Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Why subplot?

Hola! It's time for me to stick my oar in and offer my insight into this little corner of the writing world, and today I'd like to talk about subplots and what their purpose is. Let's get right to it:

1) A subplot is not filler.
2) A subplot is used to compliment the main plot, whether it's to add additional obstacles and conflict, add in extra dimensions to your world building, showcase your characters in a more three-dimensional way, or help bring release of tension so the reader can take a breather.

Let's take a look at this closer.

Filler in a book is bad. Your subplot shouldn't be there just to add some extra word count, or because you can't think of anything else to get to your desired book length. So if that is your plan, then back up buddy.




Subplots have so many wonderful purposes. For example, say you have a balls-to-the-walls thriller or action and your character is kicking ass left, right and center. Awesome. But if we don't see another side of him/her then they're gonna be pretty one dimensional. So this is where you can throw a subplot into the mix. Maybe s/he falls in love and it shows his/her softer side (and complicates the main plot as now he has something else to lose).

Okay Fiona, but I don't write action. I'm a romance gal/guy. Same deal. Maybe an ex-boyfriend turns up in the middle of a date, maybe a character loses someone important in their life, loses their job, decides to find a new religion, has a best friend who pressures them to come on a cruise around the world. Whatever it is, use it to showcase their other pressures and personality traits.

Okay, so pretty sure you're with me so far. Are you with me?




Word building - this is not just for fantasy writers. Every book needs a world. They need a physical place in which to exist (duh). So what can your subplot do to help? It can weave in other elements - maybe there's a political uprising that affects your character's ability to navigate in society, maybe a tsunami hits in your romance book washing away (boom boom) the lovers so they need to fight to find each other, maybe you have glorious mountains that your main character explores as a hiding place, maybe, maybe maybe. Go find that big bad world of yours and make it real and vivid so your reader can have a poke around too.





Let readers breathe. High paced actions is awesome, but if that is all they get it will become blah and all the same intensity level. Throw in a change of pace using a subplot and BOOM you have a place to let the reader recover and then a sneaky way to make them gasp when you turn it all up in the head. The romance writer? Well, your characters are all angsty and stuff and loving and stuff, and then booyah - there's a mystery in the village and they're a suspect, or they're promoted and asked to leave the country, or war breaks out. The point is it's not a main plot, it's just something to add a fresh taster of something new.

What I'm getting at here is that it doesn't matter what your genre is, what matters is that you give your reader fully formed characters, diverse situations, additional obstacles and room to breathe in between your major plot points. And this is where subplots are your friend.

Now go find that subplot and hug it tight and call him squishy!







Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A Surviver's Guide to 2016 Writers Contests

I love contests. One of my prayers for the last five years, after I seriously started pursuing this writing thing, had been to win ACFW's Genesis Contest. ACFW is the American Christian Fictions Writers organization and winning or even finaling in their Genesis Contest for unpublished authors in one of the biggest honors in the Inspirational writing world. I know it's silly to want to stay unpublished/uncontracted to win a writing contest—after all, publication is the REAL goal, right?—but that win was still my prayer. 

And last year, in 2015, I won the YA category. Which sparked my willingness to change focus in my career and look toward indie publishing.

Now the 2016 contest season is here. Among my favorites are Genesis and the Rosemary. So it's time to polish up those opening pages!

I always get excited about the submission part. I'm eager to get feedback. And then, three or four months later, the results are in. The scoresheets are returned. And as I drown my emotions in a pint of Ben & Jerry's Chubby Hubby, I ask myself, "Why do I subject myself to this again and again and again?!?!?"

My scores may come back respectable. 96. 88. 92. 84. But somewhere in there, I'll get a 55. A 62. One lousy score out of a half dozen great scores, and that one failing mark leaves me questioning everything I thought I knew about writing and, more importantly, about my ability and my future as an author.



Despite positive feedback from the majority of the judges, that one low score is the only I fixate on. For some reason, I believe that judge is the only one being honest. That judge is the only one able to see that I am a failure as a writer. That judge is the only one I should listen to.

A big. Fat. Lie.

I'm guessing I'm not the only contest-junkie who fixates on the negative instead of the positive, even if the positive outweighs the negative. And even though I still haven't conquered that voice claiming the negative is the real truth, I have developed a survival guide to help me yell back at that voice.

1: Judges are Human



Because judges are human, they are subjective in their critique. Sometimes even in areas like mechanics their scores can be subjective. They may decide that two difficult-to-diagnose comma errors in twenty pages is grounds for a low, definitely-not-ready-for-editor-eyes score; while another judge may mark off much less because they believe the comma errors to be extremely minor. 

