Tag Archives: themes

#WritingTips No, Reading Is Not An Option.

17 Feb

As an author and full-time editor, I’m coming across more and more writers who don’t read their own genre, or—even worse—don’t read at all. There are generally two types of these writers.

1. Writers who claim to read but obviously don’t (and I’ll get to how it is obvious later).

2. Writers who haven’t read anything since they left high school twenty years ago.

Spoiler Alert: Neither of these options is okay.

Writers, please, oh please, you must read—and you must read often, especially in your own genre. As the famous Stephen King once said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.” I adamantly agree with him.

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Reading is the foundation of writing. Much like how crawling helps a child learn how to walk, then run, and so on, reading helps a writer learn how to form sentences, structure a plot, and introduce something new and interesting to the market. That last one is a big deal (and I think the most overlooked one). This is also the main way agents/publishers/readers figure out you’re lying if you claim to read but you don’t. Recently, I was reading an article from an agent who was talking about his number one pet peeve in query letters. There is a huge trend in writers saying, “My work is better than anything X genre has ever produced.” This signaled to him that A. You don’t read X genre, and B. You don’t respect your own genre, fellow co-workers, or your readers. So why are you writing in this genre? He’s not the only one with this opinion either. Another article by Writer’s Digest pokes fun of this trend: 10 Ways to Never Get Published.

Constantly reading allows you to familiarize yourself with the genre and to see how the genre grows. As an example, I’ve seen MAJOR changes in young adult since I was fourteen. (And they are awesome changes!) But if I had stopped reading YA when I started seriously writing it, I wouldn’t know what readers are looking for. I wouldn’t know what has been done already. I wouldn’t know the appropriate language, word count, or topics/themes for that audience. I, basically, wouldn’t know anything. I wouldn’t have those “tools” Stephen King talked about in regards to writing.

So pick up a book. Pick up five. Try a new one, try an old one, try one you never thought you’d read, research the latest releases, talk to authors in your genre, study Writer’s Digest and Publishers Marketplace, and stay up-to-date on publishing conversations like #MSWL. Even if you’re not trying to get an agent or publisher, publishing feeds are great (and easy) places to read about current trends and market needs.

You’re not losing writing time by reading. In fact, you’re enhancing your writing by reading.

So go pick up that book you’ve been dying to read and fall back in love with reading all over again. After all, reading is the reason you started writing in the first place. Reading is why every writer started writing. Reading is why every writer can write.

~SAT

Have you checked out this amazing gift basket Clean Teen Publishing is giving away this month? It has over $130 worth of goodies including a Kindle Fire, several print novels, sweets, swag, and more! Enter to win here.

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If you would like a signed copy of any book in The Timely Death Trilogy, e-mail me at shannonathompson.com. Barnes & Noble in Wichita has a few copies left, and they will ship you one.

Minutes Before Sunset: book 1: FREE 

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Seconds Before Sunrise: book 2:

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Death Before Daylight: book 3:

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This THURSDAY, I will host #AuthorinaCoffeeShop Episode 7 on Twitter at 7 PM (CDT) via @AuthorSAT. I normally host it on Friday, but a few of you have expressed Thursday as a better day, so I will probably test out the next four episodes (7-10) on Thursday to see which days are best. I hope to see you there!

#WW Finding Your Style as a Writer

24 Jun

#WW Finding Your Style as a Writer

So, I just turned 24 yesterday. That means, I’m 113 in cat years (according to this calculator.) Since I’m 113, I thought I’d share some of my personal, cat lady wisdom, and by “personal” wisdom, I mean self-awareness in regards to my writing style. (Plus, a good portion of you have let me know you’d like to hear more about my writing and what goes on behind it, so I thought this was a good excuse to share some information about how I’ve gone about writing novels . . . a little extra insight, so to speak.) That’s why I’m going to splurge a little bit. While this looks like a long post, it’s really divided into two parts: Finding Your Style and Aspects of my Style that I Figured Out

Feel free to read one or both.

Finding Your Style

This July, my first novel—November Snow—was published eight years ago. Eight years. (49 years in cat years.) I’ve definitely learned a lot since then, but one of the things that took the most time was figuring out my “style.”

We hear that word a lot. STYLE. It is normally followed up with “finding your voice.” And all those years back, this entire conversation would’ve freaked me out. It made me feel inadequate—mainly because I could not pinpoint my “style” or “voice.” Now, that I’m a couple novels deep, I get it, and I’ll tell you a secret.

And we're writing...

And we’re writing…

It will happen naturally—so naturally, you won’t even realize it—so don’t worry yourself silly. (Us authors are good at that.)

