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Celia at 39 by Jason Pomerance- OUT NOW from Writing Bloc!

Writing Bloc is happy to announce the release of its first full length novel, Celia at 39 by Jason Pomerance. The book is a fun, fast paced romp through a woman’s journey to 40 and the surprises she finds along the way. Just like his beloved first novel, Women Like Us, the book features delectable food descriptions and poignant family moments. Barbara Abercrombie, author of A Year Of Writing Dangerously, calls Celia at 39 “wild, funny, and tender.”

We spoke to Pomerance about his new release!

What inspired your new book, Celia at 39?
A few years ago we were visiting my stepmother, who lives out by the beach at the tip of Long Island. Every year the little town library holds a book sale, and while perusing the stacks I found an old copy of The Gourmet Cookbook, which I know my mother had but the book had disappeared somehow. Anyway, I bought the library copy, and later when I leafed through it I noticed all these notations about recipes the former owner had written in the margins.  But the bigger thing was the note in an envelope tucked into the pages, from a daughter to her mom. I sort of obsessed about this note for a while and wondered about these two women, and somewhere around that time I read about a package that was mailed, got lost and then arrived at its destination like 40 years later. So somehow the two elements came together and became Celia At 39!


What kind of audience will it appeal to?  
I think women will take to it. But also hopefully men. The book is very much a romantic comedy, along the lines of something like Sweet Home Alabama or even Moonstruck (two movies I love) so if you liked those movies, I think you’ll like this book.


How does this book compare to Women Like Us?
Women Like Us was a bit more of a serious book.  It dealt with life and and death issues in some ways and this one doesn’t.  On the other hand, both are very much about family relationships. While the romantic stuff in Celia At 39 is important, so too is Celia’s relationship with her mom and two sisters.  I think anybody can relate to family members driving them nuts at times, and that’s what happens here — Celia’s sisters and mom and make her crazy but she knows she’s stuck with them for life.

 
Why did you decide to publish this book with Writing Bloc?
I had such great experiences with both the Escape! and Deception Anthologies that it just seemed logical to continue the relationship. And, frankly, I was humbled and honored that they wanted to publish it!  Everything about the process has been so great. Becca, Cari and Kendra were remarkably astute editors, and while it took us a while to get to the final cover, when I got the galley and held it in my hands for the first time, I couldn’t have been happier with the results.  Highly recommend Writing Bloc!


How was the process of writing a second novel different from that of writing a first?  
For me the process was pretty much the same — think about the story and characters endlessly until I can’t take it anymore and I just sit down and start writing.  I’m not a big outliner but more of a seat-of-the-pants style writer. I like to be surprised, and there were a few of them in this book, plot twists that even I didn’t even see coming  And then I’m a huge re-writer. I like to tinker endlessly until the book is finally ripped out of my hands and I’m told, “Stop! Enough!”


What advice do you have for people writing a second book?
I guess same advice to somebody writing a first book: write the story you want to tell. Don’t worry about anything else. Don’t worry if anybody else is going to like it, because there will always be some readers who like your work and some who don’t.  And just persist.  Writing, as we all pretty much know, can be heartbreaking and thankless, but somehow you just find a way to keep pushing forward. So that would be my best advice. Push forward and never give up.

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Writing Life

How to Plan Your Own DIY Writing Retreat

You’ve probably seen the ads– Writing Retreat on Maui! Escape to a cabin in Vermont to write! It sounds amazing– a dedicated time and place to focus on your work in progress. Unfortunately for most writers, these retreats are inaccessible– they’re either too expensive, too far away, or too long to fit around other obligations.

I decided to plan my own writing retreat– one within my budget (thanks to a gift from my husband for mother’s day!!), 45 minutes from home (far enough to feel “away” but not so far that my whole trip was spent traveling), and for two days– long enough to get some writing done but not too long away from my husband and young kids.

Here are my tips for planning your own DIY writing retreat.

