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When Your Writing Issue Is…

24 Jul

Writing a book—or anything—comes along with a lot of challenges, and sometimes those challenges can feel overwhelming. So here’s a quick tip guide to help you navigate your writing journey.

I have an idea, but now what?

Well, now you write. (And write and write and write again.) Don’t focus on being perfect. Don’t focus on getting published. In fact, don’t spend months studying how to write on blogs like this one. There’s only so much you’re going to learn from reading about writing. You’re going to have to write yourself to learn about yourself and your craft. So, sure, research, but make sure you’re writing…and reading (a lot). Related article: No, Reading is Not an Option

I don’t have time to write.

Listen, no one has time to write. Some of us definitely have more time (or less), but comparing yourself to anyone is not going to get you anywhere. Write when you can and write what you can. Don’t beat yourself up. Just do your best. Related article: Making More Time to Write & Confessions of a Slow Writer

I can’t begin.

So don’t worry about beginning. Start in the middle. Start at the end. Start anywhere that you want to start. When I’m struggling with a story idea, I just hop around in all types of scenes, jot down some ideas, and hop around again. Eventually, it comes together. Embrace the mess. You can fix it later. Related articles: World BuildingNaming Your Characters.

I can’t finish!

Finish. I know that is the worst thing I can say. (Trust me, I do.) But sometimes you have to write the “wrong” ending to learn what the “right” ending is. Another place to look at is your middle. If you’re feeling awkward about the ending, you might have gone “wrong” earlier. Track back and see where you start feeling unsure. Try something new, then finish that. The last chapter is a lot like the first chapter. You’re probably going to change it a lot. That’s okay! Related articles: Writing Quicksand & The Ideal Writing Pace

Extra tip: Remember an issue is just that – an issue. It will be solved. You will overcome it, and you will move forward. Try to keep that in mind.

I’m overwhelmed/depressed/numb to my writing.

Whoa there. Take a step back. Your mental health and well being is more important than getting another 1,000 words down. Granted, I can admit I’m horrible at taking my own advice here. But it’s true. Taking a step back is okay—and necessary sometimes. Related articles: The Lonely Writer & How to Avoid Writer Burnout

OMG. I’m editing?!

An editing process is a lot like a writing process. It is unique to every writer and often every project. I recently wrote an editing series about my process if you’re interested—My Editing Process Starts in my Writing Process, Editing (Rewriting) the First Draft, and Editing the “Final” Draft—but try not to feel overwhelmed or down. Editing is another part of the writing process. You’ll learn to love it. (Or love to hate it.) Either way, try to concentrate on the “love” part.

Someone had the same book idea as me. 😦

Ideas are everywhere. So is inspiration. And then there’s that classic “Everything’s been done before” line. Trust me, you’re going to come in contact with someone who has a similar idea/book/character as you. Sometimes you might even see that book get published (eek) before yours. Don’t. Panic. Your book and you are perfectly okay, because YOU are the unique part of your book. Only you can tell a book like you can. Emphasize what is unique about your story and keep writing. Related article: Writers, Stop Comparing Yourselves

It’s complete! Now what?

Slow down and consider what you want out of your career for this book. Do you want to go traditional? Do you want an agent? Do you want to self-publish? Take your time and research what is best for you and your novel. Don’t be afraid to ask fellow writers for help, guidance, or opinions. We’re all here to help you! General rule: Money always flows toward the author, not away. Never pay an agent or a publisher to publish you or your book. (Oh, and write another book.) Related article: The Emotions of Finishing a Novel & How To Get A Literary Agent

Offer of Rep/Publication

Like I said above, research, research, research. Never sign a contract without fully understanding what you’re getting into. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to turn an offer down, if it isn’t right for you or your book. There will be another one. One piece of advice I love? A bad agent/publisher is worse than no agent/publisher. Oh! And congratulations! You are awesome.

An agent/publisher offers a R&R (Revise and Resubmit)?

First, congrats! Those are pretty rare, and someone likes your work enough to give you a second shot. But don’t jump the gun. If someone gave you an R&R, chances are they gave you some significant feedback to help you revise. Figure out how you feel about that feedback first. Does it match your vision? Are you okay with it? If so, go for it! If not, it’s okay to thank that person and move on.

