Sunday, September 19, 2010

Speak Loudly - Let's ban book banning

So I log onto the internet after a slow-paced casual Sunday, thinking I'll just post a few tweets and move on and what do I come across?  Freaking book banning  and book censorship. Seriously? This is ridiculous.  I am all in favor of banning book banning.  No one has the right to dictate what someone else's children read. I am all in favor of standing up for Laurie Halse Anderson's "Speak." You can find out more about Laurie here: , then follow the link to her blog to find out more about her book.

Back to book banning: it's a small-minded action. Most of the classics, including the Bible, have shown up on banned book lists through the years.  While children should read books that are somewhat age-appropriate (i.e. save the truly adult titles for teens instead of the wee ones), just like with movies, there should be no books that are not allowed in school libraries.  Books like "Speak" and others that give a voice to abuse victims should be put ON school reading lists.  While we are at it, let's not forget to keep books like "The Diary of Anne Frank" ON school reading lists too...please.

I went to Catholic school all of my life and it was, for me, a tremendous experience. I loved it. I always remember the Sisters I had teaching my English classes in middle and high school. They gave us banned books. They told us to read everything. They put "Catcher in the Rye" among other banned books on our mandatory school book list.  One Sister when I was in 6th grade, applauded my love of reading by giving me free books, including science and supernatural YA fiction titles, saying, "These look fun." That's how children should be encouraged in the school system.  Let's tear down these bigoted people who want to ban books and instead encourage kids to read all types of titles about both fun and serious topics.  Now that sounds fun.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Two thumbs up for YA lit

The increase in YA titles out there lately has me so both a writer and a reader.  Now, there are a lot of excellent adult titles coming out - of course - but it's the YA stuff that I particularly like.  I think it has a lot to do with the following:

A. YA books shape minds. I will always remember the books that made me, as a child, want to be a writer and the ones that made me want  to read more about a specific topic. These are the books I'll keep forever and I'll crave to read over and over.  There aren't many literary titles I read as an adult that have the same oomph.

2. In YA books, writers can concentrate more and character and plot that on pretty literary topics. I once knew a writer, who aspired to be a "true writer" in that she only concentrated on manuscripts that were all cerebral and literary. She looked down her nose at genre writers. A lot of the publishing world agrees with her. Except when it comes to YA books. Kids want the unbelievable. They find beauty in the escapism of it.  That's one of the things that makes writing YA so fresh and fun.

3. Less explanation is necessary. Telling a story to adults often requires so much set-up. Why do these supernatural beings exist? How did they get here?  In YA books, there is more imagination and less set-up. Scary things just are.  Let's get to fleshing it out and dealing with it, instead of thinking it to death.

4.  Writing YA makes me feel younger than I am. I become the kid in the story and I love it.  Reading YA makes me feel younger than I am.  I become the kid in the story (again) and I still love it.

Monday, August 30, 2010

A-Z: Dialogue

    Remember that good fiction reveals the plot to the reader, it doesn’t explain the plot to the reader like a parent talking to a child.  You need to reveal your characters through their actions.  Don’t just say what the protagonist is doing, show what the protagonist is doing.  That makes all of the difference.  Use your dialogue to reveal the characters and what they are thinking and feeling.
    If your character is of a certain ethnic group or occupation or he/she hails from a particular region, have the character use words or terms that would be indicative of this background.  If your character is a child, don’t have him or her talk like an adult -- unless the point you are trying to convey is that this child is smarter than peers or wise behind his years.  Otherwise, it will just appear as if an adult who doesn’t spend a lot of time with children wrote the piece and that can cost you some credibility.   Likewise, if your character is poor or from a bad neighborhood, he is less likely to order items by their brand names.  A young man with an inner-city background will more likely call wine ‘wine” than ask for it by a type or region.  A burgundy is more often the order of a character with a bigger bank account or more worldly travels.
Please don’t go overboard with accents, however.  Nothing is harder to read than a mish-mash of accented words.  Hint at the accent and the reader will catch on quickly enough.
Also, try to see how far you can go without using the word “said.”  It’s not needed in every line or every time a character talks.  Instead, try out some variations or better yet, just let sections of dialogue flow without these markers.   Just make sure it’s clear enough for the reader to be able to attribute the correct lines to the correct speakers. 
Lastly, let your dialogue flow. Edit at the end, not during the process.

