Tag Archives: novel writing

When A Character Does Something You Dislike

13 Jan

I read a lot. I also read reviews, though I tend to read reviews after I have read a book myself. Why? Well, I used to rely on reviews to pick books, but now I tend to rely on a trusted few (and my own gut) to pick and choose. Even so, my interest in reviews never completely faded, so I tend to set time aside after I finish reading to skim book reviews.

One of the reasons I stopped reading book reviews was the obsession with tearing characters apart.

Don’t get me wrong. Characters are so, so important in fiction. However, I think many have forgotten that characters are supposed to reflect real-life people. They aren’t supposed to be perfect. They shouldn’t do things you agree with on every page. They will make mistakes, even mistakes that seem ridiculous to you.

Sometimes, your hero isn’t going to act very heroic.

Staying on the path of “when characters make mistakes that seem ridiculous to you”: As the reader, you might know more than the character. Or you might understand the tropes of your genre, so you expect certain things to happen (ex. a best friend’s betrayal, a love triangle admission, a mentor figure’s sudden death). However, to that character, they live in a world that doesn’t come with trope warnings (just like we don’t). So when their best friend betrays them and they’re shocked (and you’re not), I don’t think it’s fair to call that character stupid or naïve or etc. Even with dozens of clues, that character loves their best friend. They trust their best friend. As humans, we often lie to ourselves when the truth is looking us in the face. We make mistakes.

As much as characters are designed to entertain, they are also designed to be honest, ugly, thought provoking, loving, twisted, and more. In fact, if you design a character really well, they will be all of those things—sometimes in one scene.

As an example, I recently finished Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, and holy hell, I love it. I thought the voice was so honest, even though Dumplin has some seriously shallow thoughts. This was the main complaint I saw in reviews. Many called her hypocritical and hard to cheer on. And guess what? Of course she’s hypocritical. Of course she’s hard to cheer on sometimes. And that’s what made her believable. Dumplin’ is a teenage girl struggling with how the world judges her weight. Between that and the recent death of her beloved aunt, her contemptuous relationship with her mother, and her first (confusing) summer fling, I completely understood and sympathized with Dumplin’s emotional struggles. Does that mean I agreed with everything she did and said in every scene? Hell no! But I don’t have to agree with a character in every scene to love them in the end.

How many times has your sister annoyed you, bothered you, done something you thought was incredibly thoughtless? How about your parents? Your grandparents? Your best friends? But you still love them in the end. You give them second chances. You let go of the idea that everyone in your life must take your advice to heart. You understand everyone lives their own life their own way, and that sometimes you won’t agree with it, but that no one needs your approval. In fact, how many times have you done something that wasn’t perfect? How many times have you done something out of character? I know I’ve disappointed myself before. I still do. I’m human. I have moments of selfishness, of jealousy, of anger, of irrational depression. But does that make me worth tearing apart? I would hope not.

I expect characters to disappoint me at some point. I try to sympathize with flaws, but also understand that some flaws are going to be out of my realm. I cheer them on when they’re good and hope they redeem themselves when they’re bad. (And sometimes, I enjoy a good story where a character is never redeemed.) All I ask for is consistency—a sense that, no matter what the character does or believes, I understand them in that moment, even in the moments where they aren’t quite themselves. I need to believe they are real, and if I can believe that, I will more than likely enjoy the journey.

In the end, I want to enjoy the story—and sometimes, stories are told by those you might not understand. Maybe even by someone you would hate. But that doesn’t automatically mean the story is unlikeable.

Let’s be a little kinder to characters, especially character flaws.

We all have them.

~SAT

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2017’s Top Ten Articles

30 Dec

Every year, I like to look back and see what everyone was discussing. I try to collect the best discussions and revisit them, so here’s a list of this year’s most popular articles. Normally, I would’ve made this list based on a combination of unique views, comments, and shares, but I didn’t track that as well this year, so it’s only based on unique views. But I hope you enjoy them!

1. The YA Protagonist’s Age: You’re 17? Me Too! 

I’m not going to lie, I’m a bit surprised this was my most viewed 2017 article. But I’m really happy more writers and readers are discussing the lack of variety in the ages of our characters, especially in YA. Teens go through many issues at different times, and it time our stories reflect that.

2. Is Romance Necessary in YA?

Another article focusing on young adult fiction, I discussed whether or not a story HAD to include a romance. While the answer might seem obvious and simple, this conversation is actually a lot more complicated than I wish it was. Sex sells, after all. Yes, even in YA.

