2017 Guest Post Contest Winners!

Photo credit: Т E R E S Λ R O M Λ N O on Flickr
So firstly! I want to thank all of you who entered, because like last time, I was so, so impressed with not only how many entries there were, but how difficult it was to narrow it down to five posts because you guise are so talented! I absolutely want to encourage those of you who didn't get their posts chosen to post your entries on your own blog, because they should definitely be shared. :)

Okay, so! I do have five winners, whose posts will be up on May 8th, 10th, 12th, 17th, and 19th. And the winners are:

*drumroll*

  • Mary Kate Pagano
  • Jennifer Austin
  • Rafia Khader
  • Rachel Linn
  • M.E. Bond

Huzzah! Congratulations, all—I'll be e-mailing everyone shortly with your date and additional things I need from you.

To all the other entrants, thank you again for entering! I want to re-emphasize that all of the entries were fantastic, and I had to not choose a bunch of really good ones so please don't be discouraged. You all rock. 

I'm very much looking forward to sharing these awesome guest posts with everyone! I know you guise will love them. :)

Fixing the First Page Feature #34

Photo credit: gvgoebel on Flickr
May is on its way, the days are getting longer, and summer is on the horizon. Which means, of course, it's once again time for the Fixing the First Page critique!

As usual, I'll start by posting the full first 250 excerpt, after which I'll share my overall thoughts, then my redline critique. I encourage you guys to share your own thoughts and critiques in the comments (because I'm one person with one opinion!), as long as it's polite, thoughtful, and constructive. Any rude or mean comments will be unceremoniously deleted.

Here we go!

Title: MY DEGRADE

Genre/Category: Psychological Suspense

First 250 Words:

"I’m not looking forward to tomorrow. It’s coming way too fast. The first day of school will be tomorrow, and I hadn’t quite recovered from last year. School wasn’t the best place for me; Mrs. Jackson made it hell. She thought everything I did was rude, and if I get her on my schedule, I know I’ll be sent at least three times a week to the office. There was an incident last year where she accused me of “assaulting” her. She was standing too close when she startled me awake and my arm hit her. They suspended me for the rest of the year after that. I still think she was overreacting, but it wasn’t like I did it on purpose!
I let out a deep breath. The sun was starting to set behind the mountains. It was time to go home. It was nice here, quiet, empty, and peaceful, except for the families that used the playgrounds. I could be here all the time. That wasn’t something that I could do though. Dad would send Uncle Hal after me, and being a police officer, he kind of had the upper hand on me. He’d find me so fast that I’d barely had time to breathe before I was found. I’d run, but he always could catch me; not bad for a guy as old as he is. 
I started walking home, my eyes stayed fixed on the sky. It’s so cool how the evenings could turn the sky into a myriad of colors."

Okay! So. Firstly, I'm guessing the category was just forgotten here, because with no category mentioned I was expecting adult but this is definitely not adult—judging by the voice, I'd say it was MG. That's not a flaw with the excerpt, but just be careful with how you're pitching it, because category is very important!

As far as the excerpt goes, the biggest thing I'm noticing right away is this is all exposition. You have to be very careful with expository openings—they're not impossible to pull off, but they are tricky because if you're too in the character's head, then readers have no idea what's going on and have no way to picture where the character is or what they're doing—which is what's happening here until the last paragraph. The other issue with expository openings is they often (though not always) equate a slower pace, particularly if there isn't an immediate conflict the character is thinking about. Here we do have some conflict—the protagonist doesn't want to go to school—but it seems he's just walking around thinking, and I don't think that's a powerful enough opening to really grab the reader. I'd consider starting somewhere closer to the inciting incident.

All right, let's take a look at the line edits:

"I’m not looking forward to tomorrow. It’s coming way too fast. The first day of school will be tomorrow, and I hadn’t quite recovered from last year. Okay, so we've got some tense slippage here. Your first two and a half sentences are in present tense, but then everything else is in past tense. Pick a tense and stick with it (I'm guessing go with past tense, because it seems that's what the majority of your manuscript is.) School wasn’t the best place for me; Mrs. Jackson made it hell. She thought everything I did was rude, and if I get her on my schedule, I know I’ll be sent at least three times a week to the office. There was an incident last year where she accused me of “assaulting” her. She was standing too close when she startled me awake and my arm hit her. They suspended me for the rest of the year after that. This honestly just seems really unlikely. Accidentally hitting someone (and in the scenario described, it seems pretty obvious it'd be an accident) wouldn't end in someone's suspension that long. Especially since schools acknowledge end-of-year tests are important. I still think she was overreacting, but it wasn’t like I did it on purpose!
I let out a deep breath. The sun was starting to setting behind the mountains. It was time to go home. It was nice here, quiet, empty, and peaceful, except for the families that usinged the playgrounds. I wish I could be here all the time,. That wasn’t something that I could do though. but Dad would send Uncle Hal after me, and being a police officer, he kind of had the upper hand on me. He’d find me so fast that I’d barely had time to breathe before I was found. I’d run, but he always could catch me; not bad for a guy as old as he iwas. 
I started walking towards home, my eyes stayed fixed on the sky. It’ was so cool how the evenings could turned the sky into a myriad of colors." "Myriad" doesn't fit the voice, to me. It's not a word a teen or younger kid would casually say.

So that's what I've got! Overall I think the opening would likely be better off closer to the inciting incident, as I mentioned, and with less exposition. Therefore, if I saw this in the slush, I would pass.

I hope that helps! Thanks for sharing your first 250 with us, David!

Twitter-sized bite:
.@Ava_Jae talks expository openings, starting in the right spot & more in the 34th Fixing the First Page Feature. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: How to Write Fights

By request! I love writing fight scenes and have written more of them than I can remember. So today I'm sharing some quick dos, don'ts, and things to remember while writing your characters beating each other up.


RELATED LINKS:


What tips do you have for writing fight scenes? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
Struggling to get that fight scene in your WIP right? @Ava_Jae vlogs some tips. (Click to tweet)

On Reading Slumps

Photo credit: mark sebastian on Flickr
I'm not sure if this is a busy-ness thing, a dealing with a whole lot of words thing, or a tiredness thing (or maybe all three?) but I've been dealing with a bit of a reading slump lately.

It's not like I don't have good books to read (that is definitely not a problem *eyes growing TBR shelf*), but I've been finding that my motivation to read has just been...waning. Which it shouldn't be, because there've been so many books I want to read but when I sit down to actually get through some pages, I've been super easily distracted and just...in general struggling.

Maybe it's partially what I've been reading too? I've been enjoying the last several books overall, but it seems even when I'm invested the motivation has been lacking. I'm mostly hoping this too shall pass and I'll be back to my regular reading motiv
ation levels soon, but for now it's been a struggle with nearly everything I've tried to read, which has been annoying.

