Tag Archives: new writing tips

#MondayBlogs Writing With Barbie

13 Jun

Authors use various methods to write novels. Some of these strategies are popular, while others are simply bizarre, and two years ago I confessed one of my strangest approaches.

Barbies.

You see, I began writing what would be my first published novel when I was 11, and because I was 11, I loved to daydream with dolls. Instead of plotting with a pen and paper, I pulled out those Barbie dolls—the same dolls that told me I could be anything while I was growing up—and I assigned each one to a potential character. I played out scenes, I tested dialogue, I assessed locations, and I watched my book come to life…Well, a plastic life. And the results were pretty humorous.

Many of my characters’ physical descriptions were actually based on the dolls I used. You can see more of this in the original novel, but some of the characters changed in the remake. That’s right. I’m talking about my upcoming release, Bad Bloods.

Bad Bloods began as a game I played with my Barbie dolls when I was a kid.

Now, if you’ve read the original or even the back covers, then you might be concerned for 11-year-old Shannon, considering how violent the book is, but there’s no need to be concerned. (I think.) Today is meant for laughter. Today, I wanted to share that funny truth behind Bad Bloods, no matter how dark the story is. Even better, I still have these toys (and I definitely still use them to this day), so I’m sharing a few of them as well as small excerpts from Bad Bloods that prove this goofy aspect of my writing.

You’ve been warned.

A little background before we begin:

Bad Bloods in 35 words or less: 17-year-old Serena is the only bad blood to escape execution. Now symbolized for an election, she must prove her people are human despite hindering abilities before everyone is killed and a city is destroyed.  

Bad Bloods is told from dual, first perspectives: Daniel and Serena. Unfortunately, I lost the Serena doll (she might have lost a limb or two or maybe even a head), but I still have Daniel, who you will see soon. I’m going to share two pictures. Read below for info on the characters, including a one-sentence background and a real excerpt from the novel. I’m also including a little note, explaining how my 11-year-old brain worked. Got that? Okay. I think I’m even lost, but trust me—it’s organized. I hope you chuckle as much as I did while writing this post! Traveling to the past can be a funny adventure.

theboys

Robert: 20, leader of the Southern Flock (hates hugs)

“Everything is fine.” Robert’s light voice didn’t match his stiff movements. When he ran a hand through his hair, his brown bangs stuck up. “But everyone needs to be quiet.”

11-y-o Note: Believe it or not, he’s not the antagonist. Sort of? Okay. Let’s go with antihero.

Daniel: 18, leader of the Northern Flock (all around hunk)

Daniel walked through the crowd, but it wasn’t much of a walk. It was more like stumbling and I had never seen Daniel stumble. Not once. Not even when he was fighting. But he was wearing the blue-and-white plaid jacket and it fluttered amongst the crowd of black coats and gray sweaters. He was practically asking to be arrested.

11-y-o Note: So, if you didn’t notice, I even based some clothes off of these toys.

Calhoun: 57, Daniel’s mentor (kind of a hard ass)

Before I had the chance to knock, the door swung open and smacked against the brick wall. An enormous man filled the entrance. The muscles in his left arm were hard to ignore, but the sleeve that should’ve been tightly wrapped around his right arm was dangling at his side, limbless. Despite his injury, Calhoun wasn’t troubled one bit. A shotgun swung outside and pointed toward my chest.

11-y-o Note: So, my one-arm GI Joe helped create this character, but this character’s personality is very similar to my father. Though, my dad has both arms…and he’s not a vet. But I swear they are alike. You might also remember me mentioning Calhoun in Tackling YA in Diversity, where I explain how I went about writing a character with a disability.

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Michele: 17, mother figure of the Northern Flock (Her origin story is up on Wattpad: Read Michele)

But the most beautiful one was the woman. She was tall and willowy, with long white hair and gray eyes like mine. Unlike me, though, every part of her seemed soft, like a warm glow followed her around wherever she went.

11-y-o Note: I definitely kept her white hair, and the character is almost always wearing black in the book as well.

