Do You Use Character Trinkets?

Photo credit: Nancy Big Crow on Flickr
It can be really interesting to consider what items your characters treasure. Most of the time, these items hold more sentimental value than actual value—in A Gathering of Shadows, for example, Lila carries a shard of a statue from the first book as a sort of security blanket. In the same series, Kell's item is his magic coat—he doesn't go anywhere not wearing it, if he can help it.

Trinkets your characters carry can be a subtle way to deepen your characters, or hint at what they're feeling. A character might reach for their trinket when they're nervous, or upset, for some kind of reassurance. They might wear their trinket for all to see or display it in a prominent place—or they might hide it, as something too personal to share with others.

I like using trinkets to help ground my characters—after all, many of us can relate to reaching for something familiar in our uncertain moments. Of course the danger, for me, is I sometimes forget the characters have them, then have to add them back in during revisions (whoops!), but I do think they can be a useful (and easy) way to add another dimension to your characters.

So now I'm curious: do you use character trinkets?

Twitter-sized bite:
What items do your characters treasure? @Ava_Jae talks using trinkets to deepen your characters. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Winner #36!

Photo credit: Cindee Snider Re on Flickr
Brief pre-post post to announce the winner of the thirty-sixth fixing the first page feature giveaway!


And the thirty-sixth winner is…


Yay! Congratulations, Jessica!

Thanks again to all you wonderful entrants! If you didn't win, as always, there will be another fixing the first page giveaway in July, so as always, keep an eye out!

Do You Need That POV?

Photo credit: on Flickr
I recently mentioned that POV issues are one of the most common critiques I have for manuscripts I edit. Of those, I'd say probably the most frequently POV issue I come across is unnecessary POVs.

I totally understand why this is a common problem. It can be hard, when you've decided to write a multi-POV story, to decide what POVs are needed to tell the story. After all, you're the author, you could write a story with five, eight, ten, fifteen POVs if you wanted to—but as is the case with many things, just because you can doesn't mean you should.

So how do you know how many POVs to use? And how to you decide what characters should get their own POV?

I always start with this rule of thumb: use as few POVs as you need to tell the story. This is a case where more is not the merrier. Why? Because switching POVs is jarring to readers, and the more times you do it with the more characters you use, the harder it is to get used to any one perspective. There are some readers out there who won't read multi-POV novels simply because they don't like head-hopping, so you really need to have a good reason for every POV that you use. As is the case with all things in writing, there should be a reason for everything.

But what counts as a good reason? Well...

It starts with really understanding your plot. What is the point of the story? What is the central goal and conflict? You'll want to make sure your POV characters are absolutely central to the story, in that you can't tell the story without their perspective. It means every POV character is directly tied to the central goal, so that their story is the story. What you don't need is to give supporting characters perspective chapters—every POV character should be tied enough into the plot that they'd count as a protagonist too. POV characters shouldn't just support the story, they should be the story.

So say you have a cast of characters and are still working on the plot, so you aren't sure who to make a perspective character. The way you choose is actually less complicated than you'd think: you always want to go with the character(s) who have the most at stake and would be most affected by the plot. And in the case of YA, these should all be teen characters.

Choosing perspectives for your story can be tricky at times, but I do think it gets easier with practice. Just make sure to consistently challenge yourself to only use as many POVs as you need to tell the story, and you'll be off to a great start.

Have you ever written a WIP with too many (or few!) POV characters? Or have you read any published books with that problem?

Twitter-sized bite: 
How many POVs should you use? What characters should get their own POV? @Ava_Jae talks choosing POVs. (Click to tweet)

4 Things I've Learned From Vlogging

Vlogging, for me, began as an experiment. Something to try out to help get over my anxiety around having my face online. Ultimately when I decided to stick with it, it was largely because the new medium was fun to play around with, and I figured maybe it'd help broaden my platform, though I really wasn't expecting much in terms of reception for a channel about books and writing.

Luckily, I was wrong. Though YouTube is far from my oldest platform, it has undeniably become my largest and most interactive audience by far. It turns out, there are loads of writers out there looking for tips to help better their writing on all media formats—not just the written ones.

I've now been vlogging for a number of years. And here are some things I've learned along the way.