#bookworm problems, I suppose. Or overworking problems, maybe.

I'm curious, though: what do you guise do when you hit a reading slump? What has gotten you through it?

Twitter-sized bite:
What do you do to get through a reading slump? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Winner #34!

Photo credit: coffeego on Flickr
Quick Saturday post to announce the winner of the thirty-fourth fixing the first page feature giveaway!

*drumroll*

And the thirty-fourth winner is…


DAVID TUCKER!


Hooray! Congratulations, David!

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

On (Needing?) External Deadlines

Photo credit: dgoomany on Flickr
So I recently started part-time work again to help me save for a thing, and when I initially started and got my hours I was a little worried about how I was going to be able to squeeze everything in. Between being on deadline (and not a self-imposed one!), and working on my freelance projects, and now the extra work, I was genuinely concerned there might not be enough hours in the day for me to get everything done that I needed to—and that's even with starting work around 6AM most days, and working on Saturdays.

That concern is still there for some days, but on my first super-packed day where I had a long shift and had to work on my deadline project and had to work on my freelance project, I found that squeezing it all in actually wasn't as terrible as I thought it might be. Largely because I wasted a hell of a lot less time on Twitter and random apps when I knew I had to stop working in a couple hours to go to work.

It kind of surprised me how easy it was to ignore distractions when I didn't have unlimited time throughout the day—I hunkered down and edited, and read, and did everything I needed to, and on the day that I tweeted, I ended up finishing with time to spare. Go figure.

Which got me thinking...maybe I kind of need less hours in the day from time to time? Even on the days that I don't go in to the day job, I had a renewed appreciation for the full hours I had available to me, and I ended up getting more work done than I needed to so I'd have less work to do on days I had less hours available. And really, getting my butt in gear was as a simple as just having five to six hours less on certain days of the week.

It's something I hadn't really thought about before—and I am still more actively worried about burnout, because understandably, I'm working even longer days than I used to. But it's been interesting, at least, to see how much easier it is to focus when my days are less flexible.

Maybe I work best under external deadlines after all.

What do you think? Do you work best under external deadlines or limited time?

Twitter-sized bites:
Do you work best under external deadlines or limited time? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Ava Edits One Year Anniversary Sale!

So about a year ago I made a pretty site and opened my doors to freelance editing! It's been a fantastic decision for me—I've really enjoyed working with so many talented clients—and I love my job. I'd like to celebrate my one year freelancing anniversary with a sale—yay sales!

To celebrate my one year freelancing anniversary, from now until end of May all services are 5% off to everyone, and because I'd like to help get more #ownvoices projects out in the world however I can, I'm also offering 10% off to #ownvoices projects! #ownvoices means you share a marginalization with your protagonist (not that someone in your family shares that marginalization, you). Also it must be a marginalization, not an experience, so something related to race, gender (I don't mean "woman," I mean "not cis"), sexuality/romanticism, religion, disability, or neuroatypicality.

Don't have an #ownvoices project you want edited? That's fine, you still can get 5% off any service! And like last time, you don't necessarily have to have anything ready right now to take advantage of the sale—as long as you book before the end of May (even if you book for, say, July), it will count!

Finally, I'm currently pretty booked in April, but I've got openings for everything May onwards.

So that covers it! Thanks again for all of your wonderful support—it's been a great year!

Twitter-sized bite:
Freelance editor @Ava_Jae is hosting a one year anniversary sale w/ 5% off all projects & 10% off #ownvoices projects until 5/31/17! (Click to tweet)

Vlog: Why Didn't I Self-Publish?

Once upon a time, several years before I got an agent and well before I got published, I seriously considered self-publishing. But here's why I decided it wasn't for me.


RELATED VLOGS:


What do you think?

Twitter-sized bite:
Author @Ava_Jae vlogs about why she didn't self-publish one of her nine trunked manuscripts. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Giveaway #34!

Photo credit: thezartorialist.com on Flickr
Once again we are halfway through the month! So, as always here on Writability, it's time for the next Fixing the First Page feature.

For those who’ve missed before, the Fixing the First Page features is a public first 250 word critique. Using the lovely rafflecopter widget, anyone interested in winning a public (as in, featured in a post on this blog) first page critique can enter.

For an example of what this critique will look like, here's the last Fixing the First Page post.

Rules!

  • ONLY the first 250 words will be critiqued (up to finishing the sentence). If you win and send me more, I will crop it myself. No exceptions.

  • ONLY the first page. I don’t want 250 random words from your manuscript, or from chapter 3. If you win the critique and send me anything other than the first 250 words of your manuscript, I will choose someone else.

  • I will actually critique it. Here. On the blog. I will say things as nicely as I can, but I do tend to be a little blunt. If you’re not sure you can handle a public critique, then you may want to take some time to think about it before you enter.

  • Genre restrictions. I'm most experienced with YA & NA, but I will still accept MG and Adult. HOWEVER. If your first page has any erotic content on it, I ask that you don’t enter. I want to be able to post the critique and the first 250 in its entirety without making anyone uncomfortable, and if you win and you enter a page with erotic content, I will choose someone else.

  • You must have your first page ready. Should you win, you need to be able to submit your first page within 48 hours of my contacting you to let you know you won. If 48 hours pass and I haven’t heard from you, again, I will choose someone else.

  • You’ll get the most out of this if it isn’t a first draft. Obviously, I have no way of knowing if you’re handing me a first draft (though I will probably suspect because it’s usually not that difficult to tell). I won’t refuse your page if it’s a first draft, but you should know that this critique will likely be of more use if you’ve already had your betas/CPs look over it. Why? Because if you don’t, the critique I give you will probably contain a lot of notes that your betas & CPs could have/would have told you.

  • There will not be a round 2 (unless you win again in a future contest). I hate to have to say this, but if you win a critique, it’s NOT an invitation to send me a bunch of your revisions. I wish I had the time available to be able to look at revisions, but sadly, I don’t. If you try to break this rule, I will nicely say no, and also remember to choose someone else should you win a second contest. Which would make me sad. :(

So that’s it! If you’re okay with all of the above and would like to enter to be the thirty-fourth public critique on Writability, do the thing with the rafflecopter widget below. You have until Friday, April 21 at 11:59 PM EST to enter!



a Rafflecopter giveaway

So You Just Got an Agent...Now What?

Photo credit: Premnath Thirumalaisamy on Flickr
Over three years ago, when I signed with my lovely agent, I was ecstatic—and pretty at a loss as to what to expect. While there are a lot of resources out there about how to get an agent and everything that entails, there's significantly less information about what happens after you finally achieve that goal.

Getting an agent is a huge accomplishment, so if that's you, and especially if it's a new thing for you, you should definitely be proud of yourself (and I hope you've celebrated!). But once the dust settles down, being a newly-agented writer can be a little nerve-wracking and nebulous.