But here’s the other side of that token: Not only is it different for everyone but also discovering it is different for everyone. It takes a level of self-analysis, but that’s just my little opinion. For me, it took a couple of novels and a large amount of readers to point out a few reoccurring themes for me to realize that there was a pattern to my writing. That pattern was my voice and style. Basically, pay attention to what beta readers and reviewers are saying. You might learn something about yourself. But it’s also important to decipher that pattern:

What is you (your voice and style) vs What is other (maybe the genre, for instance)?  

In order to explain what I mean, I want to share what I learned personally over the last eight years. Since a lot of what I learned came from beta readers, many of the works I’ll reference aren’t published yet. While I will refer to my published works as November Snow, Minutes Before Sunset, Seconds Before Sunrise, Death Before Daylight (The Timely Death Trilogy), and Take Me Tomorrow (The Tomo Trilogy), my unpublished works will still go by their abbreviations. If you’re a beta reader, you’ll recognize the titles: HBBL, TGO, D, TMG, S.

What is other?

These are themes that happen because they simply work for whatever reason. For instance, there are dances in both Minutes Before Sunset and Take Me Tomorrow, which caused a few readers to think I have a thing for dances. I do and I don’t. I mean, who doesn’t love a good dance scene? (Insert my love for a cheesy trope.) But while it’s cheesy in Minutes Before Sunset, it’s rather chaotic and uncomfortable in Take Me Tomorrow. There isn’t a single dance in November Snow either. (Sorry.) But there is one in HBBL and in TMG…but not one in TGO or D or S. And all of the dances happen under very different circumstances. That being said, there’s a larger factor to consider here. The characters’ ages. Most of my characters are young adults. They are in high school or some form of high school, and high schools—more often than not—have dances. So, it’s not just about me liking them. They happen naturally. They work with the story and with the lives of the characters. This isn’t technically my voice. This is the genre or the setting. It happens, not because of me, but because of the circumstances.

What is you?

These are themes that happen because of me being me (or you being you). These are your life experiences, your character, seeping through your words. For instance, in many of my novels, you’ll probably always see a character who struggles with memories. Mainly because I struggle with memory loss, although I’m not quite to the point in my life where I’m very open about that. In fact, I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve publically stated I struggle with memory loss. But it is a part of my identity as a person, so it will more than likely be seen in my novels one way or another. For instance, the second book of The Timely Death Trilogy, Seconds Before Sunrise, has A LOT of memory loss. It’s practically the central theme. The Tomo Trilogy is that way to some extent as well, but you don’t see the effects of it until the second novel, Take Me Yesterday. That being said, memory loss doesn’t appear in anything else. Not HBBL, not TGO, not D, not TMG, not even S…okay, wait. No. S has a stupid amount of memory loss. But you get my point. Even when some themes come from my personal struggles, they don’t always show up in my work. But here’s the difference: memory loss affects the voice of the character. It affects the vocabulary used and the emotions involved. It develops everything else and with everything else. The difference with “other”—in my opinion—is “other” just happens. (The dance discussed above, for instance, was an event in the novel that pushed the novel forward, but the dance itself did not affect the character’s overall personality.) The “you” is your style because it is your unique voice, your vocabulary, your way of explaining.

The “you” is the way you write about the dance; the “other” is the dance happening. 

Aspects of My Style I Figured Out:

Now that that has been said and done, I thought it would be fun to show three other ones that I’ve realized about my style. This is really just for my readers who might want to get a larger grasp on who I am as a writer and what future novels might entail, as well as why current novels are the way they are:

Perspectives:

While I generally write my novels in dual first POV—like Eric and Jessica telling The Timely Death Trilogy or Daniel and Serena telling November Snow—I do have exceptions. For instance, the only POV in The Tomo Trilogy is Sophia Gray (although I have admitted changing that in a possible future rewrite, but I probably won’t.) This happens because I love writing in first POV and I love writing from both a male’s perspective and a female’s perspective. Fun fact: I actually prefer writing from a male’s perspective.

Family structure: I grew up in an unusual household. At first, it was the “normal” household: two parents, two kids, one dog. All-American, you know? But then my mom died. And then I had a stepmother and three stepsiblings. And then my father divorced. And then it was just my brother, my father, and I. So, you’re going to see a lot of different types of families in books, but I can also admit that you’ll probably rarely see a mother-daughter relationship. Not that I can’t do it. I can. But I would rather explore other relationships in fiction. In fact, I remember as a reader after my mother died, I wished there were more novels where daughters were close to their fathers or brothers. So, you’ll see more of that in my work. But there are exceptions. On a side note, I also write about orphans a lot, mainly because my mom died and my dad traveled, so I was often alone as a kid. I find a lot of comfort in writing about characters would had to be independent.

