Love Hurts

If you’ve ever been in love, or any kind of relationship, you probably know that love can hurt. It can be messy, complicated, and sometimes leaves no survivors. In real life, love is very rarely the simple happily ever after fairytale.

One of the things I love about YA is that it doesn’t flinch away from the complicated and heavy parts of life. It deals with every raw part of teenager’s lives, from first loves to loss. I think as authors we have a responsibility in that. To not just write about these, but write them authentically.

Just because it is YA doesn’t mean we should “water down” things. Life is not watered down. And especially in these dark fictional worlds, teenage characters deal with very adult problems, just like in real life. There’s a fantastic post on this by author Kate Brauning, which you can read here.

With all of that in mind, I’ve still struggled with how dark and twisted to go in my often dark and twisted fantasy. I want to be true to my characters and my world, but within the realms of YA and without alienating certain readers. I know how crucial YA was to me while I was growing up, and how much I learned, so I want to be able to give that same experience to younger readers.

But more than that, I’ve had a hard time with the romance in my story. From the very beginning, even before I wrote a single word, I knew Falcon was going to be with Hawke. They are perfect for each other, a team. And while they do have some conflict over outside events, they don’t really have any issues between them.

Then came a new character, Crow. I never intended for him to be a romantic interest, not even slightly. But the more I wrote, the harder it became to ignore. There was just something between him and Falcon, no matter how I tried to deny it. A pull, a spark, whatever you want to call it, it was there, and it wasn’t going away.

The problem is, Crow has issues. A lot of issues. I mean, he’s an assassin for a gang lord and comes from a severely abusive and messed up background. He isn’t capable of a healthy relationship. For him, everything is messy, no matter how good he tries to be. But when my CP first read EMBER, one of the first things she said was this is who Falcon should be with, their chemistry is tangible.

So how do I choose? Do I choose the character she should be with, the one who would make a great relationship and role model for love? Or do I choose the one who I know will cause her pain, but might actually be the stronger, greater love, even if it’s not always healthy?

Honestly, I still don’t have it entirely figured out. I have strong reasoning and motivation for both. But reading Kate Brauning’s post and some of her other tweets helped to open my eyes. YA relationships don’t have to be perfect. Really, they shouldn’t. Because real life relationships, especially teenage ones, are rarely perfect. It would give me an opportunity to really explore the ups and downs of relationships, all the messy tangles of love. Not to mention that the rocky, imperfect love might simply make for a better story.

What do you think? Do you prefer characters who are perfect for each other and relationships that are healthy? Or a more raw, complicated love story that might be a little more true to real experience, especially in YA?

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To Build A Story: The Big Bang

If you’re a writer, the climax of the story is the easy part. Right?

Just add some blood and guts, raise the body count, and throw in an explosion or two.

This is all good and exciting, which a climax should be, but it’s not always right. A climax is not just the moment of high action, big bang in the story. It’s the moment when everything in your core conflict and plotline, comes together, in a dramatic way.

Take, for instance, my original manuscript. I originally wrote the climax as the moment (spoiler) where the emperor sends his army in to crush the rebellion and enslave everyone. Which was all epic and dramatic, with bombs dropped, people screaming, bodies everywhere, and all your good usual climax stuff.

But the core conflict in this story wasn’t Falcon trying to stop the emperor and save her city from doom. The core conflict was her trying to keep her family together.

So, I kept the bombs dropping and bodies everywhere, but in order to make it a climax for her story, I had to make it the worst and most dramatic event for her personal conflict. I tore her family apart, and not all of them survive.

Do you see what I’m getting at?

It took me a long time to truly understand even these most basic elements of story. Not because I didn’t know what they were, but because I used them wrong. I thought exposition=explain, climax=boom, resolution=happily ever after (or not).

But in a talk with my CP based on agent feedback on her story, I realized that I had all of these wrong. You have to look at your own story, and pare everything else away until all you’re left with is the core conflict. Even just that took me a while. I was too caught up in grand schemes of good vs. evil and tyrannical emperors and war and politics. Yes, all of that happens, and it’s a huge part of the story, but the heart of the story is Falcon and her family, trying to survive and stay together in this hell.

