Sunday, October 22, 2017

Experiment with Something That Scares You

October is the perfect month to prepare yourself for NaNoWriMo (if you partake) or just another month of writing for those who don’t, so why not… scare yourself?

I don’t mean by saying Bloody Mary three times in front of a mirror – although if you do that, would you let me know if it works? - but by tackling something totally out of the ordinary for you, within your writing.

For us YA writers and readers, we tend to stick within our own preferred age-range (I know it’s a bad habit of mine anyway) so occasionally I’ll make myself read books aimed at younger or older markets than YA. It’s amazing what branching out with your reading and writing can do for your writing skills. This October, try your hand at a paragraph or too of writing for a different age-range. 

Even if it’s not your cup of tea, you’ll be able to identify what it is that makes YA, YA, and why you love writing it so much, and either stick to it, or invert it some way that puts a new spin on your writing.

Then we have genre – personally, I love anything fantasy, sci-fi or thriller, which means those are naturally the books I’m drawn to at the book shops/libraries, as well as the ones I’ll pick up first from my bookshelf. But this October, I plan to shock myself and pick up some literary fiction or cosy mysteries. Maybe I’ll even dabble in some horror on October 31st.

Because we all remember that amazing scene from “Bring it On” when the cheerleaders combine a range of dance styles to create a kick-ass dance routine (…. oh… only me then?) and I like to think experimenting with genres is a sort of the writing equivalent to creating that dance routine. As we read and write, we come to learn the expected tropes of a certain genre, which means we can use them, or invert them within the genre we prefer. You’re more likely to create that gobsmacking-ly original, cross-genre, industry-redefining novel if you’re well read in every genre there is out there, so get cracking!

Experimenting with tenses, POV, age-range, story-length, and genre means that you might discover a new style of writing that you absolutely love, but even if you don’t, you can combine all your new knowledge to make that sizzling dance routine. What makes that horror so scary? That thriller suspenseful? Romance swoon-worthy?

You’ll have fun finding out, discover new authors and genres that you love, and your writing will develop as a result. So, get out of your comfort zone and into that Halloween outfit! (and then do some reading and crazy writing.)

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Writing a good scare!

Hey guys!

Ah the month of Halloween is upon us! In just 21 days all the spooky and creepy will hit our doorsteps and homes. And I, for one, couldn’t be more excited. This is hands down my favorite holiday of the year. The haunting atmosphere connects with my eerie little W.I.P. So, I wanted to look at some fundamental elements that I think should be in a “good scare” book (just to be clear: this is only my ramblings, no one else’s. Also, I’m talking spooky, not full on horror – though some elements might overlap).

All right, let’s get to it.

When it comes to eerie, one of the first thing I think of is pacing. A spooky book isn’t going to be a languid walk in the park. It’s got to be fast and unpredictable at times, and then at others there needs to be a slow, but ever-increasing tension buildup. This can’t be just your average building of tension. This needs to build a particular atmosphere. It needs to be an increasing “heart in your mouth” feeling. Think about those old horror movies where the girl goes creeping around the house. Cheesy, yes. Effective? Also, yes. Most of us will still hold our breath, even though we know what’s going to happen. It’s human nature. Now, I’m not saying write an old-fashioned cheesy horror (but you can if you want!). What I’m getting at is the variation in pacing should go between these two. You need to build up, then be quick and unpredictable.

So, here’s where I want to build on atmosphere aside from it building your tension. Atmosphere is crucial for a spooky book. You need to decide what kind of atmosphere you want (and I do recommend either doing this before you write your first draft, or doing an entire edit pass focusing on just this aspect.) Are you looking for eerie and peculiar (ala THE ACCIDENT SEASON by Moira Fowley-Doyle) or are you looking for something off-kilter and uncomfortable (ala CORALINE by Neil Gaiman)? Perhaps you’re going for an old-style Goosebumps book, or what about something like ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD by Kendare Blake? Whatever your choice, you need to think ahead – what makes an eerie tone as opposed to a “hold your breath” tone? Word choice, word choice, word choice. Sentence structure. Choice of details. Be careful in your choices.

Then, of course, there’re characters to talk about. You can have a cast of completely normal characters, of course, but you can up the spook by having odd characters, too. Think about HOW TO HANG A WITCH by Andriana Mather. The Descendants are plain unusual – descended from the witches from the Salem witch trials, all dressed in black, and giving fierce looks, and a closed circle kind of feel.

Plot – well, this one goes without saying. But just a reminder: twists, turns…the unexpected, and the guessing game of who is going to do what. And then you have the “this is weird…what the heck is going on?” And the “is there going to be something terrifying in there?” Choose whatever plot you want, but make sure it keeps the creepy factor throughout!

All right. So, there are many, many more things that can make a novel spooky, but if I try and write them all here, I’ll end up with a book (and I’m not writing non-fiction lol), and there will be plenty that I miss. So this is just my little nook in the web to tell you the main things I look at on my first edit pass when it comes to spooky!

Happy Halloween to come, you guys!!!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Agentopia: Stephanie Hansen

Welcome to the September edition of Agentopia. This month we have Stephanie Hansen from Metamorphosis Literary Agency.