Violence vs Romance: I’m a violent writer. The Timely Death Trilogy is actually my least violent work, and if you get a chance to read the first few chapters of Death Before Daylight, keep that in mind. It’s still lighter. November Snow is often seen as my most violent. Why? I used to wonder about this myself, and I think I just realized why recently, but that’s probably for another post in the future. (Hello, July.) In contrast, I find romance difficult to write about. I dread writing kissing scenes. I think I get weirded out because I feel like I’m being a Peeping Tom on another couple . . . and I’m being a Peeping Tom who is writing about it. It gives me the heeby jeebies. That being said, every single one of my novels have a romantic factor in them. HBBL is probably my only romance-romance, and I doubt that I’ll write another novel that is just romanced based again. I like dystopian. I like sci-fi and fantasy. I like the plot to be character-oriented and action-orientated and in a new world. Love just falls into the slots.

I know this post has been longer than usual, but I’m trying to listen to what you all have expressed wanting to see! I hope you enjoyed seeing a little more in-depth information about my life and work. Maybe it’ll also help you analyze your own writing to see if there are certain themes that correlate with your voice as a writer. Or maybe you’re just a reader and learned something new about my stories. Either way, thank you for reading!

~SAT

“Serious” Writing

2 Nov

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I recently had a discussion with fellow writers about what constitutes “serious” writing or not. Personally, I think it comes down to the writer. I have plenty of stories written that I would not consider serious, but that’s because it isn’t serious to me. However, I understand when people discuss genres being “serious” or not, but I think that’s a different discussion completely.

Today, I’m focusing on why young-adult fiction (or any genre) is “serious” writing even if the topic is humorous or light reading.

Novels, no matter what genre they fall under, have more than just a story. There are motifs, themes, foreshadowing, symbolism, and aspects that many readers might not even catch the first time around. This is not to say a reader does not understand these things. Instead, I’m saying that there is a lot more to a novel than what it might seem at first, and I’m going to be using Minutes Before Sunset as my example. Minutes Before Sunset is a young-adult paranormal romance. By many standards, this may not be considered a “serious” genre, but, again, I’m talking about “serious” writing, not genres.

I’ll talk about why novels go beyond the story by use of symbolism, foreshadowing, themes, and an overall message. But, when I use Minutes Before Sunset, I will avoid spoilers by using only the opening scene, which is available online.)

Motifs/Themes:

Independence Day might seem like a holiday that simply worked with the story, but it was carefully thought-out. My characters lives are fated, and often, they do not feel like they own their own body, let alone their future. Having Independence Day as the opener is vital, but it’s also very important to realize this is Eric’s favorite holiday. This holiday represents freedom, independence, and a new future—everything that Eric Welborn does not have–but it also represents a huge theme and motif.

Symbolism:

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Returning to Independence Day: we see fireworks. We see Eric’s obsession with them. We see how a child sees them, as fascinating bursts of light among darkness. We hear Eric’s father call them “useless burst of fire.” This is a symbol. Minutes Before Sunset is based on the idea of Dark vs Light (except the roles are flipped: the dark is good, and the light is bad.) This tiny conversation is more than it seems. The fireworks, from Eric’s eyes, are hope, the only light in the dark life that he has. His father, however, sees all light as evil; hence why he calls the light useless. By showing this childhood perspective, we can see Eric’s naïve state, how he thinks before his life is tainted by fate. We see his relationship with the Dark and, ultimately, his father. We see why they will argue, even in the future. Eric, despite being born to the Dark, sees light as hope.

Other symbols in the first novel include the willow tree, Eric’s nightlight, and the car wrecks. Unfortunately, I can’t explain what they mean until after the trilogy is complete, but there was a plan. There is always a plan.

Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing is hard to explain when I promised to stay in only the beginning of the novel, but I’m going to try my best with the assistance of Read to Write Stories. Michael Noll got it right when he discussed the first time Eric discusses the hill called “Willow Tree Mountain.” Noll talks about how this little bit sets up the setting to explain why the people are ignorant—because they choose to be. They accept what they want to. You can read his piece here. But it basically points out exactly how certain people will act and think later on in the book. But if you’re interested in what this scene foreshadows, I’ll give you a little hint: it’s coming in Seconds Before Sunrise.

As you can see, one scene can hold more than just the scene of the story. Many writers spend hours making sure each scene goes beyond a simple event that pushes the plot forward. Novels, at first, might not seem complicated, but it’s when you study each chapter, each character and symbol, that you realize how much planning, writing, and editing went into the creation.

Writing is more than randomly selected words scrawling across a paper. It’s symbolic. It has foreshadowing, themes, and many other aspects that allow readers to connect with the emotional repercussions of the story. It takes a lot of preparation, and, to me, the amount of dedication a writer has makes any genre “serious.”

~SAT

P.S. I’m looking for bloggers to help me spread my cover reveal on December 1. If you’re interested in hosting the cover reveal on your blog, you’ll also be entered into a raffle to win a pre-release ebook of Seconds Before Sunrise. Please comment below or email me at shannonathompson@aol.com.

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