Without that, the climax isn’t effective. It might be exciting, but it doesn’t work for this story.

What about your story? Is your climax right for the conflict, or is it just explosions and high body count with no meaning?

Book Review: ALTAICA

Altaica by Tracy M. Joyce is the first in the Chronicles of Altaica series. I received this from the publisher, Odyssey Books, through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Summary on Goodreads

“Look at her – she’s Hill Clan. Even the Matyrani don’t like them …”

Isaura – little is known about her race, but much is whispered. Born to refugees, she grows up enduring racism and superstition within a community that fears her. She has few friends, and those she treasures. Trapped, she longs for escape to a different life. 

Escape is only the beginning of her troubles. Having fled an invading army with her friends, Isaura is faced with heinous choices in order to survive. Secrets from her past emerge to torment her and threaten to destroy all she holds dear. Her struggles forge a bond with an ancient power – a power which may transform or consume her. Old hatreds and superstitions are renewed and at her most vulnerable she learns the true nature of those around her.

Her only hope lies in a foreign land – a land rich in tradition; ruled by three powerful clans. A land with a history marked by warfare; where magic as we know it does not exist. Instead what is here, in abundance, is a more primal power.

Survival carries a high price.

Welcome to Altaica.

The Good: Everything. A brilliant, wide cast of characters, unique, rich world, and interesting, exciting plot. I’ve read a lot of fantasy and this was a nice break from the usual canned storyline. Though Isaura was a good protagonist, I found myself attached to and invested in a number of other characters–there were plenty I thought could have been the protagonists themselves. I tore through this book, page by page, and my only regret is that I read it so fast, and I have to wait so long until the next one! 

The Not-So-Good: I had a hard time with this one–there really wasn’t much I didn’t like. Only thing would be a couple of the subplots and characters felt a little juvenile, like petty teenager drama. Contrasted against a complex world and storyline, it didn’t seem to fit for me.

My Favorite Part: I love Asha’s character, and Unmiga and Pio made me laugh aloud on several occasions. The end scene was beautiful and breathtaking–I also loved the tenderness between Karan and Isaura–and I can’t see where Joyce takes this story next. 

The Verdict: Altaica left me speechless. It is a brilliant YA epic fantasy, definitely among the best I’ve read. There are many characters to love, a rich and believable world, and unique and interesting plot. If you love fantasy, you need this book in your life. 

Book Review: THE PARK SERVICE

So this one took me a while, but it was on the back burner for a bit. Now I’m finished and ready to share it with you! Here’s the pretty awesome cover:

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The Park Service by Ryan Winfield is the first of the Park Service trilogy. This book hooked me right away, but I ended up with some mixed feelings about it–though the end definitely left me wanting more.

The Jist: 16 year old Aubrey lives underground, believing that the surface of Earth is uninhabitable, until a train crash brings him above ground. He finds Earth is paradise, his life has been a lie, and someone is killing off the surviving humans on the surface.

The Good: The imagery and descriptions are very beautiful and detailed. There are some really exciting scenes as well. By the end of the prologue, I was hooked. Winfield has created a very thought-provoking, if disturbing, world. I am interested to see where he will take this next.

The Not-So-Good: I found the protagonist Aubrey a little flat. He’s not bad, just nothing to really give him life or make me attached to him–more of a plot drives character book. Also, I think this was stretched for a trilogy and there were parts where nothing interesting seemed to happen–pages of description of nature–and slow plot, and I found myself bored for most of the middle third. I pushed through though, and the end was worth it.

My Favorite Part: Aubrey’s slang-talking, wild native best friend Jimmy and their pet fox cub, Junior. I also enjoyed Hannah, the love interest, though I’d love to see her developed more.