Pick a Cool Spot (but not too cool)
You know that place nearby that you’ve been meaning to check out but haven’t yet? That’s Temecula for me– Southern California Wine Country. Though it’s less than an hour away and people say it’s cool, I hadn’t spent any real time there. This seemed like a good chance to see what the hype was about. If I was a huge wine person, though, this probaby wouldn’t have been a good pick. This isn’t an ordinary vacation! Find somewhere you’d like to visit but where you won’t feel pulled to spend the whole trip sight seeing.

AirBnB is Your Friend
AirBnB is a writer’s dream when planning retreats. You can find much more affordable, much nicer accomodations, often in a unique setting. I stayed at the Rusty Fork Ranch, and it was absolutely perfect. The hosts were wonderful, the view was incredible, my room (The Cash Room– each room has a cool theme too!) had a comfortable writing desk, and there was coffee and tea available in the morning! Plus, there were real miniature writing goats!

Plan Your Eats Ahead of Time
You don’t want to spend hours pouring over menus and reading reviews when you could be writing. Scope out good food before you go. I ate at Gentle Grill, E.A.T. Marketplace, and a couple coffee shops.

Pick Goals Ahead of Time
I knew before I set off on my retreat that I wanted to edit and rewrite ten chapters. This was a big goal as I usually get through one chapter every two to three days. Big goals are good, though, as long as they’re realistic! Know when and how you’ll get your work done. I wrote up a schedule for each day saying how many chapters I would get through at the coffee shop, how many I would do after lunch, and how many I would do before going to sleep.

Move Your Body
Intensive writing marathons mean a lot is going on in your mind and your fingers, but not so much the rest of you. Take breaks to move! When I started feeling sluggish, I would stop for a few minutes and stretch or do some yoga. I also maaaaay have had a mini dance party.

Don’t Forget to Relax
This is about writing but it’s also about retreat. Find some ways to treat yourself and do nothing too. I tried to enjoy my yummy food, rewarded myself for finishing chapters by playing a little Harry Potter Wizards Unite, did a face mask, meditated before starting in the morning, and read a book before bed. Allow space for activities that will leave you feeling refreshed enough to be productive when you get home too!

Planning your own writing retreat? Tell us about it in the comments!

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Writing Help Writing Life

Review: Neil Gaiman’s MasterClass

The child looked at the calendar on the wall, swinging, as if by some invisible breeze. There could not have been a breeze, though. All of the room’s windows and doors were closed, and the air smelled musty and stale, like laundry left too long in the washer.

Still, the calendar flapped like the wing of some great white bird. Three MasterClasses, she thought. I’ve managed to learn from three masters this year.

It was Neil Gaiman, though, the most recent of her teachers, who imparted the sage wisdom that struck the child so deeply—Give people what they want, he advised. But do it in a way they do not expect.

****

This is just some of the fantastic advice in Neil Gaiman’s MasterClass, and the reason, I’m sure, that I wrote and then erased five different openings for this review before deciding I needed to do something different—something more worthy of what I got out of the class. You have to know your genre and its conventions, Gaiman says, before you can play with them. And then play.

But don’t worry! I’m done playing and am here to tell you everything you need to know about the class and to help you decide the answer to the question you undoubtedly came here for: Is it worth it?

There was some Twitter controversy when the class was first released, as Gaiman retweeted some requests for money to take the course. Some felt this was self-serving. A world-famous author asking other people to help give him more money? How dare he! Why didn’t he just pay for them all himself?

I’ll ask folks who felt this way—do artists not deserve to be paid for their art? Should they stop making money for their creative efforts once they’ve reached a certain status? As Gaiman replied to those who criticized him, he has plenty of free advice for authors available online. He’s not withholding his wisdom for the wealthy. This class is a piece of his creative work, he deserves the royalties from it, and if part of promoting that work is helping people connect to access it, I see no problem.

Another of the critiques which arose was of the value of the class itself, and here is where you may find my experience of the class valuable.

