Wednesday, February 29, 2012


I've been thinking a lot about Prologues and Flash-Forwards lately.  (And it just so happens Adam Heine had a post about it as well).  Prologues and Flash-Forwards are two different things, so today I'm going to concentrate of Flash-Forwards.  I think I'll save prologues for another day.

What is one?  Well, it's like a flash-back, but it's a flash-forward.  It's a scene at the beginning of the book, that is actually a scene of a much later part of the book.  It uses the tension/action of the later scene to hook the reader right at the beginning.  Twilight does this in the "Preface" when Bella is talking about how she never gave much thought to dying and then it goes on to Chapter 1.

The good thing about starting with a flash-forward is that the book is the tension/action to hook the reader.  Obvi.  The bad thing about them is when you turn to Chapter 1, that tension is gone.  If you introduced a fantasy world or interesting tidbit of information, it's gone.  Now you have to wait and read through, what feels like preamble but is really the first part of the book, to get back to that interesting tidbit.  Plus the reader already knows about that tidbit so when you re-introduce it, there's no twist, no surprise.  As the reader you're just like, yeah, I know about that already, now can we get on with the story?  If the flash-forward was meant to excite your beginning, instead maybe change the actual beginning to be more exciting.  Then the tension can build naturally, instead of having the ups and downs of a flash-forward.

Twilight's flash-forward worked because it was so vague.  It didn't give any of the plot away except that she might die at the end.  And dying is some pretty big tension.  If Stephenie Meyer had mentioned something about a vampire instead of a "hunter" (which is how she writes it in the preface), I don't think it would have worked as well.  She would have given away too much of the plot, since Edward being a vampire is supposed to be the big twist.

There are also some flash-forwards where authors use scenes from the very beginning instead of later in the book.  I've read two books where the flash-forward was in the first scene.  It made no sense to me to have included the flash-forward, because I read it a few pages later.  I don't really know why the authors did that, but it kinda turned me off because I had to read the same scene twice in a row.  I ended up just skipped the scene the second time around.

I admit I have a flash-forward in my WIP and I've been toying with it for a long time, deciding whether or not to keep it in.  It's pretty vague, but I think it may give away too much of one part of the plot, though it sets up other parts of the plot really well.  So I have more deliberating to do.

Anywho, I think the point is, flash-forwards can be hard to pull off.  Keep them vague, but suspenseful, and then the actual beginning has to be just right, otherwise you can lose a lot of the tension.

How do you feel about prologues/flash-forwards/prefaces?  Useful?  Suspenseful?  Or a let-down once the story actually starts?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Ever have... of those weekends where you wonder where the weekend went?  I know the weekend happened, and that there are 48 hours in the weekend, but where did all those hours go??  It zipped by, leaving me and my writing goals in the dust.

Now it's time to play a little catch (which is always hard on a Monday...)

Friday, February 24, 2012

slang in fantasy settings

By day, I'm, for lack of a better word, a linguistic researcher.  So I am very interested in languages and linguistics, whether it's phonetics, semantics, or even just word choice.  I'm a bit of a nerd when it comes to words.  Let's leave it at that.

I think in fantasy writing, language helps give us an encompassing feel of the setting and culture of that fantasy world; it takes it one step further in creating a new, complete world.  In our own world, there are bazillions of other languages. A very accurate number, I know.  So why would creatures of other races, such as faeries or elves, talk in English?  I admit, it's hard in books to have other languages, because you have to show in some way that they are not speaking in English (whether it's using italics, or translating, or whatnot).

Even if your characters are human, but in a different sort of world (whether fantasy or dystopian), hinting at different languages helps bring us into that world.

Another thing that can help world building is slang.  This is especially helpful when your world does revolve around English-speaking characters for one reason or another.  It's also easier than creating another whole language, though it can still be hard.  Finding the right slang for your world takes a lot of brain storming.  Where did the word come from?  What's its etymology?  Or is it simply another way of speaking?

