Tag Archives: YA Lit Chat

#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.

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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!

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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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#SATurday: Content Disclosures for Novels

16 May

#SATurday: Content Disclosures for Novels

This past Wednesday, my content disclosure tree for Minutes Before Sunset released by Clean Teen Publishing. What is a content disclosure tree? Well, I’ll leave that up to my publisher to define on their website. (Click here to read the definition. Click here to read my full content disclosure tree.) I suggest reading both before continuing, but I’m going to write the article as if the links are broken.

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In summary, Clean Teen Publishing allows readers to understand what they’re picking up when they choose a book—which I completely support for numerous reasons, but I will mainly talk about personal experiences, both from working with readers and from traumatic topics I’ve lived through myself, and how these examples have helped me understand the consideration of a content disclosure.

Starting off at my day job, I help authors find readers interested in their work. One of the topics I always discuss with authors is whether or not there is incest, rape, or other controversial topics in the story. Why? Because many of the reviewers I have worked with requested to know this for various reasons. By talking to numerous readers every day, I started to realize how many readers would prefer to know certain things up front—again, for various reasons. Sometimes, it’s triggering for those with PTSD. Sometimes, they are simply disinterested in that scenario. Sometimes, it’s just a preference of how they are feeling that day. While I’m not one to be against any particular topic in a novel, I can understand why someone wouldn’t want to read about certain topics, especially involving traumas.

That being said, this sort of disclosure hasn’t happened without controversy. Simply Google “disclosing content in novels” or “content ratings for readers” and I guarantee you’ll find a forum discussing the pros and cons of this. The main arguments I see revolve around ruining surprises and the effectiveness of even preventing someone from reading something they won’t enjoy. And that’s what I want to discuss.

First, as a writer who has written about controversial topics—particularly with violence and language in November Snow and The Timely Death Trilogy, and drug use in Take Me TomorrowI would – by no means – want a reader to pick up one of my works and accidentally be triggered by something. Speaking from personal experience, my mother died from a drug overdose when I was eleven, which is why I wrote Take Me Tomorrow, but through years of counseling, I met many kids like me who reacted very differently than I did. Reading Take Me Tomorrow would be extremely upsetting for them, and knowing what they went through, I would never want to cause them distress about such a personal topic. As a fellow reader, I would also rather find them something else they might like to read.

Granted, I understand the “just put it down” argument, but—at the same time—why can’t we prevent readers from picking up a book they definitely won’t like in the first place? This isn’t about ratings or reviews. This is about caring about your readers’ feelings and time. Now . . . here is where I hear the “but that ruins the surprise” argument . . . which I don’t understand, because—if done correctly—the content disclosure will say the topic, not which character and on which page. Take my full disclosure for example (if you click on this link, it’s at the bottom of the page). Clean Teen Publishing lets us know that Minutes Before Sunset talks about a parent’s suicide. It doesn’t say which one. It doesn’t say how it happens or when it happens. It doesn’t even say how much it is discussed. If anything, I’ve given away SO MUCH more on my website about the topic of suicide in The Timely Death Trilogy and November Snow.

I know I write about controversial – and often violent – topics in my stories, and I, by no means, have an issue with readers knowing that up front, especially because my novels fall under the YA genre, and genres alone don’t warn about the insides. TV and movies have had ratings for a long time, and while I understand that it’s much easier to be surfing channels and accidentally comes across a movie (and a book takes much more time to get into), I think content disclosures can help a large portion of readers find more suitable books that they will enjoy.

Content disclosures can help those that feel like they need it, and those who feel they don’t need content disclosures can ignore them. If you want to be surprised about all the topics, for instance, don’t read the disclosure. It’s as simple as that. At this point, I will say that I don’t think it needs to be an industry standard but rather something that is up to an author and their publisher (and of course, the reader). Personally, I love them. I see too many benefits coming from them for me not to love them. Content disclosures can help those avoiding triggering topics and even help parents choose books for their children that they deem appropriate. Disclosures can help readers find exactly what they’re looking for, maybe even a controversial topic they’ve struggled to find. Everyone who wants them can read them, and everyone who doesn’t want them doesn’t have to use them, but as an author, I’m glad my novels now have one.

~SAT

P.S. On a fun side note, my publisher actually makes these for anyone interested! Click here to check it out.

P.S.S. I reviewed Ex Machina and talked about robots during my latest YouTube video on Coffee & Cats!

When Characters Say Too Much or Too Little

6 Sep

Announcements:

I have a couple announcements today. First, I would like to thank The Opinionated Woman’s Musings and Books for Fun for nominating ShannonAThompson.com for the Lovely Blog Award. I nominated six blogs on my Facebook page to keep it going!

In other news, P.S. Bartlett interviewed me, and we discussed my writing process as well as how my works differ from other words in my genres. Check it out by clicking here. I also did another interview with The Examiner, but I will be talking about that today. So let’s get to chatting!

