A Feeling Unlike Any Other

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So, I had this little problem a few months ago. Basically, I realized that I wanted the primary theme of my book to be something other than what it was [insert face palm]. Unfortunately, that realization is necessitating months upon months of rewriting my manuscript. As I mentioned in a previous post, I was hoping to have my book ready to send to an editor by the end of this year, but there’s no way that’s going to happen anymore.

Truth is, I don’t really even mind that much. I had been really ambitious about my manuscript last spring and summer, but since then, I’ve been able to calm that ambition, which, honestly, has been for the best. While I like that I’m an ambitious person, I also dislike it sometimes. I got so caught up in accomplishing everything I wanted to with my writing that it made me very stressed and a little crazy. It’s been refreshing to put my writing in its proper place. As much as my soul yearns to share my work with others, I know that isn’t essential to my life; there are more important things in life (i.e. God, relationships.)

Also, I am much happier now that I’ve taken a new angle on my story, so it’s worth it to me that it’s taking longer to finish than I had intended. Honestly, ‘taking a new angle on my story’ probably isn’t strong enough language to describe the changes that I’m making. I am revamping the entire thing. For starters, the book is no longer for the Christian market but for the general market. It does, however, have Christian themes. While the inner journey of the main character hasn’t changed a whole lot, the plot has. It is much more intriguing and powerful than it was. It’s also a bit of a mystery now. The new plot really makes the theme resonate much more loudly than the old one did. My book was originally about the soul’s journey to becoming less self-absorbed and more selfless, which, while still thematically present in my book, no longer serves as the primary theme. The primary theme is the contrast between love as an action and love as a feeling and how both must be expressed if one wants to love virtuously.

Another big change is the character of the protagonist’s love interest. Originally, he was a gentle, quiet, deep-thinker, but now he is a snarky, neurotic, quiet, deep-thinker. I didn’t make the change because I enjoy writing snarky characters, although I do. I made it because it enhances the theme. While my protagonist embodies love as a feeling, he embodies love as an action. Although he is aloof and insensitive, he has a servant heart. My protagonist, on the other hand, feels great empathy and love for people but is selfish in her actions towards them. My protagonist and love interest’s different views of love are interesting and attractive to each other yet they are a big source of conflict. I also had to change the interest level of the love interest. I am a sucker for a second-chance romance (i.e. The Notebook), and that was what I had planned for my novel, but that no longer made sense once my theme changed. The love interest originally was crazy for my protagonist, but now she spends a lot of the book guessing whether or not he likes her. I also had to change his sense of humor. I naturally tend to give the main characters my own sense of humor, but I think it’s important to make the humor of the protagonist and love interest slightly different. Obviously, they both have to have a similar sense of humor for there to be chemistry, but they can’t be the exact same. Basically, I had to put a little extra effort into giving the love interest a snarkier, darker sense of humor than I’d normally give a love interest. And I’m not going to lie—that has been incredibly fun for me.

In other news, Splickety Publishing included my short story, A Very Bad Girl, in their Halloween issue of Havok Magazine. It was very exciting for me to be published because I had never been paid for my writing before. It felt so special to receive compensation for my creativity. When you get paid for your art, it affirms that your art has value. I’m not saying that art doesn’t have value if it’s not shared because I believe it does. However, when you get paid for your art, it makes you feel like your art has value to society, and to an artist, that is a feeling unlike any other.

If you’re interested in getting a copy of the magazine, you can purchase it here.

 

Quirkiness, Dry Humor, and the Lovable Rogue

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In my last post, I said that I especially enjoy writing romantic chemistry between my characters. I’d like to elaborate on what I think makes good chemistry. Last week, I finished listening to the audiobook version of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. While I loved this book for many reasons, the chemistry between the two main characters, Peter and Lara Jean, really catapulted it towards the top of my list of favorite young adult books. (Side note: When I was a teenager, I used to read books like Wuthering Heights and Far From the Madding Crowd for fun, but now that I’m an adult, I read books for teens. Ironic, no?)

Here is my secret for writing good romantic chemistry:

Make one character regularly say or do ridiculous things and make the other character regularly respond with eye-rolling to these things while secretly enjoying them.

You see this kind of chemistry everywhere. One character is the manic pixie dream girl/guy and the other character is the sour puss with the dry sense of humor. Think Luke and Lorelai from Gilmore Girls. Their chemistry works so well because she is sweet and quirky, and he always responds with dry remarks, but we all know deep down that he adores Lorelai’s quirkiness. There’s something so lovable about that type of chemistry. We want to see the quirky, cute one melt the “heart of stone” of the sarcastic, cynical one. Usually, the male is the dry one and the female is the quirky one, but it can be the other way around. For example, in The Big Bang Theory, Leonard is the lovable nerd while Penny responds to him with sarcasm.

In To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, Peter tends to have a flirty, ridiculous sense of humor that Lara Jean pretends to be annoyed by, although the reader knows she secretly enjoys it. Because romances are usually marketed toward women, getting the male lead right is often more important than getting the female lead right. While women want a female lead who is kind, relatable, and funny, we read the book or watch the show for the romance and chemistry generated by the male lead. So, it is important to make him fascinating.