Let's consider two books that I love.  The Uglies [series] by Scott Westerfeld and HP by J.K. Rowling.

J.K. Rowling created great words in HP, really giving the wizard world the feel of another world, despite it overlapping London.  Two of my fav words of hers are Death-Eaters and Mudbloods.  On a purely word-creation basis, they're amazing.  Let's do a little analysis. 

Mudbloods.  Brilliant, if you ask me.  If there's anyone still out there who doesn't know, a Mudblood is a derogatory term for wizard who was born from a non-wizard family (aka muggle family, using, once again, another term she created).  The whole reason Lord V. hates Mudbloods and half-bloods, is because their blood isn't pure, ie. they're dirtying the bloodline.  This is really a perfectly created term.  Once you think about it, it was a little obvious, but at the point where the term is introduced, it's used simply, for Hermione, because she came from a non-wizarding family (not specifically because her "blood wasn't pure").

Death-Eaters is a term I love, just because it gives such a vivid picture in the readers mind.  Death-Easters have to be evil because only evil people would eat death.  Or even have death in their name.  But eating death just sounds icky.

So J.K. really comes up with some great terms. 

Let's move on to Scott Westerfeld.  I love his Uglies series for many reason, but one of them was definitely because of the way the characters spoke, which was how their culture spoke.  It was different enough to make it seem like another world, but similar enough to make it instantly understandable.   He takes a phrase, reverses the order of the words and sticks in a hyphen.  For example, if someone wants to say, you just saved my life (as in an exaggeration to saving the day) the character would say "You're totally life-saving."  Another example is saying "pretty-making" for something that makes you look pretty, or "nervous-making" for... you get the idea.  It's simple, but effective, and definitely makes the world feel more different, yet real.

I'm working on slang and derogatory terms for my world, and I thought these two books were a good place to start.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


There are a lot of writing help/advice blogs out there.  (Thankfully!)  I've perused many, taken notes and really used them to my advantage, trying to learn a lot about writing and the industry.  Blogs are great because you can read them multiple times, skip to the topics that are most important to you, and even come back and search and find the information that you remembered reading but couldn't remember exactly where it is.  I have a TON of bookmarks with writers' blogs, advice blogs, writer's digest help, and industry tips.  My list is getting long and it's awesome!

But something else I enjoy are podcasts.  I especially like Writing Excuses.  They've helped me so many times with specific aspects of my book, and have also helped writer friends with theirs.  And they have so many topics to choose from!  (They've been doing it for awhile).  I look forward to their new posts every week.  I like Writing Excuses because the podcasts are only 15 minutes long.  I've tried to listen to longer podcasts, but sometimes I just don't have time for it, or the pacing is slow and I get distracted by shiny things.  With WE, they're funny and entertaining (and sometimes go off topic for a little while), but also really get to the crux of the problem/topic.

The first one that I found really helpful was their writing romance 'cast, which is a pretty imperative topic if you're writing YA.  I definitely recommend checking them out!

Do you have any podcasts you listen to for writing advice?  Let me know, 'cause I would def check them out.

Monday, February 20, 2012

present vs past tense

After my 1st vs 3rd person blog post, I figured I should continue along that trend and discuss tenses.  Present or past, which do you prefer?  I think this choice is even more subjective than 1st vs 3rd person.  Some novels, I think, need to be in present tense for pacing. 

Let's take The Hunger Games again which was in present tense.  This was a good choice because the book revolved around the Hunger Games, which are fought to the death.  If it was in past, it could have come off stilted and the tension wouldn't have been as high.  But present tense lets you have a sense of immediacy and be with Katniss with her every move and thought.  She wasn't looking back and recalling the story, but it was happening to her at the same time as she was telling the story.  It also made it more believable that she could die. whereas, if it had been in past tense, there would have been no way she could have died.  How would she have told the story?  Though I think it's pretty obvious she wouldn't have killed the MC.  I think Suzanna Collins made a good choice having it be in present tense.  Another great novel in present tense is Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver.  Great book!  Check it out!

