Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Are Your Characters Suffering From Insta-Love?

I follow several YA book blogs that regularly review YA books.  They're great for discovering new reads, but I also like hearing what likes/dislikes spark for the reviewer. While every review is subjective, I've found that they help me stay attune to recurring trends in YA literature that might cause reader burnout or general reader dissatisfaction with the story.

I've noticed one trend in particular that's garnered lots of negative reader reviews as of late: Insta-love. I've seen it frequently enough that it makes me think 1) insta-love is pervasive in YA literature and 2) readers are getting tired of it.

If you're not familiar, insta-love happens when two characters meet and *poof* fall madly in love.

On the surface, this might not seem so terrible.  After all, who hasn't romanticized about love-at-first-sight? Or what high school girl hasn't had a crush on the oh-so-hot guy just because he's hot?  But in writing, insta-love can lead to shallow characters and a lack of differentiation between your stories' romantic elements and other stories on the market.

To build unique characters with depth and voice, they need to have unique motivations that drive their actions and the story forward.  It's fine to have characters feel that instant spark of attraction, but for it to move into love territory and make for a deep and compelling character-driven relationship, there needs to be something to the relationship that triggers the reason for it moving into love zone.

Ask yourself:
  • If I stripped physical attributes away from my main character's love interest, what would be the 1-2 things that made my MC fall in love with this person?
    • How have I shown the above to readers?
  • If I stripped physical attributes away from my MC, what would be the 1-2 things that made the love interest fall in love with them?
    • How have I shown the above to readers?
  • If I stripped away physical attraction and that first (s)he's-so-hot moment, what would be the inciting incident that lead my character to go from crush, to love? How might you work that into your story? 
Another quick insta-love litmus test is the twin quiz: if your MC's love interest had an identical twin, how would readers tell them apart based on the story you've written today? Why would your MC fall in love with one twin, and not the other?  

Happy writing! 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Where to Find Blog Images

If you read my fellow blogger Stacy's post a few days ago about why she removed photos from her blog posts, you might be wondering if there's any easy way to find images that are okay to use.

Don't worry, you don't need to resign yourself to posting blocks of text with the occasional image you took yourself. Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization, provides copyright licenses so people can give permission for their images (as well as music, videos, and other media) to be used by others.

Creative Commons logo

Copyright holders can specify which ways they will allow their images to be used. They might decide to allow non-commercial use only, for example. The symbols above will be somewhere near the photo on the original website and specify the uses that are allowed. But the good news for bloggers is that almost any of these images can be used in blog posts.

(A small caveat: some licenses request attribution of the image, so it's still important to read the license to make sure you're following the license holder's requirements. You can see an example of this on the photo below.)

To find images licensed under Creative Commons, go to You can search a bunch of different sites from this page, including Google Images and Flickr. While you might not find the wealth of images you would in a general search, you can rest easy knowing you're staying on the right side of copyright law.
Hooray for the Internet by goopy mart is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Monday, August 18, 2014

Why I Removed Photos From My Blog Posts, And You Should Too

If you're like me, then you prefer reserving blocks of text for your novels, not your blog posts.  And thanks to Google it's ridiculously easy to find hundreds (if not thousands) of photos that can provide visual stimulation for just about any blog post topic. But here's the deal-- just because a picture pops up on Google doesn't mean it's yours to use.

I'd heard this before, but didn't take heed until I read several stories from authors and other people who posted an image onto their blog, only to have the owner of the photograph come back and sue for payment.

It didn't matter that the blogger didn't make money from the photo. It didn't matter that the blogger took the photo down as soon as they were contacted by the photographer.  What mattered was that they had used the image, and for that reason and that reason alone the owner of the photo had the right to sue for payment.

Check out this post by author Roni Loren which does an excellent job of spelling out the risks associated with using a pic you don't have rights to.

The message is clear:  you can get sued for using pictures on your blogs without permission. Period.

Based on this, I've decided to take Roni's advice and pull down most of the photos from my posts.  The only ones I've left up are book images or logos for things I'm helping to promote.

I hope you'll forgive my naked blog posts moving forward. They may not be as pretty, but I'd rather not take the risk.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Creating a Great Setting Writing Exercise

There are so many elements to creating a great setting like utilizing all five senses, using setting as an opportunity to foreshadow or mirror events, using symbolic elements, etc... but today, I think it'd be fun to play a game of "what do you see?". When entering a room, there's no way you're going to notice the same thing as your best friend, and if you do, it's likely you won't describe it the same way. So... here's a picture. What do you see? How would you describe it? How would your main character? His/her love interest? His/her parents? If they all notice the same thing, you're not writing real enough characters. What we see/ choose to see in our settings in life says a lot about us. So here goes, what do you see here?

Monday, August 11, 2014

YA Book Pick: CINDER by Marissa Meyer

Once a month, we choose an outstanding YA book to review. We want to spotlight books of interest to aspiring writers, as well as highlight some of our favorite books and authors!

This month's Book Pick is CINDER by Marissa Meyer.

Synopsis (from Goodreads): Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl.

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

First Line: "The screw through Cinder's ankle had rusted, the engraved cross marks worn to a mangled circle."

This first line gives you an immediate impression of the main character. She obviously has something physically different about her, or she wouldn't have a screw through her ankle. The author also plants the idea that Cinder is poor by mentioning that the screw is rusted. It makes me want to read on and find out why!

Highlights: Although "cyborg Cinderella" is a good enough hook for just about anyone, this book is also a good example of the dystopian genre. It's set in the future, after a world war has devastated much of the world and completely changed political boundaries. The author did a good job of avoiding the dreaded infodump, instead doling out bits of information throughout the book that kept me hooked and interested.

The main character is mechanically inclined and very competent, which I liked a lot. No damsel in distress here. The romantic plotline is also well-crafted. The protagonists' attraction to each other is believable, and so are the reasons they are kept apart.

The book ends on a dramatic cliffhanger, which made me want to pick up the next book immediately. From the synopses, it looks like the other books in Meyer's series each follow different fairy-tale characters who end up interacting with Cinder and each other. This seems like an intriguing way to do a series that might be more interesting than just following the same character throughout multiple novels.

A Good Read For: Writers of fairy-tale retellings, this would be a great read for you. The author loosely follows the Cinderella story, but she adds so much of her own spin that I honestly forgot about it after a while. She did an excellent job of blending just enough of the familiar with interesting new concepts to keep the reader hooked.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

SCBWI LA 2014...In Quotations and Pictures!

* I attended the SCBWI summer conference again, and had yet another amazing time. Here are some of my favorite notes from the conference:

Stephen Chbosky & Jay Asher
* "Every scene needs to either ask or answer a question." --Jay Asher

* Stephen Chbosky talked about how studying Chinatown in film school influenced his use of subtle (not obvious and clunky) and well-placed "red herrings."

* Maggie Stiefvater creates unforgettable characters by "painting portraits" of them with language. She's
Maggie Stiefvater's art
constantly striving to "solve for 'x'," which means to figure out what the essential feature of the person is (yes, she takes the "x" from someone she's met in real life). She's always trying to find the most simple defining point, and then she builds a character's complexity up from there. 

* Meg Rosoff wanted us to be brave. To write about what is deep and true and to learn enough about yourself to write the story only you can write.

Meg Medina & Linda Sue Park
Diversity Panel
* Panel on diversity: If you're writing about a culture outside your own, you should have a passionate personal stake in what you're writing about, research needs to be intensive, and extensive, and it will probably take years. Don't just throw a "diverse" character you don't understand into a book because we need more diversity; it can be highly offensive. It's especially bad when a stereotype slips in and perpetuates a false truth. Personal note: I was really proud of SCBWI for including this panel, and I did hear mixed-reviews on it (I don't think that's a bad thing; it's a tough conversation, but one that needs to happen). Where is the line? When can writers write outside their own race/culture? I hope that the conversation continues at length until all our kids are well-represented in literature. Kudos SCBWI. Kudos. 

* Favorite comment on diversity panel: Linda Sue Park wishes business side would stop saying "they" don't buy books. Instead, realize it's an untapped market with $1 Trillion in buying power. There is a marketer smart enough to figure out how to do it, and when he/she comes around, they're going to make a killing.

 * Sara Sargent urged writers to figure out what their characters most desired, feared, loved, etc. and then use that knowledge to torture your characters. We may not love drama in our own lives, but we do love reading about it.
Judy Blume has a packed house
hanging on her every word
* "I was brave in my writing in a way I wasn't in my own life." --Judy Blume
On my way out, guess whose car this might be???