The biggest thing I was worried about—even more than career and book stuff—was that I would become an annoying client and my agent wouldn't want to work with me anything. This was a silly fear—my agent is wonderful and has expressed on more than one occasion over the years how happy she is to represent me—but it's not an uncommon fear amongst newly agented writers. The idea that this massive thing you've finally accomplish could just...go away is common in large part because brains are jerks and writers are often the anxious type to begin with.

So first of all, let me assure you, as long as you're not e-mailing your agent multiple times a day every single day and constantly demanding their time, your agent is not going to think you're too annoying to work with because you reach out to them. Having an agent is a professional relationship that requires communication. That means checking in with your agent if you haven't heard from them in a bit, or if you have news, or if you have questions. It also means talking to your agent about your preferred communication styles—your agent can't know phone calls make you anxious so you're not likely to pick up the phone and call them, for example, unless you tell them.

Learning how to communicate and be open with your agent is actually great practice, because it's likely you'll have a similar relationship with your editor once you sell a book. One of the biggest things being in the publishing industry over the years has taught me, it's if you want something, ask. Getting past my anxiety and asking my editor if Beyond the Red could get a map is the only reason I saw my dream come true of getting a map for my book, and same goes for the glossary and (more unusually) some of the interior design elements.

So the first thing you should expect is to get used to communicating with your agent—and understand that it might take a while before you're comfortable enough to send an e-mail with little anxiety (if I'm being transparent, I really didn't reach that level of comfort until sometime late last year).

As for the actual steps that are next, that's going to vary depending both on your agent and your manuscript. If your agent is editorial, you may be spending the next several weeks (or even months!) revising your book before your agent deems it ready for submission. If your agent isn't editorial—or your manuscript is ready to go from the start—then you'll probably jump right to the submission stage and enter the glorious waiting for news period that is all too reminiscent of querying.

But in the quiet moments, when the high of reaching this milestone wears off, the thing to remember is you've accomplished something huge. Getting an agent is a massive step toward turning your writing into a real career—and its one that a lot of people give up on before meeting. So be proud of yourself that you've made it this far—and get ready for more of the publishing rollercoaster ahead.

Twitter-sized bite:
So you just got an agent—now what? @Ava_Jae talks common fears and steps when you first get represented. (Click to tweet)

Discussion: How Many Drafts Do You Generally Do Per Manuscript?

Photo credit: tetracarbon on Flickr
I know the answer to this question will vary greatly manuscript to manuscript (and writer to writer, of course), but as I work on Into the Black's sixth draft—which was, honestly, one of my cleanest manuscripts to date—I've been thinking about this. Judging by the last couple manuscripts I've sent to my agent, it seems I usually get to around five drafts before we consider it submission-ready—that is, ready to go to either my editor on submission, depending on the book.

But for me, five drafts usually means it hasn't needed major overhauls—or if it did I squished all those overhauls into one revision round (but not necessarily one pass!) and thus it didn't require extra checks with other people added to my process.

I suppose it also depends on how you define a draft. For me, I count a new draft every time I start a new serious revision round. So after the first draft, I work on my own revisions and create the second draft. Then it goes through two rounds with critique partners, after each of which I end up with the third and fourth draft. Then it goes to sensitivity readers (if necessary) and my agent and I use their notes to come up with the fifth and sometimes sixth draft. In between those, when I have multiple passes through a manuscript (usually to fix separate big things) I label them as partial drafts, like 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, etc. until I've finished. But I don't really count those as separate drafts—it's more of a way to mark how many passes I did per revision round.

But that's my method and a general trend based off a couple manuscripts I've gone the full process with. And so I'm curious—how many drafts do you generally do per manuscript?

Twitter-sized bite:
How many drafts do you generally do per manuscript? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: How to Write an Elevator Pitch

Last week I mentioned how helpful it is to memorize your elevator pitch, which many of you seemed interested in doing. So this week I'm talking about how to write those elevator pitches.





RELATED VLOGS:


Have you ever written an elevator pitch? 

Twitter-sized bite:
Struggling to get your elevator pitch down? @Ava_Jae vlogs some tips. #pubtip (Click to tweet)

Do You Really Need That Scene?

Photo credit: bhayva999 on Flickr
A critique I've been finding myself make more often is questioning whether a scene is really vital to the plot—and I've been somewhat surprised with how often the answer is...well, questionable.

Unlike real life, everything that happens in the book must have a purpose—from your protagonist's daydream, to that witty banter, to that flashback or cute, fluffy scene. Every little thing must advance the plot or characters in some way, and sometimes, it can be hard to recognize whether or not that scene you love is actually doing something important, or whether its there just because you like it.

Really analyzing your scenes is an important part of large-scale revisions. It can be hard to admit that a scene might not be holding its weight, but once you reach that point, there are two things you can do: cut it or fix it.

Cutting a scene that isn't holding its own is self-explanatory, really—if it doesn't serve a purpose, then it doesn't need to be there. But in some cases, a scene may still have potential, in which case it can be reworked to serve some kind of purpose. Maybe you add a section where your characters talk about something important, or reveal something about themselves; maybe they stumble onto something that affects the plot. Whatever it is, what's important is that you make sure your revisions allow the scene to either further the plot or character—or both.

Analyzing whether or not a scene is really necessary can be hard when it's your own work—another reason why critique partners are so helpful. But by really putting each of your scenes under a microscope, you can discover some important ways to further your plot and character, ultimately strengthening your book as a whole.

Have you ever cut or reworked a scene that wasn't serving a purpose?

Twitter-sized bite:
Do you really need that scene? @Ava_Jae talks the importance of making sure every scene has a purpose. (Click to tweet)

Another Guest Post Contest!

Photo credit: Rick Payette on Flickr
It's that time again! I'm going to be traveling in May, so I've decided to run another guest post contest! I've done this twice before and the results have always been fantastic so I'm happy to do it again. I've got 4-5 openings for posts in May, which will be up Monday the 8th, Wednesday the 10th, Friday the 12th, Wednesday the 17th, and possibly Friday the 19th. I'll be accepting posts from TODAY to Friday, April 21st, and I'll notify those who have been chosen on the 28th.

Posts should be about writing, books or publishing. I’ll also accept posts about social media geared to writers (i.e.: my tumblr for writers post). Before you submit, make sure I haven’t already covered the topic you’ve written about (or are thinking you might write about) by checking my directory. As of this post, I’ve written 1,121 posts, so I’ve covered, um, a lot.

That said, if I've written about something you'd like to write about, but you have another take on it, or different tips, etc. you're welcome to enter a post on that topic. As long as it's not too similar to what I already have, it'll work. :)

Keep in mind! I’m all for taking a subject that might not traditionally be writing-related and show how it could be helpful to writers. Or put a writerly spin on it. Or something.

