My WIP’s Character Aesthetics

Sooo….

This is unexpected, isn’t it?

I’ve talked about writing before. Okay… I’ve hinted at it from time to time. The reason why I’ve never talked much about it is because I don’t want to jinx myself by talking about something that might never get finished. I’m notorious for not finishing my WIPs.

BUT…

I really like this WIP, guys! I feel like it’s the story I’m meant to write. Yeah, yeah, I know that sounds cliché, but whatever. I haven’t felt this excited about a project in a long, long time and I want to share it with someone.

There’s only one problem…

I can’t tell you much about it! YET. I’ve only written about a quarter and I’m still figuring out the plot myself.

What I CAN tell you is that it’s split up into two timelines because I just loooove to make things complicated and hard for myself  both of which are narrated by Liv (17). I’m not even going to try and formulate the plot I’ve come up with thus far. Instead, I’m going to list a couple of things that you may or may not find in my WIP

  • the enemies to friends trope (between two girls!)
  • childhood friends who reconnect years later… and become more than friends
  • summer school
  • powerful, controlling families
  • death
  • mystery
  • many, many secrets
  • lies
  • Game of Thrones / HP references
  • web comics
  • expectations
  • girl power / feminism
  • complicated family dynamics
  • pain

That doesn’t sound particularly cheery, does it? But that’s exactly what I’m going for. If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know that I prefer emotional (somewhat “darker”) books to ones that are fluffy and happy. Basically, I want to make my readers cry and I’m not even sorry.

I realise that all of this makes little sense (heck, sometimes it doesn’t even make sense to me!). So as to not make this a completely useless post, I’m going to share my character aesthetics with you. It’s the first time I’ve ever done these but I’m really happy with them even though it took me HOURS, which is time I probably should’ve been spent writing

So, without further ado, here are…

LIV 

WIP-Liv

AYAH

WIP-Ayah

ION

WIP-Ion

I’m reaaalllyyy nervous about sharing this with you so I hope you like it!

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Discussion: The Secrets to a Good Book

Hello, friends!

I’ve recently started a new Work in Progress (WIP) and, obviously, I want it to be the best book I’ve written so far. Or the best book ever for that matter. In my dreams, I write it in a couple of months, edit it until I can’t stand to read another word of it, query it, and publish it. It then goes on to become a huge best-seller and I’ll get to quit my job and write full-time.

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Sounds great, right?

There’s only problem: writing “the best book ever” implies that I know what that means. Which then got me to thinking: “What is it that makes a book good? Are there elements or plot points that you have to include to make for a good book? Or is it all subjective?

I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject at all, but I’d like to share my opinion with you and open this topic open for discussion.

For me, “good books” are mostly subjective. By mostly, I mean this: everyone has different tastes. Some people like books with fantasy worlds that are described in great detail. Others like space operas or a good sword fight or a steaming romance or … You get the point. Everyone likes different things. What I like and think is amazing, you might hate and vice versa. I think we can all agree on that.

But, to me, that’s just the top layer.

I wanted to dig deeper and find out if universally acclaimed books from any genre or demographic have certain things in common.

Here’s what I came up with…

The secrets to a good book

1. A Main Character You Can Sympathise With

Note that I’m not talking about a likeable character. Why not? Because I don’t think you need one. There are plenty of good books and even some classics with unlikeable characters. This, again, depends on taste since not everyone has the same opinion on a character.

For example: I don’t particularly like Holden Caufield but Catcher in the Rye is still a great book. Why? Because, to me, Holden is relatable. I can sympathise with him and with his struggles. This is absolutely key. Why else would you follow the main character’s journey if you couldn’t sympathise with them?

Main take-away: good books don’t need a likeable main character. They’ve got a main character you can sympathise and root for.

2. A Journey I’m Invested In

So, you have a main character who might or might not be likeable but is definitely relatable. Great. But that’s obviously not going to be enough. Something needs to happen. You can’t just have a character living his life while nothing interesting happens to them. That would be boring.