I’m published! Yay! (But I secretly feel like an imposter)

Feeling like you got “lucky” or don’t deserve to be where you are at is called Imposter Syndrome…and everyone feels it eventually. It sucks, I know, but it normally fades. Hanging out or talking with fellow writers will probably help you feel better here. If not, try any kind of self-care. Read your favorite book. Watch a TV show. Step away. You deserve it!

If you have any issues, feel free to share them below.

I’ll try to give a quick tip to help.

~SAT

World Building: Where to Start, What to Consider, & How to End

17 Jul

I mainly write science fiction and fantasy, and both of those genres tend to come with heavy world building. A few of you have asked me where I begin. How do I start? How do I know when to write? When does world building end? Well, if you read my editing tips series, then you probably know my answer to most of this.

I don’t think it’s that important to have your world building down in your first draft or while you’re outlining. Why? Because you don’t know everything your world needs yet in order to tell your story. All that matters is having your world building down by the end of your drafts. That being said, I tend to spend more time on initial world building than I do with character profiles or plot outlines. Why? Because my world will affect my characters directly—and that tends to be when I start writing.

That’s right. I begin most of my stories with a scene or an idea, and then I world build…and I keep building until the world affects my characters directly. Then I start to write.

So how do I build my worlds?

Extra tip: World build together. Try to explain your world to a friend. If they ask questions you can’t answer, find an answer.

Well, let’s start with the foundation.

Think of the basics. Where are we? What is the climate? Is it temperate, freezing, humid, etc.? What are the seasons like and which season/s is your story taking place in? How does this location relate to the locations around it?

My favorite place to start is clothes. Why? Because clothes tell us about societal structures—like income class, careers, etc.—and also about the land/weather patterns. Are they wearing cotton? If so, where does the cotton come from? Who collects the cotton and uses that cotton to create clothes? How much does it cost, and who would wear it? Example: Throughout history, the upper-class generally wore clothes from far away to emphasize how rich they were; those clothes were expensive because of how far the materials had to travel (and how expensive the upkeep was.)

The next element I consider the most is water. Why? Because water is essential for life, including animal life, which means you’re looking at how people eat, clean up, make medicine, etc. Not to mention that water, like rivers and lakes, have been used as natural borders for a long, long time (along with mountains). So where does the water come from? How were borders decided? Start thinking about other natural materials on your land. What materials are used to make buildings, for instance?

Now time: What year is it, and how does that year in particular define your character/s? I tell new writers to at least understand their main characters and their family structure for three generations back. This information doesn’t have to go into your book, of course, but knowing where your protagonist came from, including how their parents raised them and why, will help you shape their family unit and beliefs. This brings me to my last two topics: Religion and language.

  • With religion, personally, I think the most important part of a person’s religion can be summed up in their burial practices. Start there. Most of the time, burial practices relate to how that person sees life, death, and how both their life and their death is connected to the land. This includes if your characters don’t have a religion at all.
  • When I am building a language, I focus on two elements first: How do people curse and how do people say I love you. Why? Because humans are built on emotion, and hate/love are the two strongest emotions and the biggest umbrellas of emotion out there. By finding out how they express those emotions, both as a culture and as an individual, you can start to shape everything in between.

Please keep in mind that this information—like where materials come from—doesn’t have to be explicitly stated in your book. In fact, I can’t recall a time where I talked about where water came from in most of my books. But it can help to know the simple, basic elements of your world. They are your foundation, after all. And the stronger your foundation, the stronger the rest of your world building will be. In fact, I only covered where I begin. I didn’t even get into magic systems, for instance. (Another favorite topic of mine.)

Build and keep building. Don’t be afraid if you feel intimidated, and don’t get frustrated when your world contradicts itself or doesn’t make sense at all. You have all the time in the world to…well, build your world. Take your time. Take notes. And enjoy the journey of discovering a brand-new place that your characters—and you—will call home.

~SAT

Challenge Your Writing

12 Jun

Challenging your writing is important, but what does that mean?

