Dragonfly Words

The Shame of the Grown-up YA Reader

August 12, 2010
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If you love reading YA/Tween/MG books, you probably know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, I still invite you to keep reading. You may learn something new about this wonderful group of books.

Many of my friends and coworkers are bookworms, and I mean that in the most loving of ways. Unfortunately, they don’t read what I read. They tend to focus on the more ‘literary’ books, you know, the books that have some deep meaning and make you think. The books you have to work for to get through. Now, there’s nothing wrong with these books, and I read them occasionally, but they really aren’t my cup of tea. I think all day at work and I get upset and frustrated with everyday life. When I take the time to read a book, I want that book to allow me to escape. I want it to move. I want it to excite and entertain me. I want to be treated like I have the attention span of a 14-year-old, which, by the end of the day happens to be the case. I turn to YA books to fulfill these needs.

Today, as happens most days, I was sitting at work and the subject of great books people are reading came up. Everyone in the room started naming obscure books or tear jerkers that leave you hating your life or sappy novels about finding your meaning in life. And I sat quietly, hoping no one would look to me to contribute. The same happens when the dreaded question “reading any good books?” comes up. This question comes up often. I usually say ‘nothing at the moment’ or I try to avoid the conversation all together.

But why should I feel that the books I read have any less value? Certainly they are meant for a younger reading level, but they are still well-written, carefully crafted stories. Sometimes I think the imagination that goes into YA books is far greater than what you see in grown-up books. And with YA you aren’t bogged down by the “cynicism of our adult selves,” as Pamela Paul suggests in her essay The Kids’ Books are Alright.

And so I have decided to quit disguising the books I’m reading in nondescript book covers as I bury my face in them in shame. Starting now, I will proudly tell anyone who asks what YA/MG book I’m currently reading. I will not use the excuse of research. I will tell it like it is – that I’m reading said book because I want to; because it engages me and keeps me entertained. There is no shame in reading what you like.

In light of my new resolution, I am proud to announce my excitement over beginning The City of Ember tonight. A full report to follow once I’ve finished the book.


Cleaning up for the Maid, or Editing before hiring an Editor

August 7, 2010
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I’m nearing the editing phase (or so I keep telling myself), I’ve been looking for some helpful tips on how to successfully self-edit. During my stint in publishing, I had no problem telling an author that a section slowed down the reader or that a sentence was too wordy. I’ve even been known to throw out entire chapters. When it comes to my own writing, I do not find it to be quite so easy to pinpoint these errors. In short, I either think everything I write is awful and beyond repair (enter the trashcan) or that unnecessary characters/scenes/sub-plots, you name it, are integral to my story.

Before shelling out several hundred dollars to pay a professional editor, I would like to feel that I’m giving said professional editor my best work. It’s the same concept as cleaning up for the maid. You want a maid to spend his/her time cleaning the things you hate cleaning. You don’t want to pay her/him to put your shoes away, which you can easily do for free.

In an effort to start thinking about cleaning up for maid, I have stumbled upon some good blog posts about editing. My favorite post I’ve found in the past few days was from MiG Writers, A Revision Tip, posted by Carmella. In her post, Carmella suggests printing the book out, not how you would print a normal document, but formatted the way it will look in print (horizontal, not vertical). By reading it this way, it will feel like you are reading a real book. You will see the book how a reader would see it. This should help pinpoint problems you may have otherwise missed (see her blog post for specifics).

Because of some tricky plot points coming up, I’ve been thinking that now would be a good time to read through everything I have so far to make sure it is all lining up. I think I will give this trick a try. I’ll keep you updated on how it works out.

*Just read this blog post that I thought I would add: 10 Steps to a Better Story. Good things to keep in mind while editing.