The Verdict: There are some elements here that felt flat–another dystopian, the protagonist, and the romance–but Winfield has created an interesting, haunting post-apocalyptic Earth, and the end has me wanting the next book by yesterday.

What Am I Getting Myself Into?

My very first blog post had this title, but it’s been a long day, my creativity is spent, and that’s exactly what I’m feeling right now.

I’ve heard so much about NaNoWriMo, for years now, even before I jumped into this whole thing. I just never thought it would be possible for me. First of all, being in school full-time, I would never have time in November. Plus, before a couple months ago, I’d  never tried a monthly word goal. So, 60,000 words in a month?? Impossible.

Now I am signed up for CampNaNoWriMo, with one day left before it starts.

Cue panic mode? Check.

At the time I didn’t know that you could aim for anything less than the 60k, but you can. So, I am aiming for the much more manageable 20,000. After all, this will only be my second monthly word goal ever, and I do have an actual life too. 🙂

I’ve only been signed up for a few days, but am already finding all kinds of lovely people. Once again, the writing community is amazing! I’m all snuggly in a cabin with a few awesome bloggers, and have taken a break the past few days to rest my creative juices.

To get ready, I’ve outlined the next 20 chapters or so on notecards, as a general guide for where to go. This is new for me, since I really don’t plan before I write, outside of major concepts and arcs. But, I know that with no direction, and pressure to write everyday, I would find myself coming up blank too often. Here’s the first half of my notecards ready:

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The organization and planning help to lessen the panic, but also make me feel a little stuck and forced. I’m not used to so much planning! Campers, how are you getting ready? Are you meticulously planning every detail out ahead of time, or are you ready to fly by the seat of your pants? If you’re not a camper, then you really should look into it. It’s not as scary as it seems, I promise.

With one day left, I’m feeling nervous, but I’m looking forward to this. I’ll tag all posts under both To Build A Story and CampNano, and I will keep you updated on my progress and my journey as I go through this 🙂

Good luck!

 

The Voices in My Head

Character is what drives the story. Not fantastic world-building, creativity, or exciting plot. A book can have the most beautiful, unique world, with a great concept and cinematic plot–but it is nothing, without character.

What books do you remember most? Which are the ones that stick with you?

Maybe it’s the one that kept you on the edge of your seat. But more often, it’s the book with the voice that stuck in your head, and wouldn’t go away. It’s the one with a person you lived inside, for the hours or days it took you to read that book, and forgot who you were. You felt them. You became them.

As a reader, I love that. Isn’t that one of the biggest draws of books, stories? That we can escape into this world of ink and paper, and forget who we are, and let our world, our reality, fall away?

As writers, how do we create that?

I’ve been writing stories my entire life–meaningless stories. Stories where the plot drove the characters, not the other way around. A few years ago, I finally recognized this, and set out to create the perfect character.

I did my research, I read the articles and the books, I did the character sheets, and inspirations, and trait lists. I could tell you about the tattoo on their ankle, what their middle name was (and whether they hated it), and which side of the bed they slept on. I came up with quirks and flaws and strengths.

And what did I have? Paper.

I had filled them full of things meant to make them feel real, but they still felt flat, hollow. They were real, but they weren’t alive. Characters are not devices, or plot points, or vessels for your wit. Characters are people.

I am not discouraging anyone from studying the craft, and doing character exercises. They were critical in starting to learn who my characters were. It got me to stop thinking about them as characters, and start thinking of them as people. That, I think, is when they started to take shape on their own.

I stopped worrying about adjectives and quirks and fears. I stopped seeing them as words, and started seeing them as people. I don’t know when exactly it happened, but something shifted. First, it was Falcon. I could see her reacting, to every situation I was faced with. I could feel how she would, what she would think, what she would do, right in that moment. Sometimes she even reacted to me. All of the sudden, it was like there was this person inside my head.

I know, that sounds absolutely crazy. Like, I should be checking myself into a mental hospital crazy.

