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.

 

Passion, Sacrifice, and Banter

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I’ve been thinking about romance a lot lately. One of my friends and I had a conversation about it a few months ago, and she was telling me that she dislikes a lot of romance in the books she reads. Also, my pastor has recently talked about how problematic the portrayal of romance in our media is. It has really gotten me thinking because I’ve always loved romance stories. I have read articles before about how too many romantic novels can be bad for the soul. I would say I agree with that. Usually, too much of anything is bad. Also, I really think it depends on the type of romance that you read/consume. I like to read romance that is cute, not erotic, that has substance, and isn’t cheesy.

As a matter of fact, the young adult romance book that I wrote five years ago, which I am currently reworking, talks quite a bit about how being obsessed with romance can be destructive. The protagonist’s obsession with romance makes her incredibly self-absorbed and causes her to make poor decisions.

I think the main issue with romance stories is that they can be self-indulgent. They feature a whirlwind of passion but often lack meaningful connection. I liked something that my pastor said recently about romance. To paraphrase, he said that the passionate, early stage of romance isn’t real romance. Real romance is drawing close to one another again and again over many years. I really liked that. The concept of fighting for intimacy in the face of difficulties, despite the costs, year after year—that sounds incredibly romantic to me. It’s the sacrifice that’s involved that really gets my heart racing. And I think that type of romance is good because it reflects God’s sacrifice and persistence in loving us.

As far as writing goes—I really enjoy writing romantic chemistry. I love putting my protagonist and love interest in opposition with each other. But most of all, I love writing the banter. I love making my characters argue with each other, surprise each other, and bond over inside jokes. The sillier, the better. If I had to give up writing action scenes, I’d be fine. But give up banter? No way!

I think romance storylines can be beautiful when done correctly, but it is good to remember that they are just that. Stories. And stories can never compare to real-life love.

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.

Yeah, So, Some Crazy Things Happened Recently

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A week before I was headed for the writing conference, I started doubting myself. My thought trail went like this:

  1. Is my writing good?
  2. Am I ready for this conference?
  3. My writing is really bad.
  4. Definitely not ready.
  5. I NEED TO CANCEL MY REGISTRATION FOR THE CONFERENCE!
  6. There’s no way I’m going to get all my money back if I cancel the week before, so I might as well just go and see what God does.

Let me tell you, friends, this conference was worth every penny.

The first day, I woke up early and registered for an appointment to pitch to my preferred agent. I wanted to work with him so badly that I went to this conference just so that I could meet him. I had spent the past 5-6 weeks reading everything I could on him and watching all his videos so that I would know exactly how to pitch my books to him. My plan was to pitch a Christian young adult contemporary romance novel and a Christian dystopian novel for adults.

After meeting another conferee who encouraged me in my writing journey, I walked in to my first class and, determined to be positive, gave everyone a huge smile. I recognized a woman in the front row as one of the former submissions readers for the agent I wanted to pitch.

I ran into her later in the day and told her that I thought her online videos were super fun. She introduced herself to me and said that before the conference started she was praying to God for Him to reveal someone to her that she needed to encourage. She knew when she saw me that I was that person.

It meant a lot to me because I still felt nervous and overwhelmed about the conference. The woman was super helpful when I told her that I had an appointment to pitch with the agent she used to work with and helped me refine my pitch for him. I felt it was obvious, then, that it was meant to be that I would get a contract from him eventually since God wanted her to encourage me.

HAHA– I was wrong.

I went to the pitch session, and he told me that I was a good writer, but that my manuscripts were caught between markets, so neither would sell. Basically, what he meant was that my books had a mix of elements geared for both the Christian and general markets, so it wouldn’t work for either. I had to pick one.

I was thus rejected and consequently crushed. Those of you who know me well know that I’m an emotional person (INFJ). It’s both a blessing and a curse to feel things deeply, but that night it was a curse.

I felt stupid for the mistake I made in my manuscripts. When I went to the worship portion of the night, I began crying. In the flight portion of the fight-or-flight mode, I walked out of the auditorium. I just couldn’t be there any longer.

I know I overreacted, but it is heartbreaking when you have spent MANY, MANY hours working on your manuscript only to be told that your story idea won’t sell. Plus, writing is incredibly personal, so you feel almost like someone rejected your innermost self.

After that, I went to meet one of my friends from college who lives nearby, and it felt good to get everything off my chest. Shout out to Dave for listening to me, encouraging me, and being a high-caliber human being. When I got back to the dorm, a few women told me they had seen me crying and encouraged me to persevere in my writing. It meant a lot to me.

However, the next morning I woke up feeling downtrodden. I didn’t want to go to any of the sessions. I had scheduled an appointment with an editor that the agent I spoke to the day before recommended I talk to, but I wasn’t hopeful much would come of it. She is an editor mostly for speculative fiction so I wanted to see if she could give me direction on my dystopian novel.

