fifteen-year-old self will embrace and adore, one that tells her that she, too, can be the heroine for once.

So I will write, and the protagonist will live in a world where she isn't out of place for looking Asian, and she will be capable and brave and clever and interesting and selfless (or try to be). She will fight for what she cares about and seek to do the right thing, and she will be the protagonist because of the strength of her character and not because of her birth — she will not be special due to a rare magical power or unique eye color or ancient prophecy, unless I am subverting those tropes (and I will). I will gift her with my own flaws, as well as with virtues I'm still striving to develop, and she will persevere despite all the difficult decisions and heartbreak I throw at her. And I will have succeeded with her when I know my teenaged self would read that book over and over just to watch her in action, laugh and cry and gush over her, and wish desperately to be half as amazing as she is.

It will be a challenge, to be sure; despite reading widely, there are few protagonists I can say I truly adore. Still, I am excited. After all, these are books I'm dying to read — ones that no one can write but me. :)

Thank you for reading! Next week I'll continue the series with my personal preferences for plot, setting, romance, and all that good stuff. Do you have protagonist pet-peeves? Are you also motivated to write by the need to read the book of your heart?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Deadlines and Schedules

Last week, I posted my novel-writing game plan and said that it was missing an important element, one that I'm reluctant to face.

A timeline.

I know schedules are integral to thoughtful planning; otherwise, things are likely to be delayed indefinitely (which is what's been happening with my writing so far). I understand the value of due dates because I am a very deadline-motivated person — just look at how I write English papers: I procrastinate like crazy until the last possible moment, then write the entire thing in one night. Yeah, I don't think that's going to work out so well when it comes to writing a novel.

So maybe I just need to set my own schedule... but that comes with its own set of problems, too.

It's not that I'm schedule-adverse. I like them. I really do. I love the idea of being organized and staying on track and knowing what's coming up so I can mentally prepare myself. But I also like flexibility and spontaneity and having options. Sometimes this results in writing out a meticulous schedule only to blow it off on a whim, leaving me to wonder, later, how I managed to get so distracted.

I realize this does not bode well for my project.

I'm terrible at slow and steady, yet I know it's something I'll have to learn if I plan to write a novel. (I hate marathons too, but that might have more to do with the fact that I detest running.) Besides, the important thing is to keep going even if I fail, right?

I actually have no idea how long any of this is supposed to take — outlining, drafting, revising. I know it's different for everyone, perhaps even different for every project, so for this first one I'm giving myself a lot of leeway: a year and two weeks. That means I'd like to complete at least my first draft by July 1, 2012. That should be plenty of time to write 80k words or so, no?

I'm hoping to have a concrete outline by October/November, just in time to give NaNoWriMo another shot (last year I only managed a few thousand words, so my hopes aren't high). Then, depending on my progress, I'll set a (low and doable) weekly word count goal and go from there.

Fingers crossed that I'll finish on time, if not early! I must say I feel a bit at a loss when it comes to this aspect of planning, so if you have any thoughts or tips, I would love to hear them!

What do you think? Do you give yourself a deadline for your projects? Or is there one decided for you? Do you have word count goals or scheduled time to write, and how did you decide how much they should be? And how do you push yourself to meet your goals?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Inky Linky Love 06.11.2011

Two weeks ago I said I wouldn't overwhelm you with two weeks' worth of links at once... well. Looks like it's inevitable this time, though I did try to cut down the number of links to a reasonable amount.

CRAFT
  • Mary Kole's post on how to convey character through interiority rather than resorting to physical cliches is amazing and helped me to understand why I had a hard time connecting to characters in certain works.
  • Ken Scholes at Genereality gives some tips to pre-plan and draft a first novel — much-needed advice for me!

PLOTTING
  • Janice Hardy's posts on plotting are so helpful — she's really great at breaking down the key elements of plot, and my inner structure/outline nerd totally loves it.

CHARACTER
  • Kristen Lamb concludes her series on antagonists with a post on the importance of scene antagonists and how they push the protagonist to change.

WORLDBUILDING
  • Alexandra Sokoloff writes about the powerful technique of using visual imagery systems to convey theme, using films as examples so you can "see" her points in action.
  • Juliette Wade does it again with another thought-provoking post on using idioms and metaphors to flesh out a culture. I adore all her worldbuilding posts!

WRITING LIFE
  • Given how late I've been with posts lately, Biljana Likic's post at Let the Words Flow on how to deal with missing deadlines is extremely timely.
  • In addition to great posts on anthropology and linguistics, Juliette Wade also provides some helpful tips on how to find time to write — I must say I'm definitely guilty of letting myself be distracted.

CHUCK WENDIG

Hope you enjoy the links! If you haven't yet, please take a look at my novel-writing game plan and let me know if you have any tips for me. Thanks!