Posts Tagged ‘writing’

2017-06-15 WW Lucienne Diver Last night I gave a talk at the Hart Memorial Central Library in Kissimmee, FL on Characters, Conflict and Publishing, which put a smile on my face, because my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Hart, was the one I credit with sparking my love of writing and with teaching me about butt in chair and other lessons I apply to this day. The attendees were a lovely bunch of people with great questions. As always, the ad-libbing and elaboration that comes from an in-person talk goes missing from the formal, on-paper speech, but since I promised, I’ll be recreating it here on the blog in parts. (Note: if you’ve followed along on my other posts and articles, some of what’s said here will already be familiar to you.)

Part I

For some, novels begin with a concept. For others with a character or characters talking in their heads. Either way, the best thing an author can be is as contrary as possible.

If your concept starts with a conflict, think “Who would be most thrown for a loop in a situation like this? Who would be most discombobulated and out of their element?”

If it starts with a character, think “What would really challenge this person? What’s his/her own personal version of hell?”

Then, I kid you not, put them through it. Characters and conflict are at the heart of every story, inextricably intertwined.

Characters

Let’s begin with characters. Who is your protagonist? What is his or her background? What does he care about and what’s at stake for him or her in the story? This is always ALL important. There must be stakes — something the character wants or needs but that obstacles may prevent or something the protagonist desperately fears that might come to pass if events aren’t thwarted. In the best of all possible worlds, both of these things are true. We’re all bundles of hopes and fears. Your characters should be no less. The difference is that for us, hopefully, there is no opposing force (a villain or a killer, say) battling against us.

When creating characters, be unique and be creative. Do not create stereotypes, but living and breathing characters. How do you do this? Here are a few things to think about:

Background: characters should be products of their cultural and personal experiences. There should be elements of both nature and nurture. For example, in fantasy werewolves (or vampires or even humans) will likely have certain behaviors in common because of their biology and biochemistry. People need to eat and drink, sleep, etc. Werewolves might have a need to change, particularly at certain times, or for red meat. Vampires aren’t really vampires without the need for blood (or energy in the case of pranic vampires). How your particular character deals with these urges and with others inside or outside their group will largely be informed by their personal, familial and societal history.

Uniqueness: while your main character or characters should be identifiable and sympathetic to the reader and may fit an archetype (hero, villain, caregiver, visionary) he or she should also be unique. Remember that even villains have a story. They may be doing the wrong things for the right reasons or responding to pains in their past or viewing everything through a lens of sociopathy, but in their minds they are likely doing what’s right or necessary. They probably don’t see themselves as evil. The same goes for your hero or heroine – most don’t see themselves that way. They’re not good or noble all the time. Think of Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games, who is heroic in standing up for her sister, but doesn’t set out to lead anything for the greater good, and when she takes on that role, realizes that it’s not black or white, but gray. People will die for believing in her and the symbolic role she plays.

Strength and Weaknesses: what are your protagonist’s strengths and weaknesses and how does the conflict challenge them to be better. Characters should not remain stagnant from the beginning of a book to the end, they should grow and change, the conflicts the wringer they must go through to achieve their final shape.

Relatable: No matter how unusual a main character you choose, the reader should find him or her relatable and sympathetic. You may lose some readers if you choose a main character with whom they have nothing in common or who they feel is too immoral. Give us something with which to identify.

I’ve started with character, because that’s how stories often start for me. With the Vamped series, I first had my fashionista character talking in my head, and I absolutely had to get her out. I thought to myself, “How can I torture this girl?” (Authors have to have a little of the sadist about them and then write it out in their fiction so that they can be perfectly lovely people in real life.) The answer was to make her a vampire – take away her reflection so that she’d have no way to fix her hair and make-up, take away her tanning options and make her dig her own way out of the grave, totally ruining her manicure. Have her discover that the parents buried her in that dress she literally wouldn’t be caught dead in. And then, give her a bigger, badder, even more fashionable foe to fight against.

Which brings us to conflict, which will be Part II.

Publishing Possibilities

Posted: September 3, 2015 in Uncategorized
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Now that the new Knight Agency newsletter is out, with an article by Elaine Spencer, an interview with Chloe Neill, an Author Tip of the Month from Tammy Kaehler and other goodies, I’ll post up here my article from the last newsletter, drawn from the panel that Elaine and I did at the Romance Writers of America national conference along with Nephele Tempest, Nalini Singh and Deborah Blake (our esteemed moderator). And so, I give you…

Publishing Possibilities

I’ve talked a lot on panels recently about working with others, whether they be critique partners, fellow writers, bloggers or whathaveyou—to improve your work and your reach.  This past Thursday this came up at the Romance Writers of America Conference on the panel Beyond Business:  Taking the Agency/Author Relationship into the New Era, which featured Knight Agency clients Nalini Singh and Deborah Blake and TKA agents Nephele Tempest, Elaine Spencer and me.