Like other MasterClasses, the course consists of several videos (nineteen, to be exact), covering topics including “Sources of Inspiration,” “Descriptions,” and “Dealing with Writer’s Block.” I found all of the videos interesting, even the one on comics, which, though I read, I have not tried to write.

Gaiman is fascinating just to listen to—his voice is low and conspiratorial and watching him really did feel a bit like sitting at the feet of a very encouraging master. He also speaks verrrrrry slooooowly. Luckily, MasterClass gives you the option of increasing video speed, and I found 1.25x to be perfect.

Some of the lessons are particularly inspiring. “Truth in fiction” inspires you to dig deeper into the hard emotions that create good writing. The lesson on worldbuilding teaches you to anchor your fictional world in real details and to let characters discover the world’s rules by bumping up against them or using them to their advantage, a take on the classic “show don’t tell” rule that made a lot of sense to me.

There are also plenty of practical tidbits—in the lesson on humor, for example, Gaiman explains that funny words have the most impact at the end of a sentence. In the video on description he says you should “tell” when you need to, and teaches how to give your characters need “funny hats”—unique ways for your readers to tell them apart.

To be fair, there are bits of the videos that feel a bit self-indulgent. Gaiman, as other MasterClass teachers do, uses several examples from his own work. These are sometimes relevant to the topic at hand, but other times feel less so. For example, in the video on overcoming writing block, Gaiman suggests giving oneself a deadline and then shares an anecdote about a short story anthology he contributed to. It was the submission deadline, he says, which inspired him to finally get serious about a story that wasn’t working and to figure out how to fix it. This specific example is a cool insight for fans about a bit of his work but does little to actually teach one how to impose a deadline on oneself. He makes up for this with further advice about writing the next thing you do know.

Other case studies, including one on The Graveyard Book, are more relevant.

Gaiman also does what feels like a good bit of name dropping during the course. Sometimes this seems like homage to those who have inspired him, but other times sounds a bit braggy. Overall, this didn’t bother me terribly. He’s earned it.

The workbook is what sets this MasterClass apart. In my review of Judy Blume’s course, I said that the exercises seemed either advanced or basic, and that students would likely find themselves drawn to about half of the lessons. This workbook solves this dilemma. For many of the lessons it contains both a “Writing Exercise” and a “For Your Novel” exercise. You can choose whether to do a simple exploration of the topic Gaiman discusses or to apply it directly to a work in progress. I found this incredibly useful, and sometimes ended up doing both.

Some of the exercises are pretty standard, but others have a unique twist that make all the difference. For example, the exercise for the Finding Your Voice chapter suggests you write a passage imitating the voice of an author you know. I’ve done similar practices before. However, the exercise doesn’t end there. After imitating, it suggests writing the same scene, this time in your own voice. I had for the first time, after completing this, a clear picture of what my own voice as a writer sounds like.

So, is the class worth it? If you are a fan of Gaiman’s work, I say absolutely. You’ll feel like you’re spending time with the author and digging deeper into his writing. For casual fans, or even just writers looking to improve their craft, I still say yes. The workbook, especially the voice exercise, and the lessons on Truth in Fiction, Finding Your Voice, and Worldbuilding alone would be worth the cost for me, and the rest are an engaging bonus.

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Writing Life

Review: Judy Blume’s MasterClass

After completing the Margaret Atwood MasterClass, I was excited to begin another of their writing courses. The Judy Blume class was an obvious pick, as I fell in love with Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret as a child.

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.

My first piece of advice to those who are considering a MasterClass.com All Access Pass is to try not to compare the courses. Though other reviews have written about the formulaic nature of the classes, you will be much happier if you take each one on its own merit. In my previous review, for example, I praised the documentary quality of Atwood’s class. While Blume’s class is certainly well-made, it does not have some of the fancy transitions or atmospheric qualities that Atwood’s does.

