Friday, September 30, 2011

From The Trenches - Maggie: The Classics

The past few weeks (as assigned reading) I've had the irreplaceable joy of reading David Copperfield by Charles Dickens.

Okay, that was totally sarcastic! I have a bit of trouble with Dickens's wordiness and it may just be among the slowest books I've ever read, but I'm still enjoying it to some degree. I like the depth of his characters and his dry humor, and I'm really appreciating the rich language. Hence, this post.

I speak for myself, personally, when I say that it's very easy to fall into a pattern of reading YA and nothing but YA. It's easy to get used to the quick pace, the easy language, and did I mention the quick pace?

It's even easier to overlook the classics, the more difficult reads, etc. For me, this is the first classic I've picked up in months! And I didn't even do it of my own accord.

It got me thinking about classics in general, and the language they use (vs. that you find in YA books) and how it would probably be better for me, just as a writer AND reader, to read a classic now and then. For the sake of my vocabulary, if anything.

So, my questions to you are: What are your favorite classics? How often do you read classics? What's your general opinion (of classics)? Should we read them more or less? Why?

I'd love to know!

And I want to offer a quick apology. I feel like my FTC posts haven't been the most imaginative, and that's mostly because I wait until the first day of the month to scramble and think of something to post. So I have a plan: I'm going to write out several ideas/posts, so I always have one at the ready!

See you next month!

NOTE: Ooops! I had my dates wrong. Today was the 30th of September, NOT the 7th of October! From The Trenches will resume on the 14th. Sorry for the mistake!

Friday, September 16, 2011

From the Trenches: Taryn - Taking Advantage

I've had a lot of people ask me how I've gotten my internship at a literary agency, so I figured I'd answer that here. If you're reading Write On! it's likely that you want to be involved in the publishing world, whether as a writer, or an editor, or a librarian, or something else book-related. You probably know what an agent does (if you don't, an agent acquires authors as clients and shops their novels to editors at publishing houses who are probably otherwise closed to submissions). You probably think it's really cool to get to read books all the time.

(Note: that's totally not all we do. Well, it's all I do, but it's not all Agent Lady does.)

So! My story!

I basically prostituted myself.

Whenever I saw an opportunity to speak with an agent, I jumped on it. I hammered in the point that "I'M A TEEN, if you take me on AS A TEEN, I will be valuable AS A TEEN in the area of TEEN fiction that you work with, and did I mention I'M A TEEN?"

Because, ya know, all teens are really experienced in publishing and editing and critical reading. *rolls eyes*

But my babbling started to pay off this past summer. I learned that a prominent romance agent had kids who swam in the same area as me, and we chatted at a swim meet. He showed me some things about the business, and allowed me to use him as a reference. Then I learned a woman I worked with had a mother who is a non-fiction agent, and again we chatted. She had much the same reaction as the last agent.

Suddenly I had experience and names to drop.

So, when I met Agent Lady at a conference this past summer, I was comfortable with her. And when she called for an intern, I showed interest. Next thing I knew, she was sending me some "test" manuscripts, and I was in heaven.

She liked me. I liked her. And sometimes that's all it takes.

Take-away Tips:
-Put yourself out there.
-Don't be scared to use your advantages (like your age).
-Spend a lot of time reading and figuring out specifically what you did and didn't like about that book.
-Cultivate relationships, even if they aren't exactly what you want to do.
-Stalk people.
-Learn a lot about the agent looking for an intern before you apply, because a lot of it is whether your tastest match to his/her.

You Tell Me:
-Do you want to work in publishing? Why or why not?
-Do you have any questions about agents you want me to answer?
-Have you ever prostituted yourself?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Basics: Authenticity

Recently, I posted about the authenticity of teen sexuality in YA novels on Miss Snark's First Victim.

The idea of authenticity in writing is much broader than that, though, and bears mentioning.  You may have heard the old expression, "Write what you know."  Now, obviously that doesn't apply to things like spaceships and volcanoes erupting and any number of things that you can sit down and research.  But when it comes to CHARACTERS and RELATIONSHIPS, your writing isn't going to be authentic if you can't "get inside" a character's head/motivations because, frankly, you have no way of relating to what you're character is going through or who he is.

Let me explain.

Let's say you have this great idea for a story about an eighteen-year-old girl who just got accepted to the college of her dreams and, at the same time, finds out she is pregnant.  If you are only sixteen, have never applied to a college, and have never even kissed a boy, it's going to be awfully hard for you to create a character who is having experiences beyond your ken.

Yeah, but what if I write about someone getting murdered? I'm not exactly planning on killing someone just to see what it feels like.

Good point!  But that's where you tap into emotions instead of actions.  You may not know what it feels like to kill someone (well, I hope you don't), but you can certainly get in touch with feelings of rage or jealousy or revenge.  And you can research the mechanics of killing someone, to make sure that aspect is believable.

Hence the "write what you know."  If you give legitimate emotion/motives to the words and actions of characters who might actually be experiencing something you have not experienced, it's going to be a lot more believable.  But be careful.  If you're only fifteen and you're writing about someone's wedding day...or if you've never been in an airplane in your life and you're writing a story about someone's first transcontinental flight...or if you're a vegetarian and you're writing a story about someone who specializes in fifty ways to prepare bear meat...well.  You get my point.

