Wednesday, May 25, 2016

YA is NOT Dumbed-Down Adult Fiction

Last week, it was announced that Dan Brown is currently working on a special YA version of his mega-bestseller The Da Vinci Code. As you can imagine, this sparked a lot of conversation—much of it incredulous.
It isn't clear exactly what will be different about the YA-specific version of the book, other than the fact that it will be "abridged." What does that mean, exactly? Hard words taken out? Sex scenes removed? The religious/historical aspects toned down? All of those can be found in YA novels, so the whole concept has many people confused.

In the interest of full disclosure, I wasn't a particular fan of the original. But the idea of changing a book that's perfectly readable for young adults (I was nineteen when I read it, and I know plenty of people who were younger!) is just insulting.

There's a pervasive attitude that young adults aren't smart or sophisticated enough to understand adult fiction. This couldn't be further from the truth. Sure, there are plenty of simple, uncomplicated books in YA... but just like adult fiction, there's a whole range (surely no one's going to argue that most category romances are dense or difficult to understand?). YA novels often feature beautiful, well-written prose, plenty of literary devices, and complex social and moral issues. Show me someone who thinks all YA is simplistic, and I'll show you someone who hasn't read widely in the category.

Time will tell if young adults flock to the "abridged" version of The Da Vinci Code like Brown and his publisher are hoping. But I think I'll stick to YA written by people who don't talk down to their audience.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Screenwriting Classic "Save the Cat" Tips for YA Writers

After looking back through the screenwriter's classic text Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, I jotted down some notes on key points that are really relevant for YA writers today.

*"...liking the person we go on a journey with is the single most important element in drawing us into the story" So true for any storytelling.

* A great way to get the reader to like your lead character is to have him/her do something humanizing/kind like saving a cat in the opening scene (think Katniss taking her sister's place in The Hunger Games).

* You need to be able to sum up "what is this about" in a single short logline. Novels are no different since a book often needs to be sold based on a cool title, a picture that can sum up the point, and a paragraph.

* A compelling logline is based around irony.

* You have to have a hero/main character (or two) for us to connect with.

* Protagonist must have a PRIMAL (survival, hunger, love, death, etc.) motivation that is what will make the hero succeed.

* After determining the PRIMAL motivation for your hero, now look to structure. Blake Snyder has created an awesome 15 beat single page document that is well worth checking out. If you're someone like me who loves a great simple worksheet, this one is for you as we know that many great writers use screenwriting technique to get an engaging plot.

* Snyder suggests writing out each scene on a card and that there should be 40 cards total divided up between Act One, Act Two (part one), Act Two (part two), and Act Three. The cards should be placed there. He recommends using them to chart plot and emotional beats. Writers often use similar cards on Scrivener to great success.

* "Pope in the Pool" trick is a nice way to bury backstory. The basic premise is that you make the scene so funny (a Pope in a pool) that the information dump being delivered by a character isn't that boring anymore; the longer backstory piece just serves as a deadpan counterbalance to heighten the comedy occurring in the action.

* Avoid "Double Mumbo Jumbo." In world-building with fantasy/sci-fi you only have so much suspension of disbelief. If you push the line too far or are inconsistent with your imaginary world's rules, your reader won't trust you.

* Avoid too much "laying pipe" which means taking too long to get to the action. If you're 25 pages in with setup, you've gone wayyyyy too long & you've just killed your audience off.

* Avoid "too much marzipan." Marzipan is delicious in small doses, but if you keep adding more and more and more and overdoing the awesomeness of something it overwhelms and ruins it.

For the rest of the
awesome tips, you'll have to get the book (which I highly recommend) and get writing!!! 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Happy Birthday National Parks

National Parks turn 100 this year.  Pretty awesome!  But for me, National Parks are extra special.  I have chosen to use National Parks as settings for my Mason Davis series.

My first novel, Mason Davis and the Rise of the Storm Makers, takes place in the Southwest and covers many of the parks from Texas to Arizona.

My second book, Mason Davis and the Storm Maker's Song, takes place in parks ranging from Florida to Texas.