And in the bigger areas? Personal preference can play a huge role. Maybe the judge prefers first person POV over third person and has difficulty connecting to characters in a third person POV. Or something in the story bugs them in a way that clouds their positive-vibes and prompts lower scores. Or maybe the judge is struggling with frustration and bitterness about all the rules and doors slamming in their own face on this publishing journey, so they feel a little harsher toward the world without realizing it. 

If one random judge out of three or five or eight claims the story lacks conflict, emotional depth, deep story-telling techniques, while every other judge praises you in those areas, don't rent head-space to that negative judge! Scan the low-scoring, negative judge's comments, and hide them in the deep dark, forgetful place in your mind. A place where, if other, less-harsh judges point out similar weaknesses, you'll know those judges' suggestions need consideration. But don't waste energy—or delicious Ben & Jerry's ice cream—obsessing over one judge's scores.

2: Lean On Your Critique Partners (Not Ben or Jerry)



This advice goes along with the previous. When you get that super, insanely negative scoresheet, share the comments with someone you trust—a critique partner or an editor you've worked with. Someone who you trust to be honest, yet gentle. Someone who isn't emotionally invested in the manuscript. Someone who knows the craft. This person can talk you off the ledge—or out of the Ben & Jerry's carton. They can weed through those comments that to you sound like, "Your writing sucks! You're a hack! No one will ever want to publish this horrible, sticking, mess!" and see the compliments, the positives, and the valid suggestions. 

More than once, my critique partners have helped me find the positives in what sounded like haters-gonna-hate feedback and provided suggestions on how to implement valid points. I can see now that the negative feedback has made my writing better, but I needed the assistance of people I trusted to point out where and how.

3: Remember to Thank Your Judges!




Most contests will allow you to email your judges, through your category coordinator, a thank you. Please, please, email your thanks. I'm not saying this because it's polite or good form—which it is—but also because judging is anonymous for both the judges AND the entrants. The judges don't get a name attached to an entry. But what happens when the judge reads a good one? An entry they love? An entry that leaves them yelling at their computer screen, "I NEED MORE!"? 

Sending a thank you email allows the judge to attach an author to that jaw-dropping, heart-stopping, eye-popping entry that they want to finish. Now the judge can stalk—er, I mean follow—the author on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and everywhere authors hang out. When that entry gets picked up by a publisher and the publisher changes the title, the judge will finally have an opportunity to finish the story. Closure, it's all about closure.

Even after winning Genesis the rejections and negative feedback crawls inside my brain and puts down roots. I don't think that will ever change. Even after I'm published I'll face negative reviews from readers who hate something about my books. But I've got a plan and a circle of supporters who will help me through the negatives. And with their help and contest feedback, my writing will get better and better.


Any other advice for contest survival?

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Pro and Con of Expectation



To be honest, I haven’t really worked on fiction writing since the middle of November. That’s about 90% because I’m distracted with having a baby soon (Due a week from today! Eeh!) and 10% because my critique partner has been reading my WIP as I write, and, well…I got stuck on a scene and didn’t know where to take it next and was afraid that I would mess it up and write something that totally sucked and then disappoint my talented and smart critique partner. Whew. So instead of figuring out the scene I’m stuck on, I’ve put all of my energy into nesting and other preparation for my upcoming family addition. That’s easier because there’s no messing up a cleaning or organization project. I mean, you just do it until it’s done. Cut and dry.


But figuring out a fictional scene? That’s unchartered territory. The scene could go anywhere and be anything. Which is cool, but also scary because of the expectation. Dun dun dun! My critique partner is so nice and helpful that even if I gave her a doggy doo doo scene, she’d encourage and help me. But over time, my expectations went from, "This is sort of a first draft, so it might not be great, but let's have fun anyway!" to...

Nope.

I can never show this.

It makes sense that the pressure to deliver perfect words right off the bat could squelch creativity since part of being creative is making messes. But did you know that even sharing an idea or goal too early can suck the fun out and leave you unmotivated? I read an article recently that said we feel the same sense of accomplishment from talking about something as we do from actually doing the thing. And if you feel accomplished, what’s pushing you? The suggestion was to keep your goal or idea private until you’ve actually made progress.