As for what I’m looking for, I'd love to host some new voices here on Writability. Bonus points to posts that make me laugh. Or think. Or see something in a new way. Given the political climate, I'm also open to political posts if they relate to writers or writing in some way.

The four to five posts I choose will include a mini-bio of the writer (you!) and up to five links of your choosing, which should hopefully get you some nice exposure since Writability gets pretty steady views (on average over 1,000 hits a day). I also expect that you try to answer any comments on your guest post because the community here is wonderful and they'd love to hear from you!

If I don’t get enough entries, I’ll just write up more posts myself. Or if I don’t feel the entries are quite what I’m looking for, I’ll write up posts myself. So as was the case with the last guest post contest, whether or not this works entirely depends on you guise.

So you’re interested in entering? Awesome!

  • Please use my contact form between now and Friday, April 21st 11:59PM EST to enter a guest post that you have written. The very first line should be "GUEST POST CONTEST ENTRY" in all caps. Like that. Copy and paste the whole post into the message box there below the first line.

  • You may enter as many posts as you like, as long as they meet the requirements.

  • Posts should be between 100 and 500 words. 250 is roughly average and anything longer than 500 will probably not be chosen. 

  • Please use block formatting (no indents, single space, double space between paragraphs, plain text) to make my life easy when copying and pasting. 

  • I’ll choose four to five of my favorite entries. What makes them my favorite may vary. Be yourself, write something that would work well subject-wise on this blog and you've got yourself a good shot. 

  • In the event that I get way more entries than I expected, I reserve the right to close the entry period early. Conversely, if I don't get enough entries that I think would fit, I may choose less than four or five (or none at all).

Good luck!

Twitter-sized bite:
Want a chance to guest post on a blog with +1,000 hits/day? @Ava_Jae is hosting a guest post contest until 4/21/17! (Click to tweet)

Word Games for Unwinding Writers

I love word games. They're usually strategy-oriented and make you think, but not in a way that's overly taxing. At the end of my work day, when I'm relaxing with Netflix, I like to pull up word games on my phone and unwind.

So on a slightly different but still related topic here on Writability, I thought I'd share my favorite free word games with everyone. Because there's no such thing as too many word games.



  1. Words With Friends

    This is an obvious one that most of you probably have, or have had at some point or another. It's a phone classic based off Scrabble (AKA: the best word game of all time) and remains a favorite to get my gears turning.



  2. Capitals

    This is a tough one I'm still working out the best strategy for, but it is addictive. The basic idea is to capture as many hexagon tiles as possible by building words with the letters in the tiles. By using a letter, you "capture" that tile and add it to your kingdom—and you win by capturing your opponent's capital and all of their tiles. It's a hard game but I really enjoy the strategic combination it requires to gain an upper hand.


  3. Crossword Quiz

    I recently picked this one up and I love it for many reasons. Firstly, it's completely free and you can unlock all of the levels just by playing. And second, it takes the crossword classic and puts it in a cool interface, but adds in a combination of emoji and picture clues. I like it a lot—it's low-key, and has a new daily quiz every day so you'll probably never run out of levels to play.



  4. Word Cookies

    This is my most recent addition to my word game collection, and it's a fun one too. Word cookies gives you a selection of letters and you have to come up with all the words the selection can make. The first several levels are so easy they're a bit bland, but it gets more challenging and it's another fun, relaxing game that you can play and go as you please. 

So those are my favorite free word games, but I'd love to add to my collection, so lets hear it. What are your favorite free mobile word games?

Twitter-sized bite:
Looking for some free fun word games to help you unwind during your free time? @Ava_Jae shares her favorites. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: 4 Things I've Learned Since Getting Published

It's been over a year since Beyond the Red was published! So today I'm looking back and sharing four things I've learned since that fateful day.



RELATED LINKS:


Twitter-sized bite:
Over a year after her debut, @Ava_Jae vlogs about 4 things she's learned since getting published. (Click to tweet)

How to Build an Online Platform: YouTube

Photo credit: clasesdeperiodismo on Flickr
So wayyyyy back in 2014 I started an online platform series. I covered Twitter, blogging, and tumblr, then decided I'd wait until I had more experience with YouTube before I talked about that avenue. 

I just recently crossed the 10,000 subscriber mark on my YouTube channel, bookishpixie, (which is a bigger following than any of my other social media sites, which is somewhat surprising because it's nowhere near the oldest of my social media accounts)—and it's honestly the most active community base I have, which has translated to a surprising (or maybe not surprising?) amount of book sales and editing clients. I guess you could say I have more experience now. So let's talk YouTube.

YouTube birthday: May 6, 2014 (nearly three years!) 
Subscribers: 10,315 (as of this writing)
Total views: 446,511 (as of this writing)
Time spent weekly: Roughly two hours. 

 Tips: 

  • Try to make your videos looks as professional as possible. This means getting a decent camera that can record in HD (which nowadays doesn't require anything super expensive), paying attention to lighting and sound, and learning how to edit videos. I'm somewhat lucky in the sense that I have an Associates in Digital Media/Film and did a year of a film-focused degree at an art college, so I have plenty of experience learning how to work cameras (and their manual settings), how to light a scene, and how to edit video. Not everyone has that obviously, but the good news is a lot of it is common sense and is pretty easy to learn. I want to one day upgrade my camera to a DSLR and get lighting equipment when I have more of disposable income, but I've made do with a relatively cheap camera and using just natural light and room lighting along with my camera's exposure settings to get mostly decent shots.

  • Figure out a script style that works for you. Some people like to write out an entire script, others prefer bullets. I'm more a bullet person, and I try not to write more than a sentence or two per bullet. I like using bullet points because it keeps my vlogs flexible and sounding more casual—and also I don't trip up on the exact wording that way, which helps a lot. (I also use the same technique for public speaking.) The exact method you use matters less than figuring out a method that works for you.

  • Like literally every other social media channel, the biggest key is to post consistently. I’ve already written a whole post about why posting consistently is so important, so I’m not going to get into that again. But the main benefit to YouTubers is by posting consistently, you’re allowing your viewers to get into the habit of checking/visiting your blog on a regular basis. For me, that means every Tuesday. Whether that’s weekly, bi-weekly, several times a week or monthly is up to you, but no matter what, consistency is key.

  • Similarly, your content should be somewhat consistent, too. For me this means I vlog about books, writing, and publishing, with few exceptions. It also means I try to keep my vlogs under four minutes whenever possible—because that's what I've always done and it's what my viewers expect from me now. And many of them have said they appreciate the brevity (and to be honest, so do I—it's a lot easier to edit and caption a short vlog than a long one!). 