No, the main character needs to go on a journey. This can be either a literal journey and / or a metaphorical one. To me, that’s the main difference between a plot-driven book and a character-driven one. In a plot-driven book, you’ll have lots of plot.

– A boy discovers he’s a wizard and must go through different trials before he can defeat the most evil wizard of all time
– A girl volunteers to take part in a dangerous game to save her sister’s life but ends up becoming a role model for a rebellion against a tyranny government
– …

You get the point. Lots of out-of-the-ordinary and / or dangerous things happen to the main character.

But there are also character-driven plots where your main character goes on an emotional journey. In Catcher in the Rye, not much happens to Holden. He spends most of his time wandering around the city on his own, thinking about his family, his past, and his future. But the important thing is that he changes throughout the book. He’s not the same person at the end of the book, which means he’s “been on a journey”.

Something must happen to the main character to make them change, which is key in both plot-driven and character-driven stories.

Main take-away: good books have main characters who go on a journey the readers are invested in.

3. Good writing

This one is nearly impossible to define. After all, what makes for good writing? Sure, there are certain things that are universally frowned upon (using too many adverbs, showing vs. Telling, etc) and things that are praised (three-dimensional characters, beautiful descriptions, etc.).

But that’s all subjective. For one, times change. You can’t expect to write like Charles Dickens and have his success. Second, not everyone agrees on what makes for good writing. Some like purple prose, others can’t stand it. Some hate info dumps, others don’t mind.

So, the question is: “Is there such a thing as a style of writing that’s objectively “good”?

To me, there is, but it’s got nothing to do with the words the author chooses to use or in what order he puts them. For me, good writing need to inspire emotion (of any kind). If the author’s writing can elicite emotion from its readers, it’s good writing.

Main take-away: good books have a range of styles, but they all inspire emotion in the reader

That’s it!

Main Character I Can Sympathise with + Journey I’m Invested in + Good Writing = Good Book

***

Now, let’s open this up for discussion. Do you agree with me? What do you think a good book can’t do without?

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My Bookish Pet Peeves in YA fiction

I’ve done a lot of serious posts lately (on mental illness, the Thirteen Reasons Why controversy, whitewashing, etc.) so I thought I’d switch it up and do a fun post. Today I’m talking about My Bookish Pet Peeves in YA fiction. Disclaimer: these are my personal pet peeves, which means you might not agree with any of these things that personally annoy me, and that’s totally fine. In fact, let me know in the comment section what your pet peeves are. It’ll be fun!

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1. Books with one-word titles

I can’t really put my finger on why this is a pet peeve. I think it’s because it was a trend a couple of years ago. Like, every YA book had to have a one-world title. Don’t believe me? Here a just a few: Twilight, Divergent, Uglies, Cinder, Matched, Fallen … It didn’t help that I didn’t like any of those books, which is probably why I started associating one-word titles with bad books. I know that’s terrible because there are plenty of really good books and classics that have one-word titles (1984, Dracula, Emma, Fangirl … ) so the title by no means reflects the quality of the book, but it still bothers me.

2. Sequels

No one likes finishing a book you love to pieces. No one. You want it to go on and on and on and on until the end of days so you can grow up and grow old while reading about your favourite characters’ adventures and all the trouble they get into. I mean, who didn’t want to read about oh, I don’t know, Harry Potter’s adult life? His kids’ lives? Heck, why not Dumbledore’s childhood? Seriously, us Potterheads would read anything even vaguely connected to the Harry Potter Universe.

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BUT there’s one problem: if you (the author) decide to do a sequel FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, give us a decent story. There’s nothing worse than getting stuck with a sequel where literally nothing happens. Or worse: you get a sequel that screws up the original characters and you’re like: “NO, NO, NO! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”. Ugh. It’s the absolute worst because it taints the memory of the first book which you loved but now you’re not sure about because the sequel kind of ruined the whole thing.