  1. YouTube's audience isn't just trolls. YouTube kind of has a reputation for having a large audience of trolls who get kicks filling YouTubers' comments with meanness and/or grossness. I was pretty worried about this when I first started vlogging, but I'm glad I took the risk because my experience has been far from the stereotype. Have I encountered jerks making rude comments about my appearance or presentation? Yes. But to be honest, I'd say as of right now with over 13,000 subscribers, for every troll comment I get, I get like fifty genuine comments. Maybe even more. My ratio right now is probably about the same as Twitter, and though that might change as my channel grows, my experience over the last couple years has been largely positive. 

  2. Relaying the same information in different formats works. While not all of my YouTube videos are a vlog version of already-existing blog posts, many of them are. I was a little hesitant about doing this at first—after all, the blog posts exist!—but I quickly learned the audience on YouTube is largely not interested in jumping over to my blog unless I don't already have a vlog about a topic they want. It even works on my blog too, because obviously most of you haven't read all 1,167 blog posts on Writability, so it allows me to go over information I covered a while ago in a new way. 

  3. If you do what scares you repeatedly, it (sometimes) becomes less scary. I was terrified of putting my face online when I did my first vlog. To the point where when my friends took pictures with me, I asked them not to put the pictures on Facebook for years because the prospect of having my likeness on the internet sent me spiraling into anxiety mode. I started my YouTube channel after I'd started actually treating my anxiety, which then made it possible for me to push past it enough that I posted my first vlog. And my second. And my third. Vlogging was pretty terrifying at first, but the more I did it, the easier it became. And now it doesn't scare me at all—and I actually quite enjoy it. :) Bonus points, vlogging has made public speaking a million times easier—in large part because the process is pretty nearly the same, I can just see my audience instead of staring into a camera. 

  4. In terms of income, YouTube has a pretty decent conversion rate. It's hard for me to compare this to my other social media sites, because people don't regularly tell me on Twitter or my blog when they've decided to get my book because of my presence there. But for whatever reason, people on YouTube do—and the number of times I've heard from my YouTube audience that someone bought my book because they like my channel is way higher than I was expecting. Same goes for my freelancing—I've had quite a few clients discover me on YouTube and hire me from there. Now I've just recently started monetizing my vlogs that have over 10,000 views, and though I'm not making a ton from that, it's still a little extra something that will only grow over time as more vlogs hit 10,00 views. Or I decide to lower the threshold. 

So those are some things I've learned from running a channel on YouTube. Do you watch writers on YouTube?

Twitter-sized bite:
Over 150 vlogs later, @Ava_Jae shares 4 things they've learned from running a YouTube channel. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: On Writing and Music

Another question asked, another question answered. Today I'm talking about what I listen to while I write and edit—and why.


What are your music preferences while writing?

Twitter-sized bite:

From bands to soundtracks to headphones and more, @Ava_Jae shares their music preferences while writing. (Click to tweet

Discussion: Top 5 TBR

Photo credit: Goodreads
So while I haven't had as much time (or motivation, if I'm being honest) to read as I would like, as of late, and I'm hopelessly behind on my Goodreads reading challenge, I still do have a schedule of books I'm itching to dive into, as always. Because while the never-ending TBR list is overwhelming, some books I own eventually find their way to the top for more immediate reading.

My top five TBR right now includes:

  1. A Gathering of Shadows & A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab. Technically I'm cheating by including both books, but I'm nearing the end of my A Gathering of Shadows re-read (because it is a re-read) anyway. Next up will be A Conjuring of Light because the whole point of re-reading AGOS was to have everything fresh in my mind for ACOL. And honestly, I'm just impressed I haven't run into ACOL spoilers yet. (*knocks on wood*)

  2. Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller. I am super blessed because I managed to get my hands on a Mask of Shadows ARC which immediately leapt to the top of my TBR pile because I've been dying to get this book since I first sneakily heard about it before the publication announcement was up. Which is to say forever ago, or at least, it feels that way. But I have a copy, so you can bet I'll be reading this as soon as I'm done with the Shades of Magic trilogy. 