When it comes to writing, does that mean we should keep book ideas secret? Should we keep our words hidden until we write “the end?” At what point is it okay to share? Because on one hand, sharing my book with my critique partner as I wrote back in November kept me excited and accountable every day. On the other hand, as soon as I was afraid to fail, I lost steam. Maybe it depends on the individual. Maybe it depends on whether you have a carefree “love me or hate me” personality or the kind of personality I have where you want people to like you and what you have to offer. Most likely, everyone could benefit from some balance of both sharing and keeping writing a secret. The trick is finding that balance.

So what do you think? Is it better to keep your ideas and writing private or to share? Which one helps you the most?

Happy writing,
Jessie
@Je55ieMullin5

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Ten Tips for Your Elevator Pitch

There is one thing writers at any point in their career need to have prepared: an elevator pitch.



The last time I asked an author "what's your book about?" I got a fifteen minute rambling monologue. I know a lot about the guy's son (?) but still have no idea what his book is about. If I don't know what it's about, I'm not going to buy it.

Whether you're looking for an agent, on submission, or a multi-published author, you need to be able to quickly and concisely tell other people what your book is about. And you need to prepare so that you don't find yourself hemming and hawing the next time someone asks that golden question:

So, what's your book about?

Anytime someone asks you this question, that is an epic opportunity. They are literally giving you the ability to pitch your book without any awkwardness or resentment. Take it! 

The sole purpose of an elevator pitch is to make the listener want to know more. Don't lose sight of that.

Here are ten tips to help you prepare your elevator pitch:

1) Take about 30 to 45 seconds to give the initial pitch. If they ask for more info or specific questions, that's the time to expand on your book, but don't talk for several minutes. (Reminder: your sole goal in an elevator pitch is to make the listener want to know more.)

2) Focus on story, not themes, emotional journeys, or background info. If you are pitching a published book to a reader, do not discuss your publishing path. If they want to know that, they will ask. Focus on your book.

3) Remember that you are a real person speaking to another real person. You should sound natural and conversational, not like you're memorizing something you've written.

4) You must include: genre, conflict, stakes. Most writers leave out the genre, but unless it's already obviously apparent some other way, start off with something like "Dragons are People, Too is a young adult urban fantasy about..."

5) Don't use any cliched phrases. Ex: "will never be the same," "more than he bargained for," "falls into the wrong hands," "to make matters worse," "will change everything." When you have such few precious words, don't use ones that can describe any hundreds of other books.

6) Be passionate. You can't expect others to be excited about your book if you are not.

7) Don't editorialize your book. Ex: "It's a fast-paced thrill ride.." SHOW that it's fast-paced without saying it.

8) Don't discount yourself. Do not, under any circumstances, say things like "oh, this probably sucks, but..." or "it's not that interesting.." Whatever you say, people are going to believe you, so if you tell them it sucks, they're already not that interested.

9) Consider comp titles and use them if they work really well for your book. For some books, comp titles don't work. Make an attempt, but be willing to drop this strategy if it's not working for your book.

10) Practice ad nauseum. Practice on your friends and family until they could give you the pitch themselves. When you get so comfortable with your pitch that you can mumble it flawlessly the second you wake up, that's when you're not going to freeze or mess up when asked the golden question by someone you truly want to impress.

Good luck!


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Stigma of New Adult

Recently I discovered that I was mentioned in Library Journal for my Upper YA/New Adult story DIVIDED as part of a genre spotlight on Romance. I completely acknowledge that I was very fortunate to have Library Journal pick up DIVIDED and talk about it in their Romance spotlight. There are definitely other authors who are taking NA to other places as well, and were doing so before me.

I loved the comment for my story. It's exactly what I wanted from branding my story as New Adult when I discovered it could be described as NA. But there were other things in the article that I think the industry needs to take note of to make sure that New Adult survives. My concerns are also echoed in the fact that some YA bloggers are refusing New Adult reviews because of the stigma that NA lacks diversity and has too much of a focus on sex.


New Adult is largely considered a genre, when it should be a category. For New Adult to have longevity it needs to be across genres. At the moment it's more considered a romance genre with a focus on college romances, and to a lesser extent two people who find sexual healing with each other. But, for me, it should mirror YA and Adult that cover off across all categories. And some of the most popular YA stories could easily be NA.

Many protagonists are about to turn 18 and/or are about to head to college, or sometimes are already in college. Quite often by the end of a YA series, the original protagonists are most definitely in the NA world. But these stories are still labelled as YA as the NA is still sitting in the realm of a genre rather than a category. Some examples of this are Were She Went by Gayle Foreman, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, and the Kricket series.