Those all sound like great reason to write in present tense.  Then why ever write in past?

Well, past tense sounds more natural.  It's what everyone is used to reading, so you, as the reader, don't even notice it.  I have to admit, I notice present tense IMMEDIATELY when I read.  It throws me off a little and takes me out of the story until I can get into the groove of it.  And every time I read "I say" instead of "I said", I get thrown off again.  I love reading and writing in past tense, but again, it's just a preference thing.

There are some novels that do a really good job of switching between tenses.  The first one to come to mind is If I Stay by Gayle Forman.  This book is written in a series of flashbacks and she uses tense as a great literary device.  Everything that takes place in the present, is, in present tense.  Duh, Stessa.  And everything that is a flashback, is written in past.  She switches between the two tenses flawlessly and there is never any question about whether the scene is taking place in the present or past.

I think I definitely want to challenge myself to writing in present tense (and 3rd person, for that matter), I'm just looking for the right book for which to do it.  So far, everything in my mind has been 1st person past, but with a little tweaking, I should be able to change things up.

Friday, February 17, 2012

1st person vs 3rd person

So this is something that I originally struggled with.  I didn't know whether to write this current book in first or third person POV.  oh the agony!  There's obviously no correct answer and it's specific to your story, but I didn't really understand the difference and which one was used when.

The first thing I did was to look at books similar to mine, an adventure/fantasy story with romantic elements.  Well, there were books with both POVs, so that didn't help much.  I knew there wasn't a correct answer, but I still didn't know why someone chose 1st vs 3rd.  I finally picked 1st, because I enjoyed 1st POVs better.  Then I took a few writing classes and I finally realized the difference; that as the writer, I had to decide what the story is really about - the MC's internal struggles (1st person) or the outside events that were happening (3rd person).  For this reason, adventure/action stories are usually third person.  There are always exceptions, of course; the Hunger Games is in first person, though that had a lot of internal motivation.  And I think Percy Jackson is in 1st person, though I read that I really long time ago and can't remember.

If you're still having trouble deciding which POV, another idea is to think about if different POVs are necessary.  While multiple view points can be done in first person, sometimes it can get confusing.  Is the other POV in first person as well?  If so, make sure the voices of the characters are different enough, so that the readers can tell whose head they are in.  Alternating between first and third is getting more common, though it can be tricky to make it believable.  Usually if different POVs are present, the story is written in 3rd person.

In the end, I realized I like first person POV better because I liked being inside the MC's head and understanding the motivations, despite my story being part-adventure story.

Do you write in 1st or 3rd?  Which do you prefer to write?  To read?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Top Chef: Texas power ranking

Two posts today to make up for the short one.

Thanks to B for finding this link for me on power ranking the last four contestants.  I think it goes hand in hand with my post about my Top Chef fantasy league.  I have both Sarah and Paul, so I feel that I have pretty good odds for winning...



[for grad school].

Monday, February 13, 2012

magic systems

I know, I know.  I sound like a broken record.  But I want to talk about magic systems.  Again.  Steph, can't you think of any new posts??

I recently finished reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone.  It was amazingly written and the imagery was awesome.  But the thing that got me, was the magic system.  It was such a unique idea.  SOME SPOILERS AHEAD SO IF YOU DON'T WANT TO READ SPOILERS, DON'T READ ON.  I love that the magic was based on wishes in the human world.  And it had something to do with those teeth Brimstone was always making Karou pick up.  But when Akiva revealed that magic came from the pain of the teeth, that's when it got me.  I thought it was beautiful.  A real cycle and reason why not everyone has magic.  And a balance!  Loss and gain equaling out.  How is that not beautiful?  It was just inborn magic or learned magic (though those are still viable ways of getting magic), but had another little twist to the magic system.