Coming up with a Concept

August 6, 2010
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I think the hardest part about writing (for me anyway) is coming up with a stellar concept. While browsing the web, I came across this great post on MiG Writers (a great blog for middle grade and young adult writers) titled Finding a Rocking Premise. Christina Farley lists the following steps for come up with a premise:

  • Daydream
  • Brainstorm
  • Research
  • Have a critique group or writing buddy
  • Choose your favorite/best idea

To add to the above list, while brainstorming and reasearching, some things that help me find inspiration for my concepts are:

  • Flickr – I like to look at the top photos of the day/week/month/etc. and see if any of the subject matters catch hold of me. I often copy the inspiring photos into a word document and then write out my ideas and a short plot sketch right alongside the photo.
  • Art museum – art is a great source of inspiration
  • Watching kids in the park – not in a creepy way, but rather to see what excites kids. The smallest sentence overheard can develop into a full plot
  • Reading the news – stories in the news can provide great inspiration. I often try to think what would happen if the story were taken to a new level, or if society were completely changed because of this one story.

While I spend 2/3 of my writing time writing, the other 1/3 is spent daydreaming/brainstorming new concepts to add to the future books folder. It’s nice to take a mental break from my current story, and knowing that I have things in the pipeline encourages me to write faster so I can explore where the next book will take me.

How do you come up with your concepts?

For additional resources on choosing a concept, check out today’s post on Ask the Publishing Guru, The Right Write Idea.

How long should your novel be?

August 5, 2010
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I just found this great post by Sarah Webb on how many words a book should be. She, in turn, got some great info from kidlit.com. The general breakdown is as follows:

• Board Book — 100 words max
• Early Picturebook — 500 words max
• Picturebook — 1,000 words max (Seriously. Max.)
• Nonfiction Picturebook — 2,000 words max
• Early Reader — This varies widely, depending on grade level. I’d say 3,500 words is an absolute max.
• Chapterbook — 10,000 words max
• Middle Grade — 35,000 words max for contemporary, mystery, humor, 45,000 max for fantasy/sci-fi, adventure and historical
• YA — 70,000 words max for contemporary, humor, mystery, historical, romance, etc. 90,000 words max for fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal, etc.

You can also check out Chuck Sambuchino’s Word Count for Novels and Children’s Books: The Definitive Post

Looks like I’m closer to my target word count than I thought I was. Guess that means there will be some serious editing in the near future.

Writer’s Voice: What if it just isn’t very good?

August 4, 2010
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How do writer’s deal with voice? I’ve been reading a lot on voice lately (mostly in attempts to solve the never-ending problem of which to use – 1st of 3rd person?). While I did not come up with a definitive answer to my question, I did come across a lot of interesting articles about voice.

So what is voice anyway? To sum up all of the definitions I found, voice is the personal flavor you add to your writing; it is how you inject your own personality into your writing. Of course, this can be problematic. What if your personality is boring? The simplest solution would be to quit writing, but that is easier said than done. For those of us who love to write, giving it up is no small feat. So can you make your voice more engaging?

The good news is, yes! In this blog post on Inky Fresh Press, 5 tips are listed to help improve your writing voice:

  • Pay attention to the voice in the books you enjoy reading. Describe the voice.
  • Write from a different perspective – instead of writing a scene from the point of view of your protagonist, try writing it from the point-of-view of the antagonist
  • Read your work out loud. Does it sound natural? Does it sound like you? Why or why not?
  • Write a scene for a different audience
  • Write letters to friends. I find that writing journal entries and rereading them to see voice helps too.

But why is it so hard to find your voice? In a blog post on Rants & Ramblings, Rachelle Gardner discusses the reasons we find voice so hard. A writer’s voice is a personal thing. It is who you are, what makes you unique. But it is so easy to try to be something you are not. We spend so much time putting up a front to our friends, coworkers, strangers we see on the street, and even our families that it is easy to get lost and forget who we really are.

Do you find it hard to stay true to your writing voice? Do you catch yourself copying the voices of successful writers?

Check out this additional post from Inky Fresh Press: What is Writing Voice?