In Australia, New Adult isn't really acknowledged at all. I was asked to make my character at high school instead of college by an agent so it could firmly be YA, as New Adult wasn't even a common term at the time I was querying it. This is why Rebecca Jame's novels Beautiful Malice, Sweet Damage and Cooper Bartholomew is Dead are technically considered YA.

The article talks about a NA plateau, with few debut NAs coming through and a saturated market. Unlike YA, the NA saturated market is dominated by contemporaries.

Books like Losing It did a lot for the category, and authors who were brave enough to take the self publishing plunge when the industry said there was no real demand for college stories.

For me, this time was one of the most interesting times of my life. And like a lot of other people in the NA age category, it wasn't dominated by university. I deferred, got married, fell pregnant, lost my job, went back to uni at 21 with a baby. And there's lots of other stories out there.

I've also noticed a lot of people's reading habits decline at this age, which could contribute to the perceived lack of demand. But is this because the readers don't find themselves represented in stories. Then there is also the fact that children and teens often read up and books set straight after graduation give them insight into what's to come.

Originally when I wrote Divided I'd never heard of NA. Thankfully City Owl Press is a forward thinking publisher who saw that NA can branch out beyond the contemporary realm, as have a lot of other indie publishers and authors.

Ultimately the fate of New Adult is in the hands of the readers, who can with their buying power show the publishing industry whether or not they want this genre to expand into a category that can stand on it's own long-term.







Saturday, January 16, 2016

2016 Books I Cannot Wait to Read!

In December, I listed a bunch of 2015 titles I hoped would find their way to me. Santa obliged with a few, but of there are still more books - and brand new 2016 release - I just cannot wait to read. Here are the top 5 books I'm dying to get my hands on:







And finally, a very special mention of my friend's book, which I've actually already read back before copyedits. I cannot wait for the world to read Louise's book, and to hold a shiny hardcover in my own hands so I can reread this little gem of a novel...


Which books are you most looking forward to reading this year?


~Suzanne~

Thursday, January 14, 2016

WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW

Authors are often instructed to "write what you know." Sometimes, this idea seems preposterous. Books about murder, mayhem, and thievery aren't written solely by criminals... or are they?

I decided to consider the books I've written--what did I know and what did I have to research?



For HOW TO DATE DEAD GUYS:

Things I knew:
- The real setting
- the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire
- The Chippewa River - cuts right through the campus, where one of the main characters loses his life - The loneliness of being raised an only child.

The beautiful and dangerous Chippewa River

Things I had to research:
- Witchcraft - although readers have inquired if I'm a witch myself, the truth is that I heavily researched the subject to make the book as "fictionally accurate" as I could
- Drowning statistics
- Smiley Face Murder Theory - research into this topic scared me at times
- Gang Life - research into this topic freaked me out even more



For DEAD GIRL RUNNING:

Things I knew:
- Running
- Yoga
- Anatomy, Physiology, Pathology


Things I had to research:
- What would be a logical winning time for a 1/2 marathon in a dystopian future where people were limited to running on treadmills? (The fact that I had to research this number reveals the truth that although I do run a lot, I don't run mega-fast.)



For AN OCCASIONALLY GRIM FAIRY TALE:

Things I knew:
- The sudden, overwhelming strength of the mother-child protective bond

Things I researched:
- Plant based medicine

The point I'm trying to make is that (most likely) every book involves some research and some inner knowledge. Perhaps the inner knowledge forms the heart of the book, and the research fleshes out the appendages.

I've found that books where I didn't need to research as much (Dead Girl Running) are written that much faster. But I also find research into interesting subjects quite fascinating, so I don't have a favorite method of writing.

I welcome your thoughts on the matter in the comments below.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

2016 - Keep the passion burning

So it's time for my seasonal greeting to you all - Happy New Year YATopians!

Well, where to begin? Another year has rolled around and we're divided into three camps:

1) Those sparkling full of new promises and resolutions.
2) Those ruminating over last year and not quite feeling the buzz for the coming 12 months.
3) And those who couldn't care either way.

So what does this all mean for us lofty writers? Well, it means that we're all swimming in the same writing waters. We might be at different places than each other, but we can see each other over the white tips of the waves.




If nothing else, we should look at the new year not in a stressful way. We should look at it as a way to build upon what we have - whether that is craft skills, publishing goals, or simply to do what it is that we enjoy - writing.

I have one tip for anyone continuing their writing journey this year: PASSION.

For those sparkling with new promises - make sure you keep your passion alive no matter the day, week, month or year. Don't stress yourself. Make sure the passion is more important than the goal. Don't let your writing become a circle of fighting to meet goals to the detriment of your enjoyment of the written word.