Ami: 14, member of the Southern Flock. (Hates being called “Ami.” Her name is Ameline Marion Lachance.) 

When I first laid eyes on the girl, she was dressed head to toe in pink. Her blonde hair was threaded back into intricate braids, and a bow sat at the end of the braids where the golden strands came together. When Ami cried, she swung her head back and forth, and the bow swayed like a pendulum, all neat and tidy like a present.

11-y-o Note: You can’t really see the doll’s hairstyle anymore, but it was there. I promise. I also used pink on this character a lot.

Tessa: 9, member of the Northern Flock (too small to crush on Adam, but apparently, all the girls like Adam…maybe I should’ve shared Adam…Adam’s origin story is also up on Wattpad: Read Adam)

I pointed to the girl with pigtail braids. “That’s Tessa.”

“So what?” Tessa said, looking over her shoulder at Adam, then to me, her earthy brown eyes matching her powers and her complexion.

11-y-o Note: Her hair, like Ami’s, used to be tied up, too.

The End.

On a serious note, I think writing can be explored in a million ways, and I love my shameless Barbie play. I’ve legitimately called my #1 beta reader complaining of being stuck and she has asked me if I pulled the Barbies out yet. Having a physical representation works for me. I definitely don’t use their descriptions in newer writings, but I wanted to keep what I could for the rewrite since this particular work was built upon them. Imagination shouldn’t be chained to rules. Find what works for you, explore how you want, and daydream until the end of time. Even if that means playing with dolls.

Original posted April 19, 2014

It actually has different dolls and characters, but some of those characters have changed, so I didn’t include them in this post.

~SAT

To everyone I met at BFest this week, thank you for coming out! 

I had a blast!

BFest2016

If you missed out, you can buy signed books from Barnes & Noble in Oak Park Mall in Overland Park, KS and in Zona Rosa in Kansas City, MO!

For you online readers, don’t forget that Minutes Before Sunset, book 1 in the Timely Death Trilogy, is FREE right now. (And book 2 and book 3 are available, so no waiting!)

Minutes Before Sunset: book 1:

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Pre-Order Bad Bloods

November Rain, Part One, releases July 18, 2016

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November Snow, Part Two, releases July 25, 2016

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Writing Tips: Introducing Your Characters

20 Jun

Special thanks to The Leisure Zone for reviewing Minutes Before Sunset: “A great read. I absolutely enjoyed reading it and it does take your imagination for a ride…This is a great leading book. I cannot wait to read the following books.” Click here to read the full review or click here to check out Minutes Before Sunset on Amazon, only $3.89.

Also, you might have noticed that my progress bar is updated on the right side of my website! I try to update it every two weeks, but I am really looking forward to the release of Take Me Tomorrow and Death Before Daylight.

People are obsessed with firsts: a baby’s first smile, winning first place in a race, your first love, getting arrested for the first time. (Okay. So maybe not that last one.) But we do like firsts, and I think it brings up a topic writers don’t normally talk about or even consider.

What are your characters’ firsts?

No. I’m not talking about their first steps when they were a baby. I’m talking about the first time they appear in the story, the first time they talked, the first time they laughed, the first time they really opened up and showed some depth to their created soul.

So I’m going to share some of my characters’ firsts as examples while I explain how important their first line can be. This might seem like a stretch for many but consider the popular phrase, “You only get one chance to make a first impression.” But I really like the quote below, because I believe it applies to how your readers can perceive your characters’ first impressions as well:

quote-a-stunning-first-impression-was-not-the-same-thing-as-love-at-first-sight-but-surely-it-was-an-lois-mcmaster-bujold-214751

Characters are just like people except that we can decide exactly what that first impression will be. Maybe their first impression will be great and readers will consider loving them. Maybe everyone will hate them. You can do both, and that’s the beauty of it. You can even get really complicated and strive to have the reader love them while the characters hate them. But enough of my rambling. Below I’ll explain some first impression parts to consider with examples from Minutes Before Sunset.