It means trying something new—attempting a project outside your box of comfort—or switching everything up entirely. Challenging yourself can be a big or small adventure. You can try a new genre in a short story rather than a novel, for instance. But pushing yourself to try a new genre, tone, perspective, etc. can only benefit you. As an example…

I mainly write YA SFF, and I have done so for ten years now, but recently, I set out to write a historical novel. Not only that, but it is my first serious project written in third person. Why? Because I’m challenging my writing…and myself.

Challenge: Try a new utensil. If you normally type your books, try a pencil. See if that changes your perspective.

You see, I’m comfortable with first-person science fiction and fantasy. Almost too comfortable. I find myself flying through drafts and ideas—and I love that, don’t get me wrong—but I can’t help but feel like I’m missing something more. A hurdle. A bit of fear. A semblance of discovery. By challenging myself, I can learn more. I might even fall in love with a new style, genre, or voice. The possibilities are endless.

It’s easy to write with your strengths, but what about overcoming your writing weaknesses?

I struggle with romance, for instance. Though I love first-person, I find it a bit narcissistic, so concentrating on feelings on top of the I, we, me, etc. has always been uncomfortable for me. So, I thought, What about third person? I had no idea if third person would help me overcome this hurdle or not, but hey, I set out to try…and sure enough, I learned a lot about myself and about writing those more emotional scenes. In fact, I look forward to learning even more about my writing through this challenge, and I look forward to future challenges I set out to overcome.

Granted, challenges come with…well, challenges.

Normally, I would be 60,000 words into this first draft, but I’m currently sitting at 42,000…and it’s a messy 42,000. (A really messy 42,000.) But I’m also in love with the mess.

I have never been so unsure of my writing in my life, but I still believe in the manuscript. I still believe in the challenge. And even if I never finish this book, I already succeeded at reaching my original goal: Learning something new.

Constantly challenging myself helps me learn more about my writing and about myself. So I challenge you to set a challenge for yourself today.

Try a new genre. Write from a new type of character’s perspective. Attempt a different perspective entirely.

Just go on an adventure. Make mistakes. Overcome obstacles. Try again.

You might discover something amazing.

~SAT

 

First or Third Person? Present or Past Tense? How Do You Decide?

5 Jun

So you’re writing a book…but your book requires some decisions. Your narrative needs structure. And there are a million options to choose from. So how do you decide a perspective and a tense? What is the best combination for your book?

Let me start out by saying that making the choice to write in first/third person or past/present tense is different for every writer (and often every book). This decision might also differ from what an author prefers to read. For that reason, I wanted to look at this discussion from two different perspectives—as a reader and as a writer—and how I decide, so that you might be able to see how you can make that decision for yourself. Of course, there are a lot more options and specifications than I’m going to get into today. Consider this the basics.

First or Third Person

As a reader…

I love both first and third person. I honestly can’t say if I favor one over the other. As long as the novel is written well, I love the story, though I probably prefer third person for multiPOV stories, only because nailing numerous (and immediately recognizable) voices in first person is basically impossible. (Which I’ll explain below.)

As a writer….

I tend to write in first person. In fact, all of my currently published novels are in first person, though they are also in multiPOV first person…which I just called “basically impossible” above. (Because it is!) Both of my published series are written this way, but none of my recent, unpublished projects are, because UGH. First-person, multiPOV is hard! Nailing a unique voice for each character while staying in the moment is a constant battle. Right now, I’m writing my first third-person book, and I’ll be honest, I think I’m in love. Why? I have an unpopular opinion about first vs. third person. Strangely, I think third person is more intimate than first. Most would argue me, and I totally get it. The average first-person book truly gets into someone’s mind and feelings. But I feel so NARCISTIC in first person (with all the I, me, we, etc.) Because of that, I tend to avoid discussing feelings on top of a first-person point of view. But in third person. Boy, in third person, I feel like I can let those emotions fly. 