  3. The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzie Lee. Technically this isn't out yet but I have a pre-order and I figure it'll be out by the time I finish AGOS, ACOL, and Mask of Shadows. (Given how long I've been re-reading AGOS, it's a pretty safe bet.) Anyway! This is another I've been super excited about since I saw the pub announcement and I'm absolutely delighted it's been getting reviewed so well because I really want to love it. And judging by the sample I heard already, I'm sure I will. :D

  4. The Girl From Everywhere & The Ship Beyond Time by Heidi Heilig. Cheating again with two books here, but like AGOS, my The Girl From Everywhere read is a re-read. I originally read TGFE way back in 2015 as an ARC, so I definitely want a refresher before I dive into my beautiful copy of The Ship Beyond Time. I expect it'll be a fun re-adventure. 

  5. Wildcard. Obviously this isn't a book, but I'm letting myself cheat because technically I already have six books on this list. I'm not quite sure what I'll read after I get through this list, but I have a pretty large selection of unread books I own, so that won't be a problem. But I suppose it'll depend on my mood after I've read these books. Whatever I settle on, I'm sure it'll be excellent. :) 

What books are on your top five TBR?

Twitter-sized bite:
What books are on your top five TBR? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

6 Most Common Critiques

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I've been freelance editing for over a year now, and in that time I've written a lot of edit letters. Which is great, because it means I've had the opportunity to read and critique a lot of work, which I've really enjoyed.

It also means, over time, I've noticed quite a few patterns in the critiques I frequently end up giving, because there are trends in the issues many manuscripts I've worked with have had. These trends are things I figure would be helpful for writers to look for while revising on their own, so I thought I'd share them.

So without further ado, here are the six most common critiques I have for manuscripts and samples I've read over the last thirteen months. In no particular order...

  • Filtering/telling emotion. I did say this list is in no particular order but this is definitely my #1 most common critique. As I've talked about here before, filtering is a form of telling that often subtly distances the narrative, and removing the amount of filtering can make the narrative feel more intimate. Same goes for telling emotion—rather than stating how characters are feeling, it's much, much more effective to consider how those emotions affect your characters physically and consider how they affect your characters' thoughts. Then by writing those physical and psychological effects, your readers can intuit what emotions your characters are feeling without ever being told. Which again, makes the narrative feel closer and more immediate.

  • POV issues. There are several POV issues I frequently come across, namely: too many POVs, POV slips, and adult POVs in YA manuscripts. The first two kind of go together: I frequently remind my clients they should only use as many POVs as they need to tell the story, and it's not uncommon that when there are too many POVs in a story, the POVs also kind of slip together—meaning POV will switch within a scene without any transition, which is confusing and hard to read. The last point is pretty YA-centric, but I've on several occasions come across adult POVs in YA manuscripts, which isn't really allowed in YA. YA, after all, is a teen category for teen readers and their stories are supposed to be told by teens. Save the adult POVs for adult books, because they largely don't belong here.

  • What is the protagonist's goal? This is a pretty big plot issue and it's not uncommon. Sometimes I'll go through a manuscript and it won't be clear until halfway through, or the last act, or later, what the protagonist's goal is—but that's way too late to introduce a goal. The protagonist's goal should be clear right from the beginning. It's okay if their goal changes over time, but the protagonist must always have something to strive for—without that goal, the plot and pacing falls flat.

  • Voice issues. Given that I edit YA and NA, voice is especially paramount, and a frequent critique I have especially for YA works is that the voice doesn't quite sound like a teen. This is hard to nail, especially at first, and my biggest suggestion for fixing that is to read a ton of YA. But it's also a matter of constantly reminding yourself that you, the adult author, aren't the one telling the story—your teen characters are.

  • Action tag + dialogue tag. This a pretty easy to fix—but common—one. When writing dialogue, you only need an action tag or a dialogue tag—not both for the same line. So rather than saying, "'I hate you,' she said with a smile," you can say, "'I hate you.' She smiled" and get the same point across in less words. It's a trick to help cut down on wordiness. And speaking of which...

  • Wordiness. Line editing is really my forte, so it's not surprising that I pretty nearly always find wordiness to cut in a manuscript. I already did a post on things to look for to cut down on wordiness though, so I'll refer you to that.

So that covers my most common critiques. Do you catch any of these in your own work?

Twitter-sized bite:
Author & freelance editor @Ava_Jae shares their most common critiques. Do you catch these in your own work? (Click to tweet)
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