First appearance:

This is important for the obvious, main reason: a first impression is largely based on how someone appears, how they act, how they think or talk. This “first appearance” can be an appearance a reader sees first or an appearance the other characters see first. Consider both of those moments carefully because you can set up how a reader might judge a character for a long time. For me – as a reader – I have become very confused when a character is introduced in a very violent or angry way when they suddenly become very nice seconds later. It’s like whiplash. Scenes like that make more sense to me when I already know the character. (I’m not saying it cannot be done. What I am saying is to approach first appearances with care.) Below are examples of characters appearing to the reader first.

In Minutes Before Sunset, Camille appears in the very first chapter. Although Eric is six, she is already his guard (and she is only nine!) We see her as soon as Eric’s father leaves him alone – and, unlike Eric’s father – Camille asks Eric is if he alright. This sets up their relationship as a caring one, but it also shows the responsibility Camille has to take care of the male protagonist. Fun fact: we don’t see Camille’s human appearance until page 21. I could go on and on about how their different identities appear at separated times, but she appeared as a guard first because that part of her life is more important to the story, to Eric, and to her.

First spoken line:

What a character says can define them just as much as what a character does. I find first lines to be good indicators on what we can expect from a character: are they funny? Angry? Bitter? Responsible? Yes, of course their personalities develop far beyond their first lines, but first lines normally happen at the same time as first appearances, which are usually important scenes, so first lines – by default – reveal extra insight, like if a character speaks with an accent or not. Moments like these then become defining factors. But I would say that you don’t have to take this literally. The first line doesn’t necessarily mean the exact first line. It can mean the first conversation they have.

For this example, I wanted to share a few first spoken lines:

Since I explained the first scene in Minutes Before Sunset, let’s look at Camille’s first line: “Eric.” Yep. That’s her first word. In contrast, Eric – as Shoman – first appears in chapter two, and his first line as a shade is “Camille.” One another’s names are the first things they say because it focuses on the depth of their relationship while insinuating how close they are on a regular basis. But if we wanted to look at Eric’s VERY first line – again, this line is spoken when he is six years old in chapter one – he simply says, “I’m fine.” It’s important to note that Eric is lying here, and lying later becomes a defining factor of Eric’s personality. On a lighter note, when we see Crystal – a side character – for the first time, she says, “Don’t answer that.” to Jessica after Robb begins flirting with her. Crystal’s first line not only shows how she can take the initiative, but it also shows her comfort with interrupting Robb, insinuating that their friends (or at least that they know one another.)

First time they interact with another character:

This can get tricky, because stories have dozens of characters and each one of them is going to interact for the first time eventually and – most of the time – it’s only the “first time” for the reader. Most of the time, characters have a past, so they aren’t speaking for the first time, but that’s also the point – the “first” conversation can show whether or not characters have a past as well as other things, such as a social ranking difference (sir, ma’am, etc.) and/or if their past is a good one. Are they friends? Are they enemies? Are they competitors? Do they talk or is this a rare instance? Considering these questions can help shape how one character approaches another one while also hinting to the reader about how they always interact – before and during the story.

In Minutes Before Sunset, we get to see two, very different types of first interactions. Since Jessica is new to Hayworth, the reader gets to be introduced to everyone just like Jessica does, but Eric isn’t new. Through his eyes, we see interactions that have history – a very dark history – and we see repercussions of that in his various interactions. For instance, let’s focus on the human identities in Minutes Before Sunset. Jessica first talks to Eric on page 36. They’ve been assigned as homeroom partners, and Jessica is trying to be amicable but Eric – obviously – does not have the same intentions. (Scene told from Eric’s perspective.)

“Hi,” she said, turning briefly toward me to smile. “I’m Jess.”

She laid out her hand for a handshake, and I pushed my chair against the wall. “I heard your name when Ms. Hinkel assigned you,” I said, opening the chemistry book left on my desk from the previous period. I was not interested in small talk.