The most popular trope for a fascinating love interest is the lovable rogue. Think Han Solo. Or Mr. Darcy. The lovable rogue defies social conventions, speaks his mind, and thinks more highly of himself than he ought. As much as I hate to say it, it helps to write a bad boy. But the bad boy has to actually be a good guy—we just don’t know that until we get to know him more, usually towards the end of the story. Over time, it must become apparent that he has qualities that cause the reader/watcher to feel empathy towards him. Peter definitely falls in this category. He is an arrogant, popular high school jock; everyone loves him and he milks it. Yet, as the story progresses, we learn that he has a sensitive side—that he is extremely loyal—and that there is more to him than meets the eye. This is a powerful theme in general for a novel because it is so true in real life. We often judge people and overlook them rather than take the time to get to know them and learn who they really are.

As important as it is to create romantic chemistry between characters, it’s also important to create non-romantic chemistry. For example, in Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson, Lightsong fulfills the lovable rogue trope. While there is romantic chemistry between him and Blushweaver, who perpetually rolls her eyes at him, there is also platonic chemistry between Lightsong and his priest, Larimar. Lightsong speaks his mind and whines a lot while Larimar is perpetually patient towards him. Lightsong tries to provoke Larimar, but he rarely can. Every now and then, Larimar reacts, albeit just a tad, to something Lightsong says or does, and the chemistry between them is beyond precious.

 

Writing for Teens

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The greatest difficulty in writing for teens is making the characters sound authentic. Because a few of my writer friends also write young adult lit, I thought it’d be fun to interview my 15-year-old sister, Sarah, to give us insight into the mind of a teenager. Some questions are silly, and some are serious. Enjoy!

What makes a good story? I like what you like. A lot of comedy and romance stuff. I feel like the characters’ personalities [are most important.]

Do you have a favorite catchphrase? Wack.  It means that things are weird.

Would you say deer are cute or beautiful? I’d say more cute. Yeah, they’re beautiful, but you think of them more like a cute way like Bambi.

What advice would you give to an adult trying to write a book for teenagers? Just spend a week with teenagers. Have some teenagers be rude and some be lonely, and then there are lazy people and all these athletic people.

What is your opinion on vases? I use them. I mean—they’re something that’s just there when you need your flowers not to die. I mean—I’d rather plant flowers in a pot, but if somebody buys you flowers in a package, you can’t plant them. So, vases are all right.

Yanny or Laurel? Laurel. I mostly heard Laurel, but I sometimes heard Yanny when I was far away.

What is it like to be a teenager in today’s world? I like the clothes. The people are rude. All you hear about at school are the people who vape and drink. 15-year-olds and 13-year-olds.

Any idea why you’re so snarky? I like to have fun and laugh a lot. And being snarky is the only thing I’m good at.

What are your favorite smells? I like a lot of fall scents, so like pumpkin… I like cranberry scents. I like vanilla cupcake a lot. And beach scents like the ocean. I like the smell of Pensacola beach. I do not like lilac. Blah. It’s my least favorite. And I like the smell of pizza.

Insights/Applications:

  1. Don’t overuse slang. Sometimes authors try to pump up the slang in their books to make them more relevant to teens, but Sarah honestly doesn’t use much slang. Plus, it dates your book. Although Sarah said it is her catchphrase, I wouldn’t use the word “wack” in my novel. Even if all the kids are using it now, likely no one will know what it means in five years.
  2. Teens aren’t dumb. Some people think writing like a teenager means dumbing down your writing. That’s not true. I didn’t include this in my interview because I don’t want to get political on my blog, but Sarah and I had a good discussion about current political/social issues. A word of caution, though. Make sure that the teens in your book don’t sound overly formal/precocious. While The Fault in Our Stars is my favorite young adult book (ALL THE FEELS!!!), my one complaint is that many of the teenagers sound so overly sophisticated/eloquent that it negatively affects the believability of the store world.
  3. Add some sass/sarcasm. Both my little sister and I tend to be sarcastic, but I would say she’s more sarcastic than me. So, I jokingly asked her a question about why she is so snarky. While too much sarcasm is bad both in fiction and real life, including a consistently sarcastic character in your book is a surefire way to please teens. I am currently listening to a young adult audiobook, The Distance Between Us by Kasie West. I read it a few years ago and liked it and thought I would listen to it again while I’m working on my own YA novel for inspiration. I wanted to know what teens liked about the book, and so I read the reviews on Amazon. By far, the most-mentioned element out of all the reviews was the readers’ love of the protagonist’s sarcastic voice. I knew teens like sarcasm, but I was surprised by how much. In my opinion, here’s why Kasie West’s sarcasm worked well for her book:
  • The sarcasm is non-disparaging – Sarcasm isn’t cool when it makes fun of a people group.
  • The sarcasm is incredibly witty – If you’re going to use a lot of sarcasm, make it funny; otherwise, it’s annoying.
  • The sarcasm has a purpose – The protagonist uses sarcasm to avoid talking about her real feelings and realizes this as the story progresses.

Writing for teens isn’t easy. But writing for people just on the cusp of adulthood—when they’re deciding the values and beliefs by which they will live the rest of their lives—is worthwhile.