For those ruminating on last year and feeling a little down in the dumps - think hard about why the negative events/thoughts/reactions are impacting so much on you doing what it is you love. Yes, you might have ambitions and dreams you haven't achieved, but that shouldn't take pride of place over the wonderful written word you are creating and growing into a magnificent story. Enjoy your art, love your words, and let the excitement of what you do wash over you.


For those who don't care either way - perhaps you are the luckiest of all. Perhaps you are continuing to float along in a blissful wave of happy writing and contented storytelling. And if you are, great. And if you're not, why not let your mind wander and find the story that grabs you and stirs up the muse and the excitement in your gut.

So, my fellow YATopians, let's imbue our writing world with all the passion that we have.

Happy 2016!




Friday, January 8, 2016

The 'S' word

I have a problem. Or I at least used to think I had a problem. Now, thanks to my readership, I see it as more of a blessing. I’m not sure that’s the right word, but there it is. So my problem blessing is that I can’t help but remove clothes when I’m writing. Before you get carried away or think me a total nutcase, I don’t mean my own. I definitely do not sit butt naked in front of my computer! It’s when I write. I’ve previously talked about how the Bearwood series was initially written to target the young adult market, but due to my need to add somewhat detailed steam (that goes beyond what is expected in YA), I ended up rewriting it as NA, which worked pretty well for me. I like a little spice in my books, actually, I LOVE writing steam. Currently, I’m writing another book set to be a set of standalone in a series, and all of them will be what some deem ‘smut’. Now I’m not an erotica writer, although I could probably give it a fair whack, but I do like my paranormal or contemporary romances to have a lot of heat.

So why am I writing about this on YATopia? Good question! Well, while transferring files from an old computer to a new one, I stumbled across my 2014 nanowrimo project, a NA Dystopian. I started reading it and for once when I read an early version of my own work, I didn’t think it totally sucked. It needs work, for sure! Actually, it needs a total overhaul as I intend to change some major things and turn it into a sci-fi rather than a dystopian.

One of the things that I noticed was that, once again, I had added steam to it. Typical of me, but I also thought I knew when a steamy scene needed to be in a book and when it didn’t. For my PNR, I included them when emotions were running high and when there was an actual point to having them there. They belonged. But this nanowrimo project that I found, the sex is without a doubt out of place. Even reading it, I can see myself that this book is a YA pretending to be NA. The language is definitely geared toward older young adults, as are the small but technical descriptions when it comes to the science behind their existence. The sex just doesn’t need to be there—there is no place for it. Certainly the emotional relationship the two share can be explored, but I don’t need to include a detailed physical scene to do this.

The debate on whether to include sex in YA books has been going for a while now. I support the inclusion. Indeed, it has to approached with care, and it definitely can’t be graphic, but for me this didn’t matter. The sex simply didn’t belong. And that’s really what this post is about—knowing when to include it and when not to. To me, the answer is really quite simple. If they belong there, if they truly move your plot forward then that’s a-okay, but if there is no other reason for them being there other than ‘they just are’, then maybe that particular sex scene needs some rethinking.

To be honest, I’m not sure I’ll ever publish this book, but I do intend to work on it, so part of that includes deciding whether there is a place for sex in this book, and there isn’t.

E.L. Wicker

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Beginnings

Day two of 2016. The year is still new. Still fresh. Still full of plans and promises. An opportunity for new beginnings, new goals, new successes. But where to start?
To quote Julie Andrews, "Start at the very beginning."

But for me, I don't really have any "beginnings" to start. I'm in the middle of several things, yet, for a couple of months, I've felt stuck in this middle. The middle of writing. The middle of indie publishing plans. The middle of a vast ocean with no sign of land. I haven't even been sure about which direction to row, so I've been sitting in my little boat, drifting over the waves, hiding from battering storms and blistering sun, ignoring all thing writing because I don't know which direction I should be rowing.
But it's time for new beginnings. It's time to start rowing.

In October, I decided to pursue indie publishing, and I haven't changed my mind. I might have felt adrift for a while, but it's time to pull out my compass and find my direction. And sometimes, going back to the beginning is the best way to find direction. I don't necessarily mean to start over, but taking the knowledge gained since starting out the first time and returning to step one, when the ideas were new and fresh. When hope and possibility felt endless. And harness that excitement and let it propel me straight through the middle.
Because while the beginning feels exciting, the ending will be so much sweeter.
Are there any projects you've felt stuck on? Let the promise of a new year and new beginnings give you a second chance.