3. MC’s who’re good at everything

Don’t you hate it when an MC discovers they have powers / are the chosen one / are destined to overthrow the government / are training to be an assassin and they don’t struggle at all? And did I mention they also get good grades, play an instrument, maintain a social life, have time to worry about the love triangle they’re caught up in and they’re rescuing stray dogs left and right? Okay, I might be exaggerating, but you get the point. It’s not realistic for them to be good at everything they do.

4. The MC’s family is not around / abusive / dead

Look, I get it. A big part of being a teenager is figuring out your identity and dealing with problems…preferably without parental supervision. But that doesn’t mean you have to traumatize your MC by giving them parents who’re dead, abusive or who don’t care about them. Yes, I’m aware there are teenagers for whom this (unfortunately) is realistic, but that’s not nearly the case for every single teenager. Which means not every YA character should have a screwed up family. Long live healthy family relationships!

5. Obligatory romance

I love my romance just as much as the next person, but please don’t throw in a romance because you feel like you have to because it will appeal to your audience. It feels forced most of the time and, to be honest, it’s also really unrealistic. How do all these heroes and heroines have the time and energy to worry about who likes whom when they’re supposed to saving the world or stop the evil overlord for killing their family? Priorities. Please.

6. Endless and repetitive character descriptions

I like short, basic descriptions that are not repeated every two pages. If you tell me the MC’s love interest has eyes the colour of the ocean on an overcast day just once, I get the picture. You don’t have to tell me three times in two pages. Seriously.

7. No diversity

This one speaks for itself. We live in a diverse world. People come in all shapes and sizes, they’re not all straight and they don’t share the same background / ancestry and skin colour. I can’t stand a contemporary YA book that features no diversity whatsoever. It’s unrealistic, plain and simple.

8. Bad representation

This ties in with the previous one. If you’re including diverse characters (which you should) please do research. Talk to people with the same experience, don’t revert to stereotypes and always be respectful. Basically, use common sense.

9. Deus Ex Machina

Don’t you hate it when your characters are in big the-world-is-going-to-end-and-everyone-is-going-to-die trouble and you know they’re not all going to get out alive until suddenly, out of nowhere, they’re saved by a character that showed up once 200 pages ago? That’s just one example of a Deus Ex Machina ending but I hate all of them. It’s a sign of poor writing.

10. “I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding.”

Can we agree this phrase is cliché and therefore should never be used again? Or at least not in the next ten years? Thank you.

Camp NaNoWrimo – Week 1: A Rocky Start

Happy Monday, everyone! I hope you’re all doing well and you’re reading some good books. I’ve just started The Hate U Give and, so far, it’s everything I expected it to be. I hope to finish it soon, so watch out for my review in the next couple of days.

Today I want to update you on my Camp NaNoWriMo progress. If you don’t know why I’m doing this or why I decided to participate this month, here’s the link to my first post.

I can’t say Week 1 was a success. As the title says, I had a rocky start. On April 1st, I began writing the story I had in mind, but after a couple of hundred words I knew it wasn’t going to work out. The story just wasn’t clicking with me. I wasn’t invested in it enough to want to spend the next 30 days writing it. I still liked the general idea behind the story, but the the story itself (the plot) wasn’t exciting. Which obviously sucked because I had to go back to the drawing board, which took up valuable time I needed for writing.

I took a day to re-plot my story. It wasn’t ideal but it was a necessary evil. If I hadn’t, I would’ve given up by now and that would’ve been a real shame because I think this story has a lot of potential.

So, with my new plot, I was ready to really get started until….

I got sick.

Ugh. Talk about bad timing!

For two days, I was a sniffling mess with zero energy. I had no creativity, no desire to do anything other than eating and sleeping. Needless to say, I didn’t get any writing done for almost two days. I also thought about giving up because I’d rushed into things and now the universe was clearly telling me this wasn’t the right time.