3. My Hate-Love Relationship with Historical Fiction

This year, I began writing my first historical novel, and the journey reminded me of my struggles as a viewer/reader/consumer when it comes to historical fiction. I want historical fiction to push boundaries, but that will take a brutally honest conversation about what we understand of history and why we interpret it the way we do.

4. When Writing Makes Reading Hard: a guest post by Susannah Ailene Martin

One of the only guest posts I hosted this year! (Honestly, y’all, if you want to guest post, I always consider thoughtful topics such as this one, so please feel free to message me.) Here’s one writer’s story about how writing can cause writers to struggle with reading.

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

Choosing how to tell your novel is a personal decision, so how do we make those decisions? This is how I choose tenses and POV, along with some tips to help you decide.

I’m so ready for 2018!

6. Book Marketing Woes

We all have them: book marketing woes. This is a list of common woes, like “I don’t have time,” and actual solutions to help you overcome the issue.

7. I DNF a Book

As an avid reader, I often feel guilty when I’m halfway through a well-written book…and just not connecting. This year, one of my goals was to be easier on myself and allow myself to set down books I wasn’t enjoying, so that I could spend more time reading novels I love.

8. Authors Can Change Their Mind

Five years ago, I wrote an article that was strongly against sex in YA…and now? Well, I haven’t completely changed my mind, but I’ve lightened my stance. Basically, authors can change their mind. This is an article about how we grow overtime.

9. Not All Villains Think They’re Good

“All bad guys think they’re the good guy in their story” has become a popular writing tip, and while I love this writing tip, I push back a little. Find out why.

10. My Editing Process Starts in my Writing Process

Editing is the hardest part of writing, but you can make it easier on yourself by setting yourself up for success early on. Here’s how.

I hope you enjoyed 2017 and all the articles that came with it!

If there are any topics you want me to cover in 2018, feel free to let me know in the comments below.

I’m always here to help.

Onward to 2018!

~SAT

2017 Favorite Writing Tools

2 Dec

Toward the end of every year, I like to talk about my favorite books, but I thought I’d share my favorite new writing experiences, too. This list is based on tools I tried in 2017, not necessarily tools that released in 2017, but I hope you find it helpful anyway.

Website: MSWL

For those of you querying, MSWL (or Manuscript Wishlist) organizes agents, editors, and publishers by showing what they wish they’d receive in their inbox. Read profiles on the website or do a quick search on Twitter’s #MSWL. Sometimes wishes can get oddly specific, but don’t be discouraged. Specifics are not usually meant to be read as “this is the ONLY thing I want,” but rather a fun way to reach out to those perfect matches. Generalized wishlist items are mainly on the website profiles (and, of course, you should always visit the person’s main website). MSWL is a fun way to see what people are asking for. On top of that, they now have a fantastic newsletter, podcast, and classes. Even online pitch sessions! It’s a tool worth checking out, whether or not you’re querying. Any cons? Sometimes sketchy people show up. Always do further research on the agent, editor, or publisher.

Technology: Alphasmart Neo

After seeing the YA Gal post her Alphasmart Neo on Facebook, I had a flashback to middle school when these wireless keyboards were used in the classroom. I immediately wanted one for myself. Why? Because I spend all day on the computer at my job. My computer screen KILLS my eyes, and sometimes the Internet is too big of a distraction. I bought myself an Alphasmart Neo because I wanted to be able to write away from my technology…and I’ve used it so much it’s stupid. I absolutely love it, and wish I would’ve bought one earlier. Cons? I have major ADD. My mind skips all over the place when I’m writing, and scrolling/organizing can be a little difficult on a screen that only shows four lines at a time, so I’m mainly using it for first drafts/ideas. I also make a lot more spelling mistakes, but that could be because the keyboard is different than the one I’m used to, and, hey, I have to edit everything I write anyway, so no big deal. What’s an additional read-through?

App: SimpleNote

Last year, I downloaded Scrivener for the first time. Well, this year, I wanted to sync my Scrivener to my phone, but, as far as I know, Scrivener doesn’t have a phone app for Andriod yet. I did some research and landed on SimpleNote, which allows me to sync directly with my Scrivener. That way, I always have my books with me. Cons? You have to have some foresight as to what you want to take with you. It doesn’t automatically sync everything. You pick which file you want. But you can always create a new document and upload it later if you forgot to sync the file you want to edit.