Another area where the Blume class differs from the Atwood class is the accompanying workbook. Where Atwood’s workbook feels much like a college syllabus, Blume’s seems a bit more simplistic. This isn’t necessarily bad. The exercises are basic but helpful, and are certainly a way to dig deeper into Blume’s work. The workbook includes a letter from Blume at the beginning which makes up for any shortcomings. Her encouragement, support, and friendly encouragement to “read, read, read” are touching. Some writers, though, may wish for a more varied reading list or more challenging assignments.

Blume discusses her process in detail, and fans of her work will enjoy the inside look into the development of her books. One of the main topics of conversation is her notebook– she keeps a new one for each book. Though the class could benefit from more peeks into these notebooks, Blume’s discussion of how she uses them is fascinating and educational. I did find myself wishing for more technical details about writing, as much of her advice feels specific to her own work or style.

Blume also discusses creativity, censorship, and the struggles she faced writing about sensitive topics openly in books for young readers. Her tone is no-nonsense but cheery, and is inspirational for any writer facing fear about the reception of their own work.


Course-takers will likely find themselves more interested in one half of the class or the other. The writing advice is more geared toward beginners, whereas the later lessons apply more toward those with at least a bit more experience. My favorite lessons of the class came near the end when Blume discusses working with editors, querying agents, facing rejection, and the book marketplace. When so much writing advice is focused on just getting words on paper, it is refreshing and encouraging to hear from such a master about these post-first draft topics.

A lesson on Blume’s own career journey is also fascinating. She shares her early forays into creating felt children’s decor and the idea that creative people often just need some kind of creative outlet. As a mom to young children, I was inspired by Blume’s ability to jump start her writing career as a young mother.

The Judy Blume MasterClass is a worthy investment for fans of Blume’s work, and particularly those who aspire to write for young people. All writers can benefit from witnessing her bravery and determination. If you are looking for an intermediate or advanced craft course, this is probably not the MasterClass for you. If you are looking for a feel-good experience that leaves you feeling ready to go for your writing goals and face any challenges to it head on, you’ll enjoy Blume’s class.


Particularly touching is the emotion Blume displays when talking about her own career and characters. Blume’s gratitude and love for those who shaped her career, for the stories that flow through her, and for her readers are palpable. I found myself moved to tears by her closing, in which she discusses her own bookshop and promises to show love to the books of the writers taking the class.

Take this class ready to think deeply about young people and the kinds of books they deserve, and to feel inspired to follow your own creative dreams.

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The 2019 Writer’s Reading Challenge

It’s that time of the year when reading challenges are popping up on lots of blogs. There are so many great ones and I especially love the emphasis I’m seeing on underrepresented voices. As someone who’s gotten more serious about my writing in the last year, I’ve realized that this means getting more serious about reading.

As a kid, I’d sometimes go through a book a day– Goosebumps or Babysitter’s Club. In high school, I devoured my English class reading lists, always reading ahead of the class in 1984 or 100 Years  of Solitude.  Though I continued to read after graduation, the demands of college, then grad school, then parenthood slowed my pace waaaay down. Now I’ve been intetionally kicking it back into gear. If you’re a writer who, like me, wants to read to improve their writing, I’ve created this challenge for YOU– I hope it encourages you to push your limits with reading in a way that maximizes your efforts and deepens your involvement in the writing community!

  1. Beta read for another writer
    This will be more than worth the effort when you have a beta reader for your own book. It’s also incredibly helpful to see books in their unpolished form. Plus, won’t it be cool to be on someone’s acknowledgments page?
  2. Craft book
    My favorite is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.
  3. Reread a book that inspired you to become a writer
  4. A “bad” book
    Don’t spend a lot of time on this one, but it can be nice to both give your brain a break and remind yourself of things you don’t want to do.
  5. A comparable title to your work in progress
  6. A fiction book with a similar setting
  7. A nonfiction book with a similar setting
  8. Read something out loud
    This is a nice way to really slow down and absorb the language of a book.
  9. A recent bestseller or breakout title in your genre
  10. A classic of your genre
    Something you’re embarassed not to have read yet. Maybe the book everyone says, “Oooh, like ______?” when you tell them about your own work.
  11. Something independently published
  12. The published book of a writer friend
  13. A book that’s been on your to-read list for a long time
    Get rid of the block that’s been stopping you from reading other things!
  14. A book by a woman of color (1)
  15. A book by a woman of color (2)
  16. A book by a woman of color (3)
    Don’t skimp! I want you to read (at least!) three of them!
  17. A book by an LGBTQ author
  18. A book renowned for beautiful language
  19. A book renowned for its social message
  20. Something out in 2019 that you preorder
  21. Something out in 2019 that you buy on publication day
  22. A book recommended by, or named as an influence on, a favorite author