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Luckily, it passed as quickly as it came, but I had a lot of catching up to do. With renewed energy, I pushed out a good writing sessions of approximately 1,000 words on Friday and wrote another 800 words on Saturday and Sunday.

Week1

As you can see, I was back on track by Sunday evening. (I haven’t written anything yet today so don’t mind the last orange bar)

And that’s where I am right now.

Back on track, ready to fly off.

Are you doing Camp NaNoWriMo, too? How was your first week? Are you on track or falling behind? Let me know in the comments!

See you soon,

Lauren

Camp NaNoWriMo: Yay or Nay?

Camp NaNoWriMo is coming up again!

For those of you who don’t know, Camp NaNoWriMo is a virtual writer’s retreat where writers pledge to write anything between 30 and 1,000,000 words in the span of a single month (April or July). It’s like NaNoWriMo but you can set your own word goal instead of the standard 50K which makes it a little more flexible.

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo several times before and won twice so I know I can do it, but I’m not feeling too confident this time around. The idea of participating has been floating around my head for several weeks now but it took me until TODAY, some 14 odd hours before the official start, to make a decision. And it was by no means an easy decision.

Here are some of the pros and cons I came up with:

Pros:

  • Writing every day: no matter how unprepared I (think I) am, (Camp) NaNoWriMo always pushes me to write more. And we all know that the more you write, the better you’ll get.
  • Sharing the experience: it’s a hard but equally fun experience you get to share with thousands and thousands of other people who’re suffering just as much as you are. They get what you’re going through and support you no matter what, which makes it just a little easier.
  • New project: I haven’t written anything new in a long, long time.

Cons:

  • No time: it doesn’t matter what your word goal is, writing takes time and time is hard to come by. I want to participate, but I also want to keep up blogging and with other important aspects of my life such as, you know, sleeping. Sleeping is important. So is eating by the way. I’ve already said goodbye to my social life but I’m not going to sacrifice those two. Na-ah.
  • I’m unprepared: I wouldn’t say I’m a planner but I’m not a complete pantser either. I want to have some kind of idea of what I’m writing or I’m just going to be staring at a blank page for hours. Alright, maybe that won’t happen, but I’ll definitely be procrastinating (hello, cute cat videos!) and that’s just as bad. So far, I have written my one sentence summary and I also have a very rough idea of the general plot, but I would’ve liked to have a lot more details at this point.
  • I just finished a novel: I haven’t shared this yet, but I finished the 10th and final (!) draft of my YA novel two days ago. I first started writing it during NaNoWriMo and have been working on it on and off for almost three years now. To be honest, I was ready to take a break from writing but then a few plot bunnies hopped into my head and I got really excited about (finally!) starting a new project. .

The verdict

For me, the last pro outweighs all the cons. After working on my last novel for such a long time, I’m excited to create new characters and to follow them on their journey. I’ll be querying my finished novel very soon, a process that’s equally exciting and terrifying, but I believe it’s important to keep writing new stuff in the meantime. If that first novel never gets picked up by an agent, which is very likely, I want to have something even better lined up.

So, yes, I will be participating in Camp NaNoWriMo BUT… I’m not going for 50K. I’m thinking of setting my goal at 15K, which isn’t very ambitious, but it’s a goal that should be manageable.

I’ll keep updating you on my progress if you want me to. I’m thinking of posting on update at the end of each week to share that week’s struggles and victories. Let me know if that’s something you’d like to see on this blog and if you want to see more writing related posts (e.g. a post on my creative process, plotting, managing time, etc.).

And please let me know if you’re doing Camp NaNoWriMo, too so we can be buddies.

Thank you for reading!

See you soon,
Lauren

Mental Health in YA fiction

Hello and welcome to Infinity Talks!

Infinity Talks is my version of a Discussion Post where I will (try) to tackle a particular subject in YA fiction and hopefully open up a discussion with all you lovely people.