  • Cross-posting. Cross-posting is helpful for just about every social media avenue, whether it's blogging, reviewing, Instagramming, etc. YouTube is no exception—I cross-post to Twitter, my blog, Facebook, and tumblr. Most of my traffic still comes from YouTube natively (which is great!) but cross-posting definitely helps get the word out.

  • Answer the (serious) comments. Yes, I've mentioned this for other social media sites, and yes it applies to YouTube, too. The different thing about YouTube is viewers are pretty used to being ignored in the comments, so when you do respond, they take note and kind of love it. But obviously you can ignore and report/block jerk comments because those happen from time to time. The comments on my YouTube channel are the most active of any of my social media sites—not only do viewers ask questions and comment on the vlogs, but they respond to each other, too. As a bonus, I've gotten a lot of great vlog ideas from questions and suggestions people have made in the comments, so really, it's a win-win. 

Have you ever considered starting a YouTube channel?

Twitter-sized bites:
Looking to build a YouTube channel? @Ava_Jae shares her experience and a few tips. (Click to tweet
"Find a script style that works for you," and other YouTube channel building tips from @Ava_Jae. (Click to tweet)

On Learning From What You Read

Photo credit: Erik Schepers on Flickr
It's often repeated that one of the few rules without exception in the writing world is if you want to be a good writer, you must read. Reading is essential for writers for a variety of reasons: it keeps you aware of what's out there and what's selling, it shows you what's already been done and what's popular, and it gives you the opportunity to really consider what works and what doesn't for every novel you pick up.

I've gotten questions about that last point in particular, namely, how do you analyze the books you read to apply lessons to your own writing?

For me, I find that most of my analysis is passive. I'll quietly consider voice, tense, and stylistic choices as I read, really only paying close attention when it's an usual tense (second person, third person present, etc) or when the voice is very different from anything I've read before (Half Bad, The Hate U Give, and so on). When a book has a lot of POVs, I'll ask myself as I read why (and whether) each POV is necessary and whether or not I think it works. I'll sometimes find myself asking how I would improve a sentence—or if a sentence is really well-written, I'll sometimes re-read it and consider why I like it so much.

Then when I go back to my own writing, I kind of have two modes of applying what I've learned. When I specifically want to evoke a similar technique or stylistic thing, I'll sometimes open up the book I learned it from and re-read a section so it's fresh in my mind as I consider how I'll write. But most of the time, the lessons I've learned come out passively—they embed into my writing as I first draft, and more often as I revise and consider how to improve a manuscript. I'll often find that something especially reminiscent from a book will stick with me for years—even without re-reading—and as I write I'll occasionally recognize what book I learned a particular technique from.

I know some writers take notes when something sticks out to them from a book, and that's cool too—I could definitely see that paying off. But the passive application of just paying attention while I read and asking myself questions as I go along has worked well for me so far—and maybe it'll work for you too.

How do you learn from books you've read?

Twitter-sized bite:
How do you learn from books you've read? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Book Review: THREE DARK CROWNS by Kendare Blake

Photo credit: Goodreads
So as most of you know, I'm a huge YA Fantasy fan, so when I heard the pitch for Kendare Blake's Three Dark Crowns, I was definitely curious. Combined with an awesome cover and an unusual tense choice (third person present) and I was glad I picked it up.

Before I go into how much I enjoyed this one, let's take a look at the back cover copy on Goodreads:
"Every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions. 
But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins. The last queen standing gets the crown. 
If only it was that simple. Katharine is unable to tolerate the weakest poison, and Arsinoe, no matter how hard she tries, can’t make even a weed grow. The two queens have been shamefully faking their powers, taking care to keep each other, the island, and their powerful sister Mirabella none the wiser. But with alliances being formed, betrayals taking shape, and ruthless revenge haunting the queens’ every move, one thing is certain: the last queen standing might not be the strongest…but she may be the darkest."
So initially I was a little confused about why there were so many POVs—I was expecting three (one for each princess) and I think we end up with...five? Something like that. For the first portion of the book, I know the many POVs made it difficult for some people to get into it. I just rolled with it, and in the end it made sense as to why every POV was necessary. I will say I did find it a little difficult to keep track of all the names and places (the map helped with the latter, though), so sometimes I confused characters. But once I got used to the cast, that became no longer distracting. 

So that said, there were two things I really liked about this book: the magic, and the sisters themselves. There are a lot of takes on magic in YA, and many of them look like Mirabella: some sort of elemental stuff with extras thrown in. Nothing wrong with that, I love elemental magic portrayals, but I was really fascinated by the magic of the poisoners and naturalists. The poisoners especially was magic I hadn't seen before in YA, and it was super fascinating to see how that magic manifested (or how it was supposed to manifest, anyway), how it affected the way other people looked at them, and how they "showed it off" to demonstrate power—and the ruse of power. 

What I really liked about the sisters was they exceeded my expectations in multiple ways. I'd expected Mirabella to be the "evil twin" in the sense that as the most powerful (whether she knows it or not) she'd be biting at the bit to take out her other two sisters, but she was much more complicated than that. 

But what I especially loved about the three was they demonstrated a variety of ways to "be a girl" without ever implying one way is better than the other. Katherine and Mirabella are both traditionally feminine and take power in their femininity—which was awesome to see. On Fennbirn, women are the top of the power totem pole, so the girls never deal with misogyny and in many ways, their femininity was used as a display of power (yay!). Arsinoe, however, is an entirely different kind of girl. She's defiant, cuts her hair short, and never once wears a dress—even in the scenes where the girls are expected to dress formally, she stands beside her two sisters in dresses wearing a black shirt, vest, and pants. I loved this, because I've literally never seen a princess portrayed as anything short of femininely unless she was in disguise—and as a bonus, Arsinoe never gets any grief over it. She's accepted as she is, and while acknowledged as different, no one ever implies her less feminine style is a bad thing. 

So all in all, I found this book fascinating—and I was so glued I read sixty percent of it in one day. While I didn't love some of the details at the end, I really enjoyed this one overall and I'm very much looking forward to the next book, One Dark Throne

Diversity note: From what I could tell, not much there, unfortunately.

Twitter-sized bite: 
.@Ava_Jae gives 4 stars to THREE DARK CROWNS by Kendare Blake. Is this dark fantasy on your TBR? (Click to tweet)

Vlog: On Creating Conflict

Without conflict, there isn't a story, but sometimes coming up with conflict isn't as easy as we'd like. So today I'm talking about coming up with different sources of conflict, from central conflict to tension throughout the manuscript.


RELATED LINKS:


How do you figure out conflict for your manuscripts? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
Struggling to figure out the conflict for your WIP? Author @Ava_Jae vlogs some tips. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Feature #33

Photo credit: mynameisgeebs on Flickr
Somehow, March is nearly over and it's time for the next Fixing the First Page critique—woohoo!