My last book, Mason Davis and the Fight for Freedom, covers the parks and sites surrounding our country's capital.

Now, I may draw from nature (and our National Parks) for my inspiration, but my ideas are often dwarfed by the significance of these national treasures.  I can only humbly pay homage to these beauties, but I do hope that my stories, settings, and knowledge within my written works can help to inspire others to love National Parks the way I do. . . .  They have inspired me and taught me to keep it real.

So Happy Birthday National Parks and thanks for all the fond memories and all the inspiration.

You rock!!!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Advice to Writers + How Pantsing Can Help You Write More + A Giveaway from ARGOS Author Philip W. Simpson

We're excited to welcome Philip W. Simpson to Thinking to Inking! Today, he shares how becoming a pantser helped him become a more prolific writer, as well as advice for those of us still slogging it out in the query trenches. Don't forget to scroll to the bottom of the post for a chance to win a copy of Philip's latest release, Argos.

Guest post from author Philip W. Simpson:

Pantsing vs. Plotting and How it Can Help You Write More Books

I’m much more of a pantser now than I used to be. I’ve just about finished my 9th novel and to honest, I’m not really sure what’s going to happen next. I just know that when my fingers hit the keyboard, ideas come. Some are good, some are bad but I just get the draft down first. I can look for inconsistences and poor writing later (and trust me, there’s going to be a lot).

I planned my first three novels meticulously but I have found over the years that I don’t like to be restricted like this. Often unexpected ideas come during the writing process. This initiates a somewhat awkward confrontation between the pantser and planner parts of my brain. One is saying ‘you have to do this because it says so here. See!’ and the other one is saying ‘bollocks to that. This new idea is better. Go with it.’

The pantser often wins out. In fact, I think the planner has given up. Once they’ve done a rough outline i.e. main character starts at this point, get him or her to the end point in the most interesting way possible—then their job is done. The pantser takes over. So, what I’m saying is don’t restrict yourself. Who cares if you write yourself into a corner. Ben Okri once gave me some good advice which was essentially this: writing yourself into a corner is an opportunity for creativity and for some of your best writing to emerge. You are literally forced to come up with some inventive ways for your characters to get out of their dead end/and or sticky situation.

Advice for writers slogging it out in the query trenches:

If you’re looking for an agent, do your research. I checked out Editors and Predators. Look for feedback from other authors on chat sites. Make lists. Look for books that are similar to yours, check out the authors and find who they are represented by. If they look legit, I’d query them. Make more lists.

Many agencies and publishers hate multiple submissions. And I do mean hate. Check their submission criteria. Every one is different. Queries are fine. Send out lots of queries (cover letter, blurb, a bit about yourself—once again, check their webpage to see what they require). Never send a partial or full ms until they ask for it. Some are fine with multiple submissions. Keep a spreadsheet listing with dates and either query, partial, or full. And outcome obviously. One of my spreadsheets has 50 odd entries.

If you do get an offer, however, you must, MUST, let other agents know. If you don’t, you run the risk of being blacklisted. Also, it gives other agents a chance to get in an offer (a multiple offer situation—makes all authors swoon).

To reiterate: do your research. Look for writers who write for the same genre and market. Find out who their agents are. Check out their website. Research individual agents and find out what they are looking for. Tailor your query letter to them i.e. “I see that you are looking for …. And that you represent…” Agents hate form letters (even though they send out form replies). Only send them your ms if it’s the genre they are after. Otherwise, you are wasting their time and yours. Only put things in your cover letter that are relevant. Don’t tell them that you worked at McDonalds in the holidays. Do tell them if you won awards or have been previously published. Don’t tell them that your mom loves your work. Keep a tab on who and what you have sent. I once made the mistake of sending the same ms twice to the same agent because I hadn’t updated my query spreadsheet. He was not impressed. Most of all, if you think you need an agent, be persistent. Don’t give up! Take on board any feedback (you probably won’t get much).