Now – moving onto another scene to use as a comparison. Crystal – a girl who has gone to school with Eric since childhood – doesn’t speak to Eric until page 127, and the only reason they do speak is because Crystal is sitting in his seat. (If you haven’t read the books, spoiler alert: Crystal and Eric used to be friends until freshman year in high school until Abby – Eric’s previous girlfriend – died. Eric stopped speaking to everyone. Crystal and Robb take this very personally.) But here is the scene so you can see: (scene told from Jessica’s perspective)

“Hey.”

We both jumped, and our conversation halted as we turned around. In front of us, Eric stood inches away, and the teacher hovered behind him, crossing her arms.

“Er—Eric,” I managed, and Crystal stared.

“Hey, Jessica,” he said, turning his gaze to my friend. “Crystal.”

“Welborn.” She returned the acknowledgement with a cold tone. “Hey.”

His smirk faltered, and his lips thinned. “I hate to interrupt,” he said, swinging his hand over his shoulder to point at our teacher. “but I probably need my seat.”

Both of these “firsts” show Eric’s history as well as his emotional state, but the moments also reveal character traits of Jessica and Crystal. While Jessica wants to be nice at first, Eric isn’t interested, and the tension between Crystal and Eric is still present, despite the two years that have passed since Abby’s sudden death. However, this would be a good time to say that “first” interactions are just as important as how the characters continue to act and grow. Later in the story, all of these characters’ relationships shift dramatically.

So I hope you have a few places to start in regards to your characters’ firsts. You might even crack open a favorite book you’ve read just to see what those characters’ firsts were. They might surprise you. I know I had a few that shocked me.

Happy writing and reading!

~SAT

Writing with Barbie

19 Apr

Prepare for laughter during today’s post. But – before we get onto the giggles – I want to share two important bits of news.

Paris Carter reviewed Seconds Before Sunrise, stating, “The novel also includes several internal struggles for Eric and Jess that sparks tension throughout the entire novel, and it’s the chaos of them struggling to work out their answers and fight themselves that bring Shannon’s novel to a second dimension.” Read the entire review here or check out his review of Minutes Before Sunset first.

I also participated in an interview with Doodles, doodles everywhere. We talked about what hurts me the most as a writer, and I expanded on the research that went behind The Timely Death Trilogy. Check it out.

It’s been a few days since I participated in my first podcast interview, but I wanted to write about something fun since my last post was rather dreary. That’s when my mind immediately returned to The Lurking Voice. (Just a small, Kansas City update though, they found the Highway Shooter, so things feel a lot better around here. Maybe that’s why I’m so eager to post something I can laugh at…I mean, laugh with you…as you laugh at me.)

Back to the topic.

If you listened to the full interview – which you can by clicking here – then you know that I confessed to many writing strategies that I haven’t mentioned before, although “strategies” will quickly turn into a debatable term during this post. My ultimate, reluctant confession happened when we discussed November Snow, my first published novel.

I was 11 when I started writing it and 16 when it was published. It’s safe to say that it isn’t my best work, but I am planning on re-writing it. As we were discussing this, Ryan Attard asked a great question. How does a preteen plan a novel out? That’s when I said it.

November Snow was based on a game that I played out with my Barbie dolls as a much younger kid. Now, if you’ve read November Snow, then you might be concerned, considering how violent the book is, but there’s no need to be concerned – (I think.) That’s what I told my high school teachers anyway when I was asked about the dark nature of it. But that’s another story for another day.

Today, I wanted to share a funny truth to November Snow. No matter how dark the story is, many of my characters were actually based on the dolls I used. I admitted to it on the podcast, and now I am re-confessing it on here. Even better, I dug through some boxes, and I found the old toys, so I’m sharing a few of them as well as small excerpts from the novel that proves this goofy aspect of my writing.

You’ve been warned.