As usual, I'll start by posting the full first 250 excerpt, after which I'll share my overall thoughts, then my redline critique. I encourage you guys to share your own thoughts and critiques in the comments (because I'm one person with one opinion!), as long as it's polite, thoughtful, and constructive. Any rude or mean comments will be unceremoniously deleted.

Let's do this!

Title: MECHANICAL

Genre/Category: YA Dystopia

First 250 words:

"I took deep breaths, trying to calm my racing heart. 
You can do it. You have to do it.

One more breath, two, three… 
It was early morning, but I still glanced around to make sure the street was empty. Not that many people lived in the area either way. I was surprised when I was informed I had to wait on that spot. In any case, the roof of an abandoned two-story building was the perfect hiding place. 
The air was calm and cool, oblivious to my state of mind. I was glad no one would ever notice this moment of weakness. I wasn’t afraid of a technical failure, but of an emotional one. Failing though was something I never allowed to myself. 
A man appeared in the corner of the street, starting me out of my thoughts. I studied him carefully. Around 40, tall and thin with a receding brown hairline. The description fitted. For the last hour, I had half wished he wouldn’t appear, almost hoped he would choose another street or time. But that was not my lucky day and definitely not his. 
He looked around him once or twice, but other than that, he looked certain no one was watching him.

No one but me. I tried to swallow my fear and resisted the urge to close my eyes.

Just do it already. 
One more breath. And I pulled the trigger of my rifle. 
Less than a second later, the man was lying motionless on the pavement."

Okay, so! I'm pretty partial to in medias res openings myself, because I like jumping right into the story. But the danger with these kind of openings is if you move too quickly and don't provide enough introspection and explanation, so they can sometimes be confusing and readers may find it difficult to connect with the protagonist. Which is what I'm seeing here.

As a reader, I have a lot of questions right away: why does she have to kill that guy? Does she do this often (is she an assassin)? What was he doing that he didn't want to be seen? What was she afraid of? You don't necessarily need to immediately answer all of the questions, but you definitely need to answer the most important one of why. Why is it so important that she kill this guy? Why does she have to? Without knowing the stakes, as a reader I don't really care if she succeeds or not, because I don't yet know why it matters. And because she's killing someone, it also makes it a little more difficult for me to connect with her, because from a reader perspective right now it just seems like she killed someone in cold blood.

Okay, so, with that said, let's take a look at the line edits:

"I took deep breaths, trying to calm my racing heart. 
You can do it. You have to do it.

One more breath, two, three… 
It was early morning, but I still glanced around to make sure the street was empty. Not that many people lived in the area either way. I was surprised when I was informed I had to wait on that spot. A few things about this sentence: first, this would be a good place to give us more information—when who told her to wait there? And why was she surprised? What's different about this particular case? In any case, the roof of an abandoned two-story building was the perfect hiding place. 
The air was calm and cool, oblivious to my state of mind. As a reader, right now I'm also oblivious to her state of mind. :) Which is to say, this would be a good spot to give us a glimpse! What is she feeling right now? It'd be good to show those emotions before she comments on her weakness, because otherwise we're not really seeing much of anything that could qualify as "weakness." I was glad no one would ever notice this moment of weakness. I wasn’t afraid of a technical failure, but of an emotional one. What would qualify as an "emotional failure"? And what are the consequences if she has one? We need to know the stakes to really understand why this matters to her—and why it should matter to us. Failing though was something I never allowed to myself to fail
A man appeared in the corner of the street, starting me out of my thoughts. I studied him carefully. Around 40 forty, tall and thin with a receding brown hairline. The description fitted. For the last hour, I'd had half wished he wouldn’t appear, almost hoped he'd would choose another street or time. Why does she wish that? If she has to do this, why would she want him not to show? But that it wasn't not my lucky day and definitely wasn't not his. 
He looked around him once or twice, probably making sure certain no one was watching him. A couple reasons for this adjustment: firstly, I'm trying to make her sound more like a teen (sure versus certain, for example). Secondly this is her perspective, so I'm clarifying that this is what she thinks he's thinking. And third, rather than telling you to try to describe what "sure no one is looking" looks like, I think it's easier (and more effective) to adjust the sentiment a bit and say he's looking around for this reason rather than he looks like he's sure no one is looking. But if you prefer the latter, feel free—just describe what that looks like, rather than stating that's how he looks. 

No one but me. I tried to swallow my fear and resisted the urge to close my eyes. Okay, so rather than stating she's scared, it'd be much more effective to describe how that fear physically affects her and show it reflected in her thoughts. I wrote a post a while back on writing emotion effectively that you might find helpful with this. 

Just do it already. 
One more breath. And I pulled the trigger of my rifle
Less than a second later, the man was laying motionless on the pavement."

So there we have it! I think basically what this opening needs is more filling in, from clarifying the stakes, to a bit more explanation as to why she's there, to more time to really sink into her mind and see what she's feeling on the page. Interesting start overall, with room to flourish. If I saw this in the slush though, I'd probably pass because it still seems to need some work before it's ready for submission.

I hope that helps! Thanks for sharing your first 250 with us, Eleni!

Twitter-sized bite:
.@Ava_Jae talks stakes, showing emotion, and more in the 33rd Fixing the First Page Feature. (Click to tweet)

On Writing Family and Platonic Relationships

Photo credit: FieryLaSirena on Flickr
Sometimes, when writing a book with a romantic subplot, it can be easy to forget about other relationships. From acquaintances, to friends, to family, we all have some kind of relationship network, however large or small, and primarily good or bad it may be.

But especially in YA where romance tends to nearly always be present and family is often—er—killed off, it's easy to write yourself into a situation where the protagonist and love interest are the only people of importance in each other's lives.

And while that can sometimes work in a story, let's be honest—most people's circle of relationships is way more complicated than that.

In YA, platonic relationships that stay platonic are somewhat uncommon, and family relationships tend to go one of two ways: either everyone pretty much gets along (save for the occasional sibling bickering), or there isn't much family in the story at all. (There are exceptions of course, but, you know, generally speaking.)

In my own writing, I've been trying to challenge myself to write dynamic relationships, especially with family members. In Beyond the Red that mostly comes out in sibling relationships, but in one project in particular I'm working on I've been trying to focus more on a dysfunctional family unit and the complicated relationships therein. In part because I think there's still plenty of room for that in YA, and in part because to be frank, I have very complicated family relationships myself.

To the point, platonic relationships—whether through family, friends, or acquaintances—are a pretty huge part of everyone's lives, and certainly a big part of most teens' lives. While it's easy to let a romance overshadow other relationships in a character's life, it can be good to stop and consider what other people are important in your protagonist's life—and how those characters can help develop the plot and your protagonist along the way.

What are some of your favorite platonic and family relationships in YA?