You get an extra point for each review you write and each tweet or email you send to an author! Share your progress with #WritersReading2019 and Have fun!

 

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Writing Life

Take the Money! Graciously Accepting Payment for Your Work

On Thursday, I spoke at a NaNoWriMo kickoff event hosted by the wonderful nonprofit, Inlandia Institute. People seemed to enjoy the workshop and I met some nice people! Afterward, I was surprised and humbled when Inlandia presented me with an honorarium. As a former board member of the organization, I guess I knew in the back of my mind that this was procedure. I just hadn’t thought it applied to me. Honorariums are for real writers, I thought. Professionals. I don’t have enough experience. I wanted to do the event. It was fun for me and a nice way to get my name out there. I didn’t think I deserved it.

                                

I toyed with the idea of just giving the money back. It was so nice, though– I spent money on my Rock of Ages campaign, and this was a way to recoup. I won’t get any royalties for the book until after it’s published, and I won’t get any for the 750 preorders I had to get to have it published. I could definitely use the money.

Eventually I realized I should keep the money, at least a good portion of it, and I shouldn’t feel guilty about it. I’m giving 10% back to Inlandia because I so value the work they do and I want them to know that. If you are lucky enough to get something like this honorarium for sharing your creative work, here’s why you should stop feeling guilty too:

  • Accepting money for writing, or for teaching people about writing, sends the message that writing is valuable. Stories enrich our lives.
  • Writers do so much work that is not paid. As I mentioned, I put money into my crowdfunding campaign. I don’t get paid to blog or send out newsletters. I don’t get paid to write the 1000ish words a day that I usually do. Getting paid occasionally for something isn’t just payment for that workshop or story or whatever. It’s payment, and validation, for that workshop or story and all the unpaid work you do. It’s a gesture from the person or organization paying you that they value all the creative work you do and how it enriches the world.
  • Just because you like doing something does not mean you shouldn’t get paid for it. Really, we know this, but sometimes think it doesn’t apply to us. If you do something because you want to, and then you get money for it, celebrate! That’s amazing!
  • You deserve it! Thinking you don’t is just another nasty way imposter syndrome tries to talk to writers. Whoever gave you the money thinks you deserved it. Believe them!

So send a sincere letter of thanks. Be grateful and gracious. And then keep creating!

 

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Writing Life

So You’re a NaNoWriMo Revision Rebel?

Though you’ve likely heard of NaNoWriMo, you may not know about NaNo Rebels. These are writers who participate in the month-long writing marathon, but don’t follow the rules. They may write essays or nonfiction instead of novels, they may set a word count other than 50,000. They may work on more than one project at once. Or they may revise instead of writing something new. Since I’m knee-deep in the edits for Rock of Ages, if I participate in NaNoWrimo this November, it will be as a rebel. I love the excitement of the month and the tools the program offers, but other than posts on the site’s forums and a few blog posts, I haven’t found tons of resources for participating as a rebel. If you’re planning to use the month to revise, read on for my plan.