Present or Past Tense

As a reader…

I HATE present tense. LOATHE it even. I know. I know. That’s been the favored tense in YA since The Hunger Games. But it drives me nuts. While many have described past tense as sounding like someone telling a story (as if it had already happened), I actually find present tense to feel this way. “I jump over the fire and land on my feet!” sounds like something your uncle shouts around a campfire while telling his college-glory stories. I just don’t like the way it sounds. Present tense makes me feel like I’m being talked at rather than coaxed along. Past tense, however, helps me disappear into the story. That being said, some of my favorite books are in present tense. Don’t get me wrong. I’d never put a book down solely because of present tense, but it will make it a little bit harder for me to enjoy at first.

As a writer….

I write in past tense. In fact, I’ve never written in present, nor do I have the desire to. (But never say never, right?)

So how do I decide what to write in?

Honestly, I don’t.

When I set out to write a book, the POV and tense happen pretty naturally. Granted, there are some exceptions. For instance, I wanted to have Noah and Sophia tell my now-unpublished book, Take Me Tomorrow, but Noah—well, to be frank—is on drugs, and he doesn’t make a lot of sense (or he makes too much sense). So, he was cut out. It turned out to be Sophia’s story anyway. And though I tend to write in first person, my current project is in third person. (It’s actually my first serious project in third person.) Why is this one in third person? I have no clue! It just sort of happened that way. But I’m glad it did. The tone suits it perfectly.

Keep in mind…

First/third person and past/present tense are not the only options out there, and, quite frankly, these are just shells of your options. In third person, for instance, you have to choose between limited third or omniscient third (all-knowing). Then again, who says you have to decide? Some books combine different types of structures to write a book. RoseBlood by Anita Howard had third-person past for her male protagonist, while her female protagonist was written in present first. That way, you could immediately understand where you were and who we were reading about without stumbling. Your book’s options are unlimited.

So how should you decide?

Listen to your gut. Even if you write an entire series in first person and then realize it needs to be in third, I say go for it! Everyone’s writing journey is different, and though there are always trends to consider, nailing your voice is more important than trying to hit constantly-moving goalposts. There are pros and cons and limitations in both perspectives, but I tend to choose perspective/tense based on what the characters tell me to do. It happens overtime. I might not even know until I’m knee-deep in outlines. It might change, too. And that’s okay! Change happens at every process. Write how the book demands to be written. Try first, attempt third, experiment with both, and you’ll eventually find that natural point where you can’t turn back, because the words are endless. But that’s just my perspective. 😉

~SAT

The YA Protagonist’s Age: You’re 17? Me too!

15 May

The young adult genre is normally defined by coming-of-age stories, where the protagonists are often between the ages of 14 and 18. That being said, if you are publishing a YA story right now, chances are your protagonist is 17 years old.

So why are most YA protagonists 17?

Short Answer: The protagonist is old enough to be on the cusp of adulthood but young enough to still be considered a young adult.

Long Answer: Adding to the short answer above, 17 years old is also highly regarded because the target audience reading YA right now is not necessarily teenagers. In fact, most studies indicate that the main audience buying YA is 18-27. (Many teenagers are more focused on fan fiction online—another topic for another day.) But focusing on the older aspects of teenage years is currently more sellable than the younger teenage years of 14-16.

Basically, 17 years old seems to be the sweet spot in YA right now, especially for crossover YA, but I would love to see more variety.

In fact, I find it incredibly uncomfortable how much we are focusing on the age of 17. It’s almost as if every teenager on the planet will have a revelation in that year of their life…and that’s highly unrealistic.

Teenagers do not go through the same issues at the same time. Not everyone falls in love for the first time at 17. Heck, I’m pretty sure half my class was “dating” in middle school, and, yes, that “dating” included some pretty adult things. In fact, let’s talk about that.

Sex is being introduced to YA on a more often, regular basis. (And that’s another debate.) But I think this addition is one of the main factors behind the focus on aging up protagonists. The average reader might feel okay reading about a 17-year-old, who is practically “free” of childhood, but a 14-year-old might cause different reactions. But people face different issues at all ages. Let’s take historical fiction as an example. The average age of a Civil War soldier might have been 26, but boys as young as 12 served as drummers. You’re now talking middle grade fiction, let alone young adult. I think it’s especially okay to give younger protagonists bigger roles in YA historical, but 17-year-olds still take the center stage, and while I understand the marketing aspect, I wish we could get over it.