Podcast: 88 Cups of Tea

Somehow I just discovered 88 Cups of Tea. How? No idea. Because I love it. If you want to listen to exclusive interviews with some of your favorite, big-name authors, this podcast is for you. It’s both casual and enlightening. Con? Sometimes I find interview titles misleading. Ex. An episode that says it will talk about X but they only discuss X for 10 minutes in a 50-minute episode. But if I could learn how to relax in my workaholic life, I don’t think this is an issue. In fact, being reminded that writers are people is incredibly important, and I appreciate how candid many guests get during discussions. So, if you love personal stories, this podcast is for you.

FB Group: AAYAA

I joined AAYAA this year at the suggestion of a friend, and I LOVE it. If you’re a young adult author, AAYAA is great. There’s a website, Twitter, and Facebook group, but I’ve found the FB to be my favorite place to go. It connects young adult authors together for insight, opportunities, and more. I’ve already made a couple friends, gained some new followers, and learned information that I didn’t know before. Con? Every once in a while, a troll might appear, but hey, that’s the Internet for you.

New Writing Tip?

Just last month, I attended the SCBWI conference. During the breakout session Revision—Preparing Your MG & YA Novel for Submission, Jennifer Soloway discussed so many amazing writing tips, but one in particular really stood out to me: They say to “Show, Don’t Tell”, but sometimes you have to do both. The example she used was a gasping girl with a pounding heart. Even in the context of the scene, a reader could interpret her emotions for fear, excitement, or a health condition. Sometimes it’s okay to say fear paralyzed a person or “I am terrified.” It’s about balance. I’ve been struggling with this a little bit in my writing lately. I have let traditional rules get in the way a little too much. This was a nice reminder. Con? Swinging too much the other way.

So these were my top new writing tools I used this year. Did you try anything out for the first time? Have any tips? Share away!

~SAT

A Writer’s Best Friend is Google

18 Nov

As an author, I LOVE helping fellow writers. In fact, I encourage writers to message me whenever they want with whatever questions they have. But don’t forget, folks.

Google is your best friend.

Recently, maybe due to NaNoWriMo, I’ve received A LOT more messages than usual. The most common one: “How can I get my book published?”

When I search “How can I get my book published?” on Google, the first three articles are actually pretty legit. One is about how to self-publish on Amazon. Another is a list of self-publishing tips by Forbes Magazine. The third is a step-by-step guide on how to get traditionally published. (No results were vanity presses, yay!) My favorite article that popped up toward the top was Start Here: How to Get Your Book Published by Jane Friedman.

If the writers who had emailed me had Googled their question first, they would’ve had these amazing articles at their fingertips…and as much as I wish I could deliver long, thoughtful pieces every time someone messaged me, I simply don’t have the time. I will ALWAYS try to point you in the right direction, but honestly, Google is often better.

Whether I’m researching publishing news or searching for information I’ll use in my books, Google is almost always open on my computer.

Don’t get wrong, though. I get it. I do. Publishing is hard. And there is so much information out there that it can be overwhelming/contradictory/seemingly impossible to navigate on your own. But guess what? 

Learning how to navigate your publishing journey is going to be key to your success.  

Why do I say that? Because I’ve been there. Publishing has confused the hell out of me, too. And I still have days where I get confused, because aspects of publishing constantly change. Knowing how to research and determine what is true/false/helpful/scam is going to save you a lot of time and pain. Asking others might not always work, because others also fall for false information and scams, so you need to be able to sift through information to form your own opinions. But don’t worry. You don’t have to navigate everything alone.

No one can get a book published by themselves. It takes a team to get a book from an idea to a draft to an editor’s pick to a novel on a shelf. There’s beta readers, proofreaders, sensitivity readers, reviewers, and more that will help you get from step one to step infinity. So you will need writer friends. You will even need their help. But before you message an author/editor/publisher, try to answer the question yourself. Why? Because you’ll probably find the answer to “How do I get my book published?” but then come across publishers that—no matter how much you research—you’re still unsure about. THAT is the perfect time to message a fellow writer (preferably a writer who is associated with said publisher) and ask them if they recommend that house.

If you are reaching out, specifics are a lot easier to answer. “Would you recommend this publisher?” is easier for me to give my opinion on than when I’m asked “What type of publishing should I go for?” A lot of questions I’m asked are, quite frankly, not answerable by anyone other than that writer. Choosing how to publish is a very personal choice. I can’t make that decision for you, no matter how much I want to help.

Show initiative in your pursuit of publication. Be brave. Research. But don’t read this article and think you can never reach out ever again.

