Sunday, February 21, 2010

Diet Coke & Cadbury Mini Eggs

"Breaking Rules, Point of View, and Zombies" didn't seem like a cool enough title for this entry so I went with something more appetizing. Also (to keep my brain from exploding) I'm on a structure strike at the moment, so pardon me for being random.

I'm cranky today because I spent the last 24 hours with Ethan Wate and Lena Duchannes and didn't get much sleep. BEAUTIFUL CREATURES, by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl is hypnotic and lovely. As a reader, I devoured the lush backdrop and the (literally) electric romance. As a writer, the rule violations blew me away.

Rule Violation #1: YA Word Count

For the last year, I've heard agents firmly declare anything over 100,000 words to be too long for YA. Yes, Rowling and Meyer have insanely long YA on shelves, but most debut authors are shot down when querying longer manuscripts. BEAUTIFUL CREATURES is nearly 600 pages.

Rule Violation #2: First Chapter Red Lights

Don't describe the weather, don't have protag wake up from a dream. Ethan wakes up from a dream and it's raining in the first two pages. KG and MS made it anything but boring, however. Good luck putting it down once you've cracked it open.

Rule Violation #3: NO Prologue

I can't tell you how passionate some agents get about this one. Many of them feel prologues are completely unnecessary and all that information should be included in the body of the novel instead of summarized in the beginning. It's telling instead of showing. What's printed on pages 1, 2 and 3 of BEAUTIFUL CREATURES? Go ahead, take a guess.

Rule Violation #4: Putting the Cart Before the Horse

This is a big one. Make your first book stand on its own instead of pitching a series. Unless we're discussing freaking Stephen King, a publisher is taking a risk by agreeing to put out more than one book by a debut author. If the first one fizzles, the others are probably going to be duds too. I heard BEAUTIFUL CREATURES is the first of five (that's F.I.V.E. as in four more than one) books in its series.

Perfect Example of Exception to EVERY Rule: Write a Great Story

BEAUTIFUL CREATURES is glorious. Maybe those rules mostly apply to people throwing together cliche vampire/werewolf/fallen angel/mythology/hidden portal/save the world cliches in an attempt to ride the coattails of popular YA authors. Maybe those rules are meant for authors who want their formulaic work to be inhaled (in quantity rather than quality) by teens who are feeding their YA trend addiction. Maybe, those rules can be broken by writers who have something so magical that it doesn't need guidelines to be great.

The story of generations of Casters in Gatlin; surviving the Civil War, a curse, and the narrow mindedness of an ignorant community, is mesmerizing. Bringing it all to a head with the descendants of doomed lovers falling in love, this time in the present day, is pure genius.

Anyway, I haven't had enough caffeine to be totally coherent; even if it is afternoon now. Shannon Hale is a great mentor. I love what she says about being true to your story and not writing to a trend or an audience. I know she's all big and famous now, but I remember her as the big sister to my best friend, goofing off with the Bryner girls in Salt Lake City, and giving me fabulous advice while we showed off our babies at The Old Spaghetti Factory. Writers are such cool people, and I'm honored to know so many who are at the top of their game. Their influence, inspiration and friendship keep me going.

I'm out of time so I'll summarize the part about point of view and zombies. Justin's book can't be written in third person. Not gonna happen this time. I'm reworking the point of view. And zombies? They scare the socks off of me, but (apparently) I can write some really freaky living-dead scenes.

REM is coming along nicely now. I'll have to share sometime.

Monday, February 1, 2010

And now, for my next trick...

Will & Maggie is finished. Sheared down to 55,000 words, it's as finished as it's going to get on my end. The plot is tight, the action and romance are intense, and I'm satisfied.

A new story has been burning in the back of my mind for a while now, and I finally get to tell it. There is research to be done first, and songs to update on my iPod. I have to figure out this new voice; where it comes from, where it's going. I like Justin, I just don't know him really well yet.

I'm surprisingly anxious about the change. Whether it's the switch from first person to third, or the change in gender, I can't seem to find my footing. Maggie was so simple to narrate, making it frustrating to feel blocked this way. I'm not used to being dead at the keyboard.

Here's my question: What can I do to get the words flowing? I know it's not a fair question to ask, since the muse is different for everyone. I have some ideas, and only a few of them involve alcohol.

1. Have a sit down with Justin. Just like Will and Maggie, I need a good backstory for this kid. It won't be in the book; it's purely for my own benefit as the author. There are so many things I need to know about him if I'm going to use his voice.

2. Get to know the 'third person'. Read it, practice it, learn to love it.

3. Throw organization out the window. I suck at structure. I rebel against it. If I try to start at point A and move chronologically to point B, there will be a violent uprising. It'll get ugly. Maybe I'll start at point Q, back up to point 4, and then jump around the timeline for a while.

4. Stop procrastinating and get busy. Seriously. Like now.

What works for you?