I went against the grain when I featured a 14-year-old protagonist in my latest YA series, because I think variety is important.

In fact, I’m going to stick my neck out and say one of the reasons young readers (actual teenagers) are reading less YA and focusing on Harry Styles fanfiction on Wattpad is because of how much YA is currently being marketed for older audiences. Ally Carter, author of the Embassy Row series, recently talked on Twitter about how “sweet” young adult fiction is all but missing from the main market. Darker, older, edgier materials are hot, and while that’s awesome for readers like me who enjoy those books, many teens are feeling left out of their own genre…and that’s not okay.

When I was young, I grew up with Cammie in the Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter. Her character aged over a few years, and I loved it. The series starts off quick and short and sweet, and as Cammie grows, the content gets darker, more mature, and complicated. In fact, there were a lot of series like that when I was younger, and I LIVED for them. (Hello, Harry Potter.) When I’m at book signings and teenagers tell me how they struggle to “relate” to YA anymore, I feel for them. I truly do.

Teenagers deserve younger and older protagonists—all going through a variety of topics and struggles. They deserve to feel welcome in their own age bracket.

I lost my mom at 11. I moved for my seventh time when I was 12. I had a stepfamily when I was 13. I started high school and my first long relationship at 14. I got in my first car wreck at 15. Heck, I got my license at 15, because, Kansas. (Farmer’s permits—driving by yourself to work and school—were pretty common.) I started my first job at 16. I published my first book at 16! I graduated high school at 17. I turned 18 one month before I moved out and went to college. And sex? I was 19. All of these topics are seen in YA…but they’re mainly assigned to 17-year-olds. Why?

Not everyone has their first “coming-of-age/independent” moment at the same time.

So why are all of our protagonists the same age?

~SAT

Not All Villains Think They’re Good

17 Apr

“Every villain is the hero in their own story” is a common, popular writing tip, and while I agree, I think it is sometimes confused with “Every villain thinks they’re the good guy.” There’s a difference between thinking you’re a hero and thinking you’re a good guy, and not every villain thinks they’re a good guy.

Though the word “hero” in itself has a positive connotation, I argue that villains can still be a “hero” in their own mind while also being aware they are doing something wrong or harmful. Take revenge plots as an example. Most often seen in thrillers, a protagonist could be solely out to seek revenge, whether or not that revenge is warranted. In fact, many believe revenge isn’t “justice” and therefore isn’t heroic. But, at the same time, a revenge-seeking protagonist will think of themselves as a hero without believing they are a good guy. A good example of this is Gerard Butler in Law Abiding Citizen. While he is seeking revenge for his family’s deaths, he kills many people who probably didn’t deserve to be hurt at all. And he’s aware of it. In fact, he uses it as a weapon against others. Therefore, he is a hero for his family, a villain to a lot of innocent people, and definitely the protagonist. But a good guy? I think he gave up that concept a long time ago.

Good guy? Bad guy? Who knows?

Granted, don’t get me wrong, I love a villain who thinks they’re the good guy. I love villains who tiptoe on the good/wrong line more. But I wish we saw more villains that were simply villains—bad guys doing bad things because they want to. Their psyche can be just as deep as someone who is doing bad things for “good reasons” or someone who thinks they’re doing good things when they’re in fact doing bad ones. But we’ve sort of obsessed over “bad guy thinks he’s good” recently…when I think we should be focused on making villains round characters.

Round someone who thinks they’re good all the time.

Round = character who does good and bad things based on many types of motivation.

People aren’t so black and white. No one is purely good or thinks they’re good, and no one is all bad either. One of my favorite, eerie quotes is that, yes, serial killers sometimes help grandma cross the street. In fact, serial killers are often some of the most charming people around. But if you study serial killers, (and you’re a True Crime junkie like I am), then you know serial killers are generally aware that what they’re doing is SUPER messed up…yet they do it anyway. And then, they go to work and school and raise families and so on and so forth. Aside from killers like Charles Cullen* (no relation to Twilight), they hardly ever think they’re being a good guy.