My portion of this talk was about how an agent, a good business manager, helps you navigate through all of the possibilities out there in publishing.  In addition to traditional, small press, self-publishing and the hybrid model, there are also subrights to consider, international markets and so much more.

But you all know this.

What you probably don’t know is that agents don’t just sit back and discuss opportunities you bring to them—like what to do with your new romantic suspense novel.  We’re always beating the bushes, making the acquaintance of new editors, conversing with those we already know to keep abreast of what they’re looking for at the moment.  But here’s the best part: they regularly coming to us as well.  Because our agency handles so many well-respected authors, editors will contact us if there’s something in particular they want but aren’t seeing or approach us with proprietary ideas (concepts generated in-house that they feel are particularly marketable and for which they’re seeking out just the right author) or with tie-in work (novels, novelizations, manuals, etc. that tie in to successful media franchises like Star Wars).  We can then see what authors might be a good fit, both in terms of material and scheduling, and connect people together.

And it’s not just editors who come to us.  More and more, we’re hearing from producers, film people, gaming companies, even musical groups who want fiction based on their work.  Some have their own book production arms, some have partnered with publishers or have generated funds and interest with Kickstarter campaigns…  The important thing is that there are a wealth of possibilities and big agencies with a deep and amazing talent pools draw these opportunities out and facilitate/negotiate the deals.

Sometimes it’s authors who come to us, putting together an anthology on a theme and wondering if we have any clients who’d be interested or working on a continuity in which they’d like to get others involved.

Then there’s working together for visibility and marketing, of course!  As an agency (and as individual agents), we tweet, Facebook and all as much else as we can, but getting authors together to support and promo each other is important as well.  With so much out on the market, signals can get lost unless they’re boosted, and social cred (having others enthusiastic about your work and not hearing all about it from the author him/herself) is crucial.

Well, I think I’ve used up my allotment of words, but I hope that you’ve found this informative and maybe even inspirational!

How’s the writing going?

Posted: December 7, 2014 in Uncategorized
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How’s the writing going today, you ask.  Well, actually, you didn’t, but I’ll tell you anyway.  Remember that old campfire/scouting song about the swimming hole (lyrics below)?  Well…

(My version)

Stalling, stalling…the writing’s not going well.

Some days are hot, some days are cold, some are just plain hell.

Plotting, pacing, get the voice right too…

But there’s dishes and vacuuming, laundry and e-mail and so much else to do!

(Original lyrics)

Swimming, Swimming, in the swimming hole,

When days are hot, when days are cold, in the swimming hole.

Breast stroke, side stroke, fancy diving too…

Don’t you wish you never had anything else to do?

(BTW, if you can’t imagine how it sounds, here’s a YouTube video.  Or an even cuter, but less musical video with an adorable little boy.)

Statement the First: Agenting is a way more than full time job, and I’m far more than a full time agent.

Statement the Second: Writing is not something for which you find time, it’s something for which you make time.

The math: As an agent, I work with over forty authors of fantasy, science fiction, romance, mystery and young adult fiction (full list here). As an author, I work with one person: me. (Okay, and all the voices in my head, but they don’t eat much and they never call, they never write.)

Impetus for this post: I get asked all the time, “What do you do more of these days, agent or author?” So, you know that math above…

Conundrum: I’m a hyper-responsible workaholic. Just ask my poor, long-suffering family. This means that I attack everything full-on. As an agent, I work 9:30-5:30 at my desk—providing editorial and other feedback to my writers, sending out submissions, working on subsidiary rights, reaching out to editors, negotiating contracts, chasing down payments, reviewing royalty statements, putting out fires, which can cover such a wide range of issues it would take another entire blog post to cover, doing promo work, etc. In the evenings and on weekends, I’m reading partials by queriers or by clients to prep them for submission, or reading full manuscripts that have been turned in, or doing market research… I’d say that all told, my agenting takes at least a sixty hour week.

Finding time to write? Not going to happen. I make myself write every single morning, before my agenting day starts, before my critical self has woken up—which helps me get out of my own way and not second guess myself all the way down the line. It lets the words flow. I only get an hour for it, which helps me fight dithering and writer’s block. When I only have an hour, I use it. It doesn’t mean I’ll keep what I’ve written, but it means that I don’t dare stare at a blank page. Those few hours I have are too precious. On weekends, if I’m not traveling like crazy, usually as an agent, networking and promoting my authors’ works, I might find two whole hours on Saturday or Sunday to write. Maybe. But I’m also a mom and a wife, and I take those jobs pretty seriously as well.

So I get a little frustrated when I get that question over and over. I want to think that if I’m being asked whether I’m doing more agenting or writing, that means I’m doing both so aggressively that people can’t tell. But I hear it as, “So, you’re writing. Does that mean you’re less committed to agenting.”