Using the Word Tracker

This is the main topic of discussion amongst revision rebels. How do you translate 50,000 words into editing? People tend to do one of a few things:

  • Words processed- Count each word of your old manuscript that you go through
  • Words in the new version- Count the words in your revised work, even if some are copied and pasted or only changed a little bit. These first two are useful if you’re working on a new vomit draft.
  • Daily work- Some people aim to work on their revisions each day for the month. Each day you work, add 1667 words to your count.
  • Time- 1 hour= 500 words, 1 hour= 1000 words, 1 hour= 1667 words, etc. Since I’m trying to slow down and be more deliberate for this draft, this is likely the way I’ll go, though I haven’t decided my time to words ratio yet. A bonus to using this method is that you can count things like research toward your goal. It also leaves room to go over the same passage multiple times without hindering your word count.

Word Sprints

Word sprints are one of the most helpful tools for me when I’m aiming for quantity. These timed sprints often take place on Twitter, but you can do them with a writing friend, too! They help you circumvent your inner editor and get the words flowing. If you’re trying to summon your inner editor, though, you don’t want to suppress her. Here are some ways to harness the energy of a word sprint if you’re revising:

  • If you’re counting words processed or words in your new version, go ahead and race! You can always go back and edit your edits whe the sprint is done.
  • Use it as a focus tool. Ban yourself from looking at or doing anything else for the five, ten, or twenty minutes of the sprint. Even if you just sit there staring at your manuscript, don’t give in to distraction for the set amount of time. Maybe you’ll get something done, or maybe you’ll give your brain enough of a rest that you’ll be able to focus more afterwards.
  • Use it as a break. Give yourself the time of the sprint to work on something new or to do some stream of consciousness writing. You won’t feel guilty that you aren’t getting your revision done because, hey, it’s just a few minutes, and the excitement of writing will likely re-energize you when you return to your draft.
  • Use it for character or world building work. Use the time to write freely about a character’s arc, a scene from their childhood, or a discussion between two of your characters. Write a scene from your world that isn’t in the book. Describe how part of it looks, feels, smells, sounds, and tastes. Write one of your scenes without people. Write one from a different character’s point of view. All of this will help you shape your actual manuscript even if it doesn’t end up in the final version of your book.

Rejoice, Rebel!

Don’t feel guilty about being a revision rebel. NaNoWriMo is a tool to help with your writing. If it’s working for you, then you’re participating, even if you aren’t doing the classic 50,000 new words in 30 days. One of the best parts is the community! So gather your friends, attend a write in, enjoy the forums and the Twitter chat. Sense the buzz in the air that is the worldwide writing community feeling motivated and excited. Happy Almost NaNoWriMo!

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Writing Life

Review: Margaret Atwood’s Master Class

When Masterclass.com offered me an all-access pass, I was thrilled! I’d had my eye on the Margaret Atwood Teaches Creative Writing course for a while and was so excited to take it! Atwood is a legend, and especially as a woman novelist, a role model.

I was not disappointeded– her Master Class is an amazing opportunity to glimpse her creative process and hone your craft.

This being my first Master Class, the first thing I noticed as I began the first of the 23 video lessons was the production quality. The videos are much like short documentaries and include music, photos from Atwood’s life, drawings, and visuals of her books as she speaks about them. These are no simple tutorials, but rather high quality mini films.

The next thing I noticed was Atwood’s laugh. Equal parts wise, mischievious, innocent, and reassuring, her thin lipped grin accentuates her cheeks in a way that makes it impossiblle not to smirk with her. It appears at the best moments throughout the course, when Atwood imparts wisdom that feels a bit conspiratorial. I loved it.

Things slowed down a bit then, and it took me a while to ease into the flow of the course. As I watched the first two lessons, the information felt basic, not unlike other writing courses I have taken before. I wondered if the course would just be several videos of generic writing advice and frankly, felt a little disappointed.

As she began lesson three, on story and plot, though, I realized that the issue was not the course but rather my expectations. Since finishing graduate school in 2011, I’ve approached learniing from a pragmatic standpoint. I want information, steps, and practical tips. Much of this Master Class, though, is more like my liberal arts background. Atwood discusses a technique and then suggests examples of literature, everything from her own work to classics to modern works, that you can read to get a sense of that technique.