For my first Infinity Talk, I’d like to discuss Mental Health in YA fiction. I thought it would be a good place to start because I’ve seen an increase in YA books that deal with the subject over the past couple of years. I’ve read more than a couple by now and I’d like to discuss what I’ve read so far.

First of all, I’d like to point out how happy I am that mental health is being discussed more openly. And why shouldn’t it? According to research done by the National Alliance on Mental Illness four years ago no less than 20% of teenagers and young adults aged 13 to 18 experience mental disorders. And those are low estimates since a lot of teenagers are reluctant to seek help.

Why? Because there’s still a stigma that surrounds mental illness.

Teenagers and young adults often feel ashamed of their mental health struggles which means it takes longer for them to seek out help (if at all). They feel alone, confused, and scared while they try to cover up and pretend they’re okay.

While YA books that feature characters with a mental illness is by no means a replacement for professional help, they can help teenagers feel less alone. They can give them a better understanding of their illness, which could be the first step in seeking out help.

That’s why it’s so important that YA fiction provides a realistic representation of mental illness.

But what do we mean by realistic?

For me, the key to accurate representation is twofold:

  • Death to all clichés and stereotypes: someone who struggles with depression can have plenty of friends and have fun. Just because you can’t see their pain doesn’t mean it’s not there. Someone who has anxiety can still leave the house or talk to a group of people. The following isn’t relevant to YA fiction (I hope) but I’d still like to point it out. I’ve seen this around on Instagram.

“I just spent half an hour cleaning my room. #OCD”
“I don’t like to mix my M&M’s. OMG, I’m so #OCD”

For the love of God, it’s not an adjective. And you can’t just throw that word around. OCD (or any other mental illness) is not fun or quirky or cute. It’s an illness.

  • Don’t hand out cures or solutions: I can’t tell you how annoyed and angry I get every when the main character “cures” their mental health issue(s) with love. Seriously? Like, no. Kissing a new guy/girl/other and being all lovey-dovey doesn’t “cure” you. A mental illness is something you (mostly likely) carry with you for the rest of your life. Some hot guy/girl/… on a motorcycle isn’t going to change that. (Yes, I’ve read books like this.)

Failing to accurately represent mental illness is disrespectful toward those who actually suffer from it. It diminishes their struggle and their bravery which is completely unacceptable.

*deep breath*

Okay, rant over.

Onto the good stuff. Since mental illness is being discussed more openly there are more books that feature main characters with mental health issues. Some are bad, but, thankfully, there are plenty of authors who get it right too. Here’s my top five and a quote for each so you get an idea:

  1. “I didn’t want to wake up. I was having a much better time asleep. And that’s really sad. It was almost like a reverse nightmare, like when you wake up from a nightmare you’re so relieved. I woke up into a nightmare.” – It’s Kind of a Funny Story

  2. I feel like I’m at the bottom of a well. I feel like I’m way down this deep, deep hole and I’m looking up and all there is is this little dot of light and I have to shout at the top of my lungs for anyone to hear me and even when I do, I say the wrong thing or they don’t really listen or they’re just humouring me – The Rest of Us Just Live Here

  3. I think that if I ever have kids, and they are upset, I won’t tell them that people are starving in China or anything like that because it wouldn’t change the fact that they were upset. And even if somebody else has it much worse, that doesn’t really change the fact that you have what you have – The Perks of Being a Wallflower

  4. i think the idea of a ‘mental health day’ is something completely invented by people who have no clue what it’s like to have bad mental health. the idea that your mind can be aired out in twenty-four hours is kind of like saying heart disease can be cured if you eat the right breakfast cereal. mental health days only exist for people who have the luxury of saying ‘i don’t want to deal with things today’ and then can take the whole day off, while the rest of us are stuck fighting the fights we always fight, with no one really caring one way or another, unless we choose to bring a gun to school or ruin the morning announcements with a suicide – Will Grayson, Will Grayson

  5. I feel like a rock being skipped through the ocean—pain, relief, pain again, relief again, eventually destined to sink – History Is All You Left Me

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How do you feel about mental health in YA fiction? Which books get it right? Which ones don’t? What are some stereotypes and clichés that annoy you?