The answer is such a resounding “no” that I think I’ve just set off all the dogs in the neighborhood. I love agenting. I love writing. If I could choose one over the other, well, I would have. There are so many amazing highs as an agent—when you read something that just blows you away and you feel amazing by association, when an offer comes in (even better if there are multiple offers and the book goes to auction), great reviews, bestseller lists, award recognition for those books you love… As an author there are huge highs as well—offers, foreign rights sales, the first time you see your new cover art, hearing from readers, great reviews… There’s also, certainly in my case, neuroses. I can promote my authors all day long and tell you how fabulous they are. As an author, I feel a little like Oliver Twist asking the Beadle, “Please, sir, can I have some more?” Only it goes, “Please, good people, won’t you buy my books? And maybe love them just a little, flaws and all. Oh, I know they’re not perfect. By the time they hit the proof stage, I kind of hate them myself, but I thought there was something good there once, so just maybe…” (Ahem, sorry about that. I got carried away. You can read all about my neuroses in my article Self-Doubt and Perspective for Magical Words.)

You can probably guess which I’d rather be full time—calm, cool and collected vs. a bundle of nerves.

It’s not that simple of course. I couldn’t stop writing if I tried. I’ll never forget in Robert Heinlein’s The Cat Who Walked Through Walls his hero, who’s a writer, trying to explain it to the heroine. She asks, “If it hurts so much, why do you do it?” To which he responds, “It hurts more not to.” And that’s exactly it.

I’ve been writing since I was eleven years old.  Any day that I don’t write feels like a day without the warmth of the sun. It feels pointless. I feel pointless. No matter what else I do that day, I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished anything. I need to write. These characters and stories that pile up…if I don’t get them out of my system, I sometimes think I might explode. Sound crazy? Well, you have talked to writers before, haven’t you?

But that’s not the problem. I need to write, so I make the time.

The problem comes from people’s perceptions, which is why when my first short stories and novel came out, I used a pseudonym. I didn’t want anyone to question my commitment. But it didn’t feel right. It felt a little cagey. I didn’t want to be on an author loop as “Kit Daniels” and have someone find out that I was an agent and feel I’d been lurking or there under false pretenses or anything of the sort. And so, largely, I wasn’t very present. It’s a terrible way to promote. With the Vamped and Latter-Day Olympians series, I went to using my own name. So now whenever I promote, people think I’ve gone over to the authorial side of the force.

You see my conundrum. As mentioned, I’m hyper-responsible. Even if radio silence wasn’t a piss poor way to sell books, I couldn’t do it because a) that’s not who I am, and b) I’d be falling down on my responsibility to my publisher, who showed faith and put resources into my work, and to myself. Do I sometimes tweet my books during the day when there’s the most volume on social media. You bet. Do I even more often tweet about my authors at odd hours of the day and night, on weekends, holidays, etc. Absolutely.

I understand the question coming, particularly right now when I’ve had two new books out within the last couple of months and one special price promotion to crow about. (New books: RISE OF THE BLOOD in print, BATTLE FOR THE BLOOD in digital; promotion: BAD BLOOD, the first in the series, for only 99¢.) But rest assured, I’m still a more than full time agent and a part time writer, though I’m good if it comes across as though I can do it all.

For the record, I have looked into cloning, but it’s not really an option just yet and, anyway, I know me. I’d be all competitive with myself and I’d end up more crazy rather than less.

So excited that cloning has finally been perfected! Yup, I’m all over the net today:

-at Magical Words with a really honest post about self-doubt and perspective

-at Goldilox and The Three Scares with a post on what scares me and why, along with a giveaway!

-and last, but definitely not least, a review of my Latter-Day Olympians novel RISE OF THE BLOOD is up today at Night Owl Reviews!

Yee-ha!

I promised my friends at the Colorado Gold Conference this past weekend that I would post my presentation on When is it YA? on my blog, and I’m keeping that promise here.  Some of this may be a bit familiar, since I’ve written on the subject before, but there’s new here as well.

So, when is it YA?

It’s important when targeting editors and agents to how where your work fits, and there’s often confusion about when something is middle-grade or young adult vs. new adult or adult fiction. Is it just the age of the protagonist? Well, no.

For a quick overview:

Middle grade is considered fiction for kids 8-12. There’s, of course, a range within this from chapter books like the Magic Treehouse to series like Percy Jackson and the early Harry Potter books, which I would argue aged up with the reader. These books mostly have protagonists on the older side of the reader scale (kids will read up in age but not down). So, it’s very likely your hero or heroine would be 11 or 12. Word count generally hovers around 40-55,000 words, give or take.