Twitter-sized bite:
Romances aren't the only important fictional relationships. @Ava_Jae talks writing platonic & family relationships. (Click to tweet)

Fake Writers Don't Exist

Photo credit: BetIwontFail on Flickr
If you've been in the online writing community for any extended period of time, chances are likely you've come across who says or implies you must do something to be a real writer, or if you aren't writing a certain way, it isn't real writing. Sometimes the implication is accidental and the writer will clarify and apologize; sometimes it wasn't and they'll double down when called out.

Over the weekend we had another incident along those lines, when a pretty well-known author tweeted that writing = pen and paper. Some disabled writers, myself included, talked about why the implication that writing on your computer or phone, etc. isn't real writing is problematic and damaging, especially to the disabled community. But the whole incident got me thinking about this false set up of Real vs Fake writers.

So let me reiterate the title of this post: fake writers don't exist. It isn't a thing. And neither is fake writing.

Writing is writing, whether you put words down with pencil and paper, a keyboard, dictate, tapped on your phone, or some other way—and if you write, you're a writer. It doesn't matter if you started this morning, or three years ago, or three decades ago; it doesn't matter if you've been published; it doesn't even matter if you want to be published. The only requirement to calling yourself a writer is to write. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Twitter-sized bites:
How do you know if you're a real writer? @Ava_Jae says the answer is simple. (Click to tweet
Author @Ava_Jae talks about why "fake" writing and writers don't exist. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: On Breaking Writing Rules

I share a lot of writing rules and strategies both here and on my blog, Writability. But does every writing rule need to be followed? And what if a writing strategy doesn't work for you? Today I'm talking about exceptions and breaking the rules.


RELATED LINKS:


What do you think? Have you broken any writing rules in a way that worked? Have any of your favorite books? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
Does every writing rule need to be followed? Author @Ava_Jae vlogs about exceptions. #writetip (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Winner #33!

Photo credit: Ju Muncinelli on Flickr
Yet another quick pre-post post to announce the winner of the thirty-third fixing the first page feature giveaway!

*drumroll*

And the thirty-third winner is…


ELENI DATSIKA!


Hooray! Congratulations, Eleni!

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

Discussion: How Do You Feel About Hyped Books?

Photo credit: demandaj on Flickr
For the most part, I've generally had good experiences with hyped books. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, for example, were all pretty intensely hyped books that completely lived up to the hype for me.

But there have also been more than a handful of hyped books that I was cautiously interested in—or even very interested in—until early reviews came out, revealing problematic elements or disappointing things that made me remove the book from my TBR. Many have gone on to continue to be successful, but the early reviews made me pause and think twice before picking them up—for which I'm glad.

But there is always the chance, of course, that the massive hype surrounding a book will inflate expectations so much that it'll be hard for the book to live up to it. I think the closest experience I've had with that is a YA book I was really looking forward to for a specific aspect of representation—until a review came out with really troubling information and I pulled the book from my TBR. But I think, in most cases, I've been able to avoid too much disappointment in that area by either only pre-ordering the books if it's from an author I've loved before or if people I trust have said they read and loved an early copy of the book. By being somewhat cautious in that sense, I've been able to cut down on some reading experiences I wouldn't have enjoyed otherwise.

So I suppose, in a sense, the same source of (much of the) hype—social media—can also serve as a buffer for disappointment if you follow the right people. So for me, when I see a book getting hyped and I see people I trust giving it a thumbs up I can pretty safely pre-order without worry of disappointment. And it's worked well so far.

How do you feel about hyped books?

Twitter-sized bite: 
How do you feel about hyped books? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet

Discussion: How Many Projects Do You Work On Simultaneously?

Photo credit: aescoba on Flickr
Once upon a time, I only worked on one project at a time. That's still my preferred method of working—I like to be able to focus on a single project and divert all my energy into that project until it's done, a method that's often allowed me to finish both first drafts and thorough revisions relatively quickly.

Then I started getting published and joined the world of deadlines I didn't set for myself.

Right now I have, oh, five projects simmering at once,  counting a half-plotted project I have to start drafting this summer on a not self-imposed deadline. One has been thoroughly revised and is waiting for external feedback, one has been partially revised but had to be set aside for a deadline project, one is a short (for now) deadline project, and one is my 2016 NaNo novel which...I'll get to when I get to. Two are Sci-Fi, two are Fantasy, one is a Thriller—all are YA. Which is to say I've been keeping really busy.

Though it's been interesting to transition from one project to juggling several in different stages at a time, in a way it's also been encouraging because I have plenty to work on—which has helped dispel the fear of "what if this is the last book idea I ever come up with?" And it's pretty cool knowing I've got several real, on-the-page, ready-to-work on projects, some of which (all of which?) may one day be published.

Working on many projects simultaneously has been a lot of work, and sometimes it feels like the workload will never end (which is why breaks are so important!), but it's been gratifying so far. This may very well be how my writing career continues for the foreseeable future, and I am very okay with that.

How many projects do you work on at once? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
How many projects do you work on at once? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Giveaway #33!

Photo credit: EvaSwensen on Flickr
It's that time once again! We're halfway through the month (I know, right?), so it's time for the thirty-third Fixing the First Page feature.

For those who’ve missed before, the Fixing the First Page features is a public first 250 word critique. Using the lovely rafflecopter widget, anyone interested in winning a public (as in, featured in a post on this blog) first page critique can enter.

For an example of what this critique will look like, here's the last Fixing the First Page post.

Rules!

  • ONLY the first 250 words will be critiqued (up to finishing the sentence). If you win and send me more, I will crop it myself. No exceptions.

  • ONLY the first page. I don’t want 250 random words from your manuscript, or from chapter 3. If you win the critique and send me anything other than the first 250 words of your manuscript, I will choose someone else.

  • I will actually critique it. Here. On the blog. I will say things as nicely as I can, but I do tend to be a little blunt. If you’re not sure you can handle a public critique, then you may want to take some time to think about it before you enter.

  • Genre restrictions. I'm most experienced with YA & NA, but I will still accept MG and Adult. HOWEVER. If your first page has any erotic content on it, I ask that you don’t enter. I want to be able to post the critique and the first 250 in its entirety without making anyone uncomfortable, and if you win and you enter a page with erotic content, I will choose someone else.

  • You must have your first page ready. Should you win, you need to be able to submit your first page within 48 hours of my contacting you to let you know you won. If 48 hours pass and I haven’t heard from you, again, I will choose someone else.

  • You’ll get the most out of this if it isn’t a first draft. Obviously, I have no way of knowing if you’re handing me a first draft (though I will probably suspect because it’s usually not that difficult to tell). I won’t refuse your page if it’s a first draft, but you should know that this critique will likely be of more use if you’ve already had your betas/CPs look over it. Why? Because if you don’t, the critique I give you will probably contain a lot of notes that your betas & CPs could have/would have told you.