But I’m completely serious. That was the moment she became real, and my story came alive. She was the first of many voices (some of which you’ve seen glimpses of, in snippets or yesterday’s character hop). They peeled themselves up off the page and started talking and walking, and erasing things and rewriting their own story. Sometimes, when I’m writing, it’s like my hands are not my own. I can go in with one intention, and end up with something completely different.

I’m discovering this all over again while writing Nightfire. I started with literal, flat concepts of characters–a wild, fur-wearing girl with beads in her hair, a monstrous bear-wolf hybrid with humanly amber eyes, a skilled hunter with a shaved head and criss-crossed swords at his back. I started with the concepts, and as I wrote, they started to emerge. The hunter boy wasn’t cold and calculated–he was skilled, but also surprisingly soft, and loved to talk whether anyone listened or not. And though they’re still not entirely whole, I’m discovering more of them everyday. It’s kind of exciting, like getting to know a new friend, or even falling in love, bit by bit.

Maybe I’m taking this too literally. But it frustrates and even saddens me when I see so many writers in the blog-o-sphere so caught up in technique and development and word count, that they forget the story. Not the plot, the story. The one our characters are screaming at us, we’re just too blinded by ourselves to listen. I’m not trying to preach this, or say that my method is better, or anything. Maybe it’s not, for you. Maybe you haven’t really tried.

I realize there’s no way to guarantee this will happen. There’s no magic spell or incantation or rain dance to make them come alive (what do you think I am, crazy?) Don’t be worried if it doesn’t happen. It didn’t happen for me, for years–most of the time that I’ve been writing. But we have to stop being so caught up in ourselves, that we don’t see our characters right in front of us. We have to stop worrying about how to make them unique or interesting or whether they would really do that, and just let go. You have to give them room to grow.

Even when I set out to create the perfect character, I didn’t realize they were already there, in my own writing. I just had to get to know them. Spend time with them, feel them, laugh and cry and talk with them. The same way you get to know a person, sit down and get to know your characters. Because they really are people, just made of ink and paper instead of flesh and blood.

Make friends with the voices in your head. You’ll thank me, I promise. 😉

 

 

 

To Build A Story

Some of y’all know I’ve been working on a brand new, untitled WIP. Obviously, it is in the very early stages still, but I am loving how it coming along so far. Though I started this blog to share the highs and lows of my journey towards publishing, I thought it would also be nice to share this latest journey, writing a brand new manuscript, from step one. All posts will be under To Build A Story, and I will try to keep consistent updates of where I’m at in the process, what my struggles are, and what I’ve accomplished (You’ll also notice a word count meter tracking my progress in the sidebar).

I hope to be able to share this with those of you embarking on this crazy ride with me 🙂

To start, let me introduce the WIP (though, it will probably be rewritten a dozen times before I’m finished, ha) As of now, it is a YA fantasy set in a somewhat post-apocalyptic world ravaged by shapeshifting monsters called Shadows. Kera is a 16 year old who survives (with her mom and 10 year old sister, Hana) in the harsh northern forests of the wilds. She has lived her whole life believing humans (who live in the distant safehouses) are more dangerous than the Shadows. While scouting for a new den, Kera and her mother encounter human hunters, and are attacked by Shadows. When her mother is ripped, leaving her a mindless shell, and Kera is touched by the Shadow–leaving her with fragmented visions–she must choose whether to face winter alone in the wilds, or turn to the human hunters for help. It is a raw world of survival, mystery, and magic.

So far, I’m really loving the world and the voices in this. It’s very moody and haunting, but also stark and raw. For a long time, I had a lot of scattered ideas about this project, but no clear connection. After a long session with my CP Stephanie, I’ve managed to get the puzzle pieces together, and have finished a bare bones outline. I am 11,500 words in, and so far they’ve been coming easily, though I don’t want to jinx it 🙂

My next big issue to tackle: the title.

I am open to any suggestions. I have considered some things, but nothing has really stuck. Some words I am playing around with include: shadow, bone, ashes, ice, static, mark, chosen.

Look forward to hearing some brilliant ideas! (seriously, I need it)