I quickly realized that this was not a Ted Talk, meant to expose a quick secret to improve my writing, but rather a channel for deep study and contemplation, guided by, that’s right– a master. Once I understood this, I fell in love with the course– I hadn’t realized how much I had missed this kind of learning– the reading and discussing kind.

Further into the course, Atwood does get into those technical, more straightforward details, so those who really are just looking for that will be happy too.

The class workbook, with a chapter for each lesson, is a fantastic addition. The PDFs summarize the lesson and offer exercises and readings. The student discussion area is active and supportive, though at the time I took the course, it seemed Atwood had not yet responded to any questions submitted in the “Office Hours” section.

Really, I’d suggest taking this course at least twice– once to take it in, to get a feel for it, and then again more slowly, taking the time to do the assignments and the suggested readings, as if you were taking a college level course.

I finished the class a few days ago and already, after a chat with my editor this morning, I’ve thought, “Oh, I need to go back to the lesson on descriptive prose. And the one on switching points of view!” These are lessons you will return to again and again as a writer.

In her farewell video Atwood tells us, with one of her signature smiles, that she is nearing the end of her trajectory. She hopes her class is a way to collect and share the knowledge she has learned over her career. I am so grateful to get to learn from her.

 

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Writing Life

Writing Complex Children: We Need Better Arcs!

There’s something we might be overlooking in our character development as writers.

We all know about character arcs. Characters need to change over the course of a story. When I received my developmental edit letter for Rock of Ages, my editor conveyed that even the jerk boyfriend in my story needed to have more depth, to show an arc. It could go downward, certainly, but he needed to change. Protagonists certainly have to learn or grow or change in some way. In good writing, all of the characters have arcs and end up at least a little different by the end of the book.

But what about the children?

I’m not talking about children’s or young adult books, obviously. So many of those authors are amazing at creating complex characters and showing these characters grow, learn, develop, and change. I’m talking about books written for adults with adults as the main characters but that  have children as supporting characters. It’s hard enough to think of adult fiction that features kids meaningfully, which is strange because there are a lot of kids around us, but it’s even harder to think of examples of adult fiction with kids who show growth and change over the course of the book.

Children in books should not function only as accessories or a plot device. Children are just as complex, have just as much depth, as adults. More importantly, they change a lot faster. Their development happens simply as a matter of time– it doesn’t depend on external circumstances.

So here are some tips for adding complexity to young characters in an adult-centric book.

Read About Child Development 

The human brain is amazing and the ways we develop early on are absolutely fascinating! How much time passes in your book? How old is the child in your book at the beginning and how old are they at the end? Do some research! Read about child development at those ages. Demonstrate those changing abilities in your writing. Maybe at the beginning of the book a baby doesn’t understand object permanence and cries whenever her mother leaves the room but by the end, she understands she’ll return shortly. Maybe a child who doesn’t grasp the difference between fantasy and reality is starting to comprehend this by the end.

Talk to a Kid

If you’re writing about a child but haven’t spent much time with one their age, see if you know one you can visit or speak to on the phone. Take note of their mannerisms, pronunciations, and sentence structure. 

Let Them Surprise You

Kids in books can do things that would be more out of character for adults because they are changing constantly. Just because a child in a book sleeps with the lights on every night for the first half of the story doesn’t mean they can’t suddenly decide to turn them off. A five year old who is outgoing may become a five and a half year old who is more reserved. I’m not saying to make your young character do whatever you want. They should have a personality and mannerisims and tendencies, but they can diverge from those more easily than you could get away with with an adult character. You can have the adults around them react with surprise, astonishment, or reflection to highlight this difference.

Read Good Kids

Get inspired by books with good young characters. This may mean reading children’s, middle grade, or young adult books, but try to find adult-centric books as well. I recently read Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward and was impressed with the character Kayla (or Michaela, depending on who you ask.)

Oskar of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a fantastic character, though this book is a little different since he’s the protagonist. Jonathan Safran Foer does this well in another of his books, Here I Am, too, in which the kids are secondary characters but still complex.