  • There will not be a round 2 (unless you win again in a future contest). I hate to have to say this, but if you win a critique, it’s NOT an invitation to send me a bunch of your revisions. I wish I had the time available to be able to look at revisions, but sadly, I don’t. If you try to break this rule, I will nicely say no, and also remember to choose someone else should you win a second contest. Which would make me sad. :(

So that’s it! If you’re okay with all of the above and would like to enter to be the thirty-first public critique on Writability, do the thing with the rafflecopter widget below. You have until Sunday, March 19th at 11:59 PM EST to enter!



a Rafflecopter giveaway

Vlog: On Consistency When First Drafting

By another request, today I'm talking about keeping your voice consistent when first drafting...or not.


RELATED LINKS: 


Is your voice consistent when you first draft?

Twitter-sized bites:
Is your voice consistent when you first draft? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)  
Is it important for your voice to be consistent in the first draft? @Ava_Jae vlogs some thoughts. (Click to tweet)

Book Review: THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas

Photo credit: Goodreads
Whenever you have books that are really, really hyped, you run the risk that the hype might inflate everyone's expectations so much that the book has trouble living up to them.

That wasn't remotely the case with Angie Thomas's The Hate U Give.

Before I reiterate what everyone else is saying (that you need to read this book immediately), here's the Goodreads summary:
"Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. 
Soon afterward, Khalil’s death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Starr’s best friend at school suggests he may have had it coming. When it becomes clear the police have little interest in investigating the incident, protesters take to the streets and Starr’s neighborhood becomes a war zone. What everyone wants to know is: What really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr. 
But what Starr does—or does not—say could destroy her community. It could also endanger her life."
So I'd actually started The Hate U Give a little earlier than I'd originally planned because the other book I was reading wasn't grabbing me as much as I'd like. That wasn't an issue here—I was immediately sucked into Starr's voice, and world, and the characters of her life. The Hate U Give juggles several conflicts in Starr's life—the conflict inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, of course, with witnessing Khalil's murder, but also her half-brother and friend living with an abusive father—the neighborhood's most dangerous gang leader, a friend who gets into a dangerous situation, Starr juggling the disparity of going to a private school where she's one of the only Black kids and then going home to her neighborhood, that as dangerous as it can be is her home, her secretly dating a boy from her school, and her PTSD from witnessing her best friend's death. Not to mention the conflict of trying to decide whether to speak up or whether to hope no one outside of Starr's family ever learns she's the one who witnessed Khalil's death.

All of these conflicts in Starr's life may seem overwhelming—and for her, at times, they are—but the way they're written always makes sense as one conflict blends into another into another. Altogether it creates an incredibly compelling plot that keeps you turning the pages, because truly, there are no dull moments.

Then there's the voice. Starr's voice is so powerful, and honestly, The Hate U Give serves as an excellent example of why #ownvoices books are just better when it comes to portraying different marginalized groups. From the constant code-switching, to the cultural nuances, to even the way Starr thinks just felt so incredibly raw, like I was reading a real person's thoughts transcribed unfiltered onto the page. I had the undeniable sense while reading that this book wasn't written for me—and that was a good thing.

To say The Hate U Give is eye-opening and unforgettable is an understatement. I'm not at all surprised it debuted #1 on the New York Times bestseller list and I fully expect to see it win loads of awards, because this book is that powerful and that good.

All in all: read it. And any time you hear someone disparaging the Black Lives Matter movement, give them this book. I really do believe it could change hearts, minds, and lives.

Diversity note: Most of the characters, including the protagonist, Starr, are Black.

Is this book on your TBR? The answer better be yes. ;)


Twitter-sized bite:
.@Ava_Jae gives 5 stars to THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas. Is this powerful YA on your TBR? (Click to tweet)

5 Essentials to Establish Before You Start Plotting (or Writing)

Photo credit: E V Peters on Flickr
So you have an inkling of a story idea with some vague images, lines, or concepts, and the time has come to turn that into a workable plot or (if you're a pantser) a draft. But how do you turn a vague idea into a structured story? It starts with establishing some essentials before you dive into the plot.

(P.S.: As always, these are suggestions and I'm in no way suggesting it's impossible to plot or pants without them. But establishing these upfront can certainly make the process a little smoother—and easier.)

  1. The basic premise. What is your book about? What elements does it involve? This is a pretty obvious starting point because it'd be difficult to start plotting or writing a book without a premise in mind. A general idea of the what is important as you get started—even if that what is still pretty vague, it helps to start here so you can flesh that out before you dive in.

  2. Your characters' goals. Knowing your main characters' goals upfront is absolutely essential to making sure you don't accidentally write a passive character. This means knowing what your character wants to accomplish on page one and what they want to accomplish near the end (because those things can change!). It's okay if your characters' goals evolve throughout the course of the book—the important thing is that you make sure they always have some kind of goal they're striving for—in every single scene. Because if your characters don't have a goal, chances are likely they'll lose their agency because they won't be pushing for anything—instead, the plot will be pushing them around. 

  3. The opposition to your characters' goals. Of course, there's no story if your characters can easily accomplish their goals. Knowing what the opposition is to your characters' goals and what will make it difficult for them to accomplish what they want is important to establish the foundation of the conflict—and conflict, of course, is essential to any story. 

  4. What's at stake? Relatedly, knowing what's at stake is important when considering your characters' goals, because with little at stake, your character isn't risking much, and thus there isn't much making your story compelling. Consider both what's at stake in the macro sense (saving the world) and what's at stake personally for your character (saving their sister, for example). By establishing the stakes early on and making them personal, you'll make it much easier both for yourself while you're writing and your future readers to connect with the protagonist and care about the protagonist's journey. 

  5. The general setting. While you don't have to have every world building element established upfront (I certainly don't), it's always a good idea to have a basic understanding of the setting. Where is your story located? What basics do you know about this setting? The setting is great to keep in mind as you plot or pants especially because it can play a role in the plot if you let it. 

Once you've established these five essential elements, you have enough to start considering the story as a whole—whether that means brainstorming and plotting in earnest or jumping into a draft is up to you. All the other details—more information about your cast of characters, narrators, tense, POV, the structure of the story itself—will fall into place as you push yourself to consider the story more deeply. But once you have these five essentials in place, you've got a pretty good foundation to build the rest of the story on.

What else do you consider before plotting (or pantsing) a WIP?

Twitter-sized bites:

Think you might be ready to start plotting but aren't sure? Author @Ava_Jae talks 5 essentials to establish first. (Click to tweet)
Think you might be ready to start pantsing your WIP but aren't sure? @Ava_Jae talks 5 essentials to establish first. (Click to tweet)
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...