Villains can be bad guys who know they’re bad and do bad things regardless. Just make sure they’re 3D while they carry out those dastardly deeds.

Instead of “every villain thinks they’re the hero of their own story”, let’s change it to “every villain thinks they’re the protagonist of their own story—whatever that entails.” In fact, keep this is mind for every character. Your novel will love you for it.

*Charles Cullen, also known as ‘The Angel of Death’, was a nurse in a hospital who killed over 400 patients. He thought he was “mercy killing.” Keep in mind that many of his victims were in good health. He is currently considered the biggest serial killer in American History.

~SAT

My latest Bad Bloods book recently released! I hope you check it out. 

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What are readers saying? 

“I LOVE this! I am a sucker for great characters, and July Thunder has no short of them.” –The Book Forums

“From the start, Thompson grabs your attention. You’re sitting on the edge of your seat until the very last page.” – Infinite Lives, Infinite Stories

“Wonderful writing, captivating characters and a story that will reel you in until the last page, these Bad Bloods may have a tendency of breaking the rules, but their stories are way too good not to read!” – Babbling Books

If you haven’t started this series yet, don’t worry. Book 1 is FREE.

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Character Motivations vs Morals

3 Apr

Not going to lie, I recently binge-watched The 100 through Netflix. For those of you who don’t know, The 100 is a TV show based off a young adult series with the same name. The first season follows a group of 100 kids dropped off on earth after a nuclear disaster destroyed the planet 97 years prior. It’s currently airing season 4. (I’m only on season 3.) Granted, I’m not normally a TV person. In fact, I usually have to be extremely ill to watch a bunch of TV, but I made an exception for The 100. Why? Because I fell in love during episode one. What do I love about The 100? The character motivations. They are 100% believable, even when the plot gets crazy, and I feel like that’s pretty rare.

There’s no spoilers in this article for The 100. Don’t worry. But definitely check out a few episodes to see what I mean.

Character motivations are so important, but often dwindled down to right vs. wrong. But motivation can (and should) be more than that. As an example from The 100, Bellamy just wants to save his sister, no matter what it requires (right or wrong) and whether she wants it or not. In fact, he often does horrible things in order to achieve his goal. Therefore, he is driven by his motivation to save his sister, not his morals to be a good person. On top of that, though he believes saving his sister is his responsibility, he doesn’t lie to himself and think he is morally perfect because of it. He doesn’t have a “hero complex.” An older brother complex, sure. But not a heroic one. He is driven by motivation, not morals.

Why do I bring up morals? Because morals is sometimes the opposite of motivation in fiction. Though they can be synonymous, it’s easy to let a character slide one way or the other. Personally, I always prefer believable motivations to morally-driven characters. Why? Because completely morally-driven characters can be hard to relate to. I mean, let’s be real. Sometimes, that self-righteous hero trope gets a little…boring.

I would much rather watch a show or read a book where the characters’ motivations are believable, morals be damned. Let’s take villains, for instance. The most popular writing tip today is that every bad guy believes they are the good guy, and while I love that tip, I disagree. Not all bad guys think they’re good guys. Granted, I like a bad guy who thinks he’s good. I often prefer them that way. But it’s also fun to follow a character who knows they are selfish, who has reasons for their selfishness, and owns it.

Of course, it’s always best to have both worlds, right? Motivations and morals (and sometimes one fueling the other) can be fun and exciting and terrifying and interesting. But I would like to see more books with strong, sometimes twisted motivations that overcome morally-driven characters.

What about you? Do you prefer characters with motivations or morals or a mixture of both?

Discuss away! Just don’t be the evil one and post spoilers about The 100 in the comments below. (Or at least put a warning at the top of your post.)

Thank you,

~SAT

P.S. Bad Bloods: July Thunder releases next Monday! I also received my first review from Babbling Books! “Another fantastic addition to the Bad Bloods series and a marvelous start to a new duology. Wonderful writing, captivating characters and a story that will reel you in until the last page, these Bad Bloods may have a tendency of breaking the rules, but their stories are way too good not to read!”

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