About Stephanie: 

Stephanie represents debut to New York Times bestselling authors. She’s signed authors with small presses to major publishing house distribution. She received her Master’s in 2008 and Creative Writing Specialization in 2017. Predominately she represents YA SF/F but has a secret addiction for romance. While these are her favorite, she handles everything fiction from children’s books to adult thrillers. Previously an editor for Mind’s Eye Literary Magazine, she became a part of Metamorphosis in July 2016. Originally looking to help Midwest authors garner the attention of major publishing houses, despite residing in “flyover states”, she found camaraderie with multiple agents and editors.

What is currently on your wish list?

Currently, romance with fantasy that reads like a movie screen and YA series with a fresh perspective.

What's a personal turn-off in a query which is guaranteed to get the author rejected?

Queries that only contain two sentences. Please include your genre (and sub-genre if applicable), word count, title, name and 2-3 paragraphs describing your story.

Do you google authors and if yes, what are you looking for?  

Yes, I Google authors because I want to see their online presence (while not necessary, it's very beneficial).

Follow Stephanie on Twitter @hansenwriter

Two authors Stephanie represents recently signed with publishing houses! These are:

Laura M. Snider signed WITCHES' QUARTERS with Clear Fork Publishing.

Paul McGowan signed DAWN OF THE REAPER with the Fire & Ice YA imprint.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Villainous Struggles

Writing villains might come easy to some people, but creating a well-rounded, believable, (hopefully charismatic) villain is something I have to put a lot of careful thought and planning into. Protagonists and love interests often jump into my mind fully-formed, like Athena popping from Zeus’ head, but villains evade me. I think it is because for so long, I put my characters into categories such as those I just mentioned: protagonists, love interests, family members, friends and villains. And the reason why my villains just weren’t working was because I was treating them as such.

That’s when I realized…


So, you know that sexist, pig-headed idiot who just hollered at you when you walked past them? In their head, they’re not the villain of that situation. They will go back home to their own story with their own justifications (however misguided) for shouting at people on the street. There are millions of personalities in this world, but most people don’t go around believing they’re evil. No one does evil deeds for evil’s sake. Take Voldemort, for example, who is pretty evil in my opinion… even old Voldy has a tragic past and quite a sad story following him into adulthood. He has reasons for believing the things he does and has been shaped by the events that have befallen him. OK so his twisted personality has meant that those events have turned him into a no-nosed, back-of-Quirrell’s-head weirdo, but the point is that we, the reader, understand to a degree what contributed to Voldemort’s villainy.

Many of the most iconic villains in books and TV have their own stories, which is what makes them so engaging to the reader/watcher. Having someone do ‘bad things’ isn’t enough to make your reader want to see their demise – we want to know their goals so we can rejoice when they’re scuppered, and their reasons for being the way they are so we can understand them in a sense.

Another brilliant example of this is Cersei from Game of Thrones. I won’t give away any spoilers, but we can all agree that Cersei is an awful human being. She has done atrocities that definitely place her in the ‘evil’ category. However, she is so damn interesting! She loves her children and family and puts them above all others, and is completely unapologetic about this fact. Despite her fortunate upbringing in terms of being ‘born well’, she has been discriminated against her whole life because of her gender, being forced to marry someone she despised instead of inheriting anything of her own right. Cersei has suffered hardships in her life, and therefore we understand why she has hardened into the person she is, even if we hate her!

When it comes to writing your villain, I would think of the word ‘antagonist’ instead, which derives from the Greek tragedy Antigone. Antigone is actually the protagonist of her own story, but she is seen to Creon as an antagonist as she doesn’t want to obey his rules and goes against his goals. This shows that your antagonist doesn’t have to be ‘bad’, they just need to want to stop the protaganist from reaching their goals.

Essentially, writing a good baddie is just like writing your goodie – you need to know who they are, what their history is, why they act the way they do and what they want to achieve.

Make us hate them. Make us understand them. Make us love to hate them. And make us rejoice when your protagonist triumphs over them.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Let's Get Real About Villains

Writing villains is a tricky subject for YA writers. Some people might think they should be humanized while others might think they should be shown for what they are. Most people are complex and have layers in real life. But the truth is a villain’s cruelty and misdeeds shouldn’t be diminished while still showing they have some depth.

Let’s tackle the villain’s cruelty and misdeeds aspect first. Not diminishing what a villain does is important. One pop culture example is the villain Klaus from The Vampire Diaries. He has killed multiple people, and generally has no regard for human life (Klaus is a hybrid, which means he’s half vampire and half werewolf). But his character is eventually watered down and shown as less extreme. Doing so is a mistake. Life might not be black and white, yet labels can sometimes be helpful. And that applies to writing. A villain’s treachery shouldn’t be erased just because her or she might be attractive.

Having some depth is still important for villains, though. But that doesn’t mean a villain gets a magical blank slate at some point. For instance, I have the villain care about her sister in one of my YA Fantasy novels. Although that doesn’t erase the villain’s behavior. Her dynamic with her sister exists only to show she isn’t one dimensional.

There’s one last aspect that should be mentioned with villains. They can’t have all the victories. That means a hero needs an occasional victory that just doesn’t happen at the end of the book, episode, or movie. People complain about a hero possibly not having enough conflict and things coming too easily. Well, the same idea applies to villains. Things shouldn’t be too easy for them because they shouldn’t have all the fun.