I'm still struggling a little bit with my magic system.  And when I think about DoSaB, it makes my magic system seem ordinary.  But that's okay.  As long as the magic system follows the rules at all times, it will still work as a magic system.  I have rules.  I think they make sense, but something's definitely nagging me about it.  Did I make it too convoluted?  (I feel like sometimes I definitely fall into that category).  Did I explain it well?  And I don't want to finish a novel with a concept that's still nagging me.  I think this might be another time where I need another set of eyes.  And then if I need to, I can go back and revise.

Magic systems can be tricky, especially creating and then following those rules.  I can only hope that mine makes sense and if it doesn't, then it's back to the drawing board.

Friday, February 10, 2012

failure of goals

I made some pretty weak goals this week and couldn't even finish them. 

First goal: Finish reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone.  I've been reading this book for like a month.  I've had to renew it twice from the library.  I do actually like it, though it has kind of a slow start.  (It's a character book and I am a plot-lover, so that's probably why).  It's beautifully written, the premise is genius, the world building is amazing, I like the characters, but it's getting harder and harder to find time to read.  Blasphemy you say?  I couldn't agree more.  As a writer, the first thing we have to be, are readers.  And I do read a lot.  It's one of my distinguishing characteristics at work.  I read at lunch every day (and get through about 2-3 chapters, so not really that much reading.  I get distracted by food too easily).  But I've been so caught up with the other things on my list (see below) that reading is falling behind.

Second goal: Finish revising chapters 6-7.  I did finish this, but it took me all week.  I think I was also working on it last week (but can't remember because things have been so busy).  If I want to finish my book, I am going to have to figure out how to make time for everything.  MAKING TIME.  Didn't I just talk about that in a previous blog post?  Why yes I did.  Stessa, you are so hypocritical...  Taking two weeks to finish revising chapters isn't really acceptable for my timeline.  I'm not trying to rush, but I am trying to finish it at some point...

Goal number three: Finish critiquing CP's work.  This is the main reason I am behind on the other goals.  (That and Ultimate frisbee.  Oh and that full time job...)  But I think it's perfectly acceptable.  They are waiting for feedback from me, and I need to give it to them.  That's how CPs work.  Should critiquing take up time you could be using for your own novel?  I think it's about balance.  Once I'm done this round of critiques, I probably won't have anything for awhile, so I can focus on my own work.

Things I did instead of writing this week:
-threw a surprise party for The Boy: This was necessary; he tore his ACL and was pretty bummed about it, which is perfectly reasonable.  He has to get surgery and can't play Ultimate for 6 months.  So this was warranted to cheer him up.  Bottom line: he was super surprised.  So surprised I thought he might have had a heart-attack...
-watched the superbowl: duh.  The commercials were pretty great.
-2 frisbee games: I don't get to choose our schedule.  Next week has less games so more writing time.

So those are my excuses, but it doesn't mean it's okay.  Making time is different than finding time.  Last week I was just trying to find time.  This week, I will make it.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Top Chef Fantasy and RW/RR: The Challenge Fantasy

So a bunch of my friends are always talking about their fantasy baseball and fantasy football leagues.  Being a very competitive person who loves games, I get kind-of sad that I can't join in.  I like baseball and football, but don't know enough about all the players to play in a fantasy league.

Then my friend had a brilliant idea.  It started with last season's Top Chef: All Stars.  We all already followed Top Chef so we knew the chefs pretty well and ultimately would be rooting for someone anyway.  Why not make a fantasy league?  Yes!  Absolutely.  We researched the chefs we didn't know, created rules (5 pts for Elimination win, 3 pts for being in top Elimination group, 1 pt for Quickfire win), created an order and picked.  It was awesome.  Smack talking and rooting for contestants throughout the whole show until they named a winner.

This year we did a fantasy league for Top Chef: Texas.  This was a little harder since we weren't familiar with the contestants.  The first two episodes were whittling down the chefs from 29 contestants to 16, so we decided to watch those two episodes and then pick.