-Young Adult is for ages 12-18. Of course, there’s a range here as well and again you want to aim for older protagonists to give yourself the broadest readership. Word count is generally 60,000-80,000 words though, of course, this varies as well. It’s not just about the age of the protagonist, but about themes and where the protagonist is in his or her life.

New Adult this is for older heroes and heroines and has more adult, often sexual themes. It’s generally the next step in the protagonists’ lives—the first really adult relationship—and it’s mostly seen and shelved in romance. Heroes/heroines will be late teens or early twenties and the books will generally be the length of adult fiction.

Adult: adult fiction can, of course, have younger protagonists, like Mark Haddon’s THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME or Jodi Picoult’s MY SISTER’S KEEPER or Orson Scott Card’s Ender series, but the themes and situations are adult. The characters aren’t dealing with high school and issues of identity, but having to deal with adult situations even at their young age.

So when is it YA?

Young adult and middle-grade novels do not simply have young characters dropped into an adult world, dealing with their issues.  They have young people in situations and settings that are relevant to their current experience and to what they’re going through. Generally, the characters are in a school and/or familiar setting, dealing with family and social issues that are universal to that period in life.

Common themes (and I say “I” and “you” because what any writer needs to succeed is to become his/her character while writing):

Finding belonging – where do I fit in? Whether your character discovers s/he belongs in the wizarding world or the in crowd, finding a place in the world is a major theme.

Rebellion – young adulthood is definitely a time for questioning the status quo and deciding what you really believe in and what you’re willing to fight for.

Survival – sometimes you’re fighting just to survive. Zombies. High school. Minefields. Mazes.

Self-reliance or the flipside, allowing others in – no matter who your character is, he or she won’t be the same by the end of the story. If she’s a loner, she might learn that she needs people and that there’s sometimes strength in numbers. If he’s used to a certain amount of safety, whether it be in financial or social status, something will happen to teach him how to stand on his own.

How to make a difference – change is sort of the buzzword. Whatever’s going on, there has to be a way for the teens themselves to make the difference and affect the change. Control and coming into their own are all important.

Overall, the most important thing is that the young adult protagonists in your story are the agents of change. They’re not catalysts or observers, they’re active participants, without which…nothing.

What about Language?

Just like it isn’t all about the age of the protagonists, it’s not all about language either. Here are some important things to keep in mind:

-Don’t talk down to your readers. Ever.

-Don’t preach

-Make sure you use relevant cultural references and not those that will be gone in a year. Your heartthrobs will not be theirs!

-Know how kids talk. Dialogue should be natural and contemporary. Language and sentence structure appropriate for your viewpoint character. They know when you’re faking it.

-Cursing – sometimes it’s necessary. Good rule of thumb, always make sure it is. Don’t use it gratuitously and be aware that for some lines, even that’s too much.

Taboos

Here’s a hint – teens know about sex and drugs and drinking. It’s part of their experience, so it will often factor into to realistic portrayals, although some publishers are certainly more open to this than others.

Young adult fiction isn’t adult lite.  It’s not the place to preach to kids or present things as you’d have them appear rather than as they are.  It’s the place where you address teens’ actual world, experiences, insecurities, pressures, etc.  Even if you throw vampires or werewolves into the mix, you’re still dealing with peer pressure, bullying, friends/parents/faculty/enemies with agendas of their own.  And the big secret…none of this ends with high school, which might be why so many adults are attracted to young adult fiction as well.  We’ve all been there, and in many ways have never left. 

The LA Times had a wonderful article recently on the widespread appeal of young adult fiction, where one author (Lizzie Skurnick) speculated that part of the attraction may lie in the fact that “a YA book is explicitly intended to entertain.”  I think another factor may be that young adult fiction isn’t broken down along genre lines, but is a category all by itself, which means that writers are less tied to any particular conventions.  A book doesn’t have to be A or B, but can be something all its own.  (Not that genre boundaries haven’t become increasingly blurry in the adult fiction market as well.)

I don’t think there are taboos of subject so much as differing levels of graphic presentation.  There are times where something might happen off stage or that different language might be used, but the world is not always a perfect or pretty place, and fiction should reflect that. 

That said, if what you want to write about is sexual awakening, you might be writing New Adult rather than YA. It’s a matter of the focus and the nature of the experience.

But death – yup, got it – THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green. Drugs –yup, that too—Ellen Hopkins. Eating disorders – HUNGER by Jackie Morse Kessler. Suicide – THIRTEEN REASONS WHY. Reproductive issues – UNWIND by Neal Shusterman. And those are just examples.

The important thing in young adult fiction is to be authentic and to make sure you truly understand your characters, their struggles and the significance of their triumphs.

Is it me or do I sound awfully perky for the conversation?  Hmm.  Anyway, in case you missed it, Amy Christine Parker and I talk about what we do in the name of research this week with the YA Rebels!