The Process of Writing Argos

I got the idea for Argos from a page in Homer’s Odyssey. This is where Odysseus returns after twenty years to his island of Ithaka and finds his loyal dog Argos still waiting for him. He’s lying forgotten and dying on a dung heap but sees Odysseus, raises his head, wags his tail and dies. I cried when I first read it and have cried every time since. I love stories about dogs and I love first person narratives so hence the reason I chose to tell the story from Argos’ eyes. Besides, I had a blank canvas of twenty years to fill in which gave me creative license.

I’m a full time elementary teacher and as a matter of necessity, I have to write fast. I write in my holidays and weekends. In a two week term break, I can write 40k words so Argos took me around 4-5 weeks to write. You have to remember that I already have a pretty strong idea of the story in my head.

This is not too dissimilar to the writing process for my other books with the exception of last year. I was lucky enough to have a sabbatical last year where I completed my Masters in Creative Writing. The course work for that was to write a novel. I wrote it fairly quickly (4 months) but then had the luxury of spending the rest of the year reworking it. It was a fantastic experience. I wish every year was like that.

Argos by Phillip W. Simpson
Release Date: May 10, 2016
Publisher: Month9Books

Loyalty has no limits

Raised from a pup by Greek hero, Odysseus, Argos has come to learn the true meaning of love and loyalty. But when Odysseus leaves for the Trojan War, little does Argos know it will be 20 years before he sees his master again. With Odysseus gone his wife, Penelope, and son, Telemachus, are easy prey for neighboring kings and the Gods themselves.

But Argos was tasked to keep them safe until Odysseus returns and that is a promise he is determined to keep – whatever the cost. Told through his eyes, Argos recounts the story of his life – his pain, his joy, his triumphs and failures; his endurance in the face of hardships almost too great to believe.

Above all else, Argos strives to do what is right – and to remain loyal to his King when all others have given up hope. To live long enough to see his beloved master one more time.

This epic myth of love and loyalty proves that a dog really is man's best friend.

About the author

Phillip W. Simpson has written over 50 children’s books for both middle grade and young adult readers. He has a background in Ancient History and Archaeology, and has partially completed his doctorate in Archaeology. He lives in Auckland, New Zealand, with his wife Rose, their son, Jack and their two border terriers, Whiskey and Raffles. When not writing, he works as an elementary school teacher.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Writing the First Book in a YA Series

When you’re writing a book, it’s normal to wonder if it would work better as a standalone novel or the beginning of a series. While a series might seem appealing (after all, your fans will get to read more in the world you created and you’ll make more money, right?) there are many books that simply work better as standalone novels. You are the only one who can make a decision about whether there’s enough story to tell to justify more than one book.
If you decide to go the series route, there are some things you’ll want to keep in mind. First, current advice is to have the first book stand alone for the most part. That might sound confusing—how can it be a series if it stands alone?—but another way to put this would be to ensure the first book’s story arc wraps up in a conclusion that’s satisfying for the reader. If your intended first book in a series has a cliffhanger ending where the hero/heroine is about to be devoured by a horrible monster, that’s a problem.

Having the first book stand alone doesn’t mean you can’t leave some loose ends at the end, however. JK Rowling does a great job of this in HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S/PHILOSOPHER’S STONE. While the main plot of the book is resolved (Harry finishes his first year at school, bests the villain who threatened him, and finds a place to belong at last), the reader knows that Voldemort is still out there somewhere and that Harry will be returning to Hogwarts the next year.

When pursuing traditional publication, don’t make the mistake of putting in your query letter to agents that it’s book one of a planned fifteen-book series. Even if you are planning fourteen more books, you’ll have to sell the first one first, and then it will have to do well enough so the publisher wants to publish the others. In a query, the best way to express that your book could be a series is with some variation of the wording “standalone novel with series potential.” (Of course, then you have to make sure the book actually does stand alone.)

If you know you want to write further works in same world and/or about the same characters, but don’t necessarily want to continue forward directly from events of the first book, companion novels might be the perfect compromise. Some good YA examples include Kristin Cashore’s GRACELING and FIRE, and Stephanie Perkins’s ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS and LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR.

Are you planning or have you written a YA series?