Change of Heart

YA has always been my favorite. I’ve always read it, I’ve always written it, I’ve always loved it. But lately, the spark just hasn’t been there.

I’ve had a hard time connecting with YA books. For some reason, I just can’t get into them in the way I’ve always been able to. I keep finding the stories flat, even formulaic. It’s not just dystopian anymore, I’ve found books across all genres that seem to follow the same pattern, and it feels like a story I’ve read a dozen times–because honestly, I have.

This isn’t all YA by any means. There’s definitely the exceptions that manage to capture me and draw me into a rich, complex world with a story that jumps off the page. But that’s becoming harder and harder for me to find.

Maybe it’s because I’ve seen too much of the other side of the story. Instead of being absorbed in the story, I see EXPOSITION, CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT, CONFLICT, blaring at me. Characters seem like obvious ploys for sympathy or world-building, foreshadowing hits me across the head with a sledgehammer, the setting feels like a budget backdrop in a school play rather than a world I can walk around and get lost in. Maybe I just haven’t found the right books. Maybe part of it is because I’m having a hard time in my own writing, and I’ve projected that feeling onto YA as a whole.

But for whatever reason, I seem to have fallen out of love with YA. Which is hard, because it’s always been dear to me. Thankfully, I’ve been able to fall in love with some really awesome adult books (Outlander, anyone?) so I haven’t lost reading entirely.

What do you think about YA? Are you a fan, or not? Are there some really awesome YA books I’m missing out on? Maybe even ones that could spark my love for YA again. I’d love to find a YA fantasy that doesn’t sound like something I’ve read before, and doesn’t have the stereotypical YA romance. Let me know 🙂

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To Build A Story: World-Building

I’ve wanted to write this post for a long time, but have never gotten around to it. So here it is!

For a long time, I never really considered world-building when I wrote. I focused on plot and characters, and the world was just kind of a backdrop. I think a lot of writers overlook world-building, or don’t give it enough attention in their writing. I wrote this post about the importance of world-building, and some things that great books do to bring their worlds to life. You should definitely go read it if you haven’t already, because I take a deeper look into what makes a good, realistic, deep world. Now I wanted to give you some of the resources I’ve found to be helpful as I develop the world for Nightfire. 

This is the first WIP that I’ve really spent time developing the world, and it’s shown me a whole new side to writing. I really love the process. Even if half of this never makes it into the actual book, it has helped me understand the characters and story so much more, and made it all feel real.

1. Name Generator

One thing I am terrible at is names–you may have noticed from the multiple posts asking for your help choosing names. There are many different generators, but this is a great one that I’ve used for Nightfire. I like to use generators when I need variety, or for non-English names. I don’t usually use the exact names they produce, but it’s a great starting point.

2. Character Generator

Now I know this isn’t exactly world-building, but this is another great resource, especially for those side characters that help flesh the world out (which I wrote about in the previous post mentioned above). Seventh Sanctum has a whole bunch of great generators, like this one for characters, or a couple others for settings and combat.

3. Map Generator

Similar to the name generator, this map generator is a great starting point. I never realized before how helpful it is to actually have a concrete mental image of how the world is laid out. It makes logistics so much easier, and the action feel more real. Instead of them journeying from point A to point B, they are travelling from Cinder Lake to the Anvil Mountains. I could never come up with all the landforms and names on my own, so the generator really helped me get started.

4. Map Making Software

This is a little bit more technical, but don’t let that scare you off. AutoREALM is very easy to use (It took me less than an hour to figure out the basics on my own) and is amazing. Seriously, amazing. Creating a real map to have as a reference has been so helpful, and even inspired different storylines and aspects in the book. Not to mention they turn out pretty awesome looking, for such a simple software. Here’s mine for Nightfire (which I did in three hours, including the learning curve):

realmap

Pretty awesome, right? Not bad for a couple hours and limited technical skills.

How do you world-build? Any resources of your own to share? What do you think of these–did they help at all? Let me know!

A Whole New World

Hey all, sorry for the relative silence! I’ve been busy with classes starting and everything, but I am trying my best 🙂

I’ve said before that characters are the most important thing in a story. What is the second most important thing? Not plot, but world. But how can it be a story without a plot?

The reason I say world is more important than plot is because I think plot is relatively easy. Yes you have to come up with something different and interesting, but it’s point A to point B to climax to end. I say world instead of setting because I think it is just that–a world. It is the living,  breathing world that is not only where this story takes place, but could go on with its own stories afterward. I think world-building takes a lot more skill, and is a crucial part of the story that a lot of writers miss.

There can be many different approaches to world-building, but they all basically have the same goal: create an environment that feels real, no matter how imaginary.

When I first started writing books, world-building was something I more or less neglected entirely. Yes there was a setting–a futuristic city–but there was no world. There were a lot of nondescript hallways and buildings and places that probably made no logical sense but I used them because they worked for my plot (which I always put first). They did not have a world, but a shell. They were actors on a stage, with only a flat backdrop behind them.

Through reading, I learned that the stories I fell in love with were not the exciting ones, but the ones that completely enveloped me in this other world, so much so that I lost myself in them. Two of my favorites are The Hunger Games and Shadow and Bone. Shadow and Bone is probably my favorite example of world-building. I mean, wow.

Here are some of the things I have noticed that great world-building books use:

1. Details. The kind that you probably don’t even notice. The line about a rat scampering off into the darkness, or the smell of the salt air. These flesh out the world, and give the reader a sense of the world being alive, tangible. A good tip for details is to use senses, especially those other than sight, ones you don’t always think about when writing, like smell or taste.

2. People. No, your characters don’t count. This is a big thing I have noticed in successful books like The Hunger Games. There are mentions of people we never learn the names of, but they are there. Specific people, not just a crowd or group. A young woman and her children at the market, an old man sitting on a stoop playing cards. Your world does not just have your story, it has a hundred other stories in it as well, each with their own protagonists. Your characters cannot be the only real people, or their world feels empty.

3. Location. This one is a little bit trickier. What comes to mind for me is Shadow and Bone, when they are travelling, and each town or village has a name and something memorable about it. Some are harbor towns, others farming villages, some trading towns. But I think what makes it feel real is that each one of these places is established. The characters are not going from point A to point B, they are going from Townville to Villagetown, and each one has its own set of people and details to go with it. Think of each place as its own little world, with its own stories that will continue on as they always have, with or without your characters there.

4. Culture. This one is huge, but can be difficult. Every world and every society has some type of culture. This is everything from art and music, to laws and crime, to language and social expectations. It is difficult because it can be complex, and hard to be unique. It doesn’t have to be completely out there, though. You don’t have to create an entire language and law code and unique method of art. I think considering social structure and expectations is the easiest and most effective way to establish culture. It can be simple, such as how women are treated or how separated the classes are, but just taking the time to think about how these people live their lives can make a huge difference.

These are the four main things I have noticed, though each one can have different elements within it. I will write another couple posts on world-building, specifically how I have learned and used it in my WIP, Nightfire, which is something I am pretty excited to share with y’all 🙂 I hope these have helped. Do you agree? Did I leave something out? Let me know what you think!