… 

When Characters Say Too Much or Too Little

This is actually inspired from one of my latest interviews. If you haven’t had a chance to read my interview with The Examiner, here is the link, but in case the link doesn’t work, we spoke about topics in Take Me Tomorrow that I didn’t write about in great detail despite the fact that it is a huge factor to the setting, time, and lives of my characters. If you’ve read even the back cover of Take Me Tomorrow, you know there was a massacre prior to the story taking place. After the massacre, the State – a.k.a. the government body – enforced stricter rules on the citizens to prevent another violent uprising. That being said, Take Me Tomorrow is told from one perspective – a 16-year-old girl named Sophia Gray – and she doesn’t get into much detail about the massacre. The Examiner asked me why, and I explained in our interview:

‘I wanted to show more information on the massacre, but Sophia was very young and still is when the novel takes place, so it didn’t come naturally,’ Thompson says. ‘I thought about 9/11 when I considered the event. I was 10 when that happened, and it took me many years to finally grasp it or understand the importance of the event, but I definitely didn’t understand it when it happened. So I took that approach with Sophia.’

I would also like to add that if a sequel is published – which is up to the readers – the massacre as well as many other questions will be answered, but in terms of Take Me Tomorrow, readers are right. I didn’t explain it in great detail. But there was a reason behind my decision as well as many other decisions I made, particularly with Noah telling the story. Although he did in the original version, I had to cut his voice, because of many reasons – the main one being that it isn’t his story. It’s Sophia’s – but the secondary reasons revolve around his character. (Spoiler alert) When he’s on drugs, his voice makes no sense, and when he’s sober, he tells way too much information. Like way too much. Like the ending too much. Mainly because he can see into the future. But that’s another aspect entirely.

So where am I going with this?

Authors are often struggling with characters. We love them, but the characters – not the author – are in charge, which means they make decisions we don’t like, but we ultimately accept them because they are the ones telling the story. There are four instances that authors deal with in terms of characters, and those four things are listed below.

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Sometimes characters don’t want to talk

I’ve mainly had this problem with my dual-perspective novels. I’ll wait for the boy to talk only to realize he is just not interested, and then, I realize I am going to have to write the entire novel from one perspective. But – eventually – he pops up, and then, I have to go back and add him later. Worst case scenario, they never talk at all, and I struggle to find a way to get around it or to coax them out. But I’m sure many authors have dealt with this, even labeling it writer’s block. I like to call it character’s block – because it’s them, not me – and I wait patiently for them to get over whatever is blocking them. Yes, I realize these are people in my head, but trust me when I say – sometimes – they won’t even talk to me.

Sometimes characters want to talk too much

This is when authors start screaming, “Shut up! Just. Shut. Up. You cannot tell everyone who the murderer is on the first page. Idiot. Then, we don’t have a story.” It happens. Oh, it happens. A character wants to give away everything the second they get a chance to speak. But it can be an easier problem to solve. A simple, “Hold back a little bit.” can solve everything, but it is still difficult when a character insists on exposing information an author wasn’t planning on telling until the end. Most of the time, I bite my lip, listen to the character, and hope they have a reason. They normally do. That being said, I have had to censor a character here and there for giving too much away too quickly. We need some suspense, after all.

Sometimes we (authors) force it

When I say “force” – for once – I don’t mean this as a bad thing. Sometimes, authors get lucky. We find spots that we can slide information in without having to destroy our character’s honesty in the process. I am referring to characters finding newspaper articles or television sets explaining certain events that characters might not understand. This helps because an “outside” source can explain what is happening without the character necessarily being involved. That being said, we don’t try to create these moments. If they happen naturally, fantastic, but we also don’t want to rely on these at every moment we are tempted to do so. (Because we are oh, so tempted.) But this can often lead to info-dumping or other uncomfortable circumstances if authors aren’t careful.

Other times we (authors) don’t force anything

This is what happened with me in Take Me Tomorrow. I could’ve forced information in, found a way to blame the information on the surroundings, but I realized many things when I contemplated that: The State wouldn’t leave documents of the massacre laying around for a 16-year-old girl to get her hands on. (That’s why the only info she does receive is from her father.) The news wouldn’t talk about it, and even if they did, Sophia spends too much time out in the woods to watch the news anyway. She might be oblivious to some of the political situations, but she is 16. Not only is she busy being 16, but she is busy surviving in her environment. Worrying about her dad, Lyn, Falo, and Argos is more important than understanding something that happened when she was 12, even if it was only a few years ago. I also had to keep in mind that she wasn’t directly affected by it at all in terms of her comfort zone (her family and friends.) If she had been, I would’ve been looking at a different situation. So I left it out because Sophia would leave it out. That being said, she is a different person at the end of the novel, and she might figure these things out in the sequel if it happens. But refocusing on not forcing it: sometimes characters need to be true to themselves, even if it is slightly destructive to the story. I don’t regret not having this information involved because I know that I was true to the circumstances, to Sophia, and to the world she lives in. And that isn’t destructive at all.

Sometimes authors have to make big decisions, but most of the time, characters do that for us. We just have to accept it and do the best we can do with their decisions.

Have you ever had these issues with a character? Experienced character’s block? Ever wondered why a character didn’t say something earlier on?

Talk about it below!

~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. 

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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.

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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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