But, of course, we couldn't get enough fantasy leagues.  One of my guilty pleasure shows is Real World/Road Rules: The Challenge.  (Don't judge!  It's the only MTV or "reality" show I watch).  I think it goes back to my competitive nature and loving to see who will win.  Plus there's so much dramaz.  I've grown to root for specific players every time they're one.  Go CT!  So we decided to make a league for The Challenge.

Again, this was a little hard, because the audience doesn't know the format of the show before it's aired, and we thought watching the first episode would give away too much.  We decided some rules (winning the challenge is 4 pts, crying is 1 pt, physical violence is 3 pts) and went for it.

All in all, we have a few leagues going and I can finally be in a fantasy league!  It's exciting.  I won Top Chef: All Stars, am killing it at Top Chef: Texas at the moment (fingers crossed) but it's too early to tell about The Challenge (I don't think I'm looking too good).

I try not to watch too much TV because I've been trying to focus on revising, and reading CPs' work.  But I couldn't say no to these.  And sometimes I just need a break, so watching a few shows a week is okay.  Especially now that I finished Sherlock, I am a lot more productive...

Monday, February 6, 2012

e-books vs print books

First off, sorry about the late posting.  Things got hectic and I got distracted by sparkly and non-sparkly things.

E-books.  What are everyone's opinions?  Most authors and people blogging about writing on the blogosphere have one.  It makes sense, right?  People love gadgets and new technology.  E-books make getting your next read incredibly easy; it's just a push of a button.  They're not as heavy as books and you can store so many in one place.

I do not have an e-reader.  All my friends are wildly confounded by this; they know how much I read so the next logical step to them is for me to have an e-reader.  Well, I don't really want one.  I like my print books; I like going to the library and bookstores, and scouring the shelves for what interests me.  Maybe it's because [at 25] I'm old-fashioned.  I still don't have a smart phone (though I will hopefully be changing that soon...)  Yes, having an e-reader would be incredibly convenient since I still haven't joined the Philadelphia Library system and I take my book to work every day in my purse *which gets heavier with each book I add), but I guess I'm just stubborn.  To me, I love the feel of holding print books and having them collect on my shelves.  I like looking at the bookmark and seeing how far I've read or how many pages I have left.  I like underlining and writing in the margins.

I read an article about what would happen to book signings when the age of the digital book takes over.  Where do authors sign on an e-book?  I like that companies have already started making solutions for this; maybe having an application to sign with a stylus and leave an inscription.  Signing the e-book case is cool too, though, you would really have to like that author for them to sign the case (but that's why you're at the book signing in the first place, right?)

There are pros and cons to everything and for now, I think I'm going to sit this one out.  Maybe in a few years I'll finally give in and get one.  Why do you love your e-reader?  I'll def take it into consideration...

Friday, February 3, 2012

Making Time

This week has been one of those weeks that went by in a blur.  What did I even do this week?  Admittedly, I am a pretty busy person.  I play Ultimate frisbee three times a week to exercise. I started taking bass lessons again since I haven't played in a few years.  I've had multiple doctor appointments to see what's wrong with my knee (so that I can play more frisbee).  I chill and watch (too much) TV with The Boy.  And then there's all the writing and reading I do.  So yeah, making time for writing is hard, but it's still doable.

I was talking to some people in my critique groups, all of whom are very busy with their day jobs.  And something to remember is, even if you can't give a lot of time every day, you always have time for 15 minutes of writing/editing.  At least do 15 minutes every day.  Do it during your lunch break, while you're waiting for your cereal to get soggy (yes that's me), while you're waiting for your train or wake up 15 minutes earlier. 

Whatever it is, there is always time for 15 minutes every dayEvery day are the key words.  That is not a lot of time.  Obviously, spending more time is preferable but some days that's just not a reality.  There are some days I'm just so busy that I think I can't fit anything else in, but 15 minutes never seems ridiculous.  Or should never seem ridiculous.

At some point, something may have to give.  I'm starting to think my sleep schedule might be the thing, since I don't want to give anything else up.  So we'll see how that goes...