More on Creating Characters

August 2, 2010
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The next best thing to attending the SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Conference is reading the conference blog. One blog post caught my attention today. It is an interview with Carolyn Mackler on Creating Characters That Come to Life. In the interview, Mackler stresses the importance of:

  • Thinking about your characters quirks – what makes them special? Does your character twirl his/her hair when nervous? Does he/she trip a lot? Is your character prone to worrying?
  • Reading your books/story out loud so you can hear your characters – the way a character speaks says a lot about who the character is
  • Research – talk to real life people who share traits similar to your character’s. If you’re writing a nurse, talk to a nurse.
  • Imagine what your character’s closet looks like.

The third point was probably my favorite. Usually I try to imagine what a character’s bedroom looks like, but a closet is even better. While a bedroom is private space, people do occasionally wander into them. A closet, though, is completely private space. Are the clothes organized by season and/or color? Does your character use hangers or is everything piled on the floor? Perhaps a secret alter is hidden away in the closet, or a stalker collage? Maybe it is so crammed with things that the door barely opens, like that wonderful scene in Mary Poppins when everything comes spewing out of the closet as the door slams shut (or did I imagine that scene). A closet can reveal so much about a character, bringing that character from words on a page to a living, dynamic being that your readers can engage with.

What questions do you ask about your character to gain insight into his/her life?

My blog has moved

August 1, 2010
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I’ve relocated my blog to my own hosting site (figured I owned the site, why not use it for something). Come check it out at meganlentz.com

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Engaging the Reader Through ‘Prime Real Estate’

July 31, 2010
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I read an interesting article last night called Prime Real Estate. The articles looks at the key areas you need to pay special attention to so as to keep your reader engaged. The prime real estate areas are:

  • The first page of your novel
  • The first paragraph of a new chapter
  • The last paragraph of a chapter

I’d always kept the first page and the last paragraph of a chapter in the back of my mind as important sections, but somehow I’d never put much thought into the first paragraph of a new chapter, but it makes sense. Your last paragraph of a chapter will only keep the reader reading if the first paragraph of the new chapter is equally engaging. Otherwise, the reader will just put the book down, the last thing you want. I know I’ve put several books down and never returned. Now I feel like I should go back and reread the prime real estate parts of books I’ve abandoned along with books I couldn’t put down so that I can see how other writers handle their prime real estate.

Developing your Character through Motivation

July 31, 2010
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Here’s a nice article about character develop. It explains an easy way to ensure that your character develops throughout the story.

via Writer’s Digest – Motivate Your Characters Like a Pro.

Online ‘choose your own adventure’ style books

July 30, 2010
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Simon & Schuster will be releasing an online, serialized novel, Loser/Queen where readers (young adults) get to vote on what will happen next. Having been a huge fan of the choose your own adventure books, I can see the appeal to such a format. But as a writer, it stresses me out.

Readers vote by 5 pm Thursdays. A new chapter is posted on Mondays. That’s pretty quick turn around. I assume that, like a television show, multiple chapters are already written, but the fact that there are two choices at the end of the chapter, and who knows how many chapters means that a lot of content would need to be pre-written that will never see the light of the computer screen. Additionally, based off of reader responses, minor characters could take on a more major part if the readers are particularly drawn to a character, which leads to even more changes. If writing a traditional book often seems like an out-of-control beast, I can’t imagine what this project must feel like to the author, Jodi Lynn Anderson. That’s a lot of creative control she is giving up. But then, the price is a huge platform ready and waiting when the book publishes. It’s not even finished and you can already pre-order the paperback edition.

Which leads to another question. Will people want to buy a book that they have already read for free? I’m inclined to say yes, because people like owning something they were a part of. The readers voting on the book will feel that they invested something into it, and they will want the hard copy to show their hard work. But will those who didn’t vote, or who came in on the final chapter, feel the inclination to buy it? Will potential readers who did not have the opportunity to vote feel left out? And isn’t this just adding to the technology addiction that’s running rampant across society?

I’ve gotta say though, Simon & Schuster did grab my attention, and I will definitely be following along with Anderson’s readers to see where it goes.

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