Look carefully at your characters in each scene.  Is their EMOTION authentic?  Is their MOTIVATION authentic?  Is their DIALOGUE authentic?  If the answer to all three questions is a resounding YES, then your scene--and your characters--will be believable.  And that's what you want!

Friday, September 9, 2011

From the Trenches - Mad

Hey guys! Sorry this is so late. I haven't been home all day and this is coming from my phone. Plus, I'm getting ready for bed because I have to get up early for aikido.

So here goes...

Writing is tough. There are lots of drafts and edits and betas to go through. It's easy when you don't have an agent to think you'll never get published. The stats are against you, right?


Why, you ask? That comes next week. ;P

Last week, I asked you why you wrote. This time, I want to hear what you write and what, if you remember, got you hooked on that genre.

Yeah, I know my post is lame, but I promise to lurk in the comments tomorrow! :)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Basics: Chapter Endings

In all honesty, I'm not sure there's actually a way to TEACH the writing of decent chapter endings.  It's something that the sensitive writer will develop over time, as a result of LOTS of reading and LOTS of writing practice.

The most helpful thing, I think, is to give you a few rules of thumb.

1.  Each chapter ending should propel the reader forward.  That DOES NOT mean that every chapter ending is a cliff-hanger.  If you do that, you'll end up sounding like a Hardy Boys knock-off (have you ever read Hardy Boys books? Ugh!).  The trick to a chapter ending is CONFLICT, the same way CONFLICT plays such a vital role in the OPENING of a novel and THROUGHOUT the novel.  It's CONFLICT that will propel the reader to the next chapter.  And that may or may not be a typical cliff-hanger.

2.  Chapter endings should not all follow the same formula. Of course you're going to want some cliff-hangers thrown in there, but if you do that at the end of every chapter, your readers are going to start to roll their collective eyes.  The key is variety--a careful balance of endings that keeps the story moving forward.

3.  Quiet chapter endings can be as compelling as tense ones.  In fact, sometimes the quiet chapter ending hints at more terrible things to come by presenting a false sense of calm.  So don't shy away from quiet endings just because you think every ending has to have a huge BANG.  It doesn't.

In the end, it's all about balance.  Pay attention to the overall rhythm of your story, and craft your chapter endings accordingly.  And be sure to KEEP READING WELL WRITTEN BOOKS.  I can't stress enough how much we learn simply by reading the work of others.  GOOD work, that is.  Be discerning.

Honestly?  I spend a lot of time on my chapter endings.  A LOT.  I craft them very carefully, whether they're heartstopping or calm.  I won't move on to the next chapter, in fact, until I'm completely satisfied with the ending of the chapter before.

To me, it's just that important.

Now take a look at your chapter endings.  Do they carry CONFLICT toward the next chapter?  Are they well balanced, so that they're not cookie cutters of each other?  Or do they sound more like my all-time Favorite Dorky Schlocky Badly Written Hardy Boys chapter ending of all time:

A blunt object connected with the back of his head.  Joe pitched forward and blacked out.

Oh, yeah.  Good stuff there.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Changes In Write On!

There have been a couple semi-major changes here at Write On!, and we want to make sure everyone is in The Know.

1. Our main Twitter account is now strictly Write On! tweetage, so you will hear no more of Maggie (perviously Lizzy)'s personal thoughts and random statements. You can still get those at Maggie's twitter.

2. We have a brand new Write On! email! Direct all Write-On!-related messages to writeonteens(at)gmail(dot)com. It couldn't be easier to remember. Personal messages for Maggie/Lizzy can still go to lizzy.skye(at)gmail(dot)com.

During this time of transition, it's okay if you still contact lizzy.skye(at)gmail(dot)com or tweet @WriteOnTeens to contact Maggie or Write On! in general.

Happy tweeting! Or emailing.

Friday, September 2, 2011

From The Trenches: Maggie - On Feeding Inspiration

Happy Friday! And Happy September, too.

It took me way long enough to figure out what I wanted to write for my From The Trenches post. I finally decided to talk about something that's been on my mind for a while now.


There's inspiration in every kind of art. Writing is an art, just the same as painting, filming, or dancing. To create, you must first be inspired. But I've noticed inspiration can be hard to come by, when you're looking for it, and it often pops up at the most unlikely times, and in the most unlikely places.

Personally, my inspiration is often affected directly by my life and what I'm doing/feeling. If I'm stressed out or angry or letting life get me down, my inspiration level will be -- you guessed it! -- on the low side. Sometimes even nonexistent. And it pretty much sucks; especially when you're just dying to write!

I think it's important to remember to kick back, relax and try to detangle yourself from the stress of life. Inspiration is fed, so read good books, watch good movies, listen to music, and maybe even go outside and get some exercise. It works for me. Especially movies and music!

Today in the comments: What keeps you inspired? Where do you turn to find fresh inspiration? Has life/circumstances/something else ever been in the way of inspiration before? What did you do to fix it?

Here's to hoping you have LOTS of inspiration soon! That is, if you need it. If you're revising or something, then here is to MOTIVATION TO CONTINUE!

I'll leave you with a quote.

"The power of imagination makes us infinite!" -- John Muir