A-Z: Characters 2

CHARACTER, Part 2: Making your characters come alive
    As we discussed in our last issue, good writing is about making your characters come alive. But what makes a character come alive?  First, the character has to be real to you, the writer, if you want him or her to be real to the rest of us (the readers). The key to doing this is to stop thinking of your characters as ...well, fictional....and start thinking of them as actual people. (If you start talking to them out loud, may have deeper issues but for this exercise, it’s okay...)
1. Where does your character live? In the world of TV shows, what a character’s home looks like and where it is located makes all the difference. Picture Magnum P.I. living in Queens or Compton. He’s not the same characters anymore, is he? How would his clothes, car, mannerisms have to change? Unless you are spoofing a character or penning a fish out of water story, your character and his abode need to match up.
2. What makes this person unique? Why will he/she remain in the reader’s mind long after the book is finished?
3. Imagine your character in a variety of settings. How does she/he act at home vs. at work? With children vs. with adults? On vacation vs. in his/her regular neighborhood? This is especially important if you are writing a series character because the spice of a series is to see a character the reader has come to know well constantly facing different people and new challenges.
4. How would your other characters describe your protagonist? Then match that to how your protagonist would describe himself. The differences in the two may be what influences your protagonist’s personality.

A-Z: Characters 1

CHARACTER, Part 1: Making your characters 3-D
    Good writing is about making your characters come alive. Stop and think of your favorite novel. What was so good about it? Maybe it was the plot, the setting, or the ending that really stands out in your memory. No matter what you list, you most likely also said, “Great characters.” But what makes a character great?  It’s a lot of little things:
1. Avoid stereotypes - come on, can it get more boring than that?
2. Avoid “inverted stereotypes” - which is when you take a typical stereotype from #1 and make your character the mirror opposite. Like no one saw that one coming.
3. Don’t feel you have to like all of your characters. When you push the edge, the most interesting things happen.
4. Give your characters conflicts. If life is smooth-sailing all day, every day, for your characters, why exactly are you telling this story and why should the reader care?
5. Give your characters a unique trait that makes them memorable to the reader. Take examples from people around you. What idiosyncrasies make your sister, your ex-best friend, your boss complex and interesting? Can you use it for your character? 
6. Finally, always think of your character as a real person. Let him go and see where he story takes him.

A-Z: Beginnings

    Starting is sometimes the hardest part of writing your novel or short story.               To begin, every story needs a problem/issue/question. This question or “problem” is what makes the reader what to turn the the page to find out more. Secondly, what is the main character’s motivation? What makes him to her (or it?) act or do things a certain way and how is this what drives your narrative forward? More importantly, what is it that connects the reader to the main character? You have to ask yourself if the reader will like or sympathize with the main character as much as you do. If not, consider what can be changed to make your protagonist be more interesting.
Now that you have a problem or question and an interesting main character, you need to hook the reader. Readers, and editors!, can tell if they want to keep reading a book after the first 2-3 pages. You need to draw the readers into the story and make them want to find out what happens next. In the mystery genre, it’s the whodunit or howdunit aspect of the piece takes keeps the reader turning pages. In fantasy, it’s the “where are we going from here?” aspect that catches the reader’s attention.
Next, it’s important to set the tone of the piece. Are you looking to write a genre mystery or a hard-boiled detective story? Whichever one you choose, it’s important to set the tone early and carry it through the entire work, regardless of length.
Lastly, it’s important to establish conflict early on. No reader or editor wants to want until the middle of the piece to finally locate the drama of the story. Any story that lacks drama falls flat into a boring sludge of meaningless characters going nowhere fast.

A-Z: Agents

    The debate for or against having a literary agent is almost political in nature:  people take strong sides on the topic and rarely change their stance. Some writers feel they are better off working directly with publishers. Other writers find the writer/agent relationship a very beneficial one.
To begin: what does an literary agent do? Tina Morgan writes in that literary agents “... act as middlemen for the publishing world. They sift through the slush pile to offer the best and brightest to the attention of the publishers. They work on a commission like the majority of salespersons on the planet. They don't make money unless they sell books. Which essentially means, they MUST work in your best interests, or the reputable ones won't be paid.”
So how do you tell a reputable one from the rest of the crowd?  The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Association (SFWA) warns that, “Dishonest agents prey on writers by charging fees, promoting their own paid services, engaging in kickback referral schemes, and misrepresenting their knowledge and expertise. These agents don’t earn their income by selling manuscripts to publishers, but by extracting money from their clients.” The SFWA provides the following warning signs: Beware agents who require reading fees, require a submission fee, require an evaluation fee in order to procure a critique, offer writer’s manuscript copies for a fee, sell services such as website design or illustrations, refer writer’s to an editorial service, or offer deals with vanity presses.
So how does an author find a legitimate agent?  First off, make sure the agent you deal with is a member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives. The Association of Authors’ Representatives set strict guidelines for members and require all new members have at least ten sales in the last 18 months. Secondly, look for agents endorsed by legitimate publications, such as Writer’s Digest, who vet the agencies they place in their guides to literary agents. Thirdly, when in the bookstore, peruse some recently published books in your genre. Check out the acknowledgments page. Many authors give thanks or a “shout-out” to their agents. If so, you may be able to find the names of some professionals who already represent others in your area of interest.