I told her the premise, and she agreed with the agent that it had elements suited for both the Christian and general markets and therefore couldn’t work for either. She asked if she could read the first few pages, so I gave it to her. I was ready for her to start criticizing it, but then the best thing happened.

She started laughing. And she kept laughing again and again as she continued reading. It was a HUGE confidence booster for me. My novel has elements of comedy/satire, and it meant a lot to me that she got my sense of humor. She told me that she thought my writing was funny and the main character quirky.

I’ve had people in my life think my sense of humor too offbeat and/or not understand it, but this editor got me. She not only appreciated my humor but also understood the message I was trying to convey. She helped me brainstorm how I could rework it for the general market, and then she gave me her contact information and told me that she’d love to see it once I reworked it.

I was super encouraged. An editor said she’d love to see my story!

In the last session of the night, the director of the conference announced that there were a few manuscript critiques waiting to be picked up in the hallway. (A few weeks prior to the conference, we had the option to send in the first chapter of a manuscript for a faculty member to critique, so I sent in my young adult contemporary romance.) For some reason, I thought I was going to get my critique sent to my email. So, I hadn’t picked mine up yet. I went over to the table and saw it there. When I picked it up, my first thought was “It’s probably not going to be a good critique.” I flipped to the critique page and looked for the name of the faculty member who had critiqued it. It was the editor I had talked to earlier that day who was interested in my other book. Even better, she left me a great critique. At the bottom of the critique, she wrote that she would like to see my book proposal and full manuscript.

I was in shock!!!! For those of you who are wondering, let me explain why she liked it more than the other agent. The elements that he didn’t like were added in after I sent in my critique. So, she read a different version than he did. Also, if you’re curious what those elements were– I wanted to have my main character post a provocative photo online (something a lot of teenage girls seem to do these days.) However, the agent told me that including that in my story–though it wasn’t graphic–it was only mentioned– is too “edgy” for the Christian market. Anyway, I have since decided to rework  my story a lot, which includes cutting those edgy elements but also writing it for the general market.

So, I was beyond thrilled with my critique. Usually the best a writer can hope will come from a writers’ conference is to have an agent/editor ask for the proposal and the first three chapters, but she wanted my whole manuscript.

I plan to send it in by the end of the year. I will be looking for people to read/edit it in hopefully 2-3 months. If you are interested in helping, please let me know.  Also, just because she wants my full manuscript doesn’t mean I will be published. It means she is seriously interested in my book, but her publications team could still reject it. So, pressure on!

More importantly, I learned a huge lesson in all of this– GOD WANTS ME TO TRUST HIM. HE WANTS ME NOT TO BE AFRAID.

I should’ve trusted God the first day I was there when I had a woman tell me that she felt God laid it on her heart to tell me to be encouraged.

I should’ve trusted Him because I know He is faithful.

But I didn’t. I wasn’t happy in the waiting.

When I found out the next day that an editor was interested in my writing, I rejoiced. Then, I was happy in God. I was happy that He did something good for me.

I hope to learn more to trust Him in the journey. Any helpful thoughts on doing this, let me know.

Thank you to everyone who texted me and prayed for me before I went to the conference. It meant a lot to me.

 

 

 

 

Serious Thoughts – Writing Update

I know I’ve been writing a lot of satirical/ridiculous posts lately, but I wanted to write something serious. Contrary to popular belief, not everything in life is a huge joke to me. (Although a lot of things are haha.)

I just wanted to update you on my pursuit of being an author. I am headed to a writers’ conference this week, so please pray for me. While I’m not expecting a book contract or to get published anytime soon, it would be nice if I could network with people who might be able to help me launch my career and possibly get agents/editors interested in my work.

Other thoughts:

  1. Music- I’m still OBSESSED with Lord Huron. I will likely write a blog soon about this obsession. I read the other day that one of my favorite indie bands, Fever Fever, is making an announcement soon, which will hopefully be about new music coming out.
  2. I think I need to spend less time on the internet, specifically on social media. The one bad thing about starting a blog is that I look forward too much to checking if people are reading/liking/commenting.
  3. I LOVE nature so much. I get so overwhelmed by the beauty of the outdoors, and my heart just feels like it’s about to burst.
  4. Hope. There is always hope. ❤
  5. “Whatever you do, just don’t look back.
    Oh somebody needs the light you have.
    Whatever you do, just don’t lose heart.
    Keep on pushing back the dark” -Pushing Back the Dark, Josh Wilson

FYI- I may start writing more serious/reflective posts.

This is my favorite music video of all time. It has an epic, sweeping, adventurous, dreamy, mysterious feel to it that really captures my imagination. Not to mention it is incredibly romantic. ❤