If you were about to message me about how to publish, I won’t bite your head off. (Maybe just your fingers.) And I’ll still try to point you in the right direction—though there are lots of directions to consider.

Here are some of my favorite resources for writers.

Writer’s Digest: The go-to online resource for writers. If you’re starting out, set a goal to read a couple articles once a week.

Publishers Marketplace: This lists current sales and other important publishing news. Some pages on this website cost money, so if you can’t afford it, sign up for Publisher’s Lunch, which is free.

Janet Reid: She blogs every day about various topics and creates an amazing community of writers to rally behind. I still read her blog every day. It’s how I start my morning.

Pub Rants: A blog by Nelson Literary Agency. One of my all-time favorites. Her Agenting 101 class caught my eye in 2006, and I’ve been following it ever since.

BookEnds Literary Blog: Another blog from a literary agency. They talk about lots of topics as well, but mainly about getting agents and the publishing process afterward.

Query Shark: For learning how to query.

Query Tracker: For keeping track of querying. (This website is free, but you can also pay $25 per year to look at extra information.)

An Alliance of Young Adult Authors: Lots of helpful tips from fellow YA writers, whether you’re self-publishing or going traditional.

Oh! And right here. I try to blog about various writing and publishing topics every single Saturday. Use the search bar at the top of this page to look up topics I’ve discussed in the past. (Because, trust me, I’ve been blogging since 2012, I’ve probably covered it.)

If you have a topic you want to see me blog about, I always take suggestions. I’ll even blog about a topic I’ve discussed before if the article is outdated and/or not detailed enough. (And, yes, you can send the suggestion via email.)

But while you’re online, I suggest opening Google and becoming best friends again.

I think you’ll love the friendship more than you know.

~SAT

Take Notes While Writing a Series

11 Nov

While on Twitter the other day, writer A.J. Forrisi asked an amazing question!

P.S. Give A.J. a follow!

My quick answer? Take notes on your first book, so that writing the sequel isn’t as difficult. (And definitely do a read-through. ) I keep a character bible and chapter summaries for each book in a series. Notes help! But what type of notes should you take? How detailed should they be? Everyone’s method is going to be a little different, but I thought I’d share a couple places to start.

 1. Keep a Character Bible

This should cover all descriptors and main personality traits/issues. Personally, I keep a list of every single person mentioned in the book, even the tiniest characters. Why? Because that side character’s eye color is going to come up in book 1 on page 18 and in book 4 on page 127. It would take forever to read the entire series over and over again every time I need to find a detail. That being said, I still think you should read through your work multiple times. If you want to get fancy, take a note of the page number information is written down. That way, you can always double-check.

2. Organize Chapter Summaries

Sum up each chapter in a couple sentences. What happens? How does it change the book? If your book is heavy on revealing secrets, keeping track of what certain characters know will also help. That way, if those secrets move into book two, you don’t have to skim over and over again to find out where and what they learned. One thing I’m sure to emphasize in my chapter summaries is when certain characters make their first appearances. That way, I know when they entered the story (and the description tends to appear at the same time).

3. Other Notes to Consider

I keep a “General Resources” tab on my Scrivener. This is basically a sheet with links to educational websites on topics covered in book. (You know, in case I need a refresher, especially if I’ve taken a break between books.) I also keep a History sheet that tracks the years leading up to the book. Sometimes these events come up in the book, sometimes they don’t, but it’s good to know how my characters arrived at the first chapter. For fun and inspiration, I also keep a Pinterest board and a list of songs that remind me of my story. That way, if I’m finding it hard to get back into the series, I can connect with that original inspiration quicker.

Do you take notes between books? If so, what types?

Feel free to share your method!

~SAT

The Difference Between a Fan and a Follower—and Why It’s Okay to Have Both

21 Aug

Marketing books can be difficult. And confusing.

When I talk to brand-new writers who venture out into the marketing side of things, one of the first discussions we have is the difference between a fan and a follower.

A fan = someone who reads and/or buys your books

A follower = someone who follows your social media, but doesn’t buy or read your books

Why do I separate these two types of people? Because many newcomers get confused when they send out a newsletter to 800 people and only get 100 buyers. (Or post to Twitter or Facebook or Instagram or so-on.)

Extra thought: A “follower” is also a fan. They are a “fan” of you. 🙂

Take my blog for instance. I currently have 21,000 followers. Did I sell 21,000 copies of my latest release? No. Because not every follower of mine is here to buy my books. They are here for my writing tips, my publishing insight, and (hopefully) my cat photos. And guess what? I’m perfectly okay with that.