I have a hard time thinking of other good examples, which might show what a gap there is. What have you read with good kid characters?

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Guest Post Writing Life

Guest Post: The Art of Balanced Description

We know it’s possible to have too little description in our writing but what about having too much? Today we have a guest post from Pagan Malcolm on finding the perfect balance.

Description is one of the first things you learn about when learning to write stories in school.

My teachers always encouraged us to use adjectives and to avoid the word ‘said’—resulting in stories from my peers that probably could have rivalled dictionaries.

It appears that good description is something a lot of people struggle to write and teach—and funnily enough, description always seemed to be my downfall when it came to querying.

The very first time I queried my novel, Lanterns In The Sky, I got a knockback from the publisher (Lycaon Press). They liked the story, and they were interested—but they wanted to see if I could add more description first.

So I went ahead and did that, and they accepted the manuscript.

This was back in 2014—I was 17 years old, still in high school, and it must have been maybe the 8th or 9th draft of that book I’d been working on.

I quickly discovered, going through this process, how much of a difference adding more description made to my story. There were missing actions that needed describing, settings that needed more support, and other various areas that needed tightening up.

After the company went bankrupt, three more years passed, and about 10 more drafts went by before I got my second point of interest from The Parliament House. However, this time, they wanted less description.

So I went back to my story, toned a lot of it down—and they accepted the manuscript.

Once again, these changes made a massive difference to the (now) 18th draft of the story. There were parts where I’d repeated actions unnecessarily, times where the descriptions dragged on almost poetically, and parts where the description killed my most tense scenes.

So, this raises the question: what should writers aim for when it comes to descriptions?

I’ve outlined a couple of points from what I’ve learned from my experiences to help aspiring authors with this tricky aspect of writing:

  1. Make sure everything is explained clearly

For example, if a character is approaching, note their footsteps, or have another character detail how they enter the room.

The worst thing in a novel is choppy, jumpy scenes where characters appear out of nowhere, and the only indicator that they’ve joined the scene is their sudden dialogue.

Also, pro-tip: Just because you can see everything happening, doesn’t mean the reader can.

  1. When it comes to describing settings, choose the most important aspects for that scene

For example, if you want to describe a busy, bustling city—detail the skyscrapers, the hordes of people, and the beeping cars to help the reader visualise it. You don’t need much more for them to get the picture, and you don’t need to describe everything down to a tee.

  1. Action scenes need to be quick and fast paced

Think punches, scrapes, and describe what they’re feeling instead of detailing orchestrated fight sequences that last for pages and pages. You’re not teaching a karate class, you’re telling a story.

  1. As for emotional scenes, dig deep into your character

Get clear on character expressions, body language, and the sound of their cracked voice, their pounding heart, their heavy, dragging footsteps, etc.

Think about how you can describe what’s happening both externally and internally, in a way the reader can relate to.

  1. Spend some time practising your writing and creating a distinct, writing voice

For example, my writing style is very melodic and poetic at times, but can also be light-hearted and fun, or dark and mysterious. Each of these aspects of my writing usually result in different descriptions—they can be metaphorical, or they can be to the point.

When it comes to tightening everything up, you want to be clear on the kind of voice you want to put out there so that you know how to go about editing your descriptions.

I knew I wanted to keep the poetic side of my writing, so I was very careful in how I cut down and changed prose. Even if it didn’t read quite as poetic, the point still got across—and it read a lot smoother after some editing.

Overall, balanced description is just about knowing when to expand on, and when to condense your prose. Key indicators to help you figure this out will be the type of scene, the people and actions involved, and whether you’re deep into the scene already or just ‘setting the scene’, so to speak.

What do you struggle with most when it comes to writing description? Drop a comment below and let us know!

 

 

Pagan is the YA fiction author of The Ryan Rupert Series and The Starlight Chronicles Series. She is also a writing coach & business strategist for Paperback Kingdom.

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