A little background before we begin:

November Snow is a young-adult, dystopian novel, and it is told from dual, first perspectives: Daniel and Serena. Unfortunately, I lost the Serena doll (she might have lost a limb or two or maybe even a head.) But I still have Daniel, who you will see soon. I’m going to share three pictures, and each picture has numerous characters on it. Below each picture, I will have a one-sentence background, and below that, I’ll be sharing the real excerpt from the novel. I’ll also include page numbers as well as who was telling the story at the time (Daniel or Serena.) I am also including a little note, explaining how my 11-year-old brain worked. Got that? Okay. I even think I’m lost, but trust me – it’s organized. Hope you chuckle as much as I did writing this post! Traveling to the past can be a funny adventure.

First picture: from the left to the right: Robert, Daniel, and Calhoun. 

theboys

Robert: 19, leader of the Southern Flock (hates hugs)

“I turned around to see Robert’s dark brown eyes staring at me, and my heart lunged into my dry throat…He muttered something, his brown hair shagging in his face, and I laughed. “ (Serena, 156-7)

Note: Believe it or not, he’s not the antagonist. Sort of?

Daniel: 18, leader of the Northern Flock (all around hunk)

“The guy looked like Daniel. He had the brown, muffled hair and tanned skin. He even had the blue and white jacket down, but he wasn’t responding to his name.” (Serena, 181)

Note: So, if you didn’t notice, I even based some clothes off of these toys.

Calhoun: age unknown, Daniel’s mentor. (kind of a hard ass)

“From the bottom step he could have been mistaken for a modern-day giant. His face was strong, as were his muscles, and he looked like he could barely fit into the sweater he was wearing. He had been in a POW accident, in which he had lost one of his arms, but he refused to tell the story. Normally, he had a fake arm in, but tonight, a gray sleeve dangled at his side, blowing in the chilled November wind.” (Daniel, 25)

Note: if you listened to the podcast, then you know this character actually ended up being very similar to my real father. Except my dad has both arms. And he’s not a vet. But I swear they are alike.

Second Picture: from left to right: Daisy and Maggie

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 Daisy: 16, member of the Southern Flock (I hate her.) 

She doesn’t deserve a note or description. Seriously. Have you ever hated your own characters so much that you regret bringing them into existence? I think Daisy might be in my top three of characters I’ve created and despised. #authorproblems.

Maggie: 16, member of the Northern Flock. (crushes on Adam in private)

“The front door opened, and Maggie walked in. She was wearing a small, pink coat and white disco pants that had gone out of style a century ago, but she still pulled them off easily.” (Daniel, 240)

Note: is it just me or is Daniel incredibly aware of fashion trends?

Third picture: from left to the right: Amy, Justin, and Marisa

Now for the youngsters, the category of characters that caused one of my high school teachers to ask if I needed to talk to someone after she read my novel and discovered only a few of the characters survive. (Seriously. It’s on the back of the book…) From left to right, we have Amy, Justin, and Marisa.

kids

Amy: 14, member of the Southern Flock. (Hates being called “Amy.” Her name is Amiel Marie Young.) 

“Amy’s hair was tied back in a French braid.” (Serena, 144)

Note: So this was more of a hairstyle thing, and you can’t really see it in the doll anymore, but it was there. I promise.

Justin: 6, member of the Southern Flock (borderline obsessed with hockey)

“Justin, blond-haired and brown eyed, was whisked off his feet by the collar of his shirt.” (Daniel, 479)

Note: There’s actually a hockey scene in the book just for this hockey-themed doll. (I really have no shame as I share this, do I?)

Marisa: 7, member of the Northern Flock (too small to crush on Adam, but apparently, all the girls like Adam…maybe I should’ve shared Adam.)

“A small girl struggled her way into Adams’s lap and leaned her bony elbows onto the table. She had long, brown pigtails that rested on the wiggling table and innocent eyes.” (Daniel, 44)

Note: The hair is there. The hair is totally there.

So there you go. My young-adult novel that almost got me in trouble as a teen was originally created during playtime as a kid.

Try to figure that one out.

I sure haven’t.

~SAT

If you want to check out the collector’s first edition, click here.

If you want to check out the collector’s first edition, click here.

 

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