There’s huge pressure to convert all your followers into fans, and I’m just not buying it. Don’t get me wrong. I would be ecstatic if 21,000 of you bought my book, but I also understand that my books aren’t for everyone.

What if all 21,000 of you bought my book, but it was only written for 10,000 of you? Well, that’s 11,000 1-star reviews just based on the work being inappropriate for that audience. My ratings would tank. Not that ratings are everything—but I’d rather have those who are genuinely interested in my books try them out. Attracting the right audience for the right things is more important to me than tricking the wrong audiences into buying something they probably won’t enjoy.

Granted, I get it. Sometimes it can hurt that thousands of people are following you for (insert # of reasons here) for years but won’t check out your books to show support, but, at the same time, aren’t they showing support by connecting with you? By cheering you up on Twitter? By reading your articles? By sharing your posts? By simply being there?

Don’t let the marketing world convince you that your work is only worth what is bought.

Your work connects you with others. It builds relationships. It allows you to reach out and be a part of the world. It gives you a way to express yourself.

You may have fans, you may have followers, and you may have both. But converting those into sales isn’t the most important thing in the world. (And those sales will come in time.)

What matters most are those connections you’ve made—and you’ve made those by chasing what you love.

Enjoy that,

~SAT

P.S. If you’re a follower who is considering becoming a fan, I have two free young adult books out right now on Amazon. 😉

Two free YA SFF books!

YA Female Protagonists in STEM

7 Aug

We need more female protagonists in STEM fields, especially in YA. For those of you who don’t know, STEM covers science, technology, engineering, and math. The reason STEM needs to be explored more in YA fiction is to encourage young women to explore those fields in real life more.

Hold the eye rolls.

I get it. I know that there are real-life role models to look up to in those fields already. But a lot of younger people—myself included—enjoy looking up to fictional role models, too. When I was a kid, fictional characters strangely felt more attainable, more inspirational, more…like me.

Sometimes, it’s easier for a fourteen-year-old to look up to a fourteen-year-old scientist rather than Marie Curie. (And more fun.) This is why I’m advocating for a bigger emphasis on STEM in YA fiction, but there’s another, more personal reason as well.

Oh, hey there, science.

Here’s the deal. I hated science in school. Loathed it. Biology was the hardest course for me in high school and college. I hated biology…but I loved chemistry. I also love math. I also love technology and engineering. But as a young girl, I hit a couple roadblocks while studying it.

In school, for instance, I signed up for Tech 101 instead of Home Ec. I was immediately approached by an office clerk who thought I made a mistake. On top of that, one of my teachers actually had to the gall to “make sure” I wanted to take Tech 101 instead of Home Ec since I didn’t have a mother at home. If that wasn’t discouraging enough, I came second place in a bridge building competition later that semester…only for the teacher to pull me aside and tell me I should’ve won. (The winner, it turned out, had cheated. But did the school correct it? No. I just got a secret pat on my back.) If I could tell you what it felt like to then see that boy congratulated, to hear my fellow classmates say “You almost lost to a girl, dude” like that was the worst thing ever, I would. But I still don’t have words for it.

STEM didn’t exactly welcome me.

I recall these moments in my life where I loved science, technology, engineering, and math—and I was good at it, too—but numerous adults in my life discouraged it anyway. Granted, I’m not saying I would’ve chased an engineering degree if these things hadn’t happened. In fact, I’m pretty sure I would’ve chased English no matter what. Why? Because my university asked me to become a math major after I scored 100% on one of their harder exams…and I still turned it down.

Now I’m an author…and authors are engineers of stories. So, I set out to write a book where my protagonist is involved with science.

Kalina came to me that night. She’s sixteen, a botanist, and she invents machines that help water her plants when she’s too busy studying them. Botany takes on a huge role in my book. So much so that one of my critique partners asked an interesting question: How are you going to get readers to sympathize with plants instead of people?

Well…I’m not.

I’m not asking readers to sympathize with plants over people. I’m asking readers to see how interesting plants can be. To see an awesome, smart, and talented young woman studying her scientific passion. To open their minds to science.

Kalina opened my mind, and I love everything she taught me. Granted, I still can’t grow a flower to save my life (especially with cats in the house), but I have a deeper appreciation for botany. Above all, I have a deeper appreciation for science.

YA readers deserve more of that, too.

~SAT

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