Let me know in the comment section.

See you soon,
Lauren

On Writing & Being Scared

I hadn’t planned on doing this. Quite the opposite, really.

When I created this blog, I told myself I would keep my reading and writing life separate. It’s best to focus on one thing. Don’t try to do everything. Do one thing and do it well, and you’ll attract a large audience. That’s what some of the most popular and successful blogs said, and who was I to ignore their advice? I’m just a newbie. A no one. I have no idea what I’m doing ninety percent of the time.

But I hit a wall today. I wanted to write, to publish a new post, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write. There was something there, simmering in the back of my mind, but I ignored it as I looked up popular book blogging topics. None of them sounded particularly interesting to me today. Of course they didn’t, because there was something I wanted to write. I just hadn’t allowed myself to do so.

That’s when it hit me.

What am I doing? Why am I not writing about what I want to write?

Is this not my blog? Am I not in charge?

Yes.

Yes, this is my blog and yes, I am in charge. Thinking about it in this way helped me realize I was being completely ridiculous. If I wanted to write about something, I should just do it.

No second-guessing. No overthinking. Write what you want. Edit it. Throw it out into the world.

Don’t hold back.

So that’s exactly what I’m going to do from now on. Starting today.

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Credit: Bonnie Kittle (Unsplash)

What I really want to talk about today is writing. The act of writing. The process of writing a book. Whatever you want to call it.

If anything, I want to say it’s hard. Really hard. It’s a constant struggle.

I’ve been working on the same project – a YA contemporary novel for those of you who are curious – on and off for almost three years now. In those three years, I’ve written and edited. Written and edited. Edited some more. Edited it again. Edited it “one more time” only to start over once more.

I’m currently working on Draft 9. In my head, this was the “final” draft, but I’ve once again discovered that I’ll be needing another round of edits. And while I want to improve my writing and get my novel into the best shape it can possible be, it’s getting harder and harder. I’m starting to feel like it will never end. Like I will never reach a point where I’m proud of what I’ve done and can send it off to literary agents.

If you’re a writer, I’m sure you know the feeling. I’m sure you can sympathize with the feeling that your book is “not quite there yet” even though you have absolutely no idea what it will take to get your book to that point.

Yes, I still enjoy spending time with the characters and improving my story. Yes, I enjoy looking back at previous drafts and discovering that my writing has improved dramatically. Yes, I still enjoy writing.

But, no, it’s not say. It’s a lot of hard work, and I want people to know that. I want them to know it takes time and effort to write, whether it’s a blog post, a poem, a song, a novel or something else.

It’s not easy because writing means bearing your soul, even just a little. And that scares me sometimes. It scares me to think that at some point I will be finished and I will send my work off to be judged. And if my writing is being judged, I am, too. I know you’re supposed to separate yourself from your writing, but everyone who’s written something meaningful (to them) will know that’s essentially impossible.

Maybe that’s why I didn’t want to talk about writing on this blog. My writing is so deeply personal I feared I would be judged for it, and I couldn’t stand that thought. I’d rather have no one see it than show it to the world and have it torn to the ground. But then I read this:

Writing is a way of sharing our humanity – William McIlvanney

And then I finally understood: writing isn’t just about me. It’s about all of us. Deep down, I’ve always wanted to write to be able to share what I’ve learned, the mistakes I’ve made, the things I don’t understand, the thoughts in my head. I’ve always craved that connection between writer and reader. The connection through which we share our humanity.

That is the goal.

To get there, I must keep writing.

To get there, I must not be afraid.

So I won’t be anymore.

***

I’ve decided that, from now on, I will be sharing my experience with writing and – hopefully – the publishing industry once I get there. I will write about the process, the joys, and the struggles. In doing so, I hope